I would not wish to leave you alone again.
I knew where Adamina’s weakness was.
The knowledge itself felt heavy and solid, as though I could grasp it, turn it around in my hands. From the point at which I had started my existence, I had known her to be my superior in every way, and even learning that she was a golem, like I was, had not diminished her immeasurable power in my eyes. We were not the same class of being, in the way that Gabi had described how some kinds of humans were better than others by birth.
But now, in my head, as I pictured the silver letters that lay just beneath my feet, I wondered if I had simply never stopped thinking of her as my master.
Holding my shoulder, I had fallen into a crouch, hazy with pain. The creature inside the tree had shut itself away from me again, but I could not remember when; I was losing my sense of time. I could feel roots pressing at my skin from the inside out of my useless left arm, ready to sprout, and a fresh stab of pain made me slump. Perhaps this was the end of me. I was certainly too weak to make use of the knowledge I had gained, as powerful as it was.
I lost time for a little while.
When I woke up, I was no longer quite myself. This I knew immediately, because the pain was gone, and so was the exhaustion, and the ache of my muscles, and the feeling of air moving over my skin, and the breath pooling in my lungs. All of that, replaced with a kind of silence, and instead I felt… big.
I flinched against the curl of roots in my skin, except there was no flash of pain to accompany it, indeed, the sensation seemed welcome. And there were many of them, many many many, and everywhere, and I could hear them whispering, in the soft, sorrowful tones of the forest, a voice without unity; the roots and the worms and the tiny creatures digging burrows, the moist eggs hatching and the bodies decaying, the mushrooms fruiting and curling their sticky tendrils through dark rotten wood and connecting green little saplings together with an unseeable chain.
I felt it again, the earth. It rushed through me like a lost sense, and I suppose that it was; a connection to everything, a feeling so powerful it made me want to weep. But I could not weep.
I could not feel my own heartbeat.
For a moment I was pierced with panic, floundering to gather up my fraying sense of identity: I did not feel like I had a body anymore, and without a body, there was no me! Where was I? What had happened? Had I died, and decayed into the earth? But what had happened- to Gabi, Taavi, Vasilisa, Noroc? Desperately I balled up my consciousness and pushed it in a single direction along the web by sheer force of will. I pushed myself back towards the center of the web, where the soil was powder, and the roots thick but lifeless, not whispering with a thousand voices like their fellows outside. I felt the long roots of the great tree, only anchors now for its old corpse, shielding what lay inside like a great wall. But there was still earth in the spaces between them, and I felt my way through, and felt the fresh, sharp touch of new growth.
There was my body, lying on the ground, and I only knew it because those fresh roots were connecting it to the earth. I concentrated on ignoring the whispers and realized, with a sense of relief, that my lungs did indeed still draw breath. I- or at least my body- was still alive.
I must have come into the earth through those roots, somehow, though the mechanism quite confused me. Though, if I wracked my memory, Gabi too had seemed to lose herself whenever the white flowers had split open her skin; perhaps this was similar? But I do not think she was ever in tune with the web beneath the forest, unless she had kept it to me… But somehow I doubted she could ever let herself be part of this, the way I was. Her sense of her own identity was too fierce. And mine was much weaker…
But if Gabi was touching the ground, I ought to be able to sense it with my newfound power, and so I ignored my motionless body and concentrated on the pad of her feet. If she was here- if she had climbed down from the great tree-
But then suddenly everything was clamoring; the forest caught in a frenzy, and through the lines of the root-web I caught snatches of voices, murmuring Wind, strong wind, and Burning.
My concentration, my sense of self self slipped and scattered like marbles. I was swept away and I felt- big- hollow- stretched-
I could see! I could see light again- I could see the furious head of a dragon–
My vision exploded with fire, and I recoiled, shielding my face with one tree-lined arm. The trees creaked and popped as they were ravaged with living flame. I shook my arm to put them out, though dragonfire was more stubborn than the ordinary sort. The creature screeched, whipping about all five of its heads- one rather smaller and paler than the rest- trying to call up wind and clouds to make a storm. It had broken the dam again to flood Muma Balaur’s forest with shallow water, to draw on the power of all the elements, and frequently two to three of its grimacing heads would glare skywards. I did not know why the sky stayed merely cloudy and white, ignoring the dragon’s calls for lightning, but I was not complaining, either: it made my duty easier. All I needed to do was lure it close enough to engulf and smother it with earth. Even dragons needed to breathe.
Muma Balaur herself was nowhere in sight. Coward. Once the dragon was gone, I would find her and swallow her up too, to break her dominion over this forest and give it to my mistress.
I brought my other fist down, but the dragon, small and nimble, scrambled out of my way, flaming and shrieking draconic obscenities at me. I let it run, noting when its paws slipped over the edge of the border I shared with Muma Balaur- just a little more, and I could spring my trap- there.
A furrow of earth opened and wrapped around the dragon’s left foreleg, and it screamed even louder, all five heads colliding in a panic, knocking itself dizzy. If I had made myself a mouth, I would have laughed, but instead I merely raised my fist again as the dragon thrashed to free itself, caught like a wolf in a hunter’s trap-
And then I had to pause, because I felt something peculiar inside my hollow space, as though a minnow had slipped quietly into a stream.
With a lurch, I pulled myself separate from Adamina, feeling her confusion mirror my own. I was left terribly aware of her huge body- stretching through the entire forest, for miles, wearing the trees like Taavi wore his bits and pieces- a massive torso looming like a mountain, dragging the forest behind myself. Herself! I was dizzy. The trees were tiny. Even the great tree, which I felt dimly piercing somewhere down my back, was nothing; a twig. The change of perspective was utterly jarring. I turned my- Adamina turned her hand over, looked at clay fingers that had once been able to hold my human body like a mouse, wound through with roots and sprouts bearing tiny leaves too small to even perceive.
The dragon, hissing, managed to free itself from the mud, its five heads whipping about in a confusing morass. Adamina was not paying it much attention; she was aware of me, and I felt her growing unease. She was still afraid of me; I felt better for it, though it as a vicious feeling. She was silently searching for our point of contact, ready to sever it, ignoring the snarling, fire-spitting dragon.
Ah, then I realized. The roots had not connected me back to the earth per say- they had connected me back to her. That was her connection I was filtering through. And I had to marvel at it; to be so big, she had to stretch herself so thin, risk losing her own mind to the thrum of the great web beneath us. To be able to do so spoke to the discipline she had cultivated.
But now it was sputtering in her fear. She was parceling through the earth, searching for me, to disconnect us- but the great web was distracting to her, the discontent of the burning, broken trees, the chill of winter, the endless concerns of a myriad of tiny creatures.
But I was able to hold firm. And it occurred to me, this great and terrible thought: and it was so terrible that she felt it too, and came rushing back to confront me.
The thing was, I had gathered all I needed, step-by-step: first, the deeper connection I had learned with Taavi, the one where I could make use of his senses, second, the location of the silver letters, and third, and worst of all, the way to control another golem’s will.
I thought these things, and did not hide them; the spike of Adamina’s fear pierced at me like a thorn.
I am your mother, she thought, but it was a feeble excuse, and we both knew it. She was my creator. That did not make her my mother. No, indeed; she had not come for me, the one time I had called her.
My mistress forbade it! she cried, in her own defense, but I scorned it.
“I know that your will is not bound to hers. She is not your true master!”
She is! Her voice was feeble. Even if she does not have my will…
But I could see the true reason that she had not come to save me. Mercilessly, I pulled it from her thoughts: fear. When she had realized that my will might consume her own, fear had overridden what affection she thought she held for me.
It was like a vindication; it stoked my anger.
“You are a coward! All you have done is try to protect yourself!”
I obey my mistress. I follow her will. A golem needs a master, Kezia- I showed you what happens when they are not bound-
“That was what you did! I am not you! I have never been like you, Adamina!”
She recoiled from me.
That is not my name.
I ignored that, rifling swiftly through my own thoughts, head spinning with the power I had just gained. I had never had such freedom.
“I can stop you. I can stop Mother Forest!”
“I would not do it to Taavi- I could not do it to him- but you, I can do it to you, to save Gabi, to save Vasilisa and Noroc, to save all the other people you might kill, and stop this wicked forest from spreading!”
I will not let you, Kezia.
Now we were both angry; prowling around one another inside her hollow space- the dragon was tearing at our fingers, but we didn’t feel it.
“You cannot stop me. You are weaker than I am.”
She felt cold, very cold. I have lived for centuries. You have lived for less than one year. I will not fall to you.
“Then why are you so afraid?”
She did not respond. After a moment I realized she was trickling away, trying to sneak-search for my body. But I could be faster. With a quick brush against the web, I pulled myself across our massive body, into the hollow of the great tree, to where the roots of the twisted creature tangled in the earth. Within them, I felt them: three silver letters.
So tiny, compared to what Adamina had become. It was incredible. Such a small thing, to be holding her all together.
“I can make you destroy yourself,” I told her.
She retracted again, and I felt her fear, fear, fear.
If you do that…
Yet amusement, too. A touch of satisfaction.
If you do that, then you lied before, Kezia. You are very much like me.
Now it was I who withdrew. “I am not-”
A golem, given free will, destroys its creator. A truth known since the time of Adam. Even wearing a human skin, Kezia, you are what you are. I felt her cold laughter filling my head. I suppose there is no more satisfactory way to lose my existence than this, after all!
I could tell that she was trying to manipulate me, make me back off. And it was working. My thoughts tipped back to the time I had accidentally assumed Taavi’s will, the sudden feeling of being in complete power of his body, his senses, his thoughts. It was no passive merging of the two of us. I had known we were separate the whole time, and so had he. But he had bent to my will like- like clay.
And he had thought, Mistress.
And I had been so shocked I let him go, and lost myself.
Go on, hissed Adamina. Be my mistress, Kezia.
The word was repulsive. I retreated further, feeling my thoughts fraying against the forest web; distracted. She came after me, sensing weakness.
You are an abomination, Kezia. Just as I am. A parasite who steals the love and memory and even the name of another being.
“I am Kezia. She gave me her name. I did not take it!”
Given, taken- you wear it, because you have nothing that can replace it! You have no name, because you only built yourself on what she left behind! That body you bear- the very bones of it belonged to somebody else first! What are you, if not a thief!
“You have said all this before, and I will not- I will not listen! You bite at me because you hate yourself!”
Ha, she murmured, curling close around me like smoke, you are wrong. Hate? Hate what? There is no self. I have learned the error of that sort of free will- I took it away from myself. You believe that with your false body you might become human? The fact that we are speaking now proves that you are still nothing but a golem. An imitation.
“Liar,” I said, and I wished for a moment that I could wrap my warm flesh arms around myself, for she was making me feel so cold. “You still have your free will.”
Let me show you where my will resides, Kezia…
And there was little warning before she started to remember… I started to remember… I had been looking for a new master.
I had killed the rabbi, buried his body in the woods. I read what I could of his research on golems, then burned it all, and his house, and left that village behind. I suppose I could have killed every one of them, to be doubly sure no strange rumors got out that might bite me in the tail someday, but it seemed too tiresome.
I took on the guise of a man, a traveler, and walked away; I cut through forest and river and mountain, and walked and walked for miles. No hunger pained me, nor exhaustion; I could walk to each of the four corners of the world if I liked.
But I was bored.
The trouble was that with my master gone, I was left with no purpose, not even the simple purpose of survival. The farther into the wilds I walked, the more I was guaranteed to live untroubled by men, which meant my silver letters were safe, which meant, to all intents and purposes, I was invincible.
(I supposed a bear or something might manage to accidentally swipe the letters from my forehead, but it would have to be an awfully lucky blow.)
I did like all of the wild things I saw, the weather and the breeze and the animals, but most especially the plants- the endless varieties, with their leaves and beautiful flowers, their changing colors and their stolid resilience. I spent days standing completely still, watching ivy crawl its way up a tree. I discovered white flowers that bloomed only at night, conifers that only gave up their seeds to the cleverest birds with hooked beaks, trees that bound their wounds with oozing sap. And I felt it, eventually, the call of the earth below me, the great web that connected the living things together and compelled them all, eventually, to decay.
I felt that, but I did not experiment with it much. It was dangerous.
Nature, with its impossible number of wonders, did amuse me for a few years, but in the end I had an unseverable connection to humans. I had been made in their image, after all. And the risk was not so great. So I turned back from the great wild and walked until I found the signs of men.
I had not lost my knack for acting, in spite of the passage of time from my last human conversation, and soon I had ingratiated myself into another town, this one larger than the one I had abandoned. The people there were not Jewish, however, and when I came to them in the guise of the sort of man I was most familiar with, they drove me out with stones and curses. I returned with adjustments.
The realization that I needed a master came to me one night as I slept in a way-house, paid for with coins from the owner’s own coffer. I still had no purpose, even among humans. I still wandered from place to place, mildly amused at times but quick to fall back into boredom. I was not like these men and women, after all. I had been a pretender all my existence, hiding that I shared none of their cares, their worries. The only one I had ever held concern for was-
And that was it. That was the missing piece. I was shunning the reason for my own existence. The gaping, gnawing emptiness I felt stemmed from the fact that I had something I never should have been given: free will.
I knew how to give my will away, using the silver letters; the question was, who should I give it away too? The selection was a tricky process, and not without risk. I would have to make myself completely vulnerable to my new master for a moment in order for it to work.
I could not give myself to a Jewish person. They would know too much about what I was, and they would likely know why it might be more prudent to destroy me at once.
But to give myself to one of the goyim was also dangerous. I would have to explain a great deal to them, because what would they know about golems? They might dismiss me as a madman immediately, or worse, bring a mob to try and tear me limb from limb.
Because of all this, I searched for a master for several more years without finding anyone who struck me as satisfactory. I soon realized that it would be better to have my master be powerful than a layperson, and knowledgeable about spectres: this would save me from their confusion and panic once I revealed what I was. And it came to me that a witch might be able to make the best use of me, after all. I began to follow the rumors of spectres, which I had paid little attention to before. But I knew that those things that hovered on the borders of life and death were intimately connected with witches.
One day, I heard a rumor about a tree.
This tree, the priest said (he was a little drunk, and the people nearest him were wrinkling their noses, but unwilling to miss the story) stood alone on a hill overlooking a nearby village, and it was gigantic. Ancient. Before Christian men had settled in these parts, he thought it had been worshipped by pagans. No doubt a devil lived inside it now due to their heathen rituals.
I began to lose interest, sitting near the back of the small church, and thought about leaving; but the man’s next words caught my attention.
Apparently, when the Christian army had swept through the area, the pagans there who refused to convert were rounded up and killed and buried on the hill with their false god, their houses burned and their children taken as servants. Thus the land was cleansed of their sin- or so they thought, because of late there had been a series of peculiar deaths.
It seemed that occasionally, someone from the town that had now grown up in the valley below where the tree stood would climb the hill, and get the strangest urge to rest with their back against the trunk. And then when this individual did not return home, a search party would be called, and more often than not, their body would be discovered lying beneath the tree, not a mark on them, stone dead.
There was a great deal of skepticism from the crowd at this story, though they didn’t dare directly question the priest. One man did bring up the question- if the tree was so dangerous, why did they not just cut it down?
And the priest told him, they wanted to cut it down, naturally, but it was so large that they did not have the proper tools for it, and it would take many days even with the best axes and saws because of how large around the trunk was. And so the people from that town were calling for the strongest of woodcutters to come around, and would pay them a small fee for their trouble.
This got the listeners much more interested, and those among them that fancied themselves strong were already murmuring in speculation of the price. I slipped out.
I do not know why, but the story of the tree, as flimsy as it sounded, struck a peculiar chord with me. Perhaps it was because I still held a sort of fondness for the forest after all my travels. I set off at once.
It did not take long to reach the village, even based on the drunken priest’s vague directions; it was identifiable from afar. Because I could see the tree. He had not overstated the sheer size of it, in fact I think he had understated it: it stood like a tower, with a canopy that seemed to pierce the clouds- it was difficult to comprehend how enormous it was. And it was unlike any tree I had ever seen before, no oak or maple or spruce- it was thick and dense like a hardwood, but the leaves were shaped like stars, and brilliant scarlet in color. The sight of it was stirring, and even I could fathom why it had been worshipped.
But as I drew closer, I could see that I was too late- they were already sawing and chopping away at the base of the great trunk.
I killed them, Kezia, Adamina whispered, jarring me out of the memory. Though my own existence was a mockery of religion, it seemed like blasphemy to destroy such a beautiful creature, and I knew that I could not stop them with words, so I killed all the men working on that hill, and after I had finished, I pressed my hands against the scarred trunk.
It was a deep, terrible wound, a cut through the dark bark that revealed the pale insides of the tree, and it leaked with sap like blood. It was clear to me that it was too deep and jagged for the tree to ever recover from, and despite what I had done, this mighty being would die.
And then I heard her.
Did you stop them?
And I answered
And those two words- those words- they seemed to fill my empty space. For all I had desired, these long, lonely years, was to be useful.
“Please. I know not what you are, that you can speak to me, but let me be your servant.”
I do not think that she understood the word, at first. Nor that someone else might wish to help her. She was very new, you see, to consciousness.
But I am dying now, she warned me, eventually, after I pleaded with her. And you will outlast me. I would not wish to leave you alone again.
“Then as your servant, I will not let you die,” I told her. “I will find a way to maintain your life, no matter what, once you have taken my free will. I will not fail you. And whatever it is you wish for, I shall make it so.”
And as I said these words, I felt my hollow space filled with a kind of joy, and contentment, and euphoria- finally, finally, finally. I could love again.
I do have a wish, she confided in me, which pleased me even more.
“What is it?”
And she whispered to me the story of the Hercynian forest, which had once been as large as an ocean, until cut away by ruthless men; and she had been left alone, disconnected by the great web, surrounded by grass on a hilltop. She had swallowed the souls of men and women just to teach herself how to grieve.
I spread my own seedlings, but they are pale and stunted, and they are trampled by the cattle that men keep before they have a chance to grow. Are there any other trees even left in the world? Or am I the very last one?
I assured her that she was not so alone, and she cried out, O! I wish I was near them, so I could hear their soft voices again and tangle my roots with theirs! The souls of men do not satisfy me; they leave me more empty than before.
And I thought on this for a long moment, feeling her sorrow like an echo of a voice, long lost.
“I will give you back the trees.”
But how? You said they are far away, and I have already grown as far as I possibly can to look for them.
“No, it will not be by growing. I will move you to them,” I said.
She was taken aback; her thoughts of movement were of wind, or too-loose earth sending her listing to the side, or of men tearing her into pieces.
“No, not like that,” I said. “I am a creature of earth, and I can make the earth move according to my will. I can carry you on my back, with your roots still in the ground, to where the trees are.”
At least, I thought I could. I had dabbled in moving large amounts of earth according to my will, but the size of this tree meant I would have to lift a monstrous root system. It might be larger than anything I had ever attempted.
If you can take me- like a little seed in the wind- back to the forest, I would not question it, she said. Before I die, at least.
“I said I will not let you die, mistress.”
Her branches creaked, and I thought I felt her gentle amusement.
My kind do not have names, but I know humans do. Do you have a word you are called by?
“Adamina,” I said, my fool tongue speaking before my thoughts caught up, and it was then that I felt my single splinter of unease. I had already lied to her.
My dear Adamina, she said, warmly. Thank you. But I do not know how to take on your will.
I hesitated. It was true; I had not factored in the possibility that my new master might be a tree.
“I will put my letters among your roots,” I declared, after a moment of serious thinking, “and if you are ever displeased with me, all you must do is push the right letter above the ground, and I will vanish. Thus, you will have complete power over me.”
I would not wish for you to vanish!
“Then I will do my best to please you, mistress…”
The words faded away. I felt myself blurring out of the memory, the vision of the gigantic tree still imprinted on my senses. Adamina was not wrong… it had been a beautiful sight.
But when I thought of the tree as it was now- strangled by branches, rotten, poisonous, harboring empty-eyed fadua like termites, I felt sickened.
“She died, didn’t she? From the wound?”
She is not dead! Adamina spat, with sudden vehemence. I swore to her I would keep her alive, and I have; she is not gone. And I have spent centuries gathering trees for her forest, and souls for her hunger, and the new Hercynian forest is bigger than ever before. When I join it with the fragments of Muma Balaur’s territory, and then the great sweep of the wild wood-
“How can you possibly carry that much?” I demanded. “You’ll stretch yourself too thin and lose your mind!”
When it is vast enough not to need my protection, I shall take back my letters and move freely to pull more trees by myself! And I will not let a single axe pass her borders, and I shall crush the villages of men that dare grow too close, until her forest is restored and the earth is right again.
It was a desperate plan- even I could see that- and I could feel a sort of fringe of madness beneath Adamina’s words. She was already stretching herself too thin, was she not? And when would the forest be big enough to be satisfactory? When it covered the entire world?
When SHE says my task is finished, said Adamina, it shall be finished.
She had meant for her memory to show me her humility, her devotion to playing the role of the slave, I thought, but instead I found myself with an uneasy sense of pity. It was a risk of getting too close. I felt her desires, her reasoning, and in her own head it was perfectly sound.
“You are hardly her servant,” I said. “She never asked you to do these things. You chose to do them. I think it is you who is using her.”
I know the will of my mistress better than you could imagine, said Adamina, tight and cold, and I felt her slip past me to tinker with something. With a jolt I realized- while we were caught in her memory, she had somehow managed to locate my body! The roots were loosening-
You should understand her will now, too, said Adamina. Her confusion brushed at me- why was my body inside the great tree- but she was working to push out the source of the connection. Dimly I sensed that my body was no longer the only thing inside the hollow. But there was no time to investigate-
“You will STOP!”
Adamina stopped. She did not move, her giant body frozen, staring sightlessly towards Muma Balaur’s forest. The dragon had long vanished.
You stopped me? she whispered.
“I… think I am sorry, for this,” I said. “It would have been easier if you had not shown me that, just now.”
There was something wry in her silence. And frightened. Her fear tugged at me more than it should have.
“But I am going to stop you,” I warned her. “I think that I must.”
Why? Because I have killed many humans? They would have long since died anyway.
“No,” I said, “not for them, but for the ones you will kill if I leave you alone.”
Is that really it? Or do you just wish to have your lover safe and sound, Kezia?
“Maybe you are right.” I tugged at her, and she came back away from my body, offering no resistance now. “Maybe it is all for Gabi. But you should know how I feel.”
She did not argue the point. You should have killed her.
“Like you killed the rabbi?”
Exactly like that. I never loved him. The love I thought I felt was the echo of a ghost. So is yours, my daughter. It is a lie.
“Even if it is, it is a lie that feels very good.”
A moment of utter quiet stretched between us. I could not shield myself from Adamina’s growing, terrible fear. To lose her existence? After so long? To simply go blank? Would she feel anything at all? Those other golems she had destroyed so carelessly-
Please! she begged me. Even if you destroy me, do not destroy Mother Forest! She cannot harm anyone without me-
That was a lie. She cut herself off, sensing that I knew it.
I will take you and your lover from this forest- you can even make me do it- I won’t put up a fight.
Perhaps that was true.
“I am sorry,” I said. “I do not trust you. I do not believe that you would just leave us alone after I left you.”
To my surprise, she said, I suppose I would not. You pose a danger to my mistress and I.
And then she thought, sorrowful and sad, If only I had never created you.
I suppose that was the logical thing to think.
I did hold some affection for you, my daughter, she murmured. When you called me Mother. And when I knew that you were one like me- but I never made you pretend, never made you lie about who you were, did I?
“No, not then,” I agreed. “Not when you first made me.”
I thought to myself then, if I could have a little golem child, one who loved me, it might be very nice… But it was wrong of me to think that, because my mistress did not wish it. That is why we are here now, is it not? I failed again.
“You will not change your mind, will you?” I asked, feeling somewhat desperate. “You will not say that you are your own person, that you have a soul! If you really saw that, and decided to live for yourself, then I might- I might not have to do what I am going to do!”
Shh, murmured the nameless golem. Shh, daughter. You were not raised like I was, told to kill the moment you were born. I tried so hard to keep you soft and gentle, and now look how you are suffering. You can’t grieve over someone like me. I know without a doubt that I have no soul.
Because if I had a soul, I would not have killed the man I loved. If I had a soul, I would have seen that he was right, and that my actions were wicked, and I would have let him destroy me.
When I did not say anything for a long while after that, she added, much more coldly, Now come along and do it, Kezia- waiting is worse.
And it was horrible, how I could feel her terror underneath those words.
“I am sorry,” I told her. “I am so, so, sorry, Mother.”
It took a mere second to take her will, nothing more than a thought, a push, and she was mine. I felt her thoughts twist around, her fear vanish like smoke.
I told her what to do.
And the earth beneath the twisted tree shuddered and bulged, and a silver aleph, tarnished nearly black by all the years, emerged from the soil.
My senses started to fade, like blackening paper held over fire- I struggled to keep contact with the earth-web, felt the great clay arms slowly sink before I lost contact with them, receding, receding, back towards my body- I called out one more time, somehow disbelieving:
The earth, the roots, the trees; sudden whispers across the web, a change, a disturbance, and then above the whispers I heard a distorted kind of shout.
Not from the nameless golem. Mother Forest had felt the change.
I was beginning to feel the prickles of pain from my flesh-and-blood body again, without anything else to hold me- but I struggled to keep hold of the earth, fought the return- if I could somehow maintain the connection just a few seconds longer, I could use the hollow space that was left behind to destroy her, as well, for good.
And it was working- I felt as if I might be able to do it- clinging to the collapsing shell that had been left behind, because she had been right about me at least in one sense. I had been a golem and in many ways I was still a golem, no matter how much I had changed. And now, connected to the earth, I could finish everything.
With great force of will, I ignored the pain in my body, ignored the dull voices around my ears, and focused on softening the earth around the roots of the twisted tree. If I could only- if I could only-
A sudden shout, a sharp, searing pain, and I lost it. The tenuous connection that bound me to the earth was severed in an eyeblink, and I was left floundering in pain and darkness, voices rising all around me. And nothing. And nothing. And I realized what I had been about to do, and what I had done, and the way Adamina had put her palms against the trunk of the great tree, and I thought, What a soulless monster I am.