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Mist wasn’t something to be trusted on a good day. It concealed too much and messed with anyone’s sense of direction if it was thick enough. But now, her little sister had her actively searching the mists that covered the areas around waterfalls.

Echo was sure that it was Aine’s love for horses that kept getting them these survey missions. She couldn’t count how many different breeds of magical horses that they had catalogued but any water horse was extremely low on her list of favorites. In fact, horses didn’t even come close to her favorite animal and yet she was out here again, searching for Ceffyl Dwr so that their records were accurate on the numbers.

“Aine?” She couldn’t see the side of the bank anymore so she had to risk making more noise than she would have liked to get. Echo was born and bred to hunt down magical creatures, not go out on these excursions without even a pocket knife.

“When we’re done here, remind me that I need to smother you.” Even though she couldn’t see her little sister, Echo could practically feel the eye roll in her direction. Maybe she wouldn’t smother her but she was going to get her back for making her do this again.

Unlike all the times before when she could just stay on the bank to lure out the creatures, Ceffyl Dwr required a more hands on approach. It was why she was playing ‘don’t slip off the mossy stones’ in spandex shorts and a bikini top. Less clothes was less weight to drag her down if she slipped but it made her feel exposed and vulnerable and Echo hated that feeling more than anything.

Muttering under her breath about how unfair this whole thing was, she made sure to keep at least one hand in front of her and the other out for balance. The mist was getting thick enough that it was becoming more and more difficult for her to see much further than the reach of her arm and that meant the likelihood of slipping was growing exponentially with each step she took.

“Travel to where the mist is thickest; they make those areas their home,” she trilled, repeating what Aine had drilled into her in a mocking voice. In way, it was rightly deserved since she was the one that was always stuck doing the hard part while Aine sat safely on the bank, ready to draw and observe.

Not that Echo would ever really let her do something as stupidly dangerous as she was doing now. Oh no, those stunts were reserved for her and her alone. Even their older brother wasn’t one to take huge risks but that’s what made her the more effective hunter; she didn’t fear getting down and personal with their prey.

And she figured she was allowed some overprotectiveness when it came to the baby of the family because of her own recklessness.

“Echo? Are you alright?” Aine’s voice seemed to bounce off the water and travel in all directions so much that she wouldn’t have known where it came from if not for the fact she knew that Aine was behind her.

“Of course I am! Why do you ask?” The concern was sweet, though vastly unneeded. Taking a moment to lean against a large mossy boulder, she kept her eyes on the next rock she was going to. One wrong move and she could be turned around and traveling backwards instead of towards the center.

“Because you haven’t threatened to kill me for at least five minutes.” Echo had to bite her lip to keep from doing exactly what Aine was talking about. Aine knew how much she hated doing these survey missions and had yet to realize that Echo only did them with her because she didn’t trust anyone else in the clan to keep her safe besides their father and brother.

“I’m trying to focus; these rocks are soggy death traps waiting to plunge me underwater to be beaten by the waterfall.” She yelled back, turning around so that she could push herself upright onto the next rock by using the boulder. Once she was, she smiled brightly and nodded her head. One disaster avoided, now to find the evil mist horses.

“And you call me the dramatic one.”

Echo laughed as she hopped to another rock. Though she would have preferred to be silent and get in, find the damn things, and get out, she was finding that silence probably wasn’t going to catch one. If she were a creature that could fade into mist when it wanted, she would laugh at the idiots trying to sneak up on her. Making noise was just as likely to make them curious as it was chase them off.

In the thickest part of the mist, she could barely see her hand in front of her face let alone anymore rocks to jump to. The one she was on was slick but it was flat enough to sit on and so sit she did. Without weapons, it was more dangerous to be standing. Having learned her lesson with the Backahast, Echo didn’t want to be shoved into the water again.

There was no way to see anything in the mists so she didn’t even try. Part of the reason that she excelled in hunting was that she had taught herself not to just trust her eyes. A tiny part of her reminded herself not to get too cocky over her accomplishments but each successful mission had only been more notches in her belt and practice for the truly difficult moments.

Hanging her legs in the water, she laid back on the rock and shut her eyes. Aine would have been good for this part, she was better at clearing her mind and not thinking about how vulnerable the position was.

Breathe girl, you’ve done this a million times. She needed her other senses to take over, to find what her eyes were going to be useless at sensing. Humans had lost many of the instincts that kept them alive in times of hunting and gathering but she had to tap into those to find the horses that lived here. The only difference is that this time you don’t have a knife, or a gun, or even a sharp stick in case they decide that they don’t like you.

Pushing away those thoughts were hard but no sooner did she manage to do so did her hair stand up on edge. She could feel the eyes on her, at least three pairs if not more. Pinpointing exact locations was impossible when her prey could evaporate into mist at will.

As her frustration began to rise, she moved to sit up. Upon opening her eyes, she came face to nose with an extremely large black horse. Blinking in surprise, she let her gaze move up from the huffing nostrils and into the deep carmine eyes.

Some legends painted Ceffyl Dwr as intimidating beings and with how this single horse was making her feel tiny, she could see why. He, something she dared to lean to the side just to make sure of, did not look happy that she was there at all. Holding her hands up in a sign of peace, she slowly moved into a crouched position. If he was going to attack, she preferred a position where she could dive out of the way instead of where he could crush her poor toes with an accidental step.

“Uhm, hello Mr Horsie,” she murmured, shifting further away from his sniffing and potentially dangerous teeth. Legends also said that this breed was intelligent and there were rumors of shapeshifting so she figured a bit of flattery would go a long way. “Aren’t you a handsome boy? Biggest horse I’ve ever seen.”

That was the truth. Even the large draft horses that she had seen didn’t come close to this big guy. She had to wonder if all magical equine breeds were bigger than normal horses. Well, with the exception of unicorns and Pegasus, all the others had been larger than Aine’s horse.

Remembering the mission, she glanced in the direction that her sister was in. There was still a job to do and she needed to get a couple of them within drawing distance of her sister. As stupid as it made her feel, the only way to do that was to talk to the damn thing and see if she couldn’t coax him out of this awful mist for a few minutes.

“Sooo,” she began, shifting away and daring to reach out and push his nose away from her shoulder, “My sister and I came to study you and figure out how many are left in the world. Think you could help?”

Echo would swear up and down later that his eyes sparked in amusement but since he had started nudging her in the direction that she came from instead of taking his giant hooves and crushing her to death. Drowning or, in the case of this breed, being dropped to her death from the top of the waterfall, only happened if she actually decided to ride the ‘horsie’. Considering she didn’t even ride Aine’s horse, she didn’t see a problem with that.

“Oh my god.” Aine’s response was an appropriate one when she finally walked out of the mist, horse in tow. Almost immediately her pencil was racing across the paper and she was trying not to giggle while the Ceffyl Dwr played with Echo’s hair.

“I’m going to pick the mission next time and I can promise you, horses will not be involved.” Pushing the damn horse away again, she made her way onto the bank where a towel and her clothing awaited her. Why they enjoyed messing with her and not the sister that actually liked them continued to mystify her.

“Why? Don’t you like us?” The decidedly male voice made her snatch up her gun and whip around. Her sister had gone red faced and was gaping at the youth that stood where the Ceffyl Dwr once did. Obviously, the shapeshifting rumor wasn’t just a rumor.

“Not particularly. She’s the horse lover.” Motioning down to her sister, she couldn’t stop the laughter that spilled out at the way Aine squeaked and covered her eyes when the boy winked at her.

It was easier than she thought to get her sister all flustered. All she needed was an attractive naked Ceffyl Dwr in human form and Aine was blushing up a storm.

“And yet you called me handsome, did you not?” He brushed away his curly black hair and gave her a nice view of the amusement still dancing in his red eyes.

“I don’t have to like horses to admit that one may be pretty,” She pointed out, bringing the gun down as she realized that he wasn’t planning on actually doing anything. Her lips curved up into a sort of half smile as she allowed her eyes to rake down over his unashamed nakedness. “Though personally, I prefer the handsomeness of this version to your equine one.”

“Echo!” Aine’s voice was so shocked and full of admonishment that she laughed again and shrugged her shoulders innocently. The Ceffyl Dwr’s laughter rang out as well when she decided to grace her with an explanation.

“I’m only being honest Aine! Besides, he’s the one flaunting all he’s got without a care in the world,” Her smile turned devious as her eyes moved up towards the magical creature that was enjoying the attention way too much. “Reminds me of a show pony.”

That shut him up quick enough and earned her a glare that she shrugged off in favor of pulling on her clothes. She had no plans that included giving into whatever that horse-man wanted and he had questions to answer once her sister got over her embarrassment. Since he could talk, she wouldn’t need to go back in there to chase down all of the mist horses to count.

____________

And they’re back! The Piketon sisters are going to be around quite a bit actually.

Next Creature: Black Dog

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