S - The Elements of Being

As you hold the small piece of wood, your mind wanders back...

You are small, just to the point of being comfortable enough on your feet to inspire short bursts of clumsy running. Your mother and father are both there, on that day...

It is the first warm day of spring, the skeletal branches of trees clacking moodily on the bank of the river. The breeze carries warmth, and the smell of salt. You break into a fit of running and gain a small distance from your parents, where they laugh, watching you.

They hear the bears chuffing at the last minute, and dropping the baskets they were filling with roots, sprint to you. The brown bear was gaunt, having burned its fat stores during the winter sleep.

Knife already drawn, your father stands between you and the ravenous appetite of the bear. Seeing the larger opponent the bear hesitates, giving your mother the time to scoop you up and run in the opposite direction.

Just in time she tucks you between two giant slabs of cold granite, where you spend the next two days huddled in fear, first listening to the bear eat, then watching it swipe its giant claws at you from just inches away.

Wedged into the crack along with you is a stick, with a branching cluster at the end. The next time you see the black orb of the bears beady eye, you poke at it as hard as you can, the cluster falling from the end, and strangely unbroken, falls into your lap.

Roaring in agony and fury, the bear leaves, allowing you to be found by other villagers. You refused to speak for years after...

-----

As you reach your hand towards the fire, you feel its warmth, though it's somehow distant, unfocused. It doesn't burn. The closer your hand comes, the more concentrated its energy becomes. Reaching right to the fire's heart, something snaps in your mind, allowing a foreign piece of information fall into place.

Standing straight once again, a small flame dances just above of your open palm, burning nothing, neither shrinking nor growing.

The muttering of the old men watching has stopped, and is suddenly replaced by a shriek from the old witch-woman.

In the gutteral patterns of your people's speech, the hag curses you, approaches from behind, and delivers a stinging slap to the side of your face.

The fire disappears, but is still there, waiting patiently for you to bring it to life again.

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