“Fuck,” I muttered, sending a block of air around us again, and the now exposed traitors raced forward with weapons bared and battle cries filling the air.
I unsheathed my sword, about to meet them in the middle, shield be damned, when I saw him.
Berron was being dragged through the sand behind them.
My teeth gritted, and panic held me immobile. With a shake of my head, I grabbed hold of that ever-building fury, digging deep until it felt as if I’d overflow. The air buzzed, becoming suffocating even to me as I unleashed and pushed and sent all of them to their backs, pressing them into the sand.
Sweat beaded upon my forehead, but the sight of Berron being herded like a wild animal held my concentration steady. Until another wave of traitors crested the dunes, and I soon lost count of how many we faced.
“Two hundred.” Zad, back in his saddle, brought his horse to a stop beside me. “At the very least.”
Together, we could take a lot of them out, though it would cost us. I’d be asleep for days, unable to travel or far worse. And Zadicus would likely need to be knocked out until he fed. Still, as I saw one of the rats push Berron into the sand and kick him in the stomach, I decided it’d be worth it.
“Don’t,” Zad warned. “We can’t. You’ll only kill him too.”
A growl of helplessness slipped out, and I squeezed my eyes shut, my head spinning with the effort to keep the first line of soldiers down. “Garris?”
“I… Well, I say we retreat, my queen.” His voice was drenched in fear but unwavering. “There are far too many for this to end well.”
“They knew we were coming. They’ve had him,” I said to Zad. “They’ve had him in their filthy clutches for who knows how long, and now they’re using him against me.”
Zad met my gaze with unflinching coldness. “You are a queen, Audra, and you bow to no creature’s demands.” His next words were gentler, though still resolute. “Audra, please.” Something I’d not yet seen, something that looked a lot like fear entered his eyes. “You need to go. You must let him go.”
“No.” The word sliced through the throng of soldiers, causing shoulders to stiffen and weapons to rise.
Jaw hard, Zad faced ahead, eyes scanning. “It’s impossible.”
“I’m not leaving without him.”
“Behind!” Garris called, but it was too late.
Three soldiers went down as a band of twenty or more warriors appeared within our bubble of air. As if they’d been hiding within the sand, somewhere deep in the ground.
Screaming and shouting ensued. “Charge!” Garris hollered.
I coughed, struggling to breathe as my magic retreated, slamming back inside me with the force of an elastic snap. We soon became cornered pieces of meat, growing more tender by the minute as two more of our soldiers met their ends via an arrow and a thrown dagger.
I pressed forward, my sword glinting beneath their precious sun, and met a soldier’s sword strike for strike, pushing him back, then drawing him forward to cleave him in two as another warrior with tribal markings upon her face dived through the air with a spear.
I was ready, emptying her lungs before she even neared, and then I was off my horse, falling to the sand with a thud as pain radiated through my skull.
My hair was wrenched back, and then a fist collided with my cheek. Darkness encompassed, dragging me down with heavy hands. Screaming, I forced my way back to a knife pressed against my neck, and then it dropped with its owner as she fell to the sand, her hands wrapped around her throat.
I grinned at my other assailant, taking in her violet eyes and ruddy complexion, and licked blood from my teeth. “Are you ready to meet your end?” I tutted. “Such beautiful eyes, what a waste.”
Before I could make that happen, Zad was there, separating her head from her shoulders.
I watched it roll to the sand with a frown and then backed away from the blood leaving the decapitated body.
He hauled me up. “We need to get out of here. Now.”
A glance around told me half of us would not return. The warriors had surrounded us, and I knew it’d take a miracle to get what remained across the border.
“Squash them,” I said to Zad, grappling for my sword before I jumped up and into Wen’s saddle. “I’ll get Berron. Shit, behind you.”
Zad swung his sword above his head, bringing it down in one clean sweep to slice the male warrior in half. “Retreat,” he yelled, turning his horse. “Retreat now!”
I looked over at Berron, and even with the distance between us, I found his eyes on mine. “Go,” he mouthed.
I shook my head, grabbing the reins and turning Wen to gallop toward him.