Bridling Fire:10Mature

I was completely confused.  Where the hell had Gage come from?  I didn't stop to ponder, however; Momentum finally charged into a gallop, which I slowed a little as we raced through the street market so that I could grab what I needed.  Felix was not far behind, reaching for whatever I missed or didn't think to grab.

It ended up being a very successful raid.  After everything that happened when we got back, Felix and I learned that Alex had found serious updates for his map, and a few of us had gotten lucky enough to stumble upon a truck that delivered medical supplies to the hospitals in the city.  Also, a lot of new weapons were acquired; Rowan got a new gun and bullets from God knows where, someone picked up bows, strings and arrows, and a bundle of feathers was snagged for Jacie.  Also, I grabbed a fancy compass from one of the stalls that now hangs from a chain around my neck.

But a lot of things had to happen before we found out the extent of our good fortune.

First, as I whistled for the team to group back, I found out that there were a LOT more riders jumping out of the city that had jumped in.  The number had more than doubled, and Momo paced around with uncertainty near the fence as I tried to distinguish who was on my team and who wasn't.

Finally I spotted Rae on a white dappled pony leaping the fence after Gage on his buckskin.  I charged up on Momentum as they landed, pacing furiously in front of them.

"What the hell was that?!" I burst out at them.  I couldn't tell if Rae was frightened or not, but Gage looked amused, which angered me further.  "Why the hell were you in that city when we were?  Don't tell me that was a coincidence, because it wasn't.  Are you following us or something?"

"Yes," said Gage simply.  Momentum gave a little buck as he sensed the levels of my anger.  I tried to calm down a bit, but I knew that was useless.  Instead, I pulled up next to Gage and thrust my face at his.

"Why?" I hissed.

"Because you're the best."

That halted me in my tracks.  This guy just seemed full of surprises, didn't he?

"What?" I said.  Behind me, my Riders and Gage's stood glowering at each other.  My team was outnumbered, but we were also probably more likely to win if it came to a fight.

"You're the best," echoed Rae.  I blinked.  Okay, coming from Gage it was kind of unexpected, but from his sister it just didn't feel right.

"Elaborate, please," said Felix from behind me.  

"Don't you guys ever listen to rumors?"  It was that buff guy from the other day, the one Darren and Ace had had to team up on.  He made a funny sight; while he wasn't totally bulky, he was still pretty big, and he sat a shaggy little red Highland pony who probably stood a good few inches shorter than Momentum.

Kylar piped in.  "Hell no.  We don't converse with civilization," he growled.

Gage dismounted.  "That's probably not a good idea.  Don't you want to have sources on the inside?"

I dismounted as well.  I was almost as tall as him, anyway.  "We raid to survive," I said.  "We're not out to crush the Authority.  It's just fun to annoy them sometimes."

"Well, you should start keeping up.  They're planning on doing something about the Riders."  Rae was also on her feet.  Kylar and Felix dropped down as well from somewhere behind me.

"Yeah?" said Felix.  "And how are they going to go about doing that?"

"They'd kind of have to catch us first," I said, trying not to laugh.  "And anyway, why are they taking action now?  I thought they didn't notice us."

"They don't like us - well, they don't like you, because you're ninjas on horseback and we're still amateurs - because the city people are starting to see you as a beacon of hope."  Gage was leaning casually against Amulet.

I raised my eyebrows.  Well, it would explain the lack of fear in the people we just robbed.  "Do tell."

"Not here," he said.  He looked at Felix and Kylar, then at me, then swept his gaze at all of the riders that were clustered near the fence.  "We're too close to the city.  There are still some bad pairs of ears in these places, you know."

I narrowed my eyes at him suspiciously.  "Yeah, okay," I said, swinging back up.  The others who had dismounted followed my movements.  "We haven't made camp yet, so we'll just grab the stuff we dropped and find someplace to go."

After finding the stuff we'd dropped, Alex rode up next to me with Kylar and Felix close behind.  "Do you think we can trust them?" he said.

"It's not a matter of trust," I said.  "It's a matter of information that won't kill us if it's false."

Felix looked sort of convinced; Kylar seemed fine, and Alex seemed a little bit reassured but still suspicious.  

"Yeah, makes sense," he said, probably deciding that whatever they told us probably was not going to change much.  I nodded, and the discussion turned to where we would make camp.

"I vote near the beach," said Kylar.  "It's open enough that we would know if anyone was listening.  I don't even know why it's so important that no one overhears, but that's my idea."

"That's a good idea," said Felix.  Alex and I nodded.

"Alright, beach," I said.  "Always wanted to discuss top-secret stuff while riding through the waves with a romantic sunset overhead."

"I thought you wanted the romance excluded," said Alex.

"Oh yeah.  Okay then, just a pretty sunset."

We picked up the pace a little and trotted for maybe twenty minutes before hitting the sand.  I immediately discovered that Momo was terrified of the water, as he gave a shrill whinny as soon as his hoves reached the wet sand where the tide was out.  I sighed and nudged him back to the group, which was clustered in two blobs up on the sugary white sand.

Gage's group was definitely bigger than mine, with maybe close to twenty riders.  I wasn't even sure if Gage was the leader of that group; I guess he just sort of struck me as the leader type.  Or maybe I called it Gage's group because his was the only other name that I knew beside Rae's.  

As I merged with the group again, I saw riders on the sand dunes laying out canvases to sit on, but not setting up tents.  Of course, the canvase was the same color as the sand, so it didn't really matter.  I gave the order to set up camp, and my Riders started pitching tents.  I little ways away, Gage's group began doing the same.  
I took my tent over to where Felix was talking with Gage and Rae.  Kylar was close by.

"Let's set up one big tent," I said.  "It'll be better to talk inside, and I don't want us to squish into one little tent."
So we combined my tent and Felix's, and Gage contributed his canvase roll which wasn't really a tent but helped anyway.  The result was a six-foot high cylander with about as much room as a slightly smaller-than-average bedroom, or a large closet.  It wasn't actually too bad, and I had room to stand up and pace.

"So, start from the beginning," I ordered as we all sat down on the tarp-that-qualified-as-a-floor.

Gage explained, and I sat becoming more and more impressed with myself as he talked on.  Kylar, who was sitting outside and watching for unwanted listeners, every once in a while contributed a "wow, we're awesome" or "holy crap, I never knew people could think of their robbers that way."

When he finished it had started to rain, so I told Kylar to send someone out to set up a run-in for the horses.  Riders from Gage's team must have helped too, because I later went out and saw a variety of tarps set up together in a row with nearly thirty horses died beneath them.

"Well," I said at last.  "That changes a lot, actually."

Pretty much everything we had thought about the city people was either wrong or changing or already changed.  People, for some reason, saw that in the Riders was the possibility of freedom from the Authority.  Even cities like the one we had last raided, who were pretty much buddy-buddy with the Authority, thought we were pretty cool.  I had no idea how, but for some reason people saw us as a reason to hope.  And because of that, the Authority felt they needed to step in and change around some variables of the equation.  

"I always thought we were seen as, like, demons or something by the city people," I said.  "And then as mosquitos or fruit flies by the Authority."

"It was like that for a while," said Gage.  "Think of it this way: you know how bee stings help with arthritis?"  We all nodded, a little confused as to what he was getting at.  "Well, people are afraid of bees until they figure out they can help them.  The Authority is obliged to send a compensation to the cities you raid, by the way.  Anywho, people are going to be afraid of bees and the people who make medication for arthritis aren't going to care about them.  Then, when people find out that bees are good for them, they're going to start liking the bees even though they hurt.  How do the medication people feel then, huh?  The Authority didn't care about you guys because you didn't affect them.  But now that city people find hope in you, they stop finding hope in the Authority, and that's when the Authority is in trouble.  Basically, you're a serious problem to them just by existing."

It made sense, I guess.  "What exactly are the city people doing that's pissing off the Authority?  They can think what they want, can't they?"

"They can't, actually," said Rae, who had joined us during Gage's bumble bee example.  "But that's not what's pissing off the Authority, anyway.  City people everywhere, teenagers especially, are starting to leave the fences in the hopes that they might see some Riders.  What do you think our team's made up of?"

Wow.  Okay.  "Uhm, that's a little... Unnerving."

"I know," said Rae.  "And our group's grown too fast to even be able to see the level of our skills, which probably isn't very high.  We were actually hoping to stumble across you to maybe learn a bit about how you guys tick."  She paused.  "Sorry about the fight, by the way.  My temper got the best of me and hadn't actually realized that it was really you."

I gave her a funny look.  "Yeah, okay.  Same here.  I probably should have just called a truce right there, since we both had groups of rebels.  Would have made things a lot less complicated."

Definitely a lot less complicated.  Throughout the entire discussion, I had avoided the gazes of both Felix and

"So... We're teaming up, I take it?" said Felix after a somewhat awkward pause.

"If you think it's a good idea," said Gage while Rae nodded.

"Well, alright then," I said.  "I'm in.  How many riders do you have?" I asked Rae.

"Nineteen, not including Gage and I."

"Wow," I said.  More than I thought.  "Well, then, the Riders now have thirty-two members and probably will continue to grow."  

"I feel as if you guys should shake on it or something," said Kylar from where he was sitting by the entrance.  

"Makes it more official, you know."

Gage held out his hand to me, and Rae held hers to Felix.  For good measure, I spit in my palm before Gage could protest.  He gave me an amused look, spit on his hand and then shook mine.  I was a tad disappointed, but I did feel pretty awesome when Felix and Rae spit in their hands too.  After probably more hand-shaking than was necessary, we all stood up.

It was still drizzling a little bit when we left, and showed no sign of stopping as Felix and I took down the tent and gave Gage back his canvas.

"Is that enough to set up a tent?" asked Felix.

Gage nodded.  "Yeah, I just don't know how to do it."

I almost laughed but ended up keeping it only an ill-concealed snort.  "Sorry," I said.  "Kylar, show him how to set up his tent."

Kylar stood up from where he was sitting, weaving beach grass together in a miniature basket.  "You don't know how to set up a tent?" he asked.

Gage laughed and held up his canvas.  "Nope.  Neither does anyone else on my team.  You'd think at least one out of twenty teenagers would know how to set up a tent, right?"

I left Gage and Kylar to host some tent-building lesson and went with Felix to set up our tents.  

"Probably a good idea to sleep in our own tents tonight," I said.  

"I was thinking that.  You're so comfortable, though."

"Hey, we can always nap on the sand together."  I shoved his shoulder with a laugh.  Yeah, I would miss sleeping curled up next to him, but it really wasn't that big of a deal.  Our tents were right next to each other, after all.

He laughed.  "True."

My tent set up, I stepped in to lay out the tarp on the wet sand and then unroll my sleeping bag over that.  With the rain battering my tent walls, I was asleep in no time, curled up under my cloak-blanket thing and Felix's hoodie.

I woke up early the next morning, while it was still dark.  When I left my tent the tide was in, the water lapping maybe ten yards out from where the tents started.  It had stopped raining and a lazy mist danced low over the laughing waves.

Other than the ocean noises, it was silent.

I walked over to the horses.  There were, as I officially learned yesterday, over thirty of them, each with a rider.  That meant that now, not necessarily by myself, I had over sixty lives to be responsible for.  I mean, twenty two was still a significant number, but it was okay.  But...sixty?  I was going to earn a lot of gray hairs in a very short time, unfortunately.

The End

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