“Get the tip of that damn sword up, Marin. You’re not going to stop anything from getting past your guard if you’re holding it that low.”
I adjusted how I was holding the kendo stick only to have Thom tap the butt of my staff against my instep.
“Wider stance gives you more mobility.”
“Bloody hell,” I cursed under my breath. “Why am I learning to use a goddamned sword anyway, Thom? I’ve got the staff. Phelan’s talking about teaching me to use a spear.”
“Everyone’s learning,” Thom said. “Even Jac.”
I shook my head, adjusting my stance slightly and swallowing a sigh. “Jac was light years ahead of me in all this shit to begin with. She actually likes it.”
Thom shrugged with his uninjured shoulder, his boots crunching on the thin crust of snow that coated the ground out near the well. “Everyone needs to know how to use one.”
He shot me a look so cold I shivered. “Yes,” he said, his tone turning the blood in my veins to ice. “Swords. Everyone. Even if you use a staff, a spear, a bow, a gun. Everyone needs to know how to use a blade. You never know when you might be asked to take up one.”
“You saw something,” I said, my tone far softer and gentler than his. He still stiffened like I’d plunged a knife into his spine.
“Yeah,” he said quietly, turning away. He stared at the sky for a few long moments, then his gaze drifted out toward the walls. “We’re not ready for him to come again, Marin.”
I lowered the kendo stick and came over to him. “It’s still a few weeks before the solstice.”
“A few weeks,” he echoed. “Not a few months. Not a few years. We’re not prepared, Mar. He’s going to annihilate us.”
“No he’s not,” I said, sliding my hand into his, our fingers knitting. “Do you know why?”
“No.” His voice was bleak as his fingers tightened. “All I see when I see that bastard and that day is a bloodbath. We barely beat the camazotzi the first time. You and Kellin and I almost got killed. I just don’t see how we can defend ourselves against a fucking god.”
“He can’t penetrate the wards without someone undermining them,” I said. “We have that advantage.”
“Vammatar found a way.”
“That doesn’t mean Cariocecus will.” I smothered a frown, making a mental note to talk to Phelan about how that had happened. I still wasn’t quite sure if it was a weak spot in the wards or the sheer weight of the onslaught that made them buckle that day. It wasn’t exactly clear which was worse, either.
“Have faith,” I finally said.
“I try,” he replied. “Sometimes it doesn’t work so well. Widen your stance a little more.” He started to step back, fingers loosening around my hand.
Even as I eased my feet another faction of an inch apart, I held onto his hand and lifted the kendo stick, staring at it for a moment before I looked at him. “These aren’t going to be what saves us.”
“Of course not,” he said. “Your brother’s working on some actual swords. Phelan’s helping. Once they’re done, we should have enough when we put it with the festival steel that’ll take an edge.”
“That’s not what I meant.” I looked at him and blew out a quiet breath. “Physical weapons aren’t going to be what wins the day for us, Thom. They might make a difference, but what’s going to save us is in here.” I touched his forehead. “And in here.” I laid my hand over his heart, meeting his doubtful gaze head on. “Our heads and our hearts, Thom. We’re smarter than he is and this is our home and these are the people we care about.”
“He’s ridiculously powerful,” Thom murmured. “I don’t know how we can win against him. I don’t know that Phelan knows, either. He won’t say it, but he’s shaking in his boots.”
“Of course he is. Even if he’s not a primary target, he’s a prime secondary.” I suppressed a shiver. The threat Cariocecus had implied on my wedding day was that he was interested in taking out me, Thom, and our friends—there had been no threat against Phelan directly. It had bothered me, tugged at the back of my mind since that day.
Hell, be honest, Marin. He threatened you and Thom—two of the last Seers in the world. What makes us so damned dangerous?
At the end of the day, I really wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
I let the kendo stick drop to the snow and slid my arms around Thom. He shivered as I drew him against me, his head dipping until his chin rested against my shoulder. “We’ll win the day because there’s no other choice except to win, Thom,” I breathed in his ear. “If we’re meant to have a future, we have to win.”
“I don’t know if we can kill him, Mar.”
“We don’t have to kill him. We just have to win.” I leaned back, looking him in the eye. “And we’ll find a way to do it because if we don’t, Angie’s not going to have a future and Tala’s baby and the son we’re supposed to have someday won’t ever happen.”
He gave a jolt as I mentioned our someday-son. “You’re not–”
“Not yet,” I said. Though I’m not entirely certain I’d be very upset if I was. I know we’re all going to be okay somehow, and when Tala’s baby comes, we’ll be able to start figuring it all out. “But it’s going to happen someday.”
“Only if we win when the Shadow Man comes, Mar,” Thom whispered.
“And we’re going to.” I cupped his face between my palms. “We’re going to, Thom. Our lives and the future of everyone here depend on that.”
He shook his head slightly, gazing beyond me for a moment, toward the endless dark blue of a clear November sky. “Will the wards be ready?”
“We buried the copper before the ground started to freeze. Kel and I are going to weave some protections into the walls starting today, if you’ll release me from this infernal sword training.”
The corner of his mouth twitched slightly toward a smile. “I’d be setting a bad example if I made an exception for you.”
“She flatly refused. Said the staff was all she needed.” Thom shook his head slightly. “You can’t force that woman to do a damned thing she doesn’t want to be doing.”
“Then if it’s both of us, it’s not an exception.”
He shot me a questioning look coupled with a wry smile. “You have strange definitions for these things.”
“Maybe I do,” I said, “but the point—and the question—stands. Am I off the hook?”
The rough parts of his fingers caught in my hair as he ran them through it gently. “Only because you’re handling other matters important to our defense and ultimate survival.”
I gave him a kiss and a gentle squeeze. “Walk back with me, then?”
He nodded, glancing back off into the distance again. “Yeah. Grab the kendo.”
I stooped to pick up the fallen practice weapon and then fitted my hand into his once I’d straightened.
Three and a half weeks left until the Feast of Midwinter. Not a lot of time at all, but when the Shadow Man showed up again, we’d be prepared.
One way or another, we’d have to be.
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