“How many are there?” He shouted, long strides eating the ground between Matt’s forge and the skeletal tower where Rory perched, binoculars in hand.
“Looks like two dozen,” Rory said, not looking down. Thom wouldn’t have heard the words if he’d been any further away. “Doesn’t look like they realize we’ve spotted them yet.”
“Let’s keep it that way a little longer,” Thom said, looking around. Angie was in his shadow, staring up at him expectantly.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Tell your brother and Davon to start getting people to their positions quietly. Then bring Marin to me.”
Her brows knit for a moment. “Are you sure?”
He gave her a firm nod. Rather have her with me where I can keep an eye on her myself rather than somewhere else so I can worry about her. “Yes. I’m sure.”
Thom opened his eyes and stared silently at the darkness above him, listened to the sound of Marin breathing as she lay pressed against his side. He took slow, even breaths until his heart calmed, until the adrenaline rush brought on by the dream faded. His hand came up from beneath their shared blankets and he ran his fingers through Marin’s hair. She murmured in her sleep, shifted closer, then settled back into deeper slumber.
Hunted, Phelan had said. Thom was silently grateful that she hadn’t pressed either of them harder that night a week ago. Phelan had been a little more forthright with Thom the day they’d met, the day Thom had given Marin her ring and asked her to be his wife. It wasn’t just Phelan or his cousins or sister that were being hunted.
It was all of them.
He closed his eyes and exhaled quietly, feeling a shiver wrack him, sending twinges through his ribs. He exhaled slowly, opening his eyes and staring into the darkness again.
“It’s only a matter of time before one—or a few—of them show up. I hope I’m wrong about it, but I think we both suspect I’m not.
There had been a long, drawn-out explanation of bloodlines and talents and other things, but at the core of their discussion that first day was a single truth: they were all in very real danger and that wasn’t Phelan’s fault. They’d been born to it, fallen into it, drawn into it—willingly or unwillingly, it didn’t matter. From Greg all the way down to Angie and to Tala’s unborn child he wasn’t supposed to know about, they were targets of any entity that would twist the world’s fragile energies toward suffering and malaise—even murder.
On dark nights like this, in the deep hours before dawn, Thom wondered how many fel forces were out there and how long it would be before they faced one again.
Another few long minutes ticked by and he decided that he was unlikely to get any more sleep that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the Shadow Man with Marin in his grip. Sometimes, since the attack at the barrow, he saw Vammatar in the Shadow Man’s place. It was enough to turn his blood to ice water.
He kissed Marin gently and eased out from their blankets, wincing at the whimpering meowl that rose from near his feet, where a small, black ball of fuzz had taken up residence.
“Sorry kitten,” he murmured, lifting the pitiful thing up. He ruffled her ears, making a few soft, soothing noises before he settled her in the warm spot where he’d been, next to Marin. The kitten promptly curled back into a ball but stared at him with huge, golden-green eyes as he fumbled for a sweatshirt and his crutches in the dark.
He winced again. “Go back to sleep, Mar,” he said softly.
“I just can’t sleep,” he said. “No reason why you shouldn’t.” He leaned in, lips brushing her cheek again. “Not going far, I promise. Probably just add some wood to the fire and check on Phelan. Then I’ll come back.”
“Promise.” His fingers brushed her cheek and levered himself to his feet, ignoring his complaining ribs, and limped out into the darkness.
Carolyn had dozed off near the fire, on the watch. Thom touched her shoulder as he limped past, to the woodpile. He wrestled a split log from it, leaning against one of his crutches rather than both.
“What are you doing up?” Carolyn asked sleepily as he fed the wood into the dying fire.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said quietly. “Tossing and turning just hurts and I’d rather not keep Marin up with it anyhow. How long have you been up?”
“An hour, I think,” she said, scrubbing at her eyes. “Hard to tell. I’m tired.”
“Don’t blame you. Everyone is.” Thom fed another log into the fire, poking it gently until it caught. The fire crackled softly, growing, casting flickering highlights against their faces. “Who’s on watch with you?”
“Brandon. He’s checking on the animals.” Carolyn tugged a blanket tighter around her shoulders. “J.T.’ll yell at you for being up.”
“Don’t tell him,” Thom suggested. “That should keep me out of trouble. Besides, I’m just going to go look in on Phelan and then maybe I’ll try to sleep again.”
Carolyn nodded. “That’s probably a good idea. G’night, Thom.”
“Night Care.” He limped away from the fire and toward where Phelan was sleeping, relying on his night vision to be enough to get him there. It usually was—his sight in the dark was unusually good and had only improved in the past few weeks.
The first indication he got that something wasn’t right was the faint, quick gleam of metal in the firelight, a glimmer just barely visible in the night. The second was the pale shadow of a figure straddling Phelan’s chest, something small with that brief gleam of metal clutched in its hand. Beneath the figure, Phelan struggled weakly, almost soundlessly.
Thom made a quiet noise and darted forward. He swung one crutch as hard as he could at the figure. The blow connected and a feminine voice cried out. She toppled off of Phelan sideways.
Unbalanced, Thom stumbled to one side and fell with a yelp as he caught the edge of a shelf against his ribcage. He lay wheezing on his side, blinking against the red dots that danced before his eyes in the darkness, trying to sort out who the figure was.
Light suddenly rendered him temporarily blind. Carolyn gasped at the scene and started shouting for help. Thom flopped onto his back and took a few ragged breaths, closing his eyes to wait until that help arrived.