She doesn’t tell them what she’s doing. If Larch did that, she’d have to explain, and she honestly doesn’t know if she could. They aren’t her tribe. This isn’t her home.

 

The shaman reminds herself of that, ineffectively, as she carefully plants seeds around one abandoned house in particular. It’s lost a corner, and part of one wall- the two stories are exposed to the elements, the wood weathered and grey. A dead tree grows next to it.

 

That would all do nicely.

 

It wasn’t all stone, and that suited her too: the vines needed a strong anchor after all, and some preferred stone over soil. Hardy creeper and big leafed ivy would form the basis, but Larch couldn’t resist a few flowering vines, more delicate, sown here and there. Saplings would grow tall and strong to help support the building, and the vines would wrap it and bind it all together.

 

It would be more than a dwelling. It would be a shelter for whoever needed it, not just hers, she told herself. A place where flowers would grow in Heibarr this spring. The walls would be a solid mass of twisted wood, the vines forming a weathertight blanket over the house. It would be a bit, even with her magic, but in time, the living walls would be stronger than stone, with the ability to heal themselves from damage the way a tree might. It would be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. All she had to do was keep it away from glass windows and the chimney opening, and that could be accomplished with some kind words and a trellis or two.

 

…Her father had made her mother a dwelling like this. She remembered the blue hydrangeas against the green. Her mother had liked those, being kin to frost as she was. There was even space for her spirit, an owl with glacial blue talons.

 

The kitsune flexed his arm, nodding at her. The scar where it had been severed would remain, but thanks to their quick work, he had most of the functionality already. It was a combined effort of healing, Larch and Mallory with the others assisting. Her friends were strong. There was pride there, in that- strong enough to protect and heal. The anger in Mallory’s eyes was shoved aside to save the arm as Miri drew her sword in defiance. That image would stay in her mind: the kitsune defiant, wreathed in her magic, the sword singing as it cut through the air. 

 

His thanks made her blink a little. It was, of course, the only action she could have taken. But she nodded in return. 

 

“A shaman protects the tribe,” she told him simply. 

 

“I am glad that you consider our little band part of yours,” he said, and Larch’s brain promptly short circuited. She froze. There was vague awareness of a little chuckle, and she found herself making some excuse to leave after that. 

 

She wasn’t a part of Heibarr. She was a Wolf of the Northern Pines, no matter the distance. She had given everything to free her people from thier chains and give them the chance at a life they deserved. Being severed was a small price to pay to know they were safe. If the Metal Men were occupied with her and her crimes, they were safe. 

 

She wasn’t a part of Heibarr. She wasn’t.  

 

So why had she been so worried when she saw the spire sticking out of the river like a black dagger in the heart of thier town? Why had Miri’s disappearance made her reach for her magic, the whisper of leaves in the wind and the feeling of fox feet on grass, until the others told her this was normal? She would never leave her people, either, and here they were, most of them. She would be back, they told her, when she was so very obviously worried. Why had she used herself and her magic to their limits and beyond to help with repairs to fences and flesh alike? 

 

Why was she building a house?

 

Or growing one, technically.

 

She didn’t have an answer. It just… felt right.

 

Flower patted the last seed with her paw and nodded. “This will be nice, when it’s done.”

 

“…It’s not just for me. Anyone could use it. Maybe the Doctor’s patients, when they must stay close. There are spare rooms.”

 

“Sprout, you don’t have to justify yourself to me,” Flower said, quietly. She watched as Larch knelt by the door to examine the hinges and wood there. “You are allowed to like this place.”

 

“…. I think it would be… good for them to see I am not running. Despite my… difficulties with… some things at times,” she said, slowly. Larch pushed her glasses up her nose and tucked one of her long and thin blonde braids behind her ear.

 

“The Doctor, yes. I was surprised you asked that of him,” Flower said, watching her with eyes amethyst purple and keen. “Even more so with the mask off.”

 

“His mouth is… distinctive. I cannot mistake him for anyone other than the Doctor when his mask is off,” Larch said. Flower tilted her head, then nodded, slowly.

 

“Ah. I do see how that would be comforting. Do you think you can do it?”

 

“I… do not know. He ‘bears me no enmity’, but… he thought I was racist. It is either actively work on my reactions so that there are no more misunderstandings, or divulge to him and the others the circumstances of my difficulties.”

 

“And you would rather eat glass?”

 

“And I would rather eat glass,” Larch agreed without hesitation. “So… I must try.”

 

“He’s still one of them, with all the crimes and horror involved,” Flower said curiously. Larch flinched a little. “I am not doubting you, sprout. But you gave him your vow, and now this.”

 

“…I am a human. I operate like humans do, as Amalya said. I am apparently incapable of masking my feelings or being… graceful as I experience them. Whatever else happens, between us, or in the party, I want to at least be able to look him in the eyes. He feels the same as I do. Did. That.. I can’t not respect,” she said, quietly. “The same will that woke my connection to the spirits, to you, that let me fulfill my curse…  it is in him. I have difficulties. I am not… good… with him. With what he is, or the choices he has made. I do not know what we will be. But I understand him now.”

 

Flower wriggled between her arms and the door, sitting in front of Larch on the stoop. Larch looked down, confused for a moment, and received a head bump for her efforts.

 

“…You grow well. It won’t be easy. And he’s still not good.”

 

“No. But it is worth trying, regardless.”

 

“You know, I think this will be our first home that wasn’t a cell or a wagon,” Flower observed. “You didn’t plant any of that damned eucalyptus did you? I hate that smell.”

 

“It’s- no, I didn’t, but- bah. No. Ivy and creeper and flowers, in all the colors of spring,” she admitted. “…Firstbloom is coming. I had… a silly thought. Childish. But. I haven’t celebrated a Firstbloom in….”

 

“Ahhhh. Hmm. Not a bad idea, sprout, not at all. We could enlist the Iron Fang. Perhaps the other residents as well.” Flower stretched. “Spring: the season of new growth after the cold of winter… we haven’t had a proper spring since you were smaller than me.”

 

Larch huffed. “It wasn’t that long ago. But… yes. …Do you think I could plant flowers here?” She asked, after a moment’s hesitation, soft and unsure.

 

“For spring?”

 

“Yes. For… for spring.”

 

“I think they may welcome it, sprout.”

Author Cael
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Game: Pathfinder
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