Thirty-one – 05

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

“Though I would hope that you would answer my question,” Anselm said, still staring straight ahead. “The one you seem to think you so neatly sidestepped.”

Seamus’s jaw tightened slightly. “What question would that be, old friend?”

“Who’s coming, Seamus?” Anselm asked softly.

Seamus snorted softly. “Who isn’t?”

“Then who are you so worried about? You don’t ask favors like this because of diffuse concerns. Typically there’s something specific driving you. Your gut, in this instance, is not an acceptable answer.”

Of course he would ask. Of course. His lips thinned. Anselm’s brow furrowed and he leaned closer.

“What is it that you don’t want to tell me, Seamus? What bone is stuck in your bloody throat?”

He took a deep breath, then another, exhaling slowly after each. He watched the sparring match end without seeing it, waited until another had begun before he finally spoke, the words coming thickly from his throat.

“The sisters,” he said, his voice a whisper. “They’ll come for vengeance against my cousin and against the people here. I don’t know if they’ll come before Leviathan returns or after—one may bide their time and wait until the other has depleted us before they sweep in to mop up what’s left. I fear they’ll come sooner.”

“Why?”

“You can’t take revenge on a corpse,” Seamus said. “And I doubt that they’d cross Leviathan were we to join him, so I doubt they’d take the risk of us doing just that.”

“You assume they know more than they might, old friend,” Anselm said. “They may not know that Leviathan walks. They may not know what he plans even if they do—and they certainly may not know that he’s made overtures to the people here if they’re aware of what he plans to do.”

“If I assume any other way, we may lose,” Seamus said, his voice grave. “So I assume what I must—planning for the worst as I hope for a best outcome that’s likely not to be.”

“Trying to get ahead of things,” Anselm murmured.

Seamus nodded. “As best I can.”

I fear it’s not enough.

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Thirty-one – 04

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

“With who?” Anselm asked after a few seconds of silence—seconds that felt like they went on forever. Seamus didn’t look at him.

“Does it matter?” Seamus asked quietly.

“It might,” Anselm said. “What was it that you always used to say? Knowing who the enemy is allows you to better prepare yourself to face them?”

Seamus’s lips twitched toward a slight smile. “I should have known that someday my own words would come back to haunt me.”

“Indeed,” Anselm said, crossing his arms with a faint smile. “An unfortunate oversight on your part.” His smile faded. “What do you want my help with, Seamus? They seem to be doing well enough without formalized training.”

He swallowed hard, shaking his head slowly. “It’s not going to be enough, old friend,” he said, his voice a whisper. “We’ve seen this before. All that happens in the past will repeat again in the future. They need to be prepared.”

Anselm watched him for a few seconds, a faint frown creasing his forehead. “There’s no guarantee that history will repeat.”

“It always does in one way or another,” Seamus murmured, then sighed, rubbing at his temple. “They need our help, Anselm, and I can’t train them alone.”

“It seemed there were some—”

“Memories of lives long past won’t help all of them.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked Phelan or Thordin,” Anselm said, ignoring the interruption.

“They’ve both been busy, hurt, or both.” Seamus’s lips thinned. “I can’t depend on their help, Anselm.”

“But you can depend on mine.”

“I always have before. Why should now be different?”

“Because the world is different,” Anselm said softly. “Everything’s different, old friend. Our world is utterly changed.”

“All the more reason I need your help,” Seamus murmured. “Can I count on you?”

Anselm fell silent, watching the sparring match for a few moments before he nodded. “Aye. You can.”

“Good,” Seamus whispered. “Good.”

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Thirty-one – 03

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

A cheer went up among a circle of men and women of the Wild Hunt as a sparring match ended. Seamus kept to the edge of their section of the camp, watching, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans. There was a lump in his throat as he watched them, as he moved through the all-to-familiar structure of their encampment, slowing growing more and more permanent as the months went by.

Months, now. It’s been months.

It was still strange to think about, still strange to know he was free—and yet, in some ways, never would be.

We all carry our pasts on our backs even as we stare into our futures. His mother had said it to him long ago, in a time when he was still perhaps too young to really understand what she’d meant. Of all of his siblings, his memories of their mother had been the clearest. Their father had changed with her death—though that was a thing that all three of them, along with cousins Phelan and Aoife, clearly recognized. It was as if when his queen died, their father’s ties to the world they had adopted as their home began to break down.

Perhaps that had been exactly what had happened, what made it so easy for him to retreat to the Otherland that had birthed their people while the choice to go was so much more difficult for the rest.

As for Seamus, he’d felt the world shift when they’d left, but there was nothing he could do.

“I know that look,” Anselm said from somewhere to his right. Seamus took a slow, deep breath, turning to face him with a faint, crooked smile.

“Do you, now?”

“Oh yes,” the other man said, matching his former commander’s smile. “What’s chewing on you now, old friend?”

Old friend. A lump built in Seamus’s throat, a lump he swallowed down, tried to will away. “Memories old and new.”

“Ah,” Anselm said with a knowing nod. “Then I suppose I need to ask a different question.”

“And that is?”

“What brings you to this end of the walls.”

“Ah,” Seamus said quietly, gaze drifting toward the ring of soldiers. A new sparring match was starting. “That is indeed the better question. A far better question, though perhaps not as simply answered.”

“Well?”

Seamus took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, staring at the soldiers without truly seeing them.

“I need you to help me prepare them all for war, old friend. It’s coming, and soon.”

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Thirty-one – 02

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

Hecate stared at him, wishing her heart would settle down, wanting it to be easier to breathe. “How?” She managed to croak, reaching up to wrap her fingers around one of Matt’s hands, squeezing tightly and hard. Her palm already ached; she’d likely drawn blood.

I haven’t done that in forever.

J.T. took a deep breath, kneeling down. “You knew her, right? You were close?”

Hecate nodded, feeling hollow. “My only friend, really.” Aside from Cíar, but he was far more than my friend, wasn’t he? “We protected each other as best we could—she more than I, I think, sometimes, but there were moments…” her voice trailed away and she pressed against Matt. He buried his nose in her hair.

His voice came as a whisper. “Steady, mo chroí. Steady. You can do this.”

He’s right. I can. But flame and ashes, I’d rather not have to.

But she’s alive. By all the powers above and below, she’s still out there and alive and I didn’t lose the only other person in the world left that really mattered to me. One breath, then another. Steady.

“There were moments that it felt like she was doing more protecting of me than I was of her,” Hecate finished softly, then exhaled a quiet breath. “It—they never really loved each other. She was like me. She didn’t have a choice.”

“A lot of us didn’t,” Matt said, squeezing her briefly. Hecate sighed, squeezing her eyes shut.

Us. Accurate, if painful. Her eyes blinked open again. “How do you think I could help? You mean in finding her?”

J.T. shrugged slightly. “If you think it’s possible. Your—your magic is more powerful than any of ours, I think.”

She choked on a laugh. “That’s not entirely true,” she said softly. “I think in a lot of ways there are a lot of you more powerful than I am. I just have more practice, that’s all.”

But if my practice can help—

“Just tell me what you need me to do.”

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Thirty-one – 01

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

Hecate sat and stared in shocked silence for a few seconds. Her ands slowly curled into fists, her heart beginning to beat a little more quickly, emotions rising in her throat and threatening to choke her. It was the old emotions, the guilt, the anger, the fear. Only Matt’s presence, his touch, kept her in this time and place.

She took one breath, then another. Her vision swam, eyes watering. He said she was dead. Said she was gone.

The bastard lied.

Matt squeezed her arm gently. She sucked in another breath, squeezing her eyes shut.

Stay. Stay. Stay. You’re all right. You’re fucking all right, just stay.

Then there was Matt’s voice in her ear, gentle, soft. “I’m here, grá mo chroí. I’m here.”

The words came as a croak around the lump in her throat. “The bastard lied to me. He said she was dead.” The words scraped clear, painful. “If I hadn’t already killed him, I’d kill him for this—but slower, more painfully.” Hot tears welled in her eyes.

Why did I believe him?

Matt’s arms closed around her again. She stiffened but didn’t try to break free of his hold. Part of her needed him—but another felt like she didn’t deserve the comfort the embrace offered.

“If she’s alive, that means I abandoned her,” she said. “I promised her that I would protect her.” Another failure. Her fingernails dug into the flesh of her palms.

“There was no way you could have kept that promise,” Matt whispered into her hair. “You know that.”

A shudder shot through her. A small voice in the back of her mind chimed that he was right and that both she and Persephone had known that. It was the emotion behind the words that had mattered.

“You cared enough to make the promise,” Leinth said softly from behind J.T., as if she could hear the thought that echoed through the back of Hecate’s brain. “That and nothing else is what mattered.”

The damnable thing was that she was right.

“How do we help her?” Hecate asked, her voice a bare whisper. “Where can we find her?”

“Well,” J.T. said quietly, “I was hoping maybe you could help with that.”

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Thirty – 08

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

Hecate took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly before she straightened in Matt’s embrace, glancing back toward J.T. “I was thinking so. I needed you to have a look at my side. It’s—it’s not healed like I want it to be.”

The fact that she’d managed to say it so matter-of-factly with Leinth standing there as well left Matt a little shocked. He didn’t want to think that his presence had something to do with it, but allowed that maybe it had. The words rocked J.T. back against his heels, presumably for the same reason.

At least, that was what Matt assumed until J.T. cleared his throat quietly. There was something odd and distracted in his voice as he answered. “Oh. Yeah, yeah, I can do that. Been meaning to, anyway.”

Hecate gave a slight nod and leaned against Matt again, though didn’t curl back up. He looped an arm around her shoulders, exhaling.

“That wasn’t actually what we needed to talk about,” J.T. said, moving to sit on the path with his back to the ravine. Leinth chewed the inside of her lower lip, watching him and watching them.

Matt suppressed a frown. What’s got her nervous?

                Whatever it is, I’m not sure I want to know.

Hecate frowned. “I don’t like that tone. Or the look on your face. Something’s wrong.”

A weak but raw laugh tore from J.T.’s throat and he shook his head slightly, brow furrowing. “Wrong might not be the best word for it, but it’s certainly not right.” He took a slow breath. “What do you know about Persephone?”

“I—she died,” Hecate said softly. “She died a long time ago. She stopped playing his games and he—he ended it.” She pressed a little harder against Matt’s chest, for warmth or for comfort, he couldn’t be entirely certain, but he could feel the chill that had suddenly washed over her.

“She didn’t,” J.T. whispered. “That’s what I needed to talk to you about. She’s not dead, but unless we—I—can find a way to help her, she might end up that way and I’m not sure what to do.

“I’m really, really not sure what to do.”

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Thirty – 07

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

Footsteps echoed quietly down the path. Hecate must have heard them before he did, because she stiffened half a second before the sound reached his ears. Then she exhaled and leaned against him, her eyes sliding shut.

“It’s J.T.,” she murmured before he could turn to look. “I can tell by the sound of his footsteps. I think Leinth’s with him. Sounds like her.”

The hairs on the back of Matt’s neck stirred and he exhaled. “How do you—”

“Practice,” she murmured, tugging his arms tighter around her before she wrapped both of hers around his waist. “Instinct. A touch of magic. Habit.”

He shivered. It was a habit that had kept her alive—that much he knew for certain—and the knowledge made him ache inside. Too many years wondering when the next blow would fall, too many years wrestling with her demons and dodging people out for vengeance or to use her. Matt hugged her a little tighter, if only for a moment, then pressed a kiss to her temple. Hecate sighed.

“You’re worrying,” she murmured into his neck.

“Is that such a terrible thing?”

“Yes and no.” A sigh escaped her and she relaxed slightly. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to worry. But I know why you do and I love you for it.”

Matt smiled crookedly and she looked up to meet his gaze, smiling back.

“We have forever this time,” she whispered. “The rest of our lives and then whatever comes next.”

He didn’t want to talk about the whatever comes next part. Matt was concerned with the here and now and the immediate future, with the years—decades, he hoped—that they’d have in this life. That was what mattered today.

They could worry about everything else later, think about the rest of it later.

He was about to tell her that when J.T.’s voice interrupted.

“Hey. I think we might need to talk.”

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Thirty – 06

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

It took him back centuries, that moment, sitting together on the old concrete bench with his arms around her. He could remember a time long ago, the two of them sitting together like this, though it hadn’t been concrete beneath them, but stone, and the air had carried the bite that promised the coming autumn. There had been a battlefield behind them, perhaps a mile or two distant, but they’d moved far enough away to drown out the sound of the dying and worse with the sound of a river and the wind in the trees. She’d worn red that day, a rich, dark red wool gown and a cloak to match, silver trinkets Cíar had made her woven into her hair. She’d been so beautiful that it had taken his breath away and at least momentarily had erased the pain in his soul.

“I’m so sorry, mo chroí,” she whispered, using his tongue rather than hers—something she’d begun to do only in the past few weeks. It eased his heart more in moments like this, when the ache inside was the worst, when the burn of the blood on his hands was the greatest. “I didn’t want them to make you do this.”

                Cíar shook his head wordlessly, his arms wrapped slightly around her, hands clenched into fists. Intellectually, he knew they were clean, but he could still feel the blood on them even though he’d scrubbed them raw. He didn’t want to get any of it on her even though it was long gone. His arms tightened slightly and he rested his cheek against her hair. It was hard to breathe.

It was very hard to breathe.

“I hate them,” she whispered. “Powers above and below, I hate them, Cíar. I hate them for what they do to you, for what they make me do to you.”

“Save your hate,” he said, his voice a rasp, speaking around a lump in his throat. “They’re not worth your notice. Keep your strength for when you need it.”

“When we need it,” she said.

He hadn’t realized what it meant then. It was only starting to become clear now, centuries later.

“I love you,” Matt whispered, echoing her words. “And I always will.” I always have, even when I didn’t know it. She was the missing piece—just as he was for her.

Now, they were together again and nothing was going to tear them apart.

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Thirty – 05

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

They found a bench to sit on near the far end of the path, surrounded by trees and the old rubble from the fallen dormitories. Matt wrapped his arm around her shoulders and they stared out into the trees surrounding the ravine, listening to the sounds of the birds in the trees and the activity behind them. The Hunt was training on the far side of the rubble, some of them sparring, others practicing archery. The song of bowstrings and the ring of steel on steel echoed softly, muted by distance and debris but still audible.

The sound was oddly comforting.

“It all feels very long ago and far away,” Hecate said softly. “And at the same time, it feels very close.”

“What does?” he murmured, cheek against her hair. It smelled faintly of lavender.

“The past,” she said, resting her hand on his knee.

His free hand covered hers, squeezing gently. “Is that bad?”

“No. Not really.” She sighed softly. “Remembering the good parts is comforting. Just—still trying not to think about the bad.”

Matt pressed a kiss to her temple and then squeezed her a little closer. “I know there was a lot of bad,” he said quietly.

“It doesn’t balance,” she admitted. “But the good—it was enough to get me through the worst times. I’m still here, right?”

He nodded, throat momentarily too tight to speak. She pulled back slightly, studying him for a few seconds, brow furrowing.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m okay.” She paused. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he said after a few seconds of hesitation. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just—for a second I was worried, that’s all.”

Hecate stared at him for a few seconds, then grinned, leaned in, and kissed him.

“I love you,” she whispered against his lips. “Never forget it.”

“Never,” he promised, wrapping both arms around her for a few seconds. “I swear it.”

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Thirty – 04

[This post is from J.T.’s point of view.]

J.T. had gone a few steps before he realized that Leinth had stopped walking. He turned back, brow furrowing. Guilt was written all over her face and it made his stomach fold over on itself, bile rising in his throat.

“What?” he asked quietly.

Leinth shook her head slowly, eyes focused distantly. “Regrets,” she whispered. “That’s all. It wasn’t until I said it that it hit me. We stood by. We did nothing. The reasons no longer matter. We are as complicit as the hands wielding the whips and worse. We stood and did nothing.”

J.T. swallowed hard, his mouth dry. He wanted to argue with her. He wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that it wasn’t really that way, but the words wouldn’t come. He hadn’t been there. He couldn’t know.

Finally, he found his voice again. “I’m sure she’s forgiven you.”

“Perhaps,” Leinth said, his voice soft. Her hands curled into fists and she shook her head slightly. “But that doesn’t erase what went before.”

“No,” he said slowly. “But maybe nothing can and sometimes you just have to move on.”

“Well said.”

He didn’t even shiver at Ériu’s sudden appearance, at the slight chill that raced over his skin that heralded her manifestation. Leinth’s gaze shifted to focus on the ghost for a moment, then she sighed, bowing her head slightly.

“I presume you agree with him?”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

Leinth stared at her for a few seconds and then finally shook her head. “No. No, I suppose not.”

Ériu gave a slight but firm nod. “Truth be known, she has spent more time fearing consequences of what she’s done, whether in grief or through coercion or for whatever reason than she has spent hating anyone for any reason.” A faint, weak smile curved her lips. “Teague and Phelan being the exception, I fear.”

A broken laugh escaped Leinth and she shook her head, starting to walk again. “Still. I owe her an apology. And more.”

“Then give it to her,” J.T. said softly. “And then move on.” He hesitated for a few seconds, then asked, “Do you think I should tell her about Persephone?”

Leinth paused, her lips thinning.

Ériu was the one who answered.

“If you think she’s strong enough to handle the news, yes. Without a doubt, yes.”

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