Winter – Chapter 24 – 06

            The hairs on the back of Thom’s neck stirred uncomfortably the further from the walls they walked.  His hands tightened into fists and his teeth ground until he made a conscious effort to stop.  “Do you feel that?”
            “A creep factor?”  Matt nodded slowly.  “Yeah, I feel it, but I couldn’t tell you where it’s coming from and I couldn’t tell you how much of it is based on watching you react to something I can’t quite consciously feel.”
            Great.  I forgot who I was out here with.  Thom’s jaw tightened again and he swallowed.  We should’ve stopped and rounded up some help.  “Where the hell is the source, though?”
            Matt shrugged.  “Not getting any sort of sense of direction.”
            Me neither.  Which means it’s diffuse, it’s coming from everywhere, or I’m not as sensitive to this as I used to be.  He winced at the thought.  Fading sensitivity to the majority of threats targeting them wasn’t going to help him keep anyone safe.
            Hell.  Is that why she was angry with me all the time?
            “Go back to camp,” Thom said.  “Get Drew and if you can pry Rory away from whatever he’s doing, grab him, too.  And get a rifle.”
            “I don’t think I should leave you out here by yourself,” Matt said, frowning.
            “I’ll be fine.  I’m just going to try to get a better sense of where this is coming from.”  Thom jerked his chin toward a nearby pile of rubble.  “Going to climb up there and see if I can see something, too.”
            “All right.”  Matt still didn’t look happy.  “Just Rory and Drew?”
            “And Greg, too, if he’s here, and anyone else you think might be useful, but I think a group larger than six might be overkill when we don’t know that there’s actually anything coming.”  Thom shook his head as he headed for the pile of broken concrete and other rubble.  “Could be ambient bad vibes and paranoia.”
            “You sound like Kel,” Matt said as he turned to head back toward the open gateway.
            Thom managed a lopsided smile as he turned away.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
            His ribs twinged uncomfortably as he scrambled up pile, cursing under his breath as bits and pieces of rubble slipped under the soles of his sneakers.  The last thing he needed was to undo all the healing that had already happened by slipping on a snow-slick pile of broken bricks and concrete.
            “Sounding like Kel,” he muttered under his breath, eyes narrowing as he straightened at the top of the pile, his vantage a few feet higher than it had been on the ground.  His chest ached even as he tried to take a few deep breaths, struggling to relax and focus.  None of this was easy anymore.
            It’s not easy and that’s probably my fault.  He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to turn toward the point where things felt darkest, the most questionable.  It took a few moments, wrestling with his own thoughts and emotions.  It was hard to pick out what was real and what he was simply imagining.
            Thom opened his eyes and stared out into the distance—north again, as usual, almost as always.
            Why do all the threats seem to come from the north?
            Except for when they’re coming from the ravines, which are in the south.  West is nothing but the lake and east is the ravine again and the river.  He shivered.  There was only north and the broken bridge, for the most part.
            At least we found a defensible position.  Passably defensible.  If we can find a way to keep things from coming up out of the ravine to eat us.
            The wardings they’d laid helped with that—he knew that much—but until they’d built a solid reputation as a force to be reckoned with, they weren’t going to be safe.  He had a feeling they weren’t going to be safe anytime soon, either, not until they faced down a few more high caliber nasties.
            Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind having to guard the ravines a little longer if it meant us facing fewer threats on that terrifying of a level.  He was under no illusions that they’d gotten lucky against Vammatar, Phelan’s injuries notwithstanding.  He didn’t have much confidence that they’d be as lucky with Cariocecus—the Shadow Man.
            His lips thinned as he squinted into the distance.  There’s definitely something out there, I just can’t figure out what it is—and I can’t see it yet.
            Yet.  He could feel it, though.  Something was coming, and it made him queasy.  It felt different from every other bad feeling he’d gotten.
            Something new?
            “I don’t like it, either,” Greg said from behind him.  Thom startled, half spinning and barely catching himself as he lost his balance on the slick pile of rocks.
            “Damnation, Professor,” Thom growled.  “You scared the crap out of me.”
            “I noticed,” Greg said.  “And if you don’t stop calling me ‘Professor’ soon, I’m going to start punching you every time you say it.  My wrist can take the punching but your ribs sure as hell can’t.”
            Thom snorted and touched his ribs as they twinged again.  “Right, okay.  So…”  He glanced out toward the north again, toward the distance where he couldn’t see anything yet, “when did you start feeling something?”
            “Hour and a half ago, but it was pretty far out.  I didn’t start worrying until I felt it getting closer.”  Greg’s jaw set and his lips were a fine, pale line slashed through his face.  “That started about twenty minutes ago.”
            “And then Matt found you.”
            Greg nodded.  “And I decided not to wait any longer to come out here.”  He followed Thom’s gaze out into the distance.  “Whatever it is, it’s coming.  Slow, but coming.”
            “Big?”  Thom asked, mildly curious.
            “Big.”
            Great.  Just great.  “I hope Matt comes back with enough fire power.”
            “We can only hope.”
            Yeah.  We can only hope.

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