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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2. Chapter Two

He remained as youthful as he was the day death consumed him. No wrinkles, no signs of decay- in fact, he looked more radiant than he had in life. The deep brown hair against his deathly pale skin and I knew that underneath his closed eyelids lay brightly blue eyes. No, it wasn’t possible.
“You found him,” a voice sneered behind me. Uncle. I jumped violently and tried in vain to control my pounding heart. The music which could no longer be traced, passively flickered and faded away leaving us in silence. My father’s face was illuminated in the faint moonlight that trickled through the small hole in the middle of darkness. The rest of the room was an infinite space in pitch black, nothing could be seen apart from my still father.
“Now you can bring him back.”
My tongue refuses to untie itself and voice the thousands of screaming voices in my head. The moment felt so surreal. 'Was that really my father or am I jumping to conclusions?' It couldn’t possibly be him, he had died years ago when I was merely an infant, pacing my first steps into childhood. He had abandoned mother and me, to find gold. Literally. The rumour has it that Tobias Beckenwood disowned his family in order to join the Alchemist brotherhood- to search for gold, or to be more precise, find the method that turned lead into gold. Mother never denied this, neither did she accept it. She waited dutifully for his return, days melting into months, years, a decade. Then came the arrival of the news of his death and it pained me to see her hope wither and die- the source of her strength gave away and she meekly joined a convent to escape from life.
I’d always resented my father for my mother’s ill fate. He had been the source of her unhappiness but I realised that she too had been weak. Weak enough to ignore her daughter, not to move on, to refuse to accept facts, to give up on life. She too had abandoned me. At the bottom pits of my heart, I knew that I loved my father- yearned for his presence in my life like any daughter would wish. His death had crushed my hopes too.
“You may be thinking I am mad-yes, well I am- but none more than usual,” he winked and I stared at him, unable to form a comprehensive response. “I am giving you the choice, no, chance to bring back your daddy dearest. Surely you cannot refuse.” His sharp eyes lost the little pretence warmth and turned brittle. I stood rooted to my spot, unable to formulate any sort of response.
“I see, you’re as stubborn as ever. Well then, if you’re not willing, you must be sacrificed. It is for the greater good.” Sacrificed? Alarm bells rung out in my head and I tried to retreat slowly ignoring the coldness of the floor underfoot and the heaviness of my legs. My father’s glass coffin lay behind me, and uncle loomed ahead: I was trapped.
"Wh..what?" I was lost for words, too many questions all arose at once and bubbled on my lips. Uncle arched his eyebrow and waited expectantly for a full fledged response. Summoning every molecule of my energy, I asked, "how is my father still..preserved?" My voice wavered at how close I'd come to calling him alive; no, he looked quite dead. Pale, still and dead.
"Long story child, considering you pitiful mother has failed to tell you of our kind, it will take a while for story telling. We don't have that time." His last sentence sounded almost menacing, and I caught a glimpse of how truly desperate he was. I must have been the last resort. I gulped.
"But I need to know," I persisted, amazed at how forceful I sounded especially in contrast with the turmoil of emotions that welled inside me and the inner instincts crying at me to run. Uncle stared at me, his eyes hard and focused solely on my. I tried to meet his stare without flinching then looked away, shivering. His gaze turned to the moonlight and only his tightly pursed lips told me he was displeased.
"We have till tomorrow midday. Tomorrow is the last chance to resurrect your father, a minute later and it will be too late- beyond our reach." He sighed deeply and his whole posture grew weary; it was like watching him age before me as sadness and despair engulfed him.
"It's wrong, you can't just bring back people to life!" I cried, outraged at the suggestion.
"No, you can't just bring a person to life," he agreed, "but we're not just people."
"W-What do you mean?" I stammered, unable to grasp the pragmatic meaning. He didn't mean that father was special in a figurative way, he meant it. As though he were something... alien
"Your father is a Lunar," he said calmly. Noticing my confusion, he carried on, "We are the cold species of Homo sapiens that evolved on the moon. When the world froze over, we migrated to earth to find shelter. We may blend in with these humans but we are far superior to them. We posses certain powers," he grinned and then his expression transitioned into something darker and his voice dropped as he said "And that's why we've been hunted for so long. The humans are threatened by our abilities and make it their priority to eradicate our existence. Battles have been fought, wars have broken out and spilled the blood of many lives. When our existence became threatened, thirteen of the most powerful ancient Lunars- the Tredecim Lunars Guild- arose and joined their power to erase the memory of our existence in every human mind. Now they all live blissfully unaware of our existence. That is is whole story itself. The point is, your father won't just rot away here in this soil. There is too much magic here for that to happen, he needs to be somewhere more still and calm- like the moon, but.." He paused for effect and flashed another mischievous grin before adding "..he can be brought back to life."
I remained silent, contemplating the possibility that this was a dream- it seemed more likely than the explanation uncle offered but dreams were never this vivid. They never had such quality to them. His smile dimmed at my lack of enthusiasm.
"Does ..does this mean I'm a loonar?" I asked, fearing the answer.
"Yes, but only half. You posses both Earth magic and Lunar powers. That's what makes you useful to me and dangerous to anyone else."
"Magic?"
"You have your mother's Earthblood which means you posses a low control over all the five elements on Earth: fire, water, earth, spirit and air. You have your father's Lunarblood which means you have a relatively high power to mind control and charm speak. We Lunars developed these powers in order to adapt to our habitat and intermingle with humans. Some are more powerful than others."
"So every human is an Earthblood..does that mean everyone has control over the five elements?" Passively, fear peeled away and I felt curiosity grab hold of me. "If so, why aren't they all using it?"
"During the war, the Tredecim Lunar's Guild wiped their minds with such force that humans lost all memories, how to control their powers and they're sense of purpose. Some strong-willed humans found themselves with small scraps of their memory. They were then burnt at stake by the majority of humans for practising witchcraft," a bitter laugh erupted out from his momentary break in story-telling. I gave an involuntary shudder.
I thought back to my old life, everything seems so trivial now in comparison with this. "Did my mother know all this?" If she had, I would have been more than furious at her for keeping such a terrible secret from me- for letting me find out this way.
"She knew who your father was but nothing more. She didn't know the risks," his averted his eyes and a sad expression crossed his face.
"Risk?"
"Lunars are strictly forbidden from forming relationships or mating with humans. The child of their affair is known not to survive. Your parents claimed they were in love but once your mother gave birth to a still born -you- your father finally saw light. He traded with a powerful witch to return your life because he couldn't bear your mother's agony. The price he paid...He realized that the relationship could never work out so he left. He left to save your mother from bearing any more still borns, saved you from being hunted down by rogues who were against their intercast relationship. He saved everyone but himself as he grew quietly mad with grief."
I wanted to ask so much more about my father, I spared another glance at the corpse and let the tears fall on their own accord. My father, he did love us; he didn't leave us for any selfish reasons. He did that to protect us. More tears gathered and I couldn't no longer see anything but swirls of dark blue. It felt good to know that my father hasn't abandoned us, to know he loved me; it was the first time I'd heard of my father sacrificing anything for me. I brushed away my tears, scolding myself for being overly emotional over this, who is to know that this isn't a lie to persuade me into assisting his crazy schemes?
"Why did he join the Alchemist Brotherhood then?" I asked although from his story, I had a fairly too idea on why.
"He needed a reason to stay away from you and your mother. He must have figured that joining the Brotherhood meant he could keep you at a distance," he shrugged to indicate that this was only an idea.
“Why? Because he couldn’t risk having any more children? That’s all?” After all these years, I simply couldn’t digest the idea that he may have left for a reason.
“That,” he nodded in agreement and added, “he couldn’t bear to look at you, everytime he saw your face, he saw death. He was haunted by that memory, price he paid; just everything. He was at the brink of insanity and anything more could have pushed him right off the edge.”
“What was the price he had to pay in return for my life?” I had to know that one, I had to know if my father really thought I was worth the cost. But uncle only provided me with a tight smile for that one, the answers had apparently run out.
“Time is running out Fiona, you must start the rituals,” he said, his voice had a new quality- an edge to it, daring me to challenge it.
“And if I don’t..?” I challenged. He rewarded me with another tight-lipped smiles and whispered, “Sleep”.
_____
Sunlight inundated the room despite the half drawn curtains, like a flood breaking out of its banks. Tendrils of the rays reached out to me, ticking the bare skin on my arms. I yawned and turned over, the plump bedding cushioning my body. Suddenly the sheets were dragged and I rolled off too far from the edge, consequently landing on the marble floor with an almighty crash. Shaking off tendrils of sleepiness, I heaved myself up and scanned the room. “How on Earth did I get here?” I mused to myself. I recollected last night’s experiences and my mood dampened- Could it all have been nothing but a dreadful nightmare? Had I dreamt it all?
“No, it wasn’t all a dream,” came a voice, startling me enough to drive myself to crash into the wall behind me. A man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the room- a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, or was it the intensity in his dark brown eyes that deluded the appearance of that age? His dark brown hair looked like it wanted to escape from his scalp, pointing in all directions. Unlike uncle, his face was shaven clean, his creamy skin complementing his dark looks. I felt a cold breeze brushing back at the nape of my neck, slowly trailing and branching out on my scalp.
“Stop it,” I warned. An amused expression crossed his face , “you can sense it,” he observed. The trailing didn’t stop; he was using Lunar powers to invade my mind with the intention of reading my thoughts, probably. I shot him another warning glare.
“Stop it now,” I growled telepathically and the minor widening of eyes told me he received my message perfectly, now it was my turn to smirk.
“Else…?” he suggested playfully. I decided to put my powers to the test. I extended my right arm and shouted with as much force as I could summon from my mind.
“ Ventulus! Flarent eum!”
Turbulent air blasted from my fingers tips, an invisible hurricane tore the room and smashed him against the wall, knocking him off his feet. Surprise dominated his face although there was a little awe in it too, my response wasn’t expected- not by him or me. ‘What have I just done?’ I asked myself sullenly, ‘what on Earth have I become?’ I realized at that moment –perhaps a little too late- that I had crossed the point of return. I could never return to Palm Springs and carry on the life I left off after last night. My luck has twisted. I laughed resentfully and padded towards the young man and offered him my hand. I had honestly not intended any harm, I acted out of annoyance and a little bit of overactive self-defense.
“Sorry,” I grumbled sheepishly. He held my eyes, examining my face intently before accepting my hand. As he rubbed his back, flexing his spine, I noticed I’d managed to cause him more discomfort than he showed and the thought fuelled the guilty feeling. Honestly, in my defense, I could argue that he provoked me. How else was I expected to react to a stranger invading my thoughts?
“Aha! You’ve met already. That’s excellent!” cried uncle from my doorway, appearing so silently that we hadn’t noticed- we had been…preoccupied. I sighed, it was far too early in the morning for the drama, especially since I still remained clothed in my nightgown and my unruly black curls in the position I had woken up in. Before, I would have cared about the way I presented myself in front of such audience but now, I didn’t even know who I was anymore so why did it matter?
“Not really, Bertrand” he interrupted uncle. “I am Alex,” he introduced himself, catching my eye. My hands still remained in his he shook it, his own ones growing warm.
“And I am Fiona Beckenwood,” I replied, almost haughtily, “pleased to meet you,” I added slyly.
Uncle made a cursory examination between us and simply said nothing. Alex smiled a little, carefully, flashing his dimples. Nearby, a clock chimed and church bells rang, waking us out of the comfortable silence. “It’s time,” murmured uncle, his voice grew louder as he barked out commands, “meet me at the library in ten minutes. Alex, wait for her and escort her to the library. We must pay a visit to the Hades temple” Alex gave a curt nod and they both marched out of my room, Alex paused by the door and drew it to a close. I quickly slipped into a dark green chiffron dress with a black laced hem. I dealt with my hair- brushing it roughly into a tuck at the back of my head and brushed the stray stands aside. I washed my face, hands and feet, deciding I had no more time to spend on cleanliness. Stepping into my black heels, I took a deep breath. I eyed all the five doors, telling myself I would investigate its contents further once my father had been brought back from the dead. I was surprised at how cynical I sounded these days, ‘they’re changing you Fiona. They’re shaping you from the inside,’ a kind, melancholy voice whispered. ‘I know,’ I laughed and opened the door.
Alex stood dutifully outside my door, half-heartedly examining the walls. “Ready,” I declared, shutting the door behind me. “Then let’s go,” he offered me his arm and I gladly accepted, all of a sudden, the reality of what I was about to do hit my like a giant tsunami wave, leaving a sick sensation at the pit of my stomach from jittering nerves.
Alex lead us through a maze of corridors, neither of us spoke a word as I was lost in my maze of thoughts- fear gnawing my mind. I’d arrived on this land with so many unanswered questions and so far, the answers have only multiplied the number of them. They were like angry bees chasing after me, constantly trying to sting me. Briefly, I caught a reflection of myself in a large, golden framed mirror and I became fully aware of how much I matched the description of a stereotypical witch. Emerald eyes set in bony face with pallor skin that contrasted my raven-black curls. High cut cheekbones and blood red lips despite the absence of any lipsticks. In my peripheral vision, I saw Alex drinking in my features too- I guess I was abnormal in every way.
The echo of my heels clacking against the stone floor drew to a halt, in front of us was the library stocked with an abundant supply of books. The smell of wood and dust added to the grandness of the layout. The room was in the shape of an nonagon, shelves attached to each of the six sides. Opposite the ten foot long door was a large window- no, a balcony, I decided after squinting and a cosy fireplace between the balcony and the door. The room was set with heavy wooden desks and a chesterfield sofa. On any other occasion- perhaps if I wasn’t aware I belonged to a different species with the burden to use my powers to bring my father from the underworld- I would have begged uncle to allow me to dispose my time in here, among books.I speculated that under the certain circumstances I faces, this was probably too much to ask. There were several rows and stacks of them, more than one could behold with a single gaze.
“Let’s see how much you remember from last night. Clearly the air spell was easy to remember,” uncle said. I frowned, I had no memory of being taught any spells, however, it was undeniable that I managed to hurl Alex at the wall. “Don’t look so confused, my dear. You didn’t seem too keen last night so I had no choice,” he flashed me a smile with mock sympathy. A twinge of annoyance lit into a fire of anger boiling away. “You hypnotized me?” I asked quietly, my voice as cold as ice with a brittle quality, questioning the morals behind that act than the act itself. ‘Hypnotized’ rolled off my tongue like a cheap, dirty word- a verb that deserved that regard. “I am willingly doing this aren’t I? I am assisting you to commit this unspeakable deed aren’t I? Ignoring the dangers that like behind it, I’m doing this, aren’t I? And you choose to humiliate me further but taking away your free will to flaunt your power over m-“
“That’s quite enough, thank you,” uncle snapped. “We have more important matters at hand than your sensitive pride.” I flushed, glaring at him fiercely. Disgusted poured into my mouth in the form of words which I fought to bite back; I have still remained unpromoted from the role as ‘the sacrifice’. I shifted my focus elsewhere in case I accidentally set fire to him out of my boiling rage. Alex feigned interest on a pile of books lying haphazardly on the desk- he wanted to avoid family issues as much as we did. At least he didn’t wear a smug expression or else I may have considered revising the air spell once again on a Lunar subject.
Time lapsed and each minute was a lost cause. It pained me to know that each second that slipped though my hand was my father closer to eternal death- especially when it was within my power to save him. One would have expected me to be accustomed to his death by now but the hope that I received had blossomed into wild fantasies of a happy family. Uncle and Alex escorted me to the stables to catch a ride to the sacred temple. I hypothesized that the black binded book that uncle secured in his arms was one that dictated spells and earthblood magic and no doubt that uncle had planned this event to the most minute detail to ensure that all went accordingly to his plan.
Horse riding, unfortunately, was not a hobby that I particularly excelled at as my mother has refused to provide me with lessons at an early age. Alex volunteered a ride and I gratefully obliged having no wish to share a horse with my uncle. Yes, I was being sulky but one had the right to do so don’t they? Especially in light of recent events.
A horse-ridden carriage followed behind us, carrying my father’s mortal body. The journey was extremely uncomfortable, the speed of their gallops was particularly exhilarating but they rocked too much for my liking at a slower pace.
My heart pounded frantically as we neared the temple. Fallen trees and vines obscured my view of the temple but I could see huge grey slabs of rock forming a roof. As we edged closer, it looked more like a secluded spot than a place of worship but then again, Hades- the Greek God of the Underworld- wasn’t the most popular of the Gods. Despite the unattractive appearance, the whole area buzzed with an inexplicable energy. I could feel the soil beneath humming, the air vibrate with energy, moistness in the air, smell smoke (although I couldn’t spy on any fires nearby or visible smoke) and my spirit rose with sudden enthusiasm.
We mounted off the saddle, Alex once again auxilliating me, earning a new respect in my eyes. Lace from my dress caught onto the saddle and I struggled to fee myself from the grasp midway in the air with only Alex's hand to hold me up. "Careful mistress, it's not like I have a better job to be attending to," he exclaimed quitely. Oh. Not so deprived of snarkiness then.
Once we neared the site, my initial impression had been right. There a small cavelike building made out of ugly, out-of-form rocks. Blown out candles and decaying bodies of rodents were scattered around the building.
"We must go underground," said uncle, marching the way forward, overtaking us to the lead position. He held up a green lantern on one arm (the book secured in the other) and commanded directly to me, "light it." A final practise of my magical abilities, I didn't even need to shout this time. I ordered in a tranquil voice "ignis! ignire" and flames engulfed the wick, burning brightly. He gave me a smile in recognition of my achievement. That's when a nagging feeling revealed itself in the form of a question. "Uncle!" I called out to him, he'd already crossed six metres ahead in the space of a few seconds. "You said all humans lost memory of how to access their elemental powers," he nodded, " then how can I...?"
"The ring," he replied with complete lack of emotion as though he was trying to detact himself from it.
"What ring..?" I began but he'd already disappeared into the tunnels. "We have no time! The sun is almost overhead," his bodiless voice yelled. I swung my head back and stared at the shy; he was right. The sun was almost overheard and that would be when the sand dunes ran out.
"I think he means this ring," Alex pointed out, indicating my left hand thumb. To my surprise, I found a silver ring set with a large red stone; ruby. The ring must have been charmed somehow to help me remember the path to magic. But uncle said that the brain wash that the Lunar's Guild performed were too powerful to be overcomed- that means whatever this ring was, it trumps the most powerful magic in the world. Quite a scary thought but how did it end up on my finger in the first place? Uncle.
_____
Inside the cave, it was dark and smelt strongly of earth. There was a flight of rocky stairs that decended into darkness. "Ignis!Flamma," I ordered and a ball of flames appeared on my hand, it's light guiding me. I could easily get used to this kind of power, I mused to myself. No longer have to hunt for candles in the dark, just a click of my fingers and 'voila' as the french would say. Behind me, Alex and three servants followed- holding up the coffin. It made sense that the true temple was underground considering that underworld was Hades dominion. Greek mythology was a fascinating topic, civilisations and architecture revolving around the Gods who possessed such human qualities. I didn't have much time to ponder about Greek Gods because the stairs, after several step (I lost count past a hundred and eleven), came to an end. There was nothing interesting here, just square room with four walls made of soil. Disappointment washed over me. I'd hoped for some thing a little more, even a couple of Godly statues would have sufficed.
Suddenly, the soil wall in front of us gave away and slid to reveal a large room with as much grandness and splendor as my uncle's mansion. Now, this, I could believe was the real temple. Unlike uncle’s well-kept mansion, the room was irregular shaped with little light and cobwebs hanging on every corners. Great big stone pillars that were the colour of dark sand help up the mud roof which made me feel a little queasy.
In the middle of the room lay a large block- of wood? Stone? It was hard to tell. Over it was draped a large red velvet sheet with golden trimmed edges. The servants behind me brushed past me and unloaded the coffin robotically onto the block and retreated. Uncle must have given them orders beforehand and I wondered how much they really knew about what was to happen here. Not that I happened to know much. No object existed to show that this space was dedicated to worshipping Hades: no statues, portraits, offerings.
“I had to clean up this room to fit the occasion. The presence is still here but his things have been vacated to another vault,” uncle explained. “Before you perform this ritual, you must know that whilst the four elements: fire, water, air and earth comes from the outside- Earth provides it for you. But spirit,” he looked uncomfortable, “comes within you. Every time you use a spirit spell, you’re using up your spirit and its effects can be particularly dangerous. The effects range from mental deterioration to shortening your life span.” His voice dropped to a lower tone, “And this spell, if you hadn’t realised is pretty much necromancy. It is beyond dangerous. Stay strong and maybe you can save your spirit.”
Maybe you can save your spirit. Yes uncle, that was certainly a subtle way of mentioning that my soul was in mortal peril. I deflected the dangerous aspect. I needed to see my father again, alive. And so the rituals began. Balanced on top of my father’s torso was the large spellbook uncle had placed. I was left alone in the room as the others withdrew up the stairs again. Uncle was the last to leave, he paused on the first step and twisting his head to face me, he said, “ Good luck,” and gave me one last conceding look before following the others. I sighed- the lonliness was comforting but in a place as eerie as this, I felt shivers snaking around my body. Time is running out, the sand dunes are against me- I must concentrate. Breathe, read concentrate. Breathe, read, concentrate. That was my advice.
“Anima! Ego, Fiona Alice Beckenwood, hoc tu excite, meam facere iussa.”
As soon as I said those words, something stirred within me and I recalled uncle warning me the origin of spirit magic. Shrugging away the feeling, I ploughed on reading the ancient book- trying to depict the Latin words from the cursive writing which proved to be more of a challenge than mentally supposing the spirit. A powering sensation coursed through my veins, growing stronger and stronger with each word I spoke until every nerve in my body lit up, vibrating vigorously.
“ In nomine inferno spiritus patris nostra redire profundum infernum.” Nothing happened but I had only begun. I half read, half yelled the words, exerting as much force as I conjure from within- all my feelings; desperation, determination, fear- all intermingled with the spell to in order to fuel it. Towards the end, I panicked. So far, no effects have taken place as father remained as dead and unmoving as ever without any signs of returning to life. Peeling my eyes for any twitches, or a moving chest, or fluttering eyelids, I read out the spells, more desperate than voice. Latin wasn’t my speciality but understood each word with such clarity that it was more like a one person conversation I was having with Hades- begging him to return my father’s life.
Release him from your fiery pits, I pleaded, use my spirit to break the bond that chains him to you. Release him! Release him! Still nothing. I tasted fear and panic more profoundly on my lips, I had no more strength left to repeat the spell or read the last instruction on the page. My vision blurred and I swiftly fell to the ground like a flower blown in the wind. A scream formed on my lips but died before it could escape, a shadow ran across the room, flitting away from my rapidly debilitating sight. If I was dying, I had one last wish-
“Dimittes eum”
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