• “Adelaid!” Stacey screamed, “Adelaid Adelaid!” Stacey bit my hand with her 3-year-old teeth.
    “Ow! Stacey, no biting!” I growled at her, sitting up in my bed. The sunlight streamed through my round window, what time was it?
    Stacy looked up at me with tears in her blue eye, and I instantly felt sorry for snapping at her. Stacy was my 3-year-old sister, she was cute, but a major pain sometimes. “Come on Stace.” I said, ruffling her wispy blonde hair. “Let me get dressed, OK?”
    Stacy nodded and ran off, laughing. I changed into my work clothes, a white tank top and black cloth kaprees that tied right under my knees. I pulled my long sun bleached brown hair into a single pony tail down my back, and made my bed.
    I would say another average day, except for The Incident. The Incident hit me like a rock, and suddenly I wanted to run through my chores, going to check on the town/. I had to act like I was fine though, for Stacey’s sake, if not for my own.
    So I gave Stacy a small breakfast, and then saddled up Hope, my horse, to get to the ranch where I worked.
    Hope was a horse I had had for pretty much all the time I was an adult. In my town, you were considered an adult at 14 years old. At 14 you could get a job, even get a husband or wife. Actually, you were EXPECTED to get a husband or wife, or else you were the gossip of the town. Everyone around here had big families, too. It was just the way we all remembered it being.
    Stacey wasn’t my daughter, but a daughter of my old friend, Kate. Kate had died a few days after Stacey was born, from sickness. So I took in Stacey as my own daughter, and I was glad I did. It was hard having a child with no husband some days, but, as I told the elders of the town, I was waiting for love.
    After I dropped Stacey off at the general store, where she spent her days while I was working, I headed off towards Gino’s farm.
    Gino was an old friend of the family, about my parents’ age. He had no children of his own, but said I was like one to him, since he practically took me in once my parents passed away. “Gino!” I called out, searching for the old coot.
    “Ahhh Adelaid. Nice to see you, I predict you’re asking about the children and Titus?” Gino asked, coming up to me and Hope. He was calm, but I could tell there was a twang of bitterness over what had happened.
    I nodded. “What do you mean, ‘and Titus’? Wasn’t he with the searchers?”
    Gino looked down. “They stopped at river for awhile. When the other searchers called for him to come back, he wasn’t there. The other searchers couldn’t find him, either. They said it was like he disappeared into thin air.”
    I gritted my teeth. “That’s not right! Nobody bothered to break out of the formation to try to find him, I bet.”
    “Now now, little lady.” Gino said calmly. “It wasn’t their fault, it was getting dark, and their instructions were to come right back.”
    I shook my head, saying nothing as I followed Gino into the small house to talk. “I want to search.” I said suddenly.
    “Now, I know you’re worried, but there’s no reason for that talk.” Gino said, sitting down.
    “No. I have to search. I can fight with swords, I’m just about as good as Titus and-“
    “And look what happened to him!” Gino said loudly, smacking his hands down on the table and rising to his feet. “We can’t risk losing someone else!”
    “But we can’t just sit here like a quarter of out town’s population isn’t gone!” I shouted, standing up as well.
    “Look, I know you’re angry that their gone and that’s okay, but-”
    “It’s not okay!” I said, feeling tears rush to my eyes. “For one, the mayor is to cowardly to look for everyone’s child that’s gone missing! And you know what really erks me off? That should have been Stacey too! And I would want to do everything to find Stacey, so I know how these people are feeling! Only, some of them have no training! I have a chance to help, a smidgeon of hope in the darkest storm, and you’re going to say I can’t try?!”
    Gino moved around the table and put a hand on my shoulder. “I know, but they don’t accept girls in the searching. They think that the girls aren’t strong enough.” He said sadly.
    I looked up into Gino’s eyes, and I knew he was thinking the same exact thing. “Then I’ll be a boy.” I said, “Do you have a good sword I can use?”

    Chapter 2

    “Andrew Colad.” I said as the elders asked my name. “I’m a skilled swordsman, and I can ride horses. I have my own, just please let me search.”
    The elders talked quietly, writing some things down. I stood, defiant, in front of them. My hair had been cut at the middle of my ears, and cut rather jagged. I used some clothes Gino had used as a boy my age. Gino had also given me a sword, a shield, a bow, and a quiver full of arrows. He agreed to keep Stacey in my place, not to Stacey’s liking. I was going to search, and nothing could stop me now.
    “You are approved. The search crew will be leaving immediately, they’re angry we made them wait this long.” He said lowly.
    I nodded, thanking him and running out. I climbed on top of Hope, saying goodbye to the surroundings. I was nervous, but that couldn’t be helped much. I just had to keep my sword handy, and hope for the best.
    “About time you got here.” Jeef, the head of the search party, announced when I rode up. “What’s your name son?” He asked in his gruff voice.
    “Andrew, Sir.” I said respectfully, suddenly feeling sick. Why did I pick something so close to my real name anyways? What a loser I am.
    “Well, Andrew, keep that sword handy and your feet in the stirrups. There’s been some crazy stuff happening in the forest, so be prepared.” Jeef nodded as we started through the forest.
    “Like what?” I asked out loud, but I didn't think he was listening.
    “Don’t ask old Jeef, he wouldn’t tell ya he smelled smoke if ya were on fire!” A boy exclaimed, riding up next to me. He had curly red hair and dark brown eyes. He had freckles across his nose and was riding a creamy brown horse.
    I laughed as a few people mumbled their agreement around us. “I’m Ad- Andrew.” I said, catching myself just in time.
    “Chris. Short for Christopher.” Christ smiled. “I would offer to shake hands, but one of us may fall off.” He laughed.
    I nodded. Chris was quite funny; he would probably keep me sane on this mission. The horses surged forwards to jump over a log, catching me off guard. “Whoa.” I gasped, grabbing onto Hope’s saddle.
    “Don’t go fallin’ off now. We don’t need more people to look for.” Chris laughed.
    “Do you know Titus?” I asked Chris, adjusting myself in the saddle.
    Chris nodded and looked up at the scraps of sky showing through the leaves. “Yeah. He was my ridin’ partner. It was my fault he’s gone.” I could tell he was clenching his jaw, and I was sorry for asking.
    “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” I apologized.
    “It’s fine. I just miss him sometimes. It was my fault.” He sighed.
    I was going to comfort him, really I was, but just then something moving was in front of the group. In a second I noticed, they were moving AT us! People started turning around, others getting ready to fight, it was chaos. What was I supposed to do?
    I stayed in the small group moving forward, breathing a sigh of relief that Chris was moving forward, too. By the time I got back with the group the things were fleeing, our small group continually moving.
    “What about the others?” I asked Chris when we stopped at a small pond to make sure everyone was okay. “Will they come back?”
    Chris nodded, “In time. We’re probably going to split up now.” He predicted.
    “Oh.” I said, letting my feet rest in the clear water. “Do you want to pair up with me?” I asked him, watching the fish swim around in deeper water.
    “Sure.” He said, standing up. “I’m gonna go talk to Jeef real quick. Back in two shakes.”
    “Right.” I said, talking to myself apparently, I didn’t even know what that meant. I watched Hope bite playfully at another horse. I wondered how SHE felt surrounded by all these guys, except for the fact the horses didn’t have to be guys. I sighed. I guess I’m the only odd one.
    Jeef called everyone to mount up as Chris got back to me, nodding. “It’s a go, Andrew.”
    I nodded, almost not noticing he was talking to me. I’m Andrew, I’m Andrew. I repeated to myself as I pulled myself up into Hope’s saddle. “So where are we headed?”
    “Any. We just need to be back by sundown. Back at this pond, that is.” Chris said, pulling himself up on his horse. “So point out a direction, and there we’ll go.”
    “Alright, this way.” I said pointing towards a heavily wooded area that didn’t look like it had been passed though in a long time.