Sixteen – 01

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

It was a sound more felt than heard.  It sent a shiver through his bones as he climbed the hill toward the forge.  Smoke already rose from its chimney—Thordin must have been there already, either already working or just getting things warmed up for his inevitable arrival.

Sipping from his third cup of coffee—worrying and wondering had proven to be thirsty work—Matt had been trying to shake the feeling of unease that plagued him, trying to convince himself that whatever happened was well beyond his ability to affect, at least in the short term.  He didn’t think he was wrong.  Not this time, anyway.

Then he felt it, the unheard something that he somehow still knew was a sound, and paused a dozen yards from the forge.  He looked around slowly, swallowing hard against the bile that suddenly rose in his throat.  Above him on the hill, Thordin stepped into the morning light, a strange expression on his face.

“Do you feel that?” Matt asked him.

Thordin nodded, his jaw tightening briefly.  “Yeah.  You too?”

“You’d better believe it.  Where’s it coming from?”

“I don’t know,” Thordin said, turning to duck back into the forge for a moment.  He emerged seconds later with both of their weapons in hand.  He lofted Matt’s warhammer toward him.  “But I think we’d better find out.”

Matt caught the weapon by its haft and nodded.  He drained his coffee and jogged the last few steps to the forge to leave the mug there.  “What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know.  But we’ll find that out, too.”  Thordin clapped a hand to his shoulder, squeezing for a second.  Matt smiled grimly.

“No doubt.  Come on.”

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Fifteen – 09

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

Carolyn put her arm around Hecate’s shoulders as they slipped out of the Shakespeare garden and moved around the hedgerows toward the path down the hill to where the barrow stood. Torches flickered weakly at the corners of the hallowed ground. Hecate swallowed.

“I should have brought something to replace those,” she said softly. “They’re going to go out soon, I think.”

“They’ve burned for so long,” Carolyn said, following her gaze. “Someone must have refilled the torches or something since we set them.”

“Probably,” Hecate murmured, then shivered slightly, drawing her sweatshirt tight. It wasn’t even that cold, but a sudden chill worked its way down her spine. “What do you want to bet no one will own up to being the one doing it, though?”

Carolyn choked on a laugh. “I am not taking that bet. I know better.”

Hecate smiled at her sidelong before her attention drifted back to the barrow. She could see a mist slowly starting to gather there and her breath caught in her throat. “Carolyn,” she whispered. “Are you seeing this?”

Carolyn only nodded, staring down toward the grass where there hadn’t been a mist a few minutes before.

“Shit,” Hecate breathed, slipping out from under Carolyn’s arm. She started to move faster, her skin puckering, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end and goosebumps rising all along her limbs. There was a crackle of something in the air, something she couldn’t quite identify but knew in her gut she knew.

“Are you feeling this?” Carolyn asked her, moving fast to keep up.

“Yes,” Hecate said, her throat almost too tight to get the words out. Her heart felt like it had lodged somewhere in her throat. “And I’m not sure I like it.”

“You’re more optimistic than I am,” Carolyn said. “I know I don’t like it.”

They were halfway down the hill when the keening began.

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Fifteen – 08

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

“Ten thousand miles.”

Hecate blinked, shaking herself. She stared at Carolyn, who grinned at her from the other side of the flower bed. “Huh?”

“You were ten thousand miles away just now,” Carolyn said. “Or maybe further—and longer ago.”

Hecate choked on a laugh. “You’re not wrong.”

“Are you all right?”

After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded slightly. “Yeah, I think so. There’s a lot of shit going on, that’s all.”

“There always is.” Carolyn stood, cleaning her hands on the seat of her jeans. “You were going down to the barrow, not staying up here.”

“Up here is fine,” Hecate said, perhaps a little too quickly. She took a quick breath, then laughed weakly. “Near and far enough for me to think, anyway.”

Carolyn offered her hand. “Come on. Let’s go take a walk.”

“You—you don’t have to, Carolyn.”

She smiled crookedly. “I know. But I can tell you felt like you needed to come out here and the least I can do is go down there with you.”

Hecate swallowed hard, then smiled, taking her hand and pulling herself to her feet. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Carolyn grinned again, though the smile faded a few seconds later. “You know, I don’t think any of us have thanked you enough for what you did on the wall during the last attack.”

“I barely did anything,” Hecate said, dusting her hands off on her thighs. “Hell, I’m still more than half convinced it was some kind of trap that I sprung on myself. Matt had to dive in after me.”

“But we won,” Carolyn said softly. “That’s the important part.”

“Yeah,” Hecate said softly. “Yeah, we did, and you’re right—it is. We just have to keep winning until there’s no one left for us to fight.”

“It’ll happen someday,” Carolyn said. “Right?”

“Right,” Hecate said, mustering up a smile. “Someday.”

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Fifteen – 07

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

She stared out at the water beyond the trees, fingers buried in the dirt.  She’d been sitting there in the grass, tucked into a small clearing not far from the shore, for hours, watching the waves crash against the shore, breathing deeply the scent of salt and the sea and trying to capture what little peace she could here, in this place.

                She wished she could stay, but she knew that she couldn’t, that this trip, like so many others, was stolen time and soon enough, she’d be missed.

                The only signal she had before she sensed him was the sound of a paw against brush, then the warmth of a wolf alongside her.  The creature leaned against her and she smiled weakly, eyes stinging as she reached up to rub its ears.

                “Hello,” she whispered to it.  “Where’s your master?”

                She sensed him, then, and turned.  She smiled, though he could not see her as he moved through the trees and brush as if he could still see them.  Cíar was dressed in doeskin leggings and knee-high boots, a linen tunic beneath a wool wrap and a cloak.  He smiled when she turned.

                “Were you waiting a long time?” he asked softly as he came alongside her, reaching for her.  She took his hand and slowly drew herself to her feet, stepping into his chest even as he gathered her against him.

                “No,” she whispered.  “Not that I noticed, anyway.  Time here…time here always feels too short but also seems to go on forever.”

                Cíar pressed a kiss to her temple, then to her lips.  “I’m sorry.  It was hard to steal away.  We’re going to war.”

                “I know,” she said.  “Word reached us on the continent.”

                “I don’t want you to worry.”

                “I will anyway.”  Her fingers tangled in the wool and linen.  “Unless I make myself forget and I do not want to ever forget anything about you.  I love you too much.”

                “And I, you.”  He kissed her again, arms tightening.  She sighed into his shirt.

                “Forever wouldn’t be long enough.”

                “No.  And all we have is what we have.”

                She sighed, pressing her face harder against his chest.  He rested his chin against her hair.

                “Always, Peia.  I will love you always.”

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Fifteen – 06

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

                Carolyn smiled weakly and squeezed her hand.  “How can you be so sure, though?  What if something happens to all of us?”

                “There is nothing that is going to be able to wipe out all of us all at once,” Hecate said.  “Besides, do you really think that we wouldn’t find some way to make sure that any of our children were protected and cared for, even if something came at us hard?”

                “No.  No, I don’t think that.”  She shook her head.  “No matter how stubborn we all are, someone would make sure they’re with them.  Those kids would never be alone.”  She sighed, then let out a little laugh.  “God.  It’d be me.  I’d be with them.  Even if one of them was mine or not, it’d be me until they’re old enough to take care of themselves if something happened to us.”

                “I’m sure you wouldn’t be the only one,” Hecate said softly, squeezing her hand.  “None of us are ever alone in anything here.”

                Carolyn smiled crookedly.  “Someday, that’s going to be a problem.”

                “Probably,” Hecate agreed, grinning.  “But not just yet.”

                Carolyn nodded, squeezing her hand again before letting go.  “Thank you.”

                “You’re welcome.”  Hecate smiled at her and went back to clearing overgrowth.  Carolyn did the same, and the two worked in companionable silence for a little while.    The sound of birdsong lifted Hecate’s spirits slightly, carrying her to a time long ago and far away, to thick forests and the sound of waves crashing against a shore.  She could smell the woodsmoke in her memory, feel damp earth and grass between her fingers as she knelt near the edge of a forest, smelling the salt of the sea on the wind.

                It was one of those memories that had faded from her thoughts, half-buried because it was wonderful and painful all at once, precious because he had been in it, but painful for the same reason.

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Fifteen – 05

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

“Neither do I,” Carolyn said.  Hecate glanced up at her again and the other woman smiled.  “Something tells me that love’s pretty complicated.”

Hecate choked on a laugh, feeling tears start to sting in her eyes.  “You have no idea.”

“Probably not,” Carolyn said, then shrugged.  “I’m not sure I want one, either.”

“Probably not,” Hecate echoed, sitting back against her heels.  She smiled wryly.  “So what was bothering you about having children?”

“Who said it was bothering me?”

“Your tone of voice.  The way you said it.”  Hecate shook her head slightly.  “I may have spent most of very long life more than half out of my mind, but that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t read people.  In some ways, it made it easier.”

Carolyn laughed weakly.  “Well, since you put it that way.”

“Since I put it that way, what’s going on?”  Hecate leaned forward, clearing away a little more overgrowth, freeing the stems of another plant from a tangle of invading greenery.

Carolyn sighed, watching her for a few seconds.  Hecate glanced up, her brow arching slightly.

Finally, Carolyn shifted her position, sitting cross-legged in the grass and fidgeting.  “I guess I’m scared,” she said.  “That’s all.  I’m scared to have kids.”

It was more than just that, though—Hecate could tell from the way Carolyn’s voice hitched slightly.  Carolyn might be afraid of the actual process of carrying a child and giving birth to a child, but whatever fear she carried went beyond that.  “Scared to have kids or scared to have kids with him?”

She looked down.  “It’s not that I don’t want children with him.”

“Then what is it?”

“What if something happens?”

“What do you mean?”

Carolyn swallowed hard.  “What if something happens to us?  To me, to him?  What if—what if our child has the same gifts as one of us—or worse, something entirely different?  Or what if they’re completely normal and everyone around them isn’t?  What then?”

Hecate reached for her hand.  Carolyn let her take it, looking up to meet Hecate’s eyes.

“We never know,” Hecate said softly.  “And none of us really will.  But know this—no matter what, they’ll always be protected and they’ll always be loved.  When you know nothing else, when you can predict nothing else, you know that for certain.  No matter what, they’ll be loved.”

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Fifteen – 04

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

“Something bothering you?” Carolyn asked after a few minutes. Hecate glanced up to see the other woman watching her, her brow furrowed slightly.

“That’s a complicated question,” Hecate said softly, then smiled crookedly. “Maybe a little bit.”

Carolyn nodded. “It usually is. Nothing’s ever really that simple, is it?”

Hecate choked on a laugh and shook her head, looking back down to her work. She cleared a few weeds away from the base of a stand of flowers. “No. No, it really isn’t. Only a few things are.” She paused, glancing up again. “You came out here to think, too?”

“Well, I did say I was.” Carolyn grinned, then shrugged. “Nothing really that important at the end of the day. Some of it’s silly things. A little bit of daydreaming.”

“You and J.T. are going to get married,” Hecate said. “Was that what it was?”

Carolyn nodded. “Part of it. Part of it’s a little more than that—questions about whether or not we should have children, that kind of thing. I just don’t know. There’s a lot of things to consider and things are kind of happening a little fast.”

Hecate smiled weakly. “That can be a thing,” she said, tossing a handful of weeds into the pile on the other side of the bed, near where Carolyn knelt.

“So I’m told.” She shrugged again. “I think it was a little different for you and Matt, though. You guys knew each other in another life, right?”

Hecate nodded, lips thinning. “We did. We loved each other in another life. It didn’t feel like it was long enough, though.”

“Would anything ever feel long enough?” Carolyn asked. “Be honest. When you really love someone, I don’t think you really hit a point where enough time together has ever been enough.”

“No,” Hecate admitted in a whisper. “No, I don’t think so.”

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Fifteen – 03

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

She walked across the cracked concrete beyond the bridge, past the archway sculpture that somehow still stood, if a little off-kilter, in the center of what used to be a plaza at the heart of the old campus. The manicured lawns and carefully tended trees had gone to wild in the last year since the end of everything, since the day exactly one year ago when everything had changed. Hecate hugged her sweatshirt a little closer and sighed.

Everything changed. It was a mark of the passage of time, and time was something she’d seen—and forgotten—in abundance.

There were still a few buildings there that she remembered from the couple of classes she’d picked up there decades ago, long before her husband or his sister had come to this place to pursue their own studies—studies that for them would have had far more significance going forward than anything she’d ever done here.

Sometimes she wondered how much the interiors had changed, but even now—especially now—it didn’t matter. All that mattered was what they built going forward—and how they would defend it.

Her hand strayed to her belly again. She wasn’t sure exactly when it had happened, but eventually they’d figure it out—likely not until the child was born, if even then—but even that didn’t matter.

Nothing will ever harm you, little one, she thought, her lips thinning. I swear on my life.

She could hear the sound of humming as she came closer to the top of the small hill where several half-standing buildings clustered. The sound came from the tatters of a garden bounded by hedgerows outside of one of them, standing above the hill down to the barrow where they’d buried their dead. Hecate’s brows knit.

Who…?

Her steps carried her toward the archway into the garden, marking a gap in half-wild hedgerows. Hecate blinked when she saw Carolyn kneeling amidst tangles of rosebushes and a dozen other flowers, her hands full of dirt, humming as she slowly brought some order to the chaos. Her breath caught.

“Oh,” Hecate sighed. Carolyn turned, looking up at her. She smiled.

“Do you want to help?”

Hecate nodded slowly, moving deeper into the garden. A faint shimmer of power washed over her and then faded. She paused, looking around. Carolyn watched her, sitting back against her heels.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Hecate said, moving to join her. “What are you doing out here?”

“Gardening,” Carolyn said with a crooked smile. “Thinking. What about you?”

“I was—I going to go to the barrow to think.”

Carolyn nodded. “It seems like that kind of day.”

“Yeah,” Hecate said softly. “It does.” She knelt down in the damp grass across the flowerbed from Carolyn. “What do you need me to do?”

“Well, you can start by clearing back some of the grass from the plants over there.”

Hecate nodded, rolling up her sleeves and setting to work.

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Fifteen – 02

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

Taking a deep breath, Hecate drew her own magic around her, a thin veil of power that would hopefully protect her if something suddenly appeared. It was a weak ward, but with any luck it would give her time to react. She tried not to draw too deeply, had been trying not to draw too deeply, not since she’d figured out that she was pregnant.

There was not any universe, any reality, where she wanted to endanger their child.

Again, she glanced back over her shoulder, toward the far end of the bridge. She knew Matt had listened to her, had stayed. She didn’t know if the conversation by the fire would have turned to some kind of strategy session or something else, but in truth, she didn’t think it mattered.

Something in the dim recesses of her memory and the darkest shadows of her soul told her that much.

Orcus was different, for all of his hate—for all the hate they had faced so far, even at her own hands. He was different and somehow, she knew that.

Persephone. Her throat tightened and she stopped at the far end of the bridge, hugging herself as a sob threatened to tear free, eyes stinging as she squeezed them shut, half hunching in on herself. If Orcus had her friend, that raised the stakes considerably. Hecate knew she couldn’t risk hurting her. She didn’t think the others would, either.

That, more than anything would hurt their chances against their latest enemy.

What if—

No.

She tried to stomp down on the thought, but it came anyway. She sucked in a rasping breath, opening her eyes, blinking back tears as she looked around. Nothing seemed different, despite the horrifying thought she’d tripped over.

What if Orcus joins Leviathan?

It was almost too terrible to contemplate.

And yet, there it was—a possibility that none of them had considered, perhaps because it was simply too terrible to think about.

Her lips thinned. She swallowed hard, straightened her spine, and started walking again.

It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t.

If it did, they might not survive the onslaught that was sure to come, and that was something that couldn’t be allowed to happen. No matter what the cost.

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Fifteen – 01

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

Hecate drew her hoodie a little tighter around her as she walked away from the fire, a sudden chill creeping down her spine. It had nothing to do with the weather or the day, she knew that much for certain. At least not entirely—there was a strange bite to the breeze that was starting to blow up, and there was an almost unpleasant dampness settling in.

But no, it was something else. This was more than damp and wind.

She had a sense of the past repeating itself, but it was a past that she couldn’t rightfully remember—not did she entirely want to remember.

Down that pathway lies only pain and madness.

She glanced back over her shoulder toward the fire. Maybe she should have let Matt come with her.

No. No, I need to be able to handle things on my own, to feel and deal with things on my own. I know he’ll always be there when I need him. That should be enough to help me stay even-keel, even when things start spinning out of control.

That was what she kept telling herself, anyway. Maybe if she said it often enough, it would become true.

She hoped it would.

Her steps carried her beyond the tents, out onto the pathway beyond the forge to the edge of the wards, the ravine, the bridge. She paused there at the terminus of the warding lines, feeling their power dancing at the edge of her senses, watching the trees, still laden with summer greenery swaying in the wind that was picking up slowly but surely.

A storm would come. A storm always came.

She shivered again and bit her lip.

After a few moments, she walked on, toward the bridge, then began to cross. Her footsteps echoed hollow against the concrete and steel, but beyond that it felt oddly quiet despite the wind and the still-audible sounds of the village behind her.

She didn’t know why the barrow was calling, or when it had begun, only that it was.

So she was going, not knowing—not wanting to know—what she would find when she got there.

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