Chapter 4, 45: Roughrider
The Dark Ninja gestured at the sky. “Rose!” His voice was changing, Charlotte noticed, getting … Dumber, was the word that Charlotte was reaching for, she realised. Was that just because she couldn’t get that crazy idea out of her head? There was no way that the Dark Ninja couldn't be who she thought it was. Could there?
Something else was changing, too. It was getting darker, even here in town where there were streetlights. It was because the fires at the waterfront were dying away. Just as Charlotte noticed that, the siren on the Colonial Building shut off.
In the sudden silence, Bruce looked up. He has been crouched over Dora, his ears over her mouth, doing first aid.
Charlotte was relieved to see how relieved he was. But then Bruce frowned, and said, “Looks like we might need a ride, though.”
“She’s only flyer?” Charlotte looked at the Dark Ninja. That was kind of a stupid question. “Yes?”
“Horse doesn’t fly?”
“Dora’s horse does fly, but Kawaii isn’t here right now.”
“Not . . . sparkly horse. Your horse.” The Dark Ninja pushed his hand into his tunic, suddenly frantic. “Not now!” He pulled something halfway between a phone and an iPad out and held it in his hands. A white cord dangled back into his tunic, showing that it was still connected to something. The Dark Ninja stared at it blankly for a long moment.
Bruce stood and took it. “Sorry, dude. It’s updating. How long does this usually take?”
“. . . Long time. Need computer. Why now? Rose!”
“I. . .,” Charlotte began, until the thought sank in at last. “My horse?”
“That’s your best plan?” Bruce looked up at the sky, hands spread wide. “El Diablo Caballo? You do need your computer.”
“Unh-hunh,” Charlotte said. “Well, Tellus is not your average horse, and it’s not like we’ve got another option.”
Charlotte waved the Pearl Harmony Sword over her head as she began to run towards the stables. “Come on!”
As she ran over the little rise, that shielded the stables from view from the street where the Ferguson house was, Charlotte could see Tellus looking back at her over the gate to his stall. She noticed two CBI agents sitting in the gap between the top of the stable in the roof, legs twisted around to dangle in the next stalls over, their bodies cricked over Tellus and their stance braced against the rafters. It looked, Charlotte thought, as though Tellus was getting a bit rambunctious.
His bright eyes crossed hers. Tellus knew what was happening. He knew. Charlotte ran even faster. Her feet were barely touching the ground making time across the grassy slope with that scrambling rush that came just before you fell down. Then she was on the grass forecourt in front of the stables. She was still frantically braking her forward momentum when she came under the eaves which protected owners as they got their animals out of the stalls. With one hand, she sheathed the Pearl Harmony, while with the other she took the impact of her body against the gate. Finally, she stopped, her chest pressed hard against the bar of Tellus’s stall.
Without even pausing to gasp a breath of air, Charlotte grabbed the latch bar, throwing it down and clear of its catch in one motion.
Now the gate flew open under the force of Tellus’s bruising rush, but Charlotte wasn’t in front of it any more. With a fluid jump, she had settled on the top bar. As the might horse rushed by beneath her, she grabbed his yellow mane and settled on his back. Under her seat, she could feel Tellus’s saddle. So that’s what the CBI agents had been doing, Charlotte thought. Very convenient of them.
Bruce came up beside her on his mount for the night, an amiable ranch-bred mare called the Rocket. Charlotte carefully let the reins go. Tellus, apparently not ready to start a fight, rocketed ahead, hardly needing Charlotte’s guidance to head downhill towards the water.
Charlotte risked a glance towards Bruce. “Is the Dark Ninja who I think it is?”
Bruce nodded. “Always the most likely person. I just couldn’t figure out how he coped with being the Dark Ninja.”
“So he isn’t faking it?”
Bruce shook his head. “It’s the computer. He really is—“
“Oh, Lord,” Charlotte answered. “Rose is not going to like this.”
Bruce’s mouth went tight. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to say anything.
Charlotte geed Tellus he sped up. She crouched over his head and shouted into his ears. “You’re not fooling anyone, kiddo. We know who you are, and we know how fast you can go if you want!”
Without even seeming to open his gait, Tellus out of the Lion Stallion went into overdrive. It was exactly like riding a hotrod, except that Charlotte had to hold on with her thighs. Sparks flew as Tellus’s horseshoes struck the pavement. Real sparks that arced as high as Charlotte’s knees, and stung a little when they hit her calves.
Charlotte flashed back to last April. There had been a dustup between Amy and Jason and their gang and one of Mechanon’s lieutenants back that had flared up just as May and Jamie had been settling another piece of business with Doctor Destroyer’s mole at Ravenswood Academy. The Lion Stallion showed up in Millennium City and then Center City. Even taking account of his dimension and time-shifting powers, Uncle Henry had said, the horse had probably run most of the way from Detroit to Philadelphia in under an hour. And then he had thrown the bill he was looking at down on the table and suggested that either the girls or the horse ought to pay the farrier’s bill. Did that mean that she was responsible this time around? Did four new horseshoes cost more than her allowance?
We will see, she thought to herself as the stallion’s stride ate the streets of Geithner’s Strike underneath of her.
Just like that, they were at the beach. Charlotte looked out at the darkened lake, the blackness filled with barely seen logs in their cabled booms, wet bark barely showing above the slow current that slipped down towards the Southern Ocean far away. TEllus stopped, hardly even bothering to baulk. Run’s end, his head announced.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Charlotte said allowed, urging the earth-yellow horse into the water. Now Tellus baulked. Maybe, if it were just her, Charlotte would have let the big horse get away with it. But it was not just her. It was her friends, and Brian Ferguson, and quite possibly every human being on this backwater planet.
Charlotte gave Tellus her spurs.
Beneath her, the stallion bucked, letting go with the power that he had hidden before. Charlotte had tried to steel herself, but nothing could prepare her for this moment, with the nearly irresistible force that lofted her into the air.
Nearly irresistible. Both hands gripped to pommel and reins folded over her hands, Charlotte took the impetus like a bronc rider. “I’m.
Buck. “But I’m the boss.”
Buck. “And I say.”
“Forward.” Charlotte dashed the reins and pricked the spurs again. “Go!” This time, the stallion exploded forward, expecting to take her unawares. Yeah, so not going to happen, Charlotte thought to herself as she leaned in, low over the stallion's neck, guiding him into the darkness.
For she was ready, and she knew where she wanted him to go. Twenty feet they soared through the silk blackness of the hot lake country night, and at its end, Tellus’s hooves found logs under each foot.
Again, Charlotte urged him forward, over the rocking, slippery logs. Tellus’s head went down now, into the run, as Charlotte guided his feet down onto the next rocking boom. Logs slipped and rolled under their weight, but Tellus kept his footing. Water splashed around them, droplets falling where sparks had shortly before.
As her horse’s feet came down on the next boom, Charlotte chanced a glance at the sky. Tellus’ step was light, dashing, dancing steps as steady and confident as when he ran through the mountain meadows far above. Above them, they were actually catching up with the bright light that was a fleeing Sovereign.
Twisting around in the saddle and drawing the Pearl Harmony Sword, Charlotte waved to Brian back on the shore. “Come on!”
“Yeah. How?” Floated faintly back on the wind.
That was a good question, actually, Charlotte thought, in the moment before a pink worm broke the surface just ahead. Oh, yeah, she thought, you guys again. Somehow, TEllus managed to rear on two logs, their ends pushed below the water, balancing for just the moment need for him to strike with his forelegs while the Pearl Harmony took the worm above.
Acid blood seethed below as the worm sank underneath the surface, but Tellus was all but flying now, his hooves hardly touching the thick bark of the logs as they galloped across the lake.
And then the ground turned solid underneath of them, and they were on the road up from the landing on the west bank of Long Lake, headed uphill towards the trail towards the ranch where they had fought the Paradigmbot and the Pirates by the gold-fleck cliff on that beautiful day in July when the Dark Ninja first rescued Rose.
Without even stopping to think about it, Charlotte took the smell of dark magic in her nose and slammed the flat of the Pearl Harmony down into the bushes.
Eve jumped back and out of the bush where she had been hiding. “I’m on your side, you crazy bitch!”
Yeah, right, Charlotte thought, but she waved her sword at Eve, too. Take the aid that’s offered, she thought, as Eve settled in beside her, running fast as a superhorse. That was the advantage of being a caster, Charlotte thought. If you didn’t have a power, chances were you could fake it, at least a bit.
The gang was coming together, Charlotte thought. But that had been the day when Scout had rescued her, too. Where was he tonight? Charlotte thought. Was he in trouble? She wondered if he even knew that she had won the pageant. Crazy as it was, she added to herself, to be proud of that. Better to be proud of being finally able to ride El Caballo Diablo the way that he was born to be ridden.