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“…It would mean death or madness for a mage. Nature has her own power. Tempting as it is, mages should never tinker with Nature, not in a storm, or in an earthquake, or with the tides. She may allow it for a time, but eventually she always loses her temper. The results can be—devastating. Trust me.” –Niklaren Goldeye

DEATH: Ingenting undgår mig. Ingen undgår mig. [Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.] –The Seventh Seal.


It was small things, at first; easily dismissed, easily forgotten. The way blades of grass seemed to shrink away from Rosethorn’s footsteps. They’d never done that before; green life positively embraced Briar, and he’d often had to reign in their exuberance, firmly. He told himself he was imagining things, and anyway, wouldn’t it take time for them to assess just what Rosethorn’d lost in the period she’d actually died?

“There’s no precedent,” Moonstream had said, taking him aside, right before she left Discipline, having ascertained that Rosethorn was, relatively speaking for someone who’d caught pneumonia and died, well. She frowned. “Be careful. She might’ve lost more than just the ability to speak.”

“What do you mean?” Briar demanded, hotly, grabbing at her arm. “She’s fine, isn’t she? You said that a very small part of her mind died when she stopped breathing.”

Moonstream looked at him until he blushed and let go. She said, “A very small part. But the mind…the mind is a highly-complex thing, Briar.”

“So you’re saying you don’t know.” The words just seemed to spill out, he couldn’t stop himself. “So you’re saying we might’ve pulled her back but we might’ve broke her anyway. That what you mean?”

Moonstream took a deep breath. “I’m telling you,” she said, with a testy edge to her voice, “To be prepared for the possibility that Rosethorn might never be the same again.”

“That’s not what you told her,” Briar protested.

“You should know as well as anyone,” Moonstream said. “The extent of recovery depends on the patient’s outlook. A healer’s duty is to paint the best possible picture for the patient.”

“But not for the people who care about them,” Briar growled.

She raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer me to tell you the same comforting story, Briar?”

He looked down at his feet, shook his head. “You’re telling me all of this might’ve been for nothing?” He hated how plaintive his voice sounded, how much he sounded like he was begging her to tell him that it was all going to be okay, Rosethorn was going to be all right, because hadn’t he dragged her back from the gates of death? Hadn’t Moonstream confirmed that her lungs were completely clear and healthy again? Stop whining, he growled at himself. Didn’t he know better by now? He wasn’t some bleater who’d never known what it was like to live on the streets; he knew life didn’t really care if the nicest kid in the gang was the one who got knifed in the middle of sharing his spoils, if it was mean old Blackjack who got promoted to the Thief-Lord’s lieutenant while little Mouse starved and caught the cold and died.

“No,” Moonstream said, crisply, breaking his train of thought. “I’m telling you that there’s a lot we simply don’t know, because something like this has never happened before.”

Briar pulled himself together and squared his shoulders. “Right,” he said, resignedly. “Okay.” A thought struck him. “Shouldn’t you be telling Lark this stuff?”

Moonstream simply looked at him.

Belatedly, he realised what she’d intended. “I’ll let her know,” he promised.




He didn’t sleep alone that night. Call him a bleater, perhaps, but when he was alone without a single candle, the darkness seemed to creep in on him; he felt cold, freezing cold, as if a piece of death had lodged itself under his skin and he wasn’t ever going to be warm again.

The others knew, of course. They must’ve sensed his disquiet through their connection, because moments later, Sandry popped over, carrying their nightlight: a piece of crystal that glowed steadily with the amount of power all three of them had infused it with.

He thought—just for a moment—about getting his own.

Briar raised an eyebrow. “Did I say I needed help, Duchess?” he asked, tartly.

“Tell me that wasn’t panic, then,” came her crisp reply. “And I’ll leave you be and take the light with me.”

She didn’t make as if to leave, and it was just as well: Briar wasn’t sure his pride could stand begging her to stay, and when she was here, he felt…better. Safer, somehow. As if he could remind himself that he was alive, that he wasn’t back in the colourless maze.

He shivered again, reflexively. Sandry tossed him a blanket. It wasn’t his: it was among the pile of woven cloths and pillows she’d brought over, and as he tugged it about himself, he realised he could sense the familiar touches of Sandry’s magic, sunk into the warp and weft of the piece, and it certainly warmed him.

A few moments later, Tris padded into his room, bearing her own blankets, and (of course) a couple of books.

“Oh good,” she said, eying where Sandry was already beginning to set up a blanket fort. “You’re already making it comfortable.”

“What is this, slumber party in my room?” Briar wanted to know. In spite of his words, he’d moved his own blankets and pillows and was beginning to help Sandry. She shot him a faint grin.

“Obviously,” Tris said. “What else would it be?”

As they were finishing the last touches of the blanket-and-pillow fort, Daja appeared in the doorway, carrying four steaming mugs. Briar inhaled appreciatively and whistled. “That’d better not be from Rosethorn’s workshop.”

Daja shrugged. “It was from the kitchen, actually. I guess none of us had the mood to drink any over the past couple of weeks.” She set the tray down on the nightstand and begun handing out cups of frothy hot chocolate. She grinned at Sandry, a flash of white teeth. “I know, sati—I didn’t put all that much honey in yours.”

“Good,” Sandry smiled, and sipped at hers.

“Thanks, Daj’,” Briar murmured, accepting his cup. “You’re a treasure.” He held the cup between his hands, felt the warmth of the cup leech into his skin, felt the memories of that Dark Place (what Dark Place, a part of his mind insisted, and that should’ve troubled him, only he didn’t) slowly bleed away, cast out, for the moment, by the presence of the others.




“What was it like?”

That was Tris; a quiet question in the stone-lit darkness, long after the others had dozed off in their blanket-and-pillow fort. Briar was silent, for a long while.

“Shouldn’t you know?” he asked, puzzled. “You and Sandry and Daj’—you were all connected to me. You should’ve seen what I saw.”

Tris shook her head; he could make out that gesture, at least. “I talked to the others,” she replied. “They all saw different things. Sandry saw a burning palace. Daja saw an ocean.”

“And you?” Briar prodded. “What did you see?”

She hesitated, and Briar counted the long moments that passed before Tris said, “A relative’s house.” Her tone conveyed that the subject was not open for discussion. “So, what did you see?”

“A maze,” he whispered. “A grey, stone maze.” Troubled, his eyes met hers. “You mean it’s not real, Coppercurls?”

Tris closed her book; the sound startled them both, but it seemed Sandry and Daja were too deep in sleep to be so easily woken up. “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not. Maybe it was as real as anything, we only saw it differently.”

“Well,” Briar said. “I was walking the maze—running it,” he corrected himself, absently. “Following that vine of magic I’d looped around Rosethorn just before…well, you know. And then I found Rosethorn, eventually.” (What about the Dark Place?)

“That’s it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Why, Coppercurls?”

“Just wondering,” Tris said. He could tell there was something she wasn’t saying—they knew each other well enough for that, but he also knew there was no getting it out of Tris; not now, at any rate. And he was really, really tired. “G’night, Briar.”

“G’night, Coppercurls,” he whispered, and closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.




The temple was large, and strangely empty at this time of the night. Briar fought back a yawn. He wasn’t supposed to be here, really: he was delivering a message to Dedicate Gorse, but has, for no reason, found himself sidetracked.

He didn’t even really attend service at the Earth Temple; it was Rosethorn who venerated the Green Man and Milla of the Grain. Briar’s own preferences ran towards Lakik the Trickster, although he figured it was smart to be on good terms with your teacher’s gods.

He dug in the freshly-opened box of incense for a stick, lit it from a nearby taper, and held it for a moment, fragrant smoke drifting upwards towards the immense ceiling as he stood before the mosaiced figure of the Green Man. “Please,” Briar whispered, both prayer and offering, and then he left the stick of incense in the glossy green ceramic censer and repeated the action for Milla of the Grain.

You did whatever you could, when you were tired, aching, and when your teacher was dying and when Flick had already died and there was nothing, absolutely nothing he could do about it. It was easy enough to face up to it, now, even though they were doing their absolute best to save Rosethorn.

Lakik wasn’t the sort of god you asked that of. Lakik’s mercy was no mercy at all and he’d druther wish Lakik’s mercy on whoever’d sent the blue pox to them in the first place.

“You’re here late,” said a voice. Briar started; realised he’d all but dozed in the temple and shook himself. Now he was going to be even later coming back to Discipline and Rosethorn needed him, but he was just so stretched, so tired…

He didn’t recognise the slender, pale man who’d spoken, but he did recognise the distinctive colour of his habit. An Earth Dedicate, then.

“Yeah,” Briar said, eventually. “What of it?”

The Dedicate shrugged, artlessly. “Too few in the temple of late,” he said, simply. “Everyone’s fighting the blue pox with everything they’ve got.”

“You’d think there’d be more people, at a time like this,” Briar murmured. You acknowledged the gods, of course, but he’d figured the time people especially turned to the gods was when they were desperate, at the end of their patience and knowledge. Like he was.

“Hardly,” said the Dedicate. He examined the icon of the Green Man, knowingly. “Most of them respect the Green Man’s teachings, after all.”

“And?”

“Everything,” the Dedicate said, “And everyone. All things under the sun have a time to die. The Green Man dies in the winter, of course. You know the stories.”

Briar snorted. “I can’t accept that,” he said firmly, and that thought propelled him to his feet, to square his shoulders and to make sure the slip of paper meant for Dedicate Gorse was still in his pocket. “Look, I have to go. I’m late for an errand.”

The Dedicate made the gods-circle on his chest. His eyes were dark; fathomless, even. “Gods go with you, kid.”




“Where’s Little Bear?” Tris wanted to know. In the tangled mess that had surrounded Rosethorn’s death and recovery, they’d more or less lost track of where their dog had gone.

Briar frowned, as he kept breaking down the herbs with his mortar and pestle. They’d more or less run out of protective oils, which meant that a packet of crushed herbs was a stop-gap measure, until they got more oils that he could spell.

Angelica root for protection, he recited in his head. Angelica root was supposed to be especially potent in forming circles of protection; aniseed to reinforce that protective purpose (warding off the evil eye, Rosethorn’d said, once) and even a measure of vervain. A circle cast from these herbs would be extremely hard to breach.

“You’re asking the wrong person,” he said at last. “I haven’t been out of the workshop ever since…” he frowned, trying to recall. “Ever since this morning.” The blanket he’d draped over his shoulders was starting to slip, so he tugged lightly at it, moving it back into place.

“Daja hasn’t seen him,” Tris said. “Sandry’s looking. Let us know if you see him, will you?”

“Done. Where’s Lark?”

Tris’s lips formed a thin line. “With Rosethorn,” she said at last. That was something Briar didn’t understand: Tris’d been on edge lately. ‘Snappish’ was how Sandry put it, but Sandry was the peacemaker; the one who’d smile and stubbornly keep on doing something for your good, even after you told her to leave you alone. They’d fought with each other a number of times of course: impossible not to, when they lived under the same roof at Discipline, but almost never with Sandry.

“What’s wrong, Coppercurls?” he asked, quietly, setting aside the stone mortar and pestle for the moment. “What’s eating at you?”

Tris shook her head. “Just dreams, nothing big.”

“Try velvet plant,” Briar said, absently. “In dream pillows, it can be used to ward off nightmares…”

“Oh, hush,” Tris said, crossly. “I’ll leave you to your plants, then.”

“Try luring him out with food!” Briar called out, over her retreating back.




Rosethorn’s frustration was readily apparent as she kept trying to say something but nothing but meaningless garbled sounds emerged from her mouth. Finally, Briar laid a hand against her skin.

Moonstream said it would take time, he informed her, through their shared green magic.

I know, Rosethorn sighed. She said nothing else; patience, he knew, didn’t come easily to her. He was spelling Lark, who’d gone out to the Earth Temple on an errand. What for, Briar wasn’t exactly sure, but he’d been the first person Lark saw.

Want some porridge?

Rosethorn shook her head. I’m not hungry, she told him.

You haven’t eaten yet, Briar pointed out.

Still not hungry, Rosethorn replied. She jerked away abruptly, breaking the contact, and tried again to say whatever it was she was struggling to articulate.

“Take a deep breath,” Briar supplied helpfully. Rosethorn glared at him and made a gesture; Briar grinned. He recognised it by now—she almost always made that sign when threatening to hang him in the well. “Get better, and then you can hang me in the well all you want,” he informed her.

By the window, the potted boneset was wilting. Briar winced and went over to it and cradled the plant under an arm. “What happened to you?” he murmured, turning his attention to the plant.

He poured some of his magic into the plant, trying to see what was wrong. Yet it was strange: as far as Briar could tell, the plant was perfectly healthy, but it was just exhausted and dying, for reasons he couldn’t possibly fathom.

“The boneset’s dying,” he informed Rosethorn, turning to her. “I don’t know why.”

She made a gesture with her hands, which he interpreted as an order to hand it over. He did, carefully making sure Rosethorn had a good grasp on the boneset’s pot before letting go.

In the next moment, the boneset—pot and all—tumbled out of Rosethorn’s hands before smashing into a mess of pottery shards and soil and dead plant on the floor. A piece of sharp pottery dug into Briar’s skin and he winced, plucking it out. Rosethorn was, after all, still exhausted, and the healer who’d come from the Water Temple to teach Lark the speech exercises had examined Rosethorn and informed them that she needed to rest and rebuild her strength, although he’d also given her a clean bill of health.

Rosethorn made one meaningless sound, and then another.

“I’ll get the broom,” said Briar.




“There he is!”

Sandry hunkered down by her bed and held out her hands. “C’mon there,” she whispered. “C’mon out, Little Bear, we’ve got food for you…”

Briar sat, cross-legged, on the floorboards. Peering beneath Sandry’s bed, he could just make out the too-large form that had squished itself into that small space. Little Bear’d not only forced himself in, he’d kept pushing and shoving onwards and Briar thought he could tell that their dog was trembling.

Reinforcing that impression, Little Bear let out a plaintive whine.

“Duchess,” he said aloud. “I think he’s stuck there.”

Little Bear whined.

“He kept going on,” Briar said, realising. “He forced himself into that space, only now it’s too small and he can’t come out. He’s trapped himself there. I think we need to lift the bed.” He shook his head. “I’ll get the others.”

With Daja and Tris—especially Daja—it was far easier to lift Sandry’s bed, enough that Tris could reach in and snatch Little Bear out, their dog squirming about in her grasp.

“Bad dog,” Sandry said, gasping, as they lowered the bed again and tried not to drop it too heavily on the floorboards. “Bad Little Bear. Whatever gave you the idea to stay there?”

Tris shook her head. “It’s a mess down there, too. Looks like he was there for a while.”

“I’ll get a cleaning cloth,” Daja said, quietly.

Tris ran her hand through Little Bear’s fur, again and again, trying to soothe their dog. “You really need a bath,” she murmured, her nose wrinkled.

Briar looked under the bed again, shaking his head slowly. “It’s way too small for you,” he informed Little Bear. “You should know better than that. C’mon, Coppercurls. I’ll help you give him a bath.”




After they’d rescued and cleaned him off, Little Bear made himself scarce. But at least he no longer tried to hide beneath Sandry’s bed—or anyone’s bed, for that measure, which was a relief.

With the help of the Water Temple healer and Lark, Rosethorn was slowly relearning everything: speech, walking with the help of a cane, dressing herself—all those minor actions they took for granted. She’d made no attempt to stumble into her garden though.

“I’d bet,” Sandry said. “She’s just recovered, after all. And with what Moonstream told you…”

“Yeah,” Briar whispered. He couldn’t help but think, though. As a green mage, Rosethorn, like he did, felt better with plants around. He couldn’t imagine his teacher not stumbling into the garden or at least demanding to be helped out, the moment she was a little better. But here Rosethorn was, allowing Lark to help her relearn speech, walking, without having much mentioned her garden or her workshop.

He’d moved plants into the former sickroom everyday, but like the boneset, they took to dying. Just not as quickly as the boneset had. He didn’t know why, and it frustrated him. The same had happened with their garden.

“Is this supposed to be happening?” Daja wanted to know.

Briar hunkered down next to her and held out his hands. The plants moved, twining themselves about his fingers as he reached out with his green magic. They were shadows of what they should’ve been, to his mind’s eye: not vibrant with life, but fading, dying somehow, drained.

He checked them thoroughly, the way Rosethorn’d trained him: he went and checked for bugs, for parasites, he checked their soil, the compost, made sure they had enough fertiliser…

It didn’t matter. Rosethorn’s herb garden was dying. The vegetable garden fared only a little better. The weeds and thornbushes were thriving, choking out the plant life, and as he got rid of them, they seemed to dig into his hands, to try to worm beneath his fingernails.

“No,” he said, grimly, helplessly. “This is not supposed to be happening.” His frustration must’ve been palpable, even through their connection, because Daja laid a too-warm hand on his shoulder for a brief moment. “I don’t know why they’re dying, Daj’. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”

“You’ve got herbs on your hands,” Sandry said, jarring him from that memory. Briar started and glanced down at his hands. Bits and pieces of crushed herbs were clinging to his fingers.

Rosethorn had been limping in the kitchen. Movements jerky, stiff, as if she was re-learning how to walk. It was wrong, though, Briar thought, spearmint and vervain on his fingers, thin oils clinging to his skin. It was like something was missing; it was like she was learning how to walk.

She looked over, as if she could sense his presence. Their presence, he corrected, mentally adding Sandry in.

Rosethorn smiled.




Tris was reading a book on the roof of Discipline when he found her. Briar stared for a long time at the title of the book. Daring the Wheel: Those Who Defied Nature’s Magic, the spine proclaimed.

“Niko gave this to you, didn’t he?”

She didn’t look up. “Right after my experiment with stopping the tides,” she said.

“What was it like?” he pressed.

Now, Tris did look up, frowning. “Why?”

“Just wondering,” he said, with a shrug.

“I felt the tides, for days afterwards,” Tris said, matter-of-factly. “In my bones, in my blood.”

“I’m cold,” Briar said. “Even now. I can feel it, here.” He tapped at his chest. “The maze.”

Tris’s eyes widened with concern. “You think…”

He took a deep breath. “You’ve been having nightmares, haven’t you. You mentioned them.”

“What about them?” Tris asked, warily.

Briar looked at her, straight in the eyes. “Because I’ve been having them too, Coppercurls. But I don’t see a maze. I see a dark place, with a pale, slender man with dark eyes. I think I know him, but I’m also terrified of him. I’m moving in the middle of a crowd of people with no faces, crowned with thorns, and I know the moment they know I’m there, somehow, I’m dead. It’s worse than ringing the chuffle bell on a dummy back when I was learning to pickpocket. They’re…” he shook his head, trying to find the words, failing. “Want to compare notes?”

“I dream of my relative’s house,” Tris said, quietly, closing her book. She was silent, for a while. He’d almost thought she wasn’t going to say anything more, until she did. “They were this close to thinking I was an elemental or possessed or something. We get told those stories a lot in Capchen. But this time, in the dream, they tied me down with thorns and gave me over to a pale man with dark eyes. And he’s smiling as he looks over me.”

Briar eyed her. She looked back at him. “Bad dreams, huh,” he said, flatly. Swallowed hard. “Think we’re the only ones?”

Tris exhaled, let out an explosive sigh. “What are you trying to say?” she challenged.

“Remember the plants that’ve been dying?”

She nodded.

“I realised it, just now,” Briar said, emotionlessly. “The ones that’ve been dying the fastest are the protective plants. Angelica root, fennel, boneset, vervain…They’re dying and I don’t know why. But the protective plants are dying the fastest. Now your turn.”

“For?”

It was his turn to sigh. “Coppercurls, you’re keeping something back. Have been, for days. I’ve blabbed my guts out to you. What is it?”

“I keep thinking about the tides,” Tris said, finally. “How I was lucky to get off light. And you know what they say in the Earth Temple services, about death being a part of the cycle of life.” Briar flinched. “What?”

“Just a dream,” Briar said, shortly. “Go on.”

“How’s this different from the tides?” Tris asked, simply.

“We succeeded,” Briar replied, despite the worms of unease burrowing in his gut. “That’s what.”

“So did I,” Tris said. “At first.” She hesitated. “You went silent, for a while, you know?”

“When?”

“Back when you were going to get her,” she gestured back down and Briar knew at once who she was referring to. “There was one point when you went silent and we couldn’t sense you at all. We only knew we were still anchoring you to life. And then…you started screaming.”

“How come I remember none of this?” Briar demanded, springing to his feet.

“I’d like to know that, as well,” Tris said, darkly. She adjusted the fit of her spectacles on the bridge of her nose. “I don’t like this.” He noticed, not for the first time, the dark bags beneath her eyelids. “There’s one thing that bothers me, though.”

“What?”

“Remember what Moonstream said? Her lungs are clean, as if she’s never had the pneumonia.”

“Uh huh,” Briar said, slowly.

“That’s my point,” Tris said. “You can’t heal, no matter how much you’ve tried. I certainly can’t heal. Neither can Sandry, neither can Daja. So where did the healing come from?”

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Briar pointed out.

Tris said, sharply, “I know. But we did something, somehow: you followed her down to wherever she was going and you dragged her back. But none of that should’ve meant we healed her. Or fixed her. And if her lungs were fixed, why not her mind?”

Briar’s mouth opened, and shut again. “All right,” he said, slowly. “So that’s something we don’t know about.”

Tris nodded. “And if they were fixed,” she said, “Then where did the power come from? We know it couldn’t have come from us.”

Their connection to Sandry blossomed to life abruptly, breaking the silence that stretched out between the two of them. Briar, Tris, she sent. Rosethorn says it’s time to come off the roof.

All right, Duchess, Briar replied. To Tris, he said, “But what do we do, then?”

Tris’s eyes were hard and wary. “I don’t know,” she said.




He dreamed of the man every night: strangely familiar, strangely terrifying. He dreamed of what Briar can only call the Dark Place, capitals included; of being hunted by the beings without faces, with—

“I did tell you, you know,” the pale man murmured, offering a stick of incense to the Green Man. “I tried to warn you.”

“You didn’t,” Briar objected.

“I did, kid,” the man said. “But now you’ve created your own mess, and it’s on you to fix it.” His smile was cold; more a flash of teeth than anything that conveyed warmth. “I’m just going to tell you one last time. You’re the doorway—”

Briar woke up.

For one long, screaming moment, he was disoriented; he wasn’t sure where he was, and in the darkness, he could almost believe he was in the Dark Place, being stalked—

Until he wasn’t. A figure leaned against a cane, in the doorframe.

“Go back to sleep, boy,” Rosethorn commanded.

Briar didn’t realise he was still dreaming until he really woke up, and heard Rosethorn struggling through her speech exercises with Lark.

But there was mud on the floodboards, and gouges in the doorframe, as if thorns’d dug themselves into the wood. He shivered, and tugged on his coat.




He stopped only briefly in Rosethorn’s workshop, looking for what he needed. The plants were dying, and when he’d dragged Rosethorn out to have a look at them, she’d only done a perfunctory examination before declaring she wasn’t sure what ailed them.

Briar scooped up the packet of vervain and thought, really thought about it.

And then he squared his shoulders and headed over to the kitchen, where Rosethorn was trying her best to shed the cane under Lark’s patient eye and a pot of stew was bubbling on the stove.

He stooped over by the fire and cut and the packet opened and the vervain spilled out onto the fire and the smoke spilled out and:

Rosethorn choked and coughed and haloed in the smoke, her silhouette seemed to writhe and change, how, Briar couldn’t quite describe but the sense of wrongness that lay at the very edges of his mind deepened into a not-quite conviction that he’d messed up somewhere. All four of them had, somehow.

You are the doorway, the pale man’d said, right before he’d been cut off, and if anything, Briar’s gut said to trust the man, only he wasn’t sure he believed his gut anymore, and he didn’t even know why.

In the smoke, the shape that was Rosethorn wore a spiny crown. The other was…wrong, somehow; overgrown by something. Wide-eyed, Briar stared, and wondered why he wasn’t running away.

You froze, sometimes. But sometimes, it was better not to run: it was better to stay put, to lie and smile.

“I’ll put out the fire,” he called out, and went, deceptively casual, to fetch a bucket of water.

 




The pale man opened his mouth to say something, but then thorns were ripping the dream open, digging in with their hooks and tearing it apart, and Briar reached out with his green magic to stop them but they were everywhere, and he couldn’t do anything to them.

The thorns reached out and wrapped themselves about him, digging into his skin, and then they were under his skin, twining hooks into his tongue, shifting beneath the surface of his skin until they bound him, completely, in a cage impervious to green magic.

Briar jerked awake.




The weeds and thorns had more or less conquered the garden now. Tris read her book on the roof, Briar a silent presence, lying on his back, watching clouds form.

“Come on, boy!” a gleeful voice cried from the garden below. “You’re wasting daylight!”

Briar lurched to his feet—a strangely clumsy, jerky movement, to Tris’s peripheral vision—and rasped out, “What’s the chore today?”

“Weeding!” Rosethorn called back. “It’s summer, isn’t it? So it’s always weeding!” The garden could use it, at least. No matter what Briar and Rosethorn did, the weeds and thorns always seemed to grow back, thicker than ever. Daja’d already been scratched several times on her way to the tool shed, and Tris knew the Trader girl’d surreptitiously burned a few of the overly-grabby thorns already.

Neither Briar nor Rosethorn seemed to have noticed.

“Briar!” Rosethorn called, again.

“It ain’t running away without us,” Briar yelled in reply, and awkwardly, stiffly, climbed down, making his way back into the house.

Tris frowned. For a moment, there, set out in the light beneath the clouds, she could’ve sworn she saw the shadow of hooked thorns moving beneath his skin.