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