The Sacrifice

Fiona is compelled to stay with her eccentric uncle in the dreary city of London following the death of her beloved father. However, her short stay allows her to see into a world beyond her dreams and nightmares and it seems that her uncle was showing a little more than kindness allowing her to stay. He has a plan and she is part of it.
But what if the plan takes an unexpected twist? Who will walk away unfounded?

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3. Chapter Three

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,(45)
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
-Willliam Shakespeare, Hamlet (iv)

I blinked. Blinding light pierced through my eyelids and I blinked again, covering my arm over my eyes to protect myself. That didn’t help because the light shone through my translucent arm. Aghast, I screamed. The light dimmed down abruptly to darkness and despite my efforts, I couldn’t stand up.
"Ignis! Flamma," I called, clicking my fingers. Fire did not come. "Ignis! Flamma," I tried again. Still no response. What was the meaning of this? Was I stripped off my powers or have I forgotten how weave them like an average human? Terrified of the darkness, I gathered up all the power I could muster and began to yell, “Ignis! Fla-“
“You must have realised by now that your little fire spell doesn’t work in here,” came a man’s voice. I half expected uncle to come forth from the shadows, instead, an old man appeared into view. The old man was gripping his wooden stick with thin, bony fingers and crouched down to inspect me. His greying brown hair wriggled towards me and his large bushy beard disguised most of his facial features. I gave a little cry as I noticed his eyes- they were the colour of molten lava.
“Do not be afraid, child,” he said kindly, “do you not remember me? This place?” Waving his arm around, as though he were introducing a play production. Without warning, the whole place lit up in an orangy, red glow and I stared, astonished. We weren’t in a room of any sort; instead, we were standing on top of a large cliff, overlooking a large canyon that stretched forever in every direction. The sky was a deep shade of red- cloudless and the rocks were a shade between orange and brown. The stench of death and decay predominated over the rocky smell and the vast area was completely empty. Except for us. As strange as it may seem, the old man was right. I remembered this place. Somewhere, buried deep down in my memory, a thread of recognition lit up. I just couldn’t place when I’d been here or where I’d met this man.
“How did you get here?” I asked him. He chucked in reply and retorted, “I think that a more suitable question would be; how did you get here?” I bit my lip; did I dare to tell this strange man that I was conjuring spiritual magic and practising necromancy? He gave me the impression that he was not an ordinary human but I wouldn’t trust him with that knowledge anyway. ‘How do I remember this place?’ The thought was caught in my mind and no matter how much I tried to shake it off, it still remained hooked in my mind. “You’re mine now,” he hissed, “your father may have rescued you once, and you may have managed to free him from me too, but no-one, no-one is going to save you now.”At first, I thought it was his perverse humour that made him say those words but his form distorted and I gasped. The pitiful old man with greeting hair morphed right in front of me into a youthful man with dark hair, muscles and flashing eyes. Even the wooden walking stick transformed into a black rod of some sort. It made sense; the man- or God, in front of me was none other than Hades himself and I was trapped in his dominion- the Underworld. His molten lava eyes pierced into mine with such intensity that I flinched. It was not just his feverish glare that terrified me, it was the truth; I was going to be trapped here forever. And no-one was coming to save me- no, I was the damsel in distress whose prince didn’t exist. A greater tragedy didn’t exist.
‘You may have managed to free him from me’. My head jerked up. “My father is alive?” I spluttered, joy flooding me. Hades threw me a disgusted look but I didn’t care, I had done it! It didn’t matter if I was the sacrifice; I have given him back the life he deserved. The fact that I was dead did make me a little melancholy though.
“Fiona!”
At first, I told myself I had imagined the call because it sounded like...my father.
“Fiona!” Even Hades look confused; I took that as a good sign. Not everything was moving as he intended- that would mean that rescue could be on its way. Or so I allowed myself to hope.
“Wake up Fiona!” The sky rumbled as my father’s voice broke through.
“Papa?” I cried. The name felt alien in my mouth and I couldn’t remember the last time I called him that. Not at his funeral so probably before he left us. Hades’s face turned a dark shade of purple. “You must come with me to the Underworld,” he seethed, “give me your hand.” I pulled my hands away sharply and clasped it tightly behind my back. “No help parties for me huh?” I scoffed. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to anger the God of the Underworld but in my defence, he started it. This was probably just the skin of the Underworld- maybe if I held on a little longer, I could escape from here.
"Fiona? Do you hear me? You need to wake up NOW!" papa cried, even more urgently than before.l needed to wake up, that was all. 'Wake up, wake up,' I willed myself. It worked as I slowly started to shimmer and fade, growing more and more transparent. Hades noticed this dived towards me, probably to grab hold of my and imprison me but it was too late. I was already completely gone and his arms and tendrils -that seemed to have spurt out as a last minute resort- passed right through me. I have him one last smile as he growled, "NOOO!"
Just before I completely vanished into a blinding light, I heard his quietly hiss, "One day, Fiona. Your day will come." My veins turned to ice but at the moment, I knew I was safe. For now.
_____
I woke up as though life had suddenly been pumped into me, choking on air. Around me were familiar faces; uncle, Alex and father. Father. My eyes ran over his face; his eyes were the same blue, his nose was still the same crooked shape, his mouth was widened into a smile, the shadow of a beard along his jaws and chin. Somehow, I found myself unable to peel my eyes away from him. Was it my imagination or did he seem a little...different? I dismissed the idea at the same speed it crossed my mind and wrapped him in a hug almost knocking him over, crying, "papa!" Gripping me in the embrace just as fiercely, he whispered, "well done Fiona, thank you for releasing me" into my ears. Tears flowed freely and rolled down my cheeks- I'd never been happier. Then why couldn't I shake off the sense of foreboding?
When we finally pulled apart, the room plunged into an awkward silence. I'd have expected uncle to throw himself at father in joy too but he remained still, by my side with a coldly calculating look. I resisted the urge to frown as uncle cast suspicious glances at father; it was hardly a brotherly reunion, you would never have guessed that it was uncle who was so determined in the first place to return my father from the land of dead.
"We were worried about you, what happened?" It was Alex who spoke, I didn't believe for a second that he was actually worried about me; we only met a little while ago, and not in exactly friendly circumstances either. But looking into his eyes, he looked genuinely concerned that I couldn't help but smile. Father was looking at me too- with a strange look, almost as though he were strangled. "I'm not sure," I admitted to Alex, "I was performing the spell and suddenly all my energy drained and I think..I think I died." I gulped as I pronounced the last word. Alex looked alarmed, father a little nervous and uncle just scrutinising me as I spoke, "why do you say that?" He asked curiously.
"Because, when I woke up, there was this bright light and I tried to block it but my arm..my arm wasn't solid. It was like I was a ghost.." And I narrated my tale. Light . Canyon. Hades. When I finished the story everyone looked awestruck like I had just returned from death. Oh wait, I had.
"Do you think it was all a dream? Do Greek Gods even exist?" The events seemed so surreal now, it was hard to imagine that it ever happened.
"I'm not sure," uncle replied after pausing for thought. It scared me that he looked deeply troubled. "I think..whatever it was, was a little more than a dream. Perhaps your mind made up Hades after feeling his presence in the temple but ..like I said, I do not have sufficient data to back up either of the two ideas or dismiss them. This calls for some work, we must return to Donum Deī at once!" Uncle stood up and marched out, followed by my dazed father. Alex helped me up properly and walk up that stairs without falling down and breaking my neck which really would have been quite unfortunate. Now that father was alive and well again, there were so many things I wanted to ask him. Some, like the plague and his death were issues I needed to steer clear off until he had regained life completely but I had plenty in stock. My childhood was spent waiting along with my mother on the doorstep, waiting for my father to return so I was bursting with things I needed to desperately know. So many things to share with him too. I smiled contently, all was going to be well now. I had my family back.
The ride back to uncle's mansion was uneventful. I was surprised to see that it was nearly dawn; how long was I in there? My stomach rumbled and I realised I hadn't eaten anything since last night's feast. Maybe that's why I fainted, a girl needed food, obviously. Alex kept one arm secured around me, just to prevent me from falling - or fainting, then falling. He was really starting to grow on me. I won't hurt him with my powers again, I concluded; he had shown me most kindness of all the people I met here.
I never thought I would feel relief when I saw uncle's mansion but I did. The building didn't seem strange anymore, it seemed like I belonged there; like home. As soon as we walking in, John the butler and his peers ushered us into the dining hall. The aroma of warm soup, fried meat and stew wafted in the air and I felt myself salivating immediately. Food was a welcome thought. We all dug in at once, the clatter of knives and forked tinkled. I bit into a crisply coated leg of a chicken, savouring the juicy tender meat, chewing it slowly and swallowing it down with a sip of red wine. Everyone was as ravenous as I was. PerhAps that's why we didn't notice it at first.
Father had been devouring the food placed above him with the same passion we had, however, he was a lot quicker in emptying his plate than we were. Whilst we were still gnawing on the first bite, father had emptied his entire plate of mutton stew and roast chicken. "He's just returned from the land of dead, of course he's hungry," we all dismissed it. Then he managed to eat all the meaty dishes on offer, within minutes. What worried us was his manners, it was appalling. He dropped his cutlery and began tearing at the meat with his bare hands, ripping the fresh off the bones and quickly stuffing it into his mouth in a frenzied way. I felt mildly sick. His eyes scanned the table rapidly like a rabid animal and began to growl, "Meat! I want meat! Lovely meat...fresh, not cooked. I want to rip the flesh myself and suck it dry. Give me meat!!"
"Father!," I cried horrified, losing my own appetite. "What on Earth has gotten into you? "
"Pretty girl," he cooed, his voice was unfamiliar and his slitted eyes focused on me. "Give me meat pretty girl or I shall eat you!"
"Papa?! Are you playing with me? Are you joking?" I asked desperately but father was already out of his seat.
"I don't think he is.." affirmed Alex, "call the guards! GUARDS!" But it was too late, father had leapt across the table, knocking me and my seat onto the floor and he landed on top of me. I screamed as he began to lick my cheeks. Alex ran to help me but father swatted him away with the power of ten men. Alex flew and hit a nearby pillar, knocked unconscious.
"Stop it Tobias," he said calmly.
"Uncle, I don't think he'll listen if you say it that way, just pull him off."
"Tobias," he tried again. This time, father's head jerked upwards. "Tobias, you are really tired. You must sleep now. Goodnight." Great, that's going to work, I huffed. It did! Father dropped asleep straightaway, snoring loudly. I pushed him away and stood up facing uncle, "You hypnotised him, didn't you?" I asked even though I already knew the answer. His nod confirmed it. "What..what happened to him?" Suddenly, I was close to tears. My father had only just returned and now, it was as though I lost him again. Even the thought made my eyes fill up and my skin crawl, I cannot lose him again.
"Uncle please, what is the meaning of this?" I begged, suddenly in the shoes of the young child who needed comfort and reassurance that her father was alright. Sadly, I received none at that age.
"Fiona, I cannot pretend I understand the depth of the situation, but," he smiled warmly at me, for the first time since I've seen him- it made him glow like an angel, and he had never looked more alike my father. "I promised you I would bring back your father and here he is. The ride from the Underworld has probably left his poor brain...confused. Believe me when I say, I want him back as much as you do," he continued. My eyes found his, and I thought he looked more wary and tired. Older too as the patches of grey hair inked onto his blond hair. He crossed the space between us and lay an arm on my shoulder, a simple gesture to tell me silently, 'you are not alone.' My eyes filled up with tears and I leaned in against his torso, allowing him to wrap his arms around me in a comforting hug. I always thought I missed papa. Only now did I realise how much I missed a paternal figure in my life.
"Alex!" I remembered all of a sudden. My heart twisted as I remembered the mightly sound of his crash as he flew against the pillar. Poor Alex; I rushed by his side- followed by uncle- and made several attempts to wake him up.
"Alex! Alex!!" I cried, shaking him with my bare hands. All in vain.
"You can heal him," Uncle mumbled behind me.
"I can?"
"Yes, use your spirit powers asks recite the healing spell. You should remember it; I taught you on the first day." A small smile played on his lips and I sighed exasperatedly, the idea that he managed to hypnotise me to learn spells was still an unnerving one. Or maybe I'm just being a hypocrite considering I've just raised someone from the dead.
"Anima! Animus!" I chanted. He didn't stir, I frowned. I repeated this again, but nothing happened.
"Uncle..what's wrong?" I gulped. "Why can't I do magic anymore?"
His face paled and that poured acid over my heart; it must be bad. I braced myself for the bad news: maybe I really had died and returned to life as a human being, or my powers have abandoned me or he'd had it all wrong. I'm not a Lunar-human hybrid. All of these possibilities would have been welcome, I don't need magic or power. Perhaps now I was finally free of the responsibilities it demanded from me.
"The ring," he said coarsely.
"What?" Caught off by surprise, I simply stared at him.
"The ring. The charmed ruby ring.." He spat out the words, grimacing as though he were in terrible pain. I traced his eyes to my left hand, then I realised the red ruby ring wasn't there.
"Oh? The ring? What has it to do with anything?"
Uncle gave the impression that he was on the verge of collapsing, every little word and gesture suggesting he was furious at me, and a pang on guilt hit my heart, if only I hadn't lost that ring.
He glared at me fiercely and said, "The ring was the source of your power, it helped you...remember. It belonged to the Magicians Guild, the only surviving token or witness of what they had done. And now .." he trailed off into uncomfortable silence.
"So, the ring broke the hypnotic wall that stopped me from using magic," I pieced together. He nodded sullenly. Dread poured into me and I asked the next question. I knew the answer but I prayed to Gods that uncle would tell me otherwise. "So..I can't use magic anymore?" The idea was quite terrible; not because I'd grown fond of my powers, but I could no longer fix anything. I cannot cure Alex or bring back my father from the dead if he were to die again. A strong sense of vulnerability crept into me, foreign to anything I has felt before.
Uncle looked up and stared into my eyes, his own blue eyes were as hard as ice. "It's not just about your powers. That was a powerful weapon hidden away, safe. In the wrong hands it could do great harm- wipe out our entire species even. Cause wreck and havoc. And I will have to answer to the Guild about the disappearance myself, I cannot imagine what the consequences will be of stealing such a powerful weapon and carelessly losing it."
"You stole it?" I asked in disbelief. He remained silent. "I'm so sorry uncle," I apologised, full if regret and guilt. I truly hadn't intended this. "I'm sure it's probably in the temple somewhere, maybe it dropped off when I was was casting the spell." I tried to remain optimistic; uncle being the victim of my idiocy was a painful thought, especially after all he's done for me.
"Did you suddenly lose your powers when you were casting the spell?"
"No," I replied after some thought. I could easily call up the elements and they were willing to do my bidding. I felt uneasy though, I must be missing something out. And then it hit me, "uncle!" I yelled, surprising myself and causing him alarm- jerking him away from his own thoughts. "In my dreams..with Hades, I lost my powers then. Or I didn't have my powers then, could it have something to do with the ring?"
"Possibly," he said, chewing his bottom lip.
"I must have lost the ring when I fainted so when I ended up at the skin of the Underworld, I couldn't call my powers." It was the only theory that made sense.
"However, the whole Hades episode could have been a merely unpleasant dream; there isn't enough solid proof to suggest otherwise. If you were dreaming it, then there's no guarantee that the reason you couldn't call upon your powers was because you lost them- you could have dreamt it."
"But what if..," I began to propose the other side of the argument but he silenced me with his index finger and continued.
"If it were real, if you had actually travelled close to the Underworld, we still cannot be sure that you lost the ring beforehand. The Underworld...it still remains a mystery to us; it is most likely that the Underworld cuts off access to your powers. Or we can assume so."
I felt the weight of disappointment crush my hopes. Choking down wells of emotion I managed to appear calm and thoughtful.
"Uncle, how are we going to treat Alex?" His unnaturally pale skin worried me and dig the knife of guilt further in until all I could feel was the stinging which was equal to slicing my flesh. "We take him to the infirmary," uncle replied as though it was the most obvious solution. Of course it was, caught up in the power of spells and magic, I had completely forgotten the human ways of coping in these situations.
"You should get some sleep," he said with a sigh. I wanted to apologise again for the distress I had caused him but when I parted my lips, no sound came out. I heaved a sigh of my own and nodded. I needed to be alone to clear my thoughts, and uncle clearly did too.
"And father..?"
"I shall take care of him," he responded dismissively. "John, please show Fiona to her room. Thank you"
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