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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
Turning to Morio, I motioned for him to lean close to me. As soon as he had, I shouted over the wind. “There’s a turnoff ahead. We’re heading there. Tell the others to be ready. We don’t know what will be in there.” And he, in turn, began to pass the information on. As soon as everybody had their weapons ready, Morio gave me the thumbs-up and I turned back to Morgaine.
“We’re ready to go.”
She began to move. As we closed in on the turnoff, a shiver raced up my spine. What if there was something waiting in there? Would Morgaine be able to get out of the way in time? I was second in line and I had to be prepared to help her should anything come out swinging.
I readied the staff. As I gripped it tightly, I sensed something emanating from it. A sentience, of some sort. I jerked, but managed to keep my footing. I wanted to explore the feeling further but Morgaine’s movements caught my attention again. I didn’t have time to figure out what had just happened—I had to be on my guard. I hurried to catch up with her.
The turnoff was just wide enough so that I could swing in by her side. She gave me a hesitant smile from beneath the massive hood of her cloak, and we stepped into what I realized was an actual cavern.
Instantly, the wind died, rushing down through the path rather than into the cave. I let out a long sigh, realizing how tense the weather had been making me, but I didn’t let myself relax—not till we knew we were safe.
The walls and ceiling of the cave were covered with a myriad of crystals—long spikes of quartz and amethyst and citrine. And from within those spikes, a faint light sparkled, so that the entire cave was lit up with a soft glow reminding me of Christmas lights.
“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, not even realizing I was speaking aloud.
But Morgaine nodded. “The Merlin was locked within a crystal cavern, much like Aeval. Do you know the reason for that?”
I shook my head. “No. Why?”
“Because the crystals amplified the spells, making it that much harder for them to escape. There was always the fear that their powers were strong enough for them to break the spells and free themselves. And there is some truth to that—the Fae Queen and the Merlin—well, the great Fae Lords may have been powerful but they only won the war by enslaving the wyrms and creatures of the earth to their side. They would not have stood a chance against their enemies if they had gone up against them on their own. Aeval is probably the most powerful sorceress who has ever lived here on Earthside, eclipsed only by the Merlin, and only by the fact that she is not pledged to the Moon Mother, while he is backed by the power of the Hunter.”
I pondered this thought. “Aeval is more powerful than Titania, then?”
“The Merlin, if he and Aeval joined forces . . . ”
“Trust me,” Morgaine said. “There was good reason the Great Fae Lords feared Aeval, Titania, and the Merlin. Their powers combined? An almost unstoppable force.” She laughed, and this time, I sensed no bitterness, but an actual joy. “I wish they had been more arrogant and not realized the strength of their adversaries. It would have made things so much simpler.” She sounded nostalgic, almost wistful, but then stopped.
Pointing to one corner, she said, “Look—others have been here.”
A pile of scattered bones were lying there. They looked weathered and old, like they’d been there well over a hundred years. There were three skulls that we could see, so there had been at least three victims.
I knelt by the bones. Too much time had gone by to tell why they had died—at least without a forensics team in tow.
“Either they took shelter from a storm and were trapped, or perhaps, something in the cave killed them. It’s impossible to tell—the skeletons were torn to pieces years ago.” One way or another, it was a warning.
The others were in the cave by now. As soon as we secured the immediate area, we could rest. The cavern went so far back that we stopped at an area where the crystals formed a line across the floor. The row of spikes looked like a border.
Not wanting to test what might be on the other side, we decided that we’d gone far enough for the moment. While we rested, we could keep watch on the boundary line.
We sorted through our food supplies, and combined all our reserves. We had enough food for two days for everyone if we rationed it out. We wouldn’t go hungry, but there were no second helpings, either.
Water was running low, but we could gather snow from the path outside and melt it. Delilah and Tanne brought in a big mound of snow on one of the plastic tarps, and we spread it out, trying to warm it so it would melt and we could siphon it off into the bottles. After about fifteen minutes, we’d managed to fill up seven of the empty containers and decided to give it a rest.
I pulled out my blanket and wrapped it around me, trying to warm up. “So, where to do we go from here? Is this the entrance you were looking for?”
Morgaine nodded. “I think so. And I believe that line of crystals is masking an illusion. What looks like empty cavern will disappear, if my information is correct.”
“What will show in its place?” Tanne asked, stretching out his long legs.
She shrugged. “That, my friend, I do not know. I suppose we shall find out, don’t you? But first, we rest for a few hours. We used up a lot of energy and we should sleep for a while. Who will take first watch? We can’t take any chances. There are guards and watchers, and traps here. They did not imprison the Merlin just to leave his prison open for anybody to stumble over.”
The thought of sleep, after the long, chill march, sounded divine. I just wished we could light a fire. But again, advertising our presence wasn’t in our best interests. At least we were out of the elements, and while it was still cold, the wind wasn’t eating into our bones.
We paired off in watches of two hours each. A good six hours of sleep would do us all a world of good, and if we set four posts, that meant everybody would have time to recharge. Unfortunately, because of the animosity between our two groups, I ended up being paired with Mordred for third watch. As long as I could keep him out of arm’s reach, I should be okay. I trusted Bran more than Mordred. Bran was openly hostile; Mordred was a little weasel.
Morgaine and Tanne took the first watch, Bran and Delilah the second. When Delilah woke me up, she told me that Bran hadn’t said a single word during the watch. Instead, he’d fixed his stare on the line of crystals and never wavered, seeming to sink into a deep meditation with his eyes open.
“Which was just fine with me. If Mordred lays a hand on you, you scream bloody murder. You hear me?” She arched an eyebrow to let me know she was serious.
I nodded. “You got it. I doubt he’ll cause trouble, given the situation, but you never know. I hope he’ll just pass out and leave me to keep watch on my own. I can handle that. Four hours of sleep helped a lot, though I’m looking forward to the last two. Pray nothing happens before we’re all awake and into the depths of the cavern.”
As she settled down under her blanket and pulled it tightly around her, I peeked outside. The storm was still blowing and the snow was piling up, but the wind still channeled through the pass rather than into the cave. Unless Beira returned in a fury, it shouldn’t do more than slow us down when we made the return trip home, which I hoped would be tomorrow at some point.
Mordred was perched on a rock, his blanket around his shoulders. I shook my own blanket out, then wrapped it around me snuggly, and sat near Delilah and Morio, watching the line of crystals. I did my best not to catch Mordred’s attention. The last thing I wanted to do was invite conversation.
From this angle, the crystals along the floor looked like creatures—like scorpions, actually. The light within them flickered, glowing softly against the cavern floor. They were about four feet long and thirty inches tall, and I found myself entranced by the shimmer radiating off of them. Was this what Bran had been watching? Had he, too, been magnetized by their sparkling prisms?
Ten minutes into our watch, Delilah and Bran both had fallen asleep. I really didn’t relish two hours spent in my thoughts. The more I settled into them, the harder it was to dig my way out. Only movement could bring me out of the depths—sex, or dancing. Magic and music helped, too.
I had a pocket watch with me to keep time. I couldn’t wear Earthside watches. Something about the magical energy I ran stopped them. Actually, I knew several FBHs who had the same problem and almost all of them were either psychic, or actively worked with magic. Lindsey Cartridge, the director of the Green Goddess Women’s Shelter, was one of them. She also was High Priestess of an ES neo-pagan coven. The magic of full-blooded humans was far different from my own, but it had its own power and beauty, and when practiced by those who had perfected their craft, it could be surprisingly strong.
“So, what do you think we’ll find?” Mordred’s question was soft enough not to wake the others, but clear enough to intrude into my thoughts.
I frowned, wandering if I could get away with pretending I hadn’t heard him, but finally decided that would just lead to an altercation. And I wasn’t in the mood to rumble.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I hope we find the Merlin.” After a pause, I couldn’t help but add, “I think.”
The look on his face told me he was on the same page. He narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, as if thinking. “You know, I wonder if the powers that be realize just how dangerous the Merlin might be. Who’s to say what the old boy might decide he wants to do when he’s woken up? He might very well decline to fight this wyrm. Or he might choose to fight on the side of Telazhar. If I had my way, I’d forget this and just prepare to battle it out when Yvarr breaks out of his prison.”
I stared at the crystals, thinking over what he had said. “Unfortunately, I have my orders. As does your aunt. We have no choice. We’re bound by our duty.”
“Didn’t the ES soldiers say that during the great wars?” Mordred turned a snarky grin on me and once again, I felt squirmy, in a bad way, like someone had just bathed me in slime. “But then, I suppose none of us have any choice. My aunt saved my father—don’t look surprised. I know you know who he really is.”
“But he . . . doesn’t . . .”
“No, and I’m not going to tell him. Why shake him up? He’s happy enough to be with us, though I find it disturbing that he seems to have a crush on my aunt. She’s his sister, for the sake of the gods. But I know she wouldn’t act on it.”
His sister . . . So Morgaine was Arturo’s sister after all. That answered one question.
“She humors him. Consider it Alzheimer’s, brought on by the Nectar of Life.” He sighed, staring down at the floor then. “I love my father. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you very much. But never doubt that I love him, and I’d die to protect him. I almost did, once. And history vilified me and turned me into a traitor.”
I didn’t want to like him—didn’t want to feel sorry for him—but I could hear the pain in his voice. I could also hear the pride when he spoke of protecting his father, and I realized that it had to have been hard, spending century after century being looked on as a villain when you actually had been a hero.
I resisted my knee-jerk reaction. “I imagine it’s been hell. But your aunt believes in you, and it’s obvious your father is fond of you, even if he doesn’t remember who you are.” I tried to think of something else to say, but truth was, I had no clue what to talk about. I had no intention of getting into a discussion about the war. I didn’t know if Mordred knew about the spirit seals, and it wasn’t a good idea to dangle candy in front of someone with a sweet tooth.
“I’m sorry about your father’s death.” The words sounded forced, but they didn’t feel false. He glanced over at me. “At least I still have mine, even if he’s daft and lives in his own foggy world.”
And . . . back to reality. I suddenly felt tired.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, and huddled more tightly under my blanket. There wasn’t much else I could say. Our father had died when the palace in Elqaneve had been destroyed, buried under a pillar that fell on him. His remains sat at home, in an urn. We’d had to change our entire tradition of interring the dead given the battles raging back in Otherworld, and nothing felt settled.
The memories of trying to escape that night through the war-torn countryside, with bodies on every side and the smell of blood clogging my nose . . . it was still too close. I bit my lip, forcing the tears down. Most days, Delilah and I did okay. We’d both been through the storm that had torn the country apart. The sound of lightning still startled me, and flashes—images from that night—would suddenly take over my thoughts and send me into a panic. Delilah was suffering, too. PTSD, the FBHs called it.
I slowly began touching my thumbs to my index fingers, then middle fingers, then ring fingers, and lastly, my little fingers. Speeding up, I counted as I went, until my breathing softened and the upswell of panic subsided. Then, taking a deep breath, I held it to the count of five, and slowly exhaled. Shaking my head, I opened my eyes, to see Mordred staring at me, looking perplexed.
He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but then closed it and leaned back, staring at the entrance to the cavern. “I’ll watch that way. You watch the crystals. Good by you?”
Relieved that he wasn’t going to try to extend the conversation, I nodded and fell into a comfortable, if melancholy, silence. Time ticked on, and at last, the alarm on my pocket watch let out a little ring, and we woke Morio and Arturo to take over our watches. I settled down on the ground next to Delilah and Tanne, but then, sat up again.