The thing about weeders is you can’t surprise them. They feel us lockheers coming well before we get close, so looking down at the elder from the butte, I knew he knew I was near. He just sat there on a rock and snipped twigs and leaves off a bush at the end of his stick.
I could see he wasn’t very strong. The sickly glow that marked him a weeder was nothing impressive, so he couldn’t draw much power from it—the ‘Vine,’ they called it, as if the weed were some sacred spring of life. I had an excellent chance against this one.
We lockheers have a code when we encounter weeders. We hate them and want nothing more than to kill them, but that’s extremely hard and a more realistic goal is to destroy their detestable sticks, so that is our central objective. If we kill them in the process, all the better. My luster—the power to send many devastating streams of fire at once—was more suited to killing.
I climbed down the scarp. The arrogant halfwit didn’t even turn around, but I could see the repulsive light intensify as he leached off the creeper.
About twelve strides away I held my hands in front of me to estimate the length of the stick. I reached for the weed to rip it open, ignite its substance, and blast fire into the stick, but a force struck me like a charging bull, knocking me off the Vine and pushing me backward. I fell into a bush, branches stabbing me in the side and scraping up my arm.
The elder stood up and finally turned around, pocketing his pruner. He was barely a boy, but his face was cold, hard stone. He walked up to my feet and held his staff forth. The vile power of the weed pressed upon me, smothering me in its contemptible substance.
“You think you can just sneak up on an elder and attack him?” This one didn’t have the usual superior way of the elders. In his gaze, in his words, and in the ruthless crush of his power, he was just fierce.
“You’re a lot stronger than you look,” I said.
He spread his arms and pressed harder. “I walked through belaisan’s fire. Twice I survived the black desolation of the Well of No Hope. I destroyed a set’heer, and I captured three lockheer in the battle of Vutchison.” His eyes smoldered so strong I expected flames to shoot out and burn holes through me. “A drifting lockheer like you won’t merit a mention over a pint.”
“Well,” I choked. “I had no idea I was approaching such a big, bad weeder. You’re mommy must be proud.”
He grinned ever so slightly and my blood went cold. Gritting his teeth he lunged, hovering over the top of me, and I felt the Vine’s substance circling my wrists and chest, threatening to materialize.
“No!” I screamed. I swept my leg into his shin, toppling him on the ground, and I cut loose my luster. Flames sprayed everywhere around me, spreading rampantly like a tempestuous lightning storm. I rolled to my feet, the Vine’s residue falling away. As the weeder pushed himself up, I ripped into the Vine, shredding it with those invisible claws—what else could I call them—that extended from my breast into the unseen world.
The exhilaration flooded my body like a magnificent wine carrying me to the blissful limits of pleasure. Fire streams tangled into random nets surrounding us both. I steadied myself and gathered the flames, wrapping them around the elder, exulting in my domination. I tore up more of the Vine and pulled the streams tightly around him, pinning his arms and his stick.
The weeder growled like a dog, the glow of his power brightened and then dimmed, wavering as I drew the streams tighter. His stony eyes turned to panic, his mouth twisted back into a delightfully lurid rictus.
“You kind of wish you were in the Well of No Hope now, don’t you?” I laughed. His light was now steadily fading, my luster would soon sear through his flesh. To hell with the stick. Plenty of time to destroy it after he’s dead. I tightened the fiery noose around his throat, choking him even before the burning started. Sweat ran down my face and back.
With a final wrench at the weed I forced all the strands around his neck and twisted them tightly with renewed vigor, but something still resisted. His glow intensified. I roared. “What madness—” I bellowed, driving the conflagration with every grain of strength in me, but the light was unstoppable.
As I weakened, I realized the light emanated from the staff, not from the elder himself, so I turned my exertion upon the stick, but it was too late. The streams of fire dispersed. The weeder got to his feet and stared at me, both of us sucking air, our clothes drenched. With some satisfaction I saw that his tunic was burnt under his right arm and along the bottom.
We watched each other, neither one of us with the strength to do anything, waiting for the next show of power. My gasping settled into hard breathing, and strength returned to my invisible claws. I reached toward the weed. The weeder turned his stick around, bushy side toward the ground. I closed my claw onto the Vine, and he leapt toward me, spun around, and struck me on the side of the head with the end of the staff.
When I woke I couldn’t move. Every muscle and bone ached, and I felt the weed’s loathsome material wrapped around my arms and chest, and more around my waist. My feet were chained with earth metal, but I’d heard how these shackles from the weed worked. If I tore at the Vine, they would cause more agony than a lockheer could withstand.
The elder sat next to a fire, his stick across his knees and his head in his hands. A kid cooked meat and vegetables in a saucepan. I wanted to cut their throats.
“Where are you taking me,” I croaked.
The kid dumped the food on a plate and nudged the weeder, who set his staff down, then set the plate in his lap. Head stooped, he sluggishly stuffed some carrots into his mouth. My stomach roiled.
“What are you going to do with me,” I rasped.
The boy looked at me and grinned. Didn’t say a word.