Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) - Alwyn Hamilton Page 0,1

man. The hired muscle at the door didn’t seem to care.

“It’s three fouza to stand at the back, five to stand at the front. Betting starts at ten.”

“How much to stand in the middle?” Damn. I hadn’t meant to say that. Aunt Farrah had been trying to smack the smart mouth off me for a year now with no luck. I got the feeling it would hurt more if this man tried.

But he just frowned like he thought I might be simple. “Front or back. There’s no middle, boy.”

“I’m not here to watch,” I said before I could lose the last of my nerve. “I’m here to shoot.”

“What are you doing wasting my time, then? You want Hasan.” He shoved me toward a heavyset man with billowing, bright red trousers and a dark beard slicked to his chin, standing behind a low table piled with coins that bounced as he drummed his fingers.

I took a deep breath through my sheema and tried to look like my stomach wasn’t trying to escape through my mouth. “How much to enter?”

The scar on Hasan’s lip made it look like it curled up in a sneer. “Fifty fouza.”

Fifty? That was almost everything I had. Everything I’d been saving up in the last year to escape to Izman, the capital of Miraji.

Even with my face covered from the nose down, Hasan must’ve seen the hesitation. His attention was already wandering past me, like he figured I was about to walk away.

That was what did it. I dropped the money on the table in a jangling handful of louzi and half-louzi that I’d scrimped one by one over the past three years. Aunt Farrah always said I didn’t seem to mind proving myself dumb if it meant proving someone else wrong. So maybe Aunt Farrah was right.

Hasan eyed the coins skeptically, but when he counted them with the speed of a professional money-grubber he couldn’t deny it was all there. For a brief moment the satisfaction tamped down on my nerves.

He shoved a piece of wood at me that dangled from a loop of string like a pendant. The number twenty-seven was painted in black on it. “Had much practice with a gun, twenty-seven?” Hasan asked as I put the string over my head. The tag bounced off the wraps I had forced over my chest to flatten it.

“Some,” I hedged. We were wanting for almost everything in Dustwalk, in the whole Last County for that matter. Food. Water. Clothes. There were only two things we had too much of: sand and guns.

Hasan snorted. “Then you ought to know enough to keep your hands from shaking.”

I pressed my hands close to my body to still them as I walked into the pit. If I couldn’t hold a gun steady it wouldn’t much matter that I learned to aim before I learned to read. I lined up in the sand next to a man who looked like he was mostly bones under his grubby factory uniform. Another man came to stand on my other side with a twenty-eight around his thick neck.

All around us the stands filled. The bet wranglers shouted out odds and numbers. If I were betting, I’d wager I didn’t have any odds. No one in their right mind would put money on some skinny boy without the guts to even lower his sheema and show his face. Maybe I could win some crazy drunk a poor man’s fortune by proving the right-minded ones wrong.

“Good evening, gents!” Hasan’s voice carried over the crowd, quieting them down. Dozens of kids ran among us handing out the pistols. A girl with braids and bare feet passed me mine. The weight was instantly comforting in my palm. I quickly flicked open the chamber; there were six bullets neatly lined up. “Everyone knows the rules. So you’d better play by them or, God help me, I’ll break your cheating faces myself.” A laugh erupted from the stands, and a few whoops. Bottles were being passed around already and men were pointing at us in that way I knew from watching my uncle trade horses. “Round one: you got six bullets, six bottles. If you’ve got any bottles left at the end, you’re out. First ten line up.”

The rest of us stayed still as numbers one to ten shuffled into place, their toes on a painted white line in the dirt. I judged it about twelve feet between them and the bottles.

A kid could make that.

Two men still managed