"Here," hissed Fern, pulling Cedric behind a wall.  "See that horse?"

"What about it?"

"How 'bout we take it out for a little jaunt?"

"You mean steal it?"

"What do you think, merboy?  I'm a thief, aren't I?  And keep your voice down, for Rezyn's sake!"

They had left the mud hut with the mythology book and a half-baked rescue plan, which was why they were now creeping about the outside of a tavern, eying the horses hitched outside of it.

"But," Cedric complained, "that's wrong!"

"Not everything is a clear case of wrong or right, kiddo.  If we are going to be of any use at all, we are going to need faster transportation than our own feet.  Anyway, we'll return it afterward."  She didn't add 'if we come back alive,' but they were both thinking it.  "It's just borrowing without permission, really.  Let's go!"

She dragged him forward to the horse's side.

"Up, up, up!"

He scrambled onto the animal's back while Fern swiftly untied the reins from the hitching post.  The horse shied a bit, prompting Cedric to squeal and cling to it for dear life, and it danced as Fern jogged it away.  When she had gotten it going at a nervous trot, she put her foot in the stirrup and swung astride the creature, pushing Cedric forward in the saddle.  She kicked the spooked horse sharply in the ribs, and they shot off at a frantic canter.

"Go, go, go!"

They tore down the dirt streets of Alyaport, jolting this way and that as the horse tried to throw them.  But Fern was an experienced horsewoman.  She calmly kept its nose pointed eastward, towards the starlit desert.  Cedric, however, was not so well accustomed to riding horseback and clung to the steed's flowing black mane with a grip of terror, his eyes shut tight.

Seymour and Seoc's trail was still visible in the sand.  Even though it was dark, Fern could see quite clearly, for the desert contrasted so dramatically with the night sky.  The hoof beats of their stolen equine transportation softened as they came onto the looser ground, and the sound was deadened further as they moved into the dunes.

After a ways, Seymour's large, broad footprints and Seoc's small, narrow ones were joined by something new.  Something had followed them--something with enormous, claw-tipped feet that were somewhere in between human and animal. 

She pointed them out to Cedric.  "I think our demon might have already found them."

"I know," he replied weakly, pulling up the front of his tunic to cover his nose.  "I don't need to look.  I can smell it."

Fern sniffed the air, but she couldn't smell anything but sweaty horse and dirty merboy.  She shrugged and encouraged their steed to a canter once more.  "Either way, I think we'd better get a move on."

"I'm scared," Cedric admitted.

"Everything will be fine," she assured him, sounding more certain than she was.  "We just need to keep our wits about us."

The End

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