1.2 Taral

1.2 Taral

Cogs: Malicious Designs
1.2 Taral

The dragon’s path described a chicane on the surface of the shield as weapons fired at it from the streets below, and it swerved to avoid the shots.

“Definitely vultures,” Avril said, as he zoomed in with the laser-cannon’s camera to locate them.

Buildings blocked his view, keeping him from seeing anybody, but he thought, That’s right. Keep each other busy. I’ll just slip out the back door.

Almost as soon as the thought occurred to him, the dragon veered right and skirted the city wall away from the hooting and hollering and firing blasters.

Avril swore and turned the laser-cannon to keep track of the dragon, hoping he wouldn’t need to rely on the decrepit weapon’s firepower.

When the dragon reached one of the two roads out of Taral, it flew above the red Damarian desert that surrounded the city, flying low and close to the road-shield.

“What are you up to?” Avril wondered.

He zoomed in further with the weapon’s camera and caught movement behind the blue shimmer of the road-shield. Two assault vehicles and three road-bikes all sporting the sigil of the lord of Damar sped along the highway toward Taral.

Avril muttered, “Shit, a cadre.”

The dragon passed over the vehicles on the road and circled back toward Taral.

Avril only watched the convoy for a second before moving. He would have waited out the dragon in the hope it couldn’t break through the shield protecting Taral, and he was even willing to try his luck tricking the vultures into leaving him alone, but he wouldn’t gamble with his future against a cadre. Cadres were bound to the chosen, who were the gods’ avatars in the mortal realm. When a chosen assigned a task to one of their cadres, nothing short of death stopped them pursuing their goal. Cadres were unreasonable and unpredictable, and Avril’s experience told him the best option was to run or hide.

“The music will draw the cadre,” Avril told himself as the boom-boom continued louder than before.

All he needed to do was reach his car and sneak out of Taral behind the cadre while they focused on the vultures. With any luck, the dragon would stay in Taral too.

Avril dashed down the stairs from the top of the wall to the street, knowing he needed to be ready to move when an opportunity presented itself. One of his feet slipped on dirt that had accumulated on a step, and he caught himself by throwing an arm out and hooking it over the handrail before he hit the hard metal steps.

The boom-boom was getting closer, and Avril guessed the vultures were chasing the dragon across the city. Crazy bastards, he thought again, but this time he added, At least they’re not fanatics who serve the gods.

Avril pulled himself back up with the handrail and jumped the last few steps to the street. He glanced toward the entrance through the city wall where the cadre would enter Taral, and he thought, Maybe they don’t have a choice.

But he knew it didn’t matter. If the cadre caught him, whether they did it of their own volition or at the command of a god would make no difference to Avril.

He’d be fucked either way.

The entrance through the wall was wide enough to accommodate six lanes of traffic. Glass-fronted buildings stood on either side of the entrance. One was marked arrivals and the other departures. Both buildings had housed long gone officials who conducted the business of monitoring who came and went and what they brought and took with them. The boom gates that had controlled traffic were in pieces on the road.

The entrance remained empty, but Avril knew he didn’t have long until bondsan, the individual members of the cadre, came through into the city. He stood at the corner of the hover-truck he’d found and parked next to the wall as part of his diversion for the vultures. A winged shadow passed over the street in front of Avril then came back toward him.

He ducked and glanced up in time to see the dragon pass over the wall.

“Damn wastelands are getting crowded,” Avril muttered, then sprinted across the open road toward the place he’d hidden his car.

Taral’s main street was wider than any other road in the small city, and businesses that had served Taral’s community lined the street. His car was in a garage behind the fourth and fifth buildings. As he closed on the first building, he looked sideways at the city entrance and saw one of the road-bikes, chrome and black, speed past the empty checkpoints that guarded the entrance.

Avril found another burst of speed and hoped it put him out of the bondsan’s line of sight. The sound of a second engine joined the first and swerved toward him. There were two more buildings until he reached the safety of his car, but a new sound from the opposite direction warned him he was out of time.

Sound struck him in the chest as a series of physical impacts. Something crashed into the street ahead of him, and he darted into an alley with the impression of a massive living creature, black and metallic, roaring with fury behind him.

It was ridiculous, but he thought, Why not? There’s already a dragon and a god’s malicious foot-soldiers.

He hadn’t made it to his hidden car, but he was off the main street. The alley he found himself in was too narrow for the vehicle he’d glimpsed, but there was nothing to stop the road-bikes he’d seen from cornering him. A quick exploration revealed the alley was a dead end. Frantic, Avril rushed into a doorway and dropped to his knees, hoping the shadows would conceal him.

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