“Riders! Riders incoming, southwest.”
My head came up at the sound of Jack’s shout. He had the patrol watch that hour. My heartbeat quickened.
Someone blew their whistle, calling everyone either to the walls or to cover. I skidded a little on the gravel as I dropped what I was doing and took off for the walls. Jacqueline rushed past me, hustling Angie toward cover. Thom was shouting somewhere nearby, though he wasn’t angry, nor panicked—simply in control of the situation.
That meant it was just men, something he knew, something he understood. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Then I started moving faster, with more urgency. This wasn’t something the wards would stop.
“Stop. Just stop.”
“Stop what, Mar? We hadn’t started yet.” Carolyn looked concerned for a moment, then simply frowned. “Never mind,” she said softly.
I dug my knuckles into my temples for a moment. That was twice. I was on my knees next to the ward, but I didn’t remember kneeling down. I’d told J.T. to start talking, but he hadn’t had a chance yet?
What was going on?
Goddamn. Why now? They’re getting worse. I forced myself to exhale and take another deep breath.
“We need to take care of these wards,” Rory growled. “Before whatever hit us tries again. I don’t want to tangle with Angie’s Shadow Man a second time. If I do, it’s going to be too soon.”
I winced, nodding. J.T. and Carolyn exchanged a long, silent look before J.T. took a deep breath.
He started to talk as I dismantled the ward in front of my knees.
“Shotguns seemed to do a lot of damage to them. I asked Paul and Matt what we’d loaded them with, and they said there was some iron in the shot. Carolyn was hitting them with cast-iron stuff and it was really effective, but I think you saw some of that.”
I grunted, nodding. “I did.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Carolyn elbow J.T., who oofed and glared at her momentarily. Breath hissed out of him quietly and he seemed to deflate.
“All right, all right,” he muttered, then sighed, watching me for a few seconds as I dragged a stick across the spot where the ward had been to level out the ground. He didn’t start to talk until I started to rebuild the ward.
“It talked to me,” he muttered. “The Shadow Man. He talked to me, called me Spiritweaver, said that the Old Soul and I already belonged to it.”
Rory went rigid and I glanced at him. Carolyn winced sympathetically. For a moment, J.T. looked confused, then his eyes widened slightly.
“You’re the Old Soul?”
Rory nodded. “And it talked to me, too. Said there was another, but it didn’t mention you.”
“There’s more,” J.T. said, almost in a rush. “It talked to Thom, too.” He winced as soon as he’d said it, as if he’d just spilled a secret he was supposed to keep. I stopped piling rocks and just stared at him.
It talked to Thom? What did it say? My mouth tasted like ashes. J.T.’s eyes met mine and he winced again.
“What is a Spiritweaver, anyway?” Carolyn asked. I waved a hand.
“Never mind that.” I wasn’t sure, anyway. “What did it say to Thom?”
J.T. hesitated long enough that I was afraid that it was something terrible—not just something terrible, but something terrible that he and Thom were going to keep from me. That was something I wasn’t sure I could take.
Mercifully, I didn’t have to. J.T. just sighed and said, “He said it offered him his life. When he said no, it offered him your life.”
A chill shot through me and I busied myself with the ward for a moment, trying not to think. When I spoke, my voice was shaky. “But he said no.”
“He said you’d hate him if he’d said yes, and he couldn’t live with that.”
“He would have been right,” Carolyn said softly, putting her hand on J.T.’s arm. “We won’t tell him that you told us.”
“Thanks,” J.T. murmured, watching me as I reset the physical components of the ward.
“Energy dump now,” I said, trying to force my voice to be steady as I laid my hands over the stones and herbs that comprised the ward. I even felt a trickle of energy come from J.T. It didn’t feel like the first one did by the time we were done, but it was strong enough to hold.
“Hopefully we taught it a lesson it won’t soon forget,” Carolyn said softly. “If it’s not actually dead.”
“It’s not dead,” J.T. said grimly. Rory nodded in silent agreement.
I shivered again and said nothing for a few long moments before I stood up. “Well,” I said as I straightened. “All the more reason for us to get these set and watch them. Do you think your little friends can keep an eye on things, Carolyn?”
She hesitated for a moment, tilting her head to the side as if listening, then slowly nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Sounds like they can, anyway. It’s not going to prove anything to anyone who doesn’t believe in any of it, though.”
Rory snorted humorlessly. “We’re not worried about proof for them. This is about the rest of us.”
I nodded in silent agreement and started walking toward the next ward.