Book 2 in the Coven of the Wolf Series
June, the month of the Dyad moon, the time the God and the Goddess become one. It is a time to seek harmony in all things: light balances dark, heat balances cold, and good balances evil.
Brenna Lindsay stood silently in the circle she'd formed of white beeswax candles. The full moon bathed the clearing with silver light. Cool night air met the still-warm ground, creating wispy patches of ground fog blanketing the earth like a sheet of transparent white cotton.
Her wolf, White Star, sat on his haunches next to her, alert and on guard. Her other companions, twin shapeshifters, Boris and Igor, prowled the perimeter of the glen, watching for any hint of danger.
A hoot of an owl and the rustling of a small creature were the only sounds detectable on the night air.
Brenna relaxed, trusting that her companions would stand guard. She resumed her preparations for the Summer Solstice ritual. Normally, at the lesser Sabbat of Litha, it was common to seek the Goddess's blessing upon earth's bounty and protection for one's home. With the veils between the worlds of light and dark at their thinnest, a witch has the charge to maintain the delicate balance.
This year, that duty was of higher consequence.
Evil was afoot, and had gathered strength since June's crescent moon. It was then that she'd received the first warning, a note tacked to one of her herb farm's drying sheds…
We're watching you, witch. Stay out of business that doesn't concern you, or else!
After several more ominous threats and some incidents of vandalism, she contacted the head of the Coven of the Wolf in Chicago, Drake Morgan. Briefly, she'd considered going to the local law. The new sheriff was reputed to be a fair and impartial man, but she quickly discarded the notion. No matter how open-minded the sheriff was, once the words "witch" and "magick" became involved, his liberalness would vanish more quickly than ice in Hell.
Drake's response had been gratifyingly immediate. He sent two men from his security team, the Russian twins, Boris and Igor, to investigate—and provide protection. They'd arrived yesterday, just in time for the midsummer ritual.
A light breeze blew her azure-colored cloak against her legs and caused the blanket of light fog to shift and move as if it were a living, breathing creature. She shivered as some animal screamed in the forest at the edge of the clearing. Star stiffened beside her, nose raised to sniff the air. After a moment he relaxed, nudging her hand in reassurance, urging her to finish the night's business.
Whatever was out there was not a direct threat to them, or Star would've attempted to drag her away.
Turning back to her preparations, she placed several large amethysts and other protective stones that she would ask the Goddess to bless. The larger stones she would bury around her house and those of the other local coven members. The smaller stones she would fashion into protective amulets for her non-coven employees to wear while on the job.
But her magick could not insulate the countryside. So, she would seek a visualization of the evil. She hoped that once she knew who or what was the cause, she would be able to stop it before anyone got hurt.
In the exact center of the circle lay a small pond. It was this she would use for the scrying.
"Woo-oof." Star nudged her hand.
She looked down at her pet and smiled. The white star marking around his eye almost glowed in the moonlight. It was the only lightness on him other than his silver-colored eyes, his pelt being as dark as a moonless night. "What is it, boy? Do you wish to hunt whatever is rustling out there in the woods?"
Star showed his teeth and nodded.
Laughing, she stroked her pet's head between his ears. "Go on with you. Boris and Igor will protect me. Just don't bring whatever you catch home. I don't want rodent parts in my house."
Star rubbed his head against her leg in obeisance, then took off for the wall of trees at the edge of the clearing. His dark body merged into the inky shadows.
"Why do you put up with that wild animal?" asked Boris, or was it Igor? She still had a bit of trouble telling the two apart.
"He's no wilder than either of you." Her glance swept over the twins, who'd shifted from their wolfhound form into human. They stood outside the circle, their pale, naked bodies almost glistening in the bright moonlight, waiting to be invited inside.
"Please enter. All be blessed who come within." After the two crossed over, she re-consecrated the circle and began to light the white beeswax candles. "Didn't you bring any clothes?"
"No," said one of the twins. She thought it might be Igor, since his tone seemed serious. "We thought summer solstice rituals were performed sky-clad."
"Traditionally they are," she said, "but this spot is adjacent to public forest land, so it is safer to have clothing at hand."
"Be assured, Mistress, if someone comes, we'll shift back to animal form," the other twin said. This had to be Boris. Igor had stopped calling her mistress yesterday evening. She thought Boris, who'd proven to be somewhat of a smart-aleck, did it to pull her chain.
"Boris, I asked you not to address me as mistress." She turned to complete the arrangements for her ritual. "My employees are beginning to wonder about our relationship."
Boris stifled a snicker.
She glared at him. "That wasn't meant to be funny. This is a small town, and all I need is for one of the non-believers to go to the new sheriff and tell him I'm a dominatrix. Or that I'm having orgies with two of my employees."
"Yes, ma'am," Boris said, grinning like a loon.
"What can we do to help?" asked Igor as he punched his brother in the arm with his fist.
"Nothing. Just stand and listen."
Brenna arranged a wreath of white flowers on her hair, then removed her outer cloak. Both men gasped, but she refused to acknowledge their recognition of the sheerness of her robe. Igor was correct. Most rituals were performed in the nude. To honor the tradition, but protect her modesty in case someone stumbled onto her during ritual, she preferred a sheer gown.
Taking her staff of polished oak, she pushed it into the earth. By grounding herself to Mother Earth, she would prevent an inadvertent crossing over into the dark world. Closing her eyes, she felt the flow of the Gaia's life force seeping its way into her. She was now ready to plumb the high energy of the summer solstice. If things went well, she would garner that energy for protection and seek out the root of the evil.
Picking up the chalice containing wine she had pressed from last year's grape harvest, she took a sip, then held her hands to the sky.
Goddess, we bring thee gifts to celebrate the time of light and dark.
Help us seek balance.
Bless these stones to protect our home and those within.
Provide us with the wisdom to preserve the gifts of your bounty.
As her words ended, the crystalline stones she'd placed around the circle shimmered and glowed. She turned toward the East and took another sip of the wine.
Goddess, send the winds to refresh our land.
The eastern breeze increased in its intensity, clearing out the heavy night mist. She turned toward the South, toasting the Goddess once more with her cup.
Goddess, send the sun to warm the earth and allow all life to flourish.
A strobe-like flash of light from the south swept over the circle, then vanished into the ground at Brenna's feet. She rotated another quarter-turn toward the West and sipped her wine.
Goddess, bless us with rain to help the bounty grow.
The rumble of thunder and a flash of lightning came from a cloudless sky and the pond rippled with the droplets of a phantom thunderstorm. She turned one final time.
Goddess, send the seasons in their proper time.
Brenna took the green cord knotted about her waist and kissed the ends, ending the traditional Litha ritual.
Going to the four points of the compass on the circle, she laid offerings of flowers and cookies for the nature spirits, asking them to aid in the protection of her home.
Kneeling by the pond, she grew warm from the power she'd taken. Stirring the waters in a clockwise fashion, she imparted some of the energy to the cool liquid. Within the misty swirls, images began to form as she sought knowledge of those who threatened her and those she protected—maybe even the why of the threats.
Goddess, all we have asked of you,
We welcome with open hearts full of light and goodness.
Please reveal who seeks to harm me and mine.
The waters bubbled and boiled as the air within the circle whistled and screamed like a banshee. A white owl swooped down and landed at the edge of the pond, a mere arm's length away from Brenna. Its golden-eyed gaze captured hers with its intensity. Boris and Igor closed in on the bird. She stayed them with a shake of her head.
The owl spoke to her mind:
Daughter, you have done right in seeking me out. There is a darkness upon the land. The dark ones are using you and yours for their own evil purposes. Soon, you will discover their perfidy and must choose your path to re-establish harmony. Be warned, you must not battle the evil alone, for you are of the light. Look to the waters. See the other that will make you whole. Together, in balance, you will defeat the threat from the darkness.
The owl blinked once, then flew off with a flashing of wings.
Brenna gazed at the waters. Among the ripples she saw many things. Death would come this very night. Evil would reign over the land. The only way to halt the onslaught of darkness and defeat evil's takeover was to find her opposite, a man of strength, formed in the fire of battle. A warrior.
At the last image, she closed her eyes, but still she saw … him. The one. He was naked, his bronzed body sculpted by a master's hand. His hair was long and silky black, touching his shoulders. His profile was formidable—his nose straight as a blade, his face, rugged. But what was indelibly etched on her mind's eye were his hands, long-fingered, as they reached for her as she lay, naked, on an unfamiliar bed in a room she had never seen.
Shaken by what the Goddess had revealed to her through the owl, she didn't shrug off Boris's assistance in standing. On her own, she might never have gotten off the ground.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Brenna," said Boris, for once being sober, "but aren't owls symbols for the crone aspect of the Goddess?"
"Yes." She shivered and looked around for her cloak. Igor held it for her and she slipped it on, grateful for its warmth against the damp night air. "The trilogy of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone. The crone represents wisdom, thus the owl. The full moon is the phase associated with the crone."
"What did the owl tell you?"
Before she could frame an answer, a howling erupted from the darkness. The sound raised the hairs on her arms.
"It's Star. He's found something."
She ran toward the sound of Star's cry. Shifting into their animal forms, Igor and Boris ran alongside her, then quickly outstripped her two-legged pace with their four.
She followed them into the forest's foreboding darkness.
When she found them, the trio stood in a semi-circle at the base of a large oak tree, gazing upwards at something she could not see from her angle of approach. Hurrying to join them, she hit a wall of energy, as solid as if it were made of bricks. Malevolence exuded from the psychic barricade, making her queasy.
Star whimpered, then called to her. "Woof!"
She fought her way through the thick murk to join her companions.
Treading carefully, she walked around the oak's trunk. Her hand automatically reached out to calm Star, who whined, low and incessantly, at the back of his throat. She looked up to see what had captured their awful attention.
"Blessed Goddess." She would have fallen if one of the twins had not shifted shape to catch her within his strong arms.
A beam of moonlight had fought its way through the canopy of trees and highlighted the oak's trunk. Like a black-and-white horror show, it outlined the figure of a man staked to the tree. His blood ran darkly down his naked body and dripped onto the forest floor.
Muttering a prayer to God and the Goddess, she sought a swift passing for his essence to the other side. But it was not to be.
The man's spirit pummeled her senses with his need to be avenged, seeking entrance to her mind.
Be calm, angry spirit. I will listen … later. There are actions that must be taken first.
It was as the visions in the pond had revealed. The duty to seek out the evil and vanquish it belonged to her and the man she had yet to meet. Until that time, she had to follow mankind's laws. There was no way to hide this death from the authorities.
"We have to call the sheriff," she addressed the twins. "One of you has to go and report this. The other has to go to the clearing and clean up the circle. I'll stay here." The naked male warmth plastered against her back, enveloping her, caused her to add, "And for goodness sake, get some clothes."
"One of us can stay here," argued Igor, his warm breath caressing her cheek. His arms were the ones that had caught—and still held her. Closely, too closely. His nakedness added to her unease with what the night had brought … that and the knowledge that he was not the "one".
"No," she said as she sought to move away from his possessive embrace. Igor growled low in his throat as his grip tightened for a mere fraction of a second, then went slack. Before he could rethink his position, she stepped out of his arms and turned to capture both twin's gazes with her own. "I have to stay. I need to make an attempt to reach what might be left of his life force." And that of the evil which lingers here, but they didn't need to know that. "Besides I'll have Star with me. He and I will do just fine."
"Brenna, you can't get mixed up in this," said Boris. "With the threats to expose you as a witch…"
"He was killed near my land. I'm already involved. Besides, a death was prophesied by the Goddess for this night. His death. The balance has shifted to the dark side. She has informed me it is my duty. I have to shift it back."
Igor's sharp blue eyes swept over her face. "Just what did you see in the scrying?"
"The future." My future. "And somehow this man's death will bring it to me."