The night of the full moon finally arrived on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and B.D.’s uneasy hands turned the wine bottle over and over as Lucy lit prohibited candles and incense. She’d stuffed a towel against the bottom of the room’s door, and while the window was cracked open, the filmy dark blue curtains were drawn. On the dry-erase board affixed to the outside of the door, she’d written that they were away for the holiday (which would be true enough the next day), so as not to be disturbed. They both had smelled much more taboo things than incense wafting through the dorm halls, and witnessed illicit acts of debatable offense through open doorways, but didn’t want to risk discovery any more than necessary.
B.D. had offered to let Scorch sit in on the spell, since it was her idea in the first place, but the French girl had declined without much of an explanation. B.D. was getting used to the other girl’s mysterious ways, and so hadn’t gone beyond the initial invitation. They’d agreed to meet for supper the next day though, before their flight left for Dublin.
Colin had been busy that night, a meeting of his Recon group, but he’d acted distant anytime B.D. mentioned performing a spell anyway, so she’d not even bothered to invite him even though she’d have greatly appreciated his soothing presence. Lucy’d explained early in their friendship that she was an anomaly among Celtic Pagans, in that most Recons didn’t perform spells, and in general didn’t think highly of those who did. B.D. had to assume then that Colin’s detachment was his way of shielding her feelings from his true opinion.
After Lucy was satisfied with the candles’ positions and the amount of light they gave off, she sat on the floor across from B.D., closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Then she raised her face to the ceiling and, with each exhalation through her mouth, pushed her palms away from her body, as if moving furniture. After a few minutes of this, she lowered her head and folded her hands in her lap.
“What I’ve just done,” she explained as she opened her eyes, “Is set up an energy barrier to protect us from undue spirit influences. You can read the invocation now.”
B.D. nodded that she understood and appreciated the thought, then took a few deep breaths herself to steady her nerves. Setting the bottle down, she picked up a sheet of notebook paper and cleared her throat, leaning the scrawled translation towards the light of the nearest candle.
“Ancient Ones, Rulers of Time and the Lands Beyond, grant me Sight beyond sight. With this drink do I pull back the Veil, and glimpse into Your hidden Realms. On this night let my eyes be unclouded, my mind be clear, my heart be open, and my soul be willing. In Your sacred Names, so be it.”
Uncorking the bottle, she poured a small stream into a brass bowl Lucy had set before her. She’d already explained that it was considered wise to share anything you ingest with the Gods, and so some of the wine was spilt for them into that vessel. Then, with Lucy’s patient brown eyes trained on her for any signs of ill effects, B.D. lifted the bottle to her lips and took a tentative first sip.
It tasted horrid, and she sputtered as she forced it down. Lucy gave an encouraging smile, and so B.D. pinched her nostrils shut and took a full swallow.
“Ugh, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get that taste out of my mouth!” B.D. screwed up her face as she wiped spittle away from the corners of her lips with the back of her hand. “I mean, the wine on its own woulda been fine, but those herbs are just nasty.”
Lucy nodded. “You can brush your teeth and whatever after we’re done,” she offered in condolence.
“Yeah,” B.D. agreed, replacing the cork in the mouth of the bottle. “So, how long is this supposed to take?”
Lucy shrugged. “Usually this kind of thing depends on how strong the mixture is, how much you’ve had to eat beforehand, your substance tolerance, stuff like that. I think we should wait a little bit and if nothing happens, then you should drink some more.”
B.D. sighed and starting turning the bottle over in her hands again. It was still almost full, and moving the liquid from the neck to the bottom made bubbles rush back and forth. It reminded her of a lava lamp, except faster and not as colorful.
Well, maybe it was colorful…
“Lucy, something’s happening. I see colors in the wine.”
Lucy leaned closer, her eyes growing wider. “Keep talking, tell me what happens.”
“K, umm, still just the colors… wait, a lot of red now, not pink like the wine, but a deep red.”
Her companion nodded. “Go on, it’s OK, I’m still here.” Her voice, despite her excitement, was calm and reassuring, B.D.’s safety net and lifeline back to reality.
“The candles are reflecting off it in weird patterns… they’re jumping and dancing more than they should.” B.D.’s voice made a dramatic drop in volume, her words now coming out precise, measured, monotone. In sharp contrast, her breath was thin and strained, as if she’d just run up several flights of stairs. Her head started to swim as she stared through the candlelight into the wine, her hands still tipping it back and forth in a steady rhythm.
“Now I see… shadows… passing in front of the light. They’re moving in some sort of frantic dance. They’re people, and they’re sweating, I can smell it. And I smell food too… meat of some kind… it’s roasting, over the fire probably. And wine, they’re drinking wine, I think. And something else…” She sniffed at the air, pushing her olfactory sense past the incense smoke and into the altered state.
“It’s blood. Human blood. It’s not strong, but it’s everywhere…” She closed her eyes then and the bottle stilled. The sudden feeling of floating over took her, and her dorm room seemed like a far away memory. Her muscles spasmed in a shudder and her eyes flew open, not really seeing the room, but not in the other place either. She felt panicky.
“Lucy, I’m done. I feel like if I don’t stop now, I’ll be stuck wherever it is that I’m seeing.”
“Hold on.” Lucy’s words came out in a rush and she jumped up, flipping on the obnoxious florescent light. Hopping over a lit candle to her backpack, she pulled out a package of cookies and ripped it open with such force that a few scattered on the floor. Yanking the bottle from B.D.’s hands she thrust one of the pastries into it. “Eat,” she commanded, blowing out the candles and dousing the incense in a glass of water. She opened the curtains, then the window, both for ventilation and the chill lair of late November that soon flooded the room.
B.D. felt better as soon as she started to chew her first bite, and the wind from outside helped all the more. The smells of the vision still lingered in her nostrils, but the taste of the brew faded into the oatmeal and raisins. Lucy plopped back down in front of her.
“Are you OK now?” The concern in her voice was strong and genuine.
“Not totally,” B.D. replied with complete honesty. “I’m getting there though.” She munched thoughtfully on the cookie as her senses returned to her control. “I wonder what the hell that all was.”
Lucy shook her head, dislodging thin strands of blond hair from behind her ears. “I dunno. Maybe you’ll find out more in Ireland? Or else, I can look some stuff up while I’m at home and let you know after the holiday?”
B.D. grunted in agreement as she swallowed the last bite. “Yeah, both sound good.” She stood then and stretched, walking over to the small sink in the corner. She brushed her teeth briskly as Lucy stowed the candles away.
Once she felt her mouth was sufficiently clean, B.D. moved to the comfort of her bed, sprawling out as she came to it. She threw an arm across her eyes and took a single deep breath before she spoke. “Lucy?”
“Can I have another cookie?”
“B.D., wake up. It’s almost seven.” B.D. rolled over slowly and looked at her clock. It read 6:52pm. She closed her eyes again and lay on her back, annoyed at the French accent interrupting her sleep.
“We have to leave here at 7:30, please get up."
B.D.’s eyes snapped open. “Oh shit! I musta just passed out after the spell last night! I still gotta shower an’ pack an’ I fuckin‘ missed our dinner date--”
“I’ve got food for you,” Scorch said, reassurance in her voice. “Go take your shower.” B.D. took a deep breath.
“Okay.” Scorch left then, heading for the floor’s common room. B.D. was in and out of the shower in ten minutes, dressed in five. Scorch returned and served her microwave mac & cheese and a can of Coke as she perched on the edge of her bed. After eating she threw out the paper plate and plastic fork, then ransacked her drawers for clothes which she stuffed into the backpack Scorch held out. They brought their bags down to street level, loaded them into a waiting mini-van cab, and were off by 7:25. The thirty minutes had gone by in such a rush, B.D. hadn’t had time to notice Lucy’d already left for home, nor to wonder how Scorch got into the building, much less her room, both of which had been locked.
The flight to Dublin was long but uneventful, and B.D. slept most of the way. She woke just as the pilot made the landing announcement, and gazed languidly out the window. She’d often envisioned running away to some far off, beautiful place, and daydreamed that that‘s where they would land. She couldn’t help it, she’d always assumed escape meant peace, a release from everything she’d ever had to suffer, and she welcomed that prospect.
The plane landed a little before 3:30 pm Dublin time, and the pair deboarded and got through customs without hassle. As they strode toward the exits, having brought their bags as carry-on, B.D. scanned over the airport, just people-watching. So far, the Irish offered little to be interested in. It wasn’t a fairyland as she’d imagined in the plane, just a city airport. Still, there was something in the air, a light hum and sizzle that made her suspect there was more here than met the eye. She was pulled from her musings by Scorch’s voice.
“Hungry, mon ami?”
B.D. nodded with enthusiasm. The airline food had been lacking and her stomach rumbled for substance.
“Bon, we’ll eat, then I’ll arrange somewhere for you to stay.”
B.D. gave her a quizzical look.
“Ah, no, staying with me wouldn’t be… prudent. At least, not at first. My family… takes some getting used to.”
B.D. shrugged her concession as she hefted her backpack higher on her shoulder.
The pair settled on a steak house for a late lunch not far from the airport. B.D. ordered the standard steak and potatoes, but all Scorch wanted was their smallest cut of beef, done as rare as possible. B.D. ate ravenously, though still trying to maintain her civility, while Scorch picked at her meal. B.D. wondered how she could have passed up the food given her slight stature, but she filed it away under jet lag and left it at that. Towards the end of the meal, Scorch excused herself to make a phone call, which B.D. assumed was to parents or some such to assure them of her safe return.
They left the restaurant and Scorch guided B.D. to a nearby hotel, where there was already a reservation for her. B.D. thought then that it explained the phone call, and wondered if Scorch actually had anyone to whom to report; she seemed very independent, and it would also explain the reluctance to let B.D. meet her supposed family. After checking in the two rode the elevator up to the third floor. At first the girls just discussed the flight, the restaurant, the hotel, nothing more than small talk. Once those topics seemed exhausted, though, Scorch started to probe deeper.
“So what did you think of Minneapolis, Belladonna?”
B.D. scowled, hating her name. “It was alright, I guess. I mean, the university’s great, but otherwise there’s nothing special about the city. Oh sure maybe people are a little ‘Minnesota Nice’ sometimes, but otherwise it’s just the same as anywhere else.” She’d been on vacations with some of her foster families, to places like Madison, Chicago, Detroit, and while Minneapolis was certainly one of the better cities she’d seen, she had no particular attachment to it. Or any other place, for that matter, she realized. Despite her classes and the budding relationship with Colin, she felt no real urgency to return.
“Oui, Dublin is much different than most Americans know,” Scorch agreed. “Not always as war-ravaged as the media would have the world think. There can be a lot of love here too, which is why I moved from Paris. That was called the 'City of Love,' but I never saw it. I simply followed the love I did find…” She gazed around the room as she trailed off, taking in every detail. Not that it was anything out of the ordinary; a double bed with a nightstand to one side, an armchair, a television atop a long low dresser with an equally large mirror behind it, and a round table with its own chair that was supposed t serve as a desk. The color scheme was the usual nauseating pastels set against light wood tones, and the tasteless no-name art hung over the bed. Floor-to-ceiling mirrored doors concealed the closet across from the bathroom, which boasted the standard fare of single-use shampoo, conditioner and soap, individually wrapped cotton swabs, paper cups, an ice bucket, and bleach-white, slightly rough towels.
“I know what you mean,” B.D. said with a sigh, her boots garnering her attention and response regaining Scorch’s. She felt similarly that she was following love, trying to discover more about her mother, but didn‘t truly believe she‘d experienced it for herself. The feeling that came when Scorch’s eyes locked with hers was the closest to it. At the very least, it made her feel needed, necessary. “Like, I know a lot of other countries think American girls are all sluts and that kind of thing. I’m not saying I’ve never had sex, but I’ve only been with three guys, including Colin… I can’t imagine why anyone calls it “making love,” though, it seemed empty to me. Even though I told Colin about my mom and shit, it was still just sex…” B.D. slowly turned her head to face her companion as she spoke. She didn’t know why she was sharing these thoughts with someone she’d only just met, she just felt compelled to. “That’s umm, not to say I don’t want love, I just--”
“Shhh...” Scorch pressed a surprisingly soft finger to B.D.’s lips and smiled. She slid closer to the other girl, her gaze strong and intent. “I know, Belladonna, it’s alright. Love will come, in time.” Scorch’s other hand came to rest on B.D.’s knee, and the finger that had been to her lips now traced her jaw line, and traveled slowly down the side of her neck. It came to rest where shoulder and neck met, and B.D. sucked in her breath.
“You are alright, oui?” Scorch asked quietly, still grinning and holding the other girl’s gaze.
B.D. swallowed hard and nodded, her eyes dancing. She’d felt like this when Scorch first looked at her, and it was all she could do not to cry.
This engaging person made her want to weep. With Scorch’s touch she felt there was a chance for vindication, and that there was a reason behind the fantastical escape she so often imagined. A voice in her mind she assumed was her own, told her there was a purpose for her, another life she could lead that would give meaning to all of this. The hope in that thought unsettled her, pulled her out of her comfort zone of aloof apathy.
Scorch continued to press closer, their faces now approaching each other. B.D. could feel fingernails beginning to dig into her neck, and another hand creep up her thigh. The other girl’s breath was cool against her lips, and had it not been for the sudden rush of lucidity… B.D.’s imagination sufficiently filled in the gap, for the time being. She pulled away stiffly, stumbling over an apology which Scorch dismissed with a tiny seductive smile, looking up through her red lashes.
“Nothing to apologize for, Belladonna, nothing to fear.” The French accent and something in Scorch’s gaze somehow reassured her, and B.D. settled into the bed again. The two sat there for a time, staring into each other’s eyes. The feelings of comfort and security began to wash over B.D. once more, and it was too much for one afternoon. She got up and began to walk around the hotel room, picking things up, rummaging and rifling through papers, looking at everything except her companion.
Scorch sat back on the bed and watched B.D. as she tried to distract herself. Obviously her Captivation wasn’t yet strong enough for this one, and despite her apparent failure, she had to smile to herself. She knew what had to be done. If Belladonna resisted her, it was all for the better, as it meant there was another who would draw her in. It was time.
“Bell... B.D.?” Scorch made the conscious decision to use the preferred name. B.D. froze in her tracks, her back to the other girl.
“Yeah?” she responded, immediately regretting the suspicious tone her voice had carried. Scorch seemed to ignore it.
“Would you like to meet some of my friends tonight? You are here to learn, and they may be of great help.”
B.D. turned, her thoughts swiftly bounding over the day’s happenings. “Umm, OK yeah, sure.” She figured Scorch had a point about wanting to learn more about Ireland’s native stories, and knew it’d be silly and contrary to back out of just such an opportunity.
“Tre bien,” Scorch smiled outwardly this time, her eyes glinting with anticipation of the evening’s events and what B.D. would encounter. There was another who would draw her in. It was time… she met Raven.
“My Lord?” A guard poked a hesitant head through the archway to the dining hall, knowing it was a severe offense to interrupt his master during a meal. A fire blazed under the mantle at the other side of the long narrow room, casting sinister shadows in every corner. Extravagant tapestries hung on the walls told the legends of the manor’s past masters, each bearing more than striking resemblance to the last.
Pulling his lips away from the tender flesh of the serving girl’s neck, the nobleman glared at the intruder. “Yes?” His deep voice echoed on the stone walls and sent a chill through the man at the door.
“The mystic, Lord. He-- he Sees something more,” the guard stammered.
The noble’s lips, coated in red, quirked up at the corners, and he addressed the girl in his arms. “We shall continue this later.”
She only whimpered in response, but grunted as he dropped her into an armchair, her weakened body collapsing like a discarded rag doll.
Taking a linen napkin from the oak table where a disregarded place setting still sat immaculate and undisturbed, the nobleman wiped his mouth and bade the guard lead on to the dungeon of the ancient stone castle.
“His Lordship approaches!” shouted the guard as they descended the last of the stairs, and there was a rattle of armor as the other guards stiffened in fear and respect. Scattered torches flickered in sconces on the walls, giving the corridor an eerie glow.
Holding the linen again to his face, the nobleman peered through the iron bars into the cell. “What have you to report, Seer?”
“She has come across the ocean, Lord.”
“Eire, Lord. Her native land.”
Despite the use of the older name, the noble knew what land the mystic spoke of. His fist clenched at his side, but he forced his long fingers to flex out again and relax. “It is still too early to move. But should that Priest have his way…” he trailed off, turning back to the guard. “Feed him again.” Turning on one heel, he proceeded back to the dining hall to finish his own supper.