The Hopeful Wanderer – Bloodred Blight

Blood, slick and swift, dribbled like drops of rain from the needle tips of a tall, old pine. Red gathered around the base of the trunk, staining scrub, dirt, and stones alike. Lessening along the height of the pine, but climbing ever upward, spreading down limb and bough. A bloodred pool glistened at the tree’s roots, the stink of copper choking the air. I tasted pennies on the back of my tongue.

My boots squelched as I approached the bloody pine, liquid red filling the indents of my tracks. As I drew near, my skin stretched across my bones, losing moisture at once. Beads of sweat dripping from my brow took on a pink hue, mingling with the red at my feet as they fell.

Joints aching, I knelt among the tree’s roots. Clusters of low twigs reached toward me, grasping, ready to hold me here forever.

I withdrew a pocket knife. The blade gleamed, reflecting bloody silver. “You cannot have me,” I whispered through cracking lips.

Upon each exposed root, I carved a different sigil, all for loosening, for shaking, for falling. Blood welled up from each cut, flowing over my fingertips. Sticky. The pine above groaned and shivered with every slice biting into bark.

At last, I stood back, breathing hard, vision blurry. “May the earth rise against,” I gasped.

A rumble started beneath my feet, sending ripples dancing over the bloody pool. Rocks clattered. I stumbled and fell. A crack split the air, followed by a crash as the pine toppled over, its longest branches just brushing my sleeve. Like the fingertips of a betrayed lover.

When I looked, a network of roots lay exposed to the air, dripping blood slowing. Dirt and rocks clogged the pool of blood, clotted like a scab over an old wound.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Sea Sparkle

Craggy rocks nipped at the soles of my feet as I clambered from a sparkling sea. Close to shore, blue light limned the water around every stone, brightening and dimming with the ebb and flow of the waves. Blue clung to my skin, outlining my toes, creeping up my legs. Growing heavier and heavier. Should the blue weight drag me down, I would drown in water no deeper than my waist. I pushed forward, avoiding the sandy bottom lest my heavy steps pushed so deep that I could not escape.

As I pulled myself out of the water onto a stony outcrop, a large shape moved in the dark. Just visible in the bioluminescent glow. A humanoid creature crouched in the shallows between me and safety. Blue light played across smooth, sharklike skin, revealing a long muzzle and a golden eye staring at me. The mouth parted to reveal rows of razor teeth.

The creature came nosing toward me. I froze, unable to step off the stone, heavy enough now that the blue would pull me under. My knees buckled under the added weight and I sank into a sit.

Blue glowed from within the creature’s gullet as it opened its mouth wide. Webbed hands groped at my safe rock and I scrabbled back as far as I could go. A long tongue slithered out and scooped up the blue sparkles clinging to the hem of my pants.

At once my leg felt lighter.

The glow outlining me dimmed as the creature cleared away every last glimmer. When I could stand, I did so slowly. Eyeing my retreat to the shore, the creature backed away to crouch in the shallows. With a snap, it resumed its meal of the blue glow, spreading darkness ever outward around it once more.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Garden of Lights

Twilight lit up with colorful sparkles carpeting the ground around the silhouette of a nearby tree. Colors clustered together like starbursts, clumps of sapphire and aqua scattered around those of tangerine and ruby, alongside honey and violet drops. Where I stood at the limit of their glow, these small orbs twinkled up at me from the ground at my feet, illuminating dead and dying grass all around. I had not noticed in the dark.

Not too far away, the shadow of a person stood up from a crouch, holding an electric cord that led away into the lights. This they dropped on the ground with a faint thump. Rainbow light touched their legs but not their face, making them impossible to make out. I wondered if I looked the same to them.

“What’s this?” I asked.

Turning to me, the person’s bearing shifted to something like a smile. “A garden,” they said, looking over to view their work.

“Don’t you think flowers would be more useful?” I said. “Lights don’t make oxygen or cleanse carbon monoxide from the air.”

“True,” they said. Their voice dropped a key to sadness. “But it’s too late for conservation efforts in this place. Flowers no longer grow here.”

That sadness crept down my spine and lodged at the base. Remembering the deadened grass, I surveyed the area. By the fading sunlight, I noted lots of dwellings, plentiful sidewalks, few trees. Almost no patches of earth where grass could grow. I wondered what had poisoned this ground so that flowers could not bloom here anymore.

“Besides,” the stranger added, “you can’t see flowers at night. Not like this.” A hitch crept into their voice, as if they fought back tears. “So this is alright. Yeah, it’ll have to do.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer – The Taste of Copper

The white glow of a small ornate lantern pushed back the darkness surrounding us like a tiny star. My guide crouched on a rock beside a still pool, holding a common stick with the ring of the lantern hooked on the end. Below, the reflection of the light glowed just as bright, a twin star. But neither my guide’s nor my reflection appeared in the water.

Covering the bottom of the pool, thousands of copper coins of all shapes and sizes glinted like dull eyes staring back at us. Waiting on our move.

Before we could cross the river, my guide had insisted we visit this place to gain passage. I eyed the slow, lazy river passing us by, wondering what danger could lurk within such a quiet channel.

“Can I take one?” I asked him.

“You can try.”

I slid my hand beneath the cool water, cooler than I expected. My fingertips brushed against flat coins, sensing their round edges, bumping along embossed words and images. Coins from all over the world. Meaningless currencies, some no longer even in existence.

At random, I selected an old coin, one enduring a slow takeover of blue-green malachite. This one, I figured, would see me across to safety.

The moment I drew the coin from the water, my mouth flooded with the taste of copper. Surprised, I dropped the coin back into the still water with a minute plunk. Working my mouth, I spat out a glob of blood. It, too, hit the water. I watched as the glob sank.

By the time it came to rest among the piles of treasures, my blood had itself changed into a copper coin. Shiny, new, winking at me in the lantern light.

My guide nodded once. “The river accepts you. Now you may cross.”


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My Top 10 Favorite Books Written by or About Women

You know readers. We can never pick just one favorite book. For my part, I can’t even pick my favorite series. So many amazing books await out in the world, more than I could ever read before I die. To keep this post short, I had to narrow down the parameters to my top ten favorite books written by or about women.

While I spend my life trying to read the most moving, the most truthful, and the most meaningful novels out there, a few have drawn me back into their welcoming pages over and over. I have reread every one of the books below and keep most of them on my (limited) bookshelves. (Only Sabriel still lives at my local library, but I will own a copy someday.)

Nothing makes me happy quite like when I meet someone who has read one of these, or who decides to read them at my suggestion. Please check them out. They’re arranged in no particular order. If you’ve read any of these, I would love to hear what you thought!

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Though I loved The Raven Boys, the first installment in the Raven Cycle, I fell deeply into Stiefvater’s writing in The Dream Thieves, which released just after I finished the first book. Imagine characters you know so well as to be your friends. Imagine they stumbled upon magic, the dangerous kind, and upon each other, dangerous people. Want so big and impossible as to swallow up existence. All set against the backdrop of Virginia’s mysterious Shenandoah Valley.

Her writing hooks itself like thorny vines into my veins. The narrative driven by these characters makes me breathless for flashed smiles, daring choices, and the strength of unbreakable friendship.


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, look. Another book by Maggie Stiefvater. (Spoiler alert: there is not a single one of her stories I have not enjoyed.)

I first bought The Scorpio Races for my mom’s birthday, even though I had never read it. While sitting within the massive shadow of a Gander Mountain sign, hoping to sell a litter of puppies to passersby, I read the first several chapters aloud to my mom.

I may or may not have later asked several times if she was done with the book yet so I could read it.

Every year in October or November, I reread The Scorpio Races. Nothing else I have read evokes the magic of fall and deadly horses the way this book does.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’m not even sure how I wound up reading Six of Crows. My friend had convinced me to read Leigh Bardugo’s previous series, the Grisha Trilogy. I recall standing in a Barnes & Noble with her as she gushed over the book’s beautiful, black-edged pages. Maybe she handed it to me one day in that Read this! way some readers will do.

I had never loved heist stories before reading Six of Crows. As a fantasy heist, The Lies of Lock Lamora could not begin to compare to Six of Crows and its sequel for sheer brilliance of maneuvering, tactics, risk, and stakes. And beyond that, each and every character breathes with life, cleverness, and desperation for a better life.


Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

In Tamora Pierce’s lengthy, multi-installment series about the country of Tortall, the Trickster’s Choice duology comes at the very last. I own every one of her books, but for me, none compare to this one.

Two words: fantasy spies. The daughter of a rogue and a knight who becomes embroiled in the espionage of a foreign country as she works to prove herself a capable spymaster. She’s fun-loving and sly, surrounded by clever and brave characters who grow dangerous enough to stage a coup.

I have ever loved the rogue and spy tropes. Perhaps this book is why.


Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

You want a fantasy, underground (literally) reimagining of World War II and the Holocaust, mixed with giant flying bats, kickass princesses, and prophecies? The Underland Chronicles have exactly that and more. I love this entire series, more even than Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. But the fifth and last grips me the most.

Lines have been drawn, alliances made and severed. The main character has experienced loss, betrayal, and growth as a young man and warrior into a deadly fighting machine. Gregor and the Code of Claw puts Gregor through the wringer of all-out war. I love tracing his journey to this point, from kid to adventurer to soldier, training to become deadly enough to protect the mysterious world he loves.


All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Anxious? Just want to be left alone to do your thing? Have only a specialized skill set at which you are very, very good? Don’t know what you want out of life? Sarcastic and cynical?

If so, you will love Murderbot. I identify so hard with the protagonist of All Systems Red by Martha Wells, a SecUnit designed for security and nothing else, that hacked its own governor module in order to… keep pretending to work just so it could watch media serials. Where ‘pretend’ means do a top notch job while worrying about the quality of the work performed. Y’know, like we all do.

Eight chapters of thrilling action, touching moments, wonderful characters, and seething intrapersonal conflict makes up this first installment in a quartet of novellas, all set within a seamless science fiction interstellar society.


Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Whenever I talk about good books about necromancy, I always laud Sabriel by Garth Nix as the best. Beyond a wonderful story about a strong and thoughtful young woman adventuring in a land full of monsters and finding a boy to love and protect along the way, the narrative covers all the delectable little necromancy things I love. From a representation of the River Styx to the death knell of a bandolier of small bells to a lineage of necromancers who, instead of raising the dead, send them back down the river where they belong.

This story brought me in to the presentation of trained wizards living in a modern age (that being a World War I era fantasy world), mixing ancient magic and rune-inscribed swords with modern inventions like firearms and flying machines. I practically vibrated with happiness through the whole read and couldn’t get enough of some of the beautiful and haunting diction. In my opinion, Sabriel is the best necromancy story.


Eona: the Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman

Eona: the Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman

I have spent many a moment admiring the cover art of Eona: the Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman. In this sequel to Eon, in which Eona pretended to be a boy in a desperate bid for power and status, Eona must now face her identity as a woman. I loved following her struggle to grasp for power in a man’s world by attempting to erase herself, only to discover that doing so lost her the most important aspect of her life, her connection to the queen of the dragons that controlled the land.

This story inspired me so much when Eona discovered she could find strength in her truth instead of viewing womanhood as weakness. The journey across two books to find her way is filled with splendid characters, a variety of perspectives, and incredible power plays and counter plays, all set against the beautiful backdrop of fantasy China.


Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Remember from before when I mentioned I love rogues? And tough women? Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett has both, as well as playful, fun banter, deadly peril, clandestine operations, and underdog struggles to save everyone in the awful city of Tevanne from several individuals, each with ambitions to be become a god.

I love how the unfolding of the narrative brings the four main characters together: a rogue, a paladin, and two artificers, to use some tropey language. Oh, and a talking key. Though the characters all begin at odds with each other, they soon find that their goals align as they uncover secrets about the magical method of scriving, secrets that upend everything they know about their world.

Also, there’s a fabulous LGBTQIA+ element, but I won’t spoil. Wink.


The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

In The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Myfanwy wakes up in a park with amnesia, surrounded by dead bodies. The rest of the story follows her discovery that she, pre-amnesia, knew this would happen and left clues and helpful notes to herself to be able to resume her life and find out who would do this to her.

As an office worker firmly planted in the corporate world myself, I appreciate the descriptions of Myfanwy’s experience starting over with a blank slate to discover the person she always could have been as she navigates her high stakes job and office politics. The office life interwoven with supernatural bureaucracy cracks me up. The intricate mystery of finding herself and uncovering her attempted murderer keeps me turning the pages on every read.


If you’ve read any of these novels, I would love to hear what you thought! If you haven’t, then what are you waiting for?!


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Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, three years have passed since the events of Foundryside, the first installment in the Founders series. Long enough for Sancia Grado and the allies she made in Foundryside to plan and begin to execute a magical-industrial revolution, one that will make scriving, the sacred and secret art of bending reality to one’s will, accessible to all. But on the cusp of the realization of this dream, Sancia and company learn of a deadly enemy being brought back to life. So they set out to defeat him before he has a chance to manifest back into their reality. Sancia, alongside Berenice, Orso, and Gregor, must struggle against this new threat that dwarfs all of them apart, but they may stand a chance together. If only they could rise above their personal traumas still not settled from their last adventures in Tevanne.

Much as in Foundryside, the narrative of Shorefall broadens the characters’ and readers’ understanding of scriving, the medium for magic in this world. In addition, building on the resourcefulness of the main characters evidenced in the previous book, our heroes find themselves thrown against a force of evil both convincing and powerful, forced to pit their shared skills and love for one another against more of an enemy than they can handle as they are attacked both in body and in conviction as to what makes right and wrong. The villain, having lived for thousands of years, has concluded that no matter the effort put into freeing humans from slavery, they always choose to use their resources to enslave others in an endless, vicious cycle. The more he talks about this idea, the more he shakes the altruistic conviction of the Foundryside bunch, because does not history already prove his claims true? The villain’s effect on beloved, despicable Tevanne turns the characters’ world upside down as he grabs for power through human sacrifices. By the end, nothing they knew is the same.

Yet an idea introduced in Foundryside, known as twinning, reaches new heights through the dubious help of a diminished golden god, the villain’s former helper. As the Foundrysiders begin twinning themselves to each other to share experiences, they find this powerful form of walking in each others’ shoes allows them to forgive, understand, and know each other the way they forgive, understand, and know themselves. Though they already loved each other before, their love deepens with every new addition to their twinned experience. Sancia and the rest hope that such an experience could break the cycle of human enslavement if only everyone could experience through the application of this technique the lows and highs of everyone else.

The narrative seeks to interrogate the fruitlessness of altruism. Only a handful of days pass over the course of the entire story, with a majority of the plot zooming in on small moments to keep the revelations coming as the villain goes about his dirty work. While Foundryside functioned the same way, I found in Shorefall a lack of the action and discovery prevalent in its predecessor. As well, this book went to some darker places, making the villain someone truly horrifying as bodies began piling up in gruesome detail. But I think those who tend to grapple with this kind of thinking may benefit from this stark look at such difficult questions, as well as the answer.

While Shorefall was not the rip-roaring ride of the first installment, I enjoyed the deeper examination of the relationships cultivated between the main characters in the previous events. As well, I had not expected to confront such difficult questions as, how will humanity ever end its barbaric cruelty to other people? and how could the removal of free will or the deepening of empathy potentially be the solutions? I found myself facing my own conclusions about these thoughts and re-examining them as the story progressed. I would recommend this book to readers who like to read about the deep questions and who appreciate clever and fantastical representations of the answers to those questions.

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.24 stars


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Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

In Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, orphaned, broadsword-wielding Gideon Nav makes a bid for freedom from a life of servitude on the claustrophobic planet of the Ninth House, but the Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus, necromancer and bone manipulation prodigy, thwarts Gideon’s attempt at escape, demanding the swordswoman’s help in exchange for her freedom. The Emperor has summoned the heirs of all the houses to the planet of the First House to participate in a deadly competition to gain immortality and sit at his right hand. Harrowhark cannot win without Gideon, but it turns out that Gideon also cannot survive without Harrowhark.

The narrative of Gideon the Ninth follows Gideon Nav’s foray into pretending to work with Harrowhark Nonagesimus, her lifelong enemy and tormentor, for a chance at freedom. But upon their arrival at the First House, the fabled home of the Emperor himself to which he may never return, they receive no explanation and only one rule for the trial set before them. Exploration and puzzle-solving ensue as the various heirs and their cavaliers execute different strategies to unlock the secrets of the ten-thousand year old, crumbling palace, stumbling across futuristic technology and ancient rituals alike.

Between snarky remarks and witty ripostes, Gideon and Harrowhark begin to learn more about each other and how to function as a team, even as the trial turns deadlier and deadlier. They begin the story as hated enemies and remain that way for a long time, until they catch themselves saving each other’s lives. As contestants fall around them left and right at the hands of a mysterious murderer, secrets long-kept start to surface, drawing them together.

The moment in Gideon the Ninth that sticks out to me the most happened when members of one of the houses had conned a coveted key from a character Gideon really (really) likes. It was dueling time, and though the smart thing to do was to stay out of the rising tensions between the houses, Gideon badly wanted to fight for that key. When Harrowhark announced that the Ninth House would represent the Sixth House in the match, some of the combatants got snippy about the move. Harrowhark simply said, “Death first to vultures and scavengers.” First, this moment represents Harrowhark at last caring about Gideon’s desires enough to allow her something she wanted, regardless of whether Harrowhark disagreed. Second, this also shows a tiny, tiny sliver of the way Harrowhark felt about the other houses’ taking advantage of an invalid; proof that she hid a fragment of honor beneath those layers of arrogance. This line also highlights the sudden moments of weighty syntax sprinkled within witty comments and sharp retorts throughout the narrative. Beyond just a delightful emphasis on the necromantic vibe in such short supply within the fantasy genre, brilliantly lively characters, and an even mix of action, exploration, and fighting, readers will enjoy the speedy and clever wording that had me laughing out loud.

As the first installment in The Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth already has me hooked. I have to read the next books to solve the mysteries of Gideon’s past and her future – who and where did she come from? how will she continue in the state she’s left in at the end of the book? I rarely spend large swathes of time on reading these days, but as the book picked up in pace, I wound up reading the entire last half in one sitting. My only issue was the uniquely bad feeling I get when reading about enemies to lovers, as I find the unlikelihood of forgiveness for years of oppression and torment difficult to overcome in my suspense of disbelief. However, I love so, so much of the rest and I recognize that this hangup may only be mine, so I would recommend Gideon the Ninth to any readers who love the necromancy aesthetic, who are looking for a lesbian slow-burn, and who appreciate, as I did, a masculine-coded woman character.

My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.23 stars


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Jealous Grass

A person was laying in the grass, and she had been for quite some time. Flat on her back. A bouquet of big white and yellow daisies clutched in her hands lay across her chest. When she continued not to move from her grassy bed, I walked over to investigate.

Blue eyes widened when I came into her view. The woman, more of a girl, did not move at my approach, which concerned me most. My next concern being the large white daisy stuck in her mouth, slender petals folded inward between her lips.

“Looks like a ritual,” I murmured. To her, I said, “Was this on purpose?”

An emphatic head shake.

When I tried to pull her up by the arm, her back stuck to the grass. A quick peek beneath her showed grass woven into the fibers of her shirt. Sitting back on my heels, I plucked the flower from her mouth.

Gagging, the girl spat more petals into the air. One stuck to her cheek. “It’s the flowers,” she wheezed. “You have to run!”

A grass petal slithered across the toe of my shoe. I shook it off.

“What started this?” I demanded.

A tear slid from the girl’s eye as grass wove lovingly into her hair. “I picked this bouquet,” she whispered.

“Throw them away!”

“I can’t let go!”

I snatched the bouquet from the girl’s hand, stems slipping from her unresistant fingers with ease, and tossed it as far as I could, loose petals raining down in the bouquet’s wake.

Grabbing her hand, I hauled the girl upright. Grass petals fell from her hair past her shocked expression. “I couldn’t… get out,” she whispered.

“You can now,” I replied. In the distance, the bouquet had begun sinking below a layer of jealous grass. “Let’s go.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Seven Vessel Mission

Seven boats lay keeled over on their sides in the shallows of a cloudy bay. Water swallowed the gray sky above until they became mirrored reflections, indistinguishable, and lapped against the exposed ribs of the boats like a kitten at a captured fish. Wood and metal creaked as the tide began to shift back out to sea.

I crouched on a nearby pier, watching these boats. The sunlight grew wan, wearing on toward evening.

When the tide had well turned, a low creak echoed around the cove. The sound somewhere between the call of whales and the scraping of metal upon stone. Each boat, large and small, shuddered, wood planks groaning as their skeletal frames shifted. Though they did not, could not float, the boats rose on their keels as field beasts rising from a nap, shaking themselves off.

Surprised the boats had, in fact, activated, I flicked a switch on a device cradled in my palm. Seven dots lit up on the radar screen. I’d heard about this curious phenomenon, which occurred on a regular if infrequent schedule, and I wanted to know where they would go.

Ripples grew into waves crashing against the rocks at the foot of the pier. The boats clustered into a formation sensible to some bygone programmers, ranging from the largest in the middle to the smallest at the ends, arranged in a crescent.

Then the boats floated away. No pilots. No captains. No motors or sails. They angled out to sea, ragged black outlines against the setting sun. The tracker screen showed the dots growing more distant, but their glow remained steady and a digital needle pointed in their direction.

Between one blink and the next, the boats slipped beyond the horizon.

And the dots and the arrow on my tracker winked out.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Field Guardians

In a remote field of faded stubble, buried deep in the woods, I had almost crossed to the other side when two young women stepped out in front of me. I pulled up short, but they just stood there next to each other. Both wore a lacy white sun dress and no shoes. They seemed identical, except one had a tattoo on the top of her thigh, peeking from beneath the hem of her dress.

Each held a large section of tree bark in front of their faces.

In the silence, a cricket chirped nearby. When I tried to walk around, they shuffled to remain in my path. Dust rose from crackling stubble, drifting aside on a faint breeze.

I swallowed down the taste of earth. “May I pass?”

The one lacking tattoos motioned with an open hand. “Our field lies uncultivated. Won’t you contribute some seeds for the planting?”

I had no seeds with me, but I had eaten from a wild strawberry bush back the way I’d come. Trekking back beyond the field, I plucked a strabwerry and brought it back. Squeezing it to a red pulp, I picked out the seeds and placed them into the free hand of the tattooed one.

“And some water to help them grow?” said the first.

Uncapping my water bottle, I splashed some over the seeds. They floated in the water cupped in the woman’s hand.

“And a place to plant them?”

Crouching, I dug into the dirt at the woman’s feet, scooping out a fist sized hollow. The tattooed one knelt and poured the water and seeds inside. I closed up the hole with dirt scraped back over and a little green sprig sprang up.

The two women stepped apart and I nodded to each as I passed between them.

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