I glance up at the dark blue night sky. The clouds are slowly starting to cover the moon and I know that we need to hurry if we want to make use of its grey light that’s spreading over the green landscape. Then the oil carriage under my feet starts vibrating and my gaze is drawn to my worn-out boots. A crooked smile spreads on my lips whilst I look up along the train rail and see the light from the train. I swing a little back and forth on my feet before I raise my rifle and shoot straight up into the sky.
The train breaks squeal making the hairs on my arm stand on end. The sound lasts longer than I anticipated, but, of course, halts when the train stops. The driver hops out glaring at me with a bewildered look. I smile as I sit down on the oil carriage amused and dangle with my legs.
“What the hell are you doing, boy?!” he asks with raised eyebrows.
“I’m enjoying the beautiful evening,” I stretch out my arms toward the night sky. “That’s not a crime last time I checked, sir.”
“This train is supposed to be in Sankori by midnight! Now, move!”
I raise my hands innocently while I jump down from the oil carriage. He nods at me before turning toward the train again leaving his back open. I take a few steps forward and hit him with the butt of my rifle. He falls to the ground. An arrow zooms past my head. Amused, I turn to see Colson and Gage jog out of the forest. They stop in front of me and I grin at the two men. Colson ties his long black hair into a bun. Gage’s chocolate brown eyes give me a disapproving look.
“Are you crazy?” Colson asks irritated. “We said that he was mine.”
“Like I’d let you guys get all the fun,” I say and shrug my shoulders. “Besides, I wasn’t sure you’d be able to aim, old man.”
“I just turned thirty not sixty,” he mutters but with a smile on his lips.
“Why are we stopping?! What’s happening out there?!” some people yell from inside the train.
“Come on,” Gage says and bumps Colson’s back with his shoulder. “Our passengers seem impatient.”
Gage walks toward the engine. I follow. He twirls and stares at me.
“Not a chance, kid,” he says and shakes his head. “You stay here and warn us if you see any guardians.”
“What?! Come on, Gage!” I say. “This is the most important part!”
“That’s exactly why I don’t want to be a babysitter at the same time.”
“I’m seventeen! I’m not a little kid anymore!”
“I don’t have the time making sure you don’t die,” he says and fixes his brown eyes on me. “You. Stay. Here.”
He turns around and starts climbing onto the train.
“Right, you don’t have time for your own son so why would you even bother protecting me,” I mutter.
I glance up half expecting him to give me a death stare. He does.
“Just let him come along, Gage,” Colson says. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, there are no guardians patrolling out here.”
“Okay,” Gage says between clenched teeth before he disappears into the train.
I turn toward Colson who shakes his head at me.
“What?” I ask as he jumps onto the train.
“You know what,” he says. “That was low, bringing up Avery.”
“It was low of him to treat me like a kid. When will he understand that I’m just as capable as you adults? Even more than some of you.”
“He knows that, Hope,” he sighs and pulls his hand through his long black hair. “But you can’t blame him for being scared for you, you’re basically his little brother.”
He disappears into the train and I follow with a huff.
I open the door to the wagon to see Gage already demanding people to give him their money. As I walk through the wagon toward Gage all the passengers look up at me. Some with fear, some with hatred but they all have one thing in common, they’re part of Spectra’s elite. All of them are powerful elves with powers that humans like I only can dream about.
“I’m not going to bow down for some dirty outlaws!” a male elf yells in Gage’s face.
“Hey, Hope!” Gage shouts and looks up at me. “Could you have a word with this gentleman?”
I do as Gage asks. The male elf’s anger shows on his contorted face while his wife clutches his arm.
“You wanted to come along,” Gage says and I meet his gaze. “Then you have to play by our rules.”
I take a deep breath before I take a grip of the elf’s coat and hit him hard in the face. I bite my lip to not whimper when my fist collides with his cheekbone.
“The money!” I yell and throw back his head into the seat.
“Here!” the elf woman cries and throws his bag into my arms. “This is all we have, please, leave us alone now!”
“A pleasure making business with you, ma’am,” Gage says and bows a little before he continues into the next wagon.
I glance down at the elf woman who’s desperately trying to wake her unconscious husband. All of a sudden her eyes meet mine and I have to force myself to not wince.
“You’re just a kid,” she says with a shaky voice. “What are you doing with people like them?”
I turn around quickly and hurry after Gage.
We continue the same way until the last wagon.
“That’s all of them,” Gage says and throws the bag over his shoulder. “We better-.”
He’s interrupted by the sound of hooves echoing in the night. I poke my head out the window and see about ten elves on horses and with a very familiar city emblem on their coats.
“Guardians,” I mutter and pull my head inside again.
“What are they doing here?!” Gage asks frustrated. “They don’t patrol out here.”
“Colson has to start the train,” I say and hurry out on the little platform at the back of the train.
I lean out over the railing as far as I can to get a glimpse of the locomotive.
“Colson!” I shout as loud as I can. “Start the train, we have to get out of here!”
I wait for a few seconds but the train doesn’t start moving and I don’t get a respond from Colson.
“Why aren’t we moving?!” Gage asks as he slams open the door and takes a stand next to me.
“Something’s wrong,” I say.
“Get down!” Gage yells and pulls me down behind the railing even though it doesn’t provide much cover.
“Gage, we have to get to Colson!”
“Run along the roof, it’s faster, I’ll cover you!”
I nod before I throw myself onto the ladder along the wall and heave myself quickly onto the roof. I glance swiftly down at Gage who now starts shooting at the guardians before I start running along the roof.
“Up there!” I hear someone shout.
I glance over my shoulder as some fire elves throw fireballs at me with the help of their lighter bracelets
I try to move as much as possible to avoid getting hit as the train starts shaking because of a few earth elves reshaping the ground to stop the train. At last, I reach the front and jump down into the coal wagon.
“Colson!” I yell whilst I crawl out of the coal and stand up on the edge of the wagon.
“Down here, boy!”
I look down frightened when I see a guardian standing down there with a fire flame in his hand just a few inches from Colson’s head. By reflex, I pull out my rifle that’s hanging over my shoulder and aim it at the guardian.
“Now, think this through, will you?” he says with an uncomfortably calm voice. “I have the advantage here, kid.”
“Let him go!” I say and try to sound as determined as possible but he just smiles amused at me.
I jump down with a roar and hit the guardian so he loses his grip of Colson and falls backward. I take a stand above him and aim my rifle at his head.
“No, please, I have a family!” he says.
“So do I,” I say and nod toward Colson.
“Please, I have a little son back home!”
His words make me freeze and that’s all the time he needs to kick my shin making me fall forward and before I know it he’s over me.
I open my eyes and see how he starts forming a new flame in his hand when a rifle fires off. I see how the life in his eyes disappears whilst he falls to the ground. I turn around and see Gage standing on top of the oil wagon with his rifle in his arms. I stand up ashamed as Gage jumps down and lands between me and Colson. He gives me a stare before he takes a few steps forward and starts the train. It pushes the oil carriage out of the way before it picks up speed and starts speeding through the night.
“The guardians won’t give up that easily!” Gage shouts backward. “Keep them busy!”
I turn toward Colson but he’s already standing at the edge of the locomotive and shooting backward at the guardians who are galloping after us. I shake myself a little before I follow his example but on the other side.
After a few miles, I see the familiar windmill close to our camp in the distance.
“Get ready!” Gage yells as he runs up to us and throws the bag over his shoulder. “Here’s our stop!”
“Then why aren’t you stopping the train?!” I ask.
“Then the guardians will get ready. If you jump off while it’s still driving they won’t have the time to react!”
I look over at Colson confused who shakes his hand points forward. I follow his gaze and see three silhouettes on horses on the hill beside the windmill.
As we get closer they start riding down the hill and see the familiar faces of Bram, Jasper, and Micah with his blonde giant mustache and cocky expression.
“Did you bring the whole king’s army?!, you shouldn’t have!” Micah yells sarcastically from his horse. “I told you not to bring, Scarface!”
“Shut up, Micah!” I yell. “You’re just jealous that Akela let me come and not you!”
“So it’s not your fault that we have half of Spectra’s guardians after us?!”
“Shut up, both of you!” Gage yells as he jumps down behind Bram on his horse. “We’ll split up and meet back at camp in 15 minutes!”
“Hi-yah!” Bram yells and gallops away with Gage.
Shortly after Colson jumps down behind Jasper.
“Seriously?!” I ask.
“Try not to kill each other,” Colson says before he and Jasper disappear in another direction.
“Are you coming or not?!” Micah asks.
I sigh irritated and jump but right before I land behind Micah a fireball grazes my leg and I fall to the ground with a loud thud.