“Quinn thinks I’m some kind of nature witch,” said Sarah. “I tried to tell him I’m completely normal and boring, not magic or special. Maybe you could talk to him, and tell him he’s wrong? Tell him that things like this never happened before the storm, and they have nothing to do with me,” Sarah pleaded.
“Puberty,” her father muttered. “It came on at puberty.”
The journey back to Sassamatta took all day. In the afternoon, a wind blew in off the ocean, and narrow grey clouds scudded overhead. With her mouth stumbling over words, and her feet stumbling over tree roots, Sarah did her best to explain away the strange phenomena. She described the quick-ripening strawberries and white flowers at night. She told her father about the multiplying fiddleheads, and knitting together Quinn’s ribs. Tony Spellings grew pale and quiet as she spoke. Sarah waited for him to reassure her. She wanted him to tell her it was simply an overactive imagination, and there was nothing to worry about. Instead, he avoided her glances, and turned inward. Gusts of wind ripped leaves from branches and sent them whipping to the ground. A crow, perched at the top of a young pine tree and cawing raucously, seemed like a bad omen.
“What do you remember about your mother?”
“What has she got to do with it?”
Sarah’s father hated talking about her mother. She had learned to avoid mentioning Victoria Spellings, because it upset her father so much. Why was he bringing her up?
“Maybe everything,” said Tony miserably.
“Okay, what does that mean?”
Sarah’s anxiety had a sandpaper edge of irritation. Weeks earlier, when her house had crashed into the ravine, her world had been yanked from under her feet. She had lost everything she cared about: home, family, and neighbourhood. Through fearful nights shivering on the ground at Sassamatta, and hungry days scavenging for food, a reunion with her father and brother had been her touchstone. It was the thought that had sustained her through the hard work of building the grove, and creating the garden. Now the Spellings family was back together at last, but instead of making everything safe and right, the reunion was adding to Sarah’s bewilderment. Tony Spellings stared vacantly into the forest. He was looking back at another time, Sarah realized—a time when her mother was still alive.
“Sometimes, when your Mom was around, weird stuff happened,” he said. “The laws of physics didn’t always apply. Once, she dropped her favourite teacup, butter yellow with tiny pink and green flowers, and it didn’t fall.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Impossible things happened around Vicky.” Sarah’s father shot her an apologetic glance. “She could cheer anyone up, no matter how desperately sad they were, and she could heal, too. Just small injuries, cuts and bruises.”
Sarah’s forehead creased. “So you think this is genetic? Are you saying those things happened because I inherited some kind of condition?”
“Dad—look at this,” Sammy nudged between Sarah and Tony, and thrust a big black slug, optical tentacles gyrating, into his father’s hands. “Murdock says it’s the biggest one he’s ever seen.”
Distracted, Tony turned his attention to his son. Sammy seemed thrilled by every stick, rock, and leaf in the forest. Sarah plodded along, even more confused than she’d been before. Was she like her mother in some bizarre way? It was unnerving to think Quinn’s suspicions might be valid. If she really did have strange powers, they were out of her control. She caught her father stealing troubled, sorrowful glances in her direction.
A full yellow-orange moon rose over Sassamatta Lake, illuminating their way forward. Fern led them around the water, scanning for the telltale body-heat shapes of would-be attackers. Close to the grove, she pulled up short, and hushed the ragged group of travellers.
“I detect large heat sources to the north, bobbing up and down like they’re on water.”
“You’re probably seeing fishing boats on the ocean inlet,” said Quinn. “Nothing to worry about. Tony and Sammy need to eat hunaja, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the hives. Fern, I assume Spex shared his hunaja stash with you?”
“He did indeed,” Fern said wryly. “If I hadn’t seen your treehouse with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed your boy-from-the-future story.”
Levvy caught Sarah staring at the night sky, and gave her hand a squeeze. “He just wants us to try on his stupid necklace,” she said. “It’s super strange, but nothing to worry about.”
“I sure hope it doesn’t sing,” said Sarah.
“Me too. Do you think the hole in the hexagon will move like a little mouth? Because that would be super creepy,” Levvy grinned.
Murdock sped ahead on his bicycle to warn the followers of the group’s arrival.
“Dad, did you know Murdock can ride a bicycle at night?” said Sammy.
“Small animal approaching rapidly,” Fern reported.
Sarah heard a patter of paws running at tremendous speed. A little smudge appeared on the trail ahead, then a furry blur launched through the air, and landed square on Sarah’s chest. Rumpus licked her chin, ears, and forehead. She put him on the ground and he tore around them in circles, whimpering with joy.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Sarah said.
“Rumpus!” Sammy squealed.
“Oh Sarah,” her father said mournfully. “Ichamus told me you stole his dog, but I didn’t believe him.”
“He followed me!” Sarah protested.
Sarah fumed. Why was her father quick to think the worst of her? Rumpus scampered at her heels, and the tired travellers filed into the clearing below treehouses and rope bridges. The Followers of the Grove were waiting to welcome them home. Tomin shook hands solemnly with Sarah’s father.
“So you finally ran away from home,” said Tony.
“Relocated, you mean,” said Tomin.
“Where are Doug and Debbie Dwight?” Tony asked, scanned the clearing. “I thought they’d be here.”
“We thought they were with you on Wailsmouth Street,” said Tomin.
“Nobody knows where my parents are,” Levvy said sadly.
Sarah wanted to reassure her friend, but she was wondering herself where the Dwights could be. A crowd gathered, and Murdock and Fern took turns telling the rescue story. Fern was nearing the climax, relating how they’d escaped by zipline over the ravine, when Quinn quietly rejoined the circle and handed pieces of hunaja honeycomb to Tony and Sammy.
“Blessings,” they said in unison.
Sammy licked his fingers, savouring every drop of sweetness, then his eyes widened, and his mouth formed an astonished O.
“No way,” Sammy said.
Sarah’s father gaped silently at the glittering ladders, bridges, and treehouses. Sarah had imagined her family’s introduction to the grove countless times. Now the moment had finally come, and she couldn’t enjoy it. Her father seemed different, broody and suspicious, and she was nervous about the test Quinn wanted to perform that night. As if on cue, Quinn leaped onto a stump, and whistled for attention.
“Followers of the Grove!” Quinn shouted. “Our rescue mission was successful, but I regret to say there’s bad news, too. An inside source reports that Parleyment wants to destroy and disband our new home. There are rumours we may be attacked.”
The followers launched a volley of questions. Quinn silenced them by raising his arms.
“We have to strategize and defend ourselves. Fortunately, among us there is a leader who can harness the very forces of nature. This person’s powers could defeat any assault Parleyment might launch, and tonight, I will attempt to reveal the identity of this gifted human.”
A murmur of excitement rippled through the grove. Sarah gulped. Would she dash Quinn’s hopes and turn out to be just another girl? Maybe she would be exposed as some kind of accidental magician, a charlatan who didn’t even understand her own tricks. With a dramatic flourish, Quinn held the golden hexagon talisman aloft.
“This hexagon is no ordinary jewelry! It was specially forged by the light of a full moon. When this talisman hangs around the neck of the Queen of Nature, it sings a unique song.”
Sarah held her breath. Quinn approached Levvy first. She bowed her head, and he slipped the necklace over her ever-present orange toque. An expectant hush fell over the crowd, but a long minute elapsed, and nothing happened.
“Levvy, your courage and intelligence are great assets to the grove. But you are not the leader we seek.” Quinn said, and he removed the necklace.
“Knew it,” said Levvy, and she gave Sarah a reassuring smile. The full moon beamed down through the branches. Quinn lifted the leather thong with sombre ceremony, and placed the talisman around Sarah’s neck. For a moment she heard nothing, and then gradually a hum filled the air, like the slow crescendo of a singing bowl. Warmth spread across her chest, and the talisman began to glow. A single pitch became two notes, then three, and then four, a complex chordal harmony. Gold light radiated from the hexagon. Sarah’s skin tingled. A delicate melody began, a lilting, merry sound, like temple bells ringing in a major key. The Followers of the Grove joined hands, and circled around Sarah. She felt connected to every atom in the grove. Her cells were vibrating, in tune with all living things, and her body surged with the power of nature.
At length the sensation peaked, and receded. The melody trailed off, and harmonic notes dropped away one by one, until only the original hum remained. Sarah’s hair was tossed by a rising western wind, and instinctively she beckoned, calling stormy weather to Sassamatta Grove. Dark clouds billowed across the moon, blotting out its light. The air grew charged with electricity. Rumpus barked sharply, and then growled, his fur bristling. A point of light appeared in the north, and flew toward the grove. For a second Sarah thought it was a shooting star, but as it came closer, the light resolved into a round, flaming missile. The fireball descended in a speedy arc, landed close to Sarah with a sickening whump, and ignited a tower of fire.
Sarah’s father grabbed her, and wrenched her away from the flames.
“Up the ladders,” Quinn shouted. “Get into the treehouses!”
As Sarah scooped up Rumpus another fireball landed and exploded, flames scorching tree branches. The Followers of the Grove scattered, and escaped into the canopy. Tony Spellings lifted Sammy, and Sarah led them to a ladder just as a barrage of fire missiles landed in the clearing. Sarah felt a strange calm as Sammy climbed the ladder, followed closely by her father. When they reached the rope bridge, Sarah called out instructions. Far below them, dark figures darted among the trees. Columns of fire burned higher, and flames licked the rope bridge where she stood. Rain! Sarah thought, and she beckoned the clouds again, conjuring memories of being soaked to the skin. Soon inky clouds collided over Sassamatta, and fat raindrops fell. A cheer went up. On the ground, a person dressed in black pointed into the branches.
“They’re in the trees!”
Followers doused flames with their drinking water buckets, and smothered fire with water-soaked cedar boughs. Sarah concentrated on summoning a downpour. Embers sizzled and dense smoke billowed as flames were extinguished. Around her, Sarah was dimly aware of a battle unfolding; Fern dropped a net from a treehouse deck, and secured a rope to a branch, and pulled. Beneath her, an attacker ascended into the air, caught in the net. Murdock threw rocks with astonishing accuracy; each of his pitches produced a yelp of pain. Squinting through smoke and rain, Sarah noticed the attackers had paired off. At the base of a ladder tree, a pair holding a silver band stationed themselves on either side of the wide trunk. With a shock, Sarah realized the silver band was a two-person saw! The attackers leaned back and forth vigorously.
The noise of saw blades ripping into trees filled the grove.