Finding Mae

A long time ago, a clan of abandoned people and misfits live together deep in an unknown forest. They called themselves the Hidden Kin and followed a code of bravery, loyalty, and harsh consequences. When Grace, the lowest rank in the group, finds an autistic girl lost near the border, will her decision change the fate of the whole group?

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2. The Start (Grace)

GRACE

"Let the Morning commence!"

This is what I woke up to on the morning that changed the Kin.

Yes, I know it sounds melodramatic, but it's true. The Morning is an all-clan meeting where we talk about duties and important things. It occurs every seven days. I've always wondered why that is; wouldn't it be more practical to have it every five days, or ten days? Jack agrees with me, but he said it's like a rule now and we can't change it. He calls it a Week. Really. Who comes up with this stuff?

Anyway, I rolled out of the nest that me and Jack have to share. "Jack, you gotta get up," I whispered. He moaned and kind of twitched, which was... normal for him. Next to us, under the shade of a willow tree, Joshua slowly worms out of his own nest. "Good sunrise, Joshua," I said.

"Hey, Grace," he said quietly, pushing his glasses farther up his nose. I like Joshua. He's only eleven, but he trekked here all by himself all the way from Tora about five months ago. That is far. He's pretty nice too, and really shy. "Blake's still getting up," he nodded towards the shade. 

"Well, he better get up fast," I said, starting over to the middle of the clearing. "You know how Ayla hates starting late."

Ayla is the leader of the Hidden Kin. There was never an official vote, but it's decided. She started this whole thing. She's only seventeen, not much older than the rest of us, but the way she talks and walks, you wouldn't believe it. I think people would describe her as an old soul. She's very pretty, too. Her eyes are grayish, but the way she looks at you makes you think she can see straight through you. It's very unnerving.

When I got to the meeting place, Joshua close behind, Ayla was already sitting at her place at the head of the circle, with Esme at her side. Esme is fifteen, three years older than me, and she's quite pretty as well. Black hair, green eyes, pale skin, the works. Esme came here a year ago, all stories about her past life and her abusive parents. She's also very passionate and fierce. She'll even scare me sometimes. "Good sunrise, Esme," I said.

"Yes, good sunrise, good sunrise," she said distractedly. "Where's Blake?" she queried, eyes trained on Joshua. "I have to talk to him."

"Err, um," he stuttered. A pang of pity spread through me. Esme scares Josh most of all. "Sleeping. Still. I mean, still sleeping."

"Well, then, hmm, erm," she replied, a hint of mocking in her voice. "Be a dear and go fetch him for me, Mr. Stammer."

"Yeah, sure," Josh said, a tinge of red coloring his cheeks. He hurried off back to the nest. I shook my head.

"Why do you always have to pick on him, Es'?" I asked.

"Because it'll teach him to be tough," she sniffed. "I didn't learn it the easy way." I rolled my eyes.

"Ahem," Ayla interrupted softly, her voice quiet but somehow ringing throughout the whole clearing. "This Morning will now commence... All members will please gather in the clearing."

I could hear the Littles squabbling in the nursery. "Why can't we go this time?" "We're too young, stupid." "Stupid! I'll show you stupid!" "Ow! Jeez!"

"Hey, Grace!" A voice said, coming up behind me. I turned around to see Jack right in my face, smirking. I yelped and jumped back. He laughed. "Aw, lighten up."

"Ugh." Blake said, dragging himself next to Esme, where they immediately linked hands. "Morning meetings are going to be the death of me." I'm still kind of getting used to Blake and Esme's new romance-thing. See, Blake's 14, and he's the only member other than me and the Littles that was raised here with the Kin. He was the only one that I could talk to about Out There with curiosity. What's it like, what are the people like? If I asked anyone else, they'd probably just laugh. But now that Blake's all tied up with the most arrogant girl in the tribe, maybe he won't want to share stories anymore.

"This meeting will start -" Ayla paused. "Now."

"I can begin," Esme said as she stood up, her hand gracefully slipping out of Blake's. "Ayla wished me to announce this week's duties, as she is not feeling well enough to take on the duties as Head for these next seven days." A shocked murmur passed around the circle, but I stole a glance at Ayla and saw her placidly staring off into space. Ayla is like this. Sometimes she is here, and sometimes she is not. One Morning she recited a poem to us and then retreated into her den, expecting us to translate her meaning in time for the duties to be done.

"Blake and Ian- hey, where's Ian?" Esme stopped and glared at us. I had no clue where Ian was. The newest member of the group, Ian was sixteen and just plain mean. He came here three Weeks ago, stormed into Ayla's den (which is forbidden) and got himself in the Kin in two minutes flat. Ian was different, I knew. He was dark and the kind of evil that you can't ever get out of your heart. No one really knows what his story is. What I do know, or think, is that he and Esme have got some good friendship between them. 

"Here." the boy muttered as he took his place beside me. I felt an urge to inch away from him, but I stayed put, trying my best not to look at him.

"Alright, okay." Esme was a little put off, but she continued. "Blake and Ian are on Littles Duty. Jack and Ayla are Gathering." At this, Jack gave a little start and stared at Ayla, who paid him no heed. I fought a laugh; Jack told me more than once about how beautiful he thought our leader was. "And me and Grace are Patrol."

Now I had to hold back a groan. Patrolling with Esme was just about the worst I could have come off, other than Littles Duty by myself. Jack gave me a sympathetic glance, but I knew he was glowing from his duties. Just him and Ayla for a whole Week. It must've been his dream come true. I glowered.

"Everyone attend to your duties," Ayla announced suddenly, standing up. "Jack, with me."

Jack sent me one last look before following her into the woods beyond. Esme looked at me as if to say, "What are you waiting for?" so I let her lead us to the Patrol rendezvous. "I'm going east and south today. You know what to do, right?" All I could do was nod and smile until she loped away.

And then barf. "God," I muttered. "'You know what to do, right?'" I was pretty mad. Kicking rocks into the stream, quoting Miss Perfect in this prissy voice. (It totally fit Esme. Just saying.) Walking the same familiar route, I almost didn't notice the motionless lump behind my favorite oak tree.

This lump, that was definitely a person curled up on the ground.

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