A Gathering Storm
Lightning has an average temperature
of fifty-four thousand degrees Fahrenheit,
making it almost five times hotter than the surface of the sun.
—The Fifteenth Korus of the Emerald Tree
“LekaVema,” commanded the human in Terra-Topian! “GazePeve, taku.” Open, stick! Take!
The tip of his taku furled like a mummified hand, wrapping its vine-like fingers around the nugget at his feet.
Why does he seek Oltec’ta? wondered the Wind. And it wasn’t just Oltec’ta. The man also searched out other rocks that flashed their light-born color: A’Il’ta… Light off the Water stones—silver. Teca’Il’ta… Light from the Trees stones—emeralds. And Oltec’Il’ta… Light of the Stars stones—diamonds. The Wind knew the minerals by their human names. A good listener, the Wind knew many things. It was this obsession with stones it didn’t understand.
The human chipped away the stubborn earth that clung to the gold in his hand, wiping it clean on the hem of his robe. He held the nugget up for inspection. It was nearly five inches long and as thick as a swollen finger. He weighed it in his palm for good measure. “A pound, maybe a pound and a
half, ” he mused.
He twisted the radiant golden ore in the cool autumn light. “Soon,” he whispered to himself, smiling. “Soon.”
“More of your yellow stone, Gedaliah?” came the faint whisper of a thousand tiny voices.
The human froze. “Seems to be, m’lord,” he answered, his face hardening.
With a creaky groan that echoed its aged rings, the giant Wych Elm towering over the human bent down towards its ward. Using a gnarled branch to support its moss-encrusted trunk, the tree draped a leafy arm around the human’s shoulders.
As if anticipating infection, the human leaned away, avoiding what touch he could. If the Wych Elm noticed, it didn’t give any indication. Instead, it reached down with several saw-toothed leafy fingers toward the find in its student’s hand.
“What is it about these stones, Gedaliah?” leafed the Wych Elm’s chorus of voices as it poked at the nugget. “You seek them constantly.”
“Seek? No, m’lord. I’m sorry, but you’ve mistaken passion for pleasure again. They’re simply irritants that clog your soil.”
The deceit in his voice was not lost on the Wind.
As if to seal the lie, the human tossed his golden prize into the ferns several feet away and untangled himself from the tree. “Do you doubt my intentions?”
“You mean attentions?” mocked the tree.
“I stand corrected.”
Wiping his hands on his burak, the human circled the irregular base of the Wych Elm, careful not to step on the manicured earth blanketing its roots. With a deep bow, he extended his hand to the ground.
“But my intentions remain. Examine for yourself, m’lord.”
Almost hungrily, the Wych Elm scattered the surrounding crows and, flexing hundreds of emerald fingers, gently probed the overturned soil around its roots. Slowly, deliberately, it burrowed beneath the earth, searching its truth.
Instantly, the deep rich loam erupted with shimmering brilliance.
Earthshine! the Wind thought in awe. A current of light crawled out from under the submerged branches of the tree, spreading across the glade like a carpet of miniature stars gone nova.
Earthshine was the silent language that passed between the Standing People and the earth itself, an ancient tongue used to converse with the microbes, worms, and enzymes responsible for the health and welfare of their roots. Over the centuries, the language had remained a closely guarded secret, and even with its considerable eavesdropping skills, the Wind had not yet learned its technique.
The human grinned. “I trust today’s grooming is more to your liking? Yesterday, you weren’t so impressed.” He nodded his head with a certain lacquered sincerity, managing to profess both humility and disdain as if demonstrating a magic trick.
Almost as soon as the glade sparked to life, it dimmed, the Earthshine gone.
“Well done, Gedaliah,” leafed the Wych Elm. “Well done, indeed. I must say, with patience blooms promise.”
“Spoken like true flora.”
The human’s smile seemed sealed in place but his eyes flashed like flint. The Wych Elm rose, its limbs cracking and creaking until once again it towered over its student.
“When you’ve finished weeding the glade, the sugar maples would like you to tend to their root caps. A storm is coming and we must prepare.”
The human glanced up, his eyes narrowing to a knife’s edge. “Weed the glade…?”
While a pair of blue jays alighted overhead, carrying on about the atrocious appetites of goshawks or some such thing, the Wind caught the human stealing a scornful look around. Though the surrounding oaks, maples, and wild cherry were applauding with color at Autumn’s celebration, this Keeper-in-training seemed almost annoyed by the splendor.
Instead, his gaze drifted skyward with the jays, toward the ever upward, endless horizon of the inner world. There, the great Clock of Stars—the golden pulsar and its three moons that illuminated TerraTopia—glowed in shimmering, albeit pale, calm.
There, where one could see all the way across the interior of Earth’s twin spirit, the human simply stared. Into this nothingness he sighed his promise once more.
The human glanced back over his shoulder at the Wych Elm. “Of course,” he said agreeably, though his jaws gnawed on the words. “Tend to the sugar maples. An honor.”
With a firm grasp, he withdrew the metal blade hidden inside a leather sheath strapped to his forearm. The words etched on the foot-long machete’s surface caught slivers of light:
To G. W. Bosch, Good luck and may you find what you seek—U.S. Geological Society.
The Wind flowed around the human, peering over his shoulder at the uncommon sight. Metal, especially forged metal, was rarely seen in the inner realm, but when it was, it was always in the hands of humans.
The man traced the words with his thumb before hacking a path through the hay-scented glade. Whack. A fern fell in half without protest. Whack. A sapling no longer reached for the sky. Whack. A pair of cattails ceased to purr.
Hoping to decipher more about the human before he concealed his secrets, the Wind inched closer.
It didn’t take long.
“Heed the tree’s words, my little eavesdropper,” the human whispered as he bent down to retrieve his nugget. “A storm is coming. And it will consume everything in its path, including a ridiculous sneeze like you.”
As those ominous words declared its discovery, the Wind whipped itself into a frenzy, drowning out the human’s cackle.
With a gale force push, it rushed from the glade, seeking refuge in the clouds beyond.
Maybe it was true, the Wind thought as it aimed for TerraTopia’s eclipsing moons.
Maybe the Burning Sky was upon them.