They were but a few hundred paces from the tunnel through which they had entered the temple when the outcry began.
The voices of shouting guards could be heard, and the slap of sandaled feet on the hard stone floor grew louder.
The little man swore as he ran.
“Gods damn it. They probably found the dead guard.”
One last turn in the passageway, and they would find the tunnel and their way out of the pyramid.
A warrior screamed out in pain, a spear transfixing his thigh. He collapsed to the ground, blood rushing from the wound in his thigh.
“Eirin.” There was concern in the leader’s voice as he bent over the injured man.
“It’s bad, Captain.”
With a glance, the leader saw the artery on the inside of the leg had been sliced through. The man would bleed out in minutes.
“Leave me be. I’ll hold them off.”
A moment’s indecision was all it took.
“Gods be with you, Eirin.”
The leader grasped the wounded warrior’s forearm, his final farewell.
The last thing he saw as he rounded the corner was the bleeding man rip the spear from his leg. The man turned its sharpened edge on the guards that surrounded him. An honorable death.
The escape was well under way, with half of the party already crawling through the tunnels. Just a handful remained, and they were entering the hole as quickly as they could. Still, he wouldn’t breathe easy until they were completely out of the pyramid, out of the city, and out of the Gods damned jungle.
When finally only one other warrior remained beside him, he felt elation rise within him. We’ll make it. He motioned for the other man to enter the tunnel ahead of him.
That was when the group of guards rounded the corner.. Their war cries echoed loudly in the stone corridors, and they charged towards the lone figure standing in the middle of an empty passageway—a figure dressed in the robes of their ancient enemies
His orders had been clear. “You are Tepaneca warriors, carrying their weapons and wearing their clothes. No one can know who you really are. Kill all in your path.”
He squared his shoulders, his face set like flint as he stepped forward to meet the oncoming savages.
One guard made the mistake of being the first to reach him, and a crushed throat was his reward. The next guard received a bone-shattering blow from the blunt end of the Atlantean’s spear, and he fell screaming to the ground—clutching at his useless knee. A quick thrust from the spear’s blade opened the vein in his neck.
This was Captain of the legendary Nightstalkers, and the poorly trained, pitifully armed natives in front of him stood no chance. He was merciless, implacable.
A quick slice of the spear hamstrung the one nearest him, and a sharp blow from the spear’s butt shattered the collarbone of a second temple guard.
He slipped out of the path of a wild swing aimed at his head, and slammed the point deep into the eye of an attacker. A hard chop to the base of another guard’s neck caused him to flop limply to the floor—spinal cord severed.
The remaining guards saw only death in the eyes of their attacker, and they tried desperately to retreat. Their wails were cut short as the Captain’s spear mowed them down like a scythe through wheat, and within moments he stood alone in the passageway.
A noise from behind him caused him to whirl around. The wounded warrior—Eirin—barely stood, leaning on the broken spear for support.
It was all the heavily bleeding warrior could say—every ounce of his effort was focused on staying upright.
“Get in there. I’ll make sure the passage is closed.”
The Captain nodded, allowing the dying man his final wish.
When he emerged from the other side of the tunnel, he knew the warrior had bled out in the tight passageway. His lifeless body filled the small tunnel, preventing any from following—a soldier’s last contribution to his commander.
He panted a prayer as he navigated the halls of the massive mansion.
Gods grant that the others have escaped.
He saw no signs of their passing, and he hoped they had escaped the city undetected. If his luck held as well, he could melt into the jungle to find his unit.
He was armed with nothing more than his short bow and a handful of arrows. The spear had been left in the heart of the final guard to fall beneath his onslaught. It will have to be enough.
His feet felt leaden as he ran through the city towards the gate leading to freedom. His group had been traveling for days, sleeping on their feet and pushing their bodies as hard as humanly possible. They had had to reach the captives in time to prevent their being sacrificed, and even so, they had only just managed to make it in time.
But days of marching with no sleep were catching up to him, and he felt his strength flagging. Water was scarce around the city—every creek, river, and stream had been channeled to irrigate the crops grown by the Mexica. His muscles ached, and the sweat streaming down his body had begun to wash away the dye.
He was panting now, succumbing to the fatigue resulting from nowhere near enough sleep, food, or water.
The arrow that ripped by his head forced him to push himself even harder. The gate lay open in front of him, and he sprinted for the opening—missiles flying around him.
A lucky arrow slammed into the shoulder of the fleeing man, eliciting a growl of pain and bringing a sudden clarity to his fatigue-numbed mind.
Only one warrior stood between him and freedom. One very large warrior, carrying a very large club. One brave warrior that wanted to make a name for himself.
The bravery of the guard earned him an arrow in the gut, and a second one slammed into his paunch a moment later.
The sprinting figure barely slowed as he leapt over the slumping guard and raced through the gate towards the edge of the jungle. The pain in his shoulder was spreading, and he felt every ache and pain as he ran.
The jungle loomed, and he pushed into the thick foliage ahead. Not caring where he ran and unable to navigate through the dense vegetation, he forced himself to keep running in the one direction he knew: away from the city.
He could find his unit once he had escaped. It would be easy to–
His head snapped back as it collided with a thick tree branch, sending him sprawling to the floor. He tried to fight for consciousness, but the exhaustion, wounds, and lack of nourishment pushed him deeper into the haze.
The comforting embrace of unconsciousness claimed the captain.