Authors: Daleen Viljoen
For my husband, Willie, and children,
Zoey, Cules and Hercus who gave me the courage to follow my dream.
I was mesmerized.
The rebel fighters overpowered the soldiers of the
Guard in less than five minutes. I had never seen such fluidity, or recognize
the moves they so effortlessly executed.
The scorching sand burnt my stomach and I shifted
uncomfortably. A vulture circled the azure sky above and scrutinized me with
beady eyes, determining if I was alive or dead. It landed gracefully a few feet
from me and hopped closer to get a better look at what would hopefully be its
lunch. I groaned inwardly – so much for trying to be invisible. The vulture dug
its talons into the sand and swung its hooked bill, which could tear the flesh
from my bones, from side to side, extending its long and slender neck. They
hunted in groups and more would be on their way. Annoyed,
I grabbed a fistful of sand and hurled it at the vulture. It
spread its wings and rose effortlessly into the sky, climbing the thermals and
disappearing from sight. I wouldn’t become its free meal today.
This was a bad idea - a really bad idea. Maybe even
one of the worst plans I’ve ever had.
The sharp crest of windblown sand looked down on the
dirt road. I was near enough to get a clear view of the action below, but also
close enough for the rebels to notice me if they glanced in my direction. It
would be my funeral today if they caught me spying on them. They had a
reputation as ruthless fighters and brutal killers. Only the Scavengers,
roaming these wastelands, were more dangerous than them.
Robert was a fool if he believed the rebels didn’t
pose a threat to Palasium. He was positive the Vandelrizi would protect him and
his precious city. He refused to see the danger right in front of him. The
rebel attacks had become more frequent and well-organized; mainly targeting the
supply trucks travelling between the cities of Cyrius and Palasium. Nothing
stopped them from breaching the city walls of Palasium next. They were so bold
in their attacks that the Vandelrizi, who were rarely interested in the daily
activities of the cities, had become aware of the situation and Robert had a
lot of explaining to do. If he wanted to prove to the Vandelrizi that he was
the right choice as Prime Minister of Palasium, he had to act soon. The rebels
needed to be stopped, though truthfully I wouldn’t mind if they destroyed the
cities and the horrors hidden behind their walls.
The rebels dragged the bodies of the soldiers to the
side of the road, flopping them down on the sand like rag dolls. I cringed. I
couldn’t tell if they were dead or alive. Some of them were barely older than me,
eighteen and nineteen year old boys who had no idea what they signed up for. I knew
most of them. The chances were good they had been assigned the unfortunate task
of guarding me at one time or the other in the past. I was after all the Prime
One of the rebels waved his hands in the air. Even
from here I could distinguish his black clad figure from the rest. He was
nearly a head taller than the others, moving with supple grace as he dished out
orders. I couldn’t hear what he was saying and there wasn’t a chance in hell I
was going to drag my sunburnt body over the scorching sand to get closer. I was
already risking too much by just being here. Besides, it wasn’t the first time
I was spying on them. I knew what exactly what they were planning.
Three trucks travelled from Cyrius, two carried
soldiers from the cities and the middle one was stacked with supplies meant to
be delivered to Palasium. From here the rebels would travel north across the
desert until they reached the jungle. The supply truck would swerve into the
jungle and the other two would carry on through the desert. All three trucks
would disappear, never reaching Palasium and nobody would be any wiser to what
happened to them. I assumed the rebel base must be somewhere close to the
jungle or even hidden in its treacherous depths.
Not that I cared. Finding their headquarters was not
on my to-do list, I had other, far more important plans.
The rebels piled into the brown military trucks,
remnants of a previous era of earth’s history. The tall black-clad rebel heaved
himself behind the wheel of the supply truck in the middle. Great, only one rebel
I could handle. This was going to be easier than I hoped.
Except that he moved like a Greek god on steroids. This
rebel was more than capable of defending himself. Of course the irritating little
voice inside my head had to butt in, reminding me I was only a seventeen-year-old
girl thinking of taking on a hardened rebel fighter.
The trucks’ engines roared to life and I rolled onto
my back, shielding my eyes with one hand from the glaring sun. It was past noon
and the cankerous heat seared my lungs. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. A slight
breeze stirred the arid air and then it disappeared like an ice cube melting on
a hot oven plate, evaporating into thin air as if it had never even existed.
“You have a choice Lexie Miller. Get up and kick
some rebel butt or go home.” The sound of my voice was drowned by the roar of
the trucks, but I got the message of my little pep talk. Loud and clear. This
was it. I had to choose today if I was a coward or not. I scrambled to my feet
I sprinted across the
of sand, my calve muscles protesting painfully. My boots sank into the sand,
making it near impossible to run. Everything depended on me getting to the
jungle before the supply truck did. The sand chafed my sunburnt legs, scraping
my tender skin like sandpaper. I was wearing a pair of denim shorts. Another
bad idea. The white cotton tunics of Palasium would’ve been cooler and a lot more
comfortable in the overwhelming heat, but I couldn’t risk anyone recognizing
me. Too much was at stake. There was only one thing more valuable than supplies
in the desert and that was the daughter of Robert Miller. If any of the
soldiers of the Palasium Guard found me roaming around outside the city walls…the
Vandelrizi would kill me. They didn’t tolerate insubordination, especially not
from the Prime Minister’s only daughter.
In these ordinary clothes I could easily be mistaken
for one of the rebels or maybe even a Scavenger, not an inhabitant of the city.
Maybe I wouldn’t go that far – the Scavengers were filthy and looked more like
the homeless people Mom and I used to see sitting on the street corners begging
for change when I was a little girl, except here they were not begging but
taking what they wanted with brute force.
My heart raced. The edge of the jungle materialized
in front of me in chromatic contrast to the desert. I wondered many times if
this bizarre conflicting landscape was what the Vandelrizi home planet looked
like. They terraformed earth into vast stretches of desert, dark menacing
jungles and had thrown the occasional ocean into the mix. Did they need earth
to resemble their planet, Vargon, or was it fun for them to see how humankind
suffered while trying to adapt to this uninhabitable hellhole. We could only
guess as the Vandelrizi did not share their plans with humans. They viewed us
as lower life forms – the vermin of this planet and they were the
I rested my hands on my knees, trying to catch my
breath. A faint rumbling advanced across the dunes. I made it with minutes to spare.
I ran my hand disgustedly over my filthy clothes. No matter how hard I tried to
wipe the sand from my shorts, it stuck to me like Velcro. I tucked my shirt
over my head and shoved it into my backpack, leaving me in a navy tank top. It
was time for phase two of my plan.
I stepped inside the sinister darkness of the
jungle. Complete silence surrounded me, the kind of eerie quiet that you only
experienced in a crypt. Slowly the jungle came to life with the sounds of
harrowing grunts, sniffing nostrils and creatures that slinked and skulked
behind every bush. I swore I could feel the glowing eyes of many terrifying
predators following my every move. In these jungles hid animals of your worst
nightmares and I was an easy kill. The Vandelrizi brought them from Vargon to
inhabit and multiply in the jungles. These creatures were ferocious hunters and
had meticulously killed most of the indigenous animals, driving them to
I tried in vain to steady my uneven breathing. Animals
smelled fear and I was sure the pounding of my heart was like thunder in their
ears. I navigated my way through the dense undergrowth, stepping over rocky
outcroppings. The dense canopy of leaves above me blocked the sun and provided much
needed shelter. It also turned the jungle into a dark ominous deathtrap. It was
as if the entire jungle came to a standstill and listened to me stomping
through its territory. Twisting ropes of vine choked tree trunks and I heard a hiss
as I slipped on a patch of rotting leaves. Impenetrable poisonous plants
surrounded me and I was careful not to touch anything. The smell of death was
suspended in the humid air. This place gave me the creeps and I would be more
than happy to never set a foot inside it again after today.
I gave a sigh of relief. The canopy of leaves thinned,
allowing faint rays of sunshine to filter through and revealing the narrow road
twisting through the jungle. It took me several days of searching to discover
the narrow path the trucks used in the dense jungle. It was just wide enough
for a truck to drive on and if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you
wouldn’t even notice the tire tracks in the moist soil. I dropped my backpack
next to a moss covered tree and zipped it open. Beneath my crumpled shirt I
found what I was looking for. I pried the gun from my backpack; it rested cold
and heavy in my hand. I could now add thief to my list of sins. Hopefully
Robert wouldn’t miss the gun I took from the desk in his study. I had never
used one before. The glinting black metal mocked the determination in me. How
difficult could it be? Aim and pull the trigger. I could do this.
The low rumbling of the truck reached the jungle. Wings
fluttered above me as hundreds of birds took flight to escape the unknown
threat. Various animals shrieked in protest to the invasion of their home. I
knew how they felt – my home was invaded too by creatures from a distant
planet, but for us escaping was impossible. We were trapped on earth.
I waited until the truck was nearly next to me,
appearing through the glistening foliage. Inhaling deeply, I stepped into the
middle of the road, in the path of the oncoming vehicle. I kept my right hand,
clasping the gun, behind my back. There was no turning back now. He had two
choices – he could stop or run me over. I preferred stopping, the other option
would be a lot more painful.
He slammed the breaks, sending a spray of rocks and
soil from the wheels. The truck squealed to an abrupt stop, the grill mere inches
from my body. I felt like hurling. The truck door flew open and a pair of black
combat boots appeared, followed by long black clad legs. A narrow waist was
next, trailed by a tight fitting black t-shirt stretched over a broad muscled
chest. I swallowed hard - this wasn’t what I was expecting. Should rebels not
resemble scruffy looking pirates? They should be filthy or at least have
decaying teeth, not look like they stepped out of a magazine cover.
“Are you crazy?” he yelled at me as soon as he was
out of the cab of the truck. “I could’ve killed you!”
He was gorgeous and extremely angry. He ran a hand
through waves of chestnut hair spilling carelessly over his forehead, glowering
My insides turned to mush. I had to get a grip on myself,
really fast. I couldn’t let myself be distracted by his drool-worthy looks. He
was a rebel fighter and a murderer. I jerked my hand with the gun from behind
my back and aimed the barrel straight at his chest. The gun shook
uncontrollably and I steadied my arm with my other hand.
“Put your hands up!” My voice was thin and an octave
higher than usual and I bit my lower lip. “Don’t try anything or I will shoot!”
I stifled a groan. What a cliché! Couldn’t I think of anything more original to
His gaze lingered for a moment on my trembling
hands. He didn’t seem fazed at all, instead he crossed his arms over his chest
and his eyes swept very slowly over me, scrutinizing every small detail of my
body from head to toe. I felt naked under his intense stare and I flushed
“What’s a little girl doing all alone in the jungle?
Did nobody tell you it’s dangerous to be out here?” he asked, giving me a lazy
and very sexy smile. I wasn’t fooled. His body was tensed, ready to jump me at
“I’m not a little girl and I’m not alone. My people
have you surrounded and if you make one wrong move…” What then? My brain felt
like a bowl of sloppy porridge. “…and you’ll be done for.”
Really? Was that the best threat I could come up
with? I could’ve threatened him with disembowelment or severing limbs from his
body with a blunt knife. His muscled body was shaking, but not with fear. He was
laughing at me!
“Put your hands up!” I repeated irritated and more
determined to prove to him that he didn’t scare me.
This wasn’t going well. In a matter of minutes I
managed to look like a fool and I had my hostage laughing at me. I aimed the
barrel of the gun at an innocent looking fern-like plant and pulled the
trigger. The shot reverberated through the jungle and the force of it made me
stumble backward. I couldn’t believe I just did that. I hoped the plant was the
only thing I killed.
He lifted his hands in mock surrender. He was still
grinning and again his eyes wandered languorously over my trembling body. His
eyes settled on my heated face.
“Why would your people send a little girl to do their
dirty work?” He was seriously starting to grate on my nerves.
“I told you I’m not a little girl.” I slowly took a
step closer to him, knowing full well he could disarm me in one move. “Turn
around and place your hands on the truck.”
“You can ask nicely.” I gave an exasperated sigh. He
was taunting me.
. Or the next time I have
to ask, I’ll shoot you.” Sarcasm dripped from my voice.
He had another thing coming if he thought I would be
distracted so easily. He had no idea who he was dealing with. He hesitated for
a moment, obviously weighing his options and then swiveled toward the truck. The
muscles in his broad shoulders stretched tautly underneath his shirt and I shook
my head to clear it of any improper thoughts. Why on earth did I have to get
the good-looking rebel? I took another step, closing the distance between us. I
couldn’t see any guns but a sharp hunting knife was attached to the belt on his
hip. I took it and slid a hand over his back, searching for any concealed
weapons. Heat emanated through his shirt, setting the palm of my hand on fire.
“Usually girls buy me dinner first.”
“I’m sure you have thousands of admirers, but I’m
not one of them.” I threw the knife into the thick foliage next to the road. “Turn
It was a huge mistake. He turned and my face was mere
inches from his broad chest. The top of my head barely reached his shoulder. He
must be well over six feet tall, towering over me and it didn’t help that I was
a mere five foot two. His chest rose and fell with every breath that he took.
The fingers of my left hand strolled over his
stomach, clasping the gun firmly in my right. I secretly removed my finger from
the trigger of the gun. He didn’t need to know I wasn’t planning on using the
gun. I didn’t want to shoot anyone, especially him.
I only felt the hard muscles of his stomach. Two more
knives were strapped to his thigh. He definitely had a thing for sharp
objects. I pulled them from the straps and they joined their friend in the
foliage. My hand moved down his thigh, my heart pounding in my chest. I
couldn’t find any more weapons on him. I straightened, satisfied that he was
Tilting my head up, I nearly choked. His eyes were
the same color as melted chocolate, with small flecks of yellow, reminding me
of rays of sunshine. His parents made one beautiful baby. The smile on his
face disappeared, his eyes locked on mine. I couldn’t look away, no matter how
hard I tried. Something intense and primal passed between us, an inexplicable
connection, leaving me breathless. He suddenly reached forward and rubbed a
spot on my forehead with his thumb. I jerked away as if his hand was a snake.
“You have a little smudge on your head,” he said
smugly. I felt like hitting him or kissing him. My eyes moved involuntarily to
his extremely kissable lips. The unbearable heat was making me lose my mind.
I motioned with the gun to the tree where my backpack
lay. “Go to the tree and sit down with your hands behind your back.”
He leisurely strolled to the tree and sat down on
the moss covered ground, stretching his long legs in front of him. I exhaled
slowly in relief. My plan didn’t include an unwilling hostage. I grabbed my
backpack and sank to my knees behind him.
“You’re from Palasium?” he asked. I stopped breathing.
How did he guess I was from the city?
“I’m from nowhere.” Technically it wasn’t a lie. I
never felt like I belonged in Palasium and I wasn’t one of the rebels or a
Scavenger. I belonged nowhere. I seized the two pieces of rope from my backpack
and dropped the gun in the soft moss. I needed two hands to tie him up. I slid
the rope around his wrists.
“You don’t have to do this.” His voice wrapped
around me like velvet and I hesitated.
“I can ask you nicely to stay here and you will?” I
gave a short laugh. He must really think I’m stupid. Given the chance, he
would have my head on a stake.
“You don’t have to turn me in. We can come to some kind
of arrangement.” He peeked at me over his shoulder. He thought I was here to
capture him, and do what? Hand him over to my father or even worse, the
Vandelrizi, to be tried as a terrorist? I shuddered. He may be a dangerous
criminal, but a Palasium trial was equivalent to a death sentence. He would be tortured
and executed before nightfall. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy.
“I’m not turning you in,” I said softly.
“Then why’re you doing this?”
“Because you have something I need.” I tightened the
rope and made a knot. Next was his legs and I angled around him.
“Sounds interesting. What can I do for you?” My
heart sped up and very naughty thoughts entered my mind. Heat spread through my
body. My teenage hormones were running rampant from the moment he got out of
the truck. I had never met anyone that could affect me so deeply in a matter of