Author Note: Warning for violence and terrible things. I cried writing it…
Death and Sacrifice
Had it been two days or two months that Briar had been here?
Here in her prison, she could not tell day from night. She had not seen the sun since she had fallen to the ground at Persephone’s feet, entangled in the magically growing rose bush. A magical rose bush with thorns that had scratched her skin. Scratches that now felt infected.
Hades said he would have her healed tomorrow but how could she tell when tomorrow was when she did not even know what today was and how long she had been here?
Briar had been brought to this tiny cave. She had thought she was to be prepared for Hades, assuming preparation meant bathing, oils, a pretty dress. Instead, she was dragged through mud and dirt and put in this cave. The cave was small; wide enough to lie down in one direction and only high enough to stand up in if you were the size of a child. The cave was sealed in stone, and if it was as if Briar was Jesus Christ himself because the door would roll aside whenever she had a visitor.
The room held only two things. Manacles attached to the back wall of the cave and a glowing orb on the roof. The soft glow was her only light as she sat there chained up and filthy.
Hades had not been what she expected. He had been strong and tall and handsome. Not at all the sickly ghost like figure usually used to depict the God of the Underworld. If this was actually Hades at all, and if this was, in fact, the Underworld they were in.
The jury was still out on both thoughts.
The first time Hades had come to her cave he had knelt in front of her while Persephone stood just outside the entrance. He inspected Briar much the same as one inspected a prize animal. He even checked her teeth. Briar had tried to bite him when he did and he had laughed.
He and Persephone had come to visit four other times, breaking the cruel monotony of the barely lit cell. On the fourth visit, Hades had addressed the infected wounds and Briar’s fever. She would be healed tomorrow.
As far as captivity went, this wasn’t so bad. Briar had endured worse. The last time she had been anyone’s prisoner she had endured physical torture that would have broken most. This wasn’t fun but it was far from terrible. More of an inconvenience.
The next time the door rolled open there was a man and a woman. And when Briar’s manacles were unlocked, the woman was knocked unconscious and the man suffered a broken nose, fractured eye socket, a dislocated jaw, shoulder and elbow.
Another woman appeared, she waved her hand and Briar was out cold.
The next time the door opened there were two women and armed guards. Briar felt pretty smug. That didn’t last…
After being escorted to another room, Briar was stripped, washed, dressed and presumably healed. The fever and pain vanished sometime during the bath. Her blonde hair was done into ringlets which fell from gathering on top of her head. Her makeup was applied and damn if she didn’t look gorgeous.
Briar endured the whole affair without incident or complaint. As Daddy Dearest had taught, one always waited for the right opportunity to act.
Then, led by manacles, Briar was escorted through stone hallways and upstairs into another structure. It seemed normal but for the fact that there were no windows anywhere. She was pulled into a room which looked like a throne room of a European castle.
Seated on the two thrones were Persephone and Hades, dressed in ancient splendour.
“Kneel,” one of the guards commanded Briar.
She snorted at him.
“Like hell,” Briar replied. Her sweet smile was shark-like.
“You do not want to kneel?” Hades asked.
“What do you think, Hot Stuff?”
Persephone bristled visibly at Briar who smirked at her and her reaction.
“I think you will kneel.”
“I think you will have to knock my knees out with a plank of wood if you want that to happen, and someone will be left with a broken wrist when they do.”
Hades laughed at Briar, seemingly entertained by her sass. He clapped his hands and Briar’s body seemed to take on a life of its own. She got down on her knees and lowered her body all the way to the floor.
“What the hell…” Briar saw red instantly. This was demeaning. Sure, knock her down, she could handle that. But this? This was so much worse. This was taking away her will, her power. Briar could only imagine the things she could be forced to do; body willing, spirit plotting murder.
If they dared, oh, she would have so much fun taking her revenge.
Hades clapped his hands again and gestured off to his left. Music began to play and Briar the puppet rose back to her feet. She began to dance like a clown at the hands of a puppet master.
Hades was laughing so hard that Briar hoped he choked on his mirth. When the music stopped, Briar had control of her body again.
“So this is your idea of breaking me? To embarrass me to death with silly dancing? Oh, King of the Underworld, I am so terrified.” Briar rolled her eyes at Hades.
Hades remained smiling. “No, this simply amuses me. I will break you in other ways. Just think of what I can make you do.”
“Let me guess,” Briar started. She had a good idea what a man would want to do with a pretty girl in his grasp. She had precedent backing her assumptions. “Am I to be your little contortionist slut bunny? How original. Is Percy over here not putting out? Or can’t she even suck a lollipop adequately?”
Briar hitched a thumb toward Persephone who let out an outraged shriek. She leapt out of her chair and Hades had to grab her and hold her back.
He looked over at Briar. “Perhaps it is my Queen I wish to see you pleasure.”
“Again, not very original. And one has to ask if vomit bags and a full health check will be provided?” Briar cooed the words as sweetly as she could watching Persephone turn red. Briar figured that Persephone deserved any nastiness she got. She was, after all, the one who had brought Briar here in the first place. “Hmm, any chance she can wear a bag over her head? Or I can have a blindfold?”
Briar tried to hurl more insults at the supposed goddess but no matter how forcefully she spoke, not a sound came out. Well, that was rude.
Hades was less amused now. “And if it is your killing skills I desire?”
“I’m not sure you could afford the going rate,” Briar replied, her voice suddenly back. “And that’s before my expenses are included.”
“And if I expect you to kill a family member?”
“Been there, done that.”
“Say what now?”
“What if I desired you to kill a child.”
“Well, I’d tell you that you were a sicker wacko than the myths gave you credit for. Or gave your namesake credit for.”
“All you have seen and you still do not believe us to be the Gods we are?”
“Honey, I’ve seen more impressive parlour tricks. You could turn the sun dark and that wouldn’t make you a god. Powerful, yes. God, no.”
This finally seemed to have pushed Hades too far. Briar was quickly removed from his presence and returned to her cave. At least in the cave the company was more pleasant.
The next day, or what Briar assumed was the next day, Briar was once more forcefully cleaned to be made gorgeous. Briar was certain that being left in the cave in her own filth for hours at a time was meant to leave her humiliated. But she wasn’t. It was all natural and it washed off, and she had no choice in the matter. The shame was not hers.
While she was washed Briar had been thinking and overthinking all the possible acts that Hades and Persephone could force her to do. There were millions of options that Briar would not want to do, but there were some possibilities that were more heinous than others.
Like Hades talk of forcing her to kill a child…
Briar had never followed the laws of the land or the moral codes of most normal individuals but she had a code and pretty near the top was never harm kids. Even the brats that needed a swift kick up the arse.
To be forced to inflict harm on a child, to hurt a child even worse than she had been hurt herself…and to be completely powerless herself while the harm was inflicted…
The thought was haunting.
Which meant that if Hades knew it, he’d pick that.
Briar needed to orchestrate an escape before it came to that.
Few people would expect much from a person who was naked. And it seemed after a calm cleaning session, no one expected a naked Briar to make a run for it. There were only two armed guards this time. As they were armed with melee weapons and not semi-automatics Briar decided to chance it once she was naked and slippery.
The two washerwomen were easily dispatched. Briar stood up and slammed their heads together and they crumpled.
The first guard was easy. His back was to Briar and he was completely relaxed. Briar grabbed for his sword as her foot connected with force against the back of his knee. It was ridiculous that they had swords but who needed guns when you were magical gods, right? Besides, rifles would ruin the crazy ancient Greek aesthetic these people insisted on.
Briar hesitated only a moment before thrusting the sword in and out of the guard’s side. As he cried out she slashed downward across the back of his bare calf to slice through the tendon. His wounds shouldn’t be life threatening but he was unlikely to follow her and if he did she could easily defeat him in that condition.
The second guard was not so easy, he attacked just as Briar turned around. His weapon was similar to a quarterstaff but with sharp metal spikes at each end. One spike sliced at her left upper arm but Briar was quick to react She leant back from the waist so the spike barely touched her. It was barely a scratch.
Her sword met his next attack. He was much bigger and stronger than Briar so she adjusted her style to try quick attacks. She jumped and ducked, jabbing with the sword until her muscles burned and her wrists weakened. Briar was disgusted in herself as she dropped the weapon but she was disadvantaging herself to keep using it.
Her strategy had to be to avoid his swings and get out of the room. There was only a door and no windows to escape by. She had watched as they came in and noted that no one locked the door. Bathing assistant number two, who was now lying against the bath with her head only an inch above the water, had opened and closed it this time, and Briar saw no key holes and no security keypads. Yet, when Briar got to the door and grabbed the handle it was locked. She jiggled the door letting out a shriek.
How could it be locked?
There was a loud cracking sound as the guard’s staff connected with the back of Briar’s head, and she collapsed into a heap in front of the door.
When Briar woke up she was dressed and on the floor of the throne room. Persephone smiled at her as their eyes met. There was a hate filled satisfaction in the eyes of the woman who claimed to be a goddess. Persephone knew something, and that thing filled her with satisfaction. Briar was certain the knowledge was not something that was going to end well for her.
“We were beginning to wonder if the guard hit you too hard and you were about to die,” Persephone said, lounging back on her throne. “And with the games just beginning it would have been a shame.”
“As rulers of the underworld, surely it makes no difference if I am alive or dead.”
Something passed over Persephone’s face for a moment. Her smile froze, her eyes darted left. She hesitated. And then the look was gone as Hades strode into the room.
Whatever he and Persephone were saying to each other as he approached was lost on Briar. Her attention was firmly fixed on the group that was being led in behind him. These people weren’t dressed as Hades and the others, there was no ancient cosplay to be seen. Only normal modern clothes.
There was an older man. From the state of his clothes and his emaciated state, Briar guessed he was homeless.
Behind him were three children. Two girls and one boy. If she had to guess, Briar would have said the oldest girl was eleven, the youngest eight, and the boy four. They were clearly siblings, all clinging together and trying not to cry. All with scared eyes darting to the guards.
Behind them was a mother holding a newborn baby. She was cradling it close to her chest and trying to shield it as best as she could.
Last, there was another young woman, perhaps fifteen years old. She looked a lot like Briar had at that age. She was covered in bruises that looked like they were days old and she had a haunted look in her eyes that Briar knew all too well. Someone was hurting this girl and regularly.
Briar’s breathing had become loud as she started to get angry. She had to take a slow and deep calming breath before she could look away from the group and back to their hosts. Persephone and Hades stood together by their thrones and they looked gleeful. It was their glee that scared Briar more than anything else.
But it wasn’t fear for herself that she felt.
They could threaten horrific torture, they could hurt her, they could abuse and mutilate her body and Briar would not be scared for herself as she was for these defenceless people that had been herded into the room and now stood by the wall, each terrified.
Briar was not worried for herself, but she would be damned if she was going to let Hades and Persephone hurt these people.
Hades clapped his hands and two men appeared. One was clearly a warrior, no, not a warrior. A fighter. He was big and mean looking with the kinds of scars that came from a fair amount of hand to hand combat, like the type you found in the cage fights in the worst part of most cities.
The other man was definitely not a fighter. He seemed incidental but for the tray of knives he was carrying. Briar eyed them with unrestrained longing. Thoughts dancing through her head like sugar plums, only her sugar plums were murderous little fairies driving blades into Hades’ throat.
“So, what tricks are we doing today?” Briar asked trying to pretend she was fearless. “You got a big spinning circus disc stage left and Muttley here is going to throw knives at me and test my resolve.”
Hades laughed at her and shook his head. “No. Since you enjoy fighting my men so much, entertain us.”
“You want me to kick this guy’s ass?”
“Shall we see if you can? Fight!”
Briar doubted victory here was going to secure her freedom and Hades had made no such offer. Still, Briar wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If Hades wanted to arm her and turn her loose on his men, so be it. And Briar would rather fight him than any of the innocents that had been paraded in to unsettle her.
For a moment Briar hoped that was the extent of it, psychological warfare. That Hades was trying to upset her and scare her with these people. But Briar did not believe in hope so the thought was short lived. She had to prepare herself for the worst of the possible scenarios. Well, as much as one could prepare for it.
Briar picked up the knives and twirled them around her hands as she evaluated this fighter.
Hades clapped his hands and the fight began.
“No. Please. I never beg. I don’t beg, but can we hit fast forward?” Briar’s eyes were pleading as she turned to Nathaniel. Her stomach had twisted into knots as the scenes played out towards the worst moments of her life.
“You wish to stop this now and wake from your journey?” Nathaniel asked in return.
For a moment, Briar nearly said yes. She did not wish to revisit the atrocities that had been committed. Her mouth opened, she paused and then shook her head. No, she had to face these things to find out the truths about herself and her life.
“We do not have to witness the whole thing,” Nathaniel said gently.
“Can we skip the rest and go back to my next visit to the cave room?” Briar asked, already knowing what the answer would be.
Since she knew the answer to that Nathaniel did not reply, instead he wrapped an arm tightly around Briar and the scene shifted and began to play once more.
Briar stood with the old man lying at her feet. She was soaked in his blood, his throat slashed wide open by her blade. Beyond him, three children lay still. If not for the blood you might have thought they were simply sleeping.
They had cried. They had screamed. They had begged. Briar had been doing the same thing in her mind, the only part of her that remained in her control as Hades played with his Briar puppet.
Hades let go of his control and Briar’s body became her own again. She stood for a moment before her legs gave out. She dropped to the ground, sitting in the puddle of blood.
“You are not a god. You are a monster,” Briar murmured so quietly she could barely hear it. She looked around at the blood. Blood taken from innocent lives by her own hand. She could not move from where she sat. She just stayed there, the blood soaking her dress unable to move.
She had never felt more defeated and powerless since she was a teenager. Since her uncle and his best friend had taken everything from her. It had taken years for her to take it back for herself. Now, now Hades had made her powerless again.
God or not, he was all powerful in this place.
“We’re not finished yet.” Persephone’s smile was cruel. She was enjoying this. And it was not just upsetting Briar that pleased her but the bloodshed and the murder too. It seemed like she was getting off on it all. Hades too. Briar had known some sickos in her time but these two were above and beyond.
“You’ve won. What more do you want?” Briar asked lifting her gaze from the blood to look at them. She did not like this feeling of defeat but she liked the feelings of guilt even less.
Briar knew she would never get the images of those children out of her head. The boy, that little boy and his deep brown eyes full of tears and fear.
At the thought of him, Briar’s own eyes filled with tears and bile rose up through her chest to her throat and burned. He was a kid, a tiny little kid. Someone’s little boy…
And his sisters…
His poor sisters watching, knowing what was about to happen. The eldest had tried to be brave, tried to protect her siblings. She had been so brave and she had died in unbearable agony.
Her screams would never stop haunting Briar.
“Oh, but we haven’t really won. Not yet.” Persephone was beside herself with happiness.
“Then what next?”
Hades moved to the remaining prisoners. At a nod of his head, the teenager was dragged before Briar. The girl should have been crying, any normal person would be. But this was a girl who had learned a long time ago that crying made things worse. A lesson Briar had learned by her age too.
Hades took the baby from the mother who started screaming and fighting to get her baby back. She was restrained by two guards.
“Now the game truly begins. Kill the girl and I will let the mother and this infant live. Kill the girl of your own free will and you save two lives.”
“As if you would let them live after I do it. I’m not an idiot,” Briar glared at Hades.
“You have no reason to trust me but the only chance this baby has to survive is you.”
Hades squeezed the child and it started crying in pain.
Briar nearly threw up at the sound.
The mother went crazy. She was hysterically screaming for her baby while she tried to pull herself and her guards across the floor to it. A smack across the back of the head by one of the guards silenced her.
Briar shook her head, she felt sick to her stomach right now. She had always been so confident that no one would break her again. And here she was. “I won’t do it. I won’t kill her.”
“Then all three will die and it will be all your fault. Wouldn’t it be better to know that you saved lives?”
There was a sick logic in Hades’ words. The Greater Good thinking. Two lives for one. One life could not be worth more lives, could it?
“So I take one life and you let the others go?” Briar asked.
“No, don’t promise. I told you to swear it. Swear it on your soul. On your life. On her life.”
“Fine. Fine. I swear it.”
Hades’ reply seemed to anger Persephone but his look silenced any outcry she might have made.
Briar nodded, satisfied. “Give me the knife back and I will take one life. Then you will let the others go.”
“Excellent.” Hades looked so pleased as he waved a hand at one of the guards. The knife that had been taken from Briar was returned.
Persephone sat clapping her hands like an excited child.
Briar took the knife and held it tight in her grip. One life to save the others. She had killed before, she could kill again. Just one life and it was done.
Her hands shook as she stood up and took deep breath after deep breath.
“Oh, hurry up!” Persephone sounded so annoyed that Briar was taking her time.
Briar had no idea what that woman’s damage was but it was severe. No amount of therapy could help her.
Briar exhaled and nodded. She lifted the knife. The poor girl began to scream.
Briar flicked the knife around in her hand and drove it down…
Into her own throat.
“No!” Hades and Persephone both cried out at the same time. Hands grabbed Briar and the knife was removed. The pain vanished and Briar thought she was free. That she had won. One life and the others were free…
Briar was nearly on the ground but Nathaniel kept her upright. His mouth was near her ear as he held her tight. “That is where you think this memory ends but there is more. Listen.”
“She was meant to kill the girl. There should have been no way that happened. There is so much darkness in her. Hadrian said…”
“Hadrian is a fool like Alexander.” Hades cut Persephone off. “We will do this all again tomorrow and she will break. She likes killing. She has revelled in it. It is all there in her memory. When the last part of her humanity breaks for her own sanity she will become one of us. And she will be a beauty to watch in action.”
“You sound enamoured with the half-breed.”
“Make no mistake, Hillet, I will have her by my side and in my bed. You’ve been amusing but you are nothing compared to her.”
Hades’ laughter was drowned out by screeching and the sounds of something shattering into pieces.
“You were nothing when I found you and you will be nothing again,” Persephone yelled. Briar felt an impact in her chest. “And you will never have her. I’ll see to that.”
The voices faded away and soon things began to brighten and move again.
Persephone stood at the entrance to Briar’s cave, a bloodied knife in her hand. She had been waiting for Briar to wake.
Briar woke up in agony. It felt like lines of fire crisscrossed her face and chest. From the bloodied knife in Persephone’s hand, it was obvious what the source of the pain was. Persephone had slashed at Briar leaving deep scarring wounds.
Persephone laughed at Briar’s pain-filled screams.
And then Persephone turned and the door closed leaving Briar in the darkness with her pain. The glowing orb was gone and there was no light at all to be had.
Briar had endured excruciating pain before but she had always been strong in herself at those times. No reason to give up, always a reason to fight and to win. Now she felt broken and helpless, and because of that, the physical pain was unbearable.
She could not even examine the wounds with her arms chained to the wall. Briar was not one for tears usually but sitting there in the darkness she cried. Each tear fell to her cheeks and burned like acid but she kept crying.
Briar had no idea how long she stayed there in the darkness but it felt like days had passed since her tears had dried up. She was broken and she knew the ordeal was not over. She could only imagine what other games her two godly captors would want to play with her next.
And when her despair and pain had overwhelmed her there was a blinding white light and a face within that light that she knew. A face she had not seen since she was nineteen years old. A face she had not seen since she had left him sleeping in their bed. A face she had not seen since she had fled to leave him to have a good and happy life. The life he deserved.
“Let’s get you out of here, shall we?”
“Alistair?” Briar was confused, it looked like Alistair but it did not seem like Alistair.
It was a trick. Another game.
Briar shrunk back away from the face, pressing herself against the wall.
“No. No, I won’t play this new game.”
The man with Alistair’s face looked so sad. “I thought you would prefer a face you love. A face you trust. I am here to take you home.”
The man with Alistair’s face reached up and brushed Briar’s cheeks as if he brushed tears from them. Briar tensed for the pain to worsen at his touch but as his hands gently touched her cheeks all the pain vanished.
Briar relaxed. She could not help it. She was so tired and it was such a relief to be free of the pain.
The man with Alistair’s face unshackled Briar and pulled her close to him. He snapped his fingers and a dummy with a blonde wig appeared in the chains.
“Why the dummy or why am I helping you?”
Briar was too tired to answer, she just looked up at him.
“Let’s just say that I live to destroy the plans of those two. Just call me Hermes the trickster. Bane of Hades.”
There were too many Gods in this place, Briar thought as she cuddled close to Hermes.
“Sleep now, child and I will take you to safety.”
The scene stopped and Briar turned to Nathaniel. “You’re not Hermes either.”
“No, though I have met him. Quite an amazing chap, and not really much of a trickster. More, thrice great.”
Briar had no idea what to make of that comment, so she ignored it. “And those two, Hades and Persephone, they were not gods either?”
“No. Not gods. Though I am sure ancient mortals might have thought they were. But no, not gods, and not Hades or Persephone. They are demons, like Lorelei. Purebloods. And they wanted you for their plans.”
“What plans? And why me? I don’t actually have any powers.”
“But you might, is that not why you are on this journey?” Nathaniel asked.
“Well. Yes. Part of it,” Briar admitted. It was not the main reason but it was one of the reasons she was doing this. “They thought I had powers? Or I could get them?”
“Yes. And they were using old tricks to try and wake them and taint your soul further in the process.”
“If I had killed the girl?”
“They would have then convinced you to kill the other two hoping that you would slowly descend into your demon heritage.”
“Pretty good assumption. I’m not exactly a holy pure soul.”
“But you are as much angel as you are a demon. Your soul was not so easily turned.”
“Would I have gotten powers if I’d killed them all?” Briar asked. She found it hard to believe that she was in any way angelic. Though, she had heard about angels being about protection and vengeance. Maybe she was descended from that kind of angel. Lorelei never really talked about him.
“Nothing is certain, but they hoped it would be like the old magic.”
“So, is this why you had me return to this memory? To remember that conversation and realise they weren’t gods?”
“That and two other reasons. One, a warning that these forces are not likely to give up on something they want.” Nathaniel took note of Briar’s frown. “What are you thinking?”
“Just that I bring danger to my family.”
“And do you not think you bring them protection too? With them or not, they will always be your family.”
“No one has ever phrased it like that.” Briar knew that it was true, though. She would always love those people that had become her new family, and so, they were in danger regardless. “And the other reason I had to visit this fresh hell again?”
“You see yourself as a tainted soul, a bad egg who has some good people around her but isn’t one of them. You don’t see yourself as anything good.”
“With good reason.” Briar shrugged.
“Yet, you took your own life to keep others safe.”
“Or I took a coward’s way out.”
Briar thought about it for a moment. “In most ways. I couldn’t kill again. And I assumed they’d let the others go. They didn’t seem interested in getting their own hands dirty. Just in screwing with me. So, why keep the prisoners.”
Was it more than cowardice and defeat that had led her to try and kill herself? She had never looked at it in any way but that. She couldn’t kill again. Those children. That old man…
It was easier to be gone.
But she had known. She had made Hades, whoever he was, swear that a death, her death, would buy the freedom of the others. It had been a sacrifice she had been willing to make.
What else was she going to discover about herself on this journey? For every good discovery would there be a bad?
A thought came to her and she turned to Nathaniel.
“Will you be going now that your part of the story is done?”
“No. I shall remain as your guide. I was asked to, but I wish to be here too.”
“Who asked you?”
“That will come. Now, if you are ready, it is time to continue. Even if you are not ready, we will move on.”
Nathaniel took Briar’s hand again and the scene began to change.
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