Free Story Friday

Deep in the woods, behind the black of the trees, something stirred. Lucia peered into the darkness, trying to distinguish the shifting form that seemed to be getting closer. Out of the shadows rolled an ominous fog, more blue than black, groaning in a dull roar as it consumed the earth beneath it. A heavy mist rained down over the dark cloud. At the forefront, the wisps of moisture took on the form of a pulsating ball that elongated and rose ever higher, until Lucia could clearly make out the shape of an equine muzzle, chomping at the feeble rays of light that managed to escape the storm above. Within seconds, the entire fog sunk to the ground, blanketing the dirt and revealing a tall, menacing, translucent horse charging toward her.

Lucia took a step back, then another. This beast was similar in consistency to the shadow bear in her training exercise, with one major exception—this was no harmless water shadow. A terrifying, guttural snort from his massive nostrils sent her racing to the tower. Why had she ever left? Her feet carried her as fast as they could, but her speed was no match for the galloping shadow behind her. The foremost lock of her chestnut hair lost all color as a streak of white flowed into being.

The horse whinnied, shaking the bare trees—a cry as desperate and merciless as a thousand burning souls screaming for redemption. Lucia’s fear overcame her senses, and as much as she tried, she couldn’t recall any advice from Brian or Illera that could save her from this. She didn’t have time to stop and breathe properly and she was unable to bring forth her inner Light when the ferocious creature devoured every ray of hope.

She stole a glance over her shoulder. When her eyes locked onto those of the roaring beast, she saw the sunken sockets of the shadow had ignited into bright, red glowing orbs.

Lucia heard the high-pitched scream before she realized it was her own. As the sound escaped her lips, so too did the rest of the color escape her hair, her brown tresses shocked to white with the intensity of her fear. She turned her head forward again, but the blanket of fog had washed up ahead of her and she could no longer see the path. Her fear blinded her now; she didn’t know which way to go or how to evade these crippling terrors that haunted her through the forest.

A stray root from a dead tree reached out of the ground to cross her path, and she fell face-first into the cold, wet dirt. She pushed herself up, but her ankle had twisted. There was no way she could run any more. Rolling over on the ground, she knew she was about to find out just what happened to those who couldn’t face their fears.

The horse grew larger with every frightening step, his body solidifying from the shadows and into creation. Here before her now stood a truly fearsome beast—one as real as she was, that could extinguish her life’s Light as quickly as his own spark of life had been borne from the darkness.

The horse slowed to a canter as he approached, then to a trot, making a wide circle around her. His hooves collided with the ground beneath the fog in a metallic clang that didn’t ring true to their nature. As he slowed to stand beside her, his movements displaced the fog, swirling it up and around his long, skeletal legs, revealing thick metal shoes that extended up the sides of his hooves to lock around his ankles in heavy iron chains.

The now-giant horse towered over her, shadowing her with dread as thick as the breath that poured from his mouth. His dark beauty was lost on her through the horror of his reality. He suddenly reared up onto his hind legs, striking at the sky as he threw his head back in a squeal more demon than equine. A deep purple ignited at the nape of his neck, like embers to a flame, quickly spreading down his back and up to the crown of his head, just between his ears. Scorching fire burst into life, crimson and orange and gold, with flares of white licking the mist above him. His metal-cased hooves came down toward her face, and Lucia knew there was no escape.

The next few moments were a blur. One minute Lucia’s vision was nothing but rapidly-enlarging metal speeding toward her face and the next, she was pulled away, out from beneath the creature’s deadly hooves. Iron plunged into the ground where Lucia’s face had been just seconds before, and the horse snorted angrily.

Lucia looked up over her shoulder at the face of her savior. An older woman sat atop Cloudless, wrapped in a white cloak that just barely draped over the top of her head, showing a hint of golden hair underneath. Her amber-honey eyes were focused intently on the shadow horse’s glowing red ones. In one swift motion, the woman lifted Lucia up and set her on the back of the great white horse. Without ever saying a word, the woman yanked the reins back to the right, swinging Cloudless around in a tight circle and heading the way they had come through the woods.

Lucia was still in shock from her too-close encounter with what she knew would have been her death, and she was slow in processing exactly what was going on around her. The trees rushed past until green streaks came into view and she realized they were returning to the glade—to life and Light. Soon the view was more green than black. After another stand of trees, the sun permeated the canopy and a wave of relief washed over her.

Until she turned around. The massive, fiery horse was still behind them and gaining. She could nearly feel the heat emanating from his mane. Finally finding her voice, Lucia shouted to the woman in front of her on the saddle. “It’s right behind us!”

The woman didn’t seem to hear her.

“We need to get into the tower. We need to do something!”

The woman still didn’t respond.

Panicking, Lucia felt her fear in the back of her throat. They were almost to the glade now, almost to the tower and safety. She thought of Cloudless and realized that the horse could never fit through the tower door. Another idea came to her; she swallowed back her fear and gathered her courage.

The giant black stallion pulled up beside her as she bounced along on the back of the equally-large white mare, and she looked him straight in his demonic red eyes.

Without even bothering to focus her breathing, she concentrated on the Light. Seeing the sunlight around her filtering through the treetops added to her own inner Light and she felt her body warming up, storing its strength and energy. Color trickled back into her hair, strand by strand. Within moments, her head was entirely covered in her usual brown with a single wide streak of white mostly hidden underneath her hair, cascading over her left shoulder.

Before she could aim the energy at the deadly beast, an agonized bellow echoed through the forest. The horse fell behind, and Lucia whipped her head around to see what had stopped it.

Cloudless burst through the last stand of trees just then and into the open clearing of the glade. The woman, reins in one hand and a small handheld crossbow in the other, turned the mare sideways so they could watch the shadowy creature.

A bolt with bright white fletching stuck out of the horse’s face, right between the eyes. The dark horse threw its front legs into the air one final time, rearing back in pain and anger. As he did so, his legs disintegrated before their eyes, evaporating into black, swirling mist. The body of the horse followed suit, and finally the head and tail, until all that remained was a burning mane. As soon as the body was completely gone, the mane flared and went out like an extinguished candle that just lost all its oxygen.

The sounds of galloping hooves and heavy breathing could be heard; they were loud at first, then faded into the distance, chasing after the black mist that sunk back behind the trees. The woman jumped down off of Cloudless, her white cloak billowing behind her. Without hesitation, she strode over to the spot where the horse had diffused.

There on the ground laid the charred remains of the bolt, but the white fletching was still in pristine condition.