Shun the sweetly fragranced flower of desire, for the fruit is poisoned.
--The Rules of a Good Life
Behind me, the beasts whistle—three short, low-pitched notes—the pack members on the hunt, calling to each other. There are seven of them, each one half again as tall as me. They run faster than I can, moving with a cruel grace on feathered, thickly muscled legs, a blur of red and white, like two-legged flames. If they’d seen me earlier, before I’d made it down the hills and this close to the gate, I’d be in their bellies.
I know the stench of the beasts’ foul breath. The calculating looks in their large black eyes. I’ve seen the damage their barbed teeth and pincher-clawed hands do to flesh. Beasts like these hunted me when I first came to the wilderness and thought it would be my sanctuary. I know better now.
My breath, harsh and ragged, makes white puffs in the air. Thin sheets of ice crackle beneath my feet. I spread my toes as wide as they will go, for balance. My cloak flares behind me as I run across the plain.
The city is tantalizingly near, agonizingly far. Chimbalay rises straight up from the plain, its black-glass towers protected by a massive stonewall and a silver-metal gate, ten-levels high at least. The gate is closed. I have to get inside. For safety from the beasts. To find the orindles, who are my only hope.
The beasts whistle again, their call changed, a sound so low, it’s almost a rumble. They’re spreading out. All twenty-four emotion spots on my neck tingle. I run, my heart knocking against my chest.
A sound, like a great rising storm, tears across the plain. I’m both afraid to look and afraid not to. I slow a little and glance toward the sound. Down the plain, something hard-edged and solid is moving in my direction. I can’t tell its speed or what it might be. I focus on the gate, on running fast and faster, concentrating on my goal.
Beasts whistle to the right and left. Two run past me, to get in front and press me back to their companions.
The sound of the wind grows louder, the moving thing coming nearer. The whistles of the beasts change, rising in pitch and coming closer together. The calls come so quickly that they are almost a continuous sound—one voice springing from seven points, fighting to be heard over the wail of the raging wind in the still air.
I don’t want to slow again to look, but anxiety makes me. I must know what the beasts are doing. Glancing over my shoulder, I see one and then another beast stopped, staring at the thing coming down the plain. The thing hovers a hands-breath above the land, streaming toward the open space between Chimbalay and me, the way vehicles move. But this is no vehicle. It’s close enough now that I can make out the protective outer mud wall and some of the buildings behind it.
Find Khe by Alexes Razevich at Amazon US / Amazon UK
Khe cover art by Tony Honkawa of THD