Ride like the wind, your Highness!
Those words cycled in her mind, overpowering the thunder of her steed’s hooves as she rushed toward her destination.
Ride like the wind, your Highness! Save yourself, so that the other kingdoms may know of the approaching darkness.
Princess Annette, of the Kingdom of Landfall, knew she was on borrowed time and it wouldn’t be long before the Shadows caught up to collect their debt. It was an inevitability that nothing she could do could stop. Only an hour ago had they wiped out an entire nation, felling its army in one fell swoop. What possible chance could Landfall’s sole survivor have against them?
Annette’s horse seemed to understand the gravity of the situation as well as she did, and didn’t slow in its ongoing sprint toward the neighbouring land of Blackcliffe. Not a single hoof went wrong, even as both steed and rider were being lashed by wayward twigs and branches on either side of the autumn-paved road. The princess afforded herself a glance behind her. All seemed clear. At first.
The distant wail was the first warning, and the only one she needed. Within seconds, two forms advanced on her, and by no means was it a gradual approach.
It was as if they had appeared behind her in a puff of smoke: two black steeds, if they could even be called that. Annette only had a quick glance, but she recognised their form all too well. These beasts possessed no visible means of ambulation or flight, yet somehow, they hovered effortlessly just a few feet above the ground, their approach one continuous, unhindered motion. Their bodies didn’t seem natural at all. What should have been flesh seemed to be more metallic in nature, its armour bearing a gloss that she couldn’t identify.
Riding them were the monsters that had destroyed her realm and slain her family, her friends, her people. Creatures clad in black leather armour and strange helms as glossy as the plates adorning their steeds. The obsidian visors masked their faces, masking any sign of life or humanity. The Shadows were no humans, Annette decided long before their approach. No human could be capable of the evils committed on her soil.
The Shadows are approaching fast. It would be an hour before she reached Blackcliffe, but they would be upon her in seconds. She reached for one of the two muskets she had managed to pick up before her escape and drew it toward the closest of her pursuers. A thunderous crack conquered all other sound and the pistol erupted with the force of a volcano in miniature. When the smoke cleared, however, the Shadows were still closing in, unaffected by the blast. She’d missed her shot. Annette was determined to slow their advance and reached for the second musket. Another deafening explosion, but it was no good.
The Shadows took their turn and responded in kind. Beams of green light, something that Annette could only describe as magical, streamed from the nostrils of their war beasts. The ground erupted wherever they struck, leaving the princess powerless to do anything but hold onto her steed as tightly as possible until she could hold on no longer. The final shot struck the horse and, in its final throes, tossed Annette to the ground. Though her landing was painful, she was quick to find herself grateful to the leather armour that prevented a moment of back pain from being a twig into her spine.
Annette recovered quickly and scrambled to her feet. The Shadows had left their own beasts behind to finish the job they started by hand. The princess drew her own longsword, ready to make a final stand, but soon realised that she was not very long for this world when her assailants drew their own weapons. They were black as coal and had no blades, but she could tell from the lights adorning them and the manner in which the Shadows raised them toward her that they didn’t need blades.
“Get it over with.” Annette sighed, resigning herself to fate. The princess dropped her sword to the ground and held her arms out. “And may the gods, and my people, forgive my failure.”
It was then that the wind changed direction. No, Annette realised, it was moving of its own accord, it seemed, circling both herself and each of the Shadows, throwing leaves around one another like nature’s confetti. Then came another roar. A beastly, unnatural, guttural roar that tore through the air, making that of the Shadows’ own steeds seem pitiful in comparison. A roar accompanied by an wail, no two… no! The same wail, alternating between the two notes of its personal battle cry. The noise distracted the Shadows long enough for Annette to make her escape into some nearby bushes, though she did not flee any further.
Instead, the princess watched as both roar and wail grew louder, heralding the arrival of something she could only hope was her saviour and what she feared could be a greater threat than the shadows, both in equal measure. Eventually, the source of the war cry appeared out of nowhere, fading onto the road as if it had rolled in from another world. This was no beast, but instead appeared to be more of a large chariot without any horses to pull it. The black chariot roared toward the Shadows and without warning, swung itself into a sideways slide as it reached their war beasts, bearing no signs of concern at the abomination that had stopped just short of a few inches from them.
The chariot was covered overhead and seemed to have doors to either side, each a contrasting white against the rest of the vehicle. The door facing Annette’s pursuers opened, revealing low seats made of leather, and its rider, a woman with shoulder-length blonde locks and clad in unusual clothing, stepped out onto the road.
No! Annette wanted to scream, but fear for her own life had kept her silent. The woman slammed the door without a care and sauntered over toward the Shadows with an air of confidence not seen in anyone who would, in their right minds, be aware of the danger before her. Run away, now! FLEE!
“Hi there!” the woman cheerfully waved toward the Shadows as if greeting friends. Annette wondered if this woman was in fact in allegiance with these monsters. “I seem to be a bit lost, I wanted to be somewhere near, ooh, Blackcliffe, I think. You know how it is. The GPS is awful around here. Someone want to point me in the right direction?”
The woman’s words were lost on the princess, and from the confrontational reaction of the Shadows, who raised their weapons on her instead, it was lost on them as well. They opened fire, green light erupting rapidly from their strange muskets that never seemed to require reloading. However, they seemed to have no effect on their target, who merely crossed her arms, leaned to one side and let out a somewhat unimpressed yawn. When the Shadows were done, she bore no wounds and remained still, as if either oblivious or uncaring of the volley unleashed upon her.
“Okay.” She uttered calmly. “That’s how it’s going to be, then.”
The Shadows looked to one another, puzzled by the woman’s reaction. Before they could open fire again, though, a thunderclap erupted before them and knocked the pistol from one of the monster’s hands sending it airborne towards the princess’ hiding spot. The woman fired her own pistol once again, an impeccable silver piece of weaponry almost as small as her own hand, piercing a hole in the disarmed Shadow’s leg and sending him crashing to the ground with a scream not unlike that of a dragon. Another shot disarmed the second Shadow, another struck its helm, doing little more than disorient it momentarily. The woman stepped forward as she unleashed a few more shots, all without reloading, and each shot glancing her foe’s helm. The Shadow stumbled, unable to recover before the woman was upon it, and lifting the creature from the ground with one arm.
“That wasn’t very nice, now, was it?” she asked the Shadow as it struggled against her unbelievable strength. “And that was silly of me. Of course, you can’t talk, you can’t answer that. But you can tell your masters this: whatever it is you’re up to, now might be a good time to abandon those plans and skedaddle on out of here. You know who I am. You know that this realm is under my protection. You know what to do. Got that?”
The Shadow gave not even the slightest of gestures, but it seemed clear enough to the woman that it understood everything. She lowered it to the ground and gave a curt nod toward their war beasts, watching the Shadows with care as the wounded one was carried over to its steed. When they turned back the way they came and fled, she directed her attention, with great precision, toward the princess.
“You can come out now.” She smiled, slipping her strange silver musket into a leather holster hanging from her belt.
Annette crept out of the bush, her hands held high. “How did you know I was here?” The woman silently pointed to her fallen steed. “Oh.”
The woman smiled as she turned to approach her chariot. “Well, the Shadows had to be here for some reason, after all. It’s not in their nature to stand around in the middle of nowhere for no reason. Princess Annette of Landfall, right? Sorry, Queen Annette, now.”
“I’m the queen of nothing.” Annette mumbled.
“And I’ve met many great leaders who’ve managed to make something out of nothing.”
A furious princess stormed over and grabbed the woman by the wrist as she was halfway back into her leather seat. “How dare you! I’ve just lost my family, my friends… my entire kingdom has been reduced to ash, yet you speak as if it’s little more than spilled milk!”
“No, I speak as if it’s not the end of your world. Well, not yet, anyway.” The woman yanked her hand from Annette’s grasp. “You’re the last of your kingdom, but you don’t have to be forever. Don’t squander what you have left and let the destruction of all you’ve held dear be in vain. Don’t surrender to extinction. Now, are you getting in, or what?”
“Where would you take me?”
“Well,” the woman smiled. “I was trying to reach Blackcliffe, and I figured you might be heading there too, given the direction the Shadows ran off to and its proximity to Landfall. Don’t forget to buckle up.”
Annette blinked as she worked her way around the horseless carriage. “Sorry, buckle up?”
“Yeah, use the seatbelt.” The woman pulled out a strap that seemed to clip securely into a socket near the base of the seat. “This is going to be a wild ride.”
Annette slipped into the passenger-side seat and fastened the seatbelt into place. Only then did the chariot roar into motion again, wailing toward the Kingdom of Blackcliffe.
Author’s note: Someone linked me to The Timelords/KLF’s ageless “Doctorin’ the Tardis” and, in watching the vid, thought the idea of someone driving an old US police car, sirens blaring, between universes would be pretty badass. Not quite as badass as traversing space and time in a police box that’s bigger on the inside and saving the universe while wearing a bow tie, but still badass in my book.
This short story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.