Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold. But DeVera could still feel the subtle shift of the distant star drawing nearer, and with it, the warmth needed to bring her world back to life.
But for now, the young one had no choice but to stay inside, commit to her studies under the guidance of the elder.
“Bring the anatomy books, child,” Demaurus called from the cavernous study hall.
DeVera obliged with haste, rushing from stack to stack of texts piled high along the walls, pulling each one with the foreign word printed across its spine, hoping they would all be filled with exotic pictures of the plants and animals of earth, or even the humans themselves.
“An-at-toe-mee,” she rolled the word around with her sharp tongue as she reached for another volume. “An-at-TOE-mee. An-AT-toe-mee.” She tossed the syllables about, trying to land the tricky inflection Demaurus had mastered so well.
Her gnarled, smoky arms strained from the weight of the books, and she heaved a heavy sigh as she set her selections in front of Demaurus for approval.
Can’t we do art instead, elder? She pleaded with her mind.
He raised an eyebrow at this request. In human tongue, he commanded.
DeVera hesitated, pulling together the right phrases and asked again, this time out loud and in English, Demaurus’ favorite of the earthly languages.
He nodded, pleased with her efforts, but replied flatly “No. Today is anatomy.”
Demaurus tugged at the third text down in the stack and handed it to the child. “Page 42,” he directed.
Sitting down and spreading the book across her lap, DeVera flipped through the pages, following the numbers along the bottom. Forty-two was the start of the text’s third chapter, “Study of the Womb.”
DeVera’s round mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide as she began to take in the hand-drawn images before her. Little bitty humans, like peanuts in their shells, were sketched from every angle across the pages.
She traced a bony, grey finger along the rough lines. The tiny, delicate ears. The five baubles of toes on the end of each soft, smooth foot.
Humans are just . . . beautiful, she thought to herself.
An impatient cough from Demaurus tore through her wandering thoughts, “Read, child.”
DeVera’s soft voice stumbled through the technical text, the elder correcting her pronunciation along the way. Em-BREE-o. FEE-tus. YOU-ter-us. Uhm-bill-eh-cul cord. To DeVera, it all sounded too fantastic to be real.
At the conclusion of the first section, she looked up at Demaurus, Who is responsible for these drawings?
He sighed at her for slipping back into mind-speak, but answered the same way, Leonardo da Vinci. A human from long before.
Did he practice medicine? she questioned.
No child, he was a great artist, an inventor, a mathematician, a genius.
Can I be a great artist too?
DeVera’s thoughts carried with them a tinge of hope. Demaurus could feel it just as he could feel her words. Sitting down beside her, he tried to summon patient tones. Destinies are never easy to explain.
Child, you are the farmer’s daughter, the last one of your kind. This is why you must study the womb. One day soon you will grow your own crop: human beings so perfect, those of earth will not be able to resist loving them, believing them, following them without hesitation . . . even to their own demise.
Your time has almost come, DeVera. And your harvest will be our salvation.
Nodding numbly at the answer she somehow already knew to be true, DeVera stared out the window at the frozen tundra stretched before her.
More than anything else, she wished that she was just another peaceful babe floating safely in her mother’s womb, in a world where she could be a great artist, inventor, mathematician.
Or anything other than a reaper of souls.