Chapter 43
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Aurin awoke at midday, cold from the dreadfully low temperature. The snow had lain thick on the ground and would have been beautiful to sit and admire had it made the job of rebuilding the ranch considerably more difficult.

Kyle approached him, seeing that he was finally awake. “Rise and shine, lazy bones,” he said, prodding Aurin with his boot. “It’s been almost six hours and that’s plenty of sleep for a youngster like you.”

“I hope you haven’t been walking through Minakai dung,” joked Aurin. “How’s the clean up going?”

“Slowly,” said a weary Kyle. “I don’t think we’ll be done before Christmas. At the very least, we can get your Shamtile to make us a makeshift hut out of stone and Hogannon is an expert at making fire pits. We should be able to dry out enough wood to keep a fire going throughout the night so we don’t die from hypothermia in our sleep.”

“Speaking of sleep, do you want me to keep an eye on things while you take a nap? You look like you need it.”

“Thanks, but I’ll last. Knot should be here any minute, but it’s official business so he’ll probably have Scarlett with him. I don’t know how much she knows about his involvement with us, but I suspect it’s very little. Keep your mouth shut about our partnership unless he indicates it’s otherwise okay.”

“I know,” said Aurin. “I handled it fine in Mayor Boren’s office, right?”

“That’s true. I don’t think my head is screwed on right now. It’s been a long twenty-four hours.”

It wasn’t long before the two detectives, wrapped in many layers, walked up the path towards the remaining half of Kyle’s house. Knot gave him a curt nod while Scarlett held her coat tightly.

“This doesn’t look good,” said Knot bluntly, looking around the remains of the ranch.

“It was worse last night,” said Kyle. “We’ve gotten most of the fence repaired, but my house isn’t going to be fixed so easily.”

“Tell us everything,” said Scarlett, bringing out her notebook.

Kyle relayed the tale to the detectives in excruciating detail. He and Aurin even brought out their Minakai, who made various yelps, screeches and grumbles at different parts of the story to prompt more detail and some praise from the two tamers.

It was obvious to everyone how devastated he was, but when he spoke of his Minakai fighting against the attackers his pride escaped from him. It was the most upbeat he has sounded since the mountain trek. His Minakai all looked very pleased with themselves.

“This is a well-known spot and you have visitors most days, mostly people coming to see their own Minakai, correct?” asked Scarlett, brushing off Leonite who sniffed her. “Get away from me,” she said.

“I don’t know about most days; people usually summon and banish their Minakai once they’ve dropped them off here the first time. There’s a large swelling of people that show up on the last day of the month to pay their rent in silver.”

“My point is that you’re a well-known figure in Hazelton and this ranch is highly regarded. Why do you think they targeted you here?”

“I thought that would be obvious after what we said in the mayor’s office?” asked Aurin, not intending to sound as rude as he did.

“I’m aware that you’re the target,” said Scarlett, “but why here?”

Knot had been unusually quiet up until now. “I have a thought about that,” he said. “I suspect they were looking to kill Aurin’s Minakai. That way, he wouldn’t be able to interfere again. You would probably leave town at that point, right?”

“Probably,” said Aurin, dreading to think what may have happened had his team been left at the ranch while he and Kyle were away.

“You think the Minakai were the target rather than Aurin himself?” asked Kyle.

“It’s just a thought,” said Knot. “It would be a way to get rid of you rather than have a murder investigation to deal with. It would still be a crime if your Minakai were killed, but it wouldn’t carry half the weight that a human death would.”

Scarlett didn’t look convinced. She was about to say something but refrained at the last second. Instead, she put her notebook away in her jacket. Her sleeve caught on one of her buttons, pulling it up and revealing a bandage on her arm. It went unnoticed by everyone but Aurin, whose brain started running a thousand miles a minute.

The detectives wrapped up and said their goodbyes before heading back to the station as the snow began to fall heavier. Aurin commanded Shamtile to create a stone shelter around the tent, while Kyle’s Hogannon blasted a fiery hole in the ground. A few of the other Minakai ran to fetch some firewood while the men sat down on newly erected dirt chairs.

“Scarlett is Libra,” Aurin blurted out.

“You…what?” asked a very confused Kyle.

“Her arm,” said Aurin. “Remember when your Hogannon was helping Shamtile deal with the aerial attacks? One of Libra’s Minakai was set alight and it collided with her. She burned her arm.”

“And how does this tie into Scarlett?”

“She had the same arm wrapped in a bandage. There’s no way that’s a coincidence.”

“You’re sure it was a bandage? It wasn’t a jumper or shirt?”

“It was a bandage,” insisted Aurin. “Trust me on this, okay? I know a bandage when I see one.”

Leonite approached and roared loudly.

“What is it, Leonite?” asked Aurin.

He pawed at the smoke coming from the fire, trying to communicate what he meant.

“Smoke?” asked Aurin.

“He was sniffing Scarlett,” muttered Kyle.

“Is that it? She smelled like smoke?”

Leonite bowed his head in response, while Aurin stroked his mane. Kyle was staring at the fire, deep in thought. He was trying to put the pieces together, but was held back from not wanting to believe what Aurin had told him. Yet, he knew Aurin was honest and wouldn’t state it with such certainty if he wasn’t sure. If it wasn’t true, why would Leonite try and convince them too?

“Alright,” said Kyle.

“Alright what?” asked Aurin.

“Alright, I believe you. Was that not clear?”

“What should we do now?”

“First things first, I’m going to sleep. Secondly, we’re going to keep fixing what we can and get straight back to training. Thirdly, we’re going to the tower. Together.”

Aurin was caught off guard. Kyle hadn’t expressed much interest in ever going into a monster tower again. “Both…both of us?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Kyle. “I clearly don’t have enough Minakai of my own to be able to defend this place so we’re going to hunt for some eggs. Maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two along the way.”

“I’m in,” said Aurin, excited at the prospect.

“You’re not afraid of going into the tower again?”

“With both of us there, we’ll be just fine. Although if I’m down to my last Minakai, I may just leave. I don’t want to end up cornered again.”

 

*

 

“Cast off your armour,” ordered Aurin as Shamtile trained against Desparee.

The magical lizard shattered his rock armour which burst into shards of sharp stone that hurtled through the air in all directions like daggers. Desparee held up his arms to block, while Chull nimbly dove to the ground to avoid the attack.

“You’re getting there,” Aurin said to Shamtile. “It’s important that you can pick up speed and force with this attack. It’ll mean that if you’re ever surrounded, you don’t need to rely on throwing stones, you’ve got a full rack of spears you can throw at any time.”

Shamtile shook his arms while warbling and grunting.

“Remember when Kyle told me that he’s learning something new about Minakai all the time?” asked Aurin. “Well, I’m trying to learn more about you too, Shamtile. If we can improvise a few new techniques on the back of your old ones, it’ll make us much more versatile.”

Kyle wandered over from tending to the Minakai. “Did you call your parents to wish them a merry Christmas yet?” he asked.

“An hour ago, yes,” replied Aurin. “I gave them your best too. They’re just glad that we’ve gotten this place back into good shape again.”

“I would say it’s better than before,” said Kyle, admiring the newly reinforced fences. It had taken a lot of work from the pair of them, but the ranch looked better than ever. All that was left to fix was the house.

“Are you ready to go?” Aurin asked him.

Kyle held up his glove, with three summoning stones embedded into it. “Ready as ever. Let’s get moving so we don’t leave this place deserted for too long.”

“Alright,” said Aurin, dismissing Desparee and Chull.

“You’re not bringing these three?” asked Kyle. “Who’s coming with you today then?”

“Shamtile, Dolissile and Steambot,” replied Aurin as the lizard hopped enthusiastically by his tamer’s side. “How about you?”

“If you can guess, I’ll let you keep the first egg that we find.”

“Wingbloom, Hogannon and Snowlem?” guessed Aurin, presuming Kyle would take his favourite trio.

“Close, but no cigar,” he said. “Two out of three isn’t bad, so I’ll let you take the second egg if we’re lucky enough to find one.”

“Who’s the third?” asked Aurin.

Kyle responded with a laugh and walked down the path out of the ranch and into the forest while Aurin and Shamtile followed, pestering him to tell them who his third Minakai was for the tower run. He waved them away and brushed off each question, enjoying tormenting his young friend.

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