(A bonus scene taking place after The Holler ends and before The River begins.)
Miathe woke to nothing. That wasn’t right. He woke to a blackness that was deeper than nothing, an all-encompassing void that was as disorienting as it was oppressive. He sat up-or at least he thought he did. In the dark it was hard to tell that he was moving at all, a strange permeating numb settling into his skin and dulling his senses until he imagined that he felt the void pushing on him.
Realization hit him like an arrow through the heart when he realized he shouldn’t be feeling anything at all. The last thing he remembered was the pain on the Misignwa’s face… the grief and anger in the guardian’s eyes as Mathew took his last breaths. Lifting a hand out in front of him -he hoped- Miathe flexed his fingers, barely able to feel the motion when every movement felt as if he were underwater. He understood his disjointed memories now—understood this place. Miathe was dead and this was the darkness all warriors must walk to find their resting ground. Though his heart leapt with joy, he could not help but grieve for the grudging companion he’d lost.
The Misignwa was the closest thing to a friend he’d had on his quest to avenge his sister and the loss was a gaping hole in his chest he hadn’t expected. The guardian had done little but curse at him for nearly 200 years, yet in his final moments the Misignwa had held him as a brother, promising… I will kill him for you and the Tribe will sing your death song proudly. Had they won?
“You succeeded, eninubaki. The demon is no more.”
The voice came from the nothing and Miathe spun, unable to fix its direction in the cavernous emptiness. “How do I know you speak the truth?” Miathe startled at the sound of his own voice and the laughter that answered echoed around him in a haunting cacophony.
“You have earned what you wanted most and still you question?” The voice tutted at him and Miathe bristled.
“Naithowai ahuk peh?!” Who are you? Miathe demanded. “What have I earned?” Turning to source the being who’d come into his death place, he tensed for an attack. He hated his blindness, unable to get his bearings to defend himself against an enemy he could not see.
“I am here to help.” The deep bass timbre fanned across Miathe’s shoulders and he whipped toward it, lashing out with fists that connected with…something.
Crimson light slowly filled the emptiness. Moroc’s grin looked predatory, his fangs glinting red in the light of his own power as he loomed over the fallen conduit, the fallen warrior’s fist clutched in Moroc’s massive hand.
Miathe’s eyes widened, jerking his hand back as he fell to his knees at the Great Wolf’s feet. “Forgive me Kiji M’weowa. I did not know.”
“There is much you don’t know, Miathe. As for my forgiveness, let’s say – how do the mortals put it? – you can make it up to me later. I have work for you.”
Miathe’s brow furrowed, daring to look up into the face of chaos itself. “My work is done, Kiji M’weowa. I will walk the warrior’s way to my sister. I will see Hurit.”
“You will. You have my word, but I need your help, yet. The pattern is changed, but it is not yet destroyed. As you were my sister’s eyes between Asanwa and the mortal world, so will you be my eyes between the mortals and the dead.”
Angered understanding shot through him like lightning and Miathe jumped to his feet, glaring up at the god whose faces spun in a blur of chagrined amusement. “I will never help you! Even if you brought me back to kill me a thousand times, I will not help you undo what the Creator has made!”
Moroc snarled, flashing wicked canines down at the raging warrior before righting himself with a roll of his massive shoulders. “I give passage to your spirit, that is the limit of my power in this. You will appear as you were, though without solid form—a death dream walking amongst man and bound to this darkness eternally. I cannot raise the dead, Miathe. If I could, we would not be here now.” There was a sadness coloring his voice, softening his growling to something that sounded almost… mournful. “Kokumthena has woven a web of lies. It is not destiny, eninubaki. It is disaster. If you do not believe me, maybe in here there is one you would believe.”
A breeze floated over Miathe’s skin, turning him away from Moroc and back into a darkness that was not quite so dark as it had been. The black softened, a glow rising from the empty depths to let him see that they were not alone. Milling spirits swirled and gathered, churning and bounding off one another in the void. One shone brighter than the others and he squinted to see it, the light surrounding the spirit brightening as it got closer. His eyes welling, Miathe ran toward his sister, catching Hurit up in arms that took on her gauzy aura.
“Hurit! You are avenged. You are avenged and we are together again.” Miathe frowned as he pulled back to look at her, her beautiful face dimmed in sadness.
“I would have you here as an old man, asawsah. Not the young warrior I remember.” Hurit’s voice was melodic even in its melancholy. “We are together,” she agreed, her doeish eyes liquid with shimmering tears. “And I will thank the Creator for that.”
Moroc growled behind them. “Tell him, kweewa. Tell him the truth of Kokumthena’s design.”
Hurit’s glow wavered with Moroc’s rising temper, his power fanning outward to send the gathering spirits scattering like frightened birds. She took her brother’s hands in hers, offering him a weak smile that Miathe hated seeing on her perfect face.
“The Creator has woven the pattern, Miathe. I have seen it, but it is flawed, as she is. I love her no less…perhaps more for all she has done and all she is yet doing. She needs our help, brother. As does Moroc. All is not as it seems.”
Miathe frowned, looking between his sister and the god still glowering at his back. “What do you mean? What has Kokumthena done?”
It was Moroc who answered. “She has defied her own pattern and dares to deny others the same. She has stolen our choices and made one of her own that will see us all destroyed.” Moroc’s faces spun in a whirlwind of features, pairs of eyes and fanged mouths passing by one another until they aligned for just a moment in the image of the Great Wolf’s true form. “She plays with our lives and calls it destiny, eninubaki. She does this while denying her own.”
Miathe was already shaking his head, luminous fingers trying to tug his sister away from the seething god beside them. “No. She would not. The blanket is as it was meant to be.”
“The blanket is as she made it, eninubaki. It unravels as she sees fit.”
Hurit tugged on his hand, turning Miathe back to face her. Her other hand dropped to her skirt, supple layers of buckskin parting as she fished at her belt, tugging a small pouch free. She let go of him and Miathe watched silently as his sister opened the little pouch and pulled a single thread from inside, the fiber lighting in a throbbing white glow.
“What is that?” Miathe asked, fearing he already knew the answer.
“It is my thread in the pattern of the blanket.”
“How do you know?” His voice dropped, disbelief and denial taking the strength from his voice.
“Because I watched as she cut it with her own hand.”
Miathe’s mind was reeling, his spirit in turmoil and it had taken Hurit’s repeated assurances to finally move him from his place among the ghosts beneath the mountain. Even that was grudging. He didn’t trust Moroc, no matter his sister’s insistence in the Great Wolf’s intentions. The god was chaos incarnate and the truth wasn’t in his nature unless it would wreak more havoc. Still, Kokumthena had kept things from all of them—that much was certainty. She’d lied to Miathe about Matchetehew, misled them all about the existence of the two Misignwa and she’d kept Weshemoneto’s imposter a secret from his people. People who had turned against one another for the sake of their Great Spirit and his pauwau mate.
So many lies. So much death. And if the Wolf and Hurit spoke truth, more would come.
Even knowing all of this would not have been enough to move him from his sister’s side now that they had been reunited. To serve Moroc went against everything he’d believed, but he’d agreed, his new allegiance pushing him into a battle Miathe thought he’d left when he’d taken his last breath. His beloved sister had been murdered by a demon wearing Weshemoneto’s skin, but Kokumthena herself had cut Hurit’s thread, serving a death sentence to her favorite of the Tribe’s loyal worshipers.
Pukachi had delivered the execution, but their mother Creator had ordered it and for all of Miathe’s obedience, his rage would not let him stand idly by in the place of honored warriors. He needed -no- he demanded an answer and even if it damned him to a non-existence outside the warrior’s path, he would have it. He just had no idea how.
Mottled, translucent wings spread wide, he soared above the treetops of the forest he’d died to protect, circling the deep valleys and pine-topped hills of the mountains rolling peaks. The world seemed so much brighter since he’d last seen it, the trees greener now and it gave him some faith in a purpose that he’d begun to doubt. Wright’s Holler lived because the demon had been defeated and the balance restored. If nothing else, Miathe had that right in his head and in his heart.
Now he had to focus on the job at hand, circling down through the dense canopy until he landed on a rocky outcropping of the mountain that overlooked a shallow bend in the river. The wind had changed, swirling his feathers with a haunting melody and he hopped on his perch, his head swiveling to find its source when he suddenly felt like he wasn’t alone. There was nothing. Only a gentle rustle of leaves on a current chilled with the coming fall. Letting out a shriek, he took his place as sentry, his eyes trained on the river’s rippling depths.
He didn’t know what Moroc expected him to see. The gate to Asanwa was closed, the rush of water undisturbed and this was a colossal waste of time when he could be back with Hurit, making his case that Kokumthena couldn’t have-
The water moved.
Not the way it should have. Not the way the rocks guided it to. It moved in a great heaving lurch that shot upward in a geyser of spitting frigidity, parting down its center for just a moment and falling back, as if something had punched against the surface and been rocked back to the riverbed beneath. Miathe’s wings flapped anxiously, his eyes focusing on every bubble and churn, recording the sight to play back in the Wolf’s twisted mind. He was sent to witness. He was sent to report.
Miathe waited, his talons cutting into his rocky perch as the water surged again, sliced from beneath in an explosion that rent the air with its force. He wasn’t alone. Something was here… or at least coming and he watched until the water split in another bisected wall of raging spray, the mountain at his back answering with a rumbling warning. Then something cut through the spray, black and curved, attached to pearled blue plates that flexed a threat before sinking back beneath the surface of the Nocturne. It was all he needed to see. Miathe lifted into the air, hoping that the Misignwa were near… that they’d mastered their mingled magics and found their strength as the guardians of Wright’s Holler and the gate between the winds that lead to their home. Because where the water had been cut, the gate above had trembled in a reverberation of impact as the black curve swipe viciously for entrance. A claw. It had been a claw.
Behind Miathe, the mountain thundered.