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25 July 2015 @ 08:00 am
_God of Thieves_ part 2  

Chapter

Late Fall 1400

The compulsion was even stronger, here in the city.

The God of Thieves slipped quietly through the streets, no one marking his expert passage. The target was just ahead. Now that he'd had training – everything from unarmed combat to sword fighting from horseback – he was invincible.

The ragged temple grounds showed signs of occupation. Small gardens, goats and chickens. A few young people weeding or playing with the toddlers on the lawn. No one even looked as he slipped up to the Corridor – clear to his magical sight – tweaked it open and stepped smoothly through.

To his left, stone steps led up to a covered entryway. Two fountains bracketed an ornate door. The soft pad of feet was his only warning, he half turned before he was knocked flat. He threw up protective arms and held slavering jaws inches away from his face. He slid one hand around the Hell Hound's neck and grasped the scruff as he threw the dog off of him. He jumped to his feet, holding on and hoping he could control the beast . . . who wasn't quite as large as he had feared. The Hell Hound's tongue lolled and his tail whipped back and forth madly.

"Ha! Got you!" Kevi claimed proudly, producing the chain and muzzle he'd so wisely acquired beforehand. He slipped the looped chain over the dangerous animal's head and tightened it around his neck. His grip slipped and he found himself in a tug of war with a beast half his weight but the advantage of a lower center of gravity and four legs. And three friends. After the second time he'd been knocked flat, the hounds all sat on him.

With some effort, he dislodged them one by one, and dragged his prize out the Corridor. The other three swarmed after him, and followed him through the other Corridor to Ash.

_Now_ he needed _extreme_ concealment. He warped light around himself, and pulled the Hell Hound up hill, away from the village. He'd have to lay low until dark, then find the War God's stable. _The_ War Horse was bound to be kept royally. Huge stall, maybe gilded walls. There were plenty of black horses out to pasture, some of them _huge_. He was definitely in the right place.

The Hell Hound was getting the hang of walking on a leash, so he didn't have too much trouble getting up the hill and into the forest. He spent the long afternoon reconnoitering the target. The stable looked a bit small for the number of horses, but Nighthawk, Xen and Quicksilver had taught him enough about bubbles and such that he figured it was easily ten times as large inside as out. Cleverly disguised as a weathered wood structure. He clipped the end of the chain to a tree and started creeping down in the dusk.

The Hell Hound started thrashing and then howling. Cursing, he retreated. "Will you _please_ be quiet! I'll unchain you, but you have to stay _here_, so I can sneak properly." After all, he _had_ stolen them. Successfully stolen a Hell Hound. So they could go home now. It wasn't like _he_ had any use for an over sized dog. Especially since the other three seemed to be determined to come too. He loosened the loop and pulled it over the hound's head. "There. You're free."

The Hound wagged his tail happily, and a bit to his surprise, stayed right there.

Kevi crept from bush to bush. Probably unnecessary with the light warp. But in this valley, one could never be too careful. He reached the side of the barn and threw himself flat. Crept on elbows and knees to the open door, and peeked in.

A huge hoof, the size, weight and density of an anvil thudded to the ground inches from his nose. He looked up, and up and even further up into the blackness. A black muzzle descended and nostrils flared, smelling him. Snorting all over him. He had never imagined something so big in his entire life. He stood up slowly. The horse loomed over him. He swallowed. "Hey fellow, how would you like to go for a moonlight gallop?"

Hardly able to take his eyes off the beast, he fumbled around and found a tack room. A bit mundane, but moonlight through a high window showed a big broad saddle made of black leather, and a black saddle blanket. A matching bridle. Excellent.

And a stool so he could get it all up on the animal's back. The War Horse took the bit like a gentleman and lowered his head so Kevi could get the bridle over his ears, and the reins too. He used the stool to mount and with a rising euphoria of success, kicked the black behemoth forward.

The horse leaped from the barn and thundered across the pasture, soared over the fence and kept going. Kevi choked down a scream, then all his attention returned to trying to control the speed of the black creature he was on top of. Or perhaps the direction? He pulled one rein and slowly managed to curve the beast's straight path, but unfortunately he curved around as they reached the road and suddenly they were thundering down on the village of Ash, home of the most powerful magic users in the World. And it wasn't anywhere near late enough for them to be in bed. But the horse was so fast he was in and out of the town before anyone could stop them. He pulled harder, they could go between the sheep pens and the Grange Barn and . . . the black horse took aim for the first Corridor on the side of the barn and leaped through.

Kevi caught a brief flash of the Rip Crossing Inn as the horse charged past and up the ramp of the far side of the Rip.

Sometime, several _hours_ later the horse finally slowed, and stopped, huffing out what Kevi interpreted as a sigh of repletion. He looked apprehensively at the ground so far below him.

"Oh, what the hell!" He swung off and let himself fall feet first to the ground. He collapsed and grabbed feet that were tinglingly numb and excruciatingly painful all at the same time.

The horse snorted at him, and he scrambled up. Painful feet or not, he didn't want to be trampled. He pulled off the horse's bridle, and then the saddle. The black horse walked off in the night, invisible within a few feet. But he could hear the clop of hooves and then the splash and gulp.

The creature had enough sense to find a water hole. Kevi sank down, leaned against the saddle and wiggled his toes until his circulation recovered, and slipped into sleep.

The morning sun woke him. He was warm, stretched out on the saddle blanket, with four large dogs draped over him. He sighed and stretched. "Now the question is, where the bloody hell am I?"

The horse gave a derisive snort. He looked around and spotted the black back topping the brush. The head rose, grass sticking out of his mouth.

Kevi snorted back. "At least one of us can eat. Why don't you dogs go catch a deer or something? I feel like I could eat a whole bison, myself."

The mutts stretched and scratched and trotted off. Kevi looked around and spotted the water hole, more of a puddle, with a thin trickle of water dripping into it. The porous rocks of the ash ridges tended to store the snow melt. One couldn't count on them for travel though, as they ran out of water over the course of the summer. Kevi drank his fill from cupped hands and cleaned up as best he could.

"I guess I need to prepare for all sorts of things when I'm on a mission." He looked around and wondered which way they'd come from. He supposed that if he headed straight north he'd either find the Old North Road or the Northern Ice . If he was already north of the road, the Ice couldn't be more than fifty miles away.

Crackling from the brush was the four hounds returning, half carrying, half dragging and half wrestling with a deer carcass.

"Old Gods! Good dogs! Good Hell Hounds. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do you like your venison medium, rare or well done?"

He collected enough dead brush limbs to start a fire and cooked himself venison shish kebob while the hounds ate slightly broiled innerds, and retired to chew on the skinned and seared whole quarters. Kevi figured he was lucky to have saved any for himself.

He realized with disgust that he had nothing but his mostly empty pockets to carry anything in. Then he thought to look for the horse again. The black creature was still finding grass under the bushes, and hadn't wandered far.

"So, if you haven't lamed yourself, could I interest you in carrying me a bit further?" He looked dubiously at the big horse. His Mom was a farmer, a witch who had never grasped power. He'd worked with plow horses, driven wagon teams, ridden enough to know how, but he'd never really spent all that much time around the critters. There were enough horse-mad girls around Rip that he'd mostly used horses, not cared for them. But he was quite certain he ought to have brushed the critter yesterday, after that ride.

The beast must have found some place to roll, though, he didn't have the saddle-shaped dried salt and sweat marks he ought to have had. Kevi rubbed the horse's back with stiff fingers, ruffling and smoothing the hair, especially around the girth. The horse followed him back to the saddle and stood while Kevi heaved the tack up over his head and got it all adjusted, and lowered his head to be bridled. Kevi had to lead him over to the ridge and find a boulder to use to mount.

And he absolutely did not kick him.

The horse must have gotten all the running he'd wanted yesterday. They moseyed along happily until they found the Old North Road, then turned and followed it to the Rip and down the switchback ramp to the Inn. The War Horse turned in at the barn without protest.

Kevi bit his lip, looking back at the Gate to Rip World. Could he go there? This horse and the Hell Hounds must be recognizable. His extended and strange family and friends might toss him out. Or worse, think up some creative punishment. The problems with being the God of Thieves seemed a lot worse after a successful mission.

Orion popped out of the Inn. "Hiya, Kevi, what's up? Besides you? That is one damn big mare. Where did you get her?"

Kevi stared at his friend, then swung his leg over and slid down the side of the horse. Took a good look. Oops. "Umm. Well. I borrowed her in Ash. Figured I owed her a good feed and day of leisure before I returned her." I never even looked! She's just so overwhelmingly huge . . .

"Sure, no problem. Hey, are these more of those part Hell Hound pups? Rumor has it that Xen's silly little dog humped a bunch of the purebreds and Lord Hell, after all the mess last year can't give the things away."

"Umm, I dunno. They just started following me." Kevi slumped down on a bench. The Hell Hounds wagged over, all big paws and lanky 'I'm not done growing' bodies. What was that I was saying about a successful mission?