NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.
Sangre Mesa ~ Coldwater, N.M.
Sierra had screamed for the better end of an hour before she finally wore herself out and collapsed, sobbing, against the massive stone that had engulfed her daughter. Her fists were covered in blood, and Holly would be surprised if she hadn’t broken several bones.
Sierra had lapsed into a fitful sleep when Holly felt the earth shudder again. She woke with a start, and Holly pulled her back from the stone just in time for it to tip upward, groaning. A dense black fog rolled out of the cave, surrounding Holly and Sierra and completely obscuring their vision for several seconds. It seemed to dissipate in front of the cave, collecting into a cloud high above. With slow, graceful movements, it settled into the shape of a raven and began flying in enormous concentric arcs above their heads, descending as it spiraled inward.
Down it flew, lower and lower, until it glided to a stop on the branch of a pinon next to Sierra.
The massive bird, almost but not quite corporeal, leaned forward and plucked the elastic off of Sierra’s braid. It began gently unraveling the braid, running its beak over the individual locks in a gesture Holly had come to recognize as an avian attempt to provide comfort.
Sierra lifted her head and looked at the bird. Holly watched as their eyes met, and the mist-raven shifted into the shape of a young woman. Its legs lengthened, and as its toes touched the ground, it shook itself, clearing the mist away completely as it solidified into the shape of Morgan herself, dressed in an oversized cloak covered in black feathers.
Or something like Morgan, anyway. The set of her jaw was a little firmer and her eyes much older than they had been earlier in the day. Holly dropped to one knee and bowed her head. “Great Queen.”
“Oh, stop,” Morgan huffed. “I’m still me. I just … know some things.” She turned away, blinking hard. “I know a lot of things.” She looked back at Holly. “I know that thing didn’t just murder my daddy. It murdered my husband and my baby.” Tears slipped down her cheeks. “It murdered my baby.”
Sierra lunged forward, and the girl collapsed, sobbing, into her arms. Morgan might have been the reincarnation of a 2,000-year-old battle goddess, but right now, she needed her mother. Holly bit back tears of her own as she watched this powerful being wailing into her mother’s shoulder as she came to terms with two millennia of memories.
Holly moved back, resting on a boulder next to the dragon’s head as she waited for Morgan’s anguish to subside enough for her to speak again. Goddess or not, she was a sweet kid, and this was too much to ask a child to bear. It was bad enough that she’d had to endure the loss of her father. Reliving the loss of an infant 400 years ago, the wound as fresh as if it had been inflicted today, was a bridge too far. No amount of power could make up for the death of a child. This time, Morgan hadn’t had any warning. Her gift wouldn’t help her if the death she mourned had occurred four centuries ago.
After an interval that might have been ten minutes or ten hours, Morgan’s tears subsided, and she stood, wiping at her cheeks.
“Sorry,” she said, sniffing. “I didn’t mean to scare everybody. If I’d known the cave was going to close, I would have warned you.” She looked at her mother. “Ironic, isn’t it? You thought you’d lost a child when I went into the cave. Turns out I was the one who lost a child when I went into the cave.” She gave Sierra a lopsided smile.
Sierra smiled back, but her eyes were sad. “I hate this for you, Morgan. I don’t know how to make it better. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next to help you.”
“I’m not sure there’s anything you can do,” Morgan said. “I survived this once. I’ll survive it again.” She stepped back, looking at Holly. “That monster isn’t going to survive this time. I’ll make sure of that.”
Holly nodded. “You know what it is, then?”
“I know what it is.” Morgan’s eyes were steely. “I know what it is, and I’m pretty sure I know how to destroy it.”