The pegasus did not want to be ridden.
And I can’t say that I blamed him.
We were in the desert of southwestern Utah on top of a hoodoo, the red spires of stone the region was famous for. A storm was closing in from the west and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get down in time to not get struck by lightning. I glanced to the south and frowned.
Or to avoid being whipped off the top in the sandstorm heading our way.
At least nothing was happening east—wait…
“Hank, is that a tornado?” I shrieked, pointing east.
I was pretty sure I was looking east, but it was hard to tell. The sky was clouded over and I’d gotten turned around during the ride. East of us would be a good thing because weather in Utah rarely moved in that direction and that meant we might not have to worry about the tornado unless it defied all reason.
Still a possibility. I mean, a tornado in southern Utah defied all reason.
“A tornado? In Utah? Impossible.” My partner turned to look in the direction I’d pointed. He jumped and flicked his hand which made his golden Glock vanish. He’d just sent a few orcs to the Netherworld that had been harassing the pegasus while flying around on a pair of thunderbirds they’d enslaved. With the orcs gone, the thunderbirds had flown off. “What the hell. That is a tornado. You guys get tornadoes here? What the hell.”
Impossibly, the tornado was coming toward us. Perhaps the legends about thunderbirds was true. The weather bearing down on us was very unusual for southern Utah.
Henry Stone, my Flamehearts partner, was standing on another hoodoo about ten yards from me. Most people didn’t make it a practice to climb atop hoodoos. I wasn’t sure if there were rules in the national parks about them, but it just wasn’t done.
There were exceptions. Such as if you were trying to get famous on social media. In that case, I guess loads of people were climbing to the tops of hoodoos and taking selfies. They were probably also falling and dying and that was sad, in its own way, but there weren’t a whole lot of ways for nature to doctor up the gene pool in the modern era without getting creative.
Self-aggrandizement accidents for social media. That was a clever one, Mother Nature.
I’d flown onto the hoodoo I was standing on with the pegasus. We’d been running away from the orcs.
Hank had gotten onto his hoodoo in a less graceful way.
“We’re outta here,” the leader of the pixie gang suddenly shouted after observing the developing weather. “There’s no way we’re going to try to ride out a sandstorm and a tornado and a lightning storm.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Hank protested as the pixies swirled around him like hummingbirds around a trumpet vine. “I just defeated those orcs for you. The least you could do is fly me down to the ground.”
“No chance. But thanks for taking care of the orcs. We owe you one!”
The gang of pixies swooped around my partner and then zipped away without another word. They’d been Hank’s ride to the top of the column of red rock. Looked like they wouldn’t be his ride to the bottom.
“The little shits. Dred!” Hank shouted, closing up the top of his magical satchel. He dusted off his hands and slung the cross-body bag behind him till it rested against his backside. “Listen, partner! I just want to say that it’s been a great run. Dangerous. Deadly. Full of many, many close calls, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Almost every minute. And you know what, princess? I hope we meet up in the next life. Or in your next go, because reincarnation is probably the way of things.”
“Knock it off, Hank. We’ll get out of this one.”
“Not if you can’t break that damn pegasus, we won’t. My ride just left. It’s probably for the best. They barely got me to the top as it was. It was very undignified being carried like that.”
“It looked undignified,” I agreed.
“Thanks, Dred. I’ll remind you that you didn’t give me a chance to get on the pegasus with you.”
“It’s not broke, Hank. The beast barely allowed me to climb aboard. And look, it’s not having any of it. Look at him.” The pegasus was a gorgeous beast. Pure white and full of muscle. The muscles in its haunches rippled as it side-stepped away from my hand and snorted at me.
“He looks eager to fly us away. Tame him. Quick!”
“Look at you,” I whispered. “You’re majestic. Glorious. Proud.” Murderous. It stared at me with a chilling fury it its eyes. “Maybe you should come tame it, Hank.”
“Him. I think all pegasi are male, Dred. I mean look at the manhood on that beast. How do you not know it’s male. There’s no question.”
“I hadn’t caught that one small detail,” I admitted, noticing now what he was talking about. It was a very obvious detail, really. Hank was right. The pegasus was… clearly male. It made me nervous and slightly awkward to notice. Just no shame in it. Hanging out for all the world to see. “Since you know pegasi so well, get over here and tame it and get us out of here before the lightning storm, the sandstorm, or the tornado get us.”
“This is no time for petty arguments, Dred. We’re about to perish in either one of them or all of the above. Tell me you love me. Tell me I’ve been the best ride you’ve ever had. Tell me—”
“I would but I think this pegasus was the best ride I ever had. One I hope to ride again. I mean, flying on a horse, Hank! A horse! I felt like Perseus!”
“It was meant to, you ninny!”
“Ninny?” Hank shook his head. “Resorting to insults from the fifteen hundreds?”
“I am, yes. It was a lovely time. The best of times, the worst of times.”
“Wrong century,” Hank said.
Finally, I got close enough to place my hand on the pegasus’ nose. Its breath came out in panicked gusts that washed over my bare skin. I felt how I imagined the man from Snowy River must have felt when he calmed Jessica’s horse in that one scene from the film. The beast’s wild, panicked eyes glared at me, the whites showing as it fought against the instinct to trample me. His hooves clopped against the red stone of the hoodoo.
Thunder rolled in the distance. The tornado we’d seen approaching continued to run its snout across the ground east of us like an ant-eater sucking up its lunch.
“The tornado is actually coming this way, Dred. In case you’re wondering. How’s taming that beast coming? Or should I start repenting of my sins?” He rubbed his hands together expectantly.
“I’d say yes. While you’re at it, repent of Phoebe.”
“No can do. I have no regrets there.”
“She killed my mother!”
“You almost married Joe Smith, the man who charmed and controlled Phoebe.”
“I did marry him.”
Hank cocked his head. “Did you say ‘I do?’”
I squinted. It would have been a sort of triumph if I could have said that I’d been married, even if it was simply by Joe’s non-existent authority. “No. We didn’t get to that part of the ceremony.”
The pegasus and I just watched each other. I had no idea what I was doing, so I made it up as I went along. I cooed and talked to it and slowly brought my body closer. It remained still and cautious as I took tiny steps until I was standing right next to its head. The pegasus bumped his head against my head. The gesture seemed affectionate.
“Well, look at that, Dred. You’ve got him eating out of your hand,” Hank marveled.
The rumbling thunder was getting closer. I looked to the east. A cloud of dust followed the path of the tornado. Rain clouds hung low around the spout. The sky itself seemed to move to follow the powerful anomaly.
I almost didn’t dare to look south again. It didn’t seem possible that things could get worse. The thunderstorm would end us if the tornado or sandstorm didn’t. I checked in each direction, did some calculations, and figured out that we had about ten minutes before the situation got too dire for us to escape unscathed.
Hank cleared his throat loudly. Loud enough for me to hear him despite the distance and the approaching sound of extreme weather.
“I don’t want to interrupt your special bonding moment with Zeus’s favorite horse—”
“I bet you don’t want to call him that,” I offered. The pegasus snorted and clomped its hooves. “See?”
“But we’re running out of time,” Hank said, ignoring my warning.
“Did you repent yet?”
“I was just in the process.”
“You don’t look repentant,” I pressed.
“I hide it well.”
It was time to climb onto the pegasus. I had to do it. What was the worst that could happen? I’d already ridden it once. Hank and I needed a way down before we found the ground thanks to a blinding haboob or we were skewered and roasted on lightning bolts.
“We have to do this, you and me. Or there’s a good chance all three of us will die.” My voice was a whisper.
Something in my gut said it understood me and knew what had to be done.
I grabbed a hold of the pegasus’ mane. He didn’t back away or try to run. It was as though the beast submitted to me. There wasn’t a saddle and stirrups, so it was on me to get enough momentum to sling myself up and over the creature.
I only had to try three times before I made it. Somehow through the ordeal, Hank kept any of his jokes to himself. Maybe he was sincerely getting scared.
Lightning flashed nearby and a deafening clap of thunder followed it almost immediately.
The pegasus dropped from the edge of the hoodoo and we plummeted toward the ground.
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