The next few days grew progressively warmer. It was as if the land couldn’t wait for the return of spring. Senta certainly couldn’t wait. The snowdrifts between the great redwoods disappeared, and she began to wander through the forest around the tower. Sometimes Graham came with her, but it was impossible to coax Hero beyond the relative safety of the road or the yard.
Three days after Mr. Jex had completed Zurfina’s painting, Senta got up early in the morning and went to the Hertling home. She hoped that she could lend a hand with household chores, supposing that this might endear her to Hero’s sister Honor. She had forgotten though that it was the Zaeri Sabbath, and the Hertlings, like the other Zaeri, were attending shrine, or rather the neighborhood lot on which they hoped to have a shrine built sometime in the future. She considered joining them, as non-Zaeri were allowed to sit in the back, but the prospect of an hour or more of she-wasn’t-too-sure what in a dead language she couldn’t understand dissuaded her. She stopped by the Dokkins house hoping to find Graham, but he wasn’t home. More and more, he had been getting odd jobs around the dock, and a ship had come in from Freedonia the day before.
Senta skipped down Bay Street, which was one of the two parallel roadways that ran south from Town Square. The earliest flowers had popped their heads up to enjoy the new sun. Blue ones and white ones, they were all very tiny compared to the blossoms that would appear later. The girl didn’t know what they were called, but she instinctively knew that they heralded the return of spring, and this put lightness into her heart and step. In no time, she had gathered together quite a bouquet and had reached the southern limit of the road.
Beyond was the wilderness. It had been uninterrupted forest just a few years before, but now the land for several miles from where she stood was a ragged looking plain having been logged extensively by the colonists, with only a few copses of standing trees here and there.
“You shouldn’t be out alone,” said a heavily accented voice. She didn’t need to turn around to recognize its owner, but turn around she did.
“I thought you were hiding in your apartment,” she told Streck. “I heard you got quite a scare on your hunting trip.”
“This place is a hell-hole. It’s not fit for a civilized man, and it won’t be until the monsters and the Eidechse are wiped out.”
“The Eidechse? You mean the lizzies? You can’t wipe all of them out. There are millions, not just the lot around here. They have some big cities to the south and west. I’ve seen one.”
“You would be surprised what can be done.”
“What do you want anyway? You want to finish our duel?”
“Oh, I have seen your shield spell and I am suitably impressed. It is clear you are a gifted, if boastful, child.”
“I think I asked already… what is it you want?”
“I’m just here to say goodbye, little bit.” Streck smiled. “My ship is here and I’ll be leaving soon.”
“Good riddance then,” said Senta.
Steck’s face turned even more sour. “I am inviting you to come with me. Not only will you learn to respect your elders, you will learn the true magic—far more than you will ever learn with your Zurfina.”
“What is it with you exactly?” asked the girl. “Do you want to open up my brain and scoop out the magic, or are you one of those weirdoes that like little girls?”