one even close to her age. The trio hurried along with affected purpose trying to look like they belonged. Tory hung back from the others after hearing about the journal. He wanted to be happy for Barra—he was happy for her—but he was also frustrated. It wasn’t the first time she’d kept secrets. He wondered if she’d ever trust him. Sure, Barra hadn’t said anything to her own mother either, but Tory didn’t know what to make of that. He struggled with his feelings in silence. The quiet blanket of Tory’s reticence went unnoticed though as Plicks kicked it off with his excitement. The Kolalabat asked question after question wanting to know every detail. He jumped at the opportunity to share and connect with Barra about her father, a topic he’d deliberately avoided in the past. His relief came out in a flood of words that Barra worked to stay above, pausing more often than necessary to find the Rush’s scent. They were travelling slower than the messenger. Sometimes the Rush crossed paths with another, and choosing the right one to follow was tricky. There were distractions too; sights, sounds, and smells that were different from the rest of the Loft tugging at Barra’s nose. She found it difficult to keep up her part in the conversation and soon the trio was walking in silence. No one spoke a word again until Barra noticed Tory lagging. She bound over to him and asked, “What? What is it?” “The bindings used here are so different from anything I know,” Tory said. All the experimental bindings in the Coppice and he’d never seen anything quite like these. Barra rolled her eyes. “Come on, we gotta keep moving.” Tory didn’t budge. “Look at that,” he pointed at a den with intricate fountains on either side of its entrance. The bases were each made from a single branch which grew in consecutively smaller circles, the end rising up in a flourish from the center. The fountain on the left was a spiraling tower of rings, while the other was dominated by sharp angles with steps and platforms. Colorful cup-shaped flowers and jagged protective thorns grew all over both. Tory recognized the flowers and he explained, “Those spillpetals fill with water every measure, and tip over when they’re full. The way they’re growing the cascade must be beautiful. It took a lot of care and time to bind them like that.” As engrossing as his description was, Barra didn’t have the knowledge of bindings to even guess at the mastery on display. She understood it was important to Tory, but didn’t think they could stay any longer. She urged him, “Come on, the Rush is getting away.” Tory stared for another moment trying to absorb it all, and then he started moving again. Plicks matched his pace and asked, “Think you’ll bind like that someday?” Tory shrugged. Reminding Plicks of his older siblings when they just wanted to be left alone Plicks took the hint even though he thought the behavior was unusual for Tory. He tried not to worry about it. Barra pushed them to keep moving, but that didn’t stop Tory from taking a look back at the fountains before they passed out of view. An old squat Nectarbadger came outside to prune. He squeezed the claws that grew between his fingers together several times rapidly to sharpen them. Thwick thwick thwwwiiick .He clipped at the fountains like he’d done it a thousand times. The jagged thorns didn’t bother the Nectarbadger. He just kept trimming without a care.
They rounded a corner, and Tory tuned back into Barra, who was explaining the importance of being sneaky-quiet to Plicks. “It’s the only way. We don’t want to get caught, right?” She dashed away. Plicks squinted at Barra’s back as she sniffed the air. He tried to bolster himself, saying, “I can be sneaky. Even if I can’t stealth .” Tory leaned in toward Plicks and whispered, “Just do your thing. You’ll be fine.” The Kolalabat’s stride perked right up. Slyly, Barra