A genetic malfunction in the equine species causes a spread of dangerously feral characteristics to resurface in the animals. They can't be tamed anymore, and are eventually kicked out of civilization. Only one group of rebellious, outcast teenagers succeeds in gaining the trust of the wild creatures; and use them to their advantage in taunting the increasingly strict society, or what's left of it.
It was just light enough to see the fences. Momentum surged forward, and the light that was left glinted forbiddingly on the metal.
This would only take a few moments.
I pressed my knees into my horse’s barrel and positioned myself over his neck as the four-foot fence neared. Shooting a quick glance next to me, I saw Felix’s expression as his mount, Crossfire, fixed the meshed wire as her target. There was a vulnerability in his eyes that was hardly ever there, and I only saw a flash of it before I had to avert my attention back to the obstacle at hand.
The big black pony beneath me slid fluidly through the air over the fence, and I let the reins be pulled forward so he could land and not be jerked around by his makeshift bit. Felix and I had already been through the plan and knew where to go, so no words were exchanged as we took off to our first stop.
The city was run-down, more so than the others. People sitting on the streets freaked out as Felix, the others and I galloped through the cobbled streets. There had been a genetic mutation among the equine species about seven years ago, and since then the animals (horses the main group, but donkeys and such had been affected too) had started showing more and more dangerously feral signs. When more injuries started showing up than skills in riding, someone finally said enough. Humans couldn't cope with the change, and people started getting fatally injured. They figured the casualties weren't worth the taming, and the taming wasn't working anyway, so horses and other equine animals were kicked out of civilization, and it was as if they had never been domesticated.
Don't get confused here, though; horses could be tamed. It just took the determination and lack of common sense that only children under the age of twenty possessed, and when you're under twenty your parents aren't going to let you anyway. Even twenty was a long shot; thirteen through fifteen were the best at it, but once they hit about eighteen they started, you know, thinking. So it didn’t really work.
Unless, of course, you were young and just as wild as the horses...
Which brings me back to where I started.
People screamed. Women grabbed their children and ran into their houses, as if the Riders were interested in abducting six-year olds and putting them through excruciatingly painful initiation rituals and basically dominating their souls. No thanks, actually, that takes too much energy. We're just interested in survival. And survival requires raiding, because the Black Market requires objects that we as the Riders don't have. So we raid. And look hot doing it! (Well... Sort of. Our group's definition of 'hot' is actually the average human's definition equivalent to 'feral' or 'insane' but that's how we like it.)
Felix and Phoenix blazed down one alley while I turned to another. Everything was cobblestone and clapboard and the lucky places had some bricks or metal. Almost everything was crumbling, and the fact that I yanked down half a deer from the ceiling of a booth didn't help its instability issues at all.
I draped the meat over my knees, where the front of the saddle would be if I had a saddle. Momentum didn't stop, and him and I tore through a narrow alley to escape some guy in a uniform with a gun. I almost ran into Darren, one of the Riders mounted on a gorgeous dark dapple pony named Lacey, but we both managed to avoid collision. I navigated toward where I knew the leather works would be, and where Felix would probably meet me at some point or other.
I had guessed right. Momentum cantered along the line of workshops, and leather works was one of the first we passed. Momentum didn't slow when I dismounted and went to wait obediently outside for me, probably guarding the workshop in addition to running around the little well/fountain-like structure that stood in the center of the little circle of workshops. I left the venison I had snagged from that booth by the door of the leather workshop.
Felix wasn't there yet. My bow was strung and in my hand, and I shot down the boy behind the counter within the first two steps inside the building. I retrieved the arrow and looked around, aware that time wasn't exactly unlimited here.
There was a range in the shop from wrist gauntlets to jackets to chords for either charms or tying up herbs to dry. Since I mostly needed the chords, I took those along with a lucky pile of canvas I found.
Felix darted in. "Anything good?" he asked, kicking the dead guy away from the counter so he could get at the stuff in the drawers.
"Yeah," I said, folding the canvas into a square and tying it up with the chords. "There's stuff for tents, and we can set some traps with this chord. Twine would be better, but it's not like we have much of a choice." I slung my new package over my shoulder next to my quiver.
Felix didn't reply, but held up a fist full of what looked like halter material, or stirrup leathers or something. On one of his long fingers hung a bunch of large metal rings, the type that hold bridles or halters together. I studied them for a minute, then secured the folded canvas to back and turned to grab some of the wrist gauntlets. They came in handy for lessening injury to the wrists during involuntary dismounts.
"Those are good," I said. "We gotta go."
I darted out. Darren had Lacey pacing outside the ring of buildings. "Come on, there's gonna be guns in a minute!"
I groaned and grabbed Felix by the shoulder of his jacket. Pulling him out, both Crossfire and Momentum came running from their stations in the circle, and we mounted and went after the rest of the Riders. It didn't take them long; the ponies were naturally drawn to each other as a herd, and when one headed for the fence, the rest followed. Thankfully, I hadn't forgotten the deer I had set outside. That would probably be dinner tonight.
Hooves thundered through the trees as our small rebel herd merged together after splitting for the fence. Crossfire and Momentum naturally took the lead, as they were the more dominant of the ponies, and Felix and I were the "alphas" as we called ourselves. Even though I had reason to believe Felix hated my guts...
Kat was waiting there when we got back. Dice, a newfoundland pony who looked like a small gypsy vanner, was peeking over her shoulder.
"Any injuries?" she asked as the group dismounted and put the ponies in the makeshift ring by the tents. The ring wasn't really a ring; it was pretty much just a thick rope tied from tree to tree in a wide circle to keep them from running off.
Felix shook his head. "We're all good, I think. Everyone's here."
I turned and counted heads, and manes. Darren and Lacey were here, Sadie and Snowdrift, James and Thunder, Kylar and Shade... All the rest were there, too. The ponies were content to drift about and graze, or play in the stream that ran through the little area. They were all either Fell ponies or Newfoundland ponies; smaller than horses but big for their type. They were tough, all with shaggy feathers surrounding their feet, and long manes and tails with forelocks that were almost as good as fly masks in the summer.
I set the venison by the makeshift firepit and crawled into my tent. It wasn't any bigger than any of the other tents, except that it had a stolen silver-gilded bridle hanging on the topmost supporting stick that marked it as the leader's. Felix's tent was right beside mine, and since we couldn't find another bridle and really didn't need one, he had hung a red silk scarf in the same place instead.
I curled up in my 'bed,' which was really just half a sleeping back and a cloak for a blanket. It took up half of the tent space, while the other half was occupied by some excuse for a table I had come up with; four sticks tied together into a square frame, supported by four legs, with a piece of canvas stretched taught over it for a somewhat supporting surface that I could put my books (only two), bow and quiver on instead of having them get all messed up if the ground was wet.
Living on the run wasn't too hard, if you didn't carry too much with you. My belongings could fill a small duffel bag, which was easy for Momentum to carry on his shoulders in front of me because I had no saddle to tie it on with. The other Riders (there were eleven of us; I have everyone recorded in a writing book) had more or less the same luggage. The horses didn't require much, either; a bridle, spare bit, and a brush, no saddles. The only thing that was required of the Riders to have at all times was a feather, dyed bright red and woven into either their or the pony's hair. It was our symbol.
Kylar's voice woke me up. He was crouched in the tent's entryway, Frostbite on his shoulder. Frostbite was this falcon we had found, entirely white with hazel and black eyes. She despised all humans except Kylar, who had dyed her primary feathers icy blue along with streaks in her tail. She glared at me as I sat up.
"Alex wants to know when we're leaving." Frostbite shifted her talons and watched me, unblinking.
"Ugh," I groaned. "Tell him... Tomorrow. It's too late tonight. Early tomorrow morning." I ran a hand through my hair, accidentally pulling out the feather. "Shoot."
Kylar nodded. "Alright. He said he's looking at the maps, and wants to know if we want to head south. He said there are probably going to be bad storms this year for winter, considering how bad the rain was recently."
I flopped back on my duffel bag pillow. "Yeah. Whatever. Maybe we should 'disappear' for a little while. Stay back out of the eyes of the Authorities. Maybe we could plan some surpise raid-slash-attack thingy on one of the more important cities. Might be fun."
"Alright," said Kylar, touching the feather around his neck in salute before backing up and straightening. The tent flap fell back into place, and I fell back to sleep.