It had been a long, unpleasant dream, both figuratively and literally; it was gone now. No, sometimes it had been pleasant. Often it had not.
It was an escape.
She was awake now, and she left the tree, stepping outside it to taste the world for the first time in many months.
She had misjudged her timing; the trees were in full bloom, nearly full leaf. She could have left weeks ago and she would have been well. But now it was not only well, it was easy, comfortable. She could stretch and open her arms all the way.
She had not judged the timing so poorly after all.
A return to life was ahead of her. Perhaps this time it would be better. It would be easier, more pleasant, more invigorating.
The last time had not been so bad, not at all, but she could never stand to do just one thing for very long. She could never stand to be just one person. And it was just her luck that those she was drawn to, and who were drawn to her, would never be happy were she more people, or with more people.
Perhaps, this time, she would find something better.
Smiling into the morning sun, she turned toward the land and walked through the trees, brushing them with her fingertips as she went—polite, gentle greetings. Hello. How are you. Has the spring returned? Has anything returned with it?
Nothing to be too wary of.
The trees did not warn her.
Between two trees, she stepped into a glass wall, an invisible wall, a nothingness in the air that struck the breath from her lungs and sent her staggering backward. For a moment she cursed this shape, these human lungs, but then she saw what was before her and shook her head in bafflement.
The thing that had stopped her could not be seen, except in a certain way. In a way, it glowed. But when she made to walk toward it again, her hand outstretched—nothing, except that her hand stopped in midair.
She waved her hand over the invisible barrier, to the left and the right, up and down. It went as high as she could reach. She swung herself up into the nearest tree and sought it again: yes, the barrier went up this high, and likely higher. Did it dome the entire campus?
She went on, moving to the south, testing it. It continued, smooth as glass, because it was nothing made by humans but by magic.
Who would have done such a thing? Had the students created it? Mardalan, perhaps? No, her sister preferred the old ways. She would not make such drastic changes. Even now that she was the sole ruler of her little domain—or so she claimed—she would not make seeking her prey more difficult.
She would not ask Mardalan. Not unless there was no other choice. So she followed the invisible wall, continuing on, until she could find a place that would give her answers.