A loud roar, one that made the rumbling of the ground sound like a whisper, announced the arrival of the Gold. The Sentinel flew in over the forest across from Revin, and she watched as it swooped down over the villagers, gliding not ten feet off the ground toward the circle of women.
A flying dragon! Revin was momentarily jolted because she, along with everyone else she knew, believed that winged dragons, if they ever did exist, were but a myth from ancient times.
Revin smiled. She knew not why, but the approach of the Sentinel gave her even more serenity. The Gold had a long snout, with upper teeth that hung over its lips and a horn on either side of its head, along with spike-like appendages under its chin that also ran from the top of its head down the back of its neck. It was frightening, yet majestic and beautiful at the same time. It was, strangely enough, familiar. A stray thought ran through her mind, It would never have fit in the crate.
She locked eyes with the dragon and from deep inside a voice said, ‘Give of yourself’. She didn’t understand but was certain that to give of herself would be to give away her Spirit, the core of who she was and her link to the Essence of the Goddess. How she would do this escaped her, but she blocked out everything around her and focused on offering her Spirit to the dragon. The glowing gem on the end of her staff nearly blinded her, but she held it out and pointed it directly at the oncoming Gold.
Suddenly her body felt afire, and her knees started to buckle. Maeveen and the Oma placed their hands under Revin’s arms to keep her on her feet. Even as the heat seemed to sear her insides, a sensation struck her, like being pierced with a spear. Her back arched and it felt as if her very Essence was being devoured. Tears filled her again as she willingly gave of herself. Feeling as if she were falling into a bottomless well, she smiled and Sent to the Burning Lady, the Goddess: My life is yours to take my Lady.
The sensation was over as quickly as it had come upon her. The flash died. Her breath returned, but she felt drained, her core depleted. Her head drooped as she thought she might lose consciousness.
A roar brought her out of her stupor, and she looked up.
Just before reaching the small circle, the Sentinel flapped its wings once, then rose above the women into the middle of the Shadow creatures. Feeling empty, Revin was driven to her knees by the gust of wind from its wings.
Maeveen and the grandmother kept a tight grip on her.
“Don’t break the circle,” the Oma warned her anxiously as Revin struggled to regain her feet.
Revin fought to keep her eyelids open, they felt heavier than she believed possible. She lifted her head to the sky and could barely see the dragon as it was swarmed by the dark forces around it.
A stream of fire, the memory jumped into her mind from a time past.
A flame burst forth from the center of the blackness, igniting the sky. The Shadow creatures scattered but were constrained within the circle created by the women and the men destroying any that tried to attack the women.
Seek and destroy. Another memory.
Fire pursued and swallowed the demons, leaving only ashes to fall like a light rain. Revin had to lower her head to keep debris out of her eyes, but after a few moments the cinders lessened, and she could look up.
The whirlwind of the Shadow creatures thinned as more vanished in the cleansing blaze. Revin shook her head to clear the powdery remains that had covered it. Though her head kept trying to droop, she held it firm and could now see the dragon clearly. The Gold turned around in the air, a pure sheet of flame poured from its mouth as hundreds of the demons, unable to flee, dove at it, their teeth and claws scraping at the golden scales, tearing some off to expose the dragon’s skin below.
Fire and wind.
The Sentinel ignored the demons attacking it and poured a wall of flame into the increasing whirlwind created by its own turning and that of the dark creatures. The twister ignited and spun around the Gold and the dark mass until all that could be seen was a glowing whirlwind of white and yellow flames.
As the wind diminished, the dark forces decreased in-kind. Revin felt someone tugging at her arms. Maeveen and the other, older woman pulled her back. She noticed that the other women had broken the circle and were also moving away from the hole. The warmth she had received from Maeveen, and the Oma fell away and with it the calmness that had filled her body.
“Quickly, we need to get away from the Shadow Tunnel.” Maeveen’s voice held an urgency that made Revin run stumbling as they all fell back twenty paces from the opening in the ground. Revin was pulled by the other two and then finally dropped to sit with the other women as they all watched the Sentinel scorch the last of the demons in its flame. With the sky clear, it flew toward the hole. As it approached the tunnel a sheet of flame shot from its maw and splattered on the ground encircling the opening. The fire was intense, and Revin threw an arm in front of her face as the heat beat against her. The flare only lasted a few heartbeats, and she lowered her arm as the dragon flew higher into the air. Revin glanced back down and could see what looked like a hard, burnt surface where the hole had been. Then she noticed dozens of similar, older, burn marks scattered around the meadow.
The dragon held position a dozen paces above the sealed hole. Revin’s eyes welled as she saw that many of the Shadow creatures’ teeth and claws had found the ravaged Gold’s flesh. The Sentinel was bleeding from hundreds of wounds, blood dripped off like sheets of rain. One wing was almost shredded, but the magnificent beast did not fall from the sky.
The dragon looked in their direction and Revin sensed it was staring directly at her. The pounding of her heart filled her ears, and she felt a bursting sensation in her chest, as if she had taken a long deep breath, of something other than air. The fire filled her again, but not as intense as before. She felt a strength that was not her own, a sense of calmness returned along with a feeling of renewal of her Spirit and her body.
A voice thundered in her head ‘For you and our daughter’, as the Gold shook like a wet dog and golden scales were flung off, showering down upon the ground.
The Sentinel’s bare and bloodied body brought tears to Revin’s eyes.
The dragon flapped its wings several timesandthenglidedinacirclearoundthemeadow, itsbodyafire, flamesflowedfromthetipofthewingsandtail.
Ash fell off the Gold’s body and floated down upon the Daughters, the women in white and the ones in plaid, along with their men and the villagers.
After completing a circuit of the clearing, the Sentinel flew over the treetops and disappeared.
“Let the ashes melt on your tongue,” Maeveen told her and grabbed a handful then placed them on her own tongue to demonstrate.
All the women around Revin followed suit and she could see the villagers doing the same.
Revin held out her hand and when it filled with enough ashes, she put them in her mouth. She grimaced at the expected foul taste and was surprised when it had the same spicy tang as the Muspell. As the ashes melted, she could feel something spread throughout her body—different than the fire that ran through her veins. It flowed over her bones and muscles, as if the ash were coating them and then stuck to the lining of her skin, from the inside. The feeling faded, but Revin was aware of an increased strength in her arms and legs along with a sense that her body had been purified, though she didn’t know exactly what that meant.
As the sky cleared, the villagers came forward to collect the golden scales. They stacked them into a dozen large wagons that had been pulled into the meadow, each drawn by two massive trounchers. Some of the plates were more than two-feet square, Revin guessed each equaled a small fortune. She imagined it would easily sustain the village until the next Gathering.
Keely’s words, from when they had shopped in the market, came back to Revin, ‘Nothing in Awakening has a price. It has already been paid.’