The sky was black and red, and in the distance an unearthly howl echoed through the city. But the squash would not forgive her skipping their bug treatment and the weeds in the pepper garden were unseemly.
Damkina muttered wards against bugs as she slammed her hoe into the ground with more force than was strictly necessary. They had been here, the week before last, asking her to fight. She had pointed at the ruins of Chicago, smoking on the television. “That is what happens when you fight. Like every other time. When you have remembered how to banish them, come find me.”
They had called her last week, asking her to fight. She had pointed to the mess they had just made of Minneapolis. “You’re doing more harm than good. That was no returned god that shattered their downtown, that was your warriors. I am a gardener. I have always been a gardener. Leave me to my garden.”
Now they were here, in her city, and there was only so much longer she could ignore them. She knew what came of fighting: death and destruction, earth salted and plants dead, crops failed and plague and starvation. She knew what would come of this war. But the words of the banishing had been stripped from their minds by departing parents who wished a fail-safe against their own banishment, should they want to return, and she could no longer remember who had been clever enough to hide the words in another mind, or if they had survived long enough to retrieve them.
That had been a hellish war, and this was already another one of the same. Damkina looked up at the howling sky. She looked back at the peppers and the weeds. She looked over at her apprentice, who was diligently working on an espaliered apple tree.
“What say you?” she asked, even before she had finished making the decision, “we make this place our stronghold, then see how far we can reach?”
He perked up. “Two blocks gets us the restaurants and the butcher’s.”
“Four gets us the grocery store and the liquor store. And that twenty-story apartment building.”
“Five and we’re to Tyler Park. Seven and we could get the hydro dam. Though we’d have to cross the river…”
“Lucky for you, I know some really determined vines.” She grabbed her boss, who was doing her best not to panic. “Get everyone you can — and I mean everyone — down in the sub-basement, in the back storage. Everyone who won’t fit in there, just in the sub-basement or the stairwell there. This might get a little rocky.”
Her boss looked at her. “What are you going to do?”
Damkina smiled. “Make a wall. Draw a line.” She didn’t have to fight, she just had to protect. And garden. She could garden.
Her boss was looking at her strangely. Of course she was; to her Damkina was just another landscaper. “With a hoe?”
“Exactly. With a hoe. Now go. Quickly. The climate-controlled storage is very safe.”
Her apprentice was already working on the border trees, stretching them up and out, twining their branches, calling in lower branches that had once been pruned.
“Careful of the oak,” Damkina warned. “It gets fragile if you ask it to move too quickly.” Then she added her voice to the chanting, to the Working, surrounding the museum’s wide gardens and lawns with a solid wall of trees.
As they moved out, calling on more trees, stretching the poor little sidewalk plantings until they cracked the roads, Damkina found herself aware of a voice near her. “Isis Astarte Diana Hecate Demeter Kali Inanna…”
“Dam-Kina,” she muttered, but she had long since faded into obscurity. She had wanted that, never having been one to crave worship.
“Dam-Kina,” she said again, because praying to those other gods might power them, and they did not need the help.
“Dam-Kina,” the woman repeated, and more voices rose. Why weren’t they in the basement? Why weren’t they staying safe?
As the voices rose up, calling her name, Damkina remembered Caron and his damn Notes on the Damkinian Gardens. She’d read the thing, before she’d destroyed all the copies.
The blood trickles into humanity, he’d written. Damkina reminds us that the more something is diluted, the less effective it is.
The blood trickles into humanity.
“Try this instead,” she called. “Tempero Huamu, Qorawiyay Huamu, Aistrigh Huamu, Quipia Huamu, as Dam-kina Wishes. If you can’t say any of the Words, just skip them and come in on the chorus. You, set a tune?”
The woman who’d been calling out to Isis and Astarte began the chant. In her voice, Damkina could hear the blood of Ellehem. “Tempero Huamu, Mmm–mmm-mm Huamu, Aistrigh Humau, Quipia Huamu. As Dam-Kina Wishes.”
It wasn’t worship. She’d never wanted worship. But it was so much better: every voice that could hear her chant, raising to guide their Working to her will. “Got it?” she asked her apprentice. “Get ready, this is going to be a wild ride.”
“Tempero Huamu,” she called, controlling the plants. All the plants, so many plants. She walked forward through the single archway she’d left, and her small group of chanters followed her. “Qorawiyay Huamu.” They shaped the trees, shaped the grass, shaped everything into protective walls. “Aistrigh Huamu.” Transmuted grass into oak and ironwood. Transmuted pines into hawthorn, prickly and poisonous, transmuted weeds into a thorn hedge to make Briar Rose proud. “Quipia Huamu.” They Preserved it all, so that fire nor axe could break it.
“As Dam-Kina Wishes,” echoed the growing crowd, as she and her apprentice walked forward, one block, three blocks, into the woods and manicured gardens of Tyler Park and out through three walls deep of walnut and apple trees, sugar maples and one lone lemon tree. Someone in the crowd had been craving lemonade, she supposed.
“Tempero Huamu,” and they broke the road as the trees stretched out their roots. “Qorawiyay Huamu,” and they had protection walls right up to the river. “Aistrigh Humau!” The vines and branches made a bridge that surrounded the hydro dam, and they kept walking.
Finally, they stopped in front of an angry godling who had made himself to look like a demon out of nightmare.
“This is my city!” he bellowed.
“I have been here longer than you.” There were very few she couldn’t say that to anymore. “And this is my garden, and I say stay out - or be compost. Say it with me!”
Hundreds of humans and Faded, half-breeds and those with only one drop of fae blood raised their voices. “Tempero Huamu, Qorawiyay Huamu, Aistrigh Huamu, Quipia Huamu, as Dam-kina Wishes. This is our Garden! Stay out!”
The would-be godling fled.