Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 31

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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

Ignoring the scorching heat, Owen pointed to the pile of burning timbers that had been Jacob’s cabin. Despite the water poured onto it, the fire had caught again, this time with an unnatural fury. Owen watched as the flames pranced around, shot into the air, and concentrated themselves in just one area, the area near the old cupboard.

Within seconds a breeze blew through, and then the wind picked up. It whirled and twirled and the cupboard itself was engulfed in red-hot flames that shot twenty feet into the air. The fire was now so hot, so out of control, the men had to move back. All the men could do was stare as the cupboard was consumed and, minutes later, turned to ash. A stronger gust of wind blew in from the north to carry the ashes away.

“Shit, never seen that happen before,” Higgins said.

Then the dance of wind and flames stopped as suddenly as it had started. The pit had been cleared.

“What the…? Man, this fire isn’t natural. That should never happen.”

Deep down close to the bulkhead, there was now a cavity, a dark hole into the earth.

“I’m going down,” announced Owen as he walked over and looked into the pit.

“Oh no, you are not. Not while I’m in charge.” Higgins was emphatic. “You saw what just happened. Fires are unpredictable.”

“Not this one. I need a ladder.”

Higgins ignored Owen and directed his men to point their hoses at the remaining flames, now subdued but moving to consume what had not already fallen to their fury.

Owen quietly backed off, retrieved a ladder from the garden shed, and lowered it. As it came to rest on the ground, the flames moved away from him leaving only wisps of smoke.

Amazed, Higgins and his men just stared mouths hanging open. Owen used their moment of distraction to maneuver his body onto the ladder.

“Get back here,” Higgins bellowed when he saw what Owen was doing, but Owen ignored him. Higgins turned and called to his men, “Get me a proper ladder. Shit!”

At that moment Kian emerged from the cellar. Face covered in soot, she pulled herself onto solid ground. “Aidan’s down there.” She ran to Owen, grabbed his arm, and pulled him toward the dark hole. “Shot. Unconscious.”

As he followed Kian down the steps into the darkness, Owen heard Higgins bark to his men, “Come on, hurry up. Get me that ladder.”

When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Owen found Aidan lying on the ground in a pool of blood. “Be careful,” Kian said. “We don’t want to re-open the wound.”

Owen knew there was no way to get Aidan to safety, not without supporting him under his wounded shoulder. He ordered Kian to take the other side. Together they hauled Aidan to his feet. Aidan groaned. “I can walk,” he struggled to say as he moved one foot in front of the other. He took two steps and collapsed again, his full weight born by Kian and Owen once more.

As they reached the bottom step, Owen saw Higgins and one of his men half way down, coming to them. The two men grabbed Aidan and hauled him up. Then Higgins hoisted Aidan on his shoulders and climbed the ladder out of the pit. He lowered Aidan down to the stretcher next to the two waiting ambulance attendants. Aidan was unconscious now, pale and his breath came in short gasps. The wound was bleeding again.

“Not good,” Owen heard one of the paramedics say before the two lifted the stretcher into the ambulance and slammed the doors.

Just then the final section of wall collapsed, filling the pit with flaming debris once more.

“I told you it wasn’t safe,” Higgins shouted at Owen as the firemen backed away again.

Kian whispered, “Bless you Paralda and all the Kings,” before she fell weeping into Owen’s arms.

 

Photo Attribution:

By South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (Flickr: Portable cabin fire, ASDA Handsworth) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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