When Isra woke, she found that she and Verity had moved together at some point in the night, close enough that their legs were pressed against each other, and one of Verity’s hands was touching the bottom of Isra’s rib cage. Extraction from this situation took a fair bit of time, mostly because Isra was trying her hardest not to wake Verity up, but some of that time was also spent with a tracker’s eyes, seeing how they had come to be touching. They had both moved toward the center of the bed, but it had been Isra’s leg which invaded Verity’s space, and Verity’s arm that had invaded Isra’s.

Isra had vague memories of sleeping next to her father as a little girl, snuggled together under the covers in the winter, but when she was old enough, her father made a bed for her, and they had bunks, away from each other but in the same room, so she could hear her father’s snoring. Her only other experience with sleeping next to someone was with a pack of wolves she’d kept in the house for a week during a particularly bad winter storm.

She had the urge to do that with Verity, to curl up next to her like they were two wolves with a storm howling outside. She wondered whether that was a normal thing to feel, but given that the rest of them had different rooms, she suspected that it was not.

She was the first to rise, and spent some time in the common room of their suite, reading from a book that Mizuki had left there the night before, originally borrowed from Hannah. It was a romance novel, of the sort that Isra had only read a few of before, focused on a naive young milliner and a much older wizard who lived in a local castle. There were ten books in Isra’s home, plus the six holy books, and Isra had read all of them from cover to cover many times. It had only been in the past year that she’d discovered there was a small library in Pucklechurch, and then after that, discovered that at a library you were allowed to take whatever books you wanted if you promised to bring them back in good condition. Isra came into town on market days and always stopped at the library to return what she’d read and get something new. There was something that felt both social and intimate about reading, even if she wasn’t sharing what she read with anyone else.

Hannah and Alfric were next to wake up, and they exited their rooms at virtually the same time. Alfric was dressed casually, without any of his armor, just a buttoned down white shirt that was slightly open at the neck, and a pair of well-tailored trousers that was secured with a leather belt. Hannah was wearing nearly the same outfit, though her clothes fit her far less well, and they were far different from each other in almost every other way. If they noticed the similarity of their outfits, it went uncommented on by either.

“So,” said Hannah. “I s’pose we’ll do breakfast?”

“Mizuki and I were supposed to go see friends of hers,” said Isra.

“How was Verity?” asked Alfric.

“Good,” nodded Isra.

Alfric shifted. “I’ll try to spend some time with her today, if she’s amenable. We have things we need to do, primarily selling some of what we got from the dungeon. It would give us a good opportunity to talk.”

“Or give her space,” said Isra.

“Perhaps give her space by not talkin’ about the things she doesn’t want talked about,” said Hannah. “But still be there with her, in case she wants to.”

“I suppose,” said Isra. She looked over at the doors and pursed her lips. “It will be some time until they wake up.”

“Schedules are off though,” said Hannah. “Verity went to bed earlier than she normally does.”

“We spent some time talking,” said Isra.

“Oh,” said Hannah, leaning over and looking at the book. “And how’re you findin’ that one?”

“It’s not to my tastes,” said Isra, frowning at the book.

“Ay?” asked Hannah.

“They’re … men,” said Isra. The young milliner and the older wizard both.

“Ay,” Hannah said again, this time not as a question, but rather, with a hint of aggression, like she was getting ready for a fight.

Isra shrugged. She didn’t know what she was supposed to be feeling, or why Hannah might be upset. “It doesn’t matter,” said Isra, setting the book down with no intention of ever picking it back up. She had nothing against romances, but there was something in how the book was written, in how it portrayed the characters, that she hadn’t liked. To try to put it in words would assuredly embarrass her in front of people who seemed to respect her prowess in hunting and fighting.

“Ay,” said Hannah, softening somewhat. She picked up the book and looked at the bookmark that Mizuki had placed in it. “I’ll have to speak with Mizuki when she wakes and see what she has to say about it. I suppose I only told her it was a romance, and it might not be to her tastes either.” Isra was confused by what that might mean, and let it pass.

It took Mizuki quite some time to rise, and Isra wondered what arrangements had been made with these sorcerers that meant they could be so relaxed about their schedule. Plants and animals had rhythms and patterns, responses to the natural conditions, but humans were different, responding to the bells and scheduling things around them. The bells, at least, depended upon the rising and setting of the sun, but there was still something off in people, who would wait for the right bell to open a store, even if they were already there and behind the counter. If you knocked on the door just a few minutes before the right bell, you were rude.

So Isra wondered, as Hannah and Alfric talked about dungeons, whether these sorcerers they were planning to meet were a different sort of people. It made sense for breakfast to be at a certain time, because breakfast involved a certain amount of labor, and unlike animals who could eat what they wanted, with humans, food was best eaten when it was hot. Isra wondered if that, cooking, was what separated humans from animals. Perhaps it led to all the other things.

Mizuki came out of her bedroom, still stretching, with a smile on her face. “These beds are great.”

“Good sleep?” asked Hannah.

“Absolutely great,” said Mizuki. She looked at Alfric. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said. “Sore.”

“Next time only use one of your legs when hauling the wardrobe,” said Hannah. “That way I’ll be able to take out some of the soreness.”

Alfric laughed. “I’ll be sure, thanks for the tip.” He’d looked quite grim when he’d gone to bed, but seemed better with a long sleep. Isra wondered whether this was his first or second time doing the day.

“Ready for breakfast?” asked Mizuki, looking Isra up and down.

“I suppose,” said Isra. “You’ve heard from the guild?”

“From the twins, yes,” said Mizuki. “They’re ready to go, but I think we’ll have a bit to wait while the breakfast is being made. More of a brunch than a breakfast, I think, but it should be fun. And Dom will be there to answer your questions, and mine, which is good, right?”

“Good,” said Isra, though she could feel a tightness in her stomach. When she had said yes to Alfric’s proposition, she hadn’t thought that it would lead to anything beyond a momentary adventure. Now, she was on the verge of an understanding of herself and her place in the world. It had been unasked for.

After some brief goodbyes, with Verity still sleeping in, the two of them left.

Did Isra like Mizuki? It was a question she turned over in her head, as she often did with questions she asked herself.

Speaking with Alfric was nice. He was good at explaining things, and he seemed to feel a great deal of empathy and understanding for her. With Verity, there were comfortable silences, and what felt like an agreement that they could both be quiet. But speaking with Mizuki, while it had a buzzing constancy to it, demanded little of Isra, and in that respect, was pleasant. Waiting around while Mizuki spoke to others at great length was less nice.

Mizuki knew how to cook and was generous with that talent, as well as generous overall, offering her rooms and attempting to be a good host. That uninhibited warmth was a point in her favor.

But did Isra like Mizuki? Did she instinctively want to spend more time with her? It was hard to say. There was something nice about Mizuki, perhaps the way that she seemed to place no particular expectations on other people. She was an easygoing girl. But Mizuki knew the rules of the world, in a way that Isra did not, and it was clear to Isra that as much as Mizuki was free-spirited and rules-breaking, Isra’s own breaking of the rules was somewhat looked down upon.

The conversation shifted from topic to topic with only minimal input from Isra. Mizuki talked about chrononauts, and Alfric, and how rumors could be spun from the aether as surely as a wizard making magic, which wasn’t actually how wizards did it, and then she talked about someone named Bethany, who apparently had slighted Mizuki in the distant past, which was now forgiven, but not so forgiven that it wasn’t worthy of comment.

The house was a stately one in a neighborhood that seemed to be filled with stately houses, though the yard was somewhat small in comparison to what people had in Pucklechurch. It was wrapped with a brick wall that had become overgrown with vines, and the vines continued on over the wooden siding of the house too, though they were somewhat more managed there. The gardening was, to Isra’s eye, conspicuous, with plants that didn’t like each other terribly much crowded in together. No doubt someone thought that it looked nice, but it was distinctly lacking in beauty, and given that edible plants were packed in with poisonous ones, she doubted that it served any possible function.

“The flowers are nice,” said Mizuki, leaning down to sniff one.

“Yes,” said Isra, hoping to be blandly inoffensive. It took her mind a moment to catch up. The revelation that she was a druid, and saw the world in a way that was distinctly different from others, changed the texture of this exchange. Isra had assumed that this was some kind of social nicety of the sort she had trouble with, because that’s what those sorts of things usually were. But with her newfound knowledge, she could see that Mizuki simply saw the world in a different way, a dull and blind way, and to Mizuki, the statement was true, rather than a social lie. “No,” said Isra. “The flowers shouldn’t be there. They’re watered and coddled, clipped.” It might have been fine if it was like the battlefield of the forest, plants fighting each other for nutrients, water, and sunlight, but it wasn’t even that.

“Ah,” said Mizuki, straightening. “Well, I think they look nice.”

“They’re like a caged animal,” said Isra. “A cat with his claws cut off or a dog with its tail docked.”

“You, um, don’t like gardening?” asked Mizuki.

“Gardening for food respects the nature of the plant,” said Isra. “This sort of gardening is offensive. I think I understand it better now though.” It was a painting done by a blind man. Perhaps if you could only feel the paint, rather than see it, you might think it was nice.

Mizuki gave her a thoughtful nod, and Isra felt relief that she wasn’t pressed for more.

They were let in after a sharp knock on the door by someone wearing a strange outfit that Isra only belatedly realized was a uniform. She had read of uniforms in books, but never seen one in person, aside from what the clerics wore. Or, perhaps she had seen uniforms, and simply failed to recognize them as such.

They were led into a room where two women were already waiting at a table, though no food was yet in sight. The two women wore almost identical dark blue dresses whose exaggerated shapes, especially in the shoulders, helped to obscure their bodies underneath. Based on their hands and faces though, they were both skinny in a way that Isra had only rarely seen before. They were identical, down to the smallest wrinkles. They were in their fifties, or perhaps even older, possessed of a certain weariness and disaffection. They did not smile or stand to greet Mizuki, though they did exchange brief pleasantries.

“This is the woods witch I told you about,” said Mizuki as they sat down at the broad oak table. “Isra, this is Floren and Doreda Brangle, the local sorcerers in Liberfell. Floren, Doreda, this is Isra Jamin, from Pucklechurch.”

“We extended an invitation to Dom,” said the one on the left, Floren. “We’ll get this breakfast started without her, and hope she comes later.”

“She’s a solitary one,” added Doreda. She said this while looking at Isra, and the obvious question seemed to float in the air. Isra didn’t deign to answer it.

“Well, we appreciate it all the same,” said Mizuki. “I feel like it’s been years since I’ve been over here.”

“Too long,” nodded Floren. She raised her hand and snapped her fingers, and someone in a uniform came in through a side door, which swung open. The room they were in was fairly small, only big enough for the long table and some chairs, but it had large windows, and there were more plants next to the windows, giving it some sense of openness and life.

“You can request whatever you’d like,” said Doreda.

“Two fried eggs, gelatinous center,” said Mizuki without missing a beat. “Three slices of bacon, some fruit, I don’t care what, and some kind of pastry. And a glass of whatever juice you have.”

The woman nodded, then looked at Isra.

“Two chicken eggs, boiled,” said Isra. “Oatmeal with honey and jam.” She had seen someone eat that, and read about it in a book, but never actually had it. “Three slices of bacon. And … fruit.”

“Will you have the eggs hard or soft?” asked the uniformed woman in a pleasant voice.

“Soft,” said Isra, guessing from context.

“The usual for me,” said Floren.

“And me,” said Doreda.

There was some silence until the woman left, which Isra thought was curious. If the woman could hear the snapping, surely she could hear everything they were saying.

“Now then,” said Floren. “How was your second dungeon?”

The question seemed abrupt to Isra, before she remembered that these three were all in a guild together, and Mizuki likely hadn’t just talked to them about the druid business, she had probably included quite a bit more. Knowing Mizuki, perhaps lots more.

“Good!” said Mizuki. “Actually, quite good. We didn’t get as much of a haul from the second one, but we made out well, I think, and we have some eggs incubating, which I have a good feeling about. Though I do have a professional question.”

“So early?” asked Floren. “Very well.”

“There was a giant bear-thing,” said Mizuki, frowning as she tried to remember. “It was the size of a house. And our bard was putting all of her effort into a song specifically for me, some kind of blended amping up of my power. It was like I was electrified, in a good way, able to feel the aether like it was an extension of my skin. I drew on everything I could, and focused it into a powerful spell that still somehow managed not to kill the bear. The thing was, I … hurt our bard somehow. I didn’t just break the song, which would have been bad enough, I … took something from her?”

“Ah,” said Floren. “Comes from youth, and indolence as far as your studies go, and not having been in enough parties. Your bard will be fine, but likely laid out for a week or so.”

“No,” said Mizuki, frowning. “She was up and singing within an hour or two.”

“Then she comes from good stock,” said Floren, raising an eyebrow. “Most can’t handle it so well.”

“Right, but what happened?” asked Mizuki.

“You pulled from her,” said Doreda. “There are mechanisms within a bard’s mind that affect the aether. They share some similarity to the constructs a wizard can build, though they’re much more tied to the individual, and personal to them.”

Mizuki frowned. “So I didn’t just break the spell she was casting to power me up, I broke … her?”

“A piece of her, yes,” said Doreda. “It’s not advisable except in case of emergency, and as my sister said, it typically makes a bard useless until they recover. There’s also a chance that there won’t be a recovery. Sometimes a wound heals back wrong, not the same as it was before. It has to do with the party, which makes people exceptionally vulnerable to each other when it comes to magic.”

“It does?” asked Isra. This had not been mentioned to her when they’d asked her to join the party.

“Oh yes,” replied Floren. “There is a marking to magic, a way in which our magic is ours and not others.”

“There is some defense against magic which is not your own,” said Doreda, “Though it’s trivial to circumvent, in most cases. Your party members have no such protections against your magic, though they do gain some of the innate protections that you have against your own magic.”

“Meaning,” said Mizuki. “That I’d have a harder time killing Isra?”

“It would be difficult in the same ways that killing yourself with magic would be difficult,” said Floren. “By no means impossible.”

“So you’re saying that I touched some part of what it means to be a bard,” said Mizuki. “I … broke it open.”

“Something that she’d likely been cultivating for a few years,” nodded Floren.

“For nearly her whole life,” said Isra.

“Well, all the more impressive that she was able to bounce back,” said Floren. “Or it could be that the collapse was only partial, that you managed to stop what you were doing, or any number of other things.”

“Thinking about the damage, I find it unlikely I only took a part of it,” said Mizuki. She tapped her fingers on the table. “So all I need to do is never do that again, huh?”

“Unless it’s an emergency,” said Floren. “A matter of life and death that’s worth risking your bard.”

“We’re probably not going to run into that,” said Mizuki. She did a poor job of suppressing a smile. “Our party leader is a chrononaut.”

“I’m not sure he wants that to be public,” said Isra. He had not, after all, informed them of it until forced to.

“Yeah, I guess,” said Mizuki. She momentarily looked worried, but it passed quickly. “Well, it’s a real boon for us, and I’m still kind of trying to figure out what it means, but if we go into the dungeons, he can just undo everything if it goes wrong.”

“Unless he’s knocked unconscious,” said Floren.

“Or there’s a problem he doesn’t know about until it’s too late,” said Doreda.

“Well, okay,” said Mizuki. “But it’s nice to have, right?”

“Perhaps,” said Floren. “Opinions on chrononauts and their role in both society and our personal lives vary.”

“We’ve never met one,” said Doreda.

“Well, I’m excited,” said Mizuki, folding her arms.

The food was brought out, and the conversation quieted down as they ate. There was something to the presentation of the food that Isra couldn’t quite put her finger on, a way in which the things she requested had been laid out on the plate, which was unlike other meals she’d had before. The thinness of the plates and bowls that everything was served on seemed to be a part of it, though Isra couldn’t fathom why it was necessary for them to be that way, especially when they seemed so thin. Soft-boiled eggs, as it turned out, were eggs that had been boiled for less time, and Isra was pleased with herself for having figured that out without incident.

It was all delicious, and the oatmeal, while it had a strange texture, she enjoyed it more than almost everything else. It was sweet in a way that her own cooking rarely was.

The clinking of utensils on plates and bowls was interrupted when a tall woman dressed in several bulky layers came in and took a quick seat.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she settled in. Her eyes moved to Isra. “You’re the baby druid?”

“I guess so,” said Isra.

“Odd, for someone not to know,” said the woman, who was no doubt Dom. There was something masculine in her features, and a depth to her voice. Isra found it somewhat alluring. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” said Isra. “I think my father knew. He must have.” That was something that had been on her mind. “I didn’t, until recently.”

“But you haven’t asked him about it?” asked Dom. She turned to the serving woman who had come in and said, “Three eggs, boiled soft, and a bowl of oats like the girl has.”

“I didn’t ask because he’s dead,” said Isra. “It happened five years ago.”

“Ah,” said Dom. “A shame, but I’m glad I didn’t stick my foot in it with a pain that’s fresh. Your mother?”

Isra hesitated. “She died in childbirth.”

Dom froze for a moment. “Hmm,” she said, her eyes burning a hole into Isra. “Do you know enough to understand why I would be suspicious of that?”

“Yes,” said Isra. “I was told a druid only comes from a child who has the company of her mother.”

Dom nodded. “And if your mother died in childbirth, you were then raised by …” she trailed off, allowing Isra to fill in the gap.

“My father,” said Isra.

“And what did you do for milk?” asked Dom.

Isra frowned. “I don’t know.”

“If you’re a druid, you can’t have a wet nurse, not unless it’s an animal wet nurse, and —” Dom paused, looking down at Isra’s plate. “Is that bacon on your plate?”

“Yes,” said Isra.

“You understand a pig is a sort of animal?” asked Dom.

“I do,” said Isra. She tried not to be insulted by the question, and failed.

“Odd, to meet a druid who hasn’t come to the same conclusions about the consumption of meat,” said Dom. “Not the oddest thing about you though.”

Isra frowned. “Sorry.”

“Well, don’t be sorry, it’s your own choice, but you’ve spoken with animals, haven’t you?” Dom frowned. She was moving fast, with a sort of impatience that Isra was unaccustomed to. “Have you?”

“I have,” said Isra. “They seem not to have the same minds that we do.”

“Well, no, I’ll grant that,” said Dom. “There’s nothing complex in the thinking of a pig, but there is quite a lot that’s simple. You almost wouldn’t call it talking, but it feels like talking, and of course when you have an animal with you, it takes on something of you.”

“It does?” asked Isra, not quite following.

“Certainly,” said Dom. “Haven’t you noticed that they have moods to match your own?”

Isra thought about that. “No,” she finally said. “I haven’t noticed. I’ll watch for it next time.”

“Druids are rare,” said Dom. “And we’re a poorly understood breed, even more than sorcs, where we find some common cause.”

“It’s impossible to make a sorcerer though,” said Floren. “That’s one of the primary places we differ.”

“As well as having completely different powers,” said Doreda, nodding.

“All the same, misunderstood,” said Dom, waving a hand. “Tell me, what do you do, aside from having lived in the woods alone for what seems to have been most of your life?”

“I … hunt,” said Isra.

“Oh?” asked Dom, with deliberate calm. “What do you hunt?”

“Deer,” said Isra. “Foxes. Rabbits. The least agreeable of animals.”

“So you discriminate?” asked Dom. “You pick and choose which ones aren’t worthy of life?”

Isra stayed silent for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts, which were swirling. It wasn’t that she thought that a deer wasn’t worthy of life, it was that certain creatures seemed to lack the nobility of others, and if there was a twinge of regret when she loosed her arrow, it was lesser with something like a deer. She didn’t seem to think that she was unique in that regard, not when people kept certain animals as pets and ate others. The decision of what to eat and what to keep seemed, to her, somewhat arbitrary, but she had made her own arbitrary rules on the basis of how she felt about those animals, and it worked for her, in the sense that she’d made peace with killing certain animals and not others.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” said Isra. She turned to the twins. “Thank you for the food.”

“Settle down,” said Dom as Isra started to rise. “You’re right, it’s an inappropriate thing for us to talk about. You didn’t come here for that. Stay, and I can talk about the things that you did come here for.”

Isra settled back in her seat. “I’ve heard stories about us.”

“People think we can do many things, and we can,” said Dom. “But the things they think we can do aren’t always possible. I offer that by way of caution.”

“We can talk to plants,” said Isra. This was not something she’d ever really tried until a few days ago, and seemed to take both skill and patience.

“Talk is perhaps not the right word,” said Dom, nodding. “But it’s close enough. Things take on a bit of you, when you interact with them. They get some of you when you get some of them. Trees … they need more of you, and have less of themselves to give. Other plants have even less. The way I think of it, and druids aren’t all the same in this way, everything that I touch becomes a bit of me, at least for a time. Once you realize that, you can exercise it, more than you’ve been doing naturally.”

Isra frowned at that, thinking. “They have their own personalities,” she said.

“With animals?” asked Dom. Isra nodded. “Well, they do have rudimentary minds, of a sort. But it’s also because of how you view them. That matters. One of the things you’ll learn, if you haven’t learned it on your own, is to view the world in different ways and draw out aspects of what you see.”

Isra frowned. “How do I do that?”

Dom laughed. “Well I have no idea how you view the world, do I?” she asked. “So how can I tell you how to view it in a different way? It’s like trying to give you directions to a place without knowing where you’re starting from. And I have to say, you seem like you’re in need, but having a baby druid as an apprentice isn’t what I’ve agreed to here.”

“That’s fine,” said Isra. “I only need to know.” It felt like there was more to that thought, but it was complete on its own, and Isra left it there. ‘I only need to know everything’.

“Your powers, such as they are, extend to everything in the natural world except people,” said Dom. “That includes rocks, by the way, though if you thought trees were slow, you’ve seen nothing of the thick-headedness of a rock.”

“Uh,” said Mizuki. “Rocks can’t think though?”

“And trees can’t move,” nodded Dom. “They don’t have muscles. Once you realize that being a druid means having a part of yourself in the world, and the world inside of you, it gets to be a lot easier.”

“But not other people,” said Isra.

“Other people, no,” said Dom. “Not worked materials either, metal being the worst of them, with glass a close second. It would be handy to know a person in the way you can know an animal, but no.”

Isra pursed her lips. That would have been beyond ‘handy’, just to know people like she knew the flowers and the pines, or the martens and the voles. And if druidism worked in the way that Dom said it did, then having a bit of Isra in the people around her, and a bit of them in her, would have cured all her woes as far as people went. She would understand them, and they would understand her.

Dom got her food, and ate it quickly, the eggs going into her mouth whole, and the flavored oatmeal following it down after that. Isra stayed silent, finishing her own food, even the bacon, which was apparently taboo for a druid. Mizuki made small talk with the twins, mostly involving what she’d done in the dungeons, as well as some technical details with regard to the magic that Verity and Hannah were able to provide. Mizuki, at least, seemed to be enjoying it.

“Well,” said Dom once she’d finished. “I have some outstanding questions about your father and how you could possibly be a druid, but I can read the room well enough to know that can wait for later. What’s left, I think, is to ask whether or not you’re in a guild, and whether you’d want to join ours.”

“I’m not in a guild,” said Isra. “I never have been.”

“I can give you an invitation, and it will be voted on tomorrow morning, though you’re sure to be in,” said Dom. “It’s a guild of druids, most of those in the Greater Plenarch, about a hundred all told. They’ll have questions of their own, I’m sure, but you don’t need to give them much in the way of answers. There’s some matters of etiquette that I’m sure your party members will fill you in on. And with that, there are things I need to attend to.”

“Wait,” said Mizuki. “I had a question about dungeons.”

“Dungeons?” asked Dom. “Meaning?”

“Why can’t she do the animal control thing in a dungeon?” asked Mizuki.

Dom looked between Mizuki and Isra. “You’re a dungeoneering party?”

“Er, yes,” said Mizuki.

“Oh,” said Dom, sitting back in her seat. “Not very usual, for a druid.”

“You don’t call yourself a woods witch?” asked Mizuki.

“What?” asked Dom. “No.”

“There’s a madness to the creatures in the dungeons,” said Isra. “A madness that their children don’t share.”

“Yes,” said Dom. “Only toward people, and not typically each other.” She shrugged. “A mistake of Editors long, long past, and apparently impossible to rectify. Probably, anyway, they’re tight-lipped. You be careful, going into the dungeons, that you don’t let it infect you.”

“Infect me?” asked Isra.

“The world takes on a part of you, and you take on a part of the world,” said Dom. “That applies just the same to the dungeons. The better you are at extending your being into the world, the better the world will be at extending itself into you. It’s something you’ll want to be careful with. Close yourself off to the world when you go into a dungeon. Practice closing yourself off to the world, so that you can’t hear the birds or the clouds.”

“It’s dangerous,” said Isra. “In dungeons. For me more than others.”

“A bit,” said Dom. “Worth it for your team though. You’ll know what’s good to eat and what’s not, what can be taken, hides that can be skinned, plants might bear fruit. You’ll know stones that can be grabbed and processed for ectads.” She shrugged. “We’re in demand. Join the guild. We can do it now.”

Dom had a well-worn piece of paper with the instructions written on it, and they went through the motions together, and the invitation was extended and confirmed. It wouldn’t be until tomorrow morning that the vote went out, and the day after that when Isra got her first message. She was nervous about it.

“We’ll help you as best we can. You’re unusual, as far as druids go, but you’re still a druid, and we have certain ways of looking at the world.” Dom stood up once again. “It was good to meet you, baby druid, even if you’re not so much a baby as we usually get.”

“It was good to meet you too,” said Isra, though she was feeling like a stone had been dropped into her stomach.

When she’d been told that she was a druid, it had felt as if everything was going to slot into place, as if this would explain everything. It had, in a way, but only in one way, and now, looking at Dom, seeing a fairly normal person, and being told that she was unusual by the standards of druids, and wasn’t expected to fit in with them … well, the stone-in-the-stomach feeling wasn’t going away. If anything, it was getting worse.


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Alexander Wales


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