108: Jack

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Before Jack had a chance to respond, a burst of flux energies blasted forth through the underbrush. Simkit jumped to one side, throwing out a water-like shield similar to the screen he had seen Rogan use to block his bullets, but it and Simkit were blown hard sideways by the impact as it hit on an angle.

Jack found himself tumbling across the ground, his hands losing their grip on the rifle, and he just barely avoiding being crushed under Simkit’s body.

She immediately rolled onto her knees, yelling, “Guardsman!”

He was about to find his breath and respond, but she had already found him. She latched onto him and jumped back to her feet carrying him tucked under her arm like a running back carrying a football.

“The rifle! I lost it!”

“Forget it! It’s gone!” she yelled as her speed rose and her gait changed to a gallop. Three more shots of flux energy crashed through the woods, but he could sense her doing something that was causing his flux awareness of her and himself to blur, as if they were both spread across a range of and least ten yards.

It wasn’t the right time to ask how, but she was performing some equivalent of the electronic countermeasures used by Earth militaries.

“It’s getting closer!” he told to her.

“I’m… aware.. of it.. Guardsman!” she answered. Both her chest and the barrel of her equine body were heaving, rapidly pumping air, and she only speak on each exhalation, not interrupting the pattern. He wondered if she had to breathe that way to maintain the gallop.

How can she gallop in this terrain? he wondered, and then wondered if a horse would be able to gallop through thick woods like this. He was willing to guess the answer was no. Surely a horse would have to slow down.

He got his arm behind her humanoid waist, then tried to hook his leg onto her saddle, but she snapped, “Hold still!.. Just hang… onto my… waist!”

Then presences flared into existence around them, two enormous creatures similar in size to the one that attacked them in the fortress. They were standing still, and firing their weapons, but at their pursuer.

As it vanished from his awareness, a third and fourth entity appeared in the air above, and from one of them came a loud order he couldn’t understand.

A fifth and sixth appeared in the woods ahead, right in the spot at which Simkit was hurtling. She rose up rampant as she braked to a halt. She settled back onto the ground and for a bit, just stood with both her human and equine chests pumping in parallel. Then she lowered Jack to the ground.

As he found his balance, he noticed…

“You’re wounded!”

Her sides and her chest were still heaving, but she answered in calm tones, “I’m… well aware of it… Guardsman.”

Her voice was low, as if she didn’t want to be heard by whatever was ahead of them, and it had an edge of pain. The moonlight was shining on the place they had stopped, so he could see that her haunch was smeared with blood from the wound on her hip. It didn’t appear to be bleeding much, now, but it had bled significantly at first.

She added, with more even breath, “I’m controlling the bleeding for now.”

“Controlling it?”

“It’s a technique of my art. It is in some wise similar to what you did for Meadhbh, and…”

She blew out a breath through loose cheeks and shook her head to clear her mind.

“…and although in considerable pain, I am not even faintly as badly hurt as Meadhbh was. With luck, the wound will coagulate before I require your assistance.”

He stepped over to look more closely at it.

“Please do not touch.”

“It needs washing though,” he stated, but he kept his examination hands-free.

“Please do not touch,” she repeated anyway.

In other words, it hurt like hell, he interpreted.

He looked around. The presences were around them. The two flyers had settled into the treetops to their left and right. But none were coming forward

“These guys are on different sides, right? The ones in front and behind.”

“Correct. But that does not put us out of danger. Neither side on this world is necessarily our side.”

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