“Well, could be worse,” Sheldon said as he looped his thumbs behind the straps of his overalls. He was always one for looking on the bright side.
I scowled. “Could be better.” I picked up a smaller fallen branch and poked at the heartwood at the base of the branch that had taken off part of the tree’s trunk. Instead of resisting, the wood collapsed like a piece of moldy bread. “Damn it.”
“Such language.” Sheldon shook his head. For someone who dealt with the scum of the city when he wasn’t harvesting corn or squash from his farm, he had a surprising distaste for obscenities. You’d think he’d be desensitized by now.
“Sorry,” I said as I stood up and threw the stick onto the ground. I looked around the park. There was no one else up and about yet as the clouds overhead still threatened rain, even with the wind pushing them along like they were late to another engagement. I turned up my collar to protect my neck. I hadn’t yet gotten used to remembering scarves for the cold since my hair was hacked off.
“Best be getting this branch taken away before a little one gets too curious and gets hurt.” Sheldon walked back to his truck. He called over his head. “You best be figuring out what’s going on. That mentor of yours said he’d fixed it.”
“On it,” I said with more conviction than I felt. “Damn it all,” I said quietly so Sheldon wouldn’t hear.
My mentor, the Great Alastair Wilde, was not only not great, but not my mentor after he up and left a week ago without a word leaving me only a third of the way through my apprenticeship and first on the list of suspects in his “suspicious” disappearance. I looked up at the tree and back down at the rotted heartwood, half expecting a horde of termites to come roiling out of it.
The only thing suspicious about Wilde’s disappearance was that he took all my funds and my one piece of nice jewelry when he split and now the mages from the next town over were sniffing around, looking for a weakness to exploit or a trace of him to track. I shivered. And he had to leave me with rotting heartwood on top of everything else. It couldn’t just be a pixie infestation or something of the like. Instead it had to be a problem with the heartwood. I looked around at the other trees in the grove and sighed before starting towards the closest one. Time to see how far the rot had spread and figure out how well and truly screwed we were going to be.