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Astoreth stood still, glaring at the field before her, gripping her weapon tightly in her gloved fist.  She took a deep breath.  You can do this, she reassured herself.  How many times have you seen Garrot do this sort of thing?  And he never flinches.  “Anything a mage can do, I can do better,” she breathed.  She glanced at her companion, who looked back with big green eyes.  “Am I right?”

“Agba,” said Laurelia.

“Of course I’m right,” said Astoreth, spinning her trowel and dropping to her knees in the soil.

The flowers were dying.  She wasn’t sure why.  She watered them daily.  They had the same sun they always had.  But they were withering, nonetheless.  Meanwhile the weeds that sprung up around the blossoms were flourishing, and Astoreth attacked these with relish while Laurelia noodled around on the grass, examining ladybugs and periodically sucking on her toes.

After forty-five minutes Astoreth sat back on her heels.  “I’m doing something wrong, Laurelia,” she sighed.  “I just wish I knew what.  I could try a new plant food… maybe I should give them less water.  Maybe….”

Maybe you should call the man who planted them.  “No,” she sighed aloud.  “That would just… no.  Maybe….”

Maybe it’s you.

The thought made her wince, as it did every time.  She tried to stave off the train that she knew would follow, but to no avail.  Maybe the problem is that you’re incapable of nurturing anything but pain.  You’re a death-dealer.  Corruption and agony are your gifts.  Everything you touch will die, slowly and painfully, whether you want it to or not.  This is why you can’t be happy.  This is why the Light burns you, why plants wither in your care.  Why the only beings who have been able to stand your company for more than a few months at a time are fel creatures of the Nether – sadistic fiends who thrive on cruelty as you do.  As you did.  Before you went soft.

“I’m not soft,” Astoreth hissed to no one in particular.

Laurelia blinked up at her.  “Baba?”

Astoreth sighed.  “No, dear, it’s nothing.”  She stood up, dusting herself off.  “I just… wasn’t meant to be a gardener.”

“Aaaaah-da,” Laurelia said as Astoreth bent to pick her up.  She giggled as her mother held her close and kissed her cheek.

“I know,” Astoreth said softly.  “You’ll grow up strong… and then you’ll go away, too.”

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