Winter – Chapter 16 – 05

            “Help me brace this door,” Gray growled, glaring at Wat.  The other man scrambled over and threw his weight against the doors alongside his friend.  Gray’s gaze flicked to Kes.  “Get the shotguns and get them fast.  I don’t care if they’ll do us any good or not, they’ll at least make me feel better.”
            Kes nodded and ducked into one of the side rooms.
            Aoife met Gray’s eyes, her breathing still shallow, still kneeling on the hard wooden floor.
            “We have until they break down the door,” he said, his tone even, voice not betraying even the slightest hint of fear.  “Tell us everything you can about what you’re afraid these are—and why you’re hoping it’s not them.”
            “It’s a long story,” she said.  With a lot of dirty laundry attached.
            “Hopefully we’ll have the time, but give us the short version first.  Highlights.”
            “R-right.”  Highlights.  That involves who and why and what.  She swallowed the bile rising in her throat, her stomach already trying to rebel against her.  Déithe agus arrachtaigh,” she murmured to herself, then began to get her feet under her again.  Terézia offered her a hand up, which she gratefully accepted, reflecting maybe she could like the other woman after all.
                Once she was on her feet again, she wrapped her arms around herself tightly and sucked in a deep breath, finding her center and grounding points.  The air, even inside, buzzed with the evening’s power, the strength of Samhain and the thinning of the veil.  That’s to your advantage if you have to defend them.  Remember that.  “If they’re what I fear, they’re old enemies of my family.  Four sisters, the maidens of Tuonela—peddlers in pain and suffering, dealers of death and decay.  They’re northrons like us and would have taken the Tír for their own if we’d let them.  That’s where it started.  I suppose you can only take so much doom and gloom.”  Aoife gulped in air again, fighting down her nausea.  “I’m still not sure who crossed them first, who gave them the first insult, but I fear it was either Teague or my brother.”
                Kes returned with the shotguns, handed one of the three to Terézia.  She kept the other two for herself.  Aoife kept talking.
                “We had never been allies, not ever since before I was even born, but relations were at least neutral when I was a child.  That changed as I grew older.  There was an attack upon us in Eíre, during the days of old, before the first true kingdoms there.  My uncle and his armies turned them back, but not without a cost.  Hundreds died on their spears, when they came in their dragon ships and on the backs of worgs.”  A shudder shot through her and she caught her lip between her teeth.  “I was a child that first time.  The second time, I was older, and the fighting was more fierce.  We almost lost when they attacked with their allies.”  She shook her head slightly.  “It was the days of mythology—the days that are just barely remembered now as legend.”
                “And our furry friends out there?”  Gray prompted.
                “They’ve used them before– Kivutar, Loviatar, Kipu-Tyito, and Vammatar.  They’ve called upon the changers to aid them in the past, used them as hounds.  I’ve heard it whispered that it happened in the days of Bréanainn.”  She knuckled her eyes.  “They’re skinwalkers—more like shamans from the west than like the werewolves you’ve probably read about in books.  Not like the loup garou or anything like that.  They’ve taken on the form of the wolf in order to gain their strength and wildness, but they often lose themselves in the doing.  They’re warriors who chose this calling.  Not quite a berserker, but not quite a real man anymore, either.  They’re bloody well dangerous and I hope that they’re not what I think they are because they won’t stop until they’ve found their quarry.”  I hope it’s not us.  It’s terrible of me to hope that it’s not me, because it means that it’s someone else of my blood, but we’re not equipped to deal with that here.  We’re too few.  We didn’t have any warning.  Gods and monsters, I hope the others will.
                Terézia frowned slightly.  “…do you guys hear anything outside?”
                Wat shook his head.  “Not anymore, anyway.  Doesn’t sound like anything’s fighting out there anymore.”
                Then a voice echoed from beyond the doors.  “Aoife O’Credne!  I know you’re within; come out and have words with me.”
                Her blood ran cold and her jaw tightened.
                Met by silence, the voice outside continued.  “Come out, Lady of Sighs, you have my word of honor on the blood of my ancestors and on the blood of heroes I will not harm you this night.”
                “Who the hell is that?”  Gray asked, staring at her.

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