Samuel Ford sat patiently upon the wall, drinking coffee, and looking out over Garn as he sat huddled and sweating in his cage. The sun was terrible that day. He swore it grew hotter with every breath.
Soon after their little ‘incident’ back in Torren it did not take much effort for Morgan and Tom to chase Garn down. And, as soon as Sam had him, he immediately returned south to the desert camp. He never saw Juliet again. Shame, she was nice.
Afterwards, with Garn in chains, Sam was instructed to find out everything to do with Garn’s schemes; including the types of weapons he had dealt with, where the weapons were, who they were sold to, where they came from, and so on. Three days ago, Sam sat Garn down in a chair and asked him nicely to cooperate. Garn responded by cursing and saying; “May the goddess spit on your graves after I see you all buried in the ground!” and then some rant about how powerful he really was. It wasn’t quite what Sam had expected, but it was close.
After much time spent and no short amount of threats Garn was stripped of all his clothing and placed in a wooden cage to singe in the direct desert sun. So far, Sam had gone to Garn every evening and asked him to talk, but without any luck. What will it take to break this man?
On the third day Sam sat and watched Garn from afar. The poor man did not cry, nor beg, nor whimper; he just simply took all the pain, embracing the sun like it was a god. This day had been particularly hot, and Sam was concerned that the desert might have claimed poor Garn’s life, before his time. They gave him water when he needed it, but only just enough. Often times Garn would refuse to drink, and so they had to force the water down his throat – not pleasant, but necessary. Garn’s resilience was frightening, to say the least.
After a moment on the wall, Sam set down his coffee and stood up. It had been three days. It was time for Garn to break, and Sam had something special in mind – something that no man, even the strongest, would withstand.
The gates of the camp opened, and Sam went out into the red sea with a handful of guards. The air was dry and hot, and it sucked at his life even as he walked. He could only imagine what it had done to Garn. They reached Garn’s cage where two armed men kept watch. Sam looked down upon the man. Garn seemed more of an animal than a man. His hair was loose and untidy. His skin had been burnt so badly that it looked like raw salmon meat from Eden. His eyes had sunken, and the whites had turned to a milky red colour, but he shed no tears, nor did he sweat. There was no moisture left in his perishing face. His lips were dry and crackled like the face of the Djann. He was murmuring something to himself, some nonsense.
“He was singing a short while ago,” the guard told Sam, “the sun’s taken him. Poor old fool.”
Yes, poor indeed. Sam ordered the guards to poor a bucket of water over the captive to cool him down, and help him regain his senses. The water sailed through the air, and as it collided with Garn’s red skin, it hissed and steamed. Garn tensed and cried out in pain and terror. He breathed so heavily that Sam could almost hear the beating of his heart like the wings of a mockingbird. “Give him food, and water to drink,” Sam ordered. “And then take him to headquarters.”
Sam was glad to get out of the sun.
Garn was given some clothes and water and now he sat alone in a tent. He was slouched heavily in his chair. He looked like he was sleeping. His eyes were closed and his face was strangely relaxed, but it would not be for long.
Sam approached him, with a small metal box held at his side. The tent that they were in was large, empty, and dark. Garn looked up with red, sunken eyes as Sam sat down at the table. “I think you know what I’m going to ask you,” Sam said, “and I’d like to think that I know what you’re going to say. Will that be the case?”
Garn stared and smiled with cracked lips. “Go to hell.”
Sam sighed, “Very well. How many weapons have you sold?”
“What are you going to do?” Garn sneered. “Lock me up in that cage for another day? How long do you think you can keep me there?”
Garn’s resilience was annoying, and Sam tensed his hands into fists as he glanced towards his little metal box. “No, Garn,” he said softly, “unfortunately for you my patience has run short – and so has everyone else’s. So, I’ll ask you again; how many weapons have you sold?”
Garn’s expression did not change. “You can’t break me.”
That was it. Slowly, Sam slipped on a pair of very thick gloves and opened his little metal box. Inside was a scorpion, its thin legs and underbody were a dense red colour and its back and needle sharp stinger were as black as night. When Sam reached for the creature it raised its small claws in defence, but he calmly urged it onto his plated gloved hand and lifted it into the air, all for Garn to see. He saw Garn’s stern expression damper, although the man tried hard to hide it.
“Do you know what this is?” Sam questioned, looking down at the scorpion on his hand. He didn’t wait for Garn to respond. “Even if you didn’t you’d know soon enough. This beautiful creature is the Morrakian Fire Scorpion. The Djann tribes often use them to punish deserters and traitors. Do you know how it got its name? You see, Garn, the venom of the Morrakian Fire Scorpion does not kill its victims, no that would be too easy.” Sam’s eyes were as hard as diamonds and he glared towards Garn. “This scorpion is going to sting you, Garn, and once you have tasted its venom you will feel nothing – for a while, that is. But then, as the poison begins to run through your veins, you’re going to feel very hot, you’ll start sweating, you’ll feel like you’re drowning, and then you are going to feel your flesh searing off of your bones. After a while it will feel like your entire body is on fire, and I can assure you it will be agonising.”
Sam watched for a reaction. Garn’s eyes were fixed on Sam’s hand, and he was already starting to sweat. That’s right, everyone breaks. But Garn did not break. Instead he looked Sam in the eyes, leaned back, and took a very deep breath. Sam closed his eyes, slowly, and then opened them. “So be it.” He leaned forward deliberately with the scorpion and its needle sharp sting poised to strike. It came closer, and closer, and closer still. He could see Garn now – the threads of his rope were starting to snap, one by one.
“Wait!” Garn finally cried, just before the scorpion could sting. “I’ll talk.”
Sam pulled the scorpion away. Thank god, he thought.
There was a deafening crash that landed just outside the tent and it shook the ground and sent Sam’s heart into his throat. It was so sudden, so loud, like he was standing ten feet away from a clash of thunder. He gathered himself. Garn did not look so surprised. That disturbing smile that crawled so eerily across his lips had returned once again. “Looks like you have visitors.”
Sam ignored him, and leaving him cuffed in the tent, he ran outside to see what was happening. The air smelled of smoke and panic. Some of the men on the walls were already dead. Clouds of blue and purple haze drifted up in the distance like storm clouds and the entire camp was suddenly in chaos.
Sam turned to the guard that was posted at the door. “What is it?”
“The Djann are attacking, sir.” The guard’s voice trembled.
“How did they get the jump on us like this?”
“They appear to have used mortars, sir.”
“That’s impossible!” Sam said, over the sound of the emerging battle. “The Djann don’t use mortars.” Although, he knew that the crash he heard in the tent was none other than mortar fire. There was only one explanation. Garn!
He rushed hastily back into the tent, full of anger and panic, and this anger tripled as he found that Garn had escaped him. The chains were sitting promptly on the table and there was a gash in the tent’s fabric where he had slipped through. Sam considered pursuing him, but he knew that he would be needed to fend off the attacking Djann.
And so Sam drew his sword and ran outside once again. The desert was suddenly so much hotter, and everyone was shouting. More men were on the walls now – dozens of them with rifles. As they fired their blue shots at the djann below, it created a strip of purple scarlet fire, flashing one by one.
Sam heard the banging at the main gate, and the men there were lining up, ready to defend it. Surely they would not break the line. Suddenly the banging at the gate stopped, just long enough for Sam to take half a breath, and then the entire thing exploded. The wooden gate was ripped to pieces in a hurling cloud of fire and was sent flying off in every direction. The men behind it were hurled backwards into the dirt, either dead, unconscious, or badly bruised and burnt.
Through the swirling grey smoke that remained came a dozen djann riders, shouting praise to their gods as they stormed the camp armed with scimitars and rifles. One of the riders moved directly towards Sam, and with his piercing blue eyes fixed, the rider swung a powerful blade down at the soldier. Sam parried the heavy blow and the horse and rider flew straight past him. The rider turned around and Sam readied himself by raising his sword next to his head.
His heart was pounding, he could feel it crashing against his ribs, and as the rider came to strike, he rolled to the side and slashed his blade against the side of the rider’s horse. He split flesh and the horse and rider both stumbled messily into the dirt. There were djann all around now, but Sam was focused on one. He ran forward as the djann stood and he swung his blade, but the enemy caught the attack with his own and pushed Sam back. It countered, with each blow more powerful than the next. This enemy was a head taller than Sam. Finally, he twisted the blade and forced his own into the creature’s belly. The fight was over.
With most of the camp now in flames, Sam had to quickly gather his men and fight the djann as a group. It was the only way that they would win. He searched for the admiral, and found the old man lying in an empty tent, with a bullet between his eyes. Damn, they got Donnellan. Sam would have to mourn him later.
He made for the stables to retrieve Faeirden and the other horses. So many men were dead now as the djann raided the camp. There was little hope to save it now. One of the soldiers ran by him, he was an older man. “What are the admiral’s orders, sir?”
“The admiral is dead,” Sam replied brashly. “I’m in charge now. Gather the remaining men. I want a full retreat.”
“But sir, if we run into the desert the riders will cut us down.”
“I know,” Sam lowered his head, not believing his own words, “but we have to try. Make for the city as fast as you can, and send a message out for reinforcements.”
The man ran off into the smoke. Sam could only hope that he’d survive. With desperate haste, he mounted Faeirden and the other soldiers began to follow him. “On your horses men!” he called. “We make for the gate!”
A group of about twenty were now mounted and they followed Sam as he led the charge. He had to assume that Commander Ryan – who captained Donnellan’s other battalion – had gathered whatever force he could and was making for the southern exit. Dust and smoke stung his eyes and painful cries clutched at his heart. Two djann riders approached him – riding tall and fierce and deadly. Sam drew his revolver as he rode and fired it once. The first bullet caught the rider in the chest and it tumbled from its horse. The other rider was too close, and Sam drew his blade and deflected the powerful blow just as the beast flew by.
They were away from the smoke now, and Sam could see the way out of the camp. Other soldiers had gotten the order and were trying to retreat, but too few were making it. A line of cloaked warriors stood at the gate. Their purple swords shimmered in the sunlight as they held them high and ready. Sam shouted an order to the men behind him, at the top of his lungs. “Riflemen! Take aim! Fire!”
Crimson purple flashes went off in unison and one by one the djann fell. Sam and his twenty men rode fast and the gates glided by them. He could see Torren in the far distance, on the other side of this vast stretch of desert sand. At first he didn’t look back, he just pushed Faeirden harder and harder. He could hear the djann firing after them. Finally, Sam looked back and saw the great mass of riders gaining on them fast. It was then that he realised they wouldn’t make it. They had joined Commander Ryan’s group from the retreat and now rode fifty strong.
Sam decided that he had no choice but to take what men he could and face the djann out in the desert – it was the only way that the rest could survive. He called out to the commander. “Ryan, I have to turn back and give the others time to escape.”
The look on Ryan’s face told him that there was no other way. “That’s very well, my friend, but the men will need the stronger leader when this is done. Let me go. I’ll hold them off.”
Sam looked Ryan in the eyes – they were full of pride and courage. Dammit Ryan! “You don’t have to go!”
Ryan offered a strong nod, the smile on his lips told Sam that his fate was sealed, and then called out; “It’s been an honour serving with you.” He then broke away. “Southern battalion! Break away! Let them feel the sting of our bullets and the taste of our steel!”
The men broke away and soon followed an eruption of gunshots and cries. Dammit Ryan! He cursed again. However, the city soon dawned upon them and Torren’s soldiers and the city guard greeted them. They were safe, for now.ns 18.104.22.168da2