Thirty-seven – 03

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

I hadn’t gone more than a dozen steps before Phelan was just there by my side, silent, but present. A lump built in my throat, one I struggled hard to ignore. He didn’t stay anything, just fell into step as I walked to the edge of the tents, back past the supply huts and the smokers, out toward the rubble of collapsed dormitories and the edge of the ravine. The sky was growing darker, as if the clouds were racing the sun. They would overtake it soon, and then the gloom of an onrushing storm would herald its coming before it broke over us like waves against the Lake Michigan shore.

I stopped at the edge of the ravine and tried to swallow the lump in my throat that threatened to choke me. I gulped in one lungful of air, then another. Wind gusted through the trees for a moment, then the world was still again.

Phelan stood beside me, staring out at the endless green and brown that spanned all the way to the river. For a few moments, we just stood like that, together but apart. My lips thinned but I didn’t dare look at him, not yet.

This time it’s my fault.

But hadn’t it always been? After all, I’d always been her. Her ghost was a part of my soul, an inescapable part of me—of what made me.

I swallowed hard again before I rediscovered the ability to speak, found the words I needed. “This is my fault. I know it’s her.”

“Her,” Phelan echoed softly, his gaze finally slanting in my direction. I saw it from the corner of my eye as I stared out over the ravine, watched the birds starting to huddle in the trees. The storm was close, now. “Who, Marin?”

“Cyhyraeth.” The name came as an exhaled breath, one choked off. My heart was in my throat again and dread coiled in my belly like a living thing. “She’s coming and it’s all my fault.”

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Thirty-seven – 02

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

“Mar.” Matt’s voice was gentle as his hand closed around my shoulder. When had he moved? I wasn’t sure. I shook my head, trying to forestall whatever he was about to say. I didn’t want to hear it—I couldn’t hear it, not now.

Focus, Marin. Focus. Just focus.

“We’ll be with you,” Hecate said quietly from behind us. “No matter what.”

I flinched. Matt’s fingers tightened.

I don’t want you guys hurt. I don’t want you guys in danger. I can’t—

Was this what Phelan had felt like? What that why he’d tried to leave months ago?

It might have been.

My heart sank.

“I’m sorry,” I said in a whisper, jaw tightening. “I’m not where I should be right now. I’m just—I’m not.”

Clutching my coffee cup, I started walking without knowing where I was going. It didn’t matter anyway. I wasn’t going to go that far.

There was nowhere to go, not now.

Not today.

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Thirty-seven – 01

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

My stomach lurched and I swallowed back bile that rose unbidden in my throat. I couldn’t. I couldn’t lose it, not right now, not right this second.

Keep your shit together, they need you.

It was exactly what Thom had told me when I left him in our bed, fever-wracked and kitten-weak. We’d been keeping it quiet, how bad he’d gotten. We weren’t going to be able to do it much longer.

I just wanted to know what was wrong with him.

I saw Phelan blanch and knew that he was just as terrified and unsettled as the rest of us—he was just doing a much better job plastering on a brave face. He wasn’t in denial. He was faking it, just the same as I was.

Something was coming. It was just a question of what. Even here, even in the height of summer, storms didn’t look like that and they didn’t come like this. Never exactly like this.

It had almost been a year since everything had come crashing down.

I squeezed my eyes shut again, fingers tightening around my mug. I felt sick, swallowing back bile again.

Who is it? Who’s coming for us?

My gut screamed a name but I wanted it to be wrong. I wanted it to be wrong so badly I could taste it.

But I didn’t think that I was, not for a single heartbeat.

She was coming and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it, not this time.

Brighíd had never been able to—what hope would I have where she had failed?

I turned away from them, gulped down coffee as if it would help settle my stomach. I wanted to scream, to run.

I couldn’t do any of that. All I could do was wait.

It was only a matter of time.

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Thirty-six – 09

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

Phelan exhaled through his teeth. That was incredibly helpful, thank you. He would have glared at the sky if he’d thought it would help. Instead, he stared at the fire, silent, jaw tightening briefly. “Don’t get like that, Marin,” he said, forcing his jaw to unclench.

Getting worked up won’t do anyone any good, now will it?

Another exhaled sigh.

Marin shook her head. “Don’t start, Phelan. Not today.”

She’s in some kind of foul mood, isn’t she? Phelan began to reconsider trying to get to the bottom of what was actually bothering her.

What good will it do right now, though?

Thunder growled again in the distance. Even at this distance, he could hear the wind start in the trees, rustling branches and leaves. The tent’s snapped in the wind once, then settled.

The world went dead silent for a few seconds.

He hadn’t thought his bad feeling could get worse.

Until it had.

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Thirty-six – 08

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

He could hear the last fading threads of conversation as he drew close to the fire, the last being Marin’s voice.

“—I don’t know how many more times like that we’ll get.”

Phelan paused and took a deep breath. Nothing followed the words, only silence. He frowned.

Now what?

A shiver crept down his spine and he picked up the pace, finding Thordin, Hecate, Matt, Marin, and three of five infants clustered near the fire. Marin stared pensively into the fire and Phelan found he didn’t like that look, especially not with trouble potentially on the horizon.

“Mar?”

Her gaze flicked up to meet his. Her lips thinned and she just shook her head. “Don’t ask,” she said quietly. “Please, just don’t ask.”

I don’t like the sound of that. Phelan frowned. Marin growled a sigh. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Matt wince.

What the hell did I just walk into?

“So where were you?” Thordin asked, staring at the fire and nursing his cup of coffee. A flicker of relief crossed Marin’s face and in that second, Phelan decided to let whatever was bothering her go—at least for now.

Probably won’t get us killed, right?

“Was out on the wall, watching the storm roll in. Getting close now.”

Marin took a deep breath. “Any sign of the group out at the greenhouses?”

Phelan nodded. “Yeah, they were just coming back when I came back here. Seamus is up there on the watch. He’ll let us know if something pops.”

Marin nodded, her gaze drifting to the fire for a few moments. “I just wish we could catch a break.”

“Never have that kind of luck,” Matt said, shaking his head. Phelan grimaced.

“Don’t talk like that,” Phelan muttered. “Have to hope, right?”

Thunder growled, loud and close enough to shake the ground. Marin just glanced up, her brow arching slightly.

“You were saying?”

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Thirty-six – 07

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

The ground had dried out from the last rains, though it would be sodden again soon enough. Phelan glanced down as his boots hit the packed earth and he frowned slightly. We’ll have to figure out something to do about that soon, he reflected, staring at the ground for a moment. Cobbles, broken concrete, something. We’ll need our footing in the yard.

The thought sent a shiver down his spine.

Concentrate on the immediate first, he reminded himself. Don’t get carried off in grand ideas on grand scales like Thom’s been doing. Focus on what the immediate need is—that’s what you keep telling him, isn’t it?

He shouldered the bar up and out of the way, then swung the gates wide, shaking his head at himself as he turned to go, to walk back to the fire. There was enough for him to be concerned with without trying to borrow someone else’s trouble. Somehow, he knew that it would always be that way, as much as he wished it were otherwise. Behind him, as he headed for the tents that still housed much of their day-to-day operations, he could hear the sound of the horses’s hooves against the ground, heard the calls of the others to Seamus even as he walked away. His cousin sounded reassuring, almost cheery despite the outlook and the bad feeling that Phelan knew he carried in his gut, just the same as he did.

He left well enough alone and kept walking.

Either it’ll be something or it’ll be nothing, he told himself again. He just kept repeating that to himself all the way back to the fire.

It’s either something or it’s nothing and we’re getting worked up for no reason. Our paranoia, one of these days, is going to get us killed.

At least it’s not a lack thereof, though.

Somehow, he thought, that would be much worse.

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Thirty-six – 06

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

Thunder growled, near enough to send a shiver through Phelan’s bones. He squinted at the clouds. The light was starting to fade but at the same time the sun shining against those clouds made them seem even darker, more ominous—the black of night, twisting back on itself, gilded by faint flickers of lightning buried deep in the roiling mass. Years ago, the sight may have become the beginnings of a song, but those days were gone now, probably never to return. That past was a yesterday that would not be revisited again.

Or so he thought, in any case.

“Riders,” Seamus said quietly. “Looks like the group coming back from the greenhouses.”

Phelan followed his cousin’s gaze. There they were, sure enough, Paul and Stasia and some of the others, along with a few members of the Wild Hunt. He exhaled quietly, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders, one he hadn’t felt until it was gone. “Déithe agus arrachtaigh. One less thing to worry about,” he murmured, scrubbing a hand over his face.

Seamus nodded slowly in agreement, watching them. “They’re riding easy. Nothing coming from that direction, I’d guess, at least not yet.”

“Small favors,” Phelan said, his gaze drifting back to the clouds. Seamus sighed quietly.

“Go back, Phelan,” he said. “Go back to the fire and wait. They may need you.”

“For what, Seamus?” Phelan shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do there that I can’t do here. It’s just waiting, that’s all. That’s all it is. The calm before whatever comes.”

“Nothing could come.”

“It’s not,” Phelan murmured, his lips barely moving. “This isn’t nothing.”

He almost asked if Seamus remembered when they came, when the Southrons had finally invaded their isle centuries ago. A storm had been the harbinger of their coming that day, too. But Seamus wouldn’t have remembered that. He was gone by then, long gone, sent south into loveless marriage, into a political match that was supposed to keep them safe.

Safe. Is there a such thing?

“Go,” Seamus urged him gently. “I know that look too well, cousin. This isn’t the place you need to be, not right now. Later, but not now.”

Briefly, Phelan wondered what Seamus thought the look meant, wondered what expression he was wearing that brought the words to his cousin’s lips. But it wasn’t worth arguing, either. Seamus wouldn’t let it drop, Phelan knew that well enough. He closed his eyes and nodded. “You’ll sound the alarm if anything looks strange?”

“I think you know better than to ask that question,” Seamus said, leaning against the ledge at the top of the wall. Phelan smiled crookedly.

“I suppose I do. I’ll be back.”

“You always are.” Seamus’s lips twisted into a wry smile, matching his cousin’s.

Phelan clapped him on the shoulder and climbed down. Someone would need to open the gate for the riders anyway, and it might as well be him.

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Thirty-six – 05

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

“How’s Thom?” Thordin asked, hoping the change of subject would quell the queasy feeling that had gripped his stomach and refused to let go. There was something inherently unsettling about Marin not having some sort of plan, even though intellectually he knew there was no reason that she would have to have a plan, nor had she always had a plan going into every potentially dangerous situation they’d run into before—and they’d always managed to escape it alive.

Marin sighed and shook her head. “Neither of us know what’s really going wrong there,” she murmured. “He gets better and then he gets worse.”

“Sounds familiar,” Hecate said quietly, leaning against Matt. Thordin frowned slightly.

“What do—”

Matt just shook his head and Thordin aborted the question before it was fully formed. There was something odd in his friend’s expression that made him keep quiet.

Marin sighed. “Even if it is, it’s not like we have a solution to the problem because we don’t know what the problem is.” She didn’t bother to sit, just paced alongside the fire, clutching her mug between both hands. “And even if we knew what the problem was, that’s not a guarantee of a solution.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Mar,” Matt said quietly. “Just give it time. He pulled himself back from the edge once already, didn’t he?”

She nodded, taking a sip of coffee. “Yeah. I just—I don’t know how many more times like that we’ll get.”

Hopefully enough. Thordin closed his eyes for a moment. Hopefully enough.

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Thirty-six – 04

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

“You think it’s something, too, don’t you?”

Thordin took a slow, deep breath, his heart sinking at Hecate’s soft voice. He nodded once, staring into his mug of coffee for a few seconds before his gaze flicked up, back toward her and Matt. “I do,” he admitted quietly.

“Who do you think it is?”

“Leviathan,” he said, surprising himself at his own lack of hesitation. “If it’s anyone, it’s him.”

Hecate shuddered, startling Lin, who started to fuss softly. She rushed to soothe him, seemingly grateful for the distraction. Thordin winced slightly.

“Sorry,” he murmured softly. “I didn’t—”

“It’s nothing we haven’t already considered,” Matt said, shaking his head. “It’s all right. We’re just hoping it’s nothing.”

“That’s what we’re all hoping.” Marin’s voice was heavy, grim as she joined them. Her bow was in hand and she seemed tired—not that Thordin could blame her at all for being tired. “Something tells me it’s not going to be that simple.”

“How do you want to play this?” Matt asked quietly. A rumble of thunder punctuated his words. It hadn’t grown dark enough to herald the storm’s true arrival, but the sound was definitely a forerunner to it.

“Play what?” Marin snagged a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee from the press. She’d taken two gulps before her brother could answer the question.

“How we’re handling the situation, Mar. That’s what I’m asking about. Before anyone else shows up, we need to have that figured out, right?”

She stared at him for a few seconds over the rim of her mug, then lowered it, sighing. “If I knew exactly what the hell we were facing, then I might have a plan. Right now, I’ve got nothing.”

“Par for the course,” Thordin murmured, then sighed. “We’ll figure it out.”

“We always do,” Marin murmured.

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Thirty-six – 03

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

The sky was growing darker, though the wind had barely picked up at all this close to the ground. It was almost enough to set Thordin’s teeth on edge as soon as he emerged from the darkness of the corridor, headed back to the fire where he knew slowly the others would gather before the storm hit—the storm and whatever it brought with it—or didn’t bring with it, as he dearly hoped the case would be.

When he reached the fire, though, the only ones there were there were Matt and Hecate and three of the five infants that had been born to their little community. He blinked, looking between them—the baskets holding Tala’s twins, Hecate with Thomas Merlin in her arms, Matt with his warhammer strapped to his back.

Matt must have heard him coming because he twisted slightly, arm loosening from around Hecate’s shoulders as he looked back over his shoulder toward Thordin.

“Mission accomplished?”

“Something like that,” Thordin murmured, making a beeline for the coffee he could see sitting near the fire. “She said she’d stay where she is.”

Hecate’s gaze followed him, her brows knitting. “What are you two talking about?”

Thordin shook his head. “Just Sif.”

“Oh.” Hecate leaned back, her hand drifting down to pick up the mug of coffee sitting on the ground near her hip. It was as if she didn’t require more explanation than that, which was silently a relief.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“Doing whatever needs doing,” Matt said, then shrugged. “That’s all the answer I’ve got. I’m kind of puzzled, too. Actually, I’m starting to wonder if they all know something we don’t.”

Thordin sat down near the baskets with the twins, peering down at each of them in turn. Kurt was awake, but Gwen was fast asleep. His heart gave a little bounce, imagining a future that suddenly wasn’t so far out of grasp for he and Sif.

Someday.

 

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