Hierophant’s Quest Part 3
Part 46 of Quest
& Part 6 of Istan’s Solo Quest: Chasing the Cross
Zallev rode the horse that was not a horse. Between his clenched thighs bucked the sleek bare back of no horse he’d ever seen. Magic infused its hide and everything under it, giving its hooves thunder and wind to its passage. Teeth gritted, he held tight, one hand gripping the horse’s black mane and the other opening and closing around the bone shaft of his blade. Sandwiched between the semi-divine and the somewhat magical made his skin itch and his bones ache.
Istan’s grip loosened and he slid sideways. Zallev caught his arm, held tight but couldn’t arrest his downward slide. “Whoa! Stop gods damn you!”
A lurch jarred Zallev as Istan’s bandaged feet hit the ground and dragged. The horse skidded; his pace slowed, throwing Zallev forward. He smashed his nose into the horse’s neck but he didn’t let go. No tarot card need tell him of Istan’s importance. Not when the ache in Zallev’s bones already told him that.
The horse craned his head around, liquid eyes taking in the scene with a snort. Zallev shoved the nosy steed’s head away.
“He saved my village. Spilled a lot of blood to do it.”
So the demigod was allowed to faint. Seizing his belt, Zallev jerked the icicle thin man up, reeling him in until he draped across Zallev’s thighs. A pulse beat in his throat affirming life. Deep breath in and then out, calmed Zallev’s racing heart. This fool’s errand hadn’t ended his savior.
The air electrified around them; the unconsciousness holding Istan captive had an unnatural root cause; one that made all Zallev’s hackles rise.
He heard the chanting,
ancestors’ sacred promise:
protect the magic.
It filled his memory and swelled his muscles with purpose. Some fell thing lingered here. Invisible, yet present, it pulled strings. His hand closed around the hilt of his blade; honed from his great-grandfather’s femur and tempered with the man’s strength of arm, it slid in silence from its hide sheathe. Glyphs burned into its flat flared blue as it tasted magic in the air.
Zallev blinked at the markings. Blue signified water magic but that elemental power had no sway so far from the ocean’s breakers. The spells wrought in the blade never lied or made a mistake. So water magic? Here? Why?
From water dreams flow,
crops grow, floods go and nightmares form–
that’s water’s magic.
He ran through that except from the Litany twice more as he sat the horse, tense and waiting. Nothing materialized. Nothing attacked. Not a gods damned thing moved except the wind stirring the long grasses. Not even the horse shifted so much as a muscle. Its liquid eyes rested on Zallev waiting for the all clear–further proof it was no natural horse.
Swiveling his head around, Zallev took in miles of grass in all directions. Nothing stained the horizon. It remained a dark line below the blue dome. Yet his blade vibrated, sensing magic and that damned teardrop glyph burned blue.
Invisible currents wound around him impacting with his blade but not hard enough to knock it from his hand. What madness was this?
“Show yourself. I know you’re here. Make your wants known.”
The wind didn’t answer.
Its fingers stopped combing grass.
It waited, breath held.
The glow faded out and his blade became inanimate again. His skin stopped prickling; his ancestors ceased their rhythmic chant. He sheathed his blade, met the stallion’s concerned eyes with a nod.
“Go, ride hard, run swift.
We are all magic and dust
in the end we fall.”
The stallion’s head whipped back around and he charged forwards, leaving thoughts of what had happened behind. Ahead loomed answers.
“Where are you taking us?” he asked the horse which, of course, didn’t answer. It galloped on through grassland, speeding due west. They chased the sun until it set, its rosy fingers lingering long on the distant horizon and then fading into falling starlight. Stars rose and they chased those too, the ground sailing away in a blur that made it seem as insubstantial as dreams.
Around midnight the horse stopped, its sides heaving. Foam dripped from its muzzle as it dipped its head to drink from a spring. Zallev slid off its back and set the Storm God down so he could splash water over his pale face. A pallor not made by paint, for this northern demigod was not a Painted Man of the south. He didn’t rouse.
A queer wind blew out of the south presaging changes on the wind. Turning, Zallev stared as horse-flesh flowed and rearranged into man-flesh. Shock cut his legs out from under him and his black knees landed in the earth. working his fingers into the loamy soil around the spring, he closed them, needing to touch something real.
“You’re the Hierophant,” Zallev rubbed dirt between his palms and that simple contact grounded him in this alien world where gods walked and horses became men who talked.
“Yes, I’m Chiron, counsellor of men.” Chiron’s knees buckled; he scooped up handfuls of water to slake his thirst. He spoke in bursts between gulps. “Can’t go any further…need a rest…will continue…tomorrow…rest now…”
“Continue? Where are we going?”
Chiron shook his head. “Must show you…can’t explain…won’t make sense…”
Zallev gazed at the stars overhead but they kept their silence too.
Spite kept silent stars
whose panegyric speech contained,
like the xenolith,
traces of truth in its fraud,
lustrous amid the lies’ stains.
As Zallev stargarzed, he peeled the shell from the hardboiled egg packed in haste hours earlier. Its firm, dry yolk choked him until he cupped water from the spring to wash it down. Removing a flask of laudanum, he considered the poppies growing here and there amid the grass. Should he give the godling a sip or two? Would that help in his current state?
The Hierophant snored where he lay wrapped in blankets. No fire lit their camp and yet he felt too visible on that knoll. Istan lay to his left, face pale and still but alive. Night deepened around him, blanketing all in tempestuous darkness and the voices of his ancestors started their warning chant again.
On swift feet it comes–
foes following magic’s call,
innocence its lure…
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Istan’s Quest continues in Hierophant’s Quest Part 4.
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Hierophants Quest Part 3 employed the following challenges: Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie: Wordle #100; Color Your World: Forrest Green.
*** Image credits for base image: Pixabay + some manipulation (me).