The sun rose slow in the east, over trees and river and the snow-covered remnants of a state highway and university campus. His breath steamed in the cold, eyes stinging in the wind. There were already dark clouds in the west. More snow would come before the day was out.
Story of our lives, lately.
Phelan O’Credne smiled grimly to himself as he slipped into a patch of bright orange sunshine, letting its anemic warmth wash over him. It would be months before the weather broke—both magic and what was left of science agreed on that.
Behind him were the shambles that remained of a battlefield, still spattered with otherworldly blood and gore along the settlement’s walls. His friends would likely be upset that he was beyond the safety of those walls by himself so soon after the battle that had nearly killed him, but after thousands of years of life, he’d found it was typically better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
He stripped his gloves off and wrapped his hands around the bare wood of his staff. It was warm against his palms, comforting, pulsing with the power of the world around him.
Good sign, that. He smiled again as he turned his face up toward the sunlight that slanted through the trees that lined the wide, deep river to the east. Nothing broken that can’t be repaired. That’s a step in the right direction.
It meant that they were still winning the unseen war that he’d been fighting since time immemorial—the unseen war that his friends were just becoming aware of in the months since the end of everything they’d known.
All in all, he mused, they’re handling it well.
He didn’t turn at the sound of boots behind him, crunching on the ice-laced snow. It was probably Thom or Marin, perhaps Cameron, Thordin, or J.T.
Then he felt hairs stirring on the back of his neck and realized it wasn’t any of his friends.
“They really do love you, don’t they, Wanderer?” Cariocecus drew up alongside of him, looking pale and shaky in the light of dawn, his black mantle drawn tight around his broad-shouldered form. “They really, truly do.”
“What do you want?” Phelan asked the amber-eyed godling. Why had it taken so long for his danger senses to trip at the other man’s approach?
Because you almost got your brains scrambled like eggs yesterday, that’s why. Even a soul-healing can’t fully mend the physical wounds, and you had a soul-healing and magical healing. You’re lucky you’re not dead. He knew he should have been. He’d heard it from the others enough times.
“Truce,” Cariocecus said quietly. “Peace.”
Phelan went rigid, slowly turning toward him. The former war deity looked tired, somehow spent. Phelan’s eyes narrowed slightly. “What’s this about? Yesterday, you were hell-bent on wiping us off the map and taking this patch for yourself.”
“My priorities were…skewed,” Cariocecus said, lips thinning. There was a deep gouge on his cheek beneath his eye, one that looked raw and painful despite the tiny stitches that held his flesh together. Phelan briefly wondered if he’d done it himself or if he had allies they were unaware of to help patch him up.
“Skewed,” Phelan echoed, peering at him. “That’s one way to put it.”
“What do you want from me, Wanderer?” Cariocecus sighed, turning his gaze to the rising sun. “What do you want me to say? That I was wrong, that I picked the wrong side, that I am the wrong side? You should know better. Words like that aren’t in me.”
“Then I think you’re SOL,” Phelan said, fingers tightening around his staff. “Because I’m not buying whatever it is you’re selling today.”
“I saved your life,” Cariocecus growled. “I saved all of your lives—twice. I didn’t have to deal with Hecate for you and I didn’t have to deal with Menhit, either.”
“Seems that the latter tried to deal with you,” Phelan said, finally looking at him again. “How’d that work out for you?”
Cariocecus snarled and shook his head. “She’s gunning hard for you. What did you do to piss her off?”
“What do I do to piss anyone off?” Phelan sighed. “I exist.”
“Apparently.” Cariocecus crossed his arms. “I need to talk to them.”
“The Seers. The rest of them. All of them. I just want to be able to plead my case.”
Phelan frowned. We’d have to choose the ground for that and choose it very, very carefully. Despite his claim of wanting peace, we can’t take that statement at face value. He’s a lying bastard—like so many of them are.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Cariocecus said. “You’ll have my word of honor and you get to choose the ground. They’re not stupid. You’ve trained them well.”
Phelan snorted. “They haven’t required much.” His gaze drifted back toward the shafts of sunlight slanting through the trees. “I’ll tell them,” he said after a moment of silence. “I’ll tell them that you want to talk peace—talk truce. Should I tell them that you want to talk about your surrender?”
“I don’t know that they’d accept it,” Cariocecus said. “And I’m even more uncertain what that would mean. You’d never trust me within your wards and I’m not sure I’d be able to live within them anyhow.”
One corner of Phelan’s mouth quirked upward, a smile almost blooming. “You’re likely right on that. Tomorrow morning, you’ll have an answer, one way or another.”
“Here,” Phelan confirmed. “At dawn. And be prepared to tell me everything—regardless of what they decide.”
“Everything,” Cariocecus said. “We’ll see what everything entails tomorrow, then.”
“Indeed,” Phelan murmured as the other man turned and walked away. “We shall certainly see.”