Riders of the Lightning Storm
Pioneers from Earth, the first Settlers, arrived on Home Planet in giant spaceships after getting lost in a huge lightning storm. On the planet, they discovered herds of horses that seemed to vanish every time the storm season came. But they didn’t vanish; the horses had the ability to open passages through space to other planets. A few Settlers started following the herds, finding new planets. Soon, a mighty Federation of planets was born, cities and spaceports grew – but there were some who still followed the herds, seeking out new planets for the growing population of Settlers. These were the Herders – a small group of explorers who accompanied their horses across the galaxy, through passages they called the Lightning Storms. But mysterious alien Raiders preyed on the horses and their Herders – and those taken were never seen again.
Meagan and Carl Cadet, youngest herders in the Federation, fought to keep their horses when their parents were taken by Raiders. The Cadets are loners, and prefer to keep to themselves. To shy Meagan’s dismay, on Tauii 3 they are joined by the rowdy Jeffries brothers. But when tragedy strikes, Meagan slowly opens up to the Jeffries’ friendship. Then Raiders capture Meagan and Luke Jeffries. Now they have to find the key to unlock the mysterious horse passages – or die.
The Jeffries’ had moved their herd to the south end of the lake. Today, the boys had started breaking in the two-year-olds, and Meagan decided before swimming she’d go have a look at their work.
It was a ten-minute walk along the shoreline, and as she walked she gathered eggs from the many nests she found. She only took one egg from each nest, putting them carefully in her pouch after admiring their speckled amethyst coloring.
Luke saw her coming and waved. He sat astride the lead mare and her presence calmed the young horses his brothers rode. They cantered slowly around a circle of bare earth worn in the grass. Luke led, with his brothers right behind him. Their mounts snorted loudly and swished their tails, unused to having riders on their backs. They cantered a while, slowed to a bouncy trot, and dropped to a walk. Skittishly, the younger horses tossed their heads and pranced sideways.
“Let’s go faster!” cried Luke, urging his mare into a gallop. She pinned her ears back, as if annoyed to be acting the part of schoolmistress, but set off at a fast pace. The three boys galloped after Luke, sitting astride their horses with practiced ease.
Meagan sat on a nearby log and watched. She admired the way the brothers rode. Everyone had a different style, but the Jeffries looked both athletic and graceful.
In the distance, across the lake, she could see Carl walking toward their camp. He waved his hat in the air, and she waved back. Meagan rose and picked up the eggs. She should get back if she wanted to swim before dinner. Luke and his brothers wouldn’t be finished for a while yet.
She’d just finished adjusting the strap on her shoulder pouch when a clap of thunder made her jump. Frowning, she looked around. There were no storm clouds in sight. A faint sparkle caught Meagan’s eye, and she stiffened. A mist curtain, no more than three feet wide, appeared in the middle of the plain. Her heart seemed to stop, then start again, pounding frantically. “R-r-raid . . . Raiders,” she whispered. She had to warn Carl and the Jeffries brothers. She tried to shout, but her voice stuck in her throat. She couldn’t say anything. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out at all.
Panic-stricken, she screamed, and her voice shattered the air around her. She tried to call to Carl, to tell him to watch out, but all she could do was scream. A flock of birds rocketed out of the long grass, their wings whirring around her. She tried to stop, dragging air into her lungs and clapping her hands over her mouth, but she screamed again, and all of a sudden the words poured out. “Luke! Carl! Raiders! Raiders are coming! Get the horses! Get out of here!” She started running for her camp.
The boys fought to control their young mounts as strange horses surged out of the mist curtain. Upon their backs, cloaked riders crouched low. They held long poles with lassos attached. Without pausing to look around, the Raiders galloped straight for Luke and his brothers.
Shouting, Luke motioned at his brothers to save the herd. The untrained horses, frightened by the noise and sudden panic of their riders, took off at full gallop, clods of dirt and grass flying in the pursuing Raiders’ faces.
Meagan saw Carl running toward their herd. He leapt through the tall grass and whistled for his horse. She knew he had to get the lead mare out of the way. If he could catch Boo, then he could herd their horses across the plains and out of the Raiders’ reach. The Raiders never let their mist curtain close behind them, so they could get back home. Because of this, the Raiders couldn’t venture beyond a certain perimeter. If Carl could get their horses far enough away, they would be safe.
Meagan held on to that thought as she ran, her breath coming in sharp gasps. Behind her, she heard hoof beats. She turned. Two Raiders were swooping down upon her.
She uttered a frightened scream and dodged, flinging herself toward the lake. Perhaps she could swim away from them. But the Raiders, anticipating her move, rode to cut her off. She swerved again, her lungs burning and her legs aching as she ran. Then someone called her name, and she saw Luke galloping toward her, his hand outstretched.
“Jump on!” he shouted. His expression was grim.
“No!” Meagan screamed back at him. “Go away! They’ll catch you!” Already the Raiders were closing in.
Luke paid no attention. Kicking his mare, he leaned over and snagged Meagan’s arm. She felt as if it had been yanked out of its socket as she was jerked off her feet. Instinctively, she swung her legs over the mare’s back and grabbed Luke’s waist. A second later a lasso zinged through the air, just missing her head.
Luke had just turned the mare toward the lake to try to lose their pursuers, when another rope shot overhead and settled on the mare’s neck. With a harsh cry, Luke pulled her back before she was knocked off her feet. The Raiders were too quick. They hauled back on the rope, sending the mare tumbling. Luke and Meagan fell heavily to the ground, and the last thing Meagan saw were the mare’s kicking feet.
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