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Noble Sacrifice: Chapter 4: Pawns
Blinded Angels: Book 1: Noble Sacrifice
Ellis helped Peter and Moriah to their feet, and they followed Lydia through the dark woods. Nothing made sense to them since they found those statues.
The dead Graycek danced in a mad circle around them, singing the melody of an ancient children’s song in a language Ellis didn’t know.
If this were a prank of some sort, the level of commitment was beyond anything imaginable.
They didn’t speak as they followed the mysterious, flying nun, who landed when they reached a paved path up to an old stone building atop a hill. A high stone wall with a wrought-iron gate surrounded the odd circular building which loomed over them. Unlike any church or cathedral they’d visited, this building welcomed them like a long-lost child returning home.
It was just their luck they ran into a cult in the forest who would probably sacrifice the three of them to their pagan gods.
Past the ornate wrought-iron gate in the circular wall, they entered a courtyard. A group of nuns stood in a V in the center before the carved wooden door of the main building.
The iron gate clinked shut behind them.
At the point of the V, a skeletally thin woman with her face covered waved them closer with a boney hand.
“Mother Soteria,” Lydia said. “These are the wrecca who violated the wild.”
“Thank you, my child.” She responded with a spectral voice that had a rich British accent. Or was it Irish? “Welcome to our sanctuary, sweet children of the lie.” She bowed graciously toward them.
“They claim not to know how they passed through the barrier.” Lydia said.
“As I expected.” Mother Soteria said.
Her voice made the hairs on Ellis’ neck stand up like a heavy thunderstorm approached.
“I am much more concerned with what to do with you.” Mother Soteria continued. “I should take your memories and send you on your way. The Salians would do as much, but their ways are not always ours, are they sisters?”
“We serve the will of the Great Mother.” The other nuns said reverently in unison.
“But if you passed through the barrier, you may not be wrecca, so it would be wrong to return you to the ranks of the exiles who raised you.” Mother Soteria stepped toward them. Each footfall matched an odd clacking sound. “One of you is male, so we should call Father to judge him.”
The other nuns laughed.
Ellis didn’t get the joke, but it was apparently a good one.
“For now, you know that magic exists and things really go bump in the night.” Mother Soteria said, raising her hands flexing her hands to mimic a cartoonish monster. “The question is, do you want to know more?”
“I’ve studied Hermeticism and Rosicrucianism.” Peter said.
The nuns laughed harder.
Mother Soteria’s laugh chilled Ellis to the bone.
“Oh, you sweet thing,” Mother said, still laughing, “I mean real magic.” She waved her hands and whispered something under her breath and a ball of fire burst into life between them, hovering about a foot off the ground. “I’m afraid your Hermes and ours are very different people.”
Ellis wiped the sweat from their forehead. Whether it was from the heat of the flame or fear, they couldn’t tell.
Mother Soteria clapped her hand, and the fireball exploded.
The flames licked at the tip of Ellis’ nose.
When the light faded, the remnants of the fire burned away the religious garb of the nuns and Mother Soteria, and they resembled a crowd of girls at a Goth Night, all black leather or lace or velvet with shining silver chains and spikes.
Mother Soteria wore a black Victorian dress trimmed with white lace and a blank, expressionless porcelain mask covering her face.
On closer inspection, that wasn’t a mask. She painted her face stark white with black around her eyes, outlining her cheeks. On her forehead, she wore a circlet with a red metal circle with a silver T in the bottom half, and twisted black horns that curled from her forehead to point behind her.
Ellis fought the instinct to run screaming. None of this could be real.
Moriah stood tall, grinning.
“None of this surprises you, girl?” Mother asked.
“I always knew life couldn’t be as simple as they say it is.” Moriah said. “I always wanted magic to be real, but nothing I’ve tried ever worked like that.”
Mother laughed and clapped her hands together. They made a sound like a struck wood block. “Then you may be one of us.”
“I don’t want to be a nun.” Moriah said.
Ellis couldn’t believe what they saw or heard. Sure they wanted to live in an enchanted world, who didn’t? But this was too much.
“Stay with us then.” Mother said. “Why go back to your other life?”
Ellis shook their head. “People will miss us?”
“Only if you want them to.” Mother responded.
For a second, Ellis swore they saw her cold demeanor crack as she smiled for a fleeting moment.
“Are we your prisoners?” Ellis said.
“Better ours than the Salians.” Mother said. “They would make you forget everything and send you away. We are offering you a new life. Besides, I was unaware that an unbound like yourself could be a prisoner.”
“Unbound?” Ellis asked.
“Not a boy, not a girl.”
Something stirred in Ellis as she spoke.
“Don’t worry, child, you will like it here. Our way of life is different, but will probably be more to your liking.”
“It is not just different,” Graycek said in a mocking tone. “It is better. A life of magic and mystery, filled with spooks and monsters.” He cackled.
“I’m in.” Moriah said.
Peter whipped his head around to stare at her like she slapped him.
“You can’t be serious.” Ellis said. Monsters and ghosts weren’t their idea of a good time or a better life.
“Do you want to forget everything we’ve seen tonight?” Moriah asked.
“A lot of it.” Ellis said, glancing at Graycek.
“If Moriah’s staying,” Peter said with a waiver in his voice, “Then I am too.”
All eyes fell on Ellis.
“I can’t leave the two of you here.” Ellis surveyed the strange surroundings. “We set out for a crazy night, and this counts, I suppose. Fine. I’ll stay.”
“Really?” an androgynous voice said behind them.
Ellis started and spun around.
A tall person in a white asymmetrical tunic and black jeans leaned on the gates with their arms crossed. Their red hair burned in the Moonlight like fire. “I don’t think that you have the right to keep them here.” They said in a knowing tone. “I could allow it, but only because it would irritate my brother to no end.”
“Childe Blackwood.” Mother Soteria said. “I am surprised you came instead of the Salians.”
Childe Blackwood cringed at her words. “Call me River and save all that Lord and Lady shit for my brother, sister, and mother.” Fire flickered in their solid silver eyes. “Michael wanted to send them, but I was bored and a little human hunting sounded fun. You broke my heart finding them first.”
“I found them.” Graycek said with a flourish, a bow, and a wave to an imaginary cheering crowd. At least Ellis hoped they were imaginary and not just invisible to them. “So sad they are not food for you. Maybe you should hunt somewhere else.”
River laughed. “You know I wasn’t going to kill them. Mama would be ever so pissed at me for that.”
“Unless you shared their sweet, sweet human meat with her.” Graycek said.
“Let me in so I can assess them.” River said, suddenly serious.
Did they actually eat human flesh? What kind of place was this?
“So sorry, but we granted them asylum, and they accepted.” Mother Soteria said.
River smirked and shook their head slowly. “You can’t believe they are children of Gramarye.” They said. “They are not related and the odds for three orphans finding their way home is highly unlikely.”
Mother Soteria walked to the iron gate, then said in a seductive tone, “They are children of mother Lilith, and if they haven’t fallen for the lie, then they have a claim to their birthright.”
River rolled their eyes and sighed. “You are claiming they came seeking asylum? Lady Blackwood won’t buy that for a second. Besides, you of all people know they are not true children of Lilith. If they were, I would smell the ashes on them.”
“No, dear Childe, I am saying the Great Mother drew them here, and have the right to learn of their birthright and choose to sign the covenant or forget everything they have seen.”
“Birthright? Do you have any proof they were to raise Trivian? I doubt it.”
“Do we get a say in any of this?” Ellis asked.
“Not if you want to live.” Graycek intoned in a song of warning, “At least, not yet.”
“We should.” Moriah said. “And we have. Mother told us we could stay. If we are the children of the lie, what does that make you?”
River grinned. “Well said, but I don’t think you truly understand what you are asking. If I let you stay here, even for a while, it will be so much more work for us when we send you back.” They stopped talking and looked at Ellis. Their eyes flared. “Besides, it isn’t your decision, at least not yet.”
“It isn’t yours either.” Mother said firmly.
“Mother,” River said with a silky, inviting tone, “You can’t expect them to accept the Trivian way based on what they see in your convent. Let me take them into Ashborne or Nightfall. There they will encounter the varieties of human magic.”
“Including drycraft.” Mother spat. “They will be fine here.”
“All humans practice drycraft whether or not they admit it.” River grinned. “Are you afraid they will reject your Great Mother if they see the alternatives?”
“Not at all.” Mother’s voice was calm and measured. “What more could you offer them that we couldn’t? Besides, I thought we weren’t in competition. Doesn’t the covenant say something about us all having to get along? I simply don’t believe you will give them a chance to be free.”