She sat in the wagon in silence for almost five minutes.
He. He just.
He reaches for her, with the hands that kill so very easily, and there is that old feeling again and Larch does not do touching she doesn’t like contact and-
-And he is warm. So warm, just like before, his infernal heritage making her hyperconcious of it, of how it made her feel. The thing that grips her heart and her lungs in a vice is not fear. Anxiety, definitely, because suddenly she is ACROSS HIS SHOULDERS carried as easily as a hunter hefts a dead fawn, his bare hand on her bare thigh. It is not a dignified position, certainly not a romantic one. But there’s more to it than that.
No one has ever helped her up like this before, held her when she could not stand. She made sure she could walk on her own two feet thank you, that she would not be a weakness to her tribe, that there would be no flaw in her strength. As always, he was professional and courteous; the hand never strayed, never let go, as gentle and implacable as iron wrapped in silk, and his other held her arm in the same kind of grip.
Warm and strong.
And he carried her that way all the way to her wagon, and laid her gently on the deerskin, and he stood over her in her space, by her bed-
That image should NOT be as appealing as it was.
“Let me know if there is anything else you need,” Flower mimicked, and collapsed into laughter.
“I hate you so much,” Larch hissed. Flower laughed harder. “How am I supposed to- to- to manage anything at that??”
Madness. This was absolute madness.
She almost asked him to stay.
I am literally going insane. Damn that man and his stupid strong arms and stupid broad shoulders and stupid courtesy.
Larch lay down on the deerskin and covered herself with the blanket as Flower continued to laugh.
“Oh, shaman mine, other half of my heart,” the spirit wheezed. “I am so proud of you. You have come so far.” She uncurled and moved to sit on Larch’s chest as the shaman grumbled from under the covers. She began to purr, settling into a loaf.
The blanket lowered. Larch gave her a glare.
“You forget, sprout, we are one. I know the real reason you are angry, and it is not at me. That being said, freezing up is an entirely human response in the circumstances you found yourself in. Hilarious- but human,” the spirit said. “As is your other wonderings.”
Larch groaned. “I do not want to talk about it. I feel terrible enough, thinking- when he clearly- and it’s bad enough that the others know now, and I- I just…”
“Mmmm. Look, sprout. This worry will be there tomorrow,” Flower pointed out. “You are drained- and though it was necessary, you have lost a lot of blood doing what you did. Which, by the way, was incredibly satisfying,” she added. “It worked perfectly.”
“…It did. I was worried- but there was no space for doubt. And I had proof of concept, I had the spell, I had the seeds, I had successfully made Dreamer and Oakspear.” Larch nodded. “It was time.”
Larch is absent, for a day- just… gone. If sought, she is found with Flower, eyes closed, kneeling, praying or meditating or maybe both in front of the largest, oldest tree in Heibarr. She doesn’t respond to most queries. The grass and trees and plants around her seem… brighter, more vivid, swaying in the breeze- or maybe in time with Larch’s heartbeat. The shaman herself is -surprisingly for those who know her- dressed to the nines. Gone is her green tunic type attire, the pants with the grass stains on the knees. She is in full shaman tribal regalia, wearing a simple sleeveless top made from deerskin that ended at the sternum, a wrapped style skirt of similar male stopping a few inches above her knees, and a white furred cloak made from some giant wolf, the head a hood she has up over her hair. War paint in black, green, brown, and touches of red marks her unusually visible body in a pattern like thorny vines, but her hands and feet are painted white and clawed like paws. Toothy fangs are drawn around her lips. She still wears her belt of reagents and little vials and whatnot, but it’s joined by a long necklace made from precious stones, carved bone, pieces of antler, glass beads in the same sort of colors, dried seeds like acorns, teeth of varying kinds, and carved polished wood from a multitude of trees in different colors, shapes, and sizes. It loops around her neck several times and hangs nearly to the navel. She is barefoot, the bad arm unbandaged, and the scars on her back peek through now again from under the shirt and cloak. The black book sits in front of her, open, and a little sparrow with uncannily bright green eyes perches on a shoulder. Flower stands vigil with her, shaman and spirit seeming to breathe in time with one another and the world around them; she is also marked in green paint.
At the foot of the tree is the little glass vial on a thong the party has seen her use for spell components. Specifically, it’s the one she takes her seeds from when she is casting Fireball…
She doesn’t get up to eat, rest, or even use the bathroom, not even when night falls. At daybreak, she rises, and picks up the book and necklace. Flower and the bird follow silently as she moves to what is usually dubbed Moose Parking, but Rutt and Moosely are nowhere to be seen at the moment.
Larch takes her bare hands and starts to dig.
The ritual circle she creates over the course of the day is nearly a hundred feet in diameter, carved into the dirt past the grass, and exactingly precise despite the seemingly crude presentation. The spellwork is wild and intricate, calling on powers both divine and arcane to do… something. Bundles of several different herbs (including a bundle of her snapdragon fireworks), bottles of oil seem to have dried apples in them and a faint green color, and a perhaps worrying amount of her own blood are used to augment the spell as reagents.
….And there is a sense of slowly building power as Larch enters the circle, followed by Flower, book, and bird.
In the center, she digs a small hole, and empties the vial into it. Then she covers the seeds, waters them, nods to herself, and kneels a second time in front of the unassuming pile of mud at the center of her masterpiece. It’s clear everything she has learned so far, all her research into magical plants, has gone toward making this happen.
Beyond the circle, Dreamer and Oakspear watch silently.
“I am Larch Thorngrasp, Shaman of the Wood and Wild. I owe a debt of blood and fire to the Orchard of the Damned, who answered the vengeful prayer of a child with their own lives.”
She inhales, quietly, exhales.
“I will now fulfill that oath. May the ancestors and all the spirits be witness!”
And on the word “witness”, the three outer rings of the circle ignite.
Flowing out from Larch in a wave of power, the markings in the ground glow the green of her magic, so bright they hurt to look at even in the light of the setting sun. Her eyes and Flowers are both solid opaque blindingly green as she barely contains the power she asks for.
Around her, around that little pile, the innermost rings -those specific runes anointed with the apple oil- catch on actual fire that is red-orange and hungry and green and full of life. The ground shakes.
From it springs a tree, magnificent and tall, boughs strong and bark thick, the leaves emerald green. It grows to maturity in seconds.
And then, Larch inhales a second time, draws a small knife, and cuts down her hand from wrist to the end of her middle finger. The blood is profuse and immediate- and the middle ring flares to life, and this fire is wholly green yet does not burn. There is a noise like wind through the trees and the creaking of wood but at a volume so loud it sounds like a roar, like snapping bone, building to a crescendo that threatens to shake the houses.
And then suddenly, it all just stops.
Deathly pale and breathing ragged, blood dripping down her white painted hand, Larch looked up at the tree with a brilliant smile and the shine of unshed tears in her eyes.
“Hello, Fierce Blossom of the Summer Sun. I promised to repay your sacrifice and that of your children. I have fulfilled that oath. Welcome to Heibarr.”
“And Fierce Blossom seems to be settling in well. I have given her all of the moose area to seed if she desires. Maybe next year, we will have saplings.”
Flower grinned, showing teak teeth. “If Urvine comes knocking, he’s going to be in for a nasty surprise. Or anyone else for that matter.”
“That was also in my thoughts, yes,” Larch admitted. She yawned. Flower floated up and blew out the lantern at the top of the wagon’s glass roof. Then she settled back down, for a moment looking as tired as her shaman.
“Time to sleep. For both of us.”
“…Yes. I- I will deal with… the rest… later.”
She slept like the dead, and dreamed of being held, warm and safe, by a barren twisted tree with a single red leaf.