Monday, April 28, 2014

14 - My-Beloved-Who-I-Am-to-Marry?

Kyrus and Werfas and Archibald waited on the edge of the badlands where the moonscape touched the desert.  There was a trail but the mushroom shaped formations towered all around and the old road to the Hippifrei grasslands was barely visible.

In a distant crack of tsingy shoving razor points into the sky a flickering light glittered where a breeding colony of bush dragons waved their tails out of the rock.  The boys and their birds were on flight sticks,  just barely hovering over the sand and the birds were sulking because they were wearing traditional bird hoods and couldn’t fly where they wanted and buzz who they wanted.

“Is this… bird… is it safe?”  Archie’s voice was tremulous and he winced as his bird shifted.  “I really wanted to bring my pet.”

“Not a good idea since any kind of report we’ve been getting out of code has just been weird, Arch,” Kyrus said patiently.  “Your bird is fine, she’s just trying to get you to feel sorry for her so you’ll take her hood off.”

“I could do that,” he said but subsided as Werfas and Kyrus both snapped “Not now, Arch.”

The rest of the entourage were all zardukar, the girls and the few boys, from the new flock and they all had the flight stick training as well.  Out of the dozen, all in livery of the Rasheem, with dark blue and gold-edged veils, four of them could ride, fly and code at the same time.  Asha, Ilikrena and Nanatoya were holding code security, just in case the Hippifrei weren’t as friendly as they’d made out to be.  Farfana, riding Salt, was just behind, ostensibly holding the silver banner that marked a Siwion of Lainz, with the gold border showing that it was the Kraghanz himself.  She was set to support Kyrus and Werfas if they had to fight.  It wasn’t a huge entourage but it was supposedly going to be a peaceful welcome.

Archie tapped his quartz.  “We should be able to hear them, soon.”  He held out his stone and Kyrus craned his neck to look. It was through the eyes of a floater, one of the round gas-bags that bushies ate.

Below it, far enough below that the Hippifrei were only visible because their long, distorted shadow stretched so huge, the Princess’s caravan moved.

“Thanks, Arch.  Please keep an eye on them.” The young man beamed.  Then he looked alarmed again as Elegant shook her head and complained.

“Sure,” he said but put one hand nervously on his saddle pommel. “El… Elegant… be good,” he said, voice shaking. “Behnam will be mad at you.”

“I can hear them,” Werfas said.  “Hear their bells?”

“They use bones on their harness, don’t they,” Kyrus asked.  “Hara sent me every kind of information we had on them, on the Lin but we don’t know much.”

“As far as I know.  That's why we call them bone-herds, I guess.”

“They split off from Gregori and Petra after they came here,” Archie said.  “Our records show they argued over how the indigenous animals should be altered and treated.”

Farfana whistled to get their attention and dipped the banner she held toward the defile that was so deep and narrow it was dark even in high sun.

There was an odd motion from the darkness and every warbird suddenly started screaming, flight-sticks soaring up and away from the defile despite their riders snapping the hoods shut and pulling on the over-rides, fighting the birds’ attempts to flee.

“Hold on. Stop!  Tzar stop, stop!” Kyrus had his hands full and Werfas as well, Farfana’s bird had stopped fleeing, hovering, a hundred metres above them. Archie and Elegant were still streaking for the horizon, Arch clinging to the saddle and letting the warbird have her head. Azad on Snakey and Fareen riding Tyrant were apparently very glad to be chasing after him.

Tzar was finally content to let Kyrus steer the stick, this high off the ground and stretched his neck out, beak open hissing at what was pouring out of the crack in the landscape where a road had, at one time, run.

Kyrus knew where Werfas and Farfana where just from the defiant shrieks and hissing from every warbird of his entourage.  The thing that he could finally see, was a monster.  It ran on many legs like an oyuk… hundreds of tiny bones rippling in coordination, moving a bone platform, where a group of Hippifrei sat, huddled together in an unmoving circle, clinging to the bones around them.  Ribs had been conveniently placed to give them handholds.

There were a row of horse skulls on either side and a waving fringe of horsehair all across the back of this thing.  At the front, sitting at the top of a column of vertebrae, made up of the necks of twenty horses, was a single small figure, also swathed in the peculiar orange veils that all Hippifrei wore.  Every bell was hung from that nightmarish neck that swayed ahead and in front.

“Oh ancestor’s shit, great great grandmother’s menstrual blood! Ancestors ancestors ance…” Werfas cursed steadily and in a monotone right behind Kyrus.

The monster, mincing, clicking on its myriad tiny legs, oozed out of the rock and once it was completely on the flat, stopped.  Kyrus could feel the surge in code, even though he had none of the passwords or entries.  The monster crumbled to bits, leaving the Hippifrei standing on the white sand, the bleached bones of their weird creature nearly the same colour. Then the bones and hair scrambled themselves together again into twenty discrete horses, one with each of what where clearly the Siwion of Hippifrei’s escort.

When her creature had come apart, she had never dropped to the ground, her horse molding itself together under her.  Her horse was bigger than the others, with other creatures as part of its structure.  It had towering horns and skeletal wings and eight legs. 

They are fakin’ powerful necromanders, Kyrus thought, sickly.  That… girl… is like the one who attacked us on the way to Lainz.  His stomach knotted and it was all he could do to make the flight-stick descend, even as the girl on the monstrous bone horse creature, flung what looked like a ferret with wings up toward him.  “Hello!” She said in formal Lainz as her --- dead--- pet hovered over his head. “I’m Alissa!  Are you my beloved-who-I-am-to-marry?”

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