Nine – 02

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

Kailey tore her gaze from the faces of the people manning their defenses—most of them faces she’d known her whole life—and looked out over the field again, straining her eyes to see beyond its edge to the edge of the old hills. Those hills had once been buildings, according to her father, buildings that had been slowly reclaimed by the earth since Meteorfall. That was what they called it—either Meteorfall or simply “the Fall.” She’d never asked for the full story of it, though she’d heard bits and pieces over the years. Growing up in the Valley, it was hard not to.

Unless the riders took those low hills head-on, they’d funnel through a narrow space between them to the wide field below the walls. Kailey wasn’t sure which would happen.

After all, this was something new for her.

“Sif,” Matt said, glancing past Kailey and Hecate. “Ready the warning shot. Two hundred yards out.”

Sif nodded slowly, notching the arrow but not drawing yet.

Kailey swallowed.

This is real. I’m not dreaming. This is actually happening.

The sound of riders grew closer and for a second, she held her breath, her heart starting to beat faster. She groped for her mother’s hand, found it, squeezed.

Hecate squeezed it back, leaning into her ear. “Steady, ceann daor. It’s all right. Nothing will harm you.”

She wanted to tell her mother that wasn’t what she was worried about, but the words stuck in her throat. Her head bobbed in a slight nod. “Of course, mum,” she whispered, her throat tight.

Maybe nothing today. But what about the day after? Or the next?

Something was going on. All of them knew it. Why else would her father have reacted like this?

Why else would she have panicked at the sight and sound of riders while she was out in the orchards?

“I have eyes,” Neve called from the other side of the gates, her voice just loud enough to reach them. “They’re coming through the narrows.”

Matt just shook his head, holding up a hand. “On my signal, Sif.”

“You got it,” she said, her voice grim as she lifted the bow, readying to aim without drawing—not yet.

Why waste the energy if you might need it? Who knows if there’s an army behind them?

A chill skittered down Kailey’s spine and she swallowed hard.

“Don’t!”

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