Chapter 8 - Stone (Part 2)
Long, black hair streaked with gray and braided down his back, Coyote climbed out of the driver’s door and flashed them a smile as he shielded his amber eyes from the sun with a hand.
“How is it that Big Red lets you pass without question?” Stone asked, though it came out a little gruffer than necessary.
Coyote flashed him a grin that said, Wouldn’t you like to know?
“Clear Waters gave me the all-clear days ago,” he responded. “Besides, Big Red knows I’m harmless.”
Dom stiffened, while Stone’s eye twitched. His muscles must have tensed as well because Aubree cocked an eyebrow at him.
She’d been studying Coyote then. Taking in his appearance. Noting the coyote’s pelt hanging from his shoulders like a caveman. Now, she was looking up at Stone expectantly.
How he wished he could mind-link with her.
Looking over, he caught Dom’s eye. The younger male nodded before getting into his car to return back to the pack house.
Stone knew that look. All males knew that look.
Protect your female. This one can’t be trusted.
“Blessed be the night,” Dom said before he took off and left them with the skinwalker.
As his car pulled away, Coyote came around the car and bowed his head slightly. “I am seeking a second chance to redeem myself with my people,” he said. “Small tasks such as these are all I can do to find peace.”
Stone’s eyes narrowed as he raised his palms up in greeting before lowering them and wrapping one arm around Aubree’s shoulder. “Lose the furs and the sorcery, and perhaps you can find the redemption you seek.”
Coyote’s amber eyes darted up with a smile before lowering again. “The coyote is as much a part of me as the wolf is to you.”
Grunting, Stone introduced Aubree to Coyote. “A skinwalker.”
Coyote smirked as they climbed into the car and began to explain to Aubree what exactly a skinwalker was. She listened with mild fascination as he talked throughout the drive of the history of the Navajo people and the origins and mythology attached to skinwalkers.
“So, you’re a being of Dark then?” she asked when Coyote had exhausted himself of things to say.
He smirked, his eyes on the road, one hand on the steering wheel, and the other on the gear shift. “You could say that.”
“He is.” Stone didn’t bother to lower his voice.
Coyote sat in the driver’s seat, while Stone and Aubree sat in the back seats of the old station wagon. The car moved remarkably smoothly and softly given its age. Someone must have taken care of the interior mechanics while neglecting the outward appearance. Not a bad idea out in the desert.
Silence fell, save for the crackle and pop of pebbles under the tires, as the road curved and a small village came into view. A weathered little wooden road sign for “Shady Rock” popped up and disappeared as quickly as it had come.
The trees had fallen away as the miles from the Rosmi Maana’s border increased. The land opened up, barren and flat for miles and miles ahead in Navajo territory.
Even with the windows down, Stone’s senses still felt off.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. Energy hummed in the air the closer they got to the cluster of tiny homes.
Coyote turned onto a side road at the edge of the village. They passed by two houses—more like rusty old shacks—before pulling up to two large stones, about three feet tall and two feet wide, standing on either side of a narrow driveway up to a small wooden house set slightly back from the other two.
The desert stood before them, behind them, and to their right with the houses on their left.
Coyote pulled into the gravel driveway of the wooden house with the rocks in front. A few scraggly bushes and cacti grew in front of the house with a few potted flowers under a window and next to the door.
The house looked like it was in good shape compared to the first two they passed by. A fresh coat of reddish-brown paint tinted the walls in the bright afternoon sunlight.
Coyote pulled up the drive and parked the car in front.
“Here we are, the Spirit Walker’s residence. A.K.A. home of Mr. Clear Waters Run Deep, the local hatáli, or shaman. Unlike the others, he is the one and only Spirit Walker in this country—maybe even in the Western Hemisphere, who knows.”
Stone massaged his forehead. Pressure pushed against his mind like prodding fingers. The hairs on his arms, legs, and nape raised to attention.
Concern touched his arm and he glanced over to see Aubree watching him with furrowed brows. Her hand slipped down to his and entwined their fingers. She didn’t have to ask whether he was okay or not. Her expression said it all.
“I’ll be fine,” he mumbled, though he wasn’t so sure himself.
There was something about this place. He didn’t feel threatened or in any kind of danger, but the energy in the air wasn’t normal.
He didn’t like it.
“Do you feel it, Aubree?” Coyote asked.
Looking over, Stone saw Coyote turned in his seat, his eyes shifting between the two of them in the backseat. He was calm, but there was a crookedness in his lips when he glanced at Stone, as if he knew Stone could feel the energy in the air and he found humor in Stone’s discomfort.
“Feel what?” Aubree asked.
Coyote shrugged as he unbuckled his belt. “Nothing, I guess. Right, Alpha?”
Stone grunted as he pulled away from Aubree to unbuckle his own seatbelt. “Call her by her name again and I’ll teach you a lesson in manners.”
Coyote threw his head back and laughed before lowering his eyes, despite the grin splayed across his face. “My apologies, Luna, for being so casual. Seems I have offended your mate.”
“You will give her the respect she deserves.”
“It’s alright, Stone,” Aubree said. “I don’t mind.”
“You are a luna now, not some common...” Stone trailed off when Aubree’s face looked less than amused.
Coyote laughed again. “I like her. She’s a keeper all right.”
Mischief glinted in Coyote’s eyes. It almost seemed as though he were challenging Stone. Stone knew he had to change the subject and get Aubree out of the car before Coyote said anything else.
Aubree had other plans. “Hear that? I’m a keeper.”
That made Coyote chuckle, but before Stone could twitch a muscle, the front door of the house opened.
A short man, no more than five feet tall, approached their vehicle with a steaming mug of tea in his hands. The herbal concoction hit Stone before the faint hint of the man’s unusual scent. Mint overpowered the other earthy and spicy scents in the mixture, but he tried not to shiver as the man approached him. His entire body broke out in goosebumps. The pressure in his head built up stronger than before with each step the man took.
His long gray hair was pulled back in a tight braid with specks of black and white throughout. Aside from his thick gray eyebrows, there was not a single whisker of facial hair on his tanned and weathered face. A canyon of wrinkles carved into every corner and crevice, particularly around his eyes. Small, nearly black eyes danced with amusement between the heavy wrinkly folds as he ambled to the car with the stride of a middle-aged man.
“Coyote, let our guests out of the car. I’m sure Stone could use a cup of my tea to ease the pressure on his head,” he said.
The doors unlocked.
Stone hesitated before climbing out of the car and standing before the ancient man, for he was, indeed, old. Older than he appeared, though not as old as Stone.
He held the mug up to Stone with a smile.
A flicker of dark purple flashed in the scrawny little man’s irises, but he felt only peace and calm, and a hint of curiosity within their depths. Energy flowed off him in vibrant waves. The humming in Stone’s head intensified and he thought he could distinguish variations in tone and pitch, as if a barrage of whispers were hissing all at once.
Yet, as Stone held the man’s gaze and accepted the tea from him, the whispers subsided, receding away. The pressure eased, but in their wake was a new presence.
“Let me in, Alpha,” the Spirit Walker commanded in a firm, yet soft voice.
Stone’s eyes narrowed. A sharp pain ricochet in his head when he tore his gaze away, and he almost dropped the mug, but firm hands clasped around his.
His eyes caught those deep purples staring up at him expectantly. The shock he experienced before had cut through his mental barriers and left him unguarded and defenseless.
The Spirit Walker’s gaze held his and his presence slipped into him, tapping into his mind, his memories, his emotions, and his soul.
His muscles relaxed as images from his past flickered through his mind at such a rapid rate they blurred and blended into each other.
What could have been mere seconds, or minutes, had passed and finally, the Spirit Walker closed his eyes and heaved a sigh.
“Still so stubborn,” he murmured as he released his hold on Stone’s hands and stepped back.
The tension in the air, the pressure on his head, the goosebumps that covered his flesh—everything relaxed, including Stone, and he felt almost winded and breathless.
His senses were still slightly fuzzy and dimmed, but the energy in the air was lighter and less strenuous.
Touching his cheek, he felt moisture from a single stray tear.
Mentally cursing in German, he wondered what just took place.
[A lot,] came a reply in his head.
Stone caught the Spirit Walker’s eyes before they crinkled in mirth and looked to Aubree.
[Don’t you dare do to her what you did to me.]
[I don’t have to,] he said as he turned to greet Aubree. [Humans are easier to tap into.]
“Welcome. Please call me Clear Waters. Clear Waters Run Deep is such a mouthful and only non-humans know me as the Spirit Walker,” he said to her.
Smiling, Aubree held out her hand and he shook it. “Aubree Brennan. Just call me Aubree.”
“I have been looking forward to meeting you for weeks,” he told her. “The spirits have become increasingly demanding over the last couple of days. I’ll be glad when this is done and can focus on my usual routine again.”
Aubree frowned. “I’m sorry to be such a pain in the...” she hesitated, rethinking her choice of words more carefully. “To trouble you so much.”
Clear Waters waved his hand dismissively. “Please, they are no more demanding than they always are. It’s when it gets to be more than one demanding the same contact that it seems overbearing at times.”
That caught Stone’s attention. “More than one?”
Those unusual dark irises met his again. “Oh yes. And when they’re all around me at once, they knock me out for a few good hours. Persistent bunch, they are.”
Pressing a palm to his forehead, Stone’s head swam. Who could be trying to reach him if not Adelaide?
“Drink the tea, Stone.”
He did as the Spirit Walker commanded. Despite the mint, he could still taste the other strong pungent herbs on the back of his tongue.
“Well, I’ll be off,” Coyote said before getting in the car and pulling away.
Once he was out of sight, the Spirit Walker heaved a tired sigh. “Come, let’s go inside.”