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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Twenty-four – 01

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

“Uncle Matt?”

The hammer rang off-key against the edge of the anvil as Matt twisted toward the open doorway.  For a moment, his heart climbed into his throat at his nephew standing silhouetted there, looking so achingly like his father that for the span of a few heartbeats, Matt was a dozen years and more in the past and it was Thom standing there in the doorway of the forge, not Lin.  It was enough to make his throat grow tight, his eyes almost misting.

It’s been too many years.  Gods and monsters, I miss them.

Matt took a ragged breath and winced, turning fully.  “What’re you doing up?”

“I’ve been up for hours,” Lin said, slipping into the forge and collapsing onto one of the benches.  The teenager seemed tired and sore, but not nearly as worse for wear as he’d seemed the night before.  “Laying around isn’t doing me any good—except for making me a little less sore.  I’ll have Aunt Jac give me something tonight so I’ll sleep hard.”

Matt’s brow quirked and he shook his head.  “Sometimes you remind me a lot of your dad, you know that?”

Lin smiled wryly.  “And the rest of the time I remind you of Mom.  Yeah.  I know.”

Shaking his head slightly, Matt thrust the piece he was working on back into the coals to heat.  “You didn’t come up here to talk about that.”

“Not really, no,” he admitted.  “But I did come up to talk to you.”

“What’s on your mind?”  Matt glanced over his shoulder at him, watching his nephew’s thoughtful, almost distant expression.

“When they go, I’m going with them,” Lin finally said after a lengthy silence.  “I think I have to.  They’re going to need me and I think it’s the only way I’ll understand what happened with Mom and Dad.”

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Twenty-three – 08

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“But I don’t understand why—or how.”

“Have you talked to Phelan about it?”

I bit my lip, staring at the ground for a few seconds.  “He said we’d talk about what happened down there later.  But then stuff started to happen and we haven’t gotten to talk about it yet.”

“Mm.”  Somehow, even the single syllable managed to sound incredibly weighty and concerned.  “I’ll nudge him in your direction.  It sounds important, anyway.  I think you two do need to have that talk.”

“So you think it’s important?”

“You do.”

I closed my eyes, chin dipping toward my chest.  “Yes,” I whispered.  “Yes, I think it’s important—but I don’t understand why it happened, Aunt Caro.  I don’t know what it means, just that it happened.  I don’t even know what it was.  Was it some kind of dream?  An echo?  Something else?”

“If anyone here knows what it is, Lin, Phelan will.”  She squeezed me gently and I winced.  “And if you follow through on what you’re intending, then it’s important that you have the conversation sooner rather than later.”

“You mean going,” I said, swallowing.  “You mean leaving with them when they go.”

“It’s the only way you’ll get the answers about your mom and dad that you’re looking for, isn’t it?”

I nodded slowly.  “That’s not the only reason why I’m going to go, though.”

“I didn’t think it was.”  Carolyn looked at me and smiled sadly.  “It’s something you have to do, isn’t it?”


She nodded slowly.  “I get it.  I do.  But we’ll still worry about you.”  She pressed a kiss to my head.  “We love you, Lin.”

“I know, Aunt Caro.”


We stepped onto the bridge.  She kept her arm around my shoulders as we walked, footsteps echoing hollowly.  How the bridge was still standing after all this time, I wasn’t sure.  Maybe it had just been built that well.  Maybe it was something else.

It was one of those mysteries of my world that I’d always been content to leave as just that—a mystery.  Until now, my world had been far smaller than I realized.

Realizing that I was about to leave the cocoon of my childhood for something much bigger was a little jarring.  Maybe that had been why I’d seen what I’d seen.

It didn’t make sense, but it was something.  Stranger things had been connected.

At least, that was what I kept telling myself as we walked back to the village together in silence.

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Twenty-three – 07

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

Carolyn stayed silent for what seemed like a long time—almost all the way to the bridge itself—her gaze distant, thoughtful.  I almost didn’t think that she’d say anything and my stomach roiled as I wondered if I’d somehow made a mistake in telling her what I’d seen.

When she finally spoke, her voice was soft and low, as if she feared someone might overhear us—so quiet that it was almost inaudible over the sound of the branches rustling above the ravine.  “I remember hearing about that night,” she said.  “It feels like it was forever ago.  We were sophomores.  Your parents had been dating for a few months at the time.  Your mom used to go hiking in the ravines a lot—it started our freshman year.  I used to go with her every so often.  It was when we were sophomores that more and more of us used to go, though.  Usually, it was only in daylight.  It wasn’t until maybe end of September that sophomore year that they started to go at night, and it was only a few of them—her and your dad, Drew, Kellin, Rory.  I don’t really remember who else.  Jay might have gone once or twice.  We don’t talk about it.”

“Why not?” I murmured.

“Why would we?” she countered.  “Oh, Lin.  It stopped mattering within a couple years of the world ending.  We had you guys to worry about, the village, surviving?  The only things that mattered from back then were what we’d learned and what we wanted to pass on.  Those nighttime hikes weren’t something we dwelled on anymore, not after those first couple years.”

“Because it was quiet,” I said.  “Because there was peace?”

“Such as it was,” Carolyn said.  “And things had changed.  None of it was the same anymore.”

“But I saw them,” I whispered.  “I saw them down there, Aunt Caro.”

“I know.”

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Twenty-three – 06

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“That garden there used to be special,” I guessed as she tugged me gently along the path back toward the bridge.  “You guys never talk about it, though.”

“No,” she agreed.  “We don’t.  We all have our own reasons for that.”  She smiled faintly, sadly.  My heart ached a little as I saw the pain reflected in her eyes.

I don’t understand why it was important, or why it hurts, but I know that it was.

We lapsed into silence as we went further back toward the bridge and the village beyond.  The further we got from the barrow and the nearer we got to the ravine again, the tenser I started to get.  Carolyn squeezed my hand, as if she was trying to reassure me.

“What’re you thinking?” she asked me.

“What’s stopping one of those monsters from getting to me again when we cross the bridge,” I said.  “Aunt Caro—Aunt Caro, I saw something when I was down there.  When I told Uncle Phelan about it he went all kinds of pale and I—I don’t understand why.”

“The fairies will tell us if there’s any danger,” she assured me, gently wrapping her arm around my shoulders again.  I leaned into her as we walked, a little bit of the tension draining.  “When did it happen?”

“A few seconds before I was attacked,” I said.  “I—I saw Mom and Dad and Uncle Drew, but it was a long time ago, back before everything you guys grew up with ended.  It was nighttime and they were down there and I don’t know why.”  I swallowed hard.  “…and I think they could see me, too.”

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Twenty-three – 05

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

Steel gray clouds had started to mass in the west by the time we stood up from our spot in the grass.  Wind whispered through the branches in the trees beyond us, but that wind didn’t quite reach the ground—not yet, anyway.  Despite what was clearly an approaching storm, Carolyn seemed unhurried as she matched pace with me, walking silently up the hill from the barrow.  She must have known something that I didn’t—or simply had decided not to worry about things she couldn’t yet change.

“It looks like it’s going to storm,” I murmured after a long silence.  We neared the top of the hill where the remnants of a garden spread next to an old ruin of a building, long ago all but reclaimed by nature.  There were sketches in one of my father’s notebooks of what it had looked like, once—at least, I assumed that it was this building.  There were a lot in those books.

“Mm,” she said, pausing by an old, broken bench.  It would have been beautiful, once, and it still had an odd sort of beauty even now, its slab broken in half, one end torn from its pedestal.  I knew that if I touched the stone of it, it’d be cooler than the sun-warmed broken concrete that lay ahead.

“It probably is,” she said.  “Thordin thought it might but he didn’t want to reach too far.  He’s learned better.”

It was something I heard often enough but never asked too many questions about.  If one of them wanted to explain that, they would.  So far, no one had.

A trace of sadness crossed her features as her gaze drifted over the ruined garden.  I watched, shifting my weight carefully to ease the aching in every part of my body, then wet my lips.  “You okay, Aunt Caro?”

She smiled back over her shoulder at me.  “You’re not the only one who comes out here sometimes to think and remember,” she said, then took my hand gently.  “Come on.  Let’s get back before the rain starts.”

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Twenty-three – 04

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“You’ve still got questions,” she said softly.  I choked on a laugh.

“Of course I do,” I said, then sighed a little.  “A thousand of them.  But I’m not sure you or anyone else has answers to those questions, do you?”

“Probably not,” she admitted.  “Though you’re welcome to try me.”

“You don’t know where they went,” I said.  “That’s the biggest question.”

“As it should be,” she admitted.  “And you’re right, I don’t know where they went—just a direction, one that probably doesn’t surprise you at all.”

“They went south,” I said.  “Toward New Hope.”

Carolyn nodded.  “I don’t know if they passed through or not, but they headed in that direction.”

“They wouldn’t have,” I said.  “Not if the ruse was that they were dead.  They wouldn’t have risked it.  More folks than Cameron head through there—and I’m guessing he’s in the know?”

Carolyn nodded.  “He is.”

“Who else?”

“A few,” she hedged, and I decided not to press.  I could guess who might be involved—my aunt and uncle, of course, probably Phelan and Jacqueline, obviously Carolyn and J.T., plus Cameron and Neve.  For all I knew, that might have been it, but something told me that Sif and Thordin might know, too.  It was a distinct possibility.  Odds were good that I didn’t go any further than that, though.

I closed my eyes as she hugged me a little closer.

“I’m sorry, Lin,” she said, resting her cheek against my head.  “I’m sorry we kept this from you.”

“It’s okay,” I said faintly.  “I can understand why you did it.  They asked.”


I nodded, my eyes still closed.  “Then they knew what would eventually happen.”

“You want me to stay with you out here?” she asked.

“You don’t have to.”

“If I want to?”

“Then stay,” I said quietly, eyes opening again.  “Just a little longer.  Then we’ll go back.  I probably have to talk Tory off a ledge.”

“Do I want to know?”

I had to smile.  “Probably not.  Not yet.  But you will.”

“Yes,” she said, tone wry.  “I suppose I will soon enough.”

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Twenty-three – 03

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

I chewed on the inside of my lip, still staring at the words carved into the stone.  I could no longer remember who’d done the carving, only that it seemed all at once too much and not enough to honor and remember my parents.  Of course, they weren’t under that stone.  I knew that now.

In some ways, I think I’d always known.  For as visible as their friends’ grief had been back then—genuine in all cases, in fact—there had been something different between some of their grief and the grief of others.  Looking back, I could pick out who’d known, who my parents had recruited into their ruse, into their plan to slip away.

I even understand why they didn’t tell me, why they didn’t tell me the truth about what was happening—why I had to figure it out for myself.

That didn’t stop the ache, though.  It didn’t stop the need, the wish that they were here now so I could ask them all the questions I had, the ones I was trying to get the answers to from their journals.

They saw so much, but did they write all of it down?  I’m sure they didn’t.  If they had, there would be things in these journals that aren’t there—and I know they’re not there because I’ve looked.

Carolyn slid an arm around me, hugging me gently—clearly trying not to hurt me any more than I was already hurt.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I said.  “And no.  I don’t know what to do.  I keep thinking that they would.”

“They didn’t always,” she murmured.  “But they faked it really well.  Almost everyone thought that they had it all together but…”


She smiled.  “Exactly.  Some of us knew.  The rest didn’t, and it was safer that way.”

“Safer,” I echoed softly.  “And kinder.”

“In a lot of ways, yes.”

I closed my eyes, head dipping toward my chest.  She drew me toward her and I leaned against her, ignoring the ribbons of fire that shot through my arm and shoulder.

“I want to find them, Aunt Caro,” I whispered.

“Then I’m sure you will,” she whispered back.  “You can do anything you set your mind to, Lin.  Anything.”

“Even finding people who might not want to be found?”

“I think they always knew that you’d eventually come looking,” she said.  “Once you figured it out or we told you.”

“Whichever came first?”

She smiled sadly, nodding.  “Yeah.  There were moments when I know I wanted to tell you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because it wasn’t the right time.  Not yet.”

I just nodded, leaning against her, staring at the stone.  Somehow, I’d find them.  I just wasn’t sure how.

But I would, no matter what it took.

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Traveling today, so no update.

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Twenty-three – 02

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

My throat tightened.  “Because of Mom?”

When they’d gone, something had been afflicting my mother for a while by then, though no one seemed to know what it was.  I’d heard whispers of it being linked to her talent, to her ability to peer into the future and see the possibilities—more correctly than not.  It was a power linked to something, but no one ever seemed to know what that something was, and no one could figure out how to make her better once she’d started to get sick.

I tried not to remember those parts.  I always tried to just remember her.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Carolyn said, her gaze straying to me for a few seconds before it drifted to the headstones.  “Your father was determined to save her, no matter what.  Your mother?  She was determined to save all of us—or, at the very least, ensure the peace held a little longer.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s all right,” she murmured.  “Like, I said, it’s complicated.  When you were a baby, Marin brokered a peace with a lot of the nastiness in this world that was trying to overtake it and us.  She forced a truce on them, bought us time.  When your parents left, we could see signs of that truce being tested.  Your parents both thought that their departure would help solidify the peace for a little longer—and they were right.  They bought us another five years.”

“Until now.”

“Yes.  Until now.”

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