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Amaryllis was slapping me in the face. This actually hurt quite a bit, because she wasn’t being at all gentle with me. I raised a hand to fend her off and began to come back to my senses. I had leveled, and it had been fantastic, sending me beyond the ability to think. It was disconcerting how quickly the thought of 'yes, that again' went through my head.

“I’m okay,” I said.

“You need to heal Grak,” said Amaryllis. “Now.”

I scrambled to my feet, looking down at my left hand, which was … well, whole again, but still as numb as it had been before, and there was something else off about it, like it hadn’t been replaced quite properly. Even just looking at it, I could see that it was not right somehow, proportioned slightly wrong, making the skin look loose in some places and tight in others. I didn’t really have time to think about that though, so I ran over to where Grak was lying and began pulling out bones from my bandolier. (I quite selfishly wanted to be basking in the afterglow of the level up, and while I wasn’t such a bag of dicks that I would actually do that, that thought was still poking at the back of my mind.)

Grak had taken a hit to the face, which had cut into his lips enough that I could see his teeth through the wound. By the time I had burned through three bones, he was awake and alert, and he pushed off away from me when I tried to use a fourth.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Solace can do the rest.”

I looked back to the woods, which were silent now. I hadn’t gotten any updates from the game about what was going on there, but those had all just been along the lines of the Golden Cete being defeated. There had been two about Golden Cete blade-bound, which was comforting, but we didn’t have a solid enough count of their numbers that I was confident they were all gone … and would the game give me an update if one of my party members died? Or, perhaps more worryingly, if something happened to a valuable member of the party who was technically not a part of it in game terms, i.e. Solace?

So I ran, thinking about Fenn and hoping that she had done her best to stay at a distance and pepper them with arrows, that she hadn’t run into some magical effect that she couldn’t handle. When I got into the woods I started moving more slowly, thinking that it would be utterly ridiculous to have come this far and then get shot in the head by some mook.

I spotted Solace, slumped up against one of the huge, worn rocks at the center of the copse, with the bottle sitting on the ground beside her, the artificial sun she’d put into it glowing brightly. She gave me a faint smile and a friendly wave, which was when I finally lowered my guard halfway (but only halfway, because there was always the chance she was missing something, or this was a trap, and I wasn’t about to be caught off-guard just because I desperately wanted this all to be over). I could see bodies in the woods, most of them sprawled out with arrows sticking in them. There were arrows scattered all over the ground, and hundreds stuck into the trees, most having clearly come from the same direction.

“All clear?” I called to her as I moved forward.

She gave me a weak nod. I remembered that cranteks had dark green blood only after seeing it smeared on her face and clothes. When I saw what she was holding, I rushed forward with wide eyes; she had Sable.

“Where’s Fenn,” I asked, or maybe shouted.

“She was cut in half,” Solace said, resting her head against the rock. I felt a chill go down my spine. “Shoulder to hip, clean through, that made putting her back together easier.”

“Is she okay?” I said through gritted teeth.

“No,” said Solace. She coughed lightly. “I had to kill that blade-bound on my own. It cost me time. She’s lost blood, probably too much. I pulled her into the bottle, I’m more powerful there, but he cut through her shoulder blade, across half her ribs, narrowly missed the heart, through the hip, it was … not the worst thing that I’ve ever tried to bring someone back from, but if she survives it …” she trailed off. If she survives it, then she’ll have had the worst injury where Solace’s intervention had actually worked.

“I’ll give her a transfusion,” I said quickly. “I have two fairies left, I have bones, let me into the bottle.”

“I’m close to having tapped the locus dry,” said Solace, as Amaryllis came up behind me.

“Fenn?” asked Amaryllis.

“Needs a transfusion,” I said. “I’m going in to do it.”

Fuck, I’m blood type B+, that means that I can donate to B+ or AB+, did I actually know that before or was it injected by KNO? Nevermind. What blood type was Fenn, she wouldn’t be able to answer, there wasn’t a simple method to tell unless I could conjure one up from blood magic somehow, and did humans and half-elves have even remotely compatible blood in the first place? Probably, given crossbreeding, but maybe not. How the fuck do you do a transfusion without the equipment? Clonal kit, that’s how.

I took Sable from Solace’s hand and thrust it toward Amaryllis. “Give me the clonal kit, I’m going in.”

Amaryllis hesitated for the barest of seconds, but took the glove from me and closed her eyes for a moment, taking control of it. The clonal kit popped out and she thrust it toward me, and as soon as I had it I turned back toward Solace.

“Put me in,” I said quickly.

“It’ll be the last thing I do today,” she said. “The leaves tell me everyone is dead, but if we need to --”

“Do it,” I said.

“It’s fine,” said Amaryllis with a nod to Solace. “Juniper, do you know how compatible your blood types are?”

“I -- I’m B+, but --” I stammered out.

“On the five factors,” said Amaryllis. I gave her a bewildered stare, and started saying some asinine thing about how we needed to do something. She held Sable out toward me and slammed a book down on top of the clonal kit, The Commoner’s Guide to Blood Magic. Several bones followed after that, piling up. “Go,” she said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Solace grabbed her staff, which was lying in the grass beside her, and tapped it once on the rock. A hole opened up there, which went a foot into the stone before becoming some other place, darkly lit and ominous. Then Solace collapsed onto the forest floor.

I raced forward, stopping for just a moment to grab her, balancing the kit in my other hand, and then moved in through the hole, which was barely large enough for me to go through with both my things and the small woman. This wasn’t like the tunnel through treespace had been, we were somewhere earthy and musty. I heard a grinding sound of the stone closing behind us, leaving us in near-darkness, and pulled Solace’s limp body forward so that she wouldn’t be crushed.

My eyes were adjusting to the light too slowly, so I flared blood magic for flame, which revealed a small room with dried fruits and meats in various cubbies set into the earthen walls. A steep ladder made of tree roots led to where the only light (save mine) was coming from. I propped Solace up to make sure she wouldn’t choke on her spit or vomit, then took the ladder as fast as I could. I came up into the house-tree in the center of the bottle and set the kit, book, and bones down to rush over to Fenn.

She was still wearing her leather armor, or what was left of it. I could see the diagonal path the sword had taken across her body, because there the armor had been pulled away. It wasn’t a straight line; she must have been partially crouched, or turning, as the blade had cut through her body like butter. The seam was red and thick, like a magnified version of what I’d gotten when Solace healed my shoulder, passing from her collarbone, down through her breast, just a bit on the left of her navel, and then through the hip, coming out midway through the leg. She was pale, so white she was almost blue, and sweat beaded on her forehead.

“Shit,” I said softly, and then, “shit” again, because what the fuck was I wasting time swearing for? I started with the bones, draining them into her one by one, going slower than I wanted to in order to maximize the healing from them. The red line faded with each one, until it was barely visible, but that did nothing to improve her color.

I hadn’t read The Commoner’s Guide to Blood Magic, I had just skimmed it enough to know that healing was accomplished via transfusion, which meant that in a world where we had magical healing fairies made of marzipan and bones we could pull healing from, it was going to be more complicated and messy than was worth the trouble, especially given that a blood mage could only use it when they, themselves were healthy, and it was only really effective on others. And once Solace had joined up with us, I’d figured that with no less than three other methods of healing, healing via blood magic was probably never going to be that relevant. I'd still intended on powering through it cover to cover, but that had taken a backseat.

And that was all still true, except that in skipping over large swaths of what The Commoner’s Guide had to say about how to heal with blood magic, I had also missed what it had to say on the nature of blood types, which were, apparently, different from what we had on Earth.

It was hard to sit and read a book while Fenn was sitting there, dying, but when Amaryllis told me not to do anything dumb, I was pretty sure that she had meant I should read up on transfusion before just busting out the clonal kit and winging it. And she was right, so I read, trying to keep my eyes from racing ahead to the next sentence. It helped to calm me down though, and I felt my heart rate start returning to near normal as I went through the words. Then I would look over at Fenn, who was probably dying, who had to have lost what, half, two-thirds of her blood getting cut in half? How had she not suffered brain death -- or had she, and that was simply not as serious on Aerb, not with a druid on standby? I returned my gaze to the page, where stupid, boring words were waiting for me.

 

Even given the above variety of blood seen in the mortal species, the average blood mage cares most about where that blood falls along the five factors of alignment, which is a categorization system established by the Athenaeum of Quills and Blood in 17 FE in the wake of the Penndraig reforms. Using complicated methods of study, the athenaeum was able to determine normal ranges for five factor blood typing in almost all of the mortal species, as well as how often individuals of these species fell outside the normal range. If tested for blood type, you will be given a five-letter designation, such as IORUM or LPSEM, though testing is not recommended except in rare circumstances.

If you go to visit a blood mage for the purposes of healing and do not know your blood type, they will likely consult one of their books from the athenaeum to ensure that your blood is compatible with theirs. While your blood mage will be trained to tell you the risks, you should know ahead of time that individuals might have different factors than their species would indicate, though this is uncommon and almost always along a single factor of alignment. Blood mages are strictly ordered to work only within a single factor of misalignment, which reduces the risk of an adverse reaction considerably.

There were a lot of things that the book didn’t say. It did not, for example, say what the side effects were, it didn’t say how factors of alignment changed in someone of mixed species, and it didn’t say what, if anything, caused a person to have an alignment that was “off” from their species. It didn’t define the five factors, or how you’d go about figuring those out. I would have thrown the book across the room, but I had always loved and respected books, even if they were nearly fucking worthless pieces of propaganda garbage.

I watched Fenn, with her shallow breathing, too-pale skin, and her nearly white lips. I could feel that familiar feeling of helplessness welling up in me, one that had started when I was watching Arthur in his coma, but which had stayed with me for a long time. I wiped away the nascent tears and turned my mind to what was actually actionable, what concrete thing I could do that would make my life better, even if the situation itself was hopeless, that had always helped in the past -- and here, there was definitely something that I could do.

I started by dumping the two points from leveling into MEN. I was pretty sure my read on the game giving me “fake” intelligence was right, but whether it was fake or not didn’t matter so long as it gave me results. I felt a touch calmer once that was done, though not nearly as much as I had hoped I’d get from increased WIS. Then it was time to turn my mind to the problem.

There were five factors of blood alignment. People of the same species were assumed to be compatible with each other, with deviation along a single factor being ‘uncommon’ but not rare. If Fenn and I were both human, then no problem, we might have unnamed side effects that were almost certainly better than what she was going through now, but I’d be willing to risk that, especially given Solace’s prognosis. But Fenn was a half-elf, which meant that the worst case scenario was that 1) she got all five factors of alignment from her father, and that 2) all five of those were the opposite of whatever mine were as a typical human, and that 3) trying to push my blood into her would have fatal results. That was a lot of assumptions, but it was a starting place.

So far as I could see, the five factors were treated as binary in their letter designations, which meant that there were two to the fifth possible combinations, or thirty-two. Blood mages were ordered to work within a single factor of misalignment, because that made two factors of misalignment ‘uncommon’, and presumably it wasn’t ‘uncommon’ for a blood mage to kill someone through transfusion, which meant that was the zone of safety, or maybe just the zone of not making things worse for Fenn. If blood types were purely random, then I’d get a pure success one time out of thirty-two, within normal bounds five times, and unnamed side effects another ten times.

But it wasn’t purely random, it was determined by species, or at least, different species had different variances and mostly fell along one side of each factor, enough that this was a useful tool that was routinely used by blood mage healers. For Fenn there were two species in play, and the blood type of elves was a mystery to me, but I could at least assign confidence to all of the possibilities that I could think of. I spent five minutes doing that, trying to stop myself from taking Fenn’s pulse again, and mostly succeeding on actually deciding whether it made sense to try to give her a transfusion.

And in the end, I decided to go for it. I wasn’t confident in my confidence, but I was at least confident that I wasn’t doing it because doing something felt better than sitting by and doing nothing. I got the clonal kit to give me transfusion equipment, which looked horribly unsanitary and archaic to me. The needles were thick metal ones, looking far too wide for my tastes, and Aerb didn’t have proper plastics, so the tubing was a thick, yellowish rubber. The sum total of my experience with blood transfusion was watching TV shows, and having given blood once in the high school gym. I was praying for my mental stats to help me (though not actually literally praying, because the closest thing I had to a god was the Dungeon Master, and this was mostly his fault).

I inserted the needle into a vein in my arm, which filled the rubber tube almost immediately, visible as a darkening in the yellow rubber. The other end was connected to another needle, and I tried to raise it in order to reduce the pressure and slow the flow of my blood from the end of it before realizing that I was no mere mortal, I was a blood mage, and if I didn’t want my blood to go down a tube, I could damned well just tell it not to. (This actually took me a little bit of time to figure out how to do.) Once that was accomplished, I found a vein in the back of Fenn’s hand, and paid special attention to the tip of the needle to make sure that I wasn’t going to inject her with air and give her an embolism.

And then, once the needle was in her, I really did say a prayer, because I decided that probably wasn't going to make things worse.

O One True God of Aerb, master of not just the physical layer, or the game layer above that, but of the reality both are embedded in … we’ve got to stop meeting like this, right? I’m not going to come to you with all my problems, or even most of my problems, but -- please don’t let her die. If you’re rolling dice, or some equivalent of that, fudge it for me just this once. You know I won’t be able to tell one way or another. Amen.

Only then did I let my blood flow into her.

(This was how Arthur had died. He’d had his car accident and ended up in a coma. ‘Cerebral edema’ was what they called it when there was too much fluid in your brain, and that was Arthur’s most pressing problem, as the days in a coma went on. His brain was swelling, and if your brain swells too much, there are issues from compression, and then you die. The doctors decided that they were going to go with decompressive craniectomy, which means removing part of the skull so that the brain can expand without squishing itself. The doctors -- look, I don’t actually know any of this, I wasn’t in the room when they were deciding it, and most of this I only learned because of morbid curiosity after the fact -- they must have seen the swelling in his brain and made a list of all the interventions that they could try, weighing the risks and outcomes, and finally they had settled on the craniectomy, and maybe, sometimes, you made the right choice given the information that you had, but the dice just weren’t in your favor. They did their decompressive craniectomy, and that was how Arthur died.)

I could feel my blood, sense it like I somehow had nerve cells floating around in there feeding me back information. I sensed my blood enter Fenn’s body and mingle with her own, racing down her veins toward her heart. It wasn’t long before I had a sense of her as a part of me.

Spell discovered: Bloodline!

Bloodline: When you have forced your blood into another person, you can use it to heal or harm them. Apply a bonus or malus of up to your POW/SPD/END to them, at the cost of your own, with five factor modifiers.

The new “spell” was pointless for the current circumstances. What she needed was the actual blood itself, not the game abilities, which I had already given her through bone magic. Still, I dutifully read the information the game gave me, and I could feel the ability to use that new skill. She was like a part of me now, because my blood suffused her, and I could see all the other avenues of this link that the game hadn’t told me about, how I could channel the blood magic through her to light her fingertips up like I could light my own, or how I could use her pulse in combination with my own to add force to her movements, if she had any movements to speak of.

I watched her closely, but she wasn’t showing any obvious signs of an adverse reaction. I had the Hypertension virtue, which gave me twice as much blood at a much greater blood pressure, so I wasn’t worried about myself. I did wonder how much of this might have been planned out, how meaningful it was that it had only been a few days since I had gotten the virtue, and less than an hour since my blood was refilled by a level up. I tried not to think about whether that was by coincidence, luck, principles of design, or a thumb on the scale. Instead, I watched Fenn.

The color returned to her lips, then to her skin, shifting from near-white to the pale pink that it had always been. I kept feeding blood into her until I was down forty-thousand drops, because hypertension wasn’t just a virtue, it was an actual medical condition too, with negative side effects I didn’t really know anything about, and which I didn't want to give her on accident. I pinched the rubber tube and felt for her pulse, which was faster now, almost normal, and with a steady rhythm. I pulled the needle from her arm and used another bone to push END into her, sealing the puncture shut, then took care of myself in the same way.

She wasn’t dying. I let out a slow, shaky breath. I wasn’t sure that she was better, not yet, and I had no idea what the long-term effects of losing half your blood were, but … she wasn’t dying. She was alive. I started crying, just a little bit, that kind of crying that results in some slow tears rolling down my cheeks.

Her eyes fluttered open, and I stared at her. She looked around in confusion, first at me, then down at her ruined armor, then at the tree-house we were in and the light streaming in from the artificial sun outside. She lifted her head up for a moment to look further, down at the red line running across her skin, then flopped back down.

“Dammit,” she said, looking up at the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. It was a while before she spoke. “I had this pun ready about how I’m not half the woman I used to be, but now I have to think of something else.”

“Fenn,” I said. My voice nearly cracked. “Are you … how are you feeling?”

“Oh, you know,” she said, still not looking at me. “Not half bad.”

“Fenn,” I said again.

She finally looked at me, with tears in her eyes. “Please,” she said. “Can we not talk about it? Can we just --” She reached a shaky hand up to wipe tears from her eyes and took a gasping breath that was just short of a sob.

She had lost her battle. She had come as close to death as it was possible to get; she'd probably been clinically dead by Earth standards. What had she seen, when that sword had cut straight through her? How long had she stayed conscious after that? Had she known, in that moment, that she was at death’s door, had she seen half her body laying on the ground and been unable to feel it, or had she just been consumed with shock and pain? It must have been horrifying, no matter what her experience of it.

“Do you use your right hand to stir coffee?” I asked.

Fenn looked at me in bewilderment, then down at her hand. “I -- I guess?”

“Oh,” I replied. “I use a spoon.”

Fenn stared at me, opened her mouth slightly, then cracked a teary-eyed smile. “Gods Juniper, I don’t know what would be sadder, if that was the best joke you had from Earth, or if you came up with that on your own.” She started laughing then, still with tears in her eyes, and sat up to pull me closer. “Hug,” she said, so I hugged her. My sense of blood was fading with every passing minute, but she still had more of my blood than her own, and it was like I could feel the shape of her just by noticing that sixth sense.

“Okay,” she said, after we had held each other for a while. She pulled away and swung her legs off the bed-nook, then stood up, wobbling only slightly. She began to strip off the armor, which I had to think was a total loss, and the cut had gone through pretty much everything that she was wearing, which meant all her clothes beneath it too. I averted my eyes, because it didn’t seem like she was trying to put on a show for me, it just seemed like she didn’t want to be in this reminder of what had happened to her. She made no comment on the fact that I wasn’t looking at her.

“Where’s Sable?” she asked.

“Amaryllis has it,” I replied.

“That sneaky bitch,” Fenn replied with a grin. “Taking advantage of my brief nap to use the best magic item the party has, that’s just like her.” She kept her tone light and casual. “She’s okay then?” With the last of her clothes off, underwear included, she sat back down in the bed and crossed her legs. “I have no clothes,” she said.

“I noticed,” I replied. “Here.” I began taking off my armor, stopping only momentarily to look at the pure-white mark where it had entirely absorbed the fireball. When the top half of it was removed, I took off my undershirt and handed it to Fenn. I couldn’t help but get a warm glow at the way her look lingered on my abs (a perk of my high PHY).

She stopped to give it a quick sniff before putting it on. “Well now I’m going to smell like you,” she said. “But thank you.” She hesitated slightly. “And Grak is okay too?”

“Everyone is fine,” I replied, realizing that I hadn’t given her an after-action report, and if someone had done that to me, I would have assumed they were holding back bad news. “Solace is tapped completely dry, so we’re going to have to wait on her to recharge before we can leave the bottle. I healed Grak enough that he told me to stop worrying. Amaryllis came through a bit battered but still in fighting shape. Larkspur is dead, along with everyone he brought with him. More than that, I don’t know. Grak and Amaryllis have the bottle, I came in here to save you.”

“Ah,” she said. “Save me?”

“Do you want to hear this?” I asked.

“If it’s about you heroically saving me, then yes,” said Fenn.

“Solace did most of the work,” I said. “After you were … after what happened to you, she brought you here and put you back together before you died.” Or, possibly, after you had died. On Earth, you weren’t dead until you were warm and dead, but on Aerb, it probably moved beyond that. Maybe you weren't actually dead until your soul left your body. “You had lost too much blood though, and if you don’t have enough blood to move oxygen around, or to keep blood pressure, then your heart and brain will start to fail. You were back in one piece again, but you needed blood, so I gave you some of mine.”

“You know how to do that?” asked Fenn with a raised eyebrow.

“Not really,” I said. “It seems like it worked though.”

“Seems like it,” she replied. She looked down at her hands and flexed them, tightening them into fists. “It’s very … intimate.” She traced a finger along the arteries in her wrist and shivered slightly. “Elves --” she began, then stopped. “I told you about the cannibalism thing?”

“Yeah,” I replied, watching her.

“It’s an insult,” she said. She was still a little bit shaky, still not back to her normal self. “Usually.” She closed her eyes and tapped at her neck. “But when two elves get married, there’s this part of it where they stick a finger in each other’s mouth, usually the thumb, and they both bite down hard enough to draw blood. It’s difficult to explain.” She touched her slender hands to her throat, using her fingers to feel at her pulse. “I mean, not hard to explain what they do, but just, the weight of it. Elves have this obsession with consumption. The average meal is a bunch of elaborate, delicately prepared pieces of raw meat, perfect in every way. The day is centered around eating, divided and marked by it. For an elf, it’s about being better than the thing the meat came from. Eating is a way of saying ‘fuck you boar, I’m better than you’. It’s affirmational. In the context of marriage, it’s a husband saying to his wife, ‘I’m so much less than you that I would give of my body, unasked, to allow it to sustain you’, and his bride answering the same in return.”

“So, we’re basically elf-married now, is that it?” I asked. For some reason I found that unimaginably funny, maybe because it was so incredibly hackneyed.

“No,” said Fenn. She was still touching her throat and hadn’t opened her eyes. “I’m just saying that you filling me with your blood is very intimate.” She opened her eyes and looked at me. “It’s not a sex thing, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“But it is a romance thing?” I asked.

“Sort of,” said Fenn. “Elf marriage isn’t really about romance.” She shook her head, and I could feel, distantly, the movement of my blood within her. “I don’t know, I’m explaining it shitty, I was never very good at being an elf.”

“I get it,” I said. “It was meaningful to you in a way that I didn’t understand, and you wanted to share that with me, so I would know what you were feeling. If we’re going to be … maybe it’s not the right time for that, to talk about that, I mean.”

“No,” said Fenn. “I’m still a little fucked up from the old half-and-half.” She traced a diagonal line across herself. It was maybe the least convincing display of light-heartedness I'd ever seen from her. “I wouldn’t mind someone in bed with me, so long as we only talked about, oh, I don’t know, small, fluffy animals or something like that. Or maybe stories of Earth, if you’d prefer.”

So I took off the rest of my armor and crawled into the bed nook with her, in just the thin pants I wore under the greaves and cuisses. She scooted aside for me, then shifted herself so her head was on my bare chest and her body was curled next to mine.

“Go on,” she said. I felt her warm breath on my chest. “Tell me a story of Earth. One I wouldn’t have heard before, none of the Penndraig ones. And please, please nothing about Dungeons & Dragons.”

I moved my arm so it was around her, and rested my hand on her back, which I rubbed with gentle motions when she pushed back against me. “Um,” I said, trying to think. “We used to have picnics -- do you have picnics on Aerb?” Fenn shook her head. “A picnic is basically, you make most of a meal at home and then eat it somewhere outdoors, usually in a park. When I was little, we had our picnics at a place called Miller’s Pond, which had a little park next to it. Dad would make German potato salad, which has bacon in it, and mom would make cucumber salad, and then we’d get these pre-seasoned chicken breasts from the grocery store that he would cook up on the grill. I always used that time to feed the ducks, or go fishing, while mom and dad spent their time chatting.”

This was before they started fighting so much, which was more or less when family picnics in the summer ended. I wasn’t about to tell that to Fenn though, not when she needed comfort.

“I decided that I wanted to fish. Miller’s Pond was stocked with fish by the city, and you had to throw them back if you caught them, so it wasn’t really sporting, but I kind of liked having that time to sit and think on my own. On the day in question, I’d taken off my shoes and socks to fish while standing in the water, because I wanted to feel the mud between my feet. I was pretty young.” My fingers traced the contours of her shoulderblades. “I’d been standing there in the water, pruning up, for about ten minutes when I saw a duck swimming by with one of my socks.”

“A duck?” asked Fenn.

“One of the ducks from the pond,” I said.

“No, I mean what’s a duck?” she asked. “Is that an Airth thing?”

“Fenn, you know what a duck is,” I replied.

“Ah shit, you got me this time,” she said. I could hear the smile on her voice. “So this duck got your sock?”

“Yeah,” I continued. “And he was swimming away with it, so I dropped my pole and went running after him, but if you’ve ever run after a waterfowl in its natural environment, you can guess how that went. I ended up falling down in the water and getting myself completely drenched. The duck decided that the sock wasn’t actually food and dropped it in the pond, so since I was already wet I started swimming, hoping that I could get to my sock before it just sank down into the mud and was lost forever. And I did manage to recover my sock, but when I started my way back to shore I saw that my dad had my other sock, and he was walking around doing his best impression of a duck trying to steal it, and my mom was laughing her ass off over by the picnic table.”

I took me some time to realize that Fenn had fallen asleep, which was fine by me.

(Solace came up from the basement, rubbing her neck, a few hours later. She looked at the two of us, gave us a knowing smile, and then slipped out from the house. The doe popped its head in through the window a little later on, and gave its own snort of breath at us, which I didn’t know how to interpret. I eventually fell asleep myself, and for once had pleasant dreams.)

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Alexander Wales

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