Binding the Hunt
And since the Hounds are indeed bound to their Master--and, as such, are reflections of their Master, then would it be so impossible to wonder if they, too, have a human form?
--Excerpt from a paper written by Lucas Lane at age 17.
Slowly, cautiously, Kyren crept across the ground, picking his way between furiously burning brush and the remnants of Jacob Daulton's horse. The lightning strike had left him almost blind in the darkness, and he knew this vast amount of magic would not go unnoticed for long.
His questing fingers found his flute, unbroken, and then, a body.
Not Beth. He quelled that first rush of panic. This was not Beth.
But when he found her, she shrank away from him even as he tried to kiss the tears from her cheeks.
"You're safe now," Kyren whispered, and hoped that his words were true. "He's dead. He will not harm you again."
"You--you killed him!" Beth tore out of his grasp and staggered away from him, her eyes wide. "Stay away from me!"
Kyren stared at her, too numb to deny the blood on his hands; his soul. "What else would you have had me do? He wanted--" But he had not told her what her father had wanted, and she would not listen to him now.
She backed away from him, then froze as a white Hound emerged from the darkness, stiff-legged and growling.
Kyren's breath caught in his throat. Where there were Hounds, their Master was not far behind.
"You do not want her," he said softly. "Let her go."
"But she carries your child," the Master of the Hunt said from behind him. "And my orders are plain: kill you and your family and anyone else who was involved in your lady's kidnapping."
Kyren turned to face him as more Hounds--almost too many to count--appeared from the forest, trapping him and Beth in a circle he could not hope to break.
The Master of the Hunt--Gabriel--smiled. "And since it turns out that your lady herself had a hand in her kidnapping--" The smile dropped from his face as he seemed to notice Jacob Daulton's body for the first time. "What have you done?"
Kyren had not researched what would happen if the person who summoned the Wild Hunt inexplicably died. He took a deep breath and drew himself up. "Jacob Daulton is dead."
"That is quite obvious," Gabriel's voice betrayed no sign of anger or fury; just a curious detachment, as if he could not quite believe what Kyren had done.
"So your orders--" Kyren's voice cracked. "Your orders no longer apply."
"You seem quite certain of that," Gabriel said, but his Hounds did not advance and he made no move against Kyren or Beth.
"I am," Kyren said, and forced his voice not to shake. "If the wizard who summons you is dead--what will you do?"
"I could kill you anyway," Gabriel said softly.
"You won't," Kyren replied, and hoped he was right. "You owe me a boon."
"For killing your lover's father?" Gabriel dismissed Jacob Daulton with a twist of his lips. "He would have died. Those who summon me often do."
"'Often' isn't always," Kyren said, and stepped backwards, towards Beth. "You owe me--"
Gabriel's eyes flashed silver. "Then what is your boon, elf? Do you wish for the deaths of your enemies?"
"No. I wish for you to stop killing my family; to stop chasing me and Bethany and to leave this alone," Kyren said. "Whatever he told you to do is over now. Leave us in peace."
"My Hunt has never known peace," Gabriel growled.
Perhaps it was the tension that caused the Hound to move. Perhaps it was Jacob Daulton's death that had thrown them into uncertainty. Whatever the reason, as Kyren slowly made his way to where Beth stood, one of the Hounds--and then another one--broke their circle and moved to stop him from reaching his goal.
Almost immediately, the Master of the Hunt snarled something that Kyren didn't catch. Two other Hounds attacked the two who had broken rank, and they turned on each other, these terrible Hounds, snarling and snapping.
Beth screamed; Kyren stared at Gabriel and tried to maintain a modicum of calm. He had expected the Hounds to merely punish their fellows, but they tore into the errant Hounds, evidently intent on their deaths, and evidently on their Master's orders.
"You needn't have them killed on my account," Kyren said, his throat dry.
"They are only Hounds," Gabriel said dispassionately, and one of the luckless Hounds screamed. "I can always make more."
"But they were once human," Kyren said, and realized in the back of his mind that he shouldn't be arguing with the Master of the Wild Hunt.
Gabriel smiled. "They are mine now. And they are bound to obey me--or die."
The first Hound was dead now; the second's chest rose and fell with its gasping breaths until one of the others tore out its throat. Kyren had wondered if they would shift back to their rightful shapes, but they both remained Hounds, even in death. Gabriel's hold remained strong.
"I accept your boon," the Master of the Hunt said abruptly. "Take your human, elf, and leave this place."
Kyren reached for Beth's arm. At least she didn't retreat from him again, but she didn't speak or acknowledge him in any way. The Hounds parted to let them pass without a single murmur or protest. And when Kyren glanced behind him, the Hunt was gone; melted into the forest as silently as ghosts.
When the horses appeared to pace their slow path through the forest and Kyren realized that his kin had found him--a Hunting party, from the looks of things, he tightened his grip on Beth's arm, but she only sobbed and tried to fight him.
"Take her home." The voice seemed to come from very far away. "We can allow you that much."
Kyren stared up into his cousin's cold face. He had no thought to beg for his life or protest; he had been warned. And he had ignored their warnings.
Numbly, barely able to feel the ground beneath his feet, he found his way to Beth's house--and it was her house now, not her father's house--and left her silent and staring on the front porch.
He hardly felt the hands on his arms, pulling him away and dragging him onto a horse, but he was mindful enough to hold on when someone took the reins and the horse plodded forward.
"We thought we'd find you dead," his cousin said, her voice the only sound he heard over the pounding in his ears. "That either the Hunt or Jacob Daulton would have killed you."
Kyren closed his eyes. "Jacob Daulton is dead."
One of the other elves hissed in surprise and the horse stumbled as the elf in the lead jerked on the reins.
"Not another word," someone else snapped. "You'll have plenty of time to unburden your soul to the Queen."
Someone touched Kyren's hand, and he opened his eyes to see his cousin beside him now, her honey-colored hair almost glowing in the spell-lights the others carried. She did not speak again, but favored him with a small, worried smile before riding away to her proper place at the head of the Hunting party.
It was a small comfort, but enough to help him square his shoulders as they passed beyond the Veil and prepared to meet his doom.