Release Date: August 28, 2012
A virulent disease sweeps through the Sawblen Province. The source is unknown. As hundreds fall victim, the healers race to contain it and find a cure before it engulfs the realm, but a would-be healer complicates the situation by concocting dangerous drugs.
While the officials are distracted, a counterfeiter takes advantage of the events. Credentials and money are faked, putting several lives in peril and resulting in deaths.
The Great One's council and sage population hurry to track down the sources of the trouble and right the multiple crises before anyone else falls prey to the events. Rare natives of the planet have important information to impart if the sages can decipher their cryptic message.
The young woman stopped by the still-room and her brother's workroom, next to his hot shop, before heading out on the path that skirted the edge of the swamp. She paused by a tall cluster of reeds and, taking her pocket knife out, cut down several of the tall leaves, thinking she could weave a basket while she took her turn sitting by the invalids' doorway. She walked a bit further, pausing now and again to watch the abundant bird life. She was enjoying the antics of a red- crested dipper when she became aware of a stirring in the tall grass at the periphery of her vision. Raow's gold eyes peered at her from the cover of the dense grass for a moment before he stepped out onto the path beside her.
Kneeling down on the trail beside the creature, Ree reached out a hand to stroke the ruff at the side of his face with a light touch. 'It's good to see you again, Raow,' she said simply.
The wildcat cocked his head toward her then looked beyond the edge of the path into the reeds before speaking. 'You have a distressing problem with an unfamiliar illness. It is a disease that has struck before. It can be simply uncomfortable . . . or deadly. I came to you today to guide you in your skills; to point you in the direction to discover your strengths. I had thought to let your abilities mature in their own time, with just a nudge now and then from me. The re- emergence of the disease has changed my mind. Ree, Catri told you every sage has unique talents. One of your skills is telepathy, or we wouldn't be able to communicate. Another is psychometry, which will allow you to learn new information through touch. Among the sage population, it is a fairly common ability, even though the pattern of competency is as individual as the sage. You, Ree, also have a strong guild aptitude in herbology and healing.' His gold eyes studied her for a moment before he looked into the swamp. 'That plant that you have likened to a short cattail is a whelk stalk. Grasp one and close your eyes.'
Ree looked at Raow before she reached out and folded her hand around the stalk. At first she sensed nothing. She was confident that Raow wouldn't have asked her to do this if he didn't have a reason, so she concentrated on the plant. She began to get an impression of what part of the plant was edible and other ways it was useful. When those sensations ceased, she opened her eyes and looked into the gold ones. 'Oh, I didn't know . . . That is a valuable ability to have. Wow!'
Raow nodded. 'Now, stretch your senses to the life forms that live in the swamp. Call to one and ask them if they would be willing to come out and meet you.'
She looked toward the swamp and her gaze became unfocused. All of a sudden, her mind was filled with the awareness of the wet land, teeming with life. She narrowed her range to the area within a few feet of where she knelt and the impressions became more manageable. There was a pretty, little frog just inside the reeds, so she focused on him. 'Hello. You're quite beautifully colored. I've never seen you before. Would you be willing to come out and let me meet you?'
The small frog peered around a leaf half way up the stalk. 'Well, that's a first. I have never had a person speak to me. I don't sense any harm from you. If you'll bring your hand near me, I'll climb onto it.' Ree did as the frog requested.
She heard Raow's voice as she extended her hand. 'Do the same exercise as you did with the whelk stalk while you talk with him.'
A small frog, no bigger than the top joint of her thumb, hopped onto her hand. He had stripes of different greens running up his back and one yellow spot between his eyes and another near his end. Ree and the frog looked at each other.
'I'm Oa.' She heard the tiny amphibian's words in her head, his voice small and low-pitched. 'My family is native to this world. You must be a sage. We have family lore about the Ancients.' He turned his head toward the wildcat. 'I'm pleased to meet you and one of the honorable Lyrix.'
Ree bowed her head to the little frog on her hand. 'My name is Ree and I have just recently become a sage. This is Raow, who is my friend and my guide in developing my sage skills. I am pleased to meet you. Thank you for being willing to come out. I'll let you go back to your activities. It has been a pleasure.' She stretched her hand back toward the leaf and Oa jumped onto the plant. 'May we visit again, Oa?' The frog made a bobbing motion and she sensed an affirmative answer. Within a moment he was gone.
About the Author
Holly Barbo's world is shaped by her love of her family, the beauty of the natural world in Northwest Washington State and an irrepressible creative drive.
Living where the scenery is incredible with a rich abundance of wildlife "is so special and soothing that it feels like a quiet kind of magic," according to Barbo. She is drawn to creating stories where there is just a bit of something unworldly, perhaps it is magic or psychic skills. Her stories are mostly in non-urban settings and usually have some focus on nature, building a discordant drama inside the peaceful frame.
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