A sound stirs in the shadows, a rustle of ragged underbrush. I turn to face it, but another such noise echos the first, but from a different direction. A third and fourth soon follow.
Surrounded? By what?
A fifth and final noise causes me to suck in a quick breath.
"Y'think this is it?"
I twist to face the source of the voice, but instead find myself nose to perfect point in a stare down that I should surely loose. My eyes travel slowly up the carved surface of the lance, then follow the curves of the muscled arm bearing it first to the shoulder then the face of its bearer.
"Must be," a second voice grunts from behind me.
I force my body to twist once again, feet rooted to the ground, feeling like a contortionist with all this turning and gazing. To no surprise, I discover a second lance along with the second voice, complete with a second set of arms and a second stern face with firm features.
"Diff'rent than the rest that've fallen," comes a third, even more gruff than its companions.
Again the twist, the turn, the strain. And again the carved lance, again the same rough features, though each bearing enough subtle different to be an individual.
Two more such bodies wander out of the trees, and it is only then that I see them for what they are, notice why I have to crane my neck so much just to glimpse their faces.
Their nude bodies blend almost seamlessly with the flanks so foreign to my understanding, pale skin striking a strict contrast to the ebony of their manes and the complex weave of stripes on their hides.
Stripes? The thought runs through my mind, but the words of the first centaur brings me out of my momentary confusion.
"Human, you fell from the sky, yes?" His voice isn't as deep as the others', but has about it an unquestionable air of authority. Probably the leader, though I have not a clue as to the inner politics of such creatures.
"Yes, I did," I manage with some degree of strength, an attempt to hide my inner bewilderment. My eyes darted quickly to regard him as I spoke, but quickly fell back to the stripes, the black and white slashes across his body that perplexed me so.
"It's him, then," one of the formerly silent centaurs says. I look up in time to see a few of them nod before the leader addresses me once more.
"Get on my back, human," he says, an obvious struggle left unvoiced. Centaurs never allow people to ride them, it is a matter of personal pride, below their dignity. "I'd make you run, we we must make haste, the Ixion will be here soon."
He gives a curt nod, then continues. "Our enemies. We each fight for control over the artifacts in hopes that an advantage will be found."
"Artifacts...?" I felt unusually stupid and naive, a situation I was not happy to be in.
"They fall from the sky, the heavens. They are benign to us, strange objects and technologies that we seek to harness."
"And you fell from the sky, human," one of the other centaurs finishes, though I don't catch from which one.
"So I'm an...?" I start, but the leader completes the thought for me, bringing my perplexity to a new extreme.
"An artifact, yes."