Bridling Fire:2Mature

Meet Felix.  He's my second-in-command, the second to join the Riders.  Well... Sort of.  I ran away, then I found him, then we met a couple more people...and the Riders sort of just created themselves, and I was already sort of the leader so nothing really changed except the name.  Anyway.  Felix... Well, he sort of hates my guts, and has a pretty good reason for it.

Let me explain.

It happened in one of those weird wildfires where it's not so intense, but it's really really hot.  We were both stuck in it.  I managed to get out, but he didn't, not until I went back in to get him.  He was partially unconscious when I pulled him out, and he never understood the reason I pushed him into the frozen river, because that was what woke him up.  He also couldn't swim, which didn't help my case at all...

But, yeah.  He never really recovered from that shock, and if he did, he pretends like he didn't.  I don't really blame him.  The reason he hates me for it isn't because he thinks I tried to kill him; he thinks I was mocking him, because he had told me before that his parents tried to kill him by pushing him into a frozen river.  That is yet another very long, very complicated and very sad story that will explain itself as I go, so I won't say anything now.  But that's what happened.

Felix and I are really very different, I'll tell you now.  He's dark and concealed and doesn't tell anyone anything, but he's not very aggressive.  If anything, he's emotionless.  I, on the other hand, have a temper like nobody's business.  I'm wild and vicious and pretty obviously reckless.  The only thing we have in common is our way of escape: horses.  And our stubbornness.  We are both incredibly stubborn, as are all the Riders.

Sigh, the Riders.  They're my life.  During raids, a lot of people seem to think that the only signs of organization among us is the fact that we all arrive and leave at the same time instead of irregularly.  That is so incredibly untrue...

Everything is planned out.  Alex is the what we call the raid master; he's in charge of laying out whatever the heck it is we happen to be doing.  He has to talk to me about it, of course, and Felix, but since we really get confused if we're thinking about it on our own we leave most of it to him.

Between him and everyone else's ability to follow instructions, we make a pretty decent pack of rebels.  With Kylar and Jacie as archers and Rowan somehow managing to get ahold of a gun, the rest of us just need to be able to throw knives with deadly accuracy.  That's not too hard, actually, once you know how.

In the eyes of the Authority, the overly strict group of people who make it forcefully known that they are in charge, we are a group of rebels.  Nothing but runaway teens, somehow managing to tame newly wild and dangerous beasts and who don't cause enough trouble to be seen as even annoying bugs.  But then again, the Authority is kept away from the rest of what's left of the human population.  Therefore, they don't get too much excitement.  Now look at the surrounding towns.  (We call them Projects. Don't ask why; it's somewhat disturbing.) They're the ones we raid, the ones we attack.  To the Authority we might be lower than insects, but to the Projects, we can be terrifying.

"Lyric.  Lyric.  Wake up, Lyric.  Come on.  Lyyyyrrriiiiiiiiiic...."

I gasped and sat up.  My hair, black and about jaw-length and streaked through with red, stuck up in probably all directions while still managing to end up almost entirely in my eyes.  I ran my hands through the stubborn locks and identified my intruder.

Kylar was crouched in my tent entryway, Frostbite ever present on his shoulder.  Kylar was usually guarded and somewhat cold, but he had his moments of happiness like everyone else.  Moving was one of them; pack hunting was another.

His wild black hair was just slightly more disheveled than usual, which told me he had only woken up moments ago.  Maybe more; he usually didn't bother to do anything with it until later, and sometimes it flattened on it's own.

"What's going on?" I asked, shaking out my hair until it behaved.  I tugged the back of it to spike it up a little and stood up.

"Moving, genius. Remember?  There were guys with guns at that raid last night, so we're moving our camp somewhere else before they pick up the trail.  They might not bother, but waiting around to find out isn't exactly what I would consider a smart thing to do."  His excitement was contagious, and I found myself shaking off my normal morning bear-headedness quicker than usual.

"Alright, whatever.  I'm up.  Has Alex got us a plan yet?"

Kylar nodded.  "Yeah.  And breakfast, too.  Jacie may not like it, but she's a decent cook.  Darren is better, I guess, but no one can make over-cooked venison taste good like Jacie..."  He trailed off as he left me alone to change.  Actually, he was probably just going to get some of the said over-cooked venison, and didn't really know or care that I had been basically shirtless that whole time.  I mean, yes, obviously I had my undershirt on, but that's just a black netted tank-top that keeps my shirt from rubbing or riding up and doesn't completely cook me in the process.

There was basically no sign of the fire left, so I assumed we were either eating on the way or had already taken precautions or something with the evidence of the camp.

I figured we were eating on the way when I saw that half the tents were already in saddle bags.

I carefully removed the silver-gilded bridle from the front of my tent and wrapped it in the canvas from the makeshift table.  I discarded the wooden frame, taking the chords used to tie it up and scattering the sticks into the trees, then wrapped the bedding up along with the rest of the tent.

Momentum waited patiently while I used my excuse for a girth to strap the bundle to his shoulders, then made my way to Jacie.  I took a deep breath and prepared myself for an argument, as sisters obviously weren't genetically programmed to take orders from each other.  Even though Jacie was one year younger.

"Breakfast?" she asked, her eyes guarded and, as usual, outlined and defined in black paint.  We were sisters, yes, but we definitely were nothing alike.  She seemed to mimic Felix; while I was stubborn and tough and fearless, they were both cold and unyeilding and merciless.  And completely repelled by me.  We looked nothing alike, too.  While my eyes were green and somewhat aggressive, hers were silver-grey and calmly unforgiving.  My hair was black, cut to the angle of my jaw, spiky and deliberately streaked with red; hers was snow white, unmarked, cascading down her back and cut at a slanted veil across her eyes.

We infuriated each other.

I nodded, tense but too tired to say aloud any comments I had that might provoke anything.  Jacie was crouched by what had been the fire-pit last night, and undoubtedly this morning, holding a knife in her fist and looking as if she could successfully take out the world's anger on the slab of well-done venison still smoking on a flat rock by her left boot.

"Here," she barked, handing me a decent-sized strip.  It was burnt, but it smelled delicious.  I saw Kylar wave appreciatively from where he was leaned, waiting, against Dusk, his dappled Newfoundland pony.  I thanked her briefly and started around, watching as Darren delightedly and unceremoniously woke Ace and Sadie by letting their own horses, Terrier and Snowdrift, loose in front of their tents and watching the results one at a time through the tents' rear flaps.  Fortunately for Ace, both him and Terrier were relatively mild-tempered, so he sat up drowsily in bed while the bay pony searched him for treats.

Sadie was not so lucky; both her and her white mare pony had explosive tempers.  Let's just say it didn't take very long for her tent to go down, and untying the canvas from the very-breakable sticks that held it up was not necessary.

I waited by Momentum and watched the whole thing with great amusement, content with gnawing on the meat that didn't taste too burnt after all.  Jacie's mount, Tempest, glared at Momentum from across the rapidly decreasing camp clearing.  Tempest was just like my Momentum, except while Momentum had a more aggressive, gloating and fearless attitude, Tempest was flat-out vicious.

The camp went down with decent speed.  The sun wasn't too high yet, and the morning mist was only just beginning to burn off.  I was debating on whether we really needed to move when a bullet made a smoking crater in the tree right next to my head.

"Riders, move out!"

We were mounted immediately.  Bullets whizzed through the air where we had all been lounging seconds ago; I caught sight of Alex frantically trying to fold up his huge map while Fawn pranced, head tossed and eyes rolling, around the branch where here bridle was tied.

We got out.  I was so thankful everyone had just been waiting for orders, instead of still getting ready.  The people with guns didn't have any way of transportation, as it turned out, except their own legs, and obviously horses with a deathly fear of bullets were going to outrun them relatively easily.

I let Momentum fly forward, keeping some pressure on the reins just so he would know I was still here but otherwise letting him run at his own will.  I made sure we were all out of the forest before trying to round anyone up, but it wasn't really necessary because the horses huddled together anyway for herd safety.

"Kylar!" I called over the thunder of eleven sets of hooves.  "Can you see if there's any crafts back there?  Send Frostbite up or something."

He glanced at me and nodded, reaching up and unclipping the little silver attachment so that Frostbite's jesses fell and she shot upward like a kite set free.  Frostbite had been trained, God knows how, to signal to Kylar whether or not we were being followed by men on foot or men in either tanks or some sort of aerial craft.

We weren't.  Frostbite swooped back, patiently gliding above Kylar's shoulder while he clipped the jesses back to her feet.  I guided Momentum to the front of the group and sat back, slowing him from a gallop to a canter and then to a lazy lope.  The rest followed suit.

While fleeing the guns, we had escaped the woods and were now making our way across a wide field empty of anything but tall, golden grass.  The field stretched miles in all directions, and on the horizon to the east (we were headed south) the rising sun pushed pale yellow rays over a distant treeline.

I slowed Momentum to a slow trot, and finally to a walk.  The horses began to spread out, no longer in danger of the bullets, and we stopped completely when I noticed Momentum's shoulders. They were glistening with sweat, and so were Crossfire's when Felix pushed forward to flank me.

"We stopping?" he asked briefly.

"Yes.  Not too long, though.  Just a little rest.  Then hunting."

"No camp, then?"

"No," I replied. "Pack hunting for lunch.  We'll eat on the way."

"Alright." He reined Crossfire back to the rear of the herd to keep an eye on everything behind us, and to make sure no one fell behind.  I kept watching the treeline to my left, waiting for it to stretch around in front of us to give us somewhere to aim for.  We might as well have been trudging through a desert.

"Lyric."

It was Jacie.  She kept Tempest well under control as she brought the temperamental mare near Momentum, who pinned his ears down but didn't go out of line.  I glanced at my white-haired sister.

"What?" I asked.

Jacie pointed.  To the west, on the herd's right side, a small group of what looked like deer seemed to be grazing lazily in the almost endless plain.  My stomach grumbled; I hadn't had food in over twenty minutes.

"Lunch?" I asked.  Jacie nodded hopefully.  If we were on the move, the herd hunted like a pack of wolves, surrounding whatever prey we happened to have set our sights on and either separating it from its others or just shooting it down on the run.  We all knew how to use a hunting bow; Kylar and Jacie were the only ones who knew how to use the much more complex, difficult combat bow.

"Kylar," I said.  He caught my eye and nudged Dusk up by Momentum, who flicked his tail at the mare.  I turned my head toward the little group of deer milling around and saw Kylar's face light up slightly.  "Lunch," I said.  He nodded.

"Felix," I whisper-called.  There wasn't really any need; he was already at my side, and we had been moving along loudly enough before without the deer running in panic.

Jacie set her simple hunting bow on the stirrup and strung it, her short black combat bow still tucked into her quiver.  Everyone else had already stopped, and were doing the same.

Because even the stupidest of deer knew that horses weren't carnivorous, the little herd only spooked in alarm when our ponies thundered from a canter to a lazy walk about ten paces away from them.  They scooted around a bit, then gathered again and ignored us.  Looking through the herd I managed to spot one with a lame hind foot.  It was in the middle of the group, which made things a bit hard, but we could manage.

The horses lazily shifted around, and eventually the deer spread out around us.  The riders kept close to the horses' backs, but it didn't matter really as long as we didn't make any sudden movements.  The deer didn't care.

James got Thunder, his mottled grey Highland pony, to nudge the lame doe around a bit so that she was more to the edge of the herd.  After that, things got easier.

We circled the doe.  She didn't seem to notice, or care, as she had her head contentedly buried in almost hay-like golden grass, snuffling around underneath for the green that was still there.  At my signal, Felix's arrow dropped her without sound or struggle.

The deer herd didn't notice the lame doe's absence, and only when Kylar and James swooped down to haul the kill onto Thunder's larger barrel did they notice anything unusual.  We were already drifting away, though, when the deer decided to move on.

The End

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