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The Sacrifice

Today’s story is a bit special because it’s a gift for @shewhoshipsCS aka @thegreatshipcaptainswan aka Jeannie who is having a Hatchday today. So since I can’t be there, please enjoy this wonderful story written for you.

His father’s old rocking chair moved gently back and forth and the motion had put her to sleep. She was safe in his arms. She was safe in the dilapidated house they’d made their own. Safe from the outside world and the wicked people who walked it.
But the gentle rocking and the comforting arms could not keep her mind from finding danger.
Zena cried out and twitched in her sleep.

“We have to go back.”
The two men reined in their horses and looked back down the road the way they had come, down beyond the wagons that remained and the people that still lived. Charles and Matthew had to lead their people to safety now; their father was among the dead. Everything had changed and it had changed so fast.
The two brothers had been fighting when the first arrows had whistled through the air. Had it not been for Matthew’s good hearing, an arrow might have ended up in Charles’s back. They had been trying to beat each other senseless, trying to hurt each other over a young woman whom they were both in love with.
A young woman who had been left behind. One life to save many. And she had been the one brave enough to make the sacrifice. She had been the one to urge them all to go, to save themselves. She had been crying but resolute as they rode away.
“We have to get our people to safety first. Our duty comes before our hearts.”
“How can you say that!” Matthew snarled at his brother, ready to restart the earlier fight. “She is back there and in danger.”
“And what of these people? What of the children? What of Louisa’s Grandmama? Would Louisa forgive us if we left them to fend for themselves and returned to her?”
Matthew opened his mouth to argue but then he saw the pain in his brother’s face. This was eating Charles up as much as it was him.
“But what if they…”
Charles gritted his teeth and looked at the ground. He could not answer his brother’s question. He could not bear the thought. But he knew what was required of them, and what Louisa had begged them to do. He would not dishonour her bravery by breaking their promises to her.
“We need to keep moving, the sooner we reach the city and safety, the sooner we can go back,” Charles replied after the silence had stretched out.
“But you said…” Matthew looked sideways at his brother.
“I said we have to do our duty first, I said we had to get our people to safety first.”
“Oh,” Matthew grinned at his brother and then spurred his horse on, a wild excitement taking him to be done with duty and rescue their girl. “Well, come on, brother. Get a move on.”

**

Louisa had never thought herself to be a very brave person. She screamed at spiders and needed to light a candle before she could move her feet out from under the covers at night. Today she had found a bravery that she had not known, she had stood up to outlaws and negotiated freedom for her people.
Just two hours ago she had been sitting in the back of a wagon loaded with fabric, negotiating with David and Lea for some maroon lace for a dress she wished to make before the next moon festival. She wanted a pretty dress to wear in hopes that someone might finally find enough courage to make his intentions clear.
Now David and Lea were dead, their wagon emptied of all the expensive fabric they had planned to sell. The wagon had left filled with people. Many of the horses remaining with the outlaws, as Louisa did.
The brothers had not wanted to ride away and leave her behind. She had not wanted to be left behind but she had made the bargain and made them promise. In tears, she had made the two men promise to ride to safety with their people and leave her to her fate.
Because of it, Louisa had found out she was brave. She had found out that she could be a hero like in the stories. Without sword or shield, she had stood up and become a hero. People lived because of her courage.
She would have been proud of herself if she had not been so terrified.
There were at least a dozen men in this gang of criminals. They were not the outlaws of noble heart, robbing the rich to give to the poor. These were terrible men, scar covered and violent, and each looked at her in such a way that her skin crawled. There was violence in their hunger, and Louisa had heard stories…
She knew what was to come and her mind raced as to how she could avoid it, or at least buy time. Not for rescue, she had sent the two men that might do so away. She hoped to buy time for her escape. Hours had passed already and there had been no chance to escape. The men squabbled over the spoils of their attack. They seemed to fight over everything.
That gave Louisa an idea.
A hand rubbed over her back and Louisa jumped, turning she found a gap-toothed man leering at her.
“Are you the leader of these men?” Louisa asked.
“Ha! He wishes!” Another man laughed loudly.
“So,” Louisa said turning to the laughing man. He reminded her of a rat with his long, thin nose. “Does that mean you are?”
“There are no leaders, we are all equal,” another man said. He looked at the others with an expression that made Louisa think that he thought he should be the leader.
“But if there is no leader, then who will I give myself to.”
“All of us!” Another of the men yelled with great enthusiasm and made a lewd gesture. The others all laughed.
“Oh, that won’t work. I want to give myself to the strongest of you, the leader. Only to the strongest will I give myself to willingly and with great passion. So, which one of you is the strongest?” Louisa moved to a tree stump that was clearly often used as a seat by the gang; the wood was smooth. She crossed her leg up over the other, her torn dress flashing her legs.
“I am the strongest!”
“No, it’s me!”
All the men began to yell each other down. Louisa pretended to be unconvinced by their words. Maybe even a little bored. Inside she was terrified and it was all she could do not to shake in her seat.
The yelling turned to pushing and shoving. Punches were thrown.
Louisa watched the men descend into their darker nature. Knives came out and Louisa nearly screamed as one man stabbed another.
They were trying to kill each other, and it was over her! It was insanity. Louisa took no pleasure in the fact nor in the way they were hurting each other. It was awful. But fewer men meant her chance of survival, of escape, increased.
“Whoever is left standing gets me. And to find out what I can do with my tongue.” Louisa called out the words and smiled, gesturing for the men to keep fighting. She had no trick with her tongue but she had heard one of the women say similar in the last town they had visited. The woman had been trying to get Matthew or Charles to purchase her services. Louisa had thrown an apple at the back of Charles’s head, as he was turned away from her. It had served to ruin any moment that might have been happening.
It was that woman that Louisa now pretended herself to be as she waited for a chance to run.
And then the moment came. There were no eyes on her. Four men lay dead and still the others fought on. Louisa slipped from the tree stump and around the trees, she found a horse. One of her own people’s horse. It knew her and knelt for her to get on. She straddled the horse easily in her torn skirt.
The men did not take long to realise she was gone.
Louisa had been born to people that rode, she had been riding since she was tiny and this stallion was young and strong. He moved swiftly taking them back to the road and hopefully to safety. Louisa rode as hard as she could, never looking back.
Perhaps she should have, she heard a rider approach suddenly. How he had appeared so quickly beside her she did not know. She glanced at him and did not recognise his face from the camp and the fight. They must have had others still out on the road waiting for new travellers. Louisa had not thought about that possibility.
The rider leapt from his horse and knocked Louisa from hers. They fell hard to the ground and rolled. The rough ground damaged clothing and skin. Louisa hurt everywhere. She felt as though all the breath had been knocked from her body and she could not draw more. She rolled around on the hard ground clutching her knees up to her chest as she tried to breathe.
More horses approached and Louisa knew her gamble had failed. Now they would not fight over her. Now they would not leave her free to escape. At least Louisa had tried.
Louisa rolled to her knees and tried to crawl away. The man from the horse grabbed her by the hair and pulled her backwards. He tugged her back beside her before striking her in the face. Louisa scratched his face in retaliation and punched him in the throat. He let go of her.
“Leave her alone!”
Louisa looked up and was surprised to see that two of the horsemen bearing down on them were coming from the wrong direction. She was more surprised to recognise them both. It had been Charles that had yelled out. He was in front of Matthew and he leapt from his horse while it was still moving.
A sound behind Louise made her turn back to her attacker. She found a pistol aimed at her face. She had never seen one up close before. None of their people were allowed to carry one.
“Wench!”
The man pulled something back on the weapon that Louisa could not see and then fired. A figure moved and the figure hit Louisa instead of the bullet.
Charles was struck in the shoulder and he lay against Louisa on the ground, bleeding. Matthew yelled as he leapt from his horse, and his blade ended the other man’s life before he could reload.
Louisa cried out. She did not know what she was saying. She cried out over and over, her arms flailing around…

“Zena, Zena, wake up, wake up. It was just a dream.”
She opened her eyes, she was back at their sanctuary, no horses, no bad men. Just them. Zena snuggled in against his chest and sighed. “Charles will find us again, Matthew. I know he will.”
Her best friend looked at her strangely. He shook his head and cuddled her tightly. “You’re safe now, Zena. You’re safe.”
And she felt safe. The dream was fading away and there was nothing else but the rocking chair, the sound of the rain and his arms around her. She was safe now, she was always safe with him.

 

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We will endure

It seems I have another blog post in me for today. In the wake of the horrible events in Manchester, I have read many articles. One that I read talked about the deliberate targeting of women at the concert, of young women celebrating female empowerment. Targeted due to the misogyny at the heart of the attackers’ beliefs.

It made me so mad. So very mad. How dare they! And it made me quite sure that this would not cause me to stand down. If you don’t know how firmly I believe in female empowerment, then you clearly haven’t been reading my books or my stories.

And, as a writer, I have specific ways of fighting back against hate and acts of destruction. And that is the creation of words. So here, have a poem I feel strongly about. Because believe me, I will continue to stand up for what I believe in and who I am. And I will stand up for every single young woman out there who is today afraid because of this act of violence. You are strong. You are Wonderful. You are loved. We are with you. We stand with you. We will Endure. We choose love.

The Bloodied Briar – Part 4

Author Note: Warning for violence and terrible things. I cried writing it…

Had it been two days or two months that Briar had been here?
Here in her prison, she could not tell day from night. She had not seen the sun since she had fallen to the ground at Persephone’s feet, entangled in the magically growing rose bush. A magical rose bush with thorns that had scratched her skin. Scratches that now felt infected.
Hades said he would have her healed tomorrow but how could she tell when tomorrow was when she did not even know what today was and how long she had been here?
Briar had been brought to this tiny cave. She had thought she was to be prepared for Hades, assuming preparation meant bathing, oils, a pretty dress. Instead, she was dragged through mud and dirt and put in this cave. The cave was small; wide enough to lie down in one direction and only high enough to stand up in if you were the size of a child. The cave was sealed in stone, and if it was as if Briar was Jesus Christ himself because the door would roll aside whenever she had a visitor.
The room held only two things. Manacles attached to the back wall of the cave and a glowing orb on the roof. The soft glow was her only light as she sat there chained up and filthy.
Hades had not been what she expected. He had been strong and tall and handsome. Not at all the sickly ghost like figure usually used to depict the God of the Underworld. If this was actually Hades at all, and if this was, in fact, the Underworld they were in.
The jury was still out on both thoughts.
The first time Hades had come to her cave he had knelt in front of her while Persephone stood just outside the entrance. He inspected Briar much the same as one inspected a prize animal. He even checked her teeth. Briar had tried to bite him when he did and he had laughed.
He and Persephone had come to visit four other times, breaking the cruel monotony of the barely lit cell. On the fourth visit, Hades had addressed the infected wounds and Briar’s fever. She would be healed tomorrow.
As far as captivity went, this wasn’t so bad. Briar had endured worse. The last time she had been anyone’s prisoner she had endured physical torture that would have broken most. This wasn’t fun but it was far from terrible. More of an inconvenience.
The next time the door rolled open there was a man and a woman. And when Briar’s manacles were unlocked, the woman was knocked unconscious and the man suffered a broken nose, fractured eye socket, a dislocated jaw, shoulder and elbow.
Another woman appeared, she waved her hand and Briar was out cold.

The next time the door opened there were two women and armed guards. Briar felt pretty smug. That didn’t last…
After being escorted to another room, Briar was stripped, washed, dressed and presumably healed. The fever and pain vanished sometime during the bath. Her blonde hair was done into ringlets which fell from gathering on top of her head. Her makeup was applied and damn if she didn’t look gorgeous.
Briar endured the whole affair without incident or complaint. As Daddy Dearest had taught, one always waited for the right opportunity to act.
Then, led by manacles, Briar was escorted through stone hallways and upstairs into another structure. It seemed normal but for the fact that there were no windows anywhere. She was pulled into a room which looked like a throne room of a European castle.
Seated on the two thrones were Persephone and Hades, dressed in ancient splendour.
“Kneel,” one of the guards commanded Briar.
She snorted at him.
“Kneel.”
“Like hell,” Briar replied. Her sweet smile was shark-like.
“You do not want to kneel?” Hades asked.
“What do you think, Hot Stuff?”
Persephone bristled visibly at Briar who smirked at her and her reaction.
“I think you will kneel.”
“I think you will have to knock my knees out with a plank of wood if you want that to happen, and someone will be left with a broken wrist when they do.”
Hades laughed at Briar, seemingly entertained by her sass. He clapped his hands and Briar’s body seemed to take on a life of its own. She got down on her knees and lowered her body all the way to the floor.
“What the hell…” Briar saw red instantly. This was demeaning. Sure, knock her down, she could handle that. But this? This was so much worse. This was taking away her will, her power. Briar could only imagine the things she could be forced to do; body willing, spirit plotting murder.
If they dared, oh, she would have so much fun taking her revenge.
Hades clapped his hands again and gestured off to his left. Music began to play and Briar the puppet rose back to her feet. She began to dance like a clown at the hands of a puppet master.
Hades was laughing so hard that Briar hoped he choked on his mirth. When the music stopped, Briar had control of her body again.
“So this is your idea of breaking me? To embarrass me to death with silly dancing? Oh, King of the Underworld, I am so terrified.” Briar rolled her eyes at Hades.
Hades remained smiling. “No, this simply amuses me. I will break you in other ways. Just think of what I can make you do.”
“Let me guess,” Briar started. She had a good idea what a man would want to do with a pretty girl in his grasp. She had precedent backing her assumptions. “Am I to be your little contortionist slut bunny? How original. Is Percy over here not putting out? Or can’t she even suck a lollipop adequately?”
Briar hitched a thumb toward Persephone who let out an outraged shriek. She leapt out of her chair and Hades had to grab her and hold her back.
He looked over at Briar. “Perhaps it is my Queen I wish to see you pleasure.”
“Again, not very original. And one has to ask if vomit bags and a full health check will be provided?” Briar cooed the words as sweetly as she could watching Persephone turn red. Briar figured that Persephone deserved any nastiness she got. She was, after all, the one who had brought Briar here in the first place. “Hmm, any chance she can wear a bag over her head? Or I can have a blindfold?”
Briar tried to hurl more insults at the supposed goddess but no matter how forcefully she spoke, not a sound came out. Well, that was rude.
Hades was less amused now. “And if it is your killing skills I desire?”
“I’m not sure you could afford the going rate,” Briar replied, her voice suddenly back. “And that’s before my expenses are included.”
“And if I expect you to kill a family member?”
“Been there, done that.”
“A child?”
“Say what now?”
“What if I desired you to kill a child.”
“Well, I’d tell you that you were a sicker wacko than the myths gave you credit for. Or gave your namesake credit for.”
“All you have seen and you still do not believe us to be the Gods we are?”
“Honey, I’ve seen more impressive parlour tricks. You could turn the sun dark and that wouldn’t make you a god. Powerful, yes. God, no.”
This finally seemed to have pushed Hades too far. Briar was quickly removed from his presence and returned to her cave. At least in the cave the company was more pleasant.

The next day, or what Briar assumed was the next day, Briar was once more forcefully cleaned to be made gorgeous. Briar was certain that being left in the cave in her own filth for hours at a time was meant to leave her humiliated. But she wasn’t. It was all natural and it washed off, and she had no choice in the matter. The shame was not hers.
While she was washed Briar had been thinking and overthinking all the possible acts that Hades and Persephone could force her to do. There were millions of options that Briar would not want to do, but there were some possibilities that were more heinous than others.
Like Hades talk of forcing her to kill a child…
Briar had never followed the laws of the land or the moral codes of most normal individuals but she had a code and pretty near the top was never harm kids. Even the brats that needed a swift kick up the arse.
To be forced to inflict harm on a child, to hurt a child even worse than she had been hurt herself…and to be completely powerless herself while the harm was inflicted…
The thought was haunting.
Which meant that if Hades knew it, he’d pick that.
Briar needed to orchestrate an escape before it came to that.
Few people would expect much from a person who was naked. And it seemed after a calm cleaning session, no one expected a naked Briar to make a run for it. There were only two armed guards this time. As they were armed with melee weapons and not semi-automatics Briar decided to chance it once she was naked and slippery.
The two washerwomen were easily dispatched. Briar stood up and slammed their heads together and they crumpled.
The first guard was easy. His back was to Briar and he was completely relaxed. Briar grabbed for his sword as her foot connected with force against the back of his knee. It was ridiculous that they had swords but who needed guns when you were magical gods, right? Besides, rifles would ruin the crazy ancient Greek aesthetic these people insisted on.
Briar hesitated only a moment before thrusting the sword in and out of the guard’s side. As he cried out she slashed downward across the back of his bare calf to slice through the tendon. His wounds shouldn’t be life threatening but he was unlikely to follow her and if he did she could easily defeat him in that condition.
The second guard was not so easy, he attacked just as Briar turned around. His weapon was similar to a quarterstaff but with sharp metal spikes at each end. One spike sliced at her left upper arm but Briar was quick to react She leant back from the waist so the spike barely touched her. It was barely a scratch.
Her sword met his next attack. He was much bigger and stronger than Briar so she adjusted her style to try quick attacks. She jumped and ducked, jabbing with the sword until her muscles burned and her wrists weakened. Briar was disgusted in herself as she dropped the weapon but she was disadvantaging herself to keep using it.
Her strategy had to be to avoid his swings and get out of the room. There was only a door and no windows to escape by. She had watched as they came in and noted that no one locked the door. Bathing assistant number two, who was now lying against the bath with her head only an inch above the water, had opened and closed it this time, and Briar saw no key holes and no security keypads. Yet, when Briar got to the door and grabbed the handle it was locked. She jiggled the door letting out a shriek.
How could it be locked?
There was a loud cracking sound as the guard’s staff connected with the back of Briar’s head, and she collapsed into a heap in front of the door.

When Briar woke up she was dressed and on the floor of the throne room. Persephone smiled at her as their eyes met. There was a hate filled satisfaction in the eyes of the woman who claimed to be a goddess. Persephone knew something, and that thing filled her with satisfaction. Briar was certain the knowledge was not something that was going to end well for her.
“We were beginning to wonder if the guard hit you too hard and you were about to die,” Persephone said, lounging back on her throne. “And with the games just beginning it would have been a shame.”
“As rulers of the underworld, surely it makes no difference if I am alive or dead.”
Something passed over Persephone’s face for a moment. Her smile froze, her eyes darted left. She hesitated. And then the look was gone as Hades strode into the room.
Whatever he and Persephone were saying to each other as he approached was lost on Briar. Her attention was firmly fixed on the group that was being led in behind him. These people weren’t dressed as Hades and the others, there was no ancient cosplay to be seen. Only normal modern clothes.
There was an older man. From the state of his clothes and his emaciated state, Briar guessed he was homeless.
Behind him were three children. Two girls and one boy. If she had to guess, Briar would have said the oldest girl was eleven, the youngest eight, and the boy four. They were clearly siblings, all clinging together and trying not to cry. All with scared eyes darting to the guards.
Behind them was a mother holding a newborn baby. She was cradling it close to her chest and trying to shield it as best as she could.
Last, there was another young woman, perhaps fifteen years old. She looked a lot like Briar had at that age. She was covered in bruises that looked like they were days old and she had a haunted look in her eyes that Briar knew all too well. Someone was hurting this girl and regularly.
Briar’s breathing had become loud as she started to get angry. She had to take a slow and deep calming breath before she could look away from the group and back to their hosts. Persephone and Hades stood together by their thrones and they looked gleeful. It was their glee that scared Briar more than anything else.
But it wasn’t fear for herself that she felt.
They could threaten horrific torture, they could hurt her, they could abuse and mutilate her body and Briar would not be scared for herself as she was for these defenceless people that had been herded into the room and now stood by the wall, each terrified.
Briar was not worried for herself, but she would be damned if she was going to let Hades and Persephone hurt these people.
Hades clapped his hands and two men appeared. One was clearly a warrior, no, not a warrior. A fighter. He was big and mean looking with the kinds of scars that came from a fair amount of hand to hand combat, like the type you found in the cage fights in the worst part of most cities.
The other man was definitely not a fighter. He seemed incidental but for the tray of knives he was carrying. Briar eyed them with unrestrained longing. Thoughts dancing through her head like sugar plums, only her sugar plums were murderous little fairies driving blades into Hades’ throat.
“So, what tricks are we doing today?” Briar asked trying to pretend she was fearless. “You got a big spinning circus disc stage left and Muttley here is going to throw knives at me and test my resolve.”
Hades laughed at her and shook his head. “No. Since you enjoy fighting my men so much, entertain us.”
“You want me to kick this guy’s ass?”
“Shall we see if you can? Fight!”
Briar doubted victory here was going to secure her freedom and Hades had made no such offer. Still, Briar wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If Hades wanted to arm her and turn her loose on his men, so be it. And Briar would rather fight him than any of the innocents that had been paraded in to unsettle her.
For a moment Briar hoped that was the extent of it, psychological warfare. That Hades was trying to upset her and scare her with these people. But Briar did not believe in hope so the thought was short lived. She had to prepare herself for the worst of the possible scenarios. Well, as much as one could prepare for it.
Briar picked up the knives and twirled them around her hands as she evaluated this fighter.
Hades clapped his hands and the fight began.

“No. Please. I never beg. I don’t beg, but can we hit fast forward?” Briar’s eyes were pleading as she turned to Nathaniel. Her stomach had twisted into knots as the scenes played out towards the worst moments of her life.
“You wish to stop this now and wake from your journey?” Nathaniel asked in return.
For a moment, Briar nearly said yes. She did not wish to revisit the atrocities that had been committed. Her mouth opened, she paused and then shook her head. No, she had to face these things to find out the truths about herself and her life.
“We do not have to witness the whole thing,” Nathaniel said gently.
“Can we skip the rest and go back to my next visit to the cave room?” Briar asked, already knowing what the answer would be.
Since she knew the answer to that Nathaniel did not reply, instead he wrapped an arm tightly around Briar and the scene shifted and began to play once more.

Briar stood with the old man lying at her feet. She was soaked in his blood, his throat slashed wide open by her blade. Beyond him, three children lay still. If not for the blood you might have thought they were simply sleeping.
They had cried. They had screamed. They had begged. Briar had been doing the same thing in her mind, the only part of her that remained in her control as Hades played with his Briar puppet.
Hades let go of his control and Briar’s body became her own again. She stood for a moment before her legs gave out. She dropped to the ground, sitting in the puddle of blood.
“You are not a god. You are a monster,” Briar murmured so quietly she could barely hear it. She looked around at the blood. Blood taken from innocent lives by her own hand. She could not move from where she sat. She just stayed there, the blood soaking her dress unable to move.
She had never felt more defeated and powerless since she was a teenager. Since her uncle and his best friend had taken everything from her. It had taken years for her to take it back for herself. Now, now Hades had made her powerless again.
God or not, he was all powerful in this place.
“We’re not finished yet.” Persephone’s smile was cruel. She was enjoying this. And it was not just upsetting Briar that pleased her but the bloodshed and the murder too. It seemed like she was getting off on it all. Hades too. Briar had known some sickos in her time but these two were above and beyond.
“You’ve won. What more do you want?” Briar asked lifting her gaze from the blood to look at them. She did not like this feeling of defeat but she liked the feelings of guilt even less.
Briar knew she would never get the images of those children out of her head. The boy, that little boy and his deep brown eyes full of tears and fear.
At the thought of him, Briar’s own eyes filled with tears and bile rose up through her chest to her throat and burned. He was a kid, a tiny little kid. Someone’s little boy…
And his sisters…
His poor sisters watching, knowing what was about to happen. The eldest had tried to be brave, tried to protect her siblings. She had been so brave and she had died in unbearable agony.
Her screams would never stop haunting Briar.
Never.
“Oh, but we haven’t really won. Not yet.” Persephone was beside herself with happiness.
“Then what next?”
Hades moved to the remaining prisoners. At a nod of his head, the teenager was dragged before Briar. The girl should have been crying, any normal person would be. But this was a girl who had learned a long time ago that crying made things worse. A lesson Briar had learned by her age too.
Hades took the baby from the mother who started screaming and fighting to get her baby back. She was restrained by two guards.
“Now the game truly begins. Kill the girl and I will let the mother and this infant live. Kill the girl of your own free will and you save two lives.”
“As if you would let them live after I do it. I’m not an idiot,” Briar glared at Hades.
“You have no reason to trust me but the only chance this baby has to survive is you.”
Hades squeezed the child and it started crying in pain.
Briar nearly threw up at the sound.
The mother went crazy. She was hysterically screaming for her baby while she tried to pull herself and her guards across the floor to it. A smack across the back of the head by one of the guards silenced her.
Hades laughed.
Briar shook her head, she felt sick to her stomach right now. She had always been so confident that no one would break her again. And here she was. “I won’t do it. I won’t kill her.”
“Then all three will die and it will be all your fault. Wouldn’t it be better to know that you saved lives?”
There was a sick logic in Hades’ words. The Greater Good thinking. Two lives for one. One life could not be worth more lives, could it?
“So I take one life and you let the others go?” Briar asked.
“Yes.”
“You swear?”
“I promise.”
“No, don’t promise. I told you to swear it. Swear it on your soul. On your life. On her life.”
“Fine. Fine. I swear it.”
Hades’ reply seemed to anger Persephone but his look silenced any outcry she might have made.
Briar nodded, satisfied. “Give me the knife back and I will take one life. Then you will let the others go.”
“Excellent.” Hades looked so pleased as he waved a hand at one of the guards. The knife that had been taken from Briar was returned.
Persephone sat clapping her hands like an excited child.
Briar took the knife and held it tight in her grip. One life to save the others. She had killed before, she could kill again. Just one life and it was done.
Her hands shook as she stood up and took deep breath after deep breath.
“Oh, hurry up!” Persephone sounded so annoyed that Briar was taking her time.
Briar had no idea what that woman’s damage was but it was severe. No amount of therapy could help her.
Briar exhaled and nodded. She lifted the knife. The poor girl began to scream.
Briar flicked the knife around in her hand and drove it down…
Into her own throat.
“No!” Hades and Persephone both cried out at the same time. Hands grabbed Briar and the knife was removed. The pain vanished and Briar thought she was free. That she had won. One life and the others were free…

Briar was nearly on the ground but Nathaniel kept her upright. His mouth was near her ear as he held her tight. “That is where you think this memory ends but there is more. Listen.”

“She was meant to kill the girl. There should have been no way that happened. There is so much darkness in her. Hadrian said…”
“Hadrian is a fool like Alexander.” Hades cut Persephone off. “We will do this all again tomorrow and she will break. She likes killing. She has revelled in it. It is all there in her memory. When the last part of her humanity breaks for her own sanity she will become one of us. And she will be a beauty to watch in action.”
“You sound enamoured with the half-breed.”
“Make no mistake, Hillet, I will have her by my side and in my bed. You’ve been amusing but you are nothing compared to her.”
Hades’ laughter was drowned out by screeching and the sounds of something shattering into pieces.
“You were nothing when I found you and you will be nothing again,” Persephone yelled. Briar felt an impact in her chest. “And you will never have her. I’ll see to that.”

The voices faded away and soon things began to brighten and move again.

Persephone stood at the entrance to Briar’s cave, a bloodied knife in her hand. She had been waiting for Briar to wake.
Briar woke up in agony. It felt like lines of fire crisscrossed her face and chest. From the bloodied knife in Persephone’s hand, it was obvious what the source of the pain was. Persephone had slashed at Briar leaving deep scarring wounds.
Persephone laughed at Briar’s pain-filled screams.
And then Persephone turned and the door closed leaving Briar in the darkness with her pain. The glowing orb was gone and there was no light at all to be had.
Briar had endured excruciating pain before but she had always been strong in herself at those times. No reason to give up, always a reason to fight and to win. Now she felt broken and helpless, and because of that, the physical pain was unbearable.
She could not even examine the wounds with her arms chained to the wall. Briar was not one for tears usually but sitting there in the darkness she cried. Each tear fell to her cheeks and burned like acid but she kept crying.
Briar had no idea how long she stayed there in the darkness but it felt like days had passed since her tears had dried up. She was broken and she knew the ordeal was not over. She could only imagine what other games her two godly captors would want to play with her next.
And when her despair and pain had overwhelmed her there was a blinding white light and a face within that light that she knew. A face she had not seen since she was nineteen years old. A face she had not seen since she had left him sleeping in their bed. A face she had not seen since she had fled to leave him to have a good and happy life. The life he deserved.
“Alistair?”
“Let’s get you out of here, shall we?”
“Alistair?” Briar was confused, it looked like Alistair but it did not seem like Alistair.
It was a trick. Another game.
Briar shrunk back away from the face, pressing herself against the wall.
“No. No, I won’t play this new game.”
The man with Alistair’s face looked so sad. “I thought you would prefer a face you love. A face you trust. I am here to take you home.”
The man with Alistair’s face reached up and brushed Briar’s cheeks as if he brushed tears from them. Briar tensed for the pain to worsen at his touch but as his hands gently touched her cheeks all the pain vanished.
Briar relaxed. She could not help it. She was so tired and it was such a relief to be free of the pain.
The man with Alistair’s face unshackled Briar and pulled her close to him. He snapped his fingers and a dummy with a blonde wig appeared in the chains.
“Why?”
“Why the dummy or why am I helping you?”
Briar was too tired to answer, she just looked up at him.
“Let’s just say that I live to destroy the plans of those two. Just call me Hermes the trickster. Bane of Hades.”
There were too many Gods in this place, Briar thought as she cuddled close to Hermes.
“Sleep now, child and I will take you to safety.”

The scene stopped and Briar turned to Nathaniel. “You’re not Hermes either.”
“No, though I have met him. Quite an amazing chap, and not really much of a trickster. More, thrice great.”
Briar had no idea what to make of that comment, so she ignored it. “And those two, Hades and Persephone, they were not gods either?”
“No. Not gods. Though I am sure ancient mortals might have thought they were. But no, not gods, and not Hades or Persephone. They are demons, like Lorelei. Purebloods. And they wanted you for their plans.”
“What plans? And why me? I don’t actually have any powers.”
“But you might, is that not why you are on this journey?” Nathaniel asked.
“Well. Yes. Part of it,” Briar admitted. It was not the main reason but it was one of the reasons she was doing this. “They thought I had powers? Or I could get them?”
“Yes. And they were using old tricks to try and wake them and taint your soul further in the process.”
“If I had killed the girl?”
“They would have then convinced you to kill the other two hoping that you would slowly descend into your demon heritage.”
“Pretty good assumption. I’m not exactly a holy pure soul.”
“But you are as much angel as you are a demon. Your soul was not so easily turned.”
“Would I have gotten powers if I’d killed them all?” Briar asked. She found it hard to believe that she was in any way angelic. Though, she had heard about angels being about protection and vengeance. Maybe she was descended from that kind of angel. Lorelei never really talked about him.
“Nothing is certain, but they hoped it would be like the old magic.”
“So, is this why you had me return to this memory? To remember that conversation and realise they weren’t gods?”
“That and two other reasons. One, a warning that these forces are not likely to give up on something they want.” Nathaniel took note of Briar’s frown. “What are you thinking?”
“Just that I bring danger to my family.”
“And do you not think you bring them protection too? With them or not, they will always be your family.”
“No one has ever phrased it like that.” Briar knew that it was true, though. She would always love those people that had become her new family, and so, they were in danger regardless. “And the other reason I had to visit this fresh hell again?”
“You see yourself as a tainted soul, a bad egg who has some good people around her but isn’t one of them. You don’t see yourself as anything good.”
“With good reason.” Briar shrugged.
“Yet, you took your own life to keep others safe.”
“Or I took a coward’s way out.”
“Did you?”
Briar thought about it for a moment. “In most ways. I couldn’t kill again. And I assumed they’d let the others go. They didn’t seem interested in getting their own hands dirty. Just in screwing with me. So, why keep the prisoners.”
Was it more than cowardice and defeat that had led her to try and kill herself? She had never looked at it in any way but that. She couldn’t kill again. Those children. That old man…
It was easier to be gone.
But she had known. She had made Hades, whoever he was, swear that a death, her death, would buy the freedom of the others. It had been a sacrifice she had been willing to make.
What else was she going to discover about herself on this journey? For every good discovery would there be a bad?
A thought came to her and she turned to Nathaniel.
“Will you be going now that your part of the story is done?”
“No. I shall remain as your guide. I was asked to, but I wish to be here too.”
“Who asked you?”
“That will come. Now, if you are ready, it is time to continue. Even if you are not ready, we will move on.”
Nathaniel took Briar’s hand again and the scene began to change.

 

Catch up on the story:

The Bloodied Briar Part 1

The Bloodied Briar Part 2

The Bloodied Briar Part 3 

The Bloodied Briar – Part 3

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.”

 

The Bloodied Bramble Part 1

The Bloodied Bramble Part 2

The not so weekly update

Okay so this was meant to be done on Monday but things did not go precisely as planned as school went back. Sick kiddo on Tuesday had me in mama mode. So here we are today.

After many discussions with people and the poll I had run, it has been decided that the next book published will be the first book of The Faeted Tales series. As you can imagine, Jaidee is delighted since this will be her book. I have no date to give you for when it will be released. I would love to say it will be released on Jaidee’s birthday in August, but we shall see. This is because of one big reason…

I slipped and started a new story.

So, I had this crazy dream revolving around helping a famous person through a PR nightmare because people are not as tolerant as they might claim to be of lifestyle choices. This then combined with me reading through the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book led me to inspiration for a new story. Not only a new story but a new realm that once linked to ours, with some very interesting races in it. Cue me starting to write the story just to get the idea down…and less than a week later I’m up to 28 pages in my notebook all handwritten and a page of plot points waiting to be written. So I estimate I’m between 10,000 and 12,000 words on it and the muse is very keen to keep writing. BY HAND. I had this with Babypire as well, the muse was stubborn and wanted to handwrite first. This would be awesome if I had a typist to get the words into Word but alas, that typist is me.

One day I will be rich enough to pay handsomely an assistant to type up everything from my notebooks. I’ll probably suddenly have another two hundred short stories that can be finished. Today is not that day.

So yes, I am distracted by this new modern fantasy thriller romance. Which also means that The Bloodied Briar’s post will be late too. I had plans to have a post out for Briar each week, I also had plans that the chapters would be 500-1,000 words each. The last two have been over 2,000 and this current one is looking like it will be at least that. It might need to be split in two but I won’t know until I finish writing it. But I will say it will be amazing. See, back three years ago I had the most amazing idea for a storyline to play out on Twitter and Tumblr. Alas, my partner at the time had different ideas for where to take the story and I ended up cutting it super short and it never became what it should have been. Now, thanks to this I get to write the story Briar always wanted. It will be amazing but it needs to be done right, so, forgive me if this chapter takes more than a week to be released. (Which it will because there is no way to finish it and edit it by tomorrow.) It will be worth the wait I promise.

For now, I need to get working on the words and I leave you with a verse/chorus from Resplendent, a song that will feature in the new story.