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Water spewed out of Story’s mouth as she coughed in a deep breath of moist, warm air. Judging by the hacking and gagging coming from the side of her, it sounded like Eirnin was conscious as well.

“I don’t think I like swimming any more.” The words tore at her throat like sandpaper. Eirnin groaned his agreement before returning to clearing salt water out of his lungs.

Story got up on her hands and knees, looking for Adair; she needed to make sure the girl was okay. She nearly fell right back over again. The surface they were on was silky smooth to the touch and quite slick. It gleamed pinkish-white and reminded her of the coloring and texture of the inside of a seashell. Movement and low, melodic voices to her left caught her attention, and she looked toward them, careful of the placement of her hands for stability.

It was like looking at a rainbow. Arranged around Adair—who was lying on the floor and protesting loudly—were half a dozen male and female dryads, still wet from their underwater rescue. Story knew which ones were male and which ones were female since none of them wore a stitch of clothing. She felt her cheeks heat up, and so she focused on Adair, who, despite her missing right arm, seemed to be doing just fine.

“Just let me go! I need to speak with Ma. I’m fine!”

But squirm as she might, an orange and black-striped female dryad held her shoulders firmly down while a yellow and blue-spotted male held her kicking feet. A brown female, with electric blue dreadlocks, knelt beside Adair’s right shoulder and scooped an iridescent paste out of a shell.

“Noooooooo!” Adair jerked away before she could put the paste on her bleeding stump, and silver blood sprayed across the other dryad’s knees. “It stings! I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it!  You can’t make me!”

But she was wrong; they could.

Eirnin was done clearing out his lungs by now, and he joined Story in watching the paste congeal and harden on Adair’s wound, effectively stopping the bleeding. Adair, meanwhile, was shrieking loudly and, judging by the way some of the other dryads were flinching, swearing profusely in their dialect.

Just then a short, silvery-white-skinned female with hair so red it looked almost neon dashed in and moved toward the group quickly. Apart from the dryads being more colorful in their pigmentation than a school of tropical fish, it seemed that long, hip-length hair was about the only thing they all had in common. This new dryad, and the few who accompanied her, at least had the barest of sarongs tied around their hips but were still naked from the waist up.

Story blushed again and peeked at Eirnin, wondering if he was as uncomfortable with all this as she was. He wasn’t even looking at the dryads; instead, his eyes were trained on her and tinged with worry. She smiled at him and was about to tell him she was fine when the most intoxicating voice she’d ever heard came from the female who’d just thrown herself down by Adair’s feet. Both Eirnin and Story’s heads swiveled toward the speaker, and they stared unblinkingly.

“Oh my dear, sweet, precious girl, what has that kraken done to you?” Her voice was so spellbinding Story felt like she’d do anything it asked her to do. Swim a thousand miles, jump from a cliff, anything.  

“Ma, I’m—”

“The fishers will bring it back, and we shall have it for a feast tonight!”

“But Ma—”

“It’s a shame about your arm, but you are young enough, and since Keelin got the sh’yla on it in time—no doubt with you screaming your head off, though you know it only stings for a bit—your arm should hopefully grow back good as new. Until then, you will just have to stay with me. I don’t want your father to think I can’t take care of my own pup. Which brings me to another point, what possessed you to go swimming in the open ocean unescorted? What possessed your da to let you? Oh! Does he not know? Did you swim away from home? Why would you do that? Were you not happy? You know you’re always welcome here, right? This is your home, too.”

War of the Seasons, book one: The HumanWhere stories live. Discover now