Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (11 page)

I sighed. “Bad Huntress, I know. My knives are my best friends.”

“That’s kind of sad. You mean
likes you?”

What’s his problem today? I thought we were all right with each other.
Scowling, I spun on him, ready to deliver some serious verbal hurt when I saw the smile in his dark eyes.
Oh. He’s messing with me.


“Have you eaten yet?”

I shook my head. “Came straight here.”

“We could go to the kitchen and scrounge something up.”

Hesitating, I said, “I still need to finish this and then I should have Bonesaw check my shoulder.”

“You’ll be better off if he doesn’t. He got his name because he likes cutting parts off people.”

I smiled, though I’d heard the joke before. Bonesaw had gotten his name like the rest of us, from the talisman his blood found in the pile of naming day gifts. But it only seemed right he apprentice to the medicine man; Whitewall was a big believer in signs. Now, three years later, the old medicine man was gone, and we had only Bonesaw to care for our sick and wounded. Most agreed he wasn’t very good at it.

“Maybe you’re right.” I rotated my shoulder, and I didn’t feel any of the tightness or heat that accompanied an infection.

“I am. Let me give you my tin of Banner’s salve. Then she can give me what she makes for you.” Kindness, I wondered, or an excuse for him to go see her sooner? As I was debating, he added, “I’ll get it while you make that club shine. Then we can go eat. Sound good?”

It did, actually. Stone was busy with the brats, and Thimble was mad at me. I didn’t look forward to eating alone. I agreed with a nod and Fade loped off.

Oiling a rag, I polished my weapon until it shone. I even dug all the dried blood out of the carvings Stone had made. He might not understand my job, but he cared. I had to give him that. Nobody else had anything so fine.

Someone stopped behind me.

“Back already?” I asked without turning.

“I never left,” came Banner’s puzzled voice.

I spun to face her. “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”

She grinned. “Someone like Fade?”

I couldn’t help but smile; she had that kind of open, friendly face. “Kind of.”

“He likes you,” she said. “He was just telling me about you.”

“Really?” I couldn’t help but feel flattered by that.

“Yeah. He’s a little hard to get to know, but worth it. He tells the most fascinating stories.” By her indulgent expression, she thought he merely had a good imagination.

Based on my experiences with him so far, I suspected he’d seen and done more than anyone in the enclave would believe. I stifled a sigh. We weren’t always inclined to credit the truth around here, if it ran counter to our experience.

“I like working with him.” Any other response would be inappropriate, and could be repeated to my detriment. Hunters were supposed to trust and respect their partners, nothing more.

Thimble caught my eye then, radiating angry hurt. She saw me talking to Banner and her brows drew down. Oh, surely she didn’t think I was telling her about the trip to Nassau. I’d just met the girl.

Before I could try to make amends, Fade jogged back into the workshop. He cut a straight line toward us. He greeted her with a smile and me with the words, “You ready?”

I nodded and waved to Banner. Thimble pointedly didn’t look at me. Weapons in hand, I followed him out of the workshop.

“I just need to drop these off. Meet you in the kitchen?”

“Sounds good,” he said. “I’ll see what there is to eat.”

“Let me guess. Meat and mushrooms.”

“Might be fish.”

Yeah, they did cook fish every now and then to keep us from getting sick. The elders put a lot of thought into what we ate and how much. Without their careful planning, our enclave would’ve died out long ago. It was a sobering thought. Just yesterday, I’d seen the consequences of careless behavior—and they didn’t

Whitewall, Copper, and Silk seemed to think such things could never happen here. We were too smart or too lucky. I’d bet the Nassau citizens thought that too, up until everything went wrong.



A week later, the team they’d sent returned, weighed down with relics of the old world. I eyed the bags with dismay. I hadn’t been on duty when the team went out, but I didn’t think they’d taken enough supplies to trade with the Burrowers to merit such a big haul.

They wouldn’t.
Though my faith had been shaken, I didn’t want to follow the thought to its natural conclusion. I took a deep breath and steadied myself.

Fade and I had just come off patrol. I’d cared for my weapons and cleaned up a bit, but I hadn’t yet gone to see who was in the common room. Instead, I went looking for my partner.

He was in his room, so I swished the curtain to let him know he had a visitor. A few seconds later, he poked his head out. Surprise lit his features.

“Something up?”

“I’m not sure.” I summarized what I’d seen, but no more. I wanted to know if he’d share my instincts without undue influence.

“They took everything by force.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. Jengu had saved our lives. Whatever happened to them, it was
fault. I should’ve realized—the first Hunter tenet, “the strong survive,” dictated their actions; they took everything because they could. But it wasn’t right, and they’d made liars of us.

“What are we going to do?”

we do?”

It was an unanswerable question. “Should we go see the Wordkeeper?”

“Isn’t he the one who made Silk send a team?”

I’d always thought once I became a Huntress, I’d have some power, influence over the way things were done. In truth, precious few had any. Even Silk followed orders; hers just came from Whitewall and the Wordkeeper. It would be years before I qualified as an elder, and even then, there was no guarantee.

“So we live with this, just like we live with what they did to the brat,” I muttered.

“Maybe they traded,” he said, but from his expression, he didn’t believe it any more than I did.

“I might know how we can find out.”

“I’m listening.”

“Twist might tell me. Meet me in the common area later?”


We couldn’t stand here any longer anyway; we’d already started to get some looks. With a wave, I went to look for Twist, and found him running an errand for Whitewall, deep in the warrens. I fell into step.

Twist cut me a suspicious look. “What’s broken?”

“Nothing. As far as I know. I just wondered if I could do anything to help.”

“Didn’t you pull a shift early today?”

“Yes, but I’m fine. And bored without work to do. You always seem to be busy.”

“The place doesn’t run itself,” he snapped. And then he ran a tired hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you. I’m trying to put together a naming day ceremony, and the Builders haven’t brought me their gifts yet.”

“When is it?” I asked.


I winced; I could see why he was impatient and angry. “Why don’t I go talk to them for you?”

“Why would you do that?” He stopped walking, canting his head to study me.

In answering, I could be honest. “Look, you do so much, and nobody seems to notice. Whitewall tells you what to do, but he seldom says ‘thanks.’ He just takes the credit when it goes well and blames you when it doesn’t. You’ve always been nice to me, even when I was a brat. I thought maybe I could help you.”

Twist smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “You’re a good one, Deuce. It would be great if you could round up the gifts.”

“I don’t mind at all. I know you have other things to do. Where should I have the presents taken?”

“Same place you were named.”

I hadn’t been sure since that was the only ceremony I’d ever attended. A prickle of excitement went through me. This unknown brat was to become a Builder, which meant only they had to supply presents from which a suitable name might be drawn. But the rest of us would bear witness.

From the warren, I made my way to the workshop. As ever, the noise nearly deafened me, a combination of clanging, banging, hammering that always had a good result, but I didn’t know how they all stood it. I saw Thimble at once, but we hadn’t talked since I came back. She might still be mad.

To my surprise, she waved me over. “I want you to know I understand. It was wrong of me to mind that you put your orders first.” She paused in her work, surrounded by the various parts of some piece of furniture. “I had a chance to think about it, and Stone kind of yelled at me. I mean, if the senior craftsman told me I couldn’t tell you how to make the torches, I wouldn’t go up against him. No telling how miserable he could make my life in here, you know?”

I nodded. “And I’d never ask you to spill Builder secrets.”

Until she hugged me, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed her. Thimble smelled of smoke and tallow. Though we’d outgrown brat-hood and had other responsibilities now, our friendship would endure. Just because some things changed, it didn’t mean everything had to. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, feeling better already.

“So what are you doing here?”

“Besides coming to see you?” That was a side benefit, actually, but it was better if she thought I’d come specifically to make up. “I’m also doing a favor for Twist.” I explained about the naming day presents. “Who should I talk to?”

“That would be Rod’s territory. I think he’s working on it.” Thimble led me across the workshop, neatly sidestepping various projects.

We stopped before a tall, gangly boy a few years older than us. He was scowling when we approached, which made Thimble slide me an apologetic look and disappear. That left me standing alone when he noticed me. His gaze flicked to my bare forearms and he barely contained a sneer.

“What do you want,

I ignored the slur he gave the title by using that subtle stress. “Twist sent me to collect the naming day gifts. I’m sure you have them ready.”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Four boxes, right there. I can’t spare anyone to help you move them.”

I turned in the direction he indicated and stifled a groan. They were sizable, so it would take me a while, and I’d have to make four trips. Instead of arguing, as he clearly expected, I just nodded and strode over the far wall. It took both arms to lift the first one, and as I staggered toward the door, I collided with someone. I peered over the edge of my burden and recognized Banner.

“You need a hand?”

Glancing at Rod, who was already busy elsewhere, I said, “Sure. But I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“I’m off shift today. I came in to say hi to Thimble and see if she needed any help with the shelves she’s building, but I can take time for you first.”

“This way, then.”

I headed for the great room we used for all ceremonies, which took us through the heart of the warren itself. Going past the kitchen, I smelled something good, better than usual, or maybe I was just hungry. With Banner’s help, it only took two trips, but my arms were still burning when we finished.

“That wasn’t so bad.”

If I had to pick two words to describe her, they’d be “relentlessly cheerful.” I wondered what she’d say if she knew about the brat, or what the elders had done with the Burrowers. But I still didn’t have those answers, and I didn’t want to add weight to her shoulders. Better if Fade and I kept silent.


“Oh, I finished your salve. Fade said to give it to him, but if you want, we can get it now.” Her blue gaze bored into mine, as if she were asking a silent question.


With a shrug, I went with her to her space. I wondered why she didn’t store it in the workshop, but I didn’t think anything of it until we stepped inside her quarters. At first glance, it looked just like mine. And then she lifted her crate to reveal a depression in the floor.

There was no doubt in my mind the elders would exile her if they got a look at what she’d hidden. Instinctively I took a step back.

“Fade said I could trust you. He said you’re one of us. Was he wrong?”

“One of who?” I whispered. I averted my eyes from her stash, willing her to put the crate back. I wasn’t sure I could lie to an elder—or even Twist—if confronted directly. The idea sent me into a cold, anxious sweat.

“Our leadership is flawed. It doesn’t serve the people anymore, if it ever did.”

That much, I agreed with, so I gave a cautious nod. The elders had lost my blind support, first through their treatment of the brat, and then Silk’s response to our report about Nassau disappointed me. College citizens would pay the price for their determination to permit no change. I understood the rules existed to protect us, but if we didn’t adapt to the new balance in the tunnels, we would die.

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