Her mane billows in an unseen breeze as she gallops through the endless distance. Silver and white glitter on her smooth coat, filling the emptiness around her with the faint glow of her essence. Her long tail whips freely against her rump while she runs, jumps, kicks the air in the simple joy of being free to do as she pleases.
By her side, he gallops, sure and swift, his powerful legs carrying him without effort through the vastness of space. His presence fills her with a sense of safety and inner peace that she has not felt in years. His shiny black coat glistens against the hollow darkness of the Void, the long streaks of white hair among his black mane drawing swift ghosts of light in the air. Confidence and wisdom emanate from every pore on his elegant, majestic form.
She follows his lead, reading the movements of his strong, muscular neck and head to guess his next steps. She veers playfully toward him, letting her shoulder brush against his before running a little further ahead of him. A weak snap of his teeth against her flanks followed by his looming shape moving quickly past her has her neighing in exhilaration.
Their hooves pound the emptiness, raising thunder at each step. It grows louder and louder and louder until it fills her ears, her whole world. She glances behind her…
… and then she sees them. Void Riders. Dozens of them, dark and imposing, of all ages and sizes, running behind her, their hooves ripping pieces of reality from the nothingness of the Void at each vigorous pounding of their hoofed feet.
They are family. Even if they are not her family, they are family. Young foals run up to her, skid and slide, jump and bite the air, playing like the children they are, making her feel welcome among the running crowd. She looks to her right to see him looking at her, his ear turned in her direction announcing his vigilance before he veers to the right and guides the whole group through the dark horizon. They gallop for a long time, amidst stars and moons, suns and comets.
The nothingness breaks. A world takes shape.
Standing on the borders of Reality, they look down at the mountain that rises from the bowels of the Void in crowded circles filled with gods and men and all creatures in between. Below, they look like bugs squiggling through their earthen galleries, flying through the frail strands of being that the Urbis offers. She looks at the streets she used to know, at the world that once seemed so vast and rich before her eyes.
A desperate cry breaks the silence.
She looks to her left and her eyes widen in terror. The magnificent horses struggle and kick, their limbs and necks bound by ropes wrapped so tightly around them that they cut into the skin, burying into the flesh, digging deep to the bone, staining their dark coats with the glistening oily black of their blood. They flail with their necks, throwing their heads back, standing on their hind limbs, their eyes turned with such violence that only the white sclera peek through their eyelids. Pulled in different directions, they fall to the floor, kicking the air, snapping their teeth at the ropes that keep cutting into them, ignoring pain as they flail with their necks, trying desperately to get back on their feet.
The vision paralyses her. All around her, one by one, the Void Riders fall and disappear into the darkness, dragged by the terrible ropes that seem to stretch out of nowhere, pulled by invisible hands.
By her side, a body hits the ground.
Arion. Dead. His lifeless body stares blindly into the darkness as blood drips from his nostrils, clots over the cuts on his skin through which his bones project, his guts slip out of his belly and dry while the sliced arteries on his neck slowly spurt what is left of his blood as his heart beats for the last time.
She takes a few steps back with the shock, her lips trembling with terror. Something inside her breaks. She screams. It comes out as a neigh, primal and guttural, echoing her distress through the Void.
She runs. Through the nothingness she canters without knowing where to go. She has no plans, no destination. Only fear. Only terror. They are dead! All dead, all gone! Arion is gone! What will she do now? What will she do?
The touch of the lasso against her neck makes her skid to a halt. Her thoughts rush to fill the blanks. She must have run right into it. She feels its grip tighten, feels it bite into her flesh. Panic takes over again. Her hooves pound the floor, launch her up on her hind legs, kicking wildly with her hooves until she feels her forelimbs wrapped in the rough, chafing coils of the terrible, mysterious ropes. She fights against them, ignoring the pain, the unyielding cables that keep tightening and cutting into her like blades.
Her tail is snared. She feels the hair being pulled out, the skin burned by the friction of the dragging ropes. For as much as she fights, she can’t keep them from pulling at her, jerking her left and right. Another rope shoots from the darkness to encircle her muzzle, cutting through her lips. She can taste her own blood as it washes over her tongue.
The ropes pull her, tear at her muscles, gnaw deep into the bone while she is dragged through the Void, kicking, flailing, screaming in pain and panic at the sight of the decaying corpses of the Void Riders all lined up in two rows like the most horrific of honor guards.
In the distance, other screams pierce the darkness. Horrible screams, frightening screams made all the more blood-curdling for sounding so familiar in her ears. She redoubles her struggles against the ropes. The end of the corpse-strewn avenue seems ever closer as the eerie cables pull her relentlessly but she doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t want to see what lies there.
In her freezing, paralyzed heart, she already knows.
The stench of sulphur and blood fills her nostrils. The ropes bite deeper into her as she thrusts her neck upwards and pulls on the ones that hobble her forelimbs, trying desperately to get back on her feet.
Still, the screams grow louder, nearer. The darkness ignites.
The growling red and orange of the fire pits taint her blood-stained coat, their charring breath burns into her wounds, cauterizing her flesh, stealing her screams.
From a hook through the throat, the imposing carcass of Arion hangs gutted, his lifeless eyes staring blindly at her as she is dragged past him, gliding over the pool of blood and other bodily fluids oozing from his slit intestines. She closes her eyes, hoping that this is just a dream, a nightmare, anything but real. She tries to wake up, begs for the morning to come.
“Alma…” a voice calls.
She shudders at her name being spoken so softly. Her eyelids lock shut.
“Alma…” the voice insists.
Please, let this be a call to wake up, she prays.
Her eyes shoot open. She wails in despair. Above her, dangling from hooks that rip through their chests, the Bunnies dangle, lifeless, cut in unspeakable ways.
Mayumi’s ears are gone and so are her hands. Her liver lies on the floor. Cherry’s tongue hangs from a hole cut in her throat. Sage’s chest is ripped apart, his tender heart revealed through the slits that run between his ribs. Closeby, Tulip’s small, frail body convulses in the last agonies of death.
“Mommy…” she hears her say before the Bunny’s throat is flooded in blood.
Amongst tears, Alma sees him holding a bloody knife, looking blankly at the Bunny’s corpse as he reaches into it and pulls out her still-beating heart.
“Alma…” he says, turning to her.
Gwydion, no! she begs in shock. Please… Why?
“Look at what you’ve made me do, Alma,” he says, his soulless eyes looking down at her as he grins and walks over to her fallen figure.
What have you done, Gwydion? My family! she cries in thought.
Tulip’s heart slips off his fingers, gets squashed under his right foot. “It’s all right, now,” he says. “Now we can be together.”
The ropes pull at her. To her right, a massive foul black demon covered in red symbols, all wings and horns and claws and teeth, erupts from a fire pit, bellows in rage as he tugs at her bindings.
She looks back at Gwydion. He raises the knife.
“I just have to get you out of that disgusting body.”
She closes her eyes.