Authors: Clover Autrey
Highland Moon Sifter
By Clover Autrey
Copyright 2013 Clover Autrey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Red Rover Books
Highland Moon Sifter
Bekah McRafferty plunged out of the sky, naked as the day she was born, and tumbled into meadowgrass, scraping her chin along the ground.
Guess an easy ride eight centuries into the past shouldn’t have been expected. Riding a swirling vacuum raging bronco of a time rift didn’t exactly ease her out on a downy bed of roses, but rather spit her out after sucking everything material away. Good luck to anyone with fillings in their teeth.
Shaking her head to clear the haziness creeping along the edges of her sight, Bekah squinted at her surroundings. Thick forest on one side, dark fitted stone wall stretching as far as she could see on the other.
The reality of where she was hit her like, well, a stone wall.
She’d really done it.
“Oi, you there,” a guttural voice called out.
Bekah jerked to the side, finding a guardsman, in authentic tunic and cross-leggings, rushing toward her, another two right behind him.
Um, no. Nada. Getting detained by the witch’s guard, especially naked, was not penciled onto her agenda for today. Whatever day it was.
Lunging up like a sprinter, she tore off into the trees, giving the men a stark view of her unhindered tush.
Spongy leaves and pine needles kicked up beneath her bare feet, stabbing tender insoles, but she ignored the pain, hurdling over fallen branches.
Shouts and trampling through brushy ground echoed behind her. Twigs and branches snapped. The men were clumsy and loud. She was quick. She’d once outrun a pack of Sifts through a maze of the old subway system on a twisted ankle.
She could outrun clumsy mercenaries any day of the week. Doing it with clothes on, especially shoes, would be nice. She wondered if doubling back and taking on one of the guards for his tunic would be worth the trouble, but decided her best option was to outdistance them, get as far from the witch’s castle as possible.
From what the scientists and historians back home knew, the Moon Sifter wouldn’t be at the castle, except when the Highland brothers had scouted it out for a rescue mission to get Toren from its dungeon. They had found Charity Greves outside the castle walls instead and mistook her for a lesser witch.
Bekah knew every bit of the story because she had one job and she’d already messed it up. She knew exactly what had happened on Crunfathy Hill, Scotland. She and her two brothers-in-arms, and best friends, Matthew and Luke, had traveled from the year 2083 to early twenty-first century Seattle. They’d also known that Col Limont had been flung forward from that ancient battle on the hill to Seattle and it was their job to help him get back to his own time in the thirteenth century. They’d failed.
No one could have predicted it would be her instead of the Shapeshifter who jumped into that rift.
Well, she was here now with nothing but her pride and knowledge of future events. Oh, and some nice little gashes in her shoulder compliments of the monsters she came here to eradicate. Peachy.
All she had to do was find Shaw Limont and kill him before he can break the world.
“Got you!” A beefy body lurched out between two trees, reaching for her. How did he get the drop on her? This particular guard was better than she’d thought, running quietly ahead while he let his noisy companions herd her straight to him.
She should have anticipated that. Then again, his cloak looked nice and warm.
Grinning, Bekah spun her back to him, let him grab her around the shoulders while she bent over, letting his own bulk and momentum carry him over the top of her to hit the ground. He wasn’t done twisting, but she wasn’t finished either. She jumped heels first onto his belly, regretting the lack of shoes, and leaped off, coming for him again.
He whirled forward to protect his nethers—men, always worried about certain parts—and she grabbed the neck of his cloak instead, ripping it off his back and tearing it away, while he grabbed for her.
Not pressing her luck, Bekah was already dodging away, the mercenary’s cloak balled in her arms when a hideous screech rent the quiet air.
Her heart hit her ribs like a gun blast. She’d recognize that sound anywhere.
A Sift here? How could a Sift be here?
The human scream that came next jolted her to the core. Long, drawn-out, cresting of shock and agony, the noise of sharp teeth feasting on one of the unfortunate guards she’d outrun. She’d seen it a hundred times and it still had the power to take her to her knees.
Her throat closed with the tightness of a hangman’s noose.
Sifts couldn’t be here. It wasn’t possible. They didn’t yet exist in this time.
The only way—crud. They’d entered the time rift back in Seattle just before her. It was the only explanation. How many? It couldn’t be a lot. Maybe two, possibly three at worst. Which just made her job a lot trickier.
She’d come to ensure the Sifts were never created—erased from existence. She couldn’t leave any trace of them in this time.
And they knew that. Which meant the Sifts would do everything they could to stop her.
Bekah fled deeper into the forest, pulling the cloak around her as she ran. East, she headed east. Hopefully. She’s grown up in the desolate streets scavenging. It was not the same as scavenging in the woods, but the hold-out human survivors had hidden in the wilds on enough occasions that she knew in the northern hemisphere that moss grew on the northern side of trees. There was plenty of the fungus in this wet coastal forest to determine her direction.
Crunfathy Village was north of Aldreth’s castle, and the warriors’ camp the brothers had taken Charity Greves to—were taking Charity to—lay somewhere in between.
That’s where she’d find Shaw Limont.
She hadn’t jumped into the tail end of the High Sorcerer’s time rift for nothing.
Shaw Limont had to die.
A hard body bore her to the ground. A shrilly screech and noxious smell of things that should have been, by rights, long dead assaulted her. Vicious hot pain erupted across her hip as they broke apart.
The Sift came up on all fours, sniffing the air, face moving side to side. On her butt, hands planted on the ground, Bekah drew her legs up to run. Sifts could see beneath the putrefied translucent scar tissue over the pits of their eyes, but not well, relying more on smell and sound.
Her hand felt a large stone beneath the soggy leaf-litter and closed around it.
The Sift’s dark face jerked toward her right before it sprang.
Rolling to the side, Bekah carried the rock with her, connecting with the side of the creature’s head. She felt bone give beneath the rubbery bloated folds of skin. She was up and running, not taking the time to see how fast the beast would be up and coming after her. Because it would. It’d take more than a rock to the head to stop a Sift in its prime.
Nearly staggering from the pain in her side, she pressed a palm over the wet slash where the beast’s claw ripped a line above her hip. She didn’t have time to deal with the damage, not unless she wanted to live. So she ran, bearing down on the pain and let it motivate her to push harder.
It was either that or be eaten.
The Sift stalked her through the falling night. Bekah knew she’d never shake it. It was as motivated to remain in existence as she was to make sure the man eaters were never created. Those malignant beasts in her time had nearly eaten humanity to extinction.
But to kill it, she needed better weapons than a rock. And help. She could get both from Clan Limont.
Hi there. I need you to help me kill the monsters. Oh, and then, I need to kill your Guardian Shaw Limont to make sure these monsters never come into being
. Yeah, that’d make her popular around the hearth fires.
Hours later, she crested the lip of a hill that looked down into a sleepy little village and she felt like weeping. The weather of Scotland was not exactly warm. She was cold and hurt and miserable and hunted by one of the most lethal cunning creatures born entirely of dark magic. She had purposely dragged her body through every patch of mud and decaying mass of forest fodder to mask her scent from the creatures.
Her side was a bleeding welt of pain. Oh, and not to be outdone by a new wound, the gashes she’d taken in the shoulder before leaping into the time rift had decided to make themselves known with a vengeance. Every footstep brought stabbing pain and her feet were cut and bruised.
She needed help and help was down there in the form of Healers. Many of them.
They would help her. Their hearts would have to be made of stone for any Healer to turn down an injured naked woman who stumbled out of the forest. At least the self- imposed layers of filth helped with her modesty, if not her smell.
But it appeared to have worked so far.
She hadn’t seen signs of the Sifts for nearly an hour.
How could she live with herself if she had led one of those demons to an unprepared village?
Yet Clan Limont was full of the most powerful magic wielders ever known in history. As much as she didn’t want to lead the Sifts there, they were the ones who could best handle them. She couldn’t do it on her own, not in the shape she was in.
She’d play the pity card, get the aid she needed—and then do her job.
She started down the slope, slipping along the loose earth.
Exhausted and in pain, she didn’t have to pretend to stumble. Moonlight sprinkled the quiet village in a soft glow.
“Help,” Bekah called out at the base of the hill. “Help me.” She didn’t need to add any dramatics to her tired breathy voice.
Nothing stirred. No light from within proved there were any simmering hearth fires lit to welcome her. No dogs barked or livestock brayed from their pens. She limped through the open gates, seeing what she hadn’t noticed from above. The cottages were in ruin, more than half were little more than burnt husks. Crunfathy had been long abandoned.
No…no. This couldn’t be right. Clan Limont had to be here.
She stared numbly into an empty window.
There were Sifts after her. She was walking wounded. Unarmed. Unclothed. And completely utterly alone.
It hadn’t exactly been her day.
She headed for the closest still-intact cottage, because she didn’t really know if she had the strength to hobble to the next one. The thick wooden door appeared sturdy enough, with iron brackets that would hold a crossbar across it. Unfortunately she didn’t see any crossbars lying around.
She’d have to jimmy something in place, though anything would be merely a hindrance to a Sift. But she’d survived long enough in a world overrun with the beasts to discredit even a few seconds of warning.
The floor rippled and swayed as her vision blurred. She stilled, focusing on taking deep breaths. She couldn’t afford to pass out. Not here. Not now.
She waited for the walls to tip back into their upright position and quit moving altogether.
The little one-room cottage was wrecked. Not just quickly abandoned as the clan fled, but ransacked. The scant chairs thrown and broken, table overturned and heirloom chests lying on their sides, unwanted contents strewn across the floor. It looked like she wasn’t the first to have stayed here for shelter.
Fortunately one of the table legs had snapped off and she used that to fit across the brackets in the door. It wouldn’t hold a Sift out for long. It could burrow through the flimsy thatched roof for all that was worth. She was so screwed.
The two windows were in better condition, one’s latch on the covering shutters was still intact while the other was braced with hewn boards. Whoever had sheltered here before her obviously hadn’t wanted unexpected company either.
The fabric spilled on the floor from the upturned chest was little more than torn scraps, which was why they’d been left. A woman’s patching scraps perhaps.