Ten – 03

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

As far as I was concerned, based on the smell of breakfast, it was just another normal morning. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as Matt and I headed for the glow of the cookfire. I could hear voices drifting from the area, though nothing distinct, the sounds blending together even as we drew closer. My gaze roamed as we walked, looking around and taking in quiet motions of the waking village, of people heading about their business.

There was still an almost subdued air to everything, though, one I’d hoped that I wouldn’t sense, but did anyway.

I’d just opened my mouth to say so when Matt tensed, letting go of me as we got closer to the scent of breakfast and the light of the main cookfire, drawing away, moving faster. I blinked, glancing at him and then ahead.

I could see Hecate clinging to Phelan, her face buried against his shoulder. Leinth was standing near the fire, her expression grim, and Tala hovered near the edge of the fire, tending skillets of food, but she looked worried, too. My stomach lurched.

What happened?

Grá mo chroí,” Matt said, kneeling down next to Hecate and Phelan. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Phelan shot me a desperate, concerned look even as Hecate let go of him and wrapped her arms around Matt. I caught the barest glimpse of her face, catching sight of tear-stained cheeks. My stomach dropped further.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t have words for what’s going on,” Phelan said, his voice hoarse. He glanced toward Matt and Hecate—Matt, who’d sat down fully and drawn her into his lap. Her face was buried against his neck, but her shoulders had stopped shaking. There was a damp spot on Phelan’s shirt.

I grimaced. “Really.”

“Really,” Phelan said, scrubbing a hand over his face.

Then, her voice muffled by Matt’s neck, came Hecate: “I’m pregnant.”

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Ten – 02

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

“I didn’t realize it would bother him that much,” Matt said quietly, looking down. “Neither of us really slept that well, either.”
“You and Hecate?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I don’t think she realized how little I actually slept.”

“Is that why you’ve got that look?”

He glared sidelong at me for a second, but I could tell his heart wasn’t quite in it. I put an arm around his shoulders and squeezed gently.

“It’s okay. It’s okay to be upset, Matt.”

“Are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Upset?” He studied me for a few seconds even as he slid his arm around me. “Maybe dwelling?”

“Dwelling, maybe,” I admitted. “Upset? Only because Thom is. I don’t know what’s going on. He’s acting a little weird.”

“Mar, your husband’s always weird.”

I choked on a laugh. “Matt.”

His expression was the very picture of incredulous innocence. “What? Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re not,” I admitted. “But I’m being serious here. He’s acting funny and I’m a little concerned.”

Matt sobered, brow furrowing slightly. “What’s going on?”

“He’s dwelling,” I said softly. “He’s dwelling on things that don’t matter anymore and I don’t know why and I don’t think I can get him to tell me.”

There was a silence as we got closer to the end of the hallway. Then, finally, Matt said quietly, “I’ll talk to him. Maybe he’ll open up.”

“That would be incredible,” I said, squeezing him gently. “It really would. I’m just—I’m worried, Matt.”

“You do that a lot,” he said, hip-checking me gently. “Worrying.”

“Usually for good reason.”

He winced. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Usually.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to be some kind of downer.”

“You are certainly not the downer.” Matt shook his head slightly. “There’s a lot of stuff to be concerned with and you seem to find the right things. I trust you, sis. Always have.”

I rose up on tip-toe to press a kiss to his temple. “You keep me grounded, little brother. That’s important, too.”

“Love you, Mar.”

“Love you, too.” He kissed my cheek and together, we emerged from the hallway and into the tends beyond. I could smell coffee and breakfast and that soothed nerves that were more ragged than I realized.

It was just another normal morning. That was all.

Just another normal morning.

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Ten – 01

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

“You’ve got that look,” I said to my brother as he emerged from his room into the hallway’s gloom. He squinted at me in the dim, frowning briefly.

“What look?”

“What’re you worried about?” I asked by way of answering his question. I crossed my arms, which mostly had the effect of looking like I was cradling Lin in the sling across my chest, but I figured he’d get the point one way or another.

Matt made a face and I knew that he had. “It’s nothing you need to worry about.”

“Really.”

His expression darkened. “Yes, really.”

I didn’t buy it, but he knew that. So I just shrugged and let my arms drop. “Fine.”

I started toward the cookfires and he fell into step with me, shoving his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and brooding as we walked.

“Is it the day?” I asked after we’d gone a dozen steps. I glanced toward him, my brow arching. He scowled at the ground in front of his feet. “The date on the calendar?”

“I don’t know why we keep track anymore,” he muttered.

“I know it doesn’t seem like it makes sense,” I said. “But there are things we want to be able to track. You don’t want to know what your nephew’s birthdate is?”

Matt heaved a sigh but didn’t look at me, just kept walking. His silence was all I needed to know that I was right, he did want to know things like that. I also knew that it probably was the day that at least was part of what was upsetting him.

The rest? I had no idea.

“Thom still in bed?”

I nodded. “He’ll be up soon, but for now, he’s getting some more sleep. He didn’t sleep very well last night.”

There was a hesitation, then he asked, “The day?”

I just nodded.

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Nine – 05

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

Phelan’s brows knit and he looked between the two women as he slowly sat back down, gaze lingering on Hecate for a few long seconds. The shadows beneath her eyes concerned him, as did the way she seemed to almost curl in on herself. It was as if she was somehow trying to make herself smaller.

It was worrisome, to say the least.

He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off without looking at him.

“I would have your word of honor, Taliesin,” she whispered. “Your oath.”

He blinked. “What?”

Then she looked at him, her eyes gleaming from the shadows around them. “Your oath, Phelan,” she said. “I would have you swear to do something for me.”

“That depends—”

“On what it is?” There was the barest hint of a smile curving her lips, something almost sad about that smile. Phelan slowly reached for her arm.

“Yes,” he said quietly, already knowing he’d give it to her, no matter what it might be. This was a woman utterly changed—or perhaps simply unbound—from who she’d been in so many of the centuries that had gone before.

Hecate only nodded. There was no rancor in her tone, no censure in her eyes as she looked at him. “I need you to promise to protect him if anything ever happens to me.”

Phelan’s hand settled on her arm even as his eyes widened. Hecate watched him, her expression unchanging, her eyes searching his. It was hard to breathe; he felt light-headed.

What the hell is going on? What does she know that I don’t?

“You don’t even have to ask,” he managed in a choked voice. “<gods and monsters>, Hecate, you never need to exact a promise like that from me because I’ve already made it. What’s going on? Why this? Why now?”

She shook her head slightly. “That’s not important.”

“The hell it’s not,” he protested hoarsely.

“It isn’t,” she said, reaching to cover his hand with hers, gently gathering up his fingers to lift them from her arm. She squeezed them gently. “It’s just insurance, Phelan. That’s all. And—” she stopped, swallowing hard before she started again. “And it would give me a great deal of peace of mind to know that you’d be oathbound to it.”

His brow furrowed, but he nodded. “All right,” he said. “All right. You—you have it. You have my oath. Should anything happen to you, on my honor, I’ll protect him with my own life.”

Her shoulders sagged in relief. “Thank you,” she said.

Then she hugged him, tightly, pressing her face against his shoulder.

As he wrapped his arms around her, Phelan could have sworn he felt her tears starting to soak into his shirt—though perhaps it was just his imagination.

It was, after all, shaping up to be a very strange morning, all things considered.

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Nine – 04

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

“Think what?”

The soft voice belonged to Hecate, who was wrapped in a shawl and a knee-length dress over leggings as she appeared from the gloom beyond the cookfire’s light. She was pale and Phelan’s stomach dropped. He set down his plate and started to stand up.

Leinth glanced at him, frowning, then turned back to Hecate. “Can you feel it, too?”

Hecate stayed quiet for a few long moments, then said softly, “I’d hoped it was nothing more than my imagination.”

Phelan stopped, staring at her for a second, even as Leinth moved toward her and put a hand on her arm, shawl-shrouded though it was. There were dark circles under Hecate’s eyes, ones he’d thought were simply a trick of the light but something he could see now was far more than that.

“What is it?” Leinth whispered, reaching up to brush a stray lock of unbound hair back from Hecate’s face. It was a tender, almost maternal gesture that made Phelan swallow. Hecate looked at Leinth, her expression a little strange, though not exactly upset—not at the gesture, at least.

She shook her head slightly. “I had nightmares.” She moved past Leinth toward Phelan’s abandoned seat near the fire, sinking down to sit next to where he now stood. “Every time I tried to get back to sleep and thought that maybe they wouldn’t come, that maybe I’d reached the end of them, but they just kept coming, over and over again.” She drew her knees to her chest, hugged them, stared at the fire. Leinth watched her.

Then she asked, softly, “Have you told him?”

Phelan frowned. “Does it—”

Leinth held up a hand to silence him, watching Hecate. Tala glanced between them, but wisely kept quiet. Hecate took a deep breath and shook her head.

“No.”

“Don’t you think you should?”

Hecate said nothing, just stared at the fire.

“Hecate,” Leinth said, her voice gentle.

“I know,” Hecate whispered. “I know.”

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Nine – 03

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

“Well, we can hope for luck,” Tala said with a quick, wry smile. Phelan shivered.

Luck.

Hairs stirred on his arms and the back of his neck, a true chill creeping over him. His heart started to beat a little faster and he straightened slightly from his lean against the log bench, looking around warily.

What in—

He spotted Leinth, her expression like the sky before a winter storm—a mask of calm with the promise of ice and wind in her eyes. Phelan met her gaze steadily, dread coiling into an ever-tighter ball in his belly.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Something’s coming,” she said, her voice a snarl as she seized the coffee pot, pouring a mug of the stuff. A chill radiated from her, an echo of her power. “Can you sense it?”

Phelan shook his head. “Nothing that I can name.”

A curse dropped from her lips and she turned toward the fire, staring broodingly into the flames. Tala glanced at Phelan, her brow arching.

“Dangerous precedents,” she said.

He groaned and scrubbed a hand across his face. “What are you sensing, Leinth?”

“Something old.”

“Familiar?”

Leinth hesitated a moment, considering the question with a faint frown. “Yes and no. Not recently. But I know it.”

“Something new, then.” Phelan swallowed a groan, scrubbing his hand over his face again. “Damn.”

“Damn indeed,” Leinth said softly. She looked at Tala, lips thinning. “I interrupted, didn’t I?”

“Just diffuse bad feelings and a conversation about precedents being set.”

“Precedents,” Leinth echoed, glancing toward Phelan before back to Tala again. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You’ve forgotten, then,” Tala said. “What day it is?”

She frowned, then cursed under her breath. “Ah. No. I’ve not quite forgotten. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s trying, though.” Leinth rubbed at her temple, taking a gulp of coffee as she started to pace. “Whoever comes is old,” she finally said after a few seconds. “An old enemy.”

“One of yours?” Phelan asked quietly.

She nodded. “I think so.”

“One of Seamus’s?”

There was a brief hesitation followed by another nod. “Yes. Yes, I think so.”

Damn and damn.

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Nine – 02

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

Phelan had to laugh, shaking his head as he reached for the plate she offered him. “You’re not even going to argue with me about it, are you?”

Tala shook her head. “No. I know when a cause is lost.”

His brow quirked. “Really.”

She nodded, smirking at him. “Well, yeah. Since you hopped off the self-loathing train, you’ve mostly been right about when you deserve some sort of punishment for something.” She turned back to her pans, glancing back toward him only as he settled down a few feet away against one of the log benches. “I don’t think I knew he punched you back then, though. What the hell happened?”

Phelan shook his head, taking a quick sip of coffee before he answered. “When I first showed up, J.T. was one of the first to see me. He recognized me from something long ago and decked me—laid me flat, really, and like I said, I wholly deserved it. There were things that happened in the past that I stood by and allowed to happen rather than stopping them, in part because I thought it was better to leave things lie rather than try to change them. It’s—it’s a complicated story.”

“I imagine,” Tala said, focusing on the cast iron pans and pots over the fire. Phelan watched her as he started to eat. Her movements were practiced, certain, as if she’d been doing this forever, not just for the last dozen months.

It was so strange, how quickly they’d all adapted—himself included.

“What’s bothering you?” she asked after a few moments of silence dragged on. Around them, the camp was still waking, but no one else had come to the fire for breakfast. “Is it the date on the proverbial calendar?”

“I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily bothering me,” Phelan said, balancing his plate on his knee. “Though I would be a fool to deny that it’s making some sort of difference in the atmosphere around here today.”

Tala inclined her head with a slight shrug, glancing back over her shoulder at him again. “Probably right, but unless some new calamity is about to hit today, I’m not sure what the point in worrying is. It’s just another day as far as I’m concerned. It just happens to mark another trip around the sun since everything changed. Right?”

He offered her a faint, weak smile even as his stomach gave an uncomfortable shudder. “Right,” he said softly. “Of course.”

She straightened, her eyes narrowing. “Phelan.”

“What?”

“That tone.”

He blinked. “Huh?”

“You’ve got that tone,” she said, crossing her arms. The narrow-eyed gaze became almost a glower. “What’s going through your head that you’re not sharing?”

“I don’t—”

“You do,” she said. “You absolutely do. You’ve got that tone that says something is going to happen but you don’t want to share with the class and damn it all, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve got something to say, if there’s something you’re keeping from us, you’d damned well better reconsider doing that because now, today, is not the time.”

The force in her words set him back and he just stared at her for a few seconds, feeling like the wind had been knocked from his lungs. He licked his lips, shaking his head slowly.

“That’s just it, Tala,” he said quietly. “I don’t have anything. There’s nothing that I know, just a twist in my gut when you said what you said.”

“What did I say?”

“About another trip around the sun and new calamities.”

Now it was her turn to blink, the glower gone, replaced by a frown. “What?”

Phelan shook his head slowly. “Nothing’s certain,” he finally said. “But I hope you’re right about nothing new rearing its head. We don’t need any new calamities, certainly not today of all days.”

Her lips thinned. “It would set an ugly precedent.”

“Yes,” he agreed quietly. “Yes, it would.”

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Nine – 01

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

They all felt the weight of it, somehow, even those that had forgotten the date, the ones that had stopped numbering the days. Phelan could sense it as he made coffee that morning, watched Tala as she flipped pancakes and minded the venison and potato hash. She was quiet, the twins fast asleep in their basket nearby. Others drifted through, snagging tea, making toast, then leaving again, heading to take over watches or head for the greenhouse, for work on the walls, or down to the river to fish. The day was dawning clear, the sky painted in oranges and golds. It felt like that day all over again, like that morning.

He hadn’t been where he was supposed to be that day. He’d still been in Chicago, delayed in departure, knowing that time was running short—but never realizing how short it had run. Kira had taken Teague and left weeks before and he’d known where he needed to go, what he needed to do, but there had been so many loose ends to handle in the city before he felt like he could go. Teague would be so angry with him when and if he ever found out about the delay.

He was supposed to be here, where he was now. The plan had been that he’d be with Thom and Marin and their friends when things came apart. It hadn’t happened—instead, it was weeks before he arrived, weeks where the survivors here had been forced to contend with things they couldn’t hope to understand alone.

But they survived—thrived, even—without me, so that still accounts for something. J.T. had decked him. The memory of it still made him smile. J.T. had been the first to remember him from a long-ago yesterday, from a life long gone. Marin and Thom had started to remember later, though not terribly long after. If the others had similar experiences, they hadn’t shared them yet.

“I deserved it,” Phelan murmured to himself as he poured a mug of coffee. Tala glanced up, her brow arching.

“Deserved what?”

“The punch.”

She gave him a confused look. He grinned.

“J.T. punched me.”

“Where? You’re looking pretty good if he did.”

Phelan laughed. “Not—not recently. When I showed up back then. He punched me.”

Tala canted her head to one side, a corner of her mouth twitching upward into a smile. “Oh. Well, then you’re probably right.” She spooned some hash onto a plate and held it out to him. “Breakfast?”

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Eight – 06

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

He stiffened, blinking and trying to draw back enough to look her in the eye. Hecate just held him tighter, burying her face against his shoulder again. Matt exhaled a sigh and his arms settled around her, holding her close.

“Talk to me,” he whispered. “Grá mo chroí, just talk to me. What is it? Why him and why now?”

Her eyes stung and she swallowed hard, feeling the bile rising at the back of her throat again. “Do I have to?” she asked, the words coming as a rasp, raw and pained. “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about what I saw.”

“What you saw,” Matt echoed softly. His palm skated along her spine, his other arm around her waist. She rested her head against his chest again, listening to the steady beat of her heart. He was her rock, her anchor point, the port in the storm of her world. “You had a nightmare?”

“The worst kind,” she whispered, the words muffled by the soft cotton of his shirt. “The kind you want to forget as soon as you wake up but it won’t let go, like it’s burned into your memory. I keep seeing it over and over and I just want to forget, Matt. I just want to forget.”

He hushed her gently, leaning down to kiss away her tears. “It’s all right,” he whispered back. “I’m here and you’re safe and nothing’s going to hurt you as long as we’re together.”

“Or you,” she whispered. “I won’t let anything help you, either. I swear it.”

“That nightmare was something else, wasn’t it? Do you—should we–?”

She shook her head, drawing their blankets closer around them. “No. I want to stay here with you. I want to stay just like this.”

I want to stay just like this forever.

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Eight – 05

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

Still, the nightmare haunted her, even as Matt held her tightly against his chest. Hecate listened to the thud of his heart, counting the beats in an effort to shake off the last vestiges of the horror she’d experienced. This—this was solid and real. That was nothing but an ephemeral thing, a spectre conjured by her darkest fears. It wasn’t anything to dwell on.

And yet…

It wouldn’t let go of her. She kept seeing the images from that nightmare over and over again, kept seeing Cíar taken from her—a punishment, Aietes roared at her, for her blatant disrespect and refusal to cooperate with him. She could hear the crack of the whip, taste the salt of her tears and the copper of blood from a bitten lip—a lip bitten to keep from screaming, because screaming at her former husband to stop had only made him angrier, made him attack Cíar all the more savagely.

It was as much dream as it was memory—there had been beatings, though most of those had been designed to keep Cíar in line, not her. He’d been willful, especially at the beginning. As they grew closer, threats against her had worked—it was something she’d tried hard to forget. Not everything had remained a secret. Aietes had railed against it when it had happened, but when Cíar had been given to her custody, things had been easier for Olympium, but not for her. Aietes hadn’t wanted to let her go and it had taken more pleading than she liked to remember to win free of that binding.

The dream had changed abruptly, and that was the part that terrified her more than any memory ever could have. Cíar had become Matt and the whip had grown barbs, flaying his back open until all she could see was red. She remember choking on bile, shaking all over, and screaming, unable to stop herself. It hadn’t made a difference. Aietes had turned to her and smiled that wicked, cruel smile of his, the hungry one that warned of more and worse to come.

Then he’d come to her, hands still drenched in the blood of both of her lovers.

Mercifully, she couldn’t remember anything else—didn’t want to, not now or ever.

“You’re crying,” Matt whispered. “’Peia, what is it?”

“I will never let him hurt you,” she whispered, blinking back the tears as she looked up at him. “Never.”

“Who?”

“Aietes,” she whispered. “I will never let him touch you. No matter what. I promise—I swear it.”

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