Stasia whistled ahead of them, and Kellin reined up her horse, a gray mare they hadn’t named since rescuing her and her stable mates from possible starvation the week before. The mare trotted forward a few more steps before Kellin hauled back on the reins again. The horse let our an annoyed nicker and stopped half a length behind Stasia’s big bay colt.
“What’s the matter?” Kellin asked.
Stasia shook her head and pointed. “Is that the farm, you think?”
It was hard to tell at first, since so much of the landscape had changed, thanks to earthquakes, a rising Lake Michigan, and rocks falling out of the sky, but as Kellin squinted into the distance, she thought what she saw looked at least vaguely familiar. She nodded slowly.
“I think so. Trees and everything are right, so’re the fields. This should be the place.”
Stasia nodded and kicked the bay into motion, heading down the hill and toward the farm. Tala drew up alongside of Kellin and glanced at the other woman as Brandon passed them both astride a monster black stallion, following Stasia.
Kellin considered the question for a moment, then nodded. “I think so. It’s been a while since I came out here, that’s all.”
“Not since Jamie left, right?”
“Right,” Kellin murmured. She felt a pang of regret, of guilt. Maybe breaking up with her had been wrong. If they had stayed together, maybe Jamie would’ve stayed inMichigan, stayed close instead of going back to the East Coast. Then Kellin wouldn’t have been sitting astride her mare, wondering if the other woman had survived. She’d probably never know. “It was a few weeks before she left, the last time we came. We’d already broken up, but I came with her anyhow. She wanted to get some fleece for the road, y’know?”
Tala reached across the gap between them and squeezed Kellin’s knee. “You miss her.”
“I probably made a mistake when I broke up with her, yeah.” She shook her head slowly. “Too late to fix it now.”
“I don’t know, maybe someday…” Tala’s voice trailed off and Kellin shook her head.
It’s a nice thought, but it’ll never happen. There’s no way I’m ever going to see her again.
“Do you regret it? Letting her go, I mean. Would you regret it even if this hadn’t happened?”
“Gods and monsters,” Kellin whispered. “I do, Tala. I really do.” Biggest mistake I’ve ever made…and hopefully the worst. “I think I’d regret it even if this hadn’t happened, yeah. I miss her.”
“Are you two coming?” Stasia called from ahead of them. She and Brandon had reined up at the bottom of the hill, waiting for Kellin and Tala to join them. Tala shot Kellin an apologetic smile and got her mount moving. Kellin trailed in her wake.
Once the four were together again, they angled their horses west, along the gravel roadway that lead from the main road down toward the farm. Beyond trees at the far end of the property, the land had gone to swamp, the lake’s water rising and falling with the tides, noticeable even this far inland.
The main house, which Kellin remembered as a beautiful old three-story farmhouse was now a blackened ruin, taken either by fire or by lightning—probably fire born from lightning. One of the barns looked to have taken a similar hit, though half of it was more or less intact. A smaller barn and what looked like a pair of storage sheds looked relatively untouched, and big, wooly sheep grazed quietly in a field, the fences around it still intact.
Stasia reined up and frowned a little. “They haven’t been out here in the rain.”
Brandon frowned. “How do you know?”
“If they’d been, the fields out here wouldn’t be as nice looking as they are—they’d be trampled down and muddy.” Stasia’s lips thinned as she looked slowly around, as if seeking threats. “Someone’s been taking care of them.”
Brandon, ever the eager would-be knight in shining armor, swung down out of his saddle. The gesture would have been more impressive, Kellin reflected, if he hadn’t stumbled sideways a few steps before he got his legs back under him. None of them, after all, were that used to riding horses. Stasia was the sole exception to that, and Kellin envied her ease in the saddle. She already knew that her legs were going to ache, and badly by the time they got back to campus.
Brandon looked around, absently patting the stallion’s neck. “Guess we should find whoever’s here, then, right?”
“Right,” Kellin agreed, then carefully dismounted. A tremor ran through her muscles and she leaned against the mare’s flank to steady herself. The horse nickered softly at her, then nudged her shoulder as if in encouragement. Kellin choked on a laugh and shook her head.
Great, a horse is telling me to straighten up and get to business. She almost laughed at that as Tala and Stasia dismounted as well.
“Where should we start?” Tala wondered aloud.
“Probably the barn,” Kellin said. “The one that’s still intact, I think.”
Brandon started to walk toward the barn. “Sounds like a plan to me!”
The sound of a shotgun going off stopped all four of them in their tracks, set their horses rearing and the birds perched on the barn roof scattering.
“Not another step!” A voice shouted. “Or I’ll punch you so damn full of holes your grandparents’ll leak.”