Ch. 1.1 Mission

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Lacey was stalled in the dark doorway of the bakery. Mama had bundled her in a woolen coat and scarf against the autumn chill. Her breath raced ahead of her in lively swirls, but Lacey wasn’t quite ready to leave her nook of shadows. She tucked her black hair behind the pointed bat-ears which set her apart from everyone else, and made a silent wish: Please, let everything go smoothly today. 

A wolf howled in the Wish Wood, and Lacey’s eyes shot to the dark forest eighteen steps to her left. Tendrils of fog coiled out from the crowded trunks, like the arms of a giant octopus searching for its prey. She tried to put all thoughts of wishes out of her head. 

Lacey had a mission: Ingredients. Just like every other morning since Mama, the town baker, had adopted her. It was a mission she used to be good at. It seemed like the older she got the more complicated life got. Complications didn’t mix well with her morning chores. And today was an important day.

The bakery was a two story building on the edge of Pine Ridge, a logging village at the Northern edge of the settled colony. Smoke was already pouring from the chimney into the blue-black sky. The stars were dimming and Eridan’s two moons were red and white slivers on the horizon. It was time to go.

One step at a time, she thought. That is what mama always said. First step: The Henhouse. She firmed her grip on the handle of her egg-basket and stepped into the light of the solar lamp above the bakery.  

Lacey skirted the pools of lamplight along the hard-packed dirt of Mountainside Road, traveling in the cusp between light and dark. She was light footed, and graceful. She was human, mostly. But she had been born a bat, and bats were hunters of the night. Not that she remembered being anything but a girl. But in the predawn light shapes were diffuse, and she sometime felt more animal than girl. She did not fetch ingredients on her mission, she stalked them like a canny predator.

A door creaked, and murmuring voices broke the quiet spell of the morning. She was the baker’s daughter, a member of the community. Just a girl with bat ears. Lacey slid further into the shadows and let her shape fade away to nothing. 

In the daylight they would be the voices of her neighbors. At the moment they were a pesky human intrusion. She waited until the voices and crunching footsteps were far away; then edged back into the light, and continued her hunt. Her ears swiveled in all directions. 

Her ears were a gift, Mama always said. But sharp hearing only made it easier to hear the unkind whispers of the other kids. Or made her an easier victim when Devan scratched his nails across the slate board at school.

Devan had been living in the schoolhouse for six months since he had arrived on a caravan from the Maja Mountains. His brothers had sent him away. Lacey didn’t blame them. Devan was useless and mean. 

When she came to the shining row of solar lamps outside the schoolhouse, she crossed to the other side of the street. All of the windows were dark against the glowing whitewashed boards of the building’s exterior, but the schoolmistress was an eager proponent of early rising. And if Lacey was going to run into Devan it would be here. 

She heard a noise and froze. A scuff of a boot? Her ears swiveled forward, straining to hear it again—though she hoped not to. 

She held her breath, wishing her pounding heart would be quiet. Then she heard the padding of small paws and relaxed. 

Meemu rubbed up against her legs; he was a tom with fur like a raggedy quilt. 

“Well met, fellow hunter.” Lacey crouched down and scratched his ears. 

Meemu touched his curious nose to her lips. He shook his head when the only fresh prey he smelled was oatmeal, and then butted her knee. She took the hint: Time to hunt! 

Dawn seeped up on the horizon, and fingers of sunlight reached out to steal away the dark. A warning crow pierced her ears as she approached Miss Nerri’s house. Lacey winced. “The Rooster” was already awake. He was a cunning beast who knew how to really pack a wallop in his kick. And had a knack for coming out of nowhere when you were at your most vulnerable. Half the village had already laid dibs on having him for dinner. A threat nobody had been brave enough to make good on yet. 

Lacey raised her hand to tap on the door, but it opened first. 

“G’morning Lacey. Running behind?” Miss Nerri brushed past her, not waiting for a reply. Lacey spun around and scrambled after the rotund shadow tromping along the gravel path toward the henhouse. 

Other kids, and occasionally one of the grannies, called Miss Nerri the ‘Chicken Lady’. Not Lacey. Miss Nerri was always cheerful and full laughter—the kind sort of laughter. She was one of the few people Lacey thought of as a friend. Of course, Miss Nerri also had a knack for subtle revenge: malformed eggs, scrawny cockerels, and mite-chewed feathers for your pillow. So counting her as a friend was just the smart thing to do.

Lacey ducked under the low beam at the entrance to the henhouse. Inside it was dark and smelled of ammonia. Miss Nerri shooed the agitated rooster out the hatch into the fenced yard; a fence he was notorious for flapping up and over. He was a two-foot tall tyrant—three-foot if you listened to the the stories around the village. 

Hens clucked in protest as Lacey slipped her hand beneath their warm bodies one by one to steal her smooth quarry from their nests. 

“P-shhh cat!” Miss Nerri hissed, without looking over her shoulder, “You stay away from my hens.” 

 Lacey grinned as Meemu turned away from the door with his tail raised high and straight, as though the last thing on his mind was a tasty bit of chicken.

Lacey placed the last egg carefully in her basket and checked over her shoulder to make sure the rooster wasn’t about to ambush her. First step done, two to go. Step two: The Dairy.

A/N: What do you think of Lacey? What would you think of having bat ears and sharp hearing? Is it a gift or a curse?

I hope you like the story. Don't forget to vote and comment. I would love to hear how you found out about Little Lacey and what you are thinking about as you read it. I also still want to edit it, so fire away with any improvements you can suggest :D

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