Bridling Fire:4Mature

Everything was alright when returned, but the horses seemed... Rather agitated. They paced around their riders, flicked their tails, trained their ears and tossed their heads and stamped. The only calm was was, funnily enough, Thunder, James's horse, but then Thunder was in his late teens and not exactly a frisky colt anymore.

"Where were you guys?" Felix asked me as he passed, walking back to the place where his bedding was still splayed across the flattened grass where he had slept.

"Just checking out something," muttered Jacie. I nodded. Felix looked a little confused, but seemed to shrug it off. Kylar skipped up.

"Umm... Lyric, can you take a look at Dusk for me? Either she's in a super-pissy sleep-deprived insane mood, or there's something wrong that putting her off. She just took a chunk outta my arm."

I cringed as he showed me his wound. Dusk had drawn blood, which was unusual, but only a little. A few red-welling nicks that roughly resembled a crescent shape adorned the flesh directly above his elbow. It looked like it hurt, but it wasn't too big of a deal.

"Yeah. I'll go and beat her up or something."

Kylar nodded. He looked a slight bit worried, but anyone who knew him at all was well aware that the source of his fears was not that his mount would throw him while in that mood of hers.

Dusk laid back her ears as I approached and rolled her eyes, head in the air. She looked ready to either charge or rear, and I was braced for both, but Momentum (being the gentleman he is) interfered before anything bad happened. He came prancing up with his own ears flattened under that thick black mane of his and gave a couple of lazy, almost half-hearted strikes with his teeth at Dusk's shoulder. The mare gave a shrill squeal as she was herded away from me by my trusty little monster.

"Oy, you!" I yelled at Momentum, waving my arms at him. He gave me the puppy-dog expression for a minute before leaving in a huff, looking thoroughly hurt, just radiating that dramatic "well!" that people always exclaim when they are shooed away after a favor.

Dusk had her legs spread as if she were braced for my attack, but I simply walked up, imagining myself as a brick wall: not posing a threat, but not exactly something you're going to think about fighting. I kept my eyes on Dusk's forelegs, keeping her own dark orbs in my peripheral vision, and pretended that every time I exhaled all my tension left me with my breath.

I could see the tightness in her muscles slowly fading as I stood at her neck and faced her withers, her dark coat filling most of my vision. I had snuck myself under her crest so that her head was over my shoulder, also putting her unintentionally in the position of mutual grooming that horses always take when they both know the other is trusted.

I am really good at this.

Dusk seemed to be growling at me, slowly fading but still relatively hostile, while I just stood there watching her shoulders and pretending to be sleepy. After a minute I raised my hand and touched her neck, not moving my fingers but simply resting my palm under her mane.

She let her breath out and placed the underside of her head along my back, lipping my shirt as if I were another horse. I scratched my fingers along her shoulder, then trailed them lightly down her barrel until I found what I was looking for.

It was just a little bump, right behind her elbow where a girth would be if we had saddles, and her head raised abruptly when I touched it. I rubbed her neck on her other side while I bent over to get a closer look.

It wasn't embedded under the skin as I had thought, but protruding from the flesh it was attached too like some sort of monster mosquito, being the size of the top of my thumb and made of what looked like metal. I sent out calming thoughts to Dusk as I led her over to my bedroll, which had been rolled up by probably Kylar and set on its side like the stump of a tree. I led Dusk to it as if it were a mounting block; the little object thingy was on her left side anyway.

"Hold still, mare," I said quietly as I sat down on the makeshift block. She twitched nervously but didn't move; all the horses knew me and even the skittish ones were well aware that I wasn't about to intentionally hurt them.

It was some sort of chip. I didn't think it was hurting Dusk enough to be a huge delay when we left, but I could tell it was bothering her; the metal was probably cold, and it definitely wasn't comfortable to have a splinter that moved around when you did, right where you couldn't reach it.

"Hey," I called out, thankfully not startling Dusk, "does anyone have, like, rubbing alcohol or anything? Kat, do you have some sort of pain-killing solution or like a tranquilizer or something so I can get this sucker out?"

Kylar was at my shoulder in a second. "What exactly is this 'sucker' you speak of?"

"I asked for Kat, genius, and you can help by getting her, please."

"No need, I've got you a bit of numbing stuff from that apothecary someone was nice enough to raid for me." Kat had appeared at my shoulder, her short blond hair cut at a bit less of an angle than mine but at the same length, her hazel eyes glittering happily. She was always happy, which was especially good considering she was the healer; horses didn't exactly like humans in general dealing with their wounds, let alone ones with either temper issues or nerves.

Kylar was still looking flipped out, and Dusk had picked up on the mood as well and was rolling her eyes and trying to sidestep me.

"Alright, Kylar, I'm gonna have to ask you to calm down, okay? Pretend like I just told you she just has a leetle splinter, and you have to sigh in relief and pat her face reassuringly and make it convincing because a splinter is basically all it really is."

Kylar laughed, which startled Dusk for a second and she watched him with a funny expression. After a minute, though, our plan seemed to work, and most of the tension seemed to leave them both. Splinter or not, it really isn't fun to find out that you've got something wrong with you.

I let Kat kneel in front of me with some of the solution and a pair of very clean-looking tweezers. Kat was the only one allowed to be clean in this little band of ours; she was very good at it, too, and the only time any one of us would get a cut infected was if we didn't tell her about it.

"Keep her face occupied, will you?" I told Kylar without looking away. Kat spread some of the stuff around the edge of the little metal thing, which, now that I thought about it, looked almost like a button of sorts. "Don't act like there's nothing wrong, just act like there's nothing seriously wrong."

Kylar laughed and started playing with Dusk's lip. It was a popular game among horse and human; someone would tickle the horse's lip, right between his nostrils, and the horse would have to try to get said someone's fingers by wiggling his mouth and lifting his head until his neck was vertical and the game would start over again. It's extremely entertaining.

While Dusk was occupied, Kat kept rubbing at the numbed spot with her thumb, edging it under the metal object and making sure it was working. The mare showed no signs of feeling, so Kat began her work.

The little metal thing popped out pretty easily, though Dusk shrieked and bucked, and when we pulled it out we decided that maybe a shot of some sort would have been better. The root of the thing was about half an inch long, and barbed with four tiny little hooks. I took the damned thing to Felix while Kat stayed to calm Dusk and clean the wound.

"What the hell?" asked Felix when I showed him. The root was still covered in blood, and along the edges of the little button thing where it had welled when we pulled it. It wasn't the worst I had seen, definitely not, but it certainly wasn't a pleasant thought to imagine what Dusk had been feeling.

"I know," I said. "What is it, do you think?"

"Looks like... A tracking device, maybe." He tapped the top of it. The whole thing looked actually like a jellyfish, with its top smushed and its four tentacles pressed together into one sectioned needle. With barbs. Shudder.

Click, went the jellyfish button, when Felix tapped the top of it with his nail.

Click, it went again, after a second. Click. Click. Click, click, click, click click click click clickclickclickclickclickclick--

Somewhere, in the middle of the clicking, I swore and smacked it out of Felix's hand, into the field beside us.

There was a painfully long, millisecond pause after the clicking abruptly ended, in which Felix and I didn't have time to breath, before the thing exploded.

A tiny shard of metal, probably the barbed piece, filled my vision - literally - and there was a moment of pain and blindness in one eye and blood and then everything was soft and black.

The End

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