Hey folks! Change of plans for the next couple weeks.

I’m in the final push on my second undergrad degree.  Finals are next week, but we may be back to normal updates then.

Stay tuned and sorry about the delay, but I want to do the coming conversation justice.

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Nineteen – 04

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

Opening the door, I winced at the sudden brightness that flooded in.  The morning sunshine was stronger than I’d expected, or it was later than I expected—probably a bit of both.  A hiss escaped through my clenched teeth and again, I wished I had my father’s old sunglasses, the ones that he’d worn after fights for reasons that were only now starting to make sense.

Tory wasn’t right in front of my door, but he also hadn’t gone far.  He didn’t look at me right away, not turning as I closed my door and limped—gods and monsters, why am I limping?—toward him.  He blew out a quiet breath, though, letting me know that he knew I was there.

“I don’t understand any of this,” he said.  “And I’m not going to pretend to.”

“I only understand half of it,” I admitted as I came alongside him.  “Maybe even less than that.  But that doesn’t change what’s going on.”

“You said we were going to go talk to the visitors.”

I nodded.

He sighed.  “Let’s do it, then.”  He turned to start walking, then stopped, looking at me with a furrowed brow.  “Assuming you can.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know, maybe the fact that you’re about the color of a sheet of paper?”

I made a face ands hook my head.  “I’ll be fine.  Let’s go.”

“All right.”  He didn’t sound like he believed me.

Truth be known, I didn’t believe me, either.

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Nineteen – 03

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

I closed my eyes for a second and sucked in a breath.  Somehow, I knew he wasn’t going to go that far—he was probably only a few feet away from my door and probably just standing out there, staring up at the sky.  That was Tory—that was the Tory I’d known my whole life.

How would what we were about to embark on change that?  Would it?

I paused in the middle of pulling on a clean shirt.  The fact that I didn’t know the answer made me momentarily sick to my stomach.

This was the kind of shit I think Uncle Phelan tried to warn me about.  Folks don’t like it when you invoke prophecy and stuff like that.

Then again, growing up where we had and the way we had, why should it have surprised any of us that something like this could—or would—ever happen?

But wasn’t fear of her reaction why I’d been trying not to say anything to Kailey?  Why I’d been so reticent to say anything?  It wasn’t my own fear of what was about to unfold—I knew that much.  While I was definitely nervous about what was coming, I wouldn’t say I was entirely scared.

But Phelan prepared you for something to maybe happen.  Your parents prepared you for something to maybe happen.  This was always something that was within the realm of possibility, at least for you.  The others?  Maybe not so much.

I exhaled a sigh, stepping into sandals and heading for my door, my pace slower than I’d have liked.

Everything really did hurt, and while the room wasn’t spinning, there was definitely some vertigo that I was dealing with.  Aunt Jac would probably kill me for being out of bed so soon after getting hit by the camazotzi—but I also didn’t think she’d be surprised by it, either.

I’d read enough of my parents’ journals to know that.

Head in the game, Lin.  You’ve got work to do, starting with making sure your best friend doesn’t go flying off into some kind of—something.

Gods and monsters, I hope he’s still right outside the door.

If he wasn’t, I didn’t know what I’d do.

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Nineteen – 02

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

He stared at his hands and I watched him, drinking slowly.  I could tell that he was thinking, letting what I’d already told him roll around in his head and my heart ached a little.  He didn’t ask for what was coming.

Neither did you.  Your parents didn’t, either—not yours and not his.  They just picked up and kept on keeping on because there was no other choice in the matter, now was there?  I barely managed to suppress a sigh, taking another deep swallow of tea before I cleared my throat and dared to speak.

“You remember the stories about the battle with Orcus and the truce?”

Tory glanced up and nodded slightly.  “I remember that we never heard them ‘til we were older, that everyone would stop talking about it when one of us would come into the room, when they’d talk about them at all.”  He frowned.  “Which was admittedly not often at all.”

“For good reason,” I said, glancing toward my bookshelves.  “I’ve read what my mom and dad wrote about it and—well.  It seems like there was a sense of relief that followed the whole thing but at the same time, I don’t know that my mom and dad ever really shook the sense of a weight hanging over all of them.  They knew that the agreement would break down eventually.”

“We don’t even know what the agreement was,” Tory said, leaning back in his chair.

“No,” I agreed.  “But I’m not sure it matters, since the other side’s not abiding by it anymore.”

“Based on you being attacked.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah, that and some other things.”

His brows knit again.  “What other things?”

“Have you been watching them?  Your mom and dad, Uncle Matt, Uncle Phelan, all of them?  Really watching?”

“No.  Have you?”

I sighed, staring into my mug for a few seconds.  “Someone has to.”

“What’re you trying to get at, Lin?”

“You’re the one that asked.”

He threw his head back and made an irritated sound.  “And I’m asking again.”

“The point is that the peace is breaking down and that makes shit’s going to get really real really fast that includes shit for us.”  I gulped down the rest of the tea in my mug—probably faster than I should have—and winced.  Everything still hurt, but staying in bed wasn’t going to be an option, not for much longer.  “The travelers that came?  Your cousin and the rest?  They’re here in part because of that, because things are about to come unglued again and we’re going to have work to do.”

“You’re not making any sense,” he said, getting up to come and take my mug from me.  “Are you sure you’re not—”

“Delirious?  Crazy?”  I smiled wryly.  “Yes to the first, yes and no to the second.  I know what it sounds like, Tory.  It’s only going to get crazier from here.”

“Crazier,” he echoed, watching me as I threw back the covers and started to gingerly get out of bed.  “Crazier how?”

“Let me get dressed,” I said, wavering as I got to my feet.  At least I could get up without the room spinning.  “We’ll go talk to them.  It’ll make more sense that way.”

What will make more sense?  You still haven’t told me anything.”

I paused, chewing the inside of my cheek, then glanced at him again.  He held my gaze steadily, concern and confusion mingled in his eyes.  I exhaled a sigh.

“What do you want me to tell you, Tory?” I asked softly.  “You want me to tell you that they’re here because we’re part of a prophecy?  That our lineages and shit like that have written a destiny for us?  Because that’s what I know.  Because that’s what all of the stories and all of the books and all of the signs are starting to point to.  Is that what you want me to tell you?”

He just stared at me for a few seconds more.  His jaw tightened, his hands clenched.

Then he pivoted and walked out my door.

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Happy 10th anniversary, Awakenings.

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Nineteen – 01

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

“Lin?”

Consciousness flooded back in a rush.  My eyes felt gritty as I opened them, crusted over in the way they did when I was sick or had been crying in my sleep—sometimes when it was both.  I was willing to bet the previous night had probably been both.  I twitched beneath my blankets then groaned as my whole body started to remind me how much I hurt.  “Morning Tory.  It’s still morning, right?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly, easing inside.  The door clicked shut behind him, his footsteps quiet as he crossed the wood floor toward my bed.  The smell of breakfast hit my nose and though my stomach decided to somersault, it still growled just the same.  It might feel like someone had poured molten metal into the marrow of my bones, but apparently, somehow, I was still hungry despite nausea.

Again, I wondered how the hell my parents had managed to live through injury-induced suffering like this.

I finally managed to open my eyes, peering at him in the dim light.  It didn’t hurt as much, but there was still a distant thumping in my skull that I hoped would ebb sooner rather than later.  He seemed almost contrite as he brought a plate of food over to my bedside table, gently nudging my father’s journal and my empty mug aside so he could set it down.  “How morning?”  I asked, reaching gingerly to clear some of the gunk out of my eyes.  The motion made the pain in my shoulder worse but didn’t seem to have any additional ill effects—a small mercy, I decided.

“Sun came up about two hours ago,” he said.  “Breakfast is starting to wind down.  Figured I’d bring you a plate since Tala said she hadn’t seen you and apologize for yesterday.”

“You didn’t know,” I said, slowly sitting up.  The room spun for a second and I felt a little light-headed, but it went away after I settled against the headboard.  “And I wasn’t in much of a mood or mind to tell you.”

“I still shouldn’t have pressed.”  He took a fork and spoon out of his pocket and set it next to the plate on my bedside table, then collected my mug and headed to the stove.  “I just—it’s not like you to not say something.”

“It was a long day,” I said, carefully picking up the plate, watching as he started to make a fresh pot of tea.  “In more ways than one.”

“What happened to you?”

“Something attacked me,” I said slowly, evenly as I carefully sectioned a griddle cake with my fork.  “Something that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

“Is that where the scorch mark came from?”

“From Uncle Phelan killing it, yeah.”

“What did it do to you?”

“Long term?  Don’t know.  Yesterday it dug its claws into me something fierce.”  It had only been hours since the attack but it felt like forever.  “From what I’m gathering, Dad used to have the same kind of reaction to this kind of thing that I’m having now.”  Except sometimes with him it was worse.  I hope I don’t end up tripping over into that category.  “Then other shit happened.”

“Our visitors.”

“Your mom tell you?”

“Only a little bit.”  He turned and leaned against the counter, starting at me.  “Stuff about bloodlines and our visitors searching for something—someone.  Us.”

I closed my eyes and exhaled.

“I don’t want to press, Lin.  I really don’t.”

“It’s okay.  They’re looking for us, I think, and Uncle Phelan, but not just us or him.  There’s more I just don’t know how much more.”  I swallowed hard and exhaled, tilting my head back and staring at the ceiling for a few seconds.  “I haven’t gotten to talk to them, not really.”

“Well, maybe after you eat, if you’re feeling up to it, we can go do that.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to be.”

He smiled wryly as he took my hissing kettle off the stove.  “Guess we’ll have to see how much this tea fortifies you, then, huh?”

“Guess so.”  I glanced at him.  “You got something from Aunt Jac for me, didn’t you?”

“Not Aunt Jac,” he said as he started to brew the tea.  “Uncle Jay.”

I snorted.  “Something tells me that you really want me to be up to this conversation.”

“Well, you are my partner in crime.”

“I guess there’s that.”  I smiled again and he smiled back, a lopsided grin he’d inherited from his father.  “I’ll see if I can muster the strength.”

“You will,” he said, bringing me the mug.  “You’re just as eager to talk to them as I am, I think.”

“You wouldn’t be wrong,” I admitted as he handed me the tea.  “It’s just a question of physical ability.”

“It’s that bad?”

“Everything hurts.”  I took a careful sip of the fragrant blend.  It was hot and I could taste something not quite sweet and not quite bitter—something that was both at the same time even as it was also both familiar and not.  “Aunt Jac’s worried, Uncle Phelan’s worried—and probably a hell of a lot more people than them, if I were to guess.  I figure I’ll eventually be okay, but—well.  We’ll see, right?”

“What was it?”

“A camazotzi.”

“We haven’t—”

“I know.”  I smiled weakly.  “Stuff’s changing, Tory.  Was going to without our visitors showing up.”

“I guess so.”  He sank down into the chair that his sister had left abandoned.  “Still and all, Lin—why now?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted.  “But I have theories.”

“I’d love to hear them.”

I smiled crookedly.  “You sure on that?”

“I was,” he squinted at me.  “That smile makes me question.”

“Maybe after we talk to our visitors.”

He nodded slowly, leaning back in his chair.  “Mum said one of them is my cousin.”

“Guess we’ll have to meet him, then.”

“Yeah.  I guess so.”

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Eighteen – 04

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

Matt’s brows went up.  “For Cariocecus, you mean?  I’m open to suggestions.”

“He does have a soft spot for the kids,” Phelan said, opening the shutters over one of cut-out windows, letting some more light and air into the space.  There was a cross-breeze this morning that would make it more comfortable, at least for a little while, in the close heat of the old forge.

“Are you volunteering yours?”

Phelan winced again and knew that Matt saw the expression even though his back was still turned to both he and Thordin.  “That’s not fair.”

“No, it wasn’t.”  One corner of Matt’s mouth lifted into a wry smile.  “We both know that none of us play fair anymore—at least not all the time.  Family does shit like that.”

Snorting softly, Phelan looked around for something to keep his hands busy, finding a whetstone and some newly forged prep knives that needed honing and sharpening.  “Point taken.  I wasn’t volunteering Kay or Finn.”

“Good.  Though it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both of them volunteered.”  Matt shook his head, taking up a pair of tongs and thrusting the piece of metal on the anvil back into the forge itself.  “I don’t know, Phelan.  Where would we even start looking for Cariocecus?”  He glanced toward Thordin.  “Do you have any bright ideas?”

“It’s been how long since we’ve seen him?”  Thordin frowned.  “Six months?”

“Closer to a year,” Phelan said.  “He was here for the autumnal equinox and the harvest.  I know I haven’t seen him since, but someone else might’ve.  You know him.  He keeps his own council and keeps to himself these days.  I think he’s starting to feel all the years.”

“Are you?”  Thordin studied him for a few seconds.  “Are you starting to feel the weight of the centuries?”

“I started to feel the weight of the centuries at least two hundred years ago,” Phelan said.  It was only a half-joking lie.  “Though it definitely hits harder every time I see Drew’s brother and his pack.  Brings back memories of Kit O’Shea all those years ago.”  Closest I ever got to someone in all those years before Jac happened—before all of them happened.  I should’ve stayed in touch with her more.  Of course, she was long gone, now—probably.

Déithe agus arrachtaigh—I don’t even know what became of her, if she was gone before the end of it all or if she survived it.  I’ll likely never know.

It was another one of those marks upon his soul that he’d never quite wash clean.

Thordin grimaced slightly.  “Sorry, brother.”

Phelan waved a hand, pouring a little clean water from a pocket near the quench over the whetstone.  “It’s all right.  I know what you were getting at.  We’ve all handled everything a little different, all of us from the Otherworlds that are somehow still here.  Me, Hecate, Neve, Sif—all of us.”

“Truer words are rarely spoken,” Matt murmured, turning whatever he was working on in the embers.  “For some of you, I think it’s making up for lost time.”

“Well, you might not be wrong in that,” Phelan said, adjusting the bench so he could straddle it, starting to run the edge of the knife’s blade on an angle along the length of the whetstone.  “I know I am, for better or worse.  The things I have here are things I never dreamed I’d have again.”

“Sounds right.”  Matt pulled the heated metal out of the forge, laying it on the anvil and taking up his hammer again.  “I think Hecate’s pregnant again and trying to figure out how to tell me.  Of course all of this would happen now—again.”  He shook his head.  “She’ll tell me not to worry.”

“More like she’ll tell you when to worry,” Phelan said softly, watching his friend as he started to hammer at the piece of iron.  “And she’ll tell you when the time’s right.  You’ve got enough on your mind right now, Matt.  She won’t want to add another if she doesn’t have to.”

“Has Jacqueline said anything to you about it?”

He shook his head.  “No.  No, not yet, but she doesn’t always tell me about this sort of thing.  There are a lot of things they keep from us, y’know.  The ladies?  They keep their own counsel.  Probably wiser than we are in some ways.”

“In a lot of ways,” Thordin said with a smirk.  “But we’ll not get into your deficiencies, Wanderer.  Or mine, or his.”

Phelan snorted again.  “Best not.”

“Best not indeed,” Matt said, his tone only slightly grim.  “We haven’t made a decision about Cariocecus.”

“I’ll go,” Phelan said.  “I might as well, right?  I’m one of the ones with the best odds of finding him.”

“Don’t go alone,” Thordin said.

“I won’t,” Phelan assured him, lifting the knife to the light streaming in through the window, checking his work.  “I’m not that big of a fool—not anymore.”

I don’t have a death wish anymore.

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Eighteen – 03

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

Thordin crossed his arms, his brow furrowing.  Something about his stance and expression reminded Phelan of the sky before a storm—an irony that was not lost on him at all.  “Has anyone seen Cariocecus lately?”

“No,” Matt said.  “But if you’re thinking he’s responsible, I’d probably reconsider.”  His gaze flicked toward Phelan as he continued.  “Hecate and I talked about it, partially about the fact that they were here long before Cariocecus ever showed up and aimed them at us.  I don’t know how anyone controls them or how it’s decided when someone does or doesn’t—we’ve seen their strings pulled by a few people over the years—but I don’t think he’s got anything to do with this.”

“That’s not what I’m getting at,” Thordin said, reaching for the bellows.  “I’m just wondering.”

“Why?”  Jacqueline set down her basket on one of the benches and sat down slowly, watching Thordin intently.  “What’re you thinking?”

“Maybe he has insights on this,” Thordin said, then shrugged slightly with one shoulder.  “I don’t know, Jac, but that’s just it.  None of us know anything right now.  We’re grasping at straws and groping around in the dark.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she said.

“No,” he agreed.  “It wouldn’t.  I think all of us would rather not, though, all things considered.”

“Things are happening too fast,” Phelan said, leaning against the doorframe.  Matt was still staring at the embers, even as Thordin started to pump the bellows slowly, adding more fuel to the coals.  “It’s been a long time since we’ve had to deal with a pile-on like this.”

“A long time,” Matt echoed, nodding.  “Not since they left.”

Phelan winced, the bottom dropping out of his stomach.  “Matt—”

“The peace they brokered is breaking down,” he said again, then sighed.  “Just like we all knew it would someday.  Just like she—like both of them wanted to prevent.  I guess they didn’t find a way.”

What he let unsaid was something none of them quite wanted to face, a question that had long gone unanswered—because none of them were really willing to give voice to it.  So far as almost everyone was concerned, Marin and Thom were dead and had been for years.  There was an empty grave that bore their names out in the burial grounds north of the village.

That grave was empty, but none of them could be sure of what had happened to Thom and Marin Ambrose after they’d left the Valley.  There had been no word, no sign—nothing.  Every time Cameron rode out, he looked for signs of them, listened for word of them.

For years, there had been nothing.

Phelan closed his eyes, exhaling a breath as pain tightened in his chest and throat.

“Then we know what we have to do,” Jacqueline said.  “They left us the tools we need to make it all work.  All four of us know that—the whole council knows that.  We’ll make it work and we’ll win—we’ll win because there’s no other choice.”  She sighed, picking up her basket as she stood.  “We made them a promise and I, for one, intend to keep it as long as I’ve got breath in my body.”  She headed for the door, pausing to peck Phelan on the cheek.  “I’m going to go make sure Lin’s eaten something.”

“Okay,” Phelan murmured, squeezing her arm for a second before letting go.  “Tell him I’ll come down and see him in a little while.”

Jacqueline nodded, offering him a reassuring smile as she turned and headed back down the path.  Phelan’s gaze drifted after her, though only for a few seconds.  He swallowed past the tightness in his throat.

“She’s right,” he said quietly.  “We do know what we have to do.”

“It’s just the matter of doing it that’s hard.”  Matt rubbed at a spot on his forehead between his eyes, as if his head was starting to ache.  “But it was never easy, was it?  Even when they were here.  Hell.  I guess it was harder then, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Phelan said.  “Yeah, it was.”  He turned back toward them.  “So.  Who do we send hunting?”

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Eighteen – 02

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

The sound of the hammer stopped as they came closer to the door and for a second, Phelan held his breath, wondering if Matt was about to come out of the forge, if he was going to take a break.  Then he heard the soft murmur of voices inside and exhaled.

“Matt and Thordin,” Jacqueline said softly.  “We could do worse for this conversation.”

That’s true.  Phelan nodded.  “Aye.”  He reached for the door’s latch, tugging it open and allowing the morning sunshine to flood into the small space.  The sound of Matt and Thordin’s voices faded as both glanced toward the suddenly open door.  Matt frowned and Thordin arched a quizzical eyebrow.

“What’s wrong?”  Matt asked immediately, as if he’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He probably has been, knowing him.  He’s more like them than he’s ever thought about.  Phelan glanced sidelong at Jacqueline, who drew a slow, deep breath.

“The peace is breaking down,” she said without preamble.  “The camazotzi are probably what attacked our guests on their way here, based on what they said about it and what David’s wounds look like.”

“David,” Matt echoed, his gaze meeting Phelan’s for a moment.  “That’s your nephew?  Aoife’s son?”

Phelan nodded slowly.  “Yeah.  I can’t say I’ve gotten to talk to him.”

“I had to venture a guess, I’d say he takes a bit more after Gray,” Jaqueline said, squeezing him gently.  “Though his talents are definitely along a family line.”

Phelan shivered.  “What kind of talent?”

Jacqueline looked at him, then back to Matt, seemingly watching his face.  “Something close to what Marin and Thom could do, but not the same.  But close.  I think he’s seen things that have brought them here.  That’s my working theory, anyway, and they haven’t said anything that’s changed my mind about it.”

“They’re looking for Phelan,” Matt said softly.

“More than Phelan, I think,” Jacqueline said.  “But I’m not sure how much more.  Not yet.”

“And the camazotzi attacked them.  You’re sure?”
“As sure as I can be at this point.  They didn’t give a very in-depth description, but I’m sure if I show them some of the sketches from back then.  I’m pretty sure they’ll recognize it as what attacked them.”

Matt’s lips thinned and he nodded, turning back to the forge.  He exhaled softly, staring at the glowing embers.  “That’s it, then, isn’t it?”

“We can hope it’s coincidence,” Phelan said.

“It’s not,” Matt said.  “Though it’s a nice thought.”

It is.  Even if it’s not true, it’s a nice thought.  Phelan exhaled a sigh, closing his eyes.  “We knew it wouldn’t last forever.”

“No.  We just hoped it would last long enough.”  Matt shook his head again and banked the forge.  “It’s not like we ever really thought it wouldn’t happen.”

Phelan forced a sad smile.  He knew different on that account.

They all did.  They’d hoped it would hold—and hold forever.

A hope in vain, regardless.

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Eighteen – 01

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

“Phelan!  Phelan, wait.”

He paused, turning slowly to look back down the hill.  Jacqueline was still carrying her basket of healing supplies as she hurried up the path behind him, the morning sunshine gilding her hair with golden light, giving her a halo effect that warmed him to the depths of his soul.  She was as beautiful now as the day he’d laid eyes on her for the first time, now almost two decades past.  He wished that the worried look on her face wasn’t so familiar, though, especially after all this time.

His stomach dropped and he reached for her basket as she came within arm’s length.  “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head but let him take the basket.  “You were going to go talk to Matt?”

He glanced up the hill toward the forge, where smoke already curled from the chimney, the faint sound of Matt’s hammer echoing down the hill toward them. “I was planning on it.”

“Good,” she said.  “We can talk to him together.”

“Have you eaten?” Phelan asked her as they started up the path.  “You went to check on our visitors pretty early.”

“I had some oatmeal and fruit before I went,” she said.  “Someone’ll need to bring them something.”

“Is everything all right, then?”

“With them, for now, yes.”  Jacqueline’s lips thinned and she glanced up toward him, chewing her lower lip.  “Something bothered me about his condition.”

A chill shot through him.  “My nephew.”

“David.”

He swallowed against a lump in his throat.  He hadn’t even gotten to speak to him yet.  “David,” he echoed softly.

She squeezed his arm.  “I know what attacked him, Phelan, and he’ll be okay.”

“You’re sure?”

“You’ve always been,” she said quietly.  “Thom always was.”

“Thom.”  Phelan’s brow furrowed.  “What—why—?”  What does that…?

“I think they were attacked by camazotzi somewhere along the road.  I didn’t get a good feel for how far away it was or how long ago it was, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.  The wounds look right, especially knowing—well.  Knowing who his family is.”

Camazotzi,” Phelan echoed, feeling numb.  He closed his eyes for a second.  “Then the peace really is breaking down.  The agreements—”

“We knew it was only a matter of time, especially after all of our enemies realized that they weren’t here anymore.”

Phelan wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her close to his side.  “We need to tell Matt.”

“My thoughts exactly.”  She nodded toward the forge door.  “I just hope he’s up to it.”

“Why should he be when we’re not?”  Phelan smiled crookedly and shook his head.  “We’ll get through.  Always do.”

“Somehow,” she agreed, wrapping her arm around his waist.

“Yeah,” Phelan murmured.  “Somehow.”

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