Dyritican Annals - The Book of Kings: Marked

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Chapter 6

“Sir, when was the Pirate Dar last seen and where?” Bace asked his Headmaster. After rushing back to the Academy Bace now stood before the man; heaving and winded.

“According to reports, it was just two days ago in Cacely.” He said.

“That’s right, and Cacely is nearly a two-week ride from here. How then, did he land up in Gail? Our own city.” Bace asked. The Headmaster looked away.

“How do you know he’s in the city?” The Headmaster asked.

“I threw him out of the bar today.” Bace mumbled.

“Is that what this is about? What, you want some kind of award? Recognition?” The Headmaster asked, rising from his seat.

“Pardon me, Sir.” Bace was speechless but opened his mouth to try and recover. “How dare you say that. When have I ever asked for recognition? I have done everything you’ve ever asked without question and now you think I suddenly want some kind of reward? Sir, just sit down.” Bace said and the room grew silent. The Headmaster realized suddenly that he was facing Bace not as a student, but as a man for the first time.

“Go ahead, Bace.” Bace sat down across from him.

“Sir, I believe that Daine has slowly been adding in one person at a time. Who better than to send in dozens of Pirate Dar copies? It’s someone we try to avoid so it would be easy for them to move about undetected. Who knows, there might be hundreds of others living with us, maybe even growing up here, just waiting for the cue. Just think; Daine could have been slowly integrating themselves into our population for decades. They could know all our secrets by now.”

“Bace, stop.” The Headmaster leaned forward in his chair. He spoke slowly, trying to pick his words carefully. “I think you’re over reacting. I understand what you’re going through. You’ve been through a lot lately and I think you need to just stop. You’re in your final year, you’re behind, and you have two students to look after. Get some rest, and focus on getting to the end of the year.” Bace waited quietly for a minute, looking down at his hands.

“You don’t believe me.” He finally said. The Headmaster sighed.

“Bace, we’re done.” Bace stood and walked out the room and then turned into the kitchen, hoping to rob a small snack from the kind cook already grinning at him.

Bace sat quietly in a tree with his back leaning against the trunk. He chose a branch high above the path he had taken through the forest. He was nearly a mile into the trees, twirling his dagger skillfully in his hand. He had been sitting there for nearly an hour and he felt old wounds getting soar. They should have found him by now. He picked at the leather wrapped around the hilt of the Spanish mock dagger and slowly started peeling it away. He had never thought to look underneath the leather and a small engraving suddenly caught his attention. He was fumbling with the leather when he heard a rustle in the bushes. He froze as Stephen and Kale came into view. Bace had been drilling tracking skills into his students for over two months now. He trained them whenever he could and now had them just as fit as he was. They could go for days without resting. Bace worked them on Sunday too, usually dedicating the day to working their mounts. The year was nearly finished and Bace could practically taste his freedom. It was only three months away. Ten months was the standard term of classes at the Academy and Bace’s classes were dedicated solely to application rather than learning. He was sent on more missions which brought him away for days at a time. When he was away he would leave assignments for Kale and Stephen. They hadn’t had a day off for two months.

Spring was almost upon them but the trees hadn’t started budding yet as the temperature still hovered below freezing. Bace had a clear view from his perch and watched his students pass by underneath him. Stephen was bent low to the ground as Kale kept his eyes up, searching for movement. Bace watched them pace quietly away from him, suddenly laughing at a quiet joke.

“No way, he’d never fall for that.” Stephen’s voice pitched with adrenaline. Bace sheathed his dagger quietly and waited for them to move further away. They had played this game many times before and each time Bace had managed to scare them or catch them in a snare he was able to set before they reached him. Each student had a racing heart, knowing that at any moment their master could seemingly jump out of nowhere.

“He’s more likely to put an arrow through your shirt like last time.” Kale laughed as they faded further into the trees. Stephen scowled at him as they recalled the event last time when Bace had shot an arrow through Stephen’s loose sweater, pinning him to a tree. Unfortunately for Stephen, this had triggered a loud scream in a pitch much to their ear’s dismay. Bace slid quietly down the tree and then started after them, careful to stay close to a tree or shrub. Kale’s movements were predictable and Stephen seemed to be too busy keeping his nose an inch from the ground. Bace had created a false trail further ahead which ended abruptly as he suddenly jumped into a tree above without breaking his stride. He had then worked his way back then to his previous perch where he had been waiting. Stephen suddenly gasped and reached behind him to grab Kale but ended up smacking him in the face as Kale had already been bending down. There was a quiet scuffle but a snapping branch brought them back. Bace looked towards the source of the sound and then quickly scaled a tree before Kale and Stephen turned around. Once in his tree Bace looked again in the direction of the sound but couldn’t pick up any movement. He refocused on his students and then managed to anchor himself to the tree as he slowly drew his bow. He nocked an arrow to the string but waited, curious to find out what his students would do next. They froze with their backs to each other so no area was left unscathed by their scanning eyes. Bace was eyeing a broken branch almost above them with a grin when something started crashing through the bushes to his right. He relaxed his draw and then turned to see a large grizzly racing towards the boys below.

“Bear!” Kale said, pushing Stephen behind him. Bace jumped down from the tree, startling Stephen who saw him first. Bace fired three arrows at the beast only seconds after he landed and all three found a mark in its big body, though not as accurate as he was hoping. Its stride broke for a second. Bace ran forward and drew again, planting himself between Kale and Stephen. He fired again, this time hitting it in the chest. The animal charged forward still but Bace kept his arrows coming.

“Get to a tree.” He yelled back. Kale was twirling his sword in his hand. Stephen had his drawn but he turned immediately and started climbing. The bear was only ten feet away when Bace fired the last arrow he had on him. The arrow sunk deep into its temple and Bace, relieved, saw the life leave its eyes. Its legs suddenly collapsed midstride and the bear slid to a stop only a foot in front of them. All three stood in silence. Bace turned around.

“See, size doesn’t matter at all.” Bace heaved, forcing a laugh. Kale suddenly broke their gaze and looked over Bace’s shoulder. His face grew pale. Bace spun.

“You killed his wife!” Stephen suddenly chirped from his spot in the tree. The grizzly stood on its back legs, only 30 yards from them. It grunted, sending a puff of frost into the air.

“Tree, tree now.” Bace said, pushing Kale back.

“Can’t they climb?” Kale looked down but Bace still had his eyes on the beast.

“Tree. Now!” Bace yelled as the second grizzly started after them. Bace guessed the bear would be about his height on all fours, never mind standing. He managed to pull two arrows from the female before turning with Kale who lunged for the closest tree. Kale scrambled up as Bace fled for his own. He was almost up when he heard Stephen scream. Bace looked over and saw the bear swat at Kale’s foot. Kale lost his grip and flipped back; landing hard on the ground. His sword slid away. Bace jumped down as the grizzly planted itself over Kale who curled into a ball when he hit the ground, trying to protect his neck and head. Bace bent down and heaved a rock at the beast as hard as he could.

“Hey!” His voice boomed over the muffled grunts of the beast. The bear turned, enjoying the challenge of a more worthy opponent. Bace bent down and gathered more rocks. He tossed them up one by one to Stephen as the bear walked slowly towards him. Kale scrambled to grab his sword.

“Kale, get in the tree!” Bace yelled, holding his arms up to make himself look as big as possible. The bear tossed its head and huffed. Bace suddenly felt mocked. Kale sheathed his sword and started for the tree. Bace backed up slowly, trying to get himself to safety again. The bear stood but then pounded its fore-feet on the ground. It did this a few more times, only a few feet from Bace. It stood again but this time to its full height. Bace’s eyes widened. The grizzly suddenly swiped a powerful arm but Bace jumped back and threw his bow away. The bear swiped again but Bace managed to duck underneath and scramble on his hands and feet to the right as he tried to gain his footing. The bear stood again and came at Bace with both arms extending forward towards him. Bace tripped backwards and landed heavily. He rolled to the side as the bear landed and then yelped. It turned quickly and swatted at Kale who had his sword driven into its rear. Kale jumped back but hadn’t expected such a hasty reaction. Kale flew away as the big paw hit his shoulder but he recovered quickly. He stood and ran back a few paces. Stephen’s first rock came flying in suddenly, now that there was no chance he could hit one of his colleagues. It connected with the bear’s snout and cracked loudly against the bone. Blood poured from its nostrils. Stephen threw in another and Bace quickly ducked as it sailed over his head. He quickly grabbed for the sword still stuck in the thick skin but missed as the bear jumped forward. Bace ran at the beast and finally ripped it free which brought the grizzly’s attention back to him. He tossed the blade back to Kale.

“Tree, now!” Bace ducked again as Stephen threw another rock. Another one followed immediately and hit the back of its skull as it stood again. As it turned to find the pesky sting Bace turned and started scrambling up the nearest tree. The bear swiped at his feet but he managed to find a safe height soon after Kale who was huddled next to Stephen. Stephen sent another rock down and the bear stamped furiously. It huffed and then stomped over to the female. It grunted again and then ambled into the trees. When the forest finally grew silent again all that was left was the sound of three bodies breathing heavily.

“You okay, Kale?” Bace finally asked.

“Other than a few bruises, I’m fine.” Bace nodded with relief but watched as Kale held his shoulder painfully.

“I think your shoulder is dislocated.” Stephen said quietly. Stephen looked over to Bace who leaned his head against a tree, happy that was all that was wrong. Bace had Kale’s shoulder set again only a few minutes later as Stephen stood watch. Bace glanced over at Stephen as Kale tried to keep from fainting. Stephen was nervously watching the female as if it might come alive.

“Why don’t you call the horses, hey Phen?” Bace asked quietly as he crouched down beside Kale and smacked Stephen’s calf. Stephen nodded slowly and then whistled loudly. Bace sat down beside Kale and rubbed his own shoulder, suddenly feeling the pressure of the bow on his old wounds. Stephen joined them on the ground after giving one last scan of the area.

“What weight are you drawing now?” Stephen suddenly asked.

“Just moved up to forty-five last week.” Bace replied as he checked on Kale again who had his head between his knees. Bace massaged the muscles around the shoulder once more to ensure everything was back in place and then stood.

“We should move away from the bear. The horses might not come if we stay.” Stephen said quietly. Bace glanced at the female and then turned towards it. He walked over and started pulling his arrows free. He wiped them on the ground and then collected them in their sheath.

“You’re right.” Bace walked over to Kale’s good arm and helped him up. “Come on old boy.” He mumbled as Kale seemed to resist.

“I’m okay.” Kale suddenly nodded. Bace watched as the young man supported his injured shoulder and started walking. Stephen grabbed Kale’s sword from the ground and carefully slid it into his companion’s sheath as they walked. It took a few minutes of walking before the horses finally came crashing down the path. Each ran up to their owner and started sniffing them nervously. Kale grabbed the reins but his mount tossed its head.

“What’s with them?” Stephen asked. Bace looked around as he tried to calm his horse.

“Keep an eye out for that grizzly.” He said quietly to Kale as Stephen fought to steady his beast. They mounted together and gathered their reins before starting down the track. Stephen went first with Kale right behind. Bace waited and looked around once more, taking a moment to focus solely on scanning the trees for the bear. After a minute of scanning he took off after the others but stayed further behind than he usually would. He wanted a wider view so he wouldn’t miss anything. The forest seemed to grow quieter as they rode but Bace felt that this only sharpened his senses. He became aware of Kale and Stephen having a quiet conversation but ignored the whispers.

“We’ve been at this for two months now. You think this would all be common sense.” Stephen mumbled as Kale rode up beside him.

“You think fighting off two bears is common sense?” Kale asked, grinning.

“No, I mean tracking. Bace was watching us the whole time.”

“Ha, would you rather have had him miss the entire thing.” Kale said, grinning down at his company. Stephen shook his head.

“I mean, how does he do it? How am I ever supposed to be as good as him?” Stephen asked. Kale glanced back at Bace who was clearly preoccupied with scanning the trees.

“Stephen, he’s been training for ten years. You’ve been training for seven months.”

“Yeah, well you haven’t even been training for two years and you’re almost as good as him.” Stephen moped.

“No I’m not. Not even close.” Kale argued.

“Yes you are, Kale.” Stephen jabbed a finger at Kale with his eyes wide. “You just can’t keep your head in situations like Bace can yet.” Stephen said quietly. Kale looked forward, his brow furrowed.

“You really think so?” Kale asked, suddenly looking over. Stephen nodded without looking over. Kale looked forward again. “Can’t keep my head?” He mumbled to himself. They broke through the trees suddenly and Stephen gasped. Kale sat in silent shock. Across the field two of their Living Buildings were set ablaze with flames and smoke reaching high into the sky.

“Hasn’t enough happened today?” Stephen whined as Bace suddenly tore past. They quickly followed suit but Bace was far ahead by the time they acted.

“That’s his Section!” Kale yelled over to Stephen and pointed at the nearest building with flames consuming the frame and crashing out the front door. Bace could hear the desperate cries coming from inside his building as he rode up. He jumped from the saddle and ran for his window. He yelled up, knowing it was pointless as his roommate had never even heard his own voice before. Bace grabbed a rock and tossed it into the window. Kale and Stephen thundered up a moment later. Nick suddenly appeared in the window. They signed a brief conversation to each other as Kale and Stephen ran up. Bace suddenly lowered his hands and cursed loudly. Kale watched him. He knew the look in Bace’s eyes well. Some kind of crazy plan was forming.

“What did he say?” Stephen asked. Bace turned back again and signed up to his roommate. Nick shook his head but Bace shook a finger at him.

“No.” He yelled up and suddenly sprinted to the front of the building. He was running for the front door but Kale managed to pull him back only moments before the front of the building creaked and toppled forward. They jumped back as the building flew towards them and held their arms over their eyes to shield them from the smoke and ashes that billowed out. Bace didn’t wait a second longer. He lunged forward and threw himself into the open roof on the ground.

“Bace!” Kale yelled but the man was gone. Kale looked over to see Stephen standing ten feet away, wide eyed and shaking. Kale ran over and grabbed Stephen by the arm. They ran back over to Bace’s window and waited quietly. A student further down suddenly jumped from a window and landed hard on the ground. Kale ran over and helped him away from the building. Stephen was frozen, unable to tear his eyes away from Bace’s window. Kale ran back over as the Doctor took over and helped the burned student inside.

“Where is he?” Stephen asked. Kale didn’t answer. He glanced around at the students around the building. Most were yelling, some were crying. Those who had been inside the buildings at some point were coated in black. Their eyes were blood shoot as they bent over; heaving the smoke from their lungs. The building creaked again and Stephen grabbed Kale’s good arm. Kale was starting to consider going in after Bace when the building creaked again.

“No.” Stephen said. Kale looked down.

“What?” He asked.

“You’re not going in there.” He said firmly. Kale was about to ask how he knew what he was thinking when a loud snap sent the building to the ground. Kale and Stephen ran further back and watched the building sink lower to the ground. Neither said another word as the other building followed a similar pattern.

It was dark by the time the fires had settled. Buckets of water were being hauled and thrown over any hot spots to speed up the cooling process. All the students seemed to be moving in slow motion. Nobody could look at one another. Stephen stuck close to Kale and tried to make up for the second bucket that Kale couldn’t carry. Stephen dumped his buckets and then Kale’s and started back towards the well but Kale didn’t follow. He turned. Kale stood quietly where Bace’s window had been.

“Kale?” Stephen called. Kale didn’t move. Stephen dropped the buckets and walked over. He looked up at Kale who stared at the building in a daze. “Kale?” He said again. He gently grabbed Kale’s arm. “Hey, would you knock it off?” Stephen said, suddenly teary eyed. Kale became aware suddenly and looked down at Stephen. Stephen wiped his eyes and glared at Kale.

“I’m sorry, Stephen.”

“Whatever.” Stephen stomped away, leaving the buckets on the ground. Kale turned back around and stared at the building, straining his ears to try and pick out the small voice he thought he heard before.

Stephen found Kale in the morning still standing where he had left him hours before. The sun rose heartily as if to mock their sorrow. Kale tried to look down at Stephen but couldn’t.

“I don’t want to find him, Kale. I don’t want to look.” Kale didn’t either but he knew he would. He wanted to find Bace. Dead or alive. He knew that if he wouldn’t help he would never forgive himself. Kale finally looked down. They were quiet for a while.

“Why don’t you help with another Section. You won’t have to worry about finding him then.” He said quietly. Stephen looked away. A loud trumpet suddenly ruptured a hole in the still morning air. The students gathered in front of the Hall joined by a few dozen men and women from the City.

“Thirty-nine of your colleagues are missing. We will carefully search through the remains of both buildings for any survivors. If you find someone call for a medic and one will join you shortly.” Stephen only noticed then a group of Doctors all standing by from the City Hospital. As their Headmaster continued barking instructions Kale turned a deaf ear and stared at the pile of wood covered in a dark ash. Smoke still rose from a few places.

“Come on, Kale.” Stephen suddenly said. The group of students and folk from the City had started moving towards the buildings. They were careful not to collapse anything but as the need aroused to dig deeper and expand their search they slowly started climbing over beams to reach further in. Kale found himself praying he would not stumble across any charred bodies. He glanced around and figured by the looks on everyone’s faces that they were all praying for the same thing. The first cry came from the other building and the old woman who had stumbled across the first body fainted. A few students dashed over and pulled the woman from the wreckage. The blackened body was pulled up next. Kale turned away but saw Stephen staring, unable to peel his gaze away.

“Stephen, you wanna help me with this?” Kale asked. Stephen snapped his head around. Kale could see the realization in Stephen’s eyes that they might find Bace like that hit him like a wall. Stephen seemed to be breathing hard despite not having strained himself at all yet. He was shaking his head. “Stephen, it’s going to be okay.” Stephen seemed stuck to the beam he was perched on. He crouched down and looked away, still shaking his head. As his gaze fell down to the wreckage underneath him he suddenly screamed and fell back off the beam. Kale scrambled forward as Stephen disappeared and looked down. He didn’t see anything until a black face suddenly opened their eyes wide. He bent down and then found the soft smile of Mash peering up through the pile of wood around him.

“You okay?” Kale asked.

“Never better.” Mash prodded a smiled from Kale as he stood and eventually found the outline of Mash’s body under the debris. He called over a few others and they slowly started lifting off whatever was pinning Mash in place. When they pulled him loose a few who knew him better carried him to the grass. Kale suddenly remembered Stephen. He stepped up to the beam and leaned over it. Stephen was sitting with his back against the thick wood with his head between his knees and his arms wrapped over top. Kale jumped over and worked on gently getting Stephen to his feet.

“Come on. I’m sure-” He started but was interrupted by a piercing whistle. Kale looked around but couldn’t pick out where the sound had come from. Stephen looked around frantically recognizing the whistle just as much as Kale.

“That was Bace!” He exclaimed. Kale hurried forward and scanned the debris below him.

“Bace! We need that whistle again.” He yelled. It was quiet and everyone who had jumped into action at the sound stopped to listen. It had become so quiet that Kale thought he heard the intake of breath before the whistle sounded again. Kale stumbled forward and gasped as something grabbed his boot. He fell back but then scrambled on his hands and knees until he found the two hands resting on top of the debris. Unlike Mash, Bace had come from deep within the building, somehow crawling his way to the top. He had gone as far as he could but still managed to get his hands through. Kale lay on his stomach and shook his head, grinning from ear to ear as he grabbed both of Bace’s hands.

“By the hair on my head, Bace. You’re alive!” He exclaimed.

“Boy am I glad to see you.” Bace whispered. A few students and men started climbing over excitedly.

“Whoa, whoa.” Bace suddenly coughed. Kale held up his hands.

“Stop.” Everyone around froze. Kale leaned forward as Bace tried to talk.

“I have eight boys alive down there. They are all safe in a sturdy pocket but one wrong step from above could make it collapse.” Kale nodded.

“Sturdy pocket?” Kale teased.

“I did the best I could.” Bace shrugged back smiling.

“Kale!” The Headmaster suddenly boomed. “Who did you find?” He yelled from across the building.

“It’s Bace. He has eight guys below but they can’t get out.” He continued explaining as Bace sat quietly. Stephen had slowly been working his way forward and suddenly came up beside Kale. Bace smiled weakly at Stephen who noticed the dried blood coating Bace’s head as soon as he saw him.

“You’re head!” He exclaimed.

“It’s fine.” He said as he squinted up at Stephen. It was a slow process as they worked at carefully peeling away the debris. Bace was the first to be pulled free just as the sun was starting to set. Kale grabbed his arms and pulled him up. Stephen helped and together they dragged him to the grass. The Academy’s Doctor was by his side as soon as was out so Bace closed his eyes and allowed himself to be carried inside. Unfortunately the Academy didn’t have enough room for the multitude of students that were injured so Bace ended up on a thin mattress on the floor under one of the windows in the lunch room. Kale and Stephen sat beside him as all students had now been accounted for, dead or alive. Bace slept through the night despite a persistent cough and hardly seemed to wake when one of the Doctor’s came around to spread something on his burns or change the bandage around his head and knee.

He woke in the morning, already bright eyed, and sat up quietly. Kale and Stephen were both gone, probably escorted to more comfortable rooms in a Section that hadn’t been burned to the ground. Bace had been subject to minimal injuries. He had small burns dotting both arms and another to the back of his neck. His knee had been ripped open on a jagged piece of wood he had unfortunately tripped on but he couldn’t remember what had happened to his head. He felt a thick headache form slightly as the coughing continued so he pressed his wrists over his eyes to try and numb it. He checked with one eye when he heard someone crouching in front of him. He let a grin out and replaced the pressure to his eyes.

“If I hit my head another time I’ll have nothing left inside but jelly.” He grumbled as the Doctor chuckled and pulled Bace’s hands away. He looked into each eye and then let go, satisfied.

“Just be glad it isn’t a concussion this time.” He patted Bace safely on the foot before standing and walking over to another student. Bace watched the Doctor’s make their rounds for another hour before rising. He slowly rolled his thin mattress and then limped out the door, glancing at Nick who slept soundly across the room from him. When he walked outside he froze. It took him a few minutes to realize what he was looking at so he started counting. Stretched before him were seventeen blankets each covering a body hardened with frost. Bace limped forward and knelt beside the first blanket. He lifted it back and then set it down again then moving down the line to repeat the process. He stood again but hesitated as he looked down the line. His eyes stopped on the body only seven down from where he stood. He felt panic rise slowly in him and he finally managed to put one foot forward. Each step felt like he was sinking deeper into the ground. It felt like hours before he reached the body. He knelt slowly and lifted the blanket before he could stop himself. He flinched and looked away, falling back as he let go. He stood stiffly and turned away feeling an irrepressible fury rise into his chest. He bent down quickly and fisted a rock tightly before straightening. He looked down at the grey lump in his hand and then heaved it away as hard as he could and screamed. He turned back once more and forced himself to lift every blanket and remember each face. When he finished, he turned towards the forest and started running.

“Where’s Bace?” Stephen asked up to Kale when they met in the morning.

“I don’t know, haven’t seen him yet. Did you check in the Hall?” He asked.

“No, I didn’t check the last place we saw him.” Stephen replied sarcastically. Kale looked down at him but felt a growing worry rise into his stomach. After searching all of Bace’s usual areas they met again outside the Hall. Kale noticed Stephen watching the bodies nervously.

“You seen Bace anywhere?” Kale asked a student as he walked past. The kid shrugged.

“I haven’t but someone said they saw him peeking under the blankets this morning.” Kale looked back at Stephen as the other student disappeared. Stephen seemed to catch on slowly.

“If he looked under the blankets he would have seen Keel and the Cook.” Stephen looked at the forest without thinking.

“We should go get him.” Stephen started for the stables with Kale following close behind. They saddled quickly but were stopped by the Headmaster on their way out.

“What are you up to, boys?” He asked.

“We were going to go find Bace, Sir.” Stephen replied but Kale stepped in before the Headmaster could reply.

“How did the Cook get caught in the fire? Why was she in one of the Living Buildings? It doesn’t make any sense.” The Headmaster looked away sadly.

“A student saw her run in after the fire had started. She was trying to help a group of first year’s get out when she heard them screaming from inside.” Kale mounted and glared.

“Then why didn’t any first-year students die?”

“They said she was trapped.” He replied shortly.

“Something isn’t adding up here, Sir, and I don’t believe that you think it was an accident.” Kale growled and then kicked his horse forward. Stephen quickly followed and they were soon thundering across the field. Kale and Stephen rode softly through the forest; Stephen in front and Kale behind. They were half a mile in when Kale had a sudden feeling that he was being watched. He looked down at his horse and watched its ears continuously flick to the same position. Kale pulled back on the reins and snapped his head around, looking up into a tree about ten feet back. He spotted Bace immediately, wrapped in a tight ball in a branch high above. Bace smiled weakly and then looked away.

“Stephen.” Kale called before Stephen could get too far. Stephen turned back and looked up to where Kale was pointing. Stephen let out a sigh of relief and rode to the base of the tree. He grabbed onto the nearest branch from the saddle and climbed to where Bace sat. When he reached the older man, Stephen wrapped his arms around him. Bace winced but let the boy do what he needed to do.

“Told you tracking isn’t so hard.” Bace said and pushed Stephen away. Stephen looked down at Kale who looked up contentedly. Kale watched the two climb down together. Stephen mounted when they reached the ground and then offered a hand up to Bace who ignored it.

“What? Aren’t you coming back?” Stephen asked.

“You guys go ahead; I have something I need to do before I come in.” He said. Kale stuck out a leg in front of Bace as he tried to walk by.

“Bace, what’s going on? What are you thinking?” He asked firmly. Bace looked up at him and then back at Stephen who stared down at him with the same determined expression. He looked back at Kale.

“I’m thinking about how two of our buildings started on fire with kids and the cook trapped inside in broad daylight.”

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