"So death is coming
To purge this town
I know your name
And I'm gonna hunt you down"
-Hunt You Down, The Hit House feat. Ruby Friedman
Three Weeks and Two Days Ago (Give or Take a Few Hours)…
PAIN and darkness. That was what Leon Fairchild's world now consisted of. Pain from the flesh, tissue, and muscle torn from bones by those darting shadows that called him Daddy. Darkness from his eye sockets, vacant from being skewered and ripped from his optic nerves. By the time he crawled away from the barn, he could feel searing hot magic speeding through his veins stitching together the worst of his injuries first.
Healing wasn't a pleasant process. It hurt, sometimes more than the initial injury. He felt like a rag doll being remade from scratch. There wasn't one inch of his body that didn't buzz in agony.
Those shadows reeked of dark magic. And wounds caused by dark magic were more difficult to heal. Leon wasn't bleeding out anymore, but he was certain he looked hideous. This wasn't an instance where his magic would erase the scars. He could feel it. Leon would be scarred from head to toe.
His eyes. Magic couldn't heal his eyes either. Hard to heal something that didn't exist anymore.
He wasn't sure how long he spent running through the woods and then hiding. The sun on his skin only aggravated the angry cuts that shredded his body. So, he hid from the sun. Leon pressed his body into the hollow at the base of a tree trunk. Here he felt safer, like he could sleep. Conserving his energy, he stayed put. All he did was sleep and focus on creating new eyes for himself.
They wouldn't be real eyeballs, of course. It was just an amalgamation of his other senses. Combining those, he projected an image in his brain of what he believed his surroundings to be. He created a mask over his empty eye sockets, a mask of what his eyes used to look like. Now, others would see normal eyes, and he would be watching the projection of his surroundings on them, creating the illusion that he could see.
This method of sight was not perfect. He still stumbled over stones and roots that jutted above the ground. His other senses weren't able to detect them until he was already falling. It would get better with time, he told himself.
Every small noise the forest produced had him skittering to hide. It was humiliating. Demeaning.
It was all Maggie's fault.
How convenient that those creatures raised by dark magic only attacked him, leaving her to go free. Not that he believed she had conjured them herself. He wasn't delusional. The only one among them who could have done it was his brother. And there wasn't a doubt in Leon's mind that anything Rush did, he did for himself and for Maggie.
Rush acted indifferent toward her, but Leon knew better. If the house had burned with the changelings inside, his brother would have found a way to save Maggie. At the time, it hadn't bothered Leon. He would rather give her a slow and torturous death. But now he was reduced to this.
He would burn her. Cook her alive from the inside-out and keep her conscious until the very last second. And, God willing, Rush would watch her writhing in pain, listen to her death throes, helpless to put an end to it.
Maggie had been a splinter wiggling under his skin for decades. 'Poor little Maggie,' everyone said. 'Be nice, she's only human.' And then behind their backs, she bashed her own skull with a rock just to get him in trouble. Only human. Leon would laugh if speaking at all wasn't unbearably painful. Maggie would have been rid of every one of them given half a chance.
Leon came to a halt so fast that his broken toenail clipped the back of his heel, ripping a fresh cut into his abused body.
He thought back to their conversation in the barn before the two shadows tore into him. When he said she wasn't a killer, what was it she said in return? He tried to recall her exact words: 'Bet you would feel silly if you were wrong.'
She didn't deny her guilt or declare her innocence. She made a gray statement that left him to decipher the meaning.
But how could she have done it? She was physically weaker than all but the youngest of faeries. She possessed no magic. She was utterly mundane. The only thing magical about her was her hand, which he had witnessed momentarily heal before snapping back into its deformed state on more than one occasion. There was no way she could have killed them. And yet, was it any more likely that Annabelle was the culprit?
If a method and an opportunity presented themselves, Maggie would kill them all. He could see her killing Annabelle, as well. And typical Maggie, she always needed to be the hero, so she lied about it to the other changelings. When he laid the blame at her feet, had he inadvertently been correct?
This time, he did laugh. He spat a chunk of something solid and bloody into the grass. Oh, this was precious! Just because she could swing an ax, Maggie thought she could play with the big kids. But she also didn't want her changeling friends to look at her like she was a murderer.
Oh, Maggie. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.
This was too good to be true! He couldn't wait to tell Rush that sweet little Maggie wasn't so sweet. After all these years of turning her nose up at them, like she was so much better, he came to find out that she had been stealing pages from the Fairchilds' life book. Leon contemplated how she could have killed them without anyone fighting back. Mother and Father surely would not have met death lying down. Unless, of course, they were asleep…
Ah. She must have murdered them while they slept. How wonderful!
Leon collapsed in the grass. Exhaustion surged through his veins. All his energy was being expended by the magic working double time to heal his battered body. He didn't get up again until two days later. By then, he was healed enough that he could walk for ten minutes without needing a nap. Although, he still did not have enough magic at his disposal to disguise his appearance; any extra magic he had, he'd used to construct his fake eyes. None of his other senses could pick up on reflections, so he couldn't see what he looked like, but if he was judging by pain alone then his visage must have been ghastly.
He trudged into a clearing. There was pavement beneath his feet. Pausing, he sniffed the air. The scent of magic hung heavy in the area. Wherever he was, there was a faery nearby. Cautiously he proceeded, clicking his tongue and listening. He heard the sound bounce off a structure which he judged to be only feet away from him. Slowly, the outline of a building projected itself in his mind's eye.
The wall was smooth. The building must have been rather small, he realized, as it didn't take him long to round the corner. He smelled something else, something besides faery magic. It smelled like burned and stale food. By the time he encountered the front door and stepped inside, Leon knew where he was.
The Floating Diner was once a business prospect he'd been interested in. Management of the facility had been in his mother's family for years. After a brief bout of infighting within the family, his cousin Giles Lancaster was left burned and brain damaged, and his sister Sailor received stewardship of the diner. Leon held a grudge over the whole affair for about a decade. Then he discovered his loss of the diner was for the best. He had much more fun raising Pit Fighters than he would have had collecting and exchanging favors. Although he was one hundred percent certain that he was a better cook than Sailor.
A good thing for his cousin that this place wasn't a real diner.
He fumbled around until his hand came into contact with the smooth, cushioned surface of a padded seat. Leon winced sliding into the booth as his various injuries protested.
"Hello, there!" Sailor's chirpy voice made his brain feel like it was being scraped by a cheese grater. "What can I get for you this…" A long pause ensued. "Leon Fairchild?" As soon as she realized who he was, she dropped the act of polite Midwesterner. "Good Grimm, what happened to you?"
Well, at least she'd fallen back into her natural voice about an octave lower than that of the kindly waitress.
"Water," he croaked. "Just get me water." Sailor's footsteps faded and then returned a minute later.
"Here." Leon listened for the clink of glass on the table to gauge where she set it. "And I brought you a faery dust pill. You look like you could use one." He heard a softer click as she put the gel capsule next to the glass.
His fingers crawled across the tabletop until they touched the rounded surface of the pill and the cold, sweating glass of ice water. He downed the pill thinking of nothing but healing that which made his body throb with aches and pains.
"So…" He heard the whoosh of air escaping the cushion as Sailor took a seat opposite him. "This looks like an interesting story. Do I get details?"
Leon cleared his throat, although he immediately regretted it. Even that small action hurt. He took a sip of water to soothe his throat before answering. "Is that going to be your price? Details?"
Silence fell, except for the idle chatter of the changeling women and the quiet music filling the diner. If he had real eyes, Leon bet that he would see Sailor smiling so wide that the stitches in her cheeks drew blood.
"You want to strike a deal with me?"
"Am I speaking in dragon tongue?" he snapped. "What else could I possibly mean by that?" He felt the table shift minutely, and Sailor's breath suddenly wafted over his face.
"What kind of deal?"
Out of all his extended family, it pained Leon to admit weakness or failure to Sailor the most. She was so smug about it, so eager to capitalize. It made him want to beat something, or someone, to a bloody pulp. But there were moments when swallowing one's pride was more beneficial in the long run. Now was unfortunately one of those times.
"Several of my changelings have run off," he admitted through clenched teeth. "I may require some assistance getting them back." He heard a rustle of paper and the click of a pen.
"What are their names? What do they look like?"
Leon rattled them off, checking his distain in favor of retaining any of his dignity that remained. He saved Maggie for last. The scratch of the pen paused, and Sailor chuckled. "What?" He bit off the word.
"I just find your timing impeccable," she laughed. "Your changeling, Maggie? You said her right hand is deformed. I remember her. She was in here not that long ago. You've only missed her by about two days."
Fire erupted in his veins. For a second, he worried that he accidentally influenced the faery dust in his system to actually boil his blood, but it was already well on its way to healing him instead. It was tricky to unconsciously change the trajectory of faery dust once it was solidly on a path. If he hadn't listed Maggie's name last, then his reaction might have caused him to spontaneously combust.
"I found her quite audacious for a changeling." Sailor's laughter trilled like bells. "If I'd known she was yours, I would have kept her here."
Forgetting he didn't have them anymore, Leon attempted to roll his eyes. A deep, pulsating pain radiated through his skull, reminding him of why his world was pitch black now. "A lovely sentiment," he drawled intensely, "but what-ifs don't do me any good. What is it going to cost me if I ask you to return them?"
Her answer was simple. "A future favor. Not such a steep price in the grand scheme of things." He heard the press of paper being folded. It made a shushing noise as she slid the list of names into her apron. "Does that sound agreeable to you?"
"It certainly does." He held out his hand prepared to shake on it. Sailor's skin slid across his own. Her long fingers constricted around his. The pinch of the stitches weaving through his skin around his thumb was just a pinprick in comparison to his other injuries.
"Excellent. I have just the favor to call in to get this done."
Once she released his hand, Leon slumped back in the booth. Sailor got up from the table, her heels clicking on the tiled floor. The cushion under him had become slippery; he believed he might still be bleeding, but his clothes were so stiff, damp, and torn that he couldn't be absolutely sure. Leon dipped the tip of his finger into the sticky substance on the booth. It felt like drying, coagulating blood. He touched his finger to his tongue. It tasted like blood, as well.
In the background, he could hear Sailor speaking on the phone to one of her contacts, but his mind was far more preoccupied with images of Rush and Maggie. He pictured them holding hands and laughing at his new face. Gloating in their victory and his humiliation. Fine. He would give them round one, but the game wasn't over yet. This was just the first match. Now it was his turn.
Leon couldn't contain the giggle that slipped past his shredded lips. He would win the game and stomp on their necks until their heads popped off. But first, he needed the changelings back in his grasp. With Sailor's help, he would hunt them down.
Every last one.
A/N: That's it for book two! Quick question for those of you who are following this series. I'm currently working on the third book, but I'm not done with it yet. Would you prefer that I post chapters as I finish them (and risk a longer waiting period between chapters), or would you rather I finish the whole book and then start posting chapters?
I thought about creating a poll, but this series doesn't have a huge following, so I figured it would work better for anyone who has an opinion to express it either by PMing me or by leaving it in a review. If nobody cares, then I'll probably finish the whole book first.
Thanks to everybody who's left reviews or favorited or followed! I greatly appreciate every single one of you.