The Temptress and The Hunter: Part 6-The Marauders
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An attack by a mysterious group leads Dorm to discover Saffrons identity but she is beyond his grasp. For now...


Dorm picked up a noise to his left. The unmistakable sound of a stock sliding back, of a round being chambered. He drew a deep breath.

Someone was out there.

He had to take this slow. Not give any sign that he knew someone was there. He slowed down his horse and dropped back alongside Samul.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered to Samul.

The big man nodded faintly his hand inching almost imperceptively slowly towards the gun at his belt.

Ahead of them Nate lifted his head up. He’d heard it too. Dorm saw what he was going to do. “Nate, No!”

The other mans head exploded in a spray of red and white, his gun not even halfway out of the holster.

Dorm kicked his horse in the flanks, spurring it forward and ducking low as he drew his pistol. Guns chattered to life the trees lighting up with the flashes of gunfire, the air tearing apart with bullets. He fired off two shots into the jungle hopefully putting someone’s head down.

It wasn’t Degens he knew that much. Degens were too much animals to use guns and they didn’t hide in the jungle. No if it was Degens Dorm would be fighting for his life up close instead of ducking bullets. No it was someone else.

Bullets were ripping into the Bandits, felling person and horse alike. Most of those who could were off their horses dashing into cover of firing wildly into the jungle. Dorm rode past one of Samul’s men slumped forward over the saddle, a gaping hole in his chest. One of the big fistmen, Dorm couldn’t tell whether it was Jon or Philip, was down and screaming his leg a bloody ruin.

Dorm jagged sideways on the reins as he caught glimpse of metal to his left. A hail of bullets ripped past his ear and he snapped off a shot at their source. A man cried out and dropped, but Dorm didn’t wait to see if he’d killed the man, leaping off his horse and pulling the six-shooter from his belt in one smooth movement. Staying mounted made him too much of a target, made him to vulnerable. Beside him Pat was hunkered down behind the prone and bloody corpse of his mount.

Bullets cut through the air around them, strings of fire that tore apart everything they touched. People and horses were screaming, some drawing their last breaths. All was chaos, all was blood, death and terror. Pat fired wildly into the trees as Dorm ran towards the young man. Pat had a cut above his brow the blood running down into his fear-widened eyes. Dorm jumped at a cracking sound from the far-side of the trail spinning to see two black-garbed men dashing from the undergrowth towards Pat. A hail of bullets covered their approach and one of the men unlimbered a long hooked pole from his back. Dorm drew a bead on the first man but before he could a horse bolted in front of him, its panicked rush nearly knocking him down. As Dorm struggled to regain his balance, the pole-wielding man cast out the spiked and curved end and caught Pat in the chest. The young man screamed before he went limp, the two attackers heaving on the pole to pull him back into the jungle. As they disappeared back into the cover of the trees Dorm took aim and took the man somewhere in the middle, a satisfying scream of pain ringing out.

Then abruptly the bullets ceased as quickly as they had started leaving only cries of pain and the jungle trail drenched in blood, dead and dying. All along the trail people and horses were crying in pain, Dorm was one of the last ones left standing. He sprinted to the front of the line, to where Blake and the other leaders had been. Ceran was still alive, she had propped herself up against the body of a horse and clutched her shotgun in one shaking hand. From her other shoulder blood streamed. Beside her lay Pern, the dark woman’s chest a bloody mess where she had been shredded from close range. Another one of the men, unrecognizable now that his head was missing was sprawled halfway into the trees. Kusoke slipped out of the jungle, stepping over the man’s mangled body without a second glance, the knives in the boy’s hands both dripping blood. Blake emerged from the trees n the other side a sub-machine gun clutched in white-knuckled fists, he was still whole but his jacket was splashed with blood that was not his own.

“Where is she?”

Blake’s question rose over the screams.

“Who? Blake, where is who?” asked Dorm, slowly raising his pistols; if Blake had gone battle crazy, if his mind had snapped by what he had seen then he was just a big a danger as those who had just attacked them.

“Siph! I can’t find my Persephone! Where is she?”

Ceran pushed her way to her feet, grimacing in pain, her face white. “Sir! We will look for her in a moment, right now we need to regroup!”

Blake slipped one of guns into its holster and ran a bloody hand over his head.

“Yeah, yeah you’re right. Rendell, Kusoke help me round up the troops. Anyone who can stand.”

Five minutes later a bowed, bloody and much diminished group of bandits stood and lay before Blake. All but one of the men that Samul and Pern had gathered for the rearguard were dead, as well as Pern herself. Philip was dead and Jon would never walk on his left leg again without a core hospital. Out of the original sixteen that had set out only seven were still with them and of that seven only Blake, Kosuke and Dorm weren’t injured any more than superficially.

Three of their group had been last seen being dragged into the jungle, struggling on the end of hooked catchpole’s like Pat. The other two were Rachel and Siph. Blake was jittery as all hell, stroking the gun in his hand and jumping at small noises. His feet seemed to unconsciously drift towards the edge of the trail as if he wanted to dash off in pursuit of their attackers and reclaim his lady-love like some all conquering hero from folklore.

That wasn’t Dorm’s concern right now, right now he was more concerned by the fact that his tow prime suspects had just been dragged off into the jungle by mysterious attackers to an unknown fate. Part of Dorm’s job was to see that Saffron was brought to justice and that meant being tried in a court of law and receiving the appropriate punishment, not having her throat cut somewhere in the depths of the jungle. In his own way he was almost as anxious as Blake to go running off into the jungle after those that had been taken. Blake was speaking to the others, his voice low, flat and weary, “Ceran, I want you to send a wave to Nevitts tell him what happened here, and that we need assistance for the wounded. Get him to contact Billie Hallow as well tell him that the jobs off but don’t give details as to why. I don’t want us looking weak right now.”

“Blake?” Samul looked questionably up at his leader, his voice a hoarse whisper with a fair portion of his thick neck missing, his hand clutched over the wound, blood seeping between his fingers turning his left side red.

“Yes Samul?”

“Who attacked us?” Samul hiccupped and blood bubbled between his lips. “It was The Marauders; the group who’ve been moving down from the mountains, claimin’ territory and slaves as they go. This attack was a warnin’-they could have killed us all if they wanted, but instead they took three of our people. So I’m going after them.”

Ceran gasped, “Blake! You can’t do that its suicide!”

“Kosuke and Rendell are fit enough to come with me. I don’t intend to attack just scout the place out. We rattled them good today. They weren’t expecting this much of a fight so they left early-chances are they’ll still be jumpy and we might bag us a couple. Now no more questions. Send the wave to Nevitts and get back to Hideout as soon as they can move you. We’ll see you in a few hours.”

The trail was easy enough to follow even if Dorm had had no experience at tracking he could have done it. A blind child could have followed this trail. The Marauders made no attempt to hide their trail, leaving a path of broken branches and crushed undergrowth metres wide. And there was blood, quite a bit of blood at first in intermittent drops along the trail but then in increasingly wider pools that shone wetly in the darkness under the canopy. Someone, or more than one someone, was badly hurt.

Blake loped along beside Dorm, his eyes fixed on the trail ahead of them, one hand rarely leaving the sub-machine that hung at his side. A few metres into the trees Kosuke flitted like a shadow through the jungle, barely making a noise his two long blades bare and glittering in his hands. Dorm shivered slightly-the boy was mighty unsettling. At least five of their attackers had died in the ambush, their bodies left behind by their fleeing comrades and there had been knife wounds in two of them. One man he found still standing against a tree and if not for the puncture wound in his eye and the blood leaking from his lips, Dorm would have sworn he had still been alive.

The com at Blake’s waist beeped and he glanced down and turned it off. That meant that Nevitt’s medical team had reached Ceran and the others and they were en-route back to the Hideout.

They paused for a moment and passed around a bottle of water, Dorm panting from the punishing pace. He was getting to old for this. His body was still trim and hard but forty years of a more than active lifestyle meant that it was being worn out. He might retire soon-get a nice payout by a house by the beach on Boros, spend his last days in sunshine, sand and silence.

“I can’t lose her you know.” Blake stared at the ground handing the canteen to his left. Kosuke materialized out of the jungle and took it. Dorm didn’t say anything; Blake was just spouting and it did no-one any good to interfere. “I saved her from that bastard Tuck, and I’ll save her again if I have to.”

Dorm’s world spun, but he kept his face outwardly impassive. There it was! He had his proof-Siph was Saffron/Nerieth, whatever she called herself! It must have been Blake who had killed Howard Tuck, who had widowed Marietta. That didn’t matter-Blake Taylor would pay for his crimes at a later date, right now he had his target and Saffron needed rescuing. Whatever it took he would get her out and bring her to justice.

His mind started to form his plan.

Dorm leaned across and touched Blake on the arm.

“I’m with you Blake. I had friends get snatched in the war and get sold to slavers. It’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Whatever it takes we’ll get them out. Whatever it takes.” His voice was low and hard, as determined as he could make it, if the other man didn’t agree to this here, then both Blake and Kosuke might have to die right here and now.

Blake looked up and stared him in the eyes, “Thank you Rendell. Together we can do this! We can get them out and all come out alive. We just need a plan.”

Dorm nodded and smiled inwardly. He already had the germ of a plan and it involved no one but himself and Saffron surviving.

Tonight there would be blood.



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