Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
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Mason nodded, and left to go to his cabinets. When he came
back, he gave her a quill and a shallow plate.

“Don’t you have any bowls?” Ashlin asked, slightly amused.

Norabel stared at the plate as well, somehow feeling
responsible. She was the one that made all the bowls in the village. Mason not
being able to procure one somehow seemed like it was her fault.

“Uh, they all broke,” Logan said, crawling under the table
to get the dust underneath. He tapped Archer on the leg, saying, “Move your
feet; I have to sweep under there.”

“You should have said,” Norabel told him, bending down to
address Logan under the table. “I could have gotten you replacements.”

“It’s fine,” Ashlin assured them. “I guess a plate works
just as well.”

As Ashlin drew a circle on the map using the plate, Norabel
tried to appear unfazed by the whole thing. Yet, inside she was wondering why
Logan and Mason didn’t have any bowls in their home. It couldn’t just be a
coincidence. She knew it had to do with her. She took a brief peek up at Mason,
who was carefully studying the map. Not only did he seem to not want her in his
house, but he seemed to take exception to anything that had come from her.

When Ashlin had finished drawing a circle, touching the
eastern edge of Breccan and spreading out from there, she announced, “The distance
from one end of the circle to the other is about three hundred miles I’d say.”

Norabel turned her head to see where the circle went
through, noting that it didn’t even reach all the way to Cashel.

“So, if we add a hundred miles onto that,” Ashlin continued.
“That would give us a bigger circle, like this.”

Using the first one as a guide, she drew a rough circle a
few inches wider.

“So, you’re saying that the shipment came from somewhere
along this circle,” Mason said, running his hand along it.

Logan crawled out from underneath the table, popping up to
get a look at the map as well.

“And he’s up!” Archer joked.

Logan ignored him as he pointed to the map, saying, “This
can’t be right. That line goes past each of the major villages. It’s even further
away than Cashel. In fact, none of the areas along this circle are even
populated. They’re just forest land.”

“He’s right,” Mason agreed, swatting Logan’s soot-encrusted
hand away from the map. “Is it possible you counted wrong?” he asked Ashlin.

“It’s unlikely,” she defended. “I got pretty good at this in
Noor Summit. Like I said, this is my life’s work. I’m good at what I’m good
at.”

“Um,” Norabel said, extending her small hand out to the map.
“Did anyone else notice…” She trailed off when she saw everyone staring at her.

“You spot something?” Mason asked, encouraging her to go on.

Her fingers were curled into her palm, hovering over the
map. Then, slowly unfurling one of them, she pointed to a spot that was half an
inch inside the circle.

“Here,” she said, pointing to the Forest of Liadrel.

“No, that isn’t far enough,” Ashlin said, shaking her head. “Liadrel
is only about an eight and a half day’s ride from here.”

“Plus, it’s forbidden,” Archer pointed out, scoffing at the
idea.

“Nothing’s forbidden to Guardian Amias,” Norabel said,
defending her theory. “And men riding from Liadrel would have to come from
Cashel first since no one can actually live there. That puts a one and a half
day’s ride onto the trip, accounting for the lost mileage.”

“Could she be right?” Mason asked, looking to Ashlin for
clarification.

Ashlin stared at the map, tweaking her mouth in thought.
“Now that I think about it, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Whatever was
in those crates must have come from Liadrel. Which is bad news. There’s no way
of telling what could come out of that place.”

“We’ll just have to be ready for anything,” Mason said,
rolling up the map.

When he came back after stashing it away in a back room,
Ashlin moved to stand behind the head of the table.

“There’s actually something more important than last night’s
shipment that I wanted to discuss with you today,” she confessed. “I’ve told
you all my story, and it’s no secret that my goal is to eventually eradicate
the Pax from Galerance. But… I guess what I want to say is, in Noor Summit I
was biding my time, gathering information, trying to get better and stronger.
And the reason that I’m here in Breccan now is because I think… I think that
it’s time.”

“Time for what?” Logan asked, staring down at his shirt and
trying to wipe off the ashes.

“It’s time the kingdom knew about me,” she announced. “They
need to know that someone is living and thriving outside the system.”

Logan looked up and shook his head upon hearing her plan.
“It’s not a good idea to draw attention to yourself in our line of work.”

“You sound like Norabel,” Archer mumbled in insult.

“This isn’t work!” Ashlin exclaimed. She slapped her hand
down on the table, saying, “Wake up! This is a rebellion! And it’s time that
Guardian Amias realized that he’s got a fully-fledged uprising on his hands!”

“She’s right,” Mason said, walking around the table to stand
next to her. “We aren’t doing much returning pickled jars of onions to old
ladies. The Pax haven’t even bothered to beef up the security on their carts.
That’s how little of a threat they consider us. What we need to do is make a
statement!”

“And draw more soldiers to Breccan in the process,” Norabel
pointed out, growing very uneasy about the ideas being generated in the room.

“Well, it
is
a rebellion,” Ashlin said, as if
pointing out the obvious. “They
are
going to fight back at one point.
Did you think that taking down Guardian Amias wouldn’t require any sacrifice?”

“But it’s the village that will suffer for it, not us,”
Norabel insisted. “What if Amias decides to set The Torrent on Breccan because
of what we’re doing?”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Mason insisted. “That’s an act of
war. He would be undermining the rules of his own Pax if he did.”

“Still,” Norabel continued. “He’ll make them suffer for
everything we do. How can we just make that decision for everyone?”

“Look,” Ashlin said, chopping her hand through the air in a
sign of anger. “People are suffering in the village already. Families are being
preyed upon by leachers, working their fingers to the bone to fulfill their
wretched appetites. There’s no one the people can turn to. The Pax say that
they
are justice, but nobody gets justice from the Pax. What we need to do is show
the people that there are those ready to fight; there is a way out.”

“Yeah, but not everyone is looking for a way out,” Logan
said. “There are a lot of people in Breccan that are in favor of the Pax. They
get a free basket of food every morning, a shorter work day, not to mention two
days every week to do with what they like. As long as you’re not one of the
unlucky ones that gets your house raided every month, you think this whole Pax
thing is going along splendidly.”

“You are right,” Ashlin agreed. “Amias is clever. He could
trick a chained man into thinking that he was free and happy. But his trickery
is one of the worst parts about the Pax. Which is why we need to be ready to
wage war against it. We call ourselves Harbingers, and it’s time the Pax
realize that we are more than just a bunch of kids hiding in the trees; we’re
an omen of war.”

“So what’s our first move?” Mason asked, strategically
trying to move the conversation along as if everyone had agreed with him.

“You’re the Point-Man,” Ashlin said, relenting to his
position as leader. “What do you think we should do to let the people of
Breccan know we mean business?”

Mason laid his palms on the table and leaned against it in
thought. After a moment of deliberating, he announced, “Leachers. We hit the
leachers first. Show the people what’s really going on behind closed doors.” He
stood up straighter, adding, “And we should do it during the festival in a few
days’ time. That way the whole village will be watching.”

“Watching what?” Norabel asked in apprehension.

Mason turned his head and looked out the front window
towards the street. Outside, the summer bugs were chirping in the heat, the
sound of horses trotted in the distance, and a group of neighborhood boys were
throwing rocks at the side of a nearby house.

Glancing back to the table, Mason answered her question,
saying, “Their judgment day.”

Chapter 9

The day of the summer festival was a day free from work—at
least for most people. While the Pax allowed for commoners to cease from their
normal duties, the job of a Pax official was never one that could be put on
hold. So, while Hunter could see people walking about him, talking cheerfully
about what they were planning to do at the festival and who they would see
there, Hunter was stuck at his checkpoint.

However, it wasn’t just this that made him unusually
depressed this day, but the fact that tomorrow he would be leaving the village,
setting out on a transport mission. He would be gone for nearly two weeks, and
when he came back, he didn’t know if he would get assigned a new job. The fact
of the matter was, this was most likely his last day at his little post at the
western checkpoint.

That whole morning, as he checked people in and out of his
station, his stomach was reeling and twisting into knots. His checkpoint was
busier than it ever had been, and with each new person that passed by, he
seemed to grow even more nervous. He hadn’t even realized why he was feeling so
anxious until he saw her pale halo of hair making its way over to his station,
and his heart dropped into his stomach.

Hunter let out a shaky breath and nearly moaned in pain at
the torture that his churning stomach was putting him through. She had a blue
ribbon woven through the braid that wrapped around her head, and though her
blue cotton dress hardly looked any different than the one she always wore to
work, she somehow seemed as if she was fit to enter into the most elegant party.

He saw her take her place in the line that was waiting to
come into his checkpoint, and he nearly forgot that he needed to keep working.
Though no one would dare speak out against a Pax official, he could tell that
the man waiting to get waved through was becoming impatient.

“Sorry,” he said, clearing his throat and finding the man’s
name inside his ledger. “Go on ahead.”

He waved a few more people through in this shaky,
half-delirious manner, and then, all too soon, it was her turn.

“Morning Hunter,” Norabel said, giving him a smile. “I
didn’t know you’d have to work today.”

“I’m not,” he suddenly blurted out. He cringed, realizing how
stupid he probably sounded. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to start over. “I
mean, well…what I mean is, I don’t have to work all day. I get to leave at
festival. I mean at five. I get off here at five, so I can, uh, you know,” he
cleared his throat, “go to the festival.”

Wow! That was smooth
, he scolded himself. What was
the matter with him!

“That’s nice,” she commented, her face lighting up. “I’m
glad you’ll be able to enjoy it with the rest of us.”

“Yeah, uh…” he glanced to the man waiting behind her, then
forced himself to look back into her eyes. “Do you think, uh, do you like the
summer festival?”

He inwardly winced, knowing he was blowing it. He had been
about to ask her if he could see her there, but he had chickened out.

“Yes,” she answered cheerfully. “I love how happy everybody
seems to get on this day.”

“Well, not you,” he pointed out. Her expression fell a
little in disappointment, and he quickly added, “I mean, not that you’re not
happy. What I meant was that you’re happy every day. Not, uh, not just…do you
think I could see you later, at the festival?”

The words escaped Hunter’s mouth so quickly he didn’t even
know they were coming out as they were leaving his lips.

“Oh,” she said, slightly startled.

“I’m sorry,” he said, trying to quickly recover. “I didn’t
mean to, uh…”

“N-no, that’s not,” she said, stuttering much like him.
“It’s only, uh, I’ve promised a group of friends that I would see them. They
want us to spend the whole night together. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. Please don’t be sorry. I only thought, maybe if you
were free we could…but you’re not, so it’s fine. Uh…” He turned down to his
ledger, glad to have something else to look at, and checked off her name. “You
can go through now. Sorry, again.”

Norabel opened her mouth and looked as if she was about to
say something, but all she got out was a, “I…” before the man waiting in line
behind her pushed her forward in impatience.

“What was that?” Hunter called out in hope, but the crowd on
the other side of the gate had swept her up, and he realized that the last
somber image he had of her might be the last one he ever saw.

 

*

 

Norabel felt a plague of butterflies in her stomach as she
walked away from the checkpoint. A horrible, foreign feeling washed over her
as their awkward conversation played over and over in her head. She was
supposed to meet the others at Mason and Logan’s house, but she felt so
dissatisfied over the whole thing; she didn’t want to just leave it the way it
was. And their plan for “judgment day for the leachers” really didn’t start
until later on that day. The others wouldn’t miss her if she was a little late.

But what could she do? Just walk back to the checkpoint,
stand in line until her time came and then say, ‘Sorry I can’t see you later on
tonight, because me and my Harbinger team are plotting against the Pax, and are
planning on humiliating several of your co-workers.’

She groaned and shook her head. Why couldn’t Hunter be like
all the other Pax officials out there? Why did she have to feel so bad about
what had just happened?

Looking up ahead on the street, she saw something that gave
her an idea. There was a festival cart on the side of the road, and a man was
handing out summer berries skewered on a stick. Going up to the cart, she paid
the man for two of them and then turned back towards Hunter’s checkpoint.

Though it was crowded around his station, not many people
were trying to go out her way, but rather come in. However, since she would be
going against the stream of traffic, she realized that getting back into
Hunter’s gate was going to be difficult.

Biting on her lip, she stared at the situation and tried to
think up a way around it.

The gate separating the road in half was only as high as her
waist. Of course, jumping over it meant immediate imprisonment. The actual
checkpoint itself was much bigger than the fence. It was more like a small,
narrow shed. It had a roof and two solid walls on either side, and the front had
a large window for Hunter to look out of. However, the back was completely
open, as though the building had been sliced in two, and this was what was
left. Norabel figured that the checkpoint was designed this way so that the
Pax official manning it could easily slip out if someone tried to break the
rules and hop over the fence.

Trying to crane her head around the crowd of people in front
of her, she looked to the back of the checkpoint. The fence led all the way up
to the back of a building that could only be accessed from a different street.
In between this building and Hunter’s checkpoint, there were only a few feet
of short fence. She judged that this was probably where Hunter passed in order
to get to his station. Luckily, the area in front of it was off the street and
devoid of much foot-traffic.

Weaving through the crowd while trying to keep her fruit
skewers intact, she finally made it to this small patch of fence.

“Hunter!” she called out, standing on her tiptoes and trying
to see past the wall of his station shed. She could only see the very back of
his hair, and the crowd around her was too loud for him to hear her.

Not willing to give up just yet, she looked down to the
short fence that was keeping her from just going right up to him. Yes, the
penalty for hopping over it was imprisonment, but surely it didn’t count if you
weren’t trying to avoid the checkpoint, but rather get into it.

Biting down on her lip in deliberation, she decided to take
that chance. She took a quick look around her. There were a lot of people
nearby, yet no one was watching her. Before she could lose her nerve, she
carefully stepped on the fence, which was a little difficult since she was
wearing a dress and holding two fruit skewers, and then hopped off to the other
side.

“Hunter,” she called out again, taking a step towards the
back of his station. “I…”

Hunter jerked at the sound of his name and spun around,
startled to find her standing there.

“What are you doing?!” he exclaimed, sounding more worried
than angry. “You can’t be back here.”

Suddenly Norabel felt the adrenaline of what she had just
done hit her. It was racing through her body, and she found it hard to hold the
fruit skewers still.

“Wow! I can’t believe I just did that,” she admitted,
strangely proud of herself in a shocked kind of way. “I might not have if I’d
have known it would make my heart beat this fast!”

Hunter stared at her, stunned, and then looked back to the
woman that was stopped at his checkpoint. Norabel took a step further so that
she was nearly standing in his station, and turned her head to look at the
woman as well. She was an older lady with a dumbfounded expression on her face,
no doubt startled to see someone else in the Pax checkpoint. But she kept her
mouth closed and didn’t say anything. Of all the people here, Hunter had
authority over everyone.

“Uh, you,” Hunter stuttered. He turned his head from Norabel
to the lady, and then said, “You can just go through. Just go.”

“Did you even check that lady’s name off?” Norabel inquired,
turning her head to watch the lady go. She didn’t know why, but she felt oddly
elated and uninhibited, and she couldn’t stop her thoughts from coming out as
words.

“Norabel,” Hunter said, turning to her and cupping his hands
around her shoulders. “What are you doing here?”

Instead of answering, her attention shifted to the man that
had now stepped into the checkpoint station.

Hunter followed her gaze and quickly shooed the man away,
saying, “Will you give me a second, please? Just back up and give me a second.”
Then, turning back to her, he noticed the fruit skewers she was holding.

“I thought it was a shame you didn’t get off work until
five,” Norabel explained, extending one of the skewers a little higher. “And I
thought you might like to enjoy some summer berries.”

She waited for some reaction from him other than frozen shock,
but she seemed to have startled the words right out of him.

“I, uh…” he stuttered. His eyes moved and stared at
something behind her.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she offered.

“No, that’s not,” he shook his head, before blurting out, “My
uncle’s coming.”

“What?” she asked, feeling a stab of fear cut through the
adrenaline.

“You need to hide,” he said, still holding onto her
shoulders.

“Should I go back over?” she asked.

“No, he’ll see you and have you arrested!” He glanced to the
floor of his station and said, “You’ll have to crouch down here!”

Norabel looked to the space of his checkpoint, seeing that
there wasn’t much room for two people. But she wasn’t about to complain about
the spaciousness of her hiding spot. Without wasting time, she crouched down to
the floor and pressed her back up against the corner of the wall. Though one of
the walls was only waist high, it still provided enough protection that Norabel
was hidden from view. However, someone could easily see her if they were to
peek over the side.

Hunter tried to carefully step around her and stand at his
post, his body having to twist slightly so that his torso would further block
her from view. Norabel felt exceedingly childish and foolish, crouched there,
holding two fruit skewers up to her face. Yet, at the same time, she couldn’t
say that she regretted her decision to hop over the wall.

“Alright,” Hunter said, leaning out the window to see the
man that had been waiting. “You can come through.”

He had just checked off the villager’s name, when Norabel
heard the voice of a man boom out, “Hunter, how are you?”

Though she couldn’t see, she could imagine the crowd of
people quickly parting to give the Pax official his due respect.

“Uh…good, uncle,” Hunter replied. “I’m doing good. Uh,
how-how are you?”

“Busy,” the man replied. “Auberon’s having me running
practically all over the village. Wants us to patrol the outer rims. Which is
an absolute mess for me, since he gave the order just this morning to focus
most of our presence in the inner village.”

“That’s a bit strange,” Hunter agreed. “It’s not like
Auberon to change his mind like that.”

“I’m sure he has his reasons.”

Norabel felt the wall shudder behind her back as the man
slapped the wood with his hand.

“Come and find me after you get off from work.”

“Yes sir,” Hunter nodded.

There was silence for a moment. Norabel held her breath,
hoping that the man wouldn’t see her as he passed. Then, continuing to stare
straight ahead of him, Hunter told her softly, “It’s alright. He’s gone.”

Norabel breathed a sigh of relief. She was about to get up
from her hiding spot, when she heard the confused voice of a villager ask,
“Who’s gone?”

She quickly crouched back down, realizing that someone else
had come into his checkpoint.

“No one,” Hunter quickly recovered. “Did I say…” he shook
his head and looked down to his ledger. “Uh, it’s Vander, right?” he asked,
finding the man’s name on the list.

Once he waved the man through, he finally looked down to
where Norabel was hidden. She stared back up at him, her face framed by the two
fruit skewers, and suddenly she couldn’t help herself; she started laughing. It
was a silent kind of laughter, but her back shook, and the fruit in her hands
bobbed up and down. Relief seemed to wash over Hunter’s face as well, and he
joined in on her laughter.

“Is something funny?” a voiced asked above her head.

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
5.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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