Challenging saber, p.12
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       Challenging Saber, p.12

           S. E. Smith
 
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“She’s lucky she didn’t kill herself,” Dagger had muttered as the three of them stood at the bottom of the dilapidated wooden staircase.

  “That’s a long way up there,” Trig added, rubbing the back of his neck. “She’s as crazy as Jordan.”

  Dagger punched his brother in the arm. “Jordan’s not crazy,” he growled.

  Trig rubbed his arm and scowled at Dagger. “What have you been doing? Working out with Saber?” He complained with a raised eyebrow. “I swear I’ve been off-world too much.”

  “Let’s go,” Saber said, turning back to the entrance.

  He paused at the doorway, glancing over the courtyard. He heard Dagger’s muted curse when it suddenly lit up with spotlights. Something told him that they weren’t the only ones searching for Taylor now. He reached over his shoulder and pulled the laser rifle free from his back holster.

  “They are converging on the lower level where Thunder and Sword were heading,” Trig said, gripping a rifle in his hands.

  “What the… Shewta!” All three men cursed when the guards that had been running toward the lower level of the fortress suddenly turned and retreated.

  Saber understood why a moment later when a Gartaian squeezed through the narrow opening, tearing mortar as it pushed its way out. He paled when he saw the small figure running behind the beast.

  “Taylor!” He hissed.

  “Shewta! Trig’s right, she is crazier than Jordan,” Dagger muttered.

  Saber didn’t wait to hear Trig’s response. He charged out into the courtyard, firing at the guards that were shooting at the Gartaian. His heart pounded when he saw Taylor pause to help a small boy who had stumbled while running alongside her.

  Saber darted to the left and rolled when the Gartaian’s long tusks struck out. He continued to roll until he was back on his feet. Behind him, a guard’s scream was cut short as he was lifted by the long trunk of the beast. The guard in front of him twisted as a blast caught him in the chest. Saber glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Dagger aiming for another guard.

  His left arm swung out and he caught Taylor around the waist as she started to turn back around. Her frightened scream trailed off and a look of astonishment crossed her face when she recognized who had grabbed her. He bent and scooped up the small boy she had by the hand with his other arm, continuing his sprint across the open courtyard until he reached the curved stone archways near where Taylor had emerged.

  He released the boy, pressing him back against the stone, and raised his rifle. He fired several rapid shots at the three guards who were running toward him. Twisting, he caught a fourth man across the yard. He turned again, this time barely stopping before he shot Dagger and Trig.

  “Get her out of here,” Trig ordered, firing at several more men. “Razor and Hunter are working on the top section. They are trying to find the Waxians.”

  “Achler,” Taylor said, pushing herself up on Saber’s back. “He’s the leader. I left his ass down in the catacombs. I had to release one of the Gartaians on him so he couldn’t get me and Lonnie.”

  “You had to…,” Saber started to snarl.

  He set Taylor down on her feet and pressed her up against the stone archway. A laser blast cut through the edge of the mortar, forcing all of them to seek cover. Trig and Dagger each took a side and returned fire. From above, Saber could see Razor running along the top walkway, firing on those below.

  “Thunder and Sword are heading this way,” Trig said, firing again.

  Both men swerved behind one of the arches as several loud explosions shook the fortress. “Several transports have taken off,” Sword said, breathing deeply. “A large group of Waxians escaped.”

  “They haven’t left yet,” Saber said as he raised his rifle and fired on one of the attack transports. “Incoming!” He yelled.

  Saber pulled Taylor and the boy away from the wall and covered them with his body as the ship fired on the Gartaian. The creature screamed before collapsing. Turning sideways, he glanced over his shoulder.

  Another ship fired on the tall tower where Taylor had been held. Within seconds, the second ship began firing on the fortress. They were systematically destroying it and anyone left inside. Saber’s head jerked around when he saw Hunter, Razor, and the two Trivator warriors running across the courtyard.

  “Fire!” He ordered as he turned the rest of the way and began providing coverage for them.

  All five men opened up on the two transports. One of the warriors stumbled when a guard shot him. Saber turned and took the man out before refocusing on the fighter.

  “Get inside!” Saber yelled as the men rushed under the archway.

  He moved backwards, firing before turning and grabbing Lonnie up in his arms. He shielded Taylor as she followed Hunter, Razor, and the other men back inside the fortress. Dagger and Trig followed next with Sword and Thunder taking up the rear.

  “Keep going,” Saber shouted over the sound of explosions. “They are leveling the place.”

  Saber felt his body being pushed forward into Taylor as a rocket hit the entrance. The force of the blast threw them all to the floor. His arm wrapped protectively around Taylor’s small waist and he tried to cushion the impact as best he could with the boy in his other arm.

  It took several minutes before his ears quit ringing and the dust settled enough that he could talk. Under him, he could feel Taylor drawing in deep breaths and feel the trembling of the boy. Both told him that they were at least alive.

  “Are you hurt?” Saber asked in a husky voice, his lips pressed against her left ear.

  Taylor shook her head. He carefully released the boy and shifted far enough to turn Taylor over so that he could see her face. He wanted, needed, to make sure that she was alright for himself.

  His hand rose and he carefully brushed her hair back from her face, waiting for her to open her eyes. Relief flooded him when he saw her eyelashes flutter before lifting. His fingers moved down to caress her bruised jaw before he bent his head and pressed his lips hungrily to hers.

  He reluctantly pulled back when he felt a pair of eyes looking at him. Turning his head slightly, he locked gazes with a pair of curious brown eyes. He raised his eyebrow in inquiry.

  “What?” He asked, staring back at the boy.

  “I hope you aren’t going to do that to me,” he said with a look of disgust.

  Hoarse laughter echoed in the dark chamber. Sighing, he rolled to the side and rose to his feet. He rubbed his hand down his right leg, thankful for the brace when he bent down to help Taylor to her feet. He could see the question in her eyes in the dim glow of the torch Razor had activated.

  “How did you find me?” She whispered, reaching up to touch his cheek.

  Saber was about to answer when another shock wave from a blast caused sections of rock to fall. He glanced up at the roof of the cavern they were in. Deep fissures were opening up under the onslaught. Reaching down, he grabbed his rifle.

  “We need to get out of here,” he said, looking around.

  “There is a drainage grate in the lower catacomb that we can use,” Cain said, nodding to Razor and Hunter in respect. “One of the Waxians pointed it out to us, though I don’t know why. He said that you both were here, and Thunder and Sword confirmed that he was telling the truth.”

  “When?” Hunter asked in surprise.

  “Can they share what happened later? I’d like to get out of here before the ceiling collapses on us,” Trig suggested, waving his hand to Cain. “We’ll follow you.”

  Cain nodded and turned. Saber watched as the two Trivators that had been held prisoner led the way through the long center corridor before turning to the right where a stone staircase was cut into the rock. He wrapped his arm protectively around Taylor when more of the ceiling collapsed behind them.

  “I’m scared, PT Taylor,” Lonnie whispered when the darkness of the winding staircase engulfed them.

  “We’re here for you, Lonnie,”
Taylor replied, reaching out and laying her hand on his thin shoulder. “How did you get here? I thought Buzz took you to the transport to be evacuated.”

  “PT Buzz did, but I didn’t want to leave my mom,” Lonnie replied with a sniff. “I couldn’t find her.”

  “She is safe,” Taylor assured him. “She was looking for you, but her dress got caught and she couldn’t get it undone. I helped her and Buzz made sure she made it to one of the transports. She thought you were on one that had already left. I know she must be worried about you.”

  Lonnie sniffed again. “I miss her,” he admitted in a quivering voice.

  “We will return you to her,” Saber promised, his voice sounding unusually loud in the narrow passage.

  “Hold,” Ace said, holding up his hand. “Do you hear that?” He murmured.

  “It’s the other Gartaian,” Taylor said, pulling Lonnie back against her.

  Cain nodded. “It looks like the wider passage leading up has been blasted. It was probably done in an attempt to keep them from escaping,” he said, pointing the light in the direction of the wide arched corridor. The pillars had been destroyed about half way up and the roof collapsed.

  “We can try shooting it, but with just the rifles, it won’t do much damage,” Ace said, glancing around.

  “Where is the drainage grate?” Saber asked with a frown.

  “On the other side of the Gartaian,” Cain muttered.

  “What if we set a laser rifle to overload?” Razor asked, studying the beast.

  Trig shook his head. “Two things: one, it would have to be attached to the thing, and two, it would more than likely bring down the entire area,” he said with a crooked grin. “I tried something similar on Teris VI.”

  “What if we locked it in the dome?” Taylor asked, looking around at the men.

  Hunter shook his head. “How? It isn’t likely to want to go in on its own,” he responded, studying the beast.

  “If there was a way to leave a scent trail of blood, it might work,” Saber suggested.

  Dagger raised his eyebrow at Saber. “I don’t see any lying around and I sure as hell don’t want that thing getting a scent of my blood,” he said with a shudder. “I’ve already been in a cage with those things. I have no desire to do it ever again.”

  “Look out,” Hunter yelled, reaching for Lonnie and picking him up as a large section of the upper staircase gave way and came tumbling down through the opening.

  Saber grabbed Taylor, lifting her up and flattening his body against the side of the wall along the ledge that ran along the floor. The other men had scattered in an attempt to avoid the crushing avalanche of rocks.

  “Whatever we are going to do, we’ve got to do it soon. Those fighter transports are making sure that none of us survive,” Razor bit out as he turned his gaze up at the ceiling before looking back at where the Gartaian was moving its head restlessly back and forth.

  “Let me down,” Taylor whispered against Saber’s ear.

  Saber nodded. He reluctantly slid her body down his, but kept his hands on her hips. Bending his head, he brushed his lips across the top of her head.

  “We need to talk when we get out of here,” he murmured.

  Taylor tilted her head back and smiled up at him. “Yes, we do,” she said, running her hand down over his hip. “But first, we need to get out of here.”

  Saber frowned when she pulled away from him and stepped down on a fallen block of stone. She turned and smiled at him again. His frown deepened when he saw her raise her arm. His fingers went instinctively to his side where he kept his knife. It was gone.

  “Taylor!” Saber growled as it dawned on him what she was about to do.

  “I can do this,” she whispered as she slid the sharp blade along her arm before dropping the knife and taking off at a run.

  “TAYLOR!” Saber roared, jumping down off the ledge and grabbing his knife.

  He watched in disbelief as Taylor ran toward the Gartaian, waving her bloody arm and yelling. The other men cursed and started forward, their rifles raised, but afraid to shoot in case they struck Taylor. The Gartaian raised its head and sniffed the air. The fresh smell of blood drove the beast into a frenzy. Its trunk swung around as it tried to pinpoint where the scent was coming from.

  “I told you she was crazy,” Trig muttered as he tried to get a shot in the narrow corridor.

  Chapter 18

  Taylor didn’t know why she did what she did, it just suddenly dawned on her what needed to be done if they were going to get out of there. Out of all of them, she was the most likely to be successful at the stupid, crazy stunt she was about to do. There were two things that she knew for certain: one, she didn’t want to get eaten, and, two, she was pretty sure from the sharp bite in Saber’s voice, she was not likely to hear the end of it if she survived.

  She hadn’t cut very deep along her arm, but it stung. Her hand groped for her sleeve and she tugged on it, trying to rip it free as she ran. Finding a thin line cut through it, she pulled. It took three tries before she heard the sound of tearing.

  “Hey, here you go,” she yelled, waving her arm so that it could catch the scent of her blood. “Dumbo! Yeah, you! Come and get it!”

  Taylor ignored the curses of the men. They were yelling for her to run. She wanted to yell back that she was, but didn’t want to lose her focus.

  She rolled when the long trunk of the creature swung out. Rising to her hands and feet, she crawled under its belly as it searched wildly for her. She jumped to her feet once she was on the other side.

  Ripping the rest of her sleeve off, she waved it like a flag and continued yelling. The Gartaian might be almost blind, but it had an excellent sense of smell. She almost fell when it suddenly swung around.

  “That’s it,” she said, waving the sleeve slowly back and forth as she backed away from the huge beast. “Come on, lard butt, you know you want it.”

  Taylor continued stepping down the corridor until the creature roared and charged. Turning on her heel, she bolted toward the end of the hall and the open door to the dome. She swept through the door and continued across the floor of the arena. Dropping her bloody sleeve in the center of it, she jumped the last few feet, grabbing the thick bars, and climbed upward as fast as she could. Near the top, she twisted and used her hands to cross the curved dome like it was a set of monkey bars.

  She glanced down as she passed over the top of the creature. It had its head down and was trying to wrap its trunk around the remains of her sleeve. She was almost past it when its head suddenly jerked up. A loud curse escaped Saber. He was standing just inside the entrance to the dome with the laser rifle pressed against his shoulder.

  “Don’t shoot!” She cried out, pulling her legs up when the beast’s trunk swung upward just under them. “All it will do is make the Gartaian mad and it might escape.”

  “Get her out of there!” Dagger yelled as he and Thunder ran around the other side of the dome.

  Taylor raised her legs again, locking her feet through the bars and flattening her body as close as she could against the top when the Gartaian rose up on its back legs. She turned her head and bit her lip to keep from screaming when she felt it run the cold tip of its trunk along her back.

  “Come here, you ugly bastard!” Dagger shouted, waving his arm inside the cage.

  Taylor turned and looked upside down at Dagger. He had run a long cut along his arm, deeper than the one she had drawn with the knife and was waving his blood covered limb as bait. She watched in horror as the creature lowered itself and charged.

  Dagger pulled back just before it struck the bars. The impact shook the dome with such a force that it knocked Dagger backwards over the bench seating and knocked Taylor’s feet free from where she had them braced. A scream tore from her throat as she started to fall. Her right hand wrapped around the bar and she swung in a crazy arc for a moment before she was able to grab the bar again with her left hand.
r />   “Taylor, move it!” Saber roared as the Gartaian rose drunkenly to its feet.

  Taylor swallowed down her fear and swiftly continued down the other side of the dome. She was almost fifteen feet up when the creature roared again. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see it twist around, this time facing her.

  “Let go!” Saber ordered.

  She didn’t think twice. She released her grip on the bar and dropped the remaining few feet. Saber caught her in midair and turned, pulling her out of the dome just as Ace and Trig released the gate, trapping the beast inside while Sword engaged the heavy metal lock.

  The loud shrieks of the Gartaian drew a shudder from Taylor. She wrapped her arms tightly around Saber’s neck and buried her face against his shoulder. Her body was trembling uncontrollably from shock, fear, and adrenaline.

  “That was amazing, Taylor,” Lonnie whispered, staring at the Gartaian then at her.

  “That was crazy,” Trig muttered with a shake of his head. “Let’s get out of here.”

  *.*.*

  Taylor sighed. Saber refused to put her down. She wasn’t going to complain, at least not yet. At the moment, her body was still quivering from reaction. None of the men really talked. Cain and Ace led the way down the corridors to where the grate in the floor was located. Razor, then Hunter, went down first, followed by Sword and Thunder. After a few minutes, they came back and motioned for Trig to hand them Lonnie. Saber reluctantly set her on her feet before he dropped down through the hole. She watched him, worried when she saw his mouth tighten in pain.

  Sitting down, she twisted and tried to drop down on her own, but he caught her around the waist and lowered her to the ground. She started to ask him if he was okay, but the look of warning in his eyes stopped her. Instead, she gripped his hand and stood to the side so that Dagger, Trig, Cain, and Ace could follow them.

  She staggered when another blast shook the mountain. Saber wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her. With a nod to Razor to let him know that they were ready, the small group moved down the tunnel.

 
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