There was so much ash, it was hard to believe that there were ever trees in this place at all. Once the elementals had begun, there had been no stopping their assault until they had run out of kindling. Even then, it had proven costly to send them back to the Eternal Flame from which they had come.
“Are there any left, Peri?”
“Some of the old growth at the outer rim, Lady Shana. But not much.”
“I see.” The blonde elf woman shook her head in dismay as the dryad beside her pawed at the ground with one hoof. “I don’t see what the council thinks we can do here. Too much of it was raised.”
“Don’t talk like that, Lady Shana.” As the dryad tossed her head, charms in her hair tinkled and struck one another. “It may look dire, but I am sure there is something that can be done.”
The elf shook her head again in return, stooping down to pick up a handful of ash. Even months after the final fire burned its way out, the fine granules were still warm to the touch.
“The soil is baked. Saturated with the negative energy.”
“That isn’t a surprise.” Peri picked up a branch that crumbled in her nimble fingers. “It just needs a little more work that normal, that’s all.”
“These trees were older than the two of us put together, Periwinkle. We will be lucky to coax weeds to grow here now.”
“Always such a pessimist.”
Shana sighed, dusting off her knees as she righted herself once more. A sudden breeze kicked up clouds of the ash and soil, forcing the woman and foal to cover their mouths.
“Gods it tastes like death!” The poor dryad gagged as the wind howled a moan of pain across the barren landscape.
“There, while we wait for the wind to pass.” Shana pointed to two husks of tree that, while were long dead of anything green, were solid enough to hide beneath to block the worst of it.
“There were no survivors from your clan’s settlements, you are certain?” Periwinkle didn’t risk speaking again until they were safely under their make-shift cover.
“None. They were taken by complete surprise. Too deep in the heart of the trees for anyone to get word before the Candles made it to them.”
“Fifty-three. Ten are…Were…Children. We did not even have bodies to give their families back in the capital.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“As am I.” Shana leaned slightly against the badly damaged trunk. “But, sorry doesn’t break the dead back to us.”
“Perhaps that is a good thing. They are never quite the same the second time around.”
When the wind finally died down, it seemed to have taken at least some of the clouds with it. The midday sun peaked through , making the ground a little too warm.
“We’ll need to leave soon and come back. With the clouds going, I’d rather not get heat stroke out here.”
Periwinkle nodded to agree, starting to turn back to the circle they used to arrive. Her bright eyes widened as she paused in her turn, suddenly beaming.
“Shana wait!” she sprinted off to the west as quickly as her four legs would take her.
“Peri quit-” the elf groaned, running after her. “You do know how much faster you are, right?”
“I see green.”
“I think that the heat has made you delusional.” Shana shook her head. “Let’s just go back. We can return with a green mage and a few water skins tomorrow and-”
The dryad kicked up more and more dirt and ash as she dug in with her hooves. Shana coughed and covered her mouth again. She rolled her eyes but stayed put, waiting until the rhythmic pounding stopped before she lowered her arm.
In the space that Periwinkle hand cleared away, a small sprig of a plant stood. Probably a weed. Or likely something parasitic that was feeding off the latent magical energy…But it was a start.