He looked away, as if unable to meet my gaze. I touched his shoulder gently, above the bandages that swathed the wound there.
“Who’s hunting you, Phelan?” And why?
He kept staring off into space, voice so quiet I almost couldn’t hear him over the normal evening sounds of camp. “Remember a few weeks ago, when I told you that my being here could have drawn the camazotzi to you more quickly, that the attack could have come sooner?”
“Yeah,” I said softly. “But you really didn’t explain much more.”
Phelan shook his head slightly. “I should have, but I just didn’t expect what happened the other night. I didn’t think…well. I just didn’t think.” He finally looked at me again and offered up a weak smile. “I somehow kept thinking that maybe with everything broken, maybe I could be wrong, maybe they’d stop, maybe they’d just find places to be and build their own little fiefdoms and leave everyone else well enough alone. I was a fool.”
“You’re not making any sense,” I said gently. I put my hand against his forehead and he flinched away.
“Gods and monsters, your hands are cold,” he murmured, shivering.
“You have a hell of a fever,” I countered. “Who was she? Vammatar?”
Another shiver wracked him. “What am I, Marin?”
I couldn’t stop the little laugh that escaped me. “Mortal.”
A weak smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “She’s the same. Different Otherworld, same idea. We’ve been locking horns for a long time.” He shifted, fidgeted with his blanket, then sighed. “Help me sit up, will you? I’ve got the worst crick in my back.”
“Probably because she stabbed you with something there.” I sighed and helped him sit up slowly, since he’d try even without my help. He was as stubborn as Thom and then some.
Phelan winced, hunching as he reached gingerly around to touch the second set of bandages. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he mumbled. “Though I’m surprised I didn’t feel that one.” His eyes, clearer now that he’d been awake a bit longer, flicked toward me. “Have you seen what they look like?”
“Not infected or anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He nodded slightly. “In part, yeah. Small favors, at least.” He touched his injured shoulder again, almost unconsciously. “Going to have to be careful,” he murmured, half to me and half to himself.
“Do you think she’ll come back?” I asked softly.
He looked at me sidelong and shook his head. “You already know the answer to that.”
“How long do you think we have?”
“After what happened?” Phelan smiled humorlessly. “We can hope for weeks, maybe months. That wasn’t all me, you know.”
Something twisted in my belly. I’d suspected that there had been a little more going on that night than just Phelan’s work, but I wasn’t at all sure. “The light, the brightness. That wasn’t you, was it?”
He shook his head slightly. “No. No it wasn’t.”
“Then who was it?” I asked the question a little more sharply than I intended to, staring at him intently. He just shook his head.
“I have my suspicions,” he said quietly, “but I don’t have facts in evidence.” He rubbed a hand roughly over his face and shivered. I wrapped an extra blanket around his shoulders.
“I’m going to go get someone,” I said quietly.
Phelan shook his head again. “No, just sit a while. Just sit a while with me so I can get my bearings. Five days, you said? Gods and monsters.” He shook his head slightly. “Turning into Teague,” he muttered, almost too quiet for me to hear.
“What does he have to do with anything?” I asked curiously. Cousins, of course, with some kind of power as well, I know that much. But how connected is all of this? “Is he why you’re being hunted?”
Phelan snorted softly. “If we’re being hunted, it’s equally likely to be my fault, or Aoife’s fault, or anyone’s fault.”
“You’re finally telling her?” Thom stood behind me, leaning against his crutches as if his ribs weren’t bothering him at all, which either meant he was ignoring them or that our three-man medical squad had found something more potent to take the edges off.
Wait a second. I twisted to stare at Thom, though not before I caught sight of Phelan’s guilty look out of the corner of my eye. “You knew?” I blurted, blinking. Thom knew and didn’t say anything? Why?
“We talked about a lot that day,” Thom said softly, limping forward a few steps before he slowly sat down with me next to Phelan, stretching his bad leg out with a slight wince. “Including Kira, Teague, and some kind of war that’s been going on since well before we were even the barest glimmer of a glimmer in someone’s eye. So yeah, I kind of knew. I didn’t know what to expect, though.”
“Wait, wait,” I said. “Slow down. A war? We’ve suddenly been caught in the center of a war?”
“I wouldn’t call it a war,” Phelan protested weakly, then stopped, frowned, and sighed. “Okay, maybe I would. But it’s the kind of war that you’d get caught up in no matter what, Marin. The camazotzi were an opening salvo. You were a target before I ever got here.” His fingers tangled in the blanket across his legs, knuckles going white as he squeezed his hands into fists. “The escalation is likely to be my fault, though. I just didn’t—I didn’t expect her to show up. Any of them to show up. Not here, not when there’s so much power here to protect you.”
“But you said that this area would be some kind of insane prize for anyone wanting that kind of power,” I reminded him softly, slowly starting to understand. “She came for that instead of you, didn’t she?”
Phelan stared at me for a moment, pain in his gaze. He shook his head slowly. “No, Marin. She came because of me—and now she’ll come back because of all of us. This is my fault, and I’m not sure how I can make it right.”
Lord, but I wish he’d lied to me instead. Thom wrapped his arm around my shoulders and shook his head grimly.
“Well. When the day comes, we’ll be ready.”
A shiver wracked both Phelan and I. Phelan managed a weak smile. “Then we’ll drink to that, every day between now and that day, and pray with every spare moment in between. I have faith in you. All of you.”
I was glad that someone did.
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