Three – 01

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

“Kay. Hey, Kay.”

Kailey Astoris tried her damnedest to ignore her younger brother’s hissed call. Whatever mischief Finn had gotten into was something she didn’t want any part of—she’d gotten into enough trouble on his account in the past few weeks. Perched in a tree with a book open in her lap, she was content to pretend that she simply wasn’t there to hear him.

She tilted her head back, leaning against the rough trunk of the tree, staring at the leaves fluttering in the breeze, at the shafts of light that filtered down through them. It was comfortable there, even balancing on a branch that was perhaps not quite large enough to be a wholly stable perch, but still and all it was her favorite spot.

“Kay, I know you’re here.” Her brother’s voice was closer now. She tucked a finger into her book to mark her place and peered down toward the sound, brow furrowing.

She couldn’t see him.

How does he know I’m out here? No one saw me leave.

“Kay, I found your shoes. Come down. Something happened to Lin.”

Her heart seized, stomach folding in on herself. No. No, no, not again.

She tucked the book under her arm and scrambled down a few branches, then dropped the last few feet to the ground, landing in a crouch. Finn stood a few feet away, his eyes wide and his expression surprised, as if he hadn’t quite expected her to be exactly where she was.

He held out her shoes.

“What happened?” she asked as she took them, tugging them on before starting to walk back toward the village proper.

“I don’t know because no one will tell me,” Finn said. “But Aunt Jac won’t make you leave if you go help.”

“Where are they?”

“Lin’s cottage.”

Kailey nodded, handing him her book. “I’ll find out. Do you know where Tory and Anne are?”

“No. I was up at the forge helping Dad. He sent me to go find Uncle Phelan and Uncle Phelan sent me to get Aunt Jac’s kit and then I came looking for you because no one will tell me anything.”

“Right,” she said, exhaling and starting to walk a little faster. “I’ll find out. You go find the others.”

“Everyone, or just Tory and Anne?”

“Mostly Tory and Anne,” Kay said. “But if you find Gwen and Kurt, too, then that’s a bonus.”

“Right,” Finn muttered. “Why the hell am I always the errand boy?”

“Because most of the time, you’re the youngest.” She waved him off. “Go. I’ll tell you what I find out once I find out something.”

“All right,” Finn said, sounding like he didn’t quite believe her. “You promise?”

“Yeah. I promise.”

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Two – 04

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

“What is it?”

Matt was watching his face and Phelan had long known his friend to be far more perceptive than he ever truly let on. There was a thread of concern in the smith’s voice as he asked the question, a look in his eye that spoke volumes about what he suspected and what he feared.

“A camazotzi attacked Lin,” Phelan said, staring at the embers in the firebox, unable to meet Matt’s gaze. He already knew what would be written on his friend’s face and it was an expression he feared he would see far more of in the coming weeks and months than he’d seen in years.

“A camazotzi,” Gilad echoed. “Those haven’t been spotted this far north in years.”

“We thought we saw one a few weeks ago,” Matt said slowly, his voice low. “But we couldn’t confirm what it was.” He stared at nothing for a few seconds, then took a slow, deep breath, exhaling before he asked, “How did it happen?”

“I only saw the tail end of what happened,” Phelan admitted. “From what he said before I passed him off to Jac, he was taking a walk in the ravine and saw something. He didn’t say what.” He didn’t have to say what, because I suspect I know what he saw. I’m just afraid to confirm it. “I saw him come charging across the bridge with the thing in pursuit. Looked like he’d taken a chunk or five out of it, but it also got its claws into him.”

“That’s why he’s with Jac right now,” Matt said. “Did it reach the wards?”

“I blasted it before it could, but it was about to.” Phelan’s lips thinned. “I don’t know if it would have punched through or not at this point. It was certainly determined.”

“And the wards aren’t exactly what they used to be.” Matt’s lips thinned and he started to pace. “None of this is good news.”

“Of course it’s not,” Phelan said, sitting down on one of the old benches against the forge’s stone walls. They were as old as the new world, built that first year—the handiwork of Lin’s father, Matt’s brother-in-law.

He missed Thom and Marin Ambrose more than he could ever properly express. If he were honest with himself, he knew they all did, each of them for different reasons.

He leaned against the cool stone, watching Matt. He likely missed them most of all, if only because with them gone, de facto leadership had fallen to him.

“The peace is breaking,” he said. “The agreement unravels.”

“We knew it would,” Phelan said softly. “Your sister said it would.”

“I know,” Matt whispered. “But she also always hoped she was wrong.”

“She wasn’t.”

“I know,” Matt said, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. “I know.”

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Two – 03

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

I was probably more harsh than I needed to be, Phelan reflected as he climbed the hill, the forge growing closer with each step. Sunshine slanted down through the trees that had grown old since the day he’d come to this place nearly nineteen years before. It was still strange to think of, how long it had been, how much had changed.

Some things, though, stayed the same. Families grew, but they still remained family.

He didn’t hear the sound of Matt’s hammer against the anvil as he grew closer and that made him frown. If Matt wasn’t working up there, then what was going on? His stomach sank. He’d expected this to be about Lin, about the boy’s encounter in the ravine. Something told him now that wasn’t going to be the case.

He ducked into the shadows of the forge, blinking slowly to let his eyes adjust. The space was dark and close but as clean as a forge could really be, lit by the embers of the firebox and a lantern hung on a chain from one of the ceiling’s beams. Matt stood near the anvil, forehead creased slightly in a frown, arms crossed against his leather apron. He glanced at Phelan as he entered, nodding slightly.

“That was faster than I expected,” Matt said quietly.

“He didn’t have very far to go to find me,” Phelan said, glancing toward the second figure that stood in the forge’s shadows, eyes finally adjusting enough to make out the features of his face. “Gilad? What are you doing here? I thought you were out on patrol.”

“The rest of them are,” Gilad said, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I came back to report. We decided it was best that it not wait until we finished our circle.”

“It would have been another week,” Matt said, clarifying the Huntsman’s timeline. The Wild Hunt ranged further and wider these days than they had almost two decades before when they’d settled in the Valley, though most stayed nearer to the home they’d created here—a welcome relief for a force that had spent centuries on the road. Gilad had ridden with them for longer than most, despite not looking like he was much older than twenty-five.

Phelan could empathize with him in many, many ways.

He glanced between the two men, his brow furrowing. “So what’s the report? What did you see?”

“Two caravans torn apart,” Gilad said quietly. “About four days’ ride south of here. The patrol diverted to check on New Hope. Orders were to send someone back after they did.”

Lara Duchnes was one of their earliest allies and had been the leader of the settlement at New Hope, roughly forty miles south down the lakeshore from the Valley. If something had happened there—

Don’t. Not yet. Phelan met Matt’s gaze, finding it as troubled as he knew his own was. He looked at Gilad again.

“What do we think did it? The caravans? What do we think hit them?”

“Nothing human,” Gilad said softly. “We all know what that means.”

“Aye,” Phelan said, stomach folding in on itself.

The peace is breaking. The seals are loose. They’re testing how far they can go, how strong those who would stand against them might be. The caravans are only the beginning—the camazotzi coming after Lin is an early warning.

It’s about to begin again and there’s nothing we can do to stop that this time.

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Two – 02

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

He managed to go a dozen yards from Lin’s door before Finn Astoris appeared at his side, his face soot-stained and his hair tousled by the wind. His expression was as serious as a fourteen year old’s could ever be as he peered up at Phelan.

“Dad wants to see you,” he said.

Phelan smothered a wince. Either he’s figured out something’s going on, he heard something, or something else has happened that I don’t know about yet. He wasn’t sure which option was the most attractive and instead just nodded slightly.

“Do me a favor and go get your Aunt Jac’s kit and bring it to her, okay?” he said to Finn. “Then tell Aunt Carolyn that Jac might need her help.”

“You going to go up to Dad, then?”

Phelan nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to go see your dad.”

“Cool. Is Aunt Jac with Lin?”

Phelan nodded, starting to walk toward the forge, a path his feet had carried him along more times than he could count over the last eighteen years.

“Did something happen?”

“Yes,” Phelan said, knowing that denying it would only prolong the interrogation. “Now go get the supplies for your aunt and then get Carolyn.”

“But—”

Phelan looked at him sidelong. “Finnegan Aleksander Asteris, I do not have time to explain everything to you right this second. Please go do what I’ve asked you to do so I can go talk to your father about whatever the hell he needs to talk to me about.”

Finn winced. “Okay, Uncle Phelan.”

“Thank you,” Phelan said, trying to hide his relief. Finn peeled away, jogging back toward the cottages, leaving Phelan to continue the trip up the hill alone.

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Two – 01

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

“What the hell happened?”

Jacqueline’s voice reached them before Phelan actually saw his wife, who’d spotted them before he could spot her. He glanced up the hill, toward the old forge where Matt Astoris still spent most of his days even after all these years. Smoke drifted into the sky above it, a sure sign that the smith was still at work and Jacqueline was coming down the hill from the forge, an empty basket in her hand and her expression like the sky just before a storm’s breaking.

Lin shifted his weight slightly and Phelan glanced at him, frowning. The teenager’s complexion was washed-out, even in the afternoon sunshine. It was all Phelan could do not to shake his head.

Eighteen years since that deal was struck. His lips thinned. Five years since they tried to buy us more time. Our luck had to run out eventually.Camazotzi got the drop on Lin.”

“A camazotzi.” Jacqueline stumbled a step before she reached them. “Where?”

“In the ravine,” Lin said. “Don’t worry, Aunt Jac, it’s dead.”

“Oh, I imagine it is.” Her gaze slid toward Phelan for a second before it flicked back to Lin. “Only one?”

“That’s the weird part,” Lin said. “I saw something. That’s how it was able to creep up on me like it did.”

Jacqueline looked at Phelan again, her brow furrowing. Phelan shook his head.

“We can talk about it later,” he said. “For now, you need to have a look at him. Thing took a few chunks out.”

“That much I can see,” Jacqueline said, jaw tightening for a second. “Bloody hell, Lin.”

“Not too much of one,” the teen mumbled, glancing down, cheeks flaming—likely not from the fever that Phelan could already feel setting in, either. “Sorry, Aunt Jac.”

“This is not something to apologize to me about,” she said, swinging around to his other side. “Let’s get you cleaned up and into bed. I’m sure something is going to need a stitch.”

“And some antibiotics from your stash,” Phelan said, silently thankful that Lin hadn’t inherited an allergy to the stuff that seemed to plague their bloodline.

Jacqueline frowned for a second, studying Lin, then nodded. “Yeah. I think you’re right.”

“I can hear you,” Lin muttered.

“I am fully aware of that,” Jacqueline said, tone chiding and amused all at once. “Trust me when I tell you that we did this to your father, too.”

They had done it to Thom Ambrose—many, many times over the years, they’d done the same and it had always annoyed him, too. Most of the time, he just let it go, but every so often it led to explosions that Phelan was sad to say he still missed, even all these years later.

Even having lived for as long as he had, somehow five years felt like a long time, now.

“Often?” Lin asked as they headed for the small cottage where the teenager had lived on his own for almost a year, since his seventeenth birthday.

“Often enough,” Jacqueline said, smiling wistfully. “Though I don’t remember it fondly enough to have ever wanted repeats. The worst points in my life have always been marked by someone needing my healing skills.”

Of course, some of the best moments have been those, too. Phelan held his tongue. His soulmate’s skills often took her on a rollercoaster of understandable highs and lows. That, of course, was the hand dealt to the healers, to the fixers.

The front door was unlocked and Jacqueline led the way inside. Lin winced, possibly at the books strewn across the small table near the fireplace and the unwashed mug sitting next to them, at the quilt draped haphazardly across the back of his chair, the laundry piled in a basket in the corner. In truth, it looked no different from anyone else’s space, but Phelan could understand his embarrassment. This was his space, his sanctum, and almost no one was ever there except for him.

Jacqueline snorted a laugh, spotting something Phelan hadn’t noticed. “Your bed is actually made?”

“Habit,” Lin mumbled. “Mom and Dad always made sure I made it before I left in the morning. Now I just do it. Always have.”

Phelan’s throat tightened for a second and he swallowed hard. Of all the things…

Jacqueline shook her head, walking to the table and chair. She plucked the quilt from the chair and pointed. “Right here, Phelan. We’ll get everything stitched and bandaged and then to bed with you, Thomas Merlin.”

Lin winced. That was the second time he’d heard both names trotted out in the span of half an hour, and that never boded well. The teenager dropped into the chair without complaint and started to take off his shirt. Jacqueline handed the quilt to Phelan, giving him a long, measured look.

He nodded slightly, folding the quilt out of reflex. “I’ll get it.”

“Thank you,” she said softly.

He set the quilt on the foot of the bed and slipped out of the cottage. She would need her kit and supplies to treat Lin’s wounds.

After that, Phelan would have to tell the others that it was becoming clear that the peace really was finally breaking.

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One – 03

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

“Lin.”

Sound swam up through the darkness, my head ringing with each heartbeat. I twitched feebly, feeling nothing but bone-deep ache and a burning where the camazotzi had gotten pieces of me. Regardless of anything else, that meant I was in for an unpleasant few days.

“Lin.” The voice was more urgent the second time it said my name, but still muffled.

I might have groaned. Moving hurt. The voice mumbled a curse.

Déithe agus arrachtaigh, Thomas Merlin,” the voice growled. “Open your eyes, dammit, or I’ll haul you back by your ankles.”

My uncle Phelan has always had a way with words.

I cracked one eye open, then the other. He was crouched above me, green eyes wide and worried, every plane and angle of his face etched with concern. “Okay,” I croaked. “Okay, okay.”

“Oh no,” he said, his voice dripping with a mix of disbelief and concern. “Not okay. What the hell happened?”

“Is it still out there?”

“No, it’s obliterated. What happened?” By now, he was helping me sit up slowly. The world pirouetted once, then a second time before it stopped its slow twirl around me. I groaned and would have buried my face in my hands if I hadn’t been sure it would make me dizzier.

“I was taking a walk,” I told him. “Down in the ravines. It happened too fast. One second everything was normal and then there weren’t any birds anymore and it started to get dark and I—” I stopped, squinting at him. Was it my imagination, or was he paler than normal? “Uncle?”

“We’ll talk about it later,” he said, starting to pull my arm across his shoulders. “Come on, on your feet. You aunts are going to have some kind of conniption. Probably after Jac has a good look at you.”

“I’ll be fine,” I muttered as he hauled me to my feet. The world spun again; only one revolution this time, for which I was silently grateful. “I was the last time. A couple days of fever and a nasty scar.”

“You’d love to think that,” Phelan muttered, shaking his head. “Unfortunately, these things tend to get worse with repeated exposure, not better. It’s a little game the world plays with people who have blood like ours.” He wrapped his arm around my waist and together we started to limp back toward the village proper. “You’re going to do as she tells you, Lin, whether you like it or not.”

I frowned. My head pounded and the wounds burned. For a second, I wondered how long I’d been out. “Did you see it?”

“I felt it before I saw it,” Phelan said quietly. “You were lucky I was out here.”

“What were you doing out here?”

He smiled briefly. “Taking a walk. And you’re lucky I was, too. That thing would have come through after you.”

“It couldn’t have made it,” I said.

He shook his head. “They have before, Lin. They have before.” He lapsed into silence for a few steps, then added, “For a prize like you, they would do anything, risk anything, especially now that they know where you are.”

“Why now?” I asked. “They haven’t come ‘round since I was a baby. Why now?”

“I’m not sure,” he said quietly. “And there’s a part of me that’s afraid to find out.”

“Do you think it has something to do with Mom and Dad?”

Phelan closed his eyes, a trace of pain crossing through his expression, though he smiled. “It always does, Lin. Somehow, it always does.”

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One – 02

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

Roots erupted from the ground, reaching for the camazotzi even as it plowed into me, claws raking. If the pendant’s chain hadn’t been wound through my fingers, I would have lost it entirely as I hit the ground, air rushing out of my lungs all at once, leaving me gasping like a fish trapped on the river’s bank. Tendrils of power wrapped around the monster on top of me, power I had little control over—it was almost instinctual, flowing from the pendant in my hand.

My own power was returning in fits and starts—the roots had sapped most of it by way of an opening volley. I’d have to end this fast if I wanted to keep breathing.

The roots tore at the camazotzi. Blood ran down its black, leathery flesh in dark rivulets. I could smell the scent of burning flesh, as if the light was searing its way through skin and muscle. Whatever magic that pendant held, I was glad it was on my side.

Darkness nibbled at the edges of my vision. I tried to get my legs between me and the camazotzi, hoping to kick it off of me. The motion ended up being more like feeble flailing, my boots scraping the mud.

Focus, Merlin. Focus.

I gasped in one breath, then two. My vision started to tunnel.

What would Mom and Dad do?

Jaw tightening, I twisted beneath the camazotzi and drove my hand, palm-first, into its jaw. It reeled back, screeching, and the roots promptly seized it, buying me enough time to scramble out from beneath it.

I wasted no time in stumbling to my feet and taking off at a dead run, bleeding and barely able to breathe.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

The slope back up was steep, steep enough that I threw myself against it at first rather than actually starting to climb. It was more of a mad scramble, feet and hands slipping on the embankment, fingers and toes scrabbling for purchase. I scraped knuckles and knees on roots and tree trunks, on rocks and branches. Air burned in my throat, my chest, vision narrowing down to a fragment of its normal scope. Blood roared in my ears, so loud I couldn’t hear the camazotzi, couldn’t tell if it was giving chase. I couldn’t even spare the effort to try to sense it.

It was taking everything just to get up the side of the ravine. Once I made it to open ground, maybe I would have a chance.

All I need is a chance.

Dimly, I heard a shriek that must have been ear-splitting—would have been, if I could have heard much more than my own heartbeat. I heaved myself up over the lip of the ravine, stumbling a few steps before I ramped up into a dead run—a run for the old bridge, for the safety of the wards.

I had never run so hard or so fast in my life, each step shaking the old steel and concrete, setting the old bridge vibrating. There was another shriek, this time to my right, from the ravine.

I hope I got its wings. I hope it can’t fly up here. Please, please, I just—

There was a thud that I felt but couldn’t hear. I didn’t risk a glance back, steps carrying me to the end of that old bridge. It was only a few more yards.

Just a few more yards and I’d be safe on the other side of the wards that had been my mother’s work all those years ago.

The camazotzi shrieked again, near enough that this time I did hear it clearly.

Just a few more yards.

I dove for the safety beyond the edge of the wards.

Blackness swallowed me whole before I hit the ground.

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One – 01

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

It was idyllic until the birds stopped chirping.

I froze and took a slow breath, then another. The woods were dead silent where a few seconds ago they’d been awake and alive with the sound of birdsong. Nothing moved. I couldn’t even hear the creek to my left, nor the sound of the wind rustling branches above my head.

In the silent stillness, my heart started to beat a little bit faster.

What had been a perfect summer afternoon suddenly started to feel cold, the chill seeping through my sleeves and jeans, sinking into my flesh until it felt like it was gnawing on the very marrow of my bones.

Deep breath. Exhale slowly. Again.

                Stay calm.

It was easier to tell myself to do that than to actually do it.

An errant cloud eclipsed the sun. I started to hear voices, indistinct but close, unintelligible but achingly familiar. My heart hammered against my ribs.

It felt like forever since I’d heard those voices.

Voices—voices of a man and a woman who were supposed to be dead.

It was hard to breathe. I turned slowly toward the sound of those voices, voices accompanied by the sound of footsteps that were moving away from me. I swallowed hard. The world grew darker around me, as if night was falling early.

A chill crept down my spine. Everything felt wrong.

Yet, at the same time, I knew that this was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Their voices faded even as the darkness closed in around me, as if the sun had set hours too early and far too quickly. I stopped, listening. They were far away, now, deeper into the ravines that spidered out alongside the river that ran out toward the lake. Holding my breath for a few seconds, I could just barely hear them in the distance.

There was still no birdsong, no wind in the trees. It was achingly still. The quiet crunch of old leaves beneath my feet even seemed too loud.

There was something out there, something that wasn’t them, something high in the trees, between them and the river—because their ultimate destination, I knew, was the river’s bank. When you really wanted some privacy, that was where you went—down through the ravine to the edge of the river. Even now, when someone wanted to go fishing, they usually didn’t go that way. There were easier access points than down those slopes and through the tangle, terrain I knew as intimately as my own room.

It was full dark, now, with moonlight slanting through the trees. I forced myself to breathe evenly, trying to calm my racing heart. It wasn’t real, but it was. It was an odd sort of dissociation that even I wasn’t quite used to experiencing.

An unearthly shriek split the air and I shot to my feet, swallowing the curse that rose to my lips. I knew what that was, what had made the sound, but I hadn’t seen one in over a year, not since the last testing attack on our borders, on the wards that kept the village safe.

But I was outside the wards, now.

And the camazotzi still haven’t forgotten what my family’s done to them—and they never will.

Bile crept up in my throat. I wanted to run but it felt like my feet were trapped in cement. There was something keeping me there—maybe morbid curiosity, maybe fear.

There came the sound of crackling brush, of running footsteps, of heavy breathing. Three figures dashed through the brush and tall grass ahead of me, stopping a dozen feet from where I stood in the shadow of an old and massive oak. They crouched together behind a fallen log, the moonlight falling just enough onto them in their shadowed spot that I could see their faces.

My throat swelled. I had never seen my parents so young, nor the friend that was with them. My mother wore her hair pulled up into a tail, her face pale in the same moonlight that gilded my father’s hair with silver. Old Drew was older than them even then, but he, too, was different, far younger, lacking the worry lines around his eyes and mouth that were so familiar to me now. They were all breathing hard as they crouched together there.

Then my mother asked, “Did it follow us?”

I knew that it had—I could feel it coming, getting closer—and my father did, too.

His hand was on her arm. “Give me your pendant.”

A twig snapped. She went tense, reaching up and grasping the pendant and chain that hung around her neck. She jerked on it once, then again. It came free and she pressed both into his palm.

I watched as he held the pendant like a skipping stone in his hand, gazing out into the darkness toward where I could sense the camazotzi coming. It was getting closer.

They were wasting time they didn’t have.

And yet, my throat was too tight. I couldn’t even manage a whisper, let alone a warning. Breath burned in my lugs and my eyes stung.

Why couldn’t I warn them? It was too close and getting closer. They didn’t stand a chance.

“When I throw this, run,” my father told them.

“Thom?” My mother sounded startled, worried.

“Just run,” he said. “I’ll be right behind you.”

They looked at each other. My mother straightened up first. She must have seen something, because she went rigid for a second and gulped in a breath.

I saw it, too—the glint of gold in red eyes. Moonlight painted the thing blacker than black, but their eyes always gave them away.

“Get ready,” my father said. Next to him, my mother and their friend tensed to run.

I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away from them. My heart was in my throat, threatening to choke me.

He whipped the pendant at the camazotzi stalking them and my mother and their friend took off running. The creature let out a roar of pain as my father shot to his feet and took off after them, only a couple of steps behind.

The wounded camazotzi shot upward, into the trees. Air rushed into my lungs. I could move again.

There was a second one to my left.

My defenses were down.

That pendant—

I dove for it, its edge glinting silver in the moonlight, half buried in the mud a few feet from where the first camazotzi had crouched. It was a talisman—my gut screamed it—and it might just be enough to save my sorry ass from the second camazotzi that was rushing at me from my left, as if sensing its quarry was far too vulnerable.

My fingers closed around the chain and I turned my dive into a roll. Light flooded the woods around me—darkness turning to daylight in the space of a few seconds. I blinked rapidly, using my senses as much as my sight to orient. My heart hammered and the air crackled around me as I rolled to a crouch, then came to my feet.

Radiance built around the pendant hanging from the chain in my hand, as if drawing in the ambient power of the nearby lines. It was the only defense I had as I groped for my own power—power that was at my fingertips but yet felt oddly distant, almost depleted.

Hell of a time to be half defenseless.

The camazotzi hesitated for a second.

Then it lunged at me, claws outstretched.

All around me, the world exploded.

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Book 8 begins on St. Patrick’s Day

With the end of Book 7 comes a major time jump for the Awakenings universe–so brace yourselves.

Posts resume on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.  I have my reasons for that date–mostly because I don’t want to make everyone wait until April for more to the story (April 4, 2020 will mark nine years of Awakenings as a serial)–but other reasons as well.

Get ready for more adventures in a few weeks.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Thirty – 01

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

It was three days before they made it home, carrying with them the wounded—many of the Hunt were, but those from the ridge were little worse for wear. They didn’t talk about what had happened, though—not on the field. None of them did, not in any sort of real or specific way.

Their family came last—Marin with Phelan and Thom, Matt and Hecate, Cameron and Leinth, Thordin and Sif. They seemed exhausted, worse for wear, but alive and relatively intact. They came on foot, leading their horses, as if needing to stretch their legs after the ride. Perhaps they did.

Neve and Seamus met them at the gates. If any of them were surprised, it didn’t show. Leinth moved right for Seamus even as Cameron went to Neve. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed a kiss to his ear.

“I was worried,” Neve murmured.

“I know,” Cameron said, kissing her temple as he leaned back slightly. “But here we are, back safe and sound.”

“Most of us, anyway,” Marin said, leading her horse through the gates. “The battlefield is hallowed ground, now. Their dead and ours rest together.”

“Warded?” Seamus asked, leaning against Leinth, who’d tucked herself under his arm.

Marin nodded. “Warded with the beginnings of a forest growing over it. Give it ten years and no one will be able to tell what happened there unless they start digging.”

Behind her, Thom shivered. “Hopefully, no one ever does.”

“What did their blood buy us?” Seamus asked softly. “What was their sacrifice for?”

“Peace,” Marin said.

“But for how long?”

She smiled wryly. “They said twenty years. I figure it actually holds for fifteen before they completely break the bargain. They’ll start testing us in ten or thirteen years. Either way, it buys us time.”

“They,” Neve echoed. “I thought it was just Orcus.”

Phelan shook his head. His voice came raspy. “No. Leviathan was there, too.”

“And there were watchers,” Hecate added. “Word will spread that we’re not to be trifled with. There will be some that will test us, but not nearly as many. Not like what you’ve already faced.”

“Like what we’ve already faced,” Matt corrected gently.

She smiled up at him.

Marin took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “We’ve won at least a childhood for our children,” she said. “And if that’s all the time we have, I’ll count us lucky. It buys us time to figure all of this out. One way or another—we have time.”

Time was all they’d ever really needed, all they really wanted. Now, a year in, perhaps they would actually be able to settle down and sort it all out.

Now they had time.

 

End of Book Seven

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