“What is THAT!?” Shallica’s clawed fingers were trembling as she pointed unsteadily into the far corner of the barn.
Bungo had led her to a disused stable on the outside of town, promising to give her the ride of her life. Needless to say, he had no idea what the insatiable she-demon had imagined at those words, or indeed the horrors her less than pure mind was now conjuring up as she glared at the oddly bovine beast with a mixture of confusion and abject horror.
“Wendy!” Bungo held his gargantuan arms out wide in greeting; the familiar call seeming to elicit some kind of response in the molten darkness. A brief, deep, mooing noise; punctuated by the rumbling of cloven hooves was his only reply at first, until something colossal hove into view. Shallica bit her trembling lip in fear as the beast finally emerged; its quiveringly bulbous mass brought tears to her eyes.
Standing as wide as it was tall, “Wendy” was a sight to behold. The rippling mass of muscle that could barely be called a horse emerged like some prehistoric marmot on steroids. It resembled a thoroughbred bull more than anything else, but the distinctly bovine form was definitely related to a horse in some way, perhaps as a thrice-removed mule from a before unknown breed. Even more disturbing than its over-muscled 10 foot tall hunch was the embossed monogrammed harness that proudly declared the creature’s name in surprisingly adorable script; complete with a few backwards letters. Shallica vomited in her throat a little; and it wasn’t just that hero sausage she’d snapped up before leaving the inn.
Oblivious to her discomfort; Bungo threw his arms round the creature’s neck and to Shallica’s horror it seemed to purr like a cat as he squeezed it lovingly. The rumbling purr was more like an earthquake than an acceptance of affection, and oddly it even seemed to like it when Bungo squeezed so hard its eyes bulged in their sockets. The heartfelt reunion ended with the barbarian delivering a healthy slap to the creature’s flank that set the beast staggering across the barn; neatly demolishing a portion of the eastern wall in a crash of splintered wood.
“This is Wendy, the finest thoroughbred horse in all the free kingdoms.” Bungo seemed to be making some kind of introduction, as he went about the somewhat onerous task of saddling the creature. Watching the barbarian work; Shallica was momentarily dragged into nostalgia as she remembered the time that Bungo had climbed on her back and ridden her into battle against the Derpo King and his devious Death Ray. She couldn’t help but feel jealous of Wendy at that moment, but was somewhat reassured by the knowledge that the horse-beast was obviously male; whether Bungo actually knew the difference between the sexes or was just oblivious to the fact was another matter entirely.
Shallica’s train of thought was disrupted mid-flow as Bungo placed his powerful hands around her waist and unceremoniously lifted her off the ground; plonking her down in the saddle high on Wendy’s back, before climbing into the seat in front of her.
“Ride!” The cacophonous command that burst from Bungo’s lips was almost immediately covered by a stampede of heavy hoof-beats. The rampant cavalry left only dust in their wake as they burst from the now ruined stable; to say nothing of the massive pile of horse droppings that seemingly had accumulated during Bungo’s week long absence.
Armando Spineshankler lurked in the bushes. He glided through the undergrowth unheeded; cowled in black and obscured by secret techniques that made him as silent as a sparrow in flight. He paused for a moment in the darkness cast by a fallen tree; stopping only to lick the side of his knife. The gesture exposed a row of filthy jagged teeth that seemed to compliment his grizzled bearded visage in the half light of early morning.
“Bungo … I’m coming for you” The whisper was barely audible above the sound of the forest, but it would have chilled the blood of any close enough to hear. Armando had been eyeing the bounty warrant for weeks. He had stalked his prey across continents; biding his time and waiting for the perfect time to strike. He had followed him to Derrowville, and now to an old barn that would soon become his adversary’s grave. He could almost feel the weight of the Chrome Stumpkins in his pack already.
“Ride!” the words echoed strangely through the forest; scattering the birds like a shoal of snapper fish with a garganto-Shark in their midst. For a moment, Armando jumped; thinking that his cover was blown. The momentary fright gave way to outright panic as a huge leaping silhouette darkened the sky; rumbling like thunder in paradise as it tore a swathe through the sleepy forest.
Armando’s last words came out as a strangled “Eeep!” as he was carelessly ground underneath Wendy’s monstrous hooves; the crunch of his fragile bones inaudible to Bungo and Shallica as they barrelled past and inadvertently crushed him into a bloody paste.
“Was that a deer?” Shallica’s shrill voice cut the air as she looked back in panic, but the grizzly scene had already been left far behind in a sea of indistinct broken vegetation and tortured earth.