As promised, here’ the second of two excerpts I’ll be sharing from Heroes of the Empire this month (for a third, exclusive one, join my mailing list!). In this one, Rossum witnesses how far the Emperor will go to hold on to power.
Rossum kept his eyes on the soldiers behind the barricade, the ones who now had their rifles in their hands. Some clutched at them so tightly, their knuckles were turning white. Rossum knew that look, that pose. They were frightened, getting into something they weren’t ready for.
The soldier on the barricade yelled something again, but even with the bullhorn it was drowned out by the crowd. He flung the bullhorn to the ground and went to his belt, reaching for his pistol.
Before he could unholster the gun, a bottle flew out of the crowd. It smashed against the barricade just at the soldier’s feet, shattering into pieces. The soldier threw up his hands to cover his face, lost his balance, and fell backward off the barricade. The crowd roared a cheer of approval that gave way to laughter.
Rossum didn’t think it was funny. These outnumbered, nervous soldiers had seen one of their leaders humiliated and possibly hurt. There needed to be de-escalation of the situation, not the pouring of more coals on the fire. He started to look for the best way out of here, off the stoop and down the street to safety.
The soldiers behind the barricade were looking for guidance. Their eyes flitted from each other to the lieutenant, who had yet to say or do anything. After a long moment, he drew a sword and climbed over the barricade. About half the troops did the same.
“Go home!” the lieutenant yelled, waving his sword. “This needs to stop!”
“We are home!” someone yelled from the front of the crowd. It moved back a few steps as the soldiers advanced, but resumed the chanting. “Our street! Our homes!”
Rossum knew the lieutenant had made a mistake. Even with bayonets, the troops were hopelessly outnumbered by the crowd. It was only the threat of gunfire, with the soldiers safe behind the barricade, that was keeping things somewhat calm.
The soldiers and the crowd had now realized the situation. After retreating a few steps, the chanting crowd started to inch forward again, back toward the barricade. The soldiers stood their ground for a moment before they started shuffling backward toward the barricade. Members of the crowd had started to pick up rocks, bottles, or any other items they could lay their hands on.
The strange, slow dance continued until what Rossum had thought inevitable happened.
One of the soldiers, sliding back on his feet, backed up until he ran into the barricade. He lost his balance and, without thought, pulled his trigger. Thanks to his falling backward, the shot fired harmlessly over the crowd’s head, but it didn’t matter.
Rocks, bottles, and other projectiles flew out of the crowd toward the soldiers. None found any particular target, but it prompted the lieutenant to start barking orders. In rapid fashion the soldiers still behind the barricade raised their rifles and fired into the air.
The ragged report of gunfire caused the crowd to stop, but only briefly. Another salvo of rocks emerged and the mass of humanity surged forward, sending the front rank of soldiers finally scrambling back over the barricades.
Rossum surveyed the block again. If he could get into the crowd and make it through to the other side, he could slip down an alley. He didn’t know where it went, but it would provide better cover if the troops started shooting. He could feel in his gut that they were going to.
He stepped off the stoop, down the street, and plunged into the crowd. He began to pick his way across, fighting the flow of the human stream like a salmon heading home to spawn. He brushed past two people, touching them, but neither seemed to notice. They were too busy chanting and pushing toward the barricade. Then he ran straight into someone without looking, knocking the other person down.
Rossum stopped and extended a hand to help the young man back up. His eyes went wide when he saw the man’s face. “Moth?”
“Rossum?” Moth said, grinning as he got back to his feet. “You’re one of us? I knew it!”
“Look, you need to get out of here,” Rossum said.
“No way,” Moth said, shaking his head. “We need to stand up to these animals. We have to show them that we won’t be frightened.” Moth’s voice started to waver just a bit, like he was trying to convince himself.
“You should be frightened,” Rossum said, nerves on edge as he listened for the next volley. “They’re going to start killing people.”
Heroes of the Empire – Out June 7. Preorders available here for Kindle and here for other ebook formats.