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.”
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