by Travis Perry
Ross rode behind Markas on his aspbug mount. As much as the nomad did not seem to like him, the man clearly expected Ross to hang onto to his body. The discomfort most Eclectia men felt about touching one another was clearly not something nomad men experienced. Ross found himself more comfortable reaching under his own thighs to grasp the rough saddle strapped across the bug, even though this made staying put in his seat awkward.
The three bugs rode hard to the west, their riders chasing the buzbugs that had charged off in a frenzy toward the setting sun. The wind whipped hard and the ash blocked out the stars. Ross had no idea how the men knew where they were going.
A cold winter morning revealed a bleak rocky horizon, the distance scattered with a few pygmy lavabushes. Markas glanced back at him without slowing the aspbug’s trotting pace. “You see them, stranger? There, by the hill on the left.”
At first he saw nothing…but then his eyes caught sight of five or six buzbugs charging east in the direction of the rising sun with the same ardor with which they had run last evening, but no longer bleating. He wondered what happened to the rest of them, the other dozen or so bugs…
Markas and the other two riders angled off to the left. The long legged aspbugs soon brought the men to in line with the charging buzzies.
Normally a buzbug would come to a stop near an aspbug, or at least change direction out of fear of the much larger beast. But these buzbugs, each one an herbivore, charged straight at the much larger mounted animals.
Markas, leading the riders, brought his mount to a quick halt, too late to respond to the charging buzbugs, who now voiced a sound Ross had never heard before. A sharp hiss. They leapt at the aspbugs, their mandibles chopping, attacking the Markas’ aspbug. One leapt high and pain lanced through Ross’s right calf as the mouth of the frenzied herd animal pierced his flesh…