Threshold Of The Wild Hunt by Joel Tagert | Art by Nick Flook

The Next Step by Nick Flook aka Flooko

Threshold Of The Wild Hunt
By Joel Tagert
Art by Nick Flook aka Flooko

Published Issue 125, May 2024

A horn sounded in the woods to the south and all heads turned toward it. Sunita saw the fae around her unconsciously quicken at the sound, twitching ears tufting with fur, faces lengthening, bodies hunching as though about to spring away on four legs. “The king’s horn,” Harald whispered. 

The horn sounded again, and now along with it they heard the baying of the hounds. “The Wild Hunt!” Sunita exclaimed. “Harald, close the gate! Jun, ring the bell! Danah, get everyone to their hiding places. Hurry!” They ran from Sunita’s house and she turned to the young man who had unintentionally gathered them there in the first place.

“Are they here for you, Witt?” she asked. “Could they know you’re here?”

“I don’t think so,” the teenager said.

“Did you tell anyone where you were going? Anyone at all?”

“No! Or I mean, only Gerta. But she would never tell, never.”

He flinched at the look of dismay on the village doctor’s face. Whoever Gerta was, she was likely tortured or dead, but now was not the time for reproach. “Run to the river,” Sunita said. “Take one of the boats there and row downstream as fast as you can. I’ll try to slow them down.”

“But …” The boy’s face was anguished. “Are you really from Earth?”

Sunita paused, heart cracking. “Yes, I’m from Earth.”

“Then how … how did you get to Faerie?”

She exhaled sharply. They didn’t have time for this, but it was clear the boy wouldn’t leave until she answered. “One day I was working in the mountains and I saw a door. I went through it. That’s all. I don’t know why it opened for me, and I have no idea how to open it again. All right? You’ll have to find your own way.”

He nodded, clearly disappointed but not surprised. Traveling between worlds wasn’t likely to be like stopping off at the tailor. “I just thought maybe …”

“No more talk,” Sunita said firmly. “Head to the river and try not to let anyone see you. When you get to Garmund, ask for Alicia at the Five Candles. She’ll help you. Now go!” And he went. 

She listened, hearing the hounds at the gate. Good: that meant they had managed to close it in time. Someone yelled a demand, presumably that it be opened, but if there were no one manning it, there would be no one to open it. On the other hand, an unmanned gate wouldn’t hold the Hunt for long. Even now its hounds would have taken humanform to scramble over the top, racing to see who could open it first. Sunita might have thirty seconds. 

It would have been perfectly reasonable to give up the boy and leave the village in peace. Less bloody that way, and none of her friends killed. On the other hand, the boy said he had proof that the king was not himself at all, but an impostor, a shapeshifting fox. If he could get that proof to Alicia, there was a chance they could finally make an end to the Sun King and his reign of blood. In any case Krynos the Conquerer needed no fleeing accuser as reason to call the Wild Hunt: he and his minions rode and killed every full moon for sport regardless, and the people hid in their cellars in terror.

She didn’t let herself think about what she was doing. There wasn’t time. She’d lived long and knew she had to act when and where she could. Quickly she ran to her chest and retrieved what she needed. Then she went up the stairs, onto the second floor out to the little wooden balcony. It was near sunset and the sky was full of magenta. She looked out at the village and was filled with a last bittersweet admiration for her home. It was so green! Not for the forest fae the filthy streets and dust of the cities. Their homes were green with vines and the footpaths wound around great mossy trunks.

The hounds came first, trained from birth for the hunt. Their tracking ability was legendary, and unlike hounds on Earth, being fae, they could report their findings directly to their master the king, who followed taut upon their heels. In his man-form Krynos was a large and enormously strong man of middle years, with long blond hair and beard. But in his quickened form he was terrifying: a half-man, half-lion fully seven feet tall, with claws to slice bone and jaws to crush stone. In addition to these natural armaments he swung a five-foot broadsword in one massive paw, and except for a helmet (he refused to wear one out of vanity), he wore the finest steel armor enameled with the golden sun emblem of his house. He rode an enormous white destrier that rumor claimed had had its tongue cut out to prevent it telling tales of its master. This did nothing to curb the stallion’s bloodthirstiness, for the horse, whose name was Ruin, lived for battle above all else and loved the feel of armor on his sides and bodies beneath his hooves. 

Accompanying Krynos upon their own steeds were his favorites from the court: his cousins Theron and Leander, the wolf emissary Hrafngar, the vampire Ghoc, and seven more just as vicious, all of them carnifex, predator-fae, twelve riders in all, their mounts’ hooves drumming on the turf. Sunita knelt and aimed.

Guns didn’t work in Faerie; the gunpowder simply wouldn’t ignite. But when she’d encountered that door in the mountains, she hadn’t been hunting, but rather assisting a wildlife biologist in her study of bear populations. The dart gun, fortunately, worked on compressed air. 

Her aim had always been good. With no helmet, the dart struck his cheek and he brushed it away, then looked downward at it, then up to her balcony. With no warning he leapt off his destrier and with heartstopping speed sprinted toward her balcony. The tranquilizer took a minute or five to work, of course it did. She turned to flee, but the lion-king’s blade swept through the floor, through the wooden rail, and completely through both her legs, a noise and impact like a great wave throwing her to the ground. Sunita spun wildly in the air and fell, landing hard on her temple on the wet turf (it had been raining earlier). 

It was then, lying in the dirt, she saw the doorway. The hounds came to sniff and to rend her flesh, but even this did not alter her unblinking stare, her eternal fixation. Ancient stone steps led the way up the ferny hill. Its frame was filled with brilliant blue, the sky or ocean of another world, another life. Exhaling, she crossed the threshold. 

Joel Tagert is a fiction writer and artist and the author of A Bonfire in the Belly of the Beast and INFERENCE. He is also currently the resident manager and chef for Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center near Ward, CO.

Nick Flook aka Flooko is “the O.G astronaut painter” and takes his fans on adventures through original acrylic paintings and animations. This Toronto-based artist specializes in surrealism, space-themed work and impressionistic city and landscapes. See more of his work on his site and follow him on Instagram for more work.

In case you missed it check out Joel’s April Birdy install, The Devil’s Chariot, and Nick’s last piece, The Island of Ruins, the inspo art to Joel’s short story, Just Another Vortex,  or head to our Explore section to see more of their past work.