Chapter 32 (Betrayed)
Jekor leaped from his saddle and pulled out his flask of tequila.
His horse danced about, but it didn’t run off. A good boy. Kkaj on the other hand … . He was a fool. He slid across the ground on his back as the crocobear stalked forward. His head bumped into a shadowed log or something, and he took several drinks from his flask. Was he really trying to kill the crocobear with magic?
“What are you doing?” Jekor drank then crafted a rope from the water.
Kkaj extended his hands, and a wall of fire appeared between him and the crocobear.
“We have to get out of here.” Jekor tossed the rope forward and wrapped it around the beast’s neck. He turned the ends into spikes and planted them into the ground. If we leave together, Kkaj will have no choice but to take us with him to the Lucidity distillery. He grinned then looked back at Ikiffar. Why hadn’t she dismounted?
The crocobear howled. It thrashed about, shredding the water rope then smashed Kkaj’s fire barrier.
Like one of those sea monsters with claws, Kkaj’s head rested against the log-thing, and he scrambled backwards on hands and feet, moving the log-thing with him. It didn’t roll.
“Stand up, fool!” Jekor released a hail of water bullets, pelting the crocobear in the face. He turned his hands over and created a spiked disk. Forcing more energy into it, it grew then began to spin faster and faster. “You need to —”
Kkaj crossed the firelight, and the shadows vanished. It wasn’t a log. It was Saffer, his girlfriend. Where here nose should have been, black blood crusted around a massive hole that stretched from her eyes to her lower lip. Was that a bullet wound?
Jekor’s breath caught in his chest. No. He turned.
Ikiffar wrapped Roffor in metal chains and lifted her onto Jekor’s horse, securing into the saddle. Ikiffar gritted her teeth and clenched her fist. The chains tightened around Roffor, and she screamed into the chain gagging her. Ikiffar grabbed the reins to Jekor’s horse.
“What are you doing?” Jekor’s voice cracked, and his lips quivered. “We’re supposed to help. Not —”
“I’m sorry.” Tears rolled down Ikiffar’s cheeks. “It has to be like this.”
Ikiffar whipped her horse into a gallop, pulling Jekor’s horse behind her and heading deeper into the wastes.
Jekor stepped towards the two horses hooked to Kkaj’s cart.
Kkaj grunted. Thud.
Fear and regret clutched Jekor’s heart. He froze in place then spun to face the crocobear.
Saffer’s corpse sat between Kkaj and the crocobear, laying the blame for her death at Jekor’s feet. The crocobear stepped forward. Kkaj rubbed at his chest but pushed himself to his feet anyway.
“I’m sorry.” Jekor’s voice wheezed from his mouth like a rasping whisper. “If I had been more watchful over Ikiffar … .” He swallowed. “I’m so sorry.”
The crocobear roared. It moved forward.
Kkaj pulled out three flasks. “I guess I have no choice.” He pulled out a forth.
“Kkaj!” Jekor’s chest heaved. Was he breathing? “We have to —”
The crocobear stopped over Saffer’s body, and in one swift motion, it scooped her body into its mouth. Crunch! Crunch-crunch-crunch. After chewing, it swallowed her corpse in one serving.
The blood turning sound sent icy hands brushing down Jekor’s spine. Jekor shivered then glanced to the dust cloud Ikiffar’s horse was kicking up. “Kkaj!”
“No!” Kkaj popped the tops from all four of his flasks. “No! No! No! I’m going to crush you!” He pulled out a fifth flask.
Jekor rushed forward while the crocobear licked at the blood covered dirt. He gripped Kkaj by the wrist. “We have to go.”
“No! I have to rip this monster limb from limb!”
“Even if that’s possible, which I doubt, Ikiffar has betrayed me.”
“Who?” The anger in Kkaj’s voice wavered.
“She told you her name was Iiffar.”
“My second cousin?”
Jekor shook his head and pulled Kkaj towards his remaining two horses. “No. She’s not related to you, though you did wrong her.”
Kkaj narrowed his eyes. “How?”
“She is the sole survivor of the Orakab desolation. She watched her family get ripped to pieces as they saved her. Your Empty Bottle Cult … .”
“A —” Kkaj’s jaw dropped. His eyes trembled. “— survivor?”
“Yes.” Jekor forced Kkaj onto the horse bareback and fashioned a set of reins out of the cart’s lead. “She took Roffor and the map.”
Kkaj gulped. “Roffor … .”
“Ikiffar plans to use Lucidity to make every member of the Empty Bottle Cult pay for the death of her family.
“But … as much as I want the man dead, killing the king would start a civil war unless … .”
The crocobear roared. Had it finished its snack?
“Time to go!” Jekor leaped into his saddle and kicked his new horse into a run, following Ikiffar’s trail with Kkaj in tow.
Next: Chapter 33