"Go," Gabriel shouted, and he fired once more into the pack of men racing toward them. It was his last bullet and it found its mark, dropping a burly Magyar in a fringed vest before the man could take Gabriel’s head off with a two-handed swing of his sword. The curved blade fell from the man’s hand as he spun and collapsed; it slid along the stone floor until Gabriel stopped it with his foot. A scimitar, three feet from hilt to point if it was an inch, the steel tarnished but still deadly enough. Gabriel transferred his Colt to his left hand and scooped the sword up with his right. Unless they’d kept count, they didn’t know the gun was out of bullets, so keeping it in view might still do some good.

"Go," he said again, shooting a glance over his shoulder toward the stone wall where Sheba crouched, clutching the shreds of her dress to her chest. "Now!"

"I can’t just leave you—"

"I’ll be right behind you."

"There are too many for you to fight alone!"

There were. But having to keep an eye on Sheba didn’t make things any easier. Gabriel feinted with the sword, then smashed it broadside against the face of a squat, muscular man who’d stepped forward in an aikido stance. He planted a boot in the man’s midsection and shoved, toppling him backwards into one of his cohorts.

Gabriel took two rapid steps back, felt the stone of the low wall against his legs. Sheba was beside him. She’d made the mistake of glancing down and now looked terrified.

"Just grab hold and keep your eyes closed," Gabriel said.

With trembling hands she reached up for the shuttle locked onto the metal cable overhead. The inch-wide metal strand descended at a steep angle from the turret above them to the treeline far below. She slid one wrist through each of the padded loops and took hold of the handgrips, releasing the lock. "Please," she whispered, "be care—"

Gabriel shoved her off the wall. Her screams echoed as gravity pulled her down along the cable, loud at first, then quieter and quieter still. In the distance they heard branches crack and foliage cushion a fall.

He smiled at the two men in front of him and the three more behind them. "All right now, boys, no one else needs to die. She’s gone. You can’t bring her back."

"On the contrary," came a voice from behind the pack of men, and then Gabriel heard the uneven triplets of Lajos DeGroet’s step: slap, slap, click; slap, slap, click. The men parted to either side as the point of DeGroet’s iron walking stick appeared between them. "We can and we will. This is no more than a temporary setback."

Gabriel leveled the Colt at DeGroet as the man limped forward. "You might as well put that away, Hunt, unless you plan to throw it at me. I know it’s empty."

"How do you know that?" Gabriel said.

"Because you haven’t shot me with it yet."

Gabriel considered that for a moment, then returned the gun to his holster, snapped it shut. He kept the scimitar raised and ready to strike—but he didn’t swing it. He had some skill with a blade, could even wield an unfamiliar one like this one with some hope of success, but only a fool would try to attack Lajos DeGroet with a sword. A suicidal fool.

"And how, Mr. Hunt, were you proposing to follow your young friend? I do not see a second shuttle on the line anywhere, and if you tried it bare-handed, your palms would be shredded within ten yards."

Without looking behind him, Gabriel climbed up onto the wall, edged over to where the cable ran. His feet were steady, but he was conscious of being only one accidental step away from a three hundred foot plunge. The wind whipped teasingly at his clothes, as though eager to sweep him over the edge.

With his free hand, he unlatched his belt buckle and yanked the belt free. He slung it over the cable, caught the free end as it dropped toward his hand.

"I see," DeGroet said. "Yes. Well. That might work, Mr. Hunt, I suppose, depending on what that belt of yours is made out of. But before you attempt it, you might want to look up."

"Why?" Gabriel said, looking up. He saw a man run up to the edge of the turret, holding in each hand one arm of a gigantic pair of diagonal cutters. He positioned its open blades on either side of the cable.

"Akarja hogy most csináljam uram?" the man called, and DeGroet nodded. The blades came together with a snap like the closing of an alligator’s jaws. Gabriel let go of his belt just before the end of the cable came snaking past and whipped out into the distance. They could all hear it whistling as it fell and ringing each time it struck the rock face on the way down.

"Now," DeGroet said, "you will put down that weapon and get off the wall and turn yourself over to Mr. Molnar’s custody." A bald, round-faced man stared viciously at him and cracked the knuckles on one hand with his other. "I don’t promise that he’ll treat you gently; you did just kill his brother, after all. But I promise you’ll live. You’re no use to me dead."

"What makes you think I’ll be useful to you alive?" Gabriel said.

"You really don’t have a choice, do you?" DeGroet said. He pointed to either side of him with his stick. The five men around him came in closer. Gabriel looked from man to man, from face to face. Molnar’s showed the fiercest emotion, but all of them looked as though they’d be glad to tear him limb from limb.

"That’s where you’re wrong, Lajos," Gabriel said. "There’s always another choice." He let the scimitar drop, turned, and hurled himself into space.

Copyright © 2009 by Winterfall LLC.

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