Last Chance (A SkinWalker Novel #3)

By: T.G. Ayer

CHAPTER 1





A WALKER FUNERAL ISN'T THAT different from the funerals of any other species. Flowers, coffins, mourners. Tears, grief. Regret.

The subtle difference lies in the species itself, and maybe in particular religious preference. Most Walkers regard the goddess Ailuros, cat god of the Greek pantheon, as their deity of choice. Worship isn't in any way similar to most other EarthWorld religions.

Ailuros just is.

She is a constant, like the air in your lungs or the rain falling from a moody sky. The goddess is nature personified. She gives no gifts, answers no bargains. She is merely the god of all things.

Ailuros has no temples, not in the modern world. Not after the tsunami that was the annihilation of 'witches'. Call a Walker or a Mage a witch and it was a laughably simple feat to eradicate entire clans. Places of worship were and always will be an open invitation to the religious zealots.

Now, the temple must exist inside your soul. Or else you were truly lost.

I often wonder how different life would be if humans knew we existed. What would they think if their son or daughter brought home a werewolf or a Fae for dinner? Cross-species reproduction? I shook my head, the movement jerky and short as I swallowed a bitter laugh. I walked, past faces some familiar, many not, to the front row of white aluminum foldout chairs. My father's lawn, and the weather had cooperated in my sisters honor. The ground was firm, the grass a bright, cheery green. The sun streamed down, not so warm that we'd have to shed our coats, but with enough heat that an afternoon outside was a pleasant experience.

Seems Mother Nature had remembered to pull out all the stops for Greer's farewell.

I'd already said my goodbye to my sister. I sighed, my thoughts taking me back a few weeks. We'd had our last conversation in a way I'd never expected. How many people get to talk to the dead?

I recalled Greer's last words.

"So many times I pushed you away and yet you still came to help me. I didn't deserve you. I don't deserve you… Thank you, Kai."

Words I never expected to hear, not from a sister who had always remained just that bit out of reach, just that bit colder than necessary.

I recalled the expression on her face, the sincerity in her eyes, and even the love as she spoke. So unexpected. Those words. Tears blurred my vision as I sat blindly on the nearest seat. I wished we'd had more time, I wished we'd been able to be close. But fate didn't want it that way. I sighed and felt the lead weight in my stomach settle deeper into place.

I should be happy that Greer and I had made our peace but the harsher, more awful truth hung over me, a dark, accusing cloud threatening to loose a storm of emotions. I'd failed my mother. I'd failed to save her daughter. What mother could forgive me? I didn't deserve forgiving. I'd failed her.

Failed them both.

Murmuring from the back of the seated crowd drew my thoughts away from the cesspit of my self-pity. I shifted in my seat and glanced behind me. My father Corin, brother Iain and four other men I didn't recognize, walked steadily along the center aisle bearing the weight of Greer's coffin between them.

Made of molded concrete, shaped to fit the curves of Greer's figure, the coffin was finished with exquisitely fine detail. The sculptor had paid close attention to Greer's aquiline features, replicating them so closely that I would have sworn that Greer herself lay there. The rest of her body was sculpted wearing a peplos, an ancient toga-like garment draped elegantly around her body in the style of the Greek goddesses. Within the carved casket, Greer was dressed in a similar fashion.

Her body had been gently bathed, perfumed oils rubbed into her skin. Her long ash-blond hair, was washed, brushed and draped over her shoulders and allowed to fall off her body at the waist. Her hands had been positioned at the center of her chest, her fingers entwined around the feet of a stone statue of Ailuros, The statue stood straight up, its feminine curves enhanced by the fall of the fabric of her simple peplos. With the head of a panther the statue hearkened back to the days before Ailuros had evolved into the external manifestation of a cat, the days when the goddess bore the head of a lioness. Today, each walker tribe saw Ailuros with a head that signified their own species.

Only the cats, of course. Wolf walkers bowed to the feet of Anubis.

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