Twelve – 08

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

His worry only increased as they headed back toward the cookfire. Matt, his arm wrapped protectively around Hecate’s shoulders, watched Seamus as they walked and felt a weight settle over him and his stomach go sour. The former Taliesin looked like hell and didn’t seem like he felt much better, either. The wounds he’d taken in Matt, Hecate, and Marin’s defense up on the wall that day a few weeks back had taken a heavier toll than any of them suspected.

He swallowed down bile, his arm tightening around Hecate’s shoulders. Her arm snaked around his waist, squeezing him close for a second.

“Settle,” she whispered, voice too low for anyone but him to hear. “It’s all right.”

“No,” he murmured back, gaze still on Seamus. “No, it’s not.”

“He’ll be all right,” Hecate said softly, though Matt could hear the thread of doubt in her voice. Ice sluiced down his spine. He took a deep breath and tried to force his stomach to settle. It didn’t work.

“He shouldn’t be up,” Matt murmured.

“No,” Hecate agreed, following his gaze. “But that wasn’t our decision to make or our war to fight. That’s between the two of them.” She nodded toward Leinth, her brow furrowing. “We have to trust them—trust that they weighed their options and decided what the necessary course would be.”

“Necessary isn’t always best.”

“No,” Hecate sighed. “No, it’s not. But it’s what has to be.”

Matt held her a little tighter, swallowing hard again. Maybe they would be wrong. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they feared.

Somewhere deep in his heart, though, he knew that wasn’t meant to be.

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Twelve – 07

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

“Sometimes it does more harm than good.”

They hadn’t heard the footsteps coming, and Matt startled and spun at the sound of Leinth’s voice, blinking as he saw Seamus there with her, pale-faced and moving carefully, but still on his feet. He opened his mouth to speak, only to close it quickly as Seamus cleared his throat.

“What’s the word?”

Gideon cleared his throat. “Dirae massing to the northwest. Figure in a dark cloak, apparently male, with them, then another, smaller figure. Daegan couldn’t get a good look.”

Seamus and Leinth exchanged a look. Her arm tightened around his waist where she held onto him. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

“Orcus,” he said, his voice gravelly. “And probably Persephone.”

Matt’s blood ran cold and Hecate tensed.

“Persephone,” she whispered. “Why–?”

“It’s a long story,” Seamus said, his head dropping. “One we should be sitting for. One I need to be sitting for, honestly.”

“Right,” Hecate said, then shuddered. “Right, okay.”

Phelan stared at his cousin for a few seconds, then looked at Daegan and Gideon. “Thank you,” he murmured.

Both men nodded.

“I’ll stay out here until Paul comes back to take over the watch again,” Gideon said. “Go on. I’m sure someone will tell us the story soon enough.”

Phelan managed a weak smile and a nod. Matt just shivered, wrapping his arm around Hecate’s shoulders and squeezing her tightly against him.

Whatever story Seamus had, he was half terrified of what it might mean.

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Friday update delayed due to projects!

Friday update will be delayed this week due to some stuff that needs to be accomplished for Friday evening. Look for the update sometime late Friday or on Saturday.

Sorry!

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Twelve – 06

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

Hecate’s hand tightened around his. The pressure wasn’t surprising, though the intensity of it was. Matt’s gaze drifted to her, taking in lips drawn into a fine line, a jaw tightly set, eyes stormy.

“What is it?” he murmured, brows knitting as he looked at her.

She swallowed, then took a slow breath. “I’ll do it if I have to.”

He blinked. “Do what?”

“Call them,” she whispered. “Call the dirae. Try to take control. I’ll try if we all think it’s necessary.”

Her grip on his hand was white-knuckle. Matt swallowed hard. “No,” he murmured. “No, you won’t call them.”

Phelan shot him a worried look, one that Matt ignored as he shifted around to face her, his free hand brushing stray strands of hair back from her face. “None of us are going to ask you to do that unless the circumstances are beyond extreme. We all remember what facing the lampades did to you. It’s not an option.”

She reached up, letting go of his hand to cradle his face between both of hers. “We might not have a choice,” she whispered. “We didn’t when the lampades hit us. We might not when they come. Because we all know that they’ll come. There’s no doubt, Matt. They’ll come. We all know that.”

He squeezed his eyes shut. She leaned into his chest and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.

“We need to figure out who that cloaked man is,” Phelan murmured. “Maybe that’ll give us leverage.”

“Or none at all,” Gideon said, his tone grim. “Has knowing helped before?”

“Only somewhat,” Phelan said. Matt opened his eyes fast enough to catch his friend’s scowl.

“Well, we’ll have to hope that this time, if we can figure it out, it will give us an advantage,” Matt said quietly, resting his cheek against Hecate’s hair. “Knowing something is better than nothing.”

“Sometimes,” Phelan agreed, then sighed. “Sometimes.”

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Twelve – 05

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

“Who do you think it is?” Phelan asked in the same breath that Gideon asked, “How far away are they?”

Daegon glanced between them, frowning, clearly trying to figure out who to answer first.

Hecate drew up alongside Matt, her fingers twining through his. “How far away are they?” she asked, her voice quiet. Her hand tightened around his, though she still stood straight, showing no hint of fear.

Daegon exhaled, rubbing at his temple. “Twenty miles, maybe,” he said quietly. “Northwest, near the lakeshore. It could be remnants of the dirae who were here in the last fight. Might be others.”

“It’s probably the same ones,” Hecate said softly. “But you could be right, they could be from somewhere else. They’re—they’re kind of everywhere. They answer those who know how to call them.”

“Could you still do it?” Phelan asked quietly, studying her.

Hecate shuddered. “Would you really want me to? I know I wouldn’t.”

“I guess not,” Phelan said, grimacing.

“We can beat them if we have to,” Matt said. “Does it look like they’re heading this way?”

“I think they’re just massing,” Daegon said. “At least for now.”

“For now,” Gideon echoed grimly, glancing at them. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“None of us do,” Matt murmured. “None of us ever do.”

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Twelve – 04

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

Matt lifted his hand in greeting as the rider grew closer, stepping clear of the gates, out into the field beyond—not far, only a few steps, but far enough. Phelan stayed behind in the shadows of the gates, watching. If Hecate came any closer, Matt didn’t see it.

The rider lifted his hand in return, mount slowing from a gallop to a canter, then a jog, and finally a walk as it crossed the last hundred yards coming up to the killing fields. He reined up and dismounted a few dozen yards shy of Matt, leading his horse toward the open gate.

“Hail and well met, brother,” Daegan greeted. His accent had faded over the centuries—but all of theirs had. “I confess I didn’t expect you to be here to greet me.”

Matt smiled weakly. “We caught the whistles at breakfast. Thought maybe I should come see what’s what.”

Daegan nodded, looking past him to Gideon, already on his way from the watchtower to the gates. Hecate was trailing behind the huntsman, her lips pressed into a thin line. Matt’s stomach twisted.

Does she sense something I don’t?

He couldn’t be sure without asking.

“Sir,” Daegan greeted Gideon with a fist pounded against his breast and a brief nod, one that Gideon returned. The rider wasted no time in reporting. “There is a mass of dirae massing to the northeast of here. I didn’t stop to count them, but they were numerous enough that I turned and came back immediately.”

“Just dirae?” Hecate asked, her face pale as she stopped just behind Gideon, peering around his shoulder to watch Daegan. “You didn’t see anyone leading them?”

Daegan hesitated.

“Out with it,” Gideon said, his voice commanding, though not unkind. “Even if it’s speculation. Tell us what you saw.”

“Big,” Daegan said. “He was big, in a dark cloak. I didn’t get a good look and I wasn’t close.” He glanced at Matt, at Hecate, then past her toward Phelan, who’d taken a few steps out of the shadow of the gates. “He had a smaller figure with him, too, in gray. A woman, I think.” He shook his head. “But I’m not sure. I can’t be sure.”

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Twelve – 03

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

Above, in the watchtower, Gideon whistled. The rider whistled back. In the space of a few heartbeats, he was near enough to see, and Matt took a slow breath.

“I know him,” he murmured. The words earned a sharp look from Phelan.

“You do?”

He nodded.

“You don’t know very many of them anymore.”

“More than you think, but most of them not well,” Matt admitted, jaw tightening for a second. He glanced back toward Hecate, still standing in the shadows of the watchtower, then forward again. “A lot of the ones I knew are gone now.”

Being a rider of the Hunt in some ways had been safer than being a part of any other army back in those days—save perhaps one or two that Cíar never would have thought to dream of then but Matt could imagine now—but it had never truly been safe. The attrition rate was high enough to guarantee that many of those who’d ridden with Cíar mac Dúbhshláin were long since passed—especially in an organization where attrition was basically synonymous with death. Matt tried not to think about it too much, since the ache was soul-deep for some of the men now likely long dead and the memories and pain belonged to a man now long dead himself.

At least that was what he told himself sometimes when the nightmares stirred.

Phelan put his hand on Matt’s shoulder and squeezed. Matt exhaled, shivering slightly as he squeezed his eyes shut, head drooping until his chin touched his collarbone.

“Sorry,” he murmured.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Phelan said, squeezing again. “Don’t worry about it.”

Matt just nodded and opened his eyes again, gaze snagging on the rider.

“It’s Daegon,” he said quietly. “And if anyone truly knows what he’s seen is real, it will be him.”

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Update delayed due to travel

Due to some traveling and such I’ve been doing, the update for Wednesday, March 6, will post sometime during the day on Wednesday!

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Twelve – 02

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

Phelan headed for the gate as Matt and Hecate lingered below the tower, watching Paul’s retreating back. Matt took a deep breath and squeezed Hecate’s hand before letting go, moving to follow Phelan.

Hecate shivered and shot him a brave smile. He smiled back, a chill creeping down his spine at her apparent worry.

It was just an outrider coming back with a report. It wasn’t like there was going to be an army on the other side of the gate once they got it open—at least not this time.

Not yet, anyway.

He shook his head at himself and jogged a few steps to catch up with Phelan, who’d nearly reached the gate already.

“When it rains, it pours,” Matt said quietly. Phelan snorted in response.

“That’s one way to put it.” Phelan shouldered the beam and started to lift it, nodding his thanks as Matt got under it, too, helping him lift it free and away, unbarring the gates.

“We’ve got to come up with a better mechanism for this,” Phelan muttered as they set the beam aside.

Matt grinned, though it was a rueful expression. “Maybe when Thom finally heals up, we can get him on that.”

Phelan winced and shook his head, unlatching the gate and tugging one side open even as Matt reached for the other. As he peered through the breech, Matt could see the approaching outrider, still distant. A shiver tracked down his spine. He’d forgotten how far the whistles could travel, how tightly the Hunt was bound to each other.

How far away had the rider been when the initial message had come?

Far, he thought. Much further away than I anticipated—that can be good, or it could be bad.

The rider was coming fast and his stomach flipped over onto itself. The speed did not bode well.

At least, that’s what his instincts were screaming at him. A glance toward Phelan confirmed that the Taliesin felt the same.

They’d have the whole of the story soon enough.

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Twelve – 01

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

The four of them—Matt, Phelan, Hecate, and Gideon—reached the wall together, startling Paul, who was climbing down from the watchtower.

“I was about to head in to tell you someone was coming,” he said, blinking at them as he dropped the last few feet to the ground beneath the tower. “Looked like one of the Hunt’s riders.”

“It is,” Gideon said, then scrambled up the ladder. Paul blinked, then looked at the others.

“What’s going on? Should I be worried?”

“Possibly,” Matt said, his voice shaded with caution. There was no telling how close whoever it was had gotten, nor was it a sure thing that they’d make an unerring beeline for the settlement.

There was a damn strong possibility that they would, though.

When has our luck ever run any differently? He tried to swallow the bitterness that rose in his throat. Hecate took his hand and squeezed, as if she could sense what he was thinking.

Maybe she could.

Phelan exhaled, reaching out to squeeze Paul’s shoulder. “Go get something to eat. Tala’s by the fire with Marin. We’ll keep watch until you’re back.”

“Are you sure?” Paul’s brow furrowed. “It’s not a big deal, I can stay.”

“It’s all right,” Phelan said. “Go. We’ve got it. Gideon wants to talk to whoever’s coming back anyway—it’s one of their scouts.”

“All right,” Paul said, glancing up again, then toward the gate. “As long as you’re sure.”

“We are,” Matt said quietly, then jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. “Go on, while the griddles are still hot.”

Paul offered a brief smile, nodding before he jogged off, back toward the tents and the cookfires. Hopefully, neither Marin nor Tala would betray the depth of their concern.

Matt had little confidence that they wouldn’t, but they could hope—that was all they could do, really, was hope.

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