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.

The ground rumbled as if in agreement. Morgan thought for a moment that the dragon was expressing her approval of the creature’s destruction, but Dr. Kavanaugh drew her attention to the pool, taking away that notion. “Look.” She pointed at the water. It was bubbling and churning.

“Oh, what fresh hell is this?” 

A familiar face surfaced. Before Morgan’s eyes, a mountain of a man emerged from the pond.

“Mr. Cole!”

The white-haired giant favored Morgan with a warm smile. “Better known as Fionn Mac Cumhaill. At your service, Great Queen.” He bowed deeply. His movement was so graceful, and his manner was so charming, Morgan forgot to dismiss his deference as unnecessary. “You remembered yourself, I see — and not a minute too soon. I think this might be the most impressive shapeshifting you’ve ever done.”

Morgan blushed. “Thank you,” she said. “I didn’t really set out to impress anybody, though. I just became what was needed in the moment.”

“And that, your Highness, is why great men worship you. Because you have the heart of a warrior.”

“I appreciate it, but really: I’m just a girl. Not a goddess. You guys need to stop making me more than I am. I’m just a bean sidhe who can do a few cool party tricks.”

Mac Cumhaill laughed, a hearty, boisterous sound that made everyone within earshot laugh with him. “Those are certainly cool party tricks, Lass,” he agreed. 

A moment later, his face grew serious. “Everyone in this world owes you a great debt of gratitude, Queen. You’ve eliminated an existential threat, and most of them will never even know it. But your work is just beginning.”

Morgan shrank back, feeling more like a tired girl than a warrior queen. “What do you mean? I killed the shapeshifter. I destroyed its body. It can’t come back.” She hesitated. “It can’t, can it?”

Mac Cumhaill shook his head. “No. It can’t. But its children can. Its allies can. And it has both.” He looked Morgan in the eye. “The hybrid has horrific children and terrible allies. It was plotting a war against humanity. Its supporters won’t stop just because their leader is gone.”

Morgan wanted to cry. She’d just been to hell and back, and she was exhausted. She’d done her share. It was somebody else’s turn. “Why? What do they want?”

Mac Cumhaill stared into the middle distance. “They want to come back.” He returned his gaze to Morgan. “There are creatures — Unseelie fae, hybrids, changelings, and the like — that are outcasts both here and in the Otherworld. Like humans, we have our fringe groups and our conspiracy theorists, and these are both. They believe that if the Tuatha De Danann come back to earth again, they can take control of the Otherworld and impose their own social order. They’re hoping that by starting a war with humans, they can motivate the Tuatha to return.” 

“So what am I supposed to do about that? I’m just a kid! I don’t know anything about these creatures except what I stumbled across in my research.”

“And yet, you destroyed the shapeshifter — something no one in two thousand years has managed.” Mac Cumhaill knelt in front of Morgan and took her chin in his enormous hand. “Like it or not, little one, you are the Morrígan. You have a responsibility to protect your people. It’s your destiny, just as it is mine.” He smiled at Morgan, bowed again, and sank from view. 

Morgan looked at the faces around her. Two years ago, she’d wished for just one ally who knew she wasn’t a monster. Today, she had eight of them. 

She squared her shoulders and met Dr. Kavanaugh’s eyes. If she had to face whatever mess the recently departed shapeshifter had been plotting, at least she wouldn’t have to do it alone.

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