“Bread and honey,” Dreck blurted out first. “Too simple!” complained Adela. “If we are going to play this game you got to make it more interesting. More refined.” Felsiene burst out laughing then moaned as she smacked her hand into the stone table they were all eating at.


“If you say that word one more time I’m going to start throwing dirt, said Dreck. “It got old the first ten thousand times you made that joke.” Adela smiled and leaned forward. “And I’ll say it another ten thousand times until you admit it was funny the first time.” Dreck leaned forward as well. “Except it wasn’t.”


Felsiene settled down to ignore the pain in her hand and continue eating. If the food served at the University could be called edible anyway. ‘You are what you eat’ was a big slogan at the university.


Dreck and Adela weren’t the only ones arguing. The Mountain Hall was full of students’ voices fighting, laughing, and complaining. It was said that the two greatest earth mages had been a couple together but unmarried for sixty years because they could never decide on whether they wanted a Spring or Fall wedding. Stubbornness wasn’t the only characteristic attributed to earth mages, but it seemed to be the most popular one to strive for these days.


Felsiene sighed and closed her eyes. She heard the rush of voices then muted them to a hum. The clink of dishes became the tinkling of water. Her breath was the wind. Felsiene put an ear on the table and waited. She imagined herself at home in her valley. The sun on her back and dirt in between her toes. The sweat of honest labor and simple needs. Working and listening to the ground. If seemed strange that Felsiene felt closer to the earth spirit on her family’s farm than at a school dedicated to learning about it. But perhaps that was simply because she didn’t know the lay of the land as well here. Perhaps if Felsiene could get her hands on some geographical charts and city plans she could understand where her feet were. As it was, Felsiene could only barely feel a slow vibration through the soles of her bare feet. She heard nothing.


Felsiene opened her eyes to find Dreck and Adela watching her. “Are we due for any earthquakes?” Dreck asked in forced lightness. Felsiene shook her head, even though she wasn’t sure she would have heard a warning if there was a quake coming. Things were so much harder to hear in a city. But Dreck looked relieved anyway. He took great stock in Felsiene’s listening ability. She had only heard that angry breaking sound from the earth once and she hadn’t been able to do anything other than chase her parents away from the break before their house was consumed. Left with nothing, Felsiene managed to squeeze her way into the University on merit alone in hopes of learning how to fix her parent’s land. It was a great honor. An accomplishment. A hoard of knowledge at her fingertips. And all she wanted to do was go back to farming.


A hand sprung up in Felsiene’s view and she jumped. “What were you pondering there my dear listener?” Adela asked. Felsiene blushed. “Just of home,” she said. “What were you saying?” Adela moved forward, “not important.” Adela never seemed to want to look backward. “Sometimes I think you would be more at home with the airheads than us rock eaters.” Adela waved at Dreck who was gnawing on a hunk of chicken that looked more charcoal than meat. It did look rock-like. Sometimes the earthen cooks took things too far in Felsiene’s opinion. Her own plate held overly salted unwashed vegetables. At least raw carrots were familiar.


“Not so my fair Adela,” Dreck said and put down his food. “If you read the Abalaster journals he claimed silence and loyalty as the most important characteristic for an earthen mage. In fact, he said that if you…” Adela huffed as loud as a sheep and broke in. “That may be so, but Mistress Terelle doesn’t move an inch once she decides on a path and she is one of the strongest earth mages alive today. I would rather follow after current proof of working magic than vague and confusing old documents that may or may not be plagiarized.” Dreck’s faced turned beet red.


Both Dreck and Adela pushed their food aside to give their new argument full attention. Felsiene didn’t mind the banter, but she wished she knew who was right. Every class she took seemed to tell her something different about the best way to learn earth magic. Felsiene had decided nobody really knew. They just tried everything until they were able to make a connection to the earth spirit and gain control of that domain. Felsiene didn’t mind the geography, gardening, and alchemy classes. But why purposely eat dirty food when there were so many minerals in it already? It was a favorite challenge of some students, Dreck included, to see who could stomach more handfuls of dirt. How does that help you make a spiritual connection? It didn’t make any sense.


Felsiene laid her head on the table again and watched her friends begin to arm wrestle like a couple of goats headbutting. She couldn’t help but smile. Felsiene listened to the quiet ground and took it all in. She thought, maybe the earth listened with her.


Photo by Gabriel Jimenez


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