Forty-nine – 01

[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]

Shields snapped up and into place a second before Matt consciously realized they should be there, lightning sheeting off the lines of the wards his sister had crafted. Half a second later, he remembered they weren’t designed to do that and his heart gave a strange double-beat.

His hands were glowing, faintly silver-gray, his fingers splayed, a faint tremor starting in the muscles of his arms.

Is this me?

She told you they would need you to help shield them.

It was too bright beyond the ward-line to look at where she stood, with lightning crashing down faster and faster at that spot where she’d been.

The army Olympium had brought with them was moving, though they weren’t moving together—half was forming ranks and moving forward, others were running, fleeing back toward the rear.

What the hell does all of this mean?

“Archers,” Thom said, his voice quiet at first, then rising slightly. “Archers, target the ranks moving toward us. Keep your shots clear of the lightning column in the center. We don’t want to hit her on accident.”

Sif’s voice rose above the storm and the sound of lightning crackling off the wards, repeating Thom’s order. Responses echoed down the wall from the Wild Hunt’s archers. Sif notched an arrow and sighted her target.

Matt’s heart rose into his throat. Phelan’s hand fell on his shoulder and his jaw tightened. He cast a sidelong glance at the other man as Phelan’s fingers tightened around his shoulder. A faint tingle flowed through him, centered on his friend’s hand, lending him strength that he didn’t realize he needed.

“She’s drawing on you,” Phelan whispered, his voice barely audible over the storm. “What she’s doing out there isn’t something she can do alone.”

“She told me I needed to be here,” Matt murmured. “On the wall, with all of you, protecting you. I wanted to stay with her.” His eyes stung as he struggled to see her amidst the blinding blue-white of the lightning. Phelan’s fingers tightened and Matt squeezed his eyes shut, the after-images dancing against the black of his closed eyelids.

“Loose!”

The hum of bowstrings and arrows momentarily overrode the sound of the storm and Matt bowed his head, a tremor running through him.

What if someone didn’t—

No. No, they wouldn’t dare.

Would they?

Phelan squeezed his shoulder and Matt swallowed hard as he opened his eyes in time to see arrows rain down on the leading ranks of Olympium’s army, the ranks that continued their advance.

A horn blasted a signal from somewhere at Olympium’s rear. For a moment, the fleeing ranks paused. Some turned back to join the front.

Matt held his breath. “They’re not running.”

“No,” Phelan agreed, his tone grim. “I don’t think we expected that they would.”

But they hoped. Matt’s jaw tightened. “What more can we do to help her?”

“Archers!”

“What do you mean?”

Sif echoed Thom’s shout and responses flowed down both lines of the wall. Matt’s heart started to beat faster.

He tore his gaze away from the field and stared at his friend. “How do we stop them if she can’t?”

Phelan stared at him for a long moment before a wry smile curved one corner of his mouth. “Are you asking me what the cost would be or if it’s smart?”

“I think smart went out the window when I left her alone out there on the field.”

Something flickered in Phelan’s eyes, but the once-druid nodded. “Probably right on that. Do you trust me?”

A laugh tried to tear itself free from Matt’s throat. He shook his head. “Fuck, is now really the time to be asking that question?”

“Point taken,” Phelan said, his old devil-may-care grin flickering across his face for a moment.

“Loose!”

Thordin leaned close, his expression grim. “Whatever you two are going to do, you’d better do it fast before they get too close for the archers to make a difference and we have to start going over this wall.”

“He’s right,” Phelan said, meeting Matt’s gaze.

Matt nodded. “Then whatever it is, let’s do it.”

And damn the cost.

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