Extract from Joshua Palmatier's THREADING THE NEEDLE

Here's an extract from Joshua Palmatier's Threading the Needle, courtesy of the folks at Daw Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA.

Here's the blurb:

The Nexus—the hub created by the Prime Wielders to harness the magical power of the ley lines for the city of Erenthrall, the Baronial Plains, and the world beyond—has Shattered, the resultant pulse cascading through the system and leaving Erenthrall decimated, partially encased in a massive distortion.

  The world has fared no better: auroral storms plague the land, transforming people into creatures beyond nightmare; silver-white lights hover over all of the major cities, the harbinger of distortions that could quicken at any moment; and quakes brought on by the unstable ley network threaten to tear the earth apart. The survivors of this apocalypse have banded together in desperate groups, both in the remains of Erenthall and in small enclaves beyond the city, scrounging for food and resources in an ever more dangerous world.

  Having survived the initial Shattering, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led their small group of refugees to the Hollow, a safe haven in the hills on the edge of the plains. But the ley system is not healing itself. Their only option is to repair the distortion that engulfs Erenthrall and to fix the damaged ley lines themselves. To do that, they’ll have to enter a city controlled by vicious bands of humans and non-humans alike, intent on keeping what little they’ve managed to scavenge together.

  But as soon as they enter the streets of Erenthrall, they find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence, deception, and betrayal that the city has descended into—including the emergence of a mysterious and powerful cult calling themselves the White Cloaks, whose leader is known as Father…

He is the same man who once led the terrorist group called the Kormanley and brought about the Shattering that destroyed the world!



Kara Tremain knelt on the stones at the edge of the creek, reached into the chill water with the shirt she held, and scrubbed it vigorously. Banks of stone and sand rose up on either side of the creek, and a large pool spread out before her where the water ran slower and deeper. A few of the youngest children of the Hollow were splashing in the pool, their mothers or fathers watching from the shore while working on their own laundry.

Kara pulled the shirt out of the current, wrung it, then tossed it into the basket on her left while reaching for another. This one was Cory’s, smelling of his sweat. She breathed in his scent before soaking it, pausing to sprinkle some of the dried soap into its center before scrubbing it again.

The first time she’d done this, her shoulders had ached for a week. Now her arms were tanned and muscled. Someone else had always handled her laundry in Erenthrall, before the Shattering: her mother when she was younger, but after her parents had died at the hands of the Kormanley, one of the servants of the Wielder’s college had seen to it. Same for all of the nodes she’d worked at after that. She hadn’t even noticed when they came to empty the hampers or return the cleaned clothes; the servants had been nearly invisible.

Of course, her mother and the other servants would have had the help of the ley in Erenthrall.

Instinctively, she reached for it. But unlike in Erenthrall, here in the Hollow the ley wasn’t waiting, ready to be used at a mere thought. There was no Nexus, nor any nodes to augment the ley’s power, but the ley was there. She’d managed—with the other Wielders in their group—to stabilize it into its own network, against the wishes of some of those in the Hollow. It had run strong enough to provide the refugees from the Shattering enough heating stones for their tents during the harshest winter months. Kara doubted many of them would have survived, especially during the unnaturally bitter cold snap they’d endured for nearly two weeks at the end of the year. Even then, they’d lost two, and another dozen had suffered frostbite.

Shaking herself, she pulled herself up out of the ley. One of the children splashed her and she snapped the shirt at the girl in mock anger. The girl shrieked and surged away through the water. Smiling, Kara dropped the shirt into the wet basket and reached for another, only to discover she was finished.

The other members of the Hollow called out to her as she tucked the basket onto her hip and hiked up the steep incline that led to the main group of buildings, wiping the sweat from her brow as she ducked beneath the limbs of the surrounding trees. Emerging at the top into the sunlight, she cut to the left, between two cottages with women and children working in the small herb gardens. A couple of dogs barked at her, trotting alongside before breaking away. But the small village was mostly empty, the regular tenants—along with those who’d sought refuge here after the Shattering—already out in the fields, sowing the rest of the spring crops.

Kara didn’t know why they were bothering. She intended to repair the distortion that currently engulfed Erenthrall and then return, to reestablish some semblance of the city where she’d grown up. The only reason she’d left was because the city had become too dangerous. Violent groups of survivors had begun killing indiscriminately, while packs of feral Wolves roamed the streets. The quakes, the unpredictable eruptions of ley, and the random auroral light storms only added to the danger.

It had been safer to retreat to the Hollow.

When their wagons had halted on the narrow dirt path that was the Hollow’s only road, they’d found the two elders—Paul and Sophia—waiting for them. Sophia, over half a century old, with the wispy white hair, wrinkles, and age spots to prove it, had stepped up to Allan immediately and welcomed him with a hug and kiss on the cheek, reaching to pull his daughter Morrell into the embrace. Morrell had burst into tears and clung to her. Sophia had stroked her hair, then turned her sharp, intelligent eyes on the rest.

“And who do we have here, Allan? Guests?”

“I’m afraid not. They’re all refugees from Erenthrall.”

Sophia shot him a hard look. “Erenthrall?”

Allan’s shoulders slumped. “It’s gone. Destroyed.”

“Serves them all right,” Paul snapped. “The use of the ley brought them to this. We shouldn’t let them into the Hollow. They should deal with the consequences on their own.”

“Hush, Paul.” Sophia’s voice was soft, but it had an iron core, and Kara realized they already knew about Erenthrall. They would have felt the Shattering, or heard it, even here in the hills a few weeks of hard travel to the northwest.

Paul quieted, but kept his arms crossed over his chest.

“We don’t intend to stay,” Kara had said.

The elderly woman took in Kara’s tattered and road-stained purple Wielder’s jacket, then met her gaze. “I suppose we can make room for a few more.”

The surge of relief from the wagon train behind had been palpable. Kara had dropped her head, tears burning in her eyes. But then Cory had wrapped his arm around her waist and she’d leaned into him, into his strength. She’d heard sobbing as Sophia, Paul, and a slew of other villagers who’d been watching from a distance came forward and led them toward a wide meadow to the west, within walking distance of the village.

Kara now passed between cottages whose residents she’d come to know by name and entered the greenbelt that separated the Hollow from that meadow. A moment later she stepped out of the trees.

Tents were pitched across the entire length of the sward. Toward the back, a group of Kara’s fellow refugees were building a set of cottages, smaller than those in the Hollow proper, but far more permanent than the tents. Two had already been completed, with a third close, and two others mere skeletons of braces and supports. Nothing like any of the buildings they were used to in Erenthrall, but still more solid than Kara liked.

She shrugged her unease aside and headed toward the tent she and Cory had claimed, pushing the basket with the wet clothes through the flap, then crawling in afterward. Setting the basket to one side, she touched the wide, rounded heating stone and reached for the ley. The stone began to warm beneath her fingers. Humming to herself, she began pinning some of the clothes up on lines running across the tent over the stone.

She had just hung the last of the shirts up when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Shading her gaze with one hand, she squinted.

Her heart skipped when she recognized Cory. “Why are you not helping in the fields, Cory?” He was moving fast, not quite running. Max, the little mutt who had attached himself to Kara after she’d saved him from a distortion, raced along at Cory’s heels.

They were headed straight toward her.

She reached for the ley, but it told her nothing, and Cory wouldn’t be looking for her if there’d been an accident, he’d be looking for Logan or Morrell.

Which left only one other option.

She tossed the unused clothespins into the basket and tucked it inside the tent. Then she grabbed her purple Wielder’s jacket and shrugged into it, snatching up a water skin.

Cory saw her waiting and waved. Max barked and tore away from him. She knelt as the little dog leaped up into her arms and attempted to lick her face. She fended him off with one hand, his tail a blur.

“It’s the group sent to Erenthrall, isn’t it?” she asked when Cory was near enough to hear. “Allan, Bryce, and the others are back.”

“The sentries report they’ll be here shortly. Sophia thought you should be there to meet them when they reach the Hollow.”

Kara passed him the skin. “Did you run from the fields?”

Cory drank deeply, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Of course.”

Shaking her head, Kara snagged his arm. “You’d better come with me. I’m certain they sent for Paul, Hernande, and Sovaan already.”

They wove back through the tents toward the Hollow, emerging onto the dirt road just outside of the village. Sophia was waiting, Sovaan and Hernande to one side. The elderly woman reached up to tuck a few strands of her hair back behind one ear as Kara and Cory approached.

“Good to see you,” she said. “I thought you’d be in the fields, but I’m glad Cory found you.”

“Laundry day today.”

“The washing never ends.”

They halted beside Hernande, Cory’s mentor, who nodded in greeting. Sovaan, another mentor from the University, merely frowned. Kara had never found out why Sovaan disliked Hernande. They’d been at odds long before the Shattering, and Hernande had merely waved Kara’s question aside when she’d asked, saying it was an old grudge, petty and stupid.

“How goes the work on the new cabins?” Sophia asked.

“Two finished, another close behind. Two more going up now. It will take most of the rest of spring and summer to get them all done.”

“As long as they’re up before winter,” Sovaan interjected. “I nearly froze to death in those tents.”

Kara thought about the two people they had found frozen, but she kept quiet.

Max suddenly began barking, startling her, before he streaked away from the group, down the rutted road, and into the trees. “Max!” Kara swore when the dog ignored her. He vanished, although Kara could still hear him barking. The angry protectiveness in the sound, undercut with a growl, suddenly changed to excitement, and everyone in the group relaxed.

A moment later, they could all hear the creak of a wagon and the shouts and curses of those who’d left for Erenthrall to scavenge for supplies. A figure emerged from the trees, running toward them, his face lined with urgency.

“That’s Jasom,” Sovaan said.

As soon as Jasom saw them, he shouted, “Find Logan! We have wounded!”

Sophia snapped around, but Cory was already rushing to the east. “He’s in the fields!” the elderly woman called out after him.

The rest of them ran down the road toward Jasom as the wagon appeared, the Dog Bryce holding the reins, grim-faced and hard, two others in the back of the wagon, holding on tight. As soon as Bryce saw them, he pulled back on the reins, shouting for the horses to halt, then leaped from the wagon before it had completely stopped.

“Who is it?” There had been at least fifteen members in the group; Kara could see only three others besides Jasom. “Who’s been hurt?”

“Claye. A few others were injured, but not seriously. Terrim is dead.”

Bryce led them around the back of the open wagon. Two men were hovering over Claye’s body, their hands and clothes covered in blood as they pressed down against a wound on Claye’s side to stanch the blood flow. An arrow jutted from his gut, just beneath his rib cage.

Sophia swore as the thick scent of blood struck them all, then heaved herself up into the wagon. “Hold him. Don’t let up the pressure.”

“What happened?” Sovaan asked.

Bryce wiped a hand down his scarred face. “We were attacked on the outskirts of the plains, just before reaching the hills.”

“By who?”

Bryce shrugged. “They rode out of the northeast on horses, hit us hard, tried to take the wagon. Terrim was dead before we knew what was happening. He was driving the wagon. The next thing I knew, I was fighting off two of them while a third was whipping the horses, trying to draw the wagon away. Claye and Allan charged from the side and managed to climb into the back, while the rest of us fended off the others. As soon as they saw their man killed by Claye and Allan bringing the wagon to a halt, they broke off the attack and fled, firing arrows as they left. That’s when Claye was hit. He was an easy target, standing on top of the wagon.”

They all watched as Sophia gently probed the flesh around the arrow. Claye moaned and twisted beneath the touch, and Sophia’s jaw muscles clenched. She sat back.

“There’s nothing I can do. We need Logan.”

“Where is he?” Bryce demanded.

“Cory ran to fetch him from the fields. But we can move Claye to Logan’s place, get him set up on the table.” Sophia clambered down from the wagon. “Hernande, get fresh water from the creek. Sovaan, get the fire started. And Kara—”

“Fresh linens.”

Sophia nodded. “Go. The rest of you, bring the wagon as close to Logan’s as possible and then help me carry him inside.”

Sophia continued giving orders, but Kara ran toward Logan’s cottage behind Sovaan. They burst through the outer door into the inner room, the scent of crushed herbs and medicine overpowering. Sovaan moved around the table in the center of the room to the hearth, muttering under his breath. Kara cut left and swung open the main doors of the massive cabinet against one wall. Linen was stacked to one side, and she pulled out the first few sets of folded cloth, snapping them open and beginning to tear them into strips. She felt a tug on the Tapestry from Sovaan, and firelight spilled from the hearth.

She had a respectable pile of bandages when the door cracked open and Sophia rushed into the room, holding the door while Bryce and the other two men carried Claye’s limp figure inside and set him on the table. The Dog groaned, but Kara could tell he was nearly unconscious. Sophia shooed Bryce aside and ordered the others to continue putting pressure on the wound. Kara immediately handed over the torn cloth, then continued to rip the material into additional bandages. With the amount of blood she could see, Logan was going to need them. Both Sovaan and Bryce had retreated, backs up against one wall, uncertain what they could do to help.

“Where are the others?” Kara asked.

Bryce’s eyes were focused on Claye. “What others?”

“Allan, Glenn, the rest of those that went with you?”

Bryce stared at her a moment, as if he still hadn’t heard, then blinked and shook himself. “We handed over some of the supplies for them to carry, to make room in the wagon for Claye, then we sprinted out ahead of them. They should be coming into the Hollow shortly.”

“Did the attackers follow you?”

“I left that to Allan and the other Dogs. Ask him.”

He turned toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Kara asked. The Dog stopped at the entrance, half turned. “Someone needs to tell Terrim’s wife that he’s dead.”

Then he was gone, replaced by the bright sunlight of midday.

Kara stood stock still, a hot ache in the center of her chest. She’d forgotten about Terrim in the rush to help Claye.

Hernande appeared in the door. He heaved two buckets of water up onto a smaller table set off to the side of the door, some of it sloshing onto the floor. He panted, his dark complexion tinged a deeper shade of red.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I should have brought the buckets one at a time.”

Kara didn’t have a chance to answer as Logan entered. He took in everything with a quick glance.

“Everyone out,” he ordered, his voice deep and booming. He shifted to the table, two others coming in behind him. One of them was Morrell, Allan’s daughter. “Even you, Sophia. I’ll handle it from here. You’d only hover and be in the way.”

Sophia gave Logan a hard stare, which he ignored, already intent on his patient. Sniffing, she pulled back and let Logan and Morrell take her place. “We’ll be waiting in the meeting hall.” She ushered the others out before her, snagging one of Kara’s unused cloths to wipe her hands clean. Morrell took Kara’s place with a worried frown.

Kara gripped her hand and squeezed. “Bryce said your father was fine.”

Morrell gave her a relieved smile, then began tearing more bandages.

Kara stepped outside, exhaling harshly as tension sloughed from her shoulders. Sovaan, Hernande, and Sophia were standing with Cory, waiting for her. A few other members of the Hollow had gathered to see what the commotion was about.

“Will he be all right?” Hernande asked quietly, one hand stroking his scraggly beard as he contemplated the small cottage. A ragged bellow came from the open doorway, and Kara flinched.

“It’s hard to say. The arrow hadn’t penetrated that deeply. Thankfully, it was close to his side. I know there was a lot of blood, but he hadn’t yet passed out, which is a good sign. It will depend on whether Logan can get the arrow removed and the bleeding stopped.”

“Where did Bryce go?”

“To tell Sara that her husband is dead.”

“And the others?”

“Left behind to travel on foot.”

Hernande nodded. “Then there’s nothing we can do but wait.”

“Agreed.” Sophia paused long enough to eye the Hollowers watching, then announced, “The expedition to Erenthrall was attacked on their way back, and Claye was wounded. Logan’s seeing to him now. If you’d like to make yourselves useful, I’m certain Jasom could use some help unloading the new supplies from the wagon.” She lifted one eyebrow meaningfully. Those who’d gathered started, with some guilt, then began to disband.

Sophia shook her head, mumbling, “Gawkers and gossips, all of them,” under her breath, before heading to the long stone building that served as the village’s meeting hall. Kara and the others followed. “I don’t like the news that there’s a group operating so near the foothills, especially one proficient with the bow and arrow.”

“It does mark a change in tactics,” Hernande agreed.

“And a shift away from the city.”

“What do you mean?” Sovaan asked as they entered the meeting hall. Sunlight poured in through the windows in shafts, revealing rows of seats scattered in the center of the room, tables shoved up against the walls, and a raised platform at the far end. A few of the decorations left over from the harvest festival months before remained—sheaves of grain tied with ribbons, gourds, cornstalks, a few dried flowers. The wooden floorboards creaked underfoot as they moved down the center of the room toward the platform.

Sophia began pulling wooden chairs into a rough circle. “After the Shattering, most of the people who’d lived within Erenthrall returned to the city, even with all of its dangers. Or they fled to some of the outlying towns, those connected to the ley lines near the city.

“Nearly all of you came from the University or were Wielders before. You were taken from your homes, from your families and familiar surroundings, and thrust into studies at the college or the University, exposed to new things, new ideas. Most of those in Erenthrall would have grown up and lived within only a few districts. Being forced to abandon everything would be terrifying.”

“Yes, yes.” Sovaan waved a hand impatiently. “So they returned to Erenthrall. Or as close as they could get. What’s your point?”

Sophia’s mouth pinched in annoyance. “My point is, now they’re leaving again. Why?”

“There isn’t enough food.”

All of them turned toward the still-opened doors, where Bryce stood in silhouette before moving deeper into the room. His entire stance radiated tension, danger. He reminded her of the Dogs combing the streets before the Shattering, following the Wielders, following her.

“The entire city has changed. It’s dividing up into sectors, each controlled by different groups—the Temerite enclave to the northeast, the Gorrani to the southwest, others. The Wolves have expanded into new territory. We heard them toward the end of our excursion. Allan was hunted and only escaped by going into the distortion and hiding out.”

“Is he alright?” Kara asked.

“A few cuts and bruises, nothing serious.”

“And how did the expedition go?” Sophia asked.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find anything of worth, especially food. There isn’t much that hasn’t spoiled in the parts of the city left unclaimed.”

“Which is why people are leaving,” Hernande said. “If they aren’t part of one of the main groups, then they’re running short on supplies. They’re being forced out, like we were.”

“And the attack on our wagon near the foothills means it isn’t only the city that’s dangerous. It’s spread to the plains.” Bryce sank into a chair and leaned forward. “They’re beginning to form larger, more organized groups in the towns surrounding the city. Our safe little haven here in the Hollow isn’t so safe anymore. We need to come up with some defenses. We need to protect ourselves.”

“We have sentries—” Sophia began.

“Four!” Bryce interrupted in frustration. “Watching the most obvious paths into the valley! That isn’t going to cut it. We need to come up with something better—scouts, patrols, expand the ranks of those who can fight beyond the few Dogs in my group. We need to protect ourselves before one of these bands find us and attacks us here on our own turf!”

No one moved, facing each other across the rough circle of chairs.

Then Sophia shifted uneasily. “The Hollowers aren’t going to like that. We settled here to escape violence and the misuse of power.”

“Would you rather let the thieves and brigands overrun us all?”

“We’re deep enough in the foothills that I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it immediately,” Hernande said as Sophia stiffened. “But it is something we’ll have to consider as people become more desperate. Bryce is right: this valley is not easily defended.”

Sophia’s body didn’t loosen, but she said nothing. It was clear to Kara there would be resistance from the original Hollowers.

“What about the distortion?” Kara asked.

“What about it?”

Kara shot Bryce a black look. “Has Erenthrall’s distortion changed at all? Does it show any signs of weakening? We won’t be able to return and rebuild Erenthrall if the distortion collapses and destroys everything inside before we find a way to heal it.”

“How in hells should I know? I’m not a damned Wielder.”

Shouts rang out from outside the meeting hall.

“Sounds like the rest of the expedition has returned,” Bryce muttered.

Kara almost pursued her questions about the distortion, but dropped the topic with a shake of her head. She rose and moved to the door, along with Hernande and Cory. Outside, the rest of those in the Erenthrall expedition were straggling in, some of them carrying the supplies Bryce had thrown from the wagon to make room for Claye, others helping a few wounded. Those in the Hollow rushed forward, taking the supplies and setting them aside or offering up water skins. A few of the expedition collapsed to the rutted road, their exhaustion evident in the lines of their faces.

The last stumbled in, with Allan and two other Dogs at their back. Kara sagged in relief. “I’ll go get Allan.”

Hernande caught her arm. “No need. He’s headed this way.”

The ex-Dog had seen them standing in the doorway and, after saying something to the other two Dogs, he moved toward the meeting hall, accepting a skin from one of the boys.

“Claye?” Allan asked as soon as he was within range.

Hernande nodded toward the healer’s cottage. “Logan is working on him now. Bryce already informed Sara about Terrim.”

Allan’s shoulders sagged. He looked weary, dark smudges under his eyes. Kara noticed a few new cuts on his face, mostly healed, and the yellowed remnants of fading bruises.

“Did anyone follow you?”

“Not as far as I could tell. They retreated onto the plains, to the east.” His glance shot over Kara’s head, to the others waiting inside. He thrust his chin forward. “We should join them.”

They shifted back into the room.

“Did they attack again?” Sophia asked immediately.

“No, and no one followed us into the foothills.” He looked toward Bryce. “Have you told them about the city?”

“About the Wolves, yes. I tried to convince them to increase our defenses, but they’re being stubborn.”

Sophia bristled.

Allan grabbed a chair and settled in with the rest, slinging the bag he carried over one shoulder to the floor. “What about the quakes?”

Hernande and Cory glanced toward each other.


“They haven’t ended. You may not have felt anything here, but they’re continuing in and around Erenthrall. We felt one on our way out, strong enough to collapse a few buildings.”

“We thought the earth was settling. Stabilizing.”

“I don’t think so.”

Hernande leaned forward. “We’ll have to take a look at the sands again, see if the ley has been disturbed.”

“Does it matter?” Sovaan demanded. “If the city has run out of supplies, then why would we want to go back?”

And there it was, what Kara had feared since the discussion began.

“We have to go back.”


“Because we have to heal the distortion. We have to repair the damage that we caused.”

Sovaan straightened in affront. “We didn’t cause this damage. The Nexus exploded because of the Baron and his Prime Wielders and the damned Kormanley. We are simply suffering the consequences. I say we leave the city to the Wolves and the scavengers, let them tear each other apart. We can start fresh here. The Hollow has everything we need.”

Sophia cut off Kara’s response. “The Hollow barely had enough food to feed those of us originally from here this past winter. We certainly didn’t have enough to feed those of you we took in. We survived on what was gathered from Erenthrall.”

“I thought that’s what the new fields were for,” Sovaan countered, “to grow enough food for all of us.”

Sophia’s eyes narrowed. “Crops and harvests are anything but certain. Weather, disease, drought—any of it could destroy everything. We need those supplies from the city. Besides, I don’t recall us agreeing to let you stay here long-term in the first place.”

Allan reached for his bag. “The city provides more than just food. I found these in an apothecary.” He pulled out a few small bottles and handed them around.

Sophia gasped as they reached her. “Logan would kill for this bottle of seranin alone. And I ran out of devil’s claw before the Shattering.” She clutched the small vial close to her chest. “It helps with the arthritis in my hands.”

“I don’t understand,” Kara said. “I thought you’d already raided all of the apothecaries in the uncontrolled areas of the city. Where did you get these?”

“Inside one of the shards.”

It took a moment for it to sink in, but when it did Kara’s eyes widened. “You pulled these out of the distortion?”

“The Wolves trapped me close to the distortion. The only way to escape was to go inside. But the pack’s leader—a man half-transformed, like Hagger—set the Wolves on watch around the shard, waiting for me to come back out. I was forced to move deeper into the distortion to bypass them, and along the way I found the apothecary.” He pulled out a glass jar of peaches. “Along with this. There was enough food in that shard to last us a few days, perhaps a week. None of the others in Erenthrall can reach it.”

Hernande was chewing on the end of his beard now, head bowed in thought. “Is there another way to gain access to these supplies?”

“I can take someone into the distortion with me, but getting them in and back out would be unpleasant.”

“That’s not what I meant. We’ve been discussing how to heal the distortion. While we all agree we don’t have enough Wielders or mentors to take it down all at once, what about healing a single shard at a time?”

Kara drew breath to protest, but paused.

They’d never considered healing it piece by piece.

She glanced up at the others, all waiting expectantly. “It might work. But we’d never be able to heal the entire distortion this way. There are hundreds of shards, if not thousands. It would take too long.”

“What could go wrong?”

“Distortions are delicate. Any change in its configuration, like the removal of a shard, could cause it to unbalance. We may unwittingly set off its closure. And then everything and everyone currently trapped inside would be killed or destroyed. We’d never be able to recover the central part of Erenthrall.”

The group grew somber.

“It doesn’t matter,” Bryce said abruptly. “We can’t pin all of our hopes on the crops. And we can’t count on remaining hidden here in the foothills, not with these groups arming themselves and venturing out onto the plains. We need those supplies trapped in the distortion, and we need to start work on defending ourselves here, at the Hollow.”

“What do you propose?” Sophia asked.

Bryce stood, reaching for the bag Allan still held. The ex-Dog handed it over.

“We need to send some of the Wielders, with protection, to Erenthrall, to see if they can get at the supplies in the shards. As for the Hollow, I don’t have enough Dogs here to protect it fully. We need to start training some of the others to fight. With swords, bows, anything else we can find. Crops will be worthless if we get raided.”

He slung the bag of medicine and food up over his shoulder and headed for the door. “I’m going to hand this over to Logan and then go to my tent. It’s been a long, bitter few days.”

They watched as he stepped outside and turned left, out of sight.

“He’s right,” Allan said grudgingly. “The attack on the wagon only emphasizes what we saw in the city. We need better defenses.”

“Paul won’t like it,” Sophia said. “Nor some of the others. They’ll claim that the only reason we’re at risk is that we took you in, and we should kick you out now.”

“These groups would be coming whether we’d come here or not. Would Paul and the rest rather wait to have their throats slit one night, when one of the groups finds the Hollow? Because that’s what will happen eventually.”

Sophia’s lips pursed at the gruesome image. “No, I suppose not.”

“Then I suggest you start training people how to wield swords and handle bows.”

The elderly woman still appeared resistant. “I’ll have our trackers start drilling those interested in archery. At worst, we could always use additional help with the hunting. And I’ll tell the rest they can go to the Dogs for training with swords if they want.”

“Good.” Allan turned to Kara. “You need to speak to the Wielders and figure out how to heal one of the shards. I don’t want to wait too long before returning to the city.”

Kara contained a surge of excitement. They’d become too complacent here in the Hollow. They needed to begin work on retrieving Erenthrall before that complacency spread. “I’ll meet with them right away. Working to heal a few shards may give us an idea of how to heal the entire distortion, something we haven’t thought of yet. We won’t lack in volunteers, even if Erenthrall is still dangerous.”

“It’s still dangerous. Perhaps more so than before the Shattering.”

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