She stumbled through the strange stone streets of the Outsider city. It seemed to be endless – no matter which direction she looked, all she could see was stone buildings, ludicrously large Outsider boats, and the ocean. It was as if all of nature had been eradicated from this land. She may have felt chills at the very thought, but her hunger drove out all other thought. The last time she had eaten was on the boat – they had given her tough, nasty pieces of dried meat that tasted of brine and shriveled fruit. At the time, she had forced herself to eat it, since there seemed no alternative. Now…now, she longed for even that simple fare.

 

She turned a corner and the smell hit her like a physical blow: a heady mix of spices and simmering meats and…and…things she could not name but that enticed her forward. She followed her nose and found herself stepping into a small tavern. A few people of varying sorts sat at tables in a bright and cheery common room. A counter ran along the far wall while a raised dais of unknown use dominated the wall to her right and a large fireplace centered the wall to her left. She stopped in place – her hunger had led her this far, but her brain reminded her that she had none of the strange coins this city insisted must be used to eat. She had yet to find a place that provided such coins. It was a bewildering system that she had yet to untangle, but it meant that she had no way to procuring the food her nose had led her to. She turned back to the door.

 

“Wait.” A woman’s voice. “Come on in. Have a seat.”

 

She looked over her shoulder to find a human woman approaching from the counter. “I am sorry. I do not have any of your coins.” She turned away and reached for the door.

 

“Ooh, that’s an interesting accent. I see. Well, that’s all right. Come in, have a seat.”

 

She frowned. Perhaps the woman had misunderstood? “I do not have the coins.”

 

“Well, we can work out a different way to pay, then. There are always dishes that need done!” The woman laughed. “What’s your name?”

 

“Ha…” she stopped. She had given up her name when she left the Wood, so she no longer had a right to use it. Her mind grasped for a replacement, something from the Outsider’s world. She had come on a boat – maybe that would work? But Boat felt like an odd name. In quiet desperation, she said the first boat-like word she could think of. “Sailing?”

 

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Shae…Lene? That is a lovely name, Shae. I am Matilda, and I own this tavern. Come, have a seat. You look starved.”

 

Shae’s stomach growled as if in response. It seemed too much to hope for, that there was something about this that should concern her, but what choice did she have? She had to take the chance that the woman was true, or she would surely starve to death in the middle of this Outsider city. She nodded and turned and followed the woman to a table. Whatever came next, at least she would face it on a full stomach.

Author Sunscryer
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