Redeemed (House of Night #12)(5)

“Yes, I have been using it,” I said sternly.

“Or it has been using you,” she countered with.

“Either way, the results are the same.”

“For the two men. Not necessarily for you, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. Now, stand before me. You need your mind cleared and your spirit cleansed so that you can analyze exactly what has brought you to this cell. You see, I am not here to help you hide from what you have done. I am here so that you may truly face it.”

As always, Grandma was the voice of reason and of unconditional love. I stood and allowed myself the brief, small comfort of watching her cradle the oyster shell in one hand while with the other she placed a tiny round piece of charcoal on top of the herbal mixture and lit it. As it sparked, she said, “Three deep breaths, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. And with each, release the toxic energy that clouds your mind and darkens your spirit. Envision it, Zoeybird. What color is it?”

“A sick green,” I said, thinking of the disgusting stuff that had come out of my nose last time I’d had a sinus infection.

“Excellent. Breathe out and envision ridding yourself of it along with your breath.”

The charcoal had stopped sparkling and was beginning to gray around the edges. Grandma reached into the black velvet pouch and began sprinkling the herbs over the coal, saying, “I thank you, spirit of white sage, for your strength, your purity, your power.” Sweet smoke began to lift from the oyster shell. “I thank you, spirit of cedar, for your divine nature, for your ability to create a bridge between earth and Otherworld.”

More smoke lifted and I breathed deeply in and out, in and out.

“And, as always, I thank you, spirit of lavender, for your soothing nature, for your ability to allow us to release our anger and to embrace calm.” Then Grandma began walking a clockwise circle around me, shuffling her feet in an ancient, heartbeat rhythm that seemed to electrify the fragrant smoke and pulse it into my body as she wafted it around me with her eagle feather. Not missing a beat in her dance, Grandma’s voice paired with her movements, echoing through her blood to mine. “Out with what is toxic—green and bile-like. In with sweet smoke—silver and pure.”

I concentrated as she moved around me, falling into the ritual as easily as I had throughout my childhood.

“Draw in healing. Draw in cleansing. Draw in calming. Green bile, gone it will be. Replaced by silver and clarity,” Grandma sang to me.

I lifted my hands, guiding the smoke around my head, concentrating on the silver cleansing.

“O-s-da,” Grandma said, then repeated in English, “Good. You are regaining your center.”

I’d been lulled into a sleepy, trance-like state by the smoke and Grandma’s song. I blinked, as if surfacing from a deep dive, and my eyes widened with surprise. Clearly visible through the smoke was a bright silver light that, bubble-like, surrounded Grandma and me.

“That is what you are projecting now, Zoeybird. It has taken the place of the Darkness that was within you.”

I drew another deep breath, feeling an amazing lightness in my chest. Gone was the terrible tightness that had been there when I’d begun coughing. Gone was the awful sense of despair that had been with me for—

For how long? I wondered. Now that it was gone, I realized how smothering it had been.

Grandma had halted in front of me. She placed the still-smoking oyster shell between us at our feet, and then she took my hands in hers.

“I do not know everything. I do not have the answers you seek. I cannot do more than cleanse and heal your mind and spirit. I cannot take you from this place or change the past that has brought you here. I can only love you and remind you of this one, small rule that I have tried to live my life by: I cannot control others. I can only control myself and my reactions to others. And when all else fails, I choose kindness. I show compassion. Then, if I have made poor choices, I have at least not damaged my spirit.”

“I failed in doing that, Grandma.”

“Failed—that is past tense, and you should leave that failure in the past where it belongs. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Do not fail again, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. That means if you must stand trial and go to prison for this terrible thing that has happened, then you do so speaking with truth and acting with compassion—as would a High Priestess of your Goddess.”

“I shouldn’t push away the people who love me.” I hadn’t phrased it as a question, but Grandma answered me nevertheless.

“Pushing those away who love you and have your best interest at heart would be the action of a child, and not that of a High Priestess.”

“Grandma, do you think Nyx still wants me to be her High Priestess?”

Grandma smiled. “I do, but what I think is not important. What do you believe of your Goddess, Zoey? Is she so fickle that she would love and then discard you so easily?”

“It isn’t Nyx I question. It’s myself,” I admitted.

“Then you must look to yourself. Hold tightly to your center.” She retrieved the raw turquoise stone she’d taken from the picnic basket earlier and folded it into my hand. “You have used the Seer Stone to focus your powers, whether willingly or not. Now I think you must find a focus within you, just as turquoise has its own protective power, you must find your own power—within yourself. This time do not look to anger, Zoeybird. Look to compassion and love.”

P.C. Cast, Kristin C's Books