Twenty-eight – 03

Thordin’s shoulders slumped as the door clicked shut behind Matt, lingering on it for a few seconds as he flexed the fingers of one hand, then the other.  It was as if he was trying to will warmth back into them after being so high, so deep in the storm.  Hecate watched him for a few seconds, trying to tamp down the rising fear that bubbled up from somewhere deep and dark inside of her—the old fears, the ones that were enough to drive her to the edge of madness and beyond.

It had before and it had taken centuries to win free of it.  It was not an experience she was keen to repeat—now or ever.

“Are you all right?” she asked after a moment of watching him.  She stood and gently disengaged his fingers—still frigid—from his now-cold mug of tea.  He blinked, as if startled, watching her as she crossed the room to empty the mug and pour him a fresh, hot cup.

“I don’t know,” he said after a moment.  “I still feel like my heart’s beating too fast.  Sif’s not going to be happy.”

“Because you threw yourself to the edge and she wasn’t here?”  The heat bled into her fingers as she came back to him, settling the mug back into his hands.

Thordin shivered, fingers curling stiffly.  “A whole lot of that, if I’m honest.”

“I can’t blame her,” Hecate said.  “It’s not like she doesn’t worry for good reason.  Matt was here, though.  That should take some of the edge off.”  She sank down onto the edge of the coffee table in front of him, tilting her head slightly to get a better look at his face.  “You’re a little pale.”

“I’m having a hard time getting warm again,” he said before he took a slow sip of the tea, both hands wrapped around the mug.  “Probably because—probably a lot of reasons.”

Hecate just nodded.  “Drink that,” she said softly.  “It should help.”

His eyes fluttered shut for a few seconds as he nodded.  “Right.  You’re right.”

“Sometimes.  Usually.”  She managed a grin even as her heart sank.  Yes, it had been a long time since he’d thrown himself into a storm like this, especially one as huge as the one he described.  But this reaction seemed a little more than what she’d expected—and more than what it seemed like he expected, too.  “Thordin.”

He started to shake his head, fingers tightening around the mug.  He lifted it to take another sip, rasping quietly, “Don’t ask me, Hecate.”

“I have to,” she whispered.  “This is more than just the storm.  What is it?  Who is it?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I can’t be sure that it wasn’t my imagination.”

Cold shot through her.  The wind rattled the windows in the casements, startling her, and she cursed, standing and walking over to peer out beyond the glass.  “That what wasn’t your imagination?”

“The feelings.  I thought I felt something from whatever’s feeding this storm.  But I’m not sure if it was real or my imagination.  It’s just been so damn long, Hecate.”  He turned slowly in the chair, watching her as she stared out at the lashing rain, driven nearly sideways on the wind.  Thunder boomed, near again, rattling walls and sending a deep vibration through the ground.  “It felt distant and muddled and it might not have been real.  I might be wrong.”

She wrapped her arms around herself.  “Do you really think that you are?”

Silence stretched for a few moments before the answer came quietly, subdued.  “No.  I don’t.”

Hecate drew a deep breath and exhaled, nodding slowly.  “Gut check on who?”

“If I say it, it could make it real.”  He covered his eyes with one hand, the other tightening slightly around his mug.  “I very badly want to be wrong about this, Hecate.  I want to believe that we were never bothered not because the treaty but because something else dealt with them so we didn’t have to.  Someone else.”

“Olympium, then,” she said quietly, her stomach folding in on itself for a few seconds.

“It feels like it could be but I don’t know,” he said, peeking through his fingers to watch her.  Whatever he read in her face was reassuring enough that he continued.  “The sense of it was southron—I know that.  It could be any number of others, though, or anyone they’ve dealt with, allied with.  That might have learned from them—associated with them.”  Another slow, unsteady breath.  “I suppose it depends on who might be holding Thesan’s leash now, too.”

“Her?”  Hecate looked at him squarely, a chill trickling down her spine.  “Really.”

“I think so,” Thordin whispered.  “Maybe.  Did she…?”

“It’s possible,” she admitted.  “I don’t know.  But if she was still out there, do you really think that she’d have stopped hunting her uncles or her father?”

“No,” Thordin admitted.  “Maybe not.”

“Sounds as if it’s the same old lines, though,” Hecate said quietly, drifting back toward him.  Her exhale came as a sigh, her heart aching.  “It always feels that way, doesn’t it?”

“Old grudges,” Thordin murmured.  “Visited and revisited down the generations, on and on.”  He fell silent for a few seconds, then asked, “Do you think they’ll stop it?  The cycle?”

“Who?” she asked, though she already knew the answer.

Thordin just smiled at her and she glanced away, back toward the window and the storm beyond.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.  “I really don’t know.”

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Twenty-eight – 02

That fear felt different this time somehow—a surprise.  Matt had thought after so much time, after so many threats faced and handled, that he’d learned every kind of fear that he could feel.  Yet somehow, this felt different.  There had been other times when the stakes felt much higher than they did now, but this felt like that and more.

But why?

Hecate’s shoulder leaned into his as his fingers flexed around hers again.  He exhaled slowly, gaze fixed on Thordin—on his friend’s face, then his hands.  If there was frost, he’d reached too far, was reaching too far, and there would be a threat of losing him to the storm.

It had come close to happening before and was an experience none of them were keen to repeat.

“What if he doesn’t come back?” Matt whispered, giving voice to the words that had suddenly bubbled up from that dark well of fear.

“He will,” Hecate said, and the certainty in her voice was enough to silence that fear, at least this time.  “If there’s one thing that holds true about him, he’ll let you pull him back.  He learned that lesson and has remembered it well.”

Matt didn’t ask.  He thought he knew what she was talking about, but he didn’t want to hear the confirmation.  He knew the old story—knew the truth of the old story.  If that was what she was referencing, it made sense.  Given everything he knew about his friend, it made sense.

And if it wasn’t that, if it was about a battle on the ice in his lifetime, well—then it made even more sense.

There was no sign of frost on Thordin’s fingertips, though, even as the air around him seemed to crackle gently.  Matt held his breath.  The static electricity was nothing new, but it suggested exactly how powerful the storm might be, if it was gathering around Thordin even standing there, leaned against the windowsill.

Next to him, Hecate swallowed.

“Big,” she whispered.  “Very big.”

“And powerful,” Matt whispered back, gaze fixed on Thordin’s hands.

“This may be more than we bargained for.”  Her fingers flexed.  “Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Matt shook his head, silent, still watching.

No frost.

The air crackled.  Thunder boomed nearby, setting their cups rattling.  Rain lashed at the windows, driven by a wind that was beginning to pick up.

If it was a normal storm, it was going to be one of the worst they’d faced all summer.

A glimmer caught his eye.  Rime started to gather along Thordin’s fingernails.  Matt was out of his seat in a second, crossing the room, his own magic a simmer beneath his skin—already reaching.  “Thordin—”

His friend gasped, reeling backward, stumbling back into Matt’s startled arms.  For a few seconds, Thordin’s eyes rolled wildly, blindly, as if seeking both himself and who was with him, his hands scrabbling for purchase on Matt’s arms.

“I—I was deep and high,” Thordin gasped.  “I could feel something.  It’s not—something’s feeding it.  Someone.  Something.  I couldn’t tell what.  It’s too far.  This storm is huge and it’s growing.  It hasn’t stopped growing and something is feeding it.”

Hecate was at their side, then, helping Thordin straighten and steady even as the taller man leaned on Matt.  “But you couldn’t tell what or who?”

“No,” he breathed, reaching to scrub at his eyes.  “No, it was too far away.  It could be—it could be anyone.  Known or unknown.”

“Or anything,” Matt murmured.

Thordin met his gaze and nodded slowly.  “Aye.  Anything.”

The three looked at each other for a few seconds before Hecate shook her head.  “Come on.  Sit down.  You said it was far.”

Thordin nodded again, fumbling into the chair they led him to.  “Yeah.  Miles and miles.  West, I think, and south.  Definitely south.”

Hecate took a breath, looking at Matt, then Thordin, then back to Matt again.  “It might not be directed at us.”

“It might not be,” Matt said.  “But we can’t pretend that it’s not, can we?”

“No,” Thordin said.  “We can’t and we shouldn’t.  But whoever it is—they’re strong and they’re trying to keep what they can do hidden.  What they’re doing is subtle.  They might not know how much they can do.”

“Or they know exactly how much they can do,” Hecate said, sinking slowly back into her seat.  “And they’re being careful.”

Thordin nodded.  “I couldn’t tell.  Not without—not without risking too much.”

“It’s all right,” Matt murmured.  “If they’re far, we still have time.”

“But how much?”  Thordin asked.  “Assuming that this is something targeted and aimed here.”

“I don’t know,” Matt said.  “None of us can, yet.  Sounds like we’re going to have to be careful with this, though.”

“And batten down the hatches,” Hecate said, her gaze on the window and the wind-lashed rain.  “This is barely the beginning, isn’t it?  Tip of the iceberg.”

Swallowing hard, Thordin reached for his abandoned mug.  “Yeah.  The worst is still coming.  Still out over the lake.”

“Then we have time,” Hecate said.

“Time,” Matt echoed.  He headed for where his old raincoat, patched in places, showing its age, hung by the front door.  “Going to go check in on the Hunt and tell them to button up.  And the sentries.  You two stay here—I’ll be back.”


He paused at her voice, turning even as he shrugged into the coat.  “I’ll be careful.”

“Very careful,” Hecate said, her gaze direct.  “Be very, very careful.”

The words balanced on the very tip of his tongue, but he didn’t ask the question.  He just nodded.  “I will.”

He pulled up his hood and stepped out into the storm.

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Twenty-eight – 01

Thordin’s gaze strayed toward the windows as lightning lit the world outside a pair of heartbeats before thunder boomed.  A gust of wind lashed rain against the far side of the cottage Matt and Hecate shared with their younger children.

“It’s growing,” he whispered, eyes growing unfocused for a moment as he cast his senses into the storm, fingers bunching in the fabric of his pants for a few seconds.

Sif still hadn’t joined them.  Either her conversion with Neve was taking longer than anticipated, or she’d stayed with the other woman a bit longer to wait for a break in the storm.

A break didn’t seem forthcoming anytime soon, as far as Matt could tell, but that wasn’t exactly his wheelhouse, either.  He leaned forward to rest his elbows against his knees, cradling the mug of tea Hecate handed him between his palms.  “What does it mean?”

“Not sure yet.”  Thordin’s brow furrowed for a few seconds as he squinted, his gaze still focused on something beyond their sight.  “Do you want me to…?”

Matt glanced at Hecate, who winced, catching the inside of her lower lip between her teeth.  The worry in her eyes, he knew, mirrored what was in his own.  He exhaled slowly.  “At what cost?”

“Shouldn’t be one,” Thordin murmured.  “Maybe an extra hour of sleep tonight or tomorrow morning.  Not unless I have to do anything more than just look.”  He blinked once, then again, and suddenly he was fully there, turning a wry smile toward his worried friends.  “Won’t know if it’s more than that unless I take the look.”

“Do you think it’s worth it?”  Hecate asked as she slowly sat down beside Matt.  “The risk that you’ll have to act?”

“Weighed against how quickly this is growing?  I’m starting to think so.”  The wry smile faded, his expression going slack for a few seconds.  “It could be completely natural—it could be nothing to worry about.”

“Or it could be something subtle?” Hecate asked quietly.  “A nudge, a tug, someone feeding it and guiding it with a light hand?”

The wry smile returned and Thordin nodded slowly.  “It’s nice to know someone listens when I ramble on about it.”

“It’s been a long time since something like that happened,” Matt said, looking away from Thordin and toward the window.  He gathered breath to continue, only for Thordin to say what he was already thinking.

“But with recent events, we can’t rule it out.  Especially with the report from the Hunt, what happened to our guests, and the attack on Lin.  We don’t even know who’s controlling them these days.”

“We don’t,” Matt agreed.  “It’s been a long time since it mattered.”

“But it matters now,” Hecate said, setting her mug on the low table that perched in front of the couch where she and Matt had settled.  For a few seconds, she stared at the inlay of the wood, the delicate carving.  It had been an anniversary gift from Thom so many years ago.  “If the peace is truly broken, then someone is coming.  Perhaps all of them will be coming—and more.  The old threats.  New.  Who knows what anyone’s learned about us and this place in eighteen years—and other places like this.”  Her gaze flicked toward Matt for a second, then to Thordin.  “It’s your choice, Thordin.  Do what you think is best.”

Matt nodded, reaching to the side to capture her fingers in his, squeezing gently.  “She’s right.  And we’re with you on it.  Whatever you decide.”

Thordin nodded, standing slowly.  He set his mug on the table before he crossed toward the window, gaze already growing unfocused again.  “If you see frost on my fingers—”

“We’ll pull you back,” Matt said.  “No one wants you lost out there, Thordin.”

The ghost of a smile curved his lips and he nodded before he turned back to the window.  He leaned against the sill, peering out through the glass at the raging storm.  Then his eyes grew unfocused again as his friends watched, his senses thrown out and up into the storm.

Hecate’s fingers tightened around Matt’s.  He squeezed back, perhaps harder than he intended to, gentling as he realized his knuckles had gone white.

“Are you afraid?” she asked in a bare whisper.

“Yes,” Matt whispered back.

“Me too.”

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Twenty-seven – 02

For a second, he thought his heart might stop.

The Wild Hunt.

They had been in those stories that Aoife O’Credne told all those years ago when he was still a boy, on those dark and fire-lit nights and the long winter days when he and his sister could do little but tuck in and listen.  There had been thousands of them, drawn from the fabric of centuries of life and even more of legends and tales she’d heard secondhand, passed along.  They were the stories that Grey Miller had memorized, had written down, so that he could pass them along to his son after Aoife left.  He didn’t think that Grey had forgotten a single one, either.

Like he knew.  Like he knew she was never going to stay.

It was one thing to go off chasing stories and legends because David had seen something.  But now, sitting here, confronted with the Wild Hunt, all the moisture from his mouth dried up and something inside of him coiled up, shrank back—a primal fear, a soul-deep warning.

“I think he’s heard of us,” Miriam quipped.  “Look at his face.”

“Don’t be that way, Miriam,” Bastien said, his mirth fading.  “He looks fit to run back out into that storm and I’m the first to tell you, boy, that’d be ill-advised.”

“I take it you’ve heard the stories,” Caleb said, his voice still gentle.  “I won’t tell you that they’re not true, but they’re certainly a product of another time—another age.  And not all of it’s true.  There’s quite a bit of exaggeration in some.”

“And not enough in others,” Jakob observed, pouring another mug of tea, his manner relaxed, casual, but not lacking…something.  It wasn’t predatory, nothing like that, but…

A readiness.  An alertness.  Bryant’s fingers tightened around the enameled metal of his mug, eyes fluttering shut for a few seconds as he tried to find his center, find calm.

Breathe.  Just—just breathe.

“But the stories—” he started, then stopped, his heart stumbling over itself.  “—the stories always said that you were doomed to keep riding, always hunting.  And—and I thought you’d faded from the world.  That you were gone.”

“The Hunt never truly goes away,” Miriam said.  “Either a gift or a curse, that.  With everything in the last couple decades, the rules have gotten more flexible, though, if they ever really were rules at all.”

“Rules, spellcraft, who knows,” Ariel rumbled from where she was still dressing the deer.  She held a haunch out toward the fire pit and Bastien heaved himself up, moving over to take it from her and mount it on a spit Bryant hadn’t noticed.  “It all got strange when the Otherworlds started cracking open and spilling back into the world.  One wonders if the folk who spilled out are trapped here now, or not.”

“Or if those Otherworlds still exist,” Caleb said, his voice almost too quiet to hear.  For a second, his gaze flicked toward the barracks, then off toward the rest of the village.  “If all we’ve learned over these years is to be believed, they may well not.”

“Well that’s a cheerful thought that I’m not nearly drunk enough to consider,” Miriam said.  “Is that the current theory, then?”

“Something that’s been batted about, anyway,” Caleb said, then shook his head.  “Not our business until someone makes it our business.”

“And that hasn’t happened yet,” Bastien said, starting to season the haunch.  Bryant recognized the salt he sprinkled on it, but nothing else from the tins open on bricks of the fire pit.  “And may not be anything we ever quite need to know.  The watch continues, the ride eases.  Did you hear what Gilad came back to report?”

“Anselm’s already planning on sending out another group,” Jakob said.  “See if they can pick anything up.”

Bryant’s gaze bounced between them, his brow furrowing.  “I—”

“Probably nothing for you to worry about,” Miriam said, though the troubled look that crossed into her expression suggested that she was reconsidering the words even as they left her mouth.  “Just an increase in raiding.”

“That we haven’t seen in more than a few years,” Bastien muttered, glancing at Caleb.

The scarred man sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.  “It could be something—or nothing.”  He turned a reassuring smile on Bryant.  “Could be bad luck.”

“Yeah,” Bryant said with a faintly furrowed brow.  “Guess so.  We saw some on the roads on our way here.”

“Is that how your friend got hurt?”  Ariel asked.  At the silence and the stares of her companions, her brow furrowed and she paused in her butchery.  “What?  I heard everything from Paul when we were down in the ravines this morning.  He was on watch.”

For a second, Bryant’s voice lodged in his throat, the images—the memories—flickering through his head.  “No,” he managed.  “No, not unless raiders are big, coal-black things with wings and claws and glowing red eyes.”

The group of Huntsmen went silent, exchanging looks.  It was Jakob that spoke, his voice quiet.  “Camazotzi.”

“Like Thom and Marin’s boy,” Bastien said, his gaze settling on Caleb.  “Think Anselm knows?”

“Probably,” Caleb murmured.

Bryant picked up on the subtle shift to their mood and slowly set down his mug.  “I—I’m sorry if this comes off as rude, but this clearly means something to all of you that I’m missing.”

Bastien mustered a smile and shook his head.  “Not anything for you to worry about yet, lad.  Maybe not even anything for us to worry about yet.”

But there was something in all of their expressions—especially Caleb’s, especially Miriam’s—that said something different.  It said something had changed and it wasn’t good.

As he reached to pick up his mug again, Bryant decided he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to know.

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Twenty-seven – 01

Maybe I should’ve been worried about those clouds after all.  Bryant frowned up at the sky from the shadows of a tree.  This is not a safe place to be standing.  And yet, the tree was providing some protection from the rain, despite the increasing wind and thunder, and until he knew which direction he was about to sprint in, here he’d stay.

He’d wandered further afield than he’d intended and wasn’t entirely sure where he’d ended up.  He could see a watchtower and the wall off to his right, so he was fairly certain he was still within the official boundary of the village itself.  Even that wasn’t a sure thing, though, and it was hard to gauge the distances and which was closer—the wall or watchtower—through the pouring rain and the increasing darkness that came with the storm.

There was a pavilion closer to him, though, further from where he thought the village proper was, perched in the shadow of a strange hill that seemed to curve back in on itself.  Beyond it, he thought he saw some kind of longhouse or barracks of some kind and he thought—perhaps—he could see the flicker of a campfire through the rain.  It left him puzzled—and almost incurably curious in a way he thought had died in him.

He could either sprint for the village, for the watchtower, or that pavilion at the next break in the rain—and pray that he’d have enough time to reach it before rain increased again or something worse happened.

Bryant took one breath, then another, jaw firming.  I knew I should’ve stayed with Issy and David.

He listened to the sound of the raindrops, waiting for it to ease for even a moment.  Thunder grumbled, vibrating the tree, the ground.  The hair on the back of his neck rose and a shiver skated down his spine.

This is bad.  No time.

The sound changed just enough, coupled with a fresh gust of wind and he sucked in a breath, sprinting across the summer grass and a gravel path toward the shelter of the pavilion.  The air crackled with a lightning strike close enough that he felt and heard the boom even as the flash left him momentarily blind, skidding to a halt as soon as he felt the rain stop falling on him.

A hand grasped his arm and he jerked backward with a curse, ears ringing from the thunder.  His back slammed into one of the pavilion’s support posts and stars exploded behind his eyes.  As his hearing started to return to normal, he could hear the quiet chuckle of another man—one still holding onto his arm, as if to steady him, apparently.  As his vision cleared, Bryant could make out his features in the dim—grizzled, a scar slicing across his cheek, leaving a rift in an otherwise full beard of dark, curling hair.

“Easy,” the stranger said, the scar tugging as he smiled.  “You moved at the right time, traveler.  If you’d lingered a second longer, we’d have been pounding on your chest in the hopes that your heart would start again.”

Bryant blinked, sucking in a breath as the words registered.  He twisted slightly, back pressed against the post, and looked back.  The tree he’d been under hadn’t been struck, but there was a patch of ground he’d crossed that was blackened and steaming.

His stomach turned over and it was all he could do to keep himself from emptying it right there.

“Come on,” the stranger said, tugging his arm gently.  “We’ve got the cookfire lit and I’m thinking we’ve got some tea that’ll put that stomach to rights and help your heart settle down after that.  Maybe I shouldn’t have drawn your attention to it.”

“No,” Bryant said, swallowing once, then again.  “No, thank you.  I—it’s good to occasionally be reminded of your own mortality, right?”

Because that didn’t just happen a few days ago when those things—the camazotzi?—attacked us on the road.

The stranger smiled wryly and nodded.  “I’d suppose so.  Come on, lad.  Come by the fire and you can tell us why you found yourself caught out in a summer squall when you seem the sort to have enough sense in your head to know better.”

Bryant started to answer but swallowed the words.  He just nodded and let the stranger lead him toward the fire pit he’d glimpsed through the blowing wind and rain.

There were a few others gathered by that cookfire—two men and a woman—with another woman off to one side, nearer the edge of the pavilion, working on dressing a deer.  Bryant stumbled a step, blinking at the sight of them.  These weren’t the village folk that he’d seen so far in his time here—these people were something else, he could tell.  Oh, they looked as if they just might blend in if they tried, but as he took in the cut of their clothing and the bits of armor and weapons that each carried, he knew.

These people were different.  These were soldiers, mercenaries—something else, something other than the civilians he’d seen and the leaders he’d met.

The man who’d brought him from the edge of the pavilion waved him toward a bench next to the fire pit.  “Have a seat.  That’s Bastien there on the left, Miriam, Jakob, and then Ariel there with the deer.  I’m Caleb and you’re quite welcome by our fire.”

“Bryant,” he said, sinking down into the proffered spot.  Jakob was already reaching for a kettle that perched near the edge of the fire’s glowing embers, reaching into an old picnic basket for a mug—enameled steel or aluminum, Bryant guessed, watching as the man filled it with tea from the kettle.  “Sorry to intrude.”

“Eh, you’re not,” Bastien said, his grin broad as he regarded Bryant with bright green eyes, like sunlight through bottle glass.  “We were taking bets on when one of the visitors would finally stumble across us.  I don’t think any of us had it during the storm, though.”

Caleb took the mug from Jakob and passed it to Bryant.  “Trying for a breath of air, I’m guessing, and get caught?”

“Something like,” Bryant said, studying them.  “I—I don’t mean to be rude.”

Miriam barked a laugh.  “Whenever a man says that, it’s always a prelude to something offensive coming out of his mouth.”

Heat washed into his cheeks.  “I just—sorry.  This is going to come out wrong.”

“Try anyway,” Bastien suggested, starting to lay some cast iron pots out on the stones that surrounded the fire.  A gust of wind sent embers and smoke swirling toward him.  He deftly shifted to one side, avoiding the worst of the embers, only a few winking to darkness against the leather of his sleeve.

“You’re not like the others here,” Bryant said, the warmth of the mug bleeding into his fingers.  The tea wasn’t so hot that the cup was burning his hands, but if it’d been poured any earlier, it easily could have.  “Like—like most of the people I’ve met so far.”

“It’s an astute observation,” Miriam said.  “It’d be because we’re not.”

Caleb slanted her a look and shook his head.  “We’ve been a part of them, for better or worse, for nearly two decades.”

“But you keep yourselves apart,” Bryant said, his gaze wandering.  The long building that looked like a barracks.  A few cottages clustered around it neatly.  Two large stables beyond.  “Why?”

“Habit,” Jakob said, his voice like sifting gravel.  “Centuries of habit, lad.”

“Centuries,” Bryant echoed.  “So—so you’re like the Aes Dana?”

Bastien started to laugh.  “Far from,” he said through his chuckles.  “Thank you for that, though.”

“What’s so funny?”  Bryant asked.  His stomach began to sink.  There was something tugging at the very tip of his memory, something just beyond his reach.

“We’re not like the Otherlanders,” Caleb said, his voice gentle.  “We’re the Wild Hunt, Bryant, and the Valley’s been the first place we could call home in as long as any of us dare remember.”

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Twenty-six – 06

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

Alone.  The word echoed in her ears, ricocheted through her thoughts like a buckshot deflecting off one of the old grain silos south of the village.  Would they all go, everyone near her age, maybe even younger?  Would they really leave with these strangers on their seemingly insane quest for something she wasn’t even sure existed?

Lin believes them—but I’m not sure that I should use him as my stick to measure any of this, either.  Sometimes I’m not sure how much of what he believes I should believe.

But so what if she stayed and she was the only one her age that did?  It wouldn’t be the first time she’d self-selected herself out of something.  I’ve only regretted doing that once or twice, anyway.

She frowned at the door that Peril had disappeared through, jaw tightening.

Rushing off into unknown danger.  Sure.  That’s the best idea any of us have ever had, right?  Let’s absolutely do that.  Great idea.  She made a disgusted sound, pushing  herself to her feet and starting to pace.  Rain drummed on the roof above her and thunder growled somewhere nearby.  Another summer storm that was nothing to sneeze at and here she was, safe inside, as she so often had been her whole life.

And so what if this is the rest of my life?

Her hands balled into fists, her tea abruptly forgotten.  It would serve them right.

It would serve them all right if they assumed and were wrong about me.  It would serve them right if I decided to stay.

Hell.  Do they really even need me, or do they think they do?  She’d been Lin’s shadow all of her life, the one that was always there to try to keep him and Tory and all the rest out of trouble—that had been her whole life, always left to be the responsible one, always looking before they all leapt.

And that’s what I’m doing right now, isn’t it?  And I’m afraid of not knowing what’s beyond my sight, what my imagination is painting into the gap.

Thunder boomed close, startling her, sending a shiver through the roof and the walls.  Kailey swallowed hard.  Was it really fear?

Of course it is.  But that doesn’t make it wrong.

That doesn’t make it wrong at all.

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Happy 11th anniversary

It’s been 11 years since the first post!

We’ll be back from hiatus soon with some explanations.

Thank you for your support and patience.

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Twenty-six – 05

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

She boggled at him for a few seconds, her eyes widening.  “You can’t possibly—”

“Of course I can,” Peril said, abruptly straightening, is eyes all but blazing as he stared at her.  His voice rose in both tenor and cadence, words tumbling over each other.  “We have been stuck here our whole lives, Kay.  None of us  have ever been further away than New Hope.  Now there’s a chance that we get to go somewhere and do something important and you’re ready to tell these people to sit and spin?  You’re batshit.  If I was you, I’d already be gone.”

“That’s because you wouldn’t stop to think,” she snapped, her wide-eyed stare sharpening into something that was more like a glare.  “Peril, there’s a lot more to all of this than just a damn field trip!”

“Yeah,” he drawled.  “Yeah, I get that.  All of us get that, Kay.  You’re just flipping out because you’re terrified to even contemplate what leaving home might actually mean.”

“I am not.”

“The hell you’re not.”  Peril shook his head, gulping down his tea.  Still soaking wet, he got up, heading for the doors.  “I’m going to go find Lin.”

“In this storm?  To do what?”

“What else?  Strategize.  Figure out exactly what the next steps are.  You must’ve realized by now that most of us are going to leave with them, Kay.  Even if you decide not to come along, you’re still going to be stuck alone.”

He yanked the door open and was gone, out into the rain and wind, before she could stop him.

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Twenty-six – 04

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

“Gods and monster, I hate you sometimes,” Kailey muttered, glaring in a decidedly different direction from where Peril sat beside her.

“But only sometimes,” he said.  His hand dropped onto her knee and for a few seconds, she stared at it like it was some kind of slug that had suddenly taken up residence on her jeans.  This time, when he pressed, his voice was gentler.  “Look, Kay.  I get it.  Shit’s happening fast. It’s completely normal to be totally out of sorts because of all of it.  It’s cool.  We’ll get through it.”

“You have no idea what’s going on,” she muttered, glaring at his hand, now, instead of staring off in an opposite direction.  “How could you possibly know what I’m going through right now?”

“There’re are a lot of lies I can spin about that,” Peril said, taking a sip of his tea.  “But that would be wasting a hell of a lot more of our time than I really feel like wasting.  I eavesdropped when our visitors were talking to Uncle Matt and the council, then I spied on the council a few hours ago while you were probably brooding or yelling at Lin for something that may or may not be his fault.  I know why they’re here and I can infer a lot more from that.”

“Really,” she said dryly.  “Can you?”

He shrugged.  “I think so.  Especially based on Tory’s behavior today, too.”

“Tory,” she echoed.  “What does Tory—”

“Don’t like to me, Kay.  Remember, I heard a lot of what they talked about.  I know what they’re looking for and if you ask me, no one fits that bill like Tory does.”

Kailey snarled, pushing to her feet and starting to pace.  “Is it so awful that I don’t want to do what they’re asking us?  That maybe I don’t want to go?”

“Yeah,” Peril said, leaning back.  “Yeah, it really is.  That’s nuts, Kay.  Really, really nuts.”

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Twenty-six – 03

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

Peril exhaled a long-suffering sigh, one that suggested the weight of every single one of his teenaged years.  Kailey continued to stare parallel to where he was sitting, trying not to pay any attention to him, though the sound was already enough to start to unravel her resolve.

I should have just gone home.  I should’ve gone home and locked the door.  No one would have come to bother me, especially not with the storm.  I swear, what was I thinking?

But that was the question, wasn’t it?  She was thinking too much, too many things.

Everything was just too much.

What the actual hell did I do to deserve any of this, really?  Why me?

Peril sat down beside her and she jumped, then glared at him.  He just offered her a cheeky grin.

“What the actual hell, Peril?”

He shrugged.  “You were in your own world.  I asked you three times if you were okay and you didn’t answer.”

“I was ignoring you.”

“That was not your ‘I’m ignoring you’ look, Kay.  You were on another planet.”

Her nose wrinkled as her fingers tightened around her mug.  “I don’t want to talk.”

“Yeah, I heard you say that.”  He shook his head.  “I just really don’t care that you don’t want to, because I can tell you need to, so why don’t you just spill and get it off your chest and then you can go back to being your bright and sunshiny self?”

“I am not bright and sunshiny.”

“Compared to some of our friends, trust me, you are.  But right now, you’ve got a level of attitude toxic enough to take down a buck, so I wish you’d just chill.”

“I’d rather hit you.”

“You’d have to catch me first.”

“Is that a challenge?”

Peril just grinned and it took every fiber of her being not to punch him in the face right then and there.

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