Challenging saber, p.13
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       Challenging Saber, p.13

           S. E. Smith
 
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“The man with the purple eyes said to keep left at all times and it would lead to the base of the mountain. He told us to go east, that there was a rebel group in the mountains that would help us,” Taylor whispered.

  Saber squeezed her waist before slipping his hand down to grasp hers. She saw him finger the knife at his side. A small smile tugged at her lips. He was probably going to be doing that a lot for a while to make sure she hadn’t taken it.

  It took them a couple of hours to make their way through the maze of tunnels. The tunnel divided three times before they finally saw a small shaft of light coming from the end. Early morning light lit the circular entrance.

  “Our skids should be just over the rise,” Sword said, striding forward. “We came in through the upper level drainage. We didn’t know there were two.”

  Thunder paused behind Sword, scanning the area. Taylor leaned back against the side wall next to Lonnie. She glanced down. The little boy was almost asleep. Bending, she sat down and pulled him into her arms. She didn’t blame him. The last few weeks, sleep had been a luxury.

  “We’ll go get the skids,” Thunder said. “We can use them to take you around to the others. Once we have them all, we can double up.”

  “Hunter and I can go for ours,” Razor said with a shake of his head. “It isn’t that far. Thunder, I want you and Sword to head out. There is a mining facility not far to the west. We need to know what kind of production is being done. This is more serious than we thought. Be careful. Get back to base as soon as you find out the information,” he ordered before he turned to Trig. “Trig, you take Ace and Cain to get yours, Dagger, and Saber’s skids. We’ll meet back here. Dagger, you stay and help guard Taylor and the boy.”

  Dagger nodded, checking the charge on his rifle. “I’ll scout the area. I haven’t felt any tremors lately, maybe the fighter transports have finished,” he said, gripping the weapon in his hand.

  “Wait,” Taylor muttered, gently laying Lonnie’s head down. “Let me check your arm first. Do any of you have your emergency pack with you?”

  A low curse escaped Saber and he rose to his feet. “Dagger’s not the only one who needs medical attention,” he said, propping his rifle against the wall and reaching into the pack at his waist. “He can take care of himself.”

  Dagger’s eyes glittered with amusement. “Ah, Saber, your concern is touching,” he chuckled.

  “Remind me to kick your ass when we get out of this,” Saber muttered, turning his back to Dagger and gently raising Taylor’s arm. “Let me take a look at the cut.”

  Taylor rolled her eyes at Saber. The scratch on her arm was nothing compared to the nice long slit on Dagger’s. She could see the fresh blood still seeping through the piece of torn shirt he had wrapped around it.

  “His cut is worse than mine,” she protested in a quiet voice.

  “I don’t think arguing with me at the moment is a good idea,” Saber said, spraying the disinfectant with a numbing agent in it along the cut before running a thin laser to seal it. “I can’t believe you did that. Do you have any idea how dangerous that little stunt was?”

  “Don’t forget her escape from the tower,” Dagger pointed out as he replaced his own first aid kit.

  Taylor shot Dagger a heated look. “Aren’t you supposed to be scouting the area or something?” She snapped out in aggravation.

  Dagger grinned and picked up his rifle. “As Jordan would say, I can feel the love,” he replied with a soft chuckle. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

  *.*.*

  Saber nodded, watching as Dagger disappeared out of the drainage tunnel. He returned his attention to Taylor when she swayed. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to his body.

  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, resting his cheek against her head.

  Taylor barely moved. He could feel her relax against him and couldn’t help but savor the moment. It seemed like a lifetime since he had last held her like this.

  “I didn’t plan on any of this happening,” she said with a sniff. “Achler… What he did to those people… To Ember.”

  Saber held Taylor, stroking her back in slow, calming strokes. If he ever wanted to know what it felt like to be powerless, it came when Taylor cried. These tears were different from the ones she had shed the day she had left. If he thought that it felt like his heart was being ripped out then, it hadn’t changed. Each silent shudder tore at him.

  “If I could wipe the memories from you, I would,” Saber whispered. “Even a hardened warrior is not immune to the horrors of war. That you should see it so much in your life is unforgivable. It would seem that our presence has done nothing but bring you heartache and grief.”

  Taylor pulled back, a flash of stubborn anger on her face. Saber tenderly brushed her bruised face. He wished he had access to a full medical unit.

  “Don’t,” she said with a shake of her head. “Jordan, Jesse, and I all made a deal to never think of the ‘what might have been’ or the ‘what if’s’. We promised we would just look ahead and make the best with what life gives us. Things happen for a reason. I would never have met you if your people hadn’t come.”

  Saber turned his lips into the palm of her hand and pressed a kiss to the center of it. How he could have turned her away he would never understand. She was truly a gift from the Goddess and he came very close to throwing that gift away.

  “I love you, Taylor Sampson,” Saber groaned, threading his fingers into her hair.

  Taylor tilted her head back and gazed up at him with a sly, watery smile. “Does this mean you accept my claim of you as my Amate?” She asked.

  A soft chuckle escaped Saber and he nodded his head. “Yes, I accept your claim,” he murmured before he sealed his lips over hers in a heated kiss that promised more to come.

  “Saber,” Dagger called as he entered the tunnel.

  Saber broke the kiss and automatically reached for his rifle. Dagger was scowling as he stepped back into the shadows. A moment later, Sword and Thunder stepped inside. All three men had an expression of disgust on their faces.

  “What is it?” Saber asked, glancing back and forth between the men.

  “So much for rescuing the captives,” Thunder said bitterly. “They took our skids.”

  “What about the others?” Saber asked, looking at Dagger.

  “They are gone as well,” Hunter said, stepping into the tunnel.

  “I won’t be surprised if ours are gone as well,” Dagger said, turning and leaning against the wall so he could look out over the terrain. “Trig, Ace, and Cain should have been back by now if they had them.”

  Saber turned to look at Razor as he came back. “What about the fighter transports?” He asked, releasing Taylor when she stepped to the side and slid back down to the floor so she could cradle Lonnie’s head. “Did you see any sign of them?”

  “No,” Razor replied with a shake of his head. “The fortress is pretty much leveled. They probably assumed no one survived, and if anyone did, they would be trapped beneath the rubble.”

  “I hear something,” Hunter said, turning his head toward the entrance. He stepped closer to the opening so he could look out of the tunnel. “It’s Trig, Ace, and Cain. They have the skids.”

  “Three are better than none,” Razor said, stepping out as the men drew closer. “Did you see anything?” He asked, standing back as Trig, Ace, and Cain pulled up to the mouth of the tunnel and shut down the skids.

  “Patrols out to the south,” Trig replied. “That’s why it took us so long. We had to find cover as they scanned the area.”

  “Where are the other skids?” Cain asked, climbing off of one of the airbikes.

  “Gone,” Hunter replied in disgust. “The captives that escaped must have found them and taken them.”

  “Three skids can’t carry everyone,” Ace said, looking around.

  “Do you think there could be anything in the fortress worth salvaging?” Taylor asked, look
ing up at the men. “Surely we could find something of use. Maybe make a sled or something to pull behind them.”

  Hunter smiled down at Taylor. “You are just as smart and innovative as your sisters, you know that, right?” He teased.

  Taylor grinned up at him. “Where do you think I learned it from?” She asked with a raised eyebrow. “We didn’t survive for four years on the streets without using our brains.”

  “No, you didn’t,” Hunter replied in a soft voice.

  “We’ll need something that we can pull behind them,” Trig said with a frown.

  “Or carry between them,” Taylor suggested, biting her lip. “You don’t want to leave any tracks. Maybe there is a way you can make a type of catamaran.”

  “Catamaran?” Saber asked with a puzzled frown.

  Taylor nodded. “It was a type of boat that had a hull on each side and a canvas or a solid center between it. Those riding on it sat in the center.”

  “That makes sense,” Saber replied, looking up at Hunter and Razor. “If what Trig said, they have patrols out, the last thing we want is to leave a trail for them to follow.”

  “Sword, Thunder, Cain, and I can take a look in the fortress,” Ace said, starting to turn when he heard Taylor release an expletive before she called his name.

  “You’re bleeding!” She told him, staring at the back of his leg.

  Ace shrugged. “A minor wound when we were running across the courtyard,” he said.

  “It still needs to be taken care of,” Taylor insisted. “In this type of environment, it could become infected.”

  Ace’s eyes crinkled at the corner. “I will attend to it once I step outside,” he replied.

  “Do you want me to take a look at it?” She asked in concern.

  “NO!” Both Ace and Saber said at the same time.

  Taylor frowned. “Why not? I deal with wounds all the time,” she asked with a puzzled expression. “It doesn’t look too bad, but it still needs to be taken care of just in case.”

  “He can take care of it himself,” Saber informed her as he shot a warning glance at Ace.

  “I don’t want to destroy what’s left of my clothing,” Ace added with a lopsided grin. “It would be best to remove my trousers to seal the wound.”

  “Now that is not a sight I would want to see,” Dagger retorted.

  “Oh!” Taylor whispered as the realization of what he was saying sunk in. “Okay, well, if you need help, I’m here,” she offered with a blush.

  “I appreciate the offer, PT Taylor,” Ace said with a bow of his head. “Come on. We will go see if there is anything we can salvage.”

  “We’ll go with you,” Razor said. “Everyone keep an eye out for patrols. Something tells me that the Waxians are going to realize that we aren’t as easy to kill as they thought and will be coming back to make sure the job is finished.”

  Saber and Taylor watched as the other men left again. Saber moved over and sat down next to Taylor when he saw her shoulders droop. He would have to be blind to miss the dark shadows of exhaustion under her eyes.

  “Is there any way to notify someone that we are here?” She asked in a tired voice.

  Saber wrapped his arm around her and pulled her as close as he could without disturbing the boy in her lap. He leaned back and stared out at the bright morning light. Tilting his head, he rubbed his chin against her hair.

  “No,” he murmured. “This mission was not sanctioned by the rest of the council.”

  “Saber,” Taylor whispered, closing her eyes and relaxing against him.

  “Yes, my Amate,” Saber said in a gruff voice.

  “I’m scared,” she mumbled before a deep sigh escaped her and he knew she was asleep.

  “So am I,” Saber murmured, rubbing his chin back and forth against her hair. “I’m afraid of losing you,” he added in a barely audible voice.

  Chapter 19

  Saber watched as Dagger carefully lifted Lonnie in his arms nearly three hours later. The sun was high in the sky. It was not the best time to be traveling, but they had little choice in the matter. Thunder and Sword had spotted troop movements in the South and reported that it looked like a patrol was coming to do a closer inspection of the fortress. They had managed to find a lone land transport. It was a small, two-seat vehicle used for low level patrols. Razor had ordered Thunder and Sword to leave immediately.

  “We need the reconnaissance information,” Razor said with a frown. “There is more to this than the Waxians wanting ore.”

  “Let’s go. If we don’t move now, we stand a good chance of being found,” Hunter responded, studying Taylor’s relaxed face. “She looks a lot like Leila when she is sleeping.”

  Saber carefully lifted Taylor up in his arms. She was so exhausted that she didn’t even move. He stared down at her for a moment before he brushed a kiss across her forehead.

  “She sleeps like her too when she is exhausted,” Saber replied before his expression darkened. “How long before the patrols get here?”

  “An hour,” Hunter replied. “Achler appears convinced we didn’t survive, otherwise they would have been here earlier.”

  Saber gave Hunter a sharp-toothed grin as he walked past him. “He’ll realize his mistake when I kill him,” he retorted.

  “Who are you killing now?” Taylor asked sleepily, turning her face into his chest when the bright sun hit her face. “Ugh! Can someone please turn off the sun?”

  The small group of men chuckled at her grumbling. She peeked out at Lonnie when she heard his giggle and winked. A smile curved Saber’s lips. This was the Taylor he knew.

  He carefully lowered her onto the makeshift floor of the air Catamaran they had constructed while she and Lonnie were sleeping. He would ride on it with Taylor and Lonnie. Each of the other men would double up, one operating the skid while the other provided coverage.

  “Wow! This turned out pretty cool,” Taylor said, rubbing her eyes before they widened. “My backpack!” She exclaimed excitedly. “Where did you find it?”

  “I found it in the rubble,” Hunter said with a smile. I recognized it immediately from all the patches you have on it.”

  Taylor eagerly pulled it into her lap and unzipped it. Her fingers trembled as she pulled out the pictures she had stowed inside. Her fingers touched the cracked glass. It could be replaced. Fortunately, the picture of her, Jesse, Jordan, and their dad remained undamaged. Raising her eyes to Hunter, she gave him a watery smile.

  “Thank you,” she whispered.

  Hunter’s expression softened. “I’m glad that it was found,” he said in a gruff voice before turning to Razor. “We had better be going. I want to put as much distance as possible between us and the patrol. Once Achler realizes we survived, he’ll come looking for us.”

  “Where are we heading?” Taylor asked, repacking the picture.

  “We will have to head north before we can curve around to the east. The Western faction has patrols all along the borders,” he explained.

  “But… That’s the way the other captives were heading,” she said in concern. “The guy with the purple eyes told them to head to the mountains of the Crescent Moon.”

  “They know the Western sector well enough to know how to avoid them,” Hunter said with a shrug. “If they don’t, there is not much we can do about it.”

  Taylor sighed. “Being a soldier sucks,” she muttered, clutching her backpack to her chest.

  Saber touched the bruise on her chin. “There is never a good side to war. Many innocent people are the ones who truly suffer,” he murmured. “A true soldier does what he can to protect them.”

  Taylor rubbed her cheek against his hand before sitting back as the skids moved forward. It was a little jerky at first as the men tested the best speed and distance apart to travel to keep the items they had salvaged and Taylor, Saber, and Lonnie from flying off. Saber quietly explained that they built a frame with supports before covering it with
a large tarp and attaching it to the three remaining skids.

  “Your idea was brilliant,” he said. “We were able to bring additional weapons, as well as essential survival equipment like food and water that the others salvaged.”

  Taylor shook her head. “You’re right, I am brilliant,” she teased. “I would have thought of the food and water before the weapons.”

  Saber’s expression sobered. “Weapons can be just as much as a necessity, Taylor. This is a lawless land. Without a way to protect yourself, food and water will do little to save you.”

  Taylor sighed and looked at Lonnie. Saber turned his head, following where she was looking. Her face was so expressive. He could sit and watch the different emotions dance across her face all day.

  He saw that she was staring at the boy. Lonnie was leaning against a box staring out at the desert. The boy looked so young. He couldn’t remember being that young. He turned his gaze back to Taylor. Both she and Lonnie’s lives had been torn apart when they were just beginning. At least he had known a stable home life, where he could be young before he began his training.

  He reached over and ran his finger along her hand, smiling when she immediately turned it over so she could wind her fingers through his. A satisfied smile curved his lips. He had been such an idiot the past five years.

  “How is your leg?” She asked, tightening her fingers around his as if afraid her question would cause him to pull away from her.

  “Stiff,” he admitted. “I went to the healer the day I found out about your disappearance.”

  Taylor looked up at him. “What did he say?” She asked with a slight tremble in her voice.

  Saber sighed and looked down at her briefly before returning his gaze to the desolate landscape. His right hand moved down to rub his leg. He squeezed her fingers.

  “I should have talked to you,” he admitted. “The bone wasn’t healing correctly. Too much of it had been shattered. The first healers who attended to me were able to clean most of the fragment out and repair some of the damage done. I wasn’t able to do much physical therapy due to the bone not healing, and the area around it continued to fracture.”

 
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