When Cincin saw the huge fallen tree in the road, he stopped short. By force of habit, his mind probed for the hungry tendrils of the firestone - but no. The firestone was gone. He crouched down with his hands on his knees, to wait out the wave of nausea that passed through him. With a firestone, this log would have been no obstacle. He’d have summoned his full strength, more than he usually could, and pushed the obstacle off the road. Or he’d have used the other members of his party like extensions of himself to coordinate, and get the tree off the road somehow. Or come up with some clever plan to do it. He had to get the firestone back. He needed its power. He could persuade the group to turn around, raise a peasant army in the surrounding towns, and storm the city, to take back his firestone by force. Or he could go back alone, and shamelessly beg his friends in the Senate - or the people of the city - for just one more use of it. Or figure out some other key thing his city needed. Or make them need him.

But no. He’d given up the firestone freely. He let the sense of loss pulsate through his soul. He was alone now - he had his traveling companions, but he had no firestone. And it had never helped him do anything he couldn’t have done himself, if he had been just a little cleverer, more determined. And - he forced his thoughts onto this track now, out of the well-worn rut reaching out towards the firestone - this wave of loss was just a sign of weak places where he could become strong. He had to learn to do without - but he could mimic the patterns the firestone had taught him.

He looked at the tree. It was probably too big for them to lift all together (weak, slow) - but could it be rolled? No, its roots were still attached, which made it difficult to roll (stupid, give up, turn back, get a firestone), and there was a bend in the middle. Ignore the despair - what could he do to alter it? Cut it into pieces small enough to carry off the road? That would at least be possible, but it would take a long time, almost as long as rolling the uneven tree, even if they all worked together. (Lost, defeated.) What if he just attacked the unevenness? Whittle down the tree into a straight log? Too crooked for that, would take too long, just as bad as cutting it up. (No plan works, you can’t plan without a firestone.) Some parts were already even. Could he use that? Cut at the place the tree bent, so he’d have two straight segments. (Determination, running with the plan, extending it. Destroy the obstacle!) He could cut off the roots and the branches, that wouldn’t be too hard, and then have two mostly straight round logs to roll off the road.

But no, he could do better. His mind was racing now, in an unforced frenzy that seemed to well up from some deep spring within. He had the tools to cut wood, so why limit himself to solutions that removed the obstruction? Why not build - a bridge? A ramp? The wagon was made of boards already shaped, so perhaps they could just remove a few to build ramps to guide the wheels. Pry off a few boards to form ramps for the wheels, carry the wagon's contents over or around the tree, then carefully guide the wagon over the obstruction. It would be precarious and risky, and require great caution and attention, but it was not hopeless. Actually, they should try simply lifting the emptied wagon over, before assuming they couldn't do it. And come to think of it, if they were going to be disassembling the wagon even a little, maybe they should simply carry it over in parts and reassemble it on the other side!

He had options.

He stood up, a bit shaky. He’d had to fight himself. He’d had to fight the dead imprint of the firestone in his heart. A part of him was terribly sad that this had happened, that his old friend - yes, he’d grown affectionate towards the stone - wasn’t there anymore, like a part of him had been cut off, and learning to do without it was cauterizing the wound. But also pride. He was becoming stronger. Perhaps someday he would be stronger than even a firestone. (Pain, loss, rage at the world for making him need this, sadness at having to stand alone.)

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