Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 30

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CHAPTER THIRTY

 

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.

 

 

Photo Attribution:

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

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 29

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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

 

Using the light from her cell phone, Kian could see Aidan was bleeding but the bullet had gone clean through. Kian did not think it hit an artery as the blood did not come in spurts, but still she did not like how quickly the pool of blood grew under him. He would need to get to an Emergency Room quickly or he would die.

Kian reached into her backpack and retrieved a pair of scissors. From her tee shirt she cut strips for bandages and bound the wound as best she could. The cellar was cool, too cool for just her cami top, but she did not want to use Aidan’s clothing. He was in shock and needed to stay warm more than she did.

As she stood, she could see the pool of blood growing larger. She needed to apply pressure to the wound, but first she needed to reach Owen to let him know they were trapped. “Please, Owen, know how to get down here,” she mumbled just as she realized the key was sitting on the floor next to her. It was safe from Raven, but nobody else could use it either. Would Owen know how to fashion another one?

Kian circled the small room, holding the phone as high as she could and watching to see if any bars appeared. She circled once and got nothing. She tried again, this time more slowly. On the far side of the cellar, she felt a slight movement of air. That must be the ventilation she reasoned, and stood there for one minute before she saw one bar appear. Holding the phone in the air so as not to lose the signal, she dialed Owen. It did not go through, so she tried again, and again. Finally on the fourth try, she heard it connect.

“Kian?”

“Trapped. Under Jacob’s cabin. Hurry. Aidan shot.”

“Bad connection. Say again. Slowly this…,” the line fuzzed out and went dead. Kian hit her speed dial again and waited. The sound of falling timbers crashed above her head and then smoke filtered into the room. Had Raven set a fire near the ventilation shaft? Her one bar disappeared. As more smoke came in, she wondered how long before they would both die.

 

Raven made her way through the underbrush back toward her sister’s house. Cat would either be there or in the cave, she figured. Raven made it as far as the ridge when she spotted movement ahead. A deer? Or Cat? Or that big buffoon that was with that FBI agent?

She sniggered and allowed herself a few pleasurable moments as she envisioned Kian and the agent roasting alive under the old man’s cabin. Was the girl screaming? Frantic, the girl must be frantic by now. Or maybe, just maybe she had opened that cupboard and been hit with a wall of fire. And it was all over. Much too quickly for Raven’s liking. But the picture of her sister’s brat writhing in the flames, well, that was worth savoring. She’d have to cut back and see for herself, but not until her sister was dead, too.

Raven headed down the hill. Whoever it was she sensed in front of her, she’d surely catch them further along the trail. She kept to the underbrush and moved swiftly, but stopped when she saw three deer bounding down the far slope away from the stone chambers. It was unlike Cat to spook animals unless Cat wanted to be spotted. Even so, Raven knew she had the advantage. As long as she kept her patience.

Raven made her way up the far hill and crouched behind a fallen tree. And waited. No movement. No sound. She found a pebble and tossed it far to her left. When it hit a tree, she popped up to look, then ducked down quickly. Nobody. She needed to get closer, so she skirted the area until she found a tall pine, one she could climb.

Raven was sure Cat was around somewhere, Cat and her half-brained husband. Careful, Raven cautioned her anxious self as she pulled herself up the tree. Red was not so half-brained as she wanted to believe.

 

Owen had finished his paperwork. A judge had signed the warrant for Raven’s arrest, and a team was being formed to go find her.

Because he was dead on his feet, Owen’s captain ordered him home for a shower and sleep before returning to the station, preferably not before the afternoon.

Owen had other plans. He would check on Kian and nap at the caves. So, he drove back toward the Buchanan’s.

Out on the highway, Owen saw the dark smoke spiraling into the sky. Then Kian’s garbled call came through. Siren blaring, he sped through the cross roads, and turned left onto Jacob’s road arriving at the burning cabin minutes later.

He jumped out of his car, pulled out his cell, and punched 911 to summon the local fire department.

His eyes scanned the house and surrounding grounds. The fire had by then consumed the roof and upper portions of the walls. Hot burning sparks spit into the air. Small fires caught in the dry leaves surrounding the structure. Owen searched for something to put these out. He saw the open shed and quickly retrieved a shovel. He was beating at the flames when he heard the sound of far-off fire engines. Hurrying to pummel as much of the ground fire as he could before it set the forest ablaze, Owen ran headlong into the discarded kerosene can. Raven. Raven must have been here. This was no accident. This was arson.

 

Red watched Raven circle the stone structures and then climb the pine. He kept half his attention on her and the other half on his wife. Darn fool woman thought she could talk to her sister, reason with her. Red knew she’d only get herself killed. Something he’d risk his life to prevent.

Cat started to stand. He grabbed her arm, pulling her back down, the fear in his heart growing. “She’s still got that rifle,” he warned. “She’ll shoot.” Why does she never listen to me?

“What you see is not the sister I love. It is some stranger. Somewhere in there is my Gaagé, my sister Raven. Not what this world has made of her. I have to take the chance. I have to draw her out. I want to talk to her.”

From long experience Red knew he could not stop her. But he would do just about anything to give her the advantage. “Then wait, dear. She’ll come to you if you just wait.” He was relieved when Cat relaxed and settled next to him again.

Minutes later, Raven descended the tree and boldly walked toward the stone circle. Just outside it, she placed her rifle against one of the standing stones and untied the garrote from her waist. Cupping it in her right hand, she entered the stone circle.

“I know you are out there, Sister Dearest. Show yourself.”

In that instant, Red knew what he had to do. Older and less agile than Raven, he was not sure he would be able to subdue Raven. But he was sure he could take the garrote around his own neck, leaving Raven momentarily defenseless, giving Cat the advantage. Whether he lived would depend on his wife’s reflexes, and Raven’s strength and agility with the garrote.

He stood and, with more strength than he thought he had, Red hurled himself into the circle.

 

Raven caught movement behind her and, as she grabbed both ends of the garrote, she swung around to meet it. With one swift motion, she had the garrote around her victim’s neck, surprised to see it was Red, not Cat that she had ensnared. She gave the garrote a swift twist and, just as Cat leapt toward her, Raven heard Red’s neck pop.

Then, Raven felt herself go head-over-heels. She rolled away and scrambled to her feet. Holding the garrote in one hand, she swung it around her head as she moved menacingly toward her sister. Cat jumped back, but not before Raven, garrote still swinging, caught her in the cheek. Blood trickled down and soaked into her buckskins.

“Ashta-molon,” Raven screamed, “attend me. Now.”

 

Kian felt the room growing hotter, and she could now see whiffs of smoke curling around the cupboard that locked them in their hellish grave. The cupboard would eventually burn through, that much she knew. She hoped smoke inhalation would render them unconscious before the flames got to them. Still, and she laughed at herself for this useless action, she checked Aidan’s wound. The pool of blood under him had not grown bigger. His pulse was thready, but he was alive. Clearly in shock, but still alive.

And he was warm. She’d worried about that earlier. She wished that was all she had to worry about now. In fact she almost envied him. Lethargic, barely alert, Aidan barely stirred. If he was aware of their predicament, he did not show it. Maybe he had the sense to slow his body functions, to keep still so as to conserve his strength, so as to slow the bleeding, so as to preserve life as long as possible. She bent down and kissed him softly on the mouth. Had she imagined it or had a weak smile come across his face?

“I love you,” he murmured. And fell back into silence.

Now it was up to her. Her alone. And then it hit her, “The Ark! I can use the Ark!”

 

 

Photo Attribution:

By MC2 Corbin J. Shea [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 28, continued

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CHAPTER 28, continued

 

Kian knelt down behind the stonewall in Jacob’s garden. She hardly noticed Aidan pulling a leaf from her hair as she pushed on one end of the rock her father had identified for her. It swung out. Kian then retrieved a vial before pushing the rock back into place.

“This way.” She headed back to the metal bulkhead doors around the side of the cabin.

Aidan lifted one squeaking door while Kian lifted the other. “I don’t suppose Jacob had any WD40 down there did he?” Aidan asked. Kian shook her head.

At the bottom of the steps, she extracted the iron key from the vial and inserted it in the lock. The heavy oak door swung open effortlessly. Kian put the key back in the glass vial and put it in her backpack.

“Is this the only way out?” Aidan asked.

“Yes, afraid so.”

“I don’t like it,” Aidan said. “Rule number three, always have an escape.”

“So we go for number two, and get the heck out of here fast,” Kian replied.

The cellar was cool, a good fifteen degrees cooler than the garden outside. It was small, barely a ten foot cube and empty except for an old cupboard along the back wall. The floor was concrete, smooth and seamless, a contrast to the white washed brick walls chipped with age. Aidan ran his fingers along the wall. “The walls are old but the floor is new and so is the cupboard,” Aidan observed.

“Yes, Dad and Uncle Jacob added both the winter before my parents left.”

Kian retrieved a flashlight from the cupboard. It flicked on instantly. Jacob must have kept the batteries fresh.

She showed Aidan how to press the end of one of the boards on the cupboard. It popped out, and she removed it. There were small blocks of wood attached to the underside.

Aidan inspected it. “Now that’s a clever key.”

Kian sat on the floor. She set the board on its side and shoved it under the cupboard. She maneuvered it until she found the spot where it slipped in. Then she pushed it. Hard.

It took a couple of tries, but on the third push one end of the cupboard slid out, revealing a set of steps leading down into darkness.

“Take this.” Kian handed Aidan her backpack. “Now watch carefully. You take the second and then every other step as you go down. Remember that. Otherwise this thing will slam closed and I may not be able to get us out.” Kian shone the flashlight down the steps, then waved for Aidan to follow.

The two descended, careful where they stepped.

“The air is fresh down here, ” Aidan said. “Not musty at all.”

“Ventilated from the outside,” Kian replied.

In the back there was an open stone sarcophagus–a stone box. Kian knelt and placed the Ark and wings inside. Then she and Aidan placed the heavy stone lid on top.

“Done,” she said as Aidan offered his hand and Kian grabbed it to pull herself up. They stood side by side for a moment. Aidan reached over and touched Kian’s cheek. “You have a smudge,” he said, wiping it away.

“Look who’s talking,” she replied, wiping several smudges from the side of his face.

His lips were inches from hers. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek and her heart picked up its pace. Ignoring all the rules now, she arched her back and threw her arms around his neck. Their kiss lingered.

 

 

Raven, her breath heavy and deep, raced through the forest toward the cabin. She was pleased to note her warrior training as a young girl still served her well. Leaping over obstacles, now more intent on speed than stealth, Raven reached the cabin in less than 10 minutes. There, she circled on foot and found tracks to the stonewall. She followed them to the bulkhead door. No tracks leading away. Good. She had them now.

Raven climbed a nearby tree and hunkered down among the branches. Taking careful aim at the bulkhead, she drew her essence into the tree and, confident not even Aidan would feel her presence now, she waited.

Kill the agent and kidnap Kian, that was her plan. Then Cat would be sure to give up the Ark. And if not, well the girl was expendable.

 

“You are distracting me again,” Aidan said, brushing a few stray hairs out of her face.

“Oh, I like distracting you.”

“I like it too.” Aidan kissed her again, this time more deeply. She slid her hands down his back until they reached the firmness of his butt, then she pulled him even closer. Aidan was sure she could feel the effect she had on him. He wanted to lay her down now, not later today, not tonight, and not when this was over. Now. His head swam. But distractions cost, he knew. “Rule number two,” he whispered in her ear. “We have been here too long.”

“Got it.” Kian pulled back and picked up her backpack. “We need to get out of here.”

Together they headed back up the steps, careful to take every other one.

In the small room once more, Kian used the board to move the cupboard back into place, hiding the way to the Ark.

Aidan opened the oak door to the bulkhead. “You feel anything?”

“Aidan, I have felt creepy since we woke up.”

“Well, that’s not good.” Aidan removed his Sig Sauer and checked the clip. He threw a kiss back to Kian, then made his way up, slowly lifting the bulkhead door. It squeaked. Aidan cringed and waited. No sound, not even the chirp of a bird. Could mean someone was around or it could mean nothing. He peered out exposing as little of his head as possible, but saw nothing.

“Hand me the board,” he finally said. “See if we can prop this open.” He needed both hands free and holding his weapon if he was to sprint across the open space and into the forest.

With the help of Kian, Aidan was able to leverage the board into place, holding one of the doors open.

On his stomach, Aidan peered out. No breeze. No sound. Nothing. “Damn, where’s Jimbo when I need him?”

He motioned for Kian to come up beside him. “Kian, I don’t like this. So here’s the plan. On three we get to those trees. Stay behind me,” he said taking his gun into both hands and pushing himself up into a crouch. “One, two….” Aidan sprang up on “three,” ready to run from the cover of the bulkhead with Kian right behind him.

High up in the tree, he saw tiny movements in the leaves. No breeze. He knew they were in trouble. He grabbed Kian’s shoulder and pushed her back down, placing himself between her and danger.

The bullet took him in the left shoulder and he felt himself topple backward, landing on Kian’s legs.

 

Kian rolled Aidan off of her legs and yanked the board from the bulkhead door, allowing it to crash down just as another bullet tore through the metal. Trembling, she slammed the oak door shut and bolted it from the inside. Then she shoved the board under the cupboard, found the slot and yanked to the right. The cupboard opened, too slow for Kian’s liking. Another bullet crashed through the bulkhead, splintering the oak door. Kian retrieved the board she’d used to open the cupboard and tossed it down into the cellar. She thought she heard the creak of a bulkhead door.

Kian dragged Aidan to the steps. She stepped down, carefully using every other step until she was arms length from Aidan. Then, grabbing him under the shoulders, she pulled his body toward her. He was dead weight now and it took several tries before his butt hit the second step. The cupboard started moving. With one yank, she cleared his legs just as the cupboard slammed closed.

Alone in the dark, Kian maneuvered Aidan’s body down the remainder of the steps and into the cellar.

Rule number one. Always have an escape. Now what?

 

Raven approached the cabin with all her senses alert. At the bulkhead she stopped. She had them trapped now. The agent was wounded, Raven knew. When she found his Sig Sauer lying beside the bulkhead door, she was elated. More than a flesh wound or he would not have lost it. She yanked one bulkhead up as she crouched down beside it. Nothing. It gave her confidence. Her rifle was no good at such close range, but the Sig Sauer was. Using both hands to hold it in front of her, she fired three shots at the old lock on the oak door, kicked it open, and stormed the cellar. Empty but for one cupboard. And a smear of blood on the floor. A smear that ended at the cupboard.

Raven took her time searching in and around the cupboard, but she found nothing that would help her. No secret panels in the back and no way to move it.

Back outside, she searched the perimeter of the cabin for another way out. Kian would have to drag the fallen agent, she reasoned, but she found no trails of blood, no drag marks, not even a foot print that had not been there on her first look around. She headed back down the bulkhead and into the basement. No signs that her prey had left, she worked at the cupboard again. But she could not get it to budge, not even an inch. No matter, she finally decided. Just burn the place down.

Keeping the bulkhead doors within sight, Raven gathered enough dry tinder to get a good flame going. She was about to break into the cabin when she spotted a small garden shed. Inside was an old kerosene heater with a full can of fuel beside it.

Raven tossed the pile of tinder into the bulkhead and doused it with the kerosene, then circled the cabin and doused the dry log walls as well. She did even not need a match. Just a spark would do. She removed her flint from its pouch and pounded it against a stone. The kerosene and tinder in the bulkhead caught, flared, and then tore around the cabin. The dry wood walls were quickly consumed in flame and a dark greasy plume of smoke swirled up into the air. Even six feet from the cabin, Raven could feel the fiery heat. Roasted alive or trapped without air, Raven did not care. Either way, Kian and the agent would never escape.

Raven chuckled, turned, and disappeared into the underbrush. Now to find Cat, that was her next step. Find Cat and make her pay.

 

 

 

Photo in public domain

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 28

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CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

 

By the time Kian, Aidan, and Jimbo reached the house, the sun had burnt off the morning fog. It was stifling hot for so early in the morning.

Sweaty now, hair tangled in the leaves they’d picked up hurrying through the dense forest and over the ridge, Aidan and Kian advanced toward the back of the house.

“Where’s Jimbo?” Kian asked.

“Right here.” Jimbo boldly stepped out from behind a tall pine. “Nobody’s around. You should be safe now.”

“Aren’t you coming too?”

“Nope. Goin’ to look for that bitch. Time somebody took her out.”

“But Owen’s getting a warrant for her arrest.”

“Yah, well my gut tells me they aren’t gunna find her. No-how, no-way. I’ve seen how she moves through the woods. He’ll lose half his officers before he even spots her. I’m doin’ this my way.” With that, Jimbo hiked into the forest and, within seconds, disappeared.

Aidan ran for the Jeep. Kian followed. He shoved the key in the door, unlocked it, and jumped in. Kian jumped in beside him. They spun around and headed down the dirt drive toward the highway.

When they rounded the first bend, Kian grabbed Aidan’s arm. “Stop, it’s Lucky,” she screamed. Aidan slammed on the brake, barely missing the cat as he hobbled across the road and down the steep slope where he disappeared in the dense underbrush.

Kian threw open her door and dashed after him.

Aidan jumped out and followed.

“Mrr-r-ow.”

Kian stopped in her tracks. “Lucky,” she yelled.

The cat called out again, this time more urgently, “Mrr-r-ow.”

Before Aidan could stop her, Kian raced farther down the hill through thick brambles. At the bottom, she spotted Lucky hiding in a tangle of thorns. Oblivious to the prickly vines clawing at her, Kian grabbed him and tenderly cradled the cat in her arms while climbing back up toward Aidan.

“Quick, get in the Jeep,” Aidan said.

Kian climbed in and still gently holding the cat, she probed his limbs. Twice Lucky nipped out at her, but did not bite or struggle. He even let Kian probe his soft underside.

“Nothing broken,” she said. “Just bruising. He needs help. We got to go back to the house.”

“Kian, I don’t think….”

“Back up, Aidan, I’m not leaving Lucky in the woods to die.”

Aidan did not move.

“I’m not kidding, Aidan. You back up or I get out and walk.”

“Only because I don’t have a better plan,” Aidan mumbled as he backed up the driveway to the house, finally turning when they reached the porch. “We’re losing precious time.”

Kian yanked her keys out of the ignition and was about to climb down when Aidan stopped her.

“Kian, I don’t like this. Raven won’t be fooled for long, so take him in and come right back out. Rule number two. You got two minutes.”

Kian slung her backpack over her shoulder and raced inside with Lucky.

The house was in disarray. Had it only been twenty-four hours since she’d left it, Power’s body bloodying up her floor?

The carpet was gone, the furniture upturned, her father’s books and papers scattered.

Still holding Lucky, Kian grabbed a can of food, a spoon, and his dish. She rushed up the stairs. In the attic she set Lucky on the floor and dished out his breakfast. He ate hungrily as Kian made a soft bed for him in one corner. When she turned to leave, Lucky tried to follow. She could see he was limping badly. Then he plopped down and just looked at her begging for her help. Afraid he might try to go down the steps causing further injury, she retrieved his litter box from the bathroom and brought it up to the attic along with his water. She sat on the floor soothing him, debating whether to take him to the vet now or to wait. Lucky curled into a ball and closed his eyes.

Kian looked at her backpack sitting in the middle of the bed. She needed to hurry and wondered how many rules she’d broken in the last five minutes. With a sigh, she got up and hoisted the pack on her shoulder, promising to return soon. She reached down to stroke Lucky one more time.

When she turned, Aidan was standing at the door. “Kian, hurry. Raven’s probably spotted the ruse by now.”

They picked their way through the mess that had once been Kian’s home and headed out to the Jeep.

 

 

Emboldened by the demon, Raven headed downhill, keeping well within the tree line. Once on the other side of the boulder field, she moved slowly in order to focus on the ground, looking for any sign her sister and Red had passed. Most likely they would continue to stick to the game trails. So Raven did the same, but when she ran into a cobweb, she knew she was on the wrong path and hurried back to the boulder field. There she sat to ponder her next move.

She then heard rock grating on rock. It was just beyond the boulder to her left. Unlike Cat to make noise, Raven thought. Still wars were won more by the mistakes of the opponent than by the cunning of the victor. She crawled forward and, crouching, removed the garrote from her waist. She propped the rifle against the boulder and eased her way around. There she found a rocky ledge, a ravine, and a stream far below. But no Cat.

Raven sat down on her haunches and studied the ledge. One tiny clue was all she needed. When she spotted a tiny bit of upturned moss, she knew the rock below it had been moved. She slid it away. Nothing. Still the rock could have been a decoy to slow her down. Cat was good at decoys.

Raven searched the area for Cat’s trail, probably down toward the stream, she reasoned. It was then she spotted the discarded basket, thrown carelessly down the embankment. Even from the ledge she could see it was empty. So they had hidden the Ark after all.

Raven searched the rocky ledge, throwing stones over the side. When the area was cleared, she turned her attention back to the boulder field where, minutes later, she found both ebony boxes. Empty.

Angry now, Raven renewed her vow to kill them both. But first she had to find them. She spotted a tall pine and climbed to the top where she surveyed the land below her, looking for any movement that might give them away. Nothing stirred. Still she waited. All she needed to find was a direction.

Raven was about to climb down when, off to her right, she spotted a dust cloud. She watched as it approached. She looked more closely and spotted the road to Jacob’s cabin. A Jeep? Was that Kian’s Jeep?

Now Raven came to a new plan. “I’ll get the girl and then will have leverage over my sister. She was always too soft-hearted for her own good.”

Raven chuckled, shinnied down the tree, grabbed her rifle, and sprinted off toward Jacob’s cabin.

 

 

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 27

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

August 7th

 

Jimbo spent the night tucked into a tree watching the entrance to the cave.

When the rising sun cast a red glow over the valley, Jimbo decided it was time to have a look around. At the horse pasture, he watched Owen get into a squad car and drive out with the rest of the local police. Poor bastard. He got less shut-eye than I did. Get some sleep, buddy, you can’t run on empty.

From there, he checked the house. The dining table had been upturned and there was still blood on the hardwood floor where it had seeped through the rug.

Next, he checked the stone circle. There was no sign of activity, so he checked the stone chamber nearby. Pine needles and furs littered the floor. Wax from burning candles dripped down the walls. He checked the ground where Raven had buried the wings three days before and was surprised to find she had not yet discovered they were gone.

Satisfied, Jimbo hiked over the ridge and then down again, heading toward the cave.

 

Kian awoke to the warm aroma of coffee percolating over the camp stove. Normally she would have taken comfort in the morning routine, but this morning she could not. Her body, still shaking inside, ached. She had slept, but fitfully. Dreams, images intruded on her sleep; Raven breaking in, Power grabbing her, and Lucky lost somewhere as she searched endlessly through brambles and clawing vines to find him.

She swung her feet off the cot, sat up, and stretched out her sore muscles. Enough of this, she told herself. But all she could see in front of her was another day of the same.

Aidan, Cat, and Red sat at the rickety table enjoying their morning coffee. “Oh my, how I’ve missed this,” Red said waving Kian over. She did not know if he referred to the coffee or to being together again. As she leaned over to kiss him on his cheek, she suspected he meant both.

Kian sipped her coffee, and the jitters inside her calmed a bit. Aidan told them about Raven’s attempt to break in, and that Jimbo had gone out to keep watch. “I have no idea what scared her off,” he concluded. “But she left in a hurry. Even left the entrance ajar.”

Recalling her dream, Kian jumped up. “Lucky, oh my god, where is Lucky?” She called to him, but he did not come. She searched the cave, looking behind dusty boxes, under the cots, even by the steam flowing out the back. Finally, she popped open a can of food. Even that did not bring him out.

“He knows this land better than we do, I suspect,” Cat finally told her daughter. “Leave him, he’ll find his way home again, I am sure of it.”

This gave Kian some hope, but did little to dampen a growing fear within her. Somewhere outside Lucky was lost and maybe hurt, but she could not go to search for him because she had an Ark to protect. An Ark that Raven would kill to possess. She slumped forward, holding her head in her hands. “We can’t keep doing this. We need a plan.”

 

Raven had not slept, not in the traditional sense of the word. As the first hints of dawn appeared on the horizon, Raven stretched her aching body, finding it somewhat better after a few hours nap. As for her mind, it did not know how to rest.

“Ashta-molon, I command you! Attend me!” The demon flew down to her. “Come!”

Raven’s stomach growled as she crept through the undergrowth. Ashta-molon soared above, a dark silhouette against the dawn sky. Raven made her way to the stone chambers. She was here to collect the Wings.

Raven passed the stone circle. At the stone chamber, she ducked inside. It was undisturbed since her night with Power. It had been so satisfying lying there with him, withholding her little secret from him–knowing the wings were buried under her.

Taking her dagger from her belt, she moved the pine needles aside and probed the loose earth. At about three inches, she expected to find the ebony box. Her dagger sank to four inches, then to its hilt. No box. She pulled the dagger up only to find it sticky and dripping with caked dirt. She clutched the dagger with both hands, shoved it into the ground, then pried it up and raised her dagger into the air. The entrails of a small animal hung down from the blade. Raven let out a scream that echoed through the valley before pounding her fists on the hard dirt floor. “I’ll get you, you bitch,” she screamed. “I’ll make you pay!” Then she sprinted back toward the caves.

 

“Are we agreed, then?” Aidan asked.

“Agreed,” Cat said. “Red and I will set up a decoy drawing Raven off.”

“Then Aidan, Jimbo, and I wait five minutes before we go to the house and get the Jeep. We take the Ark to Jacob’s cellar. I got it.”

“The important thing is to hurry before Raven discovers what’s happening,” Cat reminded them all. “Raven is no dummy. She’ll catch on fast enough.”

Kian took the Ark and wrapped it in old rags before placing it into her backpack. Then she wrapped the wings and placed them on top of the Ark.

Cat picked up the two ebony boxes that had held the Ark and wings and placed them in a basket. She then strapped it to her back.

“Time to go,” Cat said. Kian watched as her parents headed out the tunnel and into the forest. She, Aidan, and Jimbo followed five minutes later. It would be a twenty-minute hike back to the house.

 

Following behind, Raven watched as Red and Cat made their way through the forest. She was elated. Easy prey. All she needed was a clear shot at both of them. Shoot Cat first and the cripple would be helpless.

As she waited for her chance, Raven saw Red surveying the forest, looking to the trees and to the undergrowth for unusual movement. Despite his handicap, it was Red who led the way as the two stayed low, each making minimal targets of themselves. Had she underestimated Red?

Raven followed the two, growing more frustrated at not being able to take a clear shot as they made their way deeper into the forest. A forest that Red quite obviously knew and she did not. Still, all she needed was a clean shot at both their heads. A clean shot that was not happening. She had underestimated Red. He was not so stupid as to give her that shot. Never were both of them in view at the same time. One was always hidden from her, making an escape all too easy. No, it was too risky to give herself away like that. She wasn’t the only expert tracker in the family, and obviously Red had the skill as well. She did not want to become the hunted.

Cat and Red made their way to the wet bottomlands. They skirted along well-used deer trails through marshland grasses. Red hid his steps well, Raven noted, using animal crushed grasses to hide his human prints. Even over muddy ground, he kept his steps light enough to blend in. Cat followed, also adept at keeping her tracks hidden.

Raven had the harder job, keeping an eye on hazards and on the pair she tailed. Twice she almost tripped on exposed roots. Flies landed on her skin and several bit at her, but she ignored them. When a rabbit crossed her path, she had to halt her progress and allow it to pass quietly, naturally. Otherwise it would bolt, calling attention back to her position.

She followed the pair up a hill and watched as they cautiously skirted past two deer that eyed them, but kept munching at the undergrowth.

Following at a safe distance, Raven found herself near a muddy swamp. Red picked his way over rocks, until he reached a fallen tree. Raven reached for her rifle and aimed it in his direction. If she could catch the two of them on the log, she’d have her chance. She watched Red hop up and step along, nimble despite his crushed ankle. But Cat did not cross until Red reached the far side and took cover. Again, she’d lost her chance.

The two rounded a bend in the trail and were out of sight before Raven jumped up on the fallen log. The dark murky swamp water smelled foul like rancid breath. But Raven did not care. She needed to hurry or she’d lose them in the forest ahead.

On the far side of the swamp, Raven climbed a hill and a gust of warm wind caught her full in the face. She scanned the terrain ahead and was surprised to see Cat and Red crossing a boulder field. Cat kept to the shadows and Red followed, not twenty feet behind. They were both exposed.

Patience was all she needed. She set the cross-hairs on Cat’s skull, moving the scope along as Cat hurried over the rocks. One clean shot was all she needed, then she would move the scope back twenty feet and take the second shot at Red. The fool had nowhere to hide. Taking the wind into account and sensing the tension with her finger, Raven exerted pressure on the trigger, slowly, slowly, she told herself. Hold your breath and….

Raven cursed as the wind picked up, a mighty gust this time, one that momentarily blew her cover and allowed the sun’s rays to catch the barrel of the rifle. She took the shot anyway, hoping Cat had not spotted her. The bullet hit rock and she knew she’d missed her mark.

When she looked out, her prey was gone. Alerted now, they would surely circle back to find her. “Ashta-Molon,” she screamed unto the wind, “attend me.”

 

Photo Attribution:

fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 26

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

 

Kian was shaking as she, Aidan, and Jimbo eased their way back down the hill and away from the scene in front of them. Minutes later Cat joined them. From there they crept farther into the woods. Only Kian’s steps made a sound as they rushed through the dry leaves. Then she stepped on a twig. Its crack seemed to reverberate through the forest, echoing off the trees. Her mother turned to look at her and then at her hiking boots. “We need to get you some moccasins,” she commented before motioning them on.

Several minutes later, Aidan stopped, cautioning the others to be quiet. He stood stone still a moment before whispering, “Behind the boulders, quick.” They all ducked out of sight.

The figure coming at them crashed through the bushes, clearly more intent on speed than on stealth. Jimbo was the first to recognize Owen and raced out to help him.

His hands still bound behind him, Owen’s wrists were bloody from struggling with his restraints. His orange tee shirt was torn from running through brambles and his face scratched and bruised.

“Shit, man, you look like you been to hell and back,” Jimbo said as Cat and Kian stepped out to join him.

“Just about. Cut this damn thing off me, will ya?”

Jimbo pulled a knife from his belt and sawed through the plastic restraint.

“Mrs. Buchanan?” Owen rubbed his wrists and stepped forward to look at her.

“My, my, haven’t you grown. Call me Cat.”

“Raven, is she…?”

“Yes, dear, she’s my sister. I thought her dead. Instead, she left to betray us, I think.”

Aidan stepped out, the last of the group to greet Owen. His tablet illuminated his face. “Looks like they are headed for the main road through town.”

Owen grunted. “They left your boss’s body and his Rubicon behind. Along with those dead guys. Man, the coroner is going to have a field day with this one.” He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. “Look, you guys gotta get out of here. I need to be the one to call this in, not you. It’s gunna be a long night and I don’t care who I have to wake up. I’m getting a warrant for that woman’s arrest.”

“Thanks,” Aidan said as he turned to leave.

“Kian, you call me in the morning, hear?” Owen called after her.

“Yes, dear,” Kian replied as they ducked farther into the woods.

Five minutes later they stopped to watch the dots on Aidan’s tablet. All of the cars had turned onto the main highway, some turning north and some south, back toward the city.

“Guess they didn’t care for Raven’s little temper tantrum,” Jimbo observed shaking his head. “Speaking of which witch, did you see where she went?”

“Raven ducked down into the grass,” Aidan said. “That was the last I saw of her. She could be watching us now.”

“No, she’s gone. For now,” Cat said. “We need to go, too.”

Kian followed her mother as Cat led the way through the thick undergrowth. Kian was weary. Her legs ached and all she could think about was a safe place to lie down and sleep as they skirted the more exposed areas of the forest. Finally she saw the Jeep trail.

“I don’t like it,” Cat said and pointed back the way they had come. “A two year old could follow the tracks we are leaving.”

Kian crouched down and inspected the tread of her hiking boots. Obvious, too obvious.

“It’s not just the tracks, it’s the broken branches, the flattened leaves. Any disturbance at all can be tracked. I think we need to split up. Raven can only follow one trail at a time.”

“I got a better idea.” Jimbo picked up a sturdy branch and swung solidly at a thick old oak. The solid thw-ack reverberated though forest. They waited for a few minutes and then Jimbo gave two more sturdy whacks with his branch. “Goddammit, where are those yahoos when you need them?” Finally, he let out a loud screech, waited thirty seconds, then let out another, this time modulating his voice higher in pitch.

Cat pointed in the direction they had come, grinned at Jimbo, and nodded her approval before she led the party across a rocky embankment to a spot of safety several hundred feet further along the Jeep trail and behind large boulders. They watched as eight of the Bigfoot buffoons came into view. Jimbo let out another screech, elongating and lowering the tone. The hunters stopped.

“Where did that come from?”

“Around here somewhere.”

The eight of them began to search around, looking for any sign of the elusive creature.

Jimbo, keeping behind cover, worked his way five hundred yards back up the trail to where their tracks were the most obvious. He gave a nearby tree several solid thw-acks before ducking under cover. Five of the eight raced back down the road to survey the area.

“This way,” one of the five shouted and headed directly toward Jimbo. The other four just stood where they were, rooted to the Jeep trail.

The leader called back to his buddies, “You comin’ or not?”

“It may be out there.”

“That’s the idea you galoots, now come on.” Cautiously the four followed their leader into the woods.

Kian watched as Jimbo threw a heavy rock at the group, barely missing one of them. The distraction was enough for Jimbo to make his escape.

He appeared behind Kian minutes later. “I think those yahoos trampled our trail well enough, let’s get out of here.”

As they headed further back and away from the Jeep trail, Kian felt herself careen forward. She went sprawling. Feeling foolish, she allowed Aidan to help her up. But the hunters heard the noise and were now racing in her direction. Aidan pulled her behind a bush as the others dove for cover behind them.

“Do something,” Aidan whispered to Jimbo.

Jimbo grabbed a nearby rock and was about to hurl it when they all heard a guttural screech from the far side of the Jeep trail, followed by a barrage of rocks thrown at the yahoos. Jimbo’s eyes went wide. “Fuck, you mean to tell me Bigfoot is real?”

“We call them the Ancient Ones,” Cat replied.

Kian watched the hunters run for cover before following her mother down to a running brook and back to the caves.

 

 

Raven was exhausted, but she knew she had work to do. The loss of the Power’s minions did not bother her. But to lose the Ark, that would be intolerable. She needed to regroup, to rethink, to find a way to get “her” Ark back. “Yes” she told herself, “That Ark is mine, and I shall get it back once and for all.”

Her sniper rifle slung on her back, Raven was just climbing a steep incline following Owen’s tracks. Using all her skills, she stayed well within the shadows and cover of underbrush until she came to the spot where Owen met up with the others. Then his tracks disappeared again, as they headed back to the pasture.

But the others, at least three others, had moved on deeper into the forest. “Interesting,” she mumbled to herself, and followed the tracks to the Jeep trail, where they had been trampled by at least eight others. Try as she did, she could not distinguish her prey’s prints from those of the yahoos.

Twice she followed the tracks off the trail and into the woods. Once she found only the chaos of disturbed leaves and broken branches. The second time she came upon a babbling brook. They could easily have walked in the water, obscuring any trace of footprints until they left the brook. Raven knew it would take hours to find their trail again.

To find the Ark now, she would have to use her second sight and scry. Raven knew many ways to do that. She could use a candle, but she did not have one. Nor did she have a silver bowl. A clear clean pool of water would do, but she would need a source of light and the moon was dark. No, the only way, and it was the most powerful, was to scry with fire.

Raven found an open patch of ground near the brook. She cleared it of leaves and other combustible debris. Then she set about gathering five bundles of five sticks each and tinder. She took 12 rocks and placed them in a circle, then removed tobacco and flint from her medicine pouch. With a sharply pointed stick, she dug a shallow hole. She took a pinch of tobacco from her medicine pouch. She breathed an intent for success into the tobacco and placed it in the hole. On top of that she piled a small heap of tinder and took her first bundle of sticks in hand. She held it to the dark sky and called upon the Spirit of the Air to come and empower the fire. She took the five sticks from this first bundle and formed a teepee over the small pile of tinder. With the second bundle she called upon the Spirit of Fire itself, and then, with the third she called upon the Spirit of Water to open her vision. With the forth bundle, she called up the Spirit of Earth to make this working solid and true. Finally, with the fifth bundle she called upon the powers of the Dark Places to assist her in this doing.

Raven piled more tinder on the sticks and took her flint in hand. This she knocked against her steel dagger, causing a spark. On the fourth attempt, the spark caught and, with careful use of her breath, Raven made the tinder flame. It only took minutes for the fire to catch hold. Raven piled more tinder on the fire, then sticks, and finally small branches.

It was the embers, Raven knew, that gave the message. So she continued to feed the fire until she had a deep glowing circle within her stone pit. She sat back and watched as the embers danced. Yes, the fire was ready.

One knee placed on the ground and her other foot planted squarely on the earth, Raven took the stance of the warrior and peered unto the embers.

Raven demanded, “Where is the Ark?” as she stirred the pit three times. She could feel the heat sting her face and used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat away. She waited. An ember flared and brightened. Peering deeper into the glowing coals, Raven saw sleeping figures. She counted five of them. Cat, Kian, and that good for nothing Red. But who was the fourth? That FBI agent hanging around Kian? The embers flared. Yes, and who was the fifth? The embers did not give her an answer this time. No matter.

Raven allowed her gaze to soften even more. She could not see exactly where these people were, but she could tell they were all together in one room. When nothing more came to her, Raven picked up her stick and stirred the embers again, this time more forcefully. “Tell me where they are.”

Flames flickered before the fire settled into embers once more and now she saw what resembled dark red walls–cave walls. It made sense.

Once more she stirred the embers and this time she thought she saw a landscape with valleys, mountains, a stream and a road. “Show me the cave,” she said. An ember flared, then grew cool.

Closing her eyes, Raven sensed the brook behind her. It meandered up the valley to mountains just like those depicted in the embers.

“I got you now, sister dearest,” she mumbled to herself. She stood, removed her moccasins, scooped water onto the dying embers, and then waded up the brook. The water was cold between her toes, but felt good after the heat of the fire.

Following her sister’s trail until she recognized the landscape from her scrying-fire, she cut inland and picked up their trail once more. Kian’s boot prints led her to the tunnel entrance, where she grew cautious.

Here, she tucked her essence into herself and blended into the feeling of the rock. She crept forward in the darkness. As she moved down the tunnel, she searched, allowing her fingers to do the seeing for her. The walls were rough against finger tips that had grown soft over years of easy living.

Raven continued her search for a boulder with handholds pecked into it. Finally, after what seemed like hours, she found it. Settling her fingers into place, she leaned her weight back. She felt the rough rock dig into her fingers tips, but kept pressure on the boulder. She needed to do this slowly. No noise. Finally, having moved the rock just a few inches, she let the boulder rest and peered inside the opening. She took the sniper rifle from her shoulder.

Raven saw all five people sleeping there, just as they had been in her vision. She pointed the rifle at the nearest body. How many could she kill before anyone woke up? Three? Maybe four?

If I start with the agent, and then take Cat, I should be able to kill Red as well, before Kian and the fifth guy wake up. Then those two should be easy final prey.

It was worth a shot, she decided, taking momentary pleasure in her own pun.

Raven allowed her eyes to adjust to the faint lamplight of the cave before aiming at Aidan’s head. Just as she was sure of her sighting, something dark leapt at her. It hissed as it landed on her shoulder. Her shot aborted, Raven grabbed at the cat and, in one swift motion, she hurled it down the tunnel. She heard the cat hit rock with a satisfying th-wump.

Having lost her golden opportunity, she quickly grabbed her rifle and ran back out of the tunnels and into the forest.

 

Inside the cave, Aidan turned over. He pushed himself up on one elbow and looked around. It was quiet, but he let his senses roam. The cave door was ajar. Outside, he thought he felt Raven. But then that feeling was gone.

He rolled over and shook Jimbo.

“Fuck man, what now?” Jimbo rubbed his eyes and looked around.

“I’m sure Raven was here. I’m going out.”

“Like hell you are.” Jimbo threw his feet off the cot and stood. “Outside perimeter is my job.”

 

 

Note: While there are magical ways to build a scrying fire, the one Raven uses was invented for the story. Her technique for Scrying is accurate, however.

 

Photo Attribution:

By Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania (Fire-Red-Hot-Coals_306412-480×360) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 25

 

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

Aidan punched at the screen of his tablet. “Damn, I’m blind as a bat in here. No cell coverage at all. I’m going out to find Jimbo. Kian, you three stay put, hear me?”

Kian bristled but before she could answer, Cat had her arm around her.

“We will, dear,” Cat said smiling at Aidan.

After Aidan left and pushed the boulder back into place, Red observed his wife over his spectacle rims. “Like hell you’ll stay put, dear.” He looked to his daughter. “She always agrees and then does what she wants anyway.”

“Secret of a happy marriage,” Cat said. “Guardians are always bossy. It’s in their nature. Doesn’t mean we have to listen to them, now does it?” She gave her daughter an affectionate squeeze.

“Mom, he’s not my Guardian.”

“He will be dear, and more than that I think. Call it mother’s intuition.”

Red looked up at the two women. “You think so, dear?”

“Sure of it,” Cat replied.

“Good, then,” Red said, “I like that young man. Now come and sit you two. Kian, tell us what happened. We are here to help. Cat, bring over some chairs will you?”

“Yes dear,” Cat replied winking at her daughter. She brought over two musty camp chairs that had been stored near the back of the cave, one for Kian and one for herself.

Kian explained about Jacob’s death and about Power.

“Power,” her father said. “I know that name well. But he’s dead you say?”

“Yes, this woman Raven shot him.”

At that, Cat furrowed her eyebrows. “Raven,” she repeated. “Gaagé?”

“Gaagé?” Red repeated.

Kian looked at her parents. “What does Gaagé mean?”

“Raven. It’s the Tineh word for Raven. Can you take me to this Raven?”

“She was in the horse pasture last night.”

“Then that’s the first place we look,” Cat replied.

Red took Cat’s hand. “I don’t suppose I can talk you out of this, can I?”

“No dear, you cannot.”

Kian followed her mother out of the cave.

 

 

“I count twelve people,” Jimbo whispered as he, Kian, Aidan, and Cat crouched together, strung across the ridgeline. Cat had been right. Aidan had raised an eyebrow when she showed up, but he had accepted her presence without a word. The lush summer cover had allowed them to creep close enough to make out bits and pieces of what was being said.

Kian, curious, raised her head and torso to get a better view, but Jimbo pushed her back down. “You need to stay flat,” he whispered. “It’s easy to see movements. Here, I’ll show you how to see better. First wait for a breeze.”

When finally a breeze picked up and ruffled the grasses around them, Jimbo flatten a space in front of her. “You always wait for the wind, Kian, then move slowly and gracefully,” he said. “No jerking.”

When the breeze stopped, Jimbo said, “Now freeze and listen. Use your ears for eyes. Do not move again until you feel the wind.”

Kian was about to ask him to explain using her ears for eyes when she felt something, a slight vibration under her. She looked at him.

“Car’s coming,” he whispered.

They all watched as a Jeep Rubicon pulled in. Two burly men jumped down from the front seat and, opening the back, dragged out a rolled carpet. They let it fall to the ground with a thump. The rug flew open exposing a large dark rotund object, a body.

Raven walked over and kicked at it. “You’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch! A bullet through the brain was too good for you.” She eyed the two men beside the Rubicon. “Get that cop out of the car and bring him to me.” After one more kick at Power’s body, Raven turned and walked over to her milling group.

The two men opened the back door of the Rubicon and dragged Owen Griffiths out.

Kian, hidden in the grasses, cringed. “Do something,” she, frantic now, whispered to Jimbo. He nodded and slid back down the slight incline away from them all. Crouching, he moved off, skirting the group in the pasture.

As the two men pushed Owen toward the center of the circle forming around Raven, a lonely animal howled from across the pasture. And then a minute later there was a second howl, this time from a different direction. Then, in the far distance, more howls joined, making a sort of chorus.

All action in the middle of the pasture halted. Several men darted behind shrubs, drawing their weapons. Raven ducked as the two men pushed Owen to the ground and then darted for cover behind some nearby shrubs.

“What the fuck was that?” A man hissed from where he was crouching.

“Damned if I know. Maybe that Bigfoot thing.”

Everyone was facing the distant hills looking for the source of the sound. Owen yanked himself up and rushed into the forest.

There was another howl, followed by a long low screech. “I’m getting the hell out of here,” a woman yelled to Raven as she hurried toward one of the parked cars. Several others followed.

“Get back here,” Raven screeched. But, when the departing figures did not turn around, she shouted to the sky, “Ashta-molon, attend me.”

Kian, crouched down in the grass, felt the wind pick up. But it was more than wind this time. She used the stirring grasses to cover her movement as she peered up into the sky. At that moment fear overwhelmed her; it seemed a dark cloud was forming, and then a swarm of flies descended on the people in the field.

“Take her,” Raven screamed, pointing toward the woman who had been the first to leave. As Kian watched, the fear now clawing at her gut, the dark cloud seemed to form into a funnel and move straight toward the woman.

Cat grabbed her by the arm. “Look away, Kian. Focus on something else.”

Kian blinked and looked at Cat. The darkness was gone. “What happened?”

“Raven called forth the demon. If you do not fear it, it cannot hurt you. It’s your fear that makes the demon real.”

Kian heard the woman scream. Unable to stop herself, Kian watched as the tormented woman writhed on the ground.

Cat took Kian’s hand. “Focus on me, not on her. The demon is real only because that woman made it so with her fear.”

“But the woman, she’s bleeding.” Kian said.

“It is her own fears that tear at her. Focus on me, Kian.”

Suddenly the pasture was quiet. Deathly quiet. The figures in the pasture stood around the fallen body and just stared at it.

“What the fuck?” Kian heard one of them say.

 

 

Then the pasture was in chaos again. Kian heard Raven shout, “Find that goddam cop. Now!”

Another minute passed before someone shouted, “I got a trail.”

“You two,” Raven shouted pointing to two other men, “help Aaron find him. And hurry.” They ran after Aaron, now heading into the woods. There was silence again.

Kian, still crouched in the grass, felt a breeze pick up and then caught movement behind her. She looked over her shoulder in time to see her mother disappear down the hill and around a granite outcropping. She turned back to the pasture and watched Raven pacing. Minutes passed and then Raven called out, “Forget the cop. Get your asses back here!”

Silence.

Raven cupped her hands around her mouth. “You heard me. Get back here.”

Silence.

” Now! Before I send my demon after all of you.”

Four of the five men rushed down the hill. One of them called out, “We can’t find Aaron. He disappeared.”

“Probably taking a leak,” someone from the group shot back. “Old man, old prostate, you know.” Several others sniggered.

“Quiet!” Raven snarled. She looked all around her, surveying the forest.

Several minutes passed, then a bloodied Aaron stumbled down the hill screaming, “Help!” All eyes turned in his direction.

One man ran toward him. “We got him,” he shouted.

But Aaron screamed, “Indians!” before falling to the ground.

Two men grabbed Aaron by his armpits and dragged him to Raven. “I think he passed out,” one of them said as he let the injured man hit the ground with a solid tha-wunk.

Raven grabbed a bottle of water, opened it, and poured it over Aaron’s head. He sputtered and looked up.

“What happened, you fool?” Raven’s voice was shrill and demanding.

“I…, I don’t know. I saw the cop but some Indian woman grabbed me from behind.” He started trembling. “I’m cold. I need a blanket.”

“Forget the blanket. Tell the story,” Raven demanded.

“I didn’t see her at first.” Aaron started trembling again and his voice broke into sobs, “At first I thought it was one of those Bigfoot monsters.”

One of the men cut in, “Did it smell bad?”

“No.”

“Then it wasn’t no Bigfoot, idiot.”

“I know that now. It was Indians.”

“Yah, right. We killed all them redskins back two hundred years ago,” a man sneered at him.

“It was Indians I tell you. A squaw.”

“Man up! Stop sniveling,” demanded Raven.

Aaron looked up to see eight faces staring at him, focused directly on him and his story. He stood up, puffed out his chest and continued. “I kicked at her hard, spit on her, and ran as fast as I could. She had to really scramble to tackle me. I tell you, I fought like the devil himself, because I was sure that In’jun was going to scalp me.

“The woman was all snarly as hell,” he went on. “Like Pocahontas, or the Queen of Sheba or sumthin’, except she had grey hair. A real piece of work, from the way she was acting. She had these three braids, and….”

Raven was now pacing but listening to Aaron. Then she stopped. “Indians. Stop the bullshit. Indians? Really?” She sneered, “Now tell me the truth.”

Aaron, suddenly deflated, replied, “No, I swear. Look, she gave me this.” He handed Raven an arrowhead with two feathers attached. “The woman said to tell you to git off her property, or she’d be sure nothing was left of us but pickings for the buzzards.”

The others milled around, stealing wary glances at the forest.

Kian could feel as well as see Raven’s fury as she reached up to the sky. “Ashta-molon, attend me!”

The dark shadow descended for a second time. Again, Kian could feel the evil, the menace. She watched in horror as the shadow descended on Aaron seeming to bite at him like a million tiny scorpions, their pincers unrelenting in their torment. Aaron screamed, “get off me” as he tore around in circles, flailing at the unholy shadow devouring him.

Kian knew she should not look. But this time her fear was too overwhelming, and she could not look away. Something or someone had captured her attention and was holding it fast.

With a guttural wail, Aaron dropped to the ground. Raven lifted his head by his stringy hair. Blood ran from his mouth and eyes. His face looked like raw meat.

Raven screamed out to the forest. “This is how you’ll end up, Sister Dearest, you and that sniveling brat daughter of yours.”

 

 

 

 

Photo Attribution:

Curtis Print in author’s collection

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 24

 

Black_Cat_in_the_Garden.jpg

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

 

Kian and Aidan set a quick pace over the ridge, she with Lucky on her back and Aidan with a small duffle over his shoulder. What had once been a Jeep trail was now overgrown with bushes and small saplings. They kept the trail in sight, but hiked through the old-growth forest where the sun had not encouraged as much lush foliage. It was easier going, and they could make better time.

Twenty minutes later they climbed out of a low ravine and found the road to the cave entrance. It would not be far now, Kian thought as she reached back to give Lucky a reassuring pat. He was still–too still. Frightened, she lowered the pack and untied it. When she reached in, he jumped out and ran into the forest. “Aidan,” she screeched.

“Wait, I’ll get him. You stay behind that boulder,” he said as he pointed to one just down the road.

“He won’t come to you,” she replied and hurried after him into the forest. Aidan set an even quicker pace, suddenly more on edge.

“Kian, I don’t like this. I feel someone coming.” He was about to grab her arm and pull her back up to the road when they spotted Lucky ten feet farther down the hill. Together, they ran down. Lucky waited until they were inches away and then turned to sprint between two tall craggy rocks. Fortunately, Kian was able to scoop him up. She shoved him back in her pack, but not before Lucky swiped at her, scratching her arm.

Aidan reached over and pushed Kian down. “Someone’s coming,” he repeated.

They watched as two people hurried toward the cave, arguing as they went. “I told you they wouldn’t be at the house. Kian left last night. I heard it in town. Come on before Raven finds we’re gone. That treasure they talk about, I’m sure it is in that cave somewhere.” The two passed around the bend.

Kian looked at Aidan. “Now what?”

“Is there another way in?”

“Not that I know of.”

Lucky let out a loud growl, pushed his way out of the backpack again, and swiped at Kian’s legs. When she bent down to grab him, he disappeared between the two craggy rocks.

“Looks like an adequate hiding place,” Aidan offered as he peered into the darkness beyond the opening. “See if you can get in there.”

Kian was able to squeeze herself through the narrow slit in the rocks, but Aidan had to get down on his belly and slithered in like a snake.

They found themselves in a tunnel. Barely high enough for Kian, Aidan had to stoop slightly to make his way through.

They used their outstretched hands to follow the cave walls until they were well away from the narrow entrance. Aidan switched on his flashlight. Lucky was sitting six inches in front of them. He allowed himself to be placed back in the pack, but this time rode with his head sticking out.

“You think that cat knew where he was going?”

“Maybe,” Kian replied, more as a reassurance to herself than to Aidan. “He did come out of these woods.”

Two minutes further along, a shaft of light broke through the darkness. There was a small hole that opened to the sky, allowing the sun to flood in. Aidan switched off the flashlight, and they followed the tunnel to a large room. Aidan, now able to stand, arched his sore back.

On the far side of the room, seven steps led down to another tunnel. “So far only one way in, so only one way out. We can’t get lost. Let’s give it a try.” Aidan switched on the flashlight again.

Several hundred feet in, the tunnel ended at a large boulder.

Aidan carefully moved his fingers along the edge, looking for handholds. He could find none.

“Let me try.” Kian handed Lucky, now crouched down in the backpack, to Aidan. She took the flashlight and started shining it along the edge of the rock. “Nothing. Let me try the other end,” she said as she moved to the other side of the boulder. She moved the light all along the edge before saying, “I think I got it.”

After carefully placing the flashlight on the ground, she moved her fingers into the chipped ridges and pulled back. The rock tilted slightly.

“Here, take Lucky. I may be able to do it.” Aidan grabbed the rock and pulled back. It tilted again. As Aidan maintained the force he was exerting, Kian walked around and, shoving her back into the side, she added her strength to his. The rock rolled out of the way. They peered into the darkness. Aidan picked up the flashlight and aimed it. Someone darted around a corner, disappearing down a side tunnel.

“Damn, Kian, who else knows about this place?”

 

To turn and leave would expose their backs to the shadow. Safer to move forward, Aidan figured. He motioned Kian back a couple of steps as he pulled his Sig Sauer from his waist. “Keep low,” he whispered before easing his way down the tunnel. Kian crouched and held the flashlight so it was shining in front of him as he moved. Aidan turned to her and mouthed, “No, keep it behind me.”

With his back to the cave wall, weapon pointing down in front of him, Aidan eased along taking his time. When he got to the side tunnel where the shadow had disappeared, he paused. He then mentally counted down, “Three, two, one.”

As if out of nowhere the shadow exploded from the tunnel and, with a swift kick to the gut, knocked Aidan to the ground. He managed to hold onto his weapon and was raising it to take aim when that, too, was kicked away.

Kian screamed just as the shadowy figure wrapped a garrote around Aidan’s neck. Aidan hunched his shoulders upward and tightened his neck muscles as he felt the garrote jerk, just enough to cut off some but not all his air. It was enough to prove the skill of the person who had attacked him.

Aidan relaxed his neck and elongated it, making just enough room to slip his fingers under the garrote. Then he feigned rolling to the right. When he felt the shadow pull to the left, he quickly jerked his entire body in that direction, sending his opponent off balance. In one swift motion he was on top. The figure bucked.

Aidan looked up to see Kian now inches from them staring at the woman he held down. “Kian,” he shouted, “I could use some help here.”

But Kian just stood there looking bewildered. “Mom,” she finally said.

“Litu, who is this man?”

Aidan looked at Kian. “Litu? That’s Apache for ‘red’.”

“She’s my mom,” Kian told Aidan. “Please, let her up.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure, now let her up.”

“We are not called Apache,” Kian’s mother informed him as he loosened his grip. “That’s the Zuni word for enemy. That is not who we are.”

“Tineh,” Aidan corrected himself, “‘Litu’ is Tineh for ‘red.'” He stood and, shaking himself off, he offered the woman his hand. “You must be Cat Buchanan.” She took it and stood. Graceful was Aidan’s assessment. Just like her daughter.

Cat took her daughter by the shoulders. As she looked at Kian, a slow smile spread across her face. Kian stared back, both women now with tears in their eyes. Cat took her daughter into her arms and held her for several long minutes. Aidan could see Kian was crying, and Cat was trembling as well. Neither woman said a word. Aidan supposed neither knew quite what to say.

When finally Cat broke the embrace, she looked over at Aidan. “You are?”

Kian stepped forward. “Mom, this is Aidan, Aidan Scott. Aidan’s been helping me.”

“He’s cute,” Aidan heard Cat whisper in Kian’s ear as she turned and motioned them to follow her down the tunnel.

 

Dressed in doeskins with shells dangling from the hem of her dress, Cat made a pleasant clacking sound as she walked. Around her neck was a necklace of turquoise and amber. On her feet she wore soft moccasins.

Her mother was shorter than Kian remembered, and older now, with graying hair still worn in her customary three braids. There was a commanding grace about the woman, one Kian recognized as belonging to her mother. Kian wanted to walk arm and arm with her mother. But, that was not Cat’s way. Indeed, she had been surprised at her mother’s earlier embrace. Cat held her distance in front of strangers, and Aidan was a stranger to her. So was she, Kian realized. Eighteen years was a long time. And it would take a while before they knew each other again.

After traveling several minutes, they rounded a corner, rolled another boulder out of the way, and entered the familiar cave. Kian blinked twice to focus. An older man sat at the rickety table.

The man stood. “Is this my Kian? My, my, but you have grown into a beautiful woman.” Kian rushed to her father as he limped toward her. She hugged him as tightly as she could. “Been practicing that bear hug since we left, huh?” He gave her another hug then drew back slightly and kissed her forehead. It was good to see him.

“Dad, what happened to your foot?”

Red Buchanan lifted his tattered trouser leg. His ankle was twisted and scarred. “Got it crushed,” he said.

“What he is not telling you is that someone crushed it for him,” Cat clarified putting her arm around her husband.

“That’s how we got stuck in those infernal tunnels,” Red added. “I couldn’t walk. Kian, I’m so sorry. If I’d been more careful all those years ago, we might have made it back home to you.” He looked at her, tears welling up his eyes.

 

 

Photo Attribution

By Usamasaad (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 23

Comet_Crash.jpg

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

Kian, relieved to have an excuse to get away from the dead body, headed upstairs and found Lucky napping on her bed. “Sorry, buddy, but we are going to have to leave soon.” She tossed her backpack next to him. After emptying it, she held it against Lucky. He would fit inside.

She rummaged through her drawers and found some drab khakis and an olive tee shirt. She pulled these on and kissed Lucky on the head. The pack slung over her shoulder, she left to find her favorite hiking boots. They were in the attic. She brought them down to the living room sofa and pushed her feet into them while Owen paced at the front window.

“Will you sit down? You are making me nervous. How’s your head, anyway?”

“I have a headache if that’s what you are asking.”

“How bad?”

“Is that Kian the nurse asking, or Kian my friend?” Owen scowled at the sun’s glare off Jimbo’s monster truck.

“What’s eating you?”

“Those two guys. I don’t like them, and I don’t trust them. We know nothing about them.”

“Aidan saved my life, not once but a few times.”

“Well, I say it’s a ploy. He and that buddy of his are up to no good.”

“Who? Jimbo? He’s a Cameron and you said the Camerons were Guardians.”

Were, Kian. Were! Not are. The Camerons were driven out. They joined the wrong side. They tried to steal the Ark. That was why your great-great grandmother had to leave here. The Camerons betrayed her. You want to know who led that little coup? A guy by the name of Power. Power, Kian, Power. Like Aidan’s boss–that dead guy over there. Why can’t you get that? They are both on Power’s side.” Owen turned to stare out the window again.

Kian walked over and put her hand on his shoulder. “No, Owen. You are wrong. Both Aidan and Jimbo are okay. I know they are. Owen, I’d feel it if they weren’t. Listen, we have to work together.”

“Okay, I have to accept that. It is part of the code.” He turned away again. “But I don’t have to trust them.”

 

 

Owen scowled at the body on the floor. Damn that Aidan. He’s made this mess; he should be the one to clean it up. He looked out the front window. Exposed, that’s what they were. Exposed. He should have removed Kian days ago, taken her to his place. Damn the FBI and their falsified reports. He should have known better. If his father was still alive…. But his father wasn’t, and now he alone shouldered the burden.

“I don’t like standing here,” he told her as he led the way through the pantry to the basement steps, the only place they could not be seen from a window. There he motioned for her to sit, but remained standing with his arms folded and his back rigid against the old doorframe.

The cool air drifting up from the cellar tasted of damp dirt, but it felt good.

Kian broke the icy silence. “I want to know more about our family history. Could our ancestors really have settled here ten thousand years ago?”

Owen remained rigid, staring ahead toward the living room. He had a duty to call in the murder of Power, he knew that. But he also had a duty to Kian, to keep her safe. She’d be questioned, and how in the world would she ever explain an FBI Director tied and shot in the head without being implicated?

“Owen, I need you to tell me what you know.”

“We came here during the last great earth upheaval. That was twelve thousand years ago. Not ten.” Owen was silent again. Damn FBI anyway.

“Last? How many were there?”

Instead of answering, Owen studied his fingernails–worn and dirty.

“Owen, don’t be like this. I need to know, now tell me, please.” She looked up. He found her startlingly green eyes both sad and imploring. Since they had been young children, Owen had not been able resist her. I wonder if she knows that?

After a long moment, he sat down beside her. “Well, there have been many catastrophic events on this planet. One wiped out the dinosaurs like everyone says, but there were others, too.” Kian laid her head on his shoulder. He wanted to put his arm around her, but was afraid she’d move away.

“I read this guy Creighton. He says cosmic waves from exploding stars cause them. I’m not sure about that, but I do know there were three major upheavals in the last 100,000 years.”

“Three?”

“Yes. The first was about 70,000 years ago, a second maybe 30 or 40,000 years ago, and then a third 12,000 years ago. Kian, our families always knew when ‘The Times of Tribulations’ were coming. That’s what we call them when the earth goes into upheaval. During the first Tribulation, 70,000 years ago, people dug tunnels and sheltered in caves. When they emerged, they had to rebuild and start again, but the knowledge was kept. I don’t just mean how to plant and harvest, I also mean the spiritual knowledge, the real spiritual knowledge. So when it happened again, the second time 40,000 years ago, people were prepared, and they moved back into the tunnels and caves. When this had subsided, they came out again and rebuilt making it even better. This would be the time of Atlantis, Shambala, and the Golden Age.

“When the third Tribulation came, we knew we had to leave our cities again. But first we buried our Temples so the earth changes would not destroy them. Gobekli Tepe, Nabta Playa, that’s when those sites were buried. And other cities, too, ones nobody has discovered yet.”

“Dad used to talk about them.”

Owen could feel her warmth, and he again wondered if he should put his arm around her, like he did when they were kids. But he let the moment pass. “It’s all recorded in the Book of Knowings,” he finally said.

“So, tell me how Uncle Jacob got the wings. I know there was a storm and the wings got lost, but how did Uncle Jacob find them?”

“Jacob’s family had them all along. One of his ancestors found them on the beach after the storm and kept them. That’s how Jacob inherited them. Then he found us. Or actually he met your father and, well, I think you know the rest.”

Lucky jumped into Kian’s lap. He cuddled in as, absent minded, she scratched his ears eliciting a loud purr. “So who do you think killed Power?”

There was a loud thump at the door. Owen jumped up, grabbed his weapon, and pointed it toward the noise.

The door burst open. “Kian, we are out of here now,” Aidan shouted. “Let’s go!”

Owen watched Kian grab Lucky and shove him into her backpack. She tied it securely, then mounted the pack on her shoulders and took Aidan’s arm. “Okay, let’s go. I have had about enough of this place anyway.” Turning, she motioned to Owen. “Come on.”

“No,” he replied. “I got to call this in.” He was still wearing his orange tee shirt.

 

 

Note:

The “earth changes,” the catastrophes, as Owen relates them are accurate. His accounting of human history during those changes is theoretical. However, there is mounting evidence to support the contention that humans have been on the planet a lot longer than previously suspected and that more advanced civilizations have thrived and then been wiped out by natural disasters.

 

Photo Attribution:

By Ben Crowder (Flickr: Comet Crash) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 22, continued

Armalite_AR-50_of_Royal_Malaysian_Navy_(Close-up).JPG

 

 

“Earth to Scotty,” Jimbo said. “I could use some help here. Grab this asshole’s other arm would you?”

“Huh? Oh, sure.” Aidan took hold of Power and together the two men hoisted him onto one of the sturdy oak dining chairs. Power’s scalp was bleeding and the rag had fallen off his bloody hand. Aidan looked over at Kian. “Get us something to tie this guy up, will you?”

Hurrying to the pantry, she found a roll of duct tape, tossed it to Aidan. Without a word to either of the men, she quickly returned to nursing Owen. “Are you ok? Anything hurt?” Kian asked, her voice soft and caring.

“Just my head,” Owen replied.

“Move your arms and legs for me, will ya?”

“Sure.” Owen flailed his extremities about, catching Kian around the neck and pulling her closer. “I’m fine. See?”

Aidan growled. Kian looked up to see him yank the tape tighter around Power’s wrists. He cut the tape with his teeth and then roughly wrapped each of the man’s legs, securing them to the chair.

Kian hurried to the kitchen and returned to Owen with a flashlight and an ice pack which she placed on his head. “Close your eyes,” she said. A minute later Kian carefully peeled the right eyelid back to shine the flashlight into it. She repeated the procedure with the left eye. Satisfied, she patted him on the shoulder. “Pupils equal and reacting to light. You seem to be okay. Can I get you anything? Hungry?”

With a boyish grin, Owen replied, “Got coffee? Haven’t had any this morning.”

Kian heard Aidan mumble, “I haven’t had my coffee either,” and watched as Jimbo feigned a punch at his head. “Maybe you need to get yourself knocked out, meathead.”

Before Kian could say anything, Power groaned, bringing everyone’s attention squarely back to the task at hand. Aidan stepped in front of Power, grabbed him by his collar and growled, “You want to explain what’s going on?”

Power’s look shot daggers first at Aidan and then at Jimbo. The room went eerily quiet as everyone waited for the answer.

Power scowled, fixed his gaze on Kian, then studied Owen who was now sitting up and holding his head. After a minute, Power turned to Aidan and spit at him.

“Seems we won’t be getting much out of you.” Aidan wiped the back of his hand on Power’s shirt.

Power let out a defiant snarl and scrutinized Kian. “Baby, you have no idea what’s going to happen next. But, you can stop it. Just give me that Ark.”

Aidan grabbed Power’s chin, forcing his gaze away from Kian. Jimbo stood with arms crossed leaning against the counter that separated the dining table from the kitchen.

“That box is mine, not hers. Her family stole it from me and I sent you idiots to find it, not hog-tie me.”

Kian took several steps toward Power, capturing the man’s attention once again. Her voice was calm and steady. “So, why do you say it belongs to you? Just tell me. Just explain it to me. If it’s yours, I’ll give it to you.”

Power jerked his chin out of Aidan’s grip as his expression softened. “I’ll tell you everything. But first bring it to me.”

“Can’t do that, old man.” Jimbo leaned forward. “It’s not here. And you aren’t getting it ’till we know how it’s yours.” He leaned back again. “So maybe you should start the story.”

“Okay,” Power smirked, “what do you want to hear first? About the Ark? Or would you rather hear how Raven opened a Demon Hole back there and what came out terrifies even me?” Power let the silence linger for a few moments. “Which is it?”

From across the room, Owen gasped, “The Demon Hole.”

“Okay, the Demon Hole it is. I want you all to listen up. Someone’s got to put that thing back and it’ll take a sacrifice, but that’s what you all enjoy so much, right? Sacrifices? Okay, so here we go.”

There was a muffled pop, like an explosion of air. Jimbo took a dive for the floor as Power’s chair fell to the side, sending the big man crashing down. Aidan and Owen both rushed for Kian, pushing her down to the floor and shielding her with their bodies. Minutes passed. Nobody stirred.

Finally, Aidan whispered, “Anybody hurt?”

“Okay here,” replied Jimbo.

“Kian, you ok?”

“If you two lugs would get off me, I might know better. I’m suffocating.” Aidan and Owen both scrambled away.

“Stay down, all of you.” Jimbo pointed toward the side window, the one that faced the shed. Shattered glass covered the hard wood floor. “That bullet came through there.”

Jimbo eased himself up onto his knees. Kian noticed something sticky on his hands. It was blood. He wiped it on Power’s shirt. “Not mine,” he said. Kian could see one neat clean hole right in the center of Power’s skull.

Aidan broke the silence. “Stay down,” he whispered. “Someone’s coming up the driveway. We’re not alone.”

“I don’t hear anything,” Owen said as he started to stand, but Kian pulled him back down.

“You won’t,” she said. “He senses things like that. Now shhh….”

Seconds later, Kian heard men coming up the driveway.

“It come from ’round ‘ere,” one man insisted. “I’m telling ya, I heared Bigfoot callin’, like the matin’ call or somethin’, and twenty minutes later I heared a shot.”

“I didn’t hear no shot,” a second man said.

“Ya gotta know what your hearin’ out here. You aren’t still in the suburbs ya know. It was high powered. A rifle. Muffled. Real big game stuff.”

“Think someone bagged one? Think someone finally got us a Bigfoot carcass? Now that would be the smokin’ gun, wouldn’t it? Get it? Smokin’ gun? Gun? Killed it? Got the proof?” He laughed.

“Don’t be stupid,” a third man interjected. “Them things is inter-dy-mensional. They blinks out before you can hits ’em.”

“Says who?” There was a challenge in the jokester’s tone.

“Those guys on the internet, the ones with all them books. They come in space ships.”

A woman spoke this time. “Okay, smarty-pants, you ever see one blink out?”

“No. You ever see a Bigfoot?”

“No,” the woman replied.

“See, I told you.”

Still arguing, the voices trailed off into the forest, and the house grew quiet again.

“Think those guys scared off our shooter?” Aidan crept over to Power’s body and placed two fingers on the fallen man’s neck. “No pulse.”

Kian crawled over to Power. The man was dead, she could see that. No amount of resuscitation would bring him back.

“From the look of the wound, I’d say he had no idea what hit him,” Jimbo offered with a shrug.

Aidan, a crooked grin on his face, looked quizzically at Jimbo. “You want to be the one to call this in, buddy?”

Jimbo rolled his eyes, “Not me, it’s all yours.”

Owen stood and confronted the two men. “Call it in? To whom? The FBI? The local authorities?” Despite Jimbo’s warning look, he marched over to Aidan. “This is no joke! This guy was tied up when he was shot. How’re you gunna explain it? You two baboons got any ideas?”

Owen’s tall lanky frame towered over Aidan, but Aidan raised his pointed his index finger pushed it at the taller man’s face, causing him to back up. “Listen, sonny,” Aidan said. “We got a bigger problem. This was no random shot that just happened to find this guy’s skull. Whoever did this is professional. That was no yahoo. That was a trained sniper, and a good one I might add.”

“I don’t understand,” Kian said. “Who would kill him?”

“Good question.” Jimbo walked to the kitchen door, opened it, and looked out. “I’m going scouting. You coming, Scotty? I could use some back-up this time.”

“Be right with you.” He turned to Kian, “Get dressed and ready to move out. Wear something that blends in with the land back there. We may have to hike out of here.”

Then he pointed to Owen. “You. Stay put until you hear from us. You say you’re her Guardian? So now prove it. Guard her. And ditch that orange shirt while you’re at it. There should be something more suitable in my duffle. I already got one dead body on my hands. I don’t need two.”

 

Photo Attribution:

By Rizuan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons