Chapter 7: Treason? I Barely Know Him!
Billy gained speed as they tore up the hill, trying to catch up to the bounty hunter who was still trying to gain on Matt.
Matt disappeared over the hill first. Her heart skipped a beat when the hunter dissappeared a few seconds after him, but as she rounded over the hill behind him, Matt had actually gained distance instead of losing it.
Apparently, Elliot was the faster horse, or Matt was the better rider.
If only Billy had that kind of speed. Not to say that Billy wasn't fast, but he wasn't fast enough to close the distance between the hunter and Matt. She was, however, starting to gain on the hunter as the three of them careened down the hill and gravity pulled all of them faster and faster into the level bed of grass between each arch of land.
Dirt was flying behind them. The long blades of grass started to sway as a breeze came up over the hill, and it almost looked like waves as each gust came in with another push.
If her heart hadn't been racing she might've thought it was peaceful.
The pounding of hooves kept her mind sharp. With another "Hyah!" she tried to push Billy forward, and she could feel him straining to go faster. She hoped he knew he'd get too many pets and snacks after this was over, but she couldn't think that far ahead. She had no idea how this would end, and she couldn't even let her mind entertain the worst-case scenarios.
If only it was night. Then maybe she could try to summon the wind wolves back as a distraction. She doubted they were that far off, being the fleeting images that they were.
They kept at it for minutes.
Each minute dragged on, and she knew that none of their horses could keep such a pace forever. They'd have to slow down eventually unless they were all going to run their horses into the ground.
Eventually, the hunter started to gain some distance from her, getting just a little closer to Matt, but Matt and Elliot didn't relent.
They were still too far ahead to catch, and they were too fast of a moving target.
At least, that's what she assumed.
But then the hunter began to slow down.
They were looking down the slopes of two descending hills. She was still making her way down the first while the hunter stopped at the top of the second. Matt had just crossed a thin creek stretching around the bottom of the second hill, passing between two groups of spindly trees.
The space between them was narrow, and it almost seemed like the branches were reaching out to him as he shot through them, riding Elliot up the next hill. Though she could see Elliot was slowing a little at the incline.
Moving slower, Matt and Elliot couldn't have been more than 200 yards away from the hunter who sat atop his horse at the top of the hill, now holding a long rifle aimed at Matt.
Clandestine stared, eyes locked on the man as he steadied his aim.
He was peering through a scope. The barrel of his gun slowly followed Matt's movement up the hill.
No way he could make that shot. Could he?
She couldn't wait to find out.
Billy had them barreling straight for the hunter. Veering him ever so slightly to the side, Clandesinte found herself acting before she had a fully formed plan in her head.
Normally, with fighting monsters, she knew what to expect. With every monster she faced, she had years of study to fall back on. She knew what behaviors to expect, how to best diffuse the situation if it was possible, and how to kill the creature when necessary. She knew their strengths and their weaknesses. Where they came from, and what they ate. What they would do if you caught them by surprise or came at them head-on.
She wasn't a soldier or a fighter. Every person was different.
It wasn't the same as fighting a beast.
And what was she going to do if she overpowered him? Murder him?
By the time she had that horrifying thought, she'd drawn her sword. The man was so deeply focused on staring through his scope that he was unflinching. But just as she reached out to swing and knock the gun from his hands, he ducked.
Her blade hit air. The man slid off his saddle and rolled onto the ground.
She pulled her sword up, eyes going wide as she nearly sliced through the neck of the man's horse instead.
Billy whizzed by it all. Clandestine felt her heart pounding in her ears, and she stared at the empty space beside her for a second before she pulled on Billy's reins and turned him back.
Billy skidded at first as they began a wide circle, climbing around the peak of the hill.
I'm over my head.
But it was too late to back out now.
Just as she focused her sights back on the man, now standing up, she saw him reach into his jacket. Instinct told her he was reaching for one of his many knives, and she knew that Billy was the biggest target. Panic coursed through her and she turned Billy to the side and whipped her sword around.
The knife spun into the grass. Clandestine leaped out of Billy's saddle, running up to the hunter.
She'd spent her lifetime hunting monsters. This man had spent a lifetime hunting men.
She swiped at him, but he dodged. As she spun around to swing overhead, he spun with her, like it was a dance. His hand moved quicker than she had time to react.
Instead of catching him with the blade, he caught her.
Like it was nothing.
His hands clamped around her forearms, freezing her mid-motion. Her eyes widened, and she stepped back quickly, trying to yank him off-balance. But he followed her yank with a hard push of his own, and she bounced off of him with a grunt.
He ripped her sword of out her hands as he knee'd her in the gut, sending her to the ground.
The world fell out from under her feet, and she saw her sword flying down the hill, far out of view and lost in the three-foot-tall grass.
Her breath stopped as she hit the ground. Instinctually, she pulled her chest up and fell back down, gasping for air. The man stood over her with a smirk, like he'd already won.
Clandestine furrowed her brows.
Oh, so that's how it was going to be?
Breathless, she threw herself to her feet with a push of her arms and launched herself at his gut. But before she could even get a hold of him, he grabbed her by the shoulders and she was flying again in seconds. She couldn't even register what happened.
One moment, she was upright. The next, her face hit a patch of earth.
Tiny, tiny pebbles of dirt and gravel planted themselves in her face.
Groaning, she pried her face off the ground and squinted out, seeing his feet next to her. This time, she barely got to move her legs to kick at him before she saw a flash of metal in his hands, descending down on her. Her heart stopped as, for a moment, everything seemed to move in slow motion.
His dagger was curved. Shiny. The kind of blade that was well-loved and well-polished.
Clandestine was barely on her side, caught by surprise.
Eyes like saucers, Clandestine threw herself onto her back.
The blade lodged in her jacket, just missing her abdomen. It pinned her to the ground.
This is my favorite jacket, she thought, just as she struggled to abandon it. But again, her escape attempt was cut short as the man followed the movement of his arm and landed on top of her.
He clamped his hands over her wrists and held them down with an iron grip. His bones ground against hers, and she writhed to no avail.
It wasn't fair. He was so much bigger and stronger than her.
Then again, the same could've been said for the sandworm. But that was different. This was different. This was--
"Why defend him?" the man huffed, still unrelenting in his grip. "What did he do to deserve this kind of loyalty?"
Clandestine was still short of breath, and frankly, hadn't expected him to start talking. She didn't respond. At least he wasn't trying to kill her yet.
She wriggled more, still struggling to break free.
He lifted her with one swift pull and then slammed her back into the ground. Clandestine could feel her head spinning.
His face was out of focus as he leaned in uncomfortably close. So much so she could feel his breath on her face. He let out an eerie laugh like he thought all of this was funny.
"You don't know, do you?" the man asked with a smile.
Clandestine knew what he was asking. She knew what he was implying. But she wasn't having it.
Growling, she pushed against him as hard as she could manage, mustering all of her strength.
"Get off me!" she shouted.
Just as she thrust her head up to try to hit his, he pulled away, laughing again.
"By all means!" he said, effortlessly getting back to his feet.
Clandestine's face throbbed as she pushed herself back to her feet. Just as she felt like her vision came back into focus, she saw Alexander swing his leg.
Are you serio--
Her attempt to jump was too slow. She slammed right back down to the ground with a groan, and she caught herself only enough to spare her face this time.
"Stay out of this," the man said coldly, his words swimming in her ears.
"If you knew who you were defending," he went on, "you wouldn't take this risk. I promise you."
Clandestine pushed her upper body up, looking up at the source of the man's voice.
She wasn't going to win this one and she knew it.
"The name's Alexander Kingsman," the man announced, sitting atop his horse. He'd slung his gun back over his shoulders.
For a second, they met each other's eyes.
His eyes were smiling. Smug, like he was proud to know something she didn't.
And then he turned his horse around. With a click of its reins, he was riding off again, kicking dirt up in his wake.
For a moment, she sat there in the grass staring after him. Watching, as he got smaller and smaller, feeling the pain of a hundred tiny grains of hard dirt on the side of her face and the pain of her shattered ego - but mostly, the pain of worry.
Something told her that Alexander Kingsman, whoever he was, had let her off easy.
If he'd let her off easy, what did Matt have coming for him?
Her eyes drifted over to Billy. Thankfully, he hadn't run far. Just out of range of the fight, but close enough to reach again.
Clandestine gingerly touched her face and wiped it off, feeling the ache as she dislodged a tiny rock from her cheek. She didn't know if she'd catch up to them at this rate, but something in her gut told her she had to try.
All she knew about Matt now was that he was wanted, a traitor to the Moonlight Kingdom - allegedly - and his name was Tiberius something - allegedly. And Alexander thought he wasn't worth defending - allegedly.
She wouldn't know until she asked Matt herself. And she hoped to gods that she made it there in time to do so.
Still, Alexander's words floated back into her head.
"What did he do to deserve your loyalty?"
She hated to admit that it was a worthwhile question when it came out of the mouth of her attacker, but it was something she needed to consider.
She was putting her life on the line for him again with this, but this time, it wasn't a business transaction. Helping out an outlaw... well, that could ruin her business just as much as her magic being exposed could. Of course, she still didn't know exactly what Matt was caught up in. It made sense of his reserved, guarded nature though. If he had bounty hunters coming after him of course he was being careful. She could understand that. Being careful.
Course, she'd really put her foot in her mouth by exposing her magic to Matt, but that was a first for her. Not putting her foot in her mouth. Telling someone she had magic.
Matt had made a promise. If he really was a traitor like the poster said, there was no telling whether or not he really was of the character to keep her promise, or if he'd just throw her to the wolves to save himself. But what was most important about all of this was that Matt wasn't just a traitor in general. He was a traitor to the Moonlight Kingdom - the kingdom most responsible for the killing of mages and enforcement of all laws against magic.
In her book, that made him a good person. Besides, she'd rather take Matt's word that he supported mages than the word of some random bounty hunter who just wanted her out of the way so he could get thousands in gold.
Taking in a deep breath, Clandestine pushed herself to her feet and shambled over to Billy. He seemed a little scattered, but not spooked.
"At least Alexander didn't stab me or something," she commented quietly to her horse, still feeling bruised from being thrown around. "That'd make things more complicated."
Gently, she petted the side of his face. She knew how disorienting it was when she abandoned him to take on a monster.
But this was just another type of monster.
Clandestine hopped up on Billy's saddle and scanned the field around her, looking downhill.
She was determined, now.
"Alright," she said with a sigh. "Now... to find my sword."