Twenty-two – 05

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

“Are you all right?” Hecate asked me.

My gaze flicked up from the infants to meet hers, where I saw a flicker of fear almost overshadowed by concern. I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. I should—I should really get back to Thom, now that you’re all out here. You’re going to stay a bit, aren’t you?”

“Not very long,” she said quietly. “I’ll need to get Tory back to Neve and Cameron, and then I think it’s probably time that Matt and I get some sleep. It’s been a long night.” Her smile was radiant, though small. For the span of a few heartbeats, I saw the girl she’d been trained to be so many yesterdays ago in a time and place long erased by time. It was a glimpse of who she had been before she’d been broken and remade. Matt wrapped his arm around her shoulders, staring down at Tory for a moment.

For a second, I could see another tomorrow—not long in the future, either, it seemed—one where I could see them together, but it was their child, another member of our slowly growing family. There was relief and love in both of their gazes and it made my throat tighten.

Then I blinked and it was gone.

Lin had wrapped his tiny fingers in the swaddling around Tory. I smiled weakly and reached to disengage them. Hecate shook her head.

“Let them be for a moment,” she said softly. “They’re bonding and that’s as important as him bonding with anyone, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” I whispered softly, reaching with my free hand to gently smooth my hand over the newborn’s dark hair. He had Neve’s eyes, but I knew in my heart of hearts that he would grow up to take more after his father than his mother, would grow up to look remarkably like his uncle as well. “He’s beautiful. Tell them for me?”

“Of course.” Hecate smiled at me, warm but tired. I reached up and squeezed her shoulder gently.

“Get him back to his mother and father and sister, then,” I said softly. “Then pack yourself off to bed.”

“Do I look that bad?”

“Worse,” my brother said, then pressed a kiss to Hecate’s temple. “Come on. There’s some blankets with our names on them.”

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Twenty-two – 04

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

My brother cleared his throat a few seconds before he reached the circle of the fire’s light, cleaning his hands on a rag with a faint smile on his face. I blinked at the sight of him and Thordin twisted to look, his brow furrowing.

“What’s going on?” he asked, a hint of worry creeping into his tone. “Is something wrong?”

Matt shook his head, glancing back over his shoulder. Hecate appeared from the shadows, cradling a swaddled bundle in her arms, beaming as she shuffled forward.

I shot to my feet. “Is Neve—”

“She’s fine,” Hecate said quickly. “Exhausted, but fine. Cameron is with her and their daughter. He said I should bring Tory out to meet his new family.”

“Tory,” Thordin echoed, his brows knitting. I smiled even as a chill washed over me.

“Short for Artorius,” I said softly. Hecate nodded, watching me.

“You knew that, though,” she said, her voice quieter than it had been a moment before. “You knew she would name him that.”

I glanced at the basket where Lin was sleeping—or had been sleeping. His eyes were open now, bright and focused. I took a deep breath and stood, gathering him up into my arms. Hecate met me partway as I approached her, my throat growing tighter by the second. “I saw things,” I said softly. “I saw things before we ever realized it was two, before we realized how close together they’d be born, before any of that—I saw things.”

Even as tiny and young as he was, I could see that Lin was looking at Tory, who rested quietly in Hecate’s arms, swaddled with wide eyes, but quiet. I knew that he’d been born first, perhaps even an hour or more ago, and his sister had followed.

I knew that Neve would name her for Cameron’s mother, Anne.

One little fist worked its way free of the swaddling. I watched my son as he reached for the tiny bundle in his aunt’s arms.

“Such adventures,” I whispered, staring at the two infants as my eyes began to sting. “So many adventures.”

I tried not to think about it much. It felt safer that way.

But I knew that there would be more than just adventures—more and much, much worse.

But in those few heartbeats, there was just the two babies and maybe, just maybe, a few scraps of hope coming back to us all.

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Twenty-two – 03

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

We lapsed into silence for a few minutes. Thordin’s gaze wandered, eventually settling on Lin’s basket. I could sense an ache in him, something that went beyond anything physical, something that lay in the depths of his very soul.

I exhaled a quiet breath and it was enough to draw his attention, at least momentarily.

“What?”

“Jac’s with Sif?”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “She said she wasn’t going to leave until she woke up. Is that supposed to be reassuring?”

“Is it?” I asked, taking another sip of coffee.

“Yes. No. Dammit, I don’t know.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, groaning. “I don’t fucking know and it’s making me crazy that I don’t know if it is or not. I feel like I should be there but at the same time I know she’s right and I need to clear my head but she’s staying with her and that makes me worry that much more.”

“Endless feedback loop,” I said, then smiled weakly. “It takes some breaking. I know how you feel, though. Thom’s out cold right now because of whatever the hell changed with the camazotzi—or changed with him. I’m not sure which it is.”

“Either,” Thordin said. “Both.” He sighed and picked up his mug again, staring into its depths for a few seconds before he finally got up and moved closer to me, settling down on the opposite side of Lin’s basket. He stared at the infant for a few seconds, then reached a hand toward him, one finger trailing down the side of my son’s face. Lin stirred, but didn’t wake.

I smiled faintly. “You’ll have a chance, Thordin.”

“I had a chance,” he murmured quietly. “And then I got myself killed. Who knows what happened to the son I never knew.” He glanced up at me, smiling a sad little smile. “I don’t know if that chance will come again, or if I’ll ever know what it would be like.”

“Don’t rule it out,” I whispered.

Thordin shrugged slightly. “It seems like it’s pretty far away now. Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe it won’t. If I lose her…”

“You won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

I reached over and grasped his arm, squeezing. “Yes,” I said, my voice firm. “Yes, I do. You’re not going to lose her.”

He met my gaze, held it. He swallowed hard, twice, apparently seeing something in my eyes that frightened him. He looked away, back toward the fire.

His head bobbed once in a nod and I let go of his arm.

We lapsed into silence again, neither willing to break it—not quite, not yet. It was a fragile thing, that silence, his hope, my resolve—but it was a thing that we needed in that moment, a thing that neither of us was willing to sacrifice.

So we sat in silence, listening to the sound of a crackling fire and a sleeping infant, until the sound of footsteps heralded an end to the moment.

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Twenty-two – 02

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

I brought him a mug and he took it with a grateful smile. He spoke as I turned back to pour my own.

“How extensive was the damage? Injuries?”

“Damage isn’t too bad, though we’ll have to do some work on the wards. Thom’s hurt, too, but he and Sif are the worst. Everyone else has more minor injuries—or isn’t reacting to getting smacked around by a camazotzi the same way he is.” Cradling my mug in one hand, I returned to my spot next to the fire. “Neve’s in labor. It started after the fighting ended, thank god. I don’t know what we would have done if it had happened during that fight.”

“Hell,” Thordin breathed. “No one told me.”

I shook my head. “Hecate was with her practically in seconds after it started—Neve asked for her—and J.T. was there as soon as he was done with Thom. It’s been going on for hours, now.” It wasn’t like mine had been, or even Tala’s—though Tala still hadn’t quite told any of us how long she’d been in labor before she knew it was time. I leaned back against the log sitting behind me, one that was starting to be worn smooth by touch in the months since the end of everything we’d known before. We were only weeks away from the anniversary of that day.

A lot had changed.

“Hecate,” Thordin echoed, sounding thoughtful. He took a sip of his coffee, then another, gaze flicking away from the flames to meet my eyes. “What do you think on her, Marin? Do you trust her?”

I nodded without hesitation. “With my life, with my son’s and my brother’s lives. I trust her.”

Thordin nodded. “I do, too,” he said quietly. “She seems—I don’t know. Different.”

“She is.” I took a slow sip of coffee. “And she’s not. It’s always been there, it’s just that she hasn’t dared to let anyone see it in her in almost forever. It hasn’t been safe. Now it is.”

“I hope it stays that way.”

I exhaled in a sigh. “Me too.”

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Twenty-two – 01

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

It was late when the rain finally ended, into the wee hours when I took the dawn watch, and I didn’t see Thordin until he came to the fire during that watch the next morning, looking as exhausted as I wouldn’t admit to feeling. I’d spent the hours after J.T. had finished with him sitting with Thom while he slept and had only left to take the dawn watch to spare Cameron from having to leave Neve. Her water had broken during the aftermath of the battle and when time for the watch came, she was still in the throes of labor when it came time for the change in the watch. I’d sent word for him to stay with her via J.T., then gone to take the watch. As much as it made me ache to think of Thom maybe waking up without Lin and I there, some things were much more important.

Thordin arrived by the fire long after I’d taken the watch, slumping down across from me, complexion like wax and his eyes sunken into shadowed hollows in his face. I winced slightly at the sight, then slowly stood to put on some water for coffee.

“I know better than to ask if you’re all right,” I said quietly. “How’s Sif?”

“Unconscious,” he grated, staring at the fire. His gaze drifted from the flames a moment later, settling on the basket where Lin was fast asleep, swaddled in a blanket that he’d already managed to work an arm free from. “Not in any danger of bleeding out anymore, though, so I suppose that’s something. Took a lot of work, though.” He closed his eyes. “Jac told me to get some air. Said she did the same thing to Sif a few times when she was fretting over me. I just—bloody hell, Marin. I told them that I would end them if I lost her to this wound and I meant it but what I really—I really don’t want her to die. I don’t want to lose her, not ever again. Once was enough.”

“I think she’d say the same about you,” I said. “Once was enough. What you did—”

“Was reckless, I know. But your brother followed me out there.”

“Trust me, I noticed.” I got out two mugs, then paused, watching him for a few minutes. His gaze had shifted again, back to the fire. “That was one hell of a storm.”

“I should have let it go sooner,” he muttered. “I wasn’t thinking. Not about that, anyway.”

“None of us blame you for that.”

“No one that’s voiced it to you, anyway.” He scrubbed a hand roughly over his face. “And really, how many people actually knew it was me?”

“A few,” I said. “Maybe not everyone.”

Thordin nodded and stared into the flames. “It’ll be everyone someday.”

“Someday isn’t today.” I started to make coffee. He watched the fire, saying nothing for a long time.

Then, finally: “When they come again, I’ll make good on my promise.”

I didn’t ask what the promise was. I didn’t want to know if it was what I thought it was.

Sometimes, it was just safer not knowing.

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Twenty-one – 04

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

“We’ll deal with it when they do. We’ll have time—probably not as much as we’d like, but we’ll have it.” Matt held her eye steadily for a few seconds. Neve reached up and grasped his shoulder.

“Angie and I can take the twins,” she said softly. “You can do what you need to do.”

He shook his head, adjusting the basket in his hand. Kurt was fast asleep despite the storm and the rain. “No,” he said quietly. “The only thing I need to do is this. Come on. Let’s get you guys back to where it’s warmer.”

The hairs on her arms and legs had risen in goosebumps. She hadn’t noticed the ambient chill until Matt’s mention of it. That left her a little unsettled—both that she hadn’t noticed and that the chill was so pronounced.

That’s probably not a good sign, if he’s right about Thordin holding the storm—and I think he is. This feels like other people doing the same thing. She had experienced that more than once in her lifetime, though she had only held the weather a bare handful of times, she had been in the presence of more than one of Olympium’s masters controlling the weather. It explained the ambient buzz in the air, the ache that gripped the back of her head, one she’d been fighting to ignore since it had begun.

Matt wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she leaned into that embrace. Standing next to him, her heart quieted and breathing got a little easier; panic that had started to well up without her knowing began to ebb just as quickly as it had come. His breath stirred the hair over her ear.

“Are you okay?”

Hecate nodded. “Mostly, anyway.”

“What happened out there?” Neve asked quietly as they began to move toward the main cookfire. People moved around them, hanging up sodden clothes to dry and shifting supplies, the activity of their camp-turned-village returning to normal in the wake of the attack. The tension was still there in the air, though, hadn’t quite drained away.

“A lot of camazotzi,” Matt admitted. “A few made it inside the wards before we were able to push them up high enough. J.T.’s having a look at Thom right now. One got him pretty good and it’s—it seems different than before. It’s like the claws did more damage than they have before. I’m not sure what the hell that could mean.”

Concern flashed through Neve’s eyes and Hecate felt a flutter of discomfort ripple through her guts. There were a dozen things that it could mean and most of them weren’t good.

I’ll need to talk to Jameson. I wonder—

“How many got inside the walls?” Neve asked. “Was Cam—”

“He’s fine. Not a scratch. He came out onto the field with me after Thordin, after Sif—” Matt broke off, making a soft noise of frustration. “He’s fine. He’s probably getting cleaned up and changing into dry clothes. Go on.”

Neve took a deep breath and nodded. She squeezed Matt’s arm before she broke off from their little group and headed for the corridor beyond one edge of the tents, seeking her lover and the father of her children. Hecate watched her go for a few seconds, a tightness gripping her heart before it eased. Matt squeezed her gently before he glanced down at Angie.

“Your brother’s okay, too,” he said. “A little sore because a camazotzi decided to throw Thom at him, but he’s fine.”

“And Mr. Phelan and Miss Marin?”

“They’re okay, too.” Matt gave Angie a reassuring smile. The girl nodded.

“Good.”

Hecate’s guts twisted and she squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds. No one, least of all a child, deserved to witness all that Angie had. She could only imagine how much worse it had been in the months before she’d come, in the months since the end.

How much more will she see? What will it do to her? She opened her eyes, looking at the three infants in their care. What will it do to them?

She exhaled a shaky breath. Matt looked at her, worry in his eyes.

“I’m all right,” she assured him softly, then kissed his cheek. The words did nothing to erase the concern she saw when she meet his gaze, but it was all right. She loved him even more for that concern, that he cared enough to worry. “It’s okay.”

He pressed a kiss to her temple, squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds. She sighed softly.

Angie smiled and looked away, continuing on with little Gwen in her basket toward the fire. There were voices there, a little weak laughter, but laughter just the same. That gave Hecate a little hope back, hope she’d lost somewhere in her thousands of years. Even in dark hours, there was still laughter, and light, and hope.

Perhaps they had a chance after all.

“Come on,” she said softly. “We’d better catch up to Angie before someone wonders what’s keeping us.”

A soft sound that was almost a chuckle escaped Matt and he nodded, cheek pressed against her hair. “Right. You’re right.”

“Sometimes.”

He squeezed her gently and guided her toward the warmth and light of the cookfire and the cluster of people around it, people they both hoped that someday she’d be able to trust as friends.

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Twenty-one – 03

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

Hecate scrambled up the ladder, Lin clutched against her chest and making soft baby sounds. Her heart pounded hard against her breast, her side aching and burning as she stumbled away from the hatch. Matt reached to steady her and she shook her head quickly as she tugged Lin’s swaddle up over his face to shield him from the pouring rain. “Help Neve and Angie. They’ll need it.”

It had taken every ounce of willpower she had to tell him to do that, and some of her reserves to turn away and head away toward the edge of the tent and shelter from the rain. All she wanted was to hold him, to cling to him and not let go until all of the fears subsided and the old pain was forgotten. She stopped at the edge of the tents, just inside and out of the rain, watching the rain and the roiling clouds as she hugged baby Lin close.

I should find Marin. She looked down at the baby in her arms, the one that stared back at her with those too-wise blue eyes. He seemed content enough, and that heartened her a little.

Maybe there really was hope for her after all.

Neve slipped past her, out of the rain, shivering slightly. “Hell,” she breathed. “This storm.”

Matt was there a minute later, carrying one of the twins—Kurt—in his basket, Angie in his shadow with Gwen in hers. The fact that the small girl could so easily shoulder that burden impressed Hecate, but looking back…

I was the same, when I was a girl.

“Thordin’s still got a hold on the storm, we think,” Matt said. “Either that or it’s just tethered to him. Sif was hurt. This is the result.” He waved his free hand toward the storm.

“Hurt by what?” Hecate asked, her gaze meeting his. Her stomach sank.

“Not what,” he said quietly. “Who. Anhur and Menhit did it.” He swallowed. “Thordin told them that if Sif died, their lives were forfeit. Then he told them to run—they left, though I think they’ll be back.”

“You know they’ll be back,” Hecate corrected, then shivered. “You know they’ll be back.”

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Twenty-one – 02

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

She had lived through things like this before, but they had rarely ended well—for anyone involved, if she were to be brutally honest. The waiting was always the worst of it, the hardest. More often she was on the leading edge of a charge, or the knife in the shadows. Hecate was almost never hidden away like this when a battle was joined. Oh, certainly she’d been elsewhere at times, doing work necessary to a “cause” but this…

…this was different.

This is like waiting for him when he went away, when they—when I—would send him into battle, would point him at an enemy they wanted eliminated. When they would force us to do what they wanted and he would go away and I would die a little more inside even as I watched him crumble a little bit more each time, watched the pain get a little bigger each time he would come back to me.

Her heart ached.

This is different. You know it’s different.

She exhaled a shaky breath. Lin squirmed a little in her arms, making quiet baby sounds. She looked down at him and reached to brush a fingertip along his tiny cheek and jaw. He stared up at her with wide, brilliantly bright blue eyes. A calm washed over her and her shoulders sagged a little as she leaned in to kiss his forehead. He waved a tiny fist at her, fingers catching in her hair for a moment.

Everything is different now. Everything is different and that’s good. It’s very good.

Above them, the hatch creaked, then opened. Hecate, Neve, and Angie looked up toward the sudden light, dull though it was. Matt peered down toward them and smiled weakly.

Relief flooded through her, so strong it made her light-headed and weak-kneed.

“Come on,” he said. “It’s safe to come up. Wet, though, so be careful.”

He didn’t need to ask her twice.

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Twenty-one – 01

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

“Did you feel it, too?”

Hecate swallowed, feeling sick. She pressed her back against the cool wall of the hollow they hid in, Lin cradled against her chest. The infant’s fingers clutched at her shirt, though he didn’t seem upset or fussy otherwise.

“Hecate?” Neve edged closer to her, her brow furrowing in concern. Hecate sucked in a breath, not realizing she’d been holding hers, and looked up.

“I did,” she said quietly. “I felt it. It’s—it’s unsettling.”

“I don’t hear anything up there anymore,” Neve said. “Someone will come to give us the all-clear soon. That’s how it works.” She glanced toward the two baskets where the twins slept and toward Angie, who sat with a book open against her knees and a lantern next to her. Hecate followed her gaze, caught the gleam of the girl’s eyes before she looked down again, pretending to read—or perhaps actually doing it.

“You felt it, too, didn’t you?” Hecate whispered, her gaze still on Angie.

The girl nodded. “Someone was trying to hurt the wards,” she said quietly. “I could feel that. Maybe she was trying to hurt Miss Marin, too. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell. Mister Phelan’s been teaching me to read the wards, though, so I pay attention to them. Maybe I shouldn’t when bad people are coming to hurt us.”

“Oh. Oh, Angie.” Neve squeezed Hecate’s shoulder before she moved toward Angie. Hecate managed not to wince at the contact, trying to concentrate on what Angie was saying and the feeling of the baby in her arms.

Marin trusts me to keep him safe.

That meant something.

“I’m okay,” the girl said as Neve hugged her, though she reached up to scrub some tears from her face. “I’m okay, Miss Neve. They stopped—no one’s trying to hurt them anymore, or Miss Marin. It’s okay. But the storm sounds a little scary.”

“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Neve said, her voice steady.

Hecate envied the other woman a little. Somehow the reassurance came so easily—or so it seemed. Perhaps Neve was just as accomplished of a liar as she was.

Hecate closed her eyes, bowing her head. She could feel the storm in the marrow of her bones, and other things, too. The wound in her side ached and pulsed, worse than it had that morning. Idly, she wondered if it had something to do with all the moving she’d been doing, or if it was something else, something more insidious.

“How do you know?” Angie asked.

“Because I’m really old,” Neve said, a faint tremor of laughter in her voice. “When you get to be really old you know things like that.”

“Oh.” There was doubt in Angie’s voice.

Hecate opened her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. The lamplight turned Neve and Angie into ghosts limned in gold. For a second, her breath caught, her heart missing a beat, then she settled again, forcing herself to relax.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe it will be okay.

Powers above and below, I hope she is. I hope she is.

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Twenty – 07

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

An uncomfortable flutter worked its way through Phelan’s stomach as he looked forward Marin. His jaw tightened as he saw a familiar stubborn look take root in the girl’s eyes and his stomach sank.

“I’m fine,” Marin said again with a tone of voice that brooked no argument.

Leinth stared back at her steadily. “If you say so,” she said softly, then turned. “But I still think that another set of hands dealing with those wards would not be unwarranted.”

Marin stayed silent. Phelan looked between the two for a moment. Finally, he exhaled a sigh. “It’s not worth fighting about, you two,” he said quietly. “Really, it’s not.”

“Of course not,” Leinth agreed. Marin nodded.

“Come on. There’s more stuff to look at before we know exactly what kind of damage’s been done.” There was a sigh in Marin’s voice, one she wouldn’t quite let slip free.   Phelan studied her for a few seconds, then looked away.

She’ll run herself ragged—run herself into the ground—and there’s nothing I can do to stop her. Not this time.

He swallowed his own sigh and gestured to the churned ground of the courtyard. “Well, we’d better make sure there wasn’t any damage to anything further in, since those bastards got inside. We’ll have to figure out a way to reinforce the dome faster than what we did today.”

“At least we had the dome,” Marin muttered.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes,” Phelan said, regretting the words the instant they left his lips.

Marin winced, but nodded. “Yes. Yes, we do.” She shivered slightly in the rain but marched resolutely toward the tents. The murmur of voices reached them, echoing down hallways and off walls. Thunder grumbled above them, more sullen than angry. Phelan dared breathe a little easier, hoping that it meant that the news regarding Sif was good—or at least not dire.

We can only hope.

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