5. Pictionary: First Contact Edition

Being the son of a salesman wasn’t high on my list of things to brag about, but I had to admit I was grateful for it when it came to things like first impressions. Specifically, in this case, being the potential first ambassador for Earth. (By now I was willing to admit that possibility to myself.)

I was on my way with two men through the town center of Brenest, a cluster of buildings around a stand of trees at the edge of a long elliptical clearing. Our destination was a complex of platforms and walkways up in the trees, a bigger and better version of the many such structures we’d passed on our way in.

Some of the villagers gave me curious looks, but no one seemed distrustful or even surprised. If they were used to outsiders here, I liked my chances. It was easy to be upbeat now that I was surrounded by cautiously hospitable people, partly rested, and full. Last night I’d shoveled down everything my hosts put in front of me too quickly to even guess what any of it was, and conked out in a hammock shortly after. Some mild indigestion aside, none of their food had poisoned me so far.

Now if only I wasn’t still walking around with my foot in a bag. No one had offered me replacement shoes yet, and I didn’t trust anything on the ground not to stab and/or poison me. Case in point: I was distracted looking up at the treehouses and tripped on a patch of the pale pink sea anemone-looking fungi that were so common here, provoking a shocked reaction from my escorts and a few passersby. My foot seemed okay when I checked it, but I would have to remember that those things were a no-no. A fat lot of sense it made to let them grow everywhere if they were dangerous.

“What is this stuff?” I pointed at the fungus and looked to one of the men, the one with the mustache who smiled more.

Odeana,” he said. He had made the mistake of naming a tree when I pointed to it, and I’d been pestering him for more words the entire rest of the walk. Of course it was mainly an excuse to talk to someone; I forgot most of them by the time we arrived at the largest of the trees.

They led me onto a covered platform with a frame and guard rails around it, and cables running up to the large central platform above. One especially thick cable in a loose sheath ran through a box on the ceiling and down through the floor. When Mustache touched something on the box, the cable stiffened, the elevator lurched, and we began rising. It wasn’t as smooth a ride as I was used to, with inconsistent speed and some jolts, but I was impressed. I had thought wheels, pulleys, and blacksmithing were the leading edge of technology around here.

The noises coming from the cable box weren’t mechanical. Before we reached the top, I snuck a peak through a slit in its side and saw what looked like ropy, undulating flesh passing through it.

I might have to expand my definition of technology. Or I could just try not to think about it.

If the elevator hadn’t been a tipoff, it was clear when I stepped off it that we had gone up a social stratum. The central platform was built between several trees and contained a single sprawling building, with stairs and suspension bridges leading to nearby platforms or going off deeper into the forest. It was already starting to rain, so I was quickly ushered inside to wait in a low-ceilinged room with seats, a table, bookshelves, and some intricate geometric artwork on the walls — almost like fractals, though I couldn’t think of the word. One side of the room looked like it would be open to the outside if not for the awning that covered it.

They arrived piecemeal and stayed for as long as they could: a thoughtful silver-haired woman with glasses, a businesslike couple more interested in talking than listening, a squat man with a braid who got excited easily and took lots of notes, and a man who looked a little like my grandfather and became my favorite almost immediately. His name contained some of their consonants that I couldn’t get the hang of, so I just called him Phil. These, presumably, were some of the more learned villagers come to find out where I came from and what I was doing here.

I couldn’t wait for them to tell me.

I greeted the first arrivals with both a bow and my firmest handshake, trying to keep all my bases covered. By the time the last few showed up, I realized they would believe anything was a standard formal greeting in my culture, and threw in an optional high five.

I was right, they were used to outsiders. It was even possible that we were in some sort of visitor center. My interviewers first tried speaking to me in what sounded like different languages, then showed me some books and other documents. Braid pulled out sheets of a thin membranous material and wrote something on it with a stylus. Where he scratched the paper, it discolored, darkened, and raised ever so slightly to show the words he’d written. I tried writing back, “Get me out of here, your forest is the worst,” but there was a knack to it that I was missing. I wrote it in Esther’s journal instead.

So far no one was understanding anything except basic hand gestures. Though my patience was running low, I managed to stay on everyone’s good side. All I had to do for Braid was keep feeding him new things to analyze. Mr. and Mrs. Chatterbox were easy; I just had to hit play and make sure I wasn’t the first one to interrupt them. Glasses was patient and polite, which made her a tougher read; I couldn’t tell if I was getting on her nerves or not. Phil was patient too, but I clicked with him the fastest because he didn’t bother concealing his reactions to anything.

It got harder to stay patient when they wouldn’t stop pushing written things on me to see how I would respond. I needed to change tactics. Esther would have come up with something creative by now.

“Okay, no,” I said, shoving the current book aside and replacing it with the open journal. “Enough with the language arts — ” I made a talking mouth with my hand — “you know I’m not going to get any of it.” I woosh’d a hand over my head and hoped in hindsight that it didn’t look violent. “Here’s what we’re doing now.” I stabbed one of Esther’s sparkly gel pens into the page. “Pictionary.”

Mrs. Chatterbox pointed to the pen. “Pic…shunerry?”

I also pointed to it and nodded vigorously, because why not. If that became their word for gel pen hereafter, so be it. “Pictionary.”

My family takes games very seriously, dear reader. I’m talking cutthroat, smack-talking, useless-skill-honing, spend-half-an-hour-arguing-over-an-ambiguity-in-the-rule-book competition. So when I tell you I was the second worst Pictionary player in the house, you’d better believe it was well documented. I also quickly realized how much less fun the game is when you can’t understand the other person’s guesses.

Still, we were making slightly more progress now that I was drawing. I illustrated all the parts of my story that I could remember clearly. When I got to the first creature I encountered, everyone recognized it immediately. The good news was those things were common enough that there was a medicine available for the enzymes they spit, a bitter-smelling goo that immediately made my shoulder and leg feel better when rubbed in. The bad news was, those things were common. They called them ushussna, and it turned out they were one of the main incentives to live in trees. They wouldn’t climb them, I believe because the bark contained some kind of chemical they didn’t like. Did that mean the ground-dwellers were just out of luck if one showed up?

No one recognized Slothtopus no matter how carefully I drew it, though Braid got pretty worked up over my sketch and wanted to keep it.

We moved on to discussing maps. They had several on hand, one of the forest region and one covering a much broader area. They looked like they were drawn for accuracy, not like some of the old-timey maps from history class where you could tell they were either just guessing or got bored halfway through and drew monsters instead of finishing. Everything was well defined, but you couldn’t exactly call it finished. At a certain point the land just faded abruptly into blank space. And to my dismay, none of the landmarks looked at all familiar.

I had to confirm something before we went any further. I’d put off facing the fact while I was busy staying alive, and I was dreading a definite answer, but all the signs indicated that Kansas had indeed gone bye-bye. I began drawing a dripping blob for the United States, with a macaroni elbow halfway down the West Coast and some arrows pointing from it to a stick figure of me. They could tell what that meant, but no one seemed to recognize the geography. I drew more blobs for South America, Africa, Asia, and…where do you even start with Europe? I looked up — more blank stares.

“Okay, forget Europe. Who cares about them anyway.” I ran my finger around my crude map. “Earth?”

Glasses ran her finger around their big map. “Var.” She did the same to the forest — “Effoc — ” then pointed to a square with one hand and out the window with the other. “Brenest.”

“Okay,” I said barely above a whisper. I drew a circle around the four-and-a-quarter continents of my world, added something jagged at the bottom for Antarctica, put a big diagonal line through the whole thing, and slumped back in my seat.

I wasn’t ready for how devastating it was to know for certain.

Was Var their country? A continent? Though it was hard to get a sense of the scale, there was no way it could be the whole planet. Maybe it was just all they had mapped? It was hard to get a read on how advanced these people were.

The tapping of rain on the roof faded out and gave way to slow dripping from the branches above us, and sunlight appeared in a window. Glasses went over to the awning at the back and tugged on what looked like a vine strung along its edges. The vine retracted, coiled, and pulled up the awning to reveal an open balcony with a prime view of the whole clearing, lit by shafts of afternoon slanting through the breaking clouds. I took a much-needed break to lean over the balcony and take it all in: the fields and gardens that covered the bulk of the sunny space, the river-fed pond with its dam and waterwheel, the smell of wet forest and agriculture, the sounds of running water and cottage industry. Beyond the edges of the clearing could be seen more treehouses and suspension bridges, and teams of workers high in the branches dropping down bales of the clinging plants they were harvesting.

They let me stay out there as long as I wanted. From their subdued conversation, it sounded like they needed some time to think through all the implications themselves.

On returning to the table, I flipped to the page where I’d scrawled “your forest is the worst” and made an addendum: “but your town could be worse.”

Once I figured out how to orient their map to my idea of east, west, etc, they wanted to find where I had landed. Braid and Mr. Chatterbox kept indicating the south edge, trying to ask if I’d come from there. I got it through to them that I’d only been walking a day and part of a night, which by their estimate put my starting point far short of the edge. There were two types of hatching on the forest map, and it seemed like the darker parts stood for what I was calling in my head the Dementrified Forest, the warped areas I’d gone out of my way to avoid yesterday.

Another man arrived, out of breath and visibly ticked off. Braid and Glasses went over to him as soon as he entered and had a heated, whispered exchange. Maybe he hadn’t been invited? They didn’t seem too keen on him talking to me. I kept the corner of my eye on them and pretended not to notice. They came to some kind of agreement after a few minutes and sat down together.

I put a finger on the map’s southern edge and traced it outward, looking up at Glasses. “What’s past here?”

She and a few others made gestures for “No.” My every inquiry about that part of the map met with essentially the same reaction, leaving me stymied. It wasn’t all that far away from us compared to other regions. Was the rest of the forest really so dangerous that no one had explored it?

Regardless, no one wanted to talk about it. The only exception was the guy who had shown up late, and he was keeping his mouth shut rather than rile the rest of them up.

“Venus, Mercury, and Earth, that’s me. At least I think that’s how it goes? Then Mars, and then it’s all space potatoes for a while…”


“Aaaand this is a demented shark…It’s not important, I’m just good at drawing them.”


“This is Oregon. You sure you don’t recognize it? Feel free to let me know now if this is all some huge prank. I’ll give a good reaction for the cameras…No? Fantastic.”


“Six lines…Now here, here, here, here…This is an S. It’s a sacred symbol that you put all over your notebooks to feel like a graffiti artist.”

Pictionary was yielding diminishing returns. I could satisfy their curiosity, but I wasn’t learning anything else useful. Bored and frustrated, I flipped back to make one final attempt at improving the drawing I’d made of the messaging device from Esther’s room. If I could get any of them to recognize that, it would be the best lead I had so far.

It was my fourth try at replicating the crazy geometry and still no one was getting it. “See, all these squares make a circle — oh, forget it!” I swiped the journal off the table and it fell to the floor, closed. Phil picked it up without a word. Rather than force it on me, he sat across from me and opened it himself to inspect it more closely. An exclamation made me look up to see him staring and flipping through it. When he slid it over, all I saw in it were blank pages.

I flipped, squinted, tilted, and held pages up to the light while making the full range of dumb surprise noises. Finally I closed and reopened it.

All my scribbles and drawings were back.

Braid beckoned and I handed it to him. He closed and opened it.

Blank.

Back to me. Close, open — scribbles and drawings.

This set off a round of intense debate. I saw some subtle looks and fingers pointed at me that I didn’t like. I held up my hands, protesting, “I’m as confused as you are. More confused. Please don’t burn me.”

They eventually calmed down and concluded that solving that particular mystery would have to wait. Evening was approaching and everyone looked ready to pack it in. Before we finished, though, there was one last thing I’d forgotten to draw earlier that might be worthwhile. I tried doodling the symbol I had found traced out by the stream yesterday.

Phil sat up and got the others’ attention as soon as he saw it. Glasses went straight to the shelf and brought back a well-used book with a leathery cover, on which was marked almost the exact same design.

They conferred swiftly among themselves. I was able to gather that there was somewhere else they wanted to take me, but it would have to wait until tomorrow. That was fine by me. I was still tired enough from my wandering that I would probably have slept clear through the day if no one had woken me for my orientation. We called it quits for now.

The central treehouse complex had guest accommodations, meaning they could string up a spare hammock at a moment’s notice. I went to bed that night feeling downright civilized. They had a shower, albeit one that squirted cold water in a suspiciously organic pulsing rhythm and smelled kind of like broccoli. The amount of grossness I’d already been through made using Esther’s toothbrush almost palatable by comparison, though I still spent a long time rinsing it first. And leftover exhaustion canceled out the usual difficulty of falling asleep in a new place.

So I was good and groggy for the two cloaked figures who shook my hammock in the middle of the night.

They each had one of the bioluminescent glowsticks, but with the light dimmed so I couldn’t make out their faces. When I scrambled out of the hammock incoherently demanding who, what, and why, they gestured for me to keep my voice down.

I’d been given a glowstick of my own, but I decided this wasn’t the time for courtesy and shone the flashlight straight in their eyes instead. I palmed the pepper spray and made ready to use it if anyone got abduct-y.

When my eyes adjusted, I recognized one of them as the man who had shown up late to the meeting, whose name I remembered was Pargest. The other was a woman I hadn’t seen before. They held up their palms. No weapons, no force, they just wanted to talk.

Reluctant and yawning, I followed them to the big room where my examination had taken place. We huddled around the table in the light of the woman’s glowstick as she laid out another map.

I lowered my head to the table with a quiet thunk. “If you want to keep doing the map thing that badly, at least try it when I’m awake. All I feel like doing right now is ripping it up.”

She tapped a region of the Dementrified Forest that had been circled, the part of the map that was supposed to be off limits, and spoke.

“Blah blah seekers bleh Effoc blah knowledge bleh blah.”

My head popped right back up. “Whoa.” She hadn’t said the English words seekers or knowledge. That was just what those particular blahs meant, I knew without a doubt as soon as I heard them.

“Okay,” I said, staring. “I’m awake.”

She traced a line from the village to the circled region, tapped it again, and pointed at me.

“How did you do that?”

“Blah bleh bleh blah blah.”

“For the love of mustard — ”

So I was supposed to go back into that twisted place with them if I wanted answers? They apparently knew something the others didn’t, and more to the point, they could sort of communicate it.

That ability raised a big red flag, though. I’d seen this kind of thing once before in a different form. You don’t forget your first time, and I was thinking about the message device Esther’s kidnappers had used to lure her away.

Was it just a coincidence? It couldn’t hurt to try a bluff. If they were being up front with me, they probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me where Esther is.”

Pargest recognized the name from our earlier conversation and gave me an inquisitive look. “Esther,” I repeated. “My sister. Where did your people take her?”

No Esther. We can show blah blah blah.”

“Ugghhhh! Useless,” I hissed.

He beckoned me out to the balcony and pointed across the clearing, where a light shone faintly among the trees. He covered and uncovered his glowstick three times, and the other light did the same.

Whoever they wanted to bring me to out there had better have a bigger vocabulary than they did. But even if…

“Nope.” I shook my head. I just got out of the Dementrified Forest after being convinced I would die there. I wasn’t ready to go back on the word of these cloak-and-dagger weirdos.

“Bleh bleh blah knowledge?”

On the other hand, that was a very persuasive word.

I still refused, but before going back to bed, I let them show me a ladder on one of the nearby platforms that I could use to reach the ground silently. They would be waiting again tomorrow night if I changed my mind. All I had to do was signal them from the balcony.

Falling asleep was a lot harder this time around.

Phil and I were back to looking at maps. If none of the non-creepy people here would tell me about the southern forest, I could at least learn something about the other nearby regions.

East of Effoc were what looked like flatlands, with rivers, hills, and more settlements or possibly cities. When I pointed to the most prominent city close to the forest, Phil drew three scraggly lines through it and gave me another no.

“Oh great, more forbidden places. Okay then, what about these?” I pointed past the flatlands to what I could only assume were mountains. Drawing a bunch of pointy things was universal enough for me to be confident of that. Phil couldn’t convey much to me except that there were people there.

It was a slim lead, but I had reason to believe now that seeing Esther on top of a mountain wasn’t just a drug hallucination. That mountain range could be as good a goal as any — unless the offer I’d gotten last night was legitimate.

Braid appeared in the doorway and signaled that it was time to go. The three of us took the elevator down and headed toward the east end of the village.

Someone had rustled up a set of teen-size clothes (mine were starting to smell pretty noticeably), and to my endless gratitude, a pair of shoes. They weren’t a great fit and the material on the inside felt weird and slippery, but they were supple, decently comfortable, and best of all, not a bag. A cloak to keep the rain off completed the ensemble.

I could understand what was going on in some of the shops we passed, like woodworking or metalworking, but those were a minority. It looked like most of what they manufactured was produced by way of living things, of which we saw a dizzying variety. Livestock were all over the place, some in pens, some apparently roaming free, some looking much more like walking or crawling plants than animals. I recalled the whirlybird “bugs” I’d seen in the woods.

I was getting a clearer picture of how life worked in Brenest. They grew a portion of their food here in the clearing, but most of their economy was based on cultivating and harvesting the vine-like plants that grew in the forest canopy, which apparently had valuable herbal and medicinal properties. They had developed a thriving trade with peoples beyond the forest, which would explain why outsiders were a normal part of life.

Speaking of which, was it just me or were the villagers not nearly as friendly today? I wondered how much of yesterday’s interview had gotten out.

At the end of the clearing, a short path led us through the trees to a smaller clearing, a gathering space if the worn-down grass and wide patches of dirt were any indication. We interrupted a dance practice when we entered, causing a group of children who looked a few years younger than me to break formation and stare at us despite the best efforts of the women coaching them.

The pale odeana fungus encircled the entire field like I’d seen it encircling buildings, only this time its pattern was clearly man-made: two concentric, loosely braided circles. Even though I’d been invited, I couldn’t help feeling like I was trespassing as I stepped over the circle, vaguely recalling some story Esther had shared with me about fairy rings.

At the other end of the field stood a structure of a kind completely new to me. Apart from its wooden roof, I couldn’t tell where earth, tight-knit plants, and wood construction began and ended. Phil and I hung back while Braid entered through a beaded curtain.

While we were waiting, I bugged Phil for more information on the odeana, now that it was clear to me they grew them on purpose. He took the journal and flipped to my ushussna sketch. With gestures and a little more Pictionary, he explained that a ring of odeana, the bulk of which was underground, repelled the ushussna in a similar fashion to tree bark. It looked like the fungus was the only reason people could feel safe living on the ground.

Stepping on them was a faux pas because they were important, not because they were dangerous. Maybe it was a matter of respect as well?

The moms, meanwhile, had more or less given up on keeping their dancers under control while the newcomer kid was around to distract them. I might as well make friends with them — and if I played it right I’d probably get their parents on my side into the bargain. “You guys like dancing?”

I was in the middle of teaching them the Macarena when Braid called us inside. “Keep practicing,” I told them. “We’ll work on it more later.”

The mood shifted as soon as we were through the curtain. Glowsticks of a different color than I’d seen so far, more like fireflies, lit up the interior at intervals with a dim ambiance that was just barely on the right side of ominous. The glow was refracted into glinting veins along the right-hand side. A closer look showed that the veins were translucent crystal running along the surface of the rough, opaque crystalline formation that made up most of the wall. I touched one and felt a steady vibration, but I pulled my hand away when it abruptly switched frequencies twice.

If anyone asked me to talk to a crystal, I was out. My parents’ warnings about cults were well drilled. Everything about this place looked like religion and it was putting me on edge. There were stylized paintings of people and scenes from stories toward the far end, entwined with a pattern that looked like a network of fine, intricate roots. A soft circle of natural light fell from an opening in the ceiling onto them and the low earthen dais they surrounded. Behind the dais was another curtain, swaying gently in the wind.

We stepped onto a tiled floor flanked by stone benches along the walls, and I looked down to see a mosaic of that same symbol from the book and the stream. I lost a little of my initial fondness for it on seeing it in this uncomfortable place.

Both of my companions made some complicated hand motions and bows, then looked at me expectantly. I had to get Phil to walk me through it, but of course he couldn’t explain what any of it meant.

A man stood up from one of the benches near the dais, dressed in an official-looking tunic and sash. He spoke and made some hand motions of his own toward us, and for a second I got a nasty premonition that I was about to be sacrificed. Instead he proceeded to greet us normally and lead us back out into the woods through a side passage.

Whatever was outside that curtain at the far end of the sanctuary, it couldn’t be seen from the side. The space was partly encircled by a sloping earthen wall, and farther on by tightly packed tree trunks. What I could see, though, were some of the lines radiating out from it: a vein of rock here, a little stream there, a thick tangle of creepers elsewhere. It gave me a chill, but not in the same way the Dementrified Forest had, not in a corrupted way. It definitely didn’t seem safe, even by Effoc standards, and I doubt it was meant to.

To my relief, we put all of that behind us and went into a comfortably furnished little house just beyond the gathering field. The man (priest?) in the tunic had us sit down in the front room, and after a few minutes a woman in a plain-looking dress came in, looking like she’d just come from work. They spoke to each other, then tried speaking with me, but by then I was mostly out of it. As nice as they sounded, I just wanted the whole encounter to be over.

I let her hold my hands while she closed her eyes and talked under her breath, but afterward, when everyone kept their eyes closed and fell silent for minutes on end, I couldn’t take any more.

“I’m sorry, sir, ma’am. Thanks and all, but I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.” I bowed awkwardly to everyone and rushed out before they could say anything. I doubted any of that would have been helpful, and I had enough spookiness going on without getting mixed up in theirs.

My mind was in turmoil as I walked back to the village center. I put on a good face for a bit when some of the friendlier kids wanted me to join in their game, but they barely cheered me up. I was getting more uneasy looks from the adults, even a few hostile ones.

The way I saw it, I could stay here where it was sort of safe and tough it out, try to learn the language and convince them I wasn’t dangerous until I was able to move forward…or I could take a big risk and maybe get some answers sooner. Every day I waited was one extra day it would take me to find Esther.

I went to bed early that evening, with an alarm set on my watch that woke me in the middle of the night. Once I made sure it hadn’t woken anyone else, I crept to the balcony and blinked the flashlight three times.

Almost immediately there came three answering blinks from across the clearing.

“This is stupid,” I told myself. But I went back to my quarters and put on the backpack anyway. As an afterthought, I also left a brief thank-you note on the hammock. No one would be able to read it, but Mom would approve.

Time to go. For Esther, and for my own sanity.

I didn’t run into anyone in the streets, and there was only one path that led in the direction of the signal. There was no light visible as I approached, and no one appeared to greet me, so I stopped a short way into the woods and looked back. Should I signal again or just wait?

Footsteps crackled through the brush behind me. I can be excused for thinking it was a group of people, or even a group of animals. With that many footsteps, it should have been. But nope, when I turned around there was only one. One of a species I’d seen before from a distance and never wanted to see any closer.

Its body was as long as I remembered, covered in a knobbly, segmented sort of carapace. I thought it only came up to my chest, but that was before it raised its head. I counted ten sinewy, high-jointed legs, and at least four eyes around its loudly chewing mouth. Nothing with a mouth that complicated could be good news.

I brandished the pepper spray at arm’s length in front of me, holding it with both hands as if that would protect me more.

It slowed to a stop, almost on top of me, and finished chewing. Then, quick as blinking, it unfurled a pair of rough prehensile tongues and licked my face.

More startled than anything else, I let loose with the spray. The beast squealed and scuttled backwards, and someone shouted a command. A man appeared around a bend in the path, carrying a large bag and wearing a pair of leathery leggings like a cowboy’s chaps. He walked up to it speaking in a soothing voice, put a hand on its side and got it to calm down until it was huffing and growling softly.

He turned to greet me as if nothing had happened, then hefted the bag onto the creature’s back.

“Oh no.” I backed away. He ignored me and mounted what I had thought was just an ugly growth but turned out to be a complicated saddle. One of two.

He tossed a second pair of chaps at me.

“Heck no.”

Pargest appeared around the bend, waved to me and exchanged a few words with Chaps, then motioned me to saddle up. Apparently he wasn’t coming with us. If whatever he was involved in was some big secret, maybe he couldn’t leave at the moment without drawing attention to himself.

“You’re serious? You’re leaving me with this…this — ” I turned back toward the leggy beast and got licked in the face again before I could come up with a suitable epithet.

In the end, I gave in. It felt like I was in too deep to back out now. And it could all still be worth it if this was what it took to get comprehensible answers to my questions.

Like the question of why these saddles included full-body harnesses, for instance.

I got my answer to that one as soon as Chaps whistled and tugged on some flaps behind our mount’s head, causing it to bound forward. It knew its way in the dark without being steered, but it didn’t follow anything a human would consider a trail. We were taking the most direct route, no matter what kind of obstacles were in the way, and we weren’t slowing down for any of them. I would have been bucked off in the first ten seconds.

I already regretted everything within the first six.

Next:
6. Lords of the Edge

Previous:
4. Dear The Monster That Gets Me,


AUTHOR’S NOTE:
ATTENTION LANGUAGE NERDS. It didn’t take me long to conclude that faithfully recording every culture’s nonverbal communication would be a huge pain in the neck. I hated keeping track of that mess then, and I don’t feel like keeping track of it now unless it ties in to something relevant. So because I can, it’s going to be good old American nods, shakes, eyebrow raises, saucy winks, etc. for everyone from now on. Sorry if that detracts from your immersion or whatever.
And to all you non–language nerds: you’re welcome.

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