Click here to read Escape
Taurin slid his sword blade along the stone in slow, deliberate strokes. Shards of light reflected off the specks of mica in the surrounding rocks. Taurin adjusted the turban shading his eyes and scooted a little closer to the rock that shaded him. From his position partway up the mountain, he could see the desert sprawled before him, seemingly endless sand and withered, prickly plants.
The caravan was due that day, but it couldn’t get to his location from the oasis before midday.
The sun beat down, climbing higher, shrinking his patch of shade. Far in the distance, a dust cloud formed along the road.
Taurin whistled a long, sharp note. His crew slithered out of the crack in the rocks that led to the camp, like the lizards that lived there, creeping down to join him behind the boulders that lined the pass.
“Guards will be at the front and the rear,” he said. “So we strike at the middle. Teams of two, take what you can carry and get away.”
He eyed the two newest members of his band, men who had left the mercenary guild from the last caravan, hoping for a bigger payday. “We’re not going for the whole caravan, and we’re trying to avoid casualties. If you kill people, they send soldiers after you. Take what you can and meet back at the camp to divide. Everyone understand?”
The group nodded their affirmation.
“Gill, you take Winnet, and Jyn, you take Barbo. Show ‘em how we do things.”
Jyn’s eyes seemed to get even blacker than usual as she glared at him, but he knew she’d obey. She didn’t look it, with her wiry frame and delicate features, but she would have no trouble keeping the newcomer in line.
Soon, the sounds of horses and wagons could be heard, growing louder as the caravan drew closer.
A few riders broke away from the group and rode ahead as they neared the pass.
Taurin waved his hand toward Crow to bring the two horses that waited behind a large rock. Taking the narrow path between rocks and cliffs, Taurin and Crow headed toward the narrowest part of the pass, just around the bend.
A few moments later, the two riders came around the corner.
Taurin and Crow rode into the road, blocking the mercenaries’ path.
“Ho!” the first guard hollered, reining his horse.
Crow charged, swinging a club at the first rider. The horse reared and the rider fell off. Crow rode toward the next rider while Taurin grabbed the reins if the first horse and pulled it toward the narrow path leading into the mountains.
Crow would get the other one leaving both mercenaries wounded, to be picked up when the caravan reached that point. That would slow them enough for the rest of the band to attack.
Taurin reached the edge of the path into the rocks. His horse reared, as did the horse he led. He clung to the horse’s neck, and looked around for what had spooed it. He looked up just as someone dropped on him from the top of the boulder to his left.
Another mercenary. How had he…
Taurin’s head hit the ground with a crack as the mercenary crashed on top of him.
How had they known? Taurin chose a different location each time. The mountain pass went on for miles, but the mercenary was in the exact spot he’d picked.
He threw a punch at the mercenary on top of him and rolled out from beneath him. They tumbled over one another, rolling, scrapping, along the dusty trail.
Figures emerged from between the rocks.
Hundreds of them.
A whole mercenary army.
And they hadn’t come that day—he’d been on watch all morning—which meant they had to have been waiting all night.
A few yards away, Crow went down, a spear through his chest.
Taurin rolled to his feet and pulled his sword. He slashed through the mercenary who’d attacked him and charged at the next one.
The first wagon of the caravan came around the bend, then the second.
His band emerged from the rocks.
“Retreat,” Taurin screamed.
It was too late. Mercenaries poured from the wagons, swarming over his band.
Taurin slashed his way toward the path, dodging mercenaries. A spear caught him in the side, but he kept going, leaving a trail of blod in his wake.
His horse waited partway up the path, whinnying and stamping. He swumng himself up and urged the animal up the steep, rocky trail at a pace that was not entirely safe.
He turned, just in time to see a spear flying toward him.
It caught him in th shoulder.
Jyn ran toward the mercenary who’d thrown it, leaping across the tops of boulders, knife in hand. She slashed wildly. “Go, Taurin,” she screeched, plunging her knife into the mercenary’s chest.
Taurin went. He didn’t have a choice—his horse fled, and he didn’t have the strength to stop it.
Two more mercenaries went after Jyn, but he didn’t see the outcome of the fight. His horse carried him out of view.
Blood seeped down, soaking his clothes, and the sun leached all his energy. By the time the horse stopped running, he could barely lift his head.
The horse slowed to a meander. Taurin glanced through the sweat that stung his eyes. Nothing but desert, stretching on for miles.
His strength gave out. He tumbled from the horse, landing face-up on the hot sand. He closed his eyes against the glare.
His mind felt hazy, like the heat that shimmered in the air.
Someone had betrayed him. Warned the caravan he was going to strike. But who?
He couldn’t think about it now. Not when he was so tired. He’d figure it out when he woke up.