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Strangeways - Winter Solstice (3)

Merry post-Christmas, everybody! Busy weeks here at the Maxwell ranch. Trying to write while the kids pound on their new discombobulators and aim their transmogrifiers at the family dog in an effort to make him "even cooler". It's kinda distracting.

Here's part 3 of the STRANGEWAYS Christmas special. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is right here. Looks like Part 4 will drop this Wednesday, no matter how hard I try to wrap it up today.

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The stag was no longer merely glowing, but blazing now. Golden light poured from its hide, not reflected from the dying sun but a sun in and of itself. Collins might have marveled at the sight of it, but there was no room for marvel in his heart now. It was something that hovered between love and lust and survival, a need without a name. And all of that was focused on the stag now, keeping only two steps ahead of the ravening hounds at his heels.

Though now they were less hounds than they were swarming clouds, the stormfront whipped by winds and chill with licks of greenish lightning raking and twisting, illuminating teeth and jaws in their afterlight. Their howls were now the howls of the gale through the trees, their snapping teeth was the seething rain and driving snow, their coats sooty black as the depth of the darkest and longest night of the year.

The horn sounded but Collins couldn’t see the instrument being held to the huntsman’s lips any longer. It was as if the sound was within his own skull, resounding and echoing off of his insides and as much a part of him as his own heartbeat. Collins drew strength from that, able to put aside the biting pain of his bleeding hand or the chill of the coming winter on his skin. In fact, the cold didn’t confront him in the slightest, as if he’d assumed it, taken it as his own. Only the saber grasped in his right hand and held aloft like a banner, only that part of him felt any chill. Collins could hear it sizzle as it sliced through the air, ice crystals teeming along its edge and leaving vapor trails behind, unfurling like spidersilk tatters.

But up there, there was something warm and welcoming.

The Huntsman and Huntress were all but left behind as Collins spurred Nameless on, raking its flanks with tin. Nameless leaped ahead, the spurring less an order than an affirmation to unleash any and every bit of power and strength. Nameless blazed with the fire of his ancestors, and their masters, back when such a fire would have been a new and wonderful thing. Promethean, stolen from the clutches of jealous and fearful gods, fire that burned back the darkness and held off the fingers of winter. The nameless horse might’ve been that fire if only for a moment, giving it the speed to overtake legend, and in so doing, becoming it.

“Ha ha ha! Take him! Take the sun!” a voice commanded. It had to be the Huntsman, hadn’t it? It was not a woman’s voice, but something told Collins that it didn’t match the Huntsman’s completely. Had it been his own?

“You are closest, Stranger!” she answered. “Let yours be the killing blow!” Her voice was blood-hot, hotter even than the stag’s light just ahead now.

Collins was even with the hound/storm now. He could see only flashes of their paws or muzzles or eyes, more just an impression than the real hound. Their howls of frustration urged Collins on even harder. Even they were perpetually a step behind, haunches and forever out of reach unless something could break the deadlock.

Heart pounding fit to break his ribs, Collins came closer, close enough to feel the heat and radiance from the Stag. He wanted it, not to touch it or to hold it or to keep it, but something more, something more final. He wanted to snuff it out, to end it, and thereafter consume it. Moonlight bright and silver against he velvet of the night, bright enough to jealously rival the sun itself, but never surpass. Muscles like steel, spurs dug into Nameless’ flanks until they drew blood, Collins came up on the left side of the stag. Its footsteps never wavered, never weakened, and the stag looked ever ahead, seemingly oblivious to the hounds, the hunters or Collins himself.

The stag rode ever onward, not knowing which step would be his last, not caring, only running.

Whipped to a passion that he could barely comprehend, Collins drew breaths quickly and rapidly, shaking. His bleeding hand gushed unnaturally, slicking the reins. Luckily his sword hand was still good, though he could no longer feel the blade itself, hand having gone numb from cold and exertion. Skin drew tight over bone, white like milk in the moonlight, his knuckles fairly glowed. Eyes fixed and unblinking, tears of ecstasy mixing with wind-tears he brought the blade down.

He brought the blade down and it bit hard and the stag cried out.

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