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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 10
It was the music that caught Kelpie’s attention. She could hear it from the other side of the town – which was admittedly, not that great a feat, considering how small the town was. Nonetheless, she doubted most humans would have heard it. It wasn’t that loud.
In hindsight, she should have realized something was amiss from that fact alone. She knew a thing or two about teens and what they did when they stayed out after curfew. Playing music quietly never factored in.
It also failed to cross her mind that it was pretty convenient for her that the music was coming from the same direction as the lure of water – something that Kelpie had developed a sixth sense for. She was young as far as Eldritch went. It didn’t occur to her that there was anything for her to worry about.
The sound of music, the smell of booze, and the flickering of a cheap camping lantern drew her to the end of the school football field, where a sight that was not unfamiliar met her eyes – teenagers staying out late to drink and do other stuff their parents wouldn’t approve of. Kelpie’s smile was half predatory and half nostalgic as she stepped amongst them and dropped her shadow glamour.
“Mind if I join the party?”
She expected to get some kind of reaction – maybe some shrieks of surprise from the girls in the group, or a shout from one of the guys. At the very least, she expected someone to jump. Instead, dead silence and stillness was her only answer. It was then that Kelpie realized something was wrong. No one in the world would be that calm if a stranger suddenly appeared in their midst out of thin air. Especially not so late at night. Doubly so in a town that had seen as much screwy stuff as Kelpie had caused in the past few nights.
In a heartbeat, she was directly in front of the closest teen, crouched before him. What she saw made her stomach drop into her boots. A hoodie had been pulled over his head – or rather its head, Kelpie now saw. This teen – and probably all the others – were scarecrows. The hood had hid its blank face, shrouding it in shadows, and even though Kelpie’s eyes were better than a human’s in the dark, the trick of the light had worked well enough to fool her.
“A fake!” she hissed and shoved the scarecrow over before jumping to her feet. She moved to kick one of the other scarecrows. “They’re all fakes!”
Her kick was blocked, then a hand grabbed her ankle and yanked, knocking Kelpie off her feet.
“Not all,” a husky female voice said coldly.
Then, what she’d taken to be another scarecrow was moving, as were two others, and the next thing Kelpie knew, she was surrounded.
“Stay down,” one of the others advised – this one a tall boy with reddish brown hair and a shillelagh. Declan, Kelpie remembered his name was. And the goth girl beside him was Blaire. Then there was the dirty blond Stray, who hung back warily, behind the other two.
She glared at them, but obeyed Declan’s order, knowing that if she didn’t, he’d beat her back to the ground without hesitation.
“Well,” she said, trying to appear unconcerned, “fancy seeing you lot here.”
“Likewise,” Declan said coolly.
“This was quite an elaborate trap to set up for people who claim they weren’t expecting to see me,” Kelpie countered.
“I lied,” Declan said with a smirk. “Get used to it.”
“We should just kill it and be done with this,” Blaire said impatiently.
“We like engaging in witty banter. Now shut up,” Declan said.
“You shut up.”
“You both suck,” Stray told them.
Declan snickered. “Forced to be the voice of reason. Poor Stray.”
“Let’s just ask her what you wanted to, then let’s get out of here,” Stray snapped.
“Right,” Declan said. “So, Kelpie . . . is that what you’re calling yourself, or is that just what you are?”
“Why should I tell you anything?” Kelpie asked defiantly.
“Because my friend here would like nothing better than to torture you to death with a bunch of small, sharp, iron objects, and I’m the only thing stopping her,” Declan said with annoying logic.
Kelpie glowered at him.
“Good reason, yes, I know,” Declan said. “Now answer my question, if you please. You are a kelpie, are you not?”
“I am,” she growled.
“And you go by the name ‘Kelpie’ as well?”
She gave a curt nod.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Yes!” she snapped.
“Well, you don’t have to yell at me,” Declan said in a mock affronted voice. Blaire snickered.
“What is it that you want, human?” Kelpie hissed.
“Patience, Eldritch, I’m getting to that,” Declan said. “Next question: what were you trying to accomplish, drowning random people around Rusted Hill?”
“Isn’t that obvious? I was trying to draw you out,” Kelpie growled.
“Why bother asking her that?” Blaire asked. “I know you already knew that.”
Declan gave Blaire a very dry look, but other than that, ignored her question. “Any particular reason why you picked Rusted Hill?”
“Because it’s near your base, obviously,” Kelpie said.
“Is it, now?”
“It’s where we found you when we were tracking down the true sight boy,” Kelpie said, inclining her head toward Stray.
“And so you came to the conclusion that we were based nearby,” Declan said. “And while I will neither confirm nor deny if your hypothesis was correct, I will point out that such a deduction was clearly formulated by an amateur who confused her own personal wants with leads.”
Blaire snickered at that. Stray just looked on with a stony expression that gave away nothing.
“I don’t believe you,” Kelpie said. “Your base is nearby. I know it is.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Declan said. “I just said I wasn’t going to confirm or deny –”
“You’re trying to make me think that I’m wrong! That we’re wrong!” Kelpie growled, deciding to try to bluff. “But we know we’re not. We’re amassing an army to –”
“No, you’re not,” Declan cut her off.
“Yes, we are!”
“You can’t lie to him, fae,” Blaire said.
“You started off answering for yourself, singular. Now you’ve suddenly decided to start talking about a large collection of Eldritch, like you’re part of a host, because it seems convenient,” Declan said. “An old trick – which is not to say it can’t be used effectively, you just have to plan for it and act like you speak for a group from the start. Otherwise your execution falls flat.”
“You don’t know –”
“I’ll tell you what I know,” Declan said. “I know that you’re alone, and that you weren’t so much trying to draw us out as you were trying to draw Stray out. This is about some personal vendetta that you have against him, most likely for stealing your mask, a crime which you deem punishable by death, but that most other Eldritch couldn’t care much less about. You’re doing this without their knowledge, because stirring up trouble with hunters, and lore keepers, and other people who possess guns, sharp iron instruments, and questionable mental stability, might not be forbidden, but is definitely frowned upon. It rarely turns out well for your kind.”
“If you’re finished gloating, let’s just kill her already and call it a night,” Blaire said.
“Declan said we were just going to talk to her, and that we wouldn’t kill her,” Stray protested, much to Kelpie’s surprise.
“And you believed him?” Blaire scoffed.
“I never actually said we wouldn’t kill her,” Declan put in.
“You said you wouldn’t kill anyone.”
“I said we wouldn’t kill any humans. In case you missed her confession, she’s not a human. She’s a kelpie – an Eldritch,” Declan said.
“She looks pretty damn human to me.”
Declan sighed and hooked the edge his shillelagh beneath her mask, knocking it askew and revealing her face. “Look at those eyes and tell me she’s human.”
Stray looked down at Kelpie. He met her eyes. She stared back. Then she lunged.
Until that moment, she’d forgotten that she was wearing her sword. She drew it in mid-charge, but thrice damned Declan was ready for that. His shillelagh struck her wrist hard, knocking the blade out of her hand just as she’d gotten it free of its scabbard. Then he struck her in the stomach so hard that Kelpie couldn’t help but cry out. She doubled over and fell back to the ground.
“Blaire,” Declan said, stepping back. “If you please.”
“With pleasure.” Blaire stepped forward and hefted her crowbar.
“No,” Stray said, reaching out to grab her. “You can’t.”
“Watch me,” Blaire said, a vicious smile crossing her pale face as Declan stepped between them, keeping Stray from interfering.
“Don’t!” Stray growled and tried to shove past Declan.
“You do remember that this broad wants to kill you, don’t you?” Declan asked, grabbing onto Stray’s arm.
Kelpie tried to move but still found it hard to draw breath. The most she could do was to follow the movement of Blaire’s crowbar with her eyes as the painful looking piece of metal rose in the air, then started to descend.
Before it could hit her, though, a shadow fell over both Kelpie and Blaire. Then a dark shape struck Blaire and sent her sprawling.
“Move it!” Acrobat shouted at Kelpie when for a moment she just sat there, stunned.
Then she scrambled to get to her feet, as Acrobat took to the air again. She saw Declan start toward her with his shillelagh. He would have reached her before she had time to get away, had he not tripped – or rather had he not been tripped. Stray definitely had a hand in Declan’s tumble.
Why the boy was helping Kelpie, she didn’t know. She was grateful, of course, but she still wanted to kill him . . . and he’d just given her a golden opportunity.
Instead of running away, like Acrobat probably intended for her to do, she darted toward Stray, scooping up her sword as she went. She slashed at him and growled in frustration when he skipped backwards. The shock and betrayal in his eyes was almost cute when Kelpie thrust her blade forward again, intent on skewering him. For a second, she thought she had him, but then the younger teen twisted aside at the very last instant with almost Eldritch grace and speed.
He grabbed onto her sword arm with both hands to keep her from bringing the blade to bear again. Then he head butted her in the face. Kelpie heard a sickening crack as his forehead impacted against her nose. Almost immediately, she could both smell and taste her own blood. She gave a feral growl, and with her free hand, scratched at Stray’s face. He ducked his head and rammed her with it again, and all she managed to do was knick his forehead and get a handful of his hair. She yanked on it. Stray snapped out an interesting curse, punched her in the face, then grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled on that in retaliation.
“I should have let them kill you,” Stray spat. “Hell, I should have killed you myself when I had the chance, you –” Then he called her a name that made Kelpie want to strangle him on principal.
“Yeah, you should have,” Kelpie shot back, as their frenzied grappling drove them both to the ground, and her sword slipped from her grasp. “It’s your own fault for being so weak and useless.”
“I’m not useless, you ugly bitch!”
Kelpie lost track of what happened in the next few seconds. There were some punches thrown by both of them, some swipes on her part, and some rolling in the dirt. Their fight was inelegant, to say the least. Stray clearly had no formal training, but knew how to fight dirty, and the instruction Kelpie had received in swordplay was completely useless in a brawl on the ground. Stray was a bit smaller than she was, but seemed to have the advantage of experience. He ended up on top of Kelpie, gripping both her wrists as she flailed, trying to hit him. Throughout their whole scuffle, he never stopped cursing. Under other circumstances, Kelpie would probably have been impressed. Now she was just pissed off. Still, she noticed when Stray gave a choked gasp and suddenly stopped his litany of insults, but not his cursing.
“W-what the hell?” he managed to get out. “What the hell is – how do you have – are you shitting me?! You’re Family? You have got to be shitting me!”
He might have added a few stronger words after that, but Kelpie didn’t hear them – not after she realized what he’d seen that had thrown him so badly. Not after it sank in what he said. And especially not after he got off her, holding out a hand as though motioning for her to stop, which conveniently showed off a mark on his palm. A scar, in fact. A four pronged burn scar, like Kelpie’s – not identical, but pretty damn close.
Kelpie felt like she’d been drenched in ice water. “You’re Family?” she asked in disbelief.
Stray nodded, still staring at her in shock.
“Then . . . we shouldn’t be fighting each other.”
They stared at one another.
Then Kelpie’s extra senses picked up the tinge of iron and she dove to one side to avoid Declan’s shillelagh, which would have smashed into her head from behind.
“Declan, stop!” Stray said, leaping to his feet. He grabbed onto Declan’s weapon, keeping the taller teen from pressing his attack. “Kelpie, run!”
This time Kelpie did run – as fast as she could, gathering a cloak of shadows around herself as she went. It wouldn’t fool Stray, she knew, but she didn’t think Declan or Blaire would be able to see through her illusions. Behind her she heard Blaire screaming insults at Acrobat, calling him a coward, while Stray and Declan argued with each other. The beating of Acrobat’s wings was closer, so Kelpie knew he was following.
Kelpie didn’t hear any signs of pursuit, but still, she didn’t stop running until she couldn’t hear the hunters at all anymore.