“Rosethorn? We're out of milk; I need some for dinner. Shall I head to the hub for it?” Lark, a newly dedicated Earth Dedicate, questioned the lonely cottage. She sighed as she heard no response. Rosethorn—the thorny Earth Dedicate who had by some miracle taken Lark under her wing—must have slipped out while Lark had been working. She didn't really want to go, but they did need it for dinner…
She would go; in honor of Rosethorn's unexplained kindness, she would go. It was a chilly day; Lark tightened the belt of her habit for added warmth, grabbed the food basket and pushed her other hand in her pocket.
Lark was struck by ferociously cold wind as she stepped out of Discipline. She swayed as she walked the front path and onto the Winding Road. The wind vanished as quickly as it had come; a shiver ran rampant across the woman's skin. She tightened her habit's hold of her and continued, scolding herself for being flighty.
The stillness frightened her. She'd faced all assortments of weather in her travels and must have experienced something similar at one point; if only she could remember…
The trees stood still against the quickly-darkening sky. It wasn't that close to evening. The stillness of it all bothered her; it made her feel utterly alone and secluded. Everything looked as though it should have been moving but was absolutely frozen. All of it was too surreal.
I can do this, Lark reminded herself. I'm not some young adolescent to turn tail at the scent of a storm. It won't be here for some time.
Even with those thoughts, Lark felt the fear curl around her abdomen. She was an adult; she could do this. With a deep breath she noticed that the Hub was fast approaching. There: it wasn't that bad, was it? All she had to do was keep her composure. She fixed her dignity and confidence in check before stepping into the Hub.
Lark was immediately relieved by the hustle and bustle around the center. The thread mage nearly cried at the surge of comfort when a novice rudely bumped her shoulder and jostled her back. Lark smiled and made her way toward the kitchen.
Lark emerged from the kitchen two hours later wearing a goofy grin and a habit with white powder stains. She had so thoroughly enjoyed the activity and social setting that she had volunteered her time helping Dedicate Gorse bake fresh bread, rolls and dessert. That man had a kind mouth and an even kinder ear.
At last it was time to leave the place of comfort and commence the journey home. The air was warmer than before and drizzling slightly, but that was of little importance to a now-content Lark. She was joyous enough to round a cartwheel, but refrained for the sake of her breathing.
A peculiar thing occurred halfway to Discipline: Lark began to notice limitations in her ordinarily acute vision. Everything was becoming misty and distant items were disappearing behind a curtain of white…
Lark panicked; she remembered fog. The diminished vision put her in such a fright that she lost her common sense and composure. What should she do? Where should she go?
In all of a few minutes she could see only the distance she could throw a rock with her strong arm. The edges of her vision revealed the white cloud of curtains. She was lost in clouds.
Lark’s head spun as her stomach heaved in fear; even her knees grew weak. In her mind the world was limited to her small field of vision: she was completely alone. Her irrational thoughts told her, screamed at her, that she would be lost here forever; she would die here alone.
That thought brought her hard to her knees. She ignored the food supplies spilling around her as she lay clutching her stomach.
“Rosethorn!” she called into the smothering air. Tears caught on her lashes and stained her cheeks. She felt her rationality and sense of time disperse. “Yazmin! Yazmin?”
She called and yelled until her voice was hoarse and painful to her ears; she was reduced to whimpering. “Help me? Someone?”
The time she spent curled up in the dirt was unknown to Lark. It seemed an eternity, the time she spent crying, shivering and scratching at her stomach. She had given up on calling out: who would find her here, anyway? She was so very far away…
Movement caught her eye but she did not alter her activities or position; she no longer trusted her eyes, not with this ostracizing fog. When she felt heat at her back she thought it was a hallucination, another level to the madness the fog had reduced her to.
None of it was real. The only reality she knew was that she was utterly, completely lost and alone and forgotten…
"Lark, come back to me," a voice pleaded. There was steel to the voice gave it strength despite the worry and concern. Maybe it was vaguely familiar…
Something pulled at her. The thing that bothered Lark was that it wasn't physical: she felt odd snake-like tentacles diving deep into her and wrapping around anything they could; they were pulling, these… these…
Vines! Lark felt the snap of recognition as she recognized the voice as Rosethorn's softened tone, the vines as her earth magic and the warmth due to physical proximity. Lark's head spun. Someone had found her; she wasn't alone; she'd live.
“That's it,” Rosethorn coaxed. She must have noticed the slight calming in Lark's actions and the relaxation of her shoulders; she would be all right. Lark sobbed out her relief and gratitude.
When her thoughts gained some normality she considered how much Rosethorn was kicking herself for the softness in her voice.
Rosethorn offered a quick, tight squeeze and started to help Lark up. “Let's get you and this food home.”
Lark was shaky as she pushed off the ground. She was damp; she hadn't noticed before. As she stepped up off her knees she thought she might fall but Rosethorn was there to help her.
“Lean on me until you can stand by yourself. I'm going to gather up these goods.” Rosethorn bent down but was sure to offer her back as support while organizing the food back into the basket. She glanced up but remained folded over. “You prepared to start walking?”
Lark was unsure of the strength of her voice and tested it. “Yes, I can walk.”
Rosethorn nodded and rose with the basket. Lark took two steps backwards and stood, barely wavering, to prove to herself as much as to Rosethorn that she could. Her companion smiled with what seemed oddly like pride and waited for Lark to take the first few steps.
The pace was sluggish and uneven with Lark’s faintness but they were at least walking. A few paces down the road, Rosethorn looked at Lark in a way that made it clear she wanted to ask a question but didn't wish to pry. Lark was flattered: with most people Rosethorn would have asked without consideration of comfort.
“Mmm?” Lark murmured.
The plant mage parted her lips, hesitated and asked as respectfully as she could muster, “What happened? Why were you so afraid?”
Lark looked to the ground and away from the fog, composing her thoughts and an answer. After a moment she began to answer. “I fear fog. It harms my thoughts, not being able to see in the distance; I can’t grasp where I am or my connections. I end up feeling…alone and lost.” She paused and exhaled heavily. “I was convinced I was going to die.”
Rosethorn thought of nothing to respond and instead walked closer to Lark, taking her hand and squeeze it reassuringly. “I'm glad I found you.”
“Oh, you have no idea,” Lark breathed as she squeezed the hand back and let go. She couldn't help noticing, upon looking at Rosethorn, that the woman was smiling. Lark cocked a brow and inquired, “Why are you smiling?”
“I enjoy the fog,” Rosethorn stated, uncharacteristically enthusiastic; she smiled at this. “Reminds me of the better parts of home. It could inspire me to dance. I feel as though my head is in the clouds—since it is. No one to inspect and judge: I'm free to be a little eccentric without straining the persona I create for myself. Put simply, I'm free to…dance as if no one's looking. And thank Mila for that, too; I’ve two left feet.”
Lark laughed as the words settled in; Rosethorn would hardly use the phrase any other time. How to entirely different perspectives could exist... She had never considered it that way. The fear remained within, but loosened. Her shoulders sagged without the rigidity of fear; she caught herself and straightened using her own reserves of strength.
Rosethorn's delight contagious but Lark couldn't fathom her mood rising considerably, not in the fog. Still, she had to admit it felt safer.
Lark blinked twice and stared. Had Rosethorn done a twirl? It was an action so atypical that Lark’s mind could hardly comprehend it. Rosethorn cackled at the expression.
“Oh, don't act so shocked! I'm not only the thorny sharp-tongued woman you know now. You knew that already, though, didn't you?”
Lark nodded: she had. It drew her to Rosethorn. The thorn was predominant but when the rose arrived, it was the sweetest thing to behold. Occasionally Lark found only rose, but tended to prefer the combination. If one came entirely without the other, something was generally wrong.
“I've never been a dancer and didn't grow up with them, but care for a dance?”
Lark took a few more steps and gazed back, puzzled. Should she dance with Rosethorn? Lark was known here as a woman-lover—she had been since her short stay here years ago during the start of her sickness. She also knew she had been developing feelings for Rosethorn for years—the monthly visits charitably taken to the Mire were always noted with great interest, although Rosethorn wasn’t aware.
“Sure,” she finally answered. She enjoyed dancing; it was one of the many things she used to do with Yazmin. It would also be nice, admittedly, to dance with Rosethorn. Lark held back a sigh. She almost preferred her mind in the mist—at least it wasn't so analytical there. Where had her spontaneity gone?
Rosethorn approached. With a deep breath, Lark gathered the threads of courage around her. She grasped the woman's hand and dipped her back; Rosethorn smiled fully and laughed.
“Lark! You can dance! I learned some at Lightsbridge, but I can tell you've got more skill than our daft instructor himself possessed,” she remarked excitedly, her features bright. Lark grinned and twirled Rosethorn out and back in again. This side of Rosethorn was youthful and delighted—free, it seemed, of long hard times and the need for a rock-solid walls for personal protection.
“I used to do a lot of dancing with an old flame,” Lark explained simply. She felt the pinprick of pain that came with the memory—she had lost Yazmin when she had lost her career and lifestyle—but let the feelings go. This was another new time in her life beyond the tumbling and beyond the Mire; she would face it as such.
“Well, then, I'll have to make it a point to dance with you more often…in case some of it rubs off,” Rosethorn commented, half satirical. She blushed softly at the possible interpretation and quickly added, “because of your skill.”
Lark smiled and nodded. She would never embarrass Rosethorn by pointing out that her addition didn't help. It wasn't a subject Rosethorn was used to speaking on. Lark considered her fears of growing too attached to Rosethorn but allowed those fears to disperse as well.
“Shall we dance?” Lark requested with her most charming smile; she was relieved to have found much of her strength. Rosethorn grinned and took Lark's offered hand as she began to hum a song one of the travelling musicians taught her troupe.
The two danced the remaining distance to Discipline. Rosethorn then pardoned herself to fetch the desert plants she had outside before the rains came.
Recognizing her solitude, Lark left to meditate with a curtain drawn around her bed for support. The dancing had been a joy in the end but she was still daunted by the residue of the prior experience and her enhanced level of fear.
When and where had that started?