Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Wild Hunt, Part Two

Here is the second installment of "A Wild Hunt." A reminder that part one can be found here. (And since this was written for the contest, it's one of the few pieces I've done that's safe to read at work! LOL.) Part three will be posted next week Wednesday.

A Wild Hunt, Part Two
by Mercy Loomis


None of the figures below paid any attention to her. Kiran's dark face was solemn, his wavy black hair whipped by the stiff breeze into an unruly halo. He was a classic American mutt, with his clear Indian complexion and shocking leaf-green eyes, and a slightly bulky muscular physique that came from who-knew-where. He was easily the most eye-catching student in any of her classes, and Ariane had been trying to weasel her way into his chemistry lab ever since she first saw him. He can light my Bunsen burner any time.

The three initiates—or so Ariane supposed they must be—each handed something to the robed woman in front of them and then knelt at her feet. Ariane glanced quickly from face to face, dismayed to discover that she recognized the woman standing in front of Kiran. Gloria was also in their chemistry lecture, and Ariane had caught Gloria staring at her several times with an inquisitive, calculating look on her face.

She watched Kiran a lot too, but then, who wouldn’t?

"All that I am is in your hands," the initiates said, more or less together.

What a stupid thing to say, Ariane thought, shifting uneasily on her branch.

Each of the dark-robed mages held up her left hand, placing her right hand on the brow of the initiate in front of them. "Then give yourself into my keeping, and open your mind and soul to Magic."

The bottom dropped out of Ariane's stomach as the surrounding ley line energy was diverted from its usual course and channeled, roaring and unfiltered, into the initiates. Though she couldn't touch or use the lines herself, like all skinshifters she felt them resonate; a hum in her ears, a breeze against her cheek. This disruption of the lines rattled her bones so badly that she was nearly shaken right out of her skin. While Ariane clung to her crow form, the three initiates began to scream.

The diverted energies surged through the shrieking humans, forcing open all the paths of their psyches before finally escaping back into the ground. The other male initiate evened out first, his cries subsiding into harsh sobbing breaths. Though his face was haggard with pain, a look of wonder came over him, and Ariane felt the current running through him shift as he touched it.

The mage in front of him switched the position of her hands, and spoke. "What I have given, I may take."

Ariane caught her breath as the screams started again. The mage was drawing energy out of the man now, and the more she drew, the less was able to flow through him, until the ley line disengaged completely and settled back into its normal course.

The man dropped unconscious onto the ground, just as Gloria switched hands on Kiran's forehead.

"Oh Hell no," Ariane snapped.

Launching herself from her branch, Ariane released her crow skin, breathing out her aetherial self and pulling the skin after her. Both slipped through the crow's beak like thread through the eye of a needle. Sight fled, but her energy sense fed her the shape and taste of everything around her far better than eyes could do. As the crow vanished into the aether, Ariane took hold of her horse skin. The misty ball of air—all that was left of her ancestors' true form—swirled and condensed, pouring through the needle's eye from the other direction.

Her front hooves struck the ground with a thud-thud that was lost under the humans' cries. Another thud-thud as her back feet landed, hindquarters bunched, tail high in indignation. She heard Gloria speak, heard Kiran screaming anew, before her sight returned and the energy sense faded into the background. Five seconds, maybe less, but Kiran needed help now. With all the momentum of the crow's stooping dive, Ariane charged Gloria.

Unfortunately she had to come at them from the side to avoid hitting Kiran. The sound or the movement caught Gloria's attention. The mage's head snapped around, her eyes widening as over a thousand pounds of angry black horse came barreling toward her. Yelping a curse, Gloria dove behind Kiran.

Drat. Well, at least she's not touching him anymore. Ariane snorted and switched targets. The mage draining the female initiate was right in front of her, and apparently having a harder time of it than her compatriots. She'd barely looked up before Ariane was on her.

Her forefeet struck the mage's legs, knocking the robed woman to the ground. She fell a little to one side, so only two of Ariane's hooves made contact as she deliberately trampled the mage. One went crunch, and one went squish, but the lumpy body or the long robes caught Ariane's feet and she tripped. She stumbled and nearly fell, catching her stride in a drunken lurch that almost sent her careening into a tree.

Neighing a stream of expletives, Ariane wheeled around. The male initiate was still unconscious on the ground. The mage that had drained him had stumbled back a few steps, staring at the mage Ariane had just crushed, who was hopefully in the process of gasping her last. The female initiate was curled in a ball, clutching her head and apparently still trying to come to grips with the ley line. Kiran was on his knees, shaking his head and looking like a hung-over man in a fog. Behind him, Gloria scrambled to her feet. With an angry hiss, Gloria grabbed Kiran roughly by the hair, pointed at Ariane with her free hand, and started chanting.

Eep! Move, move move! Ariane leapt forward, darting toward the unconscious man and the mage next to him.

Her tail burst into flames with a whoosh that singed the hair off her rump.

"Ow!" Ariane shrieked in horse. "You miserable witch! I have a show in two weeks!"

Without slowing, she ran between the unmoving initiate and his attacker. The mage jumped out of the way, but all Ariane had hoped for was that the proximity would make Gloria hesitate with her next spell. Ariane flicked her tail as she ran past, and had the satisfaction of hearing the woman yell as her robes caught fire.

"That's what you get for wearing synthetics." Ariane turned her attention back to Kiran and Gloria. "Let's see if you can cast with my hoof down your throat!" She charged again.

Gloria had let Kiran go. She was kneeling with both hands pressed to the earth, whispering feverishly. As Ariane approached Gloria chanted faster, a language Ariane didn't know rolling through the clearing, gaining strength until, with one last shrieked phrase, Gloria shot triumphantly to her feet and pointed.

The ground beneath them rumbled, the trees swaying and groaning in protest. Ariane's charge faltered and broke as the earth in front of her heaved upwards, splitting apart. Desperately she veered to the side as a craggy hand reached up out of the crevice.

"Kiran, run!" Ariane yelled, knowing he couldn't understand her but unable to help herself. Her words came out as a high-pitched frightened squeal. "Run, run, run!"

The confusion in Kiran's gaze gave way to terror as a second huge hand shot out of the ground, nearly catching one of Ariane's hind legs as she dodged around the opening. Kiran staggered to his feet. "What the..?"

"It's an earth elemental, you idiot! Go!" She ran straight at him, as if…as if my tail were on fire. Ha! With a half-hysterical whinnying laugh, Ariane pounded toward Kiran. Bless his heart, he finally turned and ran.

Ariane glanced back over her shoulder. Gloria was sprinting in the opposite direction, and the giant—now head and shoulders above the earth and slowly squirming farther out—blocked her view of the others. It looked frightfully annoyed, glaring across the small space at Gloria, but Ariane knew better than to think that it would turn on its summoner. It might take its sweet time getting out of the ground, but if Ariane got within its reach she had no doubt that it would kill her.

She had expected Kiran's strides to get stronger as he got going, but instead he lurched and tripped and looked likely to fall over at any second.

"Oh, love of Epona!" she snapped, skidding to a stop in front of him. Awkwardly she bent her front legs as he staggered to a halt. "Get on!"

Kiran stared at her, sobbing for breath, his brilliant green eyes drowning with confusion and fear. "What are you? How do you know my name?"

"I'm your ride out of here, and I am leaving," Ariane retorted, out of patience. "Get on!"

The giant roared at them, and suddenly Kiran was scrambling onto her back. As soon as she felt his legs close around her ribs, Ariane hauled herself to her feet and bolted. She raced for the nearest nature trail, and was halfway down the path before she realized that he'd understood what she'd been saying.

Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Three"

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