Fean eyed the shoals, which looked like a kilometer of mud, sand, and rounded rocks of various sizes, with deep streams winding through them, well out on the flats. The others didn't seem worried, so she shrugged and let Spark follow the other horses across mushy sand and ridges of small pebbles.
A faint buzz . . . growing louder. "Someone's coming! I hear an engine."
"Dammit." Crimson glanced back, then forward. "Keep going, once we're across the first channel they can't do anything but shoot at us."
They booted the horses forward, but with their hooves sinking in the oozy sand and mud, and going around the big ridge of cobbles . . . the two trucks roared up the road from the south and barely slowed to turn and drop down the slope of the bank and out onto the flats.
They have pretty broad tires. They might not sink . . . until they stop.
And the first channel is too far away . . .
I'd better figure out what side of this battle I'm on. Right. Now!
Then sharp cracks of a whip!
Pack horses galloping laboriously through the mud, driven by a whip-wielding maniac with no cares for his horses safety.
Crimson turned her mount out of the way, waved her hand and pulled the heat from a low muddy spot and trotted across. Fean pulled heat from the stretch beside her and they crossed quickly.
And saw the illusion of them leaping the low ridge of cobbles and the empty thin wedge of sand where they actually stopped.
"That's Harnay!" Walnut hissed, as the idiot with the whip raced the truck to the first channel.
"Shh!" Crimson winced as one of the pack horses crashed down, another slid, trying to avoid the downed horse, scrambled up and kept going. The ridden horse leaped, stumbled and recovered, as the truck turned sideways to cut the rider off.
A guy with bald patches leaped out. "Freeze! You are under arrest!"
Flinched back with a yell as the tip of the whip hit his gun. He clutched his right hand, his eyes following the trajectory of his gun, then snapping back to the whip wielder, left hand coming up . . . A physical shield shaping up . . . collapsing at a stun spell. The riden horse floundered through the mud in front of the truck and was gone.
As were the smugglers. Fean's head snapped around as Saiga, and her horse disappeared. Crimson, on foot, grinned at her, swung an arm and everything went dark.
And light. Spark startled a bit, then snorted.
"Sorry! No time to warn you! You've lost a couple of hours, and we're across the river." Crimson's cheerful grin faded. "And I'd really like to know what Harnay was taking to town."
Fean looked around. Through the thin trees she spotted the truck climbing the opposite bank and turning south. Out on the mud flats, a dead horse.
"Broken leg, they shot him. And took the packs. And the direction they're going? They'll drive through Broad Pass that winds a lot. We can take the West Wind passage and if we push, we'll beat them to Tannay."
"Who was the guy with the whip? Why did he get into the mess?"
Macaw growled. "The village shaman. Nasty creature. He must have thought the guys in the truck were after him."
Fean nodded. "Ah! Because we're so unnoticeable. But . . ."
They all nodded. "I think your pretty boy could see us. And Harnay couldn't. So obviously they were after him."
"Maybe they were." Fean looked around."Well, Idlo's strong and well trained, by Oner standards. I suspect he saw us. Maybe we'd better hang back and let Harnay get to town first and we can avoid both of them."