Sara’s legs burned as her breathing grew heavy. She ran deeper into the catacombs, ran until she thought she would collapse and then ran some more. Finally, mercifully, her brother held out a hand to stop.
“We’ll take a break here,” he said. “Catch our breath.”
I’ll make sure the soldiers haven’t followed us, Xon said. No matter what, stay here.
Sara leaned against the wall. Her fingers slipped through a skull’s eye sockets and she screamed.
“Stay away from there,” Hue said. “Sit on the ground if you need to sit.”
She did. “Hue,” Sara said. “Do you think mommy is buried here?”
Hue winced. The Sour Scale had taken their mother swiftly but not before her flesh turned to slush and fell off her bones. Hue kept it from Sara. She was too young and their mother too broken. “No,” Hue said. “She’s somewhere much nicer.”
“I hope so,” Sara said, small. “There’s something about this place. I can almost hear her… I… I do hear her!”
Hue listened. He, too, wanted nothing more than to see their mother again. To hear her voice. He imagined Xon felt the same about Botan. But he knew it could not be his mother. She was dead.
His breath caught in his throat when he heard it, too.
“It’s her!” Sara said, darting off.
“Xon said to stay here!” Hue said, rushing after her.
The voice grew louder until Sara reached the end of a corridor where a woman with auburn hair and a blue cotton dress stood smiling.
“Momma,” Sara said.
“I’ve missed you,” said their mother. “Come. Give us a hug.”
Hue held Sara back before she could dash off. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Oh Hue,” their mother said with a smile. “Always the protective one, aren’t you?”
“It’s momma, Hue!” Sara said. Silent tears streamed down her face. Her voice cracked. “Isn’t it?”
That’s not your mother. Xon. In a burst of light blue light, he appeared. “You hide behind tricks and deceit, brother,” he said aloud.
Sara and Hue watched their mother fade to dust as Xao lunged forward, snapping and biting and clawing.