Lana dragged Gisa by the hand to an isolated place in the woods. Lana wore her leathers, not quite as skimpy as the body-hugging ones Gisa had on.
“You’ve finally decided to become a wizardess?” asked Gisa.
“Yes,” said Lana.
Gisa scowled. “Conaroy will be happy.”
“I’m not doing it to please Conaroy.” She was going to do it because she was tired of Kender taunting her with his magic. “I’m doing this for myself. I’ve put a lot of thought into it.”
“Let’s see it, then, huss.”
“I want you to keep something for me.” Lana held out the token she’d gotten from Kender.
Gisa took it. “You’re growing way to sentimental, dear.”
“Just keep it safe,” said Lana, her voice fierce. “It’s very precious to me, but it will hinder the magic.”
Lana picked up a stone, almost a pebble, and set it on a fallen branch. “I’m going to make this rock disappear.”
“Don’t explain it, honey. Just do it.”
Lana pushed any thought of Kender from her head and fixated on the stone, barely a pebble, drawing upon the Vine’s substance to annihilate it. There were three ways to use the power—the belaisan that Kender always talked about. Fire, rot, and melt. She’d tried fire once. It was a foul experience and tormented her until Kender purified her bond to the Vine, but she didn’t think it would work on stone, so she set out to melt it.
Like she did with the fire, she twisted her mind to gash the Vine and disrupt its substance in a way that ruined its target, but with an effort to eat through it rather than burn. After a jolt of pain, a giddy tickle went up her spine and the stone sizzled. She watched part of it ooze away to nothingness.
Her anger toward Kender rose as she worked, the way he often said just what she wanted to hear. Like the tattoo, of all things—a man would prefer a beautiful creature to complement her flowers? No man was like that, and she hated a fake.
When she was done, the stone had shrunk to half its size, a putrid residue around it. Then an intense fetor filled her bond to the Vine, a corruption that made her severely queasy, almost retching.
“What’s the matter?” asked Gisa. “You look like you drank a whole jug of splat-juice.”
“It’s okay,” said Lana. “It’s like last time. I was expecting it.”
Well, hey, it’s more than I could do, but I hope you can do something more impressive than that, or your going to be the wizardess of a mud puddle.”
“You’re not being helpful.”
“Girl, I’ll help when all the babas are chasing my friend the powerful enchantress.”
“I won’t use it that way,” said Lana.
“Then why am I here?” asked Gisa.
“Just teasing, honey. You know I’ve got you.”
“Good.” Lana looked around for something large to work on next. “If I don’t do something else soon, I’m going to lose everything in my stomach.” The corruption roiled within her like a pyre of burning bodies piled up from a battlefield.
Lana found a jagged stump from a fallen tree, a sapling with a few oak leaves had sprouted from its center. Again, she tore into the Vine, bleeding out the substance of it and contracting the mysterious organ that polluted it and released the power into the stump. The thrill in her spine, less intense this time, stayed with her as she ripped at it more.
Pain came gradually, not too sharp, then eased as she new it would, her bond filling with the impurities and buffering her from the effects of it.
Her resentment for Kender’s holier than thou attitude seethed through her. How he flaunted his power to make many beautiful things from magic.
She felt stronger this time, and although the stump did not seem to change, it emitted a horrible stench like excrement of a dog with a tinge of vinegar. When she’d gone as long as she could stand it, she stopped.
“Oh, kill me,” said Gisa. “That’s revolting.” She shook Lana’s shoulder. “Breathe, girl. You’ve been holding your breath the entire time.”
The stump didn’t seem to have changed, though it’s color was darker. “I don’t think it worked right.”
Gisa picked up a stick and poked the stump. It separated and squished like a pile of hominy, releasing an overpowering miasma that burned their noses. They trotted away, going deeper into the woods.
The after-effects were milder, and she was anxious to do it one more time to seal up her bond and empower her to her highest level.
“One more thing,” Lana said, the severity of her voice surprising her. She didn’t know what exactly she was looking for, but she was going to burn it and completely remove it from existence.
They walked back to the edge of the woods and stumbled upon a large black snake about as thick as Gisa’s wrist.
Lana savagely ripped the Vine and ignited the Vine’s substance into a spray of fire, flooding it over the snake. It writhed and twisted upon itself, then went still as the flame burned it to death, then disintegrated it completely. When Lana stopped, there wasn’t even much ash. Just a sticky residue like before.
She pictured Kender’s accusing eyes and imagined herself burning them out of his head.
The foul miasma had settled down into a dull stench that she could tolerate, the queasiness a distant sensation, almost a memory.
Conaroy sauntered up to them. “I saw you shoot fire. I’m proud of you, cousin.” He put an arm around each girl and guided them toward camp. He squeezed Lana. “It’s about time you were with a man and got that final tattoo filled in. Gisa already got hers, you know, and now that you’re going to be a great wizardess, you rate an even greater man to choose your image. You should get something that really stands out.”
“Yes,” said Lana. “The uglier, the better.”