Aliryia raised an eyebrow as she spotted Maine sitting on a fallen tree in the forest that divided the town from the remote building of The Sistren. They had taken a smaller lane so to avoid walking back past the shops which were filling steadily up with midday shoppers. The lane, as it turned out, conveniently swept round and joined onto a path which wound through the forest.
And there they had stumbled upon Maine.
Aliryia’s sharp eyes noticed the flask that was once again close in Maine’s hands. Like Aliryia’s hidden shell comb and mirror, it seemed Maine’s constant companion. The girl herself closed it quickly before the elf could inquire, and asked if the company were going.
Aliryia nodded and then looked around. True, it had turned out that this forest wasn’t so far away from the town as expected, but that still didn’t explain a couple of things.
“Why are you in the forest?” she asked Maine.
“I had to get some medicine.”
But Aliryia was sure that was not what was in the flask.
“And, what exactly does that have to do with being in the forest?"
It could have been a trick of the light, but Aliryia thought that she saw Maine’s eyes narrow.
“Where are the others?” And now the girl was purposely avoiding Aliryia’s question.
“We thought they were with you…” Eru was confused.
“Well, we need to find them.”
It was Eru who led the search group, wandering back out the forest the way they entered, and leading the girls nervously back into the centre of town.
However, the search did not take long and Elorrie and Mirage turned up in a small street off the main road, along with the 50p remaining from their £10 jewellery splurge. Erulastiel raised her eyebrows at the bags of cluttered that the girls clutched, but soon her expression broadened into a smile at their laughter.
Slowly, they all walked back to their new home, gathering to talk in small groups along the way. As Eru and Alkrya chatted, boggling at the dress, Aliryia sidled up to Maine who automatically seemed to shrink a couple of inches in another person’s presence.
“So, sister, are you going to tell me what is in that flask?”
“It’s none of your business!” Maine snapped quickly, before biting her tongue.
“I’m sorry,” she said as the girls walked onwards, “But I don’t want to talk about it. You understand?”
If Aliryia had once been harbouring negative feelings towards Maine, she did not show any trace of them now.
“Maine, it doesn’t matter what it is. We’ll help you get through it. Whatever it may be, we, at The Sistren, can help you.”
“Stop it, you sound like an advert!”
Aliryia jumped back.
“I’m sorry, have I said anything…?”
“It’s just…you can’t help me, Ali, I’m sorry.”
The building of The Sistren became visible through a clearing in the trees. Aliryia remembered the first day that she had stood in the same spot and concealed herself from a winged girl and a dragon eating pancakes. In that moment, Aliryia wanted to hide herself from life, ashamed that she had insulted yet another member of the haven. She watched as Maine hurried on ahead and then disappeared through the front door, before herself lingering to the back of the group, leaning on the trees she encountered. Why, there were so many rules of conduct that she had broken in the morning of one day!
“Are you coming in, Aliryia?” Alkrya’s voice bit through the silence. At least it was nice to know that someone was interested in Aliryia’s well-being.
“No, I might stay out here for a bit,” Aliryia replied, her voice barely loud enough for her companion to hear.
And she sat herself down on the front porch.