Chapter 26 (Pursuit)
Despite his aching bones, Jekor climbed out of his bedroll and forced himself to stretch. Who knew two days of riding and two nights of sleeping on the ground would hurt so bad? He massaged his thighs.
Iiffar yawned then sat up. Her tangled, black hair glistened in the warm morning sun. Beads of sweat rolled down her neck and nuzzled between her squeezable breasts.
He shook his head. What was he thinking about?
Still wearing the low-cut undershirt, she arched her back. A moan scrabbled from her mouth before she stood. “Good morning.” Her voice was crisp with a higher pitch than usual.
From a nearby tree, tweeting birds accompanied her proclamation. They shouldn’t have made camp near the KoeF forest, but the trail said Kkaj’s cart had come in this direction.
Jekor rubbed his own shoulders then rolled his neck. “Why do you sound so happy at this awful hour?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Because I woke up?”
A chuckle clambered from his chest. “I like you.”
Her eyes grew wide, and she froze in place.
“I-I-i didn’t mean it like that.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I did, but you see. Well. Um. I just —”
She moved forward in an instant and pressed her soft lips against his.
Jolts of ecstasy scrawled across his skin, and he closed his eyes. His blood turned into fire, and his muscles melted. The aches and pains from the trip vanished like a page ripped from an unused book.
A long moment later, she pulled away from the kiss. “Thank you for telling me what I must do.” Tears filled her eyes. “I knew, deep down, it had to be done, but —”
Jekor pulled her into a hug, holding her tight against his chest. What is she talking about? “Don’t cry. No matter what it is, I’ll help you get through it.”
“Thank you.” She wrapped her hands around his waist then sniffled. Her tears bled through his shirt and mingled with his sweat. “But I must do this alone.”
Thundering gallops down the road. Had the guards already caught up?
“Time to go.” Jekor let her go and rushed to gather their things.
Iiffar rolled her bedroll up and stuffed it into her bag. She pulled out a pair of flasks. Blue and red. Whiskey and rum.
Jekor grabbed her by the wrist and shook his head. “We can outrun them.”
“Never know unless we try.”
She bit into her lower-lip. Was she hiding something else?
He ushered her into the saddle then mounted his horse with the grace of a two-legged octospider.
A chuckle slipped through her fingers as she covered her mouth.
The sweet sound brought a smile to his face and curled his toes.
The thundering hoofs rang harder. Just over the hill, dust rose, and a group of riders appeared.
“Come on.” He spurred his horse into motion, and they entered the KoeF forest pass.
Iiffar glanced over her shoulder as her horse picked up speed. “We should stop and fight here.”
“We can lose them.”
“That’s not the —”
“Don’t let the murders and thieves get away!” one of the pursuing guards shouted.
A startled yelp pierced the silence ahead of them. Smoke rose above the trees down the pass in front of them. A cook fire? Kkaj!
“If we keep going forward, we’re going to run into that bastard and his insufferable assistants.” She gritted her teeth. “Though, I wouldn’t mind running over the arrogant one called Saffer.”
Jekor slowed and turned his horse towards the dense thicket of trees. “We could hide. The guards would turn away when they reached Kkaj. Maybe —”
Iiffar kicked back some rum, and her eyes glowed a deep red. She hopped out of her saddle and tossed the reins to Jekor.
“They must have brought more Drunkzards with them.” Jekor made his way to his feet and tied the horses to a nearby tree. “I think we need to surprise them.”
She closed her eyes and held both hands above her head. Fire energy flowed from both hands and formed into six massive spears.
This is not something we should do, but … . He glanced at her cute nose that indented her face, enhancing her smooth cheeks. Without checking the color, he pulled a flask from his vest and drank. I don’t know why, but for here, I’m willing to fight against the law. Seething metal energy raced through his veins. A growl rumbled up his throat.
Tears dripped from Iiffar’s strong chin. “Just. Just.” She sniffled. “Just defend us. Only one us has to get their hands dirty, and this is only the beginning for me.”
Jekor contained Rage, and his mouth worked, but no sounds came out. Hands dirty? Only the beginning?
The guards entered the pass. Their eyes bulged, and they jerked on their horses reins. The horses skidded across the dirt pass.
Iiffar’s hands shot forward. The flaming spears spiraled towards the riders. She released laces of fire energy along the ground then reached into her Drunkzard vest.
The lead guards drew pistols.
Jerko turned his metal energy into a thick, magnetic barrier.
Bang-bang-bang! The lead guards fired. Two of the rear guards pointed long-barrel rifles at Iiffar. Seven other guards drank. Why had the king sent fifteen guards — a holy number — to chase down a horse thief? It didn’t make sense.
The guard commander’s words replayed in Jekor’s mind, and he blinked. Did my trap kill any of the guards? A shiver raced down to his toes.
The bullets crashed into the barrier then fell to the ground.
One of the flaming spears dove onto the guard captain’s face, and his head exploded, covering the nearby guards in chunks of black and red.
Jekor dropped to his knees and threw up. Is that what death looked like? His stomach turned, and he vomited again.
Water and weather energy collided with the other five spears, and they sizzled into nothing. The two riflemen fired. Bang!
Iiffar rolled to the left.
The bullets ripped through the trees behind her.
She sprang to her feet and grinned as she pulled out a flask of vodka, taking a swig. Her fire energy reached the five remaining horses in front. It vulturesnaked up each horses legs then engulfed the beasts in flames.
The horses screamed and bucked their riders from the saddle. The flaming beasts toppled over, crushing the two riders who survived the fall.
She slung two waves of raw earth energy towards the group of Drunkzards.
The seven Drunkzards swallowed whiskey. Pentas? The king sent seven Pentas after them? The air in front of guards distorted, and long sheet of metal butted against the raw energy.
Was Iiffar smiling? She threw a large rock through her earth energy. It wrapped around the rock and turned it into a boulder, smashing the metal shield and the two Pentas behind it. Brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.
Streams of fire and lightning poured through the broken barrier.
A lump caught in Jekor’s throat, and he choked back his reservations. Like his master had described in The Report of Effective Barriers, Jekor used the last of his metal energy to create an interweaving mix of spiked poles. He drank down some gin then charged each spike.
Lightning struck first, and the spikes sucked each bolt into the ground. The fire splashed against the barrier and split several times as it passed through. By the time it reached Iiffar, the hulking fireballs were nothing but smoke and embers.
Iiffar nodded. “Thanks.”
“Just … just don’t lose yourself. I mean I just —” He bit into his lower-lip. “Just be careful.”
“Lying to you.”
“So, that kiss … ?”
She shook her head. “That was real.” She reached into her fest and pulled out a flask of tequila. “We can talk later.”
“Okay.” Jekor swallowed a mouthful of rum and felt a tremor in the back of his mind. It wouldn’t be long before a hangover took him. His resolve weakened, and his barrier vanished.
The two riflemen turned their guns towards Jekor.
Icy blades flew from Iiffar’s fingers.
The Pentas unleashed a burst of wind, turning the ice back towards her.
Jekor released a tornado of fire. Not fast enough.
She dove to the ground, skidding onto her back and flinging another wave of ice into the air.
Bang! The riflemen fired. Their bullets whizzed through the air.
Jekor’s fire caught the back end of the ice and engulfed the wind, creating a blinding flash. Every horse screamed. Rip! Splatter! Two gurgling voices released a yelp before falling silent. The air cleared.
Several scratches and red lines covered Iiffar’s skin. She climbed to her feet and pulled out her flask of whiskey. “This’ll be my last drink.”
A throbbing pain pounded against Jekor’s temples. “I’m already hungover.”
“Sorry. It’s kind of like saying the M-word.”
“Oh.” He squeezed the bridge of his nose and chuckled. “You’re so sweet.”
“Give me your guns.”
The Pentas extended their hands towards Iiffar.
She pulled out her small pistol and pulled the trigger. Bang! She reached out with metal energy and shoved the bullet. Boom!
The deafening crack dropped Jekor to his knees.
One of the Pentas created a barrier of fire.
The bullet ripped through it and took the man’s head from his shoulders.
“Jekor?” She held out her hand towards him.
He scrambled to his feet, pulled two of his pistols from his pocket and tossed them to her.
She snatched both out of the air and fired, pushing the bullets with metal energy.
Two more Pentas down.
She dropped his two pistols and caught his third. With her free hand, she pulled out a small bag of bullets.
The remaining Pentas both drank whiskey, gin and rum then extended their hands.
Iiffar pulled the trigger.
A hazy blob filled the area between her and the two Pentas.
Chortling laughter sprang from her mouth as she threw the bag of bullets into the air. Instead of pushing the bullet she had fired, she grabbed onto the bag with a wad of metal energy and rained bullets down on the unprotected Pentas.
Blood and gore soaked into the dirt-covered path. Galloping sounds echoed in the distance. Was Kkaj just now running?
Jekor stumbled to their horses and untied them. “We need to go.”
“One second.” Iiffar ran over to the bodies and took one of the rifles and a looking glass. She patted down the hole-covered body then pulled out a pistol and a bag of bullets. “Okay. I’m ready.”
She did steal horses. Jekor shook his head before leading the horses over to his discarded pistols and picking them up. Once Iiffar climbed into her saddle, he did the same despite the throbbing pain pushing against his skull.
As they began riding, Iiffar took a deep breath. “I guess I should start.”
“My actual name is Ikiffar, and I’m from Orakab City. Kkaj killed my family and everyone I have ever known.”
Next: Chapter 27