Smoke curled above the knot of small houses sheltering behind the wall that had grown since I’d last seen it. My heart swelled so much I thought it might burst. How long had it been since I’d seen this place? Years; I’d lost count of how many. I took a deep breath and just stared at it for a few long moments. I’d never seen anything look so wonderful in my whole life.
Thom took my hand and squeezed. “Welcome home,” he murmured in my ear.
“Do you think he’s here?” I whispered, fingers tightening around his.
The smile he gave me was a weak one. “We’ve been too lucky so far. I don’t think we’re going to get quite that lucky. They’ll know where he’s gone, though, right? Just think about that.”
I nodded, staring the walls looming above us. Someone was pointing and shouting from on top of one. The sun was just rising; we’d walked all night.
“How much do you think it’s changed?” He murmured.
“It’s been a long time. Probably everything.”
He laughed. “Hopefully not everything.”
The gates opened.
The ground heaved, bucked like it was strapped to a wild animal’s back. All I could hear was screaming and the sound of my heart. Then I heard the horns. Someone was here, someone was here to hurt us. I cursed, stepping away from the wall and pressing a blanket-wrapped toddler into Jacqueline’s arms.
“Who are they?” She asked, taking the dark-haired boy I’d thrust at her.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Just take Lin and the other kids and go down into the cellars.”
“Damn it, Jac! We’ll need you to patch us back together, now go!” My heart hammered against my ribs. I could hear Thom yelling. At least he wasn’t out with a hunting party. At least he’s here to get them all organized. Damnation. She hesitated a moment longer and I winced. “Stop, Jac. Just make the kids safe and don’t come up until someone comes and gets you, okay?”
“All right,” she said, grimacing as she looked toward the wall again. “Be careful.”
As careful as I can afford to be. I just nodded. “We will be.”
Archers and people with our few remaining guns mounted the walls on our side. I took a deep breath and muttered a prayer that we’d be able to turn the tide of whatever had blown those horns out there, marching toward our walls.
A shadow crossed over the moon and I stopped dead in my tracks, squinting up at the star-laden sky. I felt cold and the old mark on my arm burned. I took a deep breath, turning back to look toward the rest of the settlement. The tents the new arrivals were living in were quiet, only one or two lit by lamplight this late in the evening. J.T. and Rory were both walking the night patrol with me, but neither of them were anywhere to be seen.
I took a deep breath. Maybe it was just my imagination.
Something hissed behind me, perched on the wall above. Waves of malice beat against me and I took an involuntary step back.
This doesn’t make any sense. It shouldn’t be able to get this close. The wards…how did it penetrate the wards? But the wards were old, now. They needed attention they hadn’t gotten in the past few years, since we’d gotten down to the business of taking in new folks, most of whom didn’t quite understand, weren’t Awake. They were people who had never seen what I was seeing, were still blind to the newer dangers in the world reborn.
“Begone,” I told the creature, willing strength and power into my voice. Rory and J.T. had to sense the thing if I had; they were probably on their way right now. I’d be all right. “This place belongs to us, not you. Begone and trouble us no more.”
It shrieked and dove at me.
I was standing on a deck somewhere, feeling the ground tremble beneath my feet. Then came the explosion and the red light, the ground ripping open beneath me, glowing bright. The hot wind came and seared the flesh from my bones…
…and then I was back on campus, head ringing from the sound of an explosion that sounded like a cannon shot only a few feet away. The ground started to shake under my feet as the strange light faded in the west…
I came to with a startled gasp, starting to lurch upright. I was shaking all over, from fingertips to toes. Thom’s arms wrapped around me and I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself and sort out the rush of images I’d seen while unconscious.
“Is she okay?” Tala asked.
“She’s fine,” Carolyn said quickly.
“How long was I out?” I whispered to Thom.
“Three minutes, maybe less,” he murmured, arms tightening. “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” I whispered.
Thunder rolled outside the tents. I tried to regulate my breathing and to not listen to the speculation about what had happened to me just now. Kellin, Matt, and Carolyn were all trying to assure the others I was fine. J.T. was starting to make a show of checking my eyes and I was having to struggle not to push him away. He knew I was fine. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, tasting the coming rain on the wind.
Instinctively, I knew I’d seen more than the three visions that were clear. They were part of a tangled mass lurking just beyond the reach of my conscious brain, images that would be plucked up and out as my subconscious saw fit at inopportune times in the future. My gaze flicked up toward Thom, who was grim-faced as he held onto me tightly. I wanted to tell him. I wanted him to know what I’d seen, to warn him that he had a lot of work to do.
What few words came got stuck in my throat and died there. I couldn’t. Not yet. He wasn’t ready.
None of them were ready. Not even me. Some visions I’d just have to live with until the right time came to talk about them, or they happened—whichever came first.