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.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about them,” Roderick said, practicing some stretches in tandem with the people showing on an old VHS exercise video. They looked like the tape had been originally made in the 80s, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he hoped to accomplish when there didn’t seem to be any sort of body inside the armor. Around him, the room had become vibrant, free of dust and clutter with beautiful colors on the walls much more visible than they’d been in my last visit. Michael was lounging on a sofa eating an orange, his notepad laying on a table with the red spiral showing.
“Come now, Roderick,” Michael nudged, “isn’t knowing things your entire job?”
“I know what the estate knows. And the estate has never known this Brood of Nachash.”
“Well maybe we’ll have better luck with the boyfriend,” he grumbled, before looking to me. “Anything much there?”
“We’ve been working on it,” I said. I was in an armchair, switching my attention between them and a set of notes. “Unfortunately, we may not yet even have enough information to know what to look for. All we really know, he said, is that they’re accessing power. He joked that for all we know, they’re using it to repair a van.” Michael laughed at that and looked back to Roderick.
“You know what the estate knows, right? Does the estate think he’s getting anywhere?”
“He is unknowable to the estate,” Roderick answered, turning the tape off and turning to us. “Anchors cannot be read or properly remembered.”
“So there’s a gap where he should be?”
“More like static. Armed with knives.”
“Perhaps this is the wrong approach.” Roderick sat down and faced me. “Can he track the energy?”
“Oh,” I said, setting the notes down and thinking for a moment. “I don’t actually know. I never thought to ask him that.”
“Magical energy flows through almost everything. As a liminal being, he should have some ability to track that, even if he has never exercised the ability. I expect you will find answers faster by seeing where the energy is going than by sitting in the library joking about vans.”
“You know, he has been working on tracking ghosts.”
“It should be similar to that. Pity I can’t explain how to apply it.”
“Maybe I could. Jackie was teaching me about that.”
“Was she?” Roderick asked, leaning back in his seat. “And how did you fare at that?”
“I had limited results. Something was blocking me, we think.” I gathered my notes and stood. “But maybe it’ll be enough to guide him just the little he needs, right?”
“Do the two of you have plans tonight?” Michael asked, nodding toward the clock. It was getting well into the afternoon.
“Oh, not yet,” I answered. “Though I suppose we’re running out of time.”
“I’ll call Chez Davineau, make sure there’s a table for you this evening.”
“Thank you,” I said, patting his shoulder. “I’ll go see what we can do. Thank you both!” As soon as I got out of the room, I glanced down at my notes, and added one about finding out what it meant that Roderick knows what the estate knows, before making my way back to the library. I decided to let him think we just happened to stumble on the restaurant later, since he’s probably had too much rich folk things for one day to handle the concept of reservations very well.
Akshainie and the boys left around 9 to go investigate the site Michael had found. Matteson seemed relieved; he was visibly uncomfortable the whole night, but didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I gathered it was the atmosphere of the estate itself, and determined to talk to him about it some time after they returned. In the meantime, however, I was going to have a pleasant visit with my cousins.
My grandfather and Michael’s grandfather were brothers, with mine moving to the United States around the time his inherited the estate. We didn’t talk about why that had happened, but it seemed to have been cordial at least, since our families maintained close relations afterward. But now that I knew there was magic in their blood, and possibly in mine, I had questions.
“Oh, I suppose it would be impossible to hide from you under the current circumstances,” Melinda said when I finally raised the issue. She was Michael’s mother, and my guide to the estate while her husband was tending to some business at Parliament and everyone else was away. Michael’s siblings were away at school, and Melinda seemed disappointed that she hadn’t known I was coming early enough to call them home for the visit.
“But why was it hidden at all?” I asked. We were, by that point, carrying the box I had brought down a hall off of the main house. It was the first chore I’d seen her personally do, and I started to notice that there were no servants working down this hall, and felt it safe to ask in the relative privacy.
“Because it was requested. Actually, there is someone better equipped to answer these questions just ahead.” She stopped in front of a door and handed me the box, before she drew a key from her pocket and opened it. The room beyond was dark and a bit dusty, with cobwebs gathering on the corners of furniture that looked like it had been crafted hundreds of years earlier. She led me in and then took the box from me, setting it on a table and digging around until she produced a visor that I now realized matched a set of armor on display in the corner that was missing the same piece. Melinda took the visor over and reattached it, then stepped back and clapped the dust from her hands. As she did so, a dim light started to emanate from behind the visor, and after a moment of that the armor began to stretch like a man waking.
“Oh, finally,” a male-sounding voice said from within the armor. “That was a nice vacation but honestly, Melinda, would it have been a bother to ask them to carry me around from time to time?”
“And how would you like me to have explained that request, Roderick?”
“Must everything be explained to you people?” Roderick sighed, then waved his hand in a circular motion. As he did so, I felt a faint crackle in the air and all the dust and cobwebs swirled together and vanished, the sconces lit, and every wooden surface began to shine as if freshly polished. The armor walked forward and sat in an armchair before pointing at me. “And what are you doing here?”
“I—” I started to answer, before realizing I didn’t really have a good answer for him.
“This is our cousin Alice,” Melinda stepped in, sitting on a freshly-cleaned chaise. I slipped onto a cushioned bench. “She brought you home from the States.”
“Yes I know that,” he snapped, “but if it was so hard to explain me to her, then why is she here?”
“The young dear has learned about magic, without any involvement from us.” He turned to face me, and while I couldn’t see any real change, it felt like he was narrowing his gaze as he stared.
“And how did that come about?”
“Well,” I said, “you see, I’m dating an Anchor, I think you call it, and his friend is a witch, and—”
“Oh please tell me that isn’t your entire knowledge of magic, an Anchor and an American witch? What is she, Dutch? One of those people trying to reclaim what they think the Celts practiced?”
“She’s Latina, actually.” I heard him groan and his head angled back into the chair.
“She has questions that I think are very sensible ones for her to ask, Roderick, so be nice,” Melinda said sternly, “before I shove you back into a box.” He grumbled and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.
“Fine. Ask your questions,” he said, finally.
“I guess the main one is, why was I never told about the Hudsons having magic?” I asked.
“Because you weren’t supposed to be told.”
“That was the point, Alice. Your family went to the States to leave the magic behind. It was agreed that, in respect for your family’s wishes, this side of the family would not discuss the matter.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“That’s my job.”
“Roderick is the family memory,” Melinda said. “He knows basically everything about who we are and who we have been and, sometimes, who we will become.” She turned to him. “And your insight has been sorely missed.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure it has.” He turned to face me, but didn’t say anything, as if he was considering me somehow.
“Well,” Melinda said, standing, “I suppose we should let you get comfortable. Alice knows where to call on you now. Though do be careful coming out while she’s in town.”
“The Anchor, yes, I know,” he said, standing. As I took to my feet, he walked forward and rested his hand on my shoulder. “Be mindful of that one, cousin. He isn’t safe, and you will need to decide what risks you are willing to take. Choose wisely.”
“Oh, um,” I said, patting the metal glove, “thanks, Roderick. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Please do.” And with that, we slipped out of his chambers and made our way back down the hall. The place looked different now, more alive, and I began to wonder just how much influence he had on the estate.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.