Chapter 9 - Stone (Part 1)
The house had been smudged before they entered. The scent of burnt cedar and sage lingered in every crack and crevice in the wooden structure despite the fresh air blowing in through the window. The woodsy, yet slightly sweet and astringent mix was somewhat welcoming to Stone’s senses. Maybe it was the tea the Spirit Walker insisted he drink, but a feeling of calm began to overtake him.
When they stepped into the Spirit Walker’s house, both Aubree and Stone sat together in a large circle made of sand that occupied the majority of the space in the living room. There wasn’t any furniture aside from a wooden bench along the wall facing the window into the backyard and the entrance to the kitchen next to it. A closed door that must have led to a bedroom was along the wall facing the front door.
“I’ve prepared this space specifically for your visit,” Clear Waters said as they all sat cross-legged on the wooden floor, drinking herbal tea. “Our land, as well as my home, have protective charms placed all around to keep the Dark out. I have created that space for you to feel more comfortable. Sort of like removing the protective barrier and returning the space to its natural state.”
It was true. As soon as Stone stepped into the circle, he could feel his senses sharpen.
He wasn’t sure what kind of magic was involved in the sand that surrounded him, but he was curious. There were two colors side-by-side. On the outside was white sand with black on the inside. Light and Dark, perhaps?
The Spirit Walker explained that the tea was to relax, cleanse, and purify their minds, bodies, and souls in preparation for the ceremony he would perform under the light of the full moon. The ritual would be different from those he usually performed, so they could take full advantage of the light of the full moon.
By the time they finished drinking their tea, Stone could barely keep his eyes open. Aubree was leaning her head against his shoulder and already beginning to doze off.
“Rest now,” the Spirit Walker said as he gathered the empty mugs to take into the kitchen. “This is the first step. I can’t connect our souls to the Spirit World if you are restless.”
Thoroughly relaxed, Stone nodded and pulled Aubree down to the floor and wrapped her in his arms, her back flush against his chest. With his nose in her hair, he inhaled and smiled as he let his thoughts go and allowed himself to drift asleep.
Smoke drew him from his slumber, and by the time it registered in his mind that there was a fire, he jolted awake.
Aubree started next to him, her eyes darting around the darkened room.
The window revealed the orange glow and smoke rising from a campfire less than a hundred feet away. Poking the logs in the fire with a stick, the Spirit Walker had his back turned to the house. As if sensing that he was being watched, he looked over his shoulder and set his stick down before making his way toward them.
Stone’s heart thundered as he pushed back the oldest memories from his mind.
Memories of fire and smoke smothering him. Of unanswered cries for help. The cheers beyond the snap, crackle, and pop of burning wood. The ache of losing both parents. The bitter taste of betrayal.
Coughing, he rubbed his face, repeating to himself a few times that the fire was outside. They were safe.
Aubree touched his arm as he continued to take in one haggard lungful of air after another.
“I’m fine,” he assured her, glancing out the window again to the campfire.
She must have followed his gaze as the next thing she said made bits and pieces of his memories jump back to the forefront of his mind.
He nodded. “It’s out in the open, not a small enclosed space. I’ll be fine.”
Her brows pinched up and fell as concern and sadness spread through her touch.
He forced a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it, Röslein. The smell of it startled me. That’s all.”
The Spirit Walker appeared on the other side of the window and scowled down at him on the floor. “Clear your head, Alpha. I need fire to perform this ritual. I had hoped the blue sage would be floral enough to deter your hard-wired aversion to smoke, but I guess not. Maybe I should add some lavender sage as well? I hope the black sage won’t deter your senses... I need that one right before we begin. Can’t connect to the Spirit World without a little dream weed!”
Aubree smiled up at him. “That’s a lot of sage. What’s dream weed?”
His dark eyes crinkled. “Magic.”
Stone pinched the bridge of his nose. Never did he ever anticipate having to resort to shamanic practices in his life.
His stomach growled loudly, drawing a chuckle from the old man outside.
“There’s some roast mutton in the kitchen for you both to eat. Help yourselves and meet me outside.”
Stone nodded his thanks before Clear Waters disappeared from the window.
Rising to his feet, he noticed in the orange glow that an intricate sand design spread out around their circle, covering nearly every available inch in the living room.
Aubree followed his gaze and her mouth fell open. “What is all this?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
The Spirit Walker’s practices were foreign to him, but he knew he had nothing to worry about. No harm would happen to them. He could feel that when he connected with Clear Waters earlier that day.
If anything, Stone was more of a threat than the old man, thus the precautions against him and his kind around their territory.
Carefully, he stepped out of the circle and tried not to step on any of the sand. He didn’t know what kind of spiritual or metaphysical balance might be upset if he ruined the design with a thoughtless step.
The shift in the air changed immediately as he stepped out of the circle. He tried not to let it bother him.
Aubree followed and they cleared the sand designs in two steps and made it to the kitchen with a third step. An old wood-burning stove next to a preparation counter had roast mutton sitting in a covered pan with small potatoes cut in halves with diced carrots. Two large plates, forks, and knives were set on the countertop next to it with a carving knife.
“This looks good,” Aubree commented as she lifted the carving knife and began slicing the meat. “How much do you want?”
His stomach grumbled as he stepped up behind her. “Help yourself first.”
He was so hungry, he could probably eat the whole thing. There was about ten pounds of meat sitting there and he had no idea how much Aubree needed. She ate so little it seemed.
“Okay.” She grabbed a plate and began to fill it with potatoes, carrots and two small slices of mutton.
When she looked done, he urged her to take more.
Puzzlement met him, making his clear his throat. “I may eat the whole thing.”
Her eyes widened. She glanced down at the huge hunk of meat then back up at him. “Damn,” she muttered. “You eat a lot.”
His face heated up a bit. “It can’t be helped. I have a big appetite.”
The need to touch her flared up within him. To gather her hair and drape it over one shoulder, exposing her neck. To brush his nose and lips against her delicate flesh. To inhale her scent. To taste the mild perfume embedding in her pores that called to him.
He had an even bigger appetite than she thought now that she was in his life.
It can’t be helped, Love.
[Hey, keep your mind clean, will you? We don’t have time to perform another purification,] Clear Waters voice cut in.
Groaning, Stone pulled away from her and put a few feet between them.
Even here, with his senses dulled, the matebond pulled him to her.
[Get out of my head and spare yourself the mental images,] he replied, the corners of his lips tugging up as he stepped next to Aubree.
The roast stood before him and he glanced at his waiting plate and back to the roast.
The air sucked from his lungs. Pressure tightened in his chest. Doubling over, he turned to grip the countertop with both hands as he struggled to inhale, but no air would fill his lungs.
“Stone?” Aubree’s voice drifted over him with concern before she called his name again. There was a note of urgency in her tone, yet her voice sounded even farther away than before.
His vision blurred, and he still couldn’t get air into his lungs.
Something hit him from behind before his vision darkened to blackness.