Semni Apatru studied the field, but the huge number of participants was effective in hiding the monster in their midst. The other drivers knew it was there, but none betrayed its position with glance or gesture – their honor would never allow it. The horses, on the other hand, were not so circumspect. Even the highly trained animals of her own chariot were breathing heavily, snorting and skittish. Dust raised by the dozens off teams floated all around, turning the noontime sun grey and dreary.
The high priestess of Tinia was finishing her harangue, explaining how the gods would favor the Rasna by showing them the way. The result of this race would give them an answer, tell them how to defeat the upstarts from the south, and heal the rift that threatened to tear the twelve cities of the Etruscans apart.
Semni cheered with the rest, but she was intently trying to identify the man in the black tunic, the man who would never be able to cheer again. He was still hidden, but she would find him – it was the only reason for her presence. She cursed the helmets that hid so many faces, worn to give some semblance of protection from flying stones in the cross-country section of the race. But she was also well aware that she would not have had the opportunity to participate without one.
The cheering ended, and silence reigned as a single priestess, white-robed and pure, led them in the invocation to Tinia, bringing tears to Semni’s eyes. Another, in green, sang a song of Uni and a third, red-clad, chanted for Menrva. The stark priesthood of Mania stood to one side; no public prayers were said for the mistress of the underworld.
There were few spectators, minor members of important families who’d been sent to the staging area to show support for one of the temples or another. Semni knew that the finish, beneath the western arch of the marketplace at Tarchna, would be packed with men and women competing to scream loudest for the favor of the god which spoke to them.
The high priestess moved off to the side, with a final booming admonition. “Let the gods speak.”
The race had begun.
Semni’s entire life had been led under the shadow from the south, which grew ever larger as the winds of war swept through Etruria. No child of the Rasna had been immune, but she’d been hit particularly hard.
Her father had been lost to the Romans in a border skirmish, dying heroically to warn a column of Rasna soldiers of a Roman ambush. He’d brought great honor to the family, allowing her two brothers to take his place in the official ranks. Her mother, as head of the household, had been visited by the woman in black, and the woman had told how his soul would strengthen the ranks of Etruscan dead. The family had been told what a great honor it was to have an illustrious ancestor but Semni had only wanted her father back.
Leinth, high priestess of Mania, had seemed young then, barely older than the tearful girl who’d lost the man who taught her to ride.
The mad dash away from the ceremonial starting rostrum was straight for a league, and Semni was tempted to give the horses their head and try to catch the leading group. But caution stayed her hand. These horses had been bred for endurance, and taxing them early would only limit her chances of completing her mission.
Besides, logic told her that there was no reason the monster she hunted had to be among the leaders. It was perfectly possible that he was biding his time among the backmarkers. After all, there was no reason for him to press early. He would not suffer any ill effects from a long race – he was beyond that now.
So she reined the team in, balancing her weight on the balls of her feet, and let the stragglers pass her. There was one team far behind, which had lost a horse – lame horses could be released from harness with minimal fuss – but if that was the monster there was no risk. That team wouldn’t win, and as long as the abomination didn’t win, she could count it as a success.
She reached the back of the field, and began methodically to pull her way back through the ranks, studying each of the competitors she passed. There was no hurry, as even the fastest team could never reach Tarchna, and the finishing arch, before sunset.
The first competitor she caught was, strangely, a fat man with a team of scrawny horses that seemed more suited to fieldwork than warfare. Even his tunic – white like hers, denoting the fact that they raced under the banner of Tinia, the god of Bright Skies and overlord of the Rasna – was a bit faded. She guessed he represented a small town temple, possibly in the untamed north, and that he’d been selected to run because he was the local merchant prince or the youngest son of a city family or something of the sort. It saddened her to think that, by divine decision, this poor excuse for a charioteer had more right to be there than she did. Semni left him behind easily, giving him the ritual salute of servants of the light as she did.
The next two chariots were both driven by red-clad representatives of Menrva, holding formation and seemingly biding their time before charging towards the front. Like all of the war goddess’ servants, these two were soldiers, fit and tall and lean, racing without helms. They didn’t acknowledge her presence as she passed.
She shuddered to think of what would happen to the Rasna if one of the servants of Menrva won that day. Etruria would sink deeper into a war against a power that had already proven stronger than the Rasna; a single city whose armies, though Etruscan in organization and armament, had already shown themselves to be more effective than anything the Twelve Cities or any of their allies could put on the field. Military defeat would only be a matter of time, the consequences unthinkable. The ascendancy of Menrva was a path to madness.
But it didn’t represent the ultimate madness, and Semni was perfectly aware that if the situation called for it, she would allow a driver wearing a red tunic to pass under the arch in first place. It would be a desperate last resort, but the monster would be foiled.
If she completed her task, it needn’t come to that.
The second time the priestess of the underworld visited Semni’s home, she looked different: older, wiser, indifferent to all things that still held running blood in their bodies. She’d barely glanced at the young pre-pubescent daughter, and addressed the matriarch.
“The younger son of this family has been called to the house of Manus,” she announced without preamble, no kind words softening the blow.
Semni would always remember her mother’s face in that moment, for it was then that the young girl finally understood what it meant to be a woman of noble birth in Etruria, with the responsibilities of leading one of the great families. Men could show their passions, fight, bleed and rut, but women were born to lead; they had to be stone.
Her mother didn’t even blink. “Have you come because he has brought more honor to the Apatru name?”
The priestess was equally cold. “No. He was killed in a fight against an inferior force. His courage is not in question, and he held his position, but did no honor to himself.”
Only then did the Matriarch’s eyes tighten. “Then why have you come?”
“The boy had certain qualities which could make him… useful to my mistress. His lineage and the date of his birth are both well-augured, and there are certain services to the Rasna that he will still be able to perform.”
“Our family wants nothing to do with the foul arts of the underworld,” Semni’s mother said.
“It would bring both the family and the son the honor he couldn’t bring in life. Let me explain further.”
The leader of the Apatru family sat in stony silence that dragged almost beyond Semni’s endurance before turning to her only daughter. “Semni,” she said, almost gently, “Please leave us.”
As Semni made her exit, she heard her mother say, “Explain yourself.”
She never heard Leinth’s words, and it would be many years before Semni found out what had become of her brother. But that must have been the work of Tinia, because if she’d learned earlier, time might have healed her wounds, and never have had the determination to enter the race and put a halt to the insanity.
The afternoon was wearing on. She’d passed teams that were slower than hers and men standing beside chariots with broken wheels. She’d seen one chariot that had overturned, panicked horses dragging the driver, caught in its traces, along for the ride. The sharp rocks along the road had made short work of the hapless man, and his entrails trailed behind.
Semni didn’t slow. She wouldn’t have halted even if the man had been alive and screaming for assistance. All she did was glance over and note, with disappointment, that his tunic was not black before turning her eyes back to the road.
The sun was two hands above the sea to her left, and her progress through the field had been swift. There couldn’t be more than six or seven teams ahead of her, but these would take the remaining distance to run down. She gave her horses free rein, slapping their flanks and letting them run.
The helmet bent her neck like a collar of stones and the nose guard had long since worn through her skin. The cool afternoon air seemed to be begging her to remove it and let her tresses fly out into the wind, but she dared not do it. She could not be recognized as a woman, or the first racer she encountered would put her to the sword in order to erase the blasphemy of her participation in this holy rite. She could bear a little discomfort, but she couldn’t afford to be sidetracked from her duty.
Semni ripped her thoughts away from the agony in her face and neck and studied her horses. She’d been running them hard, allowing them only short periods of rest, but they seemed to be holding up well enough, sweating profusely, but not in a dangerous lather, and nowhere near collapse. The fact that she weighed about half of what most of her competitors did was probably helping her team in no small way. She loved these horses, had raised each from a foal, but would not hesitate to kill them all if it meant she would reach the thing she was pursuing.
Green countryside flew by. This close to Tarchna, the most important of the Twelve Cities of the Rasna, the trail had been widened and packed hard by the passage of feet and wagons. Occasionally, it was possible to see a farmer or a shepherd standing by the side of the road with a confused expression on his face, wondering what all the chariots meant. She speculated on what it would be like to live the life of a farmer, unaware of what was brewing to the south, unaware of what the temples were fighting for. It must have been a simple life, she thought.
Of course, living without complications had its price. It meant that your sons could be taken from you at any moment and pressed into service as spearmen if they were pubescent, water-boys if they weren’t. It meant that a third of your crops could be taken by any army unit that happened along. And ignorance meant that you could never bask in the knowledge that the sacrifices were made for the greater glory of Etruria.
Semni left the farmer in the dust of her wake, her eyes straining to see the next driver ahead of her. She’d been riding in the choking wake from his passage since the last ford and knew she was getting closer – even though the man was obviously moving quickly.
She whipped the horses again and again, willing them to redouble their pace, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t falter, and soon, inevitably, a dark speck appeared on the road ahead.
It took an eternity to catch him, but her heart sank half-way to the man. His green tunic meant that it wasn’t her target. She whipped the horses again, bringing the reins down on their backs as hard as she could. Perhaps, when she caught the monster in black, a man in green would win the contest and seal the course of the Etruscan people. Uni was goddess of reason, the councilor of the state. Perhaps words and commerce could convince the Romans to abandon the path of conquest.
Far in the distance, another dust plume beckoned. She spurred her horses on, trying to make her voice sound deep and masculine.
Semni had seen Leinth alive on one other occasion. On that night, the woman had looked tired, overwrought and old, lines running every which way across that face that had been so young just a few years earlier. The decay of her flesh, however, had done nothing to dampen the effect of her presence. Semni stood taller, trying to avoid eye contact, and felt her one remaining brother do the same beside her.
The priestess looked straight into her eyes, giving Semni the full impact of her gaze. “You are too young to lead the family.”
“I am. The Matuna family has agreed to foster me until my twentieth year.”
The black-robed priestess nodded slowly. “Horse people,” she said.
“People like my own.”
Leinth nodded. “I am here to see your mother.”
Semni started. She knew the priestess of Mania, mistress of the underworld could have come there for no other reason, but the request still came as a shock. “The healers say that the fever might spread, that no one is to see her.”
Leinth chuckled, a low, dry sound. “Spare me the inanities, child. I come on orders of both Mania and her husband Manus. I will be called to their realm when they wish it, not when a fever does. Now will you show me the way?”
Semni bowed her head and led the way. Both women knew that her resistance had been token – a ritual piece of subversion meant to establish the girl’s place as the mistress of the house which had been both acknowledged and rebuffed by a woman whose power was more relevant outside her walls. The death-room was in the back of the house, a guest-chamber lit by a flickering oil lamp.
As Semni and her brother huddled just beyond the threshold, Leinth knelt beside the stiff grey features of the woman who’d taught them what it meant to be Rasna. The priestess remained in that posture for a long time. Semni didn’t dare interrupt, but she didn’t dare leave the woman’s presence, either.
An eternity passed before the servant of Mania got back to her feet with a sigh. “It is as I thought. She was not killed by any earthly fever. The Romans are behind this, just as they were behind the death of general Pumpli, and others too numerous to count.”
“The healers said it was a fever. They showed me the bite mark where the fever had entered her body.”
“They know nothing,” Leinth spat. “The servants of Menrva are as blind as they are foolish, clinging to the illusion that the Romans are merely a military threat, to be defeated by the use of ingenuity and the combined might of the Twelve Cities. And you are foolish to listen.”
“I will not be called a fool in my own house,” Semni replied, trying to imitate the icy tone she’d heard her mother employ so many times before, and hearing her failure in every single crack of her voice.
“The death-room is not your domain, girl. And if you do not wish to be addressed as a fool, then you should refrain from acting the part. Do you wish to hear truth, for once?”
Semni nodded, cowed, feeling the presence of the woman’s dark gods in the air around her.
“Good,” Leinth said. “I do not tell you idly that the Romans are behind your mother’s death. I can feel the action of their gods in my bones. They are young gods, not yet at their full power, and some are the mere shades of our own, but their might is more than enough to deal death to any mortal they might choose. Your mother was one.”
“Why would the gods of Rome choose my mother?”
“Your mother supported our cause. She was wise enough to see that the good of the Rasna must always come before one’s own feelings. The first of Mania’s children was of your house and lineage.”
“My brother,” Semni whispered. “What did you do to him?”
“He continued the fight, even after he’d fallen. He fought well and struck fear into the heart of even the sturdiest Romans. Eventually, he was given his hard-earned rest.”
And Semni felt the bile rise in her throat. She’d dreaded this ever since she’d first heard the rumors of wights reanimated by the power of the lords of the underworld, flesh of Etruscan soldiers given new life in service of the Twelve Cities. But at a terrible price. Tears welled in her eyes. “How can something like that ever have peace?”
“Perhaps peace is too strong a word. He has rest, he is no longer struggling on the line. The damage to his body is too great for him to bear a sword.”
“But he is alive.”
Leinth’s gaze was almost compassionate. “He has been dead since the second time I came here.” The priestess gave Semni a moment to collect herself. “But that is not what I have come to speak to you about. The Rasna are at a crossroad. Rome is growing ever stronger, and there is no longer any way to contain them with the army. We must take stronger measures.”
“A different kind of army. An army of fearless soldiers that don’t know the meaning of fear, or of the concept of retreat. And army that the Romans would never willingly come up against.”
“An army of the dead.” It was disgusting even to say it.
“An army that might be Etruria’s only hope,” Leinth replied calmly. “But the council isn’t yet convinced. They stall and deliberate while Roman power grows. Soon, it will be too late.”
“I will not help you.” Semni said. The strength of her resolve came as a surprise. “You’ll need to find other pawns in the council.”
“I’ll do it,” said a voice from an unexpected quarter. A male voice, that of her remaining brother, who turned to look at her. “Do not attempt to stop me, sister. Until your majority, I am equal to you in this house, and I wish to do this. You haven’t seen what it’s like out there. Leinth is telling us the truth: the Romans grow more powerful, more organized each day. Every time we take the field against them, their troops are better trained than the time before. There is only one way this can end.”
Semni glared at him, remembering the boyish face of her other brother, the one that had been closest to her age, the one who’d been the merest slip of a boy when he went off on his first campaign, never to return. She tried to imagine that smiling face on a grey corpse, walking stiffly through the night. The image made her shudder. “I will have no part of it,” she said. Semni walked from that room without looking back.
It was past dusk and she could barely keep her head upright. The blisters on her hands were bleeding profusely, making her grip on the reins treacherous, something she couldn’t allow to distract her. There was still one more team on the trail ahead of her, and she’d been closing in on the dust plume for over an hour. It had to be her quarry.
The chase had been much more difficult than she’d predicted. The man must have better horses than she’d thought possible, and more skill at driving them than most, to have stayed ahead of her for so long. It wasn’t an easy thing to run with her; she was the scion of two separate cavalry families, one by blood, another by adoption.
Finally she saw him, off in the distance, moving through the gloom towards a brighter spot on the horizon: the lights of Tarchna. She suspected that her foaming horses would be beyond salvation, but it was a price she was prepared to pay. She had to catch that creature before it reached the city. Once inside the city it was only a short run to the marketplace archway, and besides, it would be preferable to do her duty where no one could see her.
The very last time Semni had laid eyes on Leinth, the priestess had been dead. Not lying in state or decently interred, but dead all the same.
The light of the torches flickered weakly against her skin, like moonlight reflecting from a scum-covered pond. Her eyes were duller still, but the movement of her arms as she kept the townspeople at bay was anything but sluggish.
“Away, foul creature!” one man shouted, pushing a burning torch toward her face.
Leinth ignored the flame and reached out almost casually to grasp the man’s forearm. An instant passed as she looked him in the eye, and then a loud crack rang through the night.
“You are wasting my time,” Leinth said. Her voice was a rasping whisper like wind passing between the bones of an impaled criminal. It should have been inaudible, but cut straight to the quick. Leinth gestured to the man with the broken arm, “And you have forced me to maim a strong man, weakening the Rasna even further.”
The crowd was silent. It was difficult to speak when one had heard the voice of the underworld, a sound that the living were not meant to experience.
Semni was beyond caring. She pushed her way to the front of the multitude and faced the wight. “Where is my brother?” she demanded. The last she’d seen of her one remaining family member, he’d been heading a delegation of young nobles towards Leinth’s temple of Mania, on a mission to help her prove that the solution lay in all-powerful undead warriors. Months had passed and no word had reached her of his fate.
The unseeing eyes turned towards her, fixing themselves somewhere within her soul. “Which brother, my dear?”
“The living one.”
The wight paused, and looked away, giving Semni a clear view of the gash that slit the priestess’ throat from ear to ear. “You have no living brothers.”
Again, Leinth had confirmed the worst of Semni’s fears. She forgot where she was, who she was and how she was expected to act.. She screamed and charged the ghastly, unholy woman in the tattered black robes, hands stretched before her like misshapen claws.
The wight didn’t even bother to duck. A hand reached out and impacted with Semni’s temple, knocking her to the ground.
The voice from the netherhells continued. “As I was saying, we do not have time to argue amongst ourselves. I will not be here to guide you, so you must support the temple in the coming days.”
“Why should we believe you? You’re a creature from the underworld!”
“That I am. But I no longer belong to Manus or even to my mistress. I was revived by Roman necromancy. Only the fact that their gods are still weak allowed me to escape them, to bring my message to you. That and my love for the Rasna. My existence is agony as I am resisting my new masters, but if even one of you is swayed, I shall not have died in vain.”
“It is not only your death that is in vain,” Semni said as she picked herself off the ground, “but also your life.” She strode to the nearest torch-bearer and relieved him of the flame before turning back to the hell-spawned monstrosity. “Will you leave here forever?”
“No, this is my true home, and I will stay here even though the Roman gods tear my soul to shreds.”
“Then let me help you,” Semni said. She placed the blaze against the torn cloth of the woman’s garment and watched as the material immediately caught fire. Even the woman’s flesh burned like dry tinder.
The shade’s screams contained agony that seemed beyond that of human pain, but Semni thought she heard a measure of relief therein as well.
She turned her back on Leinth for the final time.
She hadn’t managed it. As the gates of Tarchna flashed past, the man in black was still a chariot-length ahead of her. The dream of putting a halt to the madness in some dark forest with no witnesses had died.
It should never have come to this, this last-ditch attempt at changing the course of Etruscan history. The council had only agreed to it because the war was going badly – and because the surviving representatives of the temple of Mania had insisted that an appeal to the gods was their right under Rasna custom. After much negotiation, a fitting agreement as to the nature of the consultation had been reached: they would – as fit Rasna custom – hold a sporting event. Men selected by each of the temples would compete in a city-to-city chariot race for the honor of the gods. Divine will would select the winner, and the winner would, by his very nature, represent their wishes: the future path of Rasna resistance. A single entry in the field would be allowed to represent the temple of Mania, and if the gods chose it to win, the gates of hell would be opened in defense of the Twelve Cities.
The main problem was that no one had asked the temple what kind of man they would send to do their bidding. But, despite the shock and cries of blasphemy, was it really such a surprise that they’d chosen a dead man? Of course, if the temple had its way, everyone in the twelve cities would be dead – it was the logical consequence of handing the policy-making to the rulers of the underworld, two deities who really didn’t care where the souls were coming from as long as the numbers gave satisfaction.
None of the leaders she’d tried to convince had listened. All they said was that the will of the gods would be done. Her desperate efforts had gone unheeded, and with the eve of the race upon them, she’d taken drastic measures. It had been the work of a moment to steal a tunic and three horses, but the helm and chariot had been purchased at the cost of her honor and that of the family. It was a price she would have paid willingly a hundred times over – but only of she succeeded in stopping the wight.
The dead man was just ahead, and Semni finally understood how he’d been able to stay ahead of her for so long. His horses, though just as overworked and lathered as hers, were magnificent beasts. She’d have chosen them for this race in a heartbeat, strong, muscular examples obviously built for endurance instead of all-out speed. Aside from this, the undead driver himself had been selected wisely. He was short and slight, and before he died he must have been more boy than man.
Semni began to shake. It couldn’t be. She spurred her team on, hoping the three horses would be able to take the added strain just a few moments more. They responded and she pulled alongside, looking over at the other driver’s unhelmeted visage.
Her heart seemed to stop, and she was aware of nothing around her. The people lining the street disappeared, and the final turn, at the other end of the city ceased to be relevant. It was as if the years hadn’t passed, and she was racing the boy, her younger brother through a meadow. The face on the chariot beside her was the same one that she’d seen so many times, flushed with the excitement of the chase.
But this face wasn’t flushed. It was grey and pale, and the eyes were covered with a dull film, like the eyes of a week-dead fish. A flap of skin hung from one cheek, just beside the closed mouth. It was impossible to tell whether the cut was recent, but it wasn’t bleeding. One of its arms flopped uselessly at one side – the reason, no doubt, that he’d been given his ‘well-deserved rest’.
Tears blurred her vision and darkness threatened to overcome her as exhaustion and emotion mixed. The emptiness in her chest felt like a gaping wound from which her very spirit flowed to dash itself on the uncaring earth. The reins slipped within her nerveless grip.
Suddenly, the curve was upon them, and only the fact that her horses slowed to take it saved her life. Chariot wheels screeching on the muddy cobbles, she took the bend just ahead of the abomination beside her. The sudden movement, however, brought her out of her reverie.
They’d reached the final stretch. Half a league of straight running, with flagstones covering the last third of the distance once they entered the market. Of course, there was no way to see the flagstones, because the entire population of the city had emerged to watch the finish of the race – the most important social and religious event since the summer sacrifices. The noise of the cheering was stupendous, tearing through her like a sharp scythe through wheat. She tried to ignore it, knowing the crowd meant her death.
The charioteers plunged into the sea of humanity, which parted miraculously ahead of them just as it seemed it would be too late. Semni thought of slowing, attempting to lower the human cost of slamming into them, but her choice was made when the thing that had been her brother pulled up alongside and began to inch ahead.
She acted without thinking. It was the work of a moment to pull a short wooden spar – normally used to stake horses on grassland – out of the leather pouch by her feet. Watching the cobbles race by, well aware that a fall would break every bone in her body, she stretched out, bridging the gap between the chariots. Her plan, desperate, unlikely to succeed, was to try to jam the spar between her brother’s spokes.
The monster driving the chariot acknowledged her presence for the first time. He absently released the reins and delivered a backhanded blow with his good arm. The strike connected with inhuman strength on her cheek, and only the helmet saved her from broken bones. But the blow knocked the helmet from her head and the shock caused her to release the spar. Both clattered onto the stone behind them.
She knew it was over. The only course that remained was to steer her team straight into the other chariot, creating a tangle of traces and horses and people and wheels. It would be certain death for her – and probably some more damage to the wight – but it would get the job done.
Just as Semni was about to turn the reins, the gods smiled upon her. The wight’s middle horse stumbled, recovered and came up lame. The chariot itself slammed into its rump, and the other two horses slowed to avoid injury, ignoring the corpse’s desperate whipping. Her own team, though exhausted, pulled ahead.
She was going to win. It would be invalidated immediately, of course – for a woman to take part in a sacred sporting event was sacrilege. Only men were deemed to be empty vessels that could be filled by the gods – but that would not matter. Her success would throw a shadow over any claims made by the temple of Mania.
The arch was just ahead. Sanctuary, rest, and most probably death at the hands of the crowd awaited, but so did success. She would die satisfied.
All that remained was to pass a large knot of spectators just ahead of the finishing arch. They would move just as the rest had.
Except that the first of their number didn’t. A man in blue stood his ground as the team bore down on him. He was red-faced and screaming, but other than a small bump as her right wheel as it went over his body, Semni felt nothing as the trained warhorses and sturdy chariot ran him down.
The episode made her realize that the noise from the crowd had changed. It had been a gradual thing, but clearly the chants and roars of support for one temple or the other had mutated to become shouts of rage.
For one split second, she focused on a woman to one side who mouthed the word ‘blasphemy’, and realized what had happened: the loss of her helmet had allowed her long raven hair to spill out into the wind. That hair was a telltale sign of noble womanhood everywhere in the Twelve Cities.
There was no choice. She gritted her teeth and plowed strait into the knot of people ahead of her. It seemed that the last effort was enough; people folded like grass before her team, furiously clawing at her traces, her tunic, anything they could get their hands on before succumbing to the inevitable. She was going to make it.
But suddenly, with the finish so close that it seemed she could reach out and touch the columns of the arch, her rightmost horse succumbed to the onslaught. The chariot skidded as the team came to a halt, and she was thrown, still clutching the reins, into the air. A fat man afforded her a soft landing, but the crowd was there in an instant, pummeling her with fists, suffocating her with the weight of their bodies, deafening her with their rage.
She hoped it had been enough, that the lame horse would put the black temple out of contention, but even that prayer was in vain. She felt agony from her leg and looked up to see a wheel going over her foot, the chariot driven at a walk by something unspeakable in a black tunic. Her brother’s eyes didn’t even look her way as he went by. He concentrated on reaching the finish, just beyond her.
Semni never got to see him cross the line. She was not even given time to despair. A foot moved into her view, coming straight towards her. She was awake long enough to feel her nose sink into her face with a loud crack, and blackness overcame her.
© April 2017 Gustavo Bondoni
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over a hundred stories published in fourteen countries, in seven languages. He is a winner in the National Space Society’s “Return to Luna” Contest, the SF Reader short fiction contest (2014) and the Marooned Award for Flash Fiction (2008). His short fiction has appeared in Pearson’s Texas STAAR English Test cycle, The Rose & Thorn, Albedo One, The Best of Every Day Fiction and many others. His work has appeared previously in Swords & Sorcery Magazine.
Bondoni's latest book, Siege, is a science fiction novel published in December 2016. In addition to this, his ebook novella entitled Branch was published in 2014. He has also published two reprint collections, Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011, Dark Quest Books). The Curse of El Bastardo (2010) is a short fantasy novel. His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com.