Eleven – 07

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

“Seamus.”

Her voice came like a beacon in the fog, but a distant one, muffled and echoing. He started to claw his way toward it but the moment her voice faded, he was lost again. Alone.

It was too warm and too cold at the same time and everything hurt. If he went deeper into the misty gray around him, he knew it would go away. But she wasn’t there. Going deeper meant being alone.

There was a vague sensation of shaking, centered on one shoulder, the one where an arrow had only grazed him, not lodged or worse. Seamus sucked in a breath, twitching slightly.

Leinth’s voice, again: “Seamus.” The urgency clawed at his heart. He swallowed hard, latching on to the sound and the sensation, dragging himself through the mist and fog until his eyes blinked open to the dim lamplight and the sight of her face. Her brow was creased, her jaw taut, eyes pleading, worried. Weakly, he reached one hand for her face.

“Enough,” he whispered. “Enough, I’m awake.”

“Not a moment too soon,” Leinth said, her hand capturing his to press and hold it against her cheek. Her fingers were warm and he exhaled a quiet breath, sagging slightly.

Everything hurt.

I’m getting too old for heroics.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as his senses started to slowly return. Even as the words faded, he started to feel it. He knew. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Leinth said. “Oh.”

“But—” he stopped himself, swallowing hard. Thoughts tumbled over each other, a jumble that was hard to untangle enough to make sense of.

Slowly, he started to push himself upright. Muscles screamed and joints protested. His jaw set. Leinth’s arm slid behind his shoulders, steadying him.

“Careful,” she whispered, her breath warm against his cheek.

“That won’t help us now, will it?” he threw back the covers. “I need my clothes.”

“Okay.” Leinth kissed him gently and let go. He watched her as she crossed the floor to start digging something out of the drawers. He slowly swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

I’m getting too old for this, but there are some things that they shouldn’t have to face alone.

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Eleven – 06

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

“Fool,” his opponent snarled. “You can’t kill death.”

                “Really,” Seamus said, the point of his spear unwavering. “Do you want to test that theory, then? Because I am more than ready to show you how wrong you are.”

                “Really.” They circled each other, his opponent’s eyes narrowing even as one corner of Seamus’s mouth quirked upward toward a not quite feral smile. “Yet another thing you’ll be wrong about, thief.”

                “You call me thief when that which you claim I stole was never yours to claim.”

                “Her father promised her to me when she was naught but a stripling thing.”

                “Well, we both know how good his word is.”

                “She was promised.”

                “She is not a bargaining chip or a piece on a grand game board. She chose.”

                “She chose poorly. You don’t think once you’re dead that she’ll come to me?”

                “Not for a heartbeat,” Seamus said, his voice measured but low. “She knows what she wants and it is not you.”

                “Because you’ve ruined her.”

                “First you want her, now you accuse me of ruining her. Neither’s right and both are among the lies your poisoned tongue has spewed over these years. You’ll pay for each drop.”

                There was a twitch.

                Seamus kept his expression and his weapon steady. The tune had been called long ago. End game had come. He had planned for this—carefully, with great difficulty and no small measure of revulsion, but if it would keep those he still cared about safe, then it would be worth it.

                “Today, you die, Huntsman. Your brothers will mourn you, I’m sure, for no one else will.” His opponent moved, feinting to one side, leading with the scythe he carried. It was as Seamus expected.

                The spear slid home, biting deep into the other man’s chest. Seamus shoved it deeper, carrying his opponent to the ground. The man’s eyes widened, his breath catching as he lay on his back, limbs twitching.

                “Even death falls,” Seamus whispered, watching consciousness flee from his opponent’s eyes. “And there are fates worth than dying.”

                It was only a moment before the other one appeared, lips curving into a wry grin as he inspected Huntsman and quarry.

                “Well, well,” Pluton drawled, circling them. “It seems perhaps he underestimated you.”

                “Take him,” Seamus said, finally letting go of the spear and stepping back. “As we agreed. You have your prize, now you pay my price.”

                “Yes, yes,” Pluton said, waving a hand.

                “I mean it,” Seamus said, his voice a growl. “You leave her alone. Neither you nor any of yours sets foot on my isle. Do we have an accord?”

                “We do,” Pluton said, meeting his icy gaze with one of his own. “As was promised, so shall it be.”

                “Good,” Seamus said, then jerked his spear free of this opponent’s chest. He cleaned its blade on the other man’s tunic, then turned to walk away.

                “That’s it, then?” Pluton called after him. “You know, you could be useful. Your help in this has been greatly appreciated.”

                “I won’t want your appreciation, nor do I need it,” Seamus said, never breaking stride. “Justice has been served. Do not show me your face again, southron, lest you find yourself the one on the tip of my spear. Keep your bargain or such a thing will come to pass.”

                “Fare the well, then, Huntsman.”

                Seamus snorted and kept on walking.

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Monday’s update will post later in the day

Just what the subject says–the update for Monday, February 18, 2019 will post a little later in the day!

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Eleven – 05

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

They were nearly to the edge of the Hunt’s encampment when Matt spotted Gideon leaving it, heading toward the gate at a clip much too fast to give him any sort of comfort. His hand spasmed around Hecate’s before he let go, calling out, “Gideon!”

Gideon spun, blinking for a second before he started for the trio. “Have you seen Seamus?”

“He’s still in bed, recovering,” Matt answered, moving to meet him, leaving Hecate and Phelan a few steps behind him. “What’s going on?”

“You can’t–?”

He shook his head quickly. “No. There are things I don’t remember.” He glanced over his shoulder toward Phelan and Hecate, then back to Gideon again. “And there are some things he forced himself to forget.”

Gideon nodded, silent for a moment, then said, “I understand. Some of the outriders are returning.”

“And?” Phelan peered past Matt’s shoulder to Gideon, his voice as concerned as the expression on his face had been a moment before when Matt had looked back at him.

Gideon swallowed. “And they’ve spotted something dangerous heading our way. It doesn’t seem they were spotted, but is there ever really a guarantee of that?”

“No,” Hecate said softly, reclaiming Matt’s hand, leaning her shoulder into his. Matt leaned against her in return, pressing a kiss to her ear before his attention returned fully to Gideon. “No, there never is. Where were they riding?”

“North of here and west, toward the lakeshore,” Gideon said. “Two riders with an army massing at their backs. They’re not on the march yet, but they will be soon.”

“Who?” Matt asked, feeling his throat tighten again, stomach churning. “Who is it, Gideon?”

“We’re not sure,” he said, then swallowed. “I need to get to the gate, Matt. I have to let the outriders in.”

“We’ll come with you,” Matt said, mouth dry. “Let’s go.”

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Eleven – 04

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

“It’s settled, then,” Hecate said, looking between Matt and Phelan. “The three of us will go see what’s going on with the Hunt while Tala and Marin stay put with the children.” Her gaze drifted toward Marin. “I’m sure Thom’s about to arrive soon enough, isn’t he?”

Marin nodded, lips thinning. “Probably very soon. You’d better hurry.”

A shiver crept down Matt’s spine. He knew there were several reasons why she was urging them to hurry, and at least two of them had to do with her husband. If they lingered, they’d have to explain, delaying them, and on top of that, there were strong odds that he’d want to come with them.

That was something Matt wasn’t exactly keen to deal with.

His hand found Hecate’s and squeezed. He wasn’t entirely happy with the idea of her coming, either, especially not knowing what the Hunt had spotted, but that was a battle he knew for certain he’d lost before it even began.

“Let’s get going, then,” Matt said quietly, tugging at Hecate’s hand. His sister’s voice followed them.

“Be careful.”

He glanced back, nodding, then kept moving, pace picking up the further they got from the cookfire. He didn’t want to betray the level of nerves he was feeling, but he knew the quickening of his steps told that tale all too readily.

At least he could still hear them whistling back and forth to each other, even if he couldn’t quite make out what it meant.

That’s something. I just wish I knew what they were seeing. Damn.

It wasn’t as if he expected the codes—the language—to never change. It wasn’t that at all. It was that he couldn’t remember what the code was and deep down, he felt like he should have been able to.

But he couldn’t, and that was the most frustrating thing of all.

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Eleven – 03

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

A lone whistle sounded from the northern end of their settlement—the direction of the Wild Hunt’s encampment.

Phelan’s mouth snapped shut and he turned, expression stricken, toward the northern end of camp.

“The Hunt,” Tala said, looking toward the north, her jaw setting. “You think they’ve spotted something?”

“They wouldn’t be raising an alarm if they hadn’t,” Hecate murmured.

Bile rose in Matt’s throat and he swallowed hard, trying to force it back down again. His heart started to beat a little faster. “That’s not an alarm,” he said in a choked voice. He slowly let go of Hecate, easing her out of his lap and standing. She watched him, drawing her knee against her chest again, her brow creasing in concern.

“You’re certain?” she asked, her voice barely audible.

He nodded, guts churning. Another whistle answered the first. He could almost sort out the message bound up in it. “Yeah. Tala’s right, though, they’ve spotted something.” He swallowed hard, the knot in his throat starting to loosen. “Stay here. I’ll go find out what’s going on.”

“I’ll come with you,” Hecate said, already getting to her feet. Matt winced.

“You don’t—”

“It’s either going to be me or it’s going to be Marin,” Hecate said, glancing toward her sister-in-law before her gaze returned to him. “And I think you’d rather it be me.”

He held his tongue and nodded. “Okay.”

“I’m coming, too,” Phelan said, then looked at Tala. “You’ll stay here?”

“Of course,” she said, frowning. “Someone’s got to help Mar calm the troops, right?”

“I can hold it down if you want to go with them, Tala,” Marin said quietly, running her hand slowly up and down Lin’s back. Her expression was grim, face a little gray. Matt suppressed a shiver.

He knew she was worried. He was, too, but he couldn’t let it show on his face. Not yet.

He was sure she still knew.

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No update Friday, February 8, 2019

I’m so sorry to do this, but my power is currently out and I don’t have an ETA for when it’s going to be restored. Some readers know that I live in West Michigan and I am currently one of the 130,000 Consumers Energy customers who do not have power at this time and as a result of the volume of outages coupled with the very strong and real potential for more outages overnight and into tomorrow, there’s no guarantee that my power will be restored any sooner than Sunday.

As of right now, there will be no Awakenings update for Friday, February 8.

I’m so sorry!

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Eleven – 02

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

“None of us do, I think,” Hecate said softly, looking up over her shoulder at him. “I feel like our imaginations would pale in comparison to the truth, regardless.”

“Likely,” Phelan agreed. There was an intensity to his gaze that Matt found familiar and slightly uncomfortable all at once. He’d felt the weight of that stare before, both in this life and his past one as Cíar. “You saw it, then? The ruthlessness, the violence?”

He nodded. “Clearly. I never told anyone about it. I decided it was safer not to, both so not to invite a repeat performance on Orcus’s part, but also not to encourage any sort of encounter between him and anyone else. Cíar insulted him once to his face and he took exception, which was the source of the first encounter. The second was about the Hunt. The third—” he broke off, exhaling. He could feel the pain of broken bones, long distant, the ache of torn muscles and deep bruises, and the fear—fear that he wouldn’t make it back, fear that this was, in fact, the end for him.

It hadn’t been, but the fear still left him cold.

“It could be something as seemingly small as a broken promise,” Matt said in a voice suddenly choked. He swallowed hard against the lump and bile that had risen, probably in response to the memories that belonged to Cíar and the soul they shared. “It could be an insult, something else. He was a god of death, just like she was.” He meant Leinth. He wasn’t entirely certain how their duties were different—he wasn’t sure they were—but then again, that had never much mattered to Cíar, whose world before the Hunt had concerned him with the powers in the north, not the south. When he’d led the Hunt, all that had really mattered was the job that needed to be completed next, the work of the Hunt. Politics had never mattered.

Nor had it truly mattered when he had worked with Hecate so long ago—only her safety, if he were brutally honest.

“A broken promise,” Phelan echoed, his brow furrowing. “Another god of death.”

Matt nodded, arms tightening around Hecate. “Yes.”

“I wonder,” Phelan said.

He didn’t complete the thought.

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Eleven – 01

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

I shouldn’t have said it.

But he had, and now everyone except for Hecate was staring at him in blinking surprise.

She was just looking at him with a gaze full of sympathy and pain and love so deep he thought he might drown in it—and gladly. Matt took a slow, deep breath, then exhaled, scrubbing his hand over his face, buying himself time.

Maybe none of them would ask.

I would never be that lucky. He let his hand fall away, thoughts still storming even as he gathered them. His encounters—and there had been several—with Orcus were distant memories, ones that Cíar had tried very hard to bury, to leave as a part of his past never to be unearthed again.

He’d tried to bury them so deep that even Hecate didn’t know what had happened—or, more accurately, who he’d faced before finally making it back to her again.

Her hand rested gently on his arm and Matt smiled at her before he cleared his throat, starting to speak before any of them could start to press. “It was while Cíar was leading the Wild Hunt,” he said quietly. “Three times I faced him, twice with the Hunt at my back and once alone. None of those times ended well—not for Cíar, anyhow, I’ve got no idea how Orcus might have felt of it.”

Hecate settled against him and he wrapped his arms around her again, the feel of her weight against his chest a comfort beyond comprehending. Matt buried his nose in her hair for a second before lifting his head and continuing.

“Physically, he’s huge. Hulking. Bigger than any man I’d ever seen—have ever seen. Ugly as sin and worse with these eyes that cut to your soul. He’s smarter by half than anyone ever gives him credit for and his ruthlessness should be a thing of legend. There is no mercy in him, no quarter. If he has a bone to pick with Seamus and Leinth, the only thing that’s kept him from dealing with it is either something bigger than he is or worse.”

“What could be worse?” Marin asked in a whisper.

“I don’t know,” Matt said. “But I sure as hell don’t want to think about it, either.”

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Ten – 09

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

“I am going to assume from the hushed tones and the reluctance to even float the idea means that this guy would be bad news,” Tala said, fixing plates for me and for Hecate. She brought them over, watching my sister-in-law and Phelan. “Are we going to elaborate at all on this theory and why we should all be duly terrified?”

I didn’t need more than the tones and the what-if that Phelan had started his statement out with to end up—as Tala put it—duly terrified. I took the plate from her, balancing it on my knee as I chewed my lower lip.

Phelan and Hecate were still looking at each other—she didn’t even look at Tala when she offered her the plate. Matt took it instead, frowning slightly. Tala kept standing there, watching them, waiting.

“I don’t know much about him,” Hecate said. “Do you?”

Phelan took a slow breath, rubbing at his temple. “I’d hoped you’d know more than I do. Most of what’s come to me is rumor and hearsay—stories.”

“Sometimes stories are all we have, Phelan,” Hecate said softly. She took a quiet breath, closing her eyes for a second. Matt nudged her elbow gently and she startled, eyes popping open. She glanced at him, then at the plate he held, and smiled faintly as she took it. “Thanks, Tala.”

“Sure,” Tala said softly. “So if all we’ve got are stories, what do those stories say? Is he terrifying or what?”

“Based on the stories? A little of both.” Phelan sighed, starting to pace again. I winced as I watched him, able to imagine the storm raging inside of him. “He’s another deity of death.”

“That doesn’t automatically make him terrifying,” Tala said, canting her head slightly. “I mean, knowing Leinth, she’s not that terrifying.”

“Only if you’re her enemy,” Phelan said. “That’s when she gets terrifying. Don’t forget when we first encountered her here. She was fairly frightening then.”

“He’s not wrong,” I said.

Tala shrugged. “Even so. What would make Orcus so bad as an enemy? What would we be facing?”

“After so long, it would be hard to say,” Hecate whispered, scrubbing her free hand over her face. “Hell. I’m not sure I ever could have said with any degree of accuracy.”

“Because you’ve never faced him,” I said, looking at her.

“Right.” She leaned back against Matt, frowning. “And from the sound of it, neither has Phelan.”

“I haven’t,” he confirmed. “That’s the worst part of it.”

“You haven’t,” Matt said quietly. “But I have.”

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