Authors: Teresa Reasor
Teresa J. Reasor
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are 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.
COPYRIGHT © 2012 by Teresa J. Reasor
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Cover Art by
Teresa J. Reasor
PO Box 124
Corbin, KY 40702
First Edition 2012
To Corey Albers, without whose expertise in saturation diving, my character’s world and occupation would not have been as believable. Thank you doesn’t say enough.
To all the wonderful people on the Sub-Arch list serve. You have been invaluable to this project. In particular Rob Reedy, Lee Chamberlain III, Christopher Lewis, Dean Chamberlain, and Peter Johnson. You have always treated me with respect and kindness, gently corrected my misconceptions, and tried your darnedest to teach me. Rob Reedy thanks for always jumping in to offer help and information to a budding author, and Peter Johnson thanks for the added attention to detail with your illustrations and explanations about lift bags. You both went beyond the call of duty, and I will always be grateful.
To Jim Mac Gregor for his wonderful translation of my song into Scots Gaelic. Your help gave an authenticity to my words.
Any mistakes I’ve made, or licenses I’ve taken with the information the people in the dedication have shared, are totally my own and not the responsibility of the people I’ve mentioned. This is after all a work of fiction.
To the Lethal Ladies Crit Loop. Your invaluable suggestions have made my writing so much better. You’re the Bomb!
And to my family and particularly my mother, who is always supportive of my writing and artwork— I love you.
Loch Maree, Scotland 1318
Coira woke with the salty taste of blood coating her mouth. The pungent smells of must and copper, of damp earth and decay filled her nostrils. Her breath bubbled forth wet, rattling.
Blinded by darkness, her movements weak, she touched the sides of her prison and followed the flat contour of the rough stone with her fingertips. Her arm and hip pressed into the spongy ground. Her bare feet pushed against one side of the small chamber, her head the other. The fabric of her kirtle wrapped her in a cloying, damp cocoon.
Where was she? What kind of place was this? She reached up and encountered the same rough stone. For a moment, the rock surrounding her seemed to press down on her. Instinct kicked in, shredding her composure. She flailed her arms and succeeded in barking away the skin on her elbows. Her labored breathing squeezed the scream, clawing its way up her throat, into a wheeze.
Thoughts of Braden, her husband, tumbled through her mind tightening her throat with emotion. Was he already searching for her? Would they harm him to end his inquiries? Would they imprison him to silence his accusations? Fear for him cleared the dullness from her mind. Once again, she probed the walls with her hands for an opening.
A dull pulse of sound rose from the ground beneath her and beat against the walls of the tomb. Her panic stilled. Holding her breath, she strained to identify the low musical rhythm. Voices. Voices raised in a chant she could not define. She had to be close to the stone circle.
Closing her eyes against the distracting blackness, she focused and allowed her mind to open and reach out. She encountered coldness, slimy and repulsive. The world spun, and a dark hungry void opened before her, reaching up to suck her down.
She jerked her mind back, breaking the tie from the man who had attacked her. Drawing in a sharp breath, a fit of coughing racked her. Pain ripped through her so fierce she curled in on herself to ride its crest.
Afterwards, her meager strength spent, she spat out the fresh blood that clogged her throat.
She was dying.
A short rush of fear coursed through her then eased into acceptance. Death did not exist. She would live again. The Druid faith expected it, accepted it, and she knew the truth in her heart.
“Braden.” His name hung like a benediction on her lips. Regret, as painful as the cough, tore through her. She did not want to leave him. He was her heart, her lover, her husband. Her everything. Why had she not realized that until now? Tears flowed hot and wet down her cold face.
The rising force from the ground beneath her throbbed an increasing beat. She knew the worshippers would be stomping in rhythm to the chant, encouraging the rise of power between the priest and the elements as he called upon the stones. With the power of the circle at his disposal, her people would be torn asunder by the clansmen with whom he had aligned himself. For what? Why?
The answer came like a whisper.
For control of the stones.
“Nay.” The word, little more than a breath, bounced off the close walls of her tomb.
In times past, a human sacrifice had been offered to ensure prosperity and the continuing safety of the clan. The priest had attempted to sacrifice her body for his own ends, but she had not died. Not yet.
She turned on to her back, her movements clumsy and weak. Fresh pain echoed through her body. She bit back a groan. The ground felt soggy as she pressed her palms, her bare feet against the earth. Too weak to speak aloud, she whispered an incantation.
“With my blood open the way for strength,
With my body open the way to peace,
With my blood open the way to unity,
With my body protect my people from any harm he would do them, now and forevermore.”
With the last word, her mind flew free beyond the stone confines. She beckoned the force welcoming the warmth of the power within her. Familiar heat trickled beneath her skin, flowing from the earth she lay on and from the tomb that surrounded her, from the air she breathed. As it permeated her flesh, the ache of her injuries receded and she grasped at the powerful sensation that thrummed through her system like the pulsing of her blood.
She opened her mind and the small recess where she lay filled with light. The rock slab above her grew transparent, as though she lay face up within a pool of clean water. The sky spread above her heavy with clouds. The priest stood before her. A black hood covered his head. Deep shadows hid his face. He raised his arms, his voice a shout of eager command as the followers repeated his words.
At once she recognized her prison. She lay inside the very altar where she had worshiped for so many years.
Patience taught through her faith had served her well in times past. But now an urgency to rush, to seal the stones from him, infused her. A humming filled the altar, high pitched and insistent, as the power the priest summoned reached a fever pitch.
Steeling herself against the sickening sensation, Coira once again probed the priest’s thoughts and sensed his control wavering. She imagined taking the hard strength of the stones within her, holding it inside her damaged body, as wind whirled around her cooling her overheated skin. The sound of thunder seemed to fill the small space. The lightning had started. If it struck the stones she might not be able to control them.
The strength of the water beckoned her, and she turned her inner vision to the loch just beyond the stone circle. The water glistened. The lightning’s flash reflected red-gold on its surface.
“Come to me.” The words, shouted within her mind, passed her lips as a mere whisper. The humming grew to a whistle as the pressure inside the altar escaped from beneath the heavy lid. The worshippers’ shouts and movements grew frenzied. The ground rumbled beneath her like a great beast that had suddenly awakened and shaken itself from sleep.
“Come to me.” Another stronger tremor struck as if the beast struggled to rise and the land began to ripple.
Great cracks appeared in the earth leading to the loch. Water rushed forth in rivulets to fill them, nipping and tearing at the soil and rock. The ground shuddered, dislodging a huge chunk of the bank and it fell into the water’s depths.
A collective cry went up as the worshippers staggered and stumbled riding the undulating surface. The stones rocked and swayed as though dancing to the music of the wind. The writings carved on their surface glowed red hot in the lightning’s heat.
The priest fell to his knees.
A single monolith cracked at its base and toppled. The lintel balanced between tumbled aside. The last thin layer of ground crumbled away and water surged forth in a great tide.
Having regained his feet, the priest turned to face the wave, his arms outstretched as though to embrace it. His hood fell back and for the first time she saw his face twisted with rage and fear.
“Nay.” Her cry of pain ripped from the depths of her heart as the water crashed down upon him. Her vision faded and, once again, darkness shrouded her. Cold water spewed through the cracks wetting her face and slowly filling the altar. Her body grew numb, her mind disoriented after the release of concentration.
She panted, drawing short painful breaths of the thinning air as she waited to die. A thought revived her. If she would be reborn one day, then so would he. He might again prove a threat to the stones. To her people.
With her last breath, she murmured a spell, a prayer of protection for her clan and the stones.
Loch Maree, Scotland 2011
Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
The mantra played through Regan’s mind like a prayer as she propelled herself through the turbid water with strong even kicks. Heavy sediment clouded her range of vision and gave the water a greenish cast. It reflected back the feeble glow of the watertight dive light she held clamped in her hand. The grayish scales of a lone fish sparkled as it swam within the small, illumined circle, then darted away along the brown bottom of the loch.
It looked as though she’d been dropped on a waterlogged moon, desolate and distant. Her face ached from the cold temperature of the water, but her dry suit kept her reasonably protected. She forced herself to stop and take stock of the situation. She’d lost her dive buddy, Henry, in the haze, but still had her compass and remained on course. Her heart beat hard against her ribs, and she tried to slow her breathing. He’d been right beside her only moments before. Where could he be?
She checked her depth gauge. She’d been at a hundred and forty feet for nearly five minutes searching for him, four minutes longer than she should have stayed. She’d have to surface soon. Five minutes on the bottom could eat into the air she needed to decompress.
He’d be looking for her, as she’d been doing for him. She should have never pushed him to dive with her. Her desire to see the stones may have put Henry’s life at risk. And her own. She had to find him.
Regan looked at her tank pressure. Would he continue on to the site before surfacing? She could make it to the location and see if he’d made it there.
The loch bottom rose in a knoll with little vegetation. Regan swam up and over the rise. The ground dropped steeply away, giving the sensation of a bottomless maw opening up to swallow anyone or anything that swam over its lip. An electric fission of renewed fear raced down her body. Her sense of isolation intensified. She heard her father’s voice in her head.
She turned her attention to the task at hand.