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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 11
Stray felt cold rage seeping through his veins as he stared down Blaire and Declan. His expression, he knew, was probably a match for the livid look on Blaire’s face. Declan, however, appeared calm as always, if a bit annoyed. That only added to Stray’s fury, and he was almost ready to try and throttle Declan when Blaire opened her mouth.
“What the hell, Stray?!”
“That’s my line!” Stray screamed right back. “You said they weren’t human!”
“Because they’re not human,” Declan said.
“Yes, they are!”
“No, they’re not.”
“You’re a liar,” Stray spat.
Declan nodded. “That’s true, yes, but at least I’m honest about it.”
Stray couldn’t find a response to that remark so he settled for glowering.
“I’m telling you the truth now, Stray,” Declan said after a moment of waiting for some other reaction. “The Eldritch aren’t human.”
“But Kelpie is,” Stray said angrily. “I know this for a fact.”
“Maybe she was human,” Declan said, “but she isn’t anymore.”
“Was? What do you mean?” Stray asked suspiciously.
“This would be so much easier if you’d just read my book,” Declan said.
“I’m not good at reading and your book was boring,” Stray snapped. “And either way, me not reading your book doesn’t change the fact that Kelpie’s human!”
“No, she’s not,” Declan said. “Look . . . some Eldritch start out human. A fair number of them do, actually. Possibly even most of them. We don’t know exactly how it happens, but somewhere along the way, they stop being human –”
“You don’t just stop being human!”
“Trust me, they do,” Declan said. “Let me tell you what we do know, okay? Because it concerns you too, and not just because they want to kill you. Because – and we probably should have mentioned this earlier, but there’s a possibility you could turn into a fae.”
“Humans who turn into Eldritch – we usually call those fae – get tainted or infected with the same power that creates mounds. You remember that, right? Echoes of creation’s power?”
Stray barely heard him. Grotesque images were swimming through his mind of other humanoid Eldritch he’d seen. One fae he’d seen had had twigs in place of his fingers. Then there’d been a girl with a snail shell on her back, and two antennae on top of her head, whose face was just a blank expanse of skin. The thought of turning into something like that made him sick.
“I don’t – I mean I remember, but – how?” he asked, forcing himself to stay calm by reminding himself that he had no guarantee that Declan was even telling him the truth.
“No one knows,” Declan said. “I can’t tell you if the change occurs on a cellular level, or if it’s some sort of magical mutation, or what. We don’t even know why most of the people who’ve turned into fae actually turn into them, or how they get infected with the power that changes them. There’s only one way we know for sure gets you infected, and that’s if you enter the Eldritch world – which you and Blaire both have.”
Stray felt a lance of pain slice through his skull and grimaced. He managed to turn his gaze on Blaire and saw her looking back at him stonily. “But I haven’t – I don’t – Argh!”
His head felt like it was in a vice now. The pain was enough to drive him to his knees.
“What’s the matter with him?” he heard Blaire asking from very far away.
“Stray? Hey, Stray? Were you injured?”
“No – you, stay away from me,” Stray growled when Declan grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him back up.
“This is proof, you know,” Declan said, releasing him and backing off a step.
“What is proof of what?” Stray growled.
“That you’ve been to the Eldritch world,” Declan said. “Think about it. This happened the last time we were talking about you being a changeling.”
“This proves nothing,” Stray snapped. “I don’t see Blaire getting a migraine over this.”
“Because she’s not repressing her memories of when she was drug to the Eldritch world,” Declan told him. “You are.”
Stray wanted to argue but the pain in his head was too great. His skull felt like it was splitting open . . . and either way, they’d gotten off track. “Kelpie . . . she was human.”
“But she’s not anymore,” Declan tried to explain. “You saw her eyes. You heard her admit that she was a kelpie. She can turn into a horse and she has an affinity for drowning people. She might not even be alive anymore.”
“What? She is. She got away. I made sure of it.”
Declan gave an overly dramatic sigh. “What I meant was she might have died before you even met her. Corpses or dying people being infected by the echoes of creation’s power seems to be one of the more common ways people become fae – particularly if they drown. Echoes seem to be stronger near water, for whatever reason.”
“That doesn’t even make sense!”
“It doesn’t have to,” Declan said placidly. “One thing you learn early on in our society is that not everything dealing with the Eldritch makes sense. If it did, the whole world would probably know about them by now, and we’d have hunted them to extinction –”
“Just like they deserve,” Blaire cut in.
“I’m not going to kill people,” Stray snapped. “I don’t care if you say they’re not human –”
“Which they’re not.”
“I won’t do it!”
A regretful look passed over Declan’s face. “You really mean that. I can tell.”
“Then what good is he?” Blaire muttered.
“I’ll leave your house,” Stray offered. “Just let me get my stuff and I’ll be gone.”
“You don’t have to leave,” Declan said. “I’d actually prefer if you didn’t.”
“But I’m not going to kill Eldritch with you,” Stray reminded him.
“You don’t have to. There’s other stuff you can do to earn your keep,” Declan said. “Technically, you don’t have to do anything. The sanctuary’s rules state that we have to give you a safe place to stay, if the Eldritch are after you, which they clearly are. Only, I don’t think you’d trust if we gave you a place to stay without at least some small catch.”
That was true enough. “So what else is there to do?” Stray asked, suspiciously.
“Well, Thomas got a call this afternoon about a house that needs detoxing,” Declan said. “He’ll probably be pulling Blaire and I out of school this Friday for a long weekend of spring cleaning.”
“What?” Stray didn’t understand. “How can a house need detoxing?”
“It’s his word for going through some dead occult collector’s hoard of arcane paraphernalia,” Blaire said, still looking annoyed, “most of which is usually harmless trash, but with a few dangerous trinkets that we don’t want getting back out into the world mixed in.”
“No Eldritch, just artifacts,” Declan said. “We get called to deal with those at least three times a year. You can earn your keep by learning how to deal with that crap, and we’ll see how things go from there.”
Stray considered his options, then slowly nodded. If he decided to give them the slip, there would be plenty of easier opportunities.
“Good,” Declan said, slinging an arm around Stray’s shoulders and trying to steer him back in the direction where they’d left the Jeep. Stray immediately shrugged him off, which caused Declan to make an annoying pouty face at him.
“Shut up,” Stray told him.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Don’t care. Shut up.”
“I do have a question, though,” Declan said, falling in step beside him. “How did you suddenly realize Kelpie used to be human?”
Stray clenched his fist – his scarred fist – and shook his head. “I can’t tell you.”
“Sure you can.”
“No,” Stray said. “I can’t.”
“You mean you won’t,” Declan said. “Why?”
“Because I can’t!” Stray snapped and gave Declan his angriest glare, willing the older teen to get his meaning from that look. I’m not going to tell you, so stop asking!
Declan either really wasn’t a mind reader, or he wasn’t impressed by Stray’s resolve. “You know I’m going to figure it out sooner or later. You might as well save me the trouble.”
“No,” Stray said again.
“He will figure it out,” Blaire put in.
“Then he’ll figure it out alone,” Stray said coldly.
“You don’t really have a problem with me knowing or figuring it out,” Declan said, and Stray realized he was using his unnatural ability to glean information from the most miniscule clues that his answers gave away. “You just feel like you shouldn’t tell me.”
“I’m not telling you anything else about it,” Stray said angrily, “so let’s just go back.”
“Go home,” Declan said.
“Let’s go home,” Declan said.