The Wild Hunt
Through blood red skies,
And forest still dark,
We ride like the wind,
The Wild Hunt is here!
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Hank sat up from his office desk cracking his back to try and alleviate the stiffness. He looked at the clock checking the time. It was just after 3:30. His daughter, Lilly, should be getting home from school about now. Hank pulled out his smart phone sliding his thumb across the screen he started tapping the screen keyboard shooting off a text:
You home yet?
What’s for supper?
Get home on time and you will find out >:P
Hank smiled putting his phone away as he went back to work. Lilly had been Hank’s whole life since the day she was born. When Lilly was born Hank promised himself that he would do whatever he had to for her. And part of that had meant he had to become a better person.
For the first time in his life he had to start taking things seriously. No longer could he blow off his earning on frivolous things or late night benders. He had to take a job that he did not want but gave him both the money and the flexibility to take care of a child. All of his free time went from socializing with friends to being dedicated solely to her. The only thing that mattered was making sure she was happy.
Hank leaned back in his chair letting out a tired sigh as his computer played the shutdown melody. He glanced as the clock again. Just after 5. He was right on time. He stood up from his chair packing everything into his computer case.
Saying his farewells to his coworkers he left his office building making his way for the bus stop. He pulled out his phone sending Lilly another text:
K ill tell my boyfriend to leave
Hank put his phone back in his pocket shifting the computer case to his other hand. It was sort of an ongoing joke between the two of them. She knew it was his biggest fear that Lilly would repeat the mistakes of his past. To his relief and somewhat dismay, she seemed to have little interest in boys. His real concern was her complete and utter lack of interest in any kind of social life at all.
She was athletic but never tried out for any sports. She was good in school but never took on more than the bare minimum. Instead she would come home right after school and take care of the house. She would cook, clean, and every weekend she would do the laundry. It had been cute when she was six, saying that she wanted to marry him, now that she was fifteen her domineer was becoming worrisome.
He wished she would do things with her friends some times. It could not be healthy for a young girl to spend all her time alone with her father. As much as he may want her to.
Hank stepped off the bus walking into the apartment complex. He pulled out a small key and opened the mail box just inside the main lobby. It was empty, meaning that Lily had already picked up the mail.
Maybe she is trying to hide something? That thought brought both dread and happiness to him. He was happy that maybe she was up to something. Dread that she would ever do something that she did not want her father to know.
Hank sighed shaking his head in order to clear his mind. Shutting the mail box he headed for the elevator trying to shake off his troubling thoughts. He had been the one to give her a mail key so that she could pick up the mail after. He should not be suspicious if she actually used it to do just that.
He slid his key into the apartment door stepping inside.
“Hey Dad.” Lily peered out of the kitchen checking to make sure it was him. “You actually got home on time today.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry I have been late so much recently,” Hank apologized as he set his computer case on the kitchen table. “I was just a little behind at work.”
“It’s alright,” Lilly giggled. “I was just giving you a hard time.” She put on a hot mitt pulling rolls out of the oven. “I know you work hard.” With a few shakes the rolls fell from the pan into the bread basket. “Now go wash your hands, and get ready to eat.”
“Yes ma’am.” Hank dragged out the words like he was a child groaning to his mother. He smiled as he headed for the bathroom.
Drying his hands on the back of his pants he moved and moved to the table. “Hey did you pick up the mail today?” he asked scanning the table.
“Yeah, I left it on the kitchen table,” she said not even looking up from the plate she was loading the food onto.
“Where?” Hank asked still not seeing it.
Lilly looked over at the table then marched over grabbing his computer case and lifting it up revealing a small stack of mail. “There,” she said shaking her head. She shoved the computer case into Hank’s chest and walked back into the kitchen. “That’s why you are not supposed to just put your stuff on the table.”
Hank let out an amused sigh. He put his computer case in his room and went about setting the table for supper. A few seconds later Lilly finished carrying out the food and they sat down and started to eat.
“So how was school?” Hank asked casually cutting up his steak. They had been eating in silence for a few minutes now. Not that it was unusual or unsettling but Hank thought it was time to fill the air.
Lilly shrugged. “It was fine.” She poked at her food a little not looking up from her plate.
“Anything exciting happen?” He pressed trying not to sound to invasive.
She shrugged again shaking her head. “Not really. Just school stuff.”
“Just school stuff.” Hank mimicked her tone of voice. “You make it sound so exciting. There a cute boy I should know about?”
“There are a lot of cute boys,” Lilly stated seeming to have no real reaction to the topic. “None that I think you want to know about.”
“Cute girls, maybe?” Hank raised his eyebrows.
Lilly glared at him. “No.”
“Alright.” Hank smiled taking another bite of his food. “The weekend is coming up. Do you have any plans?”
“There is a move that I would like to go see,” Lilly said. “I thought maybe we could go Saturday afternoon.”
“Wouldn’t you rather go see it with you friends?” Hank was not against the idea of going with her but he did not want her to fill obligated to go with him.
She shrugged again. “I don’t really have anyone I would want to go with.”
“Oh I see how it is,” Hank teased. “Don’t have any friends so you will just have to settle for dad. Is that it?”
“That’s right.” Lilly took a bite of her food looking at Hank through the corner of her eye. “If I knew a real gentleman I would leave you for him in a heartbeat.”
Hank shrugged. “So long as he is a real Gentleman I would be okay with that.”
“So eager to be rid of me are you?” She raised an eyebrow an amused look on her face.
“Never in a million years,” Hank stated. Then with a depressed sigh, “But I know I have to let you go eventually. So long as your future husband knows that I expect you to call every weekend. And visit on every major holiday.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. At least for a while,” Lilly assured. She stood up picking up her plate setting her silverware on top. “You done?” she asked pointing at his mostly finished plate.
Hank leaned back in his chair giving her room to reach down and take the plate from him. Dirty plates in each hand she took the dishes into the kitchen.
Hank stood up from the table moving to the couch taking his half-finished glass with him.
“You going to want a beer?” Lilly asked as she started to clean off the rest of the table.
“No. I think I’m good.” Hank stated plopping down in the couch. “So this movie you want to see, it’s not a horror movie is it?” He picked up the remote turning on the TV.
“Maybe,” Lilly said just before turning on the faucet.
“Oh come on,” Hank sighed as he flipped though the guide to find something to watch. “You know I hate slasher movies.”
“It’s October Dad,” Lilly stated walking out of the kitchen. “What better way to get into the Halloween spirit then to watch a bunch of stupid college students get hacked to death?” She sat down on the other side of the couch putting her feet up on the cousin.
“Um, eat candy corn?” Hank suggested.
“If you must know it’s a haunting movie.” Lilly made a face at Hank.
“Oh cause those are so much more believable.” Hank rolled his eyes.
“Oh real housewives.” Lilly jokingly pointed at the TV.
“No,” Hank stated instantly as he continued scrolling through the guide. “You should watch something educational like something on the history channel.”
“Because nothing says history like Alaska truck driving,” Lilly teased.
“They got alien stuff too,” Hank smiled at her, relaxing a bit more on the couch as he continued to search for something to watch.
Hank woke up with a splitting headache. The light of the sun creeping in from his window only seemed to be making it worse. He reached over hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock. He could afford seven more minutes of sleep. He glanced at the time through one half opened eye. It was already after 7.
He groaned. He must have hit the snooze button in his sleep. He rolled over onto his stomach in a pushup position. His headache was starting to subside but it still hurt making it a test of will for him to do anything.
Shuffling towards the bathroom Hank half expected it to already be occupied. Lilly was usually finishing up her shower about now. To his surprise it was free. Not giving it a second thought he went inside starting his morning routine.
After a quick shower and shave he made sure the toilet set was down before he went back to his room to get changed. He glanced at the kitchen living room area as he stepped out of the bathroom. He did not see Lilly anywhere. He looked at her bedroom door. It was closed though that did not mean much.
Maybe she was still asleep. Hank knocked on the door with the back of his hand. “Lilly. You in there?”
There was no response. “If you are still asleep you need to be getting up or you are going to be late.” His parental duty fulfilled he went back into his room and got changed.
Dressed, he stepped out of his room and saw that Lilly’s door was still closed. Hank frowned this time. He glanced at the livening room checking to make sure she was not out there. Not seeing her anywhere he knocked on the door again. “Lilly?”
There was no response. A little worried he opened the door flicking on the lights. The room was empty. Hank let out a ‘humph’ crossing his arms. She must have left early for some reason. Would have been nice if she would have told him.
He flicked off the lights with a shrug. He was not sure why she needed to leave early but he could just ask her later. He walked into the kitchen area and started making a fresh pot of coffee. It did not look like Lilly had made herself any that morning. That was a little odd. She almost needed the stuff more than Hank did in order to get going in the morning.
Hank filled his coffee mug and sat on the couch to put his shoes on while he drank it. After he sat down he leaned over to put the coffee mug on the end table. That was when he saw Lilly’s shoes and backpack still resting by the door.
Hank frowned, pausing for a moment while he thought. Leaving her backpack maybe but it was hard for anyone to leave without their shoes.
“Lilly.” Hank called out as he stood up walking to the door. The chain was still on the door.
His heart began to race as he tried to keep his cool.
There was no way she could have left and then put the chain on. “Lilly.” He called out again briskly walking back to her room. Turing on the light he began to search, the panic building in his chest. He opened the closet turning on the light.
He was starting to feel out of breath as he gasped for air. “Lilly!” He was yelling now.
He reached into his pocket pulling out his cell. Dialing Lilly’s number he held his breath as it started to ring. After the first ring Lilly’s ringtone started to play next to her bed. He glanced over at her night stand as the pink casing of Lilly’s cell danced on the table as it vibrated and rang.
Hank stared at it absently as he pressed the end call button with his thumb. His arm going limp falling to his side.
His worst nightmare had come true.
“Were you two fighting about anything?” the detective asked for possibly the fourth time.
Hank shook his head. “No, everything was fine.” He was bent over on the couch looking down at his feet. This could not be happening. It still did not seem real.
“Was there anything going on at school?” the detective asked already writing something in his memo pad.
“She said everything was fine.” Hank responded in an almost monotone voice. He had gone numb hours ago. He just wanted to wake from this nightmare now.
“Did she have a boyfriend? Anyone she might go too if things were going bad?”
Hank shook his head again still staring at the floor. “She told me there wasn’t anyone she liked and I don’t know about any friends she might have had that she would go too. There wasn’t even anyone she wanted to go to the movies with.”
“I see.” The detective wrote another note his voice indicating that he was not convinced. “And you said there were no signs of forced entry?”
“The chain was still on the door when I woke up,” Hank stated absently gesturing towards the door.
“Do you keep the windows locked?”
“No,” Hank sighed giving a shake of his head. “We are on the fourth floor and the fire escape is further down the hall. There never seemed to be a reason. Please,” he looked up at the detective for the first time. “Can you find her?”
The detective closed his memo pad and stuck it in his coat pocket. “We will put out an amber alert for her,” he stated. “But in all honesty, in situations like this when there are no signs of forced entry then the child probably ran away. Which means she will probably come home in a couple of days. If she was taken then it would be someone she trusted seeing as how there were no signs of a struggle.”
“But there isn’t anyone who she would trust, besides I was here the whole night and…” Hank’s heart stopped when he saw the look of suspicion in the detective’s eyes. “You can’t possibly think I would abduct my own daughter. Why would I do such a thing?”
“I never accused you of anything,” the detective stated. “I am just telling you the facts.”
The police left soon after that. Having finished their investigation they went about their work someplace else. They assured Hank that they would do everything in their power to find Lilly and if someone was behind it they would bring them to justice.
Hank listened but he did not believe them. They were just content to write this off as a teen runaway. Or worse that Hank was somehow behind this.
He sat motionless on the couch for the better part of an hour. He just could not find the will to move. His mind was racing and it felt like he was not even in his own body. After a time he stood up aimlessly walking out of his apartment. He did not know where he was going but he did not care. His feet were moving and he did nothing to stop them.
There was a pleasant coolness to the air outside. Normal weather for fall in San Francisco. He had seen on the weather channel that there was a storm working its way from the east but for now it was still bright and sunny.
He let out a laugh feeling like he wanted to cry. His daughter was missing and he was thinking about the weather.
“Excuse me,” a voice called out.
Hank turned around more out of instinct than actually thinking that someone was calling to him.
Behind him there was a short African American woman. She was heavy set in that southern mother kind of way. Her cloths seeming to bare a style form the 90’s the fabric all seemed to have some shade of blue to it. She had some kind of strange blue rock necklace and earrings that were set in silver that bared a likeness to waves brushing against an ocean.
“Can I help you?” Hank asked, his voice lifeless and drained of all energy.
“I think you can, honey.” The woman nodded looking him over. “Your daughter went missing right?”
Hank instantly filled with anger and rage, reached out at her grabbing her shirt. “Do you know something about my daughter’s disappearance? Did you take her?”
The woman lowered her gaze at Hanks hands that were gripping her shoulders. “I will forgive this since you are in a state of grief and you don’t know any better,” she then raised her gaze a fire burning in her eyes. “But you had better take your hands off me, boy.”
Hank was gripped in fear. Even though this woman looked to be ten years younger than him the way she spoke it really did make him feel like he was being scolded by his mother. If his mother had ever truly wanted to kill him.
He released his grip holding his hands out apologetically as he took a step back. “I’m sorry, it’s just-”
“I know honey.” Her voice now changed from threatening to comforting and warm again. “And let me guess. The police were no help. Am I right?”
Hank shook his head. “They seem to think that she ran away. Or that I had something to do with it.”
The woman nodded giving a hummed ‘uh huh’ as if that was the answer she expected. “I assure you that she didn’t run away, and I know you didn’t do anything to her.”
“How do you-”
“Shh.” She pressed a finger to Hanks lips. She was close enough that Hank could smell her perfume. It smelled like salt water and seaweed. It was not a bad smell but it seemed to be a very unusual choice. “I know someone who can help you find her.” She took her finger off his lips as she spoke. “But you will have to do exactly what I say. Do you agree to this?”
Hank nodded. He did not care what it took he would do anything to find his daughter.
“Then say the words.” Her voice carried a strong demanding tone. She reached out and grabbed his cheeks as she looked at him. “I have to hear you say that you agree to my help and you will do exactly as I say.”
“I agree to your help and I will do exactly what you say,” Hank said instantly. Pleased with his words the woman let go of his face. “Whatever you want me to do. Just tell me.”
The woman reached up cutting him off as she cupped his face in her hands looking him straight in the eyes. Her hands were freezing but she was surprisingly strong. Hank did not think he could break free even if he tried.
“Don’t stop moving,” the words echoed in his mind as she spoke. Her blue eyes peering deep into him. “Don’t ask for help, and don’t look back.” Her hands suddenly became warm and her perfume seemed to grow stronger than before.
She removed her hands from his face. “Now then, follow these directions.” She held up a piece of paper. Hank was not sure when she had pulled that out. “When you reach the destination you will find a man inside. You will know him by the sunglasses that he wears and the strange necklace around his neck.”
Hank reached out taking the paper unfolding it. On it was a set of simple directions. By the looks of it the man was close by.
“When you find him tell him…” she leaned in and whispered in his ear.
Hank frowned unsure what that could possibly mean. The woman broke away. “Now go. Remember what I told you.”
Hank was confused to say the least but he did not care. Even if this was all some kind of scam or set up he still had to try. He opened his mouth but the woman pressed her finger to his lips again.
“Don’t thank me,” she stated her voice cold and stern. “Never thank me. And do not thank the man either. Trust me when I say that neither of us are doing anything for you to be thankful for. Now go. Don’t stop moving, don’t ask for help, and don’t look back.” She was suddenly behind him giving him a gentle but forceful push on the back.
His feet were moving before he even knew what was happening. He followed the directions on the paper doing what he had been told. He only looked ahead of him raising the piece of paper in his hand up when he needed to. To his utter amazement whenever he came to an intersection the lights would change as soon as he neared letting him cross without having to stop and wait.
In less than fifteen minutes he was standing in front of an older looking office building. It was only a three stories tall and according to the paper he was to go to the second floor. Entering the building there was a sudden musty smell to it like the inside was older than the outside. There was no elevator but he would not have taken it even if there was.
His instructions were to never stop moving. Finding the stairs he climbed to the second floor glancing at the office numbers as he passed. He thought it odd that the number he was looking for was 131. Most buildings had the 100 numbers on the ground floor. But Hank was not going to question it at this point.
He found the number and for the first time in nearly twenty minutes stopped moving. His legs ached and he felt exhausted. Sure he had been walking for nearly half an hour but he felt like he had just walked for two.
He stood in front of the door taking deep breaths as he read the words written on the glass. “Hyperion Investigations.” This was starting to give him the feeling of an old Noir movie. The old PI’s office the distraught client. He half expected the man to be wearing a Fedora.
Hank did not care though. He had to find his daughter and the woman had told him that the man inside could help.
The door was unlocked so he casually opened it and stepped inside. It was what he had been expecting. There was a large desk at the other end of the room with a large window directly behind it. There was also a table and two couches facing each other in the center of the room.
“Sorry, we are closed for Halloween,” came a man’s voice from another room. “Come back tomorrow.”
Frank froze a little confused. He glanced around as if the answers were located somewhere in the room. “But it’s not Halloween,” he stated to the empty room. He took a few steps forward trying to catch a glimpse of the man.
“Says who?” A tall man walked out of another room setting an Xbox 360 controller down on the corner of the desk. He was very young looking. Maybe in his twenties. He would have looked even younger if it was not for his unshaven face.
“Ummm everyone.” Hank was not sure what was wrong with the man.
He wore blue jeans and tan T shirt that had ‘I know karate’ written on the front. But the thing Hank saw was the reflective sunglasses that he wore and the necklace that hung around his neck. It dangled all the way down to the center of his chest on an exceptionally thick metal chain that looped around twice.
There was no doubt this was the man he was supposed to meet but he looked like a kid. How could he be of any help?
“And you have asked everyone have you?” The man crossed his arms with a bit of an annoyed sigh. “Walpurgis Night, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, whatever you want to call today, I don’t work it. I am sure this is important and I would be more than willing to listen to your story,” he glared at Hank taking a beat, “tomorrow.”
“This can’t wait until tomorrow,” Hank declared refusing to give up now that he had come all this way. “My daughter has gone missing and that woman said you would help me.”
The man paused his eyebrow raising slightly as he pursed his lips together. “What did this woman look like?” His voice was low and flat.
“Shortish, black, a little heavy set, wore a lot of blue,” he rattled off a description. “I never caught her name.”
“It would have been a fake anyway.” The man rubbed his face in deep thought. He rested his hand on his cheek taking a breath. “Did she tell you anything else?”
“Yeah,” Hank felt a little weird saying it but he did not see that he had any choice. “She told me to tell you ‘He Rides’.”
The color drained from the man’s face. He clinched his fist pressing his lips tightly together making them turn white. “Tell me.” His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. “And be completely honest with me. What lengths are you willing to go to in order to save your daughter?”
Determination built inside Hank. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do in order to save her. I’ll pay any price. I have some money saved if that’s what you are asking.”
The man shook his head. “I don’t care about that. I am asking you how far are you yourself are willing to go. What are you willing to do in order to save her? This is no time for bravado and no time for false modesty. I need to know.”
“Anything.” Hank said without a moment of doubt. “I would die to save her.”
They stared at each other for a long moment. The man seemed to be trying to determine the truth of Hank’s words. He took a deep breath tilting his head up slightly. Letting it out he looked at Hank again. “My name is Allen Friedman,” he reached out his hand.
“Hank Lamb,” Hank introduced himself as he took the hand. Allen’s grip was not strong but strange. He extended his index finger so it rested on Hank’s wrist while only squeezing with his thumb and two middle fingers.
Hank thought that a bit odd. He had never had someone shake his hand that way before.
“Wait here a moment,” Allen ordered letting go of Hank’s hand and walking back into the room that he had previously come out of.
“Can you please tell me what is going on?” Hank asked as the door closed in his face.
“Answer me something first,” Allen said through the door. Hank could hear the sound of a dresser opening. “Where do you live?”
Hank was not sure what the man was getting at. “I live with my daughter in an apartment just a little ways from here.”
“No, I mean what city do you live in?” Allen clarified.
Hank thought the man was joking. “San Francisco. I told you I live just a short walk from here.” He gestured with his thumb at the door behind him even though there was no one to see it.
The door opened. Allen had changed shirts now wearing a plain back T. He was also now wearing a heavy black leather coat and a plain black cap. He looked older now. The childish nature that Hank had seen before now gone.
“And you walked here, correct?” Allen asked brushing past Hank moving towards the desk.
“Yeah,” Hank nodded stepping out of Allen’s way.
“Do you have a smart phone?” Allen asked opening the top drawer.
“Yeah.” Hank was becoming more and more suspicious about what was going on.
“Check your GPS for me, and tell me what city it says you are in.” Allen pulled out a set of small daggers that were in a black plastic sheath. They were strange knives having a curve to them and a large ring at the end of the handle where Hank assumed a finger would fit through.
Hank obediently reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone while Allen fastened the knives to the back of his belt letting his coat fall over them hiding them from view. Hank activated the map app and let it find his location. He still was not sure what this would accomplish.
“That can’t be right,” he grumbled telling his phone to refresh.
“Problem?” Allen asked sitting against the front of his desk his arms folded in front of him crossing his feet at the ankles.
Hank gave a small laugh. “No, just this thing seems to think that I’m in L.A.” His smile faded a little when his location icon did not move after he refreshed it. “I think this thing is broken.” He shook his head sticking it back in his pocket.
Hank looked up at Allen who had an amused grin on his face.
“Wait,” Hank furrowed his brow then let out a laugh, “are trying to say that I’m in L.A. right now?”
Allen uncrossed his legs letting his arms fall to his sides as he walked over to the window pulling on the blinds revealing the familiar L.A. skyline.
Hank gasped at the sight of it. “This isn’t-”
“Possible,” Allen finished monotone. “Let me assure you that you did in fact start out in San Francisco and you are now really in Los Angeles.” He turned around facing Hank leaning back against the window sill, crossing his arms again. “Welcome to my world,” he smiled. “Now excuse me a moment, I need to make a phone call.”
Allen reached into his coat pocket pulling out a black flip phone. He let out a reluctant sigh as he ran his finger along every number. He pinched the brim of his nose like he was in immense pain as he held the phone up to his ear.
“Hello,” Allen said still pinching the bridge of his nose. “I just met your friend that you sent me.”
He must have been talking to the woman from before.
“No I believe him, that’s not the problem,” Allen said looking up at Hank. “I’m just wondering how much assistance you are willing to give in this matter.” There was a long pause as he listened to the response.
Hank could not hear most of it but he did catch the very end, “I have done all that I am willing to do.”
“I understand,” Allen sighed. “I just wanted to make sure. Don’t worry, I won’t hold this against you. I know it must have been hard to do even this much.” Not waiting for a response he closed his phone letting the antenna rest against his chin.
“The woman not going to help us?” Hank asked not completely sure what was going on.
“No, but it’s understandable.” He let out a slight sigh. “Even if he is insane, even by fey standers, he is still the Lugeah’s brother. And she doesn’t have many of those left.”
“Would you mind explaining to me what is going on?” Hank was reaching his limit. “You know who it was that kidnapped my daughter?”
“I do,” Allen stated giving a slight nod. “And your daughter isn’t the only child he kidnapped last night. If he holds to his pattern he kidnapped ten humans ten fey. Five girls and five boys each. He does this every year, though where he will strike is anyone’s guess. The world is a very big place. And the fey world is so much bigger.”
“Fey?” Hank enunciated the word. “You used that word before.”
Allen stuck his phone back in his coat pocket standing up from the window sill. “I can explain all that later but right now I need to figure out who I know that can set us on the Blood Road.”
Hank almost laughed. Was that some kind of slang PI terminology or something? “The what?”
Allen pulled out a tan leather bound book from his desk and started flipping through it. “It is similar to the Goblin Road. That’s the thing that the Lugeah put you on when she sent you to find me. It warps the world slightly, kind of like Einstein’s theory of folding space only nothing like that at all.” He smiled smugly looking up at Hank then went back to flipping through his book.
“The Goblin road is mostly used by the Goblin Market,” Allen continued. “It’s how they are able to traverse so much of the world so quickly in a single night. However, the problem with it is it only works on our,” He held up his hand motioning back and forth horizontally over the open book in his other hand. “…plane I guess you could call it. Though that’s not right either.”
He sighed looking up from his book pressing his lips to the side trying to think how to explain himself. “Think of it like pocket demotions.” He put the book down on his desk pressing his hands together in a circle. “There are small areas where the rules of the universe can be bent or even broken. Time can flow faster or slower, it can always be day or night, or change on a whim.” Allen picked the book back up renewing his search. “The Goblin Road can go anywhere but in those places.”
Hank laughed. “What is this crap? You honestly expect me to believe all of this?”
Allen shrugged. “Fell free to leave if you want.” He gestured with his book towards the door. “Though you might find that the walk back will take you a little longer this time.”
The man had a point. Barring the most elaborate of schemes there was no question that he was now in fact in L.A. When only 30 minutes ago he had been in San Francisco. He was not sure if he could have gotten here that fast if he took a plane.
“Then there is the Rose Road,” Allen continued his explanation like nothing had happened. “It is like a wormhole that connects all these, pocket dimensions,” he put on a sour face looking up from his book. “That is a terrible word to describe a Knowie. Anyway, the Rose Road can create a pathway to these places and normally that would be all that I would need, only where we are going is different.”
Allen grew quiet closing the book and tossing it on to his desk. “If it was so easy to get too, I would have settled this a long time ago. The man that took your daughter has hidden himself behind a wall unlike anything you can imagine. There isn’t a person alive who could break through it not even him. This gate can only be opened from the inside and they will only stay open for 36 hours before closing again. And they are only ever opened when this man leaves to collect children for his hunt. And there is only a single road that will allow us to follow him.”
“This Blood Road,” Hank stated still not sure what all of this meant but he was long past the point of giving up. For better or worse he was putting his trust in this man. He seemed to know what he was talking about, even if Hank did not have a clue. And despite all his ravings he did not seem mad. Everything he said seemed sane and logical even if it was ludicrous.
“That’s right,” Allen nodded. “But I can’t think of anyone with the knowhow to put us on it. It is kind of a lost art.” Allen put a hand to his chin as he pondered the problem. “The Lugeah could be she won’t. Auston probably could have but that’s no longer an option. Salina probably has the ability but I doubt she has the knowledge…” he trailed off starting to grumble under his breath.
“What’s wrong?” Hank’s heart started to race in fear.
Allen sighed starting to head for the door motioning for Hank to follow. “Well the good news is that I know someone who can help.”
“And the bad?” Hank asked stepping outside the office.
“Her prices are always too high,” he said bitterly. He turned walking down the stairs almost seeming to tap dance as he went. Hank did his best to keep up not sure if he was being overly enthusiastic or if that was just the way Allen was.
“You said before you knew who took my daughter,” Hank stated as they neared the bottom.
“I did,” Allen nodded moving across the lobby area towards a back door. “He leads a thing called the Wild Hunt. Every culture in the world has some kind of version about it, none of them good and none of them come close to how terrible it actually is.”
Allen opened a glass door and led Hank to a parking lot that surprisingly had very few cars in it given how terrible he knew LA parking was. Allen pulled out his keys from his pocket tapping the unlock button. A red ford focus lit up in response.
“Then what is it actually?” Hank asked opening the passenger side door.
“The people he abducts he warps and mutates their bodies using magic.” Allen buckled his seat belt and put the key in the ignition. “He turns the humans into his steeds and warps the minds of the fey to be the riders. On Halloween Night i.e. tonight, they ride across the world devouring human and fey livers from, you know, living victims.” He cocked a meek half smile.
“That seems a little farfetched,” Hank said as the car pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. “And why Halloween Night?”
“A lot of bad happens on Halloween Night,” Allen said both his hands on the steering wheel his attention completely focused on the road ahead of him. “Because fey know that that is the one day of the year that no matter what happens the Hyperion will not act.”
“Me.” Allen turned his head and gave a devilish grin. “It’s my day off. The only one a year I get. Evil fey took this time to go out and terrorize the world so humans started to leave offerings at their door to appease them.”
“So that’s why we go trick or treating?”
Allen gave a casual shrug. “As time passed humans forgot the reasons and twisted it into a holiday abandoning the fear the day once held. But then it lost most of its fear and fright thousands of years ago slowly warping into something completely different over time. Now it is nothing more than a child’s Holliday to get lots of free candy. But think about the very words you used, Trick or Treat. Do you even realize what this is implying?”
It was true Hank had never really thought much about it. It was just always something they did. Lilly would always dress up as a princes and force Hank to be her knight in shining armor.
“So why do we not go out until the sun goes down?” Hank asked more out of curiosity than anything else.
“Because most fey are nocturnal,” he stated with a simple shrug. “So that was when all the fey would do their haunting or whatnot.”
“You still haven’t told me who this man is,” Hank pressed finding all of this tiresome.
Allen sighed rocking his jaw back and forth a few times. “He has been called many names and even I don’t know his real one. Abonde, Black Vaughan, Eric the Wild, Fra Selga, the Grim Reaper, Herlequin, Hulde, Wotan,”
“Are you naming them in alphabetical order?” Hank glared at the man.
“Yes,” Allen said simply. “But the name I always called him by was Gwyn ApNudd, or as he is known in German Fion MacCumhil. Gwyn is one of the first born of Oberon and Tatiana, the two first and most powerful fey in history. Making him exceptionally powerful as well. How many children those two actually had is unknown but it is estimated that there are only a handful left today. Seven that I know of.”
Allen slowed the car down as he turned into an In and Out. Hank glanced around not sure what was going on but decided to just sit and wait. Allen pulled up to the drive through stopping behind the car in front of them.
“What are we doing?” Hank finally asked not able to hold back his question.
“Getting something to eat,” Allen replied pushing the button to roll down the window. “What do you want?”
Hank was not sure if he should laugh or just get angry. He decided on angry. “I want to find my daughter,” he snapped as hank pulled up to the menu. “We don’t have time to stop for fast food.”
Ignoring Hank Allen leaned out the window so he was close to the speaker box. “Yes I would like two number 1s, make them a large, one with coke and the other,” he glanced back at Hank. “What do you want to drink?”
“I don’t want anything.”
Allen turned back to the speaker box. “Both of them cokes, please.” He leaned back in his seat reaching into his pocket to pull out his wallet.
“Are you even listening to me?” Hank was trying his best not to yell.
“Of course I am.” Allen kept his voice flat as he pulled out a twenty. “You just haven’t said anything worth responding to.”
His abrupt belittlement of Hank cooled him a bit. Hank took a breath calming himself. Getting angry now was not going to help him any. Allen thanked the person as he took the two trays of food from him. Allen set both trays on Hank’s lap as he handed the man a twenty. Setting the drinks in the cup holders Allen put his change in his wallet before shoving it back into his pocket.
After driving for a few minutes Allen reached over grabbing one of the trays off Hank’s lap and moved it to his own. “I didn’t eat much of a breakfast because I was planning on having a larger lunch,” he stated driving with his knee as he unwrapped his burger. “And I am going to take a shot in the dark here and assume that you are in a similar boat.”
Hank looked down at the bag in his lap. It was true he had not eaten anything all day, and now that he smelled the food he found that he really was hungry. Starving actually.
“Walking on the Goblin Road without magic will take it out of you,” Allen explained taking a sip from his drink. “And being on the blood road will do far worse. This is probably the last time you are going to have a chance to eat something, so you need to take advantage of it while you can.”
Without another word Hank reached down and slowly started unwrapping his burger, moving his tray of fries so it was in easier reach.
“You probably want to salt those first,” Allen stated shoving three of his own fries into his mouth at once. “There is some salt packets at the bottom of your bag.”
Once Hank started eating he found he could not stop. He devoured his food in minutes barely taking the time to taste it.
“Slow down,” Allen warned. “Make yourself sick and then where will I be?”
Hank let out a laugh his mouth half full of food. “You sound like a dad scolding his child.” His laughter soon became a mask for his tears. It was finally starting to sink in what was going on. His daughter was missing and if this man was too believed she was kidnapped by some mystic madman who was doing all sorts of horrible things to her.
“I know this must be hard for you.” Allen’s voice grew a little sullen.
“You have kids?” Looking at the man he doubted it. He did not look like the kind to ever have a girlfriend and he was still far too young to be having kids. Not that being too young had stopped Hank from having one.
“I do,” Allen stated. “A daughter.”
Hank’s chest tightened a little. Allen had not been lying when he said he knew what Hank felt.
“How old is she?” Hank felt it was the most appropriate question.
Allen let out a ‘humph’. “Older than she acts.” He paused as if considering whether he should say any more. “Her mother died when she was still really young. Due to the nature of my work and the kind of person I am… We didn’t get along well.” Allen’s attention seemed to be solely focused on the road, the food in his lap seemingly forgotten.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Hank was not sure what else he could say to that. He had always gotten along well with Lilly. He had made her his entire world but he was also aware that not everyone was able to do that.
“All that said.” Allen glanced over at Hank. “If someone took her, there wouldn’t be a force on earth that would stop me from finding her and killing whoever did it.”
Hank smiled felling like he had connected to this man for the first time. He felt the same way. He did not care how crazy things got. He did not care that he did not understand half the things being said. He knew that he had to keep going and that was all that mattered.
The car came to a stop as Allen parked it on the side of a street. Turning in his seat Allen pointed across Hank out the passanger window. “Can you see that building there?”
Hank followed his finger and saw a large one story shop that looked more like a house. It had a stone wall around it but there was no gate that he could see. He looked back at Allen a confused look on his face.
“Yeah,” he dragged out the word not sure how he could miss such an obvious building.
That did not seem to be the answer that Allen wanted to hear. “Sadly so can I.” He turned off the ignition and unfastened his seatbelt. “Guess there is no avoiding it now.” He scarfed down the rest of his food before shoving his trash back in the cardboard tray. Letting out a reassuring breath he opened the door and climbed out of the car, Hank close behind.
Hank felt a chill run down his spine as he crossed the threshold of the gate. He looked around wondering if maybe he was being watched or something but the only thing he could see was a Raven perched on the gutter in front of the shop.
A bell rang as Allen opened the front door.
“Welcome,” a female voice called out. The door in front of them opened and a short young woman greeted them with a warm smile. She was dressed casually and looked to be in her early twenties. Her wavy brown hair fell slightly past her shoulders.
She seemed surprised when she saw Allen her eyes shooting wide. “You,” she gasped.
“Yeah me.” Allen let out a small breath. “Tala right? I need to see Morgan.”
“It’s Talia,” the girl corrected shaking off her shock. “And um,” she looked confused for a moment then regained her composure. “Please take off your shoes and follow me.”
Hank and Allen looked down at their feet looking at the shoes that were all placed neatly to one side. They both looked up annoyed.
“Are you kidding me?” Allen groaned.
Talia shrugged with a pitying smile. “I don’t make the rules.”
“Fine.” Allen gave in reaching down untying his shoes.
Hank seeing that he did not have much choice in the matter did the same. Placing their shoes next to the others Talia led them into the next room. It was bare except for the round table that sat in front of a window that was covered with red curtains. There were three chairs set out, two on one side of the table and one across.
“Welcome to my shop,” came a soft elegant voice.
Hank followed it to its source to see a middle age woman in a long flowing red and blue dress standing in the door way. Her hair was long and straight falling to her back. Her gaze pierced into Hanks soul. While she did not look angry or particularly threatening Hank was still intimidated by her.
“I think this is the first time we have actually met.” The woman who Hank assumed was Morgan said. “You must be Allen.” She looked him over. “Riley was much more handsome,” she smiled smugly.
“I’m more of a baby face and he was more of the rugged type I know,” Allen gave a conceded half smile.
“I never thought I would see you in my shop. Epically today of all days.” Morgan raised an eyebrow at him.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Allen sighed pulling out one of the two chairs and angling it so he could see the both doors. “Don’t your customers normally get tea?” he asked taking off his hat and dropping it on the table as he sat down.
Morgan nodded at Talia who obediently marched behind her into the back room.
“Where’s your house fey?” Allen’s voice was still flat casually resting his cheek in his palm.
“Dom is afraid of you and as such will not come out until you are gone,” Morgan stated as she crossed the room towards the table.
“Glad to see my name still holds some weight,” he grumbled moving his fingers in front of his face. “Take a seat Hank, it’s rude to stand.” He pushed out the second chair with his foot as Morgan grabbed the back of the third seat. She pulled it out and seemingly floated down as she sat, crossing her legs like a proper lady.
Hank obediently sat down directly across from the woman who was still glaring at Hank her hands resting on the table top crossed at the wrists.
“Dad?” another female voice called out.
Hank’s heart fluttered at the sound. He turned in his seat, his heart sinking as he saw the twenty something woman standing in to door way.
Allen looked up at the door way wiggling his fingers in recognition to the young woman. “Hey Salina,” Allen greeted. There was no inflection in his tone. No warmth or coldness to it. It seemed mostly indifferent.
Salina mirrored Allen’s outfit dressed in skinny blue jeans with a tight black T shirt. She had a silver nose ring and several more in her ears. Her dark blond hair tied up in a high pony tail.
“It really is you,” Salina laughed crossing the room towards the table in a brisk energetic walk. “Did you get bored on your vacation? I warned you that Mass Effect 3’s ending would be disappointing.”
Allen let out a mesh of gargled sounds shushing her as he held up a finger. “Too soon. And,” he tilted his head towards Hank. “I am here helping a client.”
His words took Salina and Morgan by surprise. They exchanged glances at each other Morgan looking confused Salina looking scared.
Salina turned her head towards the closed door behind her, “Talia bring a cup for me too!” she shouted. She flexed her fingers a few times then pulled out a chair sitting down across from Allen, a serious look on her face.
Hank frowned. Had that chair been there before? And Salina had called someone dad. She could not possibly have meant Allen. He looked younger than Salina.
“Guess I should have known when you could suddenly see the shop,” Morgan stated coldly. Her domineer had changed slightly. Before she looked like she was talking to someone she only tolerated now she seemed like a manager talking to a disgruntled customer.
“What could possibly get you to work on your day off?” Salina asked locking her fingers together and rested her nose on top of her knuckles. “We couldn’t even get you to help close that rift that threaten to swallow all of existence.”
“He rides,” Allen stated stomping on Salina’s sentence.
Hank could feel the room grow colder as the two of them turned a new shade of white. The door opened and Talia came back in holding a tray with a tea pot and four small tea cups on it. She glanced at each of them as she set the tray down on the center of the table not saying a word as she poured each of them tea.
“Thank you, Talia,” Morgan said not looking at her. “You can leave now.”
Talia froze her eyes shooting wide the tea pot still slightly tilted in her hands. It was as if there was something that Morgan had just said that was frightening. Morgan glanced at Talia out of the corner of her eye and nodded slightly.
“I’ll be in the other room then.” She gently set the tea pot down in the center of the table before taking a few steps back then turning around to leave.
“You intend to go after him I take it?” Morgan turned her gaze to Allen who was taking a sip from his cup. Hank touched his own tea but he did not feel like drinking any.
“I do,” Allen nodded setting the cup down. “But I am going to need your help to get to him.”
“What do you think that I can do?” Morgan asked then turned her gaze to Salina seeming to understand. “Salina,” she whispered.
Hank looked at Salina. The young girl had a perplexed look on her face as she chewed the inside of her lip. It would seem that Salina was not sure what they were talking about either.
Allen leaned back in his chair taking another sip from his cup his other hand slipping into his coat pocket. “I figured between the two of you, you could set Hank here on the Blood Road. His daughter was taken last night.” Allen nodded at Hank. Hank steeled himself determination growing inside of him.
He nodded looking at Morgan with as confident of a look as he could manage. “That’s right. Please help us. I will pay anything that you ask.”
“You need not give anything to me. Your payment has already been determined,” Morgan stated looking at Allen. “Isn’t that right?”
Allen nodded. “It is, but we will worry about that later,” he dodged the topic. “What is my price going to be?” He seemed to be talking through his teeth.
Morgan leaned back a little glancing at Salina then back at Allen looking him over. “Your necklace,” she stated pointing at his chest with an extended finger.
“Sorry to brake it to you.” Allen had one hand on his knee elbow jutting out, the other reached inside his shirt pulling out the necklace that Hank had seen him wearing before. “But this thing don’t come off.” He lifted it and the chain shrunk, tightening around his neck. After a moment he let go the pendent falling back to the center of his chest. “Besides this is the symbol that says I am the Hyperion. I could never sell it for any reason. Especially to you.”
“Not that one,” Morgan said. Her voice still soft and flat as she peered at Allen’s chest. “The other one.”
Allen froze his hands clinching into fists as he stared at the woman.
“Morgan you can’t,” Salina interjected. “That was a gift from Ti-”
“It’s fine, Salina.” Allen leaned back pulling out a second necklace. This one was a cross that was made of three nails. It hung on a simple black string and came off easily.
Allen set it down on the center of the table not looking at it or at Salina, his gaze fixed on Morgan.
“Now help us.” He let go of the cross and slid his arm off the table to his lap.
Morgan waited a moment then delicately reached out cupping her hand over the cross and sliding it across the table with a loud scraping sound. Palming it, she set her hands in her lap again.
She turned her head so she was looking at Salina. “Would you be willing to assist me in this?” she asked.
Salina only nodded standing up from the table.
“Before you go, Salina,” Allen spoke up stopping her. “Could you show Hank here what you really look like?”
Salina frowned glancing at Hank and then at Allen. “Really?”
Allen nodded reassuringly. “Hank here is about to go on the worst acid trip of his life. I would like him to start acclimating now.”
“But to show him what I look like-” Salina started.
“It will be fine, Salina,” Morgan declared raising her voice slightly.
Salina glanced at Morgan looking for confirmation. Morgan gave her a single nod. She did not look like she liked the sound of all of this but she slumped her shoulder indicating that she had given up trying to protest.
Salina let out a deep breath the air suddenly smelling like Lilacs. Salina smiled at Hank but she looked different. She was not ugly, the opposite in fact, she looked almost majestic. She had long pointed ears, her face was now narrower and her eyes slanted. Her irises were now an ocean blue that seemed to be glowing slightly. And her once dirty blond hair was now a dark orange or maybe a light red, Hank could not completely tell. And it seemed to blow momentarily in a nonexistent breeze but more fluid almost like she was under water.
It was so much that Hank could not even believe what he was seeing. His mind was screaming at him that it had to be some kind of trick or illusion. It instinctively knew that this was not real, because if it was then he would be terrified.
“Well he’s not screaming.” Salina flashed a smile at Allen. “I didn’t always look like this,” she stated to Hank, pointing a finger at her face. “I used to only have pointed ears, but then some stuff happened.”
“Thank you Salina,” Allen cut her off from saying anything more. “You need to get to work. Right?” He glared at Morgan.
Morgan nodded as she rose to her feet bowing her head slightly at Hank before departing following after Salina into the other room.
“Drink you tea,” Allen said brining his cup back to his lips. “It‘s specially made to calm people down and help them better acclimate to the world of fairy. Trust me you need it.”
Allen was speechless, unsure what he had just witnessed. He did not want to believe it, could not believe it. And yet he had seen it had he not? Now that it was over he was not convinced that he had not just imagined it. Had it not been for everything else that had happened to him today he would have sworn he had.
Hank took a long drink from his cup and his nerves started to calm a little. He did not know if that was actually because of the tea or just the simple act of drinking it, but he would take it regardless.
“What are they doing?” Hank asked setting the cup back down on the table.
“They are going to make the thing we need in order to get into Gwyn’s Knowie so we can rescue your daughter.” Allen gazed at the door as he spoke.
“Should you really be bringing me along?” Hank asked.
“You don’t want to come?” Allen sounded a little surprised by the implication.
“Of course I want to.” Hank gripped his cup tightly watching at the tea rippled inside it. “But I want my daughter to be safe more. I don’t have a clue what is going on or what you people are. I don’t even know if this is real or not. So if I am going to slow you down or hinder you in some way then it would be better if I just stayed here.”
Allen let out a long sigh playing with the empty cup in front of him. “One of my predecessors went after Gwyn a long time ago,” he stated. “He was put on the Blood Road like you are going to be, only he went alone.”
Allen leaned back sticking his hands in his coat pockets staring at the ceiling. “A fey could probably handle the strain that it puts on the body better but for humans like us it was too much. He couldn’t handle the strain and also go after Gwyn.”
“So you are going to use me to spread this burden out.” Hank was not sure he like being used like this but he was not going to complain either.
Allen cringed a little. “I fear I am going to do more than that to you. You are going to have to take on all the burden of getting us there and back so I can put all my energy into rescuing your daughter and hopefully killing Gwyn in the process.”
Hank nodded understanding. He did not like it but it still made sense, and if it meant getting his daughter back then he would do whatever was required of him.
There was a long silence in the room. Allen just sat there his arms resting on the back of his chair as he peered at the door in front of him. Hank downed the rest of his tea and set the cup down on the saucer.
“So Salina is your daughter?” Hank asked mostly to just make conversation and break the silence.
Allen let out an amused grunt. “Do we not look alike?” he smiled. It was the first time Hank had seen the man truly smile. Before now they had all seemed somewhat forced.
“She looks older than you do,” Hank stated plainly.
Allen nodded. “I am older than I look.” His voice trailed off a little. “Technically.”
“Technically?” Hank raised an eyebrow.
“In some ways I am only a few years old,” Allen stated. “For I have only been the Hyperion since ’09. But physically my body is somewhere in my late fifties early sixties. But I also carry all the memories and past experiences of every single Hyperion that came before me. Thanks to this thing,” he tapped the neckless that was still hanging outside his shirt.
“You said you were human,” Hank pointed out. “She obviously isn’t.”
“She is what is known as a Changeling,” Allen stated. “Half fey, half human. Her mother was Fey. She died in my arms.” Allen clinched his fist at the memory of it.
Hank decided to let the conversation drop. It was not fare for him to press into something Allen obviously did not want to talk about.
“How long is it going to take for them to get what we need?” Hank asked rocking back in his chair looking at the door that Salina and Morgan had gone through.
“As long as it takes,” Allen stated. “What’s your daughter’s name?” He asked seeming to like the silence as much as Hank did.
“Lilly,” Hank smiled.
“Got a picture?” Allen asked.
Hank almost laughed at the question. “I have two full albums at home.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his smart phone opening the photo gallery.
Allen leaned forward taking the phone from Hank flipping through the pictures. “These pictures recent?”
“Fairly,” Hank nodded. “Her hair is a little longer now.”
“She is a very beautiful girl.” Allen stated setting the phone down in front of Hank.
“She is my life.” Hank picked up the phone scrolling the pictures himself.
“Judging by your respective ages,” Allen started squinting his eyes as he looked Hank over. “You had her when you were about…” he did the calculations in his head. “Fifteen?”
“She was born when I was sixteen but just barely.” Hank nodded sticking the phone back in his pocket.
“And her Mother?” Hank did not get the impression that there was anything behind the question. It was an obvious enough one after all. He just sounded like he was taking an interest.
“Didn’t want her,” Hank stated. “It took everything just to convince her to keep her from having an abortion.” Hank rested his hands on the table staring at the wood pattern of the table. “To her Lilly was just a mistake. One that could be erased like a wrong test question. I refused to see Lilly that way. To me she was my child making her my responsibility.”
“Admirable.” Yet Allen’s voice was flat and a bit apathetic. He was resting his chin in his palm again his face completely expressionless. Hank was not sure if he was just pandering him or not.
“You don’t feel the same way?” Hank asked.
Allen shook his hand. “Didn’t say that. Stories like yours are what keep me going to be honest.” The corners of his mouth twitched for a moment as if he tried to smile but could not. “In my line of work I see the worst sides of both Humanity and Fey. I can quickly forget that there is a wonderful side to this world too.”
Hank frowned a question building in his mind. “And what is it exactly that you do, do?” He had assumed that he was some kind of PI but the way everyone seemed to regard him seemed to tell a different story.
Allen let out a long breath staring out in front of him. “Oh, I do many things. But ultimately what everyone remembers is,” he paused for a moment. “I kill people. People have called me a monster before and for good reason.”
“And you intend to kill this Gwyn person?” Hank asked.
Allen rocked his head in his palm so he was looking at Hank. “Would it bother you if I did?”
Hank shook his head. “It would only bother me if you weren’t going to.”
Allen smiled weakly seeming to like Hank’s answer.
The door opened suddenly and Morgan waltzed back into the room. While her dress and hair looked the same her face looked more fatigued and even a bit disheveled. In her left hand she was gripping an orange and red tidied candle. The wick was blood red instead of the normal white.
Hank and Allen both sat up at her entrance. Hank taking in a deep breath as he prepared himself for the next step. Hank noticed that Allen seemed to be looking only at the candle shifting a bit in his seat.
“Is that it?” Allen asked.
“You have to ask?” Morgan stopped a few feet from the table.
Allen rose from his chair. Hank seeing this followed suit.
“Talia,” Morgan called out.
The girl from before opened the door stepping into the room. “Yes?”
“Bring them their shoes?” She glanced over her shoulder. “They won’t be leaving through the front door.”
“Sure.” Talia darted through the front door returning a few moments later with their shoes cradled in her arms. They both grabbed their shoes and started putting them on.
“So how does this work?” Hank asked, standing back up taking a calming breath as the butterflies in his stomach grew.
“Allen, could I have Rue please?” Morgan held out her free hand palm up.
Allen reached behind him pulling out one of the knives he had tucked back there. He slipped his finger through the top finger hole spinning it a few times before placing it handle first into her palm.
“Give me your hand,” Morgan ordered Hank as she moved in front of him. Hank held out his hand not sure what was happening. Before he could blink the curved blade sliced across his palm.
Allen cried out in pain but before he could pull his hand away Morgan grabbed it. The blade turned in her hand so it was resting against his wrist. She twisted his hand so his palm was facing up and she thrust the orange and red candle into his bloody palm.
There was a slight tingle that ran down his arm that soon turned into an itching sensation. Then a burning one. Hank tried to pull away and drop the candle but Morgan held him in place her grip surprisingly strong.
“You must endure it,” Morgan stated, peering into his eyes. Her hair looked to be waving behind her like there was a gentle breeze hitting her face. “Think of your daughter. Think of getting her back.”
Hank swallowed. He was not ready to give up yet. He tightened his muscles, gripping the candle harder. The candle seemed to be made of wax and should have been squashed by his grip but no matter how tight he squeezed the candle seemed unaffected. The burning sensation was nearly unbearable but it never seemed to cross into the sensation of pain.
There was an explosion of wind emanating from the candle filling the room in the smell of blood. Hank looked down at the candle grasped in his hands. It was now lit the flame a deep dark orange.
“This is your guide.” Morgan explained. Her hands at her sides. Hank was not sure when she had let go. He glanced at Allen who was finishing putting his knife away flinging his coat out to cover it. “If the flame burns red then you are heading in the right direction.”
Hank spun around slowly watching the candle as he moved. It flickered to a redder tent and he stopped. He looked up at a large black door in front of him. He looked over at the other two doors in the room making sure that they were still there.
“When did this door get here?” Hank asked.
“It has always been there,” Morgan stated, moving towards the door. “You simply refused to see until now.” She stood to the side of the door her hand resting on the knob.
There was a hand on Hank’s back. He looked back and saw Allen standing directly behind him. His face was one of determination. At some point he had put on a pair of leather fingerless gloves.
“Nothing I can say can prepare you for what you about to experience,” Allen told him. “Whatever you see, whatever happens, trust that candle. And whatever you do, never let that candle go. If you do we are all lost and your daughter will never be saved.”
Hank took a deep breath. His hand still tingled but he could not feel any negative side effects yet. He was not sure what to expect but he was determined to see it through to the bitter end.
“Morgan.” Allen took his hand off of Hank reaching into his inside coat pocket. “When Salina feels better can you give her this?” He handed her a perfectly wrapped box with a blue ribbon tied on top.
Reaching out with her other hand Morgan took the box from him cupping the bottom with her palm. “I will give it to her, but no promises on whether she will open it or not.”
“I understand.” Allen flashed a pained smile. He grabbed the back of Hank’s shirt with his gloved hand. “Ready or not,” he stated putting a little energy into his voice.
Morgan turned the knob and stepped back as she opened the door. Before Hank could see what was on the other side Allen was pushing on his back forcing them both to run forward through the door.
Hank did not know how to describe the feeling. If darkness was a feeling that would be it. It surrounded and engulfed him like being underwater. The chill of it cutting through his skin strait to his bones.
Before he could truly examine the sensation around him the pain started. At first it was nothing more than a simple ping in his forehead. His hand tingled a little bit more moving up to his shoulder. But that lasted only a moment. Then the true pain started. Like a rusty knife slowly sawing away at his arm. The slight ping in his head now felt like someone had taken an axe to it.
Hank tried to scream but nothing came out. It was like sound did not exist where he was. The darkness crept into his mouth and felt like it was squirming its way down his throat. Hank started to thrash around to shake off whatever it was. He brought his hand up to his throat trying to grab whatever it was and peel it off, but it only seemed to slip through his fingers.
He just needed to use both hands. That’s right he had two hands.
That was when Hank noticed that there was something in is other hand. He was gripping something tightly. It must have been the source of the pain in his arm. If he just let it go then everything would be better.
The word brought Hank’s thoughts into focus. He suddenly remembered where he was and what he was doing. He had to find his daughter. He had to save her.
That’s when the light from the candle shot out like a beacon cutting through the darkness around him. Suddenly Hank could move again, and his voice returned to him. He could feel the hand still latched onto his shirt collar.
“You alright?” Allen asked coughing slightly.
Hank noticed that he was staring at the ground and it was covered in dirt, grass, and twigs. When had they gone outside?
Hank noticed that he was on his knees his free hand pressed to the ground as he gasped for air, his other hand clutching the orange and red candle. The flame was larger than it had been before and the red tent was now much darker.
“I’m alright,” Hank coughed up the words. Allen still having a hold of Hank’s collar used it to lean him back into a sitting position. “What the hell was that?” He glanced behind him at Allen.
“That is the feeling of a human crossing into a guarded Knowie uninvited,” Allen stated. “If it wasn’t for that candle then we would have both died.” Allen patted him on the back as he rose to his feet. “Very painfully.”
“I didn’t need that last part.” Hank looked at his surroundings for the first time.
It was night out, or at least there was no sunlight that Hank could see. There was also a light fog that surrounded them obscuring the forests that they were sitting in. The trees were all black and lacked any leaves. The grass was just as lifeless and seemed to be covered in some kind dirty water.
“Where are we?” Hank looked up at the sky hoping to see stars or something familiar and comforting. Instead all he saw were black clouds that were moving far too fast to be natural.
“This is the Knowie of Gwyn ApNudd,” Allen stated. He was standing off to the side a bit currently doing stretches leaning from side to side to stretch out his leg muscles. “Its original name has been lost to the ages but it sits on the edges of Shadowhills. Inaccessible unless you know the way.”
Pain spread through Hank’s arm causing him to cry out. He hunched over grasping his arm with his free hand as if that would somehow help. His arm was wet and the liquid was thick and hot and felt kind of sticky.
“Is this,” Hank examined his hand, “blood?”
“That it is.” Allen reached down grabbing Hank under his armpit and lifting him to his feet. “The price of the Blood Road is blood.”
Hank guessed that made sense. Allen had told him that it was too much for him to handle and fight at the same time. That would be true, since Hank doubted many people would be very effective when they were bleeding out.
“The cuts will be small at first but they will gradually get worse,” Allen explained as he reached into his coat pocket pulling out a long piece of cloth. “They won’t stop bleeding on their own either, so we have to hurry.” He tied the cloth around Hank’s arm covering his new wound.
“So where do we go?” Hank asked examining the cloth around his arm more closely. It was nice work like he would expect to see from a doctor but the blood was quickly soaking in turning it into a vibrant red.
“You are the one with the candle.” Allen put a hand on Hank’s shoulder. “So you tell me.”
That was right. It was Hank’s job to guide them. He steeled himself looking at the candle in his hand. He spun slowly looking for the slightest of changes in the flame’s color.
Hank stopped when he saw the flame flicker. He looked up and gestured with the candle. “That way.”
“Alright. Let’s go.” Allen tightened his grip on Hank’s shoulder forcing Hank forward.
The dead leaves began falling from the trees as they started walking. Some of them dropped like stones falling faster than any leaf should, others fell agonizingly slow. Hank frowned at the sight. When did the trees have leaves? He could have sworn they were barren when he first arrived.
“Don’t think about it,” Allen warned. “For a human to even try to comprehend magic while inside in a Knowie will drive them mad. That is doubly true for a Knowie like this one.” He tightened his grip on Hank’s shoulder. “Just focus on the candle, don’t look at anything else.”
“What about you?” Hank asked doing as he had been told and focusing only on the candle in his hand. “You not worried that it will drive you mad as well?”
“My mind has had a very long time to acclimate to all things Fey,” Allen stated. “Even still I try not to think about it too much.”
They walked on, Hank doing his best not to pay attention to the world around him only focusing on the flame trying to notice any changes in the color.
A sharp pain cut through his leg causing him to cry out his leg giving out from under him. Allen caught him before he could fall.
“You all right?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Hank put a hand to his calf feeling the warm sensation of blood.
“Darn,” Allen grumbled moving to the other side of him. “I was hoping it would take longer before it started affecting your legs.” Allen lifted Hank’s arm up wrapping it around his neck. “But that’s what I get for hoping.”
“How much further until we get…” Hank realized he was not even sure where they were going, “to where it is?”
“Don’t know,” Allen stated as he carried Hank forward. “Things like distance are all relative in a Knowie. They are as big or as small as they chose to be.”
“Then it could be hundreds of miles yet?” Hank started to get worried.
“I doubt it.” Allen shook his head. “While it can be used as a defense to keep an enemy marching forever that Candle should show us the shortest path possible. It is acting like the Goblin Road did earlier. I don’t know how long it will take but it shouldn’t take too long.”
That made Hank feel a little better. But just in the time that they were talking he could feel two small cuts open up on his body.
He looked down at the candle flame. It was steadily becoming more and more red. That meant that they should be getting close now. That filled him with some hope.
“There,” Allen whispered shrugging his shoulders forcing Hank’s head to bob up a little.
Hank looked up and saw a stone wall towering over them. It stood at least four stories. The stone it was made out of was black and seemed to shimmer as if there was something covering it.
“How did I not notice something so large sooner?” Hank gasped.
“Don’t think about it,” Allen warned. “You need to just accept things as they happen. Like the fact that we are no longer in a forest.”
Hank looked around him. It was true there was not a tree in sight. “I didn’t even notice.”
“Good,” Allen nodded. “Keep that up.” He looked to both sides. “Which way to an entrance?”
Hank held his candle to the left then to the right. It was more red to the left. “That way,” he gestured.
“Alright.” Allen shrugged his shoulders again repositioning Hanks weight before continued on.
Hank grimaced in pain as a large cut opened up across his back causing him nearly black out in pain.
“Hey, no, stay with me,” Allen called out catching Hank as he fell. “Ah dang that one is deep,” he stated feeling the blood on Hank‘s back. “Hold on a moment.” He set Hank down on the ground as he reached into the inside of his coat and pulled out a few more cloths rolled up like an ace bandage. “Talk to me,” Allen ordered as he unwrapped the cloths.
“What?” Allen asked a little loopy.
“You are starting to suffer from blood lose. That added to the natural mental drain of being in a Knowie as well as the toll that candle is having on you its making it hard to focus,” Allen explained lifting up Hank’s shirt. “Talk to me to keep you mind from drifting off.”
“Alright.” Hank thought a moment. “You said you are human.”
“That’s right.” Allen started bandaging up Hank’s chest.
“So how do you fight fey if they have magic?”
“I don’t fight fey,” Allen stated. “I out smart them. When Oberon appointed the first Hyperion he believed that the only being that could stop something of such overwhelming power one with absolutely no power at all.”
“I don’t get it.” Hank watched as Allen finished with his back and moved on to his leg wound.
“If two fey fight each other the more powerful of the fey will win. Generally speaking,” Allen explained. “But humans are not the strongest, fastest, or brightest in the world. Yet Humans are the top of the food chain. Why? Because humans are amazingly lazy. They find solutions to things that aren’t even problems. The fact that they are week forces them to find ways to compensate for their weakness.”
“Necessity and all that,” Hank nodded kind of understanding.
“Exactly.” Allen flung Hank’s arm over his shoulders again and lifted him to his feet. He continued to explain as they walked on ahead.
“As a human I have no magic and as such that forces me to find unique and cleaver ways of fighting against it. A fey’s greatest weakness is a lack of creativity and imagination. They need a fire they don’t invent matches. They use magic. They need to travel some place far, they don’t invent cars or planes. They use magic. They need to defend themselves they don’t invent weapons. They use magic.”
Hank was starting to understand what he was saying.
“If they can’t use magic or their magic isn’t working,” Allen continued. He was starting to sound out of breath from lugging Hank around. “Then they don’t know what to do. They are helpless. Another words, the reason I am so effective is because I am weak, and my weakness makes me strong.” He looked over at Hank and grinned. “How’s that for a life lesson. Put’s a new perspective on blessed are the Meek for they will inherit the earth, huh?”
“Was never one for religion,” Hank grumbled. “Never had time or need for it.”
“That’s too bad,” Allen stated. “Guess there is no point in trying to change your mind now is there?”
“You save my daughter and I will believe whatever you want me to believe,” Hank stated brushing the comment to the side.
“I’ll hold you to that.” Allen came to a sudden stop.
“What?” Hank looked up.
There was what he thought was a Gate in the wall up ahead. He looked down at the candle. It was burning brighter than before. He looked over at Allen who had a conflicted look on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I am considering leaving you here and going in on my own,” Allen stated with no hesitation or regret in his voice.
“Why don’t you? I’m sure I will just slow you down.” Hank was starting to loose feeling in his feet. He did not think it was just the blood loss. This place was having an effect on him.
“Because I will probably need you to find the stables once we are inside.”
Hank frowned. “Stables? I thought we were looking for…” he trailed off as he remembered what Allen had said about turning humans into their Steeds. “You don’t think?” he gasped for the first time understanding what that had meant.
“She should be fine,” Allen said. “I doubt he will start doing anything to them until after he finishes with the fey children that he has taken. Warping their minds takes precedence since they are the ones with the greatest chance of escaping.”
Allen’s reassurance put Hank a little at ease but not fully. What he was saying is that Lilly’s only hope was that he was to busy torturing other children to have gotten around to her. That was assuming that he had not finished with the fey children already.
“Let’s go,” Hank said tightening his grip around Allen’s neck.
Allen looked at Hank. Hank could not see his eyes because of the sunglasses but he did not need to. They were burning with a fire and determination of their own. “Yos.” Allen nodded shrugging Hank’s weight again. Hank assumed that meant alright.
“How will we get through the gates?” Hank asked as they neared. “Won’t there be guards?”
“Maybe,” Allen nodded. “But one thing about thinking that you are in an impregnable fortress, is you start to let the things that make it so impregnable slip. No one can get in here so why should I bother placing guards?”
“Who are you?” A voce called out.
Allen froze cringing a little. “Of course after the last Hyperion snuck in here Gwyn might have changed that,” he whispered under his breath. He leaned in close to Hank his voice low. “Close your eyes,” he ordered. “Don’t open them until I tell you to.”
Hank shut his eyes as tight as he could. He could feel Allen slowly lowering him to the ground and heard his footsteps as he turned around.
“I am the Hyperion,” Allen stated confidently. “I am here to see Gwyn ApNudd.”
There was some snickering from a couple of people. “Why would we take you to see father?”
“Yeah why should we take a stinky human like you to see father?” another voce asked. They sounded like little kids playing on the playground.
“I’ll tell you what.” Allen had a bit of an upbeat tone in his voice. “If I beat you in a game then you let us inside to see Gwyn?”
There was a bunch of murmuring between them. “Alright,” a voice called out. “But if we win then we gets to eats your liver.”
“Both of yours,” another added.
There was cackling all around them. When had they become surrounded like this?
“That’s fair,” Allen agreed no hesitation in his voice. “So here is the game.” There was a rustling sounds then the sounds of cards being shuffled. “I pull out twenty cards. I then flip up five cards. You shuffle them back into the twenty face up. I will then put the cards behind my back and if I can sort them into two piles and each pile has the same number of face up cards then I win.”
There was more mumbling among the group. Most of them were along the lines of doing so is impossible since he does not have magic.
Their voices grew into a resounding agreement. There was more shuffling of cards and things grew silent for a moment. Then suddenly there was a loud gasp.
“You cheated!” one of the voices cried.
“How could I?” Allen shot back. “I don’t have magic. I am just a stupid human remember?” There was a bunch of grumbling as he let the words sink in. “Now let us inside. You promised.”
There was a bunch more grumbling and chatting.
“Fine,” a voice snapped. “But we only promised to let you pass. We never said that we would show you the way.”
There others started giggling proud of themselves for having outsmarted the humans.
“You will have to go alone. And without magic to guide you, you will be lost and die.”
The others burst out in amused laughter.
“We will take our chances,” Allen sated.
Hank felt someone lift up his arm and place it over their neck. The comforting sensation of leather told Hank that it was Allen. Allen tried to lift Hank up like before but several wounds had opened up since he had been put down and his legs gave out instantly.
“Hold on,” Allen told him picking him up piggy back style. “Don’t die on me,” he ordered. “You still have to save your daughter.”
“Not dead yet,” Hank stated. He could hear the laughter of the children fading behind them.
They seemed to think that they had won. But Hank knew Allen had played them. He purposely phrased the promise that way. He was quick, Hank would give him that.
“How did you win?” Hank whispered his eyes still shut tight.
“You understood what we were saying?” Allen asked.
“Yeah?” Hank frowned. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because we were talking in old German,” Allen laughed. “I bet the candle translated it for you. Funny I don’t remember it ever doing that for me last time.”
“So how did you win?” Hank asked again.
“I cheated,” he chuckled. “While physics may take a back seat in a Knowie, even in dreams Math still holds true and will always be the same. And I am a Mathematician. A bunch of kids never stood a chance against a simple card trick like that.”
They walked for a moment then Allen slowed to a stop. “We should be good. You can open your eyes now.”
Hank reluctantly opened his eyes looking around him. They were in a large village like area that was deep inside a forest. Things looked darker than before, if that was somehow possible.
“Why is it so dark?” despite that he could still see the things around him if not clearly.
“Fey prefer the dark,” Allen explained. “They are nocturnal remember. Which way?”
“Right,” Hank held up the candle in front of both of them. “Can you not see the flame changing color?”
“No I can’t,” Allen shook his head. “I don’t even see a flame, and neither did those kids. If they had they would have probably killed us on sight.”
Hank moved the candle around waiting for it to change. “That way.” He pointed letting the hand holding the candle drop. It was getting hard to hold it up all the time. He was becoming so tired. He rested his cheek on Allen’s back letting out a tired sigh.
“Hey no,” Allen barked shrugging Hank awake. “Stay with me. Tell me about your daughter.”
“What about her?” Hank grumbled.
“What does she like?”
“Scary movies.” Hank knew they were moving but he could not focus anymore. He was starting to go numb and his eyes were so heavy. “She takes me to one every time they come out. I hate them.”
“She doesn’t ever go with her friends?”
“No,” Hank sighed. “She doesn’t have any. I think she is too busy taking care of me. Funny really.”
“I was always the one trying to take care of her. I think she saw how hard I worked for her and wanted to lighten the burden. I made all the sacrifices thinking that it would give her the freedom to do what she wanted but really it just made her more dependent to me.”
“Sometimes a little selfishness can be a good thing,” Allen stated. “But her actions prove that your daughter cares about you. That she loves you.”
“Not as much as your daughter loves you,” Hank stated more than a little jealous.
Allen let out a laugh. “What would ever give you that impression?”
“I can just tell.” Hank was starting to drift off. “A girl’s first love is always their father you know. That love doesn’t go away.”
“You sound very philosophical all the sudden,” Allen stated. “This a good time to try the religious topic again?”
“You don’t like talking about your daughter do you?” Hank pointed out. “You always change the topic as soon as she comes up.”
Allen sighed shifting Hank’s weight again. “I can’t love,” he stated. “I can’t love anything. At least more than on a superficial level. I can’t love friends, family, a lover-”
“Or a daughter?” Hank was not sure he believed it but he did not have the strength to voice his doubts.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s different now, the curse around me my neck has been loosened but for most of Salina’s life I never loved her, and she knew it.”
“I doubt that,” Hank said. “Only a monster doesn’t love their child. That’s the grate and awful thing about unconditional love. It’s unconditional. No matter what.”
“Sadly I no longer believe humans are capable of unconditional love,” Allen said. “I haven’t for a long time now.” Allen slowed down. “I think that’s it.”
Hank looked up for the first time in a while. There was a large barn in front of them. There was hay scattered all around it and he could hear the sounds of horses. Only they sounded more like human screams to him.
“I am going to have to put you down now.” Before waiting for a response Allen crouched down setting Hank on the ground. His back was up against some kind of stone wall. “I wanted to save this for the return back but I’m not sure if you will make it until I get back.”
Allen reached into the inside of his coat pocket and pulled out a thing of Tic Tacs. Popping it open he placed one of the green tablets in his gloved palm.
“Not a big fan of mint,” Hank stated looking at the small tablet in Allen’s palm. “Got any candy life savers?”
Allen let out a laugh. “Sadly I don’t. Now open up.” He put his thumb on Hank’s chin and forced his mouth open as he shoved the Tic Tac inside his mouth. “Suck on that,” Allen said. “It should keep you stable for a few hours. The body builds up immunity to it super-fast so I doubt a second will do you any good but just in case.”
Allen grabbed Hank’s free hand forcing open his palm. He gently put another Tic Tac in it then forced Hank’s fingers to close around it.
“Once that Tic Tac is gone pop this one. Even if it does a little, a little is better than nothing.”
“Sounds about right.” Hank could already feel his head clearing a little. That only made the pain that he had been numb to until now noticeable again.
“Just hold tight.” Allen patted Hank on the shoulder as he stood up popping one of the Tic Tacs into his own mouth.
“Allen,” Hank called out. Allen stopped and turned around. Hank’s head clearing made him realized something he had not noticed before. “You are going to rescue my daughter right?”
“I promise you,” Allen assured. “I will save her and get both of you out of here.”
“And what about the others?” Hank asked. “You have not once talked about them.”
There was a long silence. “You just wait here,” Allen said turning and walking away.
“You truly are,” Hank smiled sucking on the Tic Tac. “A horrible monster.”
Hank had been so caught up in the moment he never actually stopped to think about what was going on or what was actually being said. Allen wanted to kill Gwyn. But he could only get to him by taking the Blood Road. A previous Hyperion tried to do it himself once but could not handle the burden long enough.
Hank realized now that he must have died. The blood loss was too much. So now Allen was using Hank instead. Allen had asked him how far he was willing to go to save Lilly. And Hank had told him that he was willing to die for her. Though Hank never thought for a moment that, that was what would be required.
Hank let out a sigh. The back of his head resting against the stone wall as he sucked on the remainder of the Tic Tac.
He had no regrets. He had not been lying when he said he was willing to die to save Lilly, and those feelings were as true now as they were he said them. But he had to hold on just a bit longer. If Hank was needed to get in to this place then he would be needed to get out as well. He had to live long enough to get them out.
That had always been the case. Hank realized that now. Allen knew from the start that Hank would not live through this but he had bet everything that he would live long enough to see them through.
Hank could smell smoke. It smelled off in some way but it was still smoke. Something must be burning. He slowly opened his eyes trying to find the source. There was a strange orange hue in the distance. Hank did not know what was burning but the fire looked large.
How long had he been sitting there? He ran his tongue around his dry mouth searching for the Tic Tac. Not finding it he popped the second one in but it did not seem to have the same effect as the first. He was starting to drift off again.
He bit down on his tongue trying to keep his mind focused but it had little effect. The world around him started to blur.
He had to stay alive. If he died to soon his daughter would never escape.
Too soon. He laughed at the thought or tried to anyway. Death always comes too soon he supposed.
It was no longer a question if he died but if he lived long enough.
“You know what?” Hank smiled, leaning his head back. “I think that I might be willing to talk about God now.”
There are no limits to a father’s love…
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