The raven mocker circled, his excitement rising, until Sky and the other man went inside. After awhile Hildebrand crawled from under the truck and opened the truck door. The raven mocker started his dive.
His timing was perfect; he wanted to attack Hildebrand from the front, to take him through his breath. He had taken powerful people before, but not in a hundred and fifty or so years, back when he was young and impetuous. This was like old times.
Hildebrand turned after closing the door of his truck and the raven mocker struck. He sunk viselike talons into Hildebrand’s shoulders, flapping wildly to stay in the air, intending to distract him while he took his soul, all of it, leaving him dead on the ground. So no one would be able to go into the other world to retrieve it, because there would be no place to return it to.
Hildebrand screamed as the raven mocker sucked his soul from his body through his breath. He was strong. The raven mocker filled with soul energy. He was charged with it, changed with it.
Before Sky reacted Dave was out of his seat and in through the front door. He raced through the house. On the back porch he stopped, arrested by an astounding sight. A huge crow attacking Rocky, enormous, like a mastiff with wings, talons hooked into Rocky’s coveralls, flapping furiously, pecking at Rocky’s face. And something else, the bird was draining Rocky’s life.
Filled with adrenalin, he perceived all this instantly; he reached down, pulling his Levi’s pants leg up with his left hand and drew the .32 Beretta in his boot with the right. He drew, aimed and fired twice in one smooth motion.
He hit the son of a bitch, but all it did was piss him off. The crow dropped Rocky. Dave re-aimed and fired another double tap.
The bird flew at him, growing large in his vision, filling all of it, even as John opened the door behind him and Dave fired again, absolutely sure he hit him every time he squeezed the trigger. No effect. No effect whatsoever.
Talons clawed his shirt and the gun fell from his hand. The raven locked eyes and Dave felt his energy draining. He felt an invisible tentacle enter his body through his eyes. He didn’t know what was happening, psychic wrestling, not connected with anything physical; something inside him grabbed that tentacle and shoved it out. Then he was through and inside the bird’s eyes himself, reaching in there, doing something.
He heard Sky’s feet stomp on the porch as he cried, “Usinuliyu Selagwutse …” in Cherokee as he scooped up the pistol.
The bird flew away, cawing, straight into the sky.
Dave stood on the porch, gasping, weak in the knees, as Sky darted past him and went to Rocky. He knelt beside his friend, touched his face, and said, “Let’s get him inside.”
Dave left the porch and grabbed Rocky under the knees, weak in his own knees, sick at his stomach. Sky lifted from the armpits. They carried Rocky inside, and, at Sky’s direction, laid him on the couch.
“He’s not breathing,” Dave said.
“CPR!” Sky shot back. Already Dave knelt beside the couch and breathed into Rocky’s mouth. Soon Rocky was breathing again, but his eyes were gone.
The front door opened. June walked in, two paper bags of groceries cradled in her arms. “Guys, I’ve got more …” She dropped the bags. There was a crash and a stain of grape juice spread across the floor.
“Drum!” Sky commanded, and June ran to the shaman’s drum on the fireplace mantle.
“What …?” Dave started to ask, but Sky shut him off. “Rest,” he said. “You’re not in such great shape yourself.”
A burden lifted. Dave relaxed and his eyelids drooped. In the background he heard the beginning of slow monotonous drumming, but it barely registered. He could not remember ever having been so tired. He dropped into a fitful slumber. He saw no visual images in his dream, just felt anxiety and anger. He drifted deeper and the drumming soothed his raging emotions. Soon he slept, oblivious.
When he awoke he was in bed upstairs. Nika stood beside the bed, looking worried. “Hi, Babe,” he said weakly.
She sat on the bed, leaned forward and kissed his forehead.
“How long was I out?” Morning light streamed through the window.
“Long time,” she said. “It’s almost noon.”
“Is Rocky okay?”
John Sky appeared in the door. “Okay is a relative term,” he said. “He’s Rocky again, and he’ll be his old self in a day or so. Right now he’s still confused. He’ll be in bed for a couple of days. How do you feel?”
Dave made a quick assessment and found that he felt surprisingly well. “I’m good,” he said. “Who or what was that freakin’ bird?”
“Let’s get you some breakfast and a couple cups of coffee and we’ll talk about that. See you downstairs.” He disappeared.
Dave sat up. It was weird how good he felt. He was hungry, but clearheaded, and he felt strangely powerful. Nika stood up and he swung his legs off the bed.
“You feel okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, wondering how Sky had got him upstairs and out of his clothes. He was wearing jockey shorts and a t-shirt. He stood up, had an attack of dizziness and sat down again.
“Don’t rush it,” Nika insisted.
He waited a minute, checking over his body, then stood up again, not moving for a minute. Seemed okay. He reached for his jeans. Wearing pants he felt better prepared to face the day. He found yesterdays socks in his boots and finished dressing. “Had breakfast?” he asked Nika.
She smiled. “Hours ago. But I’ll have coffee with you.”
They went downstairs. As usual there was a pot on the stove, and they got a cup apiece. “June’s upstairs with Rocky,” Nika said.
“I want to see him, but I need to talk to Sky first. I don’t understand what happened.”
“I think he’s on the porch,” she said. “Take your coffee out there and I’ll bring you some eggs and toast.”
Dave wandered through the living room, feeling a strange combination of spacey and clearheaded. His thoughts were somehow still, more concrete than usual.
He found John Sky at the mosaic table, quietly smoking his pipe.
Dave sat and sipped his coffee. He didn’t speak for a minute. He needed answers, but felt as though he already had them, as though talk was an indulgence, supplementary. Finally he said, “I hit that bird five times with a .32, and he didn’t seem to notice.”
Sky shook his head. “You can’t kill him with firearms, not without that chant. What’s remarkable is that he didn’t kill you. You stopped him with your will.”
Dave stared. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Intent, you stopped him with the force of your Intent. Think back, were you afraid? Did you ever think he might harm you?”
Dave shook his head. “No, I concentrated on shooting the son of a bitch. But what was it? That wasn’t a big crow; it was something else.”
Sky nodded. “You know more than you think you do. That was a raven mocker, a hugely powerful Cherokee witch who extends his life by stealing the life energy of others. That one is male, and he’s probably hundreds of years old.”
Dave sipped his coffee. His rational mind told him that Sky was full of it. He had that old sliding sideways feeling again. “He would have killed Rocky.”
“That’s right. You stopped him. These are psychic wars. If you had been afraid you would be dead.”
Dave shivered. “That’s too bad, ‘cause I’m scared shitless now.”
“You must not face him again until you’re ready.”
“I’d rather not face him again at all.”
“But you will. He’s your worthy opponent.”
Dave stared at Sky.
“Normally the worthy opponent is not a true enemy, but a brujo dedicated to spurring the apprentice to mastery. It’s a deadly earnest battle though. The apprentice can lose his life, and so can the brujo, but it ends when the apprentice is ready to go on his own.
“That’s not what’s happened here. This raven mocker is not a teaching aid. He is an implacable enemy, and it’s not I, your teacher, but Spirit, that has brought you and him into opposition. If this were a normal apprenticeship it would be years before you faced him, you would be much better prepared, and it would end when its purpose was served. But this will not end while you both live.”
Dave felt a chill unto terror. He’d faced death before, many times. But this was something else, an existential anguish. This thing could not only kill him, but lead him into some unimaginable hell.