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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 7
After dinner, while Beatrice and Thomas argued over what to do about the Kelpie situation, Declan looked over Stray’s homework.
“So you got it finished without any trouble?” Declan asked, looking over the list of common protections against the Eldritch, making sure nothing was obviously wrong with it – not that he expected there to be. It was a simple assignment. “Good. And you understood what you read?”
“Yeah,” Stray said.
“No questions?” Declan asked.
Declan raised an eyebrow. “None at all?”
“None that you can answer – I already asked Thomas,” Stray said. “Everything in your book seems crazy and ridiculous, and there’s absolutely no reason any of those protections should work.”
Declan smirked. “I know. But work they do, and that’s what really matters. Things don’t always have to make sense.”
“They usually don’t,” Stray muttered.
“You, my friend, are a very cynical person,” Declan said.
“Just making an observation,” Declan said cheerfully. “For tomorrow, read the next two chapters, and answer as many of these questions as you can.”
He slid a folder of papers across the table.
“They’re math, history, geography, science, and English questions. Some aren’t really questions – like when I ask you to list some of the hardest books that you’ve read and stuff like that. The papers about each subject are stapled in their own packet, so just do as much of each as you can. Again, don’t worry if you can’t finish them – I don’t expect you to be able to. This is so I know where to start teaching you.”
Stray didn’t seem overly concerned about the folder – or about anything. Declan wasn’t surprised. Stray clearly wasn’t the studious type. The only time he really expressed interest about anything in the sanctuary was around mealtimes. Declan couldn’t blame him. The kid was clearly malnourished.
“So now that you’ve read about what the Eldritch are, how do you feel about killing them?” Declan asked.
Stray looked at him sharply.
“You understand that they’re not human now, right?” Declan asked.
The younger teen shrugged.
Declan sighed. “You shouldn’t let their human façade fool you.”
“Façade?” Stray looked confused.
Declan realized that had been poorly worded. “I don’t mean façade as in unbreakable illusions – I mean façade as in a false front.”
“Oh. That kind of façade.” Stray seemed to understand, but there was something in his manner that made Declan suspicious. His eyes were shiftier than usual, and most of the time he met peoples’ eyes when he was talking to them, at least. He was lying about something – or at least hiding something, and Declan doubted it was something as trivial as not knowing the standard definition of façade.
“You did read the first chapter, did you not?” he asked, and when Stray tensed ever so slightly, he knew he’d guessed right. “You didn’t. You only read the second chapter since that’s what you had homework for.”
Stray shrugged, more defiant than sheepish, and though he looked Declan’s way, couldn’t hold his gaze for long.
“You didn’t read the second chapter either,” Declan said.
Now Stray looked annoyed. “How do you do that?” he demanded. “Are you sure you’re not a mind reader?”
“Quite. And don’t change the subject,” Declan said, refusing to be put off. “How did you finish your homework if you didn’t . . . Thomas. You asked Thomas. And he gave you all the answers, and didn’t suspect a thing, like the chump he is.”
“It was easier that way.”
Declan frowned as something occurred to him that he hadn’t thought of until now. “You can read, can’t you?”
“Yes,” Stray snapped. “I can read.”
Declan stared hard at him.
Stray’s shoulders slumped slightly. “I’m just not good at it. Especially when there’s lots and lots of words.”
“You could have told me,” Declan said, but knew that even though Stray could have, he wouldn’t have. Like many distrusting people, he wasn’t in the habit of volunteering unnecessary information about himself to people he barely knew.
“You didn’t ask.”
“I erroneously assumed that you’d be smart enough to let me know if I asked you to do something you weren’t capable of,” Declan said with another sigh.
Stray’s narrowing eyes made it clear that he knew he was being insulted, but he didn’t say anything. He was probably hung up over not knowing what “erroneous” meant and didn’t want to look stupid by saying anything.
“How much can you read?” Declan asked.
“What’s the hardest book you’ve ever read?”
“Have you ever read a book?”
“You haven’t,” Declan surmised.
“So you’re going to have to learn.”
“I said I already know how to read,” Stray said angrily.
“Well, you’re going to learn to read more than a few words strung together.”
“Why?” Stray demanded. “I get by fine reading as little as possible.”
“Until I handed you a manuscript with everything you need to know to protect yourself against the Eldritch in it, and the sheer number of words overwhelmed you to the point where it was useless to you,” Declan pointed out.
“Maybe it’s useless to everyone anyway, ever thought of that?” Stray asked.
“No, I haven’t because I already know it’s not,” Declan said impatiently.
“Yeah, well . . . I don’t see the point,” Stray said. “I can read what I need to, and I don’t need to read books.”
“All the same, you will learn how,” Declan said. “I’ll search the library later and pull some short novels for you – start you off with some less intimidating books, and work your way to longer volumes. Who knows, in time you may come to like reading.”
Stray snorted. “Yeah right.”
“You’re definitely going to come to like reading,” Declan said. “I can already tell.”
That caused Stray to glower at him.
“Well, since today’s work was pretty much all a bust . . .” Declan took a moment to consider what would be the most productive thing to do for the rest of the evening. He could actually use this setback to his advantage – he did need to try and figure out what to do about the kelpie, since he already knew Beatrice and Thomas weren’t going to get anything settled. “Memorize the list of protections that you made. Then for tomorrow, do the packets, and try to read chapter one, okay? Just give it your best shot. You’re going to need to know about the Eldritch and what they are for when you go hunting with us.”
“I already told you, I’m not killing anyone,” Stray said flatly.
“Would you kill an animal for food?” Declan asked.
“And I’m sure as hell not killing and eating anyone!”
“I asked about an animal, not a person,” Declan returned.
“Fine. Yes, I do kill animals for food,” Stray said.
“Would you kill an animal that was trying to kill you?”
“Yes, but people aren’t animals.”
“And Eldritch aren’t people,” Declan said, “which you’d know if you’d read chapter one. So just read that tomorrow, then we can pick up this conversation again when I get home from school, once you’ve come to see things my way, okay?”
“Where are you going?” Stray asked warily as Declan headed toward the door.
“To do my own homework, then to do a little research on kelpies – it’s been awhile since we had to worry about one of those,” Declan said. “Then I’m going to bed. You should too. 5:30 comes early.”