Ten – 02

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

“Did we make a mistake?” Carolyn asked in a low voice, glancing at the both of them. Matt grimaced, keeping his gaze trained straight ahead.

“We were just saying that we didn’t,” he said. “We’re trusting Lin’s gut and whatever—whatever voices he’s hearing. Who knows. Maybe it was hers.” He wasn’t entirely sure which hers he meant when he said it—whether it was the same voice his sister had heard that warned her the end was coming or someone or something else’s. It had been so long, he wasn’t sure it even mattered anymore. “Besides, you said that Longfellow—”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Carolyn said, her eyes narrowing slightly as she stared at them both, her lips thinning to white. “I’m asking if we made a mistake then.”

Cold shot through Matt and his jaw tightened. On the other side of him, Phelan sighed, staring off into the distance, seeing but not seeing.

“They didn’t give us much of a choice,” Phelan said quietly. “We went with the path of least resistance. Can’t say it was right, but it was probably less wrong. Probably not a mistake.”

“You think so?” Carolyn swallowed, her gaze focusing on Matt. “Matt?”

“Phelan’s right,” he ground out. “They didn’t give us a choice. They’d already decided and we just—we had to go along with it. Like always when they weren’t going to budge.”

“Do you ever wonder?”

“Only every damn day,” he said quietly, then shook his head. “But I can’t dwell on that. I’ve got a job to do. We’ve got a job to do.”

“But is it fair?”

“I think all three of us know it’s not,” Matt said, looking away from her as a flicker of motion caught his eye. The riders were just coming into view through the gap. “Enough of that for now. It’s showtime.”

He unslung his warhammer and rested its head in the grass in front of him, casually folding both hands over the cap at the end of its handle, and schooled his expression into a stern sort of blankness.

Showtime indeed.

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Ten – 01

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

“Someday, I hope you’ll trust him as much as you trusted me.”

Matt blinked away tears that threatened as his sister’s voice echoed in the back of his head. The words had come a long time ago—long before there was any real indication that Lin had inherited any of his parents’ gifts.

As if there ever could have been any doubt that he would.

Carolyn glanced at him sidelong, her voice coming as a murmur. “Longfellow and company are confirming what Lin said about the riders. Of course, they’re also confirming what Kailey said. They’re armed, six of them, one in fairly rough shape.”

“They can’t give me what their intentions are, though,” Matt murmured, staring straight ahead, toward the gap where the riders would appear.

“Don’t we all wish,” Carolyn said, then smiled weakly. “You believe him, don’t you?”

Matt’s chin dipped in a nod. On the other side of him, Phelan smiled wryly.

“We’d be fools not to,” he said softly. “All things considered.”

Matt glanced at him for a second, then shook his head. “Every time you say that, I get shivers down my spine.”

“Even this time?”

Matt shook his head again. “You’re impossible.”

“Always,” Phelan said, still smiling. “But tin this case, my gut’s telling me he’s right. They’re looking for something or someone and they need our help. Possibly his help.”

“His help,” Matt echoed, deadpanning at Phelan as they drew to a stop about a hundred yards away from the gates. “With what?”

“With whatever quest they’re on,” Phelan said quietly, then shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. Seeing the future was your sister and Thom’s power. Mine’s just trying to piece together a thousand stories and prophecies into a patchwork that almost makes sense.”

“Almost,” Matt said, swallowing a sigh. “Usually.”

“Sometimes,” Phelan said, then grinned.

Matt shook his head again. “Sometimes.”

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Nine – 05

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

Hecate waited until they were a dozen feet away before she glanced at Lin, her voice quiet and gentle. “Was it voices or a vision?”

“A voice,” he said, swallowing hard. “A knowing. I just—I knew. I know. They’re not here to cause trouble or to hurt us, they’re looking for something and someone and it’s important that we listen to them and try to help. I just—I just know.”

This is insane. Kailey stared blankly at her cousin even as her stomach dropped. “What are you talking about?”

He started to shake his head, then stopped, wincing and pressing the heel of his hand against his temple. “Just—it’s never been like this before, not exactly.”

“From what I understand, before the end, your mother heard someone’s voice, too,” Hecate said softly. “And she knew.”

“The end,” Lin echoed. “You mean before meteorfall?”

Hecate nodded. “Someone was warning her. It doesn’t surprise me that someone would reach out and warn her son, too.” She drew a deep breath, exhaling it softly in a sigh as she stared at the two of them. “Something was bound to happen someday. We always knew that.”

“What—Mum. What is that supposed to mean?” Kailey looked between Lin and her mother. “What is going on?”

Her mother glanced out through the open gates toward where Matt, Phelan, and Carolyn had stopped in the killing fields, waiting for the riders to approach. “I suspect we’ll know in a few minutes,” she said, her lips barely moving as she spoke.

A chill crept down Kailey’s spine. “What if he’s wrong? What if—”

“Your father knows what he’s about, Kailey,” Hecate said, her tone measured, reassuring. “But I don’t think Lin’s wrong. Not at all.”

“But if he is—”

“I’m not,” Lin said, his voice steady and gaze distant. “Not about this. Not today.

“Not today.”

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No Wednesday update this week!

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Nine – 04

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

Her feet hit the hard-packed dirt at the bottom of the ladder and she turned, seeing only her father’s back at first as he headed for Lin. There was tension in her father’s shoulders that she wasn’t used to seeing, a tension that she suspected she knew the reason for.

Dammit anyway, Lin. What were you thinking? Why couldn’t you have just told me and let me tell them?

But would she have listened?

Probably not. Hell. For all I know he was trying to tell me earlier and I just yelled at him and tried to hustle him to the tunnels. She almost—almost—shook her head.

“You’re second-guessing,” her mother said softly in her ear, and Kailey jumped, startled at her mother’s sudden nearness, something she hadn’t noticed until her mother spoke. “Is it about anything important?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, looking past her father to see Lin standing there, arms hugged against his chest but not hunching, not flinching under her father’s stare—which she knew had to be just about molten.

“You’re sure about this?” Matt was asking her cousin.

Lin nodded, his expression grave. “All of you guys have always told me to trust the dreams because you trusted what Mom and Dad saw. I know that they’re not here to hurt us. Don’t ask how I know, I just know.”

Matt exhaled, nodding. “Right. Anything else you can tell me?”

“One of them isn’t in good shape,” he said, then glanced away. “I think we can help him but I don’t know for sure. I feel like we have to try, though.”

Her father nodded again. “All right. Sit tight here. We’ll be back.”

“I’ll stay with them,” Hecate said softly. “Go on. Parley with them. See what they’ve come for.”

Matt hesitated a moment, then exhaled, leaning in to kiss Hecate gently. His gaze swept over his daughter and nephew, lingering on each for a few seconds before he turned away.

The gates opened and he strode out, Phelan and Carolyn falling in with him on the way.

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Nine – 03

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

The sound of Lin’s voice sent fresh cold flooding through her. Kailey twisted, her hand clamping down on her mother’s even harder—just as Hecate’s grip crushed hers.

He stumbled toward the wall from the shadows of one of the watch towers, his eyes wide and face pale. “Don’t shoot them,” he said again. “They’re not here to hurt us.”

Matt’s gaze cut toward her for a second, then went back to his nephew, expression darkening. “How do you know?”

From the corner of her eye, Kailey saw Phelan reach over and grasp her father’s arm, fingers flexing. If Matt felt it, he gave no sign. Her father’s attention was wholly on Lin, who stopped a dozen yards from the bottom of the wall and stared up at them.

“I just do,” he said. “I can hear it. Feel it.”

Her father opened his mouth to say something. Phelan interrupted. “Did you dream it?”

Swallowing hard, Lin nodded.

Matt breathed a curse. “Hold the arrow, Sif. Let me know when they’re a hundred yards out.” He started moving toward the ladder. “Kailey, stay with Lin. Keep him right there until this is over. Understood?”

Bile slicking her throat and tongue, Kailey nodded. “Okay, Dad.”

His gaze lingered on her for a few seconds, a flash of pain flickering through his eyes before he nodded slightly, glancing toward Hecate. “Are you staying or coming?” he asked softly.

“I’ll stay with them,” she said, squeezing Kailey’s hand again. “You never know.”

Matt nodded, then started down the ladder. Phelan was already on the ground.

Neve and Carolyn watched them from the other side of the gates. “What’s going on?” Neve called.

“Care, get some of your friends to check them out,” Matt said. “We’re going to talk.”

Carolyn glanced back behind the wall, spotted Lin, then nodded. “Got it. I’m coming with you.”

Matt didn’t argue, simply nodded and continued down the ladder.

Kailey followed, heart lodging in her throat.

I could strangle him. He’d said he was going down. When had he seen what he’d seen? Why hadn’t he told her? He could have—

She shook her head, climbing down the ladder as quickly as she could. There would be time to be angry later.

Right now, she needed to pray her cousin was right and that this wasn’t a colossal mistake.

Truth be told, she figured it could go either way.

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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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Nine – 01

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

“No one fires until I give the signal,” Matt said, his gaze raking over the archers on the wall. “Sif has the warning shot.” His voice lowered as he glanced at Kailey, who clung to the wall, pale and shaky.

I never expected it to be like this. She bit her lip, meeting her father’s gaze.

“You said they were armed,” he said quietly.

She nodded. “Yeah. Six of them, looked like they were armed. Couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I know what I saw.”

He nodded, then wrapped an arm around her. “Stay close to me or your mother—no matter what. Okay?”

“Okay, Dad.” The words came as barely more than a whisper. She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat.

She hadn’t seen anything like this since she was a little girl, not since her aunt and uncle had died. Things had seemed to quiet down after that, though she’d never bothered to consider why. Maybe there wasn’t a connection.

Maybe there was.

Kailey looked up and down the wall, taking in grim faces, determined looks. None of them seemed all that afraid.

Why not?

Deep down, she was terrified.

Hell, even right below the surface, she was terrified.

Who are they? Why are they here?

In the distance, she could hear the soft drone of hoofbeats. She held her breath.

Whoever it was, they were nearly here.

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Eight – 08

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

The gates were already closed as I slipped into the shadow of one of the watchtowers and the movement upon the walls was ebbing—it seemed that everyone that was going to end up on the walls was there and in position. It was something I hadn’t seen in years, not like this, not since the last battle where my father—

I blinked back the sudden sting in my eyes of threatening tears and focused on the here and how—aching wounds, pounding head and all. I leaned against one of the support posts, temples throbbing with each beat of my heart.

They mean you no harm.

I shivered at the voice. It was cool and smooth, like sheets just laid on the bed after drying in the autumn wind. It was familiar but at the same time, I was sure I’d never heard it before.

I swallowed hard, closing my eyes for a moment.

If I can just reach far enough—

There were six of them, four men and two women. One of the men was hurt, sick—maybe both.

No. Definitely both.

Bile crept up in my throat and I swallowed it back down. They were looking for something—had been looking for something for a long time. Their quest had cost them dearly already and they were hoping—

—hoping that it wouldn’t cost them more than they’d already paid, though most of them, deep down, already knew that it would.

Uncle Matt was giving orders—I could hear him giving instructions to the archers, readying them for what he suspected was coming—what he wrongly suspected was coming.

These aren’t scouts for an army. They’re not raiders. They’re—

Pushing myself upright, I stumbled out of the shadows beneath the watchtower and toward the wall.

I had to stop this before it was too late.

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Eight – 07

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

As I approached, no one really looked at me—all of them seemed far more intent on what they were doing. I could hear my uncle’s voice from the wall, but I didn’t see him right away. The sentries up in the watchtowers didn’t give me even a single glance, their gazes and aims pointed out toward what had always been called the killing fields beneath the walls. Even my parents’ journals called them that, as uncomfortable as it seemed to make them to make the reference.

Still, it’s hard to deny something so true. There had been more than a few battles fought on the grounds before the walls, enough that every few years, Phelan, my mother, my aunt, and Uncle J.T. would walk the ground before the walls, meter by meter, cleansing and sending any of the lingering dead. After my mother was gone, Neve had taken her place, though I always got the sense that it went hard on her—though I’d never asked her why. It just seemed wrong to bring it up.

Last time when I’d watched, Phelan had hinted that he’d be teaching me how to do it the next time around. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, either.

But then, Angie had warned me it might be so before she’d left a few years ago. With her gone, I was the next logical choice for Phelan to train—something she’d known long before I’d realized what it meant.

Everyone up on the wall was armed, I realized as I drew closer—everyone except for Kailey. I didn’t see Tory or Anne, which meant either they hadn’t made it back inside the walls or they’d been sent below with the others.

Neither instance quite made sense, but I supposed their absence depended on where they were when the alarm sounded. If they were out in the far fields, or minding the flocks, it might have been that they were too far.

Still…I had a bad feeling.

So what else is new?

Nothing—at least not yet.

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