Poz hated Horseflesh. For such large and powerful animals, one would think it would be a sure and confident form. That was not the case. Horses were still prey animals, and their flesh carried the memory of that fear. He would jump and want to run at sudden loud noises. Movement in his peripheral vision sent a surge of fear down his spine. It was also a dull flesh, as was the case with most animals that fed upon grass. Nowhere near as dull as grubflesh, but after so long with the sharpness of crowflesh, it felt like a cloud over his mind. There was one thing Horseflesh was good for, and the reason he endured the dullness and fear.
Horseflesh was for running.
Poz’s feet pounded on the ground, his legs longer and stronger than they had been. They thundered in his ears, a steady beat like a drum line. The landscape flew past his vision, and Poz felt as if he could gallop his way to that horizon. His hair, now grown halfway down his back in a pitch black mane, flowed behind him like a flag. His heart was pounding in his chest, but his breathing remained steady and even. Horseflesh knew how to maintain its breathing for long runs. He could cross a dozen leagues in an hour at this pace.
The flying Alohym was not close by. Not that Poz could tell at least. He had last seen it in Fetanial, the day before. Hunting for him. Always hunting for him. It had been getting to the point that Poz was considering repeating his sin, consuming manflesh, and letting the bones fall in the darkness. Had he been certain that manflesh would allow him to best the flying Alohym, he would have broken that night in Fetanial, with the flying Alohym buzzing over the town, hunting for him.
Two things had stayed Poz from delving into that forbidden act. First had been his fear that it would not work. Manflesh gave him some great abilities, but he could not be certain it would allow him to overcome such a deadly foe.
The second was that his journey was coming to an end.
He remembered the meeting well.
The inn was the Screaming Baron, built a century ago on the spot where a rebellious Baron had allegedly been tortured to death for unspeakable crimes. Poz found that hard to believe. Crimes so horrific they were called unspeakable were usually the ones that people spoke of most frequently. He’d gotten some odd looks upon entering, and muttering had started.
This far away from any of the major caverns, his people had not exactly been common, but most would go more than sixteen years between sightings. Some of these patrons had been mere children when the Underfolk had slunk beneath the surface. The youngest of them, on the cusp of adulthood, might not have been born.
“I hear they eat the dead,” one of the younger men whispered to an older man beside him. “They eat the flesh of things that had once been alive.”
The man nodded grimly. “It’s true, lad. The Underfolk feast exclusively on the flesh the dead. It’s terrible, nasty thing to do.”
“Oh yes,” said the young woman sitting across from the two of them, her face turning downward in a scowl. “Terrible thing to do, tear the flesh and sinew off an animal and eat of it.” She held up the turkey leg she was eating and, without breaking eye contact with the older man, bit into it. “I can imagine how terrible a people must be to engage in such a barbaric practice.”
The older man scowled in response. “Listen here, you smart mouthed little wench. If you want to keep travelling with us-”
“I shall beat myself round the head with a plank of nails, for clearly I have taken leave of my senses,” the woman responded, standing up. “And lad? The Underfolk eat the flesh of the dead, same as mankind does. They just eat more dead things than you prissy lot can handle.” She whirled and stalked over to the bar, sitting next to Poz. “Flathing humans, am I right?”
Poz eyed her with growing concern as she finished the large tankard in her hand. He was still full on Crowflesh, so knew his confusion was not the result of a dull form. “Forgive me, but are you not human?”
“Sure am,” she said with a bright smile. “But I’m not proud of it. Being human is easy. You just have to survive birth and have parents that didn’t kill you for being a ‘smart mouthed little wench.’ No input into it. If someone had given me a choice, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen human.”
Poz blinked. “That is…certainly an interesting way of looking at the world.”
“I imagine it is for you. After all, you do get a choice, don’t you? Depending on what flesh you eat, you get to be a little bit of something else. I think if someone had given me a choice, I would have chosen to be one of you. Then I could be something else whenever I want.” She offered her hand. “Call me Cyd if you want. If you don’t, then come up with something else.”
“Cyd is fine,” Poz said, taking the proffered hand. “Poz.”
“Poz what?” She asked. She was tall and slender, with dark skin and black hair that was held back in a ponytail that poofed out behind her head.
“Uh…that’s my name. Poz.”
Cyd nodded thoughtfully. “Poz. Pozzz. Interesting choice of name. What brings you to a hole in the dirt like this, Poz?”
“I’m looking for someone,” Poz admitted. “An old friend. Someone who’s help I dearly need.”
“Ahh, the truest sort of friend. One you turn to when times are their worst. Perhaps I am your friend, Poz.”
Poz laughed. Something in this young woman’s absurdity was infectious. “I doubt it. He’s far older, and more grizzled, than you. Also, his name is Nicandros, not Cyd.”
“Oh,” Cyd said, looking thoughtfully into her empty mug. “You’re looking for him.”
Every muscle in Poz’s body tensed up. The idea that this coincidental meeting had something to do with his quest strained the bounds of credibility to their breaking point. “You know him?”
“Knew him,” Cyd said. “Once. Some time ago. He was a different man then. Life and Light have not been kind to old Nicandros.” There was a sadness in her voice that seemed beyond her years.
“They have been kind to few of us,” Poz said, choosing his words carefully. This could easily be a trap. She could be an Alohym agent, sent to entrap him. Although…if they knew he was here, why would they permit him any time at all? They’d come in, their unlight beams darkening the room, and leave him a corpse before he could take the warning and run.
“Oh, aye, that they have. But to him more than most.” She put her glass down and sighed. “You should let him rest, Poz. Find someone else to aid you. I do not think you’ll like the aid he could provide.”
“It’s the only aid I have,” Poz said earnestly. “Please, if you know something…”
Cyd shook her head. “Time grows short. I advise against it, but we do not have time for you to beg, for me to hem and haw and debate, and eventually succumb to my better nature. I last saw him drowning his sorrows in the Gleaming Gullet in Edgeminster. If you survive the next part, you might still find him there.” She reached over and patted his head. “Try some flesh that’s better for running. And with stronger bones.”
Poz opened his mouth to ask her what she meant by that, but at that moment his attention was drawn by the door slamming open. He whipped his head over to face them. Three Alohym soldiers were walking into the Inn.
He looked back to his companion, but Cyd was gone.
The next few hours had been harrowing. He’d barely managed to escape with his life. But now he had a destination. Edgeminster. The Gleaming Gullet.
So he ran, and even though the dullness of horseflesh, he felt hope.