Mc Allister's Redemption
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2008 by black_coffee

Fantasy Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Sometimes, things get out of control. The limits of Hell aren't fixed. Instead, they seethe and writhe with the mass contained within. As unpredictable as those limits are, sometimes one standing very close to one of the boundaries may find himself suddenly standing outside the limits, and, if he is astute enough to run, may escape. Sometimes, new arrivals in Hell are prepared for opportunity. And sometimes they make friends. This was one of those times.

Caution: This Fantasy Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Fiction  

"My new friend, they follow."

"Can we outrun them?"

There was derision. "Not in this form."

"Very well, which, then?"

"The black iron horse is traditional."

"Really? With red eyes?"

"You know my brother, then? Mine are emerald."

The pale figure on the black horse galloped through the village at night without slowing. They raced as if chased by the hounds of Hell themselves, the clatter of iron hooves on the short cobble section of the road rattled amongst the few houses, low and dark. Not many lived in the hinterlands, those hardy few that did seemed to huddle against the sides of the mountain range as if they were the detritus of the human sea, washed against the slopes and left to dry in the sun while the sea retreated from the storm-driven high-water mark.

They huddled against the nearness to the congruence that led to the underworld. It wasn't an underworld, of course, but the local populace didn't know that. Nor would it matter, in practical terms. The occasional hellhound — mostly likely only rumor in the lands below these mountains, a tale to scare children — was said to slink through the passes and into the lowlands of Denaria.

In the morning the farming village would wake to the footprints of the hounds, footprints sunken into the cobbles, and wonder.

Horse and rider ran on, across unplowed grassy meadows, jumping broken rock walls and streams, flitting between trees when bands of woods lay in their path. The man noted familiar-seeming trees mixed with ones unknown to him as they flitted past. All the first night, and into the second day, and over the second night the horse ran. In the midst of the night, they came to the first river too broad to jump. In the dim moonlight which filtered through an overcast sky, the man thought he saw steam rising from the horse's metal flanks as he bent to cup water for his thirst.

"Do you tire?" he asked out loud.

"No. I have strength enough to go on at this pace for years. What you see is the result of the heat I shed into the water."

On the far bank, the man gave a slight backward pressure on his seat, and the horse stopped. Together, they looked back in the direction they came, northward and eastward, and saw a sullen red glow lighting the sky from below.

"That seems ominous."

The horse snorted, and began to run again, this time down the high road on the far side of the river, in the direction the river flowed, away from the mountains.

On the third day, McAllister overtook peasants moving down the road, an old wagon with solid wheels trundling behind two men. Both cowered when they heard the horse approach. Both trembled as the horse stopped.

"Men, how far to the city?" McAllister demanded. Receiving only blank looks in return, he realized there was a language barrier too great to overcome in the time he had, given he did not know how close his pursuit might be. Grinding his teeth in frustration, he dug his bare heels into the horse's flank, and instantly regretted it.

"You wouldn't hurt my sides even if you were wearing boots with steel-clad heels." The horse held a note of amusement in its 'voice' and resumed a canter. McAllister didn't speak while the pain ebbed.

A moment later he gritted, "Clothes, weapons, boots, and a saddle would be nice." A few moments after that, he asked, "Is the form the semblance of an iron horse, or is it truly living metal?"

"I truly consist of metal and some other substances. If I build up too much heat, I can melt. After I run, stay clear of my breath. I have been keeping the heat I develop away from my skin and you, and exhaust it only from my nostrils for the present."

McAllister nodded. "Could you change your shape enough to give me a saddle?"

The horse stopped running, all four hooves splayed wide, legs straight, plowing small furrows in the dirt of the road. For a moment, the not-animal stood stock still, then the ears rotated back toward its rider, and the neck turned, presenting a baleful emerald eye. McAllister was certain that the horse could see him in its vision, though other horses would not see to the side so well.

"No," the horse 'said', quietly.

McAllister nodded a second time. "I did not mean offense."

"I ... did not take offense," the horse 'stated', the pause noticeable. "We should come to know each other better, and avoid such mistakes in the future."

McAllister nodded. "Then our alliance, made in chance and opportunity as it was, seems good to you?"

Again, the horse snorted, a ripple of sound, somehow sibilant in its vibrancy. "I will tell you a story."

The miles passed, and still McAllister waited for the story, wondering if he could perhaps brain a rabbit with a stone before he died of starvation, when the horse 'spoke' again. "In that place we left from, time is difficult to measure. Yet, I think it was some forty years ago by my reckoning when a man, similar to you, came to my brother, and formed an alliance with him. Armed with some secret knowledge, he was banished to Hell by a magic user who found him ... inconvenient. On the way out, he managed to steal some things of value that he deemed important. My brother aided him, and in a show of main force, crashed through the Gates of Hell and escaped."

McAllister considered this for a while, and then nodded. "Well, then, I understand the motivation."

"Man, where are we?"

McAllister started with, "I wanted to ask the peasantry, but I could not make myself understood..."

A moment or two passed, while McAllister was silent in thought. "We did not leave by the gate."

More miles passed, and the horse broke the silence, gently. "Who can say how many planes and worlds there may be? I don't know the worlds outside Hell."

McAllister sighed. "Are we to wander aimlessly, then, without a goal? For if there is more than one plane and world touched upon by Hell, there must be a great many, since the place is large."

Again, the horse was gentle. "You were damned. Why should you go back to the world of your birth? Revenge? Unfinished works? Things are not as they may seem to be, Man."

McAllister bowed his head, and did not speak.

"Well, if we are to travel together, I should know your name, horse."

A subtle shift in the horse's gait bespoke of ... wariness, of caution, McAllister decided. Neutrally, the horse offered, "What name would you call me by?"

"I had thought of 'Black'."

The horse considered this a moment, and gave a slight shake of the head. McAllister was confident it was a negation. "Onyx?" Another shake. "Sable?"

The horse seemed to try it out. "Sable. I like that."

McAllister completed the exchange of names. "I am McAllister."

Together, they moved down the road, the horse's hooves beating a staccato rhythm that rolled across the green countryside so like the world of the man's home.

Some time later, the two approached a good-sized town under the setting sun. For the last few hours, they had ridden through well-kept farms and along good roads. Each successive town they'd passed through was bigger than the previous, with obvious signs of wealth evident in the architecture. People they passed reacted strangely to the unclothed man on the back of a large horse.

McAllister simply ignored them.

The pangs of hunger grew. McAllister looked for food to steal, having seen no game from the back of the iron horse. As the sun sank below the horizon, McAllister gave into his last resort and nudged the horse toward a building with every characteristic of a church. Neck-high walls of cut and mortared stone framed a small yard. The building behind had a steep roof, with small, narrow windows holding the first glass McAllister had seen in this world so similar to his own.

"What is this building?"

"It appears to be a church," he replied.

"McAllister, you should know that our kind is not generally welcomed by gods."

"I don't know your kind," he said then, "only you."

Once again the horse turned to look at him. "You are of my kind now, whatever you may have been before. I can sense the Fire within you."

"Still, the pursuit nears," he said pragmatically, choosing to overlook the curious statement, a lift of a dark eyebrow under black hair.

"Very well," the horse answered.

With a shiver, McAllister wanted to be indoors. Dismounting, he walked to the heavy door, and stood close. He lifted the large ring, letting it fall with a booming echo. He did this twice more, and was rewarded with the muffled sound of approaching feet.

A small port in the door opened, and a young man's face peered out. With only McAllister's face and torso, and the nose of the horse beside him visible from the port, the door opened to reveal a somewhat ordinary farm lad, brown hair over the square hairless face and stocky body, in dress familiar to McAllister — breeches, boots, and a belted shirt. The open-faced man opened his mouth, and gibberish spilled out. McAllister stood, impassive before the wash of verbiage. More gibberish followed, and then the young man, clearly frustrated, turned and walked into the courtyard.

When neither horse nor rider followed, he stopped after only a few strides, and turned. The hand gesture was unmistakable, though the words were still incomprehensible. Horse and rider looked at one another, and McAllister shrugged. Both tried to fit through the doorway together, and McAllister backed off, while the horse shouldered him aside.

McAllister felt the sharp flare of new scrapes, prompting him to give a sarcastic bow and flourish, ushering the horse in. Though McAllister would have said the door was too narrow for the horse, the iron torso seemed to shimmer and stretch longer, becoming thinner — but only for a few inches on either side of the door, the stretched zone moving down the creature's flank as it moved past the doorway.

McAllister froze, watching this effect. He could not say why it should surprise him, having so recently been imprisoned in a place constructed nearly exclusively of what he had always thought of as the supernatural. With a start, he shook himself, and stepped through the door, pushing it shut behind him, and dropping the bar. When he turned back, there was no sign of the other man, only the horse.

McAllister stood by Sable's shoulder and waited. Only a short while passed, before the other came back out, with a small black-iron dipper of water in his hand. He offered it to McAllister, and looked impatient when McAllister appeared indecisive. Finally, the other stamped his foot, and McAllister watched him take a small sip, and drink.

Gratefully, McAllister took the dipper, intending to drink deeply, his last drink had been from a stream they'd crossed in haste. Yet, as he sipped, he was held as if frozen, with the dipper to his lips and the tiniest amount of water within his mouth. With the oddest sensation of scrutiny he'd ever borne, greater than when he first arrived in Hell, he felt as if he were being peeled apart layer by layer, weighed and measured, as if fingers were run over every inch of his body. Something tickled the hair in his armpits, then the hair on his chest and back, and, quicker than he could react, a very impersonal touch in a very personal area. The knowledge that no one had moved made it stranger still.

The tactile inspection moved down his body to his feet, and then back upward, lingering for a moment on his testes. Embarrassed, though he could not move, he began to stiffen. A sudden sense of amusement was directed his way, and then it seemed to him someone was explaining something to him, filling the room of his mind.

McAllister could not say when the words began to make sense, but he came to the realization that he had understood the words for some time.

"Well, it's about time. I was beginning to question your intelligence." The source was voiceless, similar to how the horse and McAllister communicated. "Your body was formed about your spirit as you left that place, but the forming was not complete. I've corrected some of that, along with some other things. I can't do too much about the low intelligence," and here there was a definite sniff, with an underlying sense of amusement. "But you have to keep yourself whole. Don't undo my hard work. Now give some of my water to your friend."

McAllister numbly realized the world was moving around him again and carefully offered the water to the horse.

A moment after the horse's lips touched the dipper, McAllister had the strangest sense of a whispered conversation that he was not party to, and that both Sable and the latest ethereal person he'd just met were laughing at him.

The churchman's eyes had bugged when McAllister offered the dipper to the horse, but before he could say anything, a deep gong sounded somewhere else in the church.

McAllister stepped forward, a glint of amusement in his eye. "Drink some now, Priest." Startled because he understood McAllister the other studied him sharply and then reached out with trembling hand to take the ladle. Closing his eyes, he visibly steeled himself, and then took a drink. No more than a sip, and then he smiled over the dipper at McAllister.

Looking at the water, he gave a wry grin, and said, "Well, I'll never question my faith again."

McAllister nodded. "I would know the name of this deity, if you would say it. I believe I am in her debt." He pronounced the pronoun with a clear tone of question in his voice.

"Her." The priest spoke authoritatively. "None have ever seen her, but our Goddess is the Child, the Mother, and the Crone."

A dozen comments flitted through his mind, but McAllister kept his silence, nodding in what he hoped was a thoughtful manner. He could swear the horse still laughed at him.

The priest invited them into the dressed-stone church, and McAllister was again treated to the sight of the horse slipping through a narrow doorway, and into a hallway. Fascinated by the sight, McAllister followed again, through the large body of the church and the rows of benches, around the altar, and into a small room at the back where it was obvious the priest lived.

The priest sat him at a table, and the horse stood by a cold fireplace. Bread was set before McAllister and a ceramic mug of water also. The priest turned toward the horse, and, after a deep breath began, "When you first entered, I'd thought you were of the Damned. I didn't wonder how an animal came to be damned, though if any'd asked, I'd have said you were carrying your master when he was lost. But you are no mere animal, this I knew when the Mother allowed you communion. You seem to be made of metal, but the metal is alive, or is of no ordinary blacksmith. And you must be no ordinary Damned, for the Mother didn't reject you."

To McAllister he said, "Did you hear the gong? One like it is given to every Church of the Mother. Long ago in Prisan some young theologist made a detector. When our Goddess in her Mother guise manifests within a few dozen yards of the detector, it sounds. The closer she appears, the louder the sound." Both his tone and the gesture he made with his hands showed his surprise that it had worked.

Sable remarked, in her private way, "He seems rather young. Do you suppose he will last long after we leave?"

McAllister swallowed the bread he was chewing carefully, the first food this body had taken, if the goddess were to be believed. Whatever changes she had made to his body had restored his appetite, so he ate at a measured pace to avoid cramps. "Do you suppose she will fight a rearguard action for us?" His manner of asking was the same as the horse's, which was to say, silent.

Aloud he said, "I must leave, for the longer I stay, surely the closer my pursuit nears. Do you have clothing I could beg?"

The young churchman nodded, a shock of brown hair floating above his brow while the forehead under it moved violently. "Your appearance here in Denane has given me the greatest gift I could ever hope for — the Mother has spoken with me directly." His face fell a small amount, and he continued, "She's told me I've an unpleasant task to perform, and it will be soon. She says I must hold back and destroy the scouts of the Armies of Hell while you make your escape. Anything I can give you, you're welcome to. Excuse me. I'll go find you some clothing."

McAllister and Sable turned to look at each other in surprise while the young man bolted from the room. "We owe him something, and the goddess, too, if they will do this for us," the horse said in the silent manner of speaking.

"Aye," McAllister said. "But what's appropriate?"

A moment later, the priest entered the room, an armload of clothing preceding him. He dumped it all on the ground before McAllister, and started handing him articles from the heap.

"Smallclothes, I hope you don't mind wearing my old ones, these are clean. You're a bit bigger than I am, but they should fit. Breeches, they'll be tight on you at first, but better than having the village girls point and giggle. My new boots — they're not broken-in yet, so they should come to fit you well. Here's a lambshide shirt, tough and warm."

Deluged under the young man's enthusiasm, McAllister merely began dressing. The smallclothes were tight, but not overly so. The breeches were tight over his thighs — thighs that had less muscle than he remembered, though in general this body seemed like the one he had been born with. The boots he pulled on with a sigh, relieved to have them.

The churchman handed him a cloak, and McAllister gave it a swirl, settling it about his shoulders. He looked for a fastener, but did not find a pin or hasp. With a slight frown, he wondered what he could use, when he noticed the other two in the room were still. Feeling eyes upon his back, he turned and found a small brown-haired girl-child dressed in rags and bare feet staring at him with the deepest grey eyes he had ever seen.

Wordlessly, she offered him a clasp-pin. He accepted it, and then she beckoned him back into the large area of the church. Puzzled, he followed, as he heard the priest move again behind him. The child took McAllister's hand, and tugged him to the altar.

"This is the church of the Mother," she said in the voice of a child, high and clear. "Place the brooch on the altar." The child looked past McAllister and the door to the room where the others were, and giggled. "I've asked your friend if I could have some help in rewarding Auben, my priest."

McAllister did as she bid, and placed the brooch on the altar. As he laid it down, he saw it was worked with enamel tracing of a bumblebee, black enamel on the dull metal. "Don't go, please," he said over his shoulder.

"Very well," he heard behind him, and turned again. She had changed, in a slight way, her clothes a little finer, and small, though crude, soft slippers of leather on her feet. Though, the same dark grey eyes studied him still.

"Will Auben survive? What follows will be a scouting party, but the Armies of Hell will chase me simply for having left."

The Child smiled. "Yes, I rather think he will. He'll be terrified, though, while it's happening. Through him, I'll destroy some of the denizens of Hell for their temerity in entering this plane in force. The locals will cower, but will see the evidence left behind, and I'm sure it will be spectacular. I'll get a whole new group of converts and some sincere piety from this part of the world for the first time in a great while. They'll want to build churches once they track the path back to from where the invaders arrived. This is an interesting gambit you've given to me, McAllister."

The Child skipped to the altar, and touched the brooch. A bright flash occurred, blinding McAllister for a moment, and then when the glare in his eye dimmed, a taller figure replaced the Child, one pleasant for McAllister to look upon. Dimly he heard anew the echoing of the gong that had sounded earlier.

Tall and willowy, wearing a diaphanous silver gown, generous of hip and breast, the Mother stood before McAllister, her jet-dark hair piled in a large knot over her head, a large pin holding it in place to reveal a long, graceful neck. McAllister's new smallclothes instantly became tighter, yet he held himself still, fighting to look only at the grey eyes before him.

The vision before him exuded allure and appeal, and McAllister fought wildly with himself. Yet the inability to choose is a choice, albeit a poor one, and McAllister stood still. Unable to move toward her, unable to look away, the passion the vision incited drove the conflict within him higher and she smiled.

Certain she knew the effect she had on him, the debate raged within McAllister. She confirmed it only a moment later, as the temptation died. Gasping for air as if he had not breathed for minutes, he stood, every nerve in his body aware, his head hanging low.

"Not perfect, McAllister." His head snapped up at the smooth voice, a wild look in his eye. "Not perfect, but not too far from perfect, either. You will face temptations as great in the months to come, I'm sure." Regal and unreachable now, she stood before him, somehow larger than he, and he drank in her beauty as a dry soil absorbs spring rains. With her eyes fixed on his, she reached across her body to her shoulder, where the brooch pin the Child had given him held her gown pinned.

She unfastened the pin, and let the gown fall off her left shoulder, baring her breast and exposing her taut stomach to the sash she wore high over the point where the curve of the hips left the line of the belly. For a full minute, the tableau held, McAllister's focus locked on her bare breast, though much of the lust was tamed.

It came to him that this was his own desire, and nothing that was her artifice, as the earlier torturous desire had been. And he realized he had been measured, and had passed the test.

Slowly, reluctantly, he tore his gaze off her half-clothed torso, and met her impossible grey eyes. When he did, she smiled again, and reached over her head with her left hand, and pulled the pin in her hair out. He fought to not follow the curve of that bare breast as it was tugged upward and then her hair tumbled down around her shoulders and with a quick brush through it with her hands, she covered her shoulder with raven tresses.

"No living man has seen what you have seen, McAllister. You are fortunate. Take the brooch, and fasten your cloak with it. Remember, the brooch is what is important, not the clothing. I have a few more things I must say to you, and then Auben must do his work, and then you must leave."

McAllister swallowed, and reached out for the hasp-pin. As he took it, he gasped, for it was warm to his touch and held ... something within it.

The Mother looked down at his torso, and then deliberately raked her gaze down to that which his breeches pressed against his leg. She raised an eyebrow, and smiled a small, mysterious smile as she met his eyes again. "Many things must come to pass, McAllister, before you may ever act on this desire. You and your companion must come to agreement on terms, for one thing. What goals you shall set for yourselves, you need to determine also. I've offered some assistance freely, my judgment of you is that you have been unfairly judged and damned. For me to work much harder on your behalf will require deeper commitment from you, and I do not know if your companion is comfortable with that commitment."

She tilted her head up, and seemed to gaze through the wall into the chamber where the others were. Again, the tiniest of mysterious smiles teased her lips, and then she turned and looked the other way, toward the road McAllister and Sable had traveled down.

"Time grows short, and your pursuit approaches," she cautioned, and turned back to McAllister. "I have given you a shield, but you shall need another sword. That one," and she gestured toward his midsection, "shall come into play often enough, should you use it in my service, but I would rather you had something more obviously threatening." She made a small moue, an amused pursing of her lips, and continued, "At least to men." She laughed, a silvery cascade of musical notes, and McAllister shook himself.

She raised the pin that had previously held her hair before her, and it grew as she gazed at it, a look of sublime concentration on her face. The pin grew, and flattened, and widened. A slight curve was given to the elongated metal, and she held a bright saber. The glass at the end of the pin swelled, and then peeled apart, to form a classic scroll-shaped guard and a hilt. She plucked a hair from her silken jet tresses, and wrapped it around the hilt. With a quick, mischievous smile that held more of the Child in it than he might have guessed, she held the sword by the blade. Carefully, she breathed on the hair bound to the hilt, turning it over and making sure to have covered the entirety of the grip.

"Here, McAllister, is your blade."

McAllister studied the saber, noting the fine grain of the steel, and the superb balance, the hilt seeming to cling to his hand, and was pleased.

"Use it well, use it freely." He looked upward sharply, as the voice changed again. Before him was a matronly figure, shorter of stature, wide of hip and wider of breast, with laugh lines in her face, and in the jet-black hair the beginnings of gray streaks to match her eyes. Still desirable, she gave off the air of a mature woman, comfortable and confident in herself, one who knew her likes and dislikes, and who loved her children.

Now her smile was one of a fond parent, watching a beloved child who achieved something of worth, welcoming him home for a visit.

McAllister still kept his silence, and the matron touched his hand, lightly. "Remember all that I have said, McAllister. You did not hear all that I have said, though you have listened. And some of what I have said will yet surprise you." She led him back to the room behind the altar, saying, "Listen now — I do not have gold or a saddle to help you on your way, nor do I have a map or a suggested route. Auben and I shall hold off the pursuit for a while, and you may breathe easier, though you should not stop and stay in any area very long. Know that I have three cousins more like me than my other cousins, and those three you may trust, but no others like me. You and your companion should talk, and soon." So saying, she turned to lead McAllister back into the small room where Auben had remained with Sable, doing nothing to answer McAllister's unasked questions.

As they entered the room, Sable turned at the neck to look at them, then returned to her regard of Auben. For his part, Auben stared at Sable with wide eyes, a look of shocked surprise on his face. McAllister wondered how he could have missed the manifestation of the Mother. Yet when McAllister looked back to ask her, she was gone.

In his hands were a brooch and a sword. He shook himself, as if to wake up from a dream, and looked up again at Sable.

"You should don that brooch-pin, and as soon as we can, we will find a sheath for the sword. That is a work of art, and the metal is superior," Sable advised, again in the silent manner.

Just then, a small bell tinkled somewhere in the church.

Auben started, and then looked around. "We have company," he said, seriously.

"More magic devices?" McAllister asked.

"No," the other said, frowning, "That's my door-bell."

"Draw as many as you can into the courtyard," McAllister ordered. "Sable and I can leave by the back."

Auben shook his head 'no' immediately. "There is no gate, only the wall."

McAllister frowned. Sable asked, silently, "How tall is the wall in back?"

Auben answered distractedly, "Five feet."

McAllister noted that Sable could 'speak' to more than one person simultaneously. To his amusement, Auben obviously hadn't noticed who had asked the question, nor the manner in which it was asked.

"I have no saddle," McAllister said, privately, to Sable.

"Then do not fall," came the response.

Nodding to Auben, McAllister again donned the cloak, pinning it with the clasp-pin, and was immediately aware of the brooch, that sense of presence close to his collar.

Auben made a detour to the altar as McAllister strode to the door of the church. The young priest came back holding a mace-like device, a short wooden rod about an inch thick with a three-inch cube of steel affixed to the end. "My brand of office," he explained. McAllister simply nodded, not desiring further explanation at the moment. McAllister opened the door, and looked out carefully. Seeing nothing unexpected or obviously dangerous, he motioned Auben to follow along, and he strode to the courtyard door.

Auben looked through the port in the door, and reported, "There's nothing there."

McAllister felt ... uneasy, a remembered feel from his time in Hell, a feel of some unclean power gathering nearby, yet the feeling was not passing. "Be ready," he grunted to the churchman, and lifted the bar off the door.

Instantly a heavy weight crashed into the door, flinging it out of McAllister's hands to crash against the wall hard enough for it to rebound and swing half-closed again. McAllister saw the wide brindled head of a hound, all snarls and teeth, as the hound of Hell regained its feet to launch through the door. Briefly, McAllister received a flash impression of dozens of the animals. Auben's mace crashed down on the skull of the thing, and the light dimmed from its eyes. The massive body lay in the doorway, keeping McAllister from shutting and barring the door.

McAllister shoved the young churchman ahead of him, and retreated toward the church door, backward, sword ready and displayed to the hounds who watched from the door.

Low, dark shapes began to steal through the door, and slink into the courtyard. After a moment, a few flowed sinuously over the wall, and more followed those first few. McAllister and Auben stood at the door of the church.

McAllister waited until the courtyard filled with silent animals watching the two men. "Well, Priest, this would be a good time to kill them."

"What? Oh," the young man said. "Of course." He held his brand of office up, and a spray of silver light fanned before him. Where the light touched fur or eyes the Hounds burned, and the smells of cooked hair and flesh mixed in the air with the agonized howls of the hounds. Enraged, the beasts drove forward, only to be knocked back by the darting silver rays. More of the animals joined the fray from outside the courtyard, as canine bodies littered the ground. McAllister watched the young priest, his economical movements suggesting the priest could carry the battle indefinitely.

"It's time for you and your companion to leave," the voice of the Mother came to him. "There are small drains set into the base of the wall, and if you leave to the west, they drain into the alley on the other side. Your companion knows how to slip through those. McAllister, be careful with yourself and your companion. Sable and I have become friends, and I would take it amiss if Sable were to come to harm."

McAllister stole quietly back to where Sable waited, stock-still with ears perked forward. "You heard?" he asked.

A flick of an eye, a swish of the tail was his answer. Then, "Get on."

The horse moved, silently, despite the iron hooves on the stone floor, and, with McAllister on her broad back, shimmied through the door. That strange stretching happened again, too quickly for McAllister to follow.

Auben still stood at the door to the church, watching the door to the courtyard. Outside in the road, the shadowy hounds moved. Light flared, and Auben directed a brilliant shaft of silver out the courtyard door, while Sable trotted lightly to the side yard.

Set into the stonework of the wall at its base was a drain, visible in the reflected glare of whatever Auben did in the courtyard. A low block-stone arch, perhaps two feet wide by a foot and a half high, a short stone gutter drained both sides of the wall, and three iron bars set about eight inches apart blocked mid-sized and larger animals from using the drain as a door.

"She did not say to jump the wall."

McAllister was caught off-guard, but recovered well. "She did not."

A mental sigh followed. "She must want you to learn. McAllister, this thing is dangerous to you in particular. It is a skill of the Dark Fire, and will cost you a small amount of your humanity every time you perform this, should you use it."

With that, the horse began. When it was over, McAllister was four inches high, and led his horse through the gap under the drain arch, past a massive iron pole that McAllister recognized as one of the iron bars in the drain.

Slipping from shadow to shadow, the black horse and its diminutive rider snuck through the swirling pools of darkness, formed under the moonlight filtered through large clouds scudding overhead. At last, they had cantered a distance from the town, when the horse undid the shrinking. A moment after they regained their normal size, there came a brilliant bloom of white light from the direction the unnamed town lay in. Flickers of incandescent lightening lit the clouds from below, continuing on for dozens of minutes.

McAllister and the horse galloped down the highway beside the river, McAllister, at least, carrying unanswered questions.

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