17 March 2007
John had been concerned about me ever since we returned from England, and I could hardly blame him. I was having trouble adjusting to the new connection I had with the flow of life around me and was still uncomfortable with what I’d learned about my family history. I tried to think of it in terms of the Hudsons, how it was this other group that was maintaining the Bride and using them like some kind of tool for personal power, but I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was part of that heritage, that I had the Bride’s blood running through me sure as Michael did. And then the magic sitting there, just beneath the surface of my sense of self, crying out to connect with any living thing nearby, was making me tense and disrupting my sleep whenever John wasn’t there to quiet it. I needed help, I knew that, and didn’t want to rely on just constantly hanging on my boyfriend’s arm. The point of this, after all, was to help me handle the supernatural with or without him. So on St. Patrick’s Day, since we all had plans anyway, I arrived a bit early to talk to Jackie before we met up with everyone else. Sure enough, when I arrived, John was upstairs getting ready, and we had a little time.
I told her everything. I didn’t mean to, I was intending to just tell her about how I was sensing magic more now and needed help processing it, but I ended up telling her about the Bride and Roderick and my grandfather and what those spirits had done to me at my request, and she just listened. I realized near the end what I was doing, and made a point to ask her not to tell anyone, not even John, about some of this. She was reluctant, but she agreed. We heard the shower stop running, and Jackie took my hands and looked me in the eye.
“I’ll help you, as much as I can,” she said. “We’ll resume work on your meditation, and now that we know the nature of it we can really target the exercises we do with it, okay?” I nodded.
“Thank you,” I said.
“But look, I really feel like this is something that shouldn’t be a secret.”
“No, I know, I just. I’m not ready. Not yet.”
“Okay. Well, do you remember what we were working on before?”
“Yeah, I—” I started to answer, before there was a sound like a distant thunderclap, and a sudden crackle in the air that made both of us tense up. For a moment, it felt like the magic was gone again, and then it came boiling back up. Jackie’s eyes grew wide. “Did you feel that, too?”
“Yeah.” She let go of my hands and we both jumped to our feet as we heard John coming down the stairs. “Did you feel that?”
“No. But it was probably something I did,” he answered, rounding the banister at the bottom of the stairs. We both watched him, waiting for more explanation, as he made his way to the recliner and lit a cigarette. “Sit down, you’re freaking me out.”
“What did you do?” I demanded. He sighed, then took another drag before answering.
“It was nothing. Hecate came by, she stopped time so we could talk, I didn’t want to talk so I broke her spell, that’s it.”
“And we felt that all the way down here?”
“I’m surprised you felt it. But I mean, she is a goddess, breaking her spells probably sends some ripples.”
“Hecate was here? Now?” Jackie asked. John nodded, and she ran upstairs.
“That’s a Greek goddess, right? Of magic?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Was it really her?”
“Oh who knows?” he answered with a shrug.
“What does she want with you?”
“Nothing she’s getting.”
“John, this sounds serious!”
“Look, I can handle her, okay? You don’t need to worry about it.”
“You can’t handle her!” Jackie said, coming down the stairs. John groaned and threw his arms up like this was an old fight. I wondered why it wasn’t one I’d been involved in so far. “She is the very embodiment of magic! She is the liminal spaces!”
“Yeah, and I break magic and close liminal spaces! It’s not that big a deal!” He said, picking up his cigarette again. Jackie stormed across the room and nearly jammed her finger directly into his eye.
“You keep downplaying this and people are going to get hurt! She is far more dangerous than you realize! You know she was behind the whole Lori situation?”
“Wait, who’s Lori?” I asked. “What situation?”
“My ex,” John said. We heard footsteps on the porch. “I’ll tell you about it later, okay?” I nodded as Rick, Charles, Tony, and Bob opened the door and filed in. Jackie and I met eyes for a moment, and I knew we were both concerned, but we smiled and greeted the boys all the same. After all, tonight was supposed to be a time to relax and not think about magic, and dammit, that was just what I needed now.
17 February 2007
I had trouble looking Michael in the eyes after my encounter with The Bride, and I knew better than to risk speaking about it after having promised not to. I knew I couldn’t tell the Hudsons, but I didn’t know if I could really tell anyone, so I just didn’t. John was concerned and said I seemed distant that night. I’m sure I was. I assured him everything was okay, and it had just been a more difficult trip than I expected. He didn’t press for more than that, and I found myself pressing close to him when we went to bed and greatly comforted by his arm holding me. That close to him, the suddenly unavoidable noise of the animals outside died off, and I realized that even in his sleep his nature was enough to stifle the magic churning in me. I slept soundly.
The next morning we all enjoyed a magnificent breakfast, and then John and I were given a ride into London. We were told Benedict and Akshainie were going somewhere else and we would fly out after the plane returned, so we said our goodbyes to them before we left, and took the day to just be tourists. It was great to be away from the estate and get to actually enjoy England for a bit, and we hit as many of the sights as we could. I avoided talking about the trip, and John seemed to enjoy not having to talk about magic. He did comment at one point that London was a deeply haunted city that was surprisingly full of supernatural beings doing work in human guises, and I asked him not to identify any of them for me, and he never mentioned it again.
We were having an early dinner in view of the London Eye when I received the call that the plane was back and refueled and ready for us. We arranged a place to meet the car, and were driven straight to the plane. Our luggage was already loaded on board, including the bag of things Melinda had given me. Michael was waiting to see us off, and we had a pleasant chat before boarding. He was eager to see us again, he said, and I expressed a similar interest and tried not to betray how unsettled the idea of returning to the estate made me.
John fell asleep on the plane, and I sat at the window looking out on a dark sea and thinking about the future. I had chosen to dive deeper into the supernatural world, to experience magic, to know the truth about how the world works behind the scenes. And I was still unsure if I’d done the right thing.
Beyond the door was a large bedroom. The walls were still the large stones of the basement, with tapestries and erotic paintings hanging around the space. The place was illuminated with torches that were already burning and, I suspected, never needed changed. There was a vanity, and a toilet and bathing area, and a sitting area with a bookcase of tomes that all appeared to be hundreds of years old. But the focus of the room was a large magic circle engraved into the floor, with various magical symbols and shapes worked into it. The whole thing faintly glowed, and within its space was a king-sized bed with large posts on the corners that supported a cloth roof and walls of curtains. On the bed was a naked man, who looked similar to John, though admittedly with some features from what would be my ideal man. He sat up as I entered the room, and my eyes were fixed on him as soon as they found him. I felt Roderick’s hand grabbing my shoulder and startled to a stop, and only then realized I had been walking straight toward the man. He smiled and slipped off the bed, walking toward me. In my attempts to avoid meeting his gaze again, I noticed the cabinets, and ropes tied to loops in the ceiling, and another vanity and a table of various makeups and sex toys all contained in the circle.
“You don’t usually escort the new blood, Roderick,” the man said. His voice sounded ethereal, genderless, and had an echo like it was being said by a legion at once.
“That’s because she’s not here to play with you,” Roderick said, his hand tightening ever so slightly on my shoulder. “She’s here to learn about you.”
“Oh, but I could teach her so much better if she was in here with me,” the man said, running his finger through the air. It was sending sparks as it moved, pushing against some sort of barrier, and I realized he had made it to the edge of the circle.
“What are you?” I asked.
“I’m fun,” he answered, with a smile.
“That is a fertility spirit,” Roderick said, “what names they used before coming here are long lost. Most members of the estate who know of them simply call them The Bride. If you enter their space, you will succumb to your base desires, and you will absolutely leave that space pregnant.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, turning to Roderick. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s my service to the Crown, it seems,” the man said with a wistful sigh.
“They were a deity, once,” Roderick continued. “Dominion over the spirits of the land was part of the nature of British rule; they started that practice at home. Each of them was given some task to serve the Crown, and this one was enslaved to the Hudson estate. Every Lord Hudson is introduced to them, and at least once every few generations, the firstborn of the family must be spawned in this room.”
“So a bunch of the Lord Hudsons are nephilim?” I asked. Roderick nodded. “From this guy?”
“I’m not a guy,” the spirit whined.
“That is true,” Roderick said. “This spirit takes on the form the human perceiving them most desires. It prefers to take on whatever gender can sexually reproduce with the human, if that’s an option.”
“So the Hudsons keep a shapeshifting spirit as a sex slave? Why?”
“Power,” the spirit said, “and it’s not such a bad role. You ever try it? I can show you, I’m not always the slave, you know.”
“Humans born within a few generations of a nephil are far more powerful. Sometimes you get a Warlock or Anchor, but most of the time, you end up with a natural inclination to magic that is beyond what a human without supernatural lineage can manage. After hundreds of years of this, the Hudsons—and you—have so much magical potential in your genetic makeup that you’re nearly supernatural beings in your own right.”
“So why keep doing it?” I demanded.
“Why not?” the spirit answered. “I’m here either way, and humans do so like what I have to offer.”
“Your offense is expected,” Roderick continued, ignoring the spirit. “Your great-grandfather was made aware of his inheritance as the next Lord Hudson, and since it had been a few generations, it was demanded of him to bear his firstborn child here. He opposed the idea outright, and appealed to the Crown to set The Bride free. His request was denied—the Empire needs its premier mages to be more powerful than anyone else, after all—and he chose to leave the office to his brother rather than perform this duty.”
“Does…does Michael know?” I asked, softly, turning to look at The Bride again.
“Not yet. He will be informed soon, though I expect The Bride to look surprisingly like another local spirit when he comes.”
“You’re not going to ruin the surprise, are you?” the spirit asked, pouting. I hesitated to answer, my eyes slowly drifting over their body. God, just looking at them was intoxicating.
“It is not her place,” Roderick answered, snapping me out of my reverie.
“Wait, no, I can’t—” I started, turning to Roderick. I felt, more than saw, a stern gaze from him, and fell silent.
“I am showing you this for a reason, and it is not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“You are entering a world that is far more complicated and dark than you realize. Your line was separated from it specifically to keep you safe, to shield you from knowledge of how much of it works. But if you continue down this path, you must know. You must know what you were being kept away from, that you will encounter things you will not know how to keep away from, that you will find things that disturb you and, perhaps, things that will endanger you.” He bent forward, placing his forehead against mine. I felt a comfortable warmth, like he was trying to ease my mind. “The Hudsons are bound by oath not to make your magic available to you or to make you aware of the magical side of reality. But I am not bound by that oath, and I cannot let you dive into this world without knowing what it is.”
“Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes and leaning into the posture. “I—I don’t know what to do with this.”
“You have to choose, Alice Templeton. You have to choose how much of this world you want to engage with. You must choose whether to keep the limitations put on you by your ancestors, or embrace the power within you.”
“Wait,” I said, snapping my eyes open and straightening up. “I can do that?”
“I know how to remove the spell that blocks your access to magic. And I know how to make you forget you ever learned any of this. I will do as you request.” I heard the crackle of power and realized the spirit was pressed against the barrier.
“Are you okay back there?” I asked, not wanting to risk looking at them again.
“I’m just very interested in where this is going!” they said. “I want to watch. Can I watch?”
“I don’t want to forget. And…I don’t think I want magic. I think I want to keep a little separation there. Is that possible?” I asked. Roderick nodded. “Okay. But I’m afraid. What if I’m really in danger and John can’t help? And what do I do if I have kids and they aren’t ready to handle this?”
“Oh!” the spirit called. “I know this one! I know how to do this!”
“What are you talking about?” Roderick demanded.
“Bring her in here!”
“I can drop the glamour and you know how to keep her pants on. But I can help, if you’re in here!”
“And how would you help?”
“Humans, they only think of fertility as sex. But it’s about producing, it’s about sustaining and growing! I can give her a valve, let her power grow enough to break through just a little when she really needs it. And I can change the spell so it ends with her, so her descendants have full access to their magical nature. With your help, of course. You know the original spell, after all.”
“I hardly think—” Roderick began.
“Yes,” I said, turning to look at The Bride again. To my surprise, they had changed form. There was no apparent gender, but they looked an awful lot like some kind of blend of John and Jackie. I felt no sexual compulsion. “I want that. I want what they’ve described.” I turned back to Roderick. “Can the two of you actually do that?” Roderick sighed.
“Yes. I suppose we can. But you must not allow the Hudsons to know of anything that has transpired down here, do you understand?” I nodded, and Roderick let go of me. I stepped through the barrier, and Roderick followed. The Bride led me to the center of the circle, and began running their hands over me until they reached my gut. They stopped there and stared for a moment, then looked up at Roderick.
“You did amazing work on the original spell, you know,” they said. “I don’t think this would have cracked on its own for at least another hundred generations.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. Tell me what you need from me.” The Bride waved him over, and held his hand to my stomach. The two of them began speaking quickly, more quickly than I could follow, in sounds that didn’t even resemble any language I’d ever heard. After a few moments of that, I felt a tingle over my entire body, and a warmth that started where their hands were and spreading through me. Then they let go and stood, and I realized I felt a bit different. Like I could feel the magic, beneath the surface of my being, just waiting to be released. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, and suddenly realized I could hear the heartbeat of something small off to the side. My eyes flew open and I looked toward the wall.
“You’re attuned to life magic,” The Bride said. “You’ll learn to tune it out, to an extent.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“If that will be all,” Roderick said, straightening up and resting his hand on my shoulder.
“Well,” The Bride said, sitting seductively on the bed, “while you’re here, certain offers are still on the table.”
“Thank you, but no,” I said. I nodded to Roderick and we both began to make our way out of the circle.
“Come back any time!”
Melinda had a long talk with Michael while one of the servants arranged for John to meet with a doctor they knew to patch up his stab wound. My side was still sore, though there was no visible damage, and Melinda told me I should spend the next day resting at the estate. She also wanted John to rest, but he waved the concern off and Michael was all too willing to have him work more as long as he insisted he was up for it.
So, after everyone else left in the morning, Melinda found me lounging and reading in the library. She apologized for pain John and I had suffered from Michael’s plan and expressed hope that everyone was going to be okay today. She then asked me to follow her, and I did, and we walked across the estate and down into the basement, where she threw open a pair of heavy metal doors. Inside were shelves lined with assorted items, books and jewelry and random household items and knives. Just a massive assortment of every kind of thing I could think of, and a few I’d rather not think of in decent company.
“What is this?” I asked. Melinda led me into the room and lifted a jewel-encrusted bracelet that shimmered much more than the low light should have allowed.
“This,” she said with a sweeping motion of her other arm, “is one of our vaults.” She walked over and placed the bracelet on my wrist. It was lighter than I expected, and felt faintly charged somehow. “These things are not fundamentally dangerous, so they aren’t in the high security vault. And they aren’t specifically useful as weapons, so they aren’t in the armory. But they are items we have had need to confiscate or keep out of circulation over the years. That,” she said, pointing at the bracelet, “allows anyone wearing it to summon a protection spell. It will be like a thin magical shield over your whole body that would have been very handy to have yesterday.”
“Why are you showing me this?”
“You are getting involved in a dangerous world. I should have shown it to you earlier, I just…I suppose I wasn’t sure how involved you were actually going to be. But after yesterday—”
“Melinda, it’s not your fault.”
“I know, I know. I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I can’t give you your magic back, but I can offer you some of these.”
“But these need to be out of circulation.”
“These need to be off the streets of the United Kingdom and Her Majesty’s territories. But you’ll be taking them to America, will you not?”
“I…yeah, I would.”
“Well then,” she said with a nod, “let’s do some shopping. Just make sure that boyfriend of yours doesn’t get too much time with them.” We began to work our way through the room, talking about different items and what they did, occasionally pulling one out and adding it to a large purse she’d grabbed after the bracelet. I learned that the knives and sword were not in the armory because their specific magic didn’t lend itself to combat use. Some of the items weren’t even really magical, there were items in there that would serve as a focus for magic or could be used by a mage to store a spell for a single release, but would no nothing for me. We chatted and joked and picked through items for a little over an hour before she was called away by a servant to meet with the crew repairing the wall about something, and I continued to poke around for a little bit before slipping out of the room, turning off the lights, and closing the doors. I looked around the hallway a bit, not entirely sure which way we’d come from, and decided to just start walking and see what happened.
“Are you sure that’s the direction you want to be going?” Roderick asked. I spun around to find the suit of armor standing in the hall a few feet behind me.
“How the hell did you sneak up like that?” I demanded. He shrugged.
“I move how I wish. Do you know where you’re going?”
“I…no. I was going to go back upstairs but I’m not sure this is the way.”
“It is not. However, if you are still seeking answers, upstairs can wait.”
“I most certainly am. You know, you never gave me much to work with when I asked you about my family being cut off from magic.” As I spoke, he nodded, folded his arms behind his back, and walked past me.
“Yes, well. Did you know that your grandfather was supposed to inherit the lordship? Michael’s line was supposed to be the one who became secondary.”
“I don’t think that was ever discussed at home,” I answered, following him.
“I don’t know if he ever bothered to tell anyone. But he was the next rightful Lord Hudson. Threw it all away, including access to magic, because he could not stomach the Hudson family secret.” He stopped in front of a door. With a flourish of his hand he produced and key, which he slipped into the lock of the door but didn’t turn. He looked back to me, his hand hovering next to the key. “Do you think you can stomach it, Alice? Do you think you’re ready to know what your grandfather could not tolerate about this estate?” I looked between him and the door for a moment, then straightened up and crossed my arms.
“Yes, Roderick. If you would be so kind, I would know.” Having received his answer, he nodded and turned the key.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.