Thirteen – 04

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

Tala was watching us, so intensely that she startled when Paul stood back up again and handed her his plate with a quick grin.

“Thanks for breakfast,” he said. “Think anyone will mind if I take the cup with me?”

“What?” Tala blinked a few times, then shook herself. “No, no, it’s fine. Take it. Do you want me to top you off?”

“Nah.” Paul smiled and toasted her with the mug. “Thanks, though. See you guys at lunch. If Stasia asks, let her know I’m still out on the watch, okay?” His little sister, Angie, must have already known where he was—or would assume as much. Angie was a smart kid for all of her youth—but still just a kid. She’d be with one of the others right now, probably getting a start on what passed for school instruction for the day.

Thom watched him go for as long as it took for Paul to move out of earshot before he looked at me again. “All right,” he said quietly. “Now what’s going on?”

“Did you not want him to know?” Tala asked before I could answer. She started making a pot of tea to go with the coffee that was already made. “You got really tense and pale for a second there, Mar.”

“I’m not exactly up to dealing with more than my own panic right about now, Tala.” I scrubbed my free hand over my face and exhaled. “And I don’t even know if I’ve got anything to be panicking about.”

Thom looked between us, his expression caught somewhere between concerned and annoyed. “Could one of you please start explaining what precisely anyone would be panicking about before I decide to wander off to figure it out myself?”

“Nothing major,” Tala said as she started to make herself a cup of tea. “Just a bunch of bad feelings coupled with the day coupled with whistles coupled with the Wild Hunt coupled with Leinth flipping out and then Matt and Phelan and Hecate going to see what all the hullabaloo was about from the Wild Hunt.” She exhaled, then shrugged. “Now it seems they’ve headed for the gate and I have to imagine that we’ll know more soon enough. That about cover it, Mar?”

“Yeah,” I said, unable to make eye contact with my husband, who blinked slowly, looking between Tala and me. “Yeah, that about covers it.”

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Thirteen – 03

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

Paul shrugged with one shoulder, still eating. “Well, if it is, it is, if it’s not, it’s not. Once I’m done eating, I’ll head back out there to take the watch back. They were only spelling me so I could eat, I think.”

Lin made a noise, finished eating, and I shifted him to my shoulder to burp him. I tried to pretend that I believed Paul’s assessment, but the fact was that I didn’t—not at all, not by a long shot. Thom glanced at me, his brow furrowing, as if he could sense my unease. He leaned toward me, murmuring in my ear.

“What are you not saying?”

I shook my head slightly, turning my face to his, my lips brushing against his before I whispered a response. “It’s longer explanation than I can give right now in mixed company.”

His brows knit, but he nodded, kissing me lightly before he turned his attention back to his plate. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, sighing. Thom’s arm settled around me and he ate with the other, half inviting me to lean into his embrace. I did just that, though lightly. Somehow, he seemed frail, much moreso than he had even that morning in bed.

I can’t lose you. I can’t.

He squeezed me gently, as if he could hear the thought that I hadn’t given voice to. I rested my head against his.

“Whatever it is,” he murmured, breath stirring hair against my cheek, “it’s going to be okay.”

“Yeah,” I whispered back. “Somehow.”

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Thirteen – 02

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

“Smells good, Tala.”

Thom looked up from his plate and smiled. “Hey Paul.”

He offered a jaunty salute on his way to the fire, where Tala had already started to fix a plate for him.

My brows went I carefully shifted Lin just enough that he was in a more comfortable position for me without disturbing him. “I thought you were on the watch.”

“I was,” he said. “Your brother and Phelan and Hecate and Gideon relieved me so I could come snag a bite to eat.”

“Anything interesting out there?” Thom asked. I almost swallowed my tongue. Gideon was with them. What had they found out when they’d gone to talk to the Hunt?

“Huntsman coming back in,” Paul said, then shrugged as he accepted his plate from Tala. “Otherwise, been pretty quiet, all things considered.”

“Did he look like something was wrong?” I asked, watching Paul as he dug into his breakfast.

He answered me between bites, shaking his head quickly. “No, just seemed like the usual scout coming back in. Why? Should I—was that why they came out to the gate? You think something’s wrong?”

Thom tossed a questioning look in my direction. I swallowed hard.

“Maybe,” I said, the word already tasting like a lie. “But I hope not.”

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Thirteen – 01

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

“You didn’t have to let me sleep.”

I looked up from nursing Lin toward Thom, who limped toward the cookfire, leaning on his crutches and looking like he was still a little more tired that I’d hoped he’d be after he’d fallen asleep again. I managed to smile, though the slight shift in his expression told me very quickly that he’d seen through the attempt at pretending everything was fine.

His gaze flicked from me to Tala and then back again. “What’s going on?” he asked quietly as he slowly lowered himself to sit next to me, laying the crutches on the ground next to us.

“Same shit, different day,” Tala murmured, sparing me from answering. Thom looked at her, his brow arching slightly.

“Oh goody,” he said, then sighed. “That does explain while you’re calmly making breakfast as usual.”

“What the hell else am I supposed to do, really?” Her smile was wry, the words without acid, without rancor. “It’s just another day.”

“We don’t really know exactly what’s going on,” I said. “Not yet, anyway. Probably soon, but not yet.”

“Just another day,” Thom said with a grimace, echoing Tala.

“You’re damn straight.” She handed him a plate a few moments after he’d sat down, then headed to refill her coffee and make him a cup of the same. “We need better defenses, though.”

“As soon as I get healthy, I’ll get right on that.” Thom sighed and leaned his shoulder into mine. I reached up to run my fingers through his hair, smiling weakly.

“It’ll happen,” I assured him softly. He snorted.

“Of course it will. Just takes more time than I want it to and it’s time we don’t have in that much abundance if winter comes this year like it did last year.”

“Well, at least we had last winter to make mistakes,” Tala said, bringing over a mug for him. She sat down with us, cross-legged with her back to the fire. “We won’t make the same ones this year. It’ll be okay, just like it was last winter but more securely. Warmer.”

Thom snorted softly as he lifted his mug. “Warmer,” he agreed. “Hopefully a little less horrifying when it comes to problems and storms.”

“Something tells me we’ll be able to have one but maybe not the other.” Tala smiled and shrugged. “Either way, we’ll be all right.”

Her optimism warmed me but did nothing to alleviate the sour feeling at the pit of my stomach. They weren’t back yet. That was either a good sign or a bad one—hard to know either way.

I was hoping for one but suspected the other.

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Twelve – 08

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

His worry only increased as they headed back toward the cookfire. Matt, his arm wrapped protectively around Hecate’s shoulders, watched Seamus as they walked and felt a weight settle over him and his stomach go sour. The former Taliesin looked like hell and didn’t seem like he felt much better, either. The wounds he’d taken in Matt, Hecate, and Marin’s defense up on the wall that day a few weeks back had taken a heavier toll than any of them suspected.

He swallowed down bile, his arm tightening around Hecate’s shoulders. Her arm snaked around his waist, squeezing him close for a second.

“Settle,” she whispered, voice too low for anyone but him to hear. “It’s all right.”

“No,” he murmured back, gaze still on Seamus. “No, it’s not.”

“He’ll be all right,” Hecate said softly, though Matt could hear the thread of doubt in her voice. Ice sluiced down his spine. He took a deep breath and tried to force his stomach to settle. It didn’t work.

“He shouldn’t be up,” Matt murmured.

“No,” Hecate agreed, following his gaze. “But that wasn’t our decision to make or our war to fight. That’s between the two of them.” She nodded toward Leinth, her brow furrowing. “We have to trust them—trust that they weighed their options and decided what the necessary course would be.”

“Necessary isn’t always best.”

“No,” Hecate sighed. “No, it’s not. But it’s what has to be.”

Matt held her a little tighter, swallowing hard again. Maybe they would be wrong. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they feared.

Somewhere deep in his heart, though, he knew that wasn’t meant to be.

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Twelve – 07

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

“Sometimes it does more harm than good.”

They hadn’t heard the footsteps coming, and Matt startled and spun at the sound of Leinth’s voice, blinking as he saw Seamus there with her, pale-faced and moving carefully, but still on his feet. He opened his mouth to speak, only to close it quickly as Seamus cleared his throat.

“What’s the word?”

Gideon cleared his throat. “Dirae massing to the northwest. Figure in a dark cloak, apparently male, with them, then another, smaller figure. Daegan couldn’t get a good look.”

Seamus and Leinth exchanged a look. Her arm tightened around his waist where she held onto him. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

“Orcus,” he said, his voice gravelly. “And probably Persephone.”

Matt’s blood ran cold and Hecate tensed.

“Persephone,” she whispered. “Why–?”

“It’s a long story,” Seamus said, his head dropping. “One we should be sitting for. One I need to be sitting for, honestly.”

“Right,” Hecate said, then shuddered. “Right, okay.”

Phelan stared at his cousin for a few seconds, then looked at Daegan and Gideon. “Thank you,” he murmured.

Both men nodded.

“I’ll stay out here until Paul comes back to take over the watch again,” Gideon said. “Go on. I’m sure someone will tell us the story soon enough.”

Phelan managed a weak smile and a nod. Matt just shivered, wrapping his arm around Hecate’s shoulders and squeezing her tightly against him.

Whatever story Seamus had, he was half terrified of what it might mean.

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Friday update delayed due to projects!

Friday update will be delayed this week due to some stuff that needs to be accomplished for Friday evening. Look for the update sometime late Friday or on Saturday.


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Twelve – 06

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

Hecate’s hand tightened around his. The pressure wasn’t surprising, though the intensity of it was. Matt’s gaze drifted to her, taking in lips drawn into a fine line, a jaw tightly set, eyes stormy.

“What is it?” he murmured, brows knitting as he looked at her.

She swallowed, then took a slow breath. “I’ll do it if I have to.”

He blinked. “Do what?”

“Call them,” she whispered. “Call the dirae. Try to take control. I’ll try if we all think it’s necessary.”

Her grip on his hand was white-knuckle. Matt swallowed hard. “No,” he murmured. “No, you won’t call them.”

Phelan shot him a worried look, one that Matt ignored as he shifted around to face her, his free hand brushing stray strands of hair back from her face. “None of us are going to ask you to do that unless the circumstances are beyond extreme. We all remember what facing the lampades did to you. It’s not an option.”

She reached up, letting go of his hand to cradle his face between both of hers. “We might not have a choice,” she whispered. “We didn’t when the lampades hit us. We might not when they come. Because we all know that they’ll come. There’s no doubt, Matt. They’ll come. We all know that.”

He squeezed his eyes shut. She leaned into his chest and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.

“We need to figure out who that cloaked man is,” Phelan murmured. “Maybe that’ll give us leverage.”

“Or none at all,” Gideon said, his tone grim. “Has knowing helped before?”

“Only somewhat,” Phelan said. Matt opened his eyes fast enough to catch his friend’s scowl.

“Well, we’ll have to hope that this time, if we can figure it out, it will give us an advantage,” Matt said quietly, resting his cheek against Hecate’s hair. “Knowing something is better than nothing.”

“Sometimes,” Phelan agreed, then sighed. “Sometimes.”

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Twelve – 05

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

“Who do you think it is?” Phelan asked in the same breath that Gideon asked, “How far away are they?”

Daegon glanced between them, frowning, clearly trying to figure out who to answer first.

Hecate drew up alongside Matt, her fingers twining through his. “How far away are they?” she asked, her voice quiet. Her hand tightened around his, though she still stood straight, showing no hint of fear.

Daegon exhaled, rubbing at his temple. “Twenty miles, maybe,” he said quietly. “Northwest, near the lakeshore. It could be remnants of the dirae who were here in the last fight. Might be others.”

“It’s probably the same ones,” Hecate said softly. “But you could be right, they could be from somewhere else. They’re—they’re kind of everywhere. They answer those who know how to call them.”

“Could you still do it?” Phelan asked quietly, studying her.

Hecate shuddered. “Would you really want me to? I know I wouldn’t.”

“I guess not,” Phelan said, grimacing.

“We can beat them if we have to,” Matt said. “Does it look like they’re heading this way?”

“I think they’re just massing,” Daegon said. “At least for now.”

“For now,” Gideon echoed grimly, glancing at them. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“None of us do,” Matt murmured. “None of us ever do.”

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Twelve – 04

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

Matt lifted his hand in greeting as the rider grew closer, stepping clear of the gates, out into the field beyond—not far, only a few steps, but far enough. Phelan stayed behind in the shadows of the gates, watching. If Hecate came any closer, Matt didn’t see it.

The rider lifted his hand in return, mount slowing from a gallop to a canter, then a jog, and finally a walk as it crossed the last hundred yards coming up to the killing fields. He reined up and dismounted a few dozen yards shy of Matt, leading his horse toward the open gate.

“Hail and well met, brother,” Daegan greeted. His accent had faded over the centuries—but all of theirs had. “I confess I didn’t expect you to be here to greet me.”

Matt smiled weakly. “We caught the whistles at breakfast. Thought maybe I should come see what’s what.”

Daegan nodded, looking past him to Gideon, already on his way from the watchtower to the gates. Hecate was trailing behind the huntsman, her lips pressed into a thin line. Matt’s stomach twisted.

Does she sense something I don’t?

He couldn’t be sure without asking.

“Sir,” Daegan greeted Gideon with a fist pounded against his breast and a brief nod, one that Gideon returned. The rider wasted no time in reporting. “There is a mass of dirae massing to the northeast of here. I didn’t stop to count them, but they were numerous enough that I turned and came back immediately.”

“Just dirae?” Hecate asked, her face pale as she stopped just behind Gideon, peering around his shoulder to watch Daegan. “You didn’t see anyone leading them?”

Daegan hesitated.

“Out with it,” Gideon said, his voice commanding, though not unkind. “Even if it’s speculation. Tell us what you saw.”

“Big,” Daegan said. “He was big, in a dark cloak. I didn’t get a good look and I wasn’t close.” He glanced at Matt, at Hecate, then past her toward Phelan, who’d taken a few steps out of the shadow of the gates. “He had a smaller figure with him, too, in gray. A woman, I think.” He shook his head. “But I’m not sure. I can’t be sure.”

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