Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
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Instead of responding to her, Mason walked over to a tree
with a target pinned to it. Unlike the other targets, which all had three
arrows embedded inside them, this one only had two. He pointed to the target
and threw her a questioning look.

“I ran out of arrows,” she said with a shrug.

“Okay,” Archer announced. “All in favor of Ashlin joining
the team, raise your hand.”

He shot his hand straight up in the air, but Mason stopped
anyone else from joining in by saying, “We aren’t putting it to a vote.”

“What do I gotta do to impress this guy,” Ashlin joked.

“We aren’t putting it to a vote,” Mason continued, extending
his hand to her, “because I
am
impressed. Welcome to the Breccan
Harbingers.”

“Um,” Norabel stuttered, not able to keep the protestation
from her mouth.

“Something wrong?” Mason asked her, his expression turning
confrontational.

She knew she should say something; tell the guys what she
had found out about there being no new transfers to Breccan. But they would
never believe her if she did. A commoner wasn’t supposed to know that
information.

“Oh,” Ashlin said before Norabel could make up her mind. “Hey,
Belly,” she said, throwing her sash back to her. “Thanks a bunch.”

The sash had travelled so fast that it wrapped around
Norabel’s neck before she could reach out to grab it. “No problem,” she said,
her voice muffled from the fabric as she tried to detangle it from her head.

“But, I want you to know,” Mason added, “you’re on a
temporary probation until we’re sure we can trust you. And you still need to
prove to me that you’re a valuable addition to our team.”

“Of course,” Ashlin nodded. “So when’s our next job?”

He took a few steps away, giving her his back as he thought
it over. Then, glancing back to her, he announced, “Tonight.”

“Tonight?” Norabel squeaked. “Don’t you think that’s a
little early?”

“It’s never too early for a job,” Ashlin remarked. “At
least, that was our motto in Noor Summit.”

“Don’t worry,” Mason said, coming over and patting Norabel’s
shoulder. “We’ll be fine.”

But, as she looked from his face to the girl with the bow,
she wasn’t quite convinced. She could tell that things were going to change
with Ashlin there now; they were going to change quickly. And for a girl that
looked almost exactly the same as she had at fourteen years old, change came
hard.

Chapter 7

Hunter stared out the window of his rooms, looking to the
tiny yellow lights that dotted the very edge of the western rim of the city.
The stronghold that he and all other Pax officials lived inside was a great
stone castle that stood in the center of the village. His room was one of the
highest in the castle and faced out to the north, but he was so far up that he
could see easily to the west with a turn of his head.

In the dark, it was impossible to make out the shapes of
buildings, but for him the lights were enough. Sometimes he wondered what the
people inside of these homes were doing. He saw so many of them during the day,
that at night he would imagine them at home with their families, talking at the
dinner table, pulling a loaf of bread out of the hearth, sitting in front of a
fire; just simple happy moments.

He also wondered how many of them were sitting alone like
him, forced into solitude. Under the Pax, anyone over the age of eighteen was
forced to move out of their parents’ home, leading many young people to whittle
away their evenings in lonely isolation. Though Hunter’s mother and father were
no longer alive, he wondered how many kids were sitting by their windows,
wishing they could go back to their parents.

A knock at his door drew him out of his thoughts, and he
reluctantly got up from his seat by the window to answer it.

“Uncle,” he said, upon seeing who it was at the door. “Sir,”
he corrected himself.

“May I come in?” his uncle asked.

Hunter opened the door up wider, and Lorcan promptly strode
inside. He walked right over to the window, and Hunter was almost afraid that
his uncle could guess what he had been doing, what he had done nearly every
night since he had joined the Pax.

“I’ve got good news, Hunter,” he announced, turning from the
window to study his nephew.

“What’s that?” he asked warily.

“I just spoke with Auberon.”

“He’s back from the capital?”

“Just this evening. And he informed me that some things are
going to start changing. I can’t say exactly what yet, but I
can
tell
you this: he’s asking me to keep a mental list of all the men I think should
benefit from this change.”

“Meaning?” Hunter asked, growing uneasy.

Lorcan chuckled and shook his head. “What do you think it
means, Hunter? You’re my nephew. I told you I would look out for you.”

“I mean,” he said, taking a step forward and gulping down
hard. “What does that mean for my current position?”

“Well, you didn’t think you’d be at that little checkpoint
forever, did you!” he exclaimed with a proud smile. “The Pax rewards those that
have worked hard for it.”

Hunter ran a charged hand through his hair, suddenly feeling
like there wasn’t enough air in the room. “I…I…”

“Alright now, calm down,” Lorcan said, coming over to put a
hand on his back. “The world isn’t going to start changing all at once. You’ll
be given a carrier job in a week’s time, and we’ll see how you do from there.”

He started to walk for the door, but Hunter called him back.
“But, wait, uncle! What if I don’t want…”

“Don’t want what?”

“Well,” he gulped again, trying to build his courage. “It’s
just, I’m happy where I am now, is all.”

“Trust me,” Lorcan said, giving him an encouraging smile.
“You’ll be happier where you’re going.”

Before Hunter could make any more arguments, he turned and
closed the door behind him.

“But…” he stuttered.

He bunched his fist up to the wooden door and rested his
forehead against the rough surface. He banged his head on the wood a few times,
trying to drown out the panic he was feeling with physical pain. How could he
tell his uncle that his idea of happiness was much different from his own? How
could he explain to him what truly made him happy?

 

*

 

Norabel’s arms ached as she sat, balanced on the limb of a tree,
waiting for the Pax cart to come. When they had all gathered at the extraction
sight a few minutes prior, Mason had taken the rope and newly sharpened dagger
and handed it to Ashlin.

“Sorry, but she’s the better choice for the Shadow,” he had
said, hardly even directing his explanation at her.

Ashlin had accepted the rope and dagger as though she should
have been given nothing less, and then looked to Norabel saying, “You don’t
mind, do you?”

She hadn’t had a chance to respond, when Archer answered for
her. “Are you kidding me? Norabel doesn’t even like being on the team! She’s probably
relieved that you’re here!”

“Is that true?” Ashlin had asked, eyeing her with a look
that Norabel could not quite place. “Why be on the team if you don’t want to
be?”

Norabel had just stared down at her feet, saying, “Archer
was just joking.”

They had then all taken their places, climbing up the tree
while Ashlin disappeared down the road. Though she was, in truth, extremely
relieved that she didn’t have to be the one down there on that cart, she
couldn’t help but feel a little useless. All the roles on the team had been
filled. There was no room for one more. Only two people were required to lift
the basket, and only one person needed to play point in order to decide when to
drop the hook. As Norabel waited in silence, she began to wonder if Ashlin had
lied when she said that they could benefit from a fifth person on their team.
Maybe all she really meant to do was to take her position.

A few minutes later, she could hear the sound of hoof-beats,
and she looked down to see Ashlin, perfectly poised on the Pax cart, readying
her hand on the rope connected to the basket. Then, just like that, the hook
was lowered down, she caught it with one hand and lopped it through her line,
and a moment later the basket was being lifted up. Norabel marveled at how
quick and easy the whole thing looked from the view of the trees.

She kept her eyes on Ashlin as she expertly flipped off the
cart and landed on the road without making a sound or rocking the cart in the
slightest. However, instead of going over to the extraction sight to join them,
she took out something in her pocket and stuck it at the end of her knife. From
the tree, Norabel could tell that it was a small piece of parchment. Then,
throwing it through the air, she embedded both the knife and the parchment on
the back of the cart. Norabel winced, but the knife had hardly made a sound,
and soon the cart was out of her sight and continuing down the road.

Once it had gone, Logan and Archer lowered the basket to the
ground, and they climbed down from their tree to gather around it.

“Ashlin, that was amazing!” Archer commended her as he ran
to the basket eagerly.

“Yeah. She did good,” Mason agreed.

“Thanks boys,” she said, patting her hand on the basket like
it was a deserving dog. “But this was just child’s play.”

“Hey, what did you stick on the cart as you were going?”
Logan asked, showing more reservation than the others.

She gave him a sideways smile before admitting, “It was a
parchment that said, ‘The beast has answered.’”

“No!” Archer exclaimed, thrilled at what she had done. He
started laughing, saying, “Oh, they are gonna
love
it when they finally
look back and find
that
waiting for them!”

“How’s that for sticking it to the Pax,” she commented,
looking over at Mason.

At first his face was still, but then he allowed himself to
smile. “Well, it does serve them right.”

As Mason worked to cut the lock off the basket and Logan
prepared the torch, Norabel was exceptionally quiet. She studied Ashlin from
where she stood, seeing the adrenaline and excitement in her eyes. She wondered
exactly where this girl came from. Why was she lying to them when she said she
had been transferred? But, if she wasn’t living in Breccan, then how was she
even here right now? Every person in Galerance was carefully accounted for,
assigned a village, house, and a job, and there was no getting around any of
it.

These thoughts and worries bugged Norabel so much that she
felt she couldn’t keep them to herself anymore. The stunt Ashlin had pulled
with the parchment made her even more suspicious. There was no way of knowing
what the note actually said. She could have been giving the Pax each one of
their names. It was too big of a risk to keep silent. Even if no one believed
her, she had to say something.

She finally decided to speak out after the basket had been
emptied and Logan had set fire to it. The four had started walking down the
road when she called out, “I don’t think we should go to the drop-off point.”

She gripped onto the straps of her pack to gain courage. However,
they still continued to walk down the road, not having heard her.

“Will you please stop!” she called out.

Her small voice reached Archer’s ears, and he glanced back
around, asking, “You say something Norry?”

“Yes!” she cried. “Please stop and listen to me!”

Logan turned around at this, and seeing Norabel still
stopped at the flaming basket, he tapped his brother on the arm to get his
attention.

“What are you doing?” Mason called out to her. “We have to
keep moving. The pox will be here soon,” he said, using his favorite nick-name
for The Pax.

“We can’t go to the drop-off point,” she urged again.

He shook his head in aggravation. “Look! I don’t have time
for this!”

She gripped her small hands into fists. Her heart was
beating so fast. The smoke from the fire behind her was getting to her lungs, and
it was hard for her to speak above a whisper.
Please
give me the
strength to do this,
she asked her Guardian.

“Either you hear me out,” she demanded, forcing the words to
come out louder, “or I will start screaming at the top of my lungs, and we’ll
see how long it takes The Pax to get here.”

“Norabel, what are you on about!” Mason exclaimed, marching
back to her in anger.

“Her!” she said, pointing to Ashlin. “She’s lying to us!”

“Come on, Norry!” Archer said, laughing. “What are you
talking about?”

Norabel kept her eyes on Mason as she explained, “She wasn’t
transferred here to Breccan. No one’s been transferred here in the past two
years.”

“Yeah right!” Archer exclaimed. “Like you could even know
that! You’re just being sore because she took your spot as our Shadow!”

“That’s not what this is about,” she insisted, the features
of her face darkened by the dancing fire behind her.

“Norabel,” Mason said, speaking sternly to her as though she
was a child. “Archer’s right. There is no way you could know that.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” she urged, staring up into his
face and begging him to believe her. “A Pax official told me himself.”

“A Pax…” he started, trailing off in anger. “You’ve been talking
to the pox?! And you think it’s
Ashlin
we should be worried about?!”

Norabel cringed and looked down, but she would not give up
yet.

“If you continue to the drop-off,” she said, taking in a
shaky breath, “then you can consider me off the team.”

Mason leaned closer to her, saying, “If you don’t want to
come, then stay here. Wait for your pox friends to show up!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Logan said, trying to keep things from
escalating. “Let’s just all take a step back for a moment and think this through.”

“There’s nothing to think about,” Mason said, turning around
and starting to walk down the road. “She’s off the team.”

Norabel stood there as still as a stone, watching him walk
away from her. For the second time in her life, she thought she was going to
lose him forever. What hurt the most was how easily it had come for him; how
quickly he had decided to give her up.

However, before he could walk away completely, Ashlin glanced
over at Norabel and then called out, “Mason, wait.” He stopped and turned to
her, and she took in a deep breath before admitting, “She’s telling the truth.”

“What!” he demanded, reaching for the short sword he kept at
his waist. He unsheathed it and pointed it at her chest.

Ashlin put her hands up in a sign of surrender as she
continued, “Please, let me explain. I was telling the truth about everything
else; about coming from Noor Summit and working as a Harbinger up there. And I
wasn’t trying to deceive you.”

Mason huffed. “Funny thing—that’s what happens when you tell
someone a lie.”

He took a step towards her with the sword, but she held her
ground.

“I am an enemy of The Pax, same as you,” she affirmed. “The
only reason I lied about being transferred was because I knew you wouldn’t
believe me if I told you the truth.”

He was silent as he stared her down from the shaft of his
blade. From the direction of the village, they could hear shouts of alarm. The
Pax had spotted the burning basket from their look-out towers. They would be
here in a few minutes.

“Alright, we need to move,” Mason decided. “We’ll take her
to the northern cave. We can decide what to do with her there.” He motioned
Ashlin forward with his blade and turned back to Logan, saying, “Keep your
sword on her for me.”

As they started moving through the forest, heading for the
northern mountain cave that they rarely visited except in times of emergency,
Norabel hardly had the energy to keep up with them. Not only did the disease
inside of her inhibit her from moving too fast, but the emotional toll of the
past few minutes made her feel weak and shaky inside.

When they were within sight of the path up the mountain that
led into the cave, Mason turned around and saw that Norabel was lagging behind.
Her heart caught in her throat when she realized he was coming back to get her,
and her eyes felt hot with the threat of tears. It was dark and windy up on the
rock path, and she tried to take comfort in the fact that he would not be able
to tell how shaken up she was.

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
2.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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