Ch. 30 - Darklings

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Rhianna dreaded the idea of asking Gran, but Gretch advanced across the field toward the farm like a tidal wave. Raisen and Jenny had not emerged from the forest yet and Rhianna didn't like leaving them behind so close to the land of Fairy. But she had to talk some sense into Gretch.

Rhianna ran a few steps to catch up.

"Gretch, I don't know if this is a good idea," she said. "Gran is sleeping."

Gran was also going to freak when she found out they had been sneaking off to the woods at night. It was her number one rule. Gran shelled out a grueling list of chores as an every day thing. Rhianna couldn't imagine what punishment might be.

Gretch didn't slow down, but after a few steps she said, "Then we'll ask her in the morning. We will get to the bottom of this."

"Why do we even need to break the seal anyway?" Rhianna said.

Gretch stopped, smiling as though Rhianna disagreeing with her was the best thing that happened all night. "You're right. You don't owe these Fae anything. Don't let them tell you any different. But we do need to get that mask off you, and I think they are all connected. What is this curtain of silence between you and your Gran."

"I don't know. I never thought she liked me. And now I guess I know why." Rhianna shuffled her feet. She wasn't even real, just a shadow of a person. Gran had known all along.

"Or maybe you haven't given her a chance to get to know you. You aren't the easiest person to get to know." Gretch put her hands on her hips. "Everything I know about you I have had to drag out of you. And don't think I don't know that you are still hiding things."

Rhianna sighed. She may not be Katrin's real daughter, but she had grown up with her. "I've never really stayed in one place very long. My mom moved us around a lot.... It's always been easier to not get to know people."

"And?" Gretch arched her eyebrows.

"And what?"

"What's the rest? If we aren't going to wake your gran up, I have plenty of time for a life story."

Rhianna bit her lip. "It's...embarassing."

"So. Jenny has a third nipple that the whole school found out about last year—and she is still alive and well." Gretch put her hands on Rhianna's shoulders and looked her square in the eyes. "I am still friends with her. Even after this whole thing with Raisen. Friends stick together, not matter what."

Rhianna gathered a breath. Maybe if she blurted it out all at once, it would be easier. She practiced it in her head. I'm basically homeless. My mom moves us around to keep social services from taking me away from her. We live in a car. Sometimes we eat food people throw away.

Before she could make the sounds out loud, a scream exploded into the night. Darklings! Kasubia's voice obliterated everything else in her mind.

Rhianna whirled around. The barn. Kasubia was screaming and, from the sounds of it, pulverizing the walls of her stall with her hooves.

"What's wrong?" Gretch asked.

Rhianna took a step toward the barn, "I don't know. She's afraid of something—what are darklings?"

A shout came from the woods. The sounds of more horses.

"Raisen! Jenny!" Gretch cried, grabbing for the bells in her pocket.

Rhianna ran for the tree line. She knew they never should have left them behind. They should have been out by now.

Even though she was running as fast as she could, Gretch easily outpaced her with her long legs. "Gretch!" She gasped, clutching her side. She called on every bit of reserve energy she had to keep going. She couldn't let her friend face the darklings alone.

She leapt over a log at the edge of the forest and then she was in the darkness of the trees. She fumbled her way through, forced to slow down so that she would not trip or run headlong into a tree. She could hear the sounds of hooves and wailing.

A light flared ahead of her—Gretch's phone—and she veered toward it. She caught up to Gretch just as she stumbled into the clearing where the calamity of black horses wearing glowing silver bridles were circling and weaving. Rhianna couldn't see Raisen and Jenny. She didn't see the stallion either.

"These are darklings," Gretch said, trying to catch her breath. She clutched the bells and shook them with such violence that their sound clacked instead of tinkled.

It was enough, the horses reared up and dashed back toward Fairy, leaving a figure crouched in a ball in the middle of the strange shadows cast by Gretch's phone on the churned up earth.

It was Raisen. She was alone and crying.

Gretch ran to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. Raisen moaned and clung to her, weeping into Gretch's shoulder.

"Jenny," she cried.

"What happened to Jenny?" Rhianna's eyes roved around the churned up mud.

"She just wanted to pet them. She said that was all." Raisen clutched her leg, where a bruise was beginning to form.

"You're hurt," Gretch said. Rhianna had no idea how she could be so calm. "We need to take you back to the farm."

"Jenny! We have to find Jenny! She swore she wouldn't ride. But that big one bent down for her and before I knew—"

"The stallion." Rhianna realized she had recognized him in a way. "That was Grayson."

"What?" Raisen's eyes widened in panic, her sobs had slowed and now stopped cold. "What does that mean? What does he want."

For the first time Gretch looked terrified. "What if he has another mask?"

Sounds of someone running from the direction of Fairy froze all of them in place. It wasn't a horse.

Teasel burst through the trees, his chain glowing again. Rhianna let out a breath of relief, which Teasel mirrored.

"You're ok," he said, gasping.

"No, we are not!" Gretch shouted at him and raised her bells.

Teasel backpedaled, either from the sight of the bells or the deadly glare Gretch shot him with.

"Jenny," Rhianna said, slowly wrapping her hand around the bells and peeling them out of Gretch's hand. "He took her."

"She got on his back," Raisen said, wiping her eyes. "He ran so fast."

Gretch, who had not protested the bells being taken, reached down to help Raisen stand up. Raisen hopped on one foot. Testing her injured leg gingerly.

"If you can put that much weight on it, it's not broken," Gretch said, calm again. "But you can't stay out here."

"But we have to look for her."

Gretch took Rasien's arm and looped it over her neck, then motioned for Rhianna to support her on the other side. "We need to get you back to the house first. Teasel," she shot him another look. "You go see if you can find where they took Jenny."

He nodded, pinned by her eyed for a moment, before taking off back the way he'd come.

When they got out of the woods, the lights were on in the house, and as they made their way slowly, with a limping Raisen between them, Gran came rushing out onto the porch.

The screen door clacked shut behind her like a mouse trap snapping on its victim. She hesitated briefly, but then hiked her night gown out of the dirt and came to help.

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