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Oovutee

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The driver had the name of the buyer—assuming it wasn’t a pseudonym— as well as that of the supplier. Little else was of note, and the driver was so in the dark to the proceedings Savio suspected what information he had wasn’t going to get him far. It was frustrating to be operating on a sliver of data; it was like trying to wring water from a rock.

Tying up loose ends was never something he relished, either. The begging hurt, but Savio couldn’t have him spouting off in case he had been lying. 

Going back to ransack the wagon to make it look like bandits were responsible for the chaos was the easiest part of the job, and gave him time alone to sort his mind. 

Anything valuable got shoved into a bag to bring with him to help with the ruse, but he also scoured the wagon for food and any clothing they might have for the child. Everything was methodical, and relegated to muscle memory, while he intentionally strewed things along where he had already searched. 

Savio found a saddle for the horse that was drawing the wagon after everything was packed up. He would need to find the hired guard’s horse that ran off after its master died. Thankfully the mare wasn’t too far, and he was able to coax her back. Savio saddled the wagon’s horse up with the supplies, spreading the load between the two, before leading them to his own Elk, Kutaak, hidden further in the forest. 

It had been hours by the time he found Callisto. Sisuk was resting with Callisto leaning back on her like a chair. The child was wrapped in his fur cloak at his side, her feet holding a cup still while one hand held a huge chunk of bread, and the other a large bit of cheese. 

Callisto’s theatrical storytelling was in full swing. The little girl currently sat, mouth agape, as Callisto arched his arm wide in front of them both. 

“--It was so white, I couldn’t see my nose!” 

The girl’s gasp was far louder than Savio thought any tiny creature should be capable of. “Where’d it go?”

Callisto laughed while poking his nose, “it stayed right here. Not that it wanted to. The snow was blowing sideways, as far as I could tell, and if my nose hadn’t been under my face covering it would have turned black and fallen off!”

Savio opted not to interrupt them and instead got the horses something to drink.

“Did you die ?” The child asked in such a tone of awe that Savio needed a moment to stare off into the distance. 

Callisto’s laughing brought him back. “No, I didn’t. But my mom wouldn’t let me leave her side for a cycle, worried I’d get myself frozen to death.”

“Oh... you have a mom?” 

“Well, not directly anymore. But she’s always with me.” 

Savio closed his eyes. Callisto’s mother was a ball of energy, even on her death bed, and a font of wisdom for someone so young. All the Oscuro seemed to be that way, able to rely directly on the knowledge of generations past and recite it for the youth until they were fully brought into the ranks. 

The light pulsation of his tattoo reminded him they needed to move.

“Callisto, it’s time to go.”

The child’s head popped up behind Sisuk’s back, eyes wide in shock. The mess of auburn hair disappeared shortly after. “Where did he come from?”

Savio shook his head as a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He mounted Kutaak once more, meeting Callisto’s gaze. “Come on.” 

“Ah, alright,” Callisto agreed and stood up, clicking his tongue to encourage Sisuk up to her feet as he bundled up the little girl. 

“I’m Alexia! You’re going to take me to my new daddy, right?” 

Savio paused, watching the giggling, squirming child as Callisto got himself and Alexia comfortable on the Elk. She wiggled and squirmed and was quickly distracted, trying to take the reins from Callisto’s hands, which he only adjusted to let her hold some of it. 

“Yes, as soon as we can.” 

“And we’re doing a surprise?” Alexia inquired as her distraction was not enough to dissuade her from her task in seeking information. 

“Yes, we have set up the surprise for ah…” 

“Mr. Joyce?”

“Yes, Mr. Joyce. He’ll find it when he gets back to the wagon, and he will be quite surprised.” Savio turned Kutaak and carefully began to lead the two horses on leads through the forest, hoping to find a better clearing to regain his wits and direction. 

“Ohh, I hope he likes it!” Alexia exclaimed, before beginning to ask a million questions, and even more before Savio had a chance to answer any of them. 

Thank the Saints they weren’t being chased and needed to be silent.

 

[*]

 

Alexia was curled up against Callisto’s chest sound asleep. Savio could have discussed the next stage of their plan now that all was silent, but he found the silence incredibly welcoming. 

Callisto didn’t ask anything either, so he was unsure what the youth was thinking. For now, he wanted to get to a town or three over so as not to arouse suspicion in selling off the two horses. 

The child made him uneasy. Knowing she had been bred or stolen, and purchased for the sole purpose of becoming someone’s little doll twisted his stomach. 

How many more were out there? 

Why would someone do such things?

And if she hadn’t been a Magician, what happened after she outgrew the age to be a doll? 

Was she actually the age she seemed or had magic adjusted it? Could she be much older? 

“You okay?”

Savio straightened his back before looking to his right at his traveling companion. “It’s just a lot on my mind.” 

The sound of the animals’ hooves fell between them. Savio focused forward again, and tried not to let his mind sink too deeply about any what-ifs should they hadn’t come along. She had been rescued. No, he hadn’t found a better lead, but they had managed to save this one life, and for her, they had done a world of good in that act alone. 

Still, the doubt of not doing enough crept along the edges of his mind, trying to sink its icy grip in.

“We will need to find her a ‘daddy’ so her obligations can be fulfilled.” Savio worded his statement carefully, minding his intent. Callisto had Olgi, but they didn’t prevent commands in such close proximity. 

“She’s not coming with us?”

“We can’t get distracted from our jobs to take her back, and she’s not equipped to make it across the tundra.” 

“Lark would help-” 

“Callisto.” Savio gave a pointed look. “Just because she has been rescued doesn’t mean that is the life for her. We still have a mission to attend to, remember? Would you stop everything and raise her?”

Callisto returned Savio’s look with a defiant, steely glare before he jerked his head away, refusing to look at Savio any longer.

“She can stay with us until we return,” the youth protested.

“I have no intention of raising a child on the road like this, especially with what work we must do.She would threaten our mission.” He didn’t mean for his words to sound final.

Callisto was silent in response.

Savio had no idea what was going through the youth’s mind, but he let it be. They needed to do what was best for the child, and unfortunately, that meant she couldn’t be with them forever. He would have to find her a new daddy, and quickly.