Death had come for her in its beauteous magnificence. Time slowed. Not in the usual self-contemplating way, though that was true enough; it slowed from Finvarra’s working. The Oracle raised her eyes and saw a bird suspended motionless in the sky. So this is how it ends. She recognized it now. Arrogance and self-aggrandizement built slowly over the centuries bolstered by outside worship of her abilities had made her forget the fact that all things must come to an end, even her. Her death was the first of her premonitions, before even the official bestowal of the sight by Aerten, the goddess of prophecy.

She looked down at her open hands. Her gnarled, swollen joints made it impossible to extend her fingers. They were old hands, spotted and trembling; still useful in a perfunctory way, the yellowed nails embedded with dirt. How long had they been like that? She seemed to remember a point in her life when appearance meant something. Images of dainty hands, with clear, rounded, and most importantly, clean nails, that used to be hers. She reached up to her damaged eye, wiping at the constant tearing. She didn’t need to see it; she knew what it looked like. A milky, yellowish-white cornea almost indistinguishable against the sclera, if anyone bothered to look, was the brand of the seer, a lesser gift from Balor, the god of the Fomorians. It was praised as the seers’ protection. No one would dare do harm to a seer whose powers lay in divination. Truth was no one dared to touch a seer at all. It was a lonely life. She had had to squash all hope for a family and children early on. She was venerated and ostracized.

Yet as the Oracle spent the last few moments contemplating her life’s choices, a small part of her rebelled at the thought of fate and its importance. Hadn’t she spent a large portion of the latter part of her life struggling against it? If anyone was going to have a shot at circumventing fate, shouldn’t it have been her? She was there when Aileen had given her unborn child to the universe, an unprecedented move; it shouldn’t even have been possible. The Rite of the Phoenix always had two willing participants for the sole purpose of perpetuating the faith.
Now, at this moment she hesitated. She wanted to simultaneously grovel at the feet of her gods begging for their beneficence and forgiveness so she’d be allowed to bask in their terrible beauty while at the same time standing defiantly as her lungs were robbed of their very breath, and she, all at once, was tried, convicted, and executed for heresy.
She looked at the priestess, the woman called Brenawyn, kneeling beside Aerten, touching her. The sight hardened the Oracle’s resolve. Here was the so-named priestess, who hadn’t been raised in the Ways, knew nothing of the lineage of the Druids. She was ignorant of the customs, rites, and hierarchy, and here she was touching the goddess of prophecy! The audacity!
With a harrumph, she stood taller and made her decision. The Oracle’s interlace grew brighter as she chanted.

I curse ye, priestess
In the name o’ Belanus, god o’ healing
May he turn his face from you.

I curse ye, priestess
In the name o’ Epona, goddess o’ fertility
May she not hear yer silent empty-armed suffering.

I curse ye, priestess
In the name o’ Danu, goddess o’ the land
May ye never find a home.

I curse ye priestess
In the name o’ Taranis, god o’ the dead.
May ye live forever.

I curse ye, priestess
In the name o’ Cernunnos, god o’ the hunt
May ye never find what ye seek.

I curse ye, priestess
In the name of Blodevweld … 

Chapter 1

The pain abatted as long as Maggie Harris remained utterly still and didn’t breathe. That was a problem. Even in shallow breaths, the pain radiating from her lower leg was excrutating. The way she lay on the floor, she couldn’t reach to explore the unseen damage, and to move to sit up—she’d rather not vomit again. She fluttered her eyes trying to clear her vision of the maroon blobs as soft flakes drifted to land on her cheeks. Dry blood. Assessing for lesser injuries, she had bled from a head wound at some point. There was an underlying throb, the real soreness of which was probably masked by the acute pain in her leg. She reached up to gingerly explore and found more dry blood covering half her face. It pooled around her head drenching the hair underneath. It was brittle, flaking away easily. How long had she been here?
Panic set in even though she knew that head wounds bleed. She had never seen, or rather felt so much of her own blood. She jerked and a bolt of lightening shot up from her leg. She screamed, reaching down to cradle her knee. The change of position opened the wound on her head and she felt a trickle of new blood ooze at her hairline. At this angle, she could see the damage to her right leg. A memory of the life-sized skeletal model from anatomy class came rushing into her mind. Her tibia looked…odd. The weight of her jeans was almost too much to bear; to press on the fabric to get a better look at the shape of her leg required more courage than she had at the moment. She registered that the leg was broken.
Scuffling sounded from the room beyond, drawing Maggie up short. “Whose there?”
A slip of a girl appeared at the doorway, almost drowning in the huge pile of folded cloths that were clutched to her chest.
“I see that you’re awake. That’s good. I was beginning to worry.”
At the muffled words, Maggie brightened, “Please, you have to help me. I’ve been kidnapped and taken I don’t know where.”
The moving pile of fabric stopped and teetered as the girl looked back. “He wouldn’t like it.”
“He’s here? Near here? Where is here? Where am I?” The questions tumbled out of her mouth, each one pitched in a higher voice than the last. She stopped, realizing she was spooking the girl, who Wavered then ran to the corner, out of reach, and put the folded fabric on a wood chest in the corner. “Someone will be coming soon. I told him you needed a doctor. He didn’t like that, but I think he’s sent for one anyway.”
“How long ago was that? Where am I? What does he—
the questions tumbled out of Maggie’s mouth again; she couldn’t stop them once panic set in. Once again, the girl looked afraid, Maggie realized, noting her own panic reflected in the girl’s eyes just before she skittered out of the room. There was real fear there.
Maggie’s position was dire. She needed to think. He needed her alive for now, he’d not have taken her if that wasn’t the case. What did she know? What did she have that he wanted?
Maggie’s thoughts were cut off as soon as they began by the rushed thump-thump of multiple feet on stairs beyond her vision. In her pain-addled mind, a flash memory of when she was eight. The reverberation of the circus elephants’ weight hit the arena’s floor after being forced to do tricks for the audience. She was awe-struck and scared at the enomity and power of the animals, and disgusted by the whips and bull-hooks the trainers held. She felt the revulsion emanating for her mother’s newest boyfriend as she tried to hide her eyes—
Two men entered, followed by the slip of a girl again. They rushed her, and Maggie tried to cower away as much as her leg would allow. But they persisted, had the advantage of being of sound body, and subdued her with little effort; a man pinning her shoulders as the girl pressed her hips down. The other man took his time searching in a black bag. He must be the doctor that had been sent for, Maggie thought.
He pulled out a syringe and a rubber-capped injection vial. “Relax. The pain will be better momentarily.” He inserted the needle, pulled back on the plugger, and then tapped the barrel to rid it of any air bubbles. He gave a slight smile as he approached, possibly as an attempt to look less threatening, but Maggie wasn’t having it. He had to know the circumstances, or at least could guess them given the surroundings: a dirt floor basement. He couldn’t be trusted. He wouldn’t help her. She struggled even knowing her abysmal odds. She wasn’t mobile, and even under the optimal conditions of a sterile hospital emergency room or an orthopedist’s office to get a cast, she would only be partially so. Yes, she knew her odds and didn’t like them a bit. At the moment, she was completely at the mercy of her captors.
The smile on the man’s lips disappeared as he knelt down on her side extending her right arm in a punishing grip. “You will cause yourself more pain if you continue to struggle.”
“You see where I am. The circumstances, even if they aren’t clear to you, you know, you know, I am not here willingly. How can you be an accomplice to kidnapping? You’re a doctor! Doesn’t that go against your oath, or something?”
He sat back on his haunches, “The Hippocratic Oath? No, there’s no correlation. Plus, you aren’t going to be harmed in my care. You’re not going to die. This,” indicating the syringe, “is only a local aensthetic so I can realign your bones. Unless,” he shrugged his shoulders, “you want to suffer without. It will be much more painful. I wouldn’t suggest it myself, since we have meds in abundance now. I shouldn’t have liked to be a doctor in the past, setting bones, amputation—“
“Amputation? You’re going to take my leg?”
“No, no, certainly not. It’s a messy break—compound fracture, from the looks of it, but I won’t know until I take a better look. Will you allow me to take a look before I give you aenesthesia to put your mind at ease? It will only take a moment.”
Maggie found herself nodding agreement, and the pressure eased on her lower body as the doctor instructed the girl to retrieve his bag and extract the trauma shears. A few more instructions and a breathless, room-spinning moment the leg of her jeans was cut away.
“If you would, sir, please help her to sit up a bit.”
Maggie was elevated, but the movement and the sight of the bone were it pierced her skin was enough to make her vomit on herself. The girl looked away, heaving in reaction, while the doctor looked on unconcerned, patiently waiting for her to stop. The only sympathy was from the man who helped her to sit. He moved so he was fully behind her head, so when she finally eased back it was to rest on his upper legs. He brushed her bangs off her forehead, but stopped midway to yank back his hands as if caught doing something he shouldn’t. Maggie looked at him for the first time. He was young, her age if she had to guess. Lanky, and wiry strong, and with a short scruff indicating a week’s worth of beard growth. Underneath that however, was skin that hadn’t exactly resolved itself of pubescent acne. She tried to memorize his face, holding him in her stare as long as possible, letting him see the tears that spilled from the corners of her eyes. She had to make an impression, for this boy might be her only help.
“Despite the look of it, the break is clean; and I’ll leave you with a couple of blister packs of antibiotic. You aren’t allergic to penicillin are you?”
Maggie nodded, “I get hives.”
“More and more people are developing allergies.” He said more to himself than her. “Any more that I should know about?”
She shook her head. “Very well. I am prepared in any case. Keflex should knock out any infection that starts.” He took the syringe back from the young man, and flicked it again for good measure. “Shall I give you the local now?”
Maggie came to sometime later in the basement, but things had changed. Gone was the dry blood, and there were fresh stitches at her hairline. There was a cast on her injured leg and she was divested of her jeans, all of her clothes in fact. Someone had taken the time to wash her, comb her hair, and dress her in a loose linen dress that skimmed her calves. She lay on an army cot that smelled of disinfectant and she was covered with a thin, hospital-issue knit blanket.
She startled when someone cleared their throat. She turned her head to find the young man balanced on a spindled chair against the wall. Her stomach growled at the sight of the folding snack tray laden with food and bottled water next to him.
“You’re awake. Do you want some water? You must be thirsty.”
She nodded and went to sit up. As her feet brushed the ground, a wave of dizziness hit her and the floor rushed up to meet her. She was saved by two strong hands steadying her back on the cot. “Are you okay?”
Maggie sighed deeply, unable to focus. “I’m…fuzzy-headed.” She looked down to his hand still clutching her shoulder. She could feel the warmth of him through the fabric of her dress, could almost count the nerve-endings set off by the tingly, pins and needles under his touch. His hands were large, with big knuckles; she reached and poked his index finger. “Do you crack your knuckles? My mother always warned me not to because I’d get large knuckles.”
“You’re not making any sense, lie back down.”
“What did he give me? I feel…floaty.”
“Enjoy it, because the meds are wearing off, and the pain will come back soon enough, and he’ll want to see you then.”
“He? Oh yeah…him. Cormac Mc-something or other.”
“Yes, and he’s not happy.”
“Probably still angry at me for hitting him in the nuts with a bat.” The young man snorted in agreement. “It was a really good swing. Haven’t played since high school. Do you think I would have had more power if it was aluminum rather than wood?”
He leaned in, “Jesus, girl, shut your mouth, he’s looking for payback. If you want to make it out alive—
She grasped at him, “Please help me. He took me. He’s keeping me here against my will. Won’t you help me get away?”
“Hush now, close your eyes.” He laid her head on the pillow and swept up her legs up, “Just sleep,” he said, covering her with the blanket.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Andrew. Andy. Call me Andy.”
All Maggie could do was nod and lay there mollified by the comforting weight of the blanket. She concentrated on her breathing, fascinated by the rise of her chest as air filled her lungs, held her breath, and then exhaled slowly delighting in the ease of pressure. It seemed a difficult task, the inhaling, such labor to force air in, to expand—what if she forgot to breathe? In her relaxation, her body just gave up?
What had the doctor given her? It was time to get off the loopy train. She had enough…but it was just so nice to just…be.
She should concentrate on something else. Rafters, planking of the floors above, what was significant about this? Something was missing. She wished she knew what. Insulation. Shouldn’t there be insultation? Was there typically insulation on the ceiling of basements? Or would it invite mold? She suddenly wished to be more observant. She certainly would have seen it in the basement of Leo’s shop. That was a couple hundred years old at least, but it was updated, now that she thought about it. Mr. Callahan updated it for his wife, all except the still room. That had been left purposely untouched. She always thought it was funny why Leo had wanted it that way, but she never asked why. There’s that unobservant bit again, or maybe she considered it unimportant or just crazy eccentricities of an old woman. She never asked, though with the happenings of the last couple of weeks, she should have asked if its untouched state had anything to do with the existence of magic. Maggie wondered if she’d ever get a chance to ask now.
Going down that road seemed dangerous considering her addled state, best to think of something else—ooh, pretty spider! The bright yellow and black spider stuck out against the dark backdrop of the aged rafters busily finishing its enormous web stretching across two ceiling beams and anchored at several spots along the jagged walls of the corner. The spider looked huge, as if Maggie reached out she could pluck it off its web. The color and pattern were extraordinary, and almost made her forget her revulsion for the aracnids in her desire to look closer at it.
A stray memory of her ex-boyfriend laughing as she stood in the hallway throwing shoes into her kitchen hoping to squash the spider on the floor. It seemed ridiculous now, how accurate did she think she was going to be throwing random shoes, rubber boots, she thought she even remembered a soft-soled slipper, from ten feet away? She wouldn’t even step into the kitchen. It was Tommy who had saved the day, or he would have if he hadn’t dropped it down her shirt afterwards. He swore that it was dead, but who does that regardless? He was always a little shit. She felt itchy. She located her yellow nemesis in the same spot it had been; her skin crawled just from the memory. And to think, she wanted to touch this one. Euck!
Maggie woke again, this time to a deep ache in her leg and a throbbing from her forehead. The pain helped to sober her and allowed her to think straight. Her wounds had been seen to at least. Whatever Cormac had in mind surely he needed her at least for the time being, else why would he have her injuries seen to? The more time he needed her alive, the more time she had to think of a way to escape. She certainly couldn’t expect to get away quickly in her current state.
The chair back creaked at her back, “Maggie? Are you awake?”
Her heart leapt in her chest and she felt the anxiety rise, no she needed more time to think. Andy seemed like he was a compassionate sort, and it was a good bet to take that he’d let her sleep some more. Although he was mixed up with Cormac, so he clearly couldn’t be trusted. She wished she had a better bead on what was happening. She lengthened her breathing, feigning sleep banking on the fact that it would stave off the inevitable confrontation with Cormac himself.
Thinking back to when the blinders were peeled from her eyes just weeks ago with glowing orbs, resurrections, shape-shifting, not to mention time slowing, dirt monsters, force fields, and fucking gods! Her heart was beating fast and panic was surging. It was harder to concentrate to keep her breathing relaxed. It hardly seems possible that she was still sane and alive, but magic was real.
Magic was real.
Nothing was going to be the same again.
She could use a little of that magic now to get out of her current predicament. Before Cormac were to show up would be preferable, but it was unlikely to happen. She saw Leo and Brenawyn raise Alex from the dead, but here her captors had to call for a doctor to fix her broken leg. Healing must not be a common ability, or whatever they needed her for wasn’t pressing, or they didn’t want to expend the energy to heal her through magic—too many questions. Quite honestly, it was a path she didn’t want to go down, she had no family outside of Brenawyn and Leo, and she wasn’t sure of where either of them were, if they were even still alive. If they were able, they would call the police to report her abduction; but what would they tell them? Leaving out details would certainly make them look suspicious, but they couldn’t tell them what actually happened. That would result in a 72 hour stint in the pysch ward.
What did the police tell families of abductees? The first twenty-four hours was crucial? She didn’t know how much time had passed but she was at least a couple of days in and that speculation was built on the time she was conscious enough to notice the light in the grimy cellar window.
She had angered him in the forest. She took a chance and it hadn’t worked out. He was clearly rattled by the turn of events in the clearing and the decision to take her was a rash one. She thought she could use that. Make herself hard to kidnap, and perhaps he’d think better of it. She tried to gouge his eyes, and stomp his instep, she managed to get away for a moment. It was a mad dash through the underbrush, but he was better equipped, with rugged boots and jeans, and he overtook her almost instantly. Crashing with her to the rough ground, crushing her, before both of them took a tumble down a short decline. She was winded but in one piece, but he was quicker. A sharp pain at her temple and she drifted off thinking this is where she was going to die.
Now that she was conscious, and the meds were wearing off, she needed to compose herself. The time was coming when she would need her wits about her. It wouldn’t be good to further anger Cormac. He had no compunction about causing pain. The next time might be more greivous. She didn’t know how she came to be here, but she could be observant from here on out. There might be something that she’d recognize though not so much in landmarks, but towns and people. People were nosy; less apt to get involved in a situation they knew nothing about, but there might be an opportunity.
That brought her thoughts back to what she already knew about her situation. Maggie had seen the doctor, the girl, and Andy. The doctor wasn’t going to help. He’d made that clear enough, and the girl was too scared. That left Andy. She knew she could exploit his nature, manipulating him into helping her but she had to be sure that she was right about him. She had to establish a rapport with him. He had been sitting vigil in the room while she slept and had food and water, offered the latter to her already. That’s where she would start; ask for basic needs to be met. She was thirsty.