Del & Huck
Part One: The Hard Trail
by Matthew Snee
Del and Huck
"Woohoo!" screamed Delilah at the top of her lungs. She had never been in the airplane before.
Huck smiled, hesitantly, as he piloted the plane with ease. The world had gone to Hell, but Delilah was still a kid -- only sixteen. He was 45 now -- old enough to know better, and old enough to forget how joyful life could be.
"Cool down, Del," he said. "This is a recon mission, not a pleasure flight."
"Okay, okay," she muttered. Huck always ruined all the fun. "Are we there yet?"
"Almost, I think. Your camera ready?"
"Always," she said. Her camera was her life.
They had been tasked to fly over the Elven lands on the border of what had once been Northern Oklahoma, of the now somewhat extinguished United States of America. There weren't a lot of people who had planes or knew how to fly them in Oklahoma City -- it was Huck or nobody. And Delilah? She knew how to take photographs.
Huck hadn't wanted to bring her along -- it was too dangerous and she was too young. But Reverend Parsons, mayor of the city-state, had insisted, and he wasn't the kind of man you said no to -- not if you wanted to eat.
The world had gone to Hell. There were no two ways about it. Ten years ago portals had mysteriously opened between Earth and another world, a world called Iska, where magical things such as dragons and wizards existed. Like it or not, since then the two worlds had slowly become one, and with elves invading the Great Plains, and the East Coast going dark after being conquered by creatures called the Rid -- beings so vile, words could barely describe them -- there wasn't much of the old world left.
Except for Oklahoma, and even that... that wasn't the same either.
"We should be coming up to it now," said Huck, peering down at the ground below them. They were about a half-mile up in the air. He urged the plane a little lower, hoping to see their target.
"I see it!" claimed Delilah. She pointed to the East.
Huck nodded as he turned and could see it as well: railroad tracks.
Who knows when they were last used. Most of the railroad had fallen into chaos with all the invasions and changes to the country. Most of what men had built over the previous century was now broken.
Delilah readied her camera and aimed at the long line of track. "Looks like it's there still, Uncle Huck!" She clicked a couple photos.
"Yeah," he said. I guess that's good, he thought. I don't know. "Let's follow it East a little."
"Okay!" Delilah agreed.
The plane zoomed across the sky, following the tracks. They seemed to be unharmed and forgotten. But they were still there, just waiting.
Huck didn't know why Parsons cared about the railroad, especially considering it was in what was technically Elven territory. But he did know fighting men had been amassing in Oklahoma City lately, and something -- he didn't know what -- was going to happen soon.
There was one thing they were being paid to confirm on this trip. If they couldn't do that, the whole mission was bust.
It was only a few miles away now. Huck bit his lip. They had been lucky so far.
"Aren't we done, Uncle Huck?" Delilah asked, over the roar of the wind.
"Almost, kid," Huck said. "Just one more thing."
"We need to see where this rail goes."
"Well -- it goes East. But nobody goes East."
"Not just that Del. We should be coming up on the Arkansas river soon."
"You mean it connects with a river."
"That's right. A river that flows into the Mississippi."
"I see," Delilah said, and then was silent. She wasn't too young to understand the importance of this information. Connection from Oklahoma to such a waterway would change everything. But still -- it was Elven territory.
The horizon pulled back and then something shimmered upon it down below. Huck knew immediately they had found what they were looking for. "Del, take some pictures of the line. Make sure you get the river in it too."
"I will, Uncle Huck!"
She took her pictures. "I don't have much film left," she admitted over the wind.
"That's okay, we're just about done here. You've done great, Dell, really..." he stopped. Something had caught his eye, just above the sun.
Something... flying. Like them.
But not like them. Even at this distance he could make our the wings flapping. In a different world he would have imagined it to just to be a huge bird. Instead, he knew what it really was.
"Gryphon rider!" Uncle Huck cried out. "That's enough pics, Del. Hold on tight!"
He pushed down and left on the stick, plunging into a dive to change their position. Once they were pointed South West, he pulled back up on the stick and pushed the throttle.
"He's following us!" Delilah yelled.
"Can we outrun him?"
"Of course we can!" Huck was certain of this. He had been raised to believe in machines, not magic. And here he was utterly confident. He knew the biplane's engine inside and out. A gryphon couldn't keep up.
But he didn't turn around to check. He would leave that to Delilah's eyes. He focused on two things: speed, and direction. The Gryphon rider wouldn't follow them far, for fear of the Good Lich's power.
In fact, they had confirmed another one of the mission's objectives: to see if the Elves even watched their territory this far South. Obviously, they did.
"Where is he, Del?"
"I think he turned around, Uncle Huck! I got a pic of him though!"
Huck sighed. He didn't believe in God, but if he did, he would thank him.
Commander Jed Franklin, one of Parsons' men, was waiting for them when they landed back on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. "Yeah?" Franklin asked once Huck had shut off the plane's engine and stepped out of the cockpit.
"We got it, Jed," Huck told the commander. Franklin was in military dress, a sharp man with a sharp haircut and an infrequent smile. Huck didn't trust him, despite Franklin's position and reputation. Something just didn't sit right.
"The rail?" Franklin asked, looking suspiciously at Delilah, who shrunk, shy of authority.
"To the river."
"Jesus," said Franklin. He still didn't smile though. "Well I guess that's it then."
"That's what," said Huck. "What does it mean?"
Franklin didn't answer. "When will the photos be ready?"
"In a couple hours," Delilah spoke, cautiously.
"Okay then," said Franklin. "I'll tell the Reverend. See you when the photos are done."
"Alright," Huck said. Delilah nodded.
Franklin jumped into his car, which was parked on the edge of the runway, and sped off, the smell of gasoline leaking into the air around them.
"So?" Delilah asked Huck.
"So, develop those photographs," Huck told her.
"Okay," she said. She ran into the old grey bricked building on the runway -- their home.
Huck lingered, pretending to look after the plane.