Chapter 89:

Chapter 89 - Goddess of the Plains


Morgan tugged at the collar of his suit and downed his glass of sparkling wine in one gulp. He wanted out. After all the trains he’d robbed, it didn’t feel right to be milling around one of the most luxurious parlor cars he’d ever seen as an actual guest.

What if his old crew was waiting to jump them somewhere down the line? Would they treat him just like all the other Trigger City natives?

…Nah. They’d probably treat him worse. In that line of work, early exits weren’t exactly encouraged. But what was he supposed to do? Run with them until the law caught up? Until his body gave out?

That was no way to live. Not if you wanted to raise a family, anyway.

So here he was, rubbing elbows with some local bigwigs in the hopes of landing something better. The train car was chock-full of luminaries and academics–real high-falootin’ types who’d shown up for the same reason he had:

To hear their host, the head curator of The Wesson Museum of History and Fine Arts, announce his retirement.

It had been his fiancée’s idea to bring him along. As the museum’s acquisitions manager, she had the inside scoop on just about everything to do with the museum and its enigmatic overseer. To hear her tell it, he’d discovered something big–big enough to quit over, at least–and he’d been planning to establish some kind of expeditionary force to investigate it further.

Morgan was hoping that, by the end of the day, he’d be a part of that expeditionary force.

He was standing by the rearmost window when she found him, just watching the scenery roll by. He heard her coming a mile away; coming up on eight months into her pregnancy, the woman’s movements had no subtlety to them anymore. Every step seemed a struggle, and her breathing often sounded labored.

It didn’t bother him any. Subtle or not, she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on.

“I thought you said you’d mingle,” she accused, slapping at his arm with her clutch purse. “How can I put in a good word for you if you won’t even speak for yourself?”

Morgan shifted uncomfortably. “I’m workin’ up to it, Lor. This ain’t my usual crowd, y’know?”

“That’s true. They smell much better, and they still have all their teeth.”

He gave her the side eye, but failed to keep the smile from his lips.

“I love you.”

“And I love you, Morgan. But you’d better get to it. The more you circulate, the less I’ll have to do on your behalf… And you do want me to do less, don’t you?” she asked, pursing her lips in an exaggerated pout as she rubbed at her gravid belly. “On account of my delicate condition?”

His eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets. “Again with the pregnancy card?”

“I’ll stop playing it when it stops working,” she quipped, nestling herself into the crook of his arm. “You’re more charming than you give yourself credit for, darling. Just promise me you’ll try, okay?”

Morgan sighed deeply and gave her an affectionate squeeze. “Fine. Just for you, Gloria, I’ll do it.”

She peered up at him, then, in just that way he liked. Her eyes sparkled, curving in concert with the corners of her mouth, and he got that funny feeling in his chest–the one that told him he was wanted. Appreciated.

Needed, even, if he was up to the challenge.

They kissed just as somebody started tinging away at the side of a wine glass.

“Oh, flizzards!” Gloria whispered, breaking off their embrace with a huff of irritation. “We’re out of time. Where has the day gone?”

She was right. He turned to find a man standing at the center of it all, clearing his throat in anticipation of his grand announcement. He stuck out like a sore thumb with his coiffed blond hair and dark red suit, and Morgan got the sense that he felt right at home being the center of attention.

Then, once he was satisfied that all eyes were on him, Alistair Montrevi began to speak.


Morgan woke with a start, rising from his place at the foot of the short, scraggly tree they’d settled down under the night before. The details of his dream had already vanished into the ether, dissipating like morning mist, and he was none too happy about their loss.

Only the image of her face stuck with him. With a groan, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked out over the rocks and scrub surrounding him on every side. Just before nightfall, they'd come across a slightly less barren patch of badlands; trees, bushes, and critters had managed to stake their claim here, and that made it as good a place as any to settle down for the night.

Marka and Roulette had agreed on that point, but, oddly, he saw no sign of them now. It wasn’t until he looked to the west–toward the enormous, mile-long mesa in the distance–that he spotted a solitary figure standing a ways off from him with their back turned. Morgan rose to his feet with a grunt and slapped the dirt from his pants, then strode blearily toward whoever-it-was.

“Mornin’ Marka,” he grumbled, coming up on him from behind.

The big man didn’t answer right away. He stood on the edge of a cliff, looking down at something with a vague smile on his face. “Morgan! Good morning,” he greeted. “Have a look down there, will you? I think you will be pleased.”

Morgan quirked a brow and moved to join him at the edge, peering down the steep, rocky incline to see what he could see. The first thing he noticed was how unexpectedly verdant it was down there; a broad swathe of prairie grasses covered the ground in every direction, blowing softly in the wind. He saw a little pond nestled by the cliff wall, too, and here and there, thickets of little trees like the one they’d slept under peppered the scene.

And there, in the middle of it all, sat Roulette, stroking the mane of a wild horse as it lounged by the pond.

Horses,” he breathed. “It’s rare to find ‘em runnin’ wild like this.”

“Roulette said the same,” Marka replied. “She took the path down to meet them some time ago. It seems she has some experience tending to the beasts–they startled a little at her approach, but she calmed them in no time.”

It was downright unbelievable. Mares and stallions alike cantered around the base of the cliff without a care, paying little mind to the human in their midst. Even the foals seemed to like her; they trotted up to her on skinny legs and nipped playfully at her clothes, trying to draw her into their games. She only laughed and remained right where she was, sitting contentedly among the adult horses basking in the sun.

Morgan issued a low whistle. “I didn’t figure her for a horse whisperer,” he said. “If we can get one or two of them tame enough to bear us, we could get around that mesa over yonder in a fraction of the time it’d take us on foot.”

Marka shot him a skeptical glance. “Is that possible?”

“Depends how they react to us,” he replied. “The Queen of the Horses down there should have no trouble. But me and you will be a tough sell. You’re big and I’m ornery–and from what I know of horses, they’re not too keen on either of those qualities.”

Just as he finished speaking, Roulette appeared to notice them standing up on the cliff. She waved energetically and beckoned them down. Morgan chuckled, reaching up to give Marka’s shoulder a slap.

“Looks like it’s showtime,” he said with a smirk. “Try not to look too intimidatin’, hmm? I don’t want you crampin’ my style.”

To his amusement, Marka slumped his shoulders and tried his best to look meek as they made their way over to the narrow path that wound down the slope. It was a short, pleasant stroll to the bottom, but as expected, the majority of the horses perked up at their approach.

“It’s alright, it’s alright,” he heard Roulette cooing from her place by the pool. “They’re friends. They’re not goin’ to hurt you…”

He and Marka came to a stop, keeping their distance as the horses paused to regard them. Some lost interest quickly, and some went right on frolicking as if nothing had happened. The herd seemed unnaturally docile and trusting to Morgan, but he still had reservations about making any sudden moves. The last thing he wanted to do was blow their best shot at securing a speedy means of transport.

Eventually, though, after what felt like an eternity, the horse nearest them trotted over of its own accord. A cream-colored stallion with a wispy white mane, it drew toward them fearlessly, stomped its hooves and whinnied. For a moment, Morgan was certain that the horse had found him wanting–that it was preparing to turn tail and scurry off into the nearest copse of trees.

..But instead, it inched its long snout forward and nearly nudged him right off his feet.

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