Glass had almost finished braiding her hair when she heard one of the advisors say her name. She hurried to the door that separated her room from Soren’s but some gut instinct made her hesitate before opening it. She stopped instead and listened.

“If she hadn’t spoken up that day…” It sounded like Margot’s voice.

“Yes, Glass would have stayed among the other female recruits.” This was Soren. The other voices fell silent as she spoke. “That’s why she was chosen in the first place, but I feel she’ll be more useful in our ranks. She has an aptitude. I also have the feeling that she may not pair well.”

“No?” Margot asked.

Glass held her breath, bracing herself into the corner of the room so she wouldn’t move, her ear turned toward the tiny crack in the doorframe. “Pair well”? What did that mean?

“I sense an attachment elsewhere,” Soren said briskly. “She’s in love and she’s holding on to it still. It closes her off to men, but it opens her up to Earth. To us. So we’ll have to be very considerate about her pairing.”

Glass’s hands flew to her chest. How could Soren know that?

“Anyhow, aside from our new friend, we’ll keep the ranks as they stand,” Soren said. There was a shuffle, like the others were rising from their seats. “We’ll finalize the pairings tomorrow so the first rites will be as fruitful as possible, if Earth wills it.”

“If Earth wills it,” they all repeated back. It sounded like there were four or five of them in there with her.

They hadn’t called for Glass yet. She probably wasn’t meant to have heard this, whatever this was. But even as her mind swam, her instincts kicked in. She scrambled out of her dress and back into her nightgown as quickly and quietly as she could, back under the covers, her eyes closing just as she heard the door swing open and Dara’s soft voice call out, “Glass? You’re needed.”


Glass rose slowly, feigning grogginess. “I’m sorry. How long have I…?”

Dara smiled sympathetically from the doorway. “You’ll get used to this. Take a few minutes. We’ll be out here when you’re ready.”

This time, Glass didn’t rush to get dressed. She was still straightening her hem as she emerged from the room, hoping she looked flushed from sleep instead of from panic.

“I’m sorry I didn’t wake up sooner,” she said, taking in the room. There were six of the gray women here, it turned out, all clustered around Soren, who sat by the crackling hearth on a thick woolen rug. “I’m ready now.”

Soren peered over her shoulder with a kind smile, and patted the empty spot on the rug beside her. “Come and sit.”

Glass obeyed, lowering herself into the tiny space next to Soren.

“Did you get some rest?” the High Protector asked pleasantly.

Glass forced a smile. “Yes, thank you.”

“I’m glad to hear it. There are some very exciting things in the works, events that I sincerely hope you’ll be a part of. We’re preparing for our next Pairing Ceremony—one of our most sacred rituals.”

For once, Glass didn’t have to feign an interested gleam in her eye. “What is it?”

“Well, first I need to tell you a little bit about our people’s history. May I tell you a story?”

Glass nodded, and Soren continued. “The early Protectors had taken refuge in shelters far to the west, where the mountains are tall and the wilderness much more brutal than even here.” Soren’s voice took on a melodic quality, as though she was reciting a story she’d told hundreds of times before. Glass felt drowsy and cozy hearing it, as if she were being tucked into a blanket with every word.

“They lived under the ground for a time, while Earth healed Herself, but there weren’t enough supplies to sustain them for long. They emerged too early.” Her tone darkened, her mouth pinched with sympathy. “The air was toxic, the water impure. They only remained on the surface for a few days before they realized how dire the situation was. They needed to return to the sheltering arms of Earth. But where and how? Just as they began to despair, Earth sent them a vision… a ray of light leading east. It was only a matter of hours before they found it.”

“Found what?” Glass asked eagerly.

“Earth’s gift,” Soren said, smiling. “The door to another shelter, its lock corroded by the very air that was making them ill. They opened it easily and found food, water, enough provisions for another fifty years.”

Glass debated asking, but found she couldn’t resist. “Were there people inside already?”

Soren nodded gravely. “There were. Some were amazed by the story the Protectors told of how they found their salvation. Those new friends were brought into the fold as faithful servants. Others were angry that the Protectors had stepped into their shelter. They wanted to drive them out, back to certain death. Those people… had to be subdued.”

Though this had happened generations ago, there was a little note of regret in Soren’s voice, as if she were the one who’d made that decision. She must have been feeling the weight of her role in telling this story—the heavy mantle the High Protectors had worn for so long.

“Once they joined with their new followers, the shelter found peace and equilibrium,” Soren went on, more cheerfully. “No divisions. No strife. And it’s been that way ever since… for the faithful. In the old world, society was broken down into component parts, arbitrary things, really. Us versus them. My color against your color. My family unit feuding with yours.” She waved her hand in the air, eyes glittering. “We’ve done away with all that. There are no families but our one family. As Protectors, we are mothers to all our people’s children. Now, every time the Earth shows us a new home, we perform the Pairing Ceremony and officially welcome our newest members into our family as Protectors.”

“I… I suppose I understand that,” Glass said, though she had a sinking feeling that Soren was still keeping something from her. Though she’d told Glass about the Protectors’ history, she somehow skirted around the issue about what exactly the Pairing Ceremony was.

Soren turned to the other women, who were raising their eyebrows as if impressed. “This is what I meant by aptitude, you see?” She pivoted again, squeezing Glass’s hands with her own. “Glass, I think you’re going to play a very important role in this community. I’m so glad we get the chance to officially welcome you at the Pairing Ceremony. You’ll like that, right?”

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