Last Chance (A SkinWalker Novel #3)(3)

By: T.G. Ayer


All walkers have a special place to bury their dead. Living in the world of humans the only safety we had against prying eyes is the ownership of private land. As such, every Walker town would have a special burial ground. Whether they be within mountains or beneath the ground, they were all lead-lined to hide the contents, and the entrances were all so well hidden you'd only know of its existence if you'd been shown it. And as a rule no human was ever shown the entrance to our Mausoleums.

And now, for the first time, I wondered how that rule applied to Mom.

When the gathering moved to the roadside, only immediate family, elders and the priestess completed the procession. The cart rolled back and forth on spindly wheels, then began to move, drawn by my father and brother. I followed, giving Logan and my friends a weak wave.

"We'll wait for you at the house," Lily whispered as my heels scraped the hard-packed soil of the path.

The procession moved slowly, far too slowly for my liking. To be honest I just wanted it over and done with so I could get back to my normal life. Grams moved silently beside me, sending waves of Jasmine in my direction. When she glanced at me, she threw me a soft smile, her blue eyes darker than the clear azure sky above us. But behind that comforting smile I could see a hint of resignation, with a touch of determination added in for good measure. I sighed and trudged along. If Grams could see it through, then I bloody well could too.

We walked together, following the rugged road deep into the forest of birch and ash whose branches rose high above us, but blessed us with ragged patches of golden light every few yards. I had to admit, no matter how much I wasn't enjoying the walk, the trail through the forest was utterly beautiful. The very nature of it made my panther purr inside me. I pushed her back down and walked on until eventually we moved off the dirt track and into a clearing that seemed to appear out of the forest like magic. We'd reached the base of the mountain at last. My feet gave thanks. Someone please remind me why in Ailuros' name did I think heels were a good idea?

Someone up ahead would have pressed his hand against the plate hidden behind a fall of creeping ivy, because suddenly stone ground and scraped, and a large rock shifted aside to reveal the entrance to the burial cave. The threshold was wide enough to accommodate the wheeled carriage, allowing it to pass through comfortably. We followed it inside, and still nobody spoke. The last of the group stepped farther into the cool interior and the door grunted and groaned shut.

For the briefest moment, we were plunged into a solid darkness so thick it felt like I was breathing shadows into my lungs. Seconds later, lights began to pop and flicker. Small electric lanterns, strung high up on the stone walls, lit the whole entrance cave up in its stark light.

The Tukats burial grounds was made up of a warren of caves leading off a long central corridor, and organized according to age of family. Each individual room backed onto solid stone, allowing the family to carve deeper into the mountain to expand their space should they expand their families. Many of the older family's had caves within caves allocated to them. It all tended to get a little complicated so I'd only ever concentrated on the Odel tomb. The carriage wheels turned as it traveled to the furthest end of the passage, the thin wheels rolling along the stone floor. As the solemn procession moved into the shadowed depths, I followed, my heart thudding against my ribs.

Ours was the very last of the caves, as befitting of the oldest family in Tukats. The men prepared to remove the coffin from the carriage and the priestess fussed around them, wanting to ensure they didn't damage the fragile carvings. She needn't have bothered. The men, two others including my father and brother, were accustomed enough to funeral preparations as to take the required care with the coffin. Etina was just a fusser.

They slid the coffin off the wooden base of the carriage, then lifted it by the carved metal handles. The pallbearers hefted their burden through the entrance to the Odel burial chamber, finding the empty spot beside my uncle Niko's coffin. Despite the deeds of his troubled lifetime they had accorded him the position in death that had always been allocated to him. His empty coffin lay beside his father, my grandfather, late husband to Grams who stood silently beside me. Everyone within the community had access to the burial caves, many coming and going as they pleased, but I knew Grams hardly ever visited. I'd never understood her reluctance until now.

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