Here we are. The start of the last book.
There's a lot I want to say, but I'll just boil it down to this: thanks for sticking with me. I don't know how long it's going to take, or how many chapters it'll be, but I'm willing to walk the road. We'll see where it takes us.
So, let me turn you over to the last first chapter.
The night still had the bite of winter as the door creaked open. Up above, the moon shined down as Mointz closed it behind her, pulling her cloak closer. She left the house, padding out into the darkness with no light but that shining moon to guide her.
Sweat still beaded on her forehead as she stumbled down the dark dirt road that would take her out of the village. All around her, the lamps were out, the fires banked. Their occupants were fast asleep, not to wake for a few more hours. The sun, like them, was sleeping.
The teenager, though, was not. Her breath came out in puffs of steam as she continued her walk, legs protesting with every step. At the beginning of the winter, she wouldn't have been able to make this journey at all without a stick to lean on. Now, she could forgo it, but Pibe would have words for her if she found out.
She would have to make sure that didn't happen.
Kid, is everything ok?
Mointz winced as Voice entered her mind. Part of her had hoped the consciousness would remain sleeping for a few more hours. Her cheeks heated up and provided needed but not wanted warmth as she continued to pad down the road slowly.
"I'm fine, Voice." She whispered as she left the village all together, walking towards the tree up on the hill. Along the way, she passed the green shoots of fields that would grow during the spring and summer. Already, they were beginning to grow.
They didn't say anything as she continued walking, and the girl was thankful for it. Right then, all she could do was focus on putting one foot in front of the other. She was doing better, but she wasn't there yet.
Because of that, she collapsed at the foot of the large tree, sighing and wiping the sweat from her brow. From her spot, Mointz could look down on the entire village. Everything was quiet, like she was staring down at a drawing. The only light at all came from the guard towers on the beach, torches ready should the Old Ones come.
And oh, they would come. They had been heavy over the winter, attacking from all sides of the beach. Some were even rising from the ground, much to their displeasure. The coming spring had been as much about planting as it was digging unknown bones from the ground. There had been so many they had burnt fires for three days, and still there was the worry of more.
Who knew their village had once been the sight of a battle?
Even with her terrible vision, Mointz could see a sudden flash of light as an archer on the guard tower launched a volley against the beach. More followed, creating a veritable swarm. Another round struck, and then a third, but there was no fourth to follow.
Her hand twitched at her side, where Spinner should have been but wasn't. It was back at home, locked in a drawer in her bedroom. The key was around her neck, and it hadn't budged all winter.
Nor would it, if she got a say.
Wishing you were down there, huh?
"They've got it under control." The girl leaned her chin on her knees, staring out into the darkness. Up above, the sky was a blur from the stars and the moon. She couldn't have picked out the constellations if she tried; it would have been painful to anyway, thanks to how sore her neck was. It was spring, but it still felt like winter, and the cold bit at the tender flesh like it had a vendetta against her.
Hopefully, the coming days would be warmer. Going out into the garden had been painful some days.
So… are you going to tell me why we're out here in the middle of the night, or do I have to pull it out of you?
Mointz grit her teeth as she felt the familiar pressure weighing down on her mind. This only happened when Voice was tired of waiting for her to answer things on her own terms. Lately, they had been doing that a lot. It was beginning to get annoying.
"If I don't, I get the feeling you're going to keep squishing my brain."
"You don't get cold, it's my body." Sighing, she ran a hand over her hair, tossing back her hood for a brief moment. The breeze that whistled by tousled the short curls and dried the remaining sweat on her forehead. At least it didn't freeze it.
"I had another nightmare."
With the wind, it had been almost impossible to hear her voice. Maybe the universe had been doing her a favor for once. Her insides still squirmed all the same, especially when the pressure let up in waves until it was gone. Right then, she wished t would've stayed a bit longer. She could have pretended.
Where was this night's location? Dark under city, crumbling town, or somewhere else entirely?
Mointz's shoulders sagged as she leaned against the bark of the tree. She closed her eyes, frowning. "It was in the capital this time. Everything was falling down around me and the streets were running red with blood again."
Oh, that one's nasty. I've seen it a couple times.
The girl would have rolled her eyes if they had been open. Instead, she settled for scowling and trying to quiet the pounding in her head that the lack of sleep from the last couple days had brought on. She was pretty much convinced the circles under her eyes were permanent at that point, thanks to how many nightmares had jarred her from her slumber.
Maybe you should talk to somebody about them, kid. It's not good to be up for days and only get a few hours of sleep. You might pass out in a field or something and get eaten by a giant rabbit.
"Very funny Voice."
I'm seriously. Go tell Falon or Pibe or somebody, I don't care who. I'm worried about you.
The pressure on her mind would have suggested otherwise. However, Mointz was just too tired to argue. Instead, she continued to rest against the tree, feeling the breeze as it blew by. She was starting to drift off again, into one of her mini-naps.
The next time she opened her eyes, the sky was a little lighter. However, a shadow had fallen across her lap, stretching across the hill. Her heart began to beat wildly, and she tried to grab for a weapon she knew wasn't there.
"It's a little late for that." Falon's voice filled her ears and caused her to look up. The village leader was the generator of the shadow, and he frowned as he stood there, holding the hood to his cloak to ward off the wind. The hood was wet, as was the rest of his clothes. So were hers, for that matter. It looked as though she had gone swimming, actually.
Oh, now you wake up! I've been trying to get you for the last ten minutes to tell you that you fell asleep in the rain!
Mointz shuddered as she rose to her feet, water dripping off her cloak. In the time she had taken to doze off, a steady rain had set in. If she had to guess, it was some time in the early morning, well within the time people would have started waking up.
No doubt her guardian had come looking for her when he hadn't seen her in their shared living room or asleep in her bed. He didn't look too pleased to have found her under the tree, but he didn't say anything about it as they started home down the slopes that were slowly turning to mud.
Thanks to his leg and her knees, it was a slow pace through the soupy roads. By the time they had reached the entrance to the village, both were sopping wet and protected only by their cloaks. At least navigating those roads were a little easier, and getting back home was a far quicker process.
The village leader got the fire going as soon as they entered the house and hung their wet clothes up by the door. The girl made a beeline for her room in order to change, dripping water as she went.
However, before she could get there, she was stopped. Her vision was suddenly blocked by the coarse fabric of a towel. Blinking, she looked up and saw Falon shaking his head as he too began to towel off.
"You don't want to get sick this early." Was all he said as he wiped off his face and neck with his towel. The mark on his face was still as fresh as the day he had made it, but thin lines were started to form around his eyes. How she hadn't noticed them before, Mointz had no clue.
"Thanks." The girl frowned as she dried off her hair, then the rest of her face. She felt her mark through the material of the towel, and frowned as her thumb rubbed across it. Even after two years, it still felt raised. Maybe it always would; she hadn't exactly gotten around to asking anyone about it the last time it had been brought up. There had been other things on her mind, such as staying alive and getting her broken body to work.
Drying off the rest of her body was done in silence, and she soon retreated to her room in order to change into dry clothes. The wet ones were left on her floor in a heap, and the new ones were tossed on just as quickly.
I think you're getting taller, kid.
"I really wish you wouldn't look when I changed." Mointz frowned as she tied her headband into her hair. It was finally getting long enough to brush into her eyes, so she used it now to keep her pitiful field of vision clear.
I can notice that with your clothes on, you know. Might want to consider making a new skirt or something, you're going to be outgrowing it soon.
It had felt a little tighter when she had pulled it on, but she had ignored it. Whether that was because of her height or some growth in her hips, the girl wasn't sure. It cheered her to think the paste she applied was working, but it still felt a little too soon.
Then again, she hadn't had much time to think about that either, so an exact timeline was rather up in the air.
Feel a little better now that you're changed? I think you wore those three days straight.
"I did not. I-" Mointz frowned as she processed the details. Somehow, it had slipped her mind that she had forgotten to change her clothes for almost half a week. Other things had been on her mind, or maybe she just hadn't cared. "Ok, maybe it was three days."
And before that, it was four. You really need to remember to do that more often, don't want to start smelling bad.
She shook her head, sighing. "Right, that would be bad. Pibe has to get pretty close to me and all."
I meant more for me and Falon, but sure. Give pity to the healer.
"You don't smell things."
No, but I can pretend to be offended so you pity me a little. Did it work?
Mointz rolled her eyes as she picked up her wet clothes and deposited them in the hamper for washing later. Once she was done, she headed back out to the main part of the house. Almost immediately, the smell of cooking food met her nose and her mouth began to water.
Falon was at the stove, watching as the batter he had prepared while she was changing turned into hot cakes. A jar was at his side, filled with an amber syrup that dripped off the lip. Just the sight of it made her weak in the knees, which is probably why he smiled a little when he turned around.
"I found a little honey left over from last summer. Needed to use a few eggs up, so I figured why not make honey cakes for breakfast." He flipped one, and the sizzling sound filled the house. "Don't tell Pibe when you see her today."
"She won't hear a word from me." Mointz was already limping about the living room, setting down plates for breakfast. Even with the rain outside, she was starting to feel a little better. Maybe it was the dry clothes.
Either way, at least she had a nice breakfast to chase away last night's dreams. Whether or not Falon knew didn't really cross her mind. Most likely, he probably did. The fact he didn't make a big deal out of it helped.
So, they settled into their morning routine. Neither said much, but it was enough to get the day started.