With the back of her hand, Cat wiped at the blood running down her cheek, blood that had mixed with her sweat. The sun beat down into the stone circle, and Cat squinted into it. There were no shadows here, no cooling shade. Only the unrelenting sun, humid and almost suffocating now. Light, unrelenting light thrown on the darkness of an old feud.
The demon rushed at Cat for the third time, but Cat stood her ground. “Stop this,” she pleaded, “I am not afraid of your pet. It was our forefathers, yours and mine, who first vanquished that thing and trapped it far under ground. We both know it from the stories of old. It will not scare me. Leave this between us.”
Raven continued to circle and Cat followed her dance. “Put down your garrote, Raven, so we can talk. Sister to sister. Blood to blood.”
“You are not my sister, and you are not my blood,” Raven spit out. “No sister would take what was mine. I was born the Keeper, not you.”
Arguing with Raven was futile. Somewhere deep inside Cat knew that. But still she needed to try. Somehow she had to get through. “Sister, I do not understand why you left me that day on the mountain. You were my warrior, my guardian. You gave your pledge freely and together we could have broken through. Gotten to safety. Together we could have held the Ark. I do not understand what came between us.”
“I am not your lackey, your guardian. And I am not some spare part waiting for you to die. There can be only one Keeper. Me. I was born to it. The Ark should have been mine. You stole it from me and left me with nothing.”
“This was not my choosing, Raven, you know that. I would have been content to spend my life in the High Valley. It was the prophesy that sent me out. You know that.”
“Prophesy? Prophesy? Some mumbo-jumbo from an old woman. I was important until you came along, born with your golden hair and then that stupid prophesy. I was the next Keeper.”
Cat continued to circle, staying out of her sister’s reach. “Did you think I wanted to leave, to go live with strangers, to be brought up in foreign ways? I was scared every day, and I cried every night wishing I was back with you and our people.” Tears mingled with sweat stung Cat’s eyes, but she continued to circle, each time maneuvering closer to Red’s body limp lying on the ground. “Raven, I never wanted this.”
Close to Red’s body now, Cat glanced down to see if he lived but she dared not kneel to find out. It would be her end.
“He’s dead, you know,” Raven said. “I never fail. Not with Jacob, not with Red, and I will not fail with you either.”
Jimbo adjusted the olive-drab bandana covering his shaven head. Soaked through with sweat, he noted. He wiped his sweaty palms on his fatigues then reached down and wiped both hands in the dust below his feet.
He checked his smartphone for the fourth time and, yet again, there was no reply to his message. It was not like Aidan to ignore him and that worried Jimbo. He sent his senses out, but still did not feel anything. He tried texting Kian and when he got no reply, he decided to get to his truck and drive to Jacob’s. At least the air conditioning would cool him off.
Just as he was climbing into the cab, he heard the screaming. Raven. He looked up into the blinding sun and felt more than saw a dark menace spiraling above. The demon. He sent his senses out once again and this time felt an evil coming from the Stone Circle. He’d have a three minute jog to get there. Damn this stifling air.
As he approached the circle, he heard the two women arguing and he slowed his pace. Behind the largest of the standing stones, out of Raven’s view, he stopped to survey the area. Red was down and the two women circled one another. Raven called insults and Cat tried to calm her sister, tried to talk reason to her. Jimbo could see the two women were evenly matched in skill, but he worried that Raven’s rage would give her an advantage. Cat seemed much too calm for his liking. No adrenaline to fuel her fire. That was not a good thing, at least not according to his training.
Still out of Raven’s line of sight, Jimbo stepped from behind one of the standing stones. From there he could rush Raven, take her from behind, end this once and for all.
“Stay out of this.” Cat’s words surprised him and he stopped where he was. “This is between Raven and me. Stay out of it.”
Raven did not flinch. She circled until she caught sight of Jimbo. So much for surprise. Jimbo edged past the two women stopping at Red’s fallen form. He stooped down beside the older man and checked his carotid.
“Dead,” Raven told him. “Don’t bother.” She had not taken her eyes off Cat.
Unfortunately, Raven was right. Jimbo knew a dead man when he saw one. No doubt about this one, either. But he called out, “No, not dead, not even close.” With a gloat, he added, “Care to come over here and find out?” He knew she would not take the bait. Still it would put her off guard, even if only a bit.
The firemen knew their jobs and were skilled at containing fires within old growth forests. They concentrated on the outer areas, soaking them and then working toward the cabin. It was hot and muggy work, Owen could see, and the harsh smoke stung their nostrils and eyes. There was no wind–not even a breeze. For them a blessing among curses.
Owen approached one of the firemen, a friend from high school. “Higgins,” he said, “Kian Buchanan is caught under there.”
“Under where?” Higgins looked perplexed. “There is no ‘under there’ that I can see.”
“There is,” Owen replied, “a cellar. There is a bulkhead on the other side of the cabin that gets you down there.” He motioned for Higgins to follow.
When the men got there, the bulkhead was a pit of flaming debris. “No way to get down there now,” Higgins said, but called two of his men. “Get some water pressure down there.”
The men brought their hoses around and focused on the bulkhead. It would take a while, quite a while, maybe even hours to get the savage fire under control. Owen knew Kian did not have hours. Had she really said she was shot?
“The Ark is mine,” Raven repeated for the fourth time, not that Jimbo was counting. His instinct was to end it now, to rush Raven and subdue her. But Cat had insisted he stay out of it. It was something Jimbo understood, sometimes two people just have to settle things between them. “Well, I’ll just wait and watch and see what happens,” he mumbled to himself as he leaned against one of the standing stones, trying to look unconcerned and scraping the dirt from beneath his fingernails with a twig. But for sure Raven was not going to hurt anyone else and she was not getting away. Not this time. He’d see to that.
“No, Raven, it belongs with Kian now. She’s the Keeper. What’s done can’t be undone,” Cat said. “Why can’t you be at peace with that?”
“Kian? Kian?” Raven sneered as she continued circling. “That sniveling brat? Would you like to know where she is right now? She’s roasting alive. Burning like the witch she is. Under Jacob’s cabin.”
Dropping the twig, Jimbo turned to look at the sky and sniff at the air. Smoke. Too much smoke. And where was Aidan?
“Yes,” Raven continued. “Your daughter and her preppy boyfriend are roasting alive under Jacob’s cabin.”
“You fuckin’ bitch,” Jimbo roared as he sprang at Raven, knocking her to the ground. She squirmed and wriggled from his grasp, but he sprang forward and knocked her to the ground again. He was on top of her grabbing the hand that tried to claw his face. It was then he felt a knife bite deep into his gut. The pain shot through him radiating both up and down his body. He winced. From deep within Jimbo called to his animal nature. Grabbing the knife and pulling it from her grasp, he held it high and, with all his weight, plunged it down. Raven rolled to one side. It bit into her just below her collar bone.
The effort caused Jimbo’s head to spin, and he shook it to regain his senses. He rolled off of her, panting and forcing his breath to calm, to slow, to give him the oxygen he needed. He reached over to touch his wound and, pulling his hand back, saw the sticky blood covering it.
He heard Cat crying softly. He looked to find her kneeling on the other side of Raven, her face buried in her hands. “It did not have to be this way,” he heard Cat say. “We should have shared it.”
Then he saw Raven grab the knife and pull it from her shoulder.
“Watch out!” Jimbo could barely choke out the words as he tried to grab Raven’s hand.
But Raven did not go after Cat. Gripping the knife in her good hand, blood streaming down her chest, Raven turned toward Jimbo. Jimbo jerked to his right.
“No, Raven, no.” The sadness in Cat’s voice surprised Jimbo as he rolled out of Raven’s way. Then he saw Cat leap at Raven, pulling her away.
The two women wrestled on the ground, first Cat on top, then Raven, then Cat on top again. Jimbo tried to get himself up, but the pain dug into his side. His breath quickened its pace again, and his head spun. Then, through eyes stinging with dirt and sweat, Jimbo saw Raven shove the knife deep into her sister’s chest. Cat fell forward onto her sister, dead.
Jimbo struggled to his knees. He wiped his sweaty slippery hands in the dirt and, bent over with pain, reached for the garrote still clenched in Raven’s fist.
Raven struggled to push her sister’s body away. Cat had given Jimbo this opportunity and he was not about to waste it. Summoning all the strength he had left in his body, Jimbo pulled the garrote from Raven’s fist, wrapped the garrote around her neck and pulled hard. With a satisfying snap, Raven was gone.
Then, gasping for air, Jimbo collapsed bleeding onto the ground.
Temple Wood Stone Circle By Rosser1954 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons