Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"A Wild Hunt, Part Three"

A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One" and "A Wild Hunt, Part Two" are also available. Tune in next Wednesday for Part Four.

A Wild Hunt, Part Three
by Mercy Loomis

There was no time to wonder how a human could understand a horse. Ariane raced down the peninsula, heading for the closest faery mound. The ley lines shivered and cried like frightened children, more distracting than useful. She pushed her energy sense to the back of her mind. She knew where she was going.

"Hang on!" she called to Kiran. His arms were wrapped around her neck, his cheek pressed hard against her. He moaned, and Ariane hoped it was in response to her words, because she didn't dare stop yet.

There were barrows scattered all around the lakes. As they approached one, Ariane demanded entrance. This wasn't something that she did with words, or even conscious thought. She'd traveled this way too many times to question it. She ran at the side of the little hill, knowing that the doorway would open, and it did.

A human, watching her, would have seen horse and rider vanish into the hill, but to Ariane it seemed as if there was a cave ahead of her, one that had always been there but that she might have missed seeing because of a shadow, or from standing at the wrong angle. Ancient, weathered, and overgrown with hanging grasses, the cave was little more than a dark hole that appeared to be far too small to fit Kiran alone, much less Ariane's current form. But she ran toward it, and while the cave seemed to grow no bigger, and she no smaller, still there was room to spare between her pricked ears and the cave's ceiling as she entered.

The tunnel twisted and writhed, but her hooves always found solid ground beneath them, and after a few nearly-blind moments she shot out into the Underground. The sky glowed a brilliant, pristine blue, and the long grass brushed against Ariane's belly. She slowed, blowing out a relieved breath. "Okay, we should be safe now. Just stay on my back, all right?"

Kiran clutched at her mane, his legs trembling against her sides. "Where are we?"

"The Underground." Ariane picked her way down the gentle slope toward the river. She didn't trust the forest's sense of humor, not tonight. "Avalon. Arcadia. Faerieland. Take your pick."

"Faerieland?" he asked, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly.

"Yes." Her tail swished back and forth in agitation—or would have, if she'd still had tail hairs to swish. The scorched skin of her rump and the dock of her tail protested the movement, but she couldn't help it. "Look, sit tight. We’re just passing through."


Ariane stopped in a huff, twisting her head around to look at him over one shoulder. "The Underground is not a safe place for humans at the best of times, much less tonight, so unless you want to get stuck here for eternity, be quiet!"

To Kiran's credit, he shut up.

Keeping her pointed ears pricked, Ariane navigated the steep bank. The river was shallow here, more a babbling brook, easy to wade across. Ariane knew better than that, though she couldn't help getting her hooves wet as she followed the riverbed. All I need is a few minutes…

There was a great splash in the middle of the stream. Kiran choked in disbelief as what looked like a horse made of water burst up out of the fountaining spray. It stood on the moving surface and cocked its head to one side.

"Is that a human?" it asked Ariane.

She gave it a polite nod, but kept walking. "Yes, but he's with me."

The kelpie laughed, a sound like water over little stones. "I didn't think your kind trafficked in humans. How delightful!"

Ariane felt Kiran tense, but she had to ignore him for now. "We don't. He's a guest."

The kelpie lifted its flowing, cascading tail, and Ariane gave it an envious glance. "I could give you a ride, pretty human. Wouldn't you rather come with me, and see the ocean in all its glory? The blue of the Mediterranean, the craggy shores of the Scottish Isles?"

"And the dark vasty deeps, with no air to breathe?" Ariane added lightly, as if sharing a joke. "No, he'll stay where he is."

The kelpie tossed its head, spraying them both with drops of water. "You mortals. No fun at all." It giggled, sinking slowly back into the stream. "Better hope the King doesn't find you." It vanished in a tiny whirlpool that was quickly swallowed by the gentle current.

"Crap. Hang on." Ariane broke into a canter.

Kiran threw his arms around her neck, sliding around on her back in a most distracting way. "Wait!" he cried. "You said we were safe now!"

"We were. Briefly." Ariane spotted the little overhung hollow she’d been looking for and altered her course, hugging the edge of the river, which was growing deeper and wider as they headed upstream. "But that kelpie will tell every fae it sees, and they won’t all be so polite." Almost there. Arian dodged into the water so she could swing around and find the tunnel. "Don’t let g—"

An explosion of water rocked them as her hooves broke the surface. Ariane couldn’t quite see what it was, but something huge rose up behind them, and Kiran yelled, a desperate, terrified sound. Ariane felt the weight of him lessen as the water fae tried to snatch him off her back, but before she could even try to check her headlong flight there was a burst of hissing steam, and a roar. Kiran dropped hard against her spine, his sobbing breaths loud in her ears. It was all the encouragement she needed. With one wild leap, Ariane found the tunnel and ran.

They emerged moments later in Ariane’s backyard. She stumbled to a halt next to the back door, sides heaving and head low. On her back, Kiran shook like a fever victim.

"You can get down now," she said finally, when they’d each caught their breath.

Slow and awkward, Kiran swung one leg over her withers and slid to the ground. His knees buckled, and he landed in a shivering, boneless heap.

Changing back to her birth skin was nearly as easy as breathing. By the time Kiran had blinked once, the horse had been replaced with a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl kneeling at his side. "Let’s get you indoors," Ariane said, reaching down to him.

Kiran fell onto his back with a yell, his eyes showing white all around.

"Oh, for…it’s me, you idiot." Ariane stood up, hands on her hips, and glared down at him.

‘I know you." He sounded more panicked than ever, which made no sense to Ariane. "You’re in my chem lecture." His voice rose until it cracked.

He noticed me? There have to be fifty students in that lecture at least. Ariane tried not to preen. Or blush. "Yes. Well. That’s how I know your name." She tried to gather her scattered wits. "Kiran, calm down. Please. We need to get inside. It’s safe there."

He eyed her up and down warily, but his exhaustion was overcoming his fear. "I’ve heard that before," Kiran muttered, but didn’t protest when she put his arm over her shoulders and helped him to his feet. Even with her guidance his feet wandered in every direction. "What’s wrong with me?"

"Want a list?" Ariane half hauled him up the few stairs to the back door and fumbled her keys out of her pocket one-handed. Grumbling under her breath, she finally got the door open.

Kiran staggered over the threshold, and she nearly dropped him as his legs gave out. "What was that?" he gasped, hanging like a dead fish from her shoulder.

Ariane glanced at the doorway. "Wards. I forgot, I’m so used to them. You felt that?" She pulled the door shut behind them and gave a relieved sigh as she shot the bolt home.

He shuddered. "It’s like…like static electricity, all over, even on the inside. Ugh." Kiran grasped her arm and tried to stand, but his legs still wouldn't hold him. "What is wrong with me?"

Ariane gently lowered him to the ground, then scooped him up in her arms. "What, girls can't be strong too?" she snapped when he gave her a disbelieving stare. With a toss of her head, she started down the hall.

A laconic voice drifted through the doorway ahead of them. "That hardly sounds fair, Ari. Who are you tormenting now?"

Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Four"


  1. Eee, this was fun! Poor Ari, and Kiran, and boo to the vampire boss (except, he was right about there being *he* can go play with that giant! o.o)

  2. Thanks! Tune in next week for part four!