It was a long day at work, pulling a double between Ocean Guardian and Aces, and I just wanted to pass out. I passed Ceci’s familiar presence on the Tide and made my way to my cabin, stripping down to nearly nothing before collapsing on the bed. I felt a chill race up my spine and assumed that Ceci was nearby. “What is it, Ceci?”
“Alo is here,” she said. “He wants me to tell you he can see why Sani likes you so much, but he needs your help. Val, can you hear me?’” I sat bolt upright and looked around. “Sani is in trouble.”
I looked around, trying to sense Alo, but I found nothing. “What happened?”
Ceci paused for a moment. I assumed Alo was relaying the message to her. “He’s being tortured by his own mind. Whatever darkness has been haunting him isn’t wanting to let go of him. The further away he gets from the darkness, the worse it gets. The voices from his past are tearing him apart.”
I crawled out of bed. “Where is he? If he is that dark, he will most definitely have shifted. Both he and the public could be in great danger!” I threw on a simple dress and made my way off the Tide.
“Alo is shaking his head. Apparently, Sani is floating in the bayou somewhere,” Ceci replied. “He had a panic attack, shifted into an owl, and flew as high into the atmosphere as he could until he passed out and fell back into the bayou. Luckily, he landed in the water.” I was not sure how that was defined as lucky. The gators would make quick work of him.
“The bayou?!” I raced out of the marina to borrow the speedboat from the inhabitants docked there. I watched as Ceci waved from the Tide when I passed her. “Alo, I do not know if you can hear me, but Cecelia is bound to the Spring Tide. She cannot leave until I avenge her.” I felt a chill on my back, and then it disappeared.
I raced into the bayou with no idea where I was going, but I began looking for an owl floating on the surface. I did not know what I would do if I could not find him. After hours of fruitless searching, I was heading back toward the cabin. As I neared his home, I finally saw Sani in human form. I killed the engine and dove into the water, not worrying about the dangers lurking beneath the surface. “Sani!” He did not stir, and I feared he might be dead. I wrapped my arms around him and tried to lift him. “Good lord, you are heavy! Sani, wake up!” I slapped his face gently, trying to wake him.
Sani cracked his eyes open and took a deep breath. I breathed a sigh of relief and began kicking, towing him toward the dock. “Come on, Sani. I cannot lose you.”
He opened his eyes a little more. “Va… Val?”
I kissed him, pushing air into his lungs. “It is me. We are just outside your cabin, but I cannot lift you up. Please, wake up, Sani.”
He slowly started to move his arms, reaching for the dock. I helped push him up, and once he was safe and out of the water, I made my way back to the boat. Better to do it now than later when it was dark. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Sani struggled to his hands and knees. When I had turned for a moment, I felt something large brush my leg, and I tensed. I was still several feet from the boat, and I did not want to make any sudden movements.
Sani collapsed to the dock and struggled to get back up. “Val…” I had to hurry.
“Sani, are you okay?” I called out as I slowly backpedaled my way back to the boat.
“I… I don’t know.” His reply was soft, and I knew I had to check on him.
“Stay there. I will be back in a moment!” I yelled before muttering. “As long as I do not get eaten first.”
“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he mumbled.
I made it back to the boat and was almost out of the water when a large alligator nipped at my heel, slicing into it. “Yikes!” I stumbled to the steering wheel and turned the boat back on before guiding it back to the dock.
Sani stood slowly and placed his hands on his back. “Are you okay?”
I tied off the line and looked at my foot. “I should be asking you that.” I climbed out of the boat slowly, wincing when I tried putting pressure on my foot.
Sani chuckled that soft, almost unassuming chuckle he does, and my heart soared a little. “Yeah, I suppose so. What’re you doing in the bayou at this time of night?”
I hobbled over and smacked his chest. “Alo came to find me! You were unconscious in the water for who knows how long!”
“Alo? How?” he asked, curious.
“I…” I pushed my way into the cabin, my foot throbbing and bleeding on the wood. “He communicated with Cecelia. I assume they are able to speak, since they are both spirits.”
Sani followed me into his cabin and wrapped an arm around me. “Interesting.”
I gasped slightly and lifted my foot. “Are you doing that to help me, or because you need to touch me?” I asked softly.
Sani simply shrugged. “Both, probably.”
“Did you hit your head on the way down, Sani?” I asked as I wriggled out from under his arm and sat down at the table, pulling my foot up. The last thing I needed was splinters.
“Probably.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah, I think I did.”
“Come here.” I crooked a finger in his direction, ignoring the throbbing pain coming from my heel. Sani hobbled over, and I laughed softly at the pair of us. “Come on, I know you are short… but lean down, please.” He did so grudgingly. “Thank you.” I ran a hand carefully around the base of his head and up until I felt the goose egg. “Oh, ya, you dinged it on something. I would suggest not sleeping for a while, in case you have a concussion.”
He simply shrugged and rested his head against mine. “I’m going to need some company.”
I flushed and smiled. “I probably should not be on my foot anytime soon, either. I think that gator left a tooth behind.”
Sani bent down and examined my heel. He got up and hobbled to the cabinets, pulling out some supplies. He came back after a moment and started cleaning the wound. “Good thing you showed up when you did, or I would have been gator food.”
I winced and nodded. “I could not open my eyes underwater, but yes, I believe you may have been. You need to sit and relax. I can tend to this.”
Surprisingly, Sani did as I suggested. Normally, he would banter with me a little. He sat down in a chair beside me and sighed. “I had a panic attack.m I managed to avoid attacking anyone, though.”
That caught me by surprise. “What panicked you?” I asked softly as I took the supplies from him and finished cleaning and dressing my wound.
“I’ve been having these… visions or dreams or whatever. These people from my past, my father, bullies, Skinwalkers, they all taunted me for straying from the darkness.” His voice was so quiet. I almost did not hear him.
“Oh.” I nodded and looked away. “I am sorry.”
“I didn’t know what to do, so I took to the sky,” he replied.
“Because you feel at peace up there,” I muttered softly.
Sani nodded. “I probably went a bit too high.”
“Or your body is caught in the turmoil…” I sighed again and tried to stand, placing almost no weight on my heel before wincing and sitting back down. “Well, that sucks.”
“I don’t know what to do. It feels like the farther from the darkness, the darker my thoughts get.”
I walked around the cabin, unable to drop the heel. “Something is influencing you then, trying to make you more evil than you are,” I suggested off-handedly.
Sani stroked his chin in that sexy way he had, and I fluttered. If I was stuck here for a few days, could I avoid the temptation of him, or would I give in again? “Who? Or What?”
I did not look at him directly. “I do not know. Maybe someone from your past? Something that helped guide you to being a Skinwalker in the first place? You said you were a healer. Other than the abuse you sustained at your father’s hand, you were still intent on being good, right? Until something changed?” I felt like I was spitting nonsense, trying to find a reason I was supposed to help him.
“Until I turned to the old man by the river…” he trailed off. “He was the only man in the village who was nice to me.”
“The old man by the river?” I paused. Something about this did not feel right. “And he guided you down this path?”
“He was also a Skinwalker. Everybody in the town knew it, but nobody dared confront him. He lived among us and never harmed us. He actually protected us,” Sani said quickly, too quickly.
“I do not know enough about your people to make an educated guess, Sani. But could there have been a second Skinwalker, a hidden one, pulling the strings of your fate from the shadows? Was he actually so kind? Or was it simply a mask, a ruse to get you to trust him?”
I had to be careful here. I had seen similar things among my people, and our histories tell of sages who abused their power by trying to force the change on others.
“He was always kind to me when we played by his hogan. But eventually, I turned to him to teach me dark magic. He cast a protection spell on me to guard me from death to grant me immortality as he had as a Skinwalker. At the time, I was human, so I could still die. But the magic I learned became all-consuming. I loved it, and he helped me embrace it. He would take me to the woods with him and teach me to love killing. It started as animals, but eventually, we branched out to neighboring tribes and lost travelers from the east. We tortured people for the hell of it. We burned wagons full of men, women, and children, laughing as they burned. He turned me to the darkness, Val.” I think the realization was starting to dawn on him, and I worried that this could break him.
I walked back over and knelt in front of him. “If I had to guess then, Sani, I would say this man has a hold on your soul. When you try to break free from him, or when you think about it, that’s when your problems start. But,” I fidgeted with my wet dress, “I could be entirely wrong there.”
“The protection spell could have been a binding spell,” Sani offered quietly.
“Yes, it could have been,” I agreed. I did not know much about magic, but living in New Orleans as long as I had, I had seen my share of binding spells.
“So then, I need to find a witch, preferably a shaman. You don’t happen to know any, do you?” he asked, worry and a little humour coming through in his voice.
I shook my head and sat back down. “Do you happen to have any ice? I do not think I will be dancing on this foot anytime soon.”
Sani walked slowly to the freezer and pulled out some ice, stuck it in a grocery bag, and handed it to me. “I’m sorry, Val.”
“For what?” I took the ice and put it on my heel.
“That I caused this.”
“You did not. I probably could have got the boat a little closer instead of diving in. You do not make my decisions for me, Sani. I was worried, though, that you were dead.” It was true that I was beginning to panic, which is not like me.
He shrugged. “As long as I have my head and my heart, I’m good.” Sani chuckled then, but it was more nervous than good-natured.
I looked at him, not quite understanding, but shrugged. “Well, now I know you cannot die. I suppose I will not come to save you anymore.”
“No, I’m glad you found me,” Sani replied quickly. “I probably would have died had you not.”
“You just said you were immortal, though.” I was confused.
Sani nodded. “Not entirely. If my heart is removed from my body, I’ll die. Take my head off, and I’m done. Silver hurts me.”
My hand moved to where my belly chain used to be, and I realized it was not there. I always wore it. What happened? “Huh. Thank you for trusting me with that.” I tried shrugging off the discomfort of not knowing where the silver whip was.
He nodded again. “I don’t tell many people how to kill me.”
I could not help but smile softly. “Thank you. I promise not to use it…unless I must.”
“Understandable,” was all he said, but there was that smile there, the one he gave me when he read between the lines of what I was saying.
“So, I am stuck here for a couple of days, to help you not sleep, and because walking outside in bare feet with this heel would be a bad idea. Do you have any ideas on how we should spend the time?”
“I normally fly to spend time, but I’m in no shape to fly,” he replied wistfully.
“No, you are not, and I cannot dance at the moment.” I would have to call Tania and let her know.
“Whatever shall we do, Val?” As Sani chuckled, I felt that heat rise again, and I knew I would be giving in to him. I wanted to.
“I know of a few things that don’t require the use of my foot or your head,” I flirted with him. Sani arched an eyebrow, and I turned around to pull off my wet dress, dropping it to the floor. “Yes, a few things.”
Sani picked me up carefully, neither of us in very good shape, and brought me to the bed. As he laid me down, a playfully dark smirk rolled across his face. “I think I have a few ideas of my own, little shark.” As the night carried on, our moans and growls of pleasure drowned out the white noise of the bayou.