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The End of the Line


every sort of tree and vine which together produced enough in the way of nuts and
berries and roots and foliage to provide for all the residents' basic needs. The weird
thing was that there was no way out. Somehow the laws of space had been violated in
a fundamental fashion such that the forest seemed to fold in upon itself, a maze where
every outlet was merely another inlet elsewhere. Many had tried to escape in the
immeasurable time they'd been trapped inside it, only to find themselves hopelessly
entangled and lost in a world of invisible paths and tunnels, all leading nowhere but
somewhere else within. A few, like Soma and Squee, had discovered all the inner
routes and used them to great advantage in their game, rapidly crisscrossing the
foliage in a network of short-cuts and sidetracks bewildering to the others who could
not comprehend their comings and goings. Light-hearted and joyous, the pair
recklessly flung themselves about with no sense of risk or danger, like the perpetual
children they were.
Ember was also still physically and mentally eight years old after the long centuries of
her internment, and her friend Edeline was still thirty-two, though she continued to
insist that when they'd arrested her she'd been in her fifties. Edeline was as lithe and
lovely now as she had been then, permanently in the prime of life, in mind and spirit as
well as in body, calm and confident, a genuine grown-up. She stood beside Ember now,
hands on her hips, gazing in admiration at the fully grown Soma, slowly coming to
accept that this was indeed the same Soma who'd been their fellow inmate for so long.
The difference was remarkable. The Soma they knew had been a slight and
stupendously agile acrobat, always happy, constantly in motion, ever sly and secretive.
This new Soma was bold and loud and larger than life, especially those teeth!
"The better to tell you with," she'd joked when Ember had rudely commented on that
mouth. Soma stood over six feet tall, her long tangly blond hair covering half of her
face, her right hand continually brushing it aside to reveal her other unnaturally bright
green eye. Her skin was dark and rough and her large hands looked as if they hadn't
been scrubbed in ages. She was barefoot and her body scarcely covered in a white
pirate shirt and knee-length black pantaloons. She was barefoot, as were Ember and
Edeline who were still dressed in the peculiar form-fitting forest ivy vines they always
wore.
"But how did you get out?" Edeline asked, confused. "And why did you come back?"
"It was a rat that led the way," Soma told her. "Don't ask me how. I don't even know.
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