Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) - Alwyn Hamilton

one

They said the only folks who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good. I wasn’t up to no good. Then again, I wasn’t exactly up to no bad neither.

I slid from Blue’s saddle and tethered her to a post behind some bar called the Dusty Mouth. The kid sitting against the fence was sizing me up suspiciously. Or maybe that was just his two black eyes. I tugged the wide brim of my hat lower as I stepped out of the yard. I’d stolen the hat from my uncle, along with the horse. Well, borrowed, more like. Everything I owned belonged to my uncle anyway, according to law, down to the clothes on my back.

The doors of the bar banged open, spilling out light and noise and a fat drunk with his arm around a pretty girl. My hand snapped to my sheema before I could think better of it, checking it was still tightly fastened so the better part of my face was covered. I was wrapped up to my eyes, and even hours after sunset I was sweating under the padding like a sinner at prayers. I figured I looked more like some lost nomad than a real sharpshooter, but so long as I didn’t look like a girl it didn’t much matter. Tonight I was getting out of here with at least my life. All the better if I got out with a few coins in my pocket, too.

It wasn’t hard to spot the pistol pit on the other side of Deadshot. It was the noisiest building in town, and that wasn’t saying nothing. A great big gutted-out barn at the end of the dusty street, it was swarming with bodies and blazing with light, propped up against a half-collapsed prayer house with a boarded-up door. Might be that once upon a time the barn had served some honest horse trader, but that was years ago by the looks of things.

The crowd thickened the closer I got. Like buzzards swarming to a fresh carcass.

A man with a bloody nose was pinned up against a wall by two others while another drove his fist into the man’s face over and over. A girl called out from a window with words that’d make an iron dragger blush. A group of factory workers still in their uniforms huddled around a nomad in a busted-up wagon who was shouting about selling Djinni blood that’d grant good folks their hearts’ desires. His wide grin looked desperate in the oily lamplight, and no wonder. It’d been years since anyone round these parts had seen a real live First Being, let alone a Djinni. Besides, he should’ve known better than to think desert dwellers would believe Djinn bled anything other than pure fire—or that anyone in Deadshot would believe themselves good folk. Everybody in the Last County went to prayers enough to know better on both counts.

I tried to keep my eyes forward, like I’d seen it all before.

If I climbed past the buildings, I’d be able to look across the sand and scrub all the way home to Dustwalk, though there’d be nothing but dark houses. Dustwalk got up and went down with the sun. Good honest behavior didn’t belong to the dark hours of the night. If it were possible to die of boredom, everyone in Dustwalk would be corpses in the sand.

But Deadshot was alive and kicking.

No one paid me much mind as I slid into the barn. A big crowd was already gathered in the pistol pit. Lines of huge oil lamps hung from the eaves, giving the gawkers’ faces a greasy glow. Scrawny kids were setting up targets and dodging a big man’s blows as he shouted at them to move faster. Orphans, by the looks of them. Likely kids whose fathers had worked in the hulking weapons factory on the outskirts of Dustwalk until they’d gotten blown to bits by faulty machinery. Or until the day they’d gone to work drunk and burned themselves too badly to live. Gunpowder wasn’t hardly safe work.

I was so busy staring that I nearly walked straight into the giant of a man at the door. “Front or back?” he demanded, his hands resting carelessly on a scimitar on his left hip and a gun on his right.

“What?” I remembered just in time to pitch my voice lower. I’d been practicing imitating my friend Tamid all week, but I still sounded like a boy instead of a