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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 6
“Where have the two of you been?”
Stray flinched at Beatrice’s shout, even though it wasn’t directed at him.
Declan and Blaire looked unconcerned at their guardian’s anger in a way that only someone who trusted said guardian wouldn’t backhand them could look. If Stray was either of them, though, he wouldn’t have been so sure. He remembered how Beatrice had tackled him, then twisted his arm behind his back when they first met, after Declan first brought him back to the sanctuary. When Beatrice and Thomas got too interested in where he’d run away from, and spoke of sending him back, Stray tried to make a break for it. Beatrice nearly broke his arm, proving that she wasn’t against using violence to keep unruly teens in line. So Stray hung back and watched as Declan and Blaire faced Beatrice, wondering how this would turn out, and whether anyone would be facing mortal peril before dinner.
“Before you start,” Declan said, “I have a perfectly good explanation for why we’re so late.”
“Then go ahead and tell us,” Thomas said. Like Beatrice, he didn’t look happy, but Stray gathered that he had more experience dealing with Declan’s shenanigans.
“Well, to start off with –”
“No,” Thomas interrupted him.
“I have to start off somewhere, Thomas, and what I’m starting off with isn’t irrelevant,” Declan said.
Thomas sighed. “It better not be. All right, go on.”
“Well, to start off with, Davie Walker is dead,” Declan said.
Stray saw a tightening of the muscles in Thomas’s face. Beatrice only looked blank.
“Who?” she asked.
“Marvin Walker’s youngest boy,” Thomas said. “A family friend. How’d he die, Declan? What happened?”
“What everyone else knows is that he was drinking at The Saloon last night and never made it home,” Declan said. “His horse wandered into town this afternoon, and Blaire and I saw the concern it caused. We drove out along the route he would have taken home and found him floating in Muddy Creek, near the bridge.”
“Damn,” Thomas muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You said that’s what everyone else knows,” Beatrice said, “implying you know more.”
“Of course I do,” Declan said.
“Then let’s hear it already,” Beatrice snapped.
“It was the freaking Eldritch,” Blaire said disgustedly. “They killed this Walker guy.”
Even though Blaire spoke, Stray saw that Thomas and Beatrice still had their attention focused sharply on Declan. Declan noticed this too, and gave an impish smile.
“It was the freaking Eldritch,” he parroted.
Thomas made an impatient noise.
“We saw signs of a kelpie,” Declan added.
Stray started in surprise. “Kelpie killed someone?”
Declan looked at him sideways. “A kelpie killed Davie Walker.”
“Yes,” Declan said. “As in singular. Only one. You’re familiar with the term, are you not?”
“But . . .” Stray trailed off and shook his head, trying to sort through this in his mind.
“Is something wrong, Stray?” Thomas asked.
Aside from someone I met murdering someone I never met? he wanted to ask, but didn’t. He wasn’t sure if his failure to kill Kelpie when he had a chance made this his fault or not – or more importantly, made it his fault in their eyes.
He’d met Kelpie on two previous occasions – once when he met Declan and Blaire, right after the train wreck, and once when he woke up from being kidnapped by the Eldritch, in a mound they’d drug him to. He’d been tied up then, but he had skinny wrists and the ropes were loose enough for him to get free – which he had done while having a conversation with Kelpie. A very confusing conversation with Kelpie. She hadn’t exactly answered any of his questions, or clarified anything beyond confirming that it was real façade that he could see through. Stray had been a bit preoccupied at the time, though, for several reasons. Aside from trying to escape, he’d been freaked out by Kelpie’s eyes – pure black orbs that he would have sworn were normal and blue the first time he saw her.
Then he’d gotten free and turned the tables on her, and almost slit open her throat, before realizing he didn’t have it in him to cold bloodedly murder someone. He’d settled for knocking her out and tying her up instead, then made his escape.
“She didn’t seem that bad to me,” Stray muttered, aware that all eyes were on him now.
“Who didn’t?” Declan asked.
Stray gave him a weird look. “Kelpie.”
“You know a kelpie?”
“You know her too,” Stray said. “She was the girl who was trying to kill you when we first met – the one whose face I stole, remember?” It had actually been her mask that Stray stole, but when she came after him in revenge, she’d insisted it was her face. She’d gotten it back, then Stray stole it again when he left her tied up in the mound.
“So she was a kelpie,” Declan mused. “Makes sense – her eyes were like a horse’s eyes. No weeds in her hair either time I saw her, but they don’t always have them in their human form. But how did you know she was a kelpie? How do you even know what a kelpie is?”
“I think I’m missing something,” Stray said. “She told me her name was Kelpie. Was that a title and not her name, or something?”
“A kelpie is an Eldritch,” Beatrice told him.
“A filthy fae,” Blaire muttered under her breath.
“They’re from Irish and Scottish folklore,” Beatrice elaborated. “They take the form of a horse or a naked girl and lure travelers into rivers, then drown them.”
Stray stared at her then shook his head. “Okay, I can see a man being lured into the a river by a naked girl, but by a horse?”
“Think old school,” Declan said.
Stray blinked at him.
“Horses equal primary means of transport – the old time equivalent of a car,” Declan said. “Think how people would react to the prospect of a free one, then it makes sense why they’d go after it – though usually not into the water. They’d climb onto the horse’s back, then it would charge into the water.”
Stray asked the obvious question. “Then why didn’t they just jump off?”
“Sometimes they’d get stuck to the kelpie’s back, like they were held there with adhesive. Other times, the kelpie was already in the water before they tried to get off, then proceeded to stomp them like a peasant.”
Stray felt his brow furrow in confusion. “Like a peasant?”
“Yeah, like a peasant,” Declan repeated.
“I don’t get the analogy either,” Thomas said, “but everything else he said is right, at least. Kelpies are known for drowning their victims.”
“What proof do you have that it was a kelpie?” Beatrice asked. “Or that it was even done by a fae? There are dozens of water Eldritch it could have been, if it was one at all.”
Declan gave Blaire a look as if to say ‘See what I mean?’ Then he tossed a plastic Ziploc bag at Beatrice.
For a second, Stray thought the bag was full of pot. Just as he realized that probably wasn’t the case, Thomas said something that made him rethink his doubts.
“Weeds,” the man said, peering through the plastic.
Before Stray could gape at them too stupidly, Declan turned to him and elaborated.
“Waterweeds are one of the characteristics of kelpies,” he explained. “At least one of their forms will always have them in their hair.”
“Oh.” Stray couldn’t remember if there’d been any waterweeds in Kelpie’s hair the times he saw her or not.
“There were also tracks from an unshod horse in the mud near where we found Walker’s body,” Declan said.
“This doesn’t completely prove it was the Eldritch,” Beatrice said.
“I’d say it does,” Thomas argued.
“And I say it does,” Declan said, “and as we all know, I’m always right, so –”
“You’re not always right,” Beatrice said.
“Name one time I’ve been wrong then,” Declan challenged.
There was a bit of awkward silence as the older residents of the Ironhorse Sanctuary wracked their brains for one such instance. Stray couldn’t help feeling amused when that silence stretched on.
“There have been times when you’ve been wrong, and you know it,” Thomas said.
“Still waiting for you to name one,” Declan said.
Thomas ignored him. “However, you’re not wrong now. These waterweeds don’t grow in Muddy Creek.”
“I’ve seen them in Ireland,” Declan said, “though I don’t know their genus or species.”
“So there are things you don’t know,” Blaire commented.
“I’ve never claimed to know everything,” Declan said. “In fact I regularly tell you people that I don’t just pull information out of nowhere.”
“Waterweeds and horse tracks don’t necessarily mean a kelpie’s involved,” Beatrice said.
“But more than likely, they do,” Thomas argued.
“Added to the fact that we know a kelpie was in Rusted Hill over the weekend, and has a score to settle with us over a stolen face, and the likelihood of this being a kelpie attack goes up to almost a hundred percent,” Declan said. “The only alternate explanation is if it’s not actually a kelpie but someone deliberately trying to make it look like a kelpie, and really, who would do that?”
Beatrice scowled. “We’re going to need to investigate this further.”
“You do that,” Declan said. “In the meantime, I’ll cook dinner.”
“I already cooked,” Beatrice said. “You can cook for me on Thursday.”
Declan raised an eyebrow. “I don’t smell any food.”
“I made sandwiches.”
“That’s not cooking,” Declan argued, “that’s just assembling.”
“It’s cooking if I say it’s cooking.”
“It’s cheating,” Declan complained. “Isn’t it cheating, Stray?”
Stray looked uncertainly between Beatrice and Declan, and shrugged.
“Don’t try to bully him into being on your side,” Beatrice snapped.
“He can be on my side or he can be wrong,” Declan said. “Which would you rather be, Stray?”
“Knock it off, you two,” Thomas said. “Let’s just eat. We can sort this out after dinner.”