Through Rain and Missing Mantaurs is a dark fantasy most daring and eccentric. A tale not for the faint of heart. Pony is a bipedal half-breed centaur with no desire to waste tears on a past she can’t remember. She’s busy enough with her mail routes and package deliveries, and of course, floundering through hot-cold love affairs with the high class courtesans Mardyth and Lullaby.
The mundane drudgery of her life shatters when Konstantine Bywater takes over as Lightfoot Delivery’s new boss. He asks questions she can’t possibly answer, and stirs up a tragic past better left dead and buried.
But running away is no longer an option. Not when Kon and his minions accuse Mardyth of an unspeakable crime. With her lover’s life at stake, Pony won’t stop until she uncovers not only the truth of Mardyth’s innocence, but the truth of the past as well.
Chapter 1 excerpt
Saddle-sweating, horse-humping, gods-cursed bastards! The rumors were true. Shit! Bad luck must be in love with me or something. Maybe it could give Mardyth lessons.
Arms pumping high and heart hammering in her parched throat, Pony pushed to reach her top speed. The rumble of centaur hooves behind her vibrated both earth and air. She absorbed those rumbling shock waves into her svelte, bipedal runner’s body. And knew her two human legs, versus their four equine ones, would not be enough.
Still, she would try.
The sweltering heat weighed heavy. Her ratty brown and tan courier’s tunic clung like a starving tick. Rocks and pebbles further split the threadbare soles of her worn-out boots as she pounded down the rutted road. She grimaced at the sweaty slap of calloused arches sliding around in rotted footwear that could fall apart any day now.
Pony squinted at the onslaught of bright blue sky. Her brain cooked in its own juices as the summer sun withered the forest corridor. Her brown hair slipped from its limp topknot; stray strands plastered her sunburned cheeks. It was almost too hot to breathe. Too dry to live. And the fools giving chase wanted to die of heatstroke right alongside her.
As it always did in situations like these, Callum’s unfavorable input surfaced to harass her. Stupid, gods-damned centaurs—worthless scraps of horsemeat to toss to the dogs. Her former guardian’s mantra, though crude and offensive, might hold slivers of truth. It was most certainly stupid to be running full-out in this blistering heat. At any other time, she might’ve been curious about this, her first ever centaur encounter.
Just to say she’d finally met one.
Give a lecture about overexertion in extreme weather.
Maybe engage in some harmless flirting.
To finally decide, once and for all, that Callum was right about them.
But not when this chase proved that they were hunting for courier blood.
Any courier’s blood.
Keep running. Don’t look back.
She looked back.
Six tall shapes, the merging of man and equine. Hooves kicking up clouds of rising dust. The whip of long, flashing manes.
The distance between them shrank with each passing second.
Her mail satchel, empty except for the meager bait of Escape Plan Number Two, bounced against her spine. Slung across her chest and anchored into the strap of her mailbag, a dozen small throwing blades awaited use. The large knife hanging at her hip, anchored at her thigh, allowed slight consolation.
Escape Plan Number One took the form of the few coins she couldn’t spare; the bits of metal jingled in her trouser pocket, muffled by a scrap of cloth.
Your job is to run, but hold strength in reserve. Callum’s voice echoed in the back of her mind. If cornered, kill without hesitation or remorse.
Okay. Good advice. She was good at running. That was all she ever did.
Pony crushed dry cracked lips between her teeth. Escape Plan Number One never failed. But would this tactic work on centaurs?
Wait. She had to revise that. Would Escape Plan Number One work on murderous, marauding centaurs who’d probably noticed she was a half-breed suffering through the last few days of her estrus?
If Callum were alive, he would’ve wagered against her.
Might as well give the plan a go, Horsemeat.
She sensed the distance closing between them.
Imagined their hot breath blowing down the back of her neck. Their tall, bizarre forms hovering over her. Their hands tearing at her tunic to confirm the hidden tail braided and wrapped around her waist like a belt…
Pony shook off the terror. No time to panic.
Dipping into her trouser pocket, she pulled out several bronze skull coins and flung them over her shoulder. It was back to rummaging through garbage cans when she got home. The currency thudded along the highway and pinged off rocks. On her old southern routes, tossing money always worked with the undesirables skulking around looking for a mark.
The thundering sound of hooves sped up and deepened. Pony ground her teeth. All right. So they weren’t after money. Not typical highwaymen then. Why couldn’t they be greedy bastards like everyone else?
Escape Plan Number Two.
Reaching into the mailbag, Pony pulled out the four carrots she’d pilfered from the company stables. She glanced at the vegetables, shrugged, and took a bite out of one. Then she proceeded to fling the orange darlings over her shoulder in two-second intervals.
High-pitched squeals of disgust and indignation answered.
Oh well. It’d been worth the try. Maybe they weren’t all animal after all. Or maybe centaurs were fussy eaters. Maybe she should’ve grabbed a salt brick instead. Then she could’ve brained them with it.
Escape Plan Number Three then.
The road continued to bend, the thick forest jutting into her direct line of sight. She darted for the ferns and scrub brush. Towering pines blotted out only some of the sun’s glare—for a few seconds she was running blind.
Two centaurs armed with longbows jumped out in front of her. The younger one took aim at her heart.
Horseshit! She was speedy but not quick enough to outrun a flying projectile. Gulping, she dropped into a slide, feet first. Gravel tore open her calloused palms and ripped holes into the back of her trousers.
Great. Bleeding in several places, and now she had clothes to repair. “Arggh!” She slammed slick fists to the ground. “What’s wrong with you swag-bellied tail-waggers? You’d shoot one of your own?”
Her young assailant stood tense with all four hooves planted firm. This white-haired centaur possessed long, coltish legs and the golden-yellow coloring of a palomino. A quiver of arrows hung at an angle around his human waist and rested against the shoulder of his horse’s body. His bow dipped at her words, yet he frowned at her.
The older centaur was a buckskin—creamy yellow hair softened the bay color of his horse half. He leapt forward, almost crushing her hand before she rolled away. He stalked her retreat, then bent at his human torso and yanked her up by her topknot.
Pony grasped his forearms, trying to ease the blinding pain shooting through her roots. Her legs thrashed and couldn’t find the ground. All dear gods, he’s strong.
Through the swirly blobs pinwheeling in her vision, this old centaur scowled and curled the fingers of his free hand. His punch cracked against her cheekbone. She saw nothing now except for blinding white light. So much for acknowledging racial camaraderie. Working her numb jaw, she spit blood.
Pony grinned with dark humor as her senses revived. “By Nolth’s butt crack, I’ve taken worse blows from barnyard poultry.”
The buckskin’s leathery cheeks flushed bright red. “Bipedal whore.”
His tone was carefully controlled; she wouldn’t escape by enraging him enough to drop his guard. He swung her around by her hair, stamping his hooves and swishing his tail like an agitated alley cat. Pony held on to the rough fingers wrapped in her locks.
“Coins I could accept, but carrots?” he growled. “You’ve insulted us with your juvenile taunts. You will be thrashed.”
While indifferent to the threat, the rejection still stung. Ah well, none of it mattered, really. In all her years, she’d never been interested enough in centaurs or wished to discover the culture. She was too human, raised with human prejudices.