The Grim Hunt – Final

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Song Suggestion: The Farewell by Break of Reality

 

XXX

Seven

Tomas grabbed at Nico, not sure what to do except continue running. Someone small darted out, between them and the hunt, and a light blazed, brighter than ordinary fire, full of sparks. There was a hissing sound filling the air. Tomas saw Alyria Downs, hair billowing as she turned, graceful as any of the dancers he sometimes saw when he went to Sildess with his father, twist and toss the object she was holding straight into the hunt. “Run,” she ordered him and he did not argue; he’d recognized the object and wasn’t going to stop long enough to ask her how she’d managed to get her hands on it.

There was a small, innocent pop at his back. And then, with a sound like thunder, the night became day. Everything was thrown into sharp relief by the brilliant light that flared up and their shadows raced on ahead of them. Then the night came back, more still than before; the Hunt had gone momentarily silent. Tomas risked a glance back. The Hunt had scattered, running away from the small container of Dwarven explosive Alyria had thrown at them. Had they been living men, at least a few of them would have been knocked down, perhaps even gravely injured. But this was The Grim Hunt. They were already charging forward again, the Bargheist’s horse chasing after. But Alyria had bought them the precious time they needed; they were at the smithy.

The two boys spilled through the first doors, which were high and wide, raced past the furnace, and fell into Marisola’s cottage with a clamor of jilted kitchen chairs and table. Alyria jumped over them just as a rain of arrows and spears thudded into the wood. Tomas bounce up and turned to slam the door. Out the open smithy, he could see the distant, black forest and, against it, someone else. Riding upon a great, white stallion which shone with an other worldly light, was a hooded lady. For a moment, he was caught by the sight of her. In one hand, she held a silver horn. She raised it to her lips as the Hunt crowded into the wide doors of the smithy, the light of the furnace showing him their faces so clear that he would have nightmares for the rest of his life, and the horn began to call out. Two notes, clear and perfect as bells. At once the Hunt stopped. The clang of swords in the square when silent. The hounds grew still and the night mares turned their heads to look at the forest. The lady blew again. The Grim Hunt was being called home. As one, they turned and their night mares trotted away, obedient and without protest. Tomas shut the door. He put his back against it and slid down to the floor, gasping and shaking with fright.

“Didn’t I challenge you to the whole night?” Alyria asked, perched upon a nearby chair. He looked up and she smirked at him. He suddenly understood something that he hadn’t before. Alyria Downs was not afraid. Not even when she should be. She was untouched by the cloud of terror the night mares had carried around them, not even phased by seeing the Hunt clearly in the light of the furnace. And, at last, he could see that it was not because she was brave. There was something else. A sort of desperate need, and it drove her to do things which might well get her killed and an utter lack of fear, even the sort which might have kept her safe from harm. He understood at last that there was something wrong with her and, on top of that, he realized she was desperate to prove something, though what and to who, he could not guess. “I suppose this means I win,” she said, staring right back at him. A sharp, hot splinter of fury drove into Tomas, but he did not let her see it.

“It was a bad dare,” Nicolas snapped.

“And he took it,” Alyria snapped right back.

“Can we please not do this,” Marisola said. “Da isn’t here, but the neighbors….”

“You nearly got us killed!” Nicolas cut across Marisola’s protests.

“You were the ones that went out there. I didn’t have a knife at your throats.” Alyria shrugged. “Anyway, I helped you get away, didn’t I?”

“You spiteful little witch, my mother’s right,” Nicolas said, stepping close to her. His hands were fisted at his side and Tomas thought he might actually hit her. “There really is something wrong with you. You’re elftouched and cannot help but to bring bad luck and evil wherever you go.”

Alyria bounced up off her chair and Tomas held up one hand. “Enough,” he said loud enough to make both Alyria and Nico look at him. “Alyria’s right. She’s won. I took the challenge, though I knew I didn’t have to. And she did come out to save us.” He stood up beside his friend and put a hand on his shoulder. He glanced back at Alyria. She did not look as triumphant as he thought she would, but still it stung. Not that he had lost; they had damn near ended up part of the Hunt and he was grateful to be inside, safe and alive. But that he could already see how she would be holding it over his head for a long, long time. “Let it go, Nico.” He said the words gently. The whole room relaxed and the fight went out of his friend. He did not tell him, yet, that it was alright because he now understood something about Alyria that he hadn’t before. She could not turn down a dare. To fail might well break her, in fact. And he had just come up with the perfect one to wipe that smirk off her face once and for all.

 

XXX

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