The low mountains were brilliant in the setting sun, the long roots of the enip trees swayed a greeting. Niarb inhaled through the carbon face filter, enjoying the scent of hot wood and dense earth. It had been a very long time since he’d been out here; he’d missed the cool water-rises, the way the enip shadows played in the air, the sounds of nibors and worcs calling out in the green light of night.
If only he hadn’t been on the run, he’d have enjoyed it all the more. However, once he’d skewered the captain with an enip pike, he’d had to make a decision to leave in a big hurry. Not that running the captain through was really a bad idea, but the military frowned on that kind of behavior even if the skeweree was an abusive bastard. Niarb had had time only to yank the pike from the captain’s oozing body, toss it on the breakfast fire, grab his pack, and run like hell.
But even the most fleet can’t outrun the Thirty-First Riders for very long. The Thirty-First were straightforward assassins, dispatched only when situations required heavy doses of murder done on the hush-hush. Apparently, the captain had friends in high places. Looking behind him, Niarb could see the clouds of dust raised by their horses, and men peering through long-glasses over the muscled rumps of their steeds.
He was, to put it mildly, in a bind.
Niarb’s only real hope was to get to the water-rise on New Mountain, a distance of some 4 miles. From childhood experience he knew the rise would carry him to the top if he survived the jump into the inflow. He figured the riders were still 15 miles back across the dry Plains of Sasnak, which didn’t thrill him. Those horses were fast. He needed to get going.
He turned toward the mountain, shucked off his pack, and started to run.
After about 2 miles he took stock. The Riders were probably only 6 miles behind him, but he might just make it. New Mountain was close enough that he could hear the boiling waterrise’s rush over the thumping of hemolymph in his ears. A dust cloud rose behind him, the snort of horses combined with the pounding of hooves and the shouts of buzzcocked riders. Time to get running again. Niarb pushed harder, breath coming harsh through spiracles and open mouth, hindlegs burning.
They were closing on him. He could hear the rider’s shouts and curses. Niarb lowered his head and gave the run all he had, all six legs pistoning madly. The spray of water on his face was a sudden shock, he’d reached the waterrise. Niarb leapt headlong over the caldera wall, just as the Riders topped the last rise. They lost sight of him and assumed he was dead, then left.
He watched them go from the top of New Mountain while water cascaded from his carapace. It had been a very good flight indeed.