Twenty-five – 02

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

Thunder growled in the distance and Thordin winced, staring into his mug.  “Longer and stronger,” he muttered again.  Hecate sighed, scrubbing a hand over her eyes.

“The storm?”

“A lot of things,” Thordin grumbled, then shook his head hard and sighed.  “Sorry.  I should wait for Matt.”

“Unless you want to repeat yourself,” Hecate said, her gaze straying toward the door for a few seconds.  “Where’s Sif?

“She said something about having a word with Neve.  I didn’t ask what it was about.”

“Mm,” Hecate frowned.  I wonder what that’s about.  Maybe what we all suspect is happening—hell.  What we know is happening and we’ve pretended for years never would.  “Are we prepared for this?”

“For what?”

“For our children to make their own choices,” Hecate said, smiling wryly over her shoulder at him.  “You know what comes next.”

“Do I?”  Thordin took a long swallow of tea, making a face that suggested that he wished it was something stronger as much as she did.  “We don’t know anything for sure, Hecate.  All we know is that the camazotzi are back, that something’s stirring, and that those kids—I mean our visitors, because none of us can delude ourselves into thinking they’re any more than children themselves—are on some kind of quest that they might not even understand.”

“Oh, they understand the quest itself,” Hecate said softly.  “They just don’t understand what it means—for them or the world.”

“Do you?”

“I wish I didn’t suspect,” Hecate admitted.  “I wish it wasn’t something that I feel like Marin warned me about long ago—something that was eventually going to happen whether we liked it or not.”  A sigh escaped her.  “Thordin, we knew a long, long time ago that there are cycles to this world.  We knew that another conflagration would come.”

“And you think that this is that?  The next war, the next convulsion of the world?”

“If it wasn’t that two decades ago, then I imagine it’s that now.”

He closed his eyes, tilting his head back.  “You might be right.  But if that’s the case, then maybe this one leads to the better, right?”

“Only if we help them succeed.”  Her fingers tightened around her mug as she crossed her arms.  “And I don’t know that we’ll have an easy time figuring out how to do that.”

“But we will,” he murmured.

“We’ll try,” she agreed.  “We’ll certainly try.”

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Twenty-five – 01

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

“I thought you said that he was coming back.”

“He had to close up the forge first,” Hecate held a mug of tea out toward Thordin, her brow furrowing slightly.  “You know how long that can take.  Should I have hustled him faster?”

He winced as he took the mug, cradling it between both hands.  “If he had to close up, I’m not sure you could have.  That’s on me.  I didn’t—”

“So it is bigger.”

“Bigger, more severe.”  Thordin shook his head.  “Our guests won’t be leaving for a few days, even if they wanted to—even if we wanted them to.”

Hecate’s brow arched as she settled in near the stove, resting her own up against her knee.  “That bad?  Did you not realize this?”

“Not until it was almost on top of us,” Thordin muttered, rubbing at his temple.  “There’s something in the air, Hecate, and it’s not the weather.”

Her nose wrinkled and her gaze strayed to the stove’s grate, a frown creasing her forehead.  “You wouldn’t be the only one identifying that, my friend.”

“It’s more than just the camazotzi reappearing, too,” Thordin said.  “More than that, more than the storm—more than whatever jumped those kids on their way here.  Hell.  Have we heard anything from New Hope?”

“Not in the last few weeks,” Hecate said.  “But then we don’t exactly expect to, do we?”

“I guess not,” Thordin said, then sighed.  “I just—I wish we had, you know?”

“Well, unless or until we make the decision to send someone that’s not Cameron down there, or someone from there comes here—we won’t.  Are you suggesting that we do the former?”

“I don’t know what I’m suggesting anymore,” Thordin said.  “Just that something feels wrong and it’s bothering me because I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“You and all the rest of us,” Hecate said, then drank deeply from her mug of tea, wishing it was something stronger.

It was too early for that.

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Twenty-four – 08

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

The first drops of rain spattered against the stones of the path and Matt winced, knowing he’d waited too long—or maybe Hecate had waited too long to come and fetch him.  One glance toward the sky told him exactly how much water was there, waiting to fall.

Wish Thordin had warned me this morning.

Of course, his friend might not have known, or might not have thought about it.  There was just so much going on—perhaps it hadn’t seemed important.

After all, it was just a normal summer storm.

I assume it’s a normal summer storm, anyway.  Just probably a nasty one—maybe worse than what we’ve had in a while.

He finished closing up, banked the forge, then gathered a few odds and ends on his way to the door.  The rain was falling in fat drops, though it wasn’t heavy—at least not yet.  Perhaps he’d make it down to the lodge before the worst of the rain started falling.  A cup of something bracing and a snack before dinner sounded good, though he’d need to wash up before partaking in either.

For a few seconds, he squinted at the rain, then the clouds.  If I’m not quick enough or this is moving in faster than I think it is, that’s going to be a moot point.

Taking a deep breath and giving the heavy clouds one more look, Matt ducked his head and started down the hill toward the village proper, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t end up soaked to the bone as he went.

Something tugged at his gut, felt wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Perhaps one of the others could.

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Twenty-four – 07

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

The grumble of thunder had grown closer by the time he thrust the metal back into the forge to heat.  He wasn’t sure if it was the product of the time he’d spent on the piece or the speed of the approaching storm.  Time seemed to flow differently when he was distracted—or focused—and today, he was oddly both.

Should take a look at the sky, see what—

“You probably shouldn’t stay up here much longer unless you’re planning on staying up here until the storm’s passed.”  Hecate stood in the doorway, studying him with a wry smile, backlit by the fading light of the sun as it was eclipsed by darkening clouds.  Matt took a deep breath.

“I didn’t realize it was so close.”

“I imagined,” she admitted, slipping inside.  She glanced at the forge, then back at him.  “You’re not planning on staying up here until the storm’s passed, are you?”

“What does Thordin think?”

“About the storm?”

He nodded, glancing at the metal in the coals again.  Hecate sighed softly and shook her head.

“You should come back, mo chroí.”

“That bad.”

“Very large,” she corrected, then smiled slightly.  “He didn’t say anything about the intensity.  I’m not sure he could tell without reaching higher and deeper and all of us know he tries not to do that if he doesn’t have to.”

“Mm.”  Matt closed his eyes for a few seconds.  Hecate eased closer and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Whatever’s tormenting you, stop letting it.”

He snorted softly.  “What makes you—”

“Because I know you,” she said with a crooked smile, looking up at him.  “I know you and you’ve got that look.  So just stop it.  Close up and come down.  Tala and I made bread.  Come have some—it should be ready by the time you make it down.”

“What makes you so sure?”

She smirked, squeezing him before she stepped back.  “Because I know you,” she said again, then headed for the door.  He let her go, watching her as she slipped out into the gathering shadows of the day.

Then he turned and started closing up the forge.

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Twenty-four – 06

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

For a few seconds, Matt closed his eyes, listening to the small sounds around him—the sound of his nephew’s footsteps down the path, the soft hiss and crackle of the forge, the sound of drizzle on the roof, the rumble of distant thunder.  They were sounds that marked the cadence of his life, had marked the cadence of his life for nearly two decades.

And yet, there were still the long-ago echoes of a different life that drifted back to him—the laughter and chatter of college students moving along the paths between dorms and classes, meetings and meals.  The chime of the clocktower’s bells, the ghosts of which still haunted his dreams sometimes, though the bells hadn’t sounded since the end of everything came.  He wasn’t the only one who heard the call of those bells over the years—it was a conversation he and his friends had had time and again.  Sometimes, they would hear the song, tricks of memory that seemed to be made real.

“I hope he actually saw a memory of you, Mar,” he whispered into the empty force.  “I hope it wasn’t something else.”

Ghosts haunted them, haunted everywhere they’d ever gone.  As much as J.T. tried to reassure them that they weren’t a big problem—if a problem at all—sometimes, Matt wondered.

He also still wondered what else haunted their home, beyond just the ghosts of those now long gone.

Maybe getting away will be good for them.  Something different—something new.

Exhaling a sigh, he pulled the metal from the forge and laid it on the anvil again.  He rolled his shoulder and began to hammer again, the motion and the sound a soothing rhythm that had ordered his world since the August Sunday when everything he’d ever known had changed.

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Twenty-four – 05

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

He mentally stomped on that line of thought before it could go any further.  His nephew stared at him steadily, as if he could somehow sense what Matt had been thinking.  The teenager smiled weakly.

“Do you really think they’d keep hiding after all this time?  Are they really hiding?”

“I don’t know anymore,” Matt sighed, scrubbing a sooty hand over his face.  “I’m not sure I ever really did.  Your mom and dad were very good at keeping secrets, Lin.  Even from me.”  He smiled wryly.  “Especially from me sometimes.”

Lin grinned a little, spreading his hands.  “Except for the stuff that they decided you needed to know, right?”

“Something like that.”  His gaze drifted back to the embers, toward the metal he’d shoved inside of it.  He shuffled the unfinished tool a little in the coals, shaking his head slowly.  “You know, I didn’t like your dad that much at first.  When he first started dating your mom?  Now I’d give anything to have them both back.”

“If there’s a chance, Uncle Matt, you know that I can find them.  If anyone’s going to, it’s me, right?”

Matt smiled weakly and nodded.  “Guess so.  Of course, we haven’t really looked that hard, either, considering they’re supposed to be dead.”

“Guess people are going to freak out when they finally come home, then.”  Lin grinnded.  “So you’re not going to stop me?”

“No,” he said.  “But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell your aunt right away.  I’ve already lost the bet but I’d like to delay payment just a little longer.”

His nephew laughed.  “I don’t want to know, do I?”

“Probably not,” Matt admitted.  “Go on.  Head down.  I’ll be down for dinner.”

Lin nodded, standing slowly.  He drifted toward the door, pausing in the frame and glancing back at him.  “Thanks, Uncle Matt.”

“I love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, too.”

Then he was gone, headed back down the path toward the village proper, leaving his uncle up at the forge alone.

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Updates will resume after Labor Day.

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Twenty-four – 04

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

Lin stared at the forge for a few seconds, his brow furrowing slightly.  “Aunt Caro could only give me a direction that they left in.  Did you…?”

“Know where they were going?”  Matt sighed and scrubbed his free hand over his face, suddenly not caring if he left a smudge of soot behind in its wake.  “Not in any kind of precise way.  No one that we have contact with has ever said anything about seeing them, though, so either they avoided all of the usual places Cameron stops, no one recognized them for who they were, or they somehow swore everyone to secrecy.”

Lin seemed to slump, his frown deepening.  “That’s…”

“Not helpful,” Matt said.  “I know, Lin.  But it tells you where you don’t have to start, right?”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Lin, my life hasn’t made sense since before you were born.”  He cracked a smile even as his nephew shot him a deeply skeptical look.  “All kidding aside, if you’re going with our visitors off on their quest for…well…for whatever comes after finding their once and future king, don’t you think you should support them rather than focusing on your personal quest here?”

“You make them sound mutually exclusive.”

“Neither of us know at this point if they are or not, Lin.  But I think if anyone’s going to be able to find your parents, it’s going to be you, but it’s only going to be if they want to be found.”  He sighed quietly.  “And unless they’ve reached the goal they set for themselves already, they’re not going to want to be found.”

And if they’ve reached that goal, have they found another?  Or have they simply resigned themselves to never, ever coming home?

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Twenty-four – 03

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

Matt’s heart missed a beat.  He cleared his throat.  “Then you know.”

“Aunt Caro confirmed it,” Lin said after a momentary hesitation.  “When she found me out there, I asked.  I—Uncle Matt.  I know why you didn’t tell me and it’s okay.  I get it.  I just—they’re out there somewhere, right?  They’re out there somewhere and I just feel like part of the reason that I feel this way is because I need to find them, that somehow they need me.”  He swallowed hard and looked away.  “I just wish I knew why they left.  The real reason.”

“Mar was dying,” Matt whispered.  “She knew there was something out there that could save her—they both did.  Something that was drawing on her magic, spooling it away like yarn from a ball.  They needed to find it and they couldn’t do that staying here.  We’d known for a long time that it would probably come to that but I guess we all just…I don’t know.  I think we were all in a little bit of denial.  But she knew the moment when it was time.  I think that she originally meant to go alone but your dad—gods.  Thom was never going to let her go out there alone.  I knew that.  I think deep down, your mom knew it, too.  I don’t know what their conversation looked like.  I never got the chance to ask and honestly, I don’t think I want to know even now.  I just know that by the time I was in the room, they’d made the choice and the plan was set.  Only a few of us knew what they were doing—a necessary evil, I guess.  But then, if everyone else knew that they’d just up and left, well…I don’t know what that would have done.”

“Maybe nothing,” Lin whispered.  “Maybe destroyed what they’d built.”

“They feared the latter,” Matt said.  “More than that, they feared that if it looked like anything other than them possibly giving their lives to save everyone here that the peace that Marin secured would die even faster than it already was.  What they ended up doing bought us at least a few more years.”  He scrubbed his hand over his face and sighed.  “I’m sorry we kept it from you.”

Lin shrugged and winced slightly.  “What’s done is done, right?  All I can do now is try to find them.”  He chewed his lower lip for a few seconds.  “You think they’re still out there, right?  Still alive?”

“I think we’d know if they weren’t,” Matt said, shaking his head slightly.  “Don’t ask me how, but I think we would.  Somehow.”

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Twenty-four – 02

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

Matt paused, looking away from Lin and into the forge itself, staring at the embers that glowed faintly.  His nephew’s announcement was neither a surprise nor did it make the bottom drop out of his stomach the way he’d expected it might when this day finally came.  Instead, he just felt…empty.  Empty and a little sad.

“Uncle Matt?”

He took a deep breath.  He must have been silent for too long.  Matt bowed his head, shifting the metal in the coals for a second, then finally spoke.  “When do you think they’ll leave?”

“You’re—you’re not going to fight me on this?”

Matt sighed and shook his head.  “They warned me that the moment would come someday—and even then, they didn’t have to.  There was always going to come a day when you wanted to see well beyond the walls, to learn the truth of the world you were born into.  All of us knew that.  I was just never sure what the context would be.”

“Then you’re not mad?”

“No,” he said, then sighed.  “Worried as hell?  Yeah.  Yeah, that’s something I am.  But I can’t be mad.  Do they know about this decision?”

Lin shook his head.  “No.  I really haven’t outright told anyone.  Aunt Caro, but she found me out by the graves.  We talked.  I just—Uncle Matt, there are questions I’ve got that won’t get answered if I don’t go with them and I think they’re going to need me, and not just them.”  He wet his lips and stood up, coming to stand next to Matt.  “…I think that Mom and Dad are going to need me, too.”

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