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!”
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.