Chapter Twelve: "Under Cover of Darkness"
That evening is spent plotting the demise of a certain overgrown Barren and his loyal, dimwitted followers. Uncle Den is not due back until late, so Hale, his brother, Kaethe and Rett take the opportunity to throw out idea after idea, all becoming more devious than the last. Hale is shocked that most of the ideas come from the Eivish, the two of them bouncing things back and forth while he sits startled, head drifting between them, and Louk smirks quietly in the arm chair.
“We could ship him away,” Rett suggests while whisking together their dinner for the night, some bread dish with tomato sauce, cheese and strips of meat sprinkled on top. “I know a guy. He would be fine with it. More than fine, actually. Knock Reuben out, tie him up, send him sailing and we’d never have to see or hear from him again. It’s perfect. Fool proof, even.”
The conversation comes to a stop. Kaethe is frowning at her brother. He and Louk are just speechless – which seems to happen more and more the longer they are in Rett and his sister’s company. It’s strange, really. Almost an entire year that they have known the two siblings; fought with and for them, pranked with and against them, lived with them, and yet just about every day there is something new to be learned.
Just two days ago, as Hale and Kaethe had been walking down to Knoll for the start of the Games, she’d informed him that, back in Thress, she’d had a boyfriend. It was going on year number three for them that day. She’d thought he was going to be ‘The One’. And now all those hopes and dreams for her – for them – were in the sewers because of a Noble and his lust for something that was never, could never, be his to begin with.
“That . . . is very vindictive,” Hale says at last when Rett pokes his head out of the kitchen to see why no one has responded to him. “I didn’t know you had it in you. Seriously. I . . . I have nothing else to say.”
“I do!” Louk declares, sitting up with his hand raised, and excited grin on his face. “I like it! When do we start?”
“No, we’re not going to kidnap him. That’s too messy. Too many loose ends that would need tying up. People would look for him, and we’d be so obvious as the culprits that it wouldn’t matter that no evidence could be found to convict us,” Kaethe says with a dismissive wave.
Hale chooses not to ask how she knows that. Some things are better left to the imagination. Or to never be answered. He thinks he would rather be kept in the dark, anyways.
“And just who do you know?” Kaethe continues demandingly, crossing her arms.
Rett shrugs and goes back to mixing the bread dough. “No one that you would know. You two don’t run in the same circles, if you know what I mean.”
Hale doesn’t, but it seems that Kaethe does as her glare hardens and she marches into the kitchen.
“This should be good,” Louk whispers excitedly, bouncing along behind her. Hale follows slowly, unsure if he wants to hear this argument – or whatever it’s going to be – or if he even wants to witness it. All he does know is that things could get messy since Rett does have a bowl of flour to his left, and he’d like to think he’s the adult of the group so that is what he should do. Try and keep the peace.
“This is someone you left the Guild for, huh?”
“I didn’t leave for him,” Rett disagrees with a roll of his eyes. “I did that for me. The Guild was getting too stifling as of late. Too many restrictions for someone as creative as myself.”
“You mean too many rules.”
“Rules are restrictions,” Rett clarifies. “And I did not like the ones they placed on me. It was a waste of my Eiylahm given talent. It was absolutely despicable of them.”
Kaethe is just opening her mouth to give a retort – and from the look in her eyes it is going to be positively scathing – when the echoing dong of a distant bell reaches their ears. “What’s that?” she asks instead, cocking her head to the side as the ringing continues, far away but still shrill.
The blood chills in Hale’s veins. His entire body goes numb as a sound he has not heard in over a decade registers in his brain. Oh no. He turns to look out the window, and the darkening sky outside, the shadows lengthening and casting the world into eerie shadow. It only makes the bell sound even worse; even more frightening.
“Hale . . . ?” his little brother calls, worry making him sound younger than he is.
Tearing his gaze from the window he sees Louk staring up at him, eyes wide, begging him for what to do.
The only problem is that he has no clue.
“It’s . . . it’s the warning bell,” he whispers, stalking to the door, throwing it wide and listening as the bell keeps going, keeps ringing. The knell. The slow but urgent signal that all Barrens are trained to hear and obey. “It means we’re . . . we’re under attack.” He spins around and goes straight to the storage cupboard, dragging a chest from the way back. It is old and worn, a collection of dust on the top after years of neglect. Throwing it open he starts pulling out weapons; swords and knives, two battle-axes that used to be his father’s and have not been touched since his death.
Since the last time the bell was rung.
“We have to go,” he says hurriedly. “We need to get to Knoll.”
Louk disappears into their room, returning less than a minute later with his bow and quiver slung across his shoulders. He shifts nervously where he stands next to Hale, shifting from foot to foot as he worries his fingers over the leather strap for his quiver. “Hale . . . ?”
“Here,” he tells the younger boy, pushing three knives into his hands. “Battle-up.”
“Uncle Den . . . ?”
“Will be fine,” he assures, keeping his voice steady and firm even though he feels anything but.
This shouldn’t be happening. He doesn’t even know how this could be happening.
“The bell’s used to signal a warning. It’s . . . it’s a last resort,” he explains to Rett and his sister, giving them weapons that he doesn’t even know if they can use. He has never seen them fight before, aside from the brawl from earlier, and that wasn’t anything special to see. Kaethe had been clingy and Rett had been taunting. Both looked like they were barely hanging on; barely keeping upright against those so much bigger and so much better trained than them.
“Which means what?” Rett wonders, shoving two daggers into both of his boots.
Hale looks up in time to see Kaethe doing the same. “Which means that the patrols are down. Which means Knoll is under attack.”
“. . . So we should really get going, huh?” Kaethe adds, twisting her hair into a braid with practiced ease.
“Yeah,” he nods, slamming the chest closed with his foot. “We need to move fast. Stay off the main road.”
“Okay,” the three of them agree.
“Louk, you’re on point. Can you handle that?”
His little brother nods that he can.
“I’ll bring up the rear. Kaethe, Rett, the two of you think you can keep up?”
The two siblings share a look. Hale isn’t sure what it means, but he catches the tail-end of a shared eye roll that makes him feel ridiculous for asking such a question. He actually has to remind himself that it isn’t; that it’s a valid concern. These two aren’t Barrens. They haven’t been trained for this. They’re thieves – one is, he reminds himself, the other is . . . something else – and have never fought before. He doesn’t even remember seeing them fighting all those months ago when they first met. His first actual glimpse of them had been when they’d come out from hiding behind a tree.
“Yeah,” Rett says. “I think so.”
“Good. You need to fall behind you get up into a tree.”
Kaethe is very put out by the suggestion – why, he has no idea and there is no time to dwell.
Louk steps up to the door, arrow notched, drawn, ready and waiting for danger. His eyes dart all around, and then he darts out the door, Kaethe and Rett following close behind, silent across the yard. Hale is slower out of the cabin, wary as he closes the door and hurries after them.
The trip down to Knoll seems to take longer than it ever has, and yet it is over in the blink of an eye. The four of them are silent save for their heavy breaths – he is surprised that Kaethe and her brother managed to keep up with Louk who was practically flying through the trees while he got pushed further behind. But what he lacks in speed he makes up for in endurance, and when they come to a stop beside one of the main roads leading into Knoll Hale is the first to react to the shadow that approaches from their right.
He takes down the intruder with two quick jabs to the chest and then flingsthe man over his shoulders. The shadow hits with a breathless groan, falling limp for a second.
“. . . Hale?”
Blinking and squinting, he leans closer to make out Reuben in the dim lighting.
“Reuben, what are you doing?”
“Same as you?” the other boy wheezes, shoving him away. “I got away when they came. Now I’m trying to get back in.”
“When who came?” Kaethe wonders, appearing at his side.
It’s like a dial has been turned. One moment Reuben is cautious, whispering and quiet even as his eyes dart around, looking for danger. But the second that he sees Kaethe he is a raging mess, lunging up from the ground and grabbing onto her throat. It happens so fast that Hale does not react at first, watching as Kaethe is shoved up against a tree, her feet kicking entirely too far off the ground.
“It’s your fault! You brought them here!” Reuben hisses, spit flying to strike her cheek.
“Get off her!” Rett snaps, kicking the backs of the larger boy’s knees. Reuben drops. Kaethe follows suit. But the grip on her throat does not loosen and her lips are starting to turn blue. “Let her go!”
Hale shakes himself out of the shock of it all, going forward and stopping Rett before he does something that will end very, very badly – he can only imagine where that knife was going to end up if he hadn’t stepped in the way. “Reuben, let her go. She didn’t do anything.”
Reuben turns on him, too, his eyes blazing in the moonlight. “It’s the Eives,” he spits.
“What?” Louk calls.
“The Eives attacked us. They’ve taken over the city. They’re here because of them,” Reuben growls.
“She CAN’T BREATHE!” Rett almost roars, swinging around Hale and tackling Reuben backwards. The surprise and force knocks them both over, and Kaethe rolls free, gasping and coughing. She crawls away, air hissing down her throat. Louk goes over to her, kneeling down, an arm over her back to give support. Hale has the sneaking suspicion that his brother is the only thing keeping her upright as she struggles to relearn how to breathe.
On the ground, Rett and Reuben are fighting, both trying to get the upper hand and both failing.
“Enough!” Hale orders, grabbing both Rett and Reuben by their hair. He yanks them apart and throws each to either side. “Stop it! We’re gonna get caught. And then what will happen? Huh?”
“They’re Eives! All Eives are bad news,” Reuben says, as though that is the answer to everything.
It hasn’t been the answer for a long time. Not since Rett pushed him out of the way of that arrow and saved his life, nearly giving his own in the process. This, this moment from so far, and yet not quite so far, ago is the reason that Hale does not believe the way that Reuben does. Kaethe and her brother are family now, and family sticks together. Even through the worst.
“No, they aren’t,” he disagrees. He motions to Kaethe who is just sitting up. He nods to Rett who is scowling and spitting blood, crouched low and ready to pounce. “They aren’t.”
“You disgust me, Hale.”
“You’re not pleasant either,” Kaethe rasps.
“You alright, Kae?” Rett calls to his sister.
“Mmmhmm,” she replies even though she does not sound it.
There is a rustling in the trees, the wind rattling through the leaves. It sounds ominous. A shiver runs down Hale’s spine as he twists around, searching for threats while praying there are none. The commotion that was caused had to have been heard. If the Eives are any good – and it seems they are with the efficiency that they have taken Knoll – then soldiers will be coming to investigate. They do not have time to chat. They do not have time to place blame. What they do need to do is leave, get somewhere else, somewhere safer, and they need to go now.
“We need to move,” Hale declares. “We’ll figure this out later. C’mon.” He waves them back into the trees, leading them around and away in case the scuffle was heard, which he knows is too likely for comfort. They hurry around Knoll, ducking and diving between the trees before sneaking down a back alley and into a closed shop, hunkering down behind a counter as Eives patrol the streets, up and down, up and down, a competence that Hale has never thought they could have.
“Now what happened, Reuben?” he asks as the latest patrol passes by the shop windows, three men in dark helmets, marching in complete sync with their boots thudding along the cobblestones. “How did the Eives take Knoll?”
“They came at the end of the Games. I don’t know how it happened. I wasn’t allowed,” he snarls, giving them all dark glares. “But they went straight for the arena. They came in, everything was so orderly. One second we were free, the next the entire city is overrun and everyone was herded into the arena. Some of us got away. I think. I hope. I saw a handful make it into the trees, but Eives were scouting us out. I thought you were one of them.” He eyes turn icy, lips lifting up in a snarl as he adds, “I was partially right.”
“Bugger off, Ginorm’Io,” Rett retorts from where he’s trying to get a look at his sister’s throat. Even from the other side of the counter Hale can tell bruises are forming. “We didn’t sell you guys out. If you must know, we’re probably wanted back in Eiveyn for crimes that do not exist.”
“Well,” Kaethe amends, her voice an agitated hiss as air passes along her abused throat, “there are those allegations . . .”
“Just allegations. They can’t prove we took the Royal jewelry box.”
“Did you?” Louk wonders.
His brother’s face falls.
“. . . Maybe,” Rett adds with a shrug.
“He means yes,” Kaethe clarifies.
“But that’s not what I’m getting at. What I mean is that we’re traitors to Eiveyn, and for good reason. We wouldn’t sell you out to them. Never. If we had, why would we hang around? You guys could kill us in more ways than I know how to sneeze.”
“He’s strange that way,” his sister explains, clearing her throat, and then shushing them all as another patrol comes by.
“Then they’re here for you,” Reuben decides, lunging once more.
This time it is Louk that gets between the bigger boy and the Eivish, twisting Reuben's arm up behind his back and then pressing a knee into Reuben’s spine. He keeps the other boy pinned and silent until this new patrol is gone down the street, and then he quickly gets off Reuben and slinks back to his spot beside Rett.
“We don’t know that,” Hale says firmly. “We don’t. We can’t make assumptions. What we need to figure out is what is going on. We need to know where everyone is—”
“The arena. I told you that.”
“Are you sure no one was moved?”
The other boy is silent.
“We need to do recon. We need to know if anyone else got out. We need to know more than we do now.”
“Kaethe and I can go investigate,” Rett offers instantly.
Reuben is quick to voice his disagreement, snarling horrible thing after horrible thing. Kaethe blushes. Rett just looks like a parent who has been disappointed by an unruly child.
“Are you sure?” Hale wonders, cutting Reuben off mid-rant about the siblings’ mother being a whore.
“Hale, we’re thieves,” Rett scoffs.
“It’s kind of what we’re good at,” Kaethe offers.
He takes a heavy breath, unsure what he should do, scared of what he is about to do, quaking in all the thoughts running through his mind of what could go wrong. “Take Louk with you. He knows Knoll better, and he’ll be the quietest of the three of us.”
Kaethe and her brother nod, wait for the next patrol to go by, and then the two of them and Louk disappear out the back.
“And what are we going to do?” Reuben demands.
“We’re going hunting.”
“For what? Eives, or for anyone else who got away?”
Reuben agrees readily, and then they too leave out the rear door, sneaking back into the trees.
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