Flight of the Scions 40: Gallop
> The eight horses of the sun ride to serve Tachìra, their hooves beating a tattoo against the sand with a speed that touches two horizons in the same day. --- Wamyudeso Tsúba, The Clans of Sun and Night.
After another hour of trudging, Kanéko was sick and tired of rocks. Along the side of the river she followed, the river had carved out many deep ravines around ribbons of sturdier rocks. It left her only a choice of walking along the bottoms, occasionally through waist-deep fetid waters or up on the top where a few short trees struggled to find a perch. It wasn't a choice, but she spent much of her time either following mossy trails or hopping across the narrow spots between the sides of ravines. Her feet ached, her legs hurt, and she wished she could find something to ease the gnawing in her stomach.
When she first saw smoke on the horizon a half hour before, she had hoped for a warm meal and maybe a wagon. But, as she approached, she thought about the last time she entered a village---Lassidin---and how poorly it went. The idea of risking herself for even an isolated village sickened her and she turned away from the twin columns of smoke before she even spotted any buildings.
Bypassing the village ate away precious time. Soon, she was sweating from the effort to climb the wall of a ravine that she couldn't jump. Her fingers and toes ached from the effort. She looked worriedly at the sun, there was only a few hand's widths from the horizon and nothing around her looked safe enough to sleep for the night. She had a few bells until sundown, but the concern hung in the back of her thoughts.
Moving away from the east-west ridges meant she had to climb. She hopped down and crawled up the other side. It slowed her down and by the time she passed the village, the sun hung a hand's width from the horizon.
Kanéko wiped the sweat from her brow. She ached from head to toe and the bow and pack weighed her down, but she didn't dare leave either behind. Her mother's lessons made a lot more sense now, pack light but ready for anything.
A whinny drifted over the ridges. Kanéko stopped and shielded her hand over her face. She scanned the horizon until she spotted a horse running across the top of a ridge. As she watched, the horse easily jumped across a ravine. It appeared not to have a rider, but it was moving too fast not to be driven by something or someone.
It took a heart-stopping second to realize it ran toward her. Gasping, Kanéko spun around frantically trying to find a place to hide. On the far side of a narrow ravine, she spotted a small alcove just underneath the top. It looked large enough for her to hide from sight. Without a second thought, she jumped off her trail. She landed on the far side. It took her a moment to slide down on her belly and swing underneath the outcropping. Her bare toes caught the ledge and she inched herself into it until she was safely balanced on the narrow rock while holding on to some thick roots.
The painful beating of her heart measured out the time with agonizing slowness. Kanéko forced herself to take longer breaths, covering her mouth with her hand as she prayed whatever ran toward her would pass by.
She didn't know how long she cowered in the shadow, but it felt like forever before she heard the horse's hooves. It beat with a rapid four stroke, and her heart matched the staccato. Dust trickled down her face, tickling her nose. The drumming grew louder, and then stopped. A heartbeat later, she heard it hit the bottom of the valley; dust streamed down from the rocks above her.
Hooves tapped loudly on the rocky ground. Kanéko's heart slammed into her ribs as she heard the equine walking down the top edge of the ravine opposite to her. It was the path she was just on.
She shivered and held the roots tighter, ducking her head. Slowly, she inched her free hand toward Cobin's dagger. In her mind, she suddenly thought of Garèo's horse, Ojinkomàsu. The image was incredible clear but completely unexpected; she imagined Garèo when she had the headache before. The thought disappeared just as the riderless roan horse walked past her alcove.
She gasped. "O-Ojinkomàsu!?"
Ojinkomàsu stopped and turned his head to look at her.
Kanéko swung out of her alcove, blinded by the light as she examined Garèo's horse.
The roan looked at her, the same golden eyes she remembered since Garèo first showed up.
"Thank the sun, Ojinkomàsu! It is you!" Stuttering, Kanéko crawled up the side of the ravine and then hopped over. Her hand stroked along the hot side of the horse. "It's really you," she sobbed as she clutched on to him, breathing in the familiar scent.
Ojinkomàsu rested his nose on her shoulder and breathed heavily.
Kanéko leaned back to look into his eyes. She spoke in Miwāfu because it seemed the right way to speak with a desert horse. "Ojinkomàsu, why are you, um, how are you here?"
The horse shook his mane and stepped back.
Kanéko nibbled on her bottom lip. Both Garèo and her mother were adamant that she never consider riding Ojinkomàsu. They never told her the reason, but Kanéko was desperate to get home. She decided to beg for forgiveness later. "Mama told me to never ride you, but do you think, maybe I could?"
The horse bumped his head against her shoulder.
Kanéko took a deep breath. She reached out and grabbed Ojinkomàsu's mane; it was hot in her fingers, and she grasped it tightly. The powerful horse tensed, and she hesitated, worried he would kick. When he didn't move, she hopped onto him.
The desert folk rarely wore a saddle on their horses, but she didn't have the normal blanket either. She was surprised at the heat rolling off Ojinkomàsu's body. She settled down on his muscular back. A soft gasp escaped her lips, she was on top of Ojinkomàsu.
Kanéko opened her mouth, and then she felt a tickle of a presence in her mind. It was light and delicate, just like Ruben when he reached for her surface thoughts. She looked around sharply, looking for Ruben or the waves of force that represented Damagar, but she couldn't see either. She didn't know if she should shield her thoughts or open up.
The tickle faded after a moment without another image.
Heart beating faster, Kanéko leaned over to Ojinkomàsu to speak in his ear, "Ojinkomàsu, please by Tachìra's blessing, take me home?"
Ojinkomàsu burst into movement. His hoofs slammed into the ground as he galloped back down the valley. He found a steep incline on the side of the valley and shot up it. He left an avalanche of rocks behind him as he reached the top of the ridge and accelerated into a gallop.
Kanéko grabbed tightly, but Ojinkomàsu moved with such grace she never risked losing her balance. She concentrated on the connections of their bodies, the way they moved together, just as Garèo taught her, but she never felt such an intimate bond with a horse. She felt as if she could anticipate every leap and gallop.
Once on top of the ridges, Ojinkomàsu accelerated in the sunlight. He raced along the rock and the ground blurred beneath him.
She pressed her body tight to his skin, sweating from the heat that rolled off his body and the sun baking down on her.
Before she knew it, Ojinkomàsu galloped out of the ravines and into a wide valley. He aimed for a road straight down the middle. She knew the route; it was one of the many ones on Corbin's map. Kanéko pulled at his mane, trying to pull him off, but she couldn't deter the horse. "Ojinkomàsu! Stay off the road, there are people looking for me! They can't find me!"
The horse continued to gallop, his hooves accelerating along the smoother road. He was running too fast, the world was blurring around her as he continued to race faster and faster.
She could feel the rapid-fire staccato of his gallop. She tugged harder but she couldn't pull Ojinkomàsu away from his path. He swung to the east and she saw a caravan far up ahead. Whimpering, she tried one more time to pull him away, but the powerful horse continued to ignore her.
Sunlight flashed as they raced along. The wagons rushed up, faster than Kanéko expected, and blew past. Kanéko stared over her shoulder in shock. One of the wagons teetered on two wheels before it came crashing back into place. Papers and fabric blossomed around the caravan before floating down. Arcs of magenta lighting traced the ground where they passed.
No horse could move that fast, she knew that much. No living creature could cause a wagon to tilt on its side or force the world to become nothing more than a blur of green and brown.
She blinked. When her eyes opened, the caravan was too far away to focus on. She frowned as she turned around and pressed her body tight to Ojinkomàsu. Garèo's horse was more than he appeared, far more. Corbin's letters about a horse king seemed more real as she rode the too-fast horse.
For a brief moment, she wondered if she could become the horse king, she had never demonstrated any powers but there was a chance. No, she decided after a moment. She had been tested for other cultural magic. She had nothing, not even the basic ability to gain power from the sunlight like most desert folks.
Kanéko sighed and closed her eyes against the sudden tears. She pressed her body tight against Ojinkomàsu to avoid the wind ripping at her face, and tried not to dream of a world where she had all the powers.