by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
Tim Hunter returned to the bestiary after his last class in the day. Something about the black horse interested him like no other animal ever had before. He had felt a bond with it and wanted to explore it further.
At lunch, he had scavenged a couple of apples from the cafeteria in the hopes of making friends with the animal. Everyone knows horses like apples, Tim thought to himself.
He stood at the fence just as Mrs. Cable came up the walk. She seemed to be listening to some of the birdcalls of the avian population. One sounded like the ringing of a bell as the owner took flight, scattering the smaller birds. She noticed the boy. “Hello, Timothy Hunter,” said Abby; she had found that repeating the students’ full names made it easier for her to remember them. “How are you today?”
“Just fine, ma’am,” Tim said. He reached into his book bag and produced a small red object.
“What have you got there?”
“Just an apple,” the boy said. He put the fruit through the fence and held it in his open palm.
The black horse trotted over to the fence. It bent its head down, sniffing at the apple Tim was offering up.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Abby started to say.
The horse took the fruit in its mouth and then let it drop.
“See?” Abby said.
“Hmmm,” Tim pondered as he bent down to pick up the fallen fruit. “Must not be hungry.” He suddenly felt the animal’s hot breath on the back of his neck. Before he realized it, he was flying over the fence with a toss of the animal’s head. “Aaa-aaahhh!”
Abby Cable turned her head at Tim’s cry. “Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. She saw Tim being carried off by the horse that had seemed so peaceful only moments ago.
“Hold on, Tim!” Abby cried out. “I’m coming!” She grabbed two of the metal posts and pulled herself over the fence. She then dropped down on the other side and ran after the beast.
The ground beneath her feet seemed to change as she ran. The sky was changing, too, darkening as the sunlight seemed to fade away to nothing. It was almost unnatural. What’s going on?
Abby only had eyes for the horse running ahead of her. She knew she could never catch it on foot, but she hoped to trail it until it stopped, or until Tim fell off. She hoped the latter didn’t happen, though. Tim was a friend, one of the first she had made here on the island. She cared about the boy as if he were one of her own and didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.
What would possess Gallowglass to have such a dangerous creature out in the open? she thought. All the other creatures are kept locked up in the bestiary. Thinking of Headmaster Gallowglass only made her angry. The man was a mystery wrapped in a riddle and dressed as an enigma. She doubted that she would ever truly understand him.
Abby followed the horse and Tim as fast as she could. The horse bucked up and down, but somehow Tim held on, despite the fact there was no saddle or reins. How is that possible? she thought.
The wild ride led her to a citadel in the middle of a plain of dark ground under a dark sky. She watched as the horse ran to the wall around the citadel and began digging footholds in the stone blocks. Much to her shock and amazement, the horse quickly scaled the barricade and passed over to the other side.
How in the world?! Abby frowned at this. She was an agile climber, but even she had to pause at the sheerness of the stone. Still, she only hesitated a moment. Tim needs me!
Running down to the wall, she noted how cold and abandoned it looked. Shouldn’t guards be patrolling the ramparts or something? she thought, but she didn’t have time to worry about that, either.
Placing her hand into the huge hoof-print in the stonewall, she began pulling herself up, one hoof-print at a time. It took a long time, feeling to her like hours, but she finally pulled herself to the top of the wall. How had the horse gotten down, and where has it gone? she wondered.
Abby walked along the wall, which was a few feet wide, until she found a tower entrance. This would let her inside the wall itself. From there, she descended a small stone staircase to the ground level. A broken-down wooden door showed her the way that her quarry had taken.
Making her way through the deserted stone building, Abby finally found a hoof-print digging into a stairwell. At least I still have a trail, she sighed. She started up the stairs but then took them two at a time; she had heard a voice above. It was Tim’s.
“Tim! Tim!” Abby called out as she rushed up the last few steps. When she reached the top landing, she stopped at what she saw.
A statue of a man dominated the room at the top of the stairs. One hand of the statue was raised to strike, holding a sword that gleamed in the torchlight as it stood ready to deal a death-blow.
The horse that wasn’t a horse stood on one side. The animal seemed to be on guard against something. All the while, the creature listened to Tim talk.
Timothy Hunter walked around the statue, thinking out loud. A small yo-yo in his hand twirled up and down as he moved.
“Tim!” said Abby, a little uncertainly. “What’s going on?”
“Black wants me to change his friend Dilvish from a statue back to a man.”
“What are you talking about, Tim?” Abby asked.
“Black can talk,” said Tim, indicating the horse. “He thinks I am some kind of apprentice magician. That’s why he took a liking to me; he wanted me to help him. But I don’t know anything about magic! I’m sure this is something simple, like a chemical equation, but I have no idea how to proceed.”
“And you never will, boy!” warned a deep, baritone voice. “None may enter my keep and not pay the toll!” A large, bald man stepped into the room. He wore a long tunic of silver and green, while a green cloak hung from silver clasps at his shoulders.
Timothy’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the man, while Black the horse grew a bit agitated. Abby was also surprised by the sudden arrival. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Hello, my dear,” the stranger said. “I see that I will have a new toy to play with later!” And he followed it by a wicked laugh.
Black whinnied and reared between Tim and Abby and the bald man.
Abby looked around frantically for a weapon of some sort, anything to defend herself and Tim. She could only think of one thing. The sword in the stone fist of Dilvish! She dashed over to the statue and tugged at the blade.
“Foolish minion!” said the bald man as he addressed the animal that was waving its hooved feet at him. The man waved his hand in the air, and the horse flew through one of the stone walls with a loud crash.
“Black!” Tim exclaimed.
The bald man glared at the two. “Now, what to do about you two?”
Tim pressed himself up against the statue that was Dilvish in terror, and Abby gave up on the sword and moved to block the magician. “Leave us alone!” she cried.
“Yes!” said the bald man with a wicked smile. “It will be a joy to break such a spirit as you have, my pretty!”
Tim’s hands glowed slightly. He wasn’t sure why, and he wasn’t sure how. They just did. Consequently, the statue seemed to creak behind him. Tim looked up. The sword of Dilvish plunged forward. Tim closed his eyes.
Then a shriek rang out in high tones.
“No more, Jelerak,” said the voice of the unfrozen adventurer. “I have waited a long time to put an end to you!”
Abby ran over to Tim and shielded his eyes from the gruesome scene.
Headmaster Gallowglass and a stranger in red waited at the edge of Black’s meadow. In the distance, they could see Dilvish giving the young woman and her small charge their thanks before turning to his faithful black companion and vanishing to the sound of hoof-beats.
Abby Cable and Timothy Hunter stood there for a moment and then turned. Then the instructor and student both realized that someone was waiting for them. “Headmaster Gallowglass,” Abby started to say, “let me explain…”
“Mrs. Cable,” the headmaster said, cutting her off sharply. “This man is Adam Strange. He has come from a very far distance and has gone through great efforts to locate you.” The way Gallowglass said this indicated that he was not very pleased to have a visitor on the island. “He says he has seen your husband in space and that he has a message for you from him.”
Abby’s face lit up, despite the ordeal she had just been through. “Is this true?” Abby said, relief flooding her face.
The blonde man in red nodded. Adam Strange opened his mouth to reply.
Just then, a flash of light enveloped him, and he was gone.
“Nooo!” Abby cried out, throwing her hands to her face. Here was someone who had word of her Alec, and now he was gone.
Tim approached his teacher and, despite the bloodstains on her dress, gave her a comforting hug. It probably didn’t help much, but it was all the boy could think of doing.