4. Horses for Courses

Disclaimer: This story is mine. You may not use/copy/take without my expressed permission. These characters may or may not be based on real people, but the similarities end there. These characters are not my personal opinion of that person. Once I write these characters into existence, they make their own decisions and thoughts. I cannot be held responsible if their opinions and choices do not reflect your own, if you decide that a particular character is based on yourself. I do not own TWtWB, I am only using it as a base for my story. Please R&R!

She didn't know whether it would work, but she could try it. Corliss whispered to her friends, 'Follow me. Quiet now, that's the way you do it.'. She scuttled under the hedge to another side of the house, where there was an empty pot. Knowing she had not time to lose, she turned it over and vaulted onto the roof. She pulled Loreli up with her, and sunk low against the red tiles. Crawling, she climbed the incline to a spot near the top, and started feeling the tiles. The others were bemused, but knew better then to argue. Wordless, they watched as she uncovered a small hinge, lifted up a trapdoor, and then were ushered in. They could hear the soldiers in the laundry, the final room of the house before the back door, searching thoroughly. Corliss herself was the last in and closed the hatch just as soldiers spilled outside. Laying on the wooden floor, hearts shuddering form the close escape, Corliss could hear the soldiers muttering in a foreign language, hitting bushes with sticks. She was glad she was listening to one of Noni's rants, when she mentioned the hatch in the roof. She watched dust motes dance in the sliver of light coming from the corner of the hatch. This attic had not been used in a long time. She put her hand up to the latch, felt around, and pushed the deadlock into place. Then, concentrating, she called to Cam through her mind. Not all dæmon and human pairs could mindtalk, only if they had a special and heartfelt connection, which had to be developed with the right relationship. Then, they had to be trained, through the mind, to communicate. Then came the hardest part- they had to become one through blood, where they cut themselves, and shared the blood together. Although gruesome, it meant wonders for their current situation.

Where are you? Cam answered. I was really, really, worried when you wouldn't reply. What is it?

Corliss recounted her plan, and then got Cam's approval. She asked her to hurry; they were covering all the area around the house, systematically, and would probably find them eventually.

Within the minute, they heard a car rev nearby, then speed onto the road. The soldiers shouted, then got into their Jeep. The sound of the car leaving gave them all a sigh of relief. Corliss shushed them, because the soldiers could still be around. The minutes turned into hours, and muscles cramped. Eliana groaned.

'How long? My watch says we've been here three hours…' Corliss shushed her. A scratch on the roof heralded Cam's arrival. Corliss opened it a crack, and a snake slithered in. It wrapped itself around Corliss, and recounted its story:

"I was outside when Lissy told me the plan. I went up to the next house, and found a car. Luckily, it was four-wheeled drive, so it had a bit of rev. I revved a few times, then gunned it down the road. It was bumpy 'cos of the potholes, but I managed to hang on. I swept around all the corners, and fishtailed once or twice. The windows were tinted, so they couldn't see who was inside, though they thought it was more then me. I gave them a merry chase, over hide 'n' hill, but they stayed hot on my tail. I just managed to lose them, only because I did more turns then they could. I dumped the car behind a house, and flew back. And no, there is no one here. It was good you stayed in though, as I saw a soldier leaving as I arrived. He was hiding behind a tree. I did a thorough reconnaissance, but there is no one left."

Corliss rubbed the scaly skin. 'Okay guys, lets get out of here for some fresh air and decide what we should do.'

They clambered up out of the trapdoor, and slid down the tiles. Retreating to the thickly wooded hill behind the house. Sitting on the grass, with leaves as cushions, they conferred about what to do.

Eliana spoke first. 'I think we should hunker down in the roof for the night. They might come back, so then they won't find us. We can get bedding from the house.'

'I don't think so,' Loreli said, shifting to get in a more comfortable position. 'If they come back, and find the bedding removed, then they know we've been back. I think we should get the bedding from the houses near here, maybe that house that Cam got the car from. Then we can be assured that they don't know we're in the roof.'

'Good ideas guys. Maeve, anything else we haven't thought of?' Corliss smiled, and wiped her nose with her sleeve.

'I think we shouldn't disturb the house at all. Like, not even touch a door. So they don't think we've been back,' Maeve chimed in. They all agreed.

After a few hours of finding items from nearby houses, mainly food and bedding, they met back up at the roof. Eliana had been in charge of sheets, doonas, and pillows, Maeve had found food, and Loreli medical supplies. They had all taken items as unobtrusively as possible. Corliss had spent the afternoon decoating horses, and feeding them. She wormed them with double doses of promectin- and mectin- based drenches. She rasped their hooves and cleaned out the pockets of food in their teeth. She gave them all a massive feed, full of nutrition and minerals. She then let most of them out, to run free and graze, except four horses and one pack-pony. She assembled their tack, saddles and bridles for the horses, and packs for the pony. One large pack she filled with horse items, like tough currycombs, hoof picks, minerals, and various bits and pieces. She waterproofed the tack, and polished it to help it withstand the rigors it was about to face. The other three she left for filling for essential items for the humans.

Returning to the house, she found the others waiting, chatting quietly. They returned to the roof for the night, and supped on cold soup and spaghetti with bread. They ate well, eating plenty of fruit, and other perishables, knowing they would not be around for long. They slept warmly under piles of blankets, only woken once by a patrol going past and searching the house. For five hair-raising minutes, the soldiers searched, but obviously were satisfied by what they saw.

When they woke, very early in the morning, Maeve raised the question of what they were going to do for transport. Corliss smiled, and lead them over to the barn. In the field next door, Corliss retrieved four bedraggled horses, and a furry pony. An older brown and white pinto was given to Maeve, named Arrow. A quiet chestnut gelding named Yogi was given to Eliana. A quick-stopper white appaloosa named Hero was given to Loreli, and a spritely young white gelding named Gundy was claimed by Corliss. A fat, hairy golden pony called Goldy was their pack-pony. Corliss, wanting to encourage relationships between the beasts and their riders, so they spent a precious hour brushing and tacking their horses. Corliss also rasped the pinto's hooves severely, as he had fast growing feet that got sore very quickly. Once they were tacked and ready, Corliss got them to practice changing tack and getting on and off. Even though it was unlikely, she wanted them to be able to ride and continue on without her if she got otherwise deterred. The started to ride, Corliss leading the pack-pony, packs filled with non-perishable food and much needed items, like medical supplies and tents.

The early morning half-light gave the landscape a strange glow, and managed to make shadows lengthen and appear in places they shouldn't be. It was eerie, and filled the group with a sense of dread. The dæmons huddled against their pairs, and each took comfort from the other.

They had started going in a different direction, cutting across the train tracks to go through the back paddocks to get to the mountains, when they saw the first body.