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In the distant future...

It is a time of legends and myths, of technology and magic,
of epic struggles and journeys to the stars...

A time when great heroes confront the forces of darkness...

A time when adventure beckons across the Billion Worlds of Outlaw Galaxy!

Little Wind

An Outlaw Galaxy short story
by Bill Smith

www.BillSmithBooks.com | www.OutlawGalaxy.com

See the Author's Note following this story to find out about other books in the Outlaw Galaxy series.

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Little Wind

Chapter 1 * Trails Through the Wilderness

Shyeean was leading the group when he held up his hand, motioning for them to stop. In the darkness, Charrogarn nearly stumbled, but his guardian, Kson, grabbed his hand and stopped his fall. Behind Charrogarn, the four other Ran'daggor warriors scattered from the trail, silently slipping into the brush.

Kson sprinted off the trail and into the forest, motioning for Charrogarn to follow. Charrogarn was amazed at Kson's stealth as he effortlessly pushed through the thick tangles of tree limbs and bushes. Charrogarn followed his guardian, straining to move in silence, but again he stumbled, cringing as he kicked a rock. He watched helplessly as it tumbled down the hill.

A sudden breeze rustled through the trees, swirling the leaves and branches, covering the sounds of the tumbling rock. A few moments later and the forest was quiet again.

It was a perfectly clear night and the triple moons shone brightly. The stars were scattered above them, countless pinpoints of light. The night was still, silent.

Charrogarn, pushing through the forest, finally reached Kson. Kson raised his energy rifle, his keen eyes searching the darkness up ahead.

Kson was seventeen or eighteen years old, the youngest of the Ran'daggor warriors here, but he was still about five years older than Charrogarn. Their closeness in age was probably why Kson had been chosen to be his personal guardian.

"Have patience," Kson whispered. "You will learn how to move in silence, young Pyarrun Senn. Just allow yourself time."

Pyarrun Senn. The legendary warrior-protector of his people. Supposedly imbued with magical abilities to speak to the spirits of the dead and to know that which was unknowable by ordinary means. According to the tales, the Pyarrun Senn was to be the leader of the Ran'daggor warriors as they fulfilled their solemn duty to protect his people from their enemies.

But this person, this story...it was a legend. A myth. A fable.

A lie.

The abilities of the Pyarrun Senn were silly stories, told by foolish old men who believed in the Pyarrun, the "Hidden World."

The Ran'daggor warriors had sworn to drive the Ghat'hans off Nashmral and to free this planet from their rule. They believed the Ghat'hans to be invaders and tyrants, not trading partners, as Charrogarn had always viewed them.

The warriors believed in the Pyarrun Senn and his supposedly magical abilities to rally the people and lead them to victory. Somehow, through ceremonies and future-gazings conducted by the distant leaders of the Ran'daggor sect, Charrogarn had been chosen to be the next Pyarrun Senn. Kson told him that he was to be just the fourth in the last three thousand years. A Pyarrun Senn was selected only in times of great peril.

There was more to the fairy tale, but Charrogarn had forgotten the details. He thought them unimportant. It was all just foolish superstition. It was too much for a twelve-year-old boy to take in.

Kson cocked his head as if he heard someone calling out to him. Charrogarn thought he might have heard a trace of a whisper, a distant voice-ghost, but it was just a breeze, nothing out of the ordinary.

Kson motioned off to his left, pointing down the mountain. The other Ran'daggor warriors emerged from cover. There was no trace of their passing as they sprinted down the mountainside.

"We stay here," Kson whispered. "The Naiz Gairos patrol will be gone shortly."

Naiz Gairos. The "Night Cowards." That was what the Ran'daggors called the Ghat'hans.

Charrogarn tried to watch the guards, but they simply vanished into the darkness.

Kson pushed an energy rifle towards him.

Charrogarn refused it. He would not take the weapon. An energy rifle was for a warrior, a man who worked with his hands. Charrogarn was the son of a Trademaster, destined to work with his mind. Using a weapon was beneath him. That's what bodyguards were for.

Charrogarn heard the whine of energy bolts cutting through the air. Explosions echoed through the trees, as did screams of surprise.

Then there was silence.

Moments later, Shyeean appeared in front of them, seemingly stepping directly from the shadows.

Regardless of their superstitious beliefs in the "Hidden World," the Ran'daggors were remarkable warriors. Even the Ghat'hans feared them. He'd seen it in the faces of his teachers when they'd scolded his friends for pretending to be Ran'daggor warriors while playing. The Ran'daggors were just a myth, a legend, not real, the teachers insisted...but real enough that the teachers were afraid of them.

Shyeean looked up the mountain.

"There will be more. A troop lander ship is coming. Follow me."

Shyeean dashed into the darkness.

"Where'd he go? How can I follow if I can't see him?" Charrogarn felt his anger rising.

"Quiet, Little Wind," Kson said.

"Stop it!" Charrogarn moaned in frustration, his voice carrying through the forest.

Kson had taken to calling him "Little Wind" on the second night. He'd tripped over a tree root and tumbled down into a gully, screaming the whole way. By sundown, all of the Ran'daggor warriors were calling him that, much to his dismay.

He had not enjoyed the days and nights in the wilderness. Five days before, Charrogarn was just a boy, a child of wealth and privilege. His biggest worries were schoolwork and not getting into trouble. He daydreamed about playing games with his friends after school.

Then, in the middle of the night, the six Ran'daggor warriors showed up. His father, despite being a Trademaster who'd benefitted handsomely under Ghat'han rule, ordered Charrogarn to join these strangers. The boy was forced to leave his home and family behind and told to embrace a life totally alien to him.

Staring into the darkness, Charrogarn saw four other phantom shapes creeping speedily along the ground. He saw a glimpses of silver as moonlight reflected off their energy rifles. Then the dark forms vanished into the trees and brush. They made no sound.

"Be quiet and follow me. I know the way, Little Wind," Kson said softly, pointing towards the path. "But you must be patient. Keep your mind on the task at hand. You waste your energies on useless anger. It diminishes you."

"Diminishes?" How dare he speak to me like that! Charrogarn was the first son of Trademaster Dajwrett, a man of honor, respect and enormous wealth. By his birthright, Charrogarn was destined for greatness, for power. In time, he would be able to have any desire in life just by speaking it aloud. No one, especially a warrior -- a commoner -- had the right to address him in so crude a manner.

"No one speaks to me --"

Kson's hand covered his mouth and squeezed. Hard.

Charrogarn released his breath and tried to pull away, but Kson squeezed tighter, holding him still. Charrogarn stopped struggling as his skin was pulled tight by Kson's powerful grip. His face ached.

"Charrogarn, you diminish yourself and your destiny in all respects. If you are to lead and be the Pyarrun Senn, you must not disgrace yourself. You will speak no more of this until you reach Borumankor. There, you can ask the Pyarrun Driall anything you wish. But now, be silent and follow."

Kson released Charrogarn and ran off into the darkness. After a handful of steps, he stopped and looked back.

"You should follow me. It will not do well to be captured by the Naiz Gairos. It would be exceedingly difficult for you to liberate our people from a prison camp. Or a grave."

Charrogarn wanted to argue, but something inside him knew there was truth in Kson's warning. Without another word, he followed Kson into the forest.

Chapter 2 * The Hidden World

Charrogarn ran through the night. Shyeean and the Ran'daggors had not paused to rest for hours, leaving Charrogarn gasping for breath, his legs leaden and muscles rubbery. He wanted to collapse, but somehow he kept running.

His eyes were sore from the strain of squinting, trying to see the way in the darkness. He did as Kson had instructed nights earlier, trying to "feel" the way, to "sense" where the trees, brushes and rocks lay.

The idea seemed ridiculous. He had never been here before. He had no way of anticipating the path through the trees and boulders, but yet when he calmed himself, it almost -- almost -- seemed that he knew where to step, when to leap, how to find his way through the night.

His mind cleared itself of all thoughts except simply following Kson, putting one foot ahead of the other, hour after hour. Somehow, he matched the Ran'daggors, not moving a branch nor leaving marks in the dirt. Like the others, there was not a trace of his passing.

They finally stopped as the eastern sky started to lighten and the stars faded. The cool night air began to warm, although Charrogarn could still see his breath hang in the air. Summoned by Shyeean's call, the Ran'daggors crept from the darkness, emerging in silence, gathering around him.

Exhaustion hit Charrogarn. He collapsed, wheezing. The guardians stood around him, none of them showing any signs of exertion.

"We will rest here. This should give us cover from the Naiz Gairos until night falls again. We will need food."

Three of the guards pulled their energy rifles from their back holsters and scattered into the woods.

"You kept up with us," Shyeean said to the boy. "Now you can sleep."

"I can't keep this up. It's been five days so far." Charrogarn wheezed, gasping for air. "How much longer?"

"Soon. Another night. Perhaps two."

Shyeean walked off into the night.

Kson leaned down and placed his hand on Charrogarn's shoulder. "He is impressed. He didn't expect you to learn the running so quickly. Despite initial doubts, he is starting to believe you may be the Pyarrun Senn."

"I'm so comforted. All I've ever wanted to do is live up to his standards," Charrogarn snapped, mockery in his voice.

Kson pulled his hand back as if he'd been stung. "Still, you do not see the way. You do not understand your importance."

"I understand," Charrogarn said. "I know the stories of the Pyarrun Senn and his ability to know the enemy and lead our people. I just don't believe in this fairy tale. I'm expected to sacrifice my future and leave my life -- a good life -- behind. For what? A hopeless cause?"

"You understand nothing. I can only hope that Pyarrun Driall Vras will open your eyes."

Charrogarn fell into a deep, restless sleep on the forest floor. Soon, he felt hands on his shoulders as he was guided, groggy and confused, toward a hastily built shelter. He fell into a bed of leaves and was soon asleep while Kson built a cooking fire.

He woke to the smell of cooking fren meat.

Kson pushed a hunk of fren to Charrogarn. "Eat. Your body used most of its energy last night. You are not used to it."

Charrogarn gobbled down the fren. "How long until we reach where we are going? What's the name? Borumankor?"

"We will arrive when the time is right. When you are ready."

"When I'm ready?" He was getting tired of their cryptic nonsense. "I don't know the way. I'm just doing what I'm told to do. I thought you were following maps --"

Kson chuckled. "Maps aren't of much use when it comes to finding Borumankor."

Confused, Charrogarn said nothing. He grabbed another helping of fren meat and finished it in two bites. His body seemed invigorated. "How long was I asleep?"

"About twenty minutes."

Charrogarn knew that couldn't be true. He'd been exhausted and had collapsed, almost unable to move. Now, he felt like he'd slept a full night. He stood and stretched his arms and legs. There was not the slightest ache or stiff muscle.

Charrogarn walked towards the front of the shelter and pulled aside the branches. He saw the mountains and the river winding through the valley far below. Columns of smoke rose from the tiny, distant houses huddling on the riverbanks. He looked at the position of the sun, just now peeking over the horizon. It was still early morning. He turned back to Kson.

"How is this possible?"

"Your body is learning even if your mind resists. The Naiz Gairos and their schools have trained your mind not to believe, but your body knows the truth. The Naiz Gairos do not understand this."

"What are your talking about?"

Kson grinned. "I'm talking about Pyarrun."

That again.

"Pyarrun aids us. The spirits guide us."

Charrogarn laughed. "The Hidden World? You believe in that?"

"No," Kson said slowly, seriously. "Belief is based on ideas and words. I know. Pyarrun is real to me. I have seen the spirits with my own eyes."

"The Hidden World is just a story," Charrogarn stated firmly. "The world of the spirits, of our ancestors, reaching out to touch the living? It's just a myth. It's not real. Everyone knows that."

"We shall see," Kson said simply. He chuckled, muttering, "Perhaps Borumankor is farther away than I had hoped."

As they ate, Shyeean arrived and stepped into the shelter. "The others are on guard. At nightfall, we will move on."

He grabbed some fren meat from the fire and finished it quickly. "The Naiz Gairos will not find us. The ancestors are guiding us along the safest path."

Charrogarn held his tongue, but the arrogant smirk on his face betrayed his thoughts.

Shyeean turned to Kson, speaking as if Charrogarn were not even present. "I do not understand. I cannot see how this boy -- this non-believer -- can possibly be the Pyarrun Senn. He, like so many others, has been seduced by their world. That is where his spirit lives."

Kson listened respectfully. "Your insight is shrewd. But perhaps the Pyarrun Senn needs to understand the Naiz Gairos to be able to lead our people away from them. We have always trusted Pyarrun Driall Vras before. Why do you doubt him now?"

Shyeean pointed at Charrogarn, his contempt obvious. "Look at the boy! All he wants is what the Naiz Gairos tell him to want. He is blind."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence," Charrogarn muttered, even as anger bubbled up within him. Fools! They cling to myths and superstitions. Perhaps they're also afraid that someone will die if a jacrie crows before dawn!

Shyeean and Kson sat up straight and stared at him. Shyeean's voice paled in rage.

"See!" he screamed. "He is a disgrace to those who have come before! Pyarrun Driall Vras is wrong! His folly will cost us all!"

Kson's eyes darted from Charrogarn to Shyeean, hesitant, not sure whether to speak.

"His mind does not understand," Kson finally whispered. "But his body has already learned the running. He has the ability. Natural, pure, strong. All that remains is for his mind to be opened. Pyarrun Driall Vras was not mistaken. We...you must protect him."

Kson's voice became urgent as he continued. There was no trace of doubt. "He will learn. He will lead. He will be the Pyarrun Senn. Someday, all of us will serve him."

Shyeean was angry. His face betrayed his doubts. "That remains to be seen."

He grabbed his energy rifle and stomped out of the shelter.

Better get used to doing what I say. I have a good memory, Charrogarn thought to himself.

"That is enough," Kson said sharply. "That is disrespectful."

"What? I didn't say anything!"

Kson simply grabbed another peace of fren and ate in silence.

"Why did you come for me?" Charrogarn asked.

"Pyarrun Driall Vras saw you in a vision that was sent by the ancestors. He placed the vision in our minds and sent us to get you. We had little trouble locating you," Kson explained. "But we were not told that you would be so...unprepared."

"I have no reason to believe," Charrogarn snarled.

Kson looked at him. "Your cruelty must be extinguished if you are to fulfill your destiny."

"My destiny. It sounds so grand. But my father picked my destiny a long time ago. I was to take his place as a Trademaster. I was at peace with that destiny. Then you showed up."

"Sometimes one's destiny is something other than what we expect."

"What if I choose not to try? What if I don't want to be the Pyarrun Senn?"

Kson shrugged. "Then turn back and go home. Hopefully, you can make it without the Naiz Gairos finding you. But you will not be allowed to live in peace. They do not believe, but they can't afford to take the chance that there is something to our stories. You are forever marked. Your life will never be the same again."

"It sounds like I don't have much of a choice thanks to Vras and his visions."

"Sometimes destiny is like that," Kson said with a chuckle. "Run all you want, hide wherever you may, it will not matter...your destiny knows your spirit. It will find you."

"My spirit. My destiny." Charrogarn said disdainfully. "It's all superstition. It's not real."

"The spirits spoke to Pyarrun Driall Vras. That is real...they are real. They brought us to you. When you are ready, you will hear them. And then they will guide you."

"They talk to you? You hear them?"

Kson raised his eyebrows. "Where has your skepticism gone? Perhaps you are starting to believe?"

"No. I'm just curious. I just want to hear you explain your ideas."

"Fair enough. Sometimes they speak to us. A word, a phrase. Others hear them only when they are ready. You have to be open, calm. You must reach beyond your own ego, beyond your own ideas. You must sense that which is beyond your personal desire."

Charrogarn shook his head. "I suppose."

"You still don't believe."

"No. Of course not. These myths -- the Hidden World, spirits -- these stories were created to explain the world around us. Why does the sun shine? Why do the seasons change? Well, it must be the spirits. It must be magic. What a joke. Now we can explain the world around us. We no longer need these superstitions."

"Spoken like a true Naiz Gairos. When your spirit is truly attuned to its surroundings, you will hear the voices. You will find yourself doing things, knowing the right path. You will get your first glimpses of the Hidden World. And then you will never be the same."

Charrogarn shook his head.

"Charrogarn, our future rests with you. Pyarrun Driall Vras is old. He has foreseen that you are the one to take his place. If our people are to be free, you must follow him. This must be so."

Charrogarn shrugged. "Our lives aren't so bad. I don't understand why you hate the Ghat'hans. They gave much to us. It's not like they took over. Our trade councils invited them here. We are living better lives now. You don't know because you're not there...but our lives are good."

"For a chosen few, yes." Kson nodded, picking the meat off a bone. "For those who never question, who do whatever their masters order them to do. That is a good life, I suppose, for a pet. But when others question the Ghat'hans, troops come in to quiet their voices. The Ghat'hans claim they are just protecting their financial interests, but the face of oppression cannot hide its true form."

"The Ghat'hans only act against those who deserve it!"

"Really? There are so many who are left behind, their lives beyond hope. They are cut off from the land and Pyarrun. Tell me how many are trapped in cities where you cannot breathe or even see the stars at night? The Naiz Gairos offer wealth to some, but only empty promises to most...and these are worthless. The spirits of our people are dying even as their bodies live on."

Charrogarn felt sorry for Kson. He didn't understand. The Ghat'hans were traders, just like his father. This was simply the way the world -- the entire galaxy, for that matter -- worked. There was nothing Charrogarn could do about it -- and nothing he should do about it. He had worked hard. He had earned his place.

Charrogarn knew his fate could have been the same as Kson's. Kson was five years older than him, just barely seventeen. He had been taken from his parents around his seventh or eighth birthday. Like Charrogarn, he'd been summoned after one of Pyarrun Driall Vras's visions. Shyeean had trained him, taken him in like a son, and was now his commander.

In some ways, Charrogarn and Kson had much in common.

"Do you miss your old life, Kson?" Charrogarn asked.

"No...perhaps...sometimes," Kson slowly admitted. His voice was low, mournful. "Sometimes I miss my family and my friends. I've never had the chance to return home. But that life is past. This path is the one I am meant for. All our lives happen as they are meant to." Kson gazed sadly into the fire. "Everything has a purpose."

Charrogarn was quiet. Weariness crept over him.

"I'm going to get some sleep," he said as he stretched out on his bed.

Kson was about to wish him a restful sleep, but the boy was already snoring.

Chapter 3 * Running Through the Night

On the sixth night, they pushed mile after mile through the mountains. Now, Charrogarn found the running easier and he was more at ease in the wilderness. He hadn't come to feel like he truly belonged here, but it no longer seemed like the trees blocked his every step.

Charrogarn found himself staring up at the three moons hanging low and brilliant yellow in the night sky, just barely above the mountaintops. He gazed up at the stars, wondering if he would ever venture to the many worlds that circled them, like members of the wealthy classes did. Like he was destined to do as a Trademaster Apprentice...before the Ran'daggors arrived.

Charrogarn ran up alongside Kson.

"Kson, why are we running? Why not just use an anti-grav skimmer?"

"Softer, Little Wind. I will hear you."

Sorry, Charrogarn thought to himself.

"That's better," Kson said.

Charrogarn shot him a suspicious glance.

Kson merely smiled. "Our overland travel helps us avoid the Naiz Gairos patrols. It is the first step in your training. Already you are stronger, faster. Your physical form and your spirit are starting to achieve harmony with the land. Your body knows the way. Relax your mind and follow."

"I'm trying," Charrogarn said.

"Softer," Kson reminded.

I'm trying, he thought.

Then there was a rush of wind from the valley below, warm and moist, the smell of rain and the rich scent of ripening saismah berries thick in the air. You're learning, a whisper called out to him, tugging at the edge of his hearing.

Charrogarn frowned.

That couldn't have...it must have been my imagination, Charrogarn thought to himself.

Kson laughed and pushed on.

"We're running because we're going to Borumankor."

"You don't want the Ghat'hans to follow you to Pyarrun Driall Vras's fortress?"

Kson laughed again. "No. No. It's because there's no other way. You cannot find Borumankor from a ship or vehicle...the only way to find it is to feel it."

"That's ridiculous!"

Kson stopped suddenly.

"Charrogarn, I have never lied to you. Take me at my word or return home. Do you understand?"

Charrogarn stared down. Kson seemed so sincere, so honest. He felt ashamed.

"This is the only way to Borumankor. You cannot find it if you are not wanted -- or ready -- to be there."

"Only some people can find Borumankor and not others? That makes no sense!"

"Stop thinking. Stop using what you've been taught. Listen. Feel. Learn. There are many things about Pyarrun that do not make sense until you experience them for yourself."

"I'll...I'll listen to you," Charrogarn said softly, uncertain.

"Good."

Charrogarn paused and looked around nervously. "That breeze back there, the one that came up suddenly. Did you hear something? Something...strange?"

Kson ran off into the night. "Just whispers. Why? What did you hear?"

Charrogarn said nothing, running between a pair of trees and leaping over a bush to catch up with Kson.

He's unbelievably fast, Charrogarn thought as his feet pounded the ground, stride after stride. All of them are.

Charrogarn continued and heard-thought-felt...something.

Believe and it is possible, a voice in the back of his mind seemed to say. Charrogarn knew the thought was not entirely his own.

On they pushed through the night, running in silence, Shyeean leading the way, wary of Ghat'han patrols. Kson and Charrogarn followed close behind.

Charrogarn tried to relax his mind. Soon -- more easily than ever before -- he was calm, sensing the world around him. The trees stood proud and tall. In his mind, Charrogarn pictured creatures creeping through the dark, pausing to observe the passing strangers.

And then, suddenly, Charrogarn was simply himself again, pushing step after step. He looked up, startled.

The moons were high in the sky, illuminating the forest floor. Hadn't they barely risen above the mountains just minutes earlier? The stars had shifted across the sky, racing towards the horizon.

It was now the middle of the night.

Charrogarn spotted a new star in the night sky, red and brilliant. It seemed as if it had appeared from nowhere. It darted across the sky, shooting towards the mountains up ahead, dropping steadily towards the ground.

"Kson, what's that?" Charrogarn called out.

"The Naiz Gairos. A troop lander searching for us. For you. Shyeean is already changing paths. Do not be concerned."

"How did you know about the course change?"

"I just know," Kson said cryptically.

They continued, Charrogarn feeling more confident and comfortable with each stride. He lost track of time, following Kson, matching him step by step as they climbed the mountain.

Then Kson stopped short suddenly.

"What's wrong?" Charrogarn asked.

"Quiet!" Kson whispered sharply. He pulled the two energy rifles from his back holsters. He handed one of the weapons to Charrogarn.

"We've been over this before. I don't want this!" Charrogarn said, refusing the gun.

"Take it!" Kson insisted.

His intensity scared Charrogarn. He took the weapon, feeling its cold metal. It was heavy in his hands. It felt strange and foreign. He trembled as he imagined what it would be like to shoot this weapon.

"There's a Naiz Gairos patrol up ahead," Kson said. "Stay here. You're the one they want."

Charrogarn nodded, grateful that he didn't have to join the battle, but he knew it would be wrong to let Shyeean, Kson and the others risk their lives for him. Charrogarn wondered if he should follow.

"No!" Kson insisted. "Stay here until I call for you. You'll know when it's safe."

"Kson," Shyeean's voice seemed to call out from all directions. "You are needed."

Kson checked his rifle. His demeanor was stern. There would be no arguing with him. "Stay out of sight, my young friend."

Kson looked at Charrogarn. The sounds of energy bolts -- tschew! tschew! tschew! -- rang out in the night. Charrogarn heard explosions and saw white-yellow flashes of light. Bursts of flame lit up the mountain like flickering campfires. The battle was several hundred feet ahead of them.

"I will always be here to guide you, Little Wind," Kson said. Then he ran ahead to join the struggle.

Charrogarn listened and watched the battle unfold ahead of him. Green and blue energy bolts shot across the night. Explosions illuminated the mountainside. The trees shook, limbs blasted from their trunks.

The energy bolts and explosions were coming closer. One hundred and fifty yards -- one hundred yards -- then just fifty feet ahead. Charrogarn glimpsed forms moving in the darkness.

He stayed low. Then the sounds and sights of battle retreated up the mountain as the Ghat'hans suddenly pulled back, the Ran'daggors fast on their heels. Ferocious volleys of energy blasts and explosions rang out from above.

Charrogarn knew he had to move, somehow sensing that Kson needed him. He crept forward through the trees, slowly, careful not to disturb the branches, blending into the shadows. Up the mountain he went, a hundred yards or more, the sounds of battle ringing in his ears. He knew that he'd been able to creep forward unnoticed.

Just ahead, the Ghat'han soldiers moved clumsily through the brush, batting tree limbs aside, making a racket that carried on for miles. They were fighting not only the Ran'daggors but the land itself. Much as he'd done just days earlier.

Charrogarn glimpsed a trio of Ghat'han soldiers advancing towards him. No. They were advancing towards Kson, who was hiding behind a tree, off to the right and just twenty feet ahead.

Charrogarn raised his rifle and took careful aim. He squeezed off three quick shots.

The blue energy bolts shot out into the night, each finding its mark. The three soldiers fell to the ground amidst small bursts of flame. They did not move.

Charrogarn lowered his rifle, solemn, knowing that he had just taken their lives. His hands shook.

More energy bolts crisscrossed the battlefield ahead.

Charrogarn watched the other Ran'daggors advance, driving the Ghat'hans up the mountain. Kson was the rear guard.

Charrogarn took a step forward, planning to sprint across the clearing to join Kson, who stood and fired into the darkness.

Kson then turned and looked back at Charrogarn. He motioned to Charrogarn in the Ran'daggors' hand signal language. Come with me! He then pointed back down the mountain.

Follow me, Little Wind, Kson signaled.

Charrogarn and Kson ran down the mountain, picking their way carefully through the forest, the smell of burning wood thick in the air. Smoke blocked the moonlight and the darkness closed around him like a shroud. They became separated.

Charrogarn fumbled through the darkness. He stumbled, falling on his face as he tripped over a tree root.

He gathered himself up and crouched, silent. He heard more weapons fire, distant, far up the mountain.

Then he glanced down at the tree root he'd tripped over. But it was not a tree root.

Charrogarn backed away. He'd tripped over a body...a Ran'daggor. The warrior was face down in the soil, clutching an energy rifle.

Charrogarn wanted to run...but something compelled him to reach out. He rolled the body over.

Kson's face, eyes open, stared up into the night. Charrogarn's heart skipped a beat. He sat there and waited for Kson to sit up and talk to him, but he just lay there, unmoving.

Charrogarn looked around and counted. There were five more bodies, all of them Ran'daggors. All of his guardians were dead.

He sensed a presence moving in the trees ahead of him. He raised his energy rifle, ready to shoot at what could only be a Ghat'han fighter.

Out of the darkness, Kson stepped forward. He shimmered in the darkness.

Charrogarn looked down at Kson's body on the ground, then at the form of his friend who stood before him.

The Pyarrun -- the Hidden World -- has called, Kson's voice whispered in the breeze. You are ready now.

Charrogarn glanced away when he heard energy rifle fire, more distant than before. When he looked back, Kson's shimmering form was gone. His body still lie on the ground, just a few feet away.

Borumankor is not far now, a voice whispered in Charrogarn's mind. He took a deep breath and ran off into the night. Now, however, each step was guided by a sense of certainty. A breeze swept over him, tugging at him to pause. He stopped...then saw a path that he had almost missed in the darkness. He ran down this new path, knowing it was the right one.

I will always be here to guide you, he heard a voice whisper in the wind.

Author's Note

Bill Smith is proud to be an independent author and publisher. Rather than depending on a large publishing company, I do it all myself. It's more work, but it's also a lot more rewarding. Being indie gives me the freedom to write the stories I want to write and the ability to share them with readers around the world.

Check out the complete library of Outlaw Galaxy books and stories at BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com. Outlaw Galaxy books are available directly from Bill and through all major ebook retailers, including Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble/Nook and Kobo.

If you like my stories, please tell your friends and have them look up the Outlaw Galaxy series at Smashwords.com, their favorite ebook retailer, or at my sites, BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com

As a small, independent author, every single reader and every single sale really matters. Thank you for your support!

Outlaw Galaxy ebooks are published DRM Free (No Digital Rights Management). That means you can make backup copies, change formats and read these ebooks on any of your devices. I believe that DRM only harms honest customers while slowing pirates hardly a bit (if at all).

I believe that being DRM-free is more important than the risk of "piracy." I've found that most readers are honest, decent folks who understand the importance of supporting and paying the authors they like. Readers know that authors need to be paid so they can write more stories for readers to enjoy -- authors have families to feed, too.

I also understand the importance of word-of-mouth -- I discovered most of my favorite authors through libraries or by borrowing copies of books from friends -- so I offer substantial samples of Outlaw Galaxy books at all ebook vendors and at my websites, BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com.

You can also show your support by making a contribution to the Tip Jar.

The Tip Jar

If you enjoyed the stories on this site or got a copy of one of my books from a friend, please consider buying an Outlaw Galaxy book or two.

You can also throw a donation into the Tip Jar. Your donation goes directly to this author (instead of some big, faceless corporation) and your generous support enables me to keep on writing new Outlaw Galaxy stories for you to enjoy. Thank you!

To contribute to the Tip Jar, just go to www.PayPal.com or Amazon Payments and send money to: bill@billsmithbooks.com.

The amount you contribute is up to you. It is all appreciated -- dimes and quarters, a dollar or two or even more -- whatever you send, thank you! Just as a guide, I sell my stories based on word count: 25 cents or so for a solo short story, $1 for 15,000-word collections and $3 for 45,000+ word novels and collections.

You can also contribute by snail mail:

Bill Smith Books
PO Box 124
Malone, NY 12953

Thank you for your support!

GET MY FREE NEWSLETTER: Email: bill@billsmithbooks.com and type "subscribe" to get my email newsletter. Each issue of my newsletter includes news and previews of upcoming Outlaw Galaxy books.

Read my newsletter (and past issues) at www.BillSmithBooks.com/newsletter.htm.

Outlaw Galaxy Books

Get the newest Outlaw Galaxy books and stories at BillSmithBooks.com. Outlaw Galaxy books are also available at all fine ebook vendors including Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, Nook.com, and Kobo.com.

Contact Bill Smith

I love to hear from my readers, so please feel free to drop me a line:

Email comments & questions: bill@billsmithbooks.com

You can also contact me by regular mail:

Bill Smith Books
PO Box 124
Malone, NY 12953

Copyright Notice: BillSmithBooks, Outlaw Galaxy, Outlaw Galaxy Tales and Imagination Forge are trademarks of Bill Smith. Copyright 1998-2013 by Bill Smith. Please respect my copyright. Please don't copy, post on torrents or otherwise duplicate my stories without my express permission. Copyright infringement makes me sad.