A/N This is very un-edited as of its posting. Any and all comments to improve it would be much appreciated! Written for the November challenge on TPE: Writing Challenges! Check out the forum and this month's writing challenge: forum (dot) fanfiction (dot) net/forum/The_Tamora_Pierce_Experiment_Writing_Challenges/70302/

This is a post-Melting Stones story, taking place immediately after the novel ends. Enjoy!


That day a lot of things went wrong between the two of us. Nory and myself, I mean. I had mostly gotten along with Jayat – as much as I ever did with meat creatures, and I was still too happy to have not killed Meryem to find her too annoying. But Nory and I had never really gotten along and already we were in a bad situation as we tried to keep each other alive on Starns after the volcano nearly killed us all.

My magic still felt wobbly and uncomfortable and I couldn't even make contact with Luvo, even though I knew he would be trying to talk to me. I spent the first week lugging pails of water up out of the well and skimming the ash off the top, feeding the chickens and goat we had found wandering, as well as my stubborn donkeys, sweeping ash, showing Meryem how to take care of the new little of kittens and their ma, washing ash out of our clothes, finding as much edible food as possible, and trying not to choke on all the bleating ash. I cursed Carnelian and Flame, and the rest of their volcano spirit friends, in the worst language Rosethorn wouldn't let me use, but which actually made me feel better until I inhaled ash while swearing and nearly passed out from coughing.

All of it was hard, but not as hard as the streets of Chammur and not as hard as having Briar and Rosethorn as a teacher on the road, and not as hard as Gyongxe. Except I wasn't used to being around people who weren't my teachers and I wasn't good at it. To be fair, neither was Nory, but she wasn't the one trying to change her life.

Being a good person did not include fighting with Nory over how she ordered everyone around as if she thought something of herself, but that's where I was.

"Why do you think you're so much better than everyone?" I asked angrily. "How many volcanoes have you lived through, exactly, that we should follow you like sheep?"

"Because you should be able to make all the decisions, because you're such a big mage?" she asked, the scorn in her voice nearly cutting me, she was so good at it. "Go ahead then, big mage, tell us how to live long enough to get rescued."

"I'm not saying that I know everything," I said, exasperated. "I'm just saying that I don't want to hear you order us around like you're the boss. I never agreed to that!"

"Well, then maybe you shouldn't have got us all stuck out here by being a world-class monster!"

"Stop it, Nory!" Meryem's shrill voice interjected before I could respond, grabbing onto Nory's arm and tugging. "It's not her fault!"

"Get out of here," Nory said, shaking her arm. Meryem lost her balance as Nory tugged and fell on her hands and knees. Immediately, she looked up and her lip began to quiver.

"What is wrong with you," I snapped, stepping into Nory's space. "And you call me the monster?"

Nory shoved my shoulder, making me take a step back. "Spoiled little temple brat," she spat. "Never had a moment of pain in your life but you think you can look down on us all, as if your shit is god-sent." Joryam had stepped between us when Nory shoved me, which is good because I hadn't been so angry in a long time, and don't know what would have happened if he hadn't got between us. He looked from Nory to me in confusion. He knew my story, but I didn't want to tell Nory, not to prove I was as hard as her, or something... So instead I pulled Meryem off the floor and took her outside, seething the entire time.

"You all right?" I asked, looking up at the sky and practicing my breathing to calm down.

"You shouldn't fight," Meryem said, sniffling. "We're all we have."

I snorted. "Nory isn't anything to me. I'm going home with Rosethorn and Luvo and she can choke on all this ash for all I care." Meryem's lip began to quiver again alarmingly. "I don't mean that," I said quickly. "Look," I said as I knelt down in front of her, "Nory and I just don't get along, but I don't want her to die. And we're not going to fight."

"Promise?"

Cursing the tear-filled eyes that could get me to do pretty much anything, I promised.

"Good, because Nory and you, you're like my..." Meryem trailed off, staring over my shoulder. She stuck a thumb in her mouth and huddled closer to me.

I turned as I rose, sticking an arm out behind me to keep Meryem close, but out of the way of whatever it was that had scared her. Two ragged men entered the clearing, and from their expressions and the knife and club they carried loosely in their hands, it was not to ask us to sit for supper. I didn't waste time pretending: "Nory! Jayat!" I shouted. My trick of making the earth carry my voice didn't even begin to work, but I heard a pot crash inside, and the door burst open. Nory held a knife of her own, Jayat a broken-off table leg. At least we had some sort of weapons. I grabbed the knife I had strapped under my shirt.

"Now, is that nice?" one of the ragged men grinned as he flipped the knife between his hands. His partner spat in the ash, his gaze fixed on Nory.

"We don't have anything for you," Nory snapped.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," the spitter drawled. The knife-flipper laughed and licked his lips, looking Nory up and down. Jayat stepped forward to put himself in front of her as she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

"Move along," Jayat said, pronouncing every syllable, his voice quiet and dangerous. I couldn't feel it, but I would bet he was collecting the power he had left; he wasn't as drained as me, but it was a close thing. He had kept Nory and Meryem alive during the worst of the eruption.

While the men's attentions were on the doorway, I was edging slowly in the opposite direction, taking Meryem with me, our backs to the road. When the spitter sauntered forward, ignoring Jayat's raised club to leer at Nory, it put the two men right between Nory and Jayat and myself.

"When I step forward," I whispered to Meryem, my eyes on the men as they threatened Jayat, "you're going to run to the donkeys. Get out of sight somewhere. I'll come get you."

Meryem, to her credit, didn't argue. She nodded wide-eyed, her little knife gripped in both hands.

The spitter reached forward and grabbed Nory by the arm and the knife-flipper gashed Jayat on the arm as he leapt forward to protect her. The spitter began to gloat, but was cut off mid-sentence as Nory stomped on his foot and elbowed him firmly in the face; I heard the crack of his nose breaking. She may look pretty and fragile, but Nory was a pirate's kid and she fought like a cat cornered.

Jayat had leapt back holding his arm, and the knife-flipper swung dangerously, nearly catching Jayat in the stomach and Nory in the upper arm with the wild swing of his knife. His partner was clutching his bleeding face and trying to avoid Nory's knife; she was getting him away from his partner and back away from the door.

I hadn't been standing still like some numb-nut bleater, of course. The spitter took a step back just as I aimed a hard kick in the soft place under his ribs where his kidney was. Rosethorn had taught me that. His breath left him in a hard huff and he turned to face me. I ducked under a sloppy punch but he managed to grab my arm with his other hand and tugged me off balance. This was one thing Briar had warned me about, but he had taught me what to do to get away, too. As I stumbled forward, I grabbed between his legs, caught a handful and twisted as hard as I could. He squealed land dropped my arm as if I were on fire. Then, taking a page out of Jory's book, I smashed his nose hard with my forehead. He fell, hard, to the ground.

"Get you and your friend out of here, you scum-licking piece of zernmuck," I spat. Jayat, leaning away from the door, finally came to his stupid boy senses and summoned as much magic as he could into sparks that played about his hands. I could already see the sweat on his forehead, but these idiots couldn't know that. The spitter paled and ran, leaving his friend behind.

I kicked the knife-flipper not lightly in the ribs. "If you don't get up," I said coldly, "I am going to have to kill you, to be sure."

I think it was something about my tone, or maybe the extra kick I gave him, but he stumbled up and out of the clearing as quickly as he could and didn't look back.

I put my knife away, my thoughts troubled. My vow to be better had lasted all of a week before I got into a fight and hurt other people. I was defending myself, true, but I had been defending my friends in Winding Circle and had done something wrong then... what was the line? Had I crossed it? Was it terrible that I didn't even know?

I looked over at Jayat and Nory. They were standing in the doorway, Nory holding Jayat's gashed arm.

"You don't just leap into a knife, you idiot," Nory said, without her usual venom. Jayat wiped a tear off her cheek with his uninjured hand.

"I'm going to find Meryem," I said, already walking away. I was happy for Jayat, I thought. It took something like this, but Nory was finally showing him a bit of kindness that wasn't about getting him to do something she wanted. But maybe she was right. Maybe no one could really change and he would hate her by the time we got rescued because she would always be the angry girl she had grown into.

Maybe I would too.

Meryem saw me coming and ran across the space between us, throwing herself against me and hugging me tightly. I hugged her back. Maybe.

I made sure she was okay before I sent her back to the inn, watching until I was sure she got insider without anything happening. We would have to be more careful, now that we knew what was out there. I frowned again. But how much was too much? I sat down beside the well and started picking pebbles out of the ash, holding them in my hand

It's not like I've never seen Rosethorn defend herself, or others, and she is a Dedicate. Briar and his sisters, they've all had to do bad things to stop bad people from hurting innocents... I supposed that it was about control, in a way. Once I was sure they couldn't hurt me or my friends, I stopped and let them go. I hadn't done that at Winding Circle; I had hurt them because they had hurt me, even when they couldn't defend themselves anymore. It was about balance and it was about knowing that the other person didn't deserve to be hurt just because they did something I disagreed with...

Perhaps that last kick had been a bit too much, then.

Jory sat beside me. I could tell only from her legs; I didn't look up from my collecting.

"You didn't learn that fighting from any temple," she said. I thought of Briar and Rosethorn and their stories of pirates and Skyfire and shrugged. I hadn't, but they were no lily-handed Bags either. "Jayat told me I was wrong about you, but I didn't listen. I guess... I guess I'm trying to say 'thank you'."

"Well, you're trying, but you are some kind of terrible at it," I snapped.

She took a breath to respond, but got up to leave, instead. Maybe she was learning, too. That thought made me grab her sleeve. She pulled it from my grip, but she stopped. I looked up at her. "I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean that."

"I'm sorry, too, for being so awful," she said. "I'm trying to be better, but..."

She shrugged and looked so distraught that I looked back at my hand and opened up to her. "I wasn't raised at the temple. I told Jayat already... My parents sold me when we were travelling west through Chammur. It's a city in Sotat. I lived on the streets for a while, and then my teacher Briar found me. He's Rosethorn's student, so that's how I ended up at the temple.

"Well, for a while, anyway. I wasn't there long because I got into a fight and hurt some people... Rosethorn says that I can be a builder or a destroyer. I thought it was stupid at first, but then I realised... It doesn't have to be big things. I destroyed the kids at Winding Circle when I hurt them, instead of just getting them away from my friends. I destroyed Meryem's feelings when I pushed her away, instead of explaining why she needed to get on the boat... She says that I have to choose, and I don't want to be alone, hurting people."

We sat in silence while.

"I think I have to choose too," she said finally.

"He likes you too much to be scared off," I said, playing with the pebbles in my hand, "but if you keep on you'll hurt him 'til the part in him that sees the good in you is destroyed and then he'll leave you."

"I don't know how to be anything else."

"Neither do I. But I'm going to go back to Winding Circle and I'm going to ask for help."

She laughed, a little choked up. "Then you will be a temple-brat."

"Happily."

We smiled at each other.

"You know, Evvy, you're all right," Nory said, rising from the ash. She dusted it off of herself, a cloud of grey falling away to reveal her red shirt. It looked like a fire starting from the cinders.

"You too," I said. And I meant it, even.

She held her hand out to me, but I shook my head. I wanted to stay outside with my rocks a little while longer. As she walked back across the courtyard, I realized that she was the first friend I had made in my new life of being the better me. It was a good start.

I dropped the pebbles one by one into my other palm. I felt a flicker of their magic.

Evumeimei? Can you hear me?

Oh, Luvo! I'm so glad to hear you. Tell Rosethorn and Oswin and Tahar that we're all okay – Nory, Meryem and Jayat are here. And tell her I understand what she meant. I can't wait to get home.

We will be there soon, Evumeimei, Luvo responded, his mountain-steady voice comforting enough to bring tears to my eyes. And I will be happy to return to Discipline with you – for a long while, this time. I had forgotten how much trouble you could find yourself in.

I laughed and got up, the ash flying behind me in a cloud as I ran back to the inn to tell the others that I could talk to Luvo again.

Yes, it was a very good start.