Eionwyn met Hynneth, Arris, and Gerioth at town hall the following morning. There was a basement full of roughly two dozen outfits for Outsider men and women to choose from. They had each picked something and went their separate ways to change.
"How did you survive in summer?" Hynneth asked as she pulled her long skirt up. "What is this, wool?"
"Polyester," said Eionwyn, "and yeah, it's pretty bad. I forgot just how much it sucked."
Eionwyn was busy with her own skirt. When she had put it on, she picked up her next clothing item.
"What is that thing?" Hynneth asked as she pointed to the object Eionwyn held.
"Your worst nightmare," she said, pulling off her tunic and brassiere. She put the object around her chest, pulling tight. It had been two years since she bound her chest like this, and she forgot just how painful it could be.
"Just be glad you don't look like me," Eionwyn replied, pulling her shirt on. "It's absolute murder."
Hynneth did the same, binding herself.
"Not gonna lie," she said, "I usually am a bit jealous of your looks, but I'm glad I'm not you right now."
Eionwyn chuckled, making the best of a bad situation.
"Oh!" Eionwyn exclaimed. "I almost forgot, speaking of looks, get rid of that purple in your hair. Outsiders only have brown, blonde, or black hair. Even I had to wear a wig. Red hair is seen as too feisty or promiscuous I guess."
Hynneth rolled her eyes. She muttered a spell and ran her fingers over her hair, which turned pure black. Eionwyn did the same, her hair also turning black. She was worried she'd be recognized if she did the blonde or light brown she was used to when she was younger.
The two young women stepped out of the changing room. The boys had emerged from their room as well. They were dressed perfectly in slacks and collared button-up shirts. They had also styled their hair in the way Eionwyn instructed them – short sides, long enough in the top to part on one side.
"How do we look?" asked Gerioth, spinning around like a model.
"Like you're about to ask my father to escort me to church," Eionwyn said. "I hate it."
"That perfect, eh?" he replied, smiling.
"Let's get going," Hynneth said. The three followed her out of the building. They reached the west end of the village and kept going along a very small path. It took them nearly an hour but they had reached an open clearing with vehicle tracks leading away in the dirt.
"It should be around here somewhere," Hynneth said, her hand out. She drew a few symbols in the air. Suddenly several of the trees and bushes on the edge of the clearing disappeared, revealing a mid-size brown car. It was fairly nondescript, looking used but not run-down, and not too sporty either. It was the most inconspicuous way to travel.
"Anyone know how to drive?" Eionwyn asked.
The others looked at her wide-eyed.
"We were hoping you did," Hynneth said.
Eionwyn rolled her eyes. "Women don't drive in Outsider society," she explained. "They're too hysterical and might cause an accident if they see an icky dead skunk in the road or something."
"You're kidding," Hynneth said rhetorically.
"I've got this, guys," Gerioth said. "I can probably make this thing drive itself. Just give me the map."
They all took a break in the clearing. Arris stood guard while Eionwyn and Hynneth watched Gerioth work. He did a few spells linking their destination on the map to the car. After a few minutes, the car sputtered to life on its own and honked its horn.
"Finally," Arris said, taking his eyes away from the woods. "I was getting paranoid we'd be spotted."
Arris was the first to jump in the front passenger seat. Gerioth took his place in the driver's seat, with the girls in the back (Eionwyn explained that it was more appropriate).
The car only drove for a few miles before it found the main road. Gerioth had his hands on the wheel, pretending to drive so as not to arouse suspicion from anyone who may glance at him. They were a few miles out of Davidsburg, Eionwyn's original hometown, and they were nearing Cedarville. It was slightly bigger than Davidsburg but not by much.
As they entered the city limits, Eionwyn stared out the window, looking at the houses they passed. She never realized how they all looked the same. The same styles of architecture, the same doors and windows, even the same colors. All of them were either white, yellow, or sky blue. They all had perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences. In Greenbog, each house had its own color, character, and style of construction. Individuality was so prized in that society, whereas here any deviation from the norm was seen as a sign of insanity.
"What is it?" Hynneth asked, resting her hand on her friend's shoulder.
Eionwyn sighed. "I can't believe how fake it all looks now," she replied. "I never noticed it before. It's too perfect. It's like when a beautiful person smiles at you but you know they're rotten on the inside. Most of these are good people, but they don't know anything different than this."
Hynneth was silent for a while. "Maybe someday we'll be able to be out in the open again, and they'll be able to think in ways the Church doesn't allow. One can only hope."
There was an awkward silence for a little while.
"This is uncomfortable," Arris said, reaching for the radio. "What kind of music do these people listen to?"
Arris flipped the radio on and started turning the dial. It whistled and buzzed as he searched for a station. Suddenly, the car flooded with the sound of a pop song.
"He is my strength, He is my reason," the young woman sang.
"Boring," Arris said, continuing to turn the dial. He landed on another song, this one a little bit heavier.
"I was lost before Eman, my life directionless," the voice sang, this time a man with a raspy voice.
"Is this all these people sing about?" Arris asked. "Just songs about how awesome Eman and Aleros are?"
Eionwyn shrugged. "They're taught that all forms of art should glorify them. Any art made about anything else is considered sinful or indulgent."
"I hate it," Hynneth spat. "It's all so safe. There's nothing challenging or new. That's not art. Art should make us think about beauty in different ways. It should make us think about anything at all, really."
"I never thought of it that way when I was an Outsider," Eionwyn said. "It's like I couldn't think about that. It was just a fact of life to me – the sky is blue, the grass is green, all art is about our religion, that's it. I never even fathomed you could do it about anything else. That's the problem with Outsider society. I thought I was free. We were all taught that Eman made us free with His sacrifice and that we were living in an era of unprecedented peace and free will, but that's just a lie. I was a prisoner. I was trapped more thoroughly than any prison could ever have done to me because I didn't know I was a prisoner."
"It's easy to hate Outsiders," Arris interjected. "We keep hearing these stories about how they killed so many of us and forced us into hiding, but the truth of it is that the ones living today are just as much victims as we are. If they knew the truth, that'd be one thing, but they don't."
"Do the clergy know the truth?" asked Hynneth.
"I never learned," Eionwyn said. "Many Church teachings are forbidden to the common people, especially women. Church services are segregated by sex."
"The more I hear, the more this whole society makes me sick," Hynneth said. "I'm pissed off enough about how they treat women, but you do NOT treat imagination like it's some kind of horrible thing!"
"Uh oh," Arris said, "we got Hynneth riled up about art and expression again."
They all laughed. Finally, Gerioth spoke up after being silent most of the trip.
"We're getting pretty close to the pull-over point," he said. "Just another ten minutes, from the look of the map. It's just on the opposite side of Cedarville."
"That close?" asked Eionwyn. "How many more villages could there be? If there are two this close to each other, there could be dozens or more all throughout the world!"
"That's our prediction too," Gerioth said. "The problem is we all hide, even from each other. We only stumbled across this village once as an accident. A few decades ago one of our own was out looking for rare plants and found someone from their village doing the same thing."
"Only a few decades?" asked Eionwyn. "When did we find the second village? Before or after?"
"After," Gerioth explained. "Similar kind of circumstances. But this village is about the same distance from Greenbog, but in the other direction."
"So you all thought you were alone in the world for nearly three hundred years?" she asked. "That's horrible!"
"That's why this needs to change," Hynneth replied.
They continued on for the next few miles, eventually getting to the right point. From the road it just looked like another inconspicuous dirt path. The car pulled off the road, moving down the path and into another heavily wooded area. They had only gone maybe a mile or two before the car stopped. Gerioth pulled the key from the ignition and the four of them got out. Gerioth recited another spell, causing the car to move to the edge of the clearing. It suddenly appeared to grow leaves and trunks as it was transfigured back into trees and shrubbery.
"The village of Goldentree is this way," Gerioth said, pointing deeper into the woods. "According to the map it should take around an hour to get there. Everyone, stay alert in case we were followed."
The four of them made their way slowly through the woods. Unlike the path from Greenbog, this route was much more overgrown. It reminded Eionwyn of the night she ran away. She took care to keep her skirt from ripping.
"Can't we just magic some of this stuff away?" Eionwyn asked. "We'd move a lot faster if we did."
"Can't risk it," Arris said. "We don't want to create a path straight to this village. Even though there are plenty of spells in place to keep Outsiders from stumbling across any village, it could still potentially bring some closer and cause panic."
They continued on, moving slowly but deliberately through the overgrowth. After more than an hour, there was still no sign of the village.
"Are you sure we're in the right place?" asked Hynneth.
"We should be close," Gerioth said, inspecting the map again. "Unless we got turned around somewhere."
A mysterious voice called out from behind them. They turned. In front of them was a tall, thin man with spiked white hair. He was bare from the waist up, his toned body covered in swirling patterns of tattoos. He had a bow and arrow drawn on them which appeared to be made of pure light. Suddenly, five more similarly dressed people appeared out of the brush, each with bows trained on them.
"You're no Outsiders," the lead warrior said.
"We're from Greenbog," Hynneth said. "It's a magical village not too far from here. We were hoping we could enter into an alliance with you. We could trade goods, ideas, that sort of thing."
"We know of Greenbog," the warrior said. "We were told you'd leave us alone. Regular movement between villages could arouse suspicion amongst the Outsiders."
"That's what we want to discuss," Hynneth said. "We think it's time to stop being so afraid, and instead we should try to build a functioning magical society between us and as many villages as we can find."
The warriors were silent. Finally, the lead warrior spoke up again.
"I'm not in a position to make agreements like this," he said, "but we'll take you to our council. Come with us."
The lead warrior dropped his hands, his bow and arrow fading into nothingness. The other warriors kept their bows drawn, however. The four accompanied them through the brush for a few more minutes until they emerged into a clearing. Eionwyn gasped at what she saw.
The new village was completely different from Greenbog. The streets were covered in a dense, short grass. Some buildings were rounded and made up of long, thin tree trunks all woven and braided together in intricate patterns, while other buildings appeared to be giant hollow trees. The trees didn't look like they were hollowed out by tools, however. It was as if they just grew that way.
The people were dressed in tunics similarly to the style of dress in Greenbog, so it seemed only the warriors went without shirts. These tunics, however, were much brighter in color. They ranged from vibrant reds to greens to blues and yellows. They were often adorned with the same swirl patterns of the warriors' tattoos. Many of the people also had tattoos – Eionwyn could see them if they were wearing short sleeves, and some had their faces tattooed.
"This is incredible," she said, "it's so different from the way we do things."
"We're more in touch with the natural world," the lead warrior explained. "Unlike you, we don't live apart from nature."
"I can see that," Hynneth said, looking around. "I love this place!"
"Not to distract you from your awe," Arris interrupted before turning back to the lead warrior, "but we really need to talk to your leaders."
"Of course," he replied, guiding them through the village. They passed by the main square before reaching a large, ornate building made up of interwoven roots and tree trunks and adorned with glowing runes. They passed through it. The woven branches left several openings, so it was naturally lit. Even so, there were weak lights floating randomly near the ceiling to provide extra light.
The warrior led the group into a large chamber in the middle of the building. It was rounded, with a podium growing from the center. There were seats around it, some filled with men and women talking amongst themselves. There were about a dozen in all. They quieted when they saw the group enter.
"My council," the warrior began, "these are visitors from the neighboring town of Greenbog. They wish to speak to you about a serious matter."
"Welcome to Goldentree," one of the members said. "What is it you want from us?"
Eionwyn stepped forward. She began to explain their plan.
"So what you are proposing," asked another council member, "is that we risk exposing ourselves to the cult of Aleros and Eman by increasing activity between our communities?"
Eionwyn was dumbfounded. The council members all nodded in agreement.
"We deny this request," the member said. "Our villages survive in total seclusion. Just by coming here, you risk being followed. We also are unaware how the cult destroyed our society in the first place, so they may have powers we do not know. They may have the ability to intercept magical communications or even discover our communities by following members into them. Until we know, we will continue to live apart from everyone else. You are free to leave, but do not return."
Eionwyn opened her mouth to speak, but Gerioth put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head. The group left the building in silence and returned to their car.