DUSK BEFORE DAWN
Pitch: In a world based on North and West African folklore, the crown princess of a desert nation must quell a mutiny against her comatose mother’s throne while avoiding the refugee tasked to kill her.
Malik wasn’t ready to see the sun again.
After two weeks of near complete darkness, the sudden brightness of the afternoon sun stung his eyes. Splotches of purple and green danced across his vision as Hassan barked, “Everybody out!”
Malik had no idea how the smuggler expected them to follow this order. He and the other refugees were packed so closely together within the confines of Hassan’s wagon that it made even breathing difficult. Moving was not an option.
When nobody followed his orders, Hassan grabbed Malik by his shoulders, lifted the boy from the wagon bed, and tossed him onto the dusty ground. The metallic taste of blood and sand exploded in Malik’s mouth. He scrambled to his knees, clutching the strap of his worn leather satchel tightly to his chest.
“Everybody get out,” Hassan yelled again.
Nadia jumped out of the wagon bed and ran to her brother’s side, grabbing onto his pant leg as he coughed. Their mother Rahila followed after her, shooting Hassan a glare as she dropped to her knees beside her son.
“Are you okay?” Nadia asked, her dark eyes wide. Fighting the pain, Malik gave a small nod.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, I promise.”
Rahila’s eyes narrowed, her hands clenching into fists. Malik forced a smile on his face, anything to let her know he was fine. They had enough to worry about without adding his wellbeing to the mix.
After double checking Malik was not injured, Rahila turned to the smuggler and demanded, “What is the meaning of this? Why have we stopped?”
Hassan spit a glob of phlegm onto the ground near Malik’s feet before replying, “Sentinel checkpoint.”
The knot of anxiety in Malik’s stomach tightened, and he glanced around as if one of the aforementioned warriors would come at them with a scimitar at any moment. If the Sentinels were to discover their motley group of refugees and the man who had smuggled them halfway across the desert, death would be most merciful option waiting for them.
“But you said when we left Talafri that this route had no Sentinels on it!” cried Rahila.
“Shut your mouth!” Hassan glanced over his shoulder, his hand hovering near the hilt of his dagger. He was by no means a small man, and in the short time Malik had known him, the smuggler had never shown uncertainty of any kind. The fear tinging Hassan’s words now only added to Malik’s own nerves.
Hassan continued, “Are you trying to summon every Sentinel patrol between here and Mahashe?”
Rahila grumbled but did not reply, much to Malik’s relief. His mother may not have feared the curved dagger that hung at Hassan’s hip, but Malik did.
They had stopped beside a large stone outcropping a little ways away from the main road, and as Hassan maneuvered the camel-drawn wagon deeper into the shade, Malik dared to look around. The golden sands of the Odjubai desert stretched out in every direction.