Forty – 04

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

He stared at her for a few seconds, struggling to process what she’d just said. How had she known? Even he wasn’t sure what he was doing. Matt swallowed hard, laying his hand on her arm again, trying to steady himself.

I shouldn’t be this damn shaken—should I? He blew out a breath and squinted through the rain. Marin’s hand covered his, though only for a moment.

“Just do it,” she said, then let go, reaching for another arrow. “Ranged to ready!”

Matt’s hand fell away from her arm and he glanced helplessly toward Phelan, who stared back, looking as abruptly stricken as he felt. Phelan shook his head quickly.

He has no answers. This is on me.

One breath, then another.

Steady. Focus.

“Aim!”

Matt leaned forward, both hands touching the rain-slicked walls. Above them, the clouds twisted, lightning lancing through them, thunder crackling, though only slightly louder than the roaring of blood in his ears.

Focus.

You can do this. You have to do this.

Somehow, he could feel Hecate at the back of his thoughts, felt her as close as if she were there with him, her hand on his shoulder. He closed his eyes.

Steady. Breathe.

You can do this.

His thoughts reached deep, reaching for the lines that lay beneath the surface—not the ley lines his sister always talked about, but something else, other lifelines of the earth and the natural world, ones that he realized now that he’d always been able to feel, had always looked for even when he didn’t know the truth buried in his soul. A search for what he knew was there was what had dragged him down the path he’d found himself on and now it all made sense—or at least more sense.

Just keep breathing.

Metaphorical fingers wrapped around the lines below and pulled.

“Loose!”

The lines snapped taut, like a rope pulled hard against a weight. Matt exhaled a breath, then started to pour his power into those lines.

The screams grew louder as arrows descended into the mists again.

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Forty – 03

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

Bowstrings sang, punctuated by the reports of rifles, the latter sound echoing as the former faded into the storm. They sailed over the field, the dark shafts lost against the stormclouds, fletchings bright and pale alike flashing briefly until they, too, were lost. The only reason any of them knew that the shots found their mark within the mists was because the screams began. Some were definitely human, cries of rage, cries of pain. Others definitely weren’t.

Ice sluiced down Matt’s spine and washed through every nerve in his body, leaving him chilled to the core. No. Dammit, no. “Are you hearing what I’m hearing?”

“Yeah,” Phelan said, his face ashen. “Yeah, I am.”

How the hell did they martial dirae to their side? The question rose to mind before he could fully process how it might have happened. How had Hecate martialed them in the first place?

Because Olympium taught her to and it was a trick she never bothered to forget. Why would she? Of course they’d have them at their call. Of course. Their loyalty wasn’t to her. They’re not loyal to anything.

He didn’t think his blood could run colder, but it suddenly did, like ice in his veins.

“Matt! Matt, snap out of it!”

His sister’s voice jarred him and he realized that his sudden horror must have shown on his face. He looked at her sidelong, grasping for her arm. Marin jerked slightly as a current passed between them and her breath caught.

“Matt,” she said again, more gently. “Stop holding it and let go.”

For a moment he thought she meant her arm and his fingers sprang open as if they were loaded on springs. She shook her head hard and fast.

“I don’t know what you’re drawing all this power for, but you need to let it go,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “It will eat you up if you don’t. Whatever you’re holding it for, make it your opening salvo. If that’s your one shot, that’s fine. We’ll be okay. Just do it. Please, just do it.”

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Forty – 02

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

“I think we can both agree that he doesn’t get to have what he wants,” Phelan said, squeezing again. Matt’s lips thinned further.

“No,” Matt agreed. “There’s no way.” He sucked in a breath. “Can you feel it?”

“What?”

A shiver crept down his spine. Matt glanced down. His fingers were glowing a faint, pale green, the light leeching from them and down into the wall, as if he was bleeding it off to strengthen their defenses unconsciously—maybe he was. He had no way of knowing for certain, not at this point. “Me,” he breathed. “My magic.”

Thunder crackled in tune with forks of lighting that spidered in the clouds above, the world growing brighter for the space of a few seconds before the world went dim again, like the last moments of twilight before full dark. It was hard to breathe and Matt suddenly knew that he was spending most of his strength holding his magic in check. He risked a glance toward Phelan, sucking in another breath.

“Shit,” Phelan murmured, eyes widening. “Shit, Matt.” His gaze flicked toward Marin for a split second, then refocused again. Matt didn’t dare to look. His gut already told him what he’d find if he did.

“When we live through this, we have to figure this out,” Matt muttered, squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds. I can’t live like this.

“We will,” Phelan promised. “For now, I think we’ve got work to do.”

Matt nodded mutely, looking back to the mists.

Next to him, he felt his sister draw her bow, pulling the string back to her ear, arrow notched.

Loose!”

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Forty – 01

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

Matt’s stomach dropped and his gaze snapped sideways, eyes widening. Magic buzzed against his skin, like electricity humming through a transformer. He kept one hand pressed against the wall, the other groping for Marin.

Phelan grasped his shoulder. “Steady,” he breathed, the word nearly lost. He spared a moment to focus on Matt, their gazes meeting for a moment before Phelan looked back to the sky again, watched the clouds start to twist on themselves, lightning turning carbon-gray to silver-white in staccato strobes.

Steady isn’t something that’s in the cards right now, Matt thought with the barest trace of bitterness, but the words never reached his tongue. He tore his gaze from Phelan and looked to the sky again, to the storm that Thordin was starting to take control of as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

More than a thousand years ago, it might have been, but Thordin was a different man now, just as Matt and Marin were, just as Thom was.

Things were different.

I hope he knows what he’s doing.

“Archers! Aim for just inside the edge of the mists.”

Marin’s voice jarred him from his thoughts. Bile rose in his throat.

Don’t panic, dumbass. Keep your shit together.

It was easier said than done.

Magic tickled at the back of his mind, though he knew it wasn’t someone else’s—it was his, blooming, offering, and the feel of it was nearly as unsettling as everything else in the situation. Distantly, he felt Phelan’s fingers flex around his shoulder again, digging in slightly. It was enough to snap his attention back. The distraction could only have lasted a second or two, since he could still hear the echoes of Marin’s orders moving up and down the wall, relayed down toward the far end. She hadn’t given the order to loose yet.

“He won’t stop, Phelan,” Matt breathed. “Not until he gets what he wants.”

And what he wants is my wife as his private victim all over again.

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Thirty-nine – 06

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

My gaze scythed up and down the wall, taking note of who was there and almost more importantly, who was absent. It will be enough, I told myself. It has to be.

I don’t know at what point I unslung my bow, but as I watched the mists at the far end of the field, I found it filling my hands, the wood smooth and familiar, almost soothing against my fingertips. Next to me, Matt was leaning forward again, both hands pressed against the stones of the wall. Ambient power crackled in the air, half from the storm and half from the magic rising on the wall and out in those mists.

“Do we know?” A breathless Phelan clambered up onto the wall on the other side of Matt, already soaked to the skin, staff in hand. “Have we figured it out?”

“Aietes,” Matt said. Phelan sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth.

“With how many?”

“We don’t know,” I said. I glanced at him for a second, taking in the sight of red hair plastered against his skull and the barest hint of concern in his eyes before I tore my gaze away again before the sight could sweep me away into another when.

Focus.

A double thud sounded on the drums and it was if both sides took that as a signal for utter silence. I didn’t even dare to breathe as I strained to hear anything but the sound of the wind and rain. A crack of thunder startled me so badly I nearly toppled—only Seamus’s sudden iron grip on my arm steadied me enough to keep me from going over the wall.

I could hear the faint sound of a man’s voice in the distance, somewhere beyond the mists. There came another double thud, then nothing again. Our forces stirred restlessly on the walls.

On the far side of the gate, Thordin scrambled up onto the wall. His gaze wasn’t on the field.

It was on the sky.

Another double thud.

I could hear the voice again, but I couldn’t make out the words. It sounded like giving orders, but without knowing what was actually said, all I could do was go on feel, on instinct. I cleared my throat.

“Archers ready,” I called down the line. My order was echoed in both directions by others, all the way to each end of the wall.

Another double thud.

The mists swirled at the far end of the field. I could almost see something in them—almost.

I held my breath.

Another double thud.

Thordin reached for the sky.

The clouds started to bend.

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Thirty-nine – 05

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

“Marin?”

I heard Seamus’s voice as if it were distant, echoing down a tunnel to reach my ears. It wasn’t the first time I’d had that sort of experience, but this time I was sure the reasons were different. Nothing was attacking me, not yet.

Nothing except my own fear, anyway.

“Marin.” His voice was firm, somehow closer. I sucked in a breath and shook myself, looking at him.

“Right,” I said, my voice coming out hoarse and choked. I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. “Paul,” I barked. “Call it.”

“Heard,” he called back. The bell we’d rigged in the watchtower rang once, twice, and then again. He paused, then repeated the pattern. My attention shifted back to the mist gathered at the far end of the field. The rain was starting to come down harder now, but the mist remained.

Someone’s holding it there.

“Who would be able to hold that?” I asked without looking at Seamus. He shifted uncomfortably and held his peace for a moment too long, earning a sharp look. “Seamus.”

“There are a few,” he said, voice almost lost to the rain. “Dangerous to speculate. I could be wrong and that would lead us down the wrong path for how we’ll deal with whoever it is.”

I exhaled a curse. Matt touched my arm.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said quietly. “Aietes is driving this bus, Mar. He’s what we have to deal with.”

“Will he negotiate?”

“Not a chance,” he and Seamus both said at the same time, in the same breath. I jerked, startled, gaze bouncing between them.

“You both sound pretty sure.”

“Damned sure,” Seamus said, jaw tightening. “Not with us, usually not with anyone. He takes what he wants because honeyed words no longer work for him. He lost that sort of credit long ago.”

“He wants Hecate,” Matt whispered. “We can’t let him take her.”

“Never,” I promised.

The mist hadn’t moved, though the drums grew still louder, the rain harder. Thunder rolled. I took a breath.

So now we wait. Let them make the first move.

Others were starting to filter into their positions at the wall, moving quickly. I hoped that Hecate had managed to get Lin and Thom below, to safety. I wouldn’t be able to go and check myself, nor could I spare anyone with me for the task.

All I could do was hope and trust that she’d know what to do.

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Thirty-nine – 04

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

A faint, silver-green glow rimed the wall around his hands and my breath caught as he leaned a little further forward, his gaze focusing on something I couldn’t see and could only barely sense, tickling at the edges of my perception.

“Then I’ll have to be faster,” Matt breathed. I reached for him but stopped as Seamus’s hand closed on my shoulder.

“Just wait,” he murmured, his voice nearly lost in the storm. “Don’t distract him.”

Does he know what Matt’s doing? Can he sense it? Or is it something—

I stopped, sucking in a slow, quiet breath and letting my hand fall back to my side. The distant drums grew louder, clearer.

The sound of a horn echoed off the walls and the ruins and my stomach dropped. Next to me, Matt stiffened, his eyes snapping open, complexion suddenly ashen.

“Bastards don’t know when to quit,” he whispered, hands curling into fists against the concrete and brick of the wall. Energy crackled around him and I swallowed, reaching for him again. This time, Seamus didn’t stop me.

As my fingers grasped his arm, I felt a hum, a current that flowed from him and into me, down to the marrow of my bones. My own magic responded to it somehow, flowing back in a sort of feedback loop, swirling and tangling around the power I hadn’t realized he could draw. For a second, it was hard to breathe.

“Matt?”

One of his hands covered mine, though he didn’t look at me, just kept staring out over the field.

“It’s them,” he said softly. “It’s Olympium again. They don’t know when to quit.”

A thousand questions died on my tongue. I wanted to know what was happening, at what point he’d learned to draw power the way he was, wanted to know if he knew what our magic reacting to each other the way it was meant. We weren’t twins, though our souls were. I couldn’t remember it happening with Brighíd and Cíar, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. Did he remember?

“Who?” I asked, my voice hoarse. It wasn’t the question I wanted answered, but definitely the one that needed to be asked.

“Aietes,” he whispered back. “And more. Hell. He’ll give no quarter.”

“Who called the storm?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone did.”

“Either way, we’ll find out,” Seamus said. “Give the order, Mar. Sound the alarm.”

All I could do was nod.

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Thirty-nine – 03

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

I sucked in a breath, breaking into a jog for the last few dozen yards to the wall. “What have we got?” I shouted up toward Seamus, slowing again only as I approached the ladder up to the top of the wall.

“Unnatural mist and shadow,” he called back. “Got a bad feeling.”

That makes two of us.  I took two breaths.   “Can you see anything in the mist?”

“Nothing clear.”

I climbed the ladder quickly, Matt half a step behind. Seamus made eye contact with me as I came up over the edge, moving toward him where he perched a few feet down from the gates. His gaze flicked away for a moment, lighting on the warhammer slung across Matt’s back, then returned to me, a bit more troubled than it had been a moment before.

I said nothing as I turned to survey the ground that lay before the gates, still clear, though a mist gathered at the far end of the field, beyond where the road had been, where its remnants still stood. It was just as Seamus had said—nothing discernable moving in that mist, in those shadows.

A chill crept down my spine just the same, like a rivulet of ice running down from the nape of my neck all the way to the small of my back.

“There’s something out there,” I said quietly.

“No doubt,” Seamus said, still watching me. “It’s the who and the what and the numbers they bring.”

“Magic,” Matt murmured by my side, his gaze focused on the mist the same as mine. “They’ve called a mist to hide themselves.”

“Do you know who it is?”

He shook his head slowly in response to my question. “No. But give me a minute and I’ll figure it out. I can just barely sense—” He fell silent for a moment, leaning against the top of the wall. “There’s something familiar. I just need another moment.”

Drums echoed softly in the distance. I swallowed bile.

“I don’t know if we have it.”

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Thirty-nine – 02

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

I forced myself not to run, to just walk, my shoulders straight and head high. Matt was half a step behind, then alongside me a moment later, slinging his warhammer across his back.

Not his warhammer. Cíar’s warhammer.

I wasn’t sure that mattered all that much anymore, though. Either way, it belonged to my brother, and he was at my side. Rain was coming down harder now and it was growing colder—it reminded me more and more of the day we faced Olympium weeks before. The grim expression on Matt’s face told me that he had the same feeling.

People were running back and forth, some of ours and some of the Hunt. The voices calling to each other were distinct, some familiar and others not—I could hear Paul from the watchtower calling back and forth to Seamus, who was probably still out on the wall. Other voices were less familiar, though growing moreso as time wore on—Gilad and Petyr from the Hunt, among others. Lightning lanced through the clouds, thunder rolling in its wake.

Matt took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “You think it’s her?”

“Either that or Olympium’s come back,” I murmured. “And I like neither option.”

“But you think it’s her.”

I nodded, stomach twisting. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“It’s not good news,” he said quietly.

“It never is,” I said, voice almost lost to the rolling thunder. We were within sight of the wall. Seamus perched near the gate, shouting direction to the defenders that were filtering in, joining him on the wall. Archers were starting to take their positions. I could see Paul up in the watchtower, his rifle in hand, gaze trained on the field beyond the walls.

“But we can win,” Matt said quietly. He reached over and squeezed my arm. “And we will.”

I managed to smile. “Yeah,” I whispered.

There was no other choice.

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Thirty-nine – 01

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

My heart slammed into my throat and my fingers curled around Thom’s against my face. I could almost feel the blood draining from my face as I stared back at him, watched as he wavered on his feet, breathing hard, as pale as I knew I suddenly was. Words came as a croak. “A curse.”

He nodded almost convulsively, one hand turning to grasp mine and squeeze. “She swore on your souls that she would have her vengeance on Brighíd no matter how long it took.”

“Get Phelan,” Matt ordered. I didn’t see who he told—it didn’t matter.

“No,” I said, the word quiet but firm. “Don’t.”

“Mar,” Thom breathed.

I wrapped my arms around him and he made a weak sound of pain, leaning against me. All of his weight settled against me and I was suddenly holding him up, his nose buried in my hair above my ear.

“I couldn’t just lie there,” he whispered. He was warm, too warm. The fever was back, was worse. I swallowed hard, trying to force my heart back down into my chest, trying to ward off the growing tightness in my throat. “Not when I—”

“Shh.” I looked at him, seeing bleakness and pain in his eyes, set in dark hollows. I’d known that he’d been dreaming, that the dreams of a long-ago yesterday hadn’t stopped in the weeks since Anhur and Menhit’s attack on our walls, since Cyhyraeth’s attack on me. “Stop,” I whispered, the words for him and only him. “Thom, it’s okay. It’s okay. But I need you to calm down.”

The words were a lie, though only partially I did need him to calm down, but there was more.

I need you well. I need you whole. Whatever the camazotzi did—I need that to heal. I need you by my side and I need to stop being so damn afraid I’m going to lose you.

I needed to tell him the truth, needed to tell him what I’d started to see again, started to suspect, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now wasn’t the time.

“Bring him over here, Marin,” Hecate said softly from behind me. “I’ll stay with him. If it’s her—”

“It’s not.” My voice shook. The denial in and of itself was a lie. I couldn’t know for certain that she wasn’t here, that she wasn’t coming. In my heart of hearts, I knew she’d been the one directing the camazotzi after Anhur and Menhit had quit the field that day. Either they had used her army as a diversion or she’d somehow allied with them in the hopes of assaulting me.

What was I going to do if she hit me again the way she had before? Dread coiled in my belly, forced bile up into my throat. It was a struggle to keep the fear from my face as I pressed a kiss to Thom’s lips and then helped him over to Hecate.

“Get some blankets,” I said to J.T., my voice quiet. Thom slowly eased down into a sitting position with help from Matt and I, settling next to Hecate, who still held Lin cradled in her arms. My gaze flicked toward her. “You’ll stay with him? With both of them?”

“Of course,” she said, pain flickering in her eyes. “I’m in no state to fight right now, not on the wall or on the field.”

What she left unsaid was something I heard loud and clear, though.

If we left her here to protect Thom and Lin, she would find a way to keep them safe, no matter what the cost.

Matt glanced to me. I swallowed hard and crouched to hug her tightly.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“Protecting our family is something you never have to thank me for, Marin,” she whispered back, one arm around my shoulders in a return hug. “Go. Go. It’ll be all right.”

My eyes stung. “How do you know?”

“Because that bitch was never a match for you then,” Hecate said as I drew away. Her gaze was steady, her voice quiet. “There’s no way she’ll be a match for you now, not with everyone you have by your side and everything you know now. Faith and courage, sister. The day will be yours.”

Maybe today. But what about all the ones that come after? My lips thinned and I straightened.

From the direction of the wall came a call, then another. Matt grasped my shoulder.

“I think we’re out of time,” he said quietly.

“Aye,” I said, squeezing my eyes shut for a moment. “I think you’re right.”

Steeling myself, I turned and headed for the wall.

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