Twenty-seven – 05

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

“It will certainly give us an element of surprise,” Phelan said, leading his horse into the lee of the trees. It wouldn’t be much protection from the rain and damp, but if the wind kicked back up, the creature would at least have a little shelter against that. “You didn’t risk a fire,” he observed, looking at the scouts.

The second scout shook his head. “No. We were worried less about the light and more that they’d smell the woodsmoke. It’s been a long night.”

“No doubt,” Phelan said. “Don’t worry. This should be the home stretch.”

The second scout looked at him strangely, frowning. “I don’t follow.”

“That’s all right,” Thom said with a faint smile as Marin helped him down from his horse’s back. “Most of us don’t. What he means is that if this works, we’ll be safe to light a fire in the next few hours.”

“Few hours,” the first scout echoed, blinking as he looked between them. “That quickly? You plan to move that quickly?”

Matt nodded. “The faster we move, the less chance of them figuring out we’re here and being able to counter us.”

The two scouts exchanged looks. The second swallowed hard. “Damn,” he breathed. “You are as bold as he was.”

Matt stared at them for a few seconds, then shook his head, collecting his mount and Hecate’s. “No,” he said, a note of finality to his voice. “I’m bolder.”

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Twenty-seven – 04

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

They stopped on a wooded hillside a mile from where Orcus’s army was encamped. Two scouts from the Wild Hunt waited for them there, huddled in jackets and under an old oilskin cloak that had probably come in handy more than once over either’s tenure with the hunt. The rain had tapered into a fine mist, though it was no less cold or uncomfortable than the drone of steady rain had been—just cold and uncomfortable in different ways.

Phelan swung down from his saddle first, trying not to wince at the cramping of his legs or the creaking of his back as his boots hit the ground. One of the scouts moved toward them, taking the reins of Marin’s horse as she, too, swung down from the saddle.

“Any change?” she asked.

The scout shook his head. “They’re still where we reported. Not much movement, either. Looks like he planned to stand by the bargain struck.”

“There wasn’t a bargain,” Matt said as he dismounted, then turned to help Hecate down. “It was a threat.”

The scout shrugged. “In any case, no movement. They’re not showing any signs of breaking camp.”

“We might actually be catching them unaware, then,” Thordin said. “That works to our advantage, at least.”

The scout nodded. “Do we have a plan, then?”

“Most of one,” Matt said. “We were waiting on a final look before we set everything in stone.”

“Likely wise,” the scout said. “They have high ground.”

“How high?”

He shrugged in response to Phelan’s question. “High enough. The approach could be dangerous.”

“The scouts said that there was a rise above their position,” Marin said. “Is there?”

“Yes,” the scout said slowly. “But it’s not easily accessible.”

“It doesn’t need to be,” Marin said. “Not for what we have in mind.”

The scout looked at them strangely. Marin smiled. Phelan bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from doing the same.

“Just wait and see,” Marin said. “You might be surprised at how clever we can be.”

“Never, m’lady,” the scout said gravely. “Never surprised. Only in awe. You have more courage than any of us when it comes to these things, I think.”

“Fortune favors the bold,” she said, then smiled weakly. “With luck, it will favor us this time, too.”

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Twenty-seven – 03

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

“Feels like old times, almost,” Thordin said, shifting in his saddle. “More or less loaded for bear, more or less information. The stakes are pretty much the same.”

“Pretty much the same,” Marin said, glancing past Phelan toward him. “Really.”

Thordin shrugged. “Near enough to. Everything back then was a lot more tenuous than anyone ever liked to talk about. I mean, look at how many stories didn’t make it to today. Think about all the history that got buried, or forgotten, or remembered wrong. There’s a lot.”

“I guess,” she said.

Phelan swallowed against a lump in his throat. If that wasn’t true, there would be no need for a Taliesin. There would be no need for anyone to have to dig deeper. There would be no more mysteries. It was all a double-edged sword, really.

Most things were, though.

He stared through the mist and rain at the road ahead, drawing his jacket tighter and standing just slightly in the stirrups to stretch his legs. His knees were starting to cramp a little, boding ill for the rest of the day to come. The damp chill of the rain was settling into his bones in ways that were much more unpleasant than he wanted to consider.

“He’s not wrong,” Phelan murmured. Marin startled slightly, glancing at him sidelong. He kept his gaze on the path ahead and exhaled a sigh. “We have to be more clever than Orcus will be. There’s no other choice. We don’t have the brute strength to beat him—I’m not sure anyone does.”

“Seamus did,” Matt said.

“Seamus outsmarted him,” Leinth said softly, just barely loud enough to be heard over the sound of the horses and the rain. “Brute strength isn’t how we win, nor is force of numbers. Phelan’s right. We need to be smart. The plan is sound. We just have to execute it properly—and maybe hope for a bit of luck.”

“If he’s torn the dirae or the lampades from Olympium’s grip, we might have the luck,” Hecate said. “Maybe.”

Phelan said nothing for a moment, holding his tongue. He didn’t want to give voice to doubts, or imagine aloud what could go wrong. He just hoped alongside them that they were right.

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Due to American Thanksgiving, Black Friday, etc., updates will resume on Monday, December 2.

Thank you and have a happy and safe rest of your week and official entry into the December holiday season.

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Twenty-seven – 02

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

Marin reached across the gap to squeeze his arm. Phelan met her gaze and forced a smile. She shook her head.

“Don’t,” she said softly. “Don’t force it.”

“Someone has to,” he said, one corner of his mouth quirking upward into a smile that was more genuine. “Besides, if anyone looks this way and sees nothing but grim faces, that’s not going to go over very well, now is it? I’m bloody Puck, remember?”

She winced and looked away. Phelan sighed.

“Mar,” he said softly, gently. “It’s okay. I’m used to it.”

“I know,” she said, her voice barely audible over the sound of the wind and the rain and the horses. “That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.”

He reached across the gap this time and squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.”

“She’s going to worry about it whether you tell her to or not.”

Now the smile was very real as he glanced toward Matt. “Oh, trust me. I’m aware.”

He nodded slowly, twisting his reins around his hands. “Tell me that I didn’t talk all of us into making a mistake.”

Phelan deadpanned even as his stomach sank a little. “You haven’t talked everyone into making a mistake.”

“That wasn’t terribly reassuring,” Matt muttered.

Phelan sighed. “What do you want from me, Matt? Honestly, I don’t think that this is a mistake. All the reasons we’re going are right. I just can’t predict the ultimate outcome and that’s got me as unsettled as anyone.”

“For good reason,” Thordin said. “But we’re going anyway.”

“Aye,” Phelan said. “We are. And we’ll do what we need to do.”

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Twenty-seven – 01

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

A steady, chilling rain came with the dawn. It found most of them on horseback, riding together toward their ultimate destination—an army camp miles away, peopled with individuals who would love to see them dead or worse.

All of them were definitely trying not to actively think about what the or worse might actually entail. Phelan knew for certain that he was trying not to think about it as he swayed along with the motion of his horse, riding with Marin on one side of him and Matt on the other. Matt was flanked by Hecate and Thordin on the other side, Marin by Thom and Cameron. Neither sibling had been successful in convincing their spouses to stay behind. Somewhere ahead of them rode Sif, scouting alongside Gideon from the Hunt, making sure that there was no sign that the enemy knew they were coming.

Surprise was their only ally in this, and she was a fickle ally indeed.

His gaze flicked toward the sky for a few seconds and he frowned, twisting his reins in hand. Thordin arched a brow at him.

“What?”

“This isn’t you, right?”

Thordin shook his head. “No. Not me. Not even something that’s a remnant of the last time I played with the storms. Can’t tell you whether it’s fully natural or not right now, though. Not without someone taking my reins and making sure I don’t fall out of the saddle.”

“There’ll be time enough for that once we reach our staging point,” Marin said. “We’ll get a last feel for the lay of the land and figure out exactly what we’re working with in regard to his defenses.”

“I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t have some sort of magical defenses,” Hecate said, her brow furrowing. “There must be something that the Hunt just didn’t notice.”

“The scouts did say they didn’t sense anything but that they could have missed it. It’s not necessarily their area of expertise.” Matt’s lips thinned. “We just have to hope that maybe there really isn’t anything.”

“Not likely,” Phelan murmured. “But we can hope.”

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Hey folks!

Today is my birthday, so I’m taking the day off.

(Don’t ask how old I am, just know that I am Older Today than I was yesterday.)

Chapter 27 will begin on Friday!

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Twenty-six – 06

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

The murmur of voices reached them before they reached the pool of light that surrounded the cookfire. Matt’s heart grew a little heavier the closer he got, his stomach folding in on itself.

I set us on this path. This was me. It didn’t matter that others had agreed with him, had decided this was a good idea to at least try. It started with him, with his idea, with his assertion.

Win or lose, succeed or fail, this is on me. No one else. Just me.

He took a deep breath before they reached the edge of the firelight, exhaling it slowly and trying to center. It was at the same time easier and harder than he thought it would be.

Eyes turned to them as he and Phelan came into the light. Everyone seemed tired, anxious. Matt couldn’t blame them for that. He felt the same way.

God, I hope we can get a little more rest before we march.

He knew they wouldn’t, though. There just wasn’t going to be that kind of time.

“Well,” he said softly. “Let’s get down to it. Are the scouts here?”

“Anselm’s bringing them,” Marin said quietly. “It won’t be long.”

Matt nodded. “Okay. Are we ready for this?”

“Never,” Cameron said, then smiled crookedly. “But that doesn’t matter. It’s a job and we have to do it. We don’t have a choice. If we don’t send a message then this shit doesn’t end. I want to send a message.”

“Me too,” Matt said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Hard and fast. One you can’t argue with. This needs to stop and it needs to stop now. It’s been a year and I’m tired of it.”

“We all are,” Jacqueline said. “That’s why we’re all behind this. One way or another.”

“Then let’s get to work.”

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Twenty-six – 05

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

Matt shook his head. “I guess I thought it might be painful to talk about them.”

“Sometimes it is. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to. They were some of the closest friends I ever had, y’know. They were family, too.” Phelan smiled. “And like I said, some of the stunts that Cíar pulled make some of my shit looked like nothing by comparison. Then again, I never got kidnapped and got my brain scrambled, either.”

“That’s one way to put it, isn’t it?” Matt sighed. “I still—there are parts of that I can remember pretty clearly, but there are things that are all tangled up.”

“It was like that for him, too,” Phelan said. Their pace had slowed slightly, even as they drew closer to the edge of the tents and the cookfires beyond, as if neither of them were quite willing to end their conversation just yet—or perhaps they were both reluctant to go and begin the planning that awaited them once they rejoined the others. “Of course, he always kind of wondered out loud if he really wanted to remember or if it would be more than he could stand.” The ghost of a smile curved his lips. “Clearly, he remembered more than he let on, though.”

Matt heaved a sigh. “There were reasons for that.”

“Good ones,” Phelan said. “Damn good ones.” He reached over and grasped Matt’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Your hearts are your own, Matt. It was the same with Cíar. It is what it is and will be what it will be. Never apologize for any of that.”

He took a breath. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” Phelan smiled crookedly. “Come on. They’re waiting.”

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Twenty-six – 04

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

Phelan studied him for a few seconds, his brow furrowing slightly. They passed form the light of the torches nearer the wall and into the darkness between it and the tents, the cookfires. The Hunt’s camp was stirring, even at the early hour. They knew something was coming, just the same as Matt and Phelan did. They would be making ready for whatever was to come.

Of course, they’re also used to operating on short sleep and being ready for a fight, Matt reflected, then shivered slightly. How would the rest of them fare? Not as well as the Hunt, he suspected.

Though I would love to be wrong about that.

He met Phelan’s gaze, his brow furrowing. “What is it?”

“There’s more of him to you than I think you let on,” Phelan said softly. “Or maybe more than you realize. It’s hard to say either way.”

Matt shivered slightly, then shrugged. “I suppose that’s both good and bad at the same time, isn’t it?”

Phelan nodded slightly. “Aye. It is.”

“Are you hoping for one thing over another?”

Phelan smiled. “I wouldn’t say that. Cíar could be reckless when he wanted to be, when he thought it was warranted. He and his sister were very much alike—just like you and Marin are now.”

“Are we?”

He nodded. “It would be absurd of me to say that the two of you remind me of them, though. I mean—you are them, or you were, long ago. But the little things every so often—they remind me so much it aches.”

“I—I’m sorry,” Matt said, and meant it.

“It’s all right,” Phelan said. “It’s a good kind of pain.” He grinned. “Usually, anyway.”

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