It had been about three years ago that Briar had made a mistake that hundreds had made before her. She got married in Vegas. It had been a stupid attempt to feel loved and needed but all Tim had needed was Briar’s body and her money. Briar hadn’t realised it at the time, oh no, she had been convinced she had found the kind of love she deserved. And she didn’t deserve much.
They had taken their honeymoon in Greece. Briar had been wanting to visit for a long time but had never quite gotten there. The last time she had intended to visit had been before the trouble with the Ukrainians and she had left Europe very quickly. Recent events had taken that worry away.
Briar had always liked Greece but had really wanted to come after visiting a fortune teller in Prague. The woman had told Briar that she had lived twice in those ancient times. Once as a slave in Athens and once in the sea. Briar assumed that meant she had been a sailor the second time or lived on one of the islands. And it was an island she had picked for them to visit now, Mykonos.
On the first morning they were there Briar got up early, something that was completely unheard of for her, and went to watch the sunrise from a certain spot on the island she had read about. Legend had it that as the sun rose on that point you could still see the Titans and the Gods fighting. Briar didn’t see any gods or any titans but she did manage to skin her knee while climbing over some rocks after she had finished watching the sunrise.
Briar followed her nose around the less inhabited part of the island, she felt like she knew where she was going and that if she kept going this way she would find a cave. She wasn’t sure why she wanted to find a cave, she just knew she wanted to. When Briar found the entrance, she let out a low whistle feeling damned pleased with herself.
Briar was so pleased with herself that she did not notice the other woman until she barrelled into her and knocked her down in the mouth of the cave.
“Sorry, Chickybabe! I wasn’t watching where I was going, you okay?” Briar extended her hand to help the woman back up to her feet. Her hand was swatted away.
“I should have you skinned for your actions and yet you insult me further?”
Briar rolled her eyes. It seemed self-important-moo-cows were a worldwide phenomenon. “Look, I apologised and tried to help. You can get yourself up off the ground then, lady.”
Briar stepped back out of the cave entrance and leant against the side of the cliff. Flowers and vines instantly tangled in her hair and Briar had to untangle them to be able to move again. She heard the woman muttering inside. She was so dramatic, ridiculous threats for the slights caused. It seemed calling someone Chickybabe, which Briar did to everyone, was an offence punishable by a violent death.
The woman stopped ranting about the same time Briar got free of the vines, less quite a few strands of her hair. Briar waited for the woman to exit the cave, ready to exchange words but she never appeared. Briar looked inside the cave mouth but there was no sign of the woman. Briar stepped inside to explore and to find the stupid cow, ducking her head so she did not smack it as she walked.
“Curiosity killed the cat, Briar,” she murmured to herself. Her hand lifted her cell phone up to light her way as the initial entrance gave way to a bigger, darker, cavern. “But I haven’t used up all my nine lives.”
Briar had faced death numerous times and managed to live through them, even if she shouldn’t have. Numerous though they were, she hadn’t cheated death nine times. She was not a cat but she felt like the rule should still apply and her curiosity shouldn’t be fatal this time.
The cavern was not small like the entrance had been, it was about the size of a large hall and there were no apparent points of exit or entry beyond the way that Briar had come in. Yet, there was no sign of the woman.
The woman had been a strange one, dressed like she was cosplaying from a movie about ancient Greece, or maybe it was just a uniform for the sake of the tourists. “Or maybe she’s one of the Gods,” Briar joked to herself. “She seemed full of herself enough to be.”
Given that it was a bit farfetched to think the woman a goddess capable of vanishing out of the cave, the likelihood was the woman had left unobserved while Briar’s attention was on the damn vines that had been assaulting her head. Either way, the woman was gone and Briar could focus on the cave that she had found her way to.
The floor was smooth and hard with very little loose dirt on it, the walls were smoother than Briar would have imagined, almost polished. Briar wondered if at some point in the past the water line had been different and the rough rocks had been worn smooth by the tides coming in and out. She had no idea if it worked that way, but couldn’t think of any other natural way for the cave to be like this.
Briar thought it would have to have happened a while ago because, as she inspected the front wall up close by the light of her phone, she found carvings in the rocks. They were symbols or some kind of weird alphabet and they looked like they had been there adorning the wall for quite some time.
Briar knew a little bit about ancient languages thanks to researching a few items she had stolen on request. She couldn’t place what she was seeing. It wasn’t Greek or Phoenician since she knew both and they had similarities to modern letters, it wasn’t hieroglyphics. It wasn’t Hebrew.
Nothing seemed to be from one place, though some squiggles and symbols could have been from several languages, there was nothing consistent here for Briar to interpret what had been left by some ancient people. She snapped a few photos with her phone. She knew a scholar in England and he might be able to help her out. At the very least, he would be able to put her in contact with the right experts. Briar hated unsolved mysteries. Or rather, she hated not knowing something herself.
Exploring more, Briar found a total of eleven sets of symbols and one carving that looked like a giant flame with figures inside it. Maybe this cave had once belonged to that fire goddess, the one with the virgins.
“That was Rome, idiot. The Vestal Virgins. Vesta, like the one you know,” Briar spoke aloud and the sound echoed back at her. She knew that Vesta would have a Greek counterpart but Briar couldn’t think who it was. Vesta the Goddess that was. Vesta the warlock wouldn’t have a counterpart. Briar had worked with the woman on a few occasions. She could get her hands on rare items and substances but there was nothing godly about her, nor did she employ a series of virgins to care for hearth and home.
“Hearth and home. Hestia. That’s it. Maybe this was Hestia’s place.”
Briar was pleased she’d remembered the name but did not know enough about the ancient deity to know if she could have any connection to this place. Still, Briar wasn’t going to find out anything more standing around inside the cave. She left and went in search of her husband and an internet connection to send the photos to Merry Old England for analysis.
Briar was excited to share her discovery with Tim but Tim was not very interested in much beyond how sexy Briar looked when she was excited. It crossed Briar’s mind for one brief moment that her body was Timothy’s main interest but the thought vanished as soon as they were kissing. Briar was a sexual creature and her body was hot, it was no surprise her husband couldn’t keep his hands to himself. It was what honeymoons were all about after all, wasn’t it?
Briar rose early again the next morning to go and watch the sunrise. Tim was still passed out and snoring when she closed the bedroom door behind her. He had been drinking heavily the night before with some old colleagues. Briar had started the evening with them but had grown bored with the metaphorical dick measuring contests. They tried to one-up each other with their biggest scores and Briar couldn’t help but feel superior to them all. They were petty thieves; if they only knew what a big score actually was…
Briar had retired to bed early and she was up early feeling energised and happy as she walked the island in the brightening dawn. It was odd, Briar wasn’t sure who this morning person was. Maybe some kind of changeling had been left in her place, she was after all generally the woman who went to bed at this time, not got up at it. Something about Greece was agreeing with her.
Briar contemplated investing in property locally while she walked. She could buy a villa and rent it out when she did not need it. The idea had merit and she decided to discuss it with Tim later once he was capable of holding a conversation.
Briar found a spot to watch the sunrise and wished she had someone else to share the view with. She thought about Katie, beyond that Briar didn’t really have anyone else she could think of that would want to join her. Years ago, she had dated this guy, well been engaged to him actually, and he had been the kind of guy who would have happily made the trek to watch the sun come up and then come to explore the cave. He had been Briar’s first love and such a good man. A man who had been simply too good for damaged goods like Briar was.
Briar sighed before forcing her mind from that subject. Spilt milk and all that shit. Briar shifted her attention back to the sun and the surrounding clouds as it rose. She could imagine how the legends of seeing the Gods and Titans might have begun with the sight that was before her. It was beautiful.
Briar wasn’t one to get emotional over nature but she was deeply moved as she sat there. Something about Greece really had her feeling different from her normal self. Was this the kind of woman she might have been if fate had treated her kinder? A gentler, softer, happier woman.
Briar sat there for a good hour until blood flow dictated that she move. She rose and stretched. The cave seemed the obvious place to go next. Maybe that woman would be there again and Briar could teach her the correct way to accept an apology. As Briar approached the cave she had already planned the conversation out in her head. That woman would apologise.
“One does not accept apologies from lesser beings, one simply punishes them.”
Briar almost tripped over her own feet as the woman appeared. She did not walk up to Briar, she literally appeared out of thin air. At least that was the illusion, how she pulled it off was a mystery to Briar.
“Right. Did someone miss their meds this morning or do you find delusions go hand in hand with the royal bitch attitude you’ve got going on?” Briar asked.
“How dare you address me with such disrespect.”
“How dare you be a total bitch to me. I don’t know how you think you are but I’m seriously over this shit.”
“I am Persephone, wife of the great god Hades.”
“So, off your meds it is then.” Briar rolled her eyes and then stumbled backwards as she was backhanded with more force than most brute fighters could muster. She hissed in the direction of the woman. “Son of a tree humping whore, that shit was uncalled for.”
“Uncalled for? You will be punished for your crimes against me by my husband and I think he will enjoy it.”
“I don’t think I care to amuse your husband and I doubt my husband will be amused either. I’m done here.”
“Your petty mortal marriage means nothing to me. You know nothing of love but I shall teach you how to fear a true Goddess.”
Briar had met crazy before, she had met egotistical before. Hell, it could be argued that she was both of those things. But this lady? Well, she was without equal. Briar had come to believe in vampires, in witches, ghost, shapeshifters and more. She’d had first-hand experience with them. But ancient and immortal Gods? That was a step too far. Briar wanted nothing more to do with this crazy cow or this conversation and her threats.
Briar reached up under her shirt to the small of her back and wrapped her hand around the handle of her knife. “Lady, how about you take your threats and go back to crazy town. I will take you down if you force me to.” Briar was a killer and a brawler. She had been trained by a professional killer. She had zero problems with hurting or killing to save herself.
She pulled the knife from the sheath strapped to her back. Briar had learned to never go anywhere unarmed, and she favoured blades over guns. She liked the feel of them in her hand and she was good with them. Briar grasped it in her hand mostly to try and scare the crazy woman off, but she was already imagining any fight that might come; her own actions and reactions.
Briar knew how to win, but in this case, it seemed she could not prepare for all possibilities.
Her blade turned into a rose in her hand. The thorned stem punctured her hand and even though Briar let go, the thorns kept the rose in her hand. The plant grew. It seemed a strange magic but also fitting given the claim of this woman. Persephone, daughter of Demeter. Could she be her? Well, she was certainly a woman who could make a rose grow like a rope and tie Briar up.
The vine-like plant held Briar tight and would not break with Briar’s brute force attempt. She could not bite through them, all she did was cut her lips open on the thorns. Blood could be power but it did nothing to help Briar with this problem. The roses wrapped tighter around her and she overbalanced, falling hard to the ground.
“Take her to be presented. Hades loves the ones he can play with and break.”
This was completely ludicrous, a ridiculous nightmare. Still, Briar knew even if she could pinch herself she wouldn’t wake up.
Nathaniel and Briar stood on the grass above the cave entrance watching the scene below. Everything paused as Nathanial tilted his head and looked at Briar. Briar turned to face him.
“Why did you pause it?”
“I wanted to make sure that you were ready for what comes next.”
Briar shrugged. “Of course I’m not, who would be? Let’s just get to it so I can face whatever I need to and move on.”
“Very well.” Nathaniel took Briar’s hand in his and squeezed it. “Just remember. You survive everything that will happen next. And this time, you are not alone.”