It was mid-afternoon when Terrence stepped back out of the tent and back into the marketplace of Nutooka. He paid no attention to words of goodbye from Oyunbileg. As it always did afterwards, the color seemed to have drained out of the world and it now looked as monochrome as a picture from a photographic plate. And just as they always did afterwards, sounds seemed far more intense than usual, and he felt as though he could pick out individual voices from among the crowd of native merchants and their customers. He pulled off his slouch hat to mop the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, and then started as two women brushed past him. They were two women from the Minotaur, and seemed too engrossed in their conversation to notice him.
He recognized both of them. One was Professor Calliere’s red-haired assistant. The other was a dark-haired woman, about two inches taller and thirty pounds heavier, who was a female medical doctor. Her name was something that started with a ‘k’ sound—Cleves or Keeves or something. Terrence stood and admired both women as they walked near the edge of the stall selling bolts of cloth in many colors. Both were women of class: dynamic, intelligent, determined. They were both the kind of women that he could have seen himself courting, in another life.
He was still watching the two women when the sounds of a great kafuffle somewhere on the other side of the market reached his ears. No sooner had this registered than seven or eight mounted men rode into the market near the two women from the Minotaur. These riders were dressed in various clothing of tan, brown, and white, but each had a red sash wrapped around his waist, and each wore a red hood completely covering his face, with only two holes cut out through which to see. The most remarkable thing about these mounted men though, wasn’t the men themselves, but their mounts. Terrence knew that horses were unavailable on Enclep, but it was still a shock to see riders upon huge, ferocious-looking birds. The birds were as tall as a horse, though unlike that noble steed, they ran on only two massive legs, and had tiny useless wings. Their clawed feet were almost two feet across and the massive beaks upon their mammoth heads looked as though it could easily clip off a man’s arm, or disembowel him in a moment. They were mostly covered with brown feathers, though there were black and white details on some of them. The men had them saddled, and though they squawked incessantly, they seemed to be under firm control.
One of the men on bird-back, reached down and scooped up Professor Calliere’s assistant as though she were a shapely bag of wheat. Another grabbed the female medical doctor. Still another grabbed a native woman from nearby. Two or three had already appropriated women from somewhere else in the market and two more tried to grab nearby native women only to be thwarted by their intended victims diving behind market stalls. The entire flock of riders raced to escape the market and the city, which led them down the path directly toward Terrence Dechantagne.
With one deft motion, Terrence pulled both his nickel-plated .45 revolvers from their shoulder holsters. He fired first one and then the other in rapid succession emptying all twelve cylinders. The first rider fell to the ground, hit several times, as did the great bird that he had ridden. The second rider, shot through the neck, tumbled to the ground. The woman that had been his captive plopped unceremoniously onto the dirt. The rest of the riders turned their birds, in a way that would have been impossible in the confined area had they been riding horses, and headed for the far side of the pathway between stalls, leaving their dead fellows and a single noisy giant bird behind.
Quickly popping the cylinders of his revolvers open and reloading them, Terrence barely noticed the short redhead at his side. He tasted the metallic cloud of gunpowder smoke that hung in the humid air. By the time he had finished reloading the guns though, the mounted men had turned the corner and vanished, and he had time to take notice that it was the professor’s assistant whom he had rescued from the second rider.
“Are you all right, Miss?
“Lusk, Egeria Lusk. You’re going after them,” she said. It was more a command than a question.