Twenty-six – 01

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

Kailey’s hands tightened around the mug in her hands as the door behind her opened, carrying with it the sound of soaking rain and moaning wind—the latter sound far more suited to a different season than the end of summer.  Of course, the chill to that wind was also unseasonable and she found it worrying her without a conscious reason why.

She didn’t look back to see who’d entered the dining hall.  Part of her didn’t want to talk to anyone right now—she wouldn’t have even come indoors if not for the impending storm.  At the same time, she hadn’t wanted to cloister herself away in her cottage, either, nor had she wanted to go to her parents.

And so here she was, clutching a mug of tea between her palms from the pot she’d made, again somehow knowing that the arrival of someone else—anyone else—was all but inevitable either in spite of or because of the weather coming in.

At least I saw it coming.  Would’ve been nice if Astrid warned me, but who knows where she hared off to today.

A shiver crept down her spine, one she couldn’t quite suppress.  I wish something didn’t tell me that it was connected to our visitors and all of—all of the mess that seems like it’s coming.

“You get caught in the rain, too?”

She shook her head in response to the question and for a second, she wished her friend would just go away.  The rising storm outside made that an utter impossibility, though.  “No.  I saw it coming and got inside before it started.  What were you out doing?”

Maybe talking to Peril would help.

It wasn’t his real name, but it was all they’d called him since she and Lin were barely ten and he was seven.  She couldn’t even remember why anymore.  It somehow seemed fitting for the son of Phelan O’Credne and Jacqueline Bell to be named something like that, though—somehow more fitting than the far more formal Bréanainn Cáel O’Credne, which was his given name.

He shrugged as he crossed the room, dripping water from his clothes with every step.  She watched him over his shoulder and suppressed the urge to shake her head.  Wherever he’d been and whatever he was doing, he was soaked to the skin on his way here, that much was clear.  “Does it matter?  Is the tea fresh?”

“Yeah,” she said softly, stepping away from the counter so he could get himself some.  He didn’t seem to notice how wet he was and for a second, she envied his ability to ignore his physical circumstances.  If her clothes had been that wet, the first thing she’d have wanted was to be dry.

“You’re looking at me funny,” he said.

“You’re soaking wet.”

“Yeah.”  He shrugged again as he got down a mug and poured.  “And if I went back out into the rain to find something dry to wear, I’d just end up wetter on the way and then get wet again on the way back.”

“You wouldn’t have to come back.”

“Mmm, yeah I would,” he said, turning toward her.  “I don’t feel like chilling out in my room right now.  Seems like a better idea to not be alone.”

“Any particular reason?” she asked, ignoring the fresh chill that ran down her spine.

His blue-eyed gaze seemed to see straight down into her soul.  “Do I need one?”

“No,” she said softly.  “I guess not.”

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Twenty-five – 05

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

Matt cast a puzzled glance at the both of them as Hecate headed to get him the promised blanket.  “Is she on her way?”

Hecate looked at Thordin, who grimaced and shrugged.  “We could probably start without her,” he admitted.  “Like I said, I’m not sure what she was having a word with Neve about and that means I’m really not sure how long their chat’s going to take.”

“Bold of you to assume it’s just some kind of casual chat,” Hecate chided.

Thordin snorted softly.  “Both of you to assume that’s what I think it is.”

Matt watched them both for a second and huffed a sigh.  “Right, then.  What’s going on?”

Hecate motioned to Thordin to start as she pulled a blanket from a storage chest.  Thordin took a deep breath and stretched with a slight wince, as if some old hurt had picked that moment to bother him—or perhaps it was something else.

“Can you feel it, too?” Thordin asked Matt.  “That there’s something in the air?”

Matt stripped off his sodden shirt as Hecate brought him the blanket.  For a second, her gaze lingered on bare skin before she turned to pour him a mug of tea.  Sometimes, she still saw echoes of Cíar when she looked at him, and the conversation he’d interrupted brought those old memories swimming up to the surface.  Their physiques were much the same, her long-lost love and her husband’s, two men who shared the same soul that had been bound to hers through the centuries.  Matt was mercifully less physically battered, though, something for which she was silently grateful.

I hope he never gains the scars that Cíar had.  I hope that things never get so bad here.

A faint shiver wracked her.  If all of their suppositions were right, they very well could.

Gods and monsters, I’ve never wished so much to be wrong in my life.

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Twenty-five – 04

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

Thordin winced.  “I still—”

She shook her head slightly.  “We can’t change the past, my friend.  It took me a long time to figure that out—among other things.  I live with the memories much easier now.”

“Still,” Thordin murmured.  “I wish we’d all known.”

“There wasn’t anything you could have done back then,” she said, slowly sipping her tea.  “I was already half drowned and their claws were in too deep.  I don’t even know if Cíar could have saved me.”  He would have tried if we’d had the opportunity—but that never came, not while he was still alive.  She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed.  “It’s going to sound odd, but it’s better this way—the way it ended up turning out.”

“You really think so?”

She nodded.  “Very much.  I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, even knowing what I know, even suspecting what’s to come.  Everything’s turned out much better than I ever would have dared to dream.”

“Then I suppose maybe it has been for the best.”  The door creaked open as Thordin answered her, Matt stepping into view, half-soaked by the rain that had begun to drum on the roof.  Hecate arched a brow mildly.

“I see you didn’t get things closed up fast enough.”

He gave her a sheepish smile.  “No such luck.  Tea’s hot?”

She nodded.  “Come sit over here.  I’ll get you a blanket.”

Matt nodded, leaning in to steal a kiss even as he was careful not to drip water all over her.  “Thanks.  Then we can get down to business?”

“Once Sif gets here, yes.”

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Twenty-five – 03

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

They lapsed into silence.  Hecate stared silently into her mug, half losing herself in thought.  Somehow, somewhere deep down, she’d known as well as Marin or Thom ever had that this day would come, no matter how much she would have wanted to deny it.

There are cycles to this world.  Her fingers momentarily tightened around the mug.  Darkness comes.  Light chases it away.  Things get better.

But before they get better, they get worse.

She stifled the urge to exhale a sigh.  She could feel the weight of Thordin’s gaze settling on her again, knew that there was a question rising to his lips.

You likely even know the question.

“Do you think it echoes that far back?  To—to the old, old days?”  Thordin’s quiet question wasn’t exactly the one that she’d expected, though it was close.  His memories of that time were vague and fragmented, more like those of Matt and the others who could remember past lives.  Thordin’s own return was far closer to the reincarnation of those souls than it was any sort of survival, even if his memories—and power—was stronger.

“I think so,” she said after a momentary silence.  “They feared it, this turn.  I can remember that.  It’s part of why they wanted to ensure that the Hunt couldn’t be used by any of the sides—they felt like the use of Cíar would have soured that pot.  I’m not certain how much of that I believed, you know?  I just—I tried—” her eyes stung.  It was so long ago.  Why did it still hurt so much?

“I’m sorry,” Thordin said.  “I didn’t—”

“It’s all right,” she said, even as her stomach knotted.  “It just—it just hit me all of a sudden, that’s all.”

“It’s been a long time.”

He didn’t mean that it had been a long time since the events she was recalling.  She knew what he meant, though, and nodded slowly.  “It has.  It doesn’t happen very often anymore—mercifully.  I don’t know what Matt and I would do if it did.”

“Manage,” Thordin suggested with a wry smile.  “As always.”

That made her laugh.  “Aye.  We would.  One way or another.”

He nodded.  “So Olympium feared it, then.  Feared the Once and Future King—and feared his eventual return.”

Hecate shot him a wry smile.  “Wouldn’t you, if you were them?  The whisper of it had them quaking in their sandals.  I wish I’d had more time and wits to enjoy it.”

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Hey folks!

No updates this week – I’m knee-deep in preparing for GVSU’s Renaissance Festival.  Back to normal next week.

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Twenty-five – 02

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

Thunder growled in the distance and Thordin winced, staring into his mug.  “Longer and stronger,” he muttered again.  Hecate sighed, scrubbing a hand over her eyes.

“The storm?”

“A lot of things,” Thordin grumbled, then shook his head hard and sighed.  “Sorry.  I should wait for Matt.”

“Unless you want to repeat yourself,” Hecate said, her gaze straying toward the door for a few seconds.  “Where’s Sif?

“She said something about having a word with Neve.  I didn’t ask what it was about.”

“Mm,” Hecate frowned.  I wonder what that’s about.  Maybe what we all suspect is happening—hell.  What we know is happening and we’ve pretended for years never would.  “Are we prepared for this?”

“For what?”

“For our children to make their own choices,” Hecate said, smiling wryly over her shoulder at him.  “You know what comes next.”

“Do I?”  Thordin took a long swallow of tea, making a face that suggested that he wished it was something stronger as much as she did.  “We don’t know anything for sure, Hecate.  All we know is that the camazotzi are back, that something’s stirring, and that those kids—I mean our visitors, because none of us can delude ourselves into thinking they’re any more than children themselves—are on some kind of quest that they might not even understand.”

“Oh, they understand the quest itself,” Hecate said softly.  “They just don’t understand what it means—for them or the world.”

“Do you?”

“I wish I didn’t suspect,” Hecate admitted.  “I wish it wasn’t something that I feel like Marin warned me about long ago—something that was eventually going to happen whether we liked it or not.”  A sigh escaped her.  “Thordin, we knew a long, long time ago that there are cycles to this world.  We knew that another conflagration would come.”

“And you think that this is that?  The next war, the next convulsion of the world?”

“If it wasn’t that two decades ago, then I imagine it’s that now.”

He closed his eyes, tilting his head back.  “You might be right.  But if that’s the case, then maybe this one leads to the better, right?”

“Only if we help them succeed.”  Her fingers tightened around her mug as she crossed her arms.  “And I don’t know that we’ll have an easy time figuring out how to do that.”

“But we will,” he murmured.

“We’ll try,” she agreed.  “We’ll certainly try.”

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Twenty-five – 01

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

“I thought you said that he was coming back.”

“He had to close up the forge first,” Hecate held a mug of tea out toward Thordin, her brow furrowing slightly.  “You know how long that can take.  Should I have hustled him faster?”

He winced as he took the mug, cradling it between both hands.  “If he had to close up, I’m not sure you could have.  That’s on me.  I didn’t—”

“So it is bigger.”

“Bigger, more severe.”  Thordin shook his head.  “Our guests won’t be leaving for a few days, even if they wanted to—even if we wanted them to.”

Hecate’s brow arched as she settled in near the stove, resting her own up against her knee.  “That bad?  Did you not realize this?”

“Not until it was almost on top of us,” Thordin muttered, rubbing at his temple.  “There’s something in the air, Hecate, and it’s not the weather.”

Her nose wrinkled and her gaze strayed to the stove’s grate, a frown creasing her forehead.  “You wouldn’t be the only one identifying that, my friend.”

“It’s more than just the camazotzi reappearing, too,” Thordin said.  “More than that, more than the storm—more than whatever jumped those kids on their way here.  Hell.  Have we heard anything from New Hope?”

“Not in the last few weeks,” Hecate said.  “But then we don’t exactly expect to, do we?”

“I guess not,” Thordin said, then sighed.  “I just—I wish we had, you know?”

“Well, unless or until we make the decision to send someone that’s not Cameron down there, or someone from there comes here—we won’t.  Are you suggesting that we do the former?”

“I don’t know what I’m suggesting anymore,” Thordin said.  “Just that something feels wrong and it’s bothering me because I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“You and all the rest of us,” Hecate said, then drank deeply from her mug of tea, wishing it was something stronger.

It was too early for that.

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Twenty-four – 08

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

The first drops of rain spattered against the stones of the path and Matt winced, knowing he’d waited too long—or maybe Hecate had waited too long to come and fetch him.  One glance toward the sky told him exactly how much water was there, waiting to fall.

Wish Thordin had warned me this morning.

Of course, his friend might not have known, or might not have thought about it.  There was just so much going on—perhaps it hadn’t seemed important.

After all, it was just a normal summer storm.

I assume it’s a normal summer storm, anyway.  Just probably a nasty one—maybe worse than what we’ve had in a while.

He finished closing up, banked the forge, then gathered a few odds and ends on his way to the door.  The rain was falling in fat drops, though it wasn’t heavy—at least not yet.  Perhaps he’d make it down to the lodge before the worst of the rain started falling.  A cup of something bracing and a snack before dinner sounded good, though he’d need to wash up before partaking in either.

For a few seconds, he squinted at the rain, then the clouds.  If I’m not quick enough or this is moving in faster than I think it is, that’s going to be a moot point.

Taking a deep breath and giving the heavy clouds one more look, Matt ducked his head and started down the hill toward the village proper, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t end up soaked to the bone as he went.

Something tugged at his gut, felt wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Perhaps one of the others could.

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Twenty-four – 07

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

The grumble of thunder had grown closer by the time he thrust the metal back into the forge to heat.  He wasn’t sure if it was the product of the time he’d spent on the piece or the speed of the approaching storm.  Time seemed to flow differently when he was distracted—or focused—and today, he was oddly both.

Should take a look at the sky, see what—

“You probably shouldn’t stay up here much longer unless you’re planning on staying up here until the storm’s passed.”  Hecate stood in the doorway, studying him with a wry smile, backlit by the fading light of the sun as it was eclipsed by darkening clouds.  Matt took a deep breath.

“I didn’t realize it was so close.”

“I imagined,” she admitted, slipping inside.  She glanced at the forge, then back at him.  “You’re not planning on staying up here until the storm’s passed, are you?”

“What does Thordin think?”

“About the storm?”

He nodded, glancing at the metal in the coals again.  Hecate sighed softly and shook her head.

“You should come back, mo chroí.”

“That bad.”

“Very large,” she corrected, then smiled slightly.  “He didn’t say anything about the intensity.  I’m not sure he could tell without reaching higher and deeper and all of us know he tries not to do that if he doesn’t have to.”

“Mm.”  Matt closed his eyes for a few seconds.  Hecate eased closer and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Whatever’s tormenting you, stop letting it.”

He snorted softly.  “What makes you—”

“Because I know you,” she said with a crooked smile, looking up at him.  “I know you and you’ve got that look.  So just stop it.  Close up and come down.  Tala and I made bread.  Come have some—it should be ready by the time you make it down.”

“What makes you so sure?”

She smirked, squeezing him before she stepped back.  “Because I know you,” she said again, then headed for the door.  He let her go, watching her as she slipped out into the gathering shadows of the day.

Then he turned and started closing up the forge.

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Twenty-four – 06

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

For a few seconds, Matt closed his eyes, listening to the small sounds around him—the sound of his nephew’s footsteps down the path, the soft hiss and crackle of the forge, the sound of drizzle on the roof, the rumble of distant thunder.  They were sounds that marked the cadence of his life, had marked the cadence of his life for nearly two decades.

And yet, there were still the long-ago echoes of a different life that drifted back to him—the laughter and chatter of college students moving along the paths between dorms and classes, meetings and meals.  The chime of the clocktower’s bells, the ghosts of which still haunted his dreams sometimes, though the bells hadn’t sounded since the end of everything came.  He wasn’t the only one who heard the call of those bells over the years—it was a conversation he and his friends had had time and again.  Sometimes, they would hear the song, tricks of memory that seemed to be made real.

“I hope he actually saw a memory of you, Mar,” he whispered into the empty force.  “I hope it wasn’t something else.”

Ghosts haunted them, haunted everywhere they’d ever gone.  As much as J.T. tried to reassure them that they weren’t a big problem—if a problem at all—sometimes, Matt wondered.

He also still wondered what else haunted their home, beyond just the ghosts of those now long gone.

Maybe getting away will be good for them.  Something different—something new.

Exhaling a sigh, he pulled the metal from the forge and laid it on the anvil again.  He rolled his shoulder and began to hammer again, the motion and the sound a soothing rhythm that had ordered his world since the August Sunday when everything he’d ever known had changed.

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