The warm rock against her palm was almost smooth, small dimples on its surface keeping it in her loose hold. The flashing blue light lit up the world. Panic closed in around her, making it hard to breathe. Although she could hear her heart pounding fast in her ears, it was as though it had stopped in her chest.
As she focused on the man in dark green clothing by the porch, the egg dropped from her fingers. Its shell broke on the gravel with a quiet crack. Yolk oozed slowly out between the sharp edges of what had once kept it safe.
The whole world closed in around her.
Cora sat up, dragging in deep breaths. Each time she had the dream, the strange world she found herself in made more sense. The odd metal machine was a car, the rock was an egg, and that the man with his hat held too tight in his hands, didn’t want to be there.
Cora slid into the bench seat at the low table before the fire. Her mother remained silent, standing between her and the flames. The last time Cora had dreamt of the blue lights, she had woken to find her mother standing in the same place, but she had moved back to the sleeping area without a word when Cora had sat at the table.
Other than her father’s gentle snores, the rest of the cavern was silent. She looked away from her mother’s rigid back and glanced across the dark space. No one else moved, although she could feel Deen’s gaze on her.
Her mother turned slowly from the flames and sat opposite her. Cora looked down at the table, running her fingers over the wood’s grain.
Her mother cleared her throat.
‘We don’t have to talk about it,’ Cora offered quickly.
‘How often do you dream this?’ her mother asked.
‘I do,’ Cora’s mother admitted, reaching forward to take her daughter’s hands.
Cora pulled her hands away. She didn’t want to feel her mother anymore that night.
‘That was the day I left,’ her mother said in a sad voice.
‘It felt as though the world was ending,’ Cora said, reliving the pain her mother had felt that day.
‘It was also the day your father found me in the snow, disappointed that I wasn’t what he wanted me to be.’
Cora looked up then, surprised at her mother’s words. She knew the story. The entire cavern knew the story of how the great Oldra, Gerry, had come to them from a land so far away. But it was always accompanied by the story of how much Pira loved her, how they were linked from the beginning. How this was where she was meant to be.
‘I can’t imagine that,’ Cora said softly.
‘Essawood was so different from the world I knew. I had lost so much, and I was so lost myself. They needed a man. They needed a warrior.’
‘They got one. You are amazing with a bow.’ Cora watched the woman opposite her carefully. ‘I thought you were meant to be together.’
‘We were,’ her mother said, the smile forming easily on her lips as she looked back at the sleeping area. ‘But I didn’t know that, and he fought it for so long.’
‘When did you know?’ Cora asked.
‘That I loved him?’
Cora nodded once.
‘When I lost him.’ Her mother sighed. Cora reached across the table then and took her hands. ‘You have heard the stories of the battle when he fell from dragonback and we feared him lost forever.’
‘You and Ariandi found him, and saved him.’
Her mother shook her head. ‘I found Sarn that night. Looking for one man, I found another.’
‘But that helped end the war.’
Her mother pulled her hands away. ‘They were both so broken, so close to death.’
‘You saved him,’ Cora said again. ‘You saved them both.’
‘I remember wondering how I would live if Pira died. How easily the world would go on without him. I was so scared,’ she added in a whisper.
‘You are never scared.’
She gave a little huff of a laugh. ‘I am scared more often than not. I am scared that babies will not survive, that the darkness would take us over, that Pira could slip from dragonback on any hunting trip.’
‘I didn’t know,’ Cora whispered.
‘I knew that I loved him, but I didn’t know what we had until he showed me.’
Cora raised her eyebrows. She wanted to know… And yet, this was not something she wanted to learn about her parents.
‘When two Oldra come together, they are bound in dragonlight.’
She expected comment from the dragons then, but there was nothing. She could feel them close by, and yet they were out of the cavern hunting. Usually they returned by the time she woke.
‘Why could I not choose my own dragon as the others did?’ Cora asked instead, drawing the conversation away from her parents’ union.
‘Ariandi chose me after a long time with no rider. Dra chose you, because you are the greatest Oldra of them all.’
Cora looked down at the table again. ‘I don’t think I can live up to that.’ She put her hand over her chest, where the mark lay cool against her skin, directly over her heart.
‘You will understand some day.’
‘And if I don’t want to understand?’ Cora asked, sounding far more like a child than she wished.
Her mother smiled indulgently, like she had when Cora was small. ‘This is your fate. This is who you are.’
‘My healing skills are limited at best, and I’m not the warrior you were, nor am I needed to be.’
‘You are the greatest Oldra,’ her mother insisted.
‘How do you know that? Why are you so sure I can be so strong?’ she asked more loudly than she’d intended, the frustration evident in her voice.
Her mother stood slowly from the table. ‘Because you have already saved us all from the darkness, and there will come a time when you will find the shadows again.’