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Story tossed in her bed, unable to sleep. The bed was comfortable enough—it was made of sea sponges after all. The light from the softly glowing pearls in the room was quite soothing. She was tired—no, make that exhausted—enough to fall asleep. The problem was simply that she couldn’t get her brain to shut off.

After their conversation in her quarters, her mother had taken her to a kitchen and the hot pink and lime green-striped dryad there served her up a plate of what looked like sushi. Story wasn’t normally one for seafood—and definitely not into eating raw fish—but she was hungry. The meal turned out to be quite tasty, once she got over the somewhat slimy texture.

Her mother had led her out of the main shell (the palace, as it were), and they’d swum to a much smaller shell nearby that was just large enough to house a bed, a stool, and a small table with a polished rainbow abalone surface. A kaleidoscope of shells, rocks, and coral were affixed to the wall, and an overly excited Adair was in her bed. The beginning nub of new growth was already protruding out of the stump from her arm, and Story would have, under normal circumstances, probably thought it was gross and weird—if it hadn’t been so darn fascinating. She’d idly wondered if she’d inherited that handy gene from her dryad mother, but wasn’t willing to sacrifice an appendage to test that theory.

Adair had chattered on excitedly about finally having a sister—all of Mera’s other children were boys—and how she’d always known she and Story were somehow related, essentially leaving Story and Almera to just nod their heads in agreement every so often. This went on until Adair finally fell asleep—a side effect of the herbal tea her mother had given her to help with the healing of her arm. The queen then led Story out through the water opening in the floor, and took her to the shell adjacent to Adair’s. It was similarly outfitted, though somehow a bit morose without Adair’s spectacular artwork on the walls. Just outside the floor’s water opening was a bucket-sized snail shell filled with ad’har. This way Story could come and go as she pleased without having to wait for a dryad to come get her.

So here she was now, unable to sleep, because in light of everything: her quest, this different world, being reunited with her mother, a sister discovered (and several half-brothers), all she could do was think about Eirnin and worry that he wasn’t back yet. How long could it take to bring back a giant, dead crab?

She sighed and rolled over onto her stomach. The truth was she missed him. Not just the last few hours, but in general. His snarky comments and his sweet kisses. His arrogant grin and his tender eyes. His obnoxious sense of humor and his reassuring presence. As cheesy as is sounded, she felt complete when he was near her.

That wasn’t to imply that she was incapable of functioning without him around, just that she preferred it when he was. Admitting this made her wonder, why was she so afraid to attach that simple little four-letter word to what she was feeling? Because she was pretty sure that’s what she was feeling. Even without thinking of the actual word, just knowing that she felt that way for Eirnin made her both giggly and scared.

If she had to pin down why she was scared, she was fairly certain that Eirnin had nailed it. It was commitment, or rather, being willing to open herself up that much to another person—it implied risk, a lot of risk. Someone could only hurt you if you let them in too close. Though in all fairness, there wasn’t much, if anything, she’d kept from him at this point. Still, she wasn’t ready. Yet. She needed time, and he was willing to give it, so why push things?

Story flopped onto her back and smiled, finally able to quiet her mind somewhat by feeling resolved to be unresolved. For now. Her eyes closed, and she was finally drifting off to sleep when the splash of someone surfacing through her shell’s entrance got her attention.

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