“Sir, are you hurt? How many others made it?” The commanding officer spoke, with a hard trail of urgency in his voice, while Sam was being treated for a gash he had received over his right shoulder. There were men watching the djann move around the outside of the city – lurking in the sand, like sharks in an ocean, or wolves in the snow. Meanwhile Sam waited tangibly with the others who were hurt, but he was edging to get back and help.
“The djann ambushed us,” he told the officer. “They used mortars, and then they breached the camp. Not many made it; the general was among the fallen.” The djann had never attacked so ambitiously before. What had Garn done to set this off? Dammit! Garn has escaped! Again!
“This is troubling news,” the officer said, stroking his bushy moustache.
Sam brushed a medic aside after his wound was bandaged. “I need to get out there.”
The officer nodded. “If you’re up for it, the captain of the city guard will welcome all the help he can get."
Sam immediately left the infirmary, and even though his shoulder was hurt, he went to join the fight. The guards led him through the gates immediately after seeing his uniform. The sight of the djann running amass in the desert gripped his heart and made it beat just a little faster. He felt a running pace inside him, steadily increasing. His mouth started to go dry. The enemy were not so numerous that they covered the sands in a sea of black, but Sam knew all too well what only a small number of djann would be capable of.
A runner escorted Sam to see the captain. Torren’s captain of the city guard was a sturdy man with short grey hair and an impermeable square jaw. The captain barked orders in every direction, and the men scrambled away to prepare for the attack. When he spotted Sam he stopped and turned. “You must be one of the ones that got out,” the captain said. His voice was loud and off-putting – probably because he had been yelling for so long.
“Yes sir,” Sam responded, standing straight. “Commander Samuel Ford.”
“I didn’t think you’d be able to fight, but I’m damn pleased that you could. The sweet goddess hasn’t left us for nothing yet.”
“Captain, may I ask why our defence turrets aren’t working, at a time like this. What happened?”
“Damn things were sabotaged,” the captain growled. “I had ‘em working this morning and now, well, they’re not. I got people on that now, but I’m afraid we’ve got a bigger problem.” The captain pointed to an area behind the djann forces.
“Mortars,” Sam uttered.
“That’s right, and they’ve been moving ‘em around since they attacked your camp. If they get those damn things in range then we’re all fucked.”
Sam rubbed his arm where the bandaged was wrapped tight over his wound. “Captain, I’m in no condition to go riding out against the djann.”
The captain gave him a look with profound grey eyes. “I wouldn’t expect you to. I’m sending my own people out after the mortars. I need you to stay here and make sure those turrets get fixed.”
There was a voice behind them, shouting out. “Sir, the djann are advancing!”
Both Sam’s and the captain’s eyes flicked over the advancing group of riders as they raced forwards with dust swirling up behind them.
“Go Sam,” the captain ordered, “now!”
Sam rushed to meet the others, but with his arm sore and throbbing, how could he face the djann. Men fired their rifles at will, puffing their scarlet haze into the sky, and those among the djann with rifles fired back. They were getting close now, and every second they got closer. Sam drew his sword in one hand and his revolver in the other. He gritted his teeth and summoned his courage. “Come on!” he shouted.
One of nine Gatling guns was standing idle by his side, with a group of people stressing and trying to get it started. Their hands shook and they let out frustrated cries. “The crystal is damaged! No, no it’s jammed! Here! Let me do it!”
He heard a startling cry. The djann riders were upon them, and one of them was targeting him. The rider was a giant on his horse compared to Sam who stood small and fragile on his feet. The creature raised its curved sword, silhouetted by the blistering sun. Sam dived to the side before the rider’s blade could remove his head, and he let out a cry as he rolled across the sand. His arm was bleeding again. He had opened his wound, and blood gushed into his clothes and clotted on the burning sand.
The rider came around again to take a second slice at Sam’s life, however this time Sam raised his revolver and shot the creature square in the chest. It fell off its horse and tumbled in the sand at Sam’s feet. With his sword Sam finished the rider off.
But the fight was far from over, and Sam found himself stuck in the deadening sights of a Djann rifleman. The creature stood at the top of a hill, aiming his weapon. Am I going to die? He felt helpless, but then, out of the heart of battle, something caught the rifleman in the face, and it ripped through its skull like an eagle soaring through a cloud. Sam spun around to where the projectile had come from, and he found a woman standing tall with a rifle of her own. Her hair was dark, a light brown jacket sat over a white shirt, there were weapon holsters strapped to her legs, and there was a red scarf wrapped around her neck.
“Ashley!” Sam cried. “What are you doing here?”
Ash lowered her rifle and came towards him. “If you remember, Sam, benezian weaponry is my speciality. And you’re welcome by the way.”
Sam managed to breathe a laugh. “Thanks,” he said, “but are you sure you should be here now? It’s not safe.”
“I can handle myself.” she replied. “Besides, I got you to protect me. I’ll be finished with these sabotaged guns in no time.”
Sam grimaced at her. “Just keep your head down, okay?”
“Will do.” Ash knelt down by the disabled Gatling gun. More riders fast approached, and Sam gathered the men around him to try and coordinate the defence. They didn’t need to win, they just had to hold the djann back long enough for Ashley to get the guns up and ready.
Soon enough Sam had a few dozen men at his command, which was enough to face the next attack. He gathered the men into three lines, and they waited in lingering anticipation as the riders drew nearer – the terrible thunder of their horses’ hooves growing louder and louder as they approached. Soon they would be in rifle range.
Sam shouted his orders. “Riflemen! Take aim!” Simultaneously all of the rifles rose into the air – waiting for the command. “Fire!”
It was a constant eruption of loud noises and smoke, as the rifles fired, fired, and then fired again. The Djann were helpless in this attack. They had no shield and no armour, and one by one they fell from their speeding mounts and tumbled into the sand. But their will and their numbers persisted, and slowly the riders clawed their way through the deathly shower of bullets.
Sam knew when they were too close, and his men wouldn’t last long when they came. Even the best fighters could barely match the djann in close combat. They were ruthless, fast, and strong. “Fall back!” he commanded, and immediately his men began to move backwards, but they still held up their firing. Again the djann fell, and still their ranks endured, soon they would be upon them. Dammit, Sam thought, they’re too close. There wasn’t much left to do.
“It’s no use! Lower your rifles, and take your swords!” It hurt Sam to have to use those words, but he had no choice.
One of the riders focused on Sam and rushed forward. At that moment the rest of the world became a blur. Sam drew his sword and repelled the attack before it took off his head – he then lashed his blade into the hind legs of the rider’s horse. The beast whinnied and kicked, and the rider was thrown forward into the sand.
Another attacker came, on foot this time, and Sam’s head was only at the height of its grey leathery chest. He blocked two heavy and brutal attacks before driving his sword straight into the creature’s abdomen. It cried out a terrible sound as it fell backwards, clutching its bleeding wound.
The rider from before was on its feet now and it charged at Sam with all its mustering might. Sam drew his revolver and fired. The bullet caught the rider in the neck and it fell down, choking and gaging on its own silver blood. Sam spun around, spotted a target, and fired a bullet into another fighter’s back. He suddenly realised how much he was sweating. The heat was clawing viciously at his breath.
Then he saw the rider, its mount was gone and it was on foot. The rider was beyond most of the others. It ran with sword in hand and its flaming blue eyes fixed. It was going to attack Ashley.
Sam ran forward ready to shoot down the attacker. When the djann opposed him he cut them down with quick clean strokes. He raised his pistol and his arm followed Ashley’s attacker, but he was knocked down by something strong before he could shoot. He flew into the sand and rolled across the earth, and his pistol went flying far into the air. When Sam looked up he realised that he had been hit side on with a running horse. There was one thought in his mind: Ashley!
Lying in the sand, he reached for his sword and searched for his gun, but he couldn’t find it. He looked up. The rider was still charging towards Ashley. There was still time. He had to save her.
With a painful and almost angry groan he crawled to his feet and ran forwards. He cut down one of the djann and then another. He was so close, but Ashley’s attacker was closer. He would face one last enemy – a tall rider with stone muscles and a blue half-cape. This enemy wielded a silver tomahawk and it came at Sam with terrible force. Each blow drove Sam back a step. He blocked one blow, then jumped back and dodged the next, and then parried the next. He didn’t have time for this. He raised his sword and struck at the rider, and then again, but he still focused on Ashley’s attacker.
He slid his sword past the enemy’s defences and finally drove it deep into its ribs. Ashley’s attacker raised its weapon ready to lunge. Sam quickly took his enemy’s tomahawk from its silver bleeding hand, spun around, and sent the weapon spiralling towards Ash.
The bladed edge caught her attacker directly in the temple and sent him flying into the dust. Ashley was leaning back against the Gatling gun, and her chest rose and fell as she gathered her breath. “Bloody good shot,” she said, with a smile of disbelief. “Thanks for that.”
Sam was short of breath too. “You’re welcome,” he replied, with a bated gasp.
The djann pulled back after the second attack, and Sam didn’t think they’d dare strike again now that Torren could defend itself properly. Ashley managed to fix all of the turrets in time, and Sam also assumed that the captain of the guard had succeeded in stopping the mortars, because he never saw of them again as the captain and his men retuned to the city. It seemed that once again they were safe, but once again Sam knew that it was only for now.ns 188.8.131.52da2