by Michæl W. Bard
©2008 Michæl W. Bard

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

Home -=- #20 -=- ANTHRO #20 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

Chapter 10
-= Homecoming =-

   My tribe held a big celebration that night. They’d had time to prepare; the scouts gave advance notice of my return. The pending marriage was simply another reason. It hadn’t taken long to arrange—I think my stepfather would have taken nothing for Philya, as he was certain a proper marriage would make her happy. Palacus was nowhere to be seen all evening, and I realized that some of the other warriors had started avoiding me.
   I’d always known, at least in this incarnation, that I hadn’t been fully accepted. I’d had to fight for my position, and I always had to stay on the proper side of the line. Palacus had never trusted me, but he’d never shown outright hatred.
   I’d always accepted my distance from the rest of the tribe. I was different. I was special, Modyes had always told me. I believed that he believed, and now I knew that I was special, at least in this world. Keeping an eye on Ephebos, I took the fermented mare’s milk he and others offered me. Every so often I engaged in the odd physical contest and tried to make it look like I had to work to beat them. I’d always been significantly stronger than anybody else, and faster (unless they were mounted).
   Ephebos had no such restraint, as far as I could tell. Even so, he did appear to struggle in contests that involved only his human strength. In hitting targets with his javelins he was almost hopeless.
   Nobody challenged me to that contest. I hadn’t lost in years.
   With a pleasant buzz, I drifted away from the center of the camp towards where the tribe’s horses were kept. Any steed with a single owner lived in their owner’s tent; the rest, horses owned by everybody in common, were allowed to graze separately, watched over by young boys on their colts. In moments the horses were all crowded around me, bowing, sniffing my face, calling me father…
   It was embarrassing. I was thankful that no one else could understand them.
   As the night grew darker, I felt woozy—I had trouble standing. Had I drunk that much?
   Daddy? a colt asked as he looked up at me, licking the side of my horse’s body as my lungs there heaved in and out. The other horses crowded around, surrounding me with their warmth and companionship.
   A wave of fatigue swept through me, so strong I only remained standing because of the pressure of the horses around me. What was wrong? Drinking had never done this to me before. I screamed like a horse, pushing out my anger and fear, and the horses around me echoed the shout.
   Then the odd fatigue took me.

   I’d always had trouble sleeping standing up, but had never really been comfortable lying down. That night was the best sleep I’d had in years. I woke up in the pre-dawn light with the herd still pressed against me…
   Something was wrong. I didn’t know what, but something was. And I knew that if I didn’t leave soon, I never would. Gently I pushed my way out of the herd, patting some, softly nudging others aside, nodding at their greetings. The colt that had licked me last night remained the longest and I finally had to order him to go.
   When he left I felt guilty.
   The fires in the main camp had burned down to coals. A number of warriors were asleep on the ground. Many were snoring. I smiled; any excuse for a party… Ephebus wasn’t in sight so I carefully made my way to my father’s tent, the dew cold on my bare forefeet. It wasn’t a single tent, but an interlinked complex of tents. The smallest and richest portion was where my father and I and my stepbrothers had lived. The larger portion was for the women, and my sister.
   There was an unpleasant scent. I tried to ignore it. Untying the tent-flap I stepped in and, as my eyes adjusted, saw my father and most of my younger stepbrothers, all asleep and silent. The other children were off with the herd or performing other duties, and my adult stepbrothers were sleeping it off outside. Ephebos was in there, collapsed against one of the posts holding up the tent. His weight had pushed the post off the vertical, but somehow, it still supported the roof. My father’s horse lay still on the ground. As I moved in I stepped in something warm and sticky… blood.
   Now I knew what I’d smelled, was still smelling: The tent stank of death. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
   Turning to my father, I consciously realized what my unconscious had recognized. He was pale, almost white. There was something dark congealing on the furs he slept on. Blood. I rushed to his side and I knew.
   He was dead.
   I looked around.
   They were all pale. All dead in their own blood. Everybody but myself and Ephebos.

Chapter 11
-= Vengeance =-

   Forcing back hot tears, I leapt over bodies and burst through the hide that separated my father’s part of the tent from the women’s quarters.
   More blood. More dead. And over the stench of the blood… an odd tang. Something that shouldn’t have been there: Poison.
   I saw Philya standing in the shadows, and I heard her sobbing. At least she was alive. In an instant I was beside her.
   “Philya?” I whispered.
   “Scylurus, oh Scylurus!”
   Suddenly I knew who’d done it. A word whispered in my mind: Palacus. As the tribe’s shaman, he (and only he!) knew all about herbs and assorted natural poisons. I knew without a doubt that he’d done it, just as I knew without a doubt that I would kill him because of it. I didn’t care that he was shaman—his person was sacred— because he’d gone too far! His unreasoning hatred, his insults of my father. And now this.
   “Philya, what happened?”
   “I don’t know!” she whispered. “Everything was fine, and then we all started to feel woozy. I watched them collapse, one after the other. Then I collapsed. When I awoke they were all dead, everybody but Ephebus and me.”
   I remembered how I’d collapsed during the night. The mare’s milk! Its strong taste would have covered almost any poison. But why were I and Philya and Ephebus still alive? Because we were different? Because we were larger? Because Palacus wanted us to survive? I knew it was the last. But why had he done it? Somehow he must have known I’d changed, and when he decided to kill me, he must have set up things to ensure that I got the blame. Planting the seed of distrust upon my return… hesitating to accept the stranger… and then the murders. Who’d believe me? The best I could hope for is that they’d exile me—but that was only if Palacus urged mercy. Fat chance! No, they’d kill me. The traditional method was to have the victim ripped apart by horses, but my children wouldn’t do that to me. My ‘fellow tribesmen’ would have to rip me apart themselves, or perhaps shoot me with arrows until I stopped moving.
   That was assuming they let me live long enough to get judgement.
   But no matter what they did… Palacus would get off free.
   I refused to let that happen.
   My voice was cold. “Philya, gather your things. Find supplies for a long trip—but don’t leave the tent.”
   “Scylurus, wha—”
   “Palacus has killed our family. Everybody. Modyes is dead. Our brothers are dead.”
   “And we’ll join them if we don’t escape. Nobody else knows, most are still sleeping off the party. We don’t have much time, so go!”
   She swallowed and nodded.
   I turned, trying to avoid the pools of blood, and made my way back to my father. He was where I’d left him, still in death. His sleepless eyes stared into forever… Forcing myself to swallow, and blinking back tears, I whispered, “I’m sorry. I should have been here. We should have talked. I will avenge you.” Then I closed his eyes.
   I heard Ephebos stirring behind me. “Scylurus—?” he began, his voice groggy and full of fatigue.
   “Be quiet! My sister is packing supplies so we can live. I have one errand, and then we must flee. Don’t say a word, do whatever she says. We don’t have much time, and I pray you have more skill than you exhibited when we met.”
   “She’s in the back—go!”
   He turned and stumbled away.
   I hurried to the back of the tent and took my bow and arrows, and pulled out my father’s bronze sword. By law it was mine now, as the oldest male member of the household.
   And it was fitting that my father’s blade kill Palacus.
   Belting it around my waist, I cantered over to Palacus’ tent. It was off from the others, dyed a solid bright red unlike the bright patterns on the other tents. He had no guards; no family; just one apprentice who must have helped him. That apprentice was sleeping in front of the door. I slid my sword into his chest and twisted. The only sound he made was a faint gurgle.
   I’d never killed a human before in this life. But these? They deserved to die. I just wished I had enough time to give them a shadow of the pain I felt before they passed on.
   The doorway was tied shut and I ripped it open and burst through. Inside it was dark, the only light a few red embers from the fire pit and the dawning sun silhouetting me. Palacus was asleep on his furs.
   I walked over until I was standing over him, the blood of his apprentice dripping off my sword and onto his body. He just snored and turned away. With gritted teeth I leaned down and grabbed him by his neck in my left hand and yanked him up.
   His eyes flashed open.
   “You bastard! You’ve hated me all along, but why Modyes? Why my family?!”
   “Wha- Scylurus?”
   “Don’t you dare play the innocent! Don’t you Poseidon-damned fucking dare!” I blinked tears from my eyes. “Is it that I threatened you?”
   “Scylurus, put me down. I didn’t do—”
   “They’re all dead! At your hand!”
   “What?! How?”
   “By your poison!”
   I could barely speak through the anger that spilled through me. “You lying bastard!”
   I shoved my father’s sword into his chest and through his right lung.

Chapter 12
-= Escape =-

   “I didn’t do it,” he whispered, blood colouring his lips.
   “Don’t you lie! Don’t you Poseidon-damned fucking lie!”
   “Didn’t trust you. Vision—you destroy tribe. I warned—Modyes ignored, convinced others.”
   “I don’t believe you. I refuse to believe you!”
   “Vision warned. Warned… you… death. You brought…”
   His eyes glazed over and Palacus was dead.
   I let go and his body slipped off my sword which I sheathed. Vengeance had been fulfilled; now I had to live. I turned and galloped back to my father’s.
   Just in time for one of the scouts to return.
   If he sounded the alarm… I didn’t want to… I had to! Ixion’s blood rose in me. In one smooth motion I had my father’s bow in my hands, had it strung, and an arrow protruded from the scout’s eye. As he thudded to the ground, I recognized him as Skunxa. One of the few who’d actually liked me.
   Poseidon damn you for all eternity, Palacus!
   I made it into the tent; Ephebus and Porto were standing as far away from the corpses as they could get. Ephebus had his packs on, and Philya was dressed in clean leathers with a furred cap. Over her human back she’d slung a bag full of arrows.
   Ephebus was the first to speak: “What in bloody hell is going on?”
   “We’re leaving now.” I walked over to Philya. “He’s dead. The man who killed our family is dead.”
   She nodded. “I grabbed arrows, all that I could. A few days worth of dried food. Water skins, some thread—I couldn’t—” She started sobbing.
   “I’m sorry, Philya, you can’t cry now. Neither of us can. After we’ve gotten away, we can sing their souls to heaven as they should be. But we have to leave, and we have to leave now.”
   She sniffed. “I know… It’s just…” She forced a smile. “I’ll be all right.”
   I patted her on the back and turned to Ephebus. “Ever used a bow?”
   “Sorry, no. What happened..?” he motioned around.
   “The shaman poisoned them all, and we’re going to be blamed. We have to get out of here while we can.”
   He nodded.
   “Both of you follow me, let me do the talking. Ephebus, help my sister as best you can. She’ll be the slowest of us. We don’t—”
   A scream echoed from outside. Somebody had found one of the bodies. Forcing down my sadness, I opened the door to the tent and led the others out.
   It was Skunxa’s wife. And my arrow was in her hand.
   She knew it was mine, for each warrior makes their own arrows, and each warrior has a distinctive colour pattern for the feathers. And the blood on my feet, hooves, and legs, and on my arm from Palacus, didn’t help.
   “I’m sorry,” I whispered. Turning, I stretched into a gallop, glancing behind me to make sure that Ephebos and Philya followed. It was only a few moments before Philya grew tired and I reduced our speed to a canter.
   From behind I heard the long, low sound of a horn. The camp was being alerted, and soon they’d start pursuit. We passed the limit of the camp patrols and I saw one of the scouts in the distance turn and head inwards. Soon all the warriors would be after me. Each one come with their horses and their remounts and they’d run me down like an animal. I had to do something—
   Then I had it!
   “Philya! Ephebus! Keep going. I’ll be back, I have to do something.”
   “Scylurus, don’t…” burst from Philya.
   “Philya, I have to. Don’t wait; I’ll catch up.” I turned away without giving her a chance to reply.
   It didn’t take long for me to reach the horses. They were still clumped together where I’d slept with them, out in the open. The horses were part of the tribe, and the idea of tying them down was as foreign as the idea of tying down one’s brother so that he didn’t wander off. The horses were loved; they always stayed on their own.
   The colt was the first to notice me. Father!
   “All of you, come with me. I need you to come.”
   They looked at me and there was some hesitation. I was asking them to leave those whom they knew loved them.
   “I need you to come. Otherwise they’ll use you to come after me and try and kill me.”
   Shock flew through the herd. Those still lying down stood up and they all moved towards me.
   I turned and made my way towards Ephebus and Philya in the distance and the herd followed.
   How had this come to be? I’d never wanted to kill anybody! But what else could I have done? There was a darkness in my soul, and I hadn’t known was there. I should have expected it, though.
   After all, I was a child of Ixion.

   A couple of days passed. The threatening rain never really fell, just a few sprinkles. With Philya slowing us down, it was going to take us longer than I wanted to reach the spring. I had some of the horses stay further behind, to keep an eye out for pursuit. I knew that pursuit was going to come; I just hoped we could stay ahead of it. I wasn’t sure though. I had the horses, true, but in my youth I’d always been the one to slow down the others. Even on foot they could often outpace me over the long term.
   We’d stopped to rest and sleep around a small fire. Ephebus and Philya were both asleep; as for me, I couldn’t sleep. I was looking out on the trail we’d made when I saw a shadow galloping towards me; it was one of one of the mares I’d sent to keep an eye on our rear. She stopped in front of me, panting for breath.
   Riders come!
   How in Poseidon’s name had they gotten mounts!? Then I realized that the ‘how’ of it didn’t matter, just the fact. I looked at Ephebus at the fire and Philya asleep. Neither of them could fight.
   They had to get away!
   “Philya! Ephebos! Get up!”
   Philya stood up groggily, but Ephebus was quickly on his hooves and looking at me.
   “Somebody’s following us. Ephebus, take Philya to where we met. I’ll hold them off and rejoin you.”
   I galloped over beside my sister and pulled her to her hooves and feet shaking her to get her up. “You have to get going!”
   A horse neighed behind me. Looking at Ephebos I asked, “The spring we met at. Can you get there on your own?”
   “I would bloody well think so!”
   “Good. Take Philya there and wait a week. If I’m not back, take her home with you. If others approach, try and flee.” I closed my eyes. “Please… help Philya be free.”
   He nodded.
   “Thank you.” I walked over to where Philya. “Go with him.”
   “I trust him, you should too. We need to trust him. You have to go.”
   “I…” Her voice fell to silence. “Okay, Scylurus.”
   I lightly kissed her on her forehead. “Both of you get going!” Then, turning to the mare behind me, I said, “You go with them. They’ll travel slowly, you can keep up. Keep them safe for me.”
   Not leave…
   The other horses crowded around.
   “Please.” I scratched her between the ears. “I may have to fight and I won’t risk you, any of you, getting hurt.”
   With you, a couple nickered.
   “I need you, all of you, to keep my sister safe. Please.”
   Slowly they all nodded and nickered their agreement.
   “Thank you.” And they all moved off.
   Turning away, I walked into the darkness.

   It was long into the night before I could hear the low sounds of other horses in the distance. Around me was a number of low rises. I climbed up the nearest one until my head could just see over the crest. Hours ago my eyes had gotten used to the starlit darkness; I could just make out shadowy mounted forms walking along the beaten grass left by me and Ephebus and Philya. Where had they gotten the horses? And why so few?
   I hoped that Palacus was roasting in some deep, dark, very very hot hell. Remaining still, I watched as the pursuers wove their way amongst the hillocks. That was faster than to climb one after the other. I could see that there were 10 of them, one on each horse. From the stink of the horses and the men I knew that they’d been traveling hard and fast. But why no remounts? Was this all the horses they could get together? Possible. There were other outriders… It made sense and I couldn’t think of any other way they could have gotten the horses.
   Of course, none of that helped with the immediate problem. I could kill them, or most of them. They appeared to have no idea I was nearby. A few silent bowshots and… no! I had no regrets over Palacus’ death, but I hated what I’d been forced to do to Skunxa. No more! At least, not if I could help it.
   So… what to do?
   One thing at a time: If I could deprive them of their horses, they’d lose the ability to move and fire arrows. And hopefully I could outdistance them. Perhaps not; in foot races I’d always lost over longer distances. But then I hadn’t been desperate. I hadn’t had the life of my sister at stake. It was time to see how loyal the horses were to their riders.
   “Children! Throw your riders and come with me!” I yelled out. Turning, I fled in a pounding of hooves and feet. Behind me I heard squeals and neighs, and then shouts and curses. Soon there were ten mares galloping to catch up. Each came near in turn and rubbed their heads against my chest before making room for the next.
   At that point part of me wanted to leave, to just go after Ephebos and Philya and the herd, but another part of me didn’t think it safe. I examined the thought, afraid it was the some echo of Ixion’s dark soul that had driven me to kill Skunxa..? It wasn’t. So I slowed, circled, and finally stopped, surrounded by ten horses. I knew they’d alert me of any trouble so I tried to rest, but I couldn’t get to sleep. I didn’t know if it was fear or bloodlust, or maybe just adrenalin from the risk I’d just taken. Finally I was able to nod off, surrounded by the occasional shuffle of a horse and the faint hiss of the wind.

   I was jerked awake by Atheaxa, one of the mares, nipping my shoulder. They come.
   I hoped I could outrun them, but I wanted to make sure. Maybe they had more horses. By now a sliver of moon had arisen and a dim silver light glittered across the grass. Pushing my way through the herd, I walked up to the top of hillock and searched. There, in the distance—a line of men jogging.
   A chill swept up and down my spine as an old memory exploded into my brain.
   Once I’d read something about comparing endurance between horses and humans. Yes, the horse was faster, but only in the short term. A fit human could jog for hours or days, wear down the horse, and eventually catch it. Could my hunters do that? I snorted; of course they could! After all, they’d always beaten me in foot races. So the memory was true. A cold chill swept down my long spine.
   My hunters were coming like wolves. Slow… easy to outrun… but relentlessly coming.
   And eventually… they’d win.

Chapter 13
-= Pursuit =-

   Dawn was still hours away, and I didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t want to have to kill them. But… did I have any choice? Two of them had been my friends, the rest companions. Poseidon damn you, Palacus!
   Could I talk to them? If that failed, I could outdistance them in the short term… I had to do something. After telling the horses to stay away—they were too noisy—I carefully circled around behind my former tribesmen. I wasn’t sure exactly where they were, but I knew which way they were going, and had an idea how fast they were going. Or at least I thought I did. It required a fast canter for a surprising amount of time to catch up to them.
   And I had to get closer than I liked, but that was the only way they could hear me.
   “Idonthyrsus!” He was Skunxa’s oldest brother. “Idonthyrsus! I want to talk!” As my voice faded I could hear them moving, splitting up. Please Poseidon, let me talk them out of this. I don’t want to kill them.
   “Scylurus? Is that you?” It was Idonthyrsus.
   “I just want to talk!” I started circling slowly to my right, gradually spiraling outward.
   “By Papay, why’d you kill him?!” Papay was the Scythian Sky God.
   “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t recognize him until it was too late!” I thought I heard somebody moving through the grass to my right so I trotted to my left.
   “And why Modyes?! He took you in!”
   “I didn’t kill my father! I didn’t kill any of my family!”
   “Why’d you run?!”
   “I… I was afraid! Would you have listened to me?”
   “Then who did it?”
   “Palacus! I took the right of vengeance on him!” Some sixth sense caused me to leap into a gallop just as an arrow went speeding past my head. While galloping, I drew a javelin.
   “I just want to talk!”
   “You killed them all, you motherless bastard!!”
   This wasn’t going to work. “Idonthyrsus, please believe me!” I saw a glint of moonlight off a javelinhead and spun around and galloped towards it. The only reason I lived was because it was Scyles. I could smell his fear as he hesitated, hesitated just long enough for me to reach him and release my javelin into his chest, the force of its movement snapping the wood as Scyles fell backward onto the ground.
   Only as I leapt over him did I recognize him.
   “Poseidon fucking damn you, Palacus!”
   Why did it have to be Scyles?! He was the youngest, the kindest, the most beautiful. He was like a little brother to the entire tribe.
   Turning, I fled into the night, my vision wavering through tears. Behind me I heard a scream of anguish and knew that they’d found his body.
   They stayed behind me for hours. I don’t know how they managed it. At first I kept my distance easily but then I had to slow to a trot and I heard them coming. With my lungs burning I forced myself back to a gallop. Again they faded, but I could hear them gasping for breath as they ran. Circling around a hill I let myself slow to a walk and gulped down some water I was carrying, splashing more on my forehead and human chest. Behind me there was a shout and, dropping the empty skin, I fled.
   A short while later I heard another shout behind me—they must have found the skin.
   Hours passed, the moon slowly set. My vision collapsed into a glimmer of reddish grass surrounded by a burning dark. Only my will kept me going, my refusal to die. Slowly I circled back to where I’d left the horses, and slowly the Scythian cries faded into the distance. Each breath became a burning necessity, a drawing of coolness into a gaping maw of need. Sweat poured from both my backs and I slipped on the grass in the predawn light again and again. I forgot my name, forgot what I was doing. All I could think of was to inhale and exhale, to move one leg after the other in the complex pattern of a gallop.
   As dawn rose above the grass I was down to a canter. I couldn’t gallop. My mouth was dry, heat wavered from my body as I forced it to keep moving. Consciously I passed out but the machine that was my body kept going. I was still staggering in a clumsy walk when I felt others supporting me and through my salt encrusted eyes I saw the horses I’d taken from my pursuers.
   The horses pushed me, their bodies holding me up, and I didn’t stop until I reached one of the small springs scattered throughout the plains. I didn’t know which one; the horses had led me. Collapsing into it I gulped down some, the coldness burning down my throat, but then forced myself to stop. Too much could kill me—and I refused to die.
   I would bring Philya back to Pegasus. No matter the cost.
   Saulius, one of the horses, nibbled on my horse back and I pulled myself up to my feet and hooves as he held still. The other horses were drinking from the pool around me. In the distance a hawk screamed, and I knew that I would have to become the hawk.
   Nine were pursuing me now.
   I didn’t know how far back they were, but I knew that they wouldn’t stop. If it had been anybody else I’d killed they might have, but… it was Scyles. It had to be Scyles I met.
   Kneeling down, I slowly sipped some more water.
   I’d have to kill them all.
   Poseidon damn you, Palacus! Poseidon damn you!
   With enough strength to think and plan, though my lungs still heaved, I walked out of the pool. Pulling off my pants I tossed them into the grass. They were soaked, damp with water and blood, and they’d chafe and slow me down. I tied my beaded shirt around my waist and over my human crotch: I needed my human back free to sweat.
   There were 15 arrows in my quiver. I had one more javelin. I had a sword and a knife.
   It would have to do.

Chapter 14
-= The Hunt =-

   I needed to maximize my chances of victory.
   The spring the horses had led me to was roughly north of my pursuers. Heading off to the east at a slow trot I planned what I’d do. I wanted the sun behind me. That would give me easy shots, and them hard shots. I really didn’t want to kill them but there was no way around it! I could shoot for the legs and arms, but they were very hard targets and I didn’t have any arrows to spare.
   It’d have to be the chest.
   What else could I make use of… I had a larger body, but at least my human chest contained almost nothing but muscle. Wounds there would likely not be fatal, unlike human chest wounds. I had superior speed in the short term, inferior in the long term. That meant I could ambush, and then flee, and then ambush again. Unfortunately I’d only get one easy shot. Also, I had the horses. I could use them as decoys, as—
   There would be more than enough death today. This was my fight, not theirs.
   I had circled around to the northeast when one of the horses galloped up. Men approaching.
   “All of… you. Go… to the… east.”
   No! Atheaxa neighed.
   “You… have to! I’ll… I’ll be… all right.” My breath was getting short. “Go!”
   The horses turned and moved off to the east as I heard a shout from behind. My pursuers had heard my ragged shouts.
   Looking around, I saw only low hills, and, a few minutes away a large cluster of rocks. Forcing myself to a gallop I made my way towards them and, although I stumbled on fragments and gashed my ankle, I made it. Ducking behind a large fragment with a clear view I waited and listened. At first I couldn’t hear anything over my heaving breaths, but with rest I was able to quiet down and have a chance to hear something as I strung my bow.
   There was another reason I’d kept my bow and not taken my father’s. My upper body strength had always been vastly superior to the rest of the tribe, and I’d made my own composite bow to take advantage of that strength. None of the others could pull it, and it gave me extended range and accuracy. I could have used a heavier bow, but mine was the strongest I could make. Stringing it, I waited, forcing my legs to stop quivering from fatigue. This would be my one best shot.
   Around me everything was quiet except for the eternal hiss of the wind in the grass. I could smell its sweetness, and the dry sandy-ground beneath. Then I heard something faint—a foot step? A thud of a body, a muffled curse. At least they were exhausted too. A long silence. I readied my first arrow. A different hiss of the grass…
   Rearing up so that my upper body was above the rock I got off two quick shots. They were maybe 100 metres away. I let my forefeet thud to the dusty ground just as I heard the first scream of pain. I reared up again—one seemed down, nobody else affected. Another arrow, and then I dropped as two shots clattered off the rock as somebody else screamed. One more? Yes, the voice was different. I moved to the left and leaned around and fired once more. Two were down, and hopefully a third.
   Then I turned and leapt into a gallop, my hooves clattering on loose pebbles. Behind me was another scream.
   Four arrows fired; three targets down, six more left. And I had 11 arrows.
   Another arrow sped over my head but it was a shot made in frustration—they only had glances of me in the rocks.
   Then I was amongst the grass. Leaning my human body forward to let the stalks conceal me as much as they could, I raced towards the southeast. There was no sound of pursuit.
   One bonus of a chest shot is that it’s not immediately fatal—just debilitating. The strength of my bow ensured that almost any shot penetrated far enough to ensure eventual death. I’d seen one tribesman on the ground, dead or nearly so. A second had feathers sticking out of his left breast. Not immediately fatal, but he wasn’t going anywhere.
   Slowing down to a walk I listened, but couldn’t hear a thing over the desperate pounding of my heart and the panting of my heaving lungs. Even a walk was hard to maintain and, sooner than I’d have liked, I reached the horses that had been waiting for me. I really wished they’d gone further, but I doubt I would have made it back to them if they had.
   Leaning on two mares, I asked, “Atheaxa?”
   She was beside me. Was she smarter than the rest? I didn’t know, but I thought she was. I remembered as a colt she was always getting into trouble.
   “I need you to stay behind us, but not too far.”
   “Yes. If the humans come, get back here and tell me. Don’t go near them.”
   They won’t hurt I.
   “They won’t.” I patted her on her muzzle. “Thank you. Go.”
   She turned and trotted off. I knew she was tired, that all the horses were tired. She’d do the best she could and I only hoped it as enough.
   I let the horses practically carry me towards the east. There were always two of them, one on either side of me, leaning inwards to keep me upright. When the sun was halfway from dawn to noon we reached a small muddy spring, almost dry. They let me greedily drink before they lowered their muzzles; I was too thirsty to argue. When I was finished I wanted to roll in the grass, the best way I’d found to deal with the drying sweat that made my back itch like a thousand ants were crawling on it. I couldn’t, as I didn’t know if I had time to take off my weapons and get them back on. Instead I tried to ignore it.
   We were still at the spring when Atheaxa galloped up, almost skidding to a stop in front of me. The others were still drinking. They come, she nickered, between great gulping breaths. Soon you hear them.
   Looking around I saw nothing. Not a hill, not a tree, not a rock. Just flat grass as far as the eye could see. By Poseidon, it would have to be here! “How many?”
   Fewer, she snorted.
   Oh well. Still, the news could have been worse. Even if they’d left nobody behind with the wounded, I had twice as many arrows as pursuers. I could afford a few risky long-range shots. And my ‘long range’ was a great deal longer than theirs…
   “Go to the east,” I hissed to all the horses. “I’ll catch up to you.”
   They just remained clustered near me. Damn them. Damn Palacus for forcing me to this!
   “At least… wait behind me.”
   Grudgingly they moved off to the east, maybe 50 metres. I didn’t have time to argue. After wiping the sweat off my forehead and out of my eyes, I strung my bow and held it loosely. The wind had died down from earlier today and there was barely a breeze. But even a mild puff from Borealis could deflect an arrow’s flight at the range I’d be shooting.
   If Zeus had been my father, I’d have prayed for better conditions. But Zeus wasn’t, so I’d have to live with it.
   I saw something in the distance: A dark smudge, slowly moving towards me. I couldn’t distinguish any details so I just waited, nervous. I’d never gone on hunts—in my tribe, only adults were allowed to—but I’d practiced. The elders had told me to be calm, but how could I be calm at a time like this? And my lower back itched…
   They stopped. Had they seen me? They were still too far away for any kind of shot… maybe half a kilometer? I could make out figures. Five of them—they must have left somebody behind with the wounded. I wasn’t going to complain.
   I waited, nervously moving from left foot to right foot, keeping both hooves planted on the ground and batting my rear hips with my tail to try and deal with the itch.
   They spread out and began moving through the grass towards me. I couldn’t see them, just the shadow of their movement. They must have been crouching in the grass; that wouldn’t make things easier.
   I stood quietly, letting them approach. I hoped they’d stop and try to talk, but knew they wouldn’t… and, of course, they didn’t. Four hundred metres… I don’t know if they could see me or not, crouched as they were in the grass, but they didn’t stop. At least the sun was mostly behind me. Three hundred metres… Grabbing an arrow I pulled it back, guessing where the nearest would be when the arrow reached him. I adjusted for the wind and released. The arrow fled into the distance and arced down and into an empty spot in the grass. Two hundred fifty metres… Soon they’d be within their maximum range. I decided to risk another arrow. The wind suddenly paused and I launched my missile. This time I fired low, no arc and—
   Suddenly Atheaxa leapt into me, shoving me aside and rearing over me.
   What the—?
   An arrow from my right appeared in her neck just below her head.
   Spinning around and grabbing another arrow I saw Anacharsis in the grass, maybe 50 metres away. I fired, realizing that they must have seen me before I’d seen them. They’d sent Anacharsis to sneak ahead. Their own ambush.
   Two men screamed, almost simultaneously—I’d gotten lucky with my long-range shot. Atheaxa was slumped over my lower back, blood and foam bubbling from her mouth.
   Poseidon damn them! Poseidon damn them all!
   She looked up at me. Did good?
   I scratched her on her head between her ears. “You did good.”
   The horses were around me, nipping at my flanks, pushing. Flee! Flee! they all screamed out.
   I had to. By Poseidon, I had to! There were at least four left, and they were running towards me.
   Loosing another arrow, I turned and fled, letting Atheaxa slide from my back and onto the ground.
   She didn’t make a sound. Not even when I risked a backwards glance and saw my pursuers hack her head off with a knife.

   It was mid-day before I let myself slow down. One of the mares, Winala, pushed her way so that she was in front of me; I knew what she was offering. “Thank you.” Drawing my knife, I opened a small cut in her neck beside the scars of others and sucked at the blood. It was hot, salty, but it was all I had.
   The others leaned against me offering their support.
   Why did it have to be this way? I had been happy. Why did I have to remember? Why did I have to kill and kill again? A nearly forgotten memory rose in my mind, a quote from something: ‘We know the name of everybody we kill.’
   Poseidon curse you to an eternally burning wheel, Palacus!
   A flight of birds leapt into the air, startled by the loudness of my voice.
   I needed time to sorrow, but I knew I wouldn’t get it. There were four left. I had to kill them. I’d killed too many already, but I had no choice. No Poseidon-damned choice!
   In the myths, hero after hero fought their enemies and slew them. How did they do it? How could they live with themselves as the bodies piled higher, one after another? A month ago I would have gloried, but my civilized memories were a curse. Death after death… As Medusa, I’d had no choice; my body had driven me; my pain had blinded me. Each kill was impersonal. I told myself it wasn’t my fault, heavens no! If there was any blame to be laid, surely it was the fault of my curse, my horror. But now… I knew that wasn’t true. I’d killed—I had killed—then, and I was going to kill more.
   And the cost!
   I couldn’t let us stop. Barely sated, I forced myself to move to the south. The herd followed. Going east now would curse me with the sun glare.
   At least it seemed that this would be over by sunset one way or another.

Chapter 15
-= Messages from Beyond =-

   I was forced to let the horses lead me. Two were always on either side, and that was the only thing that kept me from collapsing. The other eight walked alongside, nibbling on the grass half-heartedly. Their heads always hung low and they all stank of sweat and fatigue, just as I did.
   I tried to send them off—I begged, I ordered, I screamed at them.
   They ignored me.
   The day grew hot and muggy as thick clouds built up. The rain that had been threatening for days seemed imminent, but stubbornly refused to come. I could smell the rain that wasn’t falling. Humidity rose and sweat poured off me. The horses weren’t much better, but they said nothing. Around the middle of the afternoon one of the mares, Anthalas, offered her neck to me.
   “No,” I refused.
   “I can’t..! You deserve it more.”
   I turned my head away. Hadn’t I hurt them enough?
   Out of the corner of my eye I could see Anthalas looking at me. She turned away and I sighed with relief… but then Ganlicus dug her teeth into her neck, drawing blood. Anthalas then pushed herself against me.
   I wanted to resist. They needed it far more than I did… but they left me no choice.
   I drank.
   Hours passed. Every so often, another mare would offer her neck. I refused the second, and again a wound was opened and I was forced to accept the offering. The third time I sighed and drew my knife and took the gift.
   The horses led me to another spring and I drank as greedily as they did. I wished I’d kept my wineskin. Holding my bow aloft, I let them splash my horse torso by pushing waves of water over it with their bodies.
   I was just starting to relax and sigh in relief when Ganlicus looked at me.
   They come. She turned her head and, following her glance, I saw figures in the distance. I looked at the herd. “Since you refuse to leave me, look around—” I pointed “—and make sure that’s all of them.”
   Four horses moved off.
   Continuing my sweep, I didn’t see anybody else; just the figures in the distance. There looked to be four.
   I had 8 arrows left.
   Anthalas came back. All together, she nickered.
   I guess they too were too tired to be fancy about things. The only reason I was still standing was because of the two mares who pressed themselves against either side of me. “Go. Go away before it’s too late!”
   As one they screamed their response: No!
   “Get out of here!”
   They ignored me.
   I tried pushing away Coranas, one of the mares holding me up, but she dug in her hooves and leaned hard against me. Tulanth, the mare on my other side, nipped the side of my human half, just breaking the surface of my skin.
   We stay. Stay!
   The humans were less than half a kilometer away.
   “Please go…”
   Paletheaxm just snapped her teeth.
   I wiped the sweat off my forehead and swallowed. I didn’t deserve this. I was a murderer who didn’t deserve loyalty. Still, I appreciated it. It seemed that there was some horse in me after all because the herd fed me strength. I would defend them. They deserved it.
   Wiping the tears out of my eyes I strung my bow. “Idonthrysus! I don’t want to do this! Go home!” I remembered how he’d always stood by me. I didn’t want to kill him!
   My voice echoed across the grass, and was followed by a low rumble of thunder from overhead.
   The storm had to pick this time to break. Of course it did. Once it started raining my bow would become useless—but so would theirs. I might be able to get one in a charge, but the three others would overwhelm me if I tried to use my father’s sword.
   “Just go away!”
   They broke into a jerky run towards me, crouching low in the grass.
   I backed into the spring until the water was just lapping over my lower back. It was the only cover I had. The horses followed me, crowding around. I could somehow feel their love and devotion swirling up and over me… And that offered more support than their physical presence holding me up.
   One of my pursuers stopped and fired an arrow high. It might be able to reach me, but a hit would be in the hands of the gods. Of course, with 10 mares…
   Dear god! Four horses had left, only one had come back to report. “No!”
   Winala must have been laying in the grass as I suddenly saw a chestnut form leap up and race towards the archer. He heard her as he turned and fired and I knew his arrow had hit. He fired again, and the mare staggered but somehow kept going.
   I started firing arrows one after the other at the distant figure. Even through my rage and horror, I kept my arm steady; my arrows flew true. It was hopeless, though. At this range, I had as much of a chance of hitting the mare as hitting the figure.
   Just as I got my third arrow off, Winala reached the figure and they both screamed together and fell into the grass.
   Neither got up.
   The last three figures were still running, though slowly now. Dimly I heard them gasping for breath. I had five arrows left; one after another, I fired them at the nearest figure as he got closer and closer. Somehow the third shot passed through his leg and he staggered. The fifth shot went through his neck.
   The other two had stopped, both about 100 metres away. They were crouching down, and each began firing arrows in rapid succession. Of course they couldn’t know that I had none left.
   Adrenalin pumped through me, the love of my children filled my veins. Together we screamed our hatred and burst out of the water and galloped toward the last two humans. Beside me Paletheaxm went down… but I was beyond caring.
   Hot rage and hate filled me as Ixion’s blood took my mind. I’d never wanted this—I shouldn’t have to do this—it had been thrust upon me! Hot energy filled me as I galloped through the grass, my children beside me. My bow encumbered me so I threw it down. An arrow thrust itself into the left side of my chest in a cold screech of pain, but I barely felt it.
   Drawing my last javelin, I stretched my arm back and then threw it with all my strength and speed. Lightning burst from the heavens and boomed into the earth, its light glittering off the polished bronze head. The sharp scent of ozone and charred grass and ground followed. The clouds opened up and the sky filled with pouring water. My javelin sped on regardless, as though guided by the hand of the gods, and pierced its prey through his left shoulder, its hungry bronze point springing out the other side in a spew of crimson blood. I turned, and beside me Caranas leaned down and ripped his throat out in a spray of crimson as he thrust his glittering bronze dagger into her neck.
   I didn’t care. Only one was left. One enemy, one victim. I drew my father’s sword, its gleaming metal hungry for blood. Another burst of lightning broke and faded, leaving a wine-dark afterglow. The rain poured down heavier, and horses squealed and slid as the grass bent down to kiss the earth under the rain’s weight.
   The last human tossed his useless bow aside and threw a javelin towards me, its bronze head hungry from my blood—but I ducked and it went shooting by, its hunger finally filled by one of the mares behind me. Lightning crashed through the heavens again as Idonthyrsus drew his sword and stood, legs spread.
   His hair was black and slick against his rain-soaked body. His eyes glittered but in their depths was a spark of fear. He knew he was going to die this day. In the rain. Cold, wet, forgotten, failed in his task to avenge his family. But he didn’t run.
   There was no grace in my first blow, just speed and strength as I sped past him. Our bronze weapons kissed one another, clanging their hunger and frustration. Idonthyrsus staggered, forced to his knees by the force of the blow, but he didn’t go down. Skidding to a stop, I turned around. Only three mares were left, none near me. Another bolt of lightning hissed into the spring behind me; in the sudden day, I saw them galloping towards me.
   Slowly, carefully, wiping the rain off my face, I walked towards Idonthyrsus. His body gleamed in the rain and he held his sword steady. I could feel the hunger of his bronze, but I knew it would avail him not. Adjusting my grip so that both hands were on the sword I accelerated into a trot and screamed as our blades met.
   This time my stroke was clean. His weapon glanced off, digging into my arm, but my blade carried on into his chest, hungrily drinking the spray of blood and gore. Idonthyrsus fell to the ground.
   Unlike the others he didn’t scream.
   A redness lifted from my eyes like a veil.
   What had I done? What had I done?!?
   My father’s sword fell from my hands and I knelt beside my closest friend, holding him as he struggled to breathe.
   “Idonthyrsus…” I whispered. “Why couldn’t you listen…”
   He spoke, his words only a whisper as blood gurgled out of his mouth. I leaned over to try and hear.
   “I begged you to leave. I—”
   “I hear… listen!” he hissed, and then coughed a spray of blood. “When… found you. Palacus said you bring death. Didn’t believe him, Modyes didn’t…”
   I tried to hold his blood in, but it just oozed around my fingers.
   “Too late… Listen!” His voice grew fainter. I pressed my ear against his mouth to hear his final words. “I hear Palacus…. hear the dead…”
   “No…,” I sobbed out.
   “It wasn’t you. It wasn’t him.”
   The surviving mares pressed their bodies against mine, but the rain washed away any joy they brought.
   “What!?” Idonthyrsus coughed up blood. It soaked into my hair to be washed away by the fading rain. Thunder rumbled faintly in the distance.
   “Ephebos killed your…”
   Idonthyrsus relaxed in my arms and fell silent.
   “No! No!!

Chapter 16
-= Persistence of Revenge =-

   It was dark by the time I could drag myself away from Idonthyrsus to start the burials. Fortunately one of the tribesmen had a shovel, as I hadn’t had time to get one when I fled. First, though, I had to pull the arrow in my chest all the way through to get the head out. Cold water from the spring washed the dirt out from that wound, and the sword wound in my arm. I hoped it was enough.
   One of the mares, Anthalos, wasn’t dead. However she was wounded in the neck, and one leg was broken. Through her gurgling knickers and snorts of pain I heard her final request… and obeyed it.
   I chopped her head off in one stroke.
   From the distant past I remembered hearing that when the guillotine was used in France, the odd victim did not die from the shock of the decapitation. Instead, their head rolled into the basket still alive. The mouth would move and try to scream, and the eyes would blink.
   The same thing happened to Anthalos. I held her head, and scratched her between her ears, before oxygen starvation finally sent her to her rest.
   Proto-scythian burial practice was to bury the rider with their horse, the rider above the horse. Instead, I buried each separately. Each had fought on their own for their own reasons.
   Each deserved the honour of the burial.
   It wasn’t until dawn that I finished the last of the mounds and let myself collapse into sleep near the spring with the last three horses.
   That night I dreamed. Ghosts were around me: Friends, youths I’d grown up with. Mares who had given their lives for me. They didn’t accuse me, they didn’t hate me. Instead they forgave me and licked my face and scratched my back and fed me sweet meats.
   I hoped it was real. I hoped their spirits had come and offered comfort.
   It was late afternoon when I awoke, and a thin drizzle was dripping onto the grass. The last three mares also woke, and I packed the stuff I’d taken from the dead.
   The tribe had always been practical. They would understand.
   I had arrows, almost a full quiver; two javelins that were still usable; waterskins and rations. My bow had been trampled and shattered in the rain, so I took Idonthyrsus’. After all, there was still one person I had to kill.
   Idonthyrsus said Ephebus had killed my family. Had he? Or did Idonthyrsus lie at the end? This time I would not let rage take me. I would talk to Ephebus and find the truth. And then, if he was guilty, I would kill him.
   I would not shed any more innocent blood.
   I could only pray that it wasn’t Ephebus. Not just because it would erase the horrible fate that had led me to kill and kill again, but also…
   Because he was with Philya.
   If he’d killed my family, he could kill her. He could rape her, torture her. He could—
   I refused to think about it.
   The mares and I left the spring and moved off in my best guess as to the right direction. Rain and time had erased the trail left by Idonthyrsus and the others, so I had to guess. One of the mares claimed to know the way. I was too tired to argue. Her name was Anarcharax and I let her lead. I prayed she knew the way, as I had only the vaguest idea.
   At nightfall we stopped and made camp. I offered the mares some of the water from my skin, and we lay down together for warmth. At dawn we were up and on our way. Anarcharax led me to a spring where we drank and I refilled the one skin I’d emptied. Both my wounds were red and puffy, and my arm hurt whenever it moved. I did the best I could to wash out the sores, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough.
   As long as I lived long enough to catch Ephebus, find out the truth, and deal justice, I didn’t care.
   Night came and we collapsed into sleep. My lower back was stiff and the dried sweat cracked as I walked but I was too tired to try and wash or roll it off. In a couple of days it wouldn’t really matter. The only reason I was able to sleep was my utter exhaustion.
   The third day I forced myself to my feet and hooves, and had to use my good arm on each of the mares in turn to keep me upright. The day became a blur. It was all I could do to move one foot in front of the other, one hoof in front of the other. I think we stopped at another spring—I vaguely remember coldness piercing through the heat—but I was never sure.
   Near dusk, my mind forced itself through the fever in desperate recognition. I knew where I was, I knew how to reach the spring where Philya was—where Philya had to be. We were almost there, and justice would be served. I hoped. Dusk fell, and only the mares’ help kept me stumbling forward. The moon rose, approaching full. It was the right spring!
   The mares nickered nervously as we approached…
   I could see that the horses were there, laying on the ground, asleep.
   Then the stench hit me.
   They weren’t asleep… they were dead. All of them.
   The only sound was the buzz of flies around their corpses.
   Staggering forward I splashed into the spring and looked around through fevered eyes.
   Death, nothing but death.
   Like a madman I dashed and stumbled from body to body. Horses, horses. Dear Poseidon, nothing but dead horses! I stopped at the corpse of the colt who’d slept with me before the killing started. He’d been so full of life, and now he was on the ground. Dead.
   And Philya and Ephebus were gone.

Chapter 17
-= Healing =-

   Drink, I heard nickered to me.
   I was laying half in the spring and half out of it. When my eyes were open, all I could see was a blurred glow. Or I was hallucinating? Even the spring wouldn’t cool me anymore.
   Oh, Philya, Philya…
   Something pressed itself against me, against my mouth. Something else shoved its way underneath my head and lifted. A liquid touched my lips, something warm, thick, sweet. I remembered it from long ago. When everything was warm and simple and Philya was alive.
   Was I dreaming? Was this Elysium? Would I even be let into the Elysium fields?
   Something, maybe me, maybe something else, moved my head so that my mouth was around something warm that felt like a water-filled balloon. Another drop of the remembered sweetness dribbled into my hot and dry mouth. It felt cool, refreshing. Moving my lips I started sucking. Sweet, warm, liquid, and then a coolness that drifted languidly out from my horse chest.

   I woke up again and opened my eyes. Even though I was still burning, I could think. The pain no longer overwhelmed me. Was it the rotting stench from all around that had awakened me? No. I looked up and saw that Pegasus, me, my mother, was standing on top of the spring water. I was in the water, half submerged. The surviving mares were around me. Pegasus lowered herself into the water and I recognized the teat I’d been suckling at. I was an adult… I…
   Drink. It was Pegasus.
   Without conscious volition I drank.

   It was late afternoon. My wounds ached, but it was a mild ache, a healing ache. Splashing the dirty water all around, I stood up. I wavered a bit, and Anarcharax leaned into me. The heat of her body pressed the last of the fog from my brain—that, and the stench.
   It was so bad that I wanted to vomit. I didn’t, not because I forced my stomach down, but because I was physically incapable of such an action.
   Now that I could think clearly… I looked around. Beside me I could feel Anarcharax shivering from the horror which surrounded us. The other two mares, Sauliux and Modyexa, pressed themselves against me, trying to hide from the piles of dead. I could see now that the scavengers had been at them. Bodies had been dragged, legs ripped off. Corpses half-eaten.
   There’d been almost a hundred.
   I wanted to bury them, but it was impossible. There were so many it would have taken me weeks just to dig the holes. The bodies were already rotting, and the once-clean spring was dark with blood and gore. I shivered and the mares shivered with me.
   Must go, Anarcharax nickered. Away, far. Pegasus meet.
   “Pegasus…” I couldn’t think clearly with the stench.
   Sauliux nipped my lower back as Anarcharax pushed. I took a step forward.
   Clean water. Close, she neighed.
   Swallowing down bile, I let them lead me through and away from the horror. There was no clear path; the bodies were everywhere. Crows, cawing, flapped into the air as we approached, before settling down behind us. I don’t know how long we walked out of that charnel house. Even now it’s a blur—an endless horror that it hurts to think about. I force myself to remember, though. It’s all I can do now.
   We moved into the grass and accelerated to a trot. All four of us stayed pressed together, needing the physical contact to remind us that we still lived. The stench followed us. Long after the spring was lost in the distance, the whiff of death still tainted the air. Reaching another spring we drank the clean water as the sun set. I could still smell the carnage if I thought about it…
   One of the mares raised her head. She comes, Modyexa nickered. Pegasus.
   I saw her drifting in the moonlight towards us. With a gentle stroke of her wings she slowed; one of her hind hoofs touched the ground, and a burble of water sprouted up and then faded. Gently, each hoof-touch leaving a ripple that spread and faded, she walked across the spring towards me. I could feel her warm breath on my face when she stopped.
   Stephan, she neighed. It’s alright.
   Wrapping my arms around her neck and squeezing her like a hot water bottle, I pressed my face into her fur. All the horror of the hunt, of the murder, of the death, poured out of me. She just stood silent, lipping at my mane… standing there as I poured out my grief.

   The moon was up before I let my hands slide down and looked up at her through a tear-blurred haze. She turned her head to return my gaze and our souls—hers an echo of mine—met and touched.
   “Why?” I whispered. “Why does the world have to be like this?”
   It’s all right, she nickered. What’s done is done. You did what you thought best.
   “I killed them! All of them!”
   Stephan! she screamed. You didn’t!
   “I failed them!”
   She nickered gently. A meaningless sound. meant only to comfort.
   “I should have saved them.”
   How? You did what you thought was right. Your soul is in pain, I feel your horror. But there’s still Philya.
   You have to rescue her.
   I looked up at Pegasus, blinking away tears. “She’s still alive..?” I couldn’t believe it, and at that instant I don’t think I did believe it.
   Ephebus hasn’t killed her.
   Turning away, I looked at my reflection in the rippled water. Somewhere I’d lost my shirt. My body was scarred and streaked with blood. My legs were dark with bruises and sores buried beneath patches of dried blood. Only some of it was mine.
   “Where are they?”
   Pegasus nipped my shoulder. You can’t leave yet—you need time to heal.
   Pushing my way past her I stalked out of the spring. My legs were sore, stiff. I forced them to obey me. My voice was cold: “Which way?”
   Pegasus walked until she was once again standing in front of me, her hooves just brushing the top of the grass. Two days, she neighed. You must heal, or you’ll never catch them. Trust me…
   I looked at her, saw my soul reflected in her eyes.
   …trust yourself.
   Anarcharax stopped beside me and snorted onto my back. You kept us alive. Rest.
   Pegasus nickered, Let my milk finish your healing…
   Turning away from both of them, I looked off into the distance. The air still carried faint traces of the stench from the dead herd.
   Then Modyexa splashed through the spring beside me. She stopped, and looked up at me.
   Last time I’d rushed off, for all the good reasons. For all the same reasons as now: There was no time to waste, I couldn’t give them time to organize, I couldn’t wait… I sighed. Look where it’d gotten me. Looking into Modyexa’s eyes, I moved my hand up and started scratching her behind one ear.
   “She’s alive and okay?”
   Behind me Pegasus nickered, Yes.
   “Two days then. No more.”
   There was a faint flap of wings and then Pegasus was hovering above me. Drink, son, she nickered. Drink and be strong.
   I turned my head upwards and she lowered until I began sucking the hot sweet milk.

   I forced myself to stay and rest for two days. It took hours to wash the gore off my skin and hide, but I did it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything as good as when I rolled back and forth in the dry grass. Pegasus created another spring that night when she arrived, so we had fresh water. I didn’t eat any food, I drank almost no water. Instead I lived off my mother’s milk as I’d done so long ago. I don’t know whether it had magic, antibiotics, or what, but it healed me. It cured the infections, it kept me sane.
   I didn’t have much in the way of supplies left. Water had destroyed Idonthyrsus’ bow and javelin. The rations I’d grabbed had been left behind with the dead, soaked in water and blood as I lay delirious. All I had was a dagger and my father’s sword. The scabbard was wet, but the sword had let it keep its shape—it would serve.
   On the third day, I and the three mares started after Ephebus and Philya. Pegasus met us each night to guide us.

Chapter 18
-= Pursuing Thoughts =-

   Days passed. I and the mares trotted across the Sea of Grass. Each night I drank Pegasus’ milk to fulfill my needs for food and water. My body changed, became sleeker, faster. Gradually my group moved quicker.
   Unfortunately, Ephebus had over a week’s head start, and Philya had been toughened up enough to not slow Ephebus down much. Or he wasn’t letting her slow him down.
   We were gaining, yes—but slowly.
   Each day’s walk was a dream-like daze. There was little conversation. The mares were wonderful company, and they could think to a point, but abstract concepts were beyond them. All I had to fill my time with was planning, and remembering what had happened.
   Every dawn for the first two weeks, I would remember the dead and wake up screaming and shivering with the mares leaning against me. The dreams did fade as time passed, but I refused to let myself forget. That would be the ultimate betrayal.
   I had lots of time to think about how I was going to take Ephebus down, how I’d talk to him before I ripped his bloody head off.
   It wouldn’t be easy. There was nowhere to hide on the plains; he’d see us coming long before we could reach him. I had no ranged weapons left, and even if I had, there would have been a danger of hitting Philya. I doubted I could approach as a ‘friend’. After what Ephebus had done, murdering the herd at the spring and kidnapping my sister, he’d have to be an idiot to believe I still named him ‘comrade’.
   I and my herd followed Pegasus’ lead. We pursued Ephebus and Philya day after day, each day running into the next. At first the only difference was weather; some days were cool, some warm, some dry, some wet. Gradually the land changed. It became rockier. I could smell salt in the air.
   As I walked, my mind wandered. Increasingly my thoughts formed images of what might be. Of the things that Ephebus could be doing to Philya. I pushed myself harder, stopping only out of concern for the mares. Pegasus told me that we were getting closer, but we never seemed to catch him. Our pursuit was never-ending. An eternal dream between crashing events…
   More days passed. It seemed we were approaching a coast; I thought it could be the Black Sea. But I wasn’t sure, and even my guess assumed that this place somehow contained an image of the real world. Could it? Could it warp space/time that way?
   Again, there was no way I could know so I let my guess stand. Soon enough I’d see.
   On a night when the moon was only a sliver, Pegasus came as usual when I and the mares stopped to rest. I wasn’t tired at all, hadn’t been at the end of a day for weeks. The mares were, and it was for them I stopped.
   Pegasus halted in front of me, not quite touching the ground. When I moved towards her, she pulled herself away from me so that I couldn’t suckle. For a moment she looked at me, and then she spoke in nickers and soft neighs: You’ve almost caught up to them. If you go on, you’ll catch them tonight.
   Turning, I looked at the mares. They were exhausted—so exhausted they’d collapsed onto the ground. I could count their ribs! Had I been pushing them that hard? How?
   You’re different now. Go, I’ll watch them. Bring Philya back.
   Philya. Yes. Turning, I slowly walked away, and then accelerated into a gallop when I was far enough that the sound wouldn’t waken the mares. Memories of Philya bubbled through my brain. Soon I would see her, soon she would be safe. Soon I would have answers.
   Galloping through the night, I was tireless. The moon crested and began to set and I felt no fatigue.
   What had my mother’s milk done to me? And how permanent was it? I didn’t know. And, at that point, I didn’t care.
   I could hear waves shushing against the coast. I continued to gallop. I could hear waves rattling across pebbles. Cresting a rise I stopped and looked out on a dark sea and, on the beach, a camp.
   There was a fire, dim and reduced to coals. Beside it were two centaurs.
   Ephebus and Philya. It had to be.
   In the darkness I couldn’t see any details, and they both looked asleep.
   I had a choice: I could try and move in quietly, or I could gallop straight towards them. The former gave me the possibility of surprise. If Ephebus was asleep. The second gave up surprise, unless they were both asleep. Its advantage was that it minimized his time to react.
   My heart pumped faster with fear and rage. I’d been pursing him too long. Remembering the images my mind had conjured, I took a stop forward. Images of hideous tortures. Of rape. Of all kinds of abuse. Of other things I won’t talk about. My nostrils flared.
   Tonight it would end, one way or another.
   I drew my father’s sword and held it for a moment. Scanning the ground, I looked for traps, looked for branches or rocks that could trip me… Nothing.
   I waved my father’s sword above my head and screamed a war-cry as I bounded down the hill.

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

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