Chapter 26:

Search for the Golden Arch, Part 4


Three days had passed since the two had arrived, yet Caleb and Hope were no closer to finding their mark than they were when they arrived. By this point, Caleb had nearly mapped the entire forest, yet they had nothing to show for their efforts except clothes stained with dirt and grass. While Caleb showed no sign of growing weary of aimless searching, Hope was a different question.

“You still haven't given up?” Hope said incredulously. “We've been here for days and found nothing. Surely you're not planning on spending a whole month out here, are you?”

“A month would be too much, but we haven't even been here a full week yet,” Caleb replied as he gently rummaged through a bush. “Wouldn't you say it's a little too early to be giving in?”

“We've already combed through the entire forest. There aren't that many places left to look. How much longer are you going to continue this pointless search?”

Caleb stood up and wiped his hands on his clothes. “Well, hold on. There are still a number of things we can try before we talk about giving up. For example, we can talk with them.”

Caleb motioned his head towards a group of remainers searching in a nearby field. Hope raised an eye. “You think they'd give you any information?”

“Come on, it's not a fierce competition or anything like that. Okay sure, there are a few characters who are unusually fired up about this search, but most of them don't really care about snagging that reward. It can't hurt to ask anyhow.”

Unfortunately, the other remainers didn't really have information for Caleb that helped him very much. He couldn't tell if it was because they weren't willing to give him info that might give him an edge or if they actually didn't know that much to begin with. Either way, hunting for info wasn't panning out for him very well, and he was not looking forward to seeing Hope's smug smirk.

As he started trudging back to where he'd split up from Hope, Caleb noticed a lone remainer picking gingerly at a rather large tree. He looked extremely unkempt, with his clothes stained all over with all kinds of mud, grass, and a few substances he couldn't even recognize. Caleb approached him hoping to have a word, but it took quite a few attempts before he could actually draw his attention.

“Oh, sorry. I didn't see you there.” The man stood up and wiped off his dirt-covered hands as best as he could. “Am I in your way?”

“Actually, I wanted to speak with you for a bit,” Caleb explained. “I was wondering if you've learned anything about the golden-arched butterfly that you'd be willing to share.”

The man offered a friendly laugh. “Sorry, but it's a pretty tall order for anyone. Tracking butterflies isn't the easiest thing in the first place, so don't expect a new species to make it any easier.”

“I see. Well, I guess it was worth a try.”

“I suppose you're not that well-versed in entomology? You've undertaken quite the challenge if that's the case.”

“Unfortunately.” Caleb extended a hand out to the man. “My name's Caleb, by the way.”

“Joseph,” he replied as he took his hand and shook it. “I see, so you're that Caleb. Well, it's nice to meet you.”

“You said something about entomology. Do you happen to have any specialist knowledge in that?”

“Sure,” Joseph replied. “In fact, it's sort of my specialty. I used to be a forensic scientist after all, so this was my bread and butter.”

“Really? Then this job must be a piece of cake for you.”

Joseph laughed. “Tracking down this butterfly is going to require a lot more than just knowledge. It'll certainly help narrow down the possible search areas, but you're still gonna end up putting in a lot of legwork. Case in point,” he said as he gestured to his messy clothes.

“Is there any way you could give me any idea on what to look for?” Caleb asked. “I get you probably don't want to lose your advantage, but I could really use some help.”

“I don't see why not,” Joseph replied. “How much do you already know about butterflies?”

“Not much, to be honest. The subject doesn't really figure often into my usual tasks.”

“I see. Well, for starters, take a look at this tree.” Joseph pointed to the tree he had been picking at. When Caleb leaned in, he noticed a dark brown fluid flowing out of the bark.

“Is that tree sap?” Caleb asked as he touched the sap with his finger. It was cold to the touch, but also thick and runny.

“How's it this fluid?” Caleb wondered aloud. “It's the middle of winter. Any tree sap would have solidified in this cold.”

“That's because it's my own supply of tree sap,” Joseph explained. “I've been placing them on trees here and there throughout the forest. Butterflies enjoy them, so if there're any of them flapping around, I'm hoping they'll get attracted to it.”

“I see. I wouldn't have thought to prepare my own tree sap. Seems like your knowledge is coming in handy there.”

“It's nothing special. I'm just glad to put the knowledge to work.”

Caleb's brow furrowed. “I don't know how much that'll help me, though. I won't be able to tap much sap from the trees here during this time of the year.”

“No worries. I've already been leaving sap on the trees. I'll show you where to find them, so you can check on them yourself and see if the butterfly shows up.”

“Won't it be dried by now?”

“Sap doesn't dry that easily,” Joseph chuckled. “Besides, I've been reapplying sap every day, so there's a fresh coat just in case.”

“I see. Then, I'll go take a look.” Caleb took out his map and showed it to Joseph. “Just mark the general area of the trees on this map. You don't have to be precise.”

Joseph nodded and marked the locations where he'd placed sap on trees for Caleb. They were placed relatively evenly throughout the forest, including the one they were standing in front of right now. It'd take a quite a trek to find them all, but at least it'd give him some direction.

“Thanks,” Caleb said as he turned to walk away. “Even if it isn't much, it might give me a few leads.”

“No problem,” Joseph smiled. “Good luck in your search.”

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