the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 5
Declan had been to the Walker family’s farm many times for cookouts and parties. The last time had been a few years ago, for a barn raising. Davie Walker and a couple of his friends had gotten drunk in their old barn and burned it down, or at least that was the official story. Declan had the feeling it probably would have gotten burnt down, whether there’d been alcohol involved or not, because one of Davie’s friends was Trish, a former resident of the Ironhorse Sanctuary. She’d been thrown out of the academy in England that most Eldritch hunting families sent their children to because she burnt part of it down. Trish, like everyone that the European families sent to the American sanctuary, was a problem child. She was a bit of a pyromaniac – a rare female arsonist. Not for malicious reasons, though. She just had an obsession with fire. The poor barn never had a chance against her.
That aside, though, Davie was a decent guy. The Walkers were one of Rusted Hill’s wealthier families, but they didn’t put on airs. A few of the older members of the family even knew the truth about the Eldritch. Davie’s late grandfather had actually gone hunting with Luther a few times, back in the day. Declan wasn’t looking forward to telling Thomas that he’d been killed or taken by the Eldritch – if that was what had happened. Statistically, it should have been more likely that he’d been so drunk that he fell off his horse and passed out, or broke his neck. If not for the timing, that’s what Declan would have assumed had happened.
Blaire drove along the route that he directed – she’d never been to the Walker Farm before, but getting there wasn’t exactly complicated. Lots of straight roads, few turn offs, plenty of visibility. It gave Declan the chance to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. He got a pair of binoculars out of the glove compartment and used them to scan further, paying particular attention when they got close to Muddy Creek. He’d noticed that Walker’s horse had been splattered with dried mud – too much for it to have just picked up walking along the road.
Sure enough, as they reached the little concrete and pipe bridge over the creek, Declan spotted a suspicious looking lump in the water.
“Pull over,” he ordered Blaire, “and arm yourself.”
Blaire immediately obeyed, a feral smile sliding across her face. Declan climbed into the back as she parked the Jeep. He drug an old gym bag out from under the seat and pulled out a shillelagh – a weighted walking stick that he’d been trained to fight with – then tossed the bag onto his seat. Blaire, predictably, selected a crowbar.
She spotted Davie’s body as they moved closer and swore softly. “He’s dead then.”
“Dead or practicing free diving,” Declan said. “Probably dead. Wait up here while I go down.”
“Why? You think it’s dangerous? Because if you’re trying to keep me out of danger and there are Eldritch around, I’ll tell you right now –”
“Oh, shut up,” Declan said. “You know I don’t have any particular qualms about putting anyone in danger. I just don’t want you stomping all over the site until I’ve had a chance to look at everything.”
Declan gave her a withering look. “Assuming that the Eldritch are responsible for this, there are any number of water dwelling mofos that could have done this. Therefore, I intend to look for clues – footprints and such – and see if I can get an inkling of what might have done this.”
“Right. Well then, do your thing.”
“I think I will,” Declan said, then carefully made his way down the bank, paying particular attention to where he put his feet. It wasn’t steep, but he didn’t want to inadvertently crush any evidence.
The picture painted itself fairly quickly, before Declan even made it to the water. Davie’s footprints were easy to see. He seemed to have come close to the stream on his own accord. Then there were horse hoofprints. At first, Declan thought they were from Davie’s horse, but quickly realized that wasn’t right. Davie’s horse was big. These hoof prints were small, and almost dainty. Even more damning, they’d been made by a horse with no shoes, and Davie Walker’s horse had been shod.
“Interesting,” Declan muttered to himself. He already had a good idea what had happened here, but it always paid to be thorough. He kept his eyes peeled and a moment later, spotted something else that didn’t belong. He carefully stepped over to it and picked it up.
“What’s that?” Blaire asked. She stood at the top of the bank with her crowbar hefted over one shoulder.
“Waterweeds,” Declan said. “Or at least they were. They’re kind of dried out now.”
“So what?” Blaire asked. “Are they important?”
“Yep,” Declan said and tossed them up to Blaire.
Rather than catch them, she sidestepped and glared. “What was that for?”
“Bag it,” Declan told her. “We gotta show it to Thomas and Beatrice. Otherwise they’ll claim that I’m wrong about this, even though they know I’m never wrong.”
Blaire looked doubtfully at the waterweeds. “They look kind of gross, Declan.”
“If you want, I’ll bag them and you can pull the corpse out of the water,” Declan offered.
“On second thought,” Blaire said, “they’re really not so bad.”
Declan smirked and quickly snatched up another clump of them. He flung them at Blaire, aiming for her torso, and would have hit her there too, if she hadn’t knelt down to pick up the first clump. The second clump of waterweeds hit her in the face.
Even better, Declan thought, smirking, as he called out, “Oops! Sorry!”
“You!” Blaire shouted angrily.
“Bag those too, will you?”
Declan sobered a bit as he turned toward Walker’s body. This was hardly the first corpse he’d seen – in fact, Declan had dealt with far too many. Waterlogged corpses were some of the worst, though. He worked hard to keep his expression from slipping as he leaned out over the creek and hooked the back of Walker’s jacket with the handle of his shillelagh. Then he pulled Walker’s body to the bank.
When he rolled the man on his back, he saw that the corpse wasn’t in as bad a state as it could have been. It hadn’t been submerged long enough to be too bloated, and it was too early in the year for most of the creek critters to be too active, so nothing had been chewing on it.
It looked like a drowning. There weren’t any stab wounds or strangulation marks on the neck. The only thing that suggested physical violence was a slight gash on the side of his head, half hidden beneath Walker’s hair.
“I think we’re dealing with a kelpie.”
“A kelpie? Like the dog?” Blaire asked skeptically.
“No,” Declan said, “like a murderous Celtic waterhorse,” Declan said. “That kind of kelpie. You know, for someone who wants to kill every Eldritch in the world, you know damn little about them.”
“I don’t want to know about them,” Blaire snapped. “I just want to kill them.”
“Which means you should learn about them,” Declan said. “I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘Know your enemy.’”
“I have you to know them for me,” Blaire said.
“You should still learn about them yourself,” Declan said.
“Why, when you’re the only one I ever get to go hunting with?”
“Perhaps for when we’re both grown and we’ve gone our separate ways,” Declan suggested. “So start reading some of the sanctuary’s books already.”
Blaire muttered unintelligibly. Declan ignored her, even though he could see her point. Despite the rising number of Eldritch related incidents in the US, the Ironhorse Sanctuary was seeing less action than it had since Declan came to stay there, nearly a decade ago. What few hunts they did go on were usually a result of Declan’s tenacity. Beatrice was mostly incompetent as the sanctuary’s leader, hung up on protocols, and second guessing every decision that she made. Thomas did better when he actually stepped up. Unfortunately, he usually didn’t step up. He was trying to be respectful of Luther’s wishes in leaving leadership of the sanctuary to his daughter. In Declan’s opinion, Thomas needed to grow a set, and Beatrice needed to get out of the way.
It still annoyed him how far they’d fallen – they being the sanctuary in general. Under Luther they’d had a really good thing going. Now Declan’s former housemates were scattered across the country. Most still hunted to some extent, but not the way they once did. Not enough to put a dent in the number of problems that kept cropping up.
After deciding he’d learned all he could from Walker’s corpse without stripping it down and doing an autopsy, Declan began trudging up the bank, back toward the Jeep to get his satellite phone. The sheriff needed to be called. Then Beatrice and Thomas needed to be filled in, for all the good it would do. More likely than not, Beatrice wouldn’t even order a sweep of the area, or a follow up investigation. Even though she’d gotten past the point where she dismissed all his claims and evidence, she still refused to take action.
Declan had already considered keeping her and Thomas in the dark, and taking care of it with Blaire and Stray, but in the end ruled that out. Stray was too uncertain about his place at the sanctuary to go behind Beatrice’s and Thomas’s back, right off the bat, even if he agreed with what was being done – and he hadn’t seen enough of the Eldritch for Declan to be certain that he would agree with what they planned to do. The reading he’d assigned the younger teen would help him see that the Eldritch weren’t really people, even the ones who really looked like they were, but it was one thing to know something, and another to really believe it.
So Declan would fill Beatrice and Thomas in on the situation. Then when they failed to do anything about it, he’d see if he could get Stray to help him and Blaire. Then he’d see if this new team he was putting together had any potential.