High in the forested hills where no one went, there stood a stone tower. It was a practical tower, neither lovely nor soaring, but solid and squat at only two stories. Its enormous blocks were hewn from the local stone, which was of an unappealing, muddy color that seemed to attract grime. Seeing that, it was perhaps fortunate that the tower was overrun with black-green vines. They wound themselves around the tower like thread on a spindle, knotting the wooden shutters closed and crumbling the mortar that held the bricks together, giving the place an air of disrepair and gloomy neglect, especially when it was dark and raining, as it was now.
Inside the tower, a man was shouting. His voice was deep and authoritative, but the voice that answered him didn’t seem to care. It yelled back, childish and high, yet something in it was unignorable, and the vines that choked the tower rustled closer to listen.
Completely without warning, the door to the tower, a heavy wooden slab stained almost black from years in the forest, flew open. Yellow firelight spilled into the clearing, and, with it, a boy ran out into the wet night. He was thin and pale, all legs and arms, but he ran like the wind, his dark hair flying behind him. He had already made it halfway across the clearing before a man burst out of the tower after him. He was also dark haired, and his eyes were bright with rage, as were the rings that clung to his fingers.
“Eliton!” he shouted, throwing out his hand. The ring on his middle finger, a murky emerald wrapped in a filigree of golden leaves and branches, flashed deep, deep green. Across the dirt clearing that surrounded the tower, a great mass of roots ripped itself from the ground below the boy’s feet.
The boy staggered and fell, kicking as the roots grabbed him.
“No!” he shouted. “Leave me alone!”
The words rippled with power as the boy’s spirit blasted open. It was nothing like the calm, controlled openings the Spiritualists prized. This was a raw ripping, an instinctive, guttural reaction to fear, and the power of it landed like a hammer, crushing the clearing, the tower, the trees, the vines, everything. The rain froze in the air, the wind stopped moving, and everything except the boy stood perfectly still. Slowly, the roots that had leaped up fell away, sliding limply back to the churned ground, and the boy squirmed to his feet. He cast a fearful, hateful glance over his shoulder, but the man stood as still as everything else, his rings dark and his face bewildered like a joker’s victim.
“Eliton,” he said again, his voice breaking.
“No!” the boy shouted, backing away. “I hate you and your endless rules! You’re never happy, are you? Just leave me alone!”
The words thrummed with power, and the boy turned and ran. The man started after him, but the vines shot off the tower and wrapped around his body, pinning him in place. The man cried out in rage, ripping at the leaves, but the vines piled on thicker and thicker, and he could not get free. He could only watch as the boy ran through the raindrops, still hanging weightless in the air, waiting for the child to say it was all right to fall.
“Eliton!” the man shouted again, almost pleading. “Do you think you can handle power like this alone? Without discipline?” He lunged against the vines, reaching toward the boy’s retreating back. “If you don’t come back this instant you’ll be throwing away everything that we’ve worked for!”
The boy didn’t even look back, and the man’s face went scarlet.
“Go on, keep running!” he bellowed. “See how far you get without me! You’ll never amount to anything without training! You’ll be worthless alone! WORTHLESS! DO YOU HEAR?”
“Shut up!” The boy’s voice was distant now, his figure scarcely visible between the trees, but his power still thrummed in the air. Trapped by the vines, the man could only struggle uselessly as the boy vanished at last into the gloom. Only then did the power begin to fade. The vines lost their grip and the man tore himself free. He took a few steps in the direction the boy had gone, but thought better of it.
“He’ll be back,” he muttered, brushing the leaves off his robes. “A night in the wet will teach him. ” He glared at the vines. “He’ll be back. He can’t do anything without me. ”
The vines slid away with a noncommittal rustle, mindful of their roll in his barely contained anger. The man cast a final, baleful look at the forest and then, gathering himself up, turned and marched back into the tower. He slammed the door behind him, cutting off the yellow light and leaving the clearing darker than ever as the suspended rain finally fell to the ground.
The boy ran, stumbling over fallen logs and through muddy streams swollen with the endless rain. He didn’t know where he was going, and he was exhausted from whatever he had done in the clearing. His breath came in thundering gasps, drowning out the forest sounds, and yet, now as always, no matter how much noise he made, he could hear the spirits all around him—the anger of the stream at being full of mud, the anger of the mud at being cut from its parent dirt spirit and shoved into the stream, the contented murmurs of the trees as the water ran down them, the mindless singing of the crickets. The sounds of the spirit world filled his ears as no other sounds could, and he clung to them, letting the voices drag him forward even as his legs threatened to give up.