Twenty – 06

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

Marin took him by the hand, shrugging his arm from her shoulders. Phelan took a deep breath, glancing toward the wall. “When she was attacking you—did it feel like she was attacking the wardings on the wall, too?”

“That and more,” Marin admitted, following his gaze. “You’re going to say we need to check it.”

“Smart girl,” Phelan murmured, already starting to walk. Marin trailed behind, not letting go of his hand. Leinth’s brow arched, but she followed, crossing her arms beneath the cloak she wore over her jeans and tee.

“What precisely happened?” Leinth asked.

“An attack,” Marin said, glancing back over her shoulder. “An old enemy deciding that her opportunity had finally come.”

“I’m worried, Marin,” Phelan said as they came to the wall. He shifted his staff to the crook of his arm, reaching for the rain-slick concrete and stone. “I’m worried that she’s working with Menhit or worse, Menhit’s working with her. I’m worried that they camazotzi were answering her beckon call, not Menhit’s.”

“There’s nothing we can do about that right now,” Marin said as she drew up alongside him. She squeezed his hand. “We’ll figure it out later, just like everything else.” She pressed her hand against the wall and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Phelan watched her for a few seconds, then touched the wall himself.

A faint tremor of power worked its way up his arm, sent a shiver skittering down his spine. He breathed a sigh of relief. They were weakened, but they were still undeniably there.

“She damaged them,” Marin murmured, “but not as badly as she could have, I think.”

“Then we repair them as soon as we can,” Leinth said from behind them. “But you let another set of hands help with that, Marin Ambrose. You’ve given more than enough in defense of this place, especially so soon after you had that baby.”

“I’m fine, Leinth,” Marin said, pulling her hand away from the wall and turning toward the other woman. “Really.”

“I know bullshit when I hear it,” Leinth said, though she smiled. “I’ve spouted it often enough myself. You’re not fine, but you do a good job of faking it—for now, at least.

“For now.”

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Twenty – 05

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

“Come,” Leinth said softly, staring at the watchtower. “We should see to the damage done to the defenses.”

Next to him, Phelan felt Marin stiffen, then relax.

“You’re right,” she murmured, then took a deep breath. “You said nothing hit us from the back side?”

A chill shot through him. She was calmer, more focused than he expected, especially considering what J.T. had just said about Thom. Phelan glanced up toward the watchtower again even as Marin tore her gaze from it, looking at Leinth.

“Nothing,” Leinth said. “They focused on frontal assault, it seems. Either they don’t realize that we’re more vulnerable on that side without the walls, or—”

“Or a dozen other things,” Marin said grimly. “Or they don’t realize that there’s no wall there or the assault on the front side was a distraction for something else or the wards are stronger than we think they are—or something about the ravine and the creek halts their advance. It could be anything, but whatever it is, we’ll have to worry about it later.” She exhaled, glancing up toward the sky as another rumble of thunder shook the three down to the marrow of their bones. “Hopefully this storm won’t do any more damage to anyone.”

“Maybe I should try to go talk to him,” Phelan muttered, eyeing the clouds. He had no doubt that Thordin was still holding onto the storm, though he suspected his friend might not realize what he was doing—what his emotions were doing. “If Thordin settles down—”

“Leave him be,” Marin said. Her jaw tightened and she met Phelan’s surprised look with a steely stare of her own. “At least until this gets really dangerous for us and not just for the enemy.” She rubbed at her temple and sighed, gesturing for Leinth to lead on. “Come on. I need something to distract me for a little while until J.T.’s at least gotten started with Thom. He doesn’t need me underfoot right now.”

The statement was true enough and Phelan knew it—and he also knew it was killing Marin not to know what was going on with her husband, with the father of her child. “Do you want me to—?”

She shook her head quickly. “No. Stay with us. I need you here.”

Leinth watched them with a slightly arched brow, curiosity gleaming in her eyes. “I’ll take that to mean that things went a bit less well than we’d hoped but probably better than we might have expected. Was Thomas the only casualty?”

“And Sif,” Phelan said, swallowing. “No one else seems to have been seriously hurt, but I suppose we’ll know more in a little while, once we’ve got a full picture of what the hell just happened here.”

He hoped against hope that his statement would end up proving true.

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Twenty – 04

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

“Why do I get the feeling you’re lying to us about that?”

There was no threat in Matt’s voice, though Seamus still didn’t like the tone or the feeling like he’d been caught out in a lie—he had been, but he still didn’t like being caught in it. Seamus stared at the other man, feeling an uncomfortable flutter in his stomach.

He knows. Somehow, he bloody well knows.

Druids,” he muttered under his breath, the term less a title and more a curse.

“Seamus—”

He shook his head, cutting J.T.’s question off as he braced and wrapped Thom’s knee. “Not now,” he muttered. “Maybe not ever again, I don’t know. I still have the sense but healing’s been beyond my reach for—for a long time.”

The words tasted like ashes on his tongue. A healer’s sensing magic was still something that he had, something he’d never lost—he’d wondered in times long past if he’d managed to retain them because it helped the warrior he’d become gauge the weaknesses of his opponents. But the ability to actually heal another—

That was long gone, left somewhere long ago and far away.

He fastened the bandages and glanced up again, feeling the weight of their eyes, their gazes on him. Seamus took a breath. “Are you ready to move him?” he asked, his voice firm.

J.T. stared back at him for a long moment and then nodded. “Yes.”

“Good. Let’s get the hell out of this storm.” Seamus glanced back toward the ladder, then at the other men. “The Hunt has the watch. We should be all right.”

“Hopefully, the storm’ll let up soon,” Matt murmured, watching the clouds. He didn’t sound confident that it would.

Neither was Seamus, for that matter, but time would tell in that, just as it would in all things.

“All right,” he muttered. “Let’s do this.”

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Twenty – 03

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

J.T. barely glanced up toward them as they reached the top of the ladder, intent on packing and bandaging Thom’s wounds. Seamus winced at the amount of blood on the floor of the watchtower, at the bruises forming on Thom’s face and exposed flesh.

Déithe agus arrachtaigh,” he breathed, his feet carrying him to Thom’s side before conscious thought sent him there. He dropped to his knees alongside J.T. “His ribs are broken,” he said, the words slipping out before he could process what was happening, what he was doing.

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” J.T. grunted. This time he did glance up, gaze searching Seamus’s face. “What?”

Seamus startled, tearing his eyes away from Thom. “Huh?”

“You look like you’re in shock,” J.T. said, his brow furrowing. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Seamus said quickly. “Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing touched me up there. Tell me what you need me to do here.”

“Get his knee stabilized and tell me why the hell a camazotzi’s claws would suddenly start affecting someone like this. That’d be a good start.”

“I don’t have an answer for that, not yet,” Seamus said, catching the roll of bandages J.T. tossed him. He barely needed to look to see which knee the former paramedic was talking about; one of Thom’s knees had already swollen up to twice its normal size.

“That looks like a bad sign,” Matt said from behind Seamus’s shoulder. The younger man swallowed, staring at Thom even as Seamus risked a look back over his shoulder at him.

“Typically,” Seamus agreed. “But it could just be soft tissue. We’ll figure it out.” He hoped that’s all it was. Fixing anything more than that with what they had at hand would be difficult to say the least unless Jacqueline had more control over her gifts than he’d observed thus far.

“You can’t do anything?”

Matt’s question left him cold, as if ice water had been poured through his veins. Seamus froze for an instant, then swallowed, bending to his task.

“No,” he said simply, intending to leave it at that.

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Twenty – 02

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

Seamus swallowed again, glancing toward Marin and his cousin once more before he slowly started to climb down from the wall. Every limb ached and his throat felt raw, as if the fight had him feeling every decade, every century he’d lived. Perhaps he really was getting too old for all the bullshit.

A few seconds after his boots hit the mud beneath the wall, Marin, Phelan, and Matt were beside him. He leaned against the stones, scrubbing a hand over his face before he regarded Marin with a long and solemn look.

“I never knew that she became an issue,” he said slowly, watching Marin’s eyes, catching the barest flicker of something that passed through them and then was gone.

“It was long after you were gone,” she murmured, scrubbing a hand over her face. “There was nothing for you to do about it anyway. It was something for us to handle and we handled it. She handled it.”

Seamus nearly flinched, barely managing to suppress it. A hand slid into his and he startled slightly, blinking blearily at Leinth.

“We’re clear on the back side?” he asked, feeling half dazed.

“Clear on the back side,” she confirmed, then glanced toward the others. “We should get out of this rain.”

“I’ll need some help in a minute,” J.T. called from above. “Paul and I can’t get him down on our own.”

All the blood drained from Marin’s face and her gaze snapped toward J.T., still in the watchtower above. “What—is it bad, Jay?”

“Bad enough,” J.T. said. “I’ll need to get him on a course of antibiotics fast. The wounds—there’s something strange about them and I’ve got a bad feeling.”

“I’ll help,” Seamus said. He squeezed Leinth’s hand and then let go.

“What happened?” Leinth asked, following Marin’s gaze as she let Seamus move away from her side and toward the ladder.

“The camazotzi,” Seamus said. “That and Thordin guiding the storm.”

He mounted the ladder, Matt on his heels. Hopefully, four of them would be enough.

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Twenty – 01

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

The wind shifted and the rain came down in sheets. Thunder growled above their heads, more sullen than angry. Seamus swallowed the salt of sweat and the taste of the rain down with the bile that had slicked the back of his tongue for the past ten minutes, ever since Marin had dropped her bow. “Archers, hold,” he ordered, his voice abruptly hoarse. The explosion had left bright afterimages dancing through his vision. The ancient warrior and once-healer blinked in vain, trying to clear them.

“Did—did that do it?” Marin asked, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Are they—have they—”

A low, keening wail echoed off the walls. It scraped at Seamus’s ears, setting his teeth on edge and his head pounding. He pressed his hands over his ears, a moan escaping him.

No, no.

Deeper-throated calls joined the wail, which faded after only a few seconds—seconds that felt like they went on forever. Some shadows began to move away, their shapes visible as lightning crackled through the clouds.

Seamus exhaled. “I think so,” he said. “I think they are.”

“Good,” Rory said, his voice a little weak. He sat down hard on the edge of the wall, barely keeping himself from falling over backwards as he wavered for a moment. “I don’t know that I had another one of those in me. Maybe.”

“I’m glad we don’t have to find out,” Marin said. Her voice was a little shaky. Seamus didn’t dare look in her direction, not just yet.

“Hunters, keep the watch,” he called to the members of the Wild Hunt perched on the wall, most of them with ranged weapons at hand—most of them the archers he’d led through the battle. “Sound the alarm if something seems wrong.”

“Yes, sir,” someone said, the voice distorted by the wind and rain. Seamus almost winced at the solemn respectfulness of the tone.

You’re not their commander anymore.

He wanted to make sure it stayed that way, too.

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Nineteen – 07

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

My voice lodged in my throat as the first get of fire shot from one of his hands, lancing out into the rain and the wind, catching a camazotzi in the chest. The stench of burning flesh hit me like a punch to the face and I reeled, would have fallen if Phelan’s arm wasn’t still locked around my shoulders.

“Steady,” he whispered.

I grit my teeth, reaching for an arrow. Seamus ordered another volley.

Rory was building a ball of flame between his palms, his jaw set, something dark in his eyes, a grim determination that I’d seen only a few times in all the years I’d known him. He stared out over the field, his gaze roaming, as if he was searching for something.

“Archers ready,” Seamus called on the other side of Phelan.

Matt’s hand wrapped around my arm before I could draw. I looked at him and he stared back, a bleakness in his eyes. “It’s not good,” he whispered.

“Sif?”

He nodded. “If she dies, he’s going to snap.”

My stomach bottomed out and I swallowed the bile that suddenly crept upward in my throat. “I know,” I whispered, feeling ice water sluice through my veins. “But there’s nothing I can do about that right now except end this fight, so if you’ve got any bright ideas, I’m open to suggestions.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the glow building in the last second before Rory sent a massive ball of fire spinning out over the field. It sailed in an arc out over the battlefield, starting to fall after it had gone a few dozen yards.

It hit without a sound and then exploded in a bright flash.

All I could hear were the screams of the camazotzi caught in the explosion.

Then, there was nothing but the rain.

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Nineteen – 06

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

I took a pair of breaths and cleared my throat, drawing myself straighter. We needed to end this, somehow—and fast. I picked up my bow, then looked back over my shoulder toward the interior of the walls. Thordin was nowhere in sight, Sif vanished with him—likely seeing Jacqueline in the absence of J.T.’s ability to help. That was good—could be good, anyway, though I felt like we needed Thordin on the wall. He must have still had a grip on the storm, though, because it still raged, the winds growing colder and harder, blowing away from our walls rather than toward them. That helped, at least.

At least I’m telling myself that his doing that is helping. Damn it all.

Matt started climbing back up the wall toward me and I could see worry in his gaze. Cameron was headed up into the watchtower.

“Are we clear below?” I asked, forcing my voice to stay steady.

“Clear below,” Rory reported. “Guessing not on the other side?”

I shook my head. He gave a grim nod.

“I’m coming up, too,” he said, then headed for the section of the wall on the other side of the gates.

Next to me, Matt hauled himself up onto the top of the wall, casting a questioning look in my direction. “Let me guess, still shit out there.”

“Too much,” I said. “They haven’t stopped coming.”

“Have we figured out which one is leading them?”

“Fuck no,” I said, glancing back toward the field. My stomach twisted. There hadn’t been any indicator of which camazotzi was the one in charge of the rest. Perhaps they’d learned their lesson months ago, when we’d identified and eliminated one of their commanders at that point. The battle had turned into a mess for the camazotzi and we’d managed to scrape out another victory.

“Sounds like it’s time for big guns, then,” Rory said.

My gaze snapped toward him. He stood on the edge of the wall. His clothes were steaming. A curse dropped from my lips.

“Rory, what are you—”

“Time to burn them down.”

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Nineteen – 05

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

I blinked. My eyes stung with sudden tears and my stomach lurched, badly enough that I hunched over, thinking I was about to be sick. Phelan’s grip shifted, his arm suddenly around me instead of just hanging on to my arm.

“She’s grown stronger,” I managed to say. Phelan stiffened and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to hone my will even as I tried to dampen the guilt that welled up inside. I knew why he’d reacted that way. For an instant, I’d sounded like her, like Brighíd. It still caught him off-guard sometimes.

At least Seamus hadn’t been near enough to hear.

I reached up and squeezed Phelan’s hand, wincing. The pressure on my mind was intense and I could feel her grasping for my power, as if she was trying to tear it out by the roots.

She wants it for herself. It’s her way. It’s how she is.

I can’t let her win.

For a second time, I sharpened my will into a weapon and aimed its point directly at her, directly at the source. This time she was ready and something rose to meet me, an attempt to ward off the blow. The distraction was enough, though. Her assault faltered, only for a few seconds, as she moved to defend herself, and it was enough time for my personal wards to snap back up into place.

“We need to end this,” I said, my voice hoarse. “What are our options?”

“They keep coming,” Seamus said grimly. “Though I can see that Anhur and Menhit quit the field. They’re gone.”

“Then either the camazotzi aren’t fully under their control—or this wasn’t just them.” I sucked in a rasping breath. My throat still felt raw. “I’m not sure which is a worse situation to face.”

A thought crossed my mind, wondering if perhaps Cyhyraeth was somehow working with the pair. I couldn’t be certain—there was a lot I couldn’t be certain about, not now.

But later, absolutely. Later, I’ll figure this shit out. Maybe Hecate will know something.

I looked at Phelan. “Got anything in your bag of tricks?”

“I’m still not recovered from the last round,” he said.

I nodded slowly. “Then I guess we just rain arrows on them until they give up. Right?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Seamus said. “Not the best plan, but a plan nonetheless.”

His attention shifted back to the archers, then, and the field below. I swallowed bile.

It’s not, but right now, it’s the only one I’ve got.

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Nineteen – 04

[This post is technically from Marin’s point of view, but the whole thing is a flashback to another life.]

It was like looking at a darker reflection of myself, like looking through a silver mirror covered in dark tarnish. The spear in her hands dripped the blood of something I didn’t have any desire to identify, her leathers black as the night to come. Tarnished silver trinkets were woven into hair an even darker red than my own and her pale green eyes had narrowed into thin crescents as she regarded me with suspicion—and hate.

                I supposed that I had earned both.

                She stared at me in silence, her knuckles white around the haft of her spear, held in front of her, parallel to the ground as she stared back at me.

                My voice came steadily. “This needs to end,” I said quietly. “You cannot stay here. This island isn’t big enough for the two of us.”

                “I have made this place my home the same as you,” she said, her chin lifting. “You and yours have never ceased to threaten me and yet I have persisted. I have remained. I and my army.”

                “Yes,” I said, planting the butt of my spear into the dirt next to my foot. “You and your army, sold to every threat this isle has ever known. I will not stand for it a moment longer. We will have peace on this isle no matter what the cost.”

                “You speak of this place as if it is your own land, as if the whole of the island is yours to command, to claim.” She shook her head slowly. “You know it is not, Chieftain. This place belongs to the people and you do not speak for all of them.”

                “I speak for enough of them,” I said, my voice growing quiet even as my stomach roiled. I had not wanted it to come to this. There had been so many chances granted, so many times when she could have turned from this course, when she could have stood with us instead of against us. “And as the Áes Dana move to depart from this sacred isle, it is up to those of us who bear their blood to protect it from those who would do her harm. I speak for the Imbolg, the Fianna, the Dáire. I speak for our allies and the people who have been scattered by the wars we have fought and the wars that you have helped perpetuate. I am Brighíd iníon Dúbhshláine, Chieftain of the Imbolg, Speaker for the Tribes of Eíre, and I tell you now that you are no longer welcome here. Leave, or face the consequences. We will give you two weeks to gather your army and depart these shores peacefully and you will face no reprisals from us if you do as we ask. If you do not take our offer, all will be forfeit.”

                Cyhyraeth stared at me for a few long moments. For a second, I dared to believe she might take my offer, at least for the sake of men and women who had flocked to her banner across the sea.

                Her chin lifted as she stared into my eyes and all of my hopes came crashing down, dashed like glass against stone.

                “No,” she said simply.

                A moment later, she charged.

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