Miss Mouse and Miss Worm felt rebellious. They had snuck out of the castle together, so they thought they could sneak in together as well. Thus, while the rusting suit of armour wandered the forest to brood, and while Miss Bird and Miss Pig napped, Miss Worm told Miss Mouse of her plan, in which Miss Mouse eagerly wanted to participate.
‘Are you sure this is safe?’ asked Miss Mouse, sitting on the edge of the woods. Miss Worm wanted to burrow into moist soil before proceeding into the castle. Miss Mouse was timid by nature, so although she was thirsting for adventure, she was having second thoughts.
‘No, but you want them to be safe, do you not?’ replied Miss Worm, popping her head out of the dirt.
‘Yes, I do, but—’
‘We better hurry. I am the only one small enough to travel with you, and you are the only one stealthy enough to get us in,’ said Miss Worm, reminding Miss Mouse of why she had devised the plan. Squiggling, Miss Worm made her way up her sister to be carried.
‘Oh, all right,’ said Miss Mouse, whiskers twitching.
Miss Worm curled the end of her slimy body around the base of Miss Mouse’s lengthy tail, anchoring herself securely for travel. ‘Scamper along, sister,’ said Miss Worm.
‘Can you not walk?’ asked Miss Mouse, feeling the worm’s slime seep uncomfortably into her fur.
‘Do you see any feet?’ asked Miss Worm. ‘I would much rather not have to drag my body along the rough dry land under the burning sun. You have seen how foolish worms shrivel when they venture onto heated pavement.’
Grumbling, Miss Mouse retorted, ‘How can I see your feet when you are on my back?’
‘Then do you feel any legs dangling over your body?’ asked Miss Worm. ‘Besides, would it not be fantastic to be a mouse with twin tails? You would be one of a kind.’
Miss Mouse already thought she was one of a kind. No other mouse in the world, who she knew of, spoke the common tongue. ‘Fine,’ said Miss Mouse, huffing. ‘You win.’ Miss Worm was ruffling her fur and possibly matting it. Despite Miss Mouse having carried Miss Worm many times before, she preferred that one of her larger sisters transport the worm. Slime was easy for Miss Pig to wash off, and the suit of armour did not feel it.
Miss Mouse scurried across the field to the castle and searched for a gap in the bricks. The castle was well constructed, but because they had left through a hole, they knew one had to exist. The pair retraced their steps and found the hole that had been their escape. They quickly squeezed between two poorly-set stones and raced down the main coridor Mouse and Miss Worm squeezed through. Carrying her friend, Miss Mouse scampered to the main corridor, and they began to scour the castle for rest of their companions.
‘Do you smell them?’ asked Miss Worm. She did not have a nose, let along lungs. She breathed through her moist skin.
‘I am sniffing as hard as I can,’ said Miss Mouse, her pink nose hovering over the floor. The castle was overwhelmingly unpleasant to sniff, masking most fragrances as a result.
‘Smell harder,’ said Miss Worm. ‘What if the witch is bewitching them?’
‘Do not say such things!’ squeaked Miss Mouse, taking them down another hall. ‘I cannot work under pressure. You know that.’
‘In that case, we have all the time in the world,’ said Miss Worm. ‘Mister Elf and Miss Human are not in a castle and possibly alone with a wicked witch who steals names and turns people into animals—without lungs—unless you are lucky of course.’
Miss Mouse stopped and stood on her hind legs, nose twitching. ‘Oh, you are cruel.’
Miss Worm struggled to remain on Miss Mouse. ‘Did you know I do not have eyes either?’
‘Then how do you see me?’ asked Miss Mouse, back on all fours and sniffing their path.
‘I am light sensitive,’ explained Miss Worm, laying on Miss Mouse’s back.
Miss Mouse stood again, causing Miss Worm almost to fall off again. ‘I think I smell something,’ said Miss Mouse.
Curling her length around Miss Mouse’s belly, Miss Worm clung on. ‘Of course you smell something. You have been sniffing,’ said Miss Worm.
‘No,’ said Miss Mouse, twisting her body jerkily.
‘Will you stop that?’ said Miss Worm. ‘I am a limbless, noseless, and eyeless worm.’
‘I mean I smell Mister Elf,’ continued Miss Mouse, pivoting slower to locate the direction of the scent and to accommodate for her sister. Dropping onto all fours, Miss Mouse dashed to the source of the scent as Miss Worm struggled to crawl back on top.
‘Hurry, sister!’ said Miss Worm.
‘I am scurrying as fast as I can,’ said Miss Mouse, sniffing harder and running as fast as she could. She stopped in front of a large door that scent seemed to permeate through and sniffed the air. The aroma was strong, and she knew it belonged to Mister Elf. Wiggling, she squished them through the tight gap at the bottom of the entrance.
Miss Mouse froze when she reached the other side.
‘Did we find him?’ asked Miss Worm, elongating her body upwards, attempting to sense another presence.
‘Yes,’ said Miss Mouse, soaking in the sight and disgusting stench, ‘but he smells like her magic.’
Miss Worm squirmed. ‘I suppose in that case, it is good I do not have a nose.’
Nelumbella hiked through the woods. Searching for the talking animals, she thought back to the words of both sides. She wanted to believe the Other Queen. She liked the Other Queen, but she liked the animals too. The animals had been sweet to her, but the Other Queen was the one who had helped her. She was able to relate to the Other Queen. Nelumbella was different, and the Other Queen was too. The Other Queen’s claims were believable for Nelumbella because of this. Yet, she was hesitant to trust the Other Queen due to the warnings from Charter and the talking animals. Nelumbella knew she was naive, not having been free until recently, but she was already indebted to the Other Queen.
Nelumbella’s feet remained silent as she trekked through uneven terrain, the illusion of the shoes extending further than appearance. With feet so light that she did not snap one twig, she had stealth that she did not know before. While her feet retained their strength and prowess, she no longer had to try to make them appear graceful. She was able to walk as she had before she thought she needed to learn otherwise.
Spotting a rustling bush and a disappearing little pink leg, Nelumbella said, ‘Little Miss, I am back.’
The bush rustled again. A little pink snout popped out followed by the pig’s face and body. ‘Miss Human, you have returned!’
’Nelumbella contemplated what to say. She wanted to hear their perspective again. She thought that a misunderstanding might have occurred. ‘Where are your sisters? Wandering on your own is not safe.’
‘I know,’ snorted Miss Pig, ‘but Miss Mouse and Miss Worm are missing. That is why I was in the bush. They are both so little that I thought they might have gotten lost in the shrubbery.’ Miss Pig looked to the sky. ‘I suppose I lost Miss Bird now too. We split up to search for our sisters, but she can fly so I know she will find me.’
The opportunity to begin the completion of the Other Queen’s task presented itself, but Nelumbella told herself that keeping the pig alive could provide answers and lead her to the other talking animals. She did not want to follow a path mindlessly either. She wanted to understand the situation better before she made a move.
Noticing that Dirus was missing as well, she inquired, ‘Where is Mister Wolf?’
‘Mister Wolf is following little sister. She has gone off for a walk, I think. She said that she needed fresh air,’ explained Miss Pig, ‘but we are always outside.’ She cocked her head questioningly. ‘Speaking of where people are, where is Mister Elf, Miss Human?’
‘He is in the castle,’ said Nelumbella. Separated, the animals were easier targets.
‘How could you leave him alone in the castle with that evil witch!’ exclaimed Miss Pig. ‘You should know better. What are we to do if he is no longer a person?’
‘Why does it matter if we are alone or separated?’ asked Nelumbella. ‘If the Other Queen is as evil and powerful as you claim, it will not matter if we are together or apart.’
‘She would have a facade to keep!’ snorted Miss Pig, stomping a little hoof in frustration. ‘She still is the Queen! She has a reputation she needs to maintain.’
‘So what you are saying is that she is fake—a coin,’ said Nelumbella. Miss Pig was jumping to conclusions too quickly. She had not even interacted with, let alone seen, the Other Queen in years.
‘Yes, that is exactly what I am saying,’ oinked Miss Pig.
‘She treated us with nothing but kindness,’ countered Nelumbella, wanting to persuade the pig into viewing the Other Queen differently. ‘She greeted us at the door, presented us with a feast, and gave me these marvellous shoes.’
‘You did not eat her food, did you?’ asked Miss Pig, gasping.
‘Of course not,’ said Nelumbella, harsher than intended. ‘Thanks to you, we were too paranoid to enjoy ourselves.’
Miss Pig groaned. ‘You are going to get the both of you in a lot of trouble.’ Then, as Miss Pig was looking up at Nelumbella to speak, she saw her sister. ‘Oh, good,’ she said. ‘Maybe she can talk some sense into you.’
Miss Bird swooped down from the blue sky. ‘What are you two chatting about?’ she asked, perched on a nearby tree branch, priming her feathers that had been ruffled by flight. ‘Do you have news about the Other Queen?’
‘We were discussing how the Other Queen has been very kind,’ answered Nelumbella, hoping that Miss Bird might be more open minded than her sister was. She wanted to be able to spare someone.
‘I see,’ chirped Miss Bird. ‘She gave you those shoes and those clothes, didn’t she?’
‘Yes, she is not as bad as you thought she was,’ said Nelumbella.
‘Have you given her a good sniff, sister?’ asked Miss Bird.
Miss Pig shook her head, trotted a few steps forward, and took a big whiff of Nelumbella’s slippers. Miss Pig bounded backwards from the wretched stench. ‘They smell disgusting—like wicked magic!’
‘I thought so,’ said Miss Bird. ‘You better take those shoes off before they hurt you, Miss Human.’
‘They will not hurt me. They are helping me,’ insisted Nelumbella. ‘Besides, how do you know if it smells like bad or good magic?’
‘Good magic smells like the most wonderful things in the world and bad magic smells like the most disgusting,’ answered Miss Pig, sniffing their surroundings for something more pleasant to erase the horrid smell from memory.
‘Maybe she is simply different,’ said Nelumbella, appalled by the creatures. The Other Queen smelled disgusting, but Nelumbella had disgusting feet too, and she was not evil. ’Maybe she was not nice to you because you were in the wrong. I mean, you barely remember anything from before you were turned into animals. You cannot even remember your own names. Maybe you were always animals, and maybe you hurt her.′
‘You are a loon,’ tweeted Miss Bird. ‘She has most likely bewitched you with her wicked gifts. Smarten up. She is an evil woman. Why else for all the secrecy?’
Nelumbella could not stand their behaviour any further. They were both so close-minded! Ruling over a kingdom must have been difficult for the Other Queen while a bothersome bird flew around, from ear to ear, spreading accusations without solid evidence. Nelumbella drew an arrow from her quiver and aimed at the bird.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Miss Bird, startled.
‘I will not let you slander the Queen’s name any further,’ declared Nelumbella. She fired the arrow.
Miss Bird flew off her branch, but a tail feather was nicked. ‘The Other Queen put you up to this, didn’t she? I told you she is evil,’ said Miss Bird, darting around the trees to evade Nelumbella’s aim.
‘Such talk cannot continue,’ asserted Nelumbella. She pulled out another arrow and shot at the bird again.
Miss Bird dodged the arrow and headed into the woods, chirping, ‘Run, Miss Pig! Run!’
The little pink pig disappeared between two bushes, but Nelumbella lacked interest in her. ‘I will shoot you first, Miss Bird,’ yelled Nelumbella, running after the bird, refusing to let her out of sight. ‘Once I have you, I will get your sister.’ The Misses were exactly like the people in Tarsus.
Nelumbella chased Miss Bird, her crimson cloak flowing as she weaved through the trees. Entering a clearing, Miss Bird went for the sky, seeing her escape. Despite Nelumbella’s feet appearing dainty, they had the strength and speed of their normal size. She was directly behind Miss Bird. Her silky shoes skidded against the dew-slickened grass, and she aimed for the sky. She saw red.
Suddenly, Nelumbella fell, but not from the slide. Her bow and arrow were knocked away, and she was pinned to the grass, cloak fanning out as a heavy body held her down. Dirus had pounced onto Nelumbella. Growling, Dirus bore his teeth. He had no intentions of releasing her.
‘Dirus?’ she questioned, not understanding why her beloved wolf had turned on her. ‘What are you doing?’ He growled again, unwavering. ‘Off, boy,’ she tried. ‘Off.’ She pressed upwards, attempting physicality. He remained on top. She tried again, commanding and pushing against his frame. He almost let her go, shifting his weight, wanting to comply with her wishes, but he came down firmer than before. ‘Get off of me!’ she yelled, irked. He barked into her face, wet breath hitting her. ‘Have you gone mad?’ she exclaimed. ‘I thought wolves were supposed to be faithful.’
‘He is being faithful,’ chirped Miss Bird, landing on a stump on the opposite side of the clearing. ‘That is why he will not let you hurt us.’
Nelumbella felt sick. Dirus was siding with the talking animals instead. She had raised him since he was a pup. ‘You are doing this because of them?’
‘No, because of you,’ oinked Miss Pig, revealing herself from behind a tree.
Nelumbella groaned. ‘Dirus, stop letting them speak for you and let me up.’
‘The Other Queen has fooled you, Miss Human,’ said Miss Pig. ‘Do you trust Mister Wolf, or do you trust her?’
‘Of course I trust my wolf,’ Nelumbella snapped. ‘You are the one I do not trust. You spread lies as the Other Queen said you would, and now you are telling lies to my wolf about me. What did you say to make him not love me anymore?’
′We have not said anything to him,′ said Miss Bird.
Dirus whined and licked her, slobbering over her face.
‘Oh, Dirus,’ said Nelumbella. He still cared.
‘Miss Human! Miss Human!’ cried a little voice.
Miss Mouse, who was carrying a little ball by the mouth and Miss Worm on her back, scampered into view. Miss Mouse abruptly stopped and cocked her head. Miss Worm elongated her body upwards, trying to make out what was happening.
‘Why is Miss Human under Mister Wolf?’ asked Miss Mouse.
‘Because she has changed,’ said Miss Bird.
Miss Mouse went closer, but not too close, wary because Miss Bird and Miss Pig were a safe distance away. She circled the girl, stopping as she inspected the feet. ‘Oh, Miss Human, what small feet you have,’ said Miss Mouse.
‘Miss Human, what have you done?’ asked Miss Worm. She would have gasped if she had the lungs for it. ‘First Mister Elf and now you—this cannot be!’
Nelumbella frowned. ‘What about Charter?’
‘He won’t wake up,’ piped Miss Mouse.
‘What do you mean he won’t wake up?’ asked Nelumbella. He was a not a deep sleeper, and the sun was still out. She had never seen him take a nap.
‘He smelled like fruit,’ said Miss Mouse, ’—her fruit to be specific.′
Lacking sense to Nelumbella, worry consumed her. ‘He would not have eaten her fruit,’ she insisted. The animals must have been lying.
‘I am telling you what I smelled,’ squeaked Miss Mouse. Miss Worm leaned forward and whispered to Miss Mouse.
‘I also have this,’ said Miss Mouse, scurrying to Nelumbella’s face. She took out a small yellow and black ball and attempted to detangle it for presentation. Once satisfied, Miss Mouse held it in front of her tiny body to show Nelumbella.
‘You nibbled off a lock of his hair!’ said Nelumbella, disturbed. Despite being warped, the hair was obviously his.
Embarrassed, Miss Mouse held the bundle of hair closely, wanting to shield it from Nelumbella’s view. ‘The idea was not mine!’ Miss Mouse insisted.
‘I figured we might need evidence, but we did not know what was suitable. We are a too small to drag his sleeping body here,’ explained Miss Worm. ‘I thought hair made sense; because honestly, what sort of sane cognitive person would allow a rodent to chew his hair into a ball?’
‘I do not want to go back and bring you a toe,’ said Miss Mouse, in a pleading and fearful tone. ‘It was one of the other suggestions.’
‘I am so sorry,’ said Nelumbella, apologizing for the mouse having to endure chewing through hair and for the way she had acted.
‘Having his hair in my mouth was not your fault,’ said Miss Mouse. Her body shook, shivering. Miss Worm yelped and clung on tightly.
‘I really am sorry for what I have done’ Nelumbella said sincerely, addressing all the animals. Dirus licked and released her. On her knees, Nelumbella picked up the grey mouse. ‘Please take me to him, Miss Mouse. I have to go to him.’
Miss Mouse gave a cheeky smile, hopped off Nelumbella’s hands and scurried in the direction of the Other Queen’s castle. ‘Right this way,’ said the mouse. Nelumbella rose to follow, but an agonizing pain shot through her feet, causing her to fall back down. ‘Miss Human, what’s wrong?’ asked Miss Mouse, scampering back.
‘My feet,’ said Nelumbella.
Miss Mouse zipped to her feet and sniffed. ‘Your shoes smell like the Other Queen’s magic.’
’Well, she did get them from her,′ chirped Miss Bird.
Miss Mouse gasped. ‘The Other Queen is bad.’
‘I know that now,’ said Nelumbella, feeling foolish. She tried to remove a slipper, but it refused to budge. Every bit of her foot was shoved in so tightly that she felt her bones breaking. From her efforts, Nelumbella’s hands were painted red. Her shoes dripped and not from the dye.
Her blood perfectly matched the fabric.
Dirus nudged Nelumbella up, and she clambered onto his back, ignoring the throbbing ache. Nelumbella knew she should have listened to Charter; that she should have listened to the animals. ‘Do you think you can manage to carry a cripple around again?’ she asked, the pain causing her eyes to tear. Dirus barked, and Nelumbella gave a weak laugh.
Wanting to help, the talking animals went with Dirus and Nelumbella. In their rush to Charter, the group chose to go through a dark path in the woods, as it was the shortest way to the castle. The route was one the animals were unfamiliar with, but because they were together, they assumed they would be able to pass without trouble. The area was unpopulated after all.
Nelumbella apologized to the animals profusely, especially to Miss Pig and Miss Bird. They forgave her, dismissing her decision in trusting the Other Queen to be based on her lack of worldly experience; but the matter was not so simple for Nelumbella. She had nearly injured Miss Bird. Because of her, no matter how much Miss Bird attempted to spruce her beautiful feathers, her plumage could not return to its former glory. Nelumbella had ruffled Miss Bird’s feathers more thoroughly than ever.
What haunted Nelumbella the most was how she had hurt the person who had accepted her when her feet were at their ugliest. Although she was sure that if she was miraculously able to remove the slippers, her feet would be even more horrific.
‘Disgusting,’ said a shrill voice. The group stopped and surveyed their surroundings. The voice spoke again: ‘Befriending those things—how could you? They are an abomination. They should be slain and served as dinner! You ought to be put to be death for associating with them. You are as repugnant as they are!’
‘Where are you?’ Nelumbella called. The space was sparser in life than the clearing. By the bare wall of a cliff, they were beneath shadow. Dry dirt surrounded them. The space was dead.
‘Down here, human fool,’ said the voice.
Nelumbella and the animals turned to the direction of the voice. ‘So this is where you are,’ said Miss Worm.
The mauve leaves of the small bush rustled. Adorned with little silver berries, Nelumbella thought it was beautiful, despite its foul language. ‘You sick, repulsive, foolish creatures,’ spat the bush, ’going on a happy dandy adventure to bring sunshine to the world. Human girl, Mother brings sunshine, not these animals— and especially not that sleeping thing. You ought to stop dilly dallying and slay those talking beasts.′
‘Says the talking berry bush,’ retorted Miss Bird, hovering above the shrub, wings flapping aggressively.
‘This talking bush is worth more than all of you combined,’ it scowled. ‘I have lived for thousands of years. I have seen more than you will ever see in your measly lives.’
‘I would peck away your berries if it were not poisonous,’ squawked Miss Bird, ready to pounce. Dirus and Miss Pig growled at the plant while Miss Mouse backed away with Miss Worm.
‘If you will not peck off her berries, I will!’ exclaimed Miss Pig. ‘I am a pig! I eat everything! I can handle those despicable berries!’
‘Your berries are poisonous?’ Nelumbella calmly asked, intrigued. She climbed off Dirus, wincing as her feet touched the ground. With her hands, she pulled herself closer, wanting to examine the bush. This time, she knew to be cautious.
‘My berries are not poisonous,’ said the bush, insistently. ‘My berries are magical. My berries are the superior gift Mother gave me.’
Nelumbella processed the bush’s words. Judging by how the animals reacted to the plant, and how the bush claimed to be magical, she suspected the Other Queen was its Mother. Looking to the animals, she asked, ‘What is it?’
Miss Worm responded: ‘I have not read about her, but I have been told that a bad seed was hidden in these woods; and she is that bad seed.’
‘I am not a bad seed,’ defended the bush. ‘I bring goodness and joy!’
‘You are a curse,’ said Miss Pig, oinking harshly.
‘I curse no one,’ insisted the bush.
Miss Mouse stepped forward. Timidly, she asked, ‘Then how do you justify the fruit you bear?’
‘What do you speak of?’ asked the bush, defensively.
‘Our little sister told us about you,’ said Miss Mouse.
The bush’s mauve leaves rustled in frustration. ‘She did, did she?’
‘She said that the Other Queen used your berries to plant the seed that allows her to rule,’ continued Miss Mouse.
‘What evidence do you have?’ the bush screeched. ‘You are all scum! I create love!’
Miss Pig huffed. ‘She saw her pick your berries and plant your wicked seeds. We know what they do!’
‘Is this true?’ inquired Nelumbella.
‘Is it a crime?’ asked the bush. ‘Do you not want to be loved?’
Nelumbella traced a finger over one of the little silver berries, knowing that she could pick them and do the same as the Other Queen had. The solution was so simple. She would not need to pretend, and there would be no reason to hide. Then Nelumbella thought of those who did not reject her due to her oddity. Sternly, she told the bush, ‘I would rather they love me for who I am.’
‘Foolish human,’ hissed the bush. ‘You are so blind.’
‘I really am. Aren’t I?’ laughed Nelumbella. ‘Then again, you do not have any eyes.’
The bush seethed. ‘Ignorant girl, I do not need eyes to see the abomination that you are. You are as artificial as the love I create, and you reek of magic. Tell me, girl, who made you?’
‘My mother and my father made me,’ said Nelumbella. ‘Unlike you, I was made with love. Obviously, the person who made you was full of hate.’
‘You are a vile human, just like the rest of your breed!’ said the bush.
‘How am I vile, and how are they repulsive?’ asked Nelumbella. ‘They were cursed, and all you do is curse. Were you ever human?’
‘Of course not,’ said the bush. ‘I was not, and never will be, one of those wretched creatures. You are disgusting because of your breeding.’
Miss Bird landed on Dirus’ head, and her eyes narrowed. ‘Is your Mother not a human?’
‘She is a witch! Do not confuse the two, fool,’ said the bush.
As naive Nelumbella was, she knew that humans and witches had no biological difference. Her uncle had told her so. The difference was the magic witches were born with. ‘When I saw her, she looked very much like my kind,’ she said.
‘Your kind only serves as a host,’ the bush said. ’She is beyond human. She is beyond mortal.′
‘Then what was she before?’ asked Nelumbella, brows creasing.
The bush screeched: ‘Leave me, and resume the task Mother gave you.’
Nelumbella took the quiver off her back and thwacked the bush with it. ‘What is she?’
‘A spirit,’ said the bush.
‘The first heart isn’t hers,’ Nelumbella said to herself.
‘Of course that pitiful heart is not hers,’ the bush mocked. ’Mother’s heart is far superior to that of a measly human heart. Mother is a witch—the greatest witch of all. Mother has a heart of gold. Mother has—′
Nelumbella smacked the bush with quiver again, causing mauve leaves to fall. ‘Tell me how to make her first heart beat,’ she demanded.
‘No,’ cried the bush.
Dropping her quiver and removing her red cloak, Nelumbella twisted the fabric into a rope, wrapped it around the base, and pulled. ‘I will uproot you,’ she threatened.
The bush tilted over slightly, holding onto the dirt firmly with her roots. ‘I will not betray Mother!’
’I will uproot you,′ said Nelumbella. She shoved her broken feet into the ground, anchoring and further injuring herself. She pulled harder. ‘Do you want me to do that?’
The bush held on tighter. ‘You do not have the courage.’
Nelumbella let go and curled in her legs. Spotting thorns, she took the cloak, untwisted it, and covered the bush. On her knees, and with her hands, she grabbed the bush with the cloak acting as a barrier. She tore off a branch. She winced, feeling a slight prick through the fabric. The bush screamed. ‘I hunted my friends,’ she said. ‘I almost killed them. You think I would not uproot a plant I have no bonds with?’
‘Who do you think ruffled my beautiful feathers?’ asked Miss Bird.
Nelumbella covered the bush and pulled off another part. She felt the bones in her feet disintegrate as she did so, yet she did not scream. But the bush screamed. She repeated the process, causing the bush’s leaves and berries to scatter across the ground. Each time she took another part, she echoed the question: ‘How do you make the first heart beat?’
Howling profanities, the bush cursed her, but Nelumbella refused to stop. She felt the animals fuss over her feet, attempting to tend to her. She knew that her feet were visibly deformed.
When Nelumbella was left with a quarter of the bush, the pain in her feet became almost unbearable. She slowed the process, unable to keep with the pace she had started with. Nonetheless, she was unwavering. Nelumbella began picking at twigs, taking handfuls, drawing out the process as long as she could, both for her own sake and as a means of torture. ‘Are you ready to talk?’ Nelumbella queried, grabbing her quiver and thwacking the pathetic bush a few more times before she removed its last branch.
‘Remind her of who she was!’ the bush finally cried.
Nelumbella let out a breath she did not know she was holding and smiled. ‘That was not so hard now, was it?’ she said, wiping the sweat on her forehead with the edge of her sleeve. Nelumbella threateningly pressed the quiver against the bush. ’Now, who was she?′ she asked calmly.
‘Why I would know a silly detail like that?’ said the bush, its arrogant attitude returning. ‘I only know Mother. I only know those who are worthy like Mother. I do not need to know the human scum in whose body she poses. I have no reason to learn of the vessel!’
‘Then I am done with you,’ said Nelumbella, the corner of her mouth weakly twitching upwards. The bush had no more to offer. ‘Unfortunately, I cannot let you hurt anyone else. Maybe in another life you will be lucky enough to be human.’
The animals backed away, anticipating Nelumbella’s next actions. On her hands and knees, Nelumbella dug around the base of the bush, clawing and pulling at the roots. Dirus growled and followed her lead. With his large powerful paws, he took out the thicker roots she could not manage. As they dug, the woods filled with the sound of the wailing plant as it lost its life. Eventually, the bush grew silent, but they continued to dig. Nelumbella did not want the bush to return. She told the sisters to leave and find Charter, that she and Dirus would be able to locate them. She needed to dispose of the remains.
Reaching a satisfactory depth in the ground, Nelumbella peered into the deep pit she had created. She crawled around the immediate area gathered tinder and dry wood. She returned to the pit and started a small fire. Dirus rolled a few stones to her, and she arranged the rocks around the pit. One by one, she lit the branches of the bush and threw it into the hole, controlling the flame. When the fire grew steady, she released clusters of leaves, berries, and twigs into the burning pit, bit by bit, leaving none behind.
She watched it burn.