I yelled, starting to go after him. J.T. caught my arm and jerked me back.
“Stay on this side,” he shouted as the screams began; the Greys had started to throw themselves at the ward-lines again. “You cross that now and they’ll tear you apart.”
“You can’t help him now!”
“There must be a thousand of them,” I murmured. The voice I heard was not my own, the skin I wore was unfamiliar and yet familiar all at once. Silver trinkets woven to my dark, reddish hair clinked softly against each other as I shook my head slowly, hand tightening around the haft of my great boar-spear. “It’s too many.”
“There’s no choice,” a voice whispered at my elbow. My brother’s voice, I knew by instinct, though he didn’t sound like Matthew. A wave of irritation washed through me.
“I know there’s no choice,” I snapped, then glared down at him, eyes narrowing. The figure wrapped in brown was solid, though leaner than I, and green-blue eyes filmed over by white gleamed from the depths of a hood. My voice dropped. “Head for the back, Ciar. It’s too dangerous and I have already lost you once. I will not stand to lose you again, brother.”
His chin lifted for a moment, as if those blind-seeming eyes were searching my face, until he finally nodded. “Gods walk with you, my sister, my chieftain.” He touched my face gently before he turned and withdrew. A shaggy hound—more wolf than dog—detached from my side and trotted after him. The men behind us parted to let them pass.
I stepped forward, clear of the line of warriors. It was a ragged force of perhaps a hundred or a hundred and fifty, warriors and hunters, two dozen bowmen—that was all I had to face the host before us, waiting for us to come sweeping down from the high, wooded place where we had camped and waited for them.
Five-score against a thousand. Five-score and Phelan’s men, and Finn’s, should they arrive in time.
I took a deep breath and lifted my spear.
“Haghaidh fola agus tír! Haghaidh imbolg!”
My men roared the battle cry back at me.
My heart began to beat faster, my voice rising. “Haghaidh fola agus tír! Haghaidh imbolg!”
Spears rattled, men shouted. A few voices yelled different oaths; one reached my ears, one rarely heard that left me heartened and shaken all at once.
“Le haghaidh an taoiseach, do bhean Brighid! Haghaidh imbolg!”
I swallowed. For the chieftain. For Brighid. For me.
I lifted the spear one last time. “Haghaidh imbolg!”
Somewhere to my left, I heard a faint echo of our cry. I grinned a Death’s head grin.
Perhaps we’ll win the day after all.
I whirled and ran toward the thousand. My army poured after me, crying for the blood of our enemies and the honor of our people. Our day would not end until the grass was stained red with blood.
My vision cleared. J.T. was still gripping my arm. The vision couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds. I looked past the curtain of Greys toward where Vammatar had been standing, ready to shake off J.T.’s grip and run to help Phelan if he needed it.
Vammatar was gone.
So was Phelan.
“What the—where did they go?” I clawed at J.T.’s arm. “Jay, they’re gone!”
He startled, too, and his gaze swept over the ground beyond the lines. He shook his head. “They must have backed over the edge.” His muscles bunched beneath my fingers. “Look sharp,” he said, jerking his chin toward the ward-lines. “They’re pressing.”
The invisible barrier that was the lines was starting to warp and bow.
A cry went up to our left, coupled with a snapping sound I felt more than heard. I darted past J.T., running toward the sound, toward the point where the Greys were pouring through a gap in the line.
It was Drew and Rory’s section, and I could hear them shouting amidst the howls of the Greys. A litany of curses ran non-stop through my brain as I laid about wildly with a staff I barely knew how to use.
“Drew!” I shouted over the din. “Rory!”
A Grey plowed into my side and bounced off. Frost rimed my jeans and my arm felt like it had been engulfed in frigid fire. My fingers convulsed.
I didn’t drop the staff.
A strange, deadly calm washed through me as I pivoted on the leg that wasn’t half-numbed from the impact. The staff moved like it was an extension of my body, of me, and it sluiced sideways, quicker than I ever thought I was capable of moving. I caught the Grey over where its ear should have been.
Its skull caved in like a rotten piece of fruit.
Part of me felt like I should be puking on the corpse. The other part urged me to keep moving damn it all.
I listened to the latter, plunging through the narrow tide of Greys washing into camp.
I reached Rory first. He pointed to a spot on the line.
“They managed to knock it out of true! Can you fix it?”
“I don’t know!” If I try, I’ll be vulnerable to attack every second I’m working on it. No idea how long it could take, if it worked at all. “We need to hold them here!”
“Easier said than done,” Rory snapped, his staff coming down on the head of another Grey, which stumbled back but didn’t go down.
I dropped low and cut its legs out from under it, then whipped the tip of my staff at its head.
The Grey went still.
I wasn’t even breaking a sweat. That terrified me. I didn’t feel anything except for a terrible, terrible calm.
Rory glanced at me as he tripped up another Grey. “Are you all right?”
“No,” I whispered, though he couldn’t hear it. “No, I’m not okay.”
I threw myself toward a knot of Greys anyhow, catching a glimpse of Drew at the heart of the melee in this section.
Settle down, settle down. Trust your instincts.
Even if you don’t know where they’re coming from.
But I did. It was the woman I’d seen in the vision—the woman I’d been in the vision. Touching J.T. must have had a strange effect on me. I’d never really seen anything like that before.
I hoped I wouldn’t again.
In the middle of a fight wasn’t the best time to start believing in past lives.
Well, not your own past lives.
I made a path for myself through the mob. A few more Greys went down before they began to scatter before me. Drew bettered one before it got a few steps deeper into camp, but two more ducked past, headed for our secondary lines.
Oh god. Please be ready for them.
Thom had insisted on being on the second line. There had been no dissuading him.
I prayed he knew what he was getting into.
“I’m okay,” Drew called to me. “I’ve got this, it’s okay.”
“Obviously not.” I knocked a Grey sprawling only to have another pop up in its place. “We need to hold the line!”
“Sealing it would be better! Where’s Phelan?”
Words stuck in my throat and I choked on them.
“I don’t know,” I managed to say, closing in on him. “I think we’re on our own.”
The idea frightened me, though not as badly as the prospect of Phelan’s death. He could already be dead or dying down there in the ravine, locked in mortal combat with Vammatar.
There was nothing I could do about that now, though. I set my stance and held my ground. All we could do was keep holding on until this was over—however it ended.