Chapter 2

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Tano let out a weary sigh as his sister threw their last spear. Just as he predicted, she missed her target. Hakana let out a loud, comical cry of frustration as the mountain goat, which looked back at the useless weapon with a bored look, scurried up the cliffside and well out of reach of the would-be hunter.

"Come on Hakana, the sun's almost down. Let's go back." Tano finished knitting a wool glove and fastened it around his hand. "I'm not spending another night freezing out here in a half-made tent."

"Oh come on! We stayed dry, didn't we?"

The boy raised an eyebrow at his sister. "Let's just go. I'll tell the village the rabbits and berries are yours if it makes you feel better."

Hakana growled in frustration but nodded moments later.

The sun had fallen well below the horizon by the time the siblings returned to their village. Nestled in the mouth of a small stream surrounded by colossal cliffs, the settlement was a nondescript clutter of a half dozen crudely built red clay houses. Ordinarily, the place would have been deathly quiet this late at dusk, but both Tano and Hakana could hear several of the elders arguing and shouting. They exchanged worried glances and ran down toward the noise.

Their mother, the chieftain of the tribe, was drenched in blood and hobbling down the main walkway toward the Great House along with a half dozen of her warriors. The children ran as fast as they could toward her, dropping all their supplies along the way. She noticed their frantic expressions and raised a hand to reassure them. That, along with her warm smile, put Tano and his sister somewhat at ease. Still, he could feel his heart pounding like a hammer.

"What happened?" he shouted.

"We just went on another raid. We all made it back safe, don't you worry. Hardly any of this blood is mine," their mother said with a hearty laugh. With her rifle slung over her shoulder, the legendary Mad Bear was the tallest, thickest built warrior in the village, and Tano had little doubt that under all that enemy blood, she was uninjured and well. Still, this was the third time in little over a week she'd ventured beyond the safety of the Aura, into the realm of the Invaders. They only had so many bullets to spare.

Their mother's expression faded into a grim frown as she held up a burlap sack. The glow of the crystals through the flimsy fabric made it obvious what her party's loot was. "The Auras cost a lot of energy to maintain child. You know what would happen if they were to fade." She didn't need to finish her words to let the fear sink in. Tano could see his sister tremble at the implication. "Come. It's getting late, and you children must be starving."

As usual, it was dead silent around the small, knee-high round table where the siblings and their mother ate. The room was dim, with the firepit embedded in the far back wall sputtering as its embers waned. Two conspicuous, empty seats remained where their father and older sister once sat. Not a single day went by without the Mad Bear glowering at the vacant spaces.

"Are you upset with me?" she said to Tano.

The sudden question made him spit a mouthful of berries onto the table. His mother remained nonplussed, while his sister howled in laughter at the mess. "What?" he stammered.

"You've looked less happy every time I come back. Don't lie. Mothers have a way of knowing these things."

The boy let out a weary sigh and nodded. "I know why you have to go out there... but when does it end?!" Tano was startled at how quickly his voice had risen, as were his sister and mother. Hakana stopped laughing and leaned back with a startled frown. Their mother was better collected. "I'm sorry," Tano stammered out.

"No, don't be. I'm the one who should be apologizing to you." She reached out and took hold of her son's hand. "I should have gathered enough resources and supplies to leave this awful place a long time ago."

"I didn't see Hotak today," the boy muttered. " At this rate, we'll run out of people before we have anyone to take with us."

His mother couldn't help but let out a bitter laugh. "A twelve year old boy shouldn't be so casual about death."

"Hakana's only fourteen and you've had her hunting since she was nine."

"Your sister's nearly a woman grown, and our people could use every last warrior we can train."

"And what? I'm not good enough to be a warrior too?"

"You know what the Empire would do to a boy like you if they ever got to you."

"Yeah. Whole lot of good that does us when they come to us." When they took Dad, he wanted to add. With a sigh, Tano excused himself from the table and walked to his room. His mother and sister were both clamoring for him, but he paid them no mind. He needed to avoid eye contact and wait out the storm rolling out of him in his pitch black, windowless dwelling. Otherwise he might have started crying where they could see.

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