P.S.: I’m considering titling the novel itself, Prophet, Bird, or Devil, which is a reference to a line in Edgar Allen Poe’s perhaps most famous work, “The Raven.” (line 85, “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!-) Thoughts on that?
She will come.
The small assembly stood breathless in the soft candlelight as the Dark Lady struggled to speak in the realm of Time. Her Priest tensed, his fists clenched at his sides. His gaze was immersed in the black pools set as Her eyes to keep them both focused and grounded in this reality.
“Who will, my Lady?”
She of Battle and Sight. She of Death and the Beyond. The One.
The Priest’s deep brown eyes grew wide with anticipation. “The One? Soon?”
Quite soon. Ready your sentry. Both gazes turned then to the thin red-haired girl who stood opposite them.
“Are ye ready then Lass?” The Priest asked of the girl, his Irish brogue thickening just the slightest, as it always did when his emotions ran high. In this case, it was a combination of anxiety and excitement.
“…Oui, I suppose.” She’d been taught what she needed, but in all honesty had not expected to use the abilities so soon. She felt she might not have the strength or confidence, and it showed in her unconscious use of her native tongue. The Dark Lady seemed impatient then, Her voice more heavily accented than that of Her Priest.
Do not “suppose,” child. Know… Go to the New World, the City of Water in the North.
As the girl made a mental note of the Lady’s vague description, she was acutely aware of the two sets of dark eyes still focused on her.
The girl gave more of a nod than a bow, and the Priest returned the gesture in reassurance. She walked quickly away from the ritual, retrieved a knapsack from beside the great wooden doors and stepped into the night. The streets of Dublin still hummed with life as she hailed a taxi and made her way to the airport.
“She moves.” The mystic’s voice was ragged and wheezy despite his relative youth. All his vital energies were consumed with psychic observation so that he never noticed when the thirst began to rise. Eyes of black ice turned on him.
“You’re sure of that?” The noble’s words echoed against the ancient stone walls of the prison cell, the sound just as cold as his gaze.
“Yes, Lord.” The eyes of the mystic, once bright and clear, were now murky swamps, his own life festering in their depths as he Saw through the walls, past an ocean and over hundreds of miles.
“And they know?” His leather boots slapping wickedly against the floor, the nobleman paced out his impatience. The mystic’s short, measured answers frustrated him, but were an unavoidable consequence of the heavy magical bindings that held the seer to him.
“She told them, Lord.”
The captor’s face twisted into some semblance of a smile, but it was one that had frozen humans in utter terror for centuries. He knew exactly who “She” was.
“Keep watching them. Send for me again should anything else happen.”
“Make sure he feeds,” the captor ordered the mystic’s guard, “It does us no good if he dies, especially now.”
The guard stiffened in acknowledgement, and sent for some rats.
“I didn‘t expect things to come along so nicely,” muttered the nobleman as he strode back to his chambers, a lace-trimmed linen cloth held to his face to block out the stench of rot that followed.
B.D. came back at 4:30 in the morning, after having insisted the cab driver keep his lights out while he pulled into the drive. The weather was pleasant this Saturday in late May as the first whispers of dawn rose to the horizon, so she took the opportunity to light up a clove cigarette and smoke it slow, leaning against the house. After stamping it out she untied her steel-toe army boots and slipped them off before unlocking the back door. Once inside she began to walk quiet as she could through the kitchen. She’d taken only a few steps when the light flipped on, startling her.
“God-fuckin’-dammit, George! You scared the shit outta me!” Her odd turquoise eyes, accentuated by thick black eyeliner, glared at him. He’d been sitting at the kitchen table all night waiting for her; even though she was legally an adult now, her latest foster parent had no tolerance for breaking curfew while she still lived in his home. He saw it as a bad example for his own, younger children, a sign of parental weakness.
“Where were you?” He asked quietly of the eighteen-year-old, ignoring her use of foul language for the time-being. He moved away from the switch and back to the table that had been his watch post for the night.
“Out. Not like you care,” she answered, giving her long black hair a flippant toss over her shoulder and matching his tone. She’d been in downtown Minneapolis, the warehouse district, bouncing between strip clubs and the all-night sex shops. She wasn’t looking for trouble, she just found comfort in the implied anonymity of such ill-reputed places, and could certainly fight for herself if need be. Besides, the bouncers at the clubs, where there was more likely to be trouble, were chivalrously protective of female patrons. She wasn’t about to explain all that to George though. He glared back, the two playing chicken with their eyes, blue against blue. Finally though, the man gave a defeated sigh and looked away, running a hand over his thinning dark hair.
“It doesn’t matter now anyway.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“You got this letter yesterday.” He tossed a business-size envelope onto the table. The return address read, “University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: Department of Cultural Studies.” B.D. flopped herself into a chair across from George as much as she could, considering the azure corset she wore, and opened the letter. She mindlessly toyed with her black tulle skirt as she read, and once finished, slid the paper back to let George read it for himself.
“You’re accepted, congrats.” Despite his words, there was nothing of congratulations in his voice. He regarded B.D. over the top of the letter. “So I guess you‘re outta here then.”
“Hell yes.” B.D. would have moved out earlier, but not only did she have nowhere to go, she didn’t make enough money to support herself working part-time at Border’s Books weekends and after school, and the trust in her name was for college. “I’ll go online tomorrow and get the book list then head to the campus store, put good first use to that trust of mine.” Her tone was more than a little smug.
The man across the table smirked. “More fantasy to distract you from real life.”
The newly-accepted college student glowered in response. He was referring to the journals and papers B.D.’d received from the estate executor just after her birthday almost six months ago, things that had belonged to her mother before she died. Surface research on the internet had uncovered that they were written in Gaelic, but translation proved to be a much harder task, and B.D. hadn’t had time to dig deeper while preparing for her finals and graduation. So while it was true that they’d been the impetus for her interest in the University’s brand new Celtic Studies course, she didn’t consider it fantasy; it gave her a connection to her history, to her mother whom she didn’t even remember, she’d been so young when it happened.
George just shrugged and looked away, knowing he’d hit a nerve, and not sure whether he cared.
“Go get some sleep. And watch your language, young lady.” He got up and headed for the bedroom he shared with his wife, leaving B.D. alone in the dim kitchen to evaluate where her life was about to take her.
The French red-head stood nearly dumb-founded in the airport, scanning over the lists of scheduled departures. She’d made it to New York, the easiest access to America from across the pond in Ireland, but had yet to figure out where she was supposed to go from there. The Dark Lady had said “City of Water in the North,” which the girl had to assume was more than a description, but a clue as to her destination. When the multiple television screens proved unhelpful, she began to wander the terminal, hoping to not only solve her conundrum, but also walk off her jet lag. Overnight flights, she’d found, did not agree with her. As luck would have it, the day was young enough that a scarce few tired and disgruntled business men walked about, so her pounding head and testy stomach were left in relative peace.
Eventually she made her way to a book store, and had the brilliant idea to check a map or an atlas. Finding a sleek new Rand McNally, she flipped to the map of the United States. The region known as the Midwest looked to be the Northern most, aside from New England, where she already was. Not only didn’t she believe she’d been so fortunate as to stumble into the right general area, New York didn’t Feel as though it was the place.
Turning to a more detailed account of the Midwest then, she noticed a few major population centers with the suffix “-apolis,” which she knew was Greek for “city.” Marking the page with one finger, she found maps of each state with such a city. When she reached the state of Minnesota, she discovered a map freckled with blue. “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” the accompanying informational paragraph boasted. Lakes. Water. This had to be it. Skimming the paragraph for further confirmation, she learned the beginning of the state’s and city’s names, “Minne-,” was Dakota-Sioux for “water.” Minneapolis was the city of water in the North.
Slapping the atlas back into its place, she returned in haste to the terminal to buy a ticket. The next flight didn’t leave for a few hours, giving her time to find a meal, her stomach far more settled now. An almost inordinately handsome yuppie caught her eye then, and just as completely, she caught his. With a wink and the swing of her scant hips, he was compelled to follow her to a nearby restroom. Once he was inside, she turned the deadbolt and leaned against the door. Before he realized her other intentions, it was too late. His last ironic thought before he blacked out was concern for the white Armani dress shirt he wore, hoping it wouldn’t stain.
"Since when do you read something other than horror novels?" Lucy teased, leaning over B.D.’s shoulder as she sat alone at Academic Blend, the student café in Wilson Library. B.D. turned her face to her blonde friend and stuck out her tongue through a grin.
"It’s urban fantasy, not horror,” she corrected. “And it’s still my favorite, but they’re not gonna let me major in ‘Vampires and Other Preternatural Creatures,’ even if you ‘Ups’ get behind the idea."
Lucy laughed, her brown eyes shining. She was a year ahead of B.D., and they met in one of the Folklore classed required by their major. B.D. was of course seeking to learn more of her mother, but Lucy was interested from a religious point of view; she was a sort of Celtic Witch, and also one of the people responsible for re-founding the University Pagan Society, or “the Ups” as some affectionately referred to it. Her style of dress was more typical hippy than Witch, and today she wore the requisite bell-bottom jeans and floral-print peasant blouse. It was a stark contrast to the black cargo pants and black-and-blue striped long-sleeved t-shirt B.D. wore, which lead some people to stereotype her as the Witch more often than not. Lucy’d pulled her hair up into a bun with a pencil, though a few wisps escaped to dance on her high cheekbones that only seemed higher when she let out a full laugh like this.
“Maybe if we were still the Society for Paranormal and Magickal Studies it might work. So what have you found out?” Lucy took a seat next to B.D.. It’d taken a little prodding, since B.D. wasn’t prone to opening up, but once she’d learned B.D.’s reasons for choosing the major, she’d done what she could to aid in her search in the few short weeks they‘d known each other since the semester began. She didn’t claim to be any sort of expert, nor even a Reconstructionist; she had no intention or desire to practice what the Celts had, her logic being that the original rites were appropriate for that time, so constructing ones suited to this day and age did the immortal Gods no dishonor. It didn’t stop her from being interested in their ways, though, and neither did it discourage her from helping B.D. learn all she could about what those papers and journals said.
B.D. sighed, the grin melting from her lips. “Not much. I can’t read Gaelic, so most of this is just gobbledygook to me. I know these--” she pointed to a series of horizontal and diagonal lines bisecting a vertical one along the page edges, “--are ogham, but sometimes it’s hard to tell which characters they are from my mother’s handwriting.”
Lucy nodded. “Yeah, a lot of ‘em can be similar, especially when written by hand.” She scanned the page B.D. had open, and spotted something she knew. “Hey B.D., right here, ‘Mhorrioghain,’ that’s the original Gaelic for the Morrigan. And here, it shows up again, and again here.” Lucy pointed to each instance as she spoke. The girls’ eyes met, excitement in Lucy’s and intrigue in B.D.’s. They both knew the Morrigan was the name given to the collective Irish Goddesses of Battle and Magic, often personified as one woman. It’d recently come up in their class.
“B.D., maybe your mother was one of Her devotees, which means she’d’ve been a Witch, kinda like me. I really want you to come to Pagan Pride this weekend, and talk to the Celtic Recon people. Even if you don’t want to follow their religion, they can help you understand all this.” She gestured to the old papers that swallowed the small bistro-style table. Lucy’d of course been very involved in the planning for the annual Pagan Pride event, and growing closer to B.D. meant she’d invited her new friend multiple times. B.D. hadn’t given a firm answer either way, since she herself had been unsure how comfortable she’d be there. But now, with this revelation, she conceded Lucy might be right. Though, in the back of her mind, she kept the thought that Lucy might just be seeing what she wanted, but she couldn’t deny that the Recons would know more. She sighed.
“Yeah, you’re right. OK, I’ll go with you.”
Lucy gave a triumphant smile that managed not to come across as rude. “Great. I’ll have to be running around a lot, of course, but I’ve made no bones about getting a break to go to the drum jam. So, you can talk to the Recons, and meet me just before the jam, OK?”
“Sounds good, Luce.” B.D. returned her smile, then brought her attention back to the papers. Her expression turned a little sad and wistful.
Lucy wore one of concern then. “Hey, umm, you never did tell me what happened to your mom, why you have all her stuff but not her to tell you about it. Some kind of family tradition or something?”
B.D. gave a soft snort. “Hell if I know. No, she died, when I was really little. I don’t even really remember her.”
“B.D., I’m so sorry. Was she sick?”
“No, umm… actually, they’re not totally sure what happened. She was murdered--” she paused as Lucy gasped. “--and they still haven’t figured anything out about it, except that it was set up to look like an accident or a heart attack or something. But the autopsy confirmed she was fine, tox screen was clean, and they couldn’t find any natural cause. So, they figured it was murder, but other than that, no one knows anything.”
“Not even your dad?”
B.D. shook her head. “Don’t have one. Er, I mean, of course I have a father out there somewhere, but I never knew him, and none of my mom’s medical records or my birth certificate or anything say who he is. I went into foster care after she died and got passed around, waiting for an adoption that never came. When I turned 18, her executor sent me these, filled me in on the circumstances of her death, and finally informed me that I had a trust that was supposed to be for college anyway. When I applied, I jumped right on the Celtic Studies, got accepted, and the rest you pretty much know.”
Lucy bit her lip, not wanting to seem uncaring by repeating the apology, but not knowing what else to say. With tears threatening to form, she nodded and told B.D. she’d see her back at their shared dorm room. She turned and left after that, and B.D. found she had no more emotional energy to expend on this project, so with a sigh she opened her Physics text instead.
The meal had helped, but the red-headed Parisian still felt uneasy and so napped during the brief two hour flight into Minneapolis-St. Paul International. After retrieving her duffel from baggage claim, she made her way outside the terminal to find a cab. To her surprise, there was a decently dressed man holding a sign that bore her name, standing next to a Lincoln Town Car. A smile quirked up the corner of her mouth as she approached the chauffeur and his waiting vehicle, ignoring his barely masked appall at her attire; black jeans under an oversized threadbare black sweater that hung off one shoulder, chunky untied Doc Martens on her feet. Her bag tucked into the trunk, she sunk into the soft leather seats and enjoyed the luxury.
The ride to the Washington Avenue Holiday Inn wasn’t even close to long enough, and the girl groaned as she dragged herself out of the car. The chauffeur retrieved her bag for her and handed it off with a nod meeting just the bare minimum of politeness. She made a mental note to complain about the service when she got the chance. Putting on her most confident smile, she strode through the hotel lobby to check in. Either the clerk was less put-off by her appearance, or was just better at masking her contempt. Along with her room key, the red-head was handed a note with a message from back in Dublin;
Hope you enjoy the perks, Lass, and that the flight treated you well. She told us last night there’s a gathering occurring this weekend at the local university, and that what we seek shall be found there. You’ll know her, and what to do. I believe in you, Lass. Don’t be long. We miss you.
Still feeling the effect of so much air travel and knowing there was little she could do till the next day, Saturday, the girl resolved to save her strength and get some rest. The thought occurred to her though that another snack may do her good, and so she picked up the phone and ordered room service without bothering to check the menu. She then undressed and splayed herself on the bed, so that the bellboy’s eyes would get a feast before her stomach did.