by Nicki Tate
New Adult, Contemporary Portal Fantasy
| Chapter 3: Who's the Deadliest of Them All?
"GREVIRS!" bellowed Nagalia. In one fluid motion she drew a bow from thin air and stood on the back of her still moving horse.
"Hold on tight to me." said Garik urgently.
Without giving myself time to think about it, I wrapped my arms around his solid chest and clung for dear life as he gave a command to his horse that had us practically flying. Garik had a warm and spicy smell that reminded me of the apple cider I had imagined earlier. I inhaled deeply and I had the brief but insane thought that I had dreamed him up along with the orchard.
I heard Nagalia issue the same command and her mount thundered into action behind us. I snuck a peek and saw that despite the speed she was now moving at, Nagalia stood atop her horse and was loosing arrows at an astonishing rate into the trees to our left. Hisses and shrieks came from the trees as her arrows found their targets. Suddenly Garik's horse reared up on its hind legs and while I still clung to him with my arms, my legs slipped off. I found myself dangling from Garik's torso and praying that I could hold on, and that he would hold on as well. Garik was unaffected and managed to right his horse easily enough. When all four hooves were safely back on the ground I was able to see what had caused the disturbance. Standing in the middle of the road were three of the ugliest creatures I had ever seen. They're skin or fur or whatever it was, was made of such a dark black it seemed to swallow the light around it. They appeared to be the embodiment of darkness, with red coals for eyes and wide gaping maws that had rows upon rows of rotted yellow teeth. Leathery, paper thin black wings protruded from somewhere below their armpits and their feet had long silvery talons that seemed to ooze with some sort of green liquid.
"Now would be a great time to use that dagger you have hidden in your boot." said Garik over his shoulder.
"How did you...? Never mind." I said as I drew the weapon.
Garik seemed to have pulled a large sword from thin air, just as Nagalia had. I had the briefest of moments to wonder where the heck they were concealing these massive weapons before one of the creatures vaulted itself into the air and landed on the horse's back, just behind where I sat.
I twisted to face it, my dagger raised, but before I could do anything an arrow bloomed from it's chest and it fell sideways off the horse.
"Thanks Nagalia!" I yelled. I had not been at all confident in my ability to use that dagger.
My relief was short lived however since another creature quickly took the place of the first. Instead of landing though, this one hovered around me like an extremely large fly. I tried to slash at him with my dagger but he dodged my attacks every time, moving to hover just out of reach. I found myself wishing I had a massive fly swatter, and just as I had the thought I saw that tied to the side of the horse there was indeed what looked to be an oversized fly swatter.
"What the hell?" I muttered.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (Ha! Get it? Gift horse!), I lunged for the swatter and slammed it down on the thing with all my might. It hit the ground with a sickening splat and twitched for a moment until Nagalia's horse trampled it.
I whooped in triumph and got ready to swat more out of the sky with my new toy, but at that moment Nagalia's horse let out a horrible shriek and stumbled. Nagalia managed to launch herself gracefully into the air, clear of the horse's flailing. She landed easily a few feet away, bow still drawn, as her horse succumbed to its mortal wound, a black arrow sticking out of it's chest.
"Shit! Shit! Garik stop! Nagalia's horse is dead, we're leaving her behind!" I yelled.
Garik pulled up the reins, jumped down, and was beside Nagalia in an instant. They had a heated discussion that I couldn't quite hear for a few seconds before Nagalia grabbed her brother in a quick, tight hug and raced back towards me and the horse. Garik remained where he was, sword drawn, eyes on the trees.
Nagalia leapt onto the horse in Garik's place, brusquely ordered me to hold on and once again we were thundering through the trees.
"Nagalia, what are you doing! We can't just leave him there! Who knows how many of those things there are?! He'll die!" I yelled.
"It-so, don't you think I know that?" snapped Nagalia in a bitter tone. "It is my duty to get you to the Honeran safely, the fate of our people depends on it. Garik knows this and refused to let me fail in my mission. He stays behind to buy us time."
"No, he can't die for me! That's crap! I'm not the special snowflake you think I am! Garik is far better equipped to be the savior of your people than I am! We have to go back for him!" I shrieked.
"I agree with you, personally I would much rather save my brother than your useless hide, but when I took the role of your protector I swore an oath. Garik would rather die than see me break that oath. So do me a favor, shut up and hold on tight" she practically spat at me.
I did as she asked as we flew through the trees. My last glimpse of Garik before the decaying orchard swallowed him, was with dozens of the black creatures converging on him in a quickly closing circle. Just as the first one leapt at him we turned slightly and he was removed from my view.
We continued at the breakneck pace for another half hour. A half hour of complete silence, other than the rain of hoof beats on the hard packed dirt. I imagined we were both too miserable to attempt conversation. Nagalia had lost her brother, and someone had died for me. Someone that clearly meant a great deal to his people, to his family, had died for me, over duty. Over that half hour of silence, my sorrow began to turn into anger. Garik had died for me, and why? Because some old guy thought I was the fucking Chosen One? For fuck's sake, he kept his people alive with his escape plans and border patrol, but one old man says I'm the savior and suddenly his life is less important. Suddenly I must be protected at all costs despite the fact that I've never done a useful thing in my entire pathetic life. It's not that I wanted to die but, this was some bullshit.
By the time we reached the encampment I was so seething mad, I didn't even marvel at the abrupt change of scenery or the shimmer in the atmosphere as we crossed through the magical barrier. All of my focus was on the fury I would unleash on the Honeran when I finally met him.