Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
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Similar to Logan, Archer had common brown hair and a tall
build. However, that’s where the similarity ended. Archer was much less
level-headed, and had swimming green eyes which he felt could win the heart of
even the prettiest lady. Although, when it came to actually talking with them,
he tended to fall flat on his face.

The only girl that Archer never tried to flirt with was
Norabel. When she had first been introduced to the team, he had mistaken her
for a fourteen year old girl and asked Mason why he was bringing in a kid. Even
when he had been told how old she really was, he couldn’t seem to get the idea
out of his head that she was just a child, and so continued to treat her like
one. Which was just as well, Norabel decided. She would rather have him talking
down to her than trying to flirt with her.

As they were still walking down the dirt path, Archer
spotted a pine cone on the ground and stooped to pick it up. He took a quick
whiff of it before depositing it in his pocket. Archer was always sticking
random objects into his pockets in an attempt to smell better. Since he worked
with fish all day, he ended up smelling like one, and so was constantly trying
to mask the odor. There was no telling what manner of objects could be in his
pockets on any given day.

“Hey Norry!” Archer called out, waving over to her. “I heard
you called this little meeting of ours. There’s a first time for everything I
suppose.”

“There’s nothing’s wrong, is there?” Logan asked, trying to
search her face for any sign of trouble.

She shook her head and told them exactly what she had told
Mason. When she had finished, Logan readily agreed to do the job, but Archer
looked at her suspiciously.

“Wasn’t it you that said we were taking too many jobs?
Drawing too much attention to Breccan?” he asked.

“Yes,” she admitted.

“Then I’m curious as to what was stolen that would make you
change your mind.”

Norabel inwardly cringed. She knew she couldn’t tell them
that it was an Albatross Seed she was really after. Archer would never do the
job if he found out, and Mason would probably be furious with her.

“It’s not what was stolen that’s important,” she reasoned.
“It’s who it was stolen from. Iris is just a little girl. She was terrified and
crushed by the whole experience. I just want to try and make it better. Isn’t
that why we all got into this? To help make things better?”

Before Archer could respond to her, Mason kicked off from
the boulder he was leaning against and began to walk past them. “Be at the
meeting point in Valor Wood at nine,” he announced. “Don’t be late.”

Chapter 3

The summer warmth never stayed after nightfall. No matter
how hot it got during the day, the nights were always cursed with a rigid cold
that numbed your bones and made you count the hours until sunrise.

As Norabel walked soundlessly through the trees, she rubbed
her hands together, trying to keep them nimble. She had already made the
perilous climb up and over the steep western mountain by her house, going
around the city towards the eastern-lying Valor Wood in order to avoid any Pax checkpoints.
Now she was trying hard to concentrate on the next task at hand.

When the Pax cart would travel down the road after packing
up the last of its cargo, they would need to be ready and waiting in the trees.
In order to get the woven basket full of goods out of the moving cart without
alerting the officials, the Shadow first needed to sneak onto the cart, cut the
rope securing the basket down, and then tie another line of rope on top so that
a lowered hook would be able to grab onto it. This all had to be done before
the cart reached a point called the “extraction sight.” This sight was marked
by a pre-labelled tree that had some sort of naturally occurring defect on its
trunk that made it easily identifiable. It was in this tree that the other
three team members were waiting.

Once the Shadow saw this tree, marking the extraction sight,
they needed to act quickly. Right as the cart passed this spot, the point man
would throw down a rope line with a hook attached at the end of it. It was the
Shadow’s job to grab the hook and connect it to the rope they had tied across
the center of the basket. This had to be done within the span of two seconds,
for that’s exactly how long the Lifters waited until they pulled on the line to
draw it back up.

If everything was done correctly, the basket would then be
lifted up into the trees, the Shadow would hop off the cart, and the Pax
officials would carry on down the road as though nothing had happened. They
might even travel several miles before either of the drivers decided to look
back and notice that the basket was missing.

However, if something went wrong and one of the guards
noticed that someone was trying to steal the basket, they set off something
called a Snapper stick that would send up a bright red flare in the night,
alerting any nearby Pax to come to their aid.

In the three years that Norabel had been a Shadow, she had never
had a guard set off his Snapper stick, yet that didn’t mean each job they had
pulled was a success. Of the fifty jobs they had attempted, ten of them had to
be abandoned because she couldn’t hook the basket in time. Still, forty
successful jobs was no small deal. She had heard that the team down
south in the village of Fairbrooks had pulled off even more, but she still
wasn’t comfortable with how much success they were having. They didn’t know
which job would be the breaking point. When would Guardian Amias have enough
and send soldiers flooding into Breccan, demanding that the village give up the
transgressors hiding among them?

 

When all four of their team members arrived at the meeting
point in the woods that night, Mason climbed up the tree where they stashed
their ropes and equipment, and they began to quietly get ready. Mason tested
the hook on the rope line, Logan and Archer slipped on gloves that would help
them to better grip the line when they would need to pull it up, and Norabel
tied a knife to the inside of her leg and looped a line of rope around her
waist.

Then, all too quickly, it was time to get into position.
Mason picked a tree as their extraction sight, telling Norabel to memorize the
odd lump in the center of the trunk that looked a little like the letter “Y.” The
boys then climbed up the tree, hiding high up in its leaves, leaving Norabel to
trek back down the road by herself. She had to travel at least a half mile away
from the tree, back towards Breccan, in order to give herself enough time to finish
her job before reaching the extraction sight.

Pax carts normally left the village at nine-thirty, liking
to travel in the night, for that provided the best visibility for the flares
should help be called for. However, sometimes that half an hour of waiting felt
like a lifetime.

As Norabel flexed her hands, trying to keep her fingers warm,
she wondered what the boys were doing as they were waiting. Were they crouched
in cold, lonely silence like her, waiting for any hint of the sound of the
travelling cart? Or were they talking and joking with each other, trying to
lighten the mood while preparing to do battle with the Pax?

Norabel shook her head at her imaginings, knowing it
wouldn’t do any good to feel sorry for herself. She hadn’t joined this team to
socialize and have fun; she had joined it to fight the Pax and to help out a
friend. Still, the thought would always creep back in her mind that none of
them were risking as much as she was. They were safely hidden away in their
tree while she was just a few feet from the two Pax officials. If the job went
wrong and one of them ended up getting caught, it would be her.

Mason had once assured her that she would have plenty of
time to run away if one of the officials should ever spot her. He said they
would need to stop the cart and dismount first if they wanted to try and catch
her, and she could jump off and be running away the second she felt the cart
slowing down. Norabel had pretended to be comforted by this. She didn’t have
the heart to tell him the truth—that she had Jotham’s Disease and could only
run so far before her lungs would close up. If Mason ever found out, she knew
she would be off the team in a second, and then she would never get to spend
time with him. So she had to remain silent each time she pulled off a job,
secretly worrying about the very real possibility of being captured and sent
off to the dungeons of Arkadiak.

When nine-thirty finally arrived, she could hear the sound
of the trotting horses coming down the road. As it grew nearer, she readied
herself in the shadows, preparing to run out onto the road just as it past and
grab onto one of the wooden slats of the cart.

She took in a deep breath. She couldn’t feel any resistance
from her lungs. She put one leg forward, ready to start into a sprint. The
dress she was wearing was flexible enough that she could move around easily.
She placed a hand up to the hood of the dark cape she was wearing and covered
her head so that her pale hair wouldn’t shine in the dark.

The cart was now at the tree she was hiding behind. She kept
hidden in the shadows as she watched the two men on horses trot by. One of them
was laughing as they passed. Somehow the sound made Norabel feel colder. The
second that the back of the horses passed by her tree, she ran out from the
shadows and onto the road. She didn’t allow any distance to come between her
and the cart before she reached for its top wooden slat with both hands. She
kicked off from the ground with one foot, simultaneously bringing the other one
up to land on the back of the cart. A moment later she was on, crouching low
enough so that the cart hid her from view.

She held her breath as she waited a moment to make sure the
drivers hadn’t seen anything. Though she wasn’t heavy enough to jostle the cart
when she jumped on, there was always the danger that one of them had seen her
when she had run onto the road. From up ahead, she could still hear one of the
men laughing, too deep in conversation to notice the extra load they had taken
on.

Moving carefully, she lifted one leg up over the back railing,
followed by the other, squishing herself in between the cart and the basket.
Reaching down for her dress, she raised the hem and took out the knife she had
hidden there. Staying low in the shadows, she started to quietly cut the first
rope connecting the basket to the wooden slats of the cart. After a few saws
from her knife, the rope snapped, and she swiftly pulled it through the loop of
the basket and discarded it on the floor.

Inching forward, she strained her body to reach for the next
line. This one was closer to the two men, and there was more risk that she
could be heard. Trying to keep her body as far away from them as possible, she
grabbed the rope and slowly sawed at this line. Since she was further away and
couldn’t press down as hard, the rope didn’t want to cut as quickly. Luckily,
with a few more hurried saws, it finally snapped. She let out a silent breath
and pulled this one through, wincing at the sound the frayed rope made as it
passed through the loop.

Going back to the rear of the cart, she cut the third line
easily enough, but she hit a block when she came to the last connection point. She
stretched her arm out like before and quietly tried to saw away, but the rope
did not seem to want to cut. Holding her breath, she slid closer to it. A few
feet away, the guards were talking animatedly to each other, arguing about an
event that had happened in a pub.

“Except you didn’t drink it!” one of the men exclaimed.

“You callin me a liar!” the other defended.

“Nah! You slipped it under the table and spilt it all over
Fletcher’s lap!”

Norabel pressed down harder on her knife as the two men
continued to argue. Ten saws later, she wasn’t sure if she had made much
progress. But what was wrong? She brought the knife up to her eyes and realized
the problem. The blade had been worn down bare. It was hardly sharp anymore.
She would probably be able to cut it if she kept at it for a minute straight,
but she didn’t have that kind of time.

Not wanting to accept defeat and let Iris down in the
process, she raised the knife back up to the rope. However, just as the dull
blade touched the line, something came whizzing down from the trees. Norabel
jerked back in shock and had to stifle an exclamation of surprise.

Looking down to the cart, she saw that there was an arrow
embedded into the wood. Her heart leapt in her chest, and she could feel the
subtle hand of Jotham squeezing at the entrance to her throat. But who would be
shooting arrows at her? If the officials had found her, they would have taken
out their swords. They didn’t travel with bows and arrows. Besides, this shot
had come from the trees.

Glancing up to the basket, she realized with a shock that
the line had been cut. Could it have been a coincidence? Or could the person
who had fired it not been aiming for her at all, but for the line? She looked
down to the arrow in the cart. It didn’t have the characteristic red and black
tail like all of the arrows from the Pax. Maybe this was a friend.

Deciding to take a chance, she slid the broken rope from the
basket and got to her feet. She tried to keep her hands from shaking as she
stood up in the cart, exposing her top half to the view of the Pax officials or
anyone that might be watching from the trees. Looping a new line of rope
through the basket, she worked as quickly as possible to tie it securely so
that it crisscrossed in the center. As she worked, she kept an ear open,
listening to the two men’s conversation while every so often glancing up to the
trees to make sure another arrow wasn’t about to come down.

She had just finished knotting the rope when she spotted the
tree with the strange “Y” shaped growth on its bark. She hardly breathed as she
waited for the hook to be lowered down. It was up to Mason to be able to see
well enough to know when to lower it so that it wouldn’t knock into the men and
their horses, but still soon enough for her to grab it. If he didn’t do this,
if he accidentally hit the men or made a noise as it clinked to the cart before
she could grab it, then it meant that the men would discover her.

Tilting her head up to the trees, she could just make out
the silhouette of a hook descending towards the cart. It was still a few feet
up in the air. Then it passed by the officers’ heads. Suddenly it took a dip
down, coming just within arm-length. Norabel lunged out to grab it. Swiftly
bringing it in, she looped the rope line around the hook.

At once the basket was quietly hoisted up, and she had to
duck out of the way in order to avoid hitting it. Then the cart was travelling
down the road in blissful ignorance, and she looked back to see the basket
dangling among the trees.

Though the mission had succeeded, she felt even more exposed
now. The basket was not there to shelter her, and it would only take a half
glance backwards for an official to notice something was wrong. Her instincts
were telling her to get off that cart as soon as she could, and her arms and
legs were begging her to move faster. But she knew that moving fast was the
quickest way to get caught. If she didn’t control her actions, she was liable
to bump or jostle something.

It was a mental battle, but she managed to creep lightly to
the end of the cart and swiftly lift one leg, and then the other, up and over
the lip of the cart. Bracing herself, she let go of the wooden slat and jumped
off. She landed on the ground in a soft thud and remained still as she heard
the cart traveling further away. She waited a few seconds more before lifting
her head up. The cart turned down a bend in the road and moved out of sight.

A wave of relief passed through her, but she wasn’t out of
danger yet. There was still the issue of who had fired the arrow. She peered
into the woods that lied on the right side of the road, the direction in which
the arrow had been fired, but could see no sign of movement there. Keeping a
keen eye out, she began to quickly move back down the road towards the
extraction sight.

When she got there, she found that the boys had already lowered
the basket down on the road, and Mason was busy trying to cut the lock off the
basket’s lid. As he did this, Logan started to make a torch. He built it with a
nearby stick and the wrappings of some fabric doused in oil that he kept in his
pack. Also in his pack was a small box of igniting powder called Snapper. In
order to make fire instantaneously, he just had to take a small pinch of it
between his fingers, and then snap them together, aiming the dust at the object
he wished to ignite.

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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