“Raven! Where do you think you’re going?”
Raven halted in the middle of the hall, grimacing. He’d tried to sneak past Sam, who was scouring her training book for specialized tactics, but she was far too keen-eyed now to not notice him. Besides, the Harvest Festival was in a couple days, and there were always party crashers looking to smash the giant pumpkins and eggplant.
“Well? Where? Use your ‘big boy’ voice, beetle-juice.”
He slowly pivoted around on the balls of his feet, staring at the red-and-blue, plaid-socked feet tucked up on the edge of the seat.
“I…I just wanted to…to test the…the distance on my, um, slingshot.”
Sam waved her hand impatiently. “Fine, fine. Go knock yourself out. But if you really do, don’t come cryin’ to me. I’m busy.”
Raven shuffled obediently down the hall, jammed his feet in his boots, and grabbed his sweater before slamming out the screen door.
“Get back here for lunch! Or you don’t get any!” Sam hollered after him, before jamming her ears with head-banging music. “An’ don’t track mud back in here!”
Raven clambered down the stairs and ran through the misty morning, which was overcast and shadowless. He panted only a little as he ran. He’d been running more this past week—more so than he thought he could have possibly done in his whole life. Dad was still gone working and wouldn’t be back until the Festival, and Mom, too, was working late with her apprentices almost every night, so he ran nearly everywhere.
To get away from his own sister.
He reached the target area, greatly expanded and developed in recent days under Sam’s control. She’d said she would give him ice cream and stuff he liked to get him to help her, but mostly he just did it to keep Sam from using him as a running target. Even those rubber-headed arrows hurt through the gear.
Raven reached his new campout under the cover of forest and bushes. It was little more than a ready-to-fall-apart pile of branches and leaves, but it was all he had to himself. He slid inside and sat on his heels, weeping quietly. He didn’t know exactly why it had happened, but he knew that after that last call with Emmaline, something had snapped in his sister. But why? Emma was the nicest person he knew.
I gotta find her and ask what’s going on.
The snap of a twig alerted him. He hushed his breath and was still. Raven peeked through a spy hole in his stick house.
A pair of soldiers in camouflage uniforms materialized into view, scanning the forest for movement. They began making their way down the hill, bows half drawn. He heard a hoarse whisper.
“Where’s the kid s’posed to be?”
“Some fort he made out here.”
Raven snapped his head back in as they scanned his way. They were looking for him. He had a terrible urge to run away as fast as he could, but something held him in place. He was paralyzed and couldn’t breathe.
Then he got an idea. A stupid, terrible, awesome idea.
Seeing that they were heading slowly away from him, Raven tied his stealth gear to his shoes: a mere ragged dishcloth to muffle the sound of his feet. He grabbed his pouch of rocks and laced it to his belt. Then he carefully stepped out of his fort, feet sideways to avoid crunching noises, and made his way down the slope. Raven’s heart bounced up and down in his chest like it was riding in a bumpy carriage, excited and curious for his experiment.
After all, what better target was there than a few live soldiers?
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