“Have you explained to the others all the risks of this ritual, Briar?”
Briar shook her head. For a moment, she considered lying but she had a feeling that an immortal demon could detect bullshit a mile away. Briar also had a feeling Lorelei was asking because she already knew the answer.
“Do you not think it would have been wise to prepare them?”
Briar shrugged. “Why? They can’t do anything to ease the risk, they can’t talk me out of doing it, either. So why worry them needlessly?”
“What about goodbyes?”
“There are letters if something happens. They’re in my suitcase. I just, I don’t do goodbyes. I never have.” Briar knew that with letters she had probably chosen the selfish path but she really did not want anyone to worry. And what would just in case goodbyes achieve? They would just upset everyone and give people a chance to try to talk Briar out of this. It wasn’t going to happen. Briar had made up her mind what she needed to do and she was doing it come hell or high water. She was stubborn like that. She was after all part demon.
Part demon, part angel, part human and part…whatever else had mated with her ancestors. And it was all part of why she was doing this. Finding out who she truly was, what made her what she was. To find out her true heritage and awaken it. Well, wake or activate any powers that were hidden in her ancestry.
It could kill her or destroy her mind, but Briar had to know. No matter the risk; she would go mad if she did not do it.
Lorelei nodded to Briar’s reply and did not push her to change her mind. Briar appreciated that and she guessed if anyone would understand this, it would be Lorelei.
Lorelei was a demon. An old one. A demon who fell in love with an Angelic man. A man who changed her so she was more than simply her love of chaos and destruction.
She was also Briar’s ancestor. Katie’s too. Katie was Briar’s best friend, her Galmance, basically her soul sister. And it made so much sense they had a common ancestor. Well, to Briar anyway.
Lorelei had offered to do a ritual with Briar when it became apparent how much Briar needed to know more about herself, her life and the past. Briar wanted so much to move forward with her life with Alistair but she felt lost and unsettled at the same time. The ritual could offer her a way to find peace and be able to create the future she wanted.
The ritual was similar to a guided meditation but with a potentially harmful sleeping potion to put Briar in a trance. In this state, Briar would face her own past, her true self, she would see memories of her ancestors and any past lives her soul had lived. She would face trials under the influence of the potion that would determine her worthiness for the second part of the ritual.
A second potion would be consumed when her first journey was finished and this would complete her transformation. It remained to be seen if her mind was strong enough to survive the first trials, or if her body was strong enough to survive the second.
It was possible the others would not forgive her if she did not survive. In fact, Katie was likely to kill her. And Alistair her fiancé, well, Alistair would be devastated to lose her again.
That was something Briar would face. The first time she had fled from Alistair and she would face why she had left him. Briar had done well to move on from some things in her past and now she would have to face them again. Lorelei had warned her that in doing so she would learn more about the events and the people involved, as well as more about herself.
Briar rarely let fear control her but right now as Lorelei worked on her potion, she was metaphorically crapping her pants. Though outwardly she showed nothing.
They were in a home of Lorelei’s in the Scottish countryside south of Inverness and not far from Loch Ness. The house had been extended, refitted, rebuilt and modernised many times but elements of the original cottage remained. The cottage had been where Lorelei had lived while she was pregnant with her daughter centuries ago. Now it was a large residence that was roomy enough to house all the guests.
Briar had not come alone, many of her new-found family had insisted on coming along.
Alistair, Katie and Henry, Alistair’s brother Chris and his wife Arianna, Arianna’s sister Belle and her boyfriend Matty, and they had also been joined by Rowena and Joseph. Rowena was a doctor and Joseph, her husband, a nurse. They ran a clinic together that Briar and Katie helped finance, and both women had been patients at the clinic many times since. While no one knew the potentially fatal outcome of the ritual, it was known that Briar’s body might face some hardships. Rowena and Joseph were on hand to help with that, even if it only came down to giving her fluids while she was unconscious.
So, Lorelei’s house was a full house.
Everyone had been talking about going to find Nessie tomorrow while Briar continued trying to find herself. Chris had already said he would return with Nessie. Briar was expecting when, or if, she woke, she would be handed a cute stuffed toy version by him. It was totally her future brother-in-law’s style.
Lorelei and Briar had excused themselves after dinner to prepare. Briar had bathed as instructed and put on the freshly cleaned clothes Lorelei laid out. They smelled so strongly of sage. Briar’s hair was loose and since it was barely dried it had left a damp spot on the back of her top.
Now, Briar sat on a mattress on a camping bed in the middle of the circle that Lorelei had painted. Contained within the circle were symbols that Lorelei had drawn in the same white paint. Briar thought they looked old. Lorelei had explained that they were a mixture of demonic and angelic sigils. Each played a part in the ritual and trying to help Briar survive it. Given how little Briar knew about magic and the occult she trusted her forbearer to know what she was doing.
Briar had learned a lot already since meeting Lorelei. Most importantly that demons and angels were real and they were not what the Good Book taught. Similar, and yet wildly different. Briar would surely discover more about them on her journey of transformation.
“How far away are we?” Briar asked while she tapped her fingertips against each other.
“About four feet,” Lorelei deadpanned.
“You sure I can’t call you, Gramma? Because that was a grandparent joke if ever I heard one.”
“You can call me anything you wish, but I cannot guarantee your ongoing health if you do.”
“Fine, Gramma. How much longer now?”
“The potion is nearly ready. We shall do your markings and then I shall add the blood drops of your family and friends to the mix and you will drink it. After that, the others will be allowed in.”
Briar wasn’t worried about the blood she would be consuming. After all, there had been a while there where she thought she would become a vampire one day. A few drops of blood was nothing. Admittedly, Briar was not sure she understood how the blood drops of the others would offer extra protection through the quest but Lorelei said they would, so….
“And then they can all come in here and be creepy watching me sleep.”
“They will be able to see that you are alive and well. You might not have told them the complete truth of the ritual but do not think them so naïve as to not be worried. The two wolves have most likely instinctively picked up on it, though they may not understand the feeling of unease they are experiencing. You are chosen pack to them, and they know to fear for you.”
“Alistair is already worried?” Briar asked before letting out a colourful and physically impossible curse. “The whole point was not to worry him, that’s why I kept my mouth shut. Now you tell me he’s upset regardless and will probably stress himself out the whole time.”
“They all worry, no things in life are without risk.” Lorelei moved to the bed, carefully stepping between the painted symbols. “Now, lie back so I can mark you.”
“I suppose I could but I find the right colour of lip pencil is just as effective and also, less permanent than marker pens.”
“Oh, I assumed you had to use your blood.”
“Mine is in the two potions, you need no more than that. The sigils also mean that no further sacrifice is required.”
Briar nodded and shifted down the mattress so she could lie back without her head hanging off the end. “I could have handled being painted in blood if needed. But even with my love of blades, I would not have been up for you carving marks into my skin.”
“I would have assumed as much. Luckily it is not that type of magic that we are performing. If this was one of my darker times then I would have happily included it for my own enjoyment.”
“Right. You sure you’re not feeling any inclination to turn into some kind of chaotic, violent psychopath, now are you?” Briar joked, well mostly. Lorelei had told them some stories about when her true demonic nature took hold of her and Briar could believe she’d quite happily carve up Briar’s body. At times like that, no one in the house would be safe.
“No,” Lorelei replied. She knelt beside the bed, a thick, deep red, lip pencil in her hand. “I would easily guess it will be decades before the magic will wane and I shall descend into chaos.”
“Good to know.”
Briar settled down on the mattress and took a deep breath, she closed her eyes to let Lorelei get to work. There would be a symbol on each eyelid, one on her forehead, several on her cheeks and then they would be drawn on her chest, stomach, arms and legs. It was a lot of skin that had to be marked, which was why Briar was wearing short shorts and had tucked her tank top into her bra. She had considered just wearing a bra and briefs but decided she would feel a little exposed doing the ritual like that. Plus, she was not sure how comfortable others might be with her on display in her underwear like Sleeping Beauty doing a lingerie photo shoot. Even with her being Briar Rose.
Briar Rose Gordon. Soon to be Rosenthorn. Well, hopefully soon if this ritual helped and didn’t kill her.
Briar let her mind wander to Alistair as she felt the pencil move over her skin. She wondered what he was doing right now, what he was thinking. Most likely thinking about her if he was worried like Lorelei said. Perhaps he was worrying how changed she might be after the ritual finished.
Briar had wondered that herself.
Many things could change but one thing that Briar was certain would not change would be her feelings for Alistair. She loved him, that was one of those forever deals. As for the other changes, she hoped that whatever they might be they would not force a change in Alistair’s feelings. Briar would not fault him if they did though, she was still surprised he loved her for who she was now.
Briar had a dark past, both what she had endured and what she had done. Knowing all of that, Alistair accepted her and loved her. It proved that miracles were real, at least in Briar’s books.
Once Lorelei was finished with her markings she left Briar lying there and went to add the final ingredients to the potion.
The lip pencil felt like it was dry so Briar let herself slowly open her eyes, she watched as Lorelei added a series of red drops into the blue painted pottery cup. Lorelei stirred it three times and then came back into the circle, Briar was sure she could hear the contents of the cup fizzing.
Lorelei put her hand on the back of Briar’s head and raised it up so she could drink from the cup without wearing it all.
Briar had expected something that tasted like mouldy socks, bird poop and petrol. Instead, it tasted like cinnamon and sugar. Given what had gone into the potion, Briar was sure that it was some other kind of magic that made it taste this good. She drank it all down only spilling a tiny bit down her chin. When she was done, Lorelei lowered her head back onto the mattress and then went to open the door.
“She is ready to begin.”
When she stepped back out of the doorway Alistair hurried into the room. He all but ran to the edge of the circle and nearly fell into it. He looked at Briar and let out a sigh. “I wish I could hold your hand.”
“You might smudge some of my pretty makeup and Lorelei might smack you and not in the fun way,” Briar joked. She was already starting to feel a bit dizzy and sleepy. The sleepy was fine, the dizzy was nauseating. She had to close her eyes, even though she wanted to keep looking at Alistair. This could be her last chance to ever look at him if the ritual went badly.
Briar forced her eyes open, intent on memorising every aspect of his face. Even if that wouldn’t do her any good if she was crazy or dead.
“Whatever happens, Babe, know that I love you,” Briar murmured. He looked a bit out of focus now, and the rest of the room seemed to be getting darker.
Alistair looked at someone behind him that she could not make out and then looked back at her.
“I know, and soon you’ll be walking down that aisle to show everyone how much you love me.”
Alistair spoke so forcefully that it made Briar smile. She liked it when he got like that, it happened more often now he was a werewolf. Still, it hadn’t hidden the way his voice hitched at the end there. He was worried.
Briar wanted to reassure him but all she could do was close her eyes. She had to close them now.
She heard a murmur of many voices and knew she was not alone. She liked knowing that, she had been alone for so much of her life.
She was not alone now. That was nice. Even if she didn’t make it through the ritual, she wouldn’t leave this life alone and unloved.