Lying was easy.
I had thought that lying would feel very bad, and that hiding things would be difficult. I do not know why I thought that, really, only that it seemed to me that doing things that were wrong would also feel wrong. But I lied to Gabi very easily, and I pretended that I was just fine.
I did not tell her how frightened I was.
I did not tell her how frightened I was of her.
It was because I did not really think it was her fault. I did not really think that she would have destroyed me on purpose. But I also did not think that she would be very upset if I was gone. She had said it to Kazimir, hadn’t she? “Only a golem.”
I supposed that the statement was not incorrect. But I hated it.
She cried, one part of me insisted. She cried for you.
I did not know. Maybe I had only seen what I had wanted to see on her face, for her tears had dried up very fast.
But I did not say to her, “I am afraid,” or “I do not trust you anymore.” Because I was also afraid that it would make her go away and leave me all alone. And I did not like how frightened that made me feel. Perhaps Kazimir was right. Perhaps I relied too much on one person.
But I had very little else in the world to rely on.
Gabi slept now, curled up in one of the huts in the satra- a different hut than the one we had been in before. We had not said anything about it to each other, but I think that the both of us did not want to be near the mound of clay that had once been part of my body.
It was very, very strange to me still. To suddenly go from being so large to being as small as I was now had been a shock, and I had struggled to even figure out how to move so little material. There had been a moment where I nearly lost my hollowness completely. I had never been completely solid and I suspected that would make it much more difficult to move.
Now, being small, I could look at Gabi’s sleeping face- so big my arms could not even have spanned it- and observe tiny details I had never noticed before. She had so many freckles. They spilled across her nose and cheeks and her full lips, but did not touch the little pockets under her eyes. She had long eyelashes, and they were as red as her hair. Every time she breathed, her tongue poked slightly from the corner of her mouth.
She was sleeping because it was the daytime, and she wanted to wait until the next night to go and find Crina again. I was not exactly sure how we were going to manage that. Perhaps it would be a little easier because she was blind, but we would have to be lucky to catch her alone again without her parents.
I have to confess that a small part of me was worried that Gabi might try to feed on her. She had gotten interested in her very suddenly. I did not want her to feed on someone I had spoken to and gotten friendly with. I was not sure what I would do if she tried. Perhaps I should say something to her about it, but I also did not want to put the idea in her head if she did not have it already.
Not trusting someone did not feel good.
I blinked my empty eyes. I had been looking so closely at Gabi for a reason. I was trying to make sure that no more flowers were sprouting up from her skin. So far I had looked carefully over her face and neck and shoulders. There was nothing, not even on her now lightly-scarred left arm. I had even, gingerly, lifted each of her breasts to check underneath those. She was sleeping on her side, so it had been something of a struggle.
I was just moving around her tangled hair to look over her back when a noise from outside caught my attention. It had sounded like a dog barking very far away.
I snuck carefully to the entrance of the hut and peered outside. The sunlight was very bright, and I could see nothing but other empty huts. Somewhere above me a bird was singing. I did not hear the dog bark again.
It still worried me. That was another problem with being small. I would not be able to protect Gabi like this, not even from a dog.
Troubled, I went back inside the hut and right away saw the little bud protruding from between Gabi’s shoulder blades. For a moment I did not believe my eyes; it was a darker pink, perhaps it was some sort of mole or spot? But no, stepping closer, I could see the tightly-curled petals. It was a flower.
Gabi slept on, the muscles in her back moving very slightly with each oblivious breath. I approached the bud with great trepidation. It was not very large, small enough for me to hold even with my little hands. (I had not yet made fingers for myself, because fine details were harder to shape when you were small, but I could still press my clay around an object.)
Carefully I pressed both hands around the bud. It was warm, which I felt was not ordinary for a plant, but maybe that came from Gabi’s own warmth. Hesitantly, I gave it a little tug; it did not give in the slightest. Clearly I would have to get rougher.
I braced one foot against Gabi’s skin, the other on the ground, and gave an absolutely vicious yank. The bud gave up its hold, and drops of Gabi’s blood splattered on me as I pulled out the long white stem.
Gabi rolled over, and I had to jump back to avoid getting squashed. She rubbed her eyes, and I quickly put the bud behind my back.
“Kezia, did you pinch me?” she asked, in a groggy, irritated way.
“I am sorry,” I said. “There was a wasp on you. I was trying to shoo it away.”
See? Lying was easy.
“Hmph,” said Gabi. “Thank you for rescuing me, oh mighty golem. Try to do it without pinching me next time.”
She gave an enormous yawn, and then, much to my surprise, curled an arm around me and tugged me against her chest.
“You must quit pacing about,” she murmured, the vibrations of her voice passing through me. “The sound of your little footsteps is penetrating my dreams.”
“I am sorry,” I said, very awkwardly, for she was holding me against her warm skin like a little doll.
“Hmm,” said Gabi, who sounded as though she were already falling back asleep. I reached up to stroke her head and one of her wiry hairs sliced a piece of clay from my hand.
My other hand was still holding the bloody bud behind my back. Once I was sure that Gabi had gone back to sleep, I drew it around to look at it, and found that it was already gray and withered. I crushed it into dust.
I knew for certain now that the other Kezia had left me forever.
When Gabi had pulled the letter from my forehead, and my limbs would not move, and my senses began fading, she had emerged again. I felt her emotions surging up where mine were going quiet. Perhaps she had been biding her time for a while, but now she was filled with a vivid terror that seemed to permeate every inch of my collapsing body.
You’re dying! she had cried. Kezia, you’re dying!
No, I had replied, hazy, I am a golem. I cannot die.
You’re dying! I know this feeling, I felt it before! Kezia, don’t go!
I found that I could not muster the strength to even think of an answer. She became more agitated at my silence. I felt her memories surfacing. The cold night- walking on the cobblestones on bare feet- the tall, pale sight of the church.
Again! I don’t want to die again!
A man came out of the door, and I gasped, and ran to him- he looked up- his face was close in the darkness- he swung something in his hands-
-I was on the dirt, being dragged, he was dragging me, the river, the river, the river-
“Please, God,” he had said, raising his face to the sky, “Please- forgive me-”
-the water in my eyes, mouth, throat, the chill in my skin, my limbs would not move, couldn’t hold my breath, chest hurt, body battering against rocks, don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe-
I opened my mouth and it filled with mud.
I jerked in Gabi’s hands, and she wrinkled her nose and grumbled in her sleep.
I put one hand to my forehead. The letters that sustained me, the ones I had not even known about before now, were no longer there. They would not fit. I had them embedded on the inside of my belly, the coin in my back.
When Gabi had pulled the letter from my forehead, the other Kezia and I had relieved her death together, and then I had faded completely. I woke to Kazimir’s growls and shouts, and Gabi’s weak-sounding voice. It was then that I had learned- that I had realized that Gabi had meant to destroy me completely, and that my mother had been the one to try and make her.
Not my mother. Not even Mother Forest. I had never even known her real name.
I found myself wishing that I could still feel the other Kezia within me, because I could have asked her how she went on after feeling how death felt. It was horrible. It was nothing. I never wanted to feel it again.
But she was gone completely, and I was afraid- I was afraid that she was nothing forever.
Maybe Gabi was right, then. Maybe I did not really want a body of flesh. Because at least as a golem, there was only one way that I could die.
This troubling thought consumed me until I heard the sound of a dog barking again.
It sounded much closer this time. I wormed my way out of Gabi’s grip, ignoring her sleepy mutters of protest, and went back to the doorway. Yes- though I could not see a dog, I could still hear the barking. Actually, now it sounded like there was more than one dog. And the barks were not so much barks as they were bays.
I crept around the perimeter of the hut, crawling up the little hill that half-supported its crumbling roof. From my vantage point I saw something that did not look good at all. There were a good number of dogs coming towards the satra, and behind them were some men on horses, and behind them were other men walking on foot. They were carrying things that looked like weapons.
I scrambled back into the hut as quickly as my tiny legs could carry me.
“Gabi! Gabi, wake up!”
She rolled over with a grunt. I ran around to her other side to tug on a strand of her hair.
“Gabi, I am sorry, but you must get up now! I cannot carry you!”
“Who’s going to carry me?” she muttered, without opening her eyes. “I’ve just gotten back to sleep-”
“Gabi, there are men coming with dogs! I think that they are looking for you!”
Slowly she cracked one eye open, and then the other.
“Get up, please!”
She did so, rubbing her eyes and scowling, and then followed me to the door. She shied back at once.
“I hear dogs out there!”
“Yes,” I said, very close to losing my patience. “We must try to find some way to get out of here- can you run faster than them?”
“Are you mad? I can barely outrun a tortoise!”
“But if you change your shape, Gabi-”
She bit her lip.
“I can’t. Not anymore. Oh, damn, I’m starting to wake up- this is quite bad, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean, not anymore? Could you not become a bird or-”
“I can’t get smaller! Not with the white tree inside me,” she snapped. “It hurts like mad, and I can’t keep my concentration.”
“Oh.” The more I thought about that, the more horrible it sounded. But the baying of the hounds was getting closer. “Can you change into something bigger?”
“I can’t! It has to be my size or smaller, I’ve tried going for a bear and you would not believe the mess that caused…”
She started to stick her head out the doorway, then flinched as the sunlight struck her skin.
“I- I suppose I could try for something that is roughly the same size as I am, though.”
“If it can outrun a dog, please,” I begged. “Please try. I cannot protect you at all when I am this small!”
“Hush,” she said, turning to tap the top of my head with one finger. “Let me concentrate…”
She shivered. Now I could hear the hoofbeats of the horses, the murmur of the men talking.
“Maybe it’s just an ordinary hunt,” she muttered. “Maybe we’re fussing over nothing…”
She rolled her shoulders, then shuddered, and her form began to change. But I could see that this time something was not quite right. Every other time that I had watched her change her shape, it had been over in an instant, seeming effortless. Now it was slow, fur growing from her arms, her face twisted into a grimace, her fingers curling. I heard something snap.
“Are you all-”
“Shh,” said Gabi, sounding sloppy through a mouth full of strange teeth. I got quiet.
She continued to change, agonizingly slow, and I heard more cracks and pops coming from within her. It occurred to me that it sounded almost like branches breaking, and I felt sick. Finally she fell down onto all fours before me, a russet-colored wolf.
Gabi-the-wolf moved all four of her paws and swung her tail, seemingly testing it all, then jerked her muzzle at me and crouched down. I was what she wanted, but hesitated- suppose I weighed her down too much, and she could not get away? I was not worried about being found by men or dogs…
With a growl, Gabi snatched me in her jaws and burst out of the hut.
I could not do much more than that single cry of protest, because then we were moving fast and I was afraid my voice would draw more attention to us. Gabi darted between the huts, whipping me from side to side as she took sharp turns. I had to grab my head to keep it from flying off, as small as it was now, but at least I did not see any dogs or men in the satra. Not yet.
I had thought Gabi would simply run flat out and away, but she was casting about instead, darting this way and that, looking around. Finally she came to a strange hut, suspended on stilts with a chicken pen underneath, and darted up the ladder and inside.
There she crouched in the dimness, shying away from the sunlight that was filtering through the tattered thatch. She dropped me to pant.
I crawled to the entrance to peep outside and saw, from our elevated position, why she had not made a run for it. Though the land was hilly, there was nothing around for a long way but grass, and her fleeing figure would have been starkly visible in every direction. And beyond the grass, there was the river to the west, and beyond that the Starving Forest; to the south, the village; to the north, the forest where Baba Yaga and the Iele stayed; to the east… I did not know what lay to the east, aside from more hills and fields.
I suddenly felt very penned-in. Despite all the open space around us, we were trapped- there were no safe refuges anywhere.
Below us I saw the dogs begin streaming in between the huts in the satra, baying their excitement, a whirl of brown dappled backs and waving tails. The men collected behind them, and the ones on horseback dismounted. They did not seem very urgent in their manner; in fact, they seemed relaxed and amiable with one another. I noticed that they were all also quite young-looking.
The dogs were sniffing in every direction, sometimes even running into each other in their confusion and excitement, so maybe Gabi’s darting and whirling had been good after all. One of the men was pushing his way between them, poking their sides with a long stick- I noticed that he had stopped near the hut where Gabi had been sleeping just earlier. Dogs crowded in the doorway.
The ladder leading to our little roost rattled; I was horrified to see one dog rearing up on his hind legs and his paws on the second rung, sniffing the air madly. But then he got back down and resumed his circling on the ground.
Warm air brushed my shoulders and I glanced back. Gabi stood behind me, her wolf’s eyes a very sharp, clear blue. I wished I knew what she was thinking right now. I wished I knew how we were going to escape.
I looked back outside. Two other men had come to stand by the hut where Gabi had been resting, and their words drifted over to me on the slight breeze.
“I don’t know,” one was saying. “It looks to me like they’ve smelt a fox; this is fox baying.”
“Shut up, the dogs don’t act no different whether it’s a fox or a vampire,” said the other. “They just smell it out and kill it.”
“You ever put dogs on a vampire before, then?”
“Got them to smell the dead man, didn’t I? And the sheets the cursed bitch slept in? That’s good enough, they know what they’re seeking. And this place is the perfect hideaway. We should’ve come here ages ago to root it out.”
“I dunno. I don’t think a vampire is just going to pop out and let us find it. Or if it does, what if it attacks? Y’think it’s just going to say, ‘That was a fair game, lads, you got me,’ and give up?”
The other man laughed. “Sure it will! Hey, vampire!” He banged the large stick he was holding on the doorframe of the hut. “Come out, come out, we’ve got you!”
“What the hell are you two doing?” said another man, who had come over on horseback. He had a brutish face crowned by a shock of blonde hair, and he was holding a crossbow in one hand. With his other, he tossed one of the men an unlit torch.
“There’s no point hoping the dogs will flush it,” he told them. “Come on, let’s not have this take all day. I don’t want to have a live vampire on our hands after sunset, do you?”
The man now holding the torch tugged his forelock in response, as the horse switched its tail into the face of his companion.
“Yes sir, let me get the dogs out of there, then!”
The man on horseback did not deign to reply, only trotted off. Behind me, Gabi gave a very soft growl, and I glanced back at her. When I looked outside the hut again, the man had lit the torch, and raised his hand to throw it onto the thatch. The fire caught, and a tremendous amount of smoke suddenly billowed towards us, obscuring our vision.
The dogs began barking again, though now there was a distinct nervous shrillness to their tone, and I heard worried horse noises from below as well. From the amount of smoke, they must have set more than one hut ablaze. Behind me, Gabi was coughing.
“We should get out of here,” I whispered. The fire had not touched our hiding spot yet, but…
Gabi looked at me, her lupine features inscrutable, then crouched down once more; it seemed she did not plan on moving just yet. I felt a thrum of fear growing stronger and stronger inside of me, and peered back out through the smoke. Some of the men were cheering, though I knew not at what- perhaps at their own sheer destructiveness.
“Couldn’t we have made this a picnic? Have you got any sausage to toast?” I heard one shout.
Still Gabi waited behind me, silent, patient. I wished I could feel as calm as she looked. The heat rising in the air all around us was making my clay start to feel baked.
“Don’t burn that one, there’s a bird’s nest,” I heard the voice of the blonde man say, from somewhere out of sight.
“Oh, shove your bird’s nest,” grumbled another. “Where is the infernal creature? I thought they hated fire.”
I caught Gabi’s eye, wondering how she might react to that statement, but she stared right through me, seeming distant.
“Gabi,” I murmured, voice as soft as I could make it.
She tensed at the sound of her name, looked at me, then licked her nose. It was as though I had startled her from some thought- if only I knew what. She crawled towards me and took me in her mouth once more, teeth digging wells into my clay. I hoped I did not taste very bad.
Still crouching, she poked the end of her long nose out the doorway, her black nostrils quivering. The smoke was thick in the air, and the dogs were milling around below us, half-panicked. The voices I could hear did not sound much happier; I wondered if they had not planned this out very well.
One of the dogs suddenly twisted his head around and spotted us, and bawled out an eager cry- auuu auu auuu!
Before the other dogs could pick up the cry, before the men had even located the source of the noise, Gabi scrambled to the top rung of the ladder and leapt. I had to stop myself from crying out as we hung suspended in the air, and instead wrapped my arms tightly around Gabi’s muzzle. A second later we crashed through the roof of a burning hut.
Everything became a whirl of crunching, collapsing wood, hot flames, hotter, thicker smoke; I could barely see, and Gabi’s teeth nearly pierced me through as she rolled and jumped back to her feet. Somehow she did not seem hurt. I could hear the men shouting outside the hut- “What was that?” “A dog?” “Did it have something in it’s mouth?”- but it seemed no one dared try to penetrate the fire, which was good, except for the fact that soon we were going to be on fire- or at least Gabi was.
She must have gotten this idea as well, because she wasted little time orienting herself and taking another leap out through the collapsing wall. Except it was a poorly-chosen spot to escape through, for on the other side we met a muddle of dogs, and they yelped and howled with fear as burning splinters rained down on them. Gabi slid through them like smoke, and darted between the legs of a horse, which shrieked and reared, nearly unseating its rider.
“It’s a wolf!” someone shouted, as Gabi weaved through a world of fire.
“It’s the vampire, idiot! They can change their shape!” came another voice, and something twanged past Gabi’s left ear and landed quivering in the side of a burning house.
“Don’t let it get away!”
I clutched Gabi tighter, heedless of the way her drool was making my clay sag. Over the muscles that bunched and unbunched in her back, I could see that the men were struggling to get themselves organized, urging their dogs on, mounting their horses. The blonde man was loading another bolt into his crossbow.
“They have arrows, Gabi!” I cried into her ear.
She, of course, could say nothing back, though maybe I felt her suddenly pick up more speed, and dash up a grassy hill clear of the satra. Now we were on the open ground, and though we had a good head start the men and the dogs were running hard behind us, the dogs belling out their excitement.
Gabi’s paws beat the grass, and the sun felt hot on my little clay body, and must have felt even hotter on her thick red fur. There was not a cloud in the sky, so I could see the black line of an arrow very clearly as it sailed over our heads to impale itself into the soil. Gabi swerved around it, slipping and stumbling in the loose, dry dirt on the side of a hill, and then swerved again. The river was in sight now, and she was running alongside it, leaving big pawprints on the sandy bank.
“Let’s cross it!” I said into her ear, but as soon as the words escaped me I remembered that she could not swim and did not like water. But surely it was different if she was shaped like a wolf? Could wolves not swim? Maybe they could not, because she kept running along the bank, thrusting herself between reeds and rivergrass. I saw the head of one of the hounds pop up from behind a hill on our other side; they were going to cut us off!
“Gabi! We are trapped- we must go across!”
Gabi acted as though she had not heard me, just kept running and running. Now the hounds were alongside us, swerving to cut Gabi off, and I heard the sound of hooves beating not far behind. With a muffled snarl Gabi suddenly turned and sprang up the side of the hill, bulling straight through the hounds. I saw their white teeth gleam as they snapped at her, and one caught the fur on her flank, but she shook him off and ran down the other side of the hill-
I saw the dark line of an arrow against the sky once more, but there was no time for me to react, no time to warn Gabi before it came to rest with a sickening thump inside her left haunch.
She stumbled, flipped over from her own speed. In an instant the hounds bore down on us, biting snarling worrying- Gabi’s blood was on me, on everything- men shouting, “Tear it! Tear it up!”-
I was struggling to escape from her locked jaws- she could not even defend herself, with me in her mouth- when suddenly she dropped me and let loose a savage noise, an inhuman noise, and an unlupine one as well. I had heard her make it before when she was attacked by the other golem. Her body flexed, and the hounds sprang away with fearful whimpers, and I only just had time to grab the fur on her shoulder before she was running again.
She was not running in a straight line, not with any purpose at all like before; she was running like a creature gone mad, snarling and foaming and staggering on three legs. I did not know how she even managed to move as fast as she did. The hounds, recovering from their fright, were at out heels again, and I heard the whir of another arrow passing us by, as Gabi stepped back onto the riverbank, panting.
I was slipping, my clay hands losing their grasp on her fur, so when she slowed I dropped down, stood between her and the approaching dogs. If only I was big again! I could have stopped them all, could have squashed them; the men, the dogs, the horses! I could have held Gabi in my arms and run far away from here- but now I was so tiny, so helpless, an ant holding back a flood with twigs.
Behind me, Gabi collapsed against the sand, her head and forepaws sloshing into the shallow water. I turned and saw the feathered shaft sticking out of her haunch, taller than me, a testament to how hopeless things had gotten.
The first hound, a brindle creature with floppy ears, cleared the bank, and I turned and shouted, “Stop!”
Perhaps it had not expected anything like that, for it did stop, with a jerk. The dog behind it crashed into it, and the rest got tangled with them, barking and yelping. The men on horseback were catching up, spurring on their steeds. I saw one wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, and suddenly I felt furious at him. How dare he wipe his sweat so nonchalantly when his dogs were about to tear somebody to pieces?
I turned and gave Gabi’s hindquarters a firm shove, ignoring her whines; even if I was small, I still had some strength. I pushed and pushed and gradually she slipped into the shallows.
“I am sorry,” I said, and gave her one final push, clinging to her hind leg: with a yelp, sharply cut off, she vanished under the water and I with her.
Kezia’s memories flooded through me as the water poured in through my mouth and eye holes. The fear- the man- the river- the mud- the twisting, turning, dying. I could not tell if what I was seeing was real or remembered; it mattered not. All I could see was brown water and skeins of bubbles. I focused on holding tight to Gabi’s paw.
The current was not so fast, but it was still deep and powerful, and I could tell that it was moving us along at a good rate. I had no idea if the men and the dogs were trying to follow us. No arrows penetrated the surface of the water above me, or at least in the direction that I thought was up.
Gabi suddenly thrashed, kicking out, and I nearly lost my grip on her paw. At first I thought that she was trying to shake me off, but as she continued to kick with all her might I realized that she was trying to swim. Her movements made a trail of cloudy redness appear in the water around her arrow wound. Gabi kicked and kicked, forcing me deeper under the water as she righted herself. I saw several little fish darting to taste her blood, their mouths gaping as though with surprise.
All at once, Gabi’s hindquarters swung around- she had found purchase with her forepaws and was dragging us into shallower waters. It turned out to be a shelf of rock jutting out into the river, with frothy little rapids hissing over top of it, and it was shallow enough that even I could let go of her paw and stand with my head exposed.
I looked around and realized, to my surprise, that the glossy open fields had vanished, as had our pursuers; we were amongst some trees, everything shaded in green. Several successive layers of rock formed little waterfalls nearby, and I discerned from the noise and increasing speed of the current that there was a larger one just downriver.
Luckily Gabi and I were in little danger of being sucked away from where we were in the shallows on the rock shelf, though she, after dragging her hind legs, collapsed with a splash and began to slowly drift towards the shore. I sloshed over to her, reaching out, but she fetched up against something before I got there that stopped her movement.
What had stopped her were legs. Four of them- a horse’s legs. Gabi seemed to realized what she was caught against at the same time that I did, and with a twist and a splash managed to get up onto three legs, panting. I ran to her side and craned my neck back to stare up at the rider, though because I was so close I could only make out the underside of his left foot and his horse’s hairy chest. If he tried to hurt Gabi, I would- I would- I would have to do something!
To my surprise, beside me Gabi resumed her normal shape with a gasp, and yanked the arrow from the back of her thigh. The horse snorted and stepped back. The rider was a brown-skinned man dressed in fine red leathers, with a woven helm and the shape of the sun emblazoned on his chest. Suddenly I recognized who he was- and I recognized the red horse in the fine livery, too.
Gabi snapped the arrow and angrily threw the pieces into the water, her eyes on the horseman.
“What do you want, Pascha?”
Pascha- for it was indeed Pascha, Pascha the man atop Pascha the horse- laughed softly. I was not sure how exactly he was riding himself.
“You’ve met with more trouble, it seems, strigoi. And is that Kezia? Has she shrunk with worrying over you?”
“Don’t speak to him, Kezia,” Gabi warned me, rubbing her thigh. The wound had already closed, though her features looked haggard from the effort of the chase. “He’s under the witch’s control now. He moves at her whim.”
“True, certainly, but it is no reason to be rude,” said Pascha, his human and horse heads nodding in tandem. There was something rather stiff about his movements, I noticed: was it because, like Gabi said, he was being controlled? Maybe it was because it was difficult to move two bodies at once. I wondered if Baba Yaga forced him to look like this. I had never known the free Pascha to don a shirt.
“I am here, in fact, to look for Kazimir,” he continued, a coy smile playing about his lips. “You two haven’t seen him, have you? He’s a dark and handsome fellow.”
“We have not seen him,” I said, and Gabi rolled her eyes.
“It doesn’t matter if we’ve seen him or not! I am not going to help you with your chores. I no longer have any reason to be involved with you or your mistress.” She tapped her bare throat meaningfully.
Pascha’s smile faded. “So,” he said, “Zakhar was right. The curse is broken. But how-”
“As I said.” Gabi thumbed her chin and narrowed her eyes, not quite smiling. “No reason to be involved. Why don’t you go on your way? I think I hear the crack of a whip in the distance.”
“Do you?” Pascha the horse’s legs shifted in the shallow water, and something about his face seemed to tighten. “Well, what a pity.”
He moved so quick it seemed impossible, until you remembered that the man and the horse were the same being: the horse leapt forward, and the man swung himself sideways with his legs gripping the girth to reach down and snatch me from the water.
“Hey!” shouted Gabi, making a furious grab for us, but Pascha trotted to the bank. I squirmed in his grasp, caught quite by surprise, but his fingers dug into my clay like iron bands.
“You won’t be needing this little thing anymore,” he said to Gabi. “And my mistress has been wondering who it was that helped her prisoner. Shall I take my leave, O uninvolved one?”
“Give me back my golem,” Gabi growled, limping forward. “You’ve had your laugh. Let her go.”
She swung her arm towards us, but Pascha stepped back, with a soft laugh, and his fingernails pierced through my chest.
“Catch me,” he said, and then we took off through the trees.