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Story 1

Teresa Howard
 

Teresa Howard is a life-long fan of science fiction and fantasy. For many years she was employed as a technology coordinator and computer lab instructor at a local elementary school in Birmingham, Alabama. She dreamed of writing science fiction and fantasy.

In 1991 Teresa began to attend Dragon*con in Atlanta. There she participated in beginning and advanced writerís workshops by Ann Crispin and others. She became a member of the DC2K Writers group that formed at Dragon*con in 2000 and enjoys attending conventions and meeting and networking with others in the Science Fiction and Fantasy field.
Teresaís published stories cover a wide range of the speculative fiction genre and include childrenís stories, science fiction, fantasy and some horror. These short stories have been published in magazines, anthologies, webzines, and on iPhone aps in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. She is often found at a corner table in a local bookstore working on her latest writing project.

Annis struggles to find and hide great magic within herself. Part of the ancient and magical Nelari people, she has never been accepted as one of them. To save her people and gain their trust, Annis must learn to believe in herself and surrender to the power of the Stones. -- Teresa Howard

List of Teresa Howard's Publications:

1, Storm at Hailer Aoifeís Kiss September 2004
2. A Forest of One Amazing Journeys Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy 2004 Vol. 2 Issue 5
3. Dragons Tale Dragons Composed Kerlax Publishing
4. Nellandraís Keeper Marion Zimmer Bradleyís Sword and Sorceress XXIV edited by Elizabeth Waters Norilana books 2009
5. Fang Rot Escape Clause the App for iPhone
6. Baby in the Snow Pantechnicon.net issue 9 March 2009
7. Putting On The Blue Beyond Centauri January 2010 Samís Dot Publishing
8. Not Human Neo-Opsis Magazine July 2010
9. Street See Spot Run 2011 A Publication of Alma College
10. Dead In Me Summer Gothic a Collection of Southern Hauntings 2012 edited by Jared Millet
11. The Long Blue Hall Alfie Dog Inc. March 2013

Welcome to a world where Magic reigns; Stones talk; and being Annis DaWakanda, illegitimate granddaughter of the high priestess DaWakanda Oma, is not the really neat life one would expect.

 

 

Annis, First Daughter of the Stone

By Teresa Howard

Annis drew all but a little of her magic into herself like a tightly coiled spring, safe there from prying minds. She didnít hide all of her magic. That would never do. The teachers might report that she was Stone-blind, and it was whispered among the students that Nelari children with no magic were sent away.

Taking a deep breath, she made a few last-minute adjustments to her test before sitting down. Annis had expected the exam to be difficult, and it had been. Sorting and assigning positions to the forty major herbs required knowledge of their importance, functions, and interactions. Still, she was fairly certain she had done well enough to escape a reprimand, yet avoid being singled out for praise.

Annis strived to be just successful enough at her studies to be unremarkable, avoiding notice of any kind. The teachers who instructed the highborn Nelari children in the wisdom of the Stones were highly skilled, and they monitored the progress of the ten-year-old granddaughter of their high priestess closely.

Annis glanced nervously at a row of older students, while a teacher inspected her test. Her friend Panya smiled and gave her a wink.

"Annis DaWakanda, can you explain why you have put the cumul next to the salentra instead of in order by the cumalin?" Han Belcaís voice carried, drawing attention to Annisís work and her status.

Annis felt heat rising in her cheeks. Every eye and mind in the room had suddenly focused on her. "Because cumalin doesnít like cumul?"

There was a brief chorus of snickering, cut short by a stern look from Han Belca. "That will do!"

She looked down at Annis and nodded. "Quite correct, Annis. Putting cumul and cumalin together is dangerous. Even rubbing the leaves together can produce a deadly poison."

Han Belkaís disapproving gaze swept the room. The other students were uncomfortably quiet. "I had hoped more of my students would have discovered this fact in their research. It is not a mystery revealed only in the DaWakandaís household."

She returned her attention to Annis. "Now, please explain to the class why you paired the cumul with salentra." Her eyes narrowed. And donít pretend ignorance or sudden loss of memory

Han Belka had tossed that last remark in focused mindspeak. Annisís head jerked upward and their eyes locked. Han Belca smiled in satisfaction. She could now reliably report that Annis DaWakanda, granddaughter of the high priestess, DaWakanda Oma, had the ability to receive mindspeak, and at an early age.

"Salentra sweetens the cumul," Annis muttered through gritted teeth.

"Very aptly put. Salentra neutralizes the bitter acidic taste of Cumul and makes it quite pleasant in a tea. This is very important because one of the chief uses for cumul is as a pain reliever for infants and children."

Annis watched Han Belcaís forehead crease as she looked at her test again, but she averted her eyes when the teacher gave her another sharp look.

"Annis, I am happy to say that you have your first perfect mark in my class."

Annis groaned, but kept her eyes downcast. She had made four deliberate mistakes on that test. Han Belca wouldnít have missed them. Was this another trap or was the teacher simply trying to curry favor with a member of the DaWakandaís family? She waited for some further comment, but Han Belca simply moved on to the next student.

###

"Congratulations on the test!" Panya pulled Annisís arm, bringing her back to reality. The class was over and most of the students were already filing out of the room. "Come on! Iíve got a surprise for you."

Annis allowed herself to be pulled along until she stumbled trying to keep pace with the taller girlís stride. "Ancestors! Slow down, Panya. Are you trying to kill me?"

"Come on, Annis, weíll miss the Speaking of Leaetteís birth." Panyaís sister, Leaette was due to give birth any time and neither girl had been to a Speaking before.

Annis stopped. Children, except for family members, werenít allowed at a Speaking. "I donít think I should be there."

Panya gave her an annoyed look. "Iíve already asked. Your Aunt Madera is the midwife and Leaette doesnít mind."

The mention of Aunt Madera brought a smile to Annisís face. It brought the warm taste of Maderaís magic to her mind. Of all the adults in her world, Annis loved Madera best. She grabbed Panyaís hand and the girls began to run.

They were laughing and out of breath when they arrived at the birthing room. Several family members were waiting with Leaetteís husband for the Speaking to begin.

Madera smiled and nodded toward a corner where the girls could view the ceremony without being in the way.

Panyaís sister, Leaette, lay on the table covered in silver gauze. Her abdomen made the covering rise in a small mound reminding Annis of the low hill sloping up from the valley behind the village. Her face was rigid in concentration as she blew out short puffs of air in tempo to the cadence of Maderaís chant.

Annis reached out and squeezed Panyaís hand. She breathed in the heady aroma of the incense, trying to identify the ingredients. Maderaís voice softened and she gently placed her hand on the mound. It was time for the speaking.

Annis silently recited the teaching of the Stones about the ceremony. Before birth all people are one with the ancestors, free from the confines of time and space, able to see the beginning and end of their lives. A proper midwife can speak to a baby just before it comes into this world and forgets the world of the ancestors. She can give the parents and the infant a message. Often this message will give an insight into the childís nature or some important event in their life to come.

Annis closed her eyes and felt a rush of wind engulf her. She was there, on the other side, and she could hear Madera and see the baby inside Leaette. There was pain, sorrow, and fear. Annis wanted to pull herself back but couldnít. Maderaís magic was soothing, speaking to the unborn child with gentle coaxing sounds. Madera spoke the birth. "This one is much loved by the ancestors. Let her name mean happiness."

The words jerked Annis back from the other side. Annis blinked back tears and stared at Madera. Then, confused, she looked at Panyaís excited face. How could Madera say such false things; how could Panya be happy? Then she realized that Panya hadnít been there on the other side.

Lattť gave a piercing scream and the baby came. Madera turned aside and washed her hands while her assistants cleaned and then restored the infant to her mother. Soon they carried both from the birthing room. The family followed until only Madera, Panya, and Annis remained.

Madera dried her hands and came over to speak to the girls. She reached out to stroke Annisís hair. Annis pulled back. Madera saw the anger and fear on her face. "Whatís the matter, child?"

"You lied!"

"Annis!" Panya gasped. She grabbed Annisís arm and started to pull her away. "She didnít mean it, Madera. Sheís too young to understand and it scared her. I shouldnít have brought her."

"Enough, Panya. You may go. I will talk to Annis in private."

Panya gave Annis a reproachful look and fled. For a while Madera didnít say a word, just looked at her. Annis realized that she was waiting for some kind of explanation.

Annis tried to gather the multitude of thoughts and emotions storming inside her. Finally she spoke, telling Madera what she had seen and heard.

"She didnít want to come out. Sheís going to die young and there will be so much pain and sorrow in her life. She was afraid. Why didnít you speak the truth?"

"Why didnít I tell Leaette? Use your senses, girl. Would you have me burden them on such a happy day? Would that change what the Stones have spoken?"

Annis looked down. Of course Madera was right, and didnít everyone say that when someone died young it was because the ancestors were eager to be reunited with him or her? Annis threw her arms around Maderaís ample waist, asking for forgiveness.

"So, you could hear," the old midwife said gently, returning Annisís hug.

"I was there," Annis replied in a small voice.

Swiftly Madera took Annisís face in her weathered hand and tilted it upward. She peered into the pale lavender eyes, searching.

Annis froze, afraid she had made another mistake. Madera studied her for a moment, but only said. "I see." She might have said more, but they were interrupted by Panya running back into the room.

"Come quick, Madera! Itís the DaWakanda."

Madera was out the door in an instant, leaving Annis to question Panya.

"Whatís wrong with DaWakanda Oma?"

Panya shook her head. "I donít know. Han Golder came out of the council room crying that the DaWakanda was dying. Not that I would believe her report, but when I heard Councilman Rhyd say that the DaWakanda was truly ill, I ran back to get Madera."

"Stones!" Annisís mind raced. Han Golder hated DaWakanda Oma and was sure to spread an exaggerated account of her illness everywhere. Then a more terrible thought came to her. What if the DaWakanda was dying? What if her grandmother was already dead? "Letís go!"

When the girls reached the council hall they could see DaWakanda Oma being carried from the room, her face ashen, with Maderaís strong magic around her, supporting and guiding her exit. Annis stopped, unable to believe what she was seeing.

The DaWakanda lay on a stretcher, pain evident on her face, the aura of her magic waning.

Annis swallowed hard and glanced at the Stone worn around DaWakanda Omaís neck, the amulet of her power. The normally brilliant Stone was pale and chalky looking, even from this distance. Will Grandmotherís Stone join the Stones of the Ancestor? Annis chided herself for such childish fears. Maderaís medicine is strong. The DaWakanda is sure to recover.

The council members stayed inside the Hall after DaWakanda Oma had been taken to her quarters. Word spread and others joined them. They gathered in small groups, talking in low voices, some in mindspeak. Annis made her magic small, stood in an out of the way corner, and listened shamelessly as the adults talked.

"What will we do? The DaWakanda has not selected another to bear a Stone," someone lamented. "If she dies without an heir, what then?"

"Then we must select an heir." Annis recognized Han Golderís voice. "The council has pleaded with the DaWakanda many times to select someone to bear a Stone."

"If only Aalyisan had lived. She could bear a Stone."

"Well, sheís among the ancestors and we have waited long enough. There are several young women who carry the DaWakanda blood. Our families go back together many generations."

"What about the child? She is Aalyisanís daughter, isnít she? She is next in line."

Han Golder was indignant. "Her! Sheís not even pureblood."

The aura around the speakers became jittery. "You canít be sure of that."

"Just look at her standing over there. Have you ever seen another Nelari with eyes that color? There was no mating contract and no Nelari male has stepped forward and claimed her."

"Iíve only seen eyes that color once before and it wasnít in the homeland," conceded one of the speakers.

Annis couldnít bear to hear more. She bolted from the hall, tears streaming down her face. She wanted to run all the way out of the homeland, but she settled for home. Madera was coming out of DaWakanda Omaís chamber.

Annis wiped her face quickly with her hands. "Is Grandmother going to die?"

Madera hesitated. "Not today, but sheís very ill. I am not sure there is much I can do."

"Can I see her?"

"I donít know. Iíve given her some girten tea and sheís finally sleeping."

"I can be very quiet. I wonít wake her."

"Just for a few minutes then."

Annis slipped into the room, stopping just inside the door, not approaching the bed at first. She didnít know what to do or say. She had never been comfortable around her grandmother. The unseen wall separating them had always felt as solid as the temple battlements, and Annis had respected the wall. She had never tried to breach it. Nor had she ever blamed her grandmother for putting the wall between them. It was there because Aalyisan was dead and she, Annis, was not.

Candles illuminated the four corners of the bed. Annis walked toward the nearest corner. She could smell strong magic here, and taste Maderaís medicine in the air. Her eyes focused on the frail woman tossing fitfully on the bed, barely recognizable as the powerful DaWakanda Oma. Her grandmother looked so old. Beads of perspiration glistened on the wrinkled face. Each rasping breath threatened to be the bodyís last.

"Help me." The words startled Annis. She didnít recognize the voice. It wasnít her grandmotherís, not even her mindspeak. "Help me".

Annis inched forward. Grandmotherís Stone had spoken to her. Thatís impossible. The Stone only speaks to Grandmother, Annis told herself sternly. I imagine too much.

"Help me, Annis." There was no mistaking the source or the urgency of the words now. Annis reached her hand out and gently brushed the tips of her fingers against the smooth surface of the amulet.

Time stopped. Every organ in her body seemed to explode as magic was pulled from her and siphoned into the body lying on the bed. It lasted only a minute and then Annis was released to stumble back against the wall spent. She told herself to breathe and did, finally, in hard gasps.

"Iím sorry. I needed some of your magic to keep Oma alive."

This was the first time that Annis had ever heard anyone refer to her grandmother as simply Oma. DaWakanda Oma, yes, and officially as The DaWakanda, or Mother of the Stone, but no one was ever that bold, not even Madera. It implied too great an intimacy, an equality, or perhaps superiority.

Annis looked at the frail old woman lying on the bed. DaWakanda Oma seemed to be resting more easily. Her breathing wasnít as labored. The Stone she had borne for nearly fifty years had regained a little of its color and luster. "You might have asked first. Will she be well, now?"

"No, there is evil magic here. You must go for help. Go to the Shrine of Stones."

"I canít go there, itís forbidden." Annis shook her head vigorously. The Shrine of Stones was the burial place of the Stones of all of the DaWakandas. It was a forbidden place. Since the first DaWakanda led the people out of the dark, the high priestessesí stones had been placed there after their death. She had been taught that it was guarded by the strongest magic and that anyone who entered there died. "I can tell Madera, she has strong magic."

"Tell no one. You must go alone. The stones of the ancestors are our only hope. Go to the door and say my name and youíll be safe. Tell the ancestors that Eleasa has sent you. Theyíll be waiting."

Madera moved purposefully about the kitchen when Annis came down. The smell of medicinal herbs filled the air. She looked up when Annis came in. "How is she?"

"I think sheís resting. Some of the color is back in the Stone."

Madera leaned against the counter. "Thank the ancestors." She drew the corner of her apron up and wiped her eyes. She looked down at Annis. "You must be hungry. I havenít fixed a bite of supper, but there is bread and some meat and cheese in the cold box. Help yourself."

Annis hadnít thought of food, but now that Madera mentioned supper, she felt her empty stomach complaining. She fixed a plate of sandwiches and poured a couple of glasses of milk, then opened the cold box again and pulled out the last two fruit tarts. They had been in there a few days but maybe they werenít too stale. When she was done, she tugged on Maderaís robe. "Come and eat."

While they ate in silence, Annis tried to remember the quickest route to the Shrine of Stones. It was located behind the temple, which wasnít far, but there wasnít an entrance on the temple side. She would have to go around. Heeding the Stoneís caution, Annis waited until Medera had checked on the DaWakanda and gone to her own bed before slipping out.

###

Two hours later, she stood before the Shrine of Stones. Looking at the entrance with her eyes, Annis thought it looked like any other cave opening, but the magic she sensed was beyond anything she had ever tasted. No guards were posted here, and none needed. Annis almost turned and ran home. Sternly she reminded herself that she had been sent here on a mission and that Eleasa had promised that she would be safe. Still, her voice trembled as she spoke.

"Keeper of the Shrine, hear me. I am Annis. I am DaWakanda. Eleasa sends me to you in time of trouble. May I enter?"

"Enter, Annis, we have been waiting for you."

Annis went in slowly. The darkness of the cave was deeper than the night outside, which at least had light from the moons and stars to see by. She waited for her eyes to adjust and then she could see well enough.

The Shrine of Stones was a large room, partially a natural cave, and partially carved out by her early ancestors. Throughout the cave, on little pillows, and on ornately carved pedestals were the Stones. One Stone for each of the DaWakandaís who had ever lived and led the people. When Grandmother dies, they will remove the Stone from her amulet and place it here. Eleasa will be home then.

"Very good, Child of Aalysian. You are right."

Annis looked at all the Stones. Each was unique in power and appearance. They began to talk to Annis, telling her their stories. Sometimes making her laugh. Sometimes causing tears to flow.

After a time the strongest voice interrupted. "Ö I am Risha, keeper of the Chamber and Speaker here. Itís time to tell you why you have been called here."

"Itís because Grandmother, I mean DaWakanda Oma, is sick." Annis turned toward a Stone that sparkled like a blue star in the night sky.

"She is not sick. Her magic is being poisoned. Someone has cut a false Stone and is using it to destroy her life force. You must destroy that false Stone or she will die, and whoever has done this will gain control of the people."

"Me? How can I destroy a Stone? I donít have much magic at all."

"You have more magic than you know, Annis. Donít be afraid. You will take one of us with you and we will be your power."

"Me, bear a Stone? Everyone will see. I will be cast out."

"You must keep the Stone hidden."

"Aunt Madera has more power."

"She canít hide a Stone, you can. This is Pala, she will go with you." A beautiful emerald Stone twinkled. "She is old, and powerful, and was borne by one of the first, and perhaps greatest DaWakandas. Hide her under your robe. Take her magic and conceal it in your secret place. Keep it there until itís needed. She will guide you."

"I canít." Annisís voice trembled

"You are the only one who can, Annis. Now, take up the Stone. Go to the council chambers tomorrow and wait for Madera to come in and say that the DaWakanda is dead. When that happens, let Pala out quickly. Sheíll only have a few minutes to destroy the false Stone."

Annis wore three simple chains of woven metal. She carefully slid the longest chain through the latch on the emerald Stone and returned it to her neck. She placed these inside her gown. Annis closed her eyes and concentrated on the hiding place. Little by little, she began pulling Palaís magic inside. "Thereís too much."

"You can do it, Annis, concentrate."

Annis spun around in delight, holding up her hands, the sound of her own laughter tinkling in her ears. The power of Palaís magic was beyond anything she had been taught in school. It filled her up and bubbled over like the Holy Springs of Aganar. That thought brought more laughter and she began to sing a holy song.

"Sheís drunk!"

"Annis! You must control the power. Put it behind your shield," Risha commanded, a hint of laughter in her voice.

Pala darkened her magic and the giddiness passed. Annis, back in control, felt a sharp sense of loss. With this much power in her hidden place, keeping the shield up required a great deal of concentration. Palaís magic threatened to tear her apart in its desire for freedom. She said goodbye to the Stones of her ancestors, promising to follow their instructions, but not entirely sure that she could.

###

Annis was unable to sleep. She rested quietly in her room, waiting for morning. Once she thought she heard Madera arguing with someone. It sounded like Han Golder, but she wasnít sure. The disturbance only lasted a few minutes and then the house was quiet again.

Before dawn, Annis gave up trying to sleep and dressed. It was too early to leave for the

Council Chamber, but Annis was hungry again. The lights and cooking fire were still going. Books, pots and pans, and herbs and potions were strewn about the kitchen. But, she saw no breakfast preparations. Madera must have been up all night, searching every healing book she had. Annis looked at the mess left behind. It canít be that hard to sort these out, and Iíve watched Madera work so many times I know the way she likes things done. That decided; she got to work.

When Madera came down the steps, she still wore yesterdayís clothes, and if she had slept at all it didnít show on her face. Her eyes widened when she saw that her kitchen was in order and that there was a breakfast of toast, fruit, ham, and cheese set out. The aroma of Pecale tea filled the air, her special blend. Annis sat quietly finishing the last of her own breakfast. Tears filled the older womanís eyes. "Stones bless you, child."

Annis poured Madera a cup of the tea. "How stands the DaWakanda?"

Maderaís knowing eyes acknowledged the request for honesty in the formal question. She shook her head. "Not well. Iíve never seen this illness before and itís beating me."

Annis almost blurted out the truth.

"Donít tell anyone!" The warning pounded in Annisís mind. She didnít see what harm telling Madera could do, but she obeyed the command.

"Iím going to the council chamber," Annis mentioned casually.

"Good, keep your ears open. Troubleís probably brewing."

Annis had never seen so many people in the Council Chamber. It was hard to find an out-of-the-way place to stand. She leaned against a wall, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Han Golder. "This is no place for children."

"Iím not bothering you."

"Go home and tell Madera that Iíve reported her little scene last night." Han Golder raised her voice. "Madera refused to let Gilla tend the DaWakanda last night. Sheíll be lucky if she isnít banished."

"She doesnít take orders from you and neither do I."

"How dare you speak that way to me! Leave before I call the chamber guards."

"I wonít."

"Leave the child alone," commanded a deep male voice. Councilman Rhyd had walked over. He positioned himself in front of Annis.

"The council has important business today." Han Golder glared up at him.

"Indeed, and our business is more important than harassing children. Shall we get to it?"

Han Golder stalked away.

"Try to stay out of her way if you can," Councilman Rhyd said softly.

Annis nodded. Councilman Rhyd was a strong ally of the DaWakanda. Annis remembered that he had always been kind to her and had taken an interest in her schoolwork from time to time. Are you my father?

No, he was my friend. The answer had been soft and he was gone before its import sank in. Someone knew who her father was. Annis looked to see where he had gone and would have followed.

"No, Annis itís almost time." Palaís magic jerked her to a stop.

Madera entered the Chamber and a hush fell on the room. Her head was bowed. She slowly walked forward and extinguished the Holy flame that was kept burning in the Council chamber day and night. DaWakanda Oma was dead. Han Golder moved toward the front of the room, Gilla with her, a smile of triumph on her face.

"Let down the shield, quickly. We donít have much time."

Annis let down the shield and felt herself taken over by Palaís magic. Everyone in the chamber could feel its power. They stood aside as she walked forward holding out the amulet.

"Where is the false Stone?" Annis demanded. The magic drew her toward Han Golder and Gilla. Gilla tried to hide behind her mother.

Annis continued toward them raising her voice for all to hear. "I bear Pala. DaWakanda Annilie wore her proudly. You will not defile the sacred line. Give me the false stone."

"Use the Stone and fight her." Han Golder pushed Gilla forward. Gilla pulled out an unusual amulet from her pocket and put it on, releasing the magic. There was no time to wonder how she had concealed it.

A stench like burning pitch filled the Council Chamber as the Stones clashed. The taste of twisted magic filled Annisís mouth. She felt a wave of burning heat from the wall of magic surrounding Gilla. This Stoneís power was stronger than she or Pala had anticipated. Draining her own magic and adding it to Palaís, Annis pushed forward. She felt the wall weaken.

Gilla gasped and stumbled back. Han Golda steadied her and hissed instructions, but it was not enough.

Annis cut through the wall with a surge of magic and reached out for Gilla. She grasped the Stone and jerked it from Gillaís neck. Gilla screamed and fell to the floor. The false Stone began to smolder and then shattered with a loud pop. The shards lay smoking at Annisís feet.

Han Golder bent over Gillaís body. "Murderer!"

"We heard the truth of the Stone." Councilman Rhyd and Madera were quickly at Annisís side.

"Lies! My Gilla was the chosen one. This girl isnít even pureblood. Her birth took Aalyisan from us. I say her magic killed DaWakanda Oma and my daughter. I demand her payment in blood."

Those who sided with Han Golder would have taken Annis by force. An exhausted Madera and Councilman Rhyd tried to reason with them. It became a shouting match.

"Pala, help me," Annis pleaded. Pala remained silent. Destroying the false Stone had taken all of her power. Annisís legs were feeling decidedly unsteady. She sagged against Madera.

Ever eager to curry favor with the Han of his district, Junior Councilman Roth spoke up, "The girl must stand trial. Han Golder has a right to justice for Gillaís death if Annis is to blame. Stand out of the way, Madera."

"Silence!" No one had noticed DaWakanda Oma enter the chamber. She looked like a ghost, her face pale, and her bedclothes dragging on the marble floor. The Stone she bore burned brightly. Madera shifted Annisís weight into Councilman Rhydís arms then rushed to relight the flame.

Sheís alive, Pala. You did it. Annisís fingers caressed the Stone.

Those who had been calling for Annisís arrest were now cheering the DaWakandaís resurrection. As attention turned toward DaWakanda Oma, Madera took Annisís hand. "We can go now."

Later, DaWakanda Oma carefully removed the Stone from Annisís chain while she was sleeping. The gentle tugging woke Annis. "Itís time to return Pala to the Shrine of Stones."

###

The next day, Annis watched DaWakanda Oma enter the garden. She waited a few minutes and followed. Pulling in all her magic, anything that her grandmother could sense, Annis silently slipped up behind the DaWakanda. She inched closer, too close for the wall to come between them. "Tell me about Aalyisan."

DaWakanda Oma showed no signs of surprise. She reached out and drew Annis to the bench beside her. "She was my daughter and I loved her more than anything in the world."

"Except the Stones."

"Including the Stones."

"Isnít that blasphemy?"

"Youíll be a mother one day, then youíll understand. Sometimes, Annis, you are so much like her that I canít bear to look at you."

"Because I caused her death."

"Because I couldnít save her."

They were quiet for a while. Annis remembered her visit to the Chamber of the Stones. She thought of all the things she had learned there. "It wasnít your fault, Grandmother. Aalyisan chose to go to the ancestors. She was ready"

"I wasnít ready."

Annis leaned forward and kissed the weathered cheeks. She had never kissed her grandmother before, but with the wall down it seemed right somehow. It was.

"Itís time I began your training. Eleasa tells me you will bear a Stone one day."

Annis remembered the hatred on Han Golderís face and the power of the false Stone. "I donít think Iím ready."

"The Stones decide when weíre ready, Annis, and we must first learn not to argue with their wisdom."

Annis stifled a giggle.

"What is it?" DaWakanda Oma demanded gently.

"Eleasa says that youíve yet to learn that lesson."

*** End ***

 

 

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