Challenging saber, p.11
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       Challenging Saber, p.11

           S. E. Smith
 
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  More power to them if they try to go find my body, she thought nastily. If I had weighed an ounce more, the whole damn stairwell would have come down on me.

  She had difficulties coming down the rickety stairs and had slightly sore ankles to prove it! Her feet had gone through at least three rotten steps. The others had just been missing. That wouldn’t have been a problem if she could have seen where in the heck she was putting her feet.

  Sighing as the guard disappeared down the hallway, Taylor rose and slid along the wall to peek around the corner. She silently retraced her steps from this morning. After what happened to those poor men and women at the arena in the dome, she knew she couldn’t leave the other prisoners behind.

  She paused and carefully removed an old torch from the wall. It had a foot-long piece of metal at the bottom. She felt along the wood and was relieved when she felt that it was nice and strong.

  Turning it so that the metal end was facing away from her, she held it like a bat. Once again, she sent a word of thanks to the great unknown for giving her a chance to participate in a wide variety of sports. She leaned forward to peek around the corner once more before slipping out from her hiding spot.

  Prymorus Achler, the Waxian, had been totally full of himself when he ordered the guards to escort her and the others to a small arena that they had built in the lower courtyard. It had been a huge, metal domed area. Six people, one Trivator warrior that she’d learned was called Ember, two women, and three other men had been pushed into the cage.

  Nausea rose in Taylor’s throat as she remembered the slaughter. Two of the men had grabbed one of the women and held her between them. Ember and the other man had tried to help the woman while the other cried pitifully against the bars, holding out her arms and pleading for mercy.

  That was when the gate had opened and two mammoth creatures her Waxians captors had called Gartaians, had been released into the cage. Taylor and the others watched in hopeless horror as the creatures ripped the woman held between the two men apart as they fought over her.

  It had been a hopeless battle. None of the captives had been given a weapon. They had no way of defending themselves against the two creatures that stood almost four meters high and weighed in at over ten thousand kilograms.

  The first two men attacked the other woman, ripping her away from the bars as she screamed and fought in an effort to shove her in front of them and keep the creature from attacking them. One of the beasts swung his massive head, piercing the screaming woman with one of the three tusks protruding from its mouth. The other Gartaian’s tongue swept out and dragged the impaled woman off the tusk and into its mouth. The sickening sound of bone being crushed had been too much for Taylor. She couldn’t watch any more.

  Instead, she’d focused on how she was going to escape. She wouldn’t die in that cage, being eaten by some alien monster. She would rather take her chances of being killed while trying to escape, than end up being torn apart. Still, she couldn’t escape without trying to free the others. As far as she was concerned, the only one who deserved to die that way was Achler. She’d love to see how he liked being put in a cage with a Gartaian or two.

  Rubbing her damp cheek on her shoulder, she winced when she swiped the bruise again. An angry scowl replaced her grief. She’d also like to hit the bastard upside the jaw with the end of a baseball bat. If she ever got a chance to kick him in the balls again, she was going to make sure they ended up in his throat! She hoped that the marble size jewels choked him, but not before the Gartaian ripped him apart.

  She paused at the end of the corridor. Her eyes narrowed on the guard. He was taking a leak in the corner. The strong smell of urine filled the hallway. Gripping the torch, she silently stepped up behind him. She swung the end of the torch just as he was closing the front of his pants.

  Taylor watched as the man spun around as if in slow motion before collapsing to the cold stone floor. Squatting down, she quickly searched him for the keys. She wiggled her nose at the offensive smell coming off the man, but continued to pat him down until she felt a bulky, metal object just under his left side. She set the torch down next to her and shifted him just far enough to pull the ring of keys out from under him. Grabbing the torch, she glanced at the man once more before rolling her eyes.

  Weapons! He’s bound to have at least one on him, she thought in disgust.

  Setting the torch and keys down, she stood up and rolled him over. Holding her breath, she absently wondered when the last time the man had taken a bath. Deciding it must have been a long time, she pulled the weapon tucked in the front of his pants out with two fingers and grimaced.

  “This is just nasty,” she muttered, bending and picking up the keys and torch again.

  She sighed when she realized that she couldn’t hold all three items if she wanted to stay quiet. A shudder went through her as she tucked the laser pistol into the back of her pants. She was just thankful she was wearing a long shirt and panties. The thought of it touching her skin was too repulsive for words. She tucked the keys into the front of her pants and gripped the torch firmly between her palms again.

  Feeling more confident, she continued down the corridor. One more hallway and she would be in the lower catacombs where the other prisoners were being held. She just hoped there weren’t any more guards.

  Swallowing, she couldn’t help but think of Saber. How he did something like this for years on end, she didn’t know. Sure, she and her sisters had been on the run, but they spent more of their time hiding. This warrior stuff was just too nerve-wracking for her. She pressed her lips together into a tight line to keep from making any noise. When all this was over, Saber had better be ready to hold her good and tight for a long, long time, because she didn’t plan on ever leaving his arms again.

  *.*.*

  Saber stood in the center of the tower, looking around. Dagger grunted as he dragged the body of the dead guard into the room. Saber turned, looking at the male they had killed.

  “She was supposed to be here,” he growled out in anger, glaring at the male as if he could wring more information from him.

  “The guard was positioned outside the door to the room and another one at the bottom of the tower,” Dagger replied, glancing around the barren area. “Why post guards here if she wasn’t?”

  Saber shook his head, searching the chamber once more. His eyes narrowed on the boot imprints on the floor. Walking around in a tight circle, he studied the pattern. He squatted down and ran his fingers along the thin layer of dirt. The footprints belonged to Taylor. They were too small to belong to anyone else. There were a couple of places where the imprints were smeared, as if she had dragged the ball of her foot across the floor.

  His eyes swept the uneven surface. The footprints were stretched apart. It looked like she was running. His gaze continued following the pattern. Rising, he walked toward the wall, his mind trying to understand what his eyes were seeing. He stopped at the wall. About half way up it, he could see the outline of the toe of her boot.

  Saber frowned as his gaze rose upward, freezing on the window. A silent curse tore from his throat as the puzzle pieces that Taylor had left behind started to fit together. Turning, he motioned for Dagger to join him.

  “What is it?” Dagger asked with a frown.

  “Cup your hands and give me a boost,” Saber demanded, stepping back so Dagger could move up under the window.

  “What for?” Dagger asked, cupping his hands and bracing his feet. “Damn, Trig is right, you’ve gained weight.”

  “Taylor’s not in here because she escaped,” Saber whispered, reaching up and grabbing the window sill.

  Holding his body still, he scanned the area. A hoarse curse escaped him when he saw the building down below them. He was about to tell Dagger to lower him back down when the faint scent of blood caught his attention. Leaning down, he sniffed the edge of the window. Explosive anger burst through him. With a grunt, he motioned for Dagger to lower hi
m back to the floor.

  “Well?” Dagger asked.

  “She went out the window,” Saber said, turning on his heel and striding out the door.

  “Out the…,” Dagger started to say before he turned and hurried after Saber.

  Saber took the curving stairs at a reckless speed. Trig turned, looking startled, when he flashed by him. A frown creased Trig’s brow when Dagger came down a moment later.

  “What happened?” Trig asked, following them.

  Dagger glanced at his brother and shook his head. “She escaped,” he muttered with a slightly exasperated tone. “Goddess only knows where she is now!”

  Chapter 16

  Taylor shuddered as another guard collapsed. Her hope that there wouldn’t be any more guards dissolved when she unexpectedly collided with one as they were both rounding a corner in the lower catacomb.

  She had reacted instinctively, raising her knee and driving it into his groin. The guard’s surprise at her sudden appearance and her immediate reaction were the only things that gave her the edge. A harsh curse escaped him at about the same time as the wave of pain washed through his body at her blow. His eyes had widened in shock before he bent forward and grabbed his groin. As he sank down to the floor, she had stepped back and swung the end of the torch. The blow had caught him in the temple and he toppled over.

  “PT Taylor,” one of the Trivator warriors called out.

  Taylor jerked in surprise to hear her name and grinned. Stepping over the unconscious guard, she fumbled for the keys she had retrieved from the other man. Within seconds, she had the locks to the cells open.

  “We’ve got to get out of here,” she said, glancing at the guard she had just knocked out. “There was another one upstairs. I’m not sure how long he is going to be out.”

  The sound of shouts from above sent a shaft of fear through her. The guard had either been found or had raised an alert. She watched as the Trivator warrior named Cain hurried over to the unconscious man and searched him. He pulled a weapon from the man’s waist.

  Taylor looked away when he stepped back and fired a shot into the man’s temple. There would be no prisoners from the look on the men’s faces. Pulling the other laser pistol from the back of her pants, she held it out to the other Trivator warrior that she remembered was called Ace.

  “We need to find a way out of here,” one of the Eastern captives said in desperation.

  “Follow me,” a voice said, stepping out of the darkness behind Taylor.

  Taylor gasped when she felt the cold metal of a pistol against her temple. She wanted to turn her head, but at the moment, she didn’t dare. She was trapped between the man holding the gun to her head and the two warriors pointing their pistols in the direction of her chest.

  “Shoot!” She whispered before stiffening. “I didn’t mean it that way. Don’t shoot. I meant this is not where I want to be, not that I want you to really shoot! Argh! Just shut up already, Taylor!”

  A soft chuckle in her ear sent another shiver down her spine. She was glad someone was finding this amusing. Her eyes widened when the two warriors raised their weapons.

  “I know a way out of here,” the man said. “There are also more Trivators in the fortress. I would suggest if you want to get out of here that you listen.”

  “You lie!” Ace snarled.

  “No, he doesn’t,” another voice said.

  Taylor looked out of the corner of her eye. Two more warriors that she didn’t recognize stepped out from the darkness. She staggered back against the wall when the pistol at her temple disappeared and the man stepped to the side. Swallowing, she turned and backed up until she was standing behind the two Trivator warriors she did know.

  “Thunder! Sword!” Cain and Ace both hissed at the same time. “How many forces are here?”

  “Seven warriors, plus you two,” Thunder replied, glancing at the group. His eyebrow rose when he saw Taylor peeking out from behind the men. “We were told that you were locked in the tower.”

  The man who’d held the gun on her shrugged his shoulders. She couldn’t see his face because he had it covered with the same headdress that Achler wore. A shiver went through her when he nodded his head at her.

  “She was supposed to be,” he said. “She escaped.”

  “How did you…?” She started to say when she heard the sound of footsteps running in their direction.

  “Time to go,” the man said, waving his hand toward the end of a short corridor. “There is another hallway at the end. Turn left. It will take you to the underground drainage system. Go!”

  “What about the other warriors?” Cain asked, ignoring the fact that the other prisoners were already running down the corridor.”

  “I will assist them as much as I can without compromising my assignment,” the man replied through gritted teeth.

  “Which other warriors?” Taylor asked with a sinking feeling in her stomach just as several of Achler’s men came around the corner.

  “Go!” Cain yelled, turning and firing at the guards.

  The man who had held the gun to her head pulled on her arm. He raised his own weapon, firing two shots and killing the other two guards. Taylor looked on in confusion as she was forced to turn down the short corridor.

  “What about those men?” She asked as she jogged down the passage.

  The man shrugged his shoulder and pushed her when she started to turn around. The group of captives was frantically trying to figure out where to go at the end of the second corridor. Taylor heard the man release a savage curse.

  “The floor! You are standing on the drainage gate,” he pointed out. “You! I’m putting you in charge. Open the gate and help the women down. Keep to the left at all sections. You will eventually come to the base of the mountains. You are on your own from there. If you head east, there is a rebel camp not far over the border in the Mountains of the Crescent Moon.”

  The man nodded and hurriedly waved the others off the grate. He and three of the men pulled it back, letting it drop with a clatter to the side. One of the men sat down on the edge before jumping, another quickly followed. Within seconds, the women were disappearing through the grate.

  “Wait! Where are you going?” Taylor asked when the strange man started to turn back the way they came.

  “I have to get back upstairs without being seen,” he replied with a frustrated sigh, turning to pierce her with his dark purple eyes. “I’ve compromised my position as it is. I should have killed all of you instead of taking the chance to free you. Now, I need to go save the lives of a couple of crazy Trivator councilmen.”

  “Councilmen!” Taylor exclaimed, her eyes widening.

  “Yes, now in case you haven’t noticed, there is a battle going on,” the man replied sarcastically.

  Taylor nodded and stood back. Her gaze flickered to the man guiding the captives. There were five left, not counting her. In the background, she could hear the sound of the Gartaians snorting and…

  “Come on,” the man said, standing alone.

  Taylor started, but something held her back. She heard something. She glanced at the man. He was staring back at her with an impatient frown. She started to take a step when she heard the sound again. It sounded like the soft cry of a child.

  “I hear something,” Taylor said, looking with a plea at the man. “Don’t you hear it?”

  “No. Listen, if you are coming with us, you need to do it now,” the man said.

  Taylor took a step back and shook her head when he started to reach out for her. Now that she knew what she was listening to, it was clear that not everyone had been freed. Shaking her head, she backed away from the drainage hole.

  “You go,” she said. “I’ll catch up. There is someone else still here.”

  The man glanced down at the hole, then at her, before he shrugged his shoulders. “I have to think of the others,” he said in apology before he sat on the edge and disappeared through the openin
g.

  Taylor headed back down the short corridor and turned right. The fighting sounded like it was moving upward. She paused at the end of the long passage to make sure it was clear. Her gaze swept over dead guards. Turning away, she listened. The crying sounded like it came from further down the arched corridor.

  She gripped the torch she was still holding tightly in her hand and followed the sound. At the end, she could see the entrance to the dome where Achler had released the Gartaians earlier this morning. Her footsteps slowed as she drew closer. She could hear the creatures in their cages nearby snorting and moving restlessly, but there had been another sound, she was sure of it.

  She almost missed the door where the crying was coming from. A small square window with bars across stood eye level. She paused and looked down the hallway again before she walked forward and peered into the dark room.

  “Who’s there?” She whispered, holding the torch up in case she needed it.

  “PT Taylor?” A small voice sniffed.

  Taylor’s eyes widened in horror as a familiar face came into view. The shaggy sand-colored hair, dark brown eyes, and pale, dirty face stared back at her in silence. Her heart melted at the look of hope in his eyes.

  “Oh, Lonnie!” She whispered, reaching for the metal bar locking him in.

  Chapter 17

  Saber moved in silence, striking down any unlucky guard that stood in his way. Fear, anger, and a touch of exasperation with Taylor, fought for dominance inside him. Why he was surprised that she would not only try to escape, but succeed at it, was beyond him.

  They had worked their way over to the lower tower to make sure she hadn’t broken her fool neck. Saber had picked up the slight scent of her the moment they entered the lower entryway. The tracks of her boots in the accumulated dirt proved that she had made it down the stairway.

 
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