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    Libby Drew
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Keeper of the Rituals - 21. Chapter 21

Guys. Guys. Only two chapters left after this. We are almost at the end.

“Then,” Martina continues, “Charlotte came to me about her illness. About what she wanted to do with her estate when the cancer took her.” She inhales a shaky breath, but her tone takes a hard edge. “And that’s when I knew exactly what I had to do.”

CHAPTER 21

 

Chase barks a laugh, though his gun doesn’t waver from where he has it pointed at the floor. There’s no telling what will come out of his mouth next, whether it will be the words of Special Agent Becker or the affronted ranting of my best friend and, hopefully, soon to be lover, Chase. Whichever, his strong, silent type persona washes away with her admission.

“You knew what you had to do.” Derision drips from his voice. Enough of it that Calhoun reaches over to take his shoulder in a firm grip. And this, if nothing else, works to rein in Chase’s high emotions. At least on the outside. He quiets, but his nostrils flare with deep, heaving breaths.

“Your plan,” Calhoun says, “in its broadest sense, was to effect the closure of the refuge.”

Martina nods once. “If the tribe closed it, the inheritance would revert to me.”

“Just like that?” I ask. “No questions asked?”

“Well,” she pushes the mass of red hair off her face. “I promised Charlotte that if that happened, I would build the refuge elsewhere.”

“A blatant lie,” Calhoun adds before I can utter the same thought.

“And you could have,” I say. “But, in fact, you didn’t have to. We could’ve built it right fucking here.” I point a shaking finger in a westerly direction. “Two miles down the road. All expenses paid! What the hell, Martina?”

I’m almost panting with rage. I thrust my hands into my jeans pockets before their shaking betrays me. “I’m sorry about Charlotte’s cancer and death. Truly, I am. But her bequest took all your financial problems away, probably for several years or more. Maybe forever. Why… why?”

“Michael,” she whispers. “If I never lay eyes on another wolf, I’ll be a happy woman.” She climbs to her feet. “All I see here, every day, is Jacob.” She grabs at her hair as a sob escapes her. “He’s everywhere. Everywhere. And I just want… That. To. Stop.”

Calhoun ignores her outburst. Not unlike how he ignored my own meltdown in Clewiston. Yet, I hear something in his tone as he answers her. Some small nugget of empathy that he hadn’t offered me. “The dead haunt us,” he says, voice grave. “I cannot deny it. But I reject your using grief as an excuse for your actions.”

These words, said to everyone over the dull roar of the wind outside the walls, silence us all. Even the wolves still their restive movements and regard Calhoun, some with heads tilted, as though contemplating his wisdom.

Martina’s spine stiffens. Perhaps in anger or embarrassment. Or maybe in the knowledge that her victim act is falling short. I can’t pretend to know her mind. Not anymore. Lips thinned, she glares at Calhoun. I almost expect the man to remove his iPad and start his questioning in earnest, though that little piece of tech is surely ruined. And as it turns out, Calhoun proves he doesn’t need it.

“You planned to do whatever you needed to in order to have Brother Wolf closed,” he says. “You recruited Samuel Kincaid to assist you in turning suspicion to Mr. Garrett when that occurred.” He lifts his head, staring down his nose, voice condescending and superior. His accusation is delivered with complete confidence, exactly as a mathematician might declare that two plus two equals four. Martina rears back at his words.

With his focus turned on her instead of on me, I see what I hadn’t before: he is playing a part. And it works as well on Martina as it did on me. She lets her anger get the better of her. “Fuck you, Special Agent Calhoun.”

Her profanity takes me aback but slides off Calhoun like water. He offers her an indulgent smile. “No need to corroborate. I’m quite certain of my theory.” He holsters his Glock, furthering the impression he finds her small and inconsequential. “You knew Mr. Kincaid was in trouble financially. You offered him a slice of the inheritance if he helped execute your plan.”

She says nothing, and I wonder if she isn’t rethinking her right to remain silent from the get-go.

“Certainly, it must have been Mr. Kincaid’s idea to use Michael Garrett as your scapegoat.”

I open my mouth to defend Sam posthumously, then snap it shut as I catch on to Calhoun’s game.

“That kid couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag,” Martina spits. “Unless there was cocaine waiting for him on the outside.”

Calhoun arches a brow, almost comically. “Are you saying it wasn’t his idea?”

Wow, talk about leading the witness. I glance at the three law enforcement officers lined up against the wall, the wolves sitting or lying among them. There isn’t a drop of disquiet in Chase or Burke’s expression. They’re a-ok with Calhoun’s tactics.

“Of course it was his idea,” Chase growls, playing the game expertly. “He’s the one who hated Michael.”

“Oh, please!” Martina shouts. “Sam worshiped Michael. That’s why he—” she cuts herself off, eyes darting around the room.

“That’s why he decided to not go through with the plan,” Calhoun finishes. “We spoke to Rory earlier today. She confirmed that fact.”

Like a balloon with a pinprick leak, Martina deflates. Her anger bleeds away and her shoulders hunch. “I couldn’t believe that after everything, after all the planning, all the seeds we planted, that he would do that.”

“He loved him.” Calhoun sighs, expression spinning from accusation to empathy, like a record on a turntable. His back and shoulders relax, and, as he had with me in Clewiston, becomes an understanding friend. With a hand extended toward her, he says in a gentle voice, “Surely you can appreciate the sentiment. All things considered.”

He lets her stew on his proclamation, and she does, dropping her eyes and staring hard at the packed dirt under her feet.

“What happened to Sam?” I risk asking. Because, despite the multitudinous revelations the day has so far provided, the mystery of Sam’s death remains.

“No one was supposed to be hurt,” she says quietly.

Calhoun acknowledges this. “Yes, so we’ve been told.”

“Please,” I say. “I need to know. For Sam. For Kane. I need to know.” I realize this could be the moment she clams up, refuses to say any more in the face of legal peril. She doesn’t.

“We were going to start with Kane,” she says, voice a shadow of its usual confident volume. “Because he wouldn’t do anything but follow us around like a puppy while we turned the rest loose.”

This is true, and a stab of renewed loss spears me in the heart. With effort, I brush it aside for the moment. “And?”

“Sam was already in Kane’s enclosure when I arrived. I knew right away something was different. He was so…” She pauses, contemplating. “Calm? Assured?” With a whole-body shake, she says, “I don’t know. Definitely clear-headed, not wasted, and I got suspicious right away. But when he started talking and tried to explain himself, I just got so—” Her hands clench into fists. “So angry.”

“He refused to help,” Calhoun says.

“More than that,” she hisses. “He said if I tried to do it myself, he’d stop me. Or make sure everyone knew I was the one who did it.”

Oh, shit. I hadn’t considered that possibility before now. Maybe because wrapping my head around Sam’s decision to give up the money sucked up all my brain power. I can see him, though—Sam—standing there, hands on hips, declaring that he would blow the lid off her plan. He’d always perpetuated one of mankind’s greatest weaknesses: the belief that he was indomitable. More often than not, wealth did that to people.

“Ah,” Calhoun says, the sound more air than word. “That must have been infuriating.”

A thunderous bang rattles the door in its frame. We all jump, heads swiveling toward it. Chase spins his body to follow his gaze. The muzzle of his firearm rises a few inches. I count off fifteen seconds before the tension eases from his shoulders, but only slightly. I wonder if he, like me, heard the inhuman wails on his way here.

We’re all on edge, and Martina’s rising rage aggravates it. “I left the two gates open behind me when I went inside Kane’s pen. Not that it mattered. Kane wasn’t going anywhere with both of us there. All that wolf ever wanted was attention.”

“Stop talking about him,” I snarl, struck with furious grief. “You don’t deserve to say his name.”

Taken aback, she stops talking altogether, but I don’t regret my outburst.

“Kane stayed with you?” Calhoun prompts after a few seconds.

The question must pop her verbal clutch, because she nods, looks at me, and says, “Yes. At least until we started to scream at each other. Then he took off.” She shrugged. “Sam wasn’t too concerned.”

Probably because he knew a simple whistle and the promise of treats would bring Kane back fast. Tears swim in Martina’s eyes, and her whole body trembles. This isn’t fear, but a ghost of the same rage that must have taken her that night. Her eyes flash with it.

“He said that he was going to tell everyone, and then he—” She lifts her hands from her sides, as though to mime his actions. “He turned and started to walk away. And I couldn’t let him go, right?”

Was that a real question? I blink, breaking the spell her words have woven over me, and check the others. Burke and Calhoun are statues, barely breathing, eyes hard and unblinking. Less unaffected, Chase’s fingers dance over the cold metal of his gun, and he’s shaking his head back and forth in a dangerously casual motion.

“I picked up a rock. From the pile at the fence. And I hit him with it. I hit him.” This she does mime, right arm swinging in an arc from high above her head. “Not to kill him, Michael. God, not even to truly hurt him. I swear. I was just so… fucking. Angry.”

“But it did hurt him.” Calhoun delivers this matter-of-factly.

Martina offers a shaky nod. “He fell over and didn’t move. There was so much blood. Oh my God, I almost threw up. I took off my sweatshirt and used it to try to stop the bleeding, but then… then…” Her wide eyes lift to mine. They appear black in the flickering yellow lantern light. Demon-like. “I heard it.”

“Heard what?” Calhoun asks. For the first time, I detect something besides cold pragmatism in his voice.

“The howl. It was close. It was right there.” Her trembling voice cuts off.

“What was there?” Calhoun asks.

“You won’t believe me.”

“Just tell me as you remember it,” he says, neither confirming nor denying her statement.

“It was a wolf?” she says, as though issuing a guess on a game show.

“A wolf.”

“No, not a wolf.” She shakes her head. “I’m not sure. It was huge. Filthy. The tail was wrong. The face was wrong. And the smell.” She shudders. “Like something died. When I looked up, it was standing at the door to the enclosure.” She rushes through the telling now. No prompting required. “I screamed and ran. Closed myself in the supply closet.”

Her chest heaves unevenly. I suspect she’s in real danger of hyperventilating. Calhoun sees it as well. Still, he presses her. “And then?”

“Sam started to come around. He moaned, and when he tried to get up… it went after him.”

One more mystery solved. I never could quite swallow the idea that one of my wolves had attacked Sam. Kane had been the only one on the loose anyway, according to Martina. Chase and I exchange a fleeting look. The blow to the head hadn’t been a mortal wound, at least according to this story. Which didn’t mean it wouldn’t have been eventually, but the revelation that Sam was conscious when Long-Ears attacked him horrifies me, as it clearly does Chase.

“This wolf attacked Mr. Kincaid,” Calhoun prompts.

Matina nods. “But Kane. Kane stopped it.” She offers me a teary smile. “He was ferocious, Michael. Came barreling out of the dark like a bullet and jumped on top of the other wolf. They fought. I mean, I couldn’t see them, but I heard them snarling and snapping. I’d dropped my flashlight. Sam had too, and everything was just shadow.” She shudders. “Those were worse,” she whispers. “The shadows. Like a legion of hellhounds were all around me.”

Not a legion. Just one. But one was more than enough.

“Then they were gone.”

“Who?” Calhoun asks.

“Kane. And the thing. The wolf. They ran off. I got my flashlight and went to check on Sam. But there was so much blood. So much more than before. And his clothes were all ripped up. I didn’t know what to do.”

She breaks into body-wracking sobs, and Calhoun gives her a minute to collect herself before pressing on. “And what happened next?”

She hiccups softly, dragging her hands over her face to clear away the tears. Her voice changes again. A strange combination of defiant and resigned.

“I checked Sam as best I could. He wasn’t breathing. I remember thinking to myself: Mar, you have to call Matthew. I kept repeating that to myself. Over and over. Call Matthew. Call Matthew. But I didn’t.” A childlike confusion takes over her tone. “Instead, I picked up the rock I’d thrown. Wrapped it up in my bloody sweatshirt. Walked away.” She raises her eyes to me. “I was already outside Kane’s pen, on the way up the path to my car when I heard him howling.”

“Did you go back?” Calhoun asks.

“I did.”

Kane had returned to Sam’s side. The howl was a cry for help. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt because I know my wolf. Not privy to my thoughts as Chase so often is, Calhoun asks, “Where was he?”

“He was back in his enclosure, standing over Sam. So I just… closed the gate.”

“And left without alerting authorities.”

“Ye-yes,” she stutters.

“And used the rock and the blood from your sweatshirt to plant evidence at Mr. Garrett’s residence.”

My hands fist at my sides. “That was you in my house last night. You did all those things. The computer, the whisky. The blood on the counter.” The knowledge that the blood had, indeed, been Sam’s, probably harvested from her sweatshirt, makes my stomach do a barrel roll.

She nods. “Yes. I took your keys from the refuge.” To my disgusted snort, she says, “It was all set, Michael? Don’t you see? The seeds were already sown about your mental problems. I just had to… adapt.”

“Was that you in Sam’s house the other night?” I ask. “In the office?”

She shrugs. “He told me about his letters to you. That night at the refuge. I was afraid he’d written something about our plan.”

“Had he?”

“I couldn’t find them.”

Most likely because they were already in the F.B.I.’s possession.

“You showed up while I was searching the desk in his office,” Martina continues.

“Yeah. Thanks for the concussion,” I grumble.

“So, you decided to frame him for murder instead of an act of criminal mischief.” Calhoun shakes his head. “Lucky for Mr. Garrett, your attempts were clumsy, at best. A child playing a game of Clue would’ve deduced as much.”

That’s probably overstating it, but I’ll allow Calhoun his moment in the sun.

“And so we have it,” Calhoun almost sings. “All questions answered.”

A little too succinctly for my taste. I want more, but Martina isn’t going to oblige, if her dazed expression is any clue. Fresh tears stream over her cheeks as she nods. Her shoulders slump forward.

It’s as she falls silent that I notice a distinct drop in the noise level from outside. “The winds have died,” I say. The accompanying sound of pounding rain fades as well. Before I can mention the obvious reason as to why, something hits the door again. It more than rattles this time. A dent, noticeable even in the dim light of the lanterns, appears in the center of the slab of metal. The wolves come to their feet. Pace and growl.

“It’s here,” Martina says in a terrified, furious whisper. “It’s here.”

I can’t say I’m surprised. Negative emotion swirls in a giant whirlpool around me. And not from Martina alone. From myself, of course. From Burke, and even Calhoun. Yet it’s Chase who broadcasts the most intense anger, incongruent with an F.B.I. agent, yet right in line with that of a soul and life mate. “You brought it,” he tells her. “You, with your violence, greed, and lies.”

Burke grunts an affirmative.

“And if Micco gets hurt, I’m going to make sure you regret it.” Chase’s deadly tone, and the promise behind it, have me catching my breath. He turns his gun toward the door, raising the barrel.

Burke draws his firearm as well and, with a pained grunt, uses the wall at his back to push himself to his feet. “You’ll have to get in line,” he says to Chase in Maskóki. The words are nothing but gibberish to Martina and Calhoun, not that it matters. The meaning is clear.

Martina, hearing the animosity, sensing very little sympathy, predictably panics. “I was in shock!” she shouts. “I didn’t know what to do!”

“Bullshit,” Burke says, in English this time, helpfully. “Now shut up.”

Another bang. Another dent. I don’t have a gun, and I have no idea how effective they will be against Long-Ears anyway. The creature is as much mysticism as it is flesh. I move away from Martina, despite her attempt to grab my hand, and stand shoulder to shoulder with Chase. With a thought, I order the wolves behind me. Bane and Banshee glance at my face, then plant themselves firmly between me and the door. After a moment, Dash and Acadia join them. “No.” I point behind me. “Back.”

Dash blinks as though she suddenly has no idea the meaning of the word. She ignores my command, as do the others. The four line up in front of Chase and me.

“Quite the contingent of bodyguards you have there, Mr. Garrett.” Calhoun scoops his own Glock from its holster. My reply drowns in the crash of the door flying inward.

The shaft of bright, afternoon sunlight blinds me at first. Long-Ears is nothing but a black shadow framed by a twisted frame of medal. Reared up on its hind legs, it lifts its snout and issues a screech unlike any I’ve heard before. It’s more than one animal. More than one voice. I hear dozens, hundreds, of distinct timbres in the spine-tingling cry.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Calhoun says. Yet, his training holds. His hands are rock-steady as he raises his weapon toward the threat. “Chase,” he calls.

“I’ve got you,” Chase answers, edging to his right a few feet.

“On my count.”

Burke takes aim as well. Waits on Calhoun to order the salvo.

“Three,” Calhoun says. “Two.”

Long-Ears doesn’t wait for “one.” Does it have any concept of the count, or of language at all? I have no idea. But the threat of violence against it is clear enough, and it acts, dropping to all fours and leaping toward us.

Well-trained and experienced, the three men fire simultaneously, and the Glocks earn their reliability rating, performing perfectly despite being dunked in the canal. The sound inside the concrete structure deafens me. I can’t imagine what it does to my wolves’ sensitive hearing. The volley halts Long-Ears, but it doesn’t drop to the floor, injured or dead. Instead, it raises a muzzle dripping with black sludge and lets loose another terrible cry.

I sense Chase’s horror, but also his resolve, beating in my mind. The wolves shake their heads, trying to dispel the ringing in their eardrums, but quickly recover, closing ranks to bark and snarl at the intruder. I know there’s no way that every bullet missed its mark. In fact, I suspect every single one landed true. Yet, the monster in front of us appears undiminished. And I begin to infer that maybe, probably, we will die here today.

We don’t, at least not yet. Martina saves us all. Though I doubt that was her intention.

Sensing the air of confusion, seeing an open path to freedom, she bolts, dashing around and behind Long-Ears and into the bright sunlight, shoes squelching on the muddy path. The monster pivots to watch her go, then hesitates. Out of habit, I reach out with my mind and search for any sign of discernible thought or intelligence. What I get in return feels like the black muddy sludge that drips from the creature’s muzzle. There is no spirit here; nothing with which to communicate. Not in the traditional sense.

“Hold!” Calhoun orders, and the others obey, but neither Chase nor Burke relax from their shooter’s stance.

The creature rolls its head, giving us one more detailed and horrifying look at its chilling visage. Then it bolts through the door in a protracted leap and flies through the air, landing twenty feet away on the path. With another screech, it turns to the right and lopes out of sight.

Silence returns, with nothing but the steady drip of water from palm fronds outside to break it. The sun through the door is blinding. I blink and shield my eyes.

“We’re in the eye,” Burke says, slowly lowering his weapon.

Calhoun nods. “I’m afraid I was a bit distracted this morning when the news broke of the change in the storm’s track.” He turns to me, taking my arm in a firm grip. “Do you know how wide it is?”

“Small,” I answer. “A pinhole eye, probably, based on how quickly it intensified. We might have an hour. Maybe less.” And when the second eyewall hit us, things could get worse. Much worse. I leave that unsaid because everyone in the room already knows it.

“Not enough time to reach Chase’s vehicle, then the school,” Calhoun says. It isn’t a question. He knows the answer. Not nearly enough time.

“I’d say the chances are slim,” I say. “And that’s assuming we’d be left to navigate the way unimpeded by monsters.”

Said at any other moment, my words would be taken as a joke. Perhaps even as mad ranting. Not today. Not even by Calhoun. “We’ll shelter in place,” he says.

“And Martina?” Chase asks him.

Calhoun’s eyes narrow. “She made a hasty and, ah, unwise decision. I will not do the same. Our safety comes first.”

That’s fine for him. Burke and Chase too. But I’m going after Luna and Whisper. Not that I plan on sharing that information until I have a chance of a clear escape. I sidle toward the door, but Chase stops me with a word. “No! Not a fucking chance, Micco. Get back here.”

“Chase, they’re out there with that thing. They could be killed.”

“And so could you. No.”

Wisely, Calhoun and Burke say nothing. Just watch and wait. Petitioning those two will accomplish little. Chase has slipped back into his fierce protector role and looks quite comfortable back in the saddle.

“They’re family,” I say. “Chase, they’re my family.”

He’s prepared to fight me. I can tell by the way he opens his mouth to argue. But when I lay claim to Luna and Whisper, he snaps it shut. I feel shitty pulling this card, but I will. “My family’s in danger. This time I’m going to do something.”

“Mr. Garrett—” Calhoun begins, but Chase cuts him off.

“Fine. But I’m going with you.”

I manage a weak smile. “Perfect. Just like old times.”

Burke groans.

~*~

We close the door firmly behind us and head toward Luna and Whisper’s pen. I don’t know where else to start looking. My best hope is that they are still ensconced in their dome. If they venture too far in this calm, they could be caught off guard when the second eyewall arrives. This might be the better of the two dangerous scenarios, frankly, with Long-Ears still at large.

Chase walks in front of me, gun in hand, eyes sweeping the path left and right. Not that we’ll see the creature coming if it wants to be stealthy. The scene is apocalyptic in nature, the destruction near complete. Fences have been bent, some felled by the wind. Much of the debris we pass has flown here from elsewhere. Toys, chair cushions, garbage can lids are only a fraction of the items I see and mentally catalog.

We’re less than five minutes into our mission when a blood-curdling scream stabs through the air. This time, I don’t shiver in existential dread at its unnaturalness. I tremble instead in recognition. Martina. I stop short, awash in several emotions at once and torn in two directions. “It’s hunting her.”

“Hmm,” Chase replies, which could translate to any number of things, but if his expression is any measure, I’m betting it means ‘good.’ “Keep moving,” he says, so I do.

The refuge, always a maze, is now a thousand dark corners and opportunities for ambush. “This is fucking reckless,” Chase says under his breath. He’s moving too slowly, and I get it. Caution is key. But each minute that ticks by brings the towering clouds of the approaching eyewall closer. Already I can see the hint of it on the horizon.

“Chase, we have to hurry.”

He curses under his breath but picks up the pace. “Can you sense this thing?”

“No. I tried.”

“Nothing?”

“Worse than nothing.”

His jaw clenches, but he says no more. We backtrack twice due to unpassable tangles of trees, branches, and debris before reaching the correct pen. Dread makes me cold despite the humid air. The fence is buckled along two lengths of the enclosure. The large oak that sprouted from the center of the space and provided perpetual shade is splintered, broken off fifteen feet from the ground. It lies angled over the igloo-shaped concrete dome. I gasp, but the house itself looks intact.

“Luna. Whisper,” I call out, keeping my voice low.

At first, nothing. Then a shuffle, the scratch of claws on dirt, and a muddy nose appears at the tunnel entrance. I sag in relief. “Luna! Come!”

At my voice, her head swivels in my direction. She emerges when she sees me, breaking into the sunlight with a welcoming yip, a damp and dirty Whisper on her tail. They’re nearly in my arms when a shadow rears up in front of us, emerging from the detritus. The creature vibrates as it rises, shedding fronds, leaves, and bits of shredded bark, like a dog shaking off water. As it stretches onto its hindlegs, its tail swishing, Whisper shrinks back against Luna and growls. Chase issues a choked-off cry and elbows in front of me as he lifts his gun to meet the threat.

The Glock had little effect before, and I expect the same will hold true now. Chase has spent these past many years learning the way of the gun, but I have spent the past decade mastering something else altogether. So when Long-Ears lifts its snout and issues a series of shrill cries, I choose a different weapon.

I push my fear aside. Flush my resentment, and acknowledge my anger, which robs it of much of its power. My fear is not selfish, not for myself, but instead for Chase. It’s for Luna and Whisper. And for my friends huddled in a decrepit concrete building not far from here. I breathe out poison, inhale peace, and put a hand on Chase’s arm. “Put that away.”

“Are you crazy, Micco?” he yells, laser beam gaze fixed on where Long-Ears paces the path in front of us.

“Did the gun stop it before?” I ask. “Did it even slow it down?”

He knows the answer, but won’t articulate it, choosing to growl instead, not unlike Luna.

“Chase, do you trust me?”

He risks taking his eyes off the creature long enough to meet mine in a brief moment of solidarity. “I’ll always trust you,” he says.

“Then put the gun away.”

The move goes against every tenet of his training. He struggles, dropping and lifting the muzzle several times before finally replacing the gun in its holster. I grab his hand when it’s free. “I love you.”

Despite everything, a smile lifts the side of his mouth. “Love you too.”

“We’re gonna be fine,” I say. “All of us.” I shift my attention to Long-Ears. The creature ceases its pacing and drops onto its haunches, looking smaller somehow, more like a wolf than it had previously. Head tilted, it watches me. I feel Luna on my left. Whisper is pressed to my right thigh. I place a hand on each of their heads.

It isn’t necessary to verbalize my intent. If Chase has been spending time with Billie lately, he may already understand. Peace isn’t a flat construct, and it isn’t always pure. It’s a compromise. An act of acceptance that celebrates a chaotic existence. It’s finding joy and love when you believe all is lost. The rituals of a medicine man rely on this knowledge.

I sink to the ground and cross my legs in front of me. “Come on,” I say to Chase, tugging on his hand.

He hates the idea, I sense immediately, and resists my pull. To be unarmed is bad enough. To be without a weapon and in a position with little or no physical leverage is as bad or worse. “Micco.”

“Look at it,” I say, and he does.

Long-Ears regards us in silence, panting softly. The sun shines down from above, spearing through the eye of the storm to this tiny patch of earth while all around us the storm rages. I draw in a deep breath and begin to chant under my breath. At the sound of my voice, Whisper sinks to her belly and settles her head on my knee. Luna leans her weight against my back.

I sing of many things. Stories from my youth, when Chase was the brightest light in my life, and I was beginning to understand that he always would be. Songs of family and nature and the Great Spirit. Even of love. As it often does in the grove, time loses meaning. Auras swirl and dance in the air around me. Chase is a rock at my side, strong and stalwart, as I lose myself in the benevolent spirits of my people.

Chase’s voice in my ear pulls me back. “It’s leaving,” he says.

I open my eyes, expecting to see the creature walking away, but that’s not what Chase meant. The monster is gone. In its place sits a large wolf, black fur gleaming in the dwindling sunlight. I lift my hands in front of me, palms up, and blow on them, offering a piece of my spirit to the animal. As if scenting my gift, the wolf’s nostrils flare.

A breeze washes over my face. Then a stronger one. The sunlight has disappeared completely, swallowed up by the wispy clouds that herald the approaching eyewall. A raindrop falls and lands on the path in front of me. Another hits on Luna’s snout, and she shakes her head to dispel it.

“We need to go,” Chase says.

As if the black wolf comprehends these words, it comes to its feet. Beside me, Chase tenses, but all the animal does is bestow one last penetrating look at the four of us before sprinting away into the rain.

“Holy shit, Micco,” Chase says with a shaky laugh. He helps me to my feet. “I have no idea what to say.”

“Since when?” I’m shaking in the aftermath of the ritual and the confrontation, and Chase takes a few precious seconds to wrap me in his arms. His hands run up and down my back in soothing strokes.

“Have I told you lately how amazing you are,” he whispers in my ear.

“Define lately. Because, honestly, it’s been a while.”

With a sigh and a fleeting kiss, Chase takes my hand and leads me back the way we came. Wolves at our heels, storm at our backs, we rejoin the others.

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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6 hours ago, akascrubber said:

What a cathartic chapter that absolves Micco of any blame  and shows his inner strength and special ability to fight evil in ways no one would normally accept. Martina came clean. We can expect the killer,Martina,has been killed when she ran away. 

Micco saved Chase and his wolves from long ears who turned into a big, black wolf when facing a calming Micco. . Micco fought evil with love and kindness and he knew it was the answer.How life affiriming. Now, they will assemble in one place  and stand against the renewed hurricane.

Yes, you can totally assume Martina has been killed. ☺️And you can smile about it, because I know that I am. 

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5 hours ago, Flip-Flop said:

@drpaladin "Explaing Long Ears in an official report would be career suicide. I imagine the details will be massaged."

 

believe that is an under statement, to say the least! 

Another exciting chapter! @Libby Drew

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. 

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5 hours ago, drpaladin said:

Well, this isn't The X-Files and Chase would be offended by being compared to Scully.

Hey! Scully was my hero! 😏

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4 hours ago, weinerdog said:

So can long ears come back in another form? Or in the same black wolf? There is so much we don't know about it. And as speculated before by other readers mostly by  @Summerabbacat did that creature have something to do with Micco family death?

You have all been so patient. Many of your answers will finally be answered in the next chapter. No more red herrings. ;) 

Thanks for reading and commenting. 

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2 hours ago, drpaladin said:

From what we've seen from Micco's memories, his family's killers  were very human and there was nothing supernatural about it.

Correct.

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@Libby Drew, mistress of the macabre after that enthralling and revelatory chapter. 

I must express the same opinion as many of my fellow reviewers, I have no sympathy for Martina. She is despicable, not even the c word which one cannot use when commenting is harsh or ugly enough to describe her. To fully vilify her I shall refer to her as Marjorie Lauren, about the lowest one can go to describe a female of the species. 

Apart from seemingly loving her husband, Jacob, the rest of her life appears to have been a sham. Did she ever care for the wolves or was it just pretence to placate Jacob? Was she ever a true friend to Micco, after the revelations of this chapter the answer from me is a resounding NO. Her actions to frame Micco were premeditated, carefully planned and well executed. And how dare she denigrate Sam in death with "That kid couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag,” Martina spits. “Unless there was cocaine waiting for him on the outside.” He may well have been a fucked up coke head, but he had more integrity and loyalty in one anal pube than you had in your entire body you fucking Marjorie Lauren. Her crocodile tears (or should it be alligator tears in Florida) for one person only, the only person Marjorie Lauren gives a fuck about, herself. And her patronising comments about Kane should have been enough for Calhoun to allow both Chase and Micco to repeatedly punch her in the face, very very very hard. Part of me hopes Long Ears tore her to pieces when she fled the confines of the shelter, but part of me hopes she is still alive in the sludge somewhere hanging on to life in excruciating pain. I want that bitch to suffer not only for her actions causing the unnecessary death of Kane, but for causing the death of Sam and seemingly inferring it was his own fault. 

I am seething after reading this chapter @Libby Drew. I know it is only a story, but Martina represents the very things I despise most about our species and she possesses them in spades. 

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