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Melting Stones

Tamora Pierce

  Melting Stones

  Tamora Pierce

  Scholastic Press · New York

  This book is dedicated to Bruce Coville, Grace Kelly, Brett Hobin, Todd Hobin, David Baker, Dan Bostick, Moe Harrington, Timothy Liebe, Alice Morigi, and the rest of the wonderfully talented cast of the original, Full Cast Audio production of Melting Stones. Each of them left their own, unique stamp on this book. Without their voices and their commentary, it would not read as it does. It is their book as much as it is mine. I give them my heartfelt thanks. I hope that you will, too.

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page


  1 Lost at Sea

  2 We Meet Our Guides

  3 The Mountain Is a Restless Sleeper

  4 The Inn at Moharrin

  5 Dead Water

  6 I Fuss with Fusspot

  7 Fizzing

  8 Flare and Carnelian

  9 How to Get Out of Trouble

  10 Telling the Council

  11 Helping Out

  12 The Quartz Trap

  13 Oswin’s Kids

  14 Oswin

  15 Arguments

  16 Mage Stuff

  17 Stone Clothes

  18 Luvo Thunders

  19 Melting

  20 The Sea

  21 Panic

  22 Out of the Ashes



  Lost at Sea

  Hey, kid—stop hanging off that rail!” A sailor, one of the women, was yelling at me. “We’ve only told you a dozen times! If you fall overboard, we’ll not turn back!”

  “Can ya swim all the way to the Battle Islands?” another sailor called. “If ya can’t, ya’d best keep alla yerself on th’ ship!”

  “If I fall in, will I sink all the way to the bottom?” I yelled back. I didn’t pull myself up off the rail. If I sank, I would be lying among stones again. I would be among my own kind, with no fathoms of nasty water between me and solid earth.

  The sailors laughed.

  “The salt water holds ya up, wench! You’ll float whilst the fishies pick at ya!”

  “But my bones will sink. That’s what matters,” I replied. And I muttered, so I wouldn’t be scolded for rudeness, “I can take care of myself.”

  I dropped until I hung from my knees, my back against the ship’s hull. Then I stretched out my hands. The choppy water was still dozens of feet beyond my reach. I let my magic stream through my fingers into the sea. It plunged through water and salt. I strained and strained, but the sea has its own magic, a power that hates mine. I couldn’t feel the earth anywhere below me.

  I hate traveling by ship. Hate it. As soon as I can’t feel the stone of the ocean floor with my power, I’m lost. It’s like the day my mother sold me. She left me with no family and no way even to speak to my new, foreign owner. Aboard a ship, when I wasn’t trying to feel the approach of land, I huddled in a corner. There I placed my own stones around me and held my friend Luvo in my lap.

  Luvo helps me some. He’s about eighteen inches tall. He has the shape of a bear made of clear, deep green, and purple crystal that’s been rounded and smoothed by water. His face is a gentle point, not a muzzle. He’s not truly a rock, though he has the magic of a thousand stones. He is the heart of a mountain, a living creature with power for blood. So even though Luvo is a good friend, and company as I travel, he can’t make up for the feel of rock under me.

  I shouldn’t have been on that ship. Dedicate Rosethorn—my guardian—was the one who had been called to Starns, one of the Battle Islands. They needed her to see why their trees were dying. She was packing to go when I had a problem with some rich boys who were students at Winding Circle temple. They were bothering some of my friends. I said I would hit them with my staff if they didn’t stop, and they drew swords and daggers on me. It wasn’t as if I actually broke any of their bones. They were disobeying temple rules. Rosethorn told the temple council that the boys got what they deserved, and their parents could put their complaints someplace tender. But I also heard her tell Dedicate Lark, my other guardian, that she would take me to Starns, so the wealthy parents would have time to calm down.

  “I won’t have anything to do!” I cried, when Lark and Rosethorn gave me the news officially. “These island people want Rosethorn because their plants are dying. That’s no bread and salt of mine. And I hate ship travel.”

  “Then you may partake of confinement to Discipline cottage,” Rosethorn told me. “That’s the punishment the council wants for you, since you pounded those boys after you disarmed them. Travel to Starns and help me find what is killing their trees, or stay inside this lovely, tiny home of ours. Your choice.”

  So now I hung from the rail, stretching my magic as far as it would go and feeling lost.

  “Do you know, Evumeimei, that ocean rocks do not swim to the surface?”

  Luvo always said that when he found me hunting for the sea’s floor. The hearts of mountains apparently never get tired of telling the same jokes.

  They also never get tired of hearing the same answers, so I told him what I often did, “There’s always a first time.”

  I think the reason Luvo came out of his mountain to meet me, and the reason he’s stayed with me ever since, is because I make him laugh. Though I don’t actually hear him laugh, I know he does.

  “The sailors have told Dedicate Rosethorn that we should see the island of dying trees tomorrow, if not today,” Luvo said. “You will be able to sense the ocean floor soon, I promise you.”

  “I know,” I replied. “You never lost touch with it. I’m sorry I’m not centuries and centuries old. I’m sorry I’m not even a great mage. I bet you Rosethorn knows each and every plant below us, however many fathoms deep they are right now. But I’ve only been at this mage business four years. I have some catching up to do—”

  The hairs on my arms stirred, then stood up. My belly rolled, like that first cramp that warns you the sausage was bad. My magic flexed. Far under the sea I felt power move. The Pebbled Sea had earth tremors and earthquakes, plenty of them, but this one was different. It was thick and heavy, like molten stone. My body filled with a deep, bone-tugging hum. It swamped my teeth and made them itch.

  I began to slide off the rail. I swung, twisted, and grabbed. I clung tight to the rail with both hands and one leg. My hold was strong—I was used to climbing mountains. I waited for the world to settle, especially my magic. Right then it was still bouncing up and down, making my bones rumble.

  “Did you feel that?” I called to Luvo. I thought I might pop out of my skin, I was so excited. “What was it? Is it going to happen again?”

  “It is a waking tremor.” I heard Luvo’s voice as clearly as if he hung beside me. “It may well happen again. You should climb back on board, Evumeimei.”

  “Evvy! There, you see? I warn and warn you, and now it’s happened. You never listen.”

  That was Dedicate Fusspot calling out from the deck. His real name was Myrrhtide. I called him Fusspot, for good reasons.

  “You went over the rail. You nearly dropped straight into the ocean just now. How many times have I said dangling like a monkey is a good way to drown. You never know when a swell like that one will overtake us!” Myrrhtide was coming closer to me from the sound of his voice. I dragged myself back on deck and faced him. Myrrhtide annoyed me. He wasn’t old. He wasn’t in his forties, like Rosethorn—more like his early thirties. Yet he always moaned about his gray hairs. I couldn’t even see any among his red ones. He just carried on about being old, when he hadn’t earned the right to do so.

  He also couldn’t learn that I don’t like to be touched. The first time he bothered me about hanging over the rail, he had grabbed me by my sash. I f
orgot that I was supposed to behave. I drew a knife on him. Rosethorn got angry. Since Lark and my first teacher, Briar, had ordered me never to upset Rosethorn, I was careful not to let Myrrhtide grab me after that.

  I got on deck just in time. He was reaching out to take hold of me. “Swell?” I asked him, keeping my hands behind me, away from my dagger. “What swell? Luvo says it was a waking tremor.”

  “Myrrhtide sensed the same thing in water that you felt in stone, Evvy.” Rosethorn came forward to join us. She had to talk extra-carefully because she was dead once. Briar and his sisters made her alive again, but everyone knows that Mohun, who guards the dead, has to be paid something for his trouble. For Rosethorn, he didn’t take the sharpness from her tongue, but he did take some quickness in her talking. “Evvy, I thought you couldn’t feel the stone at the bottom of the ocean.”

  “This was too big for me not to feel. It was like the whole bottom rose up, only it was underneath.”

  Myrrhtide sniffed. “It was power transferred through the water, not under it.”

  “And I know when stone’s moving.” I hate it when he corrects me.

  “Don’t start, either one of you.” Rosethorn glared at us so hard I felt crisp around the edges. “The world’s strength was on the move. Leave it at that.”

  “I don’t know why you support her.” Myrrhtide could never let anything be. “She is only a child. I am a dedicate mage of Winding Circle. I am far better able to judge the movement and manner of power below us.”

  Rosethorn’s eyes sparked. She was going to say something dreadful, I knew it. Then the breeze puffed and blew her wide-brimmed hat overboard, into the sea. “Blight and beetles. Myrrhtide, Evvy has had specialized education. Now would you mind? My hat?” She pointed as it floated on down the length of the ship.

  Myrrhtide stared at her. Then he walked off, his Water-blue habit fluttering behind him. I heard him mutter, “Specialized education, indeed!”

  Rosethorn ran her fingers through her hair. She kept it cropped short like a man’s, which I didn’t understand. It was a beautiful dark carnelian red. I’d have let it grow even longer than my own black hair, which came down to my waist when I let it out of its braid. Not Rosethorn. Except for keeping her skin white and soft with creams, and wearing hats, Rosethorn didn’t care about her looks, and she had looks. She didn’t have a long, flat-ended nose, like mine. Hers was nice and small. Her lips were even a natural reddish color. Mine were just wide. My skin is Yanjing gold brown, so I don’t have to worry about the sun as much as she does, but if I ever get interested in romance, I’ll have to pay attention to my looks.

  “You could try harder to get along with him,” Rosethorn told me. “You’re a stone mage. You could borrow patience from your rocks.”

  “I’m no butter of his,” I grumbled. “He doesn’t have to try and churn me all the time. Don’t worry about Myrrhtide and me, Rosethorn.”

  “I’m not worried. I just don’t want him carrying bad reports of you to Winding Circle.”

  I didn’t like that thought, so I changed the subject. I looked at Luvo, who sat on the deck between Rosethorn and me. “Does the earth do waking tremors often?” I asked him. “It’s not like ordinary earthquakes, where two slabs of rock are slipping together. This is more like—”

  “Molten rock. Magma,” said Luvo. “It is moving. I have sensed such tremors for several days, but not of this strength. Prepare yourselves. Another comes.”

  I put my feet on the deck and gripped the rail. Luvo hardly ever gives orders. Far below the ship, stone power rose to meet the outermost feelers of my magic. It felt so strange, pressing like hot, solid water on me. I gasped. The wave passed on, but the sense of stone didn’t die, not completely. I felt touches of mica at the fringes of my power, and quartz, and granite. I was brushing ocean floor.

  A ridge! There was a ridge underneath the ship, three hundred yards below! I could feel basalt—good, calm, steady old basalt, long slabs of it!

  Myrrhtide came back. Alongside the ship came a long arm of seawater with Rosethorn’s hat on top of it. It passed the hat to Myrrhtide, who patted the tentacle as he’d pet a good dog. The water dropped back into the sea. Myrrhtide offered the hat to Rosethorn.

  “Thank you.” She ran her fingers over the hat. The seawater dropped out of it. I guess she made the straw chase it out: She could get plants, or things that had been plants, to do almost anything.

  “Waking tremors.” Her voice was quiet. “What is the earth waking up to, Luvo?”

  “It may only be waking enough to turn in its sleep, as you humans do, Rosethorn. Or tremors may come from movement that began in a distant place. It is hard to say.”

  I could feel the ridge start to drop away from me. It was just a sharp peak, not a rise in the land under the ship, and we were sailing away from it. “Nooo!” I leaned over the rail. “Come back!” I didn’t want to lose the tingle of all those beautiful rocks this soon! I had been so lonely, even with all my old stones and Luvo to keep me company. “Stay close! Stop this stupid ship!”

  “Evumeimei,” Luvo called.

  “Let me alone!” Far below, the floor had dropped out of the range of my magic. “I’m sick of the sea! I’m sick of being away from rocks!”

  “Evumeimei, if you will stop making that dreadful noise, I will show you a thing,” Luvo said patiently. To be honest, I think Luvo has few moods other than patient. It’s part of being a mountain’s heart, I suppose. It’s really annoying.

  “What she’s doing is called ‘whining,’ ” I heard Rosethorn say. “I don’t think you should reward her for it.”

  “Young mountains are restless and impatient, Rosethorn. As such, they can be dangerous. They must be kept amused. Although Evumeimei is not a young mountain, my spirit urges me to guide her as one. And that noise she makes is quite grating. Evumeimei, sit on the deck and place your hands on me.”

  When Luvo speaks to me firmly like that, I do as he says.

  I felt ghost hands reach through his clear skin and wrap around my wrists. He pulled me into his crystal insides. We fell through the ship, ghost Luvo mingled with ghost Evvy. It is a powerful thing, being a ghost before you are dead. In Yanjing, they would say I was cursed forever for being a ghost while I was alive. So many things are different when you’re a mage.

  We dropped into the water. It ran through me, cool and tingly with salt, warm from the sun. I would have gasped, but I had no lungs. We zipped through a huge school of fishes, their skins slick and slippery. The water got colder as we went down. Bright flashes sparked along my insides. I looked at myself. I glittered.

  They are flecks of stone borne by the sea. Luvo’s voice sounded in my mind. Once the sea has ground rock down into tiny grains, it is light enough to float. The sea carries the grains. They are so little you could not sense them with your magic. I feel them all.

  More fishes dashed by, blurs in the water. I was starting to wonder what they ate, to make them rush so, when I understood. It was not the fishes, but Luvo.

  Is this how you see Rosethorn and Briar and Myrrhtide and me? I asked. Dashing around like someone had turned us into crazy flies? Because we’re meat creatures and you’re stone?

  I made an adjustment to see you as you see yourselves. It was necessary. I shall make one now, Luvo replied.

  The crystal ladders and spirals that made up our ghost body seemed to go loose, then twist. The dashing fish twinkled. Suddenly they slowed. Jellyfish appeared—I hadn’t even seen those until now. Luvo and I continued on down, onto the ocean floor. The ridge I had felt lay before us. Beside it was a deep canyon. Luvo took us into that. I reached my ghost hands out to feel its stony sides.

  It’s volcano rock. Why is there a volcano canyon in the ocean? I asked.

  Volcanoes exist everywhere. Once—long before my time—the world was born of volcanoes.

  Long before his time? Luvo was thousands of years old. I couldn’t imagine anything older than he was.

  I have sp
oken with the mountains from those times, he continued. They were only pebbles by then, but they were very wise. I learned much by waiting patiently to hear their wisdom.

  Is that “patiently” thing a hint to me? I wanted to know.

  I would never hint to you about patience, Evumeimei.

  The lower we fell in the deep canyon, the warmer the water got. Shouldn’t it be freezing by now? I inquired. What makes it warm?

  Luvo said, Look, and you will see.


  We Meet Our Guides

  Below us lay a deep, deep crack in the canyon floor. Strange, death-colored plants grew there, food for the pale fishes that nibbled on them. Around one hump in the crack, bubbles streamed from an opening, boiling up through the water. It looked like a miniature volcano. I touched it with my magic, naming the minerals heaped around it: sulfur, magnesium, and other volcano leavings. The crack itself was limestone.

  The vent belched. It threw out a boiling cloud of bubbles that passed through Luvo and me. Where does it come from? I wanted to know. Where does whatever air that is in the bubbles come from? What made this crack, and why did it burp just now?

  It “burps,” as you comically put it, because the heart of the earth is forever in motion, Evumeimei, said Luvo. This seam reaches down to the molten heart, which is gas and liquid stone. These things come to the earth’s surface through such vents, be they under water or under the land. That is where the ocean rolls to the earth’s pulse.

  So where does this seam go? Under the Battle Islands?

  Many do, he replied. I have heard it said that earthquakes often take place in this part of the world. It is because many seams are here. I had thought that if I showed you these things you might have fewer questions. Instead, you have more. Are you never unquestioning?

  I could tell Luvo was teasing me. I’m quiet when I sleep. Besides, you said you wanted to stop me whining. You didn’t say you wanted me not to ask questions. I’m not whining, am I?

  We began to rise along the canyon wall. The creatures that had been blown out of the way when the vent belched were returning to it. Do they worship their ocean volcano, Luvo?