Karinith’s Backstory

If there was one thing that could be said about Karinith Grier it was that she was restless. In her village, it was customary for all the young girls to be tutored at the home of one of the wealthy ladies. Things like decorum, the proper way to speak to others regardless of rank, posture, reading and arithmetic, and a whole host of other things Karinith found boring. She had perfected the art of staring into the seams of her books, pretending to read while daydreaming about fairies and nymphs and other mystical creatures said to haunt the woods. Every now and again, she’d be plucked from her fantasies by a question, but Karinith, despite what her peers would whisper as she floundered for an answer, was far more clever than she let on. She considered it a great achievement to have already finished the entire library of books they were supposed to read over the course of the year. This meant she knew the lessons before they were taught, and it gave her great satisfaction that on occasion, Karinith could stump her tutor. While the other girls struggled to balance books on the tops of their heads, Karinith could walk at a brisk pace around the room, until she became lost in thought once again and the class would break out into snickers as the book landed with an unceremonious thump on the floor.

The one set of lessons Karinith didn’t mind were the glorious days of dance. But even then, her restlessness came out. She could perform the steps with ease, but she would add dramatic flairs and extra hops and skips. Karinith didn’t want to stand in one spot for an entire dance, she wanted to use the whole floor, bound about the room free as a spirit. More often than not, this meant that she bowled over the other girls as she skipped around the dance hall, completely lost in the music.

More often than not, she was sent home with a letter detailing her poor behavior to her parents. While they weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the word, they weren’t poor either, and both were eager to have their daughter climb the social ladder.

“You’ll sully your future prospects!” Her father would say, brandishing the letter at her face.

Deep down, Karinith longed to shoot back that she didn’t care. But deeper still, she did. If there was one thing she craved, it was acceptance. She knew she was different. She heard what her peers gossiped about her in not-so hushed tones.

Once, at a fancy gala where Karinith had been the model of obedience to every social convention possible, she had gotten separated from her parents. It was typical of the younger members of town to convene together in a separate room from all the adults. In Karinith’s mind, it simply meant leaving the teenagers and younger children to occupy themselves while their parents got a much needed break. Karinith never understood the point of flirting with boys who weren’t even interested; she didn’t understand flirting at all. It seemed so silly to pretend to like someone but have to pretend to like someone else to get the party jealous, and then pretend to have no idea what anyone was talking about…there was too much pretending for her, and so she excused herself to an abandoned room to clear her mind and get away from the fakeness that surrounded her on all sides. The room she had been in at the time had been empty, but the door clicked open and Karinith ducked behind the curtains to avoid a lecture.

One by one, the adults filed in, and from the sound of it, they were all disappointed at something. But then she heard her mother’s voice above the strains of music wafting from the hall beyond the doors.

“I don’t understand it,” she said, probably shaking her head. “We’ve done everything right. I don’t know why she still acts like a little girl.”

A portly voice responded with sounds of tutting and shushing. Probably the mayor or some rich lord who never even so much as looked at his children. “You haven’t disciplined her properly. Take away her books, anything she uses to escape.”

Her father laughed from somewhere. “Karinith could be looked in a tower dungeon with nothing and still emerge no worse for wear.”

“Have you considered the possibility that she’s not your daughter?” The female voice was cold, and Karinith imagined her shrewd eyes narrowing further, looking supremely disdainful.

This comment caused an uproar, but they fell silent. This woman must have raised her hand. “It is entirely possible that Karinith, the real Karinith, got spirited away by some of the fae one evening and replaced her with…that.”

Karinith gripped the curtains tighter, wishing for a good heavy tome to lob at this woman’s face. How dare she speak so poorly of her! What kind of good society was that? Of course, this seemed to be the lesson everyone forgot readily because she had a sneaking suspicion no matter which room she was in, someone was talking about her.

“Absolutley not.” Her father must have been standing, glaring at the woman.

The voice of her tutor, Madame Kirrkus, cut across the murmurs. “I’ve seen the girl hold iron pans and pokers without the slightest bit of pain, which I think rules out the theory she’s a changeling. Karinith has shown herself to be quite adept if she puts her mind to it. The problem is her mind refuses to be pinned down.”

“Oh, she could still be fae.” A gruff Scottish voice said from her left, probably by the fireplace. “Aye, she could have been cursed by one of them. ‘S more common than you’d think. Faerie comin’ in the middle of the night, cursin’ a child when they’re sleepin’, all unawares…”

“If she were,” her mother said, sounding horribly insulted which Karinith inwardly beamed at, “and she’s not, what symptoms would tell us that she is…part fae?”

“Now, it tain’t easy, yeh see. There’s lots of crafty ways they get your children. Karinith’s got a wandering mind, does she? Lass needs a good whipping, that’s what I say.”

“Forgive me if I don’t wholly endorse the idea of beating my daughter senseless.”

“Aye, pain’s not what hurts her. The only way to rid her of it is to not allow it one little bit. Aye, she gets that dreamy look in her eye, stop it right there. She acts funny in any way at all, you snuff it out faster than a dying candle.”

Karinith felt her heart pound against her chest, blocking out the rest of the conversation. She wished that if she was part fae, or all fae, that those powers would manifest themselves right now so she could make herself as small as she felt behind the curtain.

She clutched the drapes tighter, feeling her nails through the fabric. She would prove to them all she could do it. She could be a fine, respectable lady.

For the next week at her classes, she did everything to the letter, refusing to let herself dream even a little. Madame Kirrkus was surprised when she did not have to hand Karinith a letter once classes were done for the day. Karinith volunteered to read aloud, just to keep her mind focused on the task at hand, even though she could feel her brain itching for release from this tedium.

During dance classes, she did not once skip or step out of time.

The posture portion of class, she did not loop around the other girls, but mutely followed in line.

Within a few days, the rest of the girls began to notice. Karinith pretended to be busy reading, but she could hear the whispers. After all, they weren’t trying to be subtle about it.

“About time she figured out how to behave.”

“Do you think she’s finally grown up?”

“Doubt it. She’s not mature enough for that.”

“How long do you think it’ll be before she goes completely mad?”

“What do you mean, go mad?”

“She was halfway there to begin with. Now she’s trying to fight it, and we all know how well that will go.”

For a whole week, she was a model student. For seven days she endured the agony of fighting against herself, against her desire to move, to be herself.

That night, just as the long shadows of evening stretched across the village, Karinith snapped. It felt as though she had to run, and run right now. She wanted to run to find someone who would hold her and tell her everything was all right, but there was literally no one who would do that. Not here.

The woods had been a favorite place for Karinith to go when she had been younger. She had often returned home with brambles and leave strewn in her hair, every bit of care tossed out with her vivid imagination. Once the lessons with the other village girls had begun, Karinith hadn’t set foot in the woods.

The old familiar paths had become strewn with branches and other growth, but Karinith pushed them all aside as she ran. She didn’t want to be a proper lady anymore, not if it meant she couldn’t be her. She didn’t want to be just one part of herself. She wanted to be her whole self, feminine and unfeminine. Childish and mature. She didn’t want to be in conflict with herself.

And she wanted someone, anyone, to accept that the same way she did.

After a few minutes of breathless running, Karinith stopped, chest heaving as she had to catch her breath. She couldn’t run anymore. The forest shadows reached after her, as if the village itself followed her and threatened to drag her back. Tears pricked her eyes when she heard a sound of laughter. Loud and bold. A distinct contrast to the usual quiet a forest provided.

She crept after the sound, finding other voices joining in. There was a faint sound of music now. Slowly, she saw lantern light and a warm fire blazing as she approached. It had been some years since she had climbed a tree, but Karinith trusted her memories more than common sense at the moment. She scaled it with ease, peering over the edge of the trees into a clearing below.

The clearing was full of people, men and women alike. Her eyebrows raised at the sight of some of the women wearing men’s tunics and clothes, but they looked completely at ease. It seemed they were in the middle of a dance, with outsiders stealing partners to cries of fake alarm and laughter. A few partners remained fully fixed together, an unspoken rule that they were not to be parted.

As the music died down and the dance ended, there were a few words exchanged among them all before another song began.

Karinith watched with rapt attention. This was the kind of dancing she liked to do, wide, open, perhaps a bit overdramatic at times, but she could not tear her eyes away from the people. They laughed, they smiled. There was an air about them that invited others to come close.

The hours passed without much acknowledgement. It was only when Karinith shivered in the chill night air that she was even aware that she had spent far too long away from home. “I’m coming back,” she whispered to the glade.

When evening fell, she returned, perched from the tree like a bird, watching as the people in the glade not only danced but began fencing. There were a few who were experts, and wielded their blades with such finesse. Karinith could only think of what the girls in her class would say if they saw the women in the glade, brandishing swords as proud as any man. Most would drop in a dead swoon, which Karinith found ridiculous that one would fake fainting when fainting wasn’t something anyone wanted to do.

One day, just before she made her nightly pilgrimage to the glade, her father burst into the kitchen, sweating and panting.

“Bandits!” he gasped, ushering her mother into a small closet, kissing her brow, just in case. “Hide.”

Karinith lost feeling in her fingers as she fumbled for a hiding place. Whenever bandits had come, she used to hide in the potato box, but it had been years since an attack, and she was much taller than before. There wasn’t time to throw the vegetables out and dive inside. Her hands were useless as they shook.

The kitchen connected to a sitting room, and once again, Karinith found herself behind curtains. She willed her quaking body to still as the door to her home burst open.

“All right,” said a thuggish voice. “Hand over your money and no one gets hurt.”

“Of course,” her father replied, voice shaking.

The door slammed open again, and heavy bootfalls walked toward the kitchen. “Hope there’s more than a sackful of gold in here.”

“I assure you, this is more than enough-”

The new bandit laughed, a rich baritone that made Karinith’s skin crawl. He sounded inviting, calm even. That made it all the worse. “I’m not interested in your money. This is an awfully big house for just one man. Where are the others?”

“They’re on holiday.”

The baritone laughed again. “Of course they are, just like every other house in town. Now where are they?”

Karinith squeezed her eyes shut, feeling her lower lip tremble in response. She would not cry. She could not cry. She had to be brave and quiet for her father. She had to keep still, keep them safe.

She had to get them out of the house.

Something awoke in her, something she had never felt before but it filled her entire being with a sort of light and sense of purpose.  It was as if everything in her life had led to this moment. Her hands still shook, but it did not feel fearful. It felt powerful, like at any moment a storm would break both within and without.

She stepped out from behind the curtain, drew one last breath, and shouted, “Hey!”

The two bandits turned and looked at her. One was stocky and pug-like, looking horrendously confused. The other…the baritone, he looked at her shrewdly, as if he expected this. His pointed eyes and face turned very slowly away from her father, whom he held by the shirt collar at knife point. The doorway seemed unable to contain his tall frame.

A moment of true fear caused her voice to waver, but her plan was resolute. “If you want me…come and catch me.”

With that, Karinith rushed for the back door of the house, running for the woods. She could lose him there; she could easily outclimb him in a tree. She glanced behind her. The tall bandit was hot on her tail. She pushed herself faster. She was lighter, she could easily-

A pair of hands snatched her around her waist. With all her practice, she spun out of the arms and stood face to face with the tall bandit.

He smiled, the way she imagined a cat would once it cornered a mouse. “I’ve got you right where I want you.”

“I think you’ll find I’m not that easy to catch.” Karinith did not know why she said that, nor why she smiled, but she dodged out of the way as he lunged. She kept moving, not daring to look at the face of the partner. This was a dance of life and death.

He would approach, and Karinith would nimbly skip out of the way.

He would wait, and so would Karinith. After all, the gentleman should make the first move.

As she leapt out of the way of another of his lunges, he used the brief second of her hesitation to reach up and seize her ankle. Karintih tried jabbing at him with her free foot, but to no avail: he was stronger than her, and both of them knew it.

The world blurred by, and Karinith ended flat on her back, the wind knocked out of her as she coughed, each one hurting her right to the gut.

“A brave little effort,” the bandit said, standing over her, pinning her legs under his feet. “But I’m afraid it won’t do you any good. I’m still going to get what I want…and then I’ll get to murder your father as well. And it will all be your fault.” He threw his head back and howled with laughter.

Karintih froze, feeling the heat and rush of battle settle into cold exhaustion. Still, she fought against it. Her mind whirred with thoughts of how best to escape, what course of action she would take once she got free. Her limbs had become heavy in the aftermath of her run, and refused to move, no matter how much her mind pressed against them.

Something approached the bandit from behind. Head still thrown back, he did not see the hilt of a rapier smack him on the skull. Karinith had heard the phrase, “dropped like a sack of potatoes” before, but she never thought she’d ever see the idiom in practice. He collapsed in a heap, sprawling outwards.

“Tch,” the figure scoffed. “Typical.” In the dimming light of evening, Karinith couldn’t make out the features of the woman who approached her until she knelt at her side, gently helping her stand. “Are you all right?”

Karinith tried to make a noise, but the combination of horror at the bandits and the awe of the woman who assisted her left her mute. The woman was older that Karinith, and she had a kind sort of motherly atmosphere about her. She wore a black tabard, a pin near her collar. The silver pin was a rose growing off the end of a rapier.

“Are you all right?” the woman repeated, not letting go of Karinith’s arm.

It seemed as though her mind went slower than it was supposed to, and the shock of the whole incident hit Karinith full force. She tried to speak, but nothing but sobs came out.

“It’s all right. This whole thing is scary.” She pulled Karinith close.

“But…But I don’t want it to be.” Karininth mumbled. It wasn’t until now that Karinith realized how useless she was. If something like this happened again, she’d probably end up dead. Not only that, she hated how she felt, shaky, sniffly, and standing around when she could be doing something.

“The fear doesn’t go away. You just learn how to use it in your favor,” the woman said, now offering a handkerchief. “I’m Shay, by the way.”

Accepting the handkerchief, Karinith mumbled her name. She didn’t feel particularly dignified at the moment.

“Shay!” A baritone voice called. From just beyond the pair of them ran another black tabard wearing swordsman. His rapier was drawn and sweat ran down his face. “They’re heading to the village square. We could use you.”

Shay eyed the bandit she dropped. “What about him?”

Without a word, the other fighter produced a rope and tied the bandit’s arms and legs together. “That should keep him occupied for a while.”

“Right then. Let’s go.” Shay looked back and Karinith. “Will you be all right?”

Karinith nodded mutely, watching the two retreating backs. She glanced at the tied up bandit beside her, and took off after the two, her heart pounding in her chest. She didn’t want to be anywhere around the bandit once he came to, and she felt safer trailing behind those who held swords than uselessly wringing her hands.

There should be lessons on what to do if bandits ever attack, Karinith thought, clenching her fists. In the grand scheme of things, poise and dignity were nothing when a blade was pressed against your throat. No amount of talking would satisfy someone who was bloodthirsty. How many girls in her class were hiding or suffering because they thought they had no other options?

Heart still pounding, Karinith hid herself just as the pair she tailed entered into the village square. She could see signs of fighting and scuffles, but there were more bandits either dead or knocked out cold lying on the village square, or held firmly at swordpoint with nearly two dozen people wearing black tabards. From her hiding spot, Karinith could see a girl, roughly her age, holding a sword with skill against a bandit’s neck, glowering at him and anyone who so much as even sneezed in her direction.

A shiver ran through Karinith as she considered the third option of fighting off attackers.

The leader of the bandits, a rough, hairy man looking more like a gorilla rather than a human, stalked around to face the pair she had followed. “What’re you doing ‘ere?” he belllowed. “You lot think you can just show up and take over me raid?”

“We’re stopping you, Mordian.” Shay withdrew her rapier and dropped into a fighting stance.

“Ooooh, you know me name, I’m so scared.” Mordian held up his hands in mock surrender and waved them about as if he were a ghost. A few of the other bandits laughed, but it ended quickly as the entire company of black tabards shifted their swords a fraction closer to the exposed veins. “Iffin’ you think a little girl is going to scare me off-”

He never finished the rest of his sentence. With extreme speed, Shay made two swift cuts on his cheek, an X of crimson red. Mordian howled as he clutched his face, sinking to his knees. She sheathed her blade, nodding to the man who stood next to her. He gave a sort of nod, one Karinith might have seen from a master impressed with his apprentice’s skill, sort of amused.

He pulled out his rapier, and a strange silence fell over the whole square. Even Mordian’s screams of agony were reduced to mere sniffles as he spoke. “Mordian, you have been ransacking villages all over the country; even beyond it. You have committed murder, pillaging-”

“An’ who are you to lay out me crimes? A bloody judge? Not likely. You’re just a man with a sword. You ‘ave no authority-”

A flash of silver met against Mordian’s unruly beard. “I suggest you choose your next words carefully,” the man in the tabard said, and Karinith imagined his eyes falling into a spectacular glare, for she couldn’t see his face. “I might have to give your scars a matching set over your heart.”

Mordian whimpered and retreated away from the sword as best he could.

The man continued, the tip of his blade less than an inch from Mordian’s nose. “We have been given authority to track you down and stop you. You chose your next village poorly. The Guardsmen will be arriving shortly to properly dispatch your sentence.”

Mordian laughed, a coarse, coughing sound. “Just kill me and have it over with, then. It’s the fate that awaits us all.”

“We pride ourselves in minimal casualties. Besides, I don’t like killing people, unlike you.”

“Then ‘ow do you keep your troops in line? Got a menagerie of folks who don’t seem the following type.”

“Why do you think?”

As silence fell over the square again, the sound of horse hooves, armor rattling, and the voices of men could be heard approaching from the south.

The events started to blur together: bandits being rounded up and routed out from their hiding places, the two captains discussing something, concerned parents reuniting with their scattered children. It seemed in a matter of seconds everything was as it should be.

The Captain of the Guard steered his horse to the captain of the people in black tabards. “We thank you for your services here today. But how did you know? We’ve been tracking these bandits for months and we’ve always arrived…too late. How did you know to be here?”

Karinith caught the smile they all shared, a secret only they knew the answer to. The captain smiled as well. “Terrasylvae knows where we need to be.”

Terrasylvae. So that’s what the glade was called. It fit so perfectly. A hint of real, a hint of magic. When she went back tonight, she would introduce herself properly. She would be one of them, she could feel it.

From her perch in the tree, Karinith went over her introduction for the umpteenth time. She had been up there for two hours, watching them feast and revel. At first, she had told herself she’d introduce herself the moment they were done feasting. But the feasting ended and the dancing began and by that point, she would appear rude. So she waited, repeating her introduction under her breath, occasionally matching the rhythm of the words to that of the dance.

“My name is Karinith Grier and I want to join Terrasylvae.”

“Blood in the water!” They’d been doing some kind of dance where they all partnered up, but now the outliers of the dance joined in, separating partners to cries of chagrin and dismay, followed by laughter. Karinith leaned out, peering through the branches to get a better look. She did not hear the branch groan in protest.

Should she curtsey? Jump into the dance and introduce herself that way? She just needed them to stop dancing for a minute and she could get out of this tree and do it properly!

As the dance drew to its close, the branch gave way, and Karinith tumbled down, leaves and twigs whipping past her face until she tumbled and rolled…

Right into the dead center of all the people. Right into a crowd of eyes. The music stopped, and footsteps approached her.

“Ah,” came a familiar voice. The leader of these people knelt down, smiling as if he knew a joke, “the little fairy reveals herself at last.”

“Don’t–don’t call me that,” Karinith moaned. The rush of the fall was fading, replaced with pain and shame. The wind had been knocked out of her for the second time that day, but at least she recovered from that quickly.

“What else were we supposed to call you? You haven’t bothered introducing yourself until now. You’ve been watching us for some time now, little fae.”

“Don’t call me that!” She winced. Her ankle hurt, as did everywhere she’d hit on the way down.

“All right.” He scooped her off the ground and gestured with his head for people to follow him. Not the whole party, please not the whole party.

Karinith went red the second she realized a man was holding her. Carrying her. What was she supposed to do? Fight him off? Sit there like a lame duck? She made a small noise and went still, decorum failing her once again.

To her infinite relief, only a few members of the party followed, mostly women. She recognized Shay, another older woman, and someone maybe close to her age, maybe only a few years older. The leader set her down on a bench, carefully laying her down before the women closed in around her.

“What hurts the most?” Shay asked the moment Karinith made eye contact.

“My ankle.” Karinith winced as she tried to move it for emphasis. Not a smart move.

“Rhiannon, will you look at that? Is there anywhere else that hurts?”

“Not that I can think of.” Truthfully, everywhere hurt but the shock was starting to wear off.

Rhiannon, the older woman, took off Karinith’s boot, grimacing at the swollen joint. “That’s a sprain if ever I’ve seen one. But it’ll heal.”

“Miren,” Shay said, still not taking her eyes off Karinith, “will you get something for Karinith to eat?” The other woman nodded and hurried toward a table laden with food.

The sound of her name forced Karinith upright, even if her head swam. “You remembered my name?”

“Of course. I don’t forget people like you. There’s a sword in your soul, girl.”

Food delivered by Miren cut off the rest of the questions Karinith wanted to ask. But the hours in the tree caught up to her and she devoured the food without question, the aches from the fall subsiding with good food inside. With her in recovering spirits, the dance continued, as if a girl hadn’t fallen in from the trees.

“Who are you?” Karinith asked finally sitting upright without too much dizziness.

“We’re the Order of the Rose. A collection of misfits, outcasts, and other assorted citizens.” Rhiannon patted Karinith’s shoulder. “We’re mostly self-taught fencers, but as time’s gone on, we’ve gotten a few masters.” She pointed to the leader, the one who seemed to know a lot more than he let on. “Kane’s our captain, even if he’s younger than some of us.”

That was definitely not how it was done outside the Order. Seniority won out over skill every time. Age was always a factor in how you were treated. To Karinith, it didn’t seem right or fair that someone who led purely by age disregarded the advice of the young. It was often the young who had the ideas that would change the world. Perhaps that was what they feared: change. Perhaps they feared losing their place, the place that they struggled for and nothing but death would take from them.

“How did you get here?” Miren asked, helping herself to the pickings Karinith didn’t eat. “We’re deep in Terrasylvae; this spot isn’t well-known outside of the Order.”

“I walked?” Karinith gave a shrug. Her shoulders were so tight. Was it the fall or the social pressures keeping them tense? “I found myself here a few nights ago. My family lives close to the woods and one night I came here and…I found you.”

The three other women stared at Karinith, then shared glances at the others. Shay spoke first. “You walked into Terrasylvae? You walked to our pavilion?”

“It wasn’t that far. I can show you–” She started to rise, but Shay gave her a firm shove to sit back down.

“You stay off that ankle. That’s strange, there’s only one path here, and that leads from the village–”

“There’s a village? There’s more than this? You live here in the woods? How come no one knows about Terrasylvae? What is Terrasylvae?”

“Slow down.” Rhiannon said. “You’ve had a pretty rough fall. You’re lucky nothing is broken. For now, sit and watch. I promise we’ll answer your questions, but you have to rest. Besides, we’ll start telling you things and you’ll forget by morning. There’s a lot to take in.”

Karinith gave a little nod, but the questions burned in the back of her throat. Her immobility didn’t help as she began to pick up on the steps of the dance that had begun. Two steps right, two steps left, bow to partner, spin, bow again, partners joined hands—

“I supposed a thank you is in order.” Karinith didn’t recognize the voice, and Shay, Miren, and Rhiannon gave little squeaks of surprise. Karinith turned toward the speaker, staring at a sort of diminutive old man resting playfully at the edge of the table. At least, the face was old, the body was young and far too small to be human. She screamed and everyone turned, their own surprised cutting the dance short.

Shay regained her composure first, rising, hands on hips, a stern look on her eye. Karinith knew Shay wasn’t one to cross with a blade, but the steel wasn’t in her hands alone. “Perran, did you have something to do with this?”

The little creature swung his feet up, now coming to stand in a similar posture. “Why must you blame me for everything?”

“You tend to be the source of mischief.”

“T’wasn’t me. T’was Dobble’s plan.”

“A boldfaced lie if ever there was one!” came another voice. From across the pavilion, another little creature strode out, this one younger in face, but just as lithe as Perran. He jabbed a finger up at Perran. “Don’t foist this on me. T’was Puckleflup’s doing.”

“Slander and deceit!” Karinith pinched her lips and bit back the scream as yet another elfin creature came out of the darkness. “How dare you two! T’was a joint effort between the three of us.” All three of them smiled, sharing proud looks across them.

“What?” Shay turned, slow, dangerous. The smiles quickly fell from the three faces, as all three backed away, clutching to the others. “You made someone fall from a tree? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?!”

“Well, she wasn’t coming down on her own!” Perran said.

At that moment, Karinith blacked out. She didn’t lose consciousness, her mind merely stopped processing anything else. She dimly remembered being led toward a house by warm lantern light, remembered someone helping her inside. As her mind finally caught up, Karinith let out a gasp, and another person shrieked in surprise. Miren, now in a nightgown and holding a candlestick, clapped a hand over her mouth, taking a few deep breaths.

She placed a hand to her hip. “Don’t scare me like that! I might have burned this place down.”

Karinith clutched the bed as she broke out in a cold sweat. “Where am I? I need to get home-”

“It’s all right. Shay’s gone off to let your family know you’re safe. You’re in my cottage.”

Karinith nodded, but there was only one thing she thought of. “Magic is real. Faeries and elves are real.”

“Of course they are.” Miren placed the candlestick on a nightstand and took a seat next to Karinith, gently wiping her brow. “Makes the world a much brighter place, doesn’t it?”

“Why are you so calm about this?”

“Hah, don’t you worry. I wouldn’t leave this place for two whole days once I came here. The shock wears off, but Terrasylvae always has another surprise waiting.”

While Karinith nodded in mute agreement, Miren took both her hands. “What did you think of Kane?”

“What?” What did he have to do with any of this? Karinith caught a flash of irritation, a hint of jealousy.

“What did you think of Kane?” Miren’s words came out slowly, emphasizing her stoic face.

“I think he’s quite the gentleman. Honestly, it kind of scared me when he picked me up. I’m not helpless, you know.”

Miren’s harshness faded into embarrassment. “He is a gentleman. He’s one of the kindest men I’ve met.”

For a split second, Karinith thought about asking if that’s why Miren liked him, but she kept her mouth shut. While she had little experience in the ways of romance, she’d seen enough crying and gossip to know that talking about the boy another girl liked was off-limits. With a little throat clearing, Miren rose and walked over to another bed. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like.”

“At your cottage or Terrasylvae?”

“Both.” And with a smile, Karinith knew she meant it.

The next morning brought every intention of going back home, as well as a slightly tender ankle. The choice lay before her as she lay in bed, glancing over at Miren, still dozing as the sun shone through the shutters. What remained in Terrasylvae was unknown, a path running into the darkness. Back home was certainty. And boredom. Hadn’t she always wanted an adventure? Hadn’t she wanted to escape into the pages of the books she read? Here it was, golden opportunity for Karinith, and she was thinking of turning it down.

Karinith Grier, if you leave this place without trying an adventure, I’ll never forgive you.

Her own thoughts startled her, but they were right. Home was always waiting for her, home would always be there.

But an adventure waits for no one. They were just as restless as she was.