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.
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