Hey all!

No update today. With any luck, much larger update on Friday to make up for it.

Stay safe out there.

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Five – 04

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

There was a question that kept me awake, though, even though my body—and, if I were honest, my mind—wanted to sleep. I couldn’t figure out why it had attacked me and I couldn’t figure out what, exactly, I’d seen when I was down there. There was a part of me that wasn’t sure I exactly wanted to know.

Had it actually happened?

If it hadn’t, I didn’t have an explanation for the pendant I’d found, the one I hadn’t said anything about. Did I even still have it?

I wasn’t sure of that, either, though my gaze drifted to my discarded clothes, laying in the middle of my kitchen floor. I sighed, eyelids growing heavy. I was too worn out to go root through pockets and folds trying to find something that might not have even been there. It would be dark soon, anyway, and I didn’t want to waste the effort lighting lamps.

Every part of me already hurt, my head worst of all, though the gashes burned and I’m sure that they would ache even worse in the morning. I sank deeper into the mattress, drawing my covers even tighter.

Why did it come after me? There were so many others it could have chased. Why me? Why now?

My gut told me that someone already had answers to those questions and I wouldn’t like any of them. Not one bit.

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Five – 03

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

She stared at me, silent, shocked, then her jaw tightened, a spark flaring in her eyes. She was angry. I tried not to look at her. I didn’t need to know that the truth had slammed home—because it was the truth. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that my uncle would do anything he thought feasible to protect us, and keeping us inside the wards was simply the most expedient of the options available to him.

What I hadn’t quite expected was how angry it seemed to have made Kailey—an anger I couldn’t quite fully understand. I’d only brought it up because I’d hoped that it would make her leave me alone for a while with my thoughts instead of sitting there and staring at me.

“He can’t do that,” she finally said.

“He can absolutely do that,” I countered, closing my eyes. “We’re not adults, Kay. The only ones he really can’t force to stay inside the wards are Gwen and Kurt and Tory and Anne.”

She started to pace. I sighed, sinking deeper into my pillows. A pounding started to rise behind my eyes and I wasn’t sure it was from the attack by the camazotzi or if it was from trying to get through to her.

“Kay,” I said slowly, carefully. “If there is anything you want to do on the other side of those wards, go and do it now before he tells you that you can’t.”

“There isn’t anything,” she said quickly, though I suspected the lie as soon as the words left her lips. I sighed.

There’s something, she just doesn’t want to tell me what. That’s fine. I have my own damn secrets, too. Let’s just keep them. “Fine,” I mumbled, adjusting my blankets. I was dizzy, even laying down. “I’m going the hell to sleep. Do me a favor and tell the others I’m fine.”

“But you’re not.”

“Yeah, well. I’ll be better in the morning. See you at breakfast.”

“They’ll know something’s wrong when you miss dinner,” she said. I cracked an eye open to see her standing a few feet away, her arms crossed, wearing as stubborn of an expression as I’d ever seen.

I sighed again. “Can you just let me sleep, please?”

Her lips thinned. For a second, I thought she was going to say no.

Then she nodded, her arms dropping to her sides. “Okay. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thanks.”

I watched her go, then tugged my blankets closer. I was cold even though I was burning up. If this was what getting hit by something that could poison people with the old blood felt like, I never wanted to get hit again.

I was pretty sure that everyone else in my life would agree.

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Five – 02

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

She seemed utterly content to just sit there and it was almost maddening. I drew a blanket a little tighter around my shoulders and frowned. I knew that she noticed, her brow arching slightly, an expression I could see out of the corner of my eye.

“What?”

I shook my head. “Nothing.”

“You want me to leave,” she said. It was all I could do not to wince. I hadn’t thought that I was quite that transparent, even with someone who I’d known her whole life.

“No,” I lied. “You stay as long as you want to.” You’re going to anyway, whether I like it or not.

She snorted. “You are a terrible liar.”

I wasn’t, not really, but again, she knew me too well. “You’re going to do whatever you want to do, Kay. I have never been able to stop you from doing that. Though, really, I wonder why you’re sitting here when I’m sure there’s shit that you want to do beyond the ward lines.”

Her brows knit. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“You realize that after today, they’re going to keep us bottled up behind the wards for a while, right?”

“Why the hell would they do that?”

I looked at her, frowning. “What do you mean, ‘why?’ Think about it. Something just attacked me down in the ravine, something that they haven’t seen in years, something dangerous—something that could kill if we’re not careful. They’re going to keep all of us kids inside the wards for a long time—until they decide it’s safe again.”

“It was just one, wasn’t it?” She frowned, hugging a knee to her chest. “And didn’t you and Uncle Phelan kill it?”

“Probably,” I said. “But it’s never just one with those things. Don’t you remember the stories? They come in packs, Kay. There’s at least two more out there, probably more. And they’re never just out there hunting at random. Something sent them here for a reason and no one’s going to be sure what it is. Unless or until your dad figures that out, we’re going to be confined to the village wards.”

“He wouldn’t,” she said, shaking her head. “He knows better.”

“Knows better?” I leaned back against my pillows and stared at the ceiling. “Kay, there is nothing that he wouldn’t do to protect any of us and you know it. If he thinks keeping us inside the wards will protect us, he’ll do it and it doesn’t matter what any of us think about it, either. His word is law.”

“He wouldn’t confine us like that,” she said, though I could hear the doubt in her voice.

“Just wait,” I said. “By morning, none of us will be allowed to leave.”

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Five – 01

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

Kailey didn’t leave when our aunt did, not that I had expected her to. I knew that even if I told her to go, she wouldn’t listen. She was stubborn like that and in all honesty—to a level of honesty that I wouldn’t even be with myself—I didn’t really want her to leave anyway. I was just aggravated that she’d made sure the others knew that something had happened to me when maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t sure I wanted them to know. They would all worry, just like always. Sometimes, I just got tired of the worry.

Still, I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t look at her, but I could feel her gaze on me as I stared blankly out the window, wishing that my vision would stop twinning on me, wishing that my head would stop throbbing. She was right. They were more than just scratches and I knew it. I just didn’t want to think about it.

Mom and Dad had written about what the camazotzi could do, what they could do and other things could do. I didn’t want to think about that or what they could do to me. They’d always hurt my father worse than my mother, or so I’d gathered from reading their journals. Maybe that was just a misperception, though. Maybe Mom had just been more careful than Dad. It wouldn’t have surprised me if that was the case, looking back on all of the memories I had of my father. Mom had always seemed to be the more thoughtful of them, though I supposed I could have been wrong about that. I knew that they’d both always just done what needed to be done because it needed to be done. That was just them.

They’d been gone for five years. It felt like so damn long—too damn long. I missed them more than I ever cared to admit, though I’m sure everyone knew. It couldn’t have been a secret.

What son wouldn’t miss their parents after they were gone?

I pressed my lips together and kept staring at the curtains. Even the dim was starting to hurt my eyes, but I wasn’t about to say anything, at least not yet. Kailey just stayed where she was, sitting on the edge of my bed, watching me.

I wondered how long she’d stay.

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Four – 07

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

“Are we interrupting some kind of moment?” J.T. asked as he limped up the hill. “Because if we are, we can give you a few more minutes.”

Hecate choked on a laugh as she stepped back, glancing toward the healer. “Always, Jameson, always. Is it bothering you more than usual?” She gestured toward his leg.

He made a sort-of gesture with one hand, joining the pair where they stood in the shadow of some of the old trees. “Rain’s coming, I think.”

“It never ceases to amaze me how good of a barometer every single one of you is,” Matt said, crossing his arms. “Not disappointed at all, either, just amazed. Now if only your old breaks could tell us how bad it’s going to be, that would be ideal.”

“Only Thordin can do that, I think,” J.T. said.

Astrid should be able to sort that out with a little more training from her father, I think. Matt shook his head slightly. “Are the others still coming?”

“Yeah. Caro was finishing up something before she headed up and I think Tala was almost at a stopping point with the bread. She might be an extra few minutes. Not sure about Thordin and Sif.”

“She might be out by the north pastures,” Hecate said, glancing at Matt. “She said something about that at breakfast.”

“Mm.” Matt frowned. “We’ll have to talk without her, I guess.” She’ll be mildly upset, but we can catch her up later if she misses this.

“What’s this about, anyway?” J.T. asked. “Heard one of the Huntsmen cane back earlier than expected.”

Matt nodded. “Gilead. I’ll fill you all in at once, if that’s all right.”

J.T. shrugged. “Does Phelan know?”

“Yeah. He’s also the one that told me about the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

Matt glanced at Hecate, then at J.T. “Can you wait?”

“I guess,” J.T. said, frowning and glancing down the hill. “If I have to.”

“Easier all at once,” Matt said.

“Right,” J.T. murmured, then shrugged. “All right.”

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Four – 06

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

Matt looked away, staring off into the trees for a few seconds. He took one breath, then another, exhaling slowly.

“Are you going to tell me?” Hecate asked softly. “The whole story? The truth?”

“The truth,” Matt echoed, his voice as quiet as hers. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll tell you as much as I know about it, anyway. The first time she ever mentioned seeing something out there was right after it happened and I brushed it off—it was months before the end, I think. Can’t remember exactly when. She’d been out hiking with Thom and Drew and it was at night so I figured they’d just imagined it all, you know? Those ravines made it easy, especially back then—now we’re always sure there could be things down there. Back then? Back then, the most we ever thought we had to worry about was heart attack deer and the occasional snapping turtle or angry squirrel, maybe a woodchuck. That was what we had to contend with. Then spooky stuff started to come out of the woodwork, starting with the camazotzi.”

“Months before everything started,” Hecate said. “How did it happen?”

“It chased them, I guess,” Matt said, then sighed. “It’s been a long time since she told me the story.”

“Did Thom ever tell it, too?”

“Only once,” Matt said. “That was a long time ago, too. It wasn’t something we talked much about. I guess it was just—it was just traumatic. Then thinking about why they had been here before even Cariocecus showed up and pointed them at us—”

“Then he wasn’t the first one,” Hecate interrupted. “Something else pulled their strings first.”

“And a lot of things have pulled their strings after,” Matt said evenly. “It’s nothing.”

“What if it’s not?” She shook her head slightly. “What does your gut say, Matt?”

He closed his eyes, swallowing hard. “That there’s been a target painted on our backs for longer than we ever realized. That we were lucky that it’s been so quiet for so long, treaty or no treaty.”

“Then we’re of a mind on that,” she said, then stroked his cheek. “We’ll get through it. We’ve gotten through everything else somehow. We’ll get through this, too.”

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Four – 05

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

“You all right?”

He startled at the sound of his wife’s voice, trying to muster a smile as he turned. The look on Hecate’s face as she peered up at him told him that he’d failed and failed miserably. Her brows knit and she reached to stroke his cheek.

“What’s wrong?” she asked softly, searching his face, his eyes. Matt sighed, bowing his head slightly and resting his forehead against hers.

“Lin was attacked in the ravines,” he said softly. “And the Hunt’s found slaughtered caravans on the road.”

“Hell,” she breathed, fingers threading through his short-cropped hair and tightening for a moment. “Close?”

“A few days’ ride,” he said. “Closer to New Hope.”

“Are they—”

“They sent someone. We’ll know in a few days.”

Hecate laughed bitterly, fingers tightening for a moment more before she let go and stepped back. “Not soon enough, is it?”

“It never is,” he said quietly, staring at the trees again as his wife began to pace. He watched her for a few seconds, lips thinning. He knew the look in her eye as well as she knew the look in his. “The others will be here soon, I’m sure.”

She nodded. “No doubt. Have you made up your mind?”

“Do I look like I have?”

“No,” she said with a rueful smile. “Not really, anyway. You look like you’re frustrated.” Her smile grew a little wider. “Like you always do when you feel like you don’t know enough.”

Matt spread his hands, shrugging helplessly. Hecate shook her head slightly.

“It’s all right,” she said. “So tell me. What dared to attack our Lin out there?”

“A camazotzi,” Matt said quietly. “The monster everything started with back then.”

“I thought it was the gremlins,” Hecate said, crossing her arms.

“No,” Matt said softly. “The camazotzi were here even before those. Before the end of everything.”

Her eyes widened for a second. “You never told me that.”

“It never seemed important before,” Matt answered. “I’m not even sure it’s important now.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” She came back to him, wrapped her arms around his waist and met his gaze steadily. “You know better than that, my love. You know much, much better than that. The wisdom of two lifetimes should have taught you that lesson long ago. If it hasn’t, you weren’t paying attention and I’m pretty sure I know you better than that.”

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Four – 04

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

Matt wandered down the hill behind the forge once Phelan had gone to get the others for what was sure to be a series of long and difficult conversations. The buildings that had once perched on the edges of the ravine had long ago gone to ruin, only the barest remnants still visible beneath blankets of grass and saplings. It had, after all, been almost twenty years since their world had changed forever.

There was a field of lavender across where a dorm had stood, once, nestled beneath an oak that was nearly as old as his son. Staring at its branches, for a second he dared to wonder if his grandchildren would someday play among those boughs, if they would gather bunches and handfuls of the lavender for his daughter, for his wife.

He wondered if in the years before they’d gone, Thom and Marin had wondered the same of their grandchildren.

It’s a luxury I have—to wonder. Did they ever really have it?

Perhaps they’d seen it—seen a future where children laughed among the branches, chased each other along the ravine’s edge, the children of their children. Perhaps they’d seen a future beyond that still. It had been their gift and their curse. Often, it had been both at once.

His lips thinned. His nephew had most of the books, now, the journals where Thom and Marin had written down many of their visions from over the years. There were three, though, that Matt had never let him see—two at the request of his brother-in-law, one at the request of his sister.

Having read them, he understood why.

His lips thinned and he shivered despite the warmth of the sunshine.

“There are still things we hope you were wrong about,” he whispered into the breeze, the words lost in the wind and the solitude. “Some things haven’t changed.”

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Four – 03

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

“Well, there is that,” Phelan said, closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall. “Of course, we prepare for everything as usual and hope that we don’t need to actually use half the plans we make. Sound right?”

“As always,” Matt murmured. “Regardless, we know we’re dealing with both.”

“It’s a question of them being together.”

Matt nodded slowly. I wonder if we could send a group out to have a look around the immediate area—a day’s ride out or so in a couple directions. His brow furrowed as he leaned against the anvil, crossing his arms and staring up at the ceiling. There was nothing to make out in the shadows up there, just layers of old soot and a peppering of old scorch marks from sparks and metal fragments that had hit the roof over his nearly two decades of work there.

“Which do you think is the more immediate threat?”

Matt startled, tearing his gaze from the familiar constellation of marks above their heads to look at Phelan again, who regarded him now with a curious, serious look. “What do you mean?”

“The raiders or things rising again—which do you think is the more immediate threat?”

“A camazotzi just attacked my nephew in the ravine. Which do you think is the more immediate threat?”

Phelan just smiled. “Then we’re of a mind.”

“The question is what do we do about it?”

“Well, first, I think we need to get your privy council together,” Phelan said, standing. “And then we’ll go from there.”

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