First Chapter of Turncoats

Hello Everyone,

Seeing how I haven’t posted anything all summer (I blame my foray into the real world, aka my job), I thought I would post the first (and unedited) chapter of my newest work in progress.

Katie

Benjamin grasped the reins as best he could. The wound in his stomach burned. He had never felt such a pain before. The bullet had hopefully only grazed him, but he couldn’t be sure.

He glanced around as best he could. It was dark in the forest and he couldn’t see much through the trees. He clumsily swung his head to look behind him. His shooter wasn’t in sight, but Benjamin couldn’t tell if he was lurking farther back, waiting to strike again. He straightened back around, the burning sensation in his stomach shifted into a sharp pain. Wincing, Benjamin gingerly touched his wound. It was sweltering. He removed his hands, slippery with blood.

A shout echoed from behind him. With a deep breath, he urged his horse to go faster. The reins were slipping from his grip. Benjamin felt a drop of water land on his face. He looked up. Another drop fell. He groaned. The rain wasn’t going to help.

The pain in his stomach was getting worse. One of the reins slipped from Benjamin’s grasp. He lurched for it; pain exploded in his stomach. The slippery pieces of leather slid through Benjamin’s wet fingers.

With a groan, Benjamin dug one of his heels into his horse’s side. His horse’s gait didn’t improve much. He glanced backward. There was nothing behind him but trees. A strong wind pillaged the trees of their leaves and whipped Benjamin’s hair around his face. To his right, a wolf howl echoed through the trees. Benjamin urged his horse to keep going.

He could feel his horse losing traction on the slick forest floor. Benjamin grasped his horse’s neck as well as he could. A low hanging branch swooped down out of nowhere; Benjamin flattened himself against his horse’s neck, but instead of stopping, his horse skidded through the mud and wet leaves. Benjamin clawed at his horse’s mane. He grabbed a fistful of bristly hair, causing his horse to buck. Pain exploded as Benjamin slid off the horse and tumbled to the ground. He heard his horse above him nicker, and Benjamin quickly rolled out of the way, as he saw two hooves land inches from his face. Benjamin let out a low groan, as he watched his horse thunder away into the forest.

Using his elbows, Benjamin weakly propped himself up. Pain gnawed at his insides. Benjamin knew that if he didn’t get his wound cleaned soon, it could become infected. Sometimes, infection was worse than the bullet itself.

Benjamin slowly crawled towards the nearest tree. He could feel the cool mud ooze underneath him, as he reached for the tree trunk and pulled himself towards it. With a loud squelch, his boot popped off, pulled away by the mud’s miry fingers. Benjamin couldn’t see it through the murky rain, and he didn’t have the motivation to retrieve it.

He used the tree’s knurled skin to pull him to his feet, trying to ignore the burning in his abdomen. He paused for a second to catch his breath, before tentatively lifting his foot to take a step. He slowly lowered it; the feeling of the mud squishing in between his toes made him shudder. This time, Benjamin raised his booted foot, and brought it down into the mud. He let out a sigh of relief. One step, he thought. Surely the others couldn’t be as bad.

Benjamin was wrong. With each step, the pain in his stomach exploded; his stomach was hot to the touch. It reminded Benjamin of harvest time, when his father would roast a pig. Benjamin could never wait to eat it, and always burnt his fingers on the hot skin of the pork.

Focus, he told himself. Benjamin looked around. He had no idea where he was. What if he never found his way back? Benjamin shook his head. “Think, Benjamin,” he said aloud. “Find shelter.” He doubled over, taking a deep breath. The rain poured down, chilling him. He could barely see through his own soaked hair covering his face. “Find water.” Benjamin looked up at the sky, and laughed, his body aching his pain, as he shook. “Never mind that.” He reached for the nearest tree trunk and leaned against it. “Or a person.”

The trees blurred around him. Benjamin shook his head. He still couldn’t see clearly. He blindly took a few steps; his arms outstretched in front of him, ready to intercept any obstacles in his path. He took a deep breath, and took another wobbly step.

After pausing for a break, Benjamin lifted his head. He blinked. Two golden lights had appeared in the dark forest. What were they? Benjamin took a tentative step towards the lights. They flickered for a second, but reignited even brighter than before. Benjamin searched his memory. His mother had told him stories of strange lights before- she’d said they were the candles that the dead carried to the afterlife- but Benjamin had always just assumed that they were legends.

He could move closer to the lights, but encountering dead souls did not sound exactly inviting. Benjamin gingerly placed a hand on his wound. It was blistering hot. He needed to find someone who could help him, and he had to do it fast. He snuck a glance at the lights. They could light his way through the forest, and if they really were dead souls, Benjamin doubted they could injure him any worse than he already was.

He quickly stumbled towards the two lights, disregarding the pain in his stomach. Benjamin took another step, but as he lowered his foot, he felt the ground slip out from underneath him. He wildly reached for the tree trunk to break his fall, but his hands were swiping at air. Benjamin landed on his back with a dull thud. He quickly shut his eyes, as the rain pelted his face. His teeth clenched and he groaned. A sharp pain twisted in his stomach. Lying in the mud, Benjamin gasped for breath. Slowly, he craned his neck to see if the two lights were still there. They were.

Benjamin didn’t trust himself to walk again, so he would have to crawl towards the lights. Gritting his teeth, Benjamin slowly flipped himself onto his stomach. Pain roared in his abdomen. Benjamin clawed at the ground as he tried to heave himself forward. He could feel the cool mud getting trapped beneath his fingernails, but he reached out again, and grasped another handful of leaves and dirt, and dragged himself forward.

Benjamin drew in a large breath of cool air. He was losing feeling in his fingers with each handful of earth. Slimy mud had settled into the hole in his stomach. Benjamin doubted that dirt in his wound was a good thing, but he was thankful for the temporary relief it provided by cooling his skin. He gazed at the lights one last time before forcing himself to keep going.

His pace was slow, but Benjamin could tell he was getting closer to the lights. Every tug hurt, but he knew that he had to keep going. The lights could mean people, and people meant medical supplies. If the bullet hole didn’t kill him, infection would.

As Benjamin grew closer to the lights, he started to be able to make out a fuzzy outline of a shelter. His heart leapt. It was a cabin. In its window sat two lanterns. Benjamin let out a relieved sigh. The lights were lanterns, not the dead. He shook his head. The wound was making him delusional.

Doing his best to push the thought of the dead out of his mind, Benjamin threw himself towards the cabin, almost ignorant of the pain in his stomach. He heaved himself forward again until he was within distance of the door. His hand skimmed the surface of the door as everything went black.

 

The clinking of silverware against plates echoed in Benjamin’s ear. He sighed softly, not wanting to wake up just yet. He hadn’t been in a warm bed since… Benjamin couldn’t remember the last time he slept in a warm bed. It had to have been before he left to join the war. He turned over in his sleep, causing pain to burst in his stomach. He stiffened, as his eyes shot open. Where was he? He tried to prop himself up, but the pain wouldn’t let him. He slowly sunk back into the bed.

“You should stop moving.”

Benjamin craned his neck to see where the voice had come from. It had a musical quality and was unlike any accent Benjamin had ever heard before.

“Stop moving,” the voice repeated. “You’re only going to make it worse.”

Benjamin knew the voice was right. Even though every muscle in his body was telling him to escape, he sank back into the bed.

“There we go,” the voice said, as the barrel of a gun crept towards him over the side of the bed. Benjamin froze, flashing back to his encounter last night. It had happened within seconds. Just one shot. Benjamin hadn’t even registered what was happening. Moments later, a sharp pain had exploded in Benjamin’s stomach. The last thing he could remember was the scattering of his company as the mercenaries emerged from the trees. A pang of guilt washed over Benjamin. His men could be dead, and it was all his fault.

The barrel of the gun prodded at Benjamin’s shoulder. “Are you listening to me?” He winced but the voice didn’t seem to care. “Where’d you get that gunshot wound?”

Benjamin looked at the owner of the voice for the first time. Behind a gun much too big for her, a girl about his age was hiding and was doing a good job at it. Between the gun and a cloud of frizzy hair, he could barely make out her face.

The girl nudged Benjamin with the barrel of the gun again. “Are you going to answer my question or not?”

He took a deep breath. He couldn’t tell this girl the true story. He didn’t know where her loyalties lied. He glanced around the cabin. There was a small table set for two. A fire. A trunk. A chair. Nothing else. There was nothing to distinguish whether she was loyal to Queen Calanthe or to the rebels.

“I didn’t save your life for you to ignore me,” the girl said, readjusting her grip on the rifle. “If you’re not going to tell me then you better get going.”

Benjamin thought quickly. If he didn’t know who the girl was loyal to, he would just have to be loyal to no one. “I am the son of a farmer,” Benjamin said slowly. “I was going into town to get some seed for my father when I was attacked by thieves. My horse brought me here. She must have been guided by the gods to have brought me to your house. I cannot thank you enough for saving me, especially in dangerous times like these.” He paused for a minute, and then tried to meet the girl’s eyes, but was met once again with the barrel of the rifle.

The girl didn’t move. Benjamin’s heart pounded. What was she thinking?  He silently prayed that she believed him. “Those are dangerous things to say,” she said after a long time. Benjamin cocked his head. What did she mean? The rifle inched closer to him. “Queen Calanthe outlawed worship of the gods up here. Probably because she didn’t want people worshipping anybody but herself.”

Benjamin cursed the same gods he had just praised under his breath. If he really was a farmer from Ashland, then he would have known that. And even worse, he just admitted to a crime. He didn’t dare to look directly at the girl anymore. If she was loyal to the Queen, then Benjamin was done for. He couldn’t run with the wound in his side, and he didn’t even have anything to protect himself.

After a few more seconds, the girl lowered the gun, revealing herself for the first time. A copper colored face appeared, still slightly hidden by the mass of hair that surrounded it. Benjamin stared at her for a second. Her skin was darker than most of the people from Northern Iltany, but not as dark as some of the privateers hired by the army. She had to have been from the Jephra Desert, a place that was forbidden to travel to by order of the Queen for being too dangerous. Benjamin didn’t know much about the region, since his only knowledge of it came from Oliver, his brother who had been stationed there. He had written to Benjamin when he got the chance and had often included colorful accounts of the people he had met.

The Jephran girl propped the gun against the chair next to the bed, and fished around in her apron. She pulled out a golden compass. Benjamin’s breathing quickened. He reached into his pocket, only to realize that he wasn’t wearing his own clothes anymore. That was his compass. He glanced around. His coat was hanging on the bed frame, while the rest of his clothes were hanging on the back of the chairs around the table. Where had the rest of his possessions gone?

The girl made a show of examining the compass before handing it to him. “It fell out of your pocket when I dragged you in here.” Benjamin quickly pocketed it, praying that the girl hadn’t opened it.

“Thank you.” Benjamin ran a finger over the smooth, cool surface of his compass in his pocket.

“You must be Benjamin, then?” the girl said.

Benjamin’s throat went dry. She only could have known that if he had opened it because his name was engraved on the inside. He knew that it was risky using a compass with his name on it, but his father had given it to him when he was young, and Benjamin never went anywhere without it.

Since Benjamin didn’t respond, the girl kept talking, “It was on the inside of your compass.”

“You opened it?” Benjamin managed to choke out.

The girl plopped down in the chair beside him. “Of course. What else was I supposed to do?”

Benjamin knew that if he brought too much attention to it, the girl would be even more curious. “Never mind the compass. Thank you very much for your hospitality.”

The girl nodded. “You’re welcome. It’s not everyday someone shows up on my porch bleeding out, but I figured I’d better help you.” She paused for a second, playing with a long strand of curly hair. She looked back up to meet Benjamin’s eyes. “I hate to pry, but I saw something inside your compass. Something that I thought was interesting.”

Benjamin’s stomach churned. If this girl was loyal to the Queen, there was no telling what she might do. She could turn him in, or even kill him in her cabin, and nobody would ever know what happened.

“And what would that be?” Benjamin asked. His voice sounded thin.

The girl reached back into her apron pocket. “These.” She pulled out neatly folded pieces of paper. Benjamin stiffened. Those papers were full of intelligence about the Queen’s army, which had been busy destroying the countryside in the past few weeks. If they fell into the wrong hands, which Benjamin feared had happened, they could get him killed.

“I read them,” the girl said. “They’re about the Queen.” She stared at him. “For a spy, I would have expected you to be more careful.”

Benjamin couldn’t deny her claims, especially since all the proof she needed was in her hands. “It’s hard to be careful when you’re unconscious,” he muttered. Benjamin glanced around the cabin. Even if this girl wasn’t fond of the Queen, he still felt like he needed to escape. It was dangerous staying too long in one place, and the men who had attacked him last night could still be roaming the woods.

“You’re a rebel, right? Is this for General Harrison?” The girl was scanning the papers in her hand.

“I can’t tell you,” Benjamin said, glancing out the window. There was no sign of the Queen’s troops or his attackers from last night.

The girl looked out the window as well, after folding the papers and returning them to her apron pocket. “I haven’t summoned the Queen’s army if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Benjamin shifted his gaze to her. “Then where’s your father? Or your brothers? Off to find some soldiers? Maybe you just haven’t summoned them yet.”

The girl smiled tightly. “I highly doubt my father would be able to do that.”

“Why?” asked Benjamin.

“He was killed by the Queen’s men. Him and my brothers. It was Captain Israel Cotton. They died right here on the floor.” The girl shook her head. “And they weren’t the only ones killed. Her rangers marched through Ashland killing anyone who was from the south or a suspected rebel. When the queen was questioned about it, she called them all traitors.” She swallowed before taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment before looking back to Benjamin. “I’m not from Northern Iltany,” her voice wavered. “I don’t know how your rulers are expected to rule, but I do not think that the murder of her people deserves respect.” The girl stared at the floor, as if she could still see her family’s bodies. With a heaving sigh, she looked away.

Benjamin took a deep breath, slowly relaxing. If this girl’s family had been killed by the Queen, then she surely wasn’t loyal to her. “I’m sorry for your loss. But your family did not die in vain. General Harrison’s forces will- ”

The girl shook her head and cut him off. “I’ve already heard it. The men in town tell me all the time. The rebels will defeat the queen. I shouldn’t worry about it.” She paused for a moment. “They haven’t defeated her yet. I want to help you.”

Benjamin raised an eyebrow. “Help me?”

“My father was loyal to your cause,” the girl said. “He couldn’t live under a queen who hates her subjects and neither can I. It’s my job to avenge him.”

“Avenge him?” Benjamin asked. He looked the girl over. She was rather scrawny, but Benjamin knew that if she was from the war-torn region of Jephra, she had to be scrappier than she looked just to survive. But that didn’t mean that he could hire her. “General Harrison doesn’t enlist women. You could be a camp woman. A lot of women do that.” The look on her face was unconvinced. “There’s not going to be any avenging on your part.”

The girl stuck her chin out. Benjamin could tell that his words had no effect on her. “I’d rather be dead then not help at all.”

Benjamin cocked his head and looked at the girl. She looked resolute with her arms crossed and her brown eyes narrowed to a squint. “You’re just a girl. You can’t help us. The general doesn’t enlist woman.” Benjamin knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn’t think of any other reasons to give her. “He says it’s too dangerous.”

The girl glared on, unperturbed. “It’s too dangerous? It was dangerous sneaking out of Jephra. It was dangerous surviving the Queen’s Rangers attack. I think I can handle myself.” She looked at Benjamin for a moment. “I can bring you the information myself and the general would never have to know.”

Benjamin stared at the girl. “Are you suggesting that I hire spies without the general’s consent? I could never lie to General Harrison. I’d lose my position and I have too much respect for the man to even think about deceiving him.”

The girl sighed. Benjamin could tell she was getting impatient. “That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.”

Benjamin didn’t answer her. “You can’t help us.” Benjamin didn’t blame the girl for not listening. Even he knew his reasons were shallow.

“Yes, I can,, ” she said. “And I already have. The army comes through here often on its way to Cinias. I give them food and drink and then I eavesdrop.”

Benjamin couldn’t help but laugh. “You’ve gotten intelligence from the Queen’s men?” The Queen’s men were notorious for not being fond of Jephrans, or anyone from Southern Iltany, and he found it hard to believe that they would trust a Jephran girl anywhere near their secrets.

The girl nodded. Benjamin restrained himself from rolling his eyes at her obvious pride. “And probably more information than you’ve gotten from parading around the forest at night.”

Benjamin narrowed his eyes. “What do you know?”

“Let me help, and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Tell me everything, and I’ll consider letting you help,” Benjamin countered. He tried not to show any satisfaction as the girl’s grin disappeared from her face.

The girl crossed her arms and with a deep breath, blew the hair off her face. She met Benjamin’s gaze. “If the rebels don’t leave Cinias, then the Queen plans to raid all the farms in the country.”

Benjamin’s jaw dropped, but he quickly closed his mouth. “And you heard this?

She nodded; the proud smirk had snuck its way back onto her face.

Benjamin rubbed his temples. He couldn’t just enlist the girl, even if she had information. He had never upset the general before, and Benjamin wasn’t yearning to face his wrath anytime soon, especially since he had just led his newly given company into an ambush. He was bound to be punished for the loss of his company, and bringing a girl back to camp with him would only make the general even more upset.

The girl crossed her arms beside him. “If you aren’t interested in my help, maybe I’ll speak to the Queen’s men.”

Benjamin glared at her. “You wouldn’t.”

“Maybe I would,” the girl said, the proud smirk even more prominent on her face. Benjamin knew she was enjoying every second of this. “I hear the price for spies is getting quite high these days.”

Benjamin stared at the girl. He wasn’t sure if she was bluffing or not, but he couldn’t risk it. “Who are you?”

“Hadiya Crowe.” The girl stuck out her hand, and Benjamin took it. She grasped his hand firmly and gave it a shake.

Benjamin pulled his hand away. “This doesn’t mean I’m letting you help.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice,” Hadiya said. “I’ll collect my own intelligence and deliver it to you.”

“You’re going to follow the army around?” Benjamin scoffed. This girl obviously had no idea just how dangerous army life was, but she had determination. Benjamin would never let her know that he respected that, though.

“If I have to,” she responded. “I’ll do anything to see the Queen dead, preferably at my own hands.”

Benjamin raised an eyebrow and held back a snicker. “You realize that spying will not get you near any battles, and definitely nowhere near the Queen. Especially since you’re not going to be spying in the first place.” He sighed to hide the smile on his face. Benjamin was starting to think that there was no one else in the country quite as aggravating. “I should go.”

The grin disappeared from Hadiya’s face. “But you were shot! You haven’t recovered enough. Stay a little longer. It’s not safe for an injured person to be walking through the woods alone.”

“I don’t intend on staying any longer.” He met her eyes and was surprised when she looked genuinely worried. “Could I have my clothes back?” He patted his pockets. “And where is my gun?”

“That’s where things get complicated,” Hadiya said. She reached under her chair and pulled out Benjamin’s pistol. He took a deep breath and slowly raised his hands. “I’m not giving this back to you until you let me help.”

Benjamin stared at her. Hadiya may have helped heal him, but she was more of a nuisance than he ever could have imagined. “Give it back.”

Hadiya glared back. “No. And seeing how I have two guns and you have none, I don’t think you’re in the position to be giving orders.”

Benjamin stiffly swung his legs over the side of the bed, grimacing. He did his best to hide it, not wanting Hadiya to know he was in pain. “You can’t shoot me. You’ll be arrested for treason.”

Hadiya smirked, but Benjamin noticed her hand shaking. “Your precious general doesn’t have to know it was me who shot you. You’ve already got one bullet wound. What’s a second one?”

Benjamin glanced at the rifle which was still propped up against the chair. He could reach it, but not without alerting Hadiya to his intentions. He slowly raised his hands. “Don’t shoot me.”

“So I’ll be helping you?” Hadiya asked.

Benjamin stood up. “I’ll think about it.”

She pulled the hammer. “That’s not good enough for me.”

With a deep breath, Benjamin took a step towards her. Hadiya didn’t back up, and instead placed the tip of the gun on his chest. “You’re not going to shoot me.” Benjamin was ashamed at how shaky his voice was.

Hadiya increased the pressure on the gun. “What makes you say that?”

“Do you really want another person to die on your floor?” Benjamin’s voice had dropped to a whisper. He felt Hadiya’s grip loosen on the gun. His words had worked.

As quickly as possible, Benjamin grabbed the rife that was sitting next to the chair. He held it towards Hadiya, but he didn’t pull the hammer.

“You’re not going to shoot me,” Hadiya said, her face flushed. Benjamin couldn’t tell if she was upset over what he had said, or if she was upset at herself for letting her guard down.

“You’re not going to shoot me either,” Benjamin responded. He lowered the rifle. With a sigh, Hadiya did the same with Benjamin’s pistol. Benjamin put the rifle on the bed behind him. He motioned for Hadiya to do the same. She handed him his pistol, which he laid behind him, next to the rifle.

“You’re not going to take it?” she asked.

Benjamin shook his head. “As we’ve proved, rational conversation and guns cannot coexist.”

Hadiya sat back down in the chair next to the bed Benjamin was sitting next to with a sigh. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. Benjamin looked at the floor. He was beginning to feel sorry for her. She wanted to help, which Benjamin could understand. It was exactly what he wanted to do three years ago. The only difference was Benjamin was given a chance to aid the war efforts, but Hadiya was never going to get the same opportunity.

Benjamin grasped the back of her chair for balance. “There’s no need to apologize,” he said. “I have great respect for your bravery and loyalty towards the rebels. I know plenty of grown men who could use some of your courage.”

Hadiya offered him a sad smile but didn’t respond.

“And if General Harrison did enlist women,” Benjamin continued, “I am positive that he would be honored to have you in his army.” While Benjamin had never actually discussed the possibility of having woman join the army with the general, he highly doubted that the general would even consider promoting women anything above the camp women who followed the army around, cooking dinners and mending socks. Judging from the way he spoke of her, the general didn’t even respect his own wife.

A shout broke the silence between Benjamin and Hadiya. He looked out the window and froze. A group of men was weaving through the trees towards the cabin. Those were the Ephrean mercenaries from the night before. The men who had shot him. Benjamin swallowed and gingerly placed a hand on his wound. He didn’t know if he was healed enough to run.

“What is it?” Hadiya asked. Benjamin met her gaze but turned to look back out the window. She stood up and turned towards the window.

Benjamin tore his gaze away from the window and grabbed his pistol off the bed. “The men who ambushed me and my company last night. They’re here.”

Hadiya jumped up and joined Benjamin’s side at the bed. She reached under the bed and retrieved the one boot he had arrived with. He sat down and slowly began to pull it on, wincing with pain. Hadiya took the boot out of his hands and shoved it on herself. He nodded in silent gratitude.  “You have to leave,” she said as she looked around the cabin before running towards the trunk. She flipped it open and pulled out a boot. She joined Benjamin on the bed, and pushed it on to his foot. “It’s a little small, but it will have to do.”

Benjamin glanced out the window. The men were growing closer. He glanced back at Hadiya who was looking up at him from the floor. What was he thinking? He could barely move, much less escape. With a sigh, Benjamin shook his head. “I won’t be able to outrun them.”

“I’ll distract them,” Hadiya said. She picked up the rifle off the bed and placed it against the wall. She quickly locked the door and grabbed a loaf of bread which was wrapped in cloth on the table. She shoved it into Benjamin’s hands.

“I can’t take this.” Benjamin tried to give it back to her. “You have already done too much for me. I can’t ask anymore.”

Hadiya stopped bustling around the cabin to meet his gaze. “I can always make another loaf of bread. If they catch you, you don’t get that same second chance.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him to the opposite end of the cabin, where a quilt hung on the wall. She lifted it up, revealing an empty doorway leading outside. “Abi- my father- never finished the cabin. The quilt helps to keep the wolves and bears out.”

Benjamin looked down at the girl beside him. “The bears?” He had forgotten the dangers of the vast, Ashlandian forests.

Hadiya gave him a shove towards the door. “Yes, the bears.” She glanced back towards the window. Benjamin looked over her shoulder to see that the Ephrean mercenaries were growing closer to the cabin. Hadiya sidestepped, so his view of the window was blocked. “But the bears are not what you should be worrying about right now.”

Benjamin nodded. “Thank you. For everything.” He paused. “My family lives up north. When I return to Ashland to visit them, I will make sure to see that you are paid for your help. I will return.”

Hadiya shook her head. “Don’t come back. If they find you here, then both of us are bound to be more trouble than we already are.” Benjamin nodded, but internally winced at the thought of having to face General Harrison and the trouble he would get in back in camp. “Benjamin,” Hadiya’s voice had dropped to a whisper. “You need to leave.”

Benjamin placed a hand on Hadiya’s shoulder. “Thank you.” She shrugged it off but offered a hand to steady him, as he stepped towards the quilt. With a nod, Benjamin ducked underneath the edge of the quilt that Hadiya had lifted up. He glanced around, his heart beating and his abdomen aching, before taking off into the forest.

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