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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 1

Updated on July 7, 2013

Read The Prequel

The Ironhorse Sanctuary is the second of the Facade Novellas. It is preceded by the title novella, Facade, which is hosted on my website. Too many fragments of it have been reposted on various sites for it to meet HubPages' requirements, so I'm afraid I can't post it here, but anyone who would like to can read it at: http://hlfleming.com/?page_id=704.

“Here. Wear this,” Declan said, holding something out to Stray.

Stray let the older teen drop it into his hand and looked at it curiously. “What is it?”

“It’s a Brigid’s Cross charm,” Declan told him, an evil smirk spreading across his face, “carved out of a sixteenth century monk’s kneecap and inlaid with consecrated silver. On a band of human leather.”

Stray felt his jaw slacken. “Human leather?”

“Leather made out of human skin, rather than cow, or sheep, or what have you,” Declan said, with a look that clearly said he was enjoying Stray’s discomfort. “I’ll show you how to keep it oiled and waxed. Oh, and the buckle is made out of blood iron.”

“Blood iron?”

“Well, it’s not really iron,” Declan said. “That’s just what everyone’s always called it. It’s actually more of a combination of all the metals that are in human blood – copper, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, sometimes lead –”

“Declan, what in hell would I want with this?” Stray demanded.

“It’s a protective amulet,” Declan said. “One of the strongest ones in existence. It’ll make it impossible for the Eldritch to track you down by any means, even if you leave the Ironhorse Sanctuary. Even if they call up the Wild Hunt.”

“What’s the – no, never mind, I don’t care,” Stray decided. “And I don’t want this thing.” He tried to hand it back to Declan, but the older boy shook his head.

“Everyone here wears one, Stray. Even Blaire,” Declan told him. “Because we need them. Because when we constantly thwart the Eldritch, stopping them committing acts of eco-terrorism, or railway violence, or kidnapping, they tend to get quite pissy. Then they start trying to hunt us down to kill us, or possibly in yours or Blaire’s cases, to drag you back to their world, and really, who needs that kind of drama?”

“But . . . this thing is disgusting!” Stray was annoyed to hear that his voice had risen to a near whine, but still . . .

“Why? Because it’s made out of human leather and bone?” Declan asked. “It’s no different from regular leather or ivory. You don’t turn your nose up at those, do you?”

“I’ve never owned anything made of either of those in my life,” Stray said. “Street kid, remember?”

“Yes, I remember, but just what do you think half the wallets you’ve lifted were made out of?” Declan asked.

“Cow leather is not the same as human skin,” Stray growled.

“Now’s not the time to start being squeamish, Stray,” Declan told him. “If you leave this house without that on, the Eldritch will find you just as easily as they did yesterday – which was pretty damn easy. Is that what you want?”

Stray scowled at him, then rolled up the sleeves on his left arm. He always wore layers, whenever he could, and so far the people of the Ironhorse Sanctuary hadn’t said anything about that habit. Beatrice, the woman in charge, made him wash all of his clothes that morning, but since they had a dryer, he’d only had to wear borrowed clothes from Declan for a couple hours. Now he was back in his own things, and wore his faded, navy blue hoodie, over a T-shirt, which was worn over a long sleeved shirt. He pushed all of his sleeves up to his shoulder, then fumbled to buckle the amulet around his bicep before the sleeves fell down and got in his way.

“Wow, that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone cave in to wearing pieces of a dead human,” Declan said, sounding impressed, “but you’re supposed to buckle it around your wrist, for the record.”

“I’d have to punch another hole in the leather if I wanted to do that.”

“Wow. You do have skinny wrists. And arms,” Declan said, when Stray managed to get the amulet buckled on, and they both saw how loose it was when it had it on above his elbow, and on its tightest setting. “Still, I’m impressed. It took Blaire three weeks to put on hers.”

Stray shrugged as he pulled his sleeves back down, covering the amulet. “I’ve eaten out of trashcans to stay alive. I can wear this.”

“Smart boy,” Declan said, clapping a hand down on his shoulder.

Stray flinched and jerked backward. “So other than giving me that thing, was there something you wanted?”

“Yeah.” If possible, Declan’s smile grew even more ominous. “I talked things over with Beatrice and Thomas, about your situation.”

“What situation?” Stray asked suspiciously.

“You know, how you’re a runaway foster kid in some kind of trouble, so you won’t tell us your real name, so they can’t have you legally transferred to their care, so they can’t enroll you in school? That situation,” Declan said cheerfully.

Stray tensed. “And? What did they say?”

“Well, after I reminded them that sometimes the right thing isn’t the legal thing, and pointed out that I am, in fact, smarter than my teacher at school, they agreed to let me be in charge of homeschooling you,” Declan said.

“You’re joking.”

“Nope! So starting now, I’m your teacher. And as such, I have decided that your education shall include Eldritch Slaying 101 and advanced culinary arts, alongside the regular subjects like math, English, science, and history.”

“What’s culinary arts?”

“In two word?” Blaire said from the doorway, a very wary look on her face. “A disaster. At least where Declan’s concerned.”

“Lies,” Declan declared. “Blaire just has no aesthetic appreciation for the art that is cooking.”

“Your quesadilla pizza made Thomas sick,” Blaire said.

“No it didn’t. He was already sick before he ate it. He had the flu, remember?”

“Well just smelling your falafel tacos made Ethan throw up!”

“And he was sick before he even set foot in the house.”

“Who’s Ethan?” Stray asked.

“Another lost soul that the sanctuary took in awhile back,” Declan said dismissively. “He doesn’t live here anymore, but he stops by now and again. You’ll meet him eventually. In the meantime, don’t listen to anything Blaire says.”

“Trust me, Stray, you can’t trust him in the kitchen,” Blaire told him.

“Stop trying to make him biased against my cooking!”

“Dude, you drugged me and knocked me out the day we met,” Stray said. “I’m going to be biased against anything you give me anyway.”

“That’s a completely baseless bias,” Declan said, waving one hand. “I knocked you out with motion sickness patches. I didn’t give you any drugged food.”

Stray pulled his knees up to his chest and regarded the two other teens suspiciously from the corner of his bed – or at least the bed that they said was his. They were in the room that they said was his, but Stray wasn’t so sure yet. He was too used to things that people claimed were his being snatched away. The only things that he knew for certain were his were his suitcase and its meager contents, which were packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. He still wasn’t sure what to make of these people here at the Ironhorse Sanctuary, and half expected to wake up and find that the past couple of days were all a dream.

The whole mess had begun two days ago, when Stray ran away from his latest foster home and caught out on a train heading east. He’d been trying to run as far away as he could, as fast as he could, but his plans got derailed – literally. The train wrecked out in the middle of nowhere while he was on it, but the real surprise came after Stray managed to pull himself out of the overturned car he’d been in. He learned then that creatures he’d thought only existed in children’s stories were real – and were a bit too murderous to really belong in children’s stories.

Declan and Blaire called them, collectively, the Eldritch, and explained that they were the elves and goblins of legend, but that they were very real, and very dangerous. Unfortunately for Stray, they’d taken an interest in him when he managed to see through an illusion that was supposed to be impossible to see through. They’d kidnapped him – but only after he’d been kind of kidnapped by Declan and Blaire first. Shortly after meeting him, Declan had knocked Stray out, by using motion sickness patches instead of band-aides while cleaning a cut on Stray’s throat. He’d suspected that the Eldritch might come after Stray, and had wanted to bring him back to the Ironhorse Sanctuary, which was their home, as well as the headquarters for the Eldritch Hunters in the US. Stray hadn’t realized how much danger he’d been in and ran away right after arriving. That was when the Eldritch had caught him. The only reason he was free and alive was because Declan and Blaire, as well as the two adults who lived at the Sanctuary, Thomas and Beatrice, had come to rescue him.

Stray was still surprised by that. He wasn’t used to other people looking out for him. He’d been in too many foster homes and seen too much to believe that people in general were inherently good, but thought that maybe, just maybe, he might have found a few who were decent – which was ironic, considering what he knew about them.

Declan was a fourteen-year-old diagnosed sociopath. He’d been born in Ireland, to a family of hunters, who’d sent him to live at the American sanctuary shortly after that diagnosis because they thought he was a monster and no longer wanted anything to do with him. Declan didn’t seem to care, but Stray wasn’t sure if that was because he couldn’t care about it, or because the other boy had plenty of practice pretending that he didn’t care. Stray wasn’t completely sold on Declan being a sociopath. His opinion of shrinks was pretty low to begin with, but more than that, Declan didn’t feel insane and dangerous to Stray. Yes, he acted pretty crazy at times, his hazel eyes were always filled with mischief, and the training that made him very dangerous to the Eldritch made him equally dangerous to humans, but Stray didn’t feel the instinctive fear around Declan that he’d felt around most of those who’d meant him harm in the past.

Blaire, on the other hand, did give him that unsettled feeling. Whenever she fought the Eldritch, she kind of flipped out and lost her cool, abandoning tactics and all reason for the chance to bludgeon the hell out of her enemies with her crowbar. Stray got the sense that she wasn’t entirely stable – not that he was one to cast stones.

His parents had slit his throat when he was four, for the insurance money. They’d botched it and Stray survived, to be bounced from one foster home to another, never staying anywhere long, and never trusting anyone who didn’t give him a reason to. Declan and Blaire had given him a reason, though – Thomas and Beatrice too. When it came down to it, that was the main reason he was still there. Stray was used to running from danger. If he’d thought that the people at the Ironhorse Sanctuary meant him harm, he would have taken off, whether the Eldritch were still after him or not.

Declan had to know that. He also had to know that Stray could easily change his mind, yet he’d given him that gross magic amulet anyway. That thing had to be expensive, or at the very least, hard to replace. Probably both. For Declan to give that to him, knowing how likely it was that Stray would run away . . . well, Stray wasn’t sure what that meant.

Maybe in time he would figure it out, since he’d decided to stick around for now. Maybe Declan wasn’t really a sociopath after all, but had been misdiagnosed.

“Question, Declan,” he said on impulse. “Did you pull the wings off of flies when you were younger?”

“Nope,” Declan said, grinning wickedly, “but I did put my sister’s goldfish through a blender.”

Then again, maybe he was just as dangerous and psychotic as Blaire was, but was just better at hiding it at the level where someone’s subconscious could pick up on it. Stray carefully kept his expression neutral and reminded himself that even though they’d saved his life, he could only trust them so far.

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