Sasha sat atop her horse, watching the storm crash over the canyonlands. Brilliant white lightning forked dark, heavy clouds as thunder boomed in a deep, crashing roar that resounded in her chest.

Beneath the ridge on which she and her men stood, the earth fell away into deep ravines that plunged sharply downward, carving massive gorges dozens of miles wide and twice as many deep. Rain fell in sheets, soaking the bands of red and grey rock of the painted hills. The beasts would be out for the hunt tonight.

Let them try.

Thunder roared and lightning crashed and the leader of the Jade Assembly waited atop her horse.
She raised her head to the sound of hoofbeats to the south. Two men encased in well-worn steel platemail galloped over the crest of a ridge, riding hard towards them.

“They look worried.” Jasper murmured from his customary place at her right hand. He leaned forward on his pommel, looking hungrily at the riders.

“Form up the men. It’s not good news.” She said shortly. She clicked her tongue and moved forward to meet the scouts. They reined up a few paces away, horses lathered and twitching. The two men saluted sharply.

“Trolls, my lady. Fresh from the caves, down by the Amber Spires. They were surprised by a hunting party and went beserk.”

“How many?”

“Three, my lady.”

She had fifteen men with her, all blooded and sworn. It would be difficult, but could be done. It must be done, she amended firmly. The canyonlands depended on her for protection.

“We ride.” She called over her shoulder before flicking the reins and nudging her horse into a canter.

The lightning flashed overhead and she smiled with the joy of the hunt.

Blood would be shed tonight.

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