In the gateway room of the temple, Aiyana unrolled the meditation blanket in front of a table that held a bowl of water, a plant that never stopped blooming, and an assortment of crystals the previous shaman had given her during her training. Then dropping to her knees, she leaned back on her heels and lifted her hands out while she bowed her head.
“I am Aiyana, faithful Shaman to her people. I serve Hehewuti who watches over us and the realms we serve. Will you hear the requests of your servant today, Great Mother?”
Though the room was closed, Aiyana felt the gentle warm breeze of Hehewuti’s energy wrap around her like a hug. As always, she felt greatly comforted by the presence of such a benevolent force.
I hear you, Aiyana. I also see the burden of your heart, and yet—I cannot grant you the solace you seek today.
“It is not comfort for me, Hehewuti. I ask for you to grant solace to the one chosen as my mate. Jason Cloud’s heart is burdened with grief and can find no peace at the moment. Let your compassion cross the dimensional realms to find him,” Aiyana pleaded.
Precious daughter, your future mate is fulfilling his journey according to his life’s plan. Why do you ask for me to change the will of the First Souls? This I cannot do. Be patient and let the future take the course it is meant to take for him.
“Must I watch Jason grieve and offer him no comfort or hope?” Aiyana asked. It wasn’t the first time she’d been told no by the Great Mother, but this time it was especially hard to hear.
The breeze picked up and wrapped tighter around her. Aiyana shivered in its embrace as her hair lifted from her breasts to whip over her shoulders. Though she felt the Great Mother’s love and compassion strongly, she also understood now that the answer was not going to change.
Have faith in the timing of the First Souls. Your mate will be with you soon. This is all I can tell you.
Aiyana fought back her frustration, and the tears that threatened. She bowed to the floor to hide her face until the emotions passed. There was no hiding the disappointment in her heart and spirit. She hoped Hehewuti would not be angry with her for being saddened by the news.
“Thank you for coming to me, Hehewuti. I serve the Great Mother who serves the First Souls. Praise to you, Hehewuti, for all your gifts,” Aiyana said.
You are welcome, Shaman Aiyana. Walk in peace today.
Then the breeze was suddenly gone.
Staying on the floor several minutes longer, Aiyana allowed the tears to come while she wept for what she could not change. When she finally raised her head, the tears had dried and her spirit had moved into true acceptance. Her ability to accept Hehewuti’s guidance was why she was the Chileaan Shaman. By the time she walked out of the gateway room, Aiyana was already planning to go back to the portal.
She might not be able to help Jason directly, but she hoped his spirit would be aware of her presence watching over him, even if his mind refused to accept such spiritual possibilities. While she wasn’t as energetically stealthy in moving around within the human realm as the Annunaki tribe, Aiyana could still send her future mate all the comfort she could until it was time for him to join her.
Expert tracker Jason Cloud followed the murderer’s footprints through a thickly forested area of the Grand Canyon until they ended at a set of trees and a pile of rocks. Fortunately it hadn’t rained much in several weeks, so the prints he found were still clear. Unfortunately, it was like the footprints simply stopped and disappeared into dry dust beyond the one spot.
He’d been around the entire area many times only to circle back to this point over and over. The prints ended here. How that had happened, Jason wasn’t sure. Even now, staring at the only evidence so far, he couldn’t understand how the escaped men had managed to get away from all twenty-four people tracking them, including him.
Exhausted, Jason fell to his knees in the dirt, the frustration of his failure overwhelming.
Was there no justice at all in the world?
His life’s work as a National Park Ranger was to track down those who got lost in the canyon, so it was doubly hard to accept his lack of ability to find three murderous men that needed to be found. He’d been searching for weeks now with no results other than the one in front of his knees at the moment.
“Emily, I’m sorry that I’m failing you,” Jason said out loud, letting the painful reality escape him at last.
His head ached fiercely from too much walking and not enough sleep. His body was weak from not eating regularly. At the moment he didn’t feel like doing anything but sit in the dirt and cry, yet Jason forced himself to pull out his water bottle and take a few sips. It was a fact that he didn’t feel like he had much to live for these days, but he was not going to risk dying of heat stroke or dehydration if there was still any chance at all that he might find Emily’s killers.
Two months ago his wife had been shot and killed during a convenience store robbery. Her murderers had fled but not gone far. With so many looking for them, they couldn’t have crossed a state line without being recognized because their faces had been captured on the store’s security cameras. Police believed the men had to be hiding somewhere in the woods around the canyon.
There were so many vacant cabins and camping areas this time of year that instinct told Jason the men were just hiding well—which meant they should be able to be found. And who better to find them than the man who was supposed to be the best canyon tracker in the history of the park?
Apparently anyone else but him, Jason decided. He certainly wasn’t going to find them by kneeling in the dirt and swearing at fate. It was just that he didn’t know what else to do.
Though he’d gotten used to turning thoughts of her away in the last few weeks, Jason now thought of Emily’s smiling face the last morning he saw her. He had to put his head in his hand, fighting not to indulge the tears that threatened. For a man who rarely cried, he’d spent almost every night since her death doing so, at least the nights where he hadn’t been able to drown the grief with enough whiskey to pass out first.
If only his grandfather had been alive, then maybe he could have told Jason what he was missing, what he was doing wrong. That old man always found what he looked for and he’d taught Jason never to give up.
Grief had to be making him blind. That was the only answer.
Jason knelt there in the dirt, and for the first time in a long time felt his spirit sending out a plea for divine help. He wished he was a more spiritual man. Maybe then the gods would help him.
He would have prayed if he’d known how to pray, but he didn’t. His father had frowned on such things, and his mother had not challenged his father’s lack of spirituality. Emily had never pressed him to share her spiritual beliefs either, and he hadn’t volunteered to open himself up to her faith. What little spirituality Jason had ever known had been buried for good the day they put his grandfather’s dead body into the ground.
It was only because of that old man that Jason remained native enough to see the spirits of the land and those in the people he encountered. Perhaps that was why when his spirit sought guidance now in his darkest moments, it was his grandfather and his grandfather’s people that came to mind.
But if they were listening, Jason certainly couldn’t tell. Certainly, no divine help had been offered yet.
He climbed wearily to his feet, dusty and frustrated, with no idea what to do next.
From her astral existence within the dimensional veil separating their worlds, Aiyana had watched Jason Cloud as he bent to check the tracks that ended where he knelt. Jason was a protector in his human realm, but today he was not serving his people in his tasks. Today Jason was searching for the ones who had killed his Emily.
Though not materialized fully in the human realm or affected by the emotional vibrations of it, Aiyana could still sense the depth of Jason’s frustration and pain just from the way he held his body and the expressions on his face.
And as always, her heart hurt when his did. It was the way of her people with their chosen mates, but usually such emotional sharing did not occur without some physical bonding. Since her situation was not normal, Aiyana could only accept what was truth for her, despite the fact that her appointed mate was not even in the same realm yet, much less in her life.
Maybe in her spirit she still rebelled about some aspects of her ordained relationship to Jason Cloud, but she had accepted the uniqueness of her tie in the time she’d observed him. Jason had loved his mate in the human realm very much. She could respect Jason for having such sincere feelings, even if it had distressed her that his compassion was being given to someone other than her.
The Great Mother Hehewuti, with a wisdom Aiyana did not understand, had long ago declared Jason Cloud would be her mate. She had sadly passed this news along to her people despite the Chileaan people’s disdain for their descendants who were still living in the human realm. Few there had respect for their eternal spirits, which was a grievous truth to witness.
Even Jason had very little respect for his own spirit, though he was a direct descendent of native people as well. His lack of understanding only made her sadder for him.
Not that any of his spiritual flaws lessened her compassion over his grieving. It was not her place to judge Jason’s life choices while he remained beyond her physical reach.
Nor could she question the Great Mother’s wisdom in sanctioning the compassionate bond she felt for Jason. Aiyana had learned that lesson quite painfully. Part punishment and part service, she had watched Jason for many of his human years, watched as he wooed and bonded with Emily, watched and tried not to wish too hard for the time he would be hers.
But her faith had been strong and remained strong now. In the time she had served as a shaman to her people, Aiyana had seen the Great Mother’s will work out over and over in many people’s lives. The difficult thing now was not in wondering if Jason was going to be a proper mate for her eventually. That would happen. It was how in her limited existence in his realm she could assist him in finding comfort for the grief that was affecting his entire life.
He needed someone to come to his aide. She was compelled to offer solace, yet unable to do so. No that wasn’t the full truth, Aiyana thought, she wasn’t allowed to help him. She could have easily told Jason which direction the murderers of his mate had taken into the woods. This made watching him kneel in the dirt with his spirit calling out for help, a pain greater than any she had been asked to bear before. Only being a shaman for her people kept Aiyana from attempting to contact him directly. Though she might have found a way to penetrate the veil to enter his realm, she wasn’t willing to disobey the Great Mother again.
Yet at the same time she longed for Jason to find his mate’s murderers. Perhaps then his sad spirit could begin to heal, and whatever needed to come to pass before he joined her, could at last do so.
When her spirit brother Hania appeared at her side, Aiyana watched as he saw Jason and sneered. Hania’s disdain was not of Jason personally, but rather for Aiyana being bound by destiny to the man from the human realm. Hania did not share the Great Mother’s belief in Jason being her chosen one.
“Greetings Aiyana. Your distress has brought me to your side. Is it time to retrieve your mate?” Hania asked.
He did not really want to know the answer, but did feel it was his duty to ask. It was no secret that he still refused to believe that the Great Mother of the Chileaans would see their Shaman, his spirit sister, mated to a disrespectful man from the human realm instead of one of their kind. After his work with those in the human realm, his opinion was that most living there remained the spiritual equivalent of emotional children.
The grieving human male he observed carried some native blood in his physical form that should have soothed him naturally. Hania did not hold anything against the man, even though the majority of Jason’s native ancestors had hunted and killed the original Chileaans. Only the ascended ones who answered the call of the Great Mother had completely escaped the fate of being massacred like animals. For those compassionate spirits who chose to remain behind in the human realm during the Great Mother’s retrieval, life had become even harder.
But life for their descendents was now even more limited. Jason’s family had all but set his roots aside. In fact, most spiritual descendents in the human realm spent their time trying to preserve what culture was left or to recover what had been lost.
As a Chileaan protector, Hania had intervened to help in the human realm for too many years to keep count. He had compassion for them, but still could not understand making a willing choice to stay in that realm more than he could understand his sister’s acceptance of her fate to be mated to one of them. He trusted the Great Mother most of the time, but the decision about the Shaman’s mate had caused him many moments of serious reflection on her wisdom.
“Aiyana, did you hear my question? Is it time to collect Jason Cloud?” Hania asked again.
“No,” Aiyana answered, willing her voice not to be sad as her gaze remained on the grieving man she cared for. “It is not time yet, Hania. I am here only because Jason is in great pain. He hunts for the ones who killed his mate.”
Hania softened a little. “Jason Cloud loved the female called Emily sincerely, and for that I respect him. Does his loving grief for her cause your spirit great pain?” he asked.
Hania’s concern for Aiyana’s feelings outweighed his own sense of disgust over Jason’s future role in Aiyana’s life. While he did not approve of their alleged destiny together, he also did not like the idea that his sensitive spirit sister would feel the pain of longing for someone whose truest devotion still belonged to someone else. Having caused such pain in his own mate, and then later been on the receiving end of her rejection because of it, Hania knew full well how much suffering it could cause.
He carefully studied Aiyana’s concerned gaze resting on Jason Cloud as he waited again for her answer. Through their connection as spirit siblings, he could see her feelings and thoughts were for Jason, not for herself or her longing for him. Whatever pain she felt personally had been set aside. Aiyana was the most unselfish person he’d ever known, and the most truly worthy person in their tribe to be Chileaan Shaman.
Aiyana turned when she felt Hania’s concerned gaze directing all his compassion to her. She typically found it impossible to lie even to spare someone feelings, so she certainly could never bring herself to deceive Hania when he was so full of worry for her.
“Yes, I confess it hurts me sometimes, but not always. I accept the Great Mother’s punishment and her wisdom. I have learned much about Jason from observing his life in the human realm. Though he is not very spiritual, he is mostly a good man, Hania. There are many choices for a mate. She could have chosen worse for me,” Aiyana said logically.
Part of Hania was actually happy that Aiyana herself did not seem to really want the man from the human realm as her mate, and that no great desire for Jason Cloud was yet upon her. If it had been, she would not have been so calm. He remembered all the time he had spent rejecting Sihu, followed by the time when Sihu had rejected him. He could not think of a single moment in those years without still feeling the pain. He would not wish such a fate on anyone.
So Hania studied Aiyana as she continued to watch the man closely. Maybe Aiyana felt mating with Jason Cloud would be a duty. Hania understood duty well and had great respect for Aiyana’s choice to serve as their tribe’s Shaman.
“If the Great Mother would only allow it, Cheveyo still considers that you would be a good choice,” Hania told her.
“I am aware of Cheveyo’s devotion to duty, brother,” she answered.
Aiyana turned to face Hania, looking at the marks on his neck, proof of his ascension. Her spirit brother was mated to Sihu, who was next in line to become the shaman if anything happened to her. Sadly though, Sihu’s body remained just as lightly marked as Hania’s, despite their frequent bonding. It was a source of consternation for both of them that they had not yet reached full ascension together. Sihu was the best of the Chileaan healers. She had dedicated every spare moment she had to studying how to encourage the process of ascending.
“Until the Great Mother’s punishment, I thought I would never know the need for a mate at all, Hania. But I must be honest and say that the Great Mother intends Cheveyo for another. He will not be pleased at first with the match, but will eventually see that it is best. It is not yet time to reveal it or I would have sanctified their union already. The council needs to set aside their goal of mating us. It is not meant to be.”
Hania sighed to hear Aiyana say the words with no passion in her voice and no regret at not wanting to be the mate of the strongest, bravest Chileaan protector in their tribe. Cheveyo had great affection for Aiyana. How could their union not be right?
“Do not worry about me, brother. I would be content to serve the Great Mother as I am without a mate. It is she who deems me not worthy enough in this state. I seek mating and ascension to please her will for me, not my own. I want Jason Cloud because she will bless our union with my ascension. I don’t understand why it has to be him, but I accept that I will see her wisdom in due time.”
Hania placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “There are many things about the Great Mother’s will that I do not understand either, but one thing I do. Mating releases your personal power in ways you cannot begin to imagine yet sister. It is more than the spirit being lifted from the body during the pleasure. Mating with the right person frees your spirit from physical longing. It allows the spirit to focus on other things,” he said.
Aiyana looked back at Jason and shrugged. “Then I will mate with the male that the Great Mother has chosen for me. The person matters not to me so long as she allows me to continue to serve our people.”
“Be careful of that decision, Aiyana. As I learned quite painfully, there is only one true mate,” Hania reminded her. “If the male from the human realm does not willingly remain with you after bonding, you will either be alone for the rest of your physical life or spend it going from person to person seeking temporary release from the madness of your longing. The thought of you having nothing more than that is too awful to contemplate. You are Shaman Aiyana. No one is more worthy to have a proper mate.”
“You are a fine man, Hania,” she said, her heart full of his caring for her. “One day full ascension will bring you even greater wisdom. I pray the Great Mother continues to bless you with happiness in your mate. Sihu has definitely brought out the best in you.”
Aiyana chanted softly, blessing Hania in the old tongue, smiling and bowing her head in respect to the compassion between them.
Hania felt the ancient blessing slide over him, felt a peace almost as wonderful as a night spent in Sihu’s arms. As an unmated shaman, Aiyana’s power was amazing. He could only imagine how she might be once fully ascended.
They both turned as they heard Jason call out his mate’s name again, and then great silent sobs were shaking his body. Even if they had not been able to empathically feel Jason’s immense pain, they would have recognized the agony in his body.
“He thinks he has failed her,” Aiyana whispered, her voice breaking along with her heart as she hurt with him.
Hania reached out a hand and squeezed her shoulder. There was nothing Aiyana could do to help the man from the human realm, but there was something he could do. He would hesitate no longer. “May the Great Mother see to your happiness as well, sister. Since I serve the Great Mother and her Shaman, I will see to it that your chosen mate does not fail in his quest.”
“Hania—thank you. May you be blessed for it,” Aiyana whispered, tears flowing at Hania’s generosity for risking the intervention. Chileaan protectors only did what a predictor declared.
When he disappeared from beside her, Aiyana turned her full attention back to Jason, waiting now to see if her future mate would open his spirit and accept Hania’s help.
Jason heard footsteps behind him as he struggled wearily to his feet, drying his eyes with the back of his hand. He saw another park ranger approaching him, walking at a steady clip that was bringing the man quickly to his side. Up close, Jason could see the man was much shorter than him, but he had a very direct gaze that communicated his power. He also seemed to have a strong Native American lineage, evidenced by his high cheekbones, broad forehead, and a long black braid hanging out of his park ranger hat.
“Hello,” Hania said, pretending not to see the muddy tear streaks on Jason’s face. “My name is Hania. I’m tracking some men who robbed a convenience store and killed some people. Do you care if I look around?”
“I’m tracking them, too,” Jason told him. “I’m Jason Cloud. One of the people those men killed was my wife.”
“Jason Cloud—yes, I’ve heard of you,” Hania said with a nod, shaking Jason’s hand. “Sorry about the loss of your wife.”
Jason nodded at the condolence, thinking it odd that his hand tingled from touching the man’s. “The tracks end here, or at least I couldn’t find anything more after this spot.”
Hania bent to study the dirt, pretending an interest that was unnecessary for him. The energy signature of the men went only one direction. What he did in studying the dirt was merely to spare Jason’s pride.
“What did you say your name was again?” Jason asked.
“Hania. It’s a Hopi name,” Hania answered, standing and pointing. “The only thing I can see to do is follow the direction of the tracks even though there are no indicators in that direction. What do you think? I’d be happy to tag along and keep you company. No sense in both of us wandering around looking for a cold trail.”
Normally, spreading out would have been exactly what Jason would have recommended, but right now he could use the man’s company to distract himself from thoughts of Emily.
“Works for me,” Jason replied.
They headed off in the direction Hania had chosen.
Aiyana watched Hania introduce himself as a human protector. His ruse seemed to work because Jason composed himself and started conversing with him. Then Hania pretended to help, setting Jason on the right path and following along with him. Tension she hadn’t even known she’d been carrying suddenly unwound inside her. Shortly after, Aiyana whispered a gratitude prayer.
“Praise to the Great Mother for all her gifts,” Aiyana said aloud.
Knowing she could trust Hania to help find the missing killers, Aiyana decided it was a better act of faith to attend to her meditation and other duties while she waited. Hania would eventually come to her and report what had happened.
Thinking of the temple house and her place there, she concentrated on removing her energy from the space where she was hiding beyond the veil and transported home.