Going to take a Wednesday off this week!  Stay tuned for an update on Friday.

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Twenty-one – 06

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

“Maybe it’s because of Orcus,” Hecate said, crossing her arms. “Maybe it’s because of what he’s doing—or something that whoever he’s drawn to his side is doing.”

“Maybe,” Phelan said. He blew across the surface of his tea, then risked a larger sip. It didn’t scald his tongue, but it burned its way all the way down his throat. He just hoped the herbs would kick in soon. It shouldn’t be long. Should kick in pretty quickly. Just—just relax. Breathe. This isn’t anything you haven’t handled before.

Of course, you haven’t handled it before in a situation like this, but you’ve still handled it before.

Marin squeezed his knee gently. He shivered again.

“I think he’s grown in power,” Hecate said quietly, bringing Marin a mug of tea before she sat down in front of them, her back to the fire, close enough to Marin and Phelan that her feet were tucked between theirs. Phelan found that he didn’t mind. Somehow, it felt safer with the three of them close together like that.

“You mean beyond where he was when Seamus managed to take him down?” Marin cradled her mug in one hand, leaving the other on Phelan’s knee. “That’s…that’s a little terrifying.”

“Tell me about it.” Hecate smiled weakly. “We’ll just have to be stronger—because we are.”

She said it with far more confidence than Phelan felt himself, far more than he expected from her. He stared at her for a few seconds, his brow furrowing. His voice came as a bare, raw whisper. “What are you sensing, Hecate? What do you know?”

“He wants me for a reason,” she said quietly. “The only good reason I can come up with is that whatever he’s trying to control out there? He doesn’t have full power over it. He’s not strong enough. That’s why he needs me. It’s probably something that I have more experience with, which means a few things.”

“Like what?” Marin asked softly.

“Probably dirae,” she said. “Probably the lampades. Maybe a few other things. I suspect that he’s tried to raid whatever strongbox of beasties Pluton had and has tried to bend them to his will. He’s strong enough to call them, but not strong enough to control them all. I’m half sure of it.”

“Only half?” Phelan asked with a slight, weak smile.

Hecate grinned at him. “Well. I sure as hell can’t be completely sure, right?”

He choked on a laugh. “No. No, I guess not.”

“Then there you go.” She took a sip of tea. “Now drink your tea.”

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Twenty-one – 05

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

                Hecate and Marin exchanged a look, one that Phelan struggled to ignore.  He already knew what they were thinking and it wasn’t something he wanted to address.  They were worried.  So was he, though not about the same things.  He leaned back against the log, his eyes sliding shut for a few seconds.

                He might have dozed—probably had—because the next thing he knew, Hecate was nudging him gently, a mug of tea in her hand.  Her brow furrowed as she held it out to him.  “I wasn’t sure what kind to make, so I just made the usual black.  Is that okay?”

                “Yeah,” he murmured, taking the mug and sitting up straight.  “Yeah, that should be fine, as long as it’s hot as hell.”

                “Trust me, it’s hot,” she said.

                “Good,” he said, settling the mug on the ground next to him.  “Can  you get me a spoon?”

                Hecate nodded, turning away.  Phelan added two generous pinches of the herbs from his pouch to the mug, nodding his thanks to Hecate when she brought the spoon he’d requested, along with some honey.

                He had to smile.  “What makes you think I’d need that?”

                “Something sweet always makes the medicine go down easier,” she said softly, watching him.  He exhaled, rubbing gingerly at his temple.

                “You’re not wrong,” he said, stirring the herbs into his tea, followed by a trace dribble of honey—just enough to take the edge off the sharp bitterness the herbs would lend to the brew.

                “This has happened before,” Marin said softly.  “What’s going on?”

                “Something’s in flux, I think,” he said, blowing on the surface of the tea to cool it before he risked a sip.  It was scalding, but that was what he expected—what he’d hoped.  “It’s messing with me.”

                “Don’t say that’s all,” Hecate said, pouring two more mugs of tea.  “Because this is clearly more than that.”

                He exhaled, taking another slight sip of tea.  “Fine.  Something’s out of joint and it’s messing with me.”

                “Out of joint,” Marin echoed.  “Out of joint how?”

                “I’m going to go with in a pretty serious way,” Hecate said, glancing at her.  “Probably why we’ve all had an odd feeling all day.”

                “But what the hell is it?”

                Phelan swallowed hard, then took another sip of tea.  “If I knew that, then maybe I’d know how to fix it.”

                “But you don’t,” Marin said.

                “No.  I don’t.”

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Twenty-one – 04

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

The next few minutes were some of the most arduous he’d spent in recent memory. The walk to the fire recalled another walk, now nearly a year gone. He could still smell the smoke, feel the hot wind. He could sense the loss. It had been almost overwhelming then.

Even now, it ached like a raw wound.

He’d been near Chicago when it had all happened, trying to make sure a last few people were safe before things fell apart. He’d alerted everyone he dared, then headed out, intending to sail across the lake. But he’d left the city too late. He’d come to hours after meteorfall, head ringing, eyes stinging, throat raw, somewhere alongside I-80, south of the city. Everything had hurt. It had been too quiet. He hadn’t expected that.

In hindsight, there had been a lot that he hadn’t expected.

The guilt was still there—the guilt that he and Teague hadn’t been able to prevent what had happened, the guilt that he hadn’t been able to save more people, and finally the guilt that he hadn’t made it here when he’d intended to. He tried to keep it tamped down, but sometimes it was hard.

As he eased down onto one of the logs near the fire, he knew right now was one of those times.

Hecate moved toward the fire to check the kettle—there was no one else around; even Tala was gone for the moment, probably to check the smokers or to see to her twins. Phelan watched her, vision a little blurry, though no longer doubling as he tried to relax. Marin sat down next to him and he didn’t need to look at her to know that she was wearing an expression of concern.

She put her hand on his knee. “What can we do, Phelan?” she asked softly.

“Just—just wait until tea,” he murmured, digging a pouch of herbs from his pocket. It was a mix that he’d hoped to avoid using again so soon after the last time, but sometimes there wasn’t a choice.

This time, like so many others, there wasn’t a choice.

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Twenty-one – 03

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

                “Well, it’s a nice dream, anyway,” Hecate murmured, then shook her head.  Her gaze drifted toward Phelan, her brow furrowing slightly as she studied him.  “You, sir, are very much not good.”

                He swallowed again, suppressing the impulse to shake his head.  The pounding in his head was growing stronger, but he was continuing to try to ignore it.  Maybe if he ignored it for long enough, it’d go away, like it had in the aftermath of meteorfall almost exactly a year ago.  “It’ll pass,” he muttered.  “Always has.”

                “What exactly is going on?” Marin asked, frowning as she looked at him again.  He knew what she saw—sunken eyes and a washed-out, slightly greenish cast to his skin, probably made worse by the shadows of the hall and the bright red of his hair.  “She’s right, you look like absolute hell.  This isn’t just a migraine.”

                Phelan didn’t say anything, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other instead.  His limbs felt heavy and for a second, he considered that maybe they were right and he should have stayed in bed.  He couldn’t, though, not with a looming crisis and his cousin already laid up.  It wouldn’t be fair.

                Beside him, Marin sighed quietly.  From the corner of his eye, he could see her shake her head.

                “I’ll survive,” he murmured.  “I’ve managed to this long.”

                “That’s been a minor miracle,” Hecate said, a trace of wry humor in her voice.

                Phelan choked on a laugh, one that sent a fresh spike of pain through his head and sent spots dancing before his eyes.  He stumbled a step and almost fell—would have, had Hecate not caught him.  Her voice got quiet.

                “Wanderer,” she whispered.  “You’re not well.  Please.”

                “I can’t,” he said.  “Just—just help me get to the fire and pour me some tea.  Then we’ll see.”

                “Will you make it that far?” Marin said, her gaze searing.

                He smiled weakly.  “I’m not going to give myself a choice.”

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Twenty-one – 02

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

                “Oh,” Phelan said, blinking slowly and trying to process what she’d just said.  “Well that…that seems like par for the course.”

                Marin heaved a sigh and shook her head, continuing to walk in the direction Phelan had come from.  He frowned slightly, turning to follow her.  A wave of fresh nausea crashed over him and he paused for a second.  Hecate put a hand out to steady him.

                “Are you sure you should be up?” she asked gently.

                “Are you sure that I shouldn’t be?”  He smiled weakly.  “Have we already had the war council?”

                “Do we ever really have one?”  Marin sighed.  “Some decisions are being made.  We didn’t get a vote in at least one.  There’s another we’re going to fight.”

                “Right,” Phelan said.  “Did you pick my cousin’s brain?”

                “That’s where we were coming from,” Hecate said.  “That’s how I know I can’t hide, not this time.”

                “Mm.”  His vision twined for a second, then narrowed back to single focus.  Phelan took a careful breath, swallowing some bile down.  He’d have to find something stronger to take than what Jacqueline had given him.  “The basics?”

                “Matt wants to take the fight to them,” Marin said.  “Before they can hit us here.  It’s an idea with merit if we can pull it off.”

                “And if we can secure everything here for the people who stay behind,” Phelan said, thoughts drifting.  Something about this felt familiar, but the why was elusive, evading his mental grasp even as he reached for it.  A silent sigh escaped his lips.

                Either it would be important, or it wouldn’t be.  It was probably some long-forgotten yesterday, and forgotten for a reason.  Despite appearances, he was old—and he knew that he was old, accepted it.  He had forgotten more things in his lifetime than many would ever know.

                Sometimes, that was a defense mechanism.  This could have been one of those times.

                It probably wasn’t important.

                “That is a concern,” Marin said.  “Do you think we can?”

                “We can try,” he murmured.  “That’s all we can do.”

                “Then we try,” Hecate said, shrugging.  “It’ll be nice to come home to something safe.”

                “Will it ever be that?” Marin asked softly, glancing at Hecate, then at Phelan.  “Will it ever really be that?”

                “You’re the Seer, Marin,” Phelan said.  “You tell me.”

                She didn’t say anything, just looked away.

                It was all the answer they needed.

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Twenty-one – 01

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

                “Matt is not going to want to let this happen,” Marin was saying, her voice coming from somewhere behind him as Phelan stepped out his door, rubbing sleep from his eyes.  The hall was dim, which was welcome, because his unexpected nap had done little to help ease his thumping headache.  They came from time to time and they never boded well.  Jacqueline had given him something to help him sleep, both of them hoping it would help, but sadly, it had been to no avail.

                “While any other time, I would be more than happy to give him what he wants, this time, I can’t.”  Hecate’s voice was firm, though quiet.  “I love him and I respect him, but we can’t both be selfish about this.  If I don’t go, we’re at a disadvantage and I can’t afford to lose any of you or this place—and you guys can’t afford to lose this place, either.”

                Oh, I don’t like the sound of this at all.  Phelan massaged his temple, turning toward the sound of their voices.  “What’s the matter now?”

                There was a silence where the two women looked at each other in the dim before Marin finally answered.  “The other shoe dropped.  Where have you been?”

                “In bed,” Phelan said, moving slowly toward them.  “Migraine was making me nauseous.  Jac thought maybe laying down would help.”

                “Did it?” Marin asked.

                “No,” he said, careful not to shake his head.  “Not enough, anyway.  Sleep helped maybe a little to take the edge off, but it’s still there.  Stomach seems like it’s back under control for the moment, though.”  Still, he didn’t think he’d be eating anything anytime soon, just in case.  “So the other shoe dropped how?”

                “Well, that diffuse bad feeling we all had this morning turned into a threat and an ultimatum,” Hecate said.  “Now I have to go convince my husband that he can’t stop me from marching into war with the rest of you.”

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Twenty – 06

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

                Matt seemed surprised to hear that from him; Thom could tell from the wide-eyed, slack-jawed look he shot him as he stood stock-still in front of the fire.  Thom swallowed and shook his head.

                “Are you going to tell me I’m wrong?” he asked softly.

                Matt took a few deep breaths, his jaw tightening for a few seconds before it relaxed.  It was only afterwards that he finally shook his head.  “No.  No, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong but dammit, I wish you were.”  He started to pace again, back and forth, gaze focused on the fire.  Anslem watched him with an impassive expression, leaning back slightly with arms crossed.

                “The Hecate question aside for now, who do you think will muster beyond the men and women on the Hunt?”  The question was simply stated, quietly asked.  Anselm kept watching Matt as he paced—and the pacing continued without so much as a pause.

                Matt stayed silent, thinking, pivoting to change direction before he answered after a few minutes of silent consideration.  “Thordin and I in the front,” he said.  “Marin, Leinth, probably Tala.  J.T. and maybe Carolyn and Jacqueline.  Definitely Phelan.  Beyond that, I’m not sure.  I don’t know if Sif’s ready and we already talked about Cameron—Neve won’t go because someone needs to stay behind with Seamus, especially if Leinth and Hecate both come.”

                Anselm nodded slowly.  “And any other volunteers.”

                Matt nodded in agreement.  “Yeah.  Any other volunteers.”

                Anselm may not have picked up on it, but Thom heard the hesitation and uncertainty that was buried in Matt’s voice.  He wasn’t sure who else would volunteer to help with this plan beyond the people he’d named.  Thom couldn’t blame him for not being sure—not entirely—but he suspected that the others would surprise him.

                It was, after all, their home they were talking about.

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Twenty – 05

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

“In all brutal honesty—which in part I think you’ve come to expect from us—I do think that you need to seriously consider the possibility of including her as part of your plans, Matthew.” Anselm stared at him steadily, watching Matt’s face as the much younger man’s face contorted, his expression shifting to something that was a mix of alarmed and concerned with hints of anger. “Stop thinking with your heart for a moment and start thinking with your head. Trust me, I know that’s hard and it’s an instinct that you have to fight, but at least try. Think. You know her. You know her talent and her power.”

“I know he wants her,” Matt said, a tremor in his voice. “I can imagine part of why—and some possibilities based in who he might be working with.”

Thom swallowed. I understand his fear on a lot of levels, but Anselm’s right. He’s right. He’s right that Hecate will want to fight and he’s right that we’ll probably need her against Orcus and his army. Whatever their scouts can tell us isn’t going to change any of that.

“You’re worried that if she fights alongside you, then she’ll be vulnerable. But I’ll tell you this, Matthew: if you leave her behind, she will be just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable than if she was at your side.”

Matt stared at Anselm for a few seconds more, then stood up, starting to pace. He paused after a moment and looked at Thom. “What about you? What do you think?”

“You already know what I think, Matt,” Thom said. “Do I really need to say it?”

Matt cursed softly and started to pace again. “I hate it.”

“Everyone does,” Anselm said. “But then again, any time people we care about are in danger, we hate it. It’s part of being human—something we all understand.”

“I don’t want to risk it,” Matt said.

“Sometimes, we don’t get that choice.”

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Twenty – 04

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

In truth, despite his smile, the idea of actually doing it made him sick to his stomach, filled him with more dread than he’d felt since that first day when the sky fell in on them—since everything had come to a crashing, screeching end.

We were the lucky ones that day.  At some point, though, our luck will run out and we have to make sure we’re ready with contingencies.  Sometimes those contingencies are going to involve doing things that we don’t like, that we don’t want to do.

But sometimes, you just don’t have a choice.

That knowledge came in equal parts from this life and the one he’d lived as Finn—that much he knew for certain.

“I don’t know about you, Matt, but I want my son to grow up,” Thom said quietly. “And I’m pretty sure you and Hecate want to meet your baby.”

Matt winced.  Anselm’s brows went up.

“Well,” Anselm said, his voice soft.  “That does add another dimension to this mess, doesn’t it?”

“It just means I have more to fight for, that’s all.”  Matt stared at the fire, at the kettle, his jaw tightening.  “And I have to keep her out of it.”

“She may not let you,” Anselm said.  “What will you do then?”

Matt’s head snapped up and he stared at Anslem hard, his eyes narrowing slightly.  “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” he said softly, evenly.  “Hecate might not let you protect her from this—she may insist on fighting.  I’m not certain why that would surprise you, considering her record.”

Matt looked at Thom, his eyes growing wide.  “Do you think she would?”

“Let me put it this way,” Thom said.  “There are some things I can’t ask your sister to do no matter how much I might want to.  Asking her not to fight to protect what and who she cares about is one of those things.”

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