|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
Andre cursed the fresh snowfall as he stumbled over another root. The white covering which hid uneven footing also provided his trackers with an easy trail to follow. Not that he could evade them much longer, anyway. Icy wind cut through his jacket as if it wasn't there, and his hair-end was stiff with frozen sweat. Unless he found shelter soon, the weather would kill the last of his Army's centaurs before the enemy even caught him.
How foolish he and the others had been. Young stallions, eager for adventure. None of their kind had left the valley in centuries, but the human recruiter's sales pitch had won out over the vague warnings of old legend. Once they had gotten over the strangeness of the outside world, the centaurs had earned respect for their strength and endurance. There had been talk of keeping them together in a special cavalry outfit, but their value as messengers was prized over fighting ability and the group had been dispersed among the infantry.
He shivered, and not just from the cold. The first of his fellows to fall in battle had been hacked to pieces by the enemy. They were an ignorant, superstitious lot who saw centaurs as demons and monsters. Yet it wasn't a violent death that he feared as much as the unknown fate of the others. All ten remaining centaurs had vanished without trace in recent attacks which had seemed to focus on Andre's brothers.
At first, there had been rumors that they had panicked and deserted under fire. After all, who could make a one-ton soldier go anywhere he didn't want to go? The answer was brought back by a human survivor of an attack which took Andre's best friend, Renard. Better known as 'Corporal Boots' because of his black legs, the centaur's pale brown hair-half was criss-crossed with white scars from previous battles. According to the soldier, Renard had been singled out from the rest of the unit by a group of men on horseback. He had been last seen following the mounted soldiers at the end of a rope.
Andre's bitter contemplation was interrupted by faint shouts from the right. The enemy was closing in. He broke into a gallop, heedless of the rough ground. What did a broken leg matter if he was caught? Up ahead, he could see a break in the forest, with open land beyond. Once he reached that, he would be safe. No one could catch him, even on horseback.
The shouts were closer now, but they were too late. With a surge of relief, Andre burst out of the woods. And went sprawling heavily on the ground as his legs collapsed from under him. Bewildered, he rolled back up to his hooves, backing up instinctively as he looked for the hole or branch which had brought him down. He could see movement on the sides, and bolted again. Only to stop at the edge of the clearing.
Andre looked around frantically. One of the enemy horsemen was approaching quickly, with infantry visible through the trees. Why couldn't he leave the forest? Running along the edge, he looked for some sign of nets or wires that might be holding him back. The only thing he could see out of the ordinary were small, crude dolls made of sticks and bits of cloth hanging from some of the trees.
Some silly superstition of the enemy, no doubt. Yet even as he scoffed, he realized that something was stopping him from leaving the forest. The enemy soldiers were close enough to see clearly now. Andre tried twice more to run, and finally spun to face them with his pistol drawn. They didn't know it was empty, and if he had to die, he'd go out charging into battle.
He sprang towards the closest group with a shout of defiance, only to go sprawling again. This time, however, the cause was obvious. His left foreleg had been lassoed and pulled out from under him by a man hiding among the trees. And when he attempted to break loose, he discovered that he couldn't move at all.
The mounted soldier and the one who had roped him showed no fear as they approached. Andre saw that the man on foot was carrying a saddle, and surge of hatred broke through his fear. Did they think he would serve them as a mount? He would die first.
Hands poked and prodded his hair half, and his jacket was ripped open and pulled off. Already half-frozen, Andre felt numbness spread over his chest and arms as the winter wind sucked out the last of his life. And then he stood up.
Not by choice. A chill of fear even colder than the air rushed through him. He was standing erect, arms hanging at his sides, unable to do more than blink his eyes. The man who had roped him looked up at Andre's face with a broad grin. Unlike most of the enemy soldiers, he had long, wild hair and a gold earring. One of the mountain Gypsies, perhaps.
"You are the last." Andre was surprised that the man spoke his language, but was unable to respond. "The last of the Demon-possessed monsters who fight for our enemies. Your race is very old, centaur, but my people know magics which are even older." He gestured towards one of the dolls. "Only true humans and animals can pass these wards. And my rope binds your body to my will." He smiled again, revealing dirty, crooked teeth. "It is time to remove your Demon, and transfer you to our service."
The man reached up and draped a leather harness over Andre's head, and then proceeded to saddle him. The straps over his head were decorated with feathers, bits of metal, and strange markings, obviously part of some ceremony. As the saddle was cinched down, the man began to chant loudly in an unfamiliar language.
It was ridiculous. Andre's mind rebelled against the idea of such foolish superstition. Magic was impossible. Yet something had stopped him at the edge of the woods. And if the rope tied to his foreleg was not supernatural, why couldn't he move? Fear began to rise again. What did this man mean by transferring him to their service? Did he have a way of brainwashing the centaur to fight his own people?
Unable to follow the chanting soldier with his eyes, Andre focused on the mounted soldier. Another wild-haired Gypsy, this one watched the strange ceremony with keen interest. Andre felt strange, vision blurring slightly as his head seemed to drop lower. Instead of looking down at the mounted soldier, he actually had to roll his eyes slightly upward. From the new angle, he also got a better look at the horse. Its pale brown coat was criss-crossed with white scars, and it stood on black legs
Recognition brought a flash of renewed terror. Yet even as Renard's name came to mind, the word suddenly lost meaning. Andre blinked, trying to focus past the swelling mass of his face. Confusion and fear slowly drained away, carrying the remnants of his memories. The horse shook its head, and then thrust its muzzle into the snow in search of buried grass. The Transfer was complete.
The Transfer copyright 1996 by Aaron Reed.
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