A smile, a word, a step, a smile. Smile-smile-smile. As Marie talked, her bright white teeth flashed out from within the deep brown of her face, punctuating her sentences like code from a signal lamp.
"This is soch an im-POA-tant turn, Sizemore. I told Jonnis that days ago, didn't I, honnay?" Her voice lilted playfully high. "Dint I tell you?" She reached in front of Sizemore to touch Janis' sleeve, where Janis was holding Sizemore's left hand.
Sizemore's right hand was dragging his Erfmover spade behind him, silently digging his Warlord's tunnel below as they walked. If Janis or Marie could tell he was using it, they were not letting on. He wasn't paying much attention to them, though. He was fully grounded.
Touching the spade to the grass of Portal Park put Sizemore directly in touch with Erfworld. He sensed the physical world in deep, primal ways which he found difficult to convey to other casters. Even Changemancers and Dittomancers would stare at him blankly when he described it, though they too practiced forms of Stuffamancy.
"Everyone's Fate turns this turn," said Marie, much more quietly, but still smiling. "Big changes. Everything changes. Your side's turn changed, its Fate, too maybe. Maybe, we'll see."
He could feel the ground feeling him, pulling him down, pushing up on the soles of his feet as he lifted each leg to walk. In the soil below, rocks sat immersed in the cold mud. Their whole surface touched it, in all dimensions at once. Sizemore could feel this contact as if the pebbles were his own toes and fingers.
"Shouldn't you know?" he asked, absently. The conversation was less real than the displacement of dirt, the Stuffmancy of constructing beams and lights, packing the tunnel floor solid. But some part of him couldn't help being curious. Predictamancers were hard to talk to about their discipline. This was a rare chance.
"Oh I should," said Marie. "Yes. But turns like this, they come up time to time and everything afta is cloudy. Something has to get decided today, Sizemore. Fate will go fowad from there."
Sizemore's mind slid away, down below his feet, to his other self. The strata, the stresses, the peace of land at rest, he understood them that way: as if they were parts of his own body. The ground could be comfortable and sedate, like a tired person feels when lying on on a soft mattress. Or it could be awkward, unsustainable, like a man trying to lean on a jagged stump, or sleep upside down on a stone staircase. The land in the Magic Kingdom was deeply, permanently at rest.
"You mean someone has to croak," he murmured.
This body analogy described something he had always intuited about the land. But only since his link with the Lady Firebaugh did he think of it consciously. His entire mental frame for visualizing his discipline had been reworked on that day. A hundred turns later, he was still reconsidering the fundamentals of his craft.
"Yes," said Marie, tilting her head of course. "Prohbably lots of someones. We want to make shohwa that none of those someones is your boss, you know."
Between the volcano link-up and his three recent levels (two from traps and combat, one from all of the city rebuilding), Sizemore was now a greater Dirtamancer than he ever imagined he could become. He had not actually crossed the threshold to Master class, but that could happen any time a caster gained powerful new insight into his discipline or major class. The body analogy wasn't quite enough to push him past that mark; he was still missing something. But for the first time in his life, he felt pretty sure that he would get there.
"Or you," said Janis, squeezing his hand. He looked up. They were almost to the enemy portal, he should start forming stairs soon. One more square-set. Janis was smiling at him. "Don't want to lose you either, Sizemore."
"That's right," said Marie brightly. "We want to help, you see. Help with your errand, pahaps. Help in otha ways, I don't know. You tell me. What's your boss planning to do today, Dirtamancer Rockwell?"
In one last box the dirt dissipated, or became timbers holding up the grass. On to the second set of stairs now, not even looking at Marie to answer the question.
"Don't know and can't say, of course."
Sizemore cut his first step. The blue of Spacerock's portal colored the grass just in front of them. The trap door would be trickiest. Unless he could get Janis and Marie to step to the side, they would probably feel him making it.
"Sizemore, we're here to help," said Janis softly. She released his hand and put hers gently on his shoulder.
"I'm glad. I believe you," he said, sparing a glance to let his friend, his spiritual guide know he meant it. "But I can't make that call." Three more steps, neatly cut.
They had stopped at the Spacerock portal now. Sizemore kept looking down at his feet. The two women stared at him in silence for an uncomfortably long time as he did his best not to reveal that he was working, but it was tricky to manage. Janis looked at the portal for a number of seconds, then started and gasped.
"He didn't order you through, did he? You're not going through this portal...!
"No," sighed Sizemore. He did not look up at all.
"No," echoed Marie. "Not you, is it? Your boss, though."
He was sure he flinched a little, but Sizemore said nothing. Seeing no way around it, he went ahead and constructed the trapdoor. The vibrations underfoot were unmistakable.
He looked up at last.
Marie met his eyes, but her face was turned away, her mouth twisted into a dot. Janis' look begged him to deny what she was thinking. He shrugged.
The women then turned to one other.
"That... That would change everything," said Janis, in an awed whisper.
Marie's voice went soft and low, but her eyes still smiled. "Dint I tell you."