Of Blood and Bone – Nora Roberts

They said a virus ended the world. But it was magick, black as moonless midnight. The virus was its weapon, a barrage of arrows winging, silenced bullets striking, a jagged blade slicing. And yet the innocent—the touch of a hand, a mother’s good-night kiss—spread the Doom, bringing sudden, painful, ugly death to billions. Many who survived that first shocking strike died by their own hand or by another’s as the thorny vines of madness, grief, and fear strangled the world. Still others, unable to find shelter, food, clean water, medications, simply withered and died waiting for help and hope that never came. The spine of technology cracked, bringing the dark, the silence. Governments toppled from their perches of power. The Doom gave no quarter to democracy, to dictators, to parliaments or kingdoms. It fed on presidents and peasants with equal greed. Out of the dark, lights dimmed for millennia flickered and woke. The rise of magicks, white and black, sprang from the chaos. Awakened powers offered a choice between good and evil, light and dark. Some would always choose the dark. Uncannys shared what was left of the world with man.

And those—man and magickals—who embraced the dark struck, turning great cities into rubble, hunting those who hid from them or fought against them to destroy, to enslave, to bask in blood even as bodies littered the ground. Panicked governments ordered their militaries to sweep up survivors, to “contain” Uncannys. So a child who had discovered her wings might find herself restrained on a table in a lab, in the name of science. Madmen claimed God in their vicious righteousness, stirring fear and hate to build their own armies to purge what was “other.” Magick, they preached, came from the devil’s hand, and any who possessed it were demons to be sent back to hell. Raiders cruised the ruined cities, the highways, and the back roads to burn and kill because they enjoyed it. Man would always find ways to wreak cruelty on man. In a world so broken, who would stop them? There were murmurs in the light, rumblings in the dark, that reached the ears of men—of a warrior to come. She, daughter of the Tuatha de Danann, would remain hidden until she took up her sword and shield. Until she, The One, led light against the dark.

But months became years, and the world remained broken. Hunts and raids and sweeps continued. Some hid, skittering out at night to scavenge or steal enough to survive another day. Some chose to take to the roads in an endless migration to nowhere. Others took to the woods to hunt, to the fields to plant. Some formed communities that ebbed and flowed as they struggled to live in a world where a handful of salt was more precious than gold. And some, like those who found and formed New Hope, rebuilt. When the world ended, Arlys Reid had reported it from the New York anchor desk she’d inherited. She’d watched the city burn around her, and in the end had chosen to tell the truth to all who could still hear her and escape. She’d seen death up close, had killed to survive.

She’d seen the nightmares and the wonders. She, along with a handful of people, including three infants, found the deserted rural town they had christened New Hope. And there they made their stand. Now, in Year Four, New Hope was home to more than three hundred, had a mayor and town council, a police force, two schools—one for magickal training and education—a community garden and kitchen, two farms, one with a mill for flour and grain, a medical clinic—with a small dentistry— a library, an armory, and a militia. They had doctors, healers, herbalists, weavers, sewing circles, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, cooks. Some of them had made their living on those skills in the old world. Most studied and learned them in the new. They had armed security posted around the clock. And though it remained on a volunteer basis, most all residents participated in combat and weapons training. The New Hope Massacre, in their first year, remained a raw scar on their hearts and minds.

That scar, and the graves of the dead, led to the forming of the militia and to the rescue parties who risked their lives to save others. Arlys stood on the sidewalk, looking at New Hope, and saw why it mattered. Why all of it mattered. More than surviving, as it had been for those first horrible months, more even than building, as it had been for the months that followed. It was living, and it was, like the town, hope. It mattered, she thought now, that Laurel—elf—came out to sweep the porch of the building where she lived on a cool spring morning. Up the street, Bill Anderson polished the glass on his shop window, and inside the shelves held dozens and dozens of useful things for easy bartering. Fred, the young intern who’d faced the horrors of the underground out of New York with Arlys, would be busy in the community garden. Fred, with her magick wings and endless optimism, lived every day with hope. Rachel—doctor and good, good friend—stepped out to open the doors of the clinic and wave.

“Where’s the baby?” Arlys called out. “Sleeping—unless Jonah’s picked him up again when my back was turned. The man’s bedazzled.” “As a daddy should be. Isn’t today your six-week checkup, Doc? Big day for you.” “This doctor’s already given her patient the all clear, but Ray’s going to formalize it. Big day for you, too. How do you feel?” “Great. Excited. A little nervous.

” “I’ll be tuning in—and I want to see you in here when you’re done.” “I’ll be there.” As she spoke, Arlys laid a hand on the mountain of her belly. “This baby’s got to be about cooked. Much longer, I won’t even be able to waddle.” “We’ll check it out. Good morning, Clarice,” Rachel said as the first patient of the day came up the walk. “Come right on in. Good luck, Arlys. We’ll be listening.

” Arlys started to waddle—really, what other word was there—and stopped when she heard her name called. She waited for Will Anderson—her childhood neighbor, current town deputy, and, as it turned out, the love of her life. He laid a hand over hers on her belly, kissed her. “Walk you to work?” “Sure.” He linked fingers with her as they walked to where he’d lived during his first months in the community. “Okay with you if I hang around and watch?” “If you want, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take to set up. Chuck’s optimistic, but—” “If Chuck says we can do this, we can.” As her belly pinged with nerves, she let out a breath. “I’ve got to go with you there.” Chuck had been her primary source during the Doom, a hacker and IT genius who now ruled over what technology they had.

In the basement, of course. The man was a confirmed basement dweller. “I want to see you at work,” Will added. “What do you call what I do at home with the New Hope Bulletin?” “Work, and a boon to the community. But we’re talking live broadcast, baby. It’s what you’re meant to do.” “I know some people are worried about the risk, about drawing attention here. The wrong kind of attention.” “It’s worth it. And Chuck not only knows what he’s doing, but we’ll have the magickal shields going.

If you can reach one person out there, you can reach a hundred. If you can reach a hundred, who knows. A lot of people still don’t know what the hell’s going on, where to get help, supplies, medicine. This matters, Arlys.” It mattered, a great deal to her, when he risked his life on a rescue. “I was just thinking about what matters.” She paused outside the house, turned to him. “You’re top of the list.” They circled around to the back of the house to the basement door. Inside, what had been a large family room now stood as a computer geek’s wet dream—if he dreamed of cobbling together components, cables, hard drives, motherboards, gutting ancient computers, reconfiguring desktops and laptops, hanging various screens.

She figured Chuck did. He sat at one of the keyboards in a hoodie and cargo pants, a backward ball cap on hair recently bleached white courtesy of the community beautician. He’d gone bright red on his pointed little beard. In the theme of bright red, Fred’s curls bounced as she popped up from where she’d been sitting with three four-year-olds and an array of toys. “Here’s the talent! I’m production manager, gofer, and assistant camera.” “I thought I was the gofer.” Katie, mother of three, kept an eye on them from the arm of the sagging sofa Arlys knew Chuck often slept on. “Co-gofer, and supervisor of the power boosters.” Katie looked at her twins, Duncan and Antonia. “They’re excited.

I just hope they—and everybody —know what we’re doing.” “We make it go for Arlys and Chuck,” Duncan said, grinning at his mom. “Me and Tonia.” “Push!” Tonia giggled, lifting a hand. Duncan pressed his palm against hers. Light glowed. “Not yet.” Hannah, blond and rosy against the twins’ dark hair, got up. She patted her mother’s leg, as if in comfort, then walked to Arlys. “When’s the baby come out?” “Soon.

I hope.” “Can I watch?” “Ah …” On a laugh, Katie rose to swing Hannah up and kiss her. “She probably would.” “I don’t know about that, kiddo.” Chuck swiveled around in his chair. “But you’re about to watch history, and the debut of New Hope Broadcasting.” “We’re up?” He grinned at Arlys, gave her a finger salute. “We’re up. Definitely up with some help from our boosters.” The twins jumped up, eyes alight.

“Not yet, not yet.” This time Arlys held them off. “I need to look over my notes, and … things. I need a few minutes.” “We’re not going anywhere,” Chuck told her. “Okay, um, just give me a few.” Rattled when she hadn’t expected to be, she walked back outside with her folder of notes. Fred walked out behind her. “You shouldn’t be nervous.” “Oh Jesus, Fred.

” “I mean it. You’re so good at it. You were always good at it.” “I got the desk in New York because everybody died.” “You got the desk when you did because of that,” Fred corrected. “You’d have gotten it anyway, later, but anyway.” Stepping closer, Fred put her hands on Arlys’s shoulders. “Do you remember what you did that last day?” “I still have nightmares about it.” “What you did,” Fred continued, “when Bob held a gun on you, on live TV. You held on.

And what you did when he killed himself right there, right there sitting next to you? You held on, and more. You looked straight into the camera and you told the truth. You did it without notes, without the teleprompter. Because it’s what you do. You tell people the truth. That’s what you’re going to do now.” “I don’t know why I’m so nervous about this.” “Maybe hormones?” Rubbing her belly, Arlys laughed. “Maybe. Hemorrhoids, heartburn, and hormones.

Having a baby’s an adventure.” “I can’t wait to have my adventures.” On a sigh, Fred looked over the back garden. “I want a zillion babies.” Arlys hoped she’d get through having this one—and soon. But right now, she had a job to do. “Okay. Okay. How do I look?” “Amazing. But today, I’m also your makeup artist.

I’m going to powder you for the camera and do your lipstick, then you’re going to be great.” “I love you, Fred. I really do.” “Aw. I love you back, I really do.” She let Fred powder and paint, did a few tongue twisters, sipped some water, did some yoga breathing. When she came back in from the bathroom, she saw her father-in-law on the sofa surrounded by the children. He had a way of drawing them. “Bill, who’s minding the store?” “Closed it for an hour. I want to see my girl live and in person.

Your folks would be proud of you. Your mom, dad, Theo, they’d be proud.” “Consider this your anchor desk.” Chuck tapped a chair in front of one of his many tables. “You’re going to face this camera. I’ve got the angle. What we’re doing here, boys and girls, is a fu—a freaking simulcast. We got the ham radio, the live-streaming, and the cable TV going. I’ll be monitoring you and doing what I do over there. But pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

It’s your show, Arlys.” “All right.” She sat, adjusted. Opening her folder, she took out the photo of her last Christmas with her family. She propped it against a keyboard. “I’m ready when you are.” “Fred’s going to give you the countdown. Okay, kids, let’s make it boom.” “Don’t say ‘boom’!” Katie threw up her hands. “You have no idea.

” “We make it go.” Tonia wiggled her butt in delight. “We make it push, Duncan.” “Push.” He grinned at his sister, they linked hands. Light shimmered through their fingers. “That’s what I’m talking about!” Chuck dashed from monitor to monitor, adjusted, let out a whoop. “That’s what I’m saying. We’re a go, and I mean go.” “Arlys.

” Fred moved behind the camera. “In five, four …” She used her fingers to finish the countdown, and with a brilliant smile swept the last one forward. “Good morning, this is Arlys Reid. I don’t know how many can hear me, or see me, but if you’re receiving this, pass the word. We’ll continue to broadcast as often as possible, to give you information, to give you truth, to report. To let you know, wherever you are, you’re not alone.” She took another breath, pressed her hands to her belly. “Four years after the Doom, sources confirm Washington, D.C., remains unstable.

Martial law remains in effect through the metropolitan area while gangs known as Raiders and the Dark Uncanny continue to attack. Resistance forces broke through security at a containment center in Arlington, Virginia. According to eyewitness accounts, more than thirty people were liberated.” She spoke for forty-two minutes. Reporting of the bombings in Houston, the Purity Warrior attack on a community in Greenbelt, Maryland, fires set, homes raided. But she ended with stories of humanity, courage, and kindness. The mobile medical clinic that used wagons and horses to reach remote camps, shelters for the displaced, rescues, and food banks. “Stay safe,” she said, “but remember, it isn’t enough to stay safe. Live, work, gather together. If you have a story, if you have news, if you’re searching for a loved one and can get word to me, I’ll report it.

You’re not alone. This is Arlys Reid for New Hope Broadcasting.” “And we’re clear.” Chuck stood up, pumped his fists. “Fucking A.” “Fucking A,” Duncan echoed. “Oops.” Roaring with laughter as Katie just closed her eyes, Chuck jumped over to Duncan and Tonia, held out his fist. “Hey, totally awesome, kids. Fist bump.

Come on! Fist bump.” Their heads tipped together as they both lifted their tiny fists, knocked them against his. His sparked. “Whoa!” He danced around a little, blowing on his knuckles. “Major power surge. I love it.” Fred blinked at tears. “It was you-know-what A, and awesome.” Will bent over, kissed the top of Arlys’s head. “You stagger me,” he told her.

“It felt … right. Once I got over the hump, it just felt right. How long was I on?” “Forty-two awesome minutes.” “Forty-two.” She swiveled in her chair. “I shouldn’t have kept the twins at it so long. I’m so sorry, Katie, I just lost track.” “They were fine. I kept track,” Katie assured her. “They’re going to need a nice long nap.

” She glanced toward Hannah, curled up and sleeping in Bill’s lap. “Like their sister. You look like you could use one. That had to take a lot out of you. You look a little pale.” “Actually, I think about five minutes in, I think I started having contractions. Maybe actually before that. I thought it was nerves.” “You—what? Now?” Arlys gripped Will’s hand. “I’m pretty sure we should go see Rachel.

And I think it’s—Okay!” She braced one hand on the table, and squeezed Will’s hand—bone against bone—with the other. “Breathe,” Katie ordered, hurrying over to lay a hand on Arlys’s rock-hard belly, and began to rub in circles. “Breathe through it—you took the classes.” “Classes my ass. It doesn’t hurt like this in classes.” “Breathe through it,” Katie said again, calmly. “You just did the first New Hope simulcast while in labor. You can breathe through a contraction.” “It’s easing off. It’s easing.

” “Thank you, Jesus,” Will muttered and flexed his aching fingers. “Ow.” “Believe me, that’s not even close to ow.” Arlys blew out a strong breath. “I really want Rachel.” “Me, too.” Will levered her up. “Let’s take it slow though. Dad?” “I’m having a grandchild.” Katie lifted Hannah from his lap.

“Go with them.” “I’m having a grandchild,” Bill repeated. “Fred?” Arlys looked back. “Aren’t you coming?” “Really? I can? Oh, oh boy! I’ll run over and tell Rachel. Oh boy! Chuck.” “Oh, no, thanks. I’ll pass. No offense, Arlys, but, uh-uh.” “None taken.” “We’re having a baby!” Fred spread her wings and flew out the basement door.

Duncan walked to the door to watch them all go. “He wants to come out.” Katie shifted Hannah. “He?” “Uh-huh.” Tonia walked over to stay with Duncan. “What’s he doing in there?” “That’s another story,” Katie told her. “Come on, kids, time to go home. Good work, Chuck.” “Best job ever.” Over the next eight hours Arlys learned a number of things.

The first, and most urgent for several of those, was that contractions got a lot harder and lasted a hell of a lot longer as labor progressed. She learned, not with any surprise, that Fred was a cheerful and tireless co-coach. And Will—no surprise, either—was a rock. She got reports—a fine distraction—that her broadcast had reached at least the twenty miles out where Kim and Poe had traveled with a laptop on battery. She sure as fuck learned why they called it labor. At one point she dissolved into tears and had Will wrapping his arms around her. “It’s almost over, baby. It’s almost over.” “Not that, not that. Lana.

I thought of Lana. Oh God, Will, oh God, to have to do this alone. Without Max, without Rachel, without us. To be alone and doing this.” “I don’t believe she was alone.” Fred stroked a hand down Arlys’s arm. “I really, really don’t. On the night—I could feel it. A lot of us could. The birth of The One.

She wasn’t alone, Arlys. I know it.” “Promise?” “Cross my heart.” “Okay. Okay.” When Will brushed her tears away, she managed a smile. “Almost over?” “He’s not wrong. Time to push,” Rachel told her. “Will, support her back. Next contraction, push.

Let’s get this baby into the world.” She pushed, panted, pushed, panted, and eight hours after she made broadcast history, Arlys brought her son into the world that was. She learned something more. Love could come like a bolt of light. “Look at him! Look at him.” Exhaustion fell away in stupefied love as the baby cried and wiggled in her arms. “Oh, Will, look at him.” “He’s beautiful, you’re beautiful. God, I love you.” Stepping back, Rachel rolled her aching shoulders.

“Will, do you want to cut the cord?” “I …” He took the scissors from Rachel, then turned to his father, saw the tears on his cheeks. He’d lost grandchildren in the Doom. A daughter, a wife, babies. “I think Granddad should. How about it?” Bill swiped fingers under his glasses. “I’m honored. I’m a grandfather.” As he cut the cord, Fred swept the room with rainbows. “I’m an aunt, right? An honorary aunt.” “Yes, you are.

” Arlys couldn’t take her eyes off the baby. “You, Rachel, Katie. The New Hope originals.” “His color’s excellent.” Rachel took a good visual study. “I’m going to need to take my nephew in a minute. Clean him up for you, weigh and measure him.” “In a minute. Hello, Theo.” Arlys pressed a kiss to the baby’s brow.

“Theo William Anderson. We’re going to make the world a better place for you. We’re going to do all we can do to make it a better place. I swear it.” She traced Theo’s face with her finger—so tiny, so sweet, so hers. This is life, she thought. This is hope. This is the reason for both. She would work and fight every day to keep the promise she made to her son. Holding him close, she thought again of Lana, of the child Lana had carried.

Of The One who was promised.

.

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