“You two will never finish that way,” their mentor drawled. “Your teammate has the right idea.”
He marked his place, got up, and showed them.
Their teammate was bent over a bird nest and steadily scooping poop. She had the resident bird pinned with one hand and shoveled its waste with the other. Two levels of shit stirring created an awful cloud of stink. The boys held their noses, but Tiza worked unbothered. She already had one bottle filled. Basilard pointed to a nest with snapping little birds in it. Nolien looked from the nest to his sergeant in confusion and snobbery.
“You want me to stick my hand in there!?” Basilard nodded. “That's crazy!”
“It's part of the mission,” Basilard said. He held Nolien's gaze until the healer knelt down and reached into the nest.
“Is there blood?” Basilard asked, pulling his book back out.
“No . . .”
“Then there's no problem,” Basilard said as he sat down.
“How come we don't get gloves for this?” Nolien complained. “Or shovels or nose plugs?”
“I bought these gloves myself,” Basilard said without looking up. “About the other two: the Guild subsidizes your room, board, equipment, and the supplies for their upkeep. You want specialized accessories too?” Nolien went back to collecting poop and cuts in silence.
Eric winced in sympathetic pain before glancing down at his own nest. The birds were sleeping. With any luck, he could reach in and grab the poop without waking them. If he had that kind of luck, he wouldn't be here in the first place. Just as he touched the poop, his hand brushed one of the birds. It awoke with a start. He screamed and furiously shook his hand, but it squeezed tighter.
“You're too timid!” Tiza grabbed the bird and pried its beak open. Eric sucked his thumb as Tiza returned the bird to its nest. “Pin with one hand, scoop with the other.” After pouring the poop into Eric's bottle, she shoved it into his chest. “Got it, Dimwit?” He nodded meekly. Tiza sighed in annoyance before going back to her own nest.
Nolien yelled as another bird bit him. “Having some problems, Tenderfoot?”
“Just razor beaks, milady,” Nolien called back. Tiza threw a glob of poop at him. He dodged.
“Nice to see the team bonding so soon,” Basilard muttered as he turned a page.
It was slow going, but with Tiza's method, Eric's bottles filled little by little. He gagged at both the touch and smell, but it was progress. Nolien didn't watch Tiza's demonstration so all he accomplished was angering the birds.
The team had arrived at midmorning and it was now early afternoon. Eric was tired, hungry, and somewhat nauseous. There was a reason Basilard told them not to eat breakfast. Tiza, on the other hand, worked steadily: pin, scoop, dump, repeat. Where does that girl get her energy?
“Wow, I didn't think any of you would finish this quickly,” Basilard said.
“It was nothing,” Tiza said with a falsely modest wave. “The boys are just squeamish. I thought only tents were like that.” Eric thought he saw Nolien twitch, but it could have been a bird pooping on him. “Not me! I can do anything!”
“Well then . . .” Basilard finally put his book away. “You should have energy left for training.”
“Bring it on!”
Eric stared in amazement. Wherever she gets all that energy, I want it. He settled for lunch—right after he washed his hands.
A Mage's Power, and its sequel, Looming Shadow, are available for purchase at