Along the harsh line of grassland and badlands of Lainz, a thin green line wound through a shallow valley. The rains had come and gone and now the short-lived dust grass had set seed and crumbled apart, the core of the wild haboobs that rolled over the white desert, turning it orange.
There was no road other than the stripe of dark green that followed the underground water, but spread its tendrils into the badlands, between the narrow spires of black tsingy. Here and there a plant clung to the edges of the razor sharp rock.
The herd of bone horses had just split into two, the smaller group of twenty cantering away in the late afternoon heat, the peculiar ringing clatter of royal bone herd horses echoing back to the two elderly women, swathed from head to foot in their orange full veils, bone bells clanking a bit as they moved.
The horse skeletons they rode had every inch of bone covered with decoration. One more blue, the other more yellow and red and both skulls had thick black and white lace flowers carved through the bones of the forehead. Ribbons threaded through the empty eye sockets and around the bones of the neck, trailing tiny bone bells every few vertebrae and both wore collars of carved scapulae from other horses. Their manes were still there, and their tails, also braided and beaded and the saddles were part of the rib cages, padding laced to ivory. They stood still as the dead things they were, with none of the shifting and blowing and stomach grumblings that fleshy, sweaty horses had.
The younger of the two women leaned over to her companion. “You did the right thing, Mari,” she said.
The other one nodded. “I had to. They have strong enough 'manders to control her.”
“Did she really smile at you?”
The woman's lips twisted, nearly invisible under the veiling. “She did. I'd given her, her ferret in the hopes that it would help. She smiled at me and cooed at it, then broke it's neck and draped it around her shoulders. “I love it, Grandmother! Now it's perfect! It will do exactly what I want. It's perfect now but I'll give it wings and all kinds of new parts!” The chieftan sat her mount as still as it, the only thing moving was the edge of her veils flapping. “The Milar and the Lainz have woken up the old monster and he's pounding a new sea into the land. Alissa, if they can control her, has all the old codes to get into Glass Mountain.”
“So... we really are allying with them, even though we're sending her into their care?”
Mari shook her head and her answer seemed to be to another question entirely. “You know, Kalli that we found my daughter and her husband?”
The younger woman reared back and stared at the honour guard fast disappearing into the Lainz desert, heading for the nearest road to the city. “She didn't!”
“Yes.” Mari's voice was grim. “She told me she loved them too much to leave them alive. They were mummified and still moving.”
The silence after that wasn't broken by the wind whistling through the bones of their mounts. “Blood and bone,” Kalli said finally. “I truly hope you're right and someone will be able to control her, before she decides that she loves them too.”