Disclaimer: The 10th Kingdom characters and places potrayed within are the property of Simon Moore and the actors who played them. All other characters are my own invention.
Authors Notes: This is a sequel to "Once Bitten" and "Dark Moon Brother", both listed on this site. If you haven't read these stories, you won't understand what is going on in this one! If you do wish to read them, then please don't read anything of this one first, because major plot points are given away in the first chapter! Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride! This story is complete, with a chapter to be posted every day.
Cheers, Karen :)
Circle Of Sisters
1. What Lies Hidden
Time was not usually an issue for those outside of life, but the witch knew that yet another year had passed her by. Long she had lain, mostly undisturbed, alone with her thoughts, which were in effect her only remaining source of true power and control. The lust for these things had not dimmed with the seasons, nor bodily death. She recalled now that very hour, her wretched body at last releasing her soul (and yes, she did have one, despite all things done to her) to dwell here in the darkness. All her hopes had rested with the young woman, but now that student was herself dead. The witch snarled in the darkness as she remembered reaching out to the woman on that day her daughter had struck her down.
"My Christine. My powerful successor! What has happened here? Why have all our plans gone astray once more?" she had called through the ether. The light had been as blinding as before, and she had turned her face from it. The spirit of Christine had wavered uncertainly as all newly created ghosts do, unsure of what had happened to it. The witch had reached out, grasping at the nothingness of the apparition.
"Come back with me then, I bid you. Join your power to mine. Let us rest, recover. Another opportunity will present itself. Maybe in this very child that has slain your body" she had whispered in the ear of Christine. But she had overplayed her hand then. Christine had turned away from the light for a moment, and the witch had chuckled in delight at the new power coming her way. But it was not to be. Christine had raised her face to look her tutor in the eye, and the witch had seen there that the commonly known 'Evil Queen' of the 4th Kingdom had found the inner peace denied her for so long. She had not transferred her physical corruption to the spiritual as the witch had.
"You would do to my daughter that which you did to me?" Christine had whispered, but boldly now, no longer the deferential young woman that the witch had become used to.
"But yes. Look. Even now she lies weeping over your body. Think of all that guilt, ready to be tapped. She would be a worthy successor to us. She would not be able to resist you, my Christine. Let us empower her, together" the witch had replied, coaxing. But the countenance of Christine had glowed suddenly as she smiled.
"Oh no, Hera. Your influence stops with my death. My daughter weeps, certainly, but those very tears are even now cleansing my wicked soul. Virginia has opened my eyes to my own corruption. Never will I go that way again, and neither will my child, nor her children". With that, the ether had blazed suddenly with light, and the witch had cowered before it, cursing the source of it, the emptiness that surrounded her now. Christine had gone. Her most apt pupil, the one she had invested so much time and energy into, had simply vanished into the afterlife with nary a backwards glance. The witch had seethed with anger.
"You are a fool, Christine! Think that I cannot accomplish my goals without you?" she had screeched aloud in the void, hearing her own words echo over and over. Someone had laughed quietly then, a young girlish giggle. Hera cursed the day she had first heard it. Withdrawing from the place, she had returned, defeated, back to the crypt where her body lay, the body that she had ensorcelled to decay only at the slowest possible rate. But decay it would, eventually, and what then would become of Hera? The witch did not know.
Since that day she had kept only the barest awareness on the world above. She knew that the girl Virginia had prospered, finding love with the traitorous half-wolf. She watched with a detached interest as the girl's belly swelled and the Moon Goddess came forth to Bless the cursed child when it had slithered forth from it's mother. Family units were the hardest to destroy, Hera knew, and this one had not the slightest chink in it's emotional armour. Nothing for her subtle influence to find a foothold. None of her whisperings had reached the ears of Wolf and Virginia during the past turn of the seasons. Even Snow White had lessened her pathetic protection of the family of late, withdrawing to the company of more exalted beings, leaving the girl and her lover to their fate. And for a while, as their cub grew strong and their lives prospered, it seemed that nothing would ever interupt their sickly happiness. But, as was the way of the world (and Hera knew all about the pattern of lives), something unexpected had happened in that little cottage by the forest.
Hera had only known of the commotion when a spiritual minion had informed her of the prescence of the girl in the void, her life hanging by a thread, waiting on the ever heroic half wolf to save it once again. Hera left her crypt, meaning to go at once to the place, but had found herself barred quite effectively by another presence. The old woman from the strange 10th Kingdom had scowled fiercely at Hera as she approached and the spirit-Virginia had remained ignorant of the whole exchange.
"Ah ha, I was wondering what was taking you so long, earthbound witch" the old woman had taunted Hera. "Are you losing your touch then, dearie?" she had continued, grinning from ear to ear as Hera tried unsuccessfully to broach the barrier.
"Do not think to cross me, old crone" Hera had threatened, but it was an empty gesture as they both knew. Hera would be denied access to the vulnerable Virginia-spirit. But then Hera didn't quite believe that the girl would die here anyway. She had forseen always a long life for her, at any rate, with many trials. An opportunity to get to the girl would come eventually, she had reasoned, but she had not expected it to be so soon. Virginia was after all in that cycle of her life when, traditionally, life was kinder to women. Virgin, Mother, Crone. The three phases of a woman's life. The more portents surrounding a woman, the greater the tests. All knew this. As the Virgin, this girl had faced tremendous upheaval. She had been uprooted from her comfortable life and thrust into a wild adventure, learning her own strengths and weaknesses. She had effectively controlled the progress of her love affair with the dangerous suitor, holding him at bay until the moment of her choosing. She had confronted the corruption of her own mother and defeated it, yet not without grief and renewed loss. Hera had been frankly amazed at the girl's progress through the test, even going so far as to admire her mettle during their brief encounter in her crypt. Something big must be planned for this Virginia, she had thought at the time, to cause her such pain and fear in the quest for self-knowledge. Hera wanted to be a part of that something big, yet she felt that those days of reckoning might be far off.
But now, barely a year into the second phase of her life, that of the Mother, the air swirled once more with the whiff of advancing trials and tribulations for Virginia. Hera could scarcely believe her good fortune. Virginia had not come fully into her awareness of the role and power of the Mother. She was too young still, unprepared. Vulnerable. Especially now, when something had happened to her physical self. Hera did not fully understand just what had occurred, she only knew that Virginia had undergone the first part of a major change. It was brewing under the surface of the girl's skin. A transformation. Hera wondered if it were connected to the creature that had brought her so close to death a few nights ago. She cast her mind wide, sensing for the man, the stranger from the 10th Kingdom. Almost at once she felt the tumult of his mind. Hera almost swelled with the guilt she sensed radiating from him. Ah yes, guilt was the most effective tool when used properly. She withdrew into herself, focussing. So much energy to spend now. She hoped it would be worth it. Carefully, a thin beam of her awareness formed itself within her mind. It was so much harder now with the brain decaying, even as slowly as it was. After a time, she had garnered enough focus to leave her body and she passed up through the roof of her decrepit hut and out over the expanse of the swamp. She hovered a moment, homing in on the man, smiling to see that he wasn't all that far away, and alone. She came to him as he huddled for shelter under an old mossy log, still in the disenchanted forest. A wet, bedraggled creature he was now, his body raging with fever and infection from a great wound in his back. In his stupor, he turned his head slightly and she knew with a thrill that he saw her. Perfect. She knew he beheld her as the great beauty she once had been and she forced a smile to her lips.
"Are you in pain, child?" she asked. He nodded once and she saw the bitterness in his eyes. She held out her hand, allowing herself to disappate with the breeze as he reached for it.
"Then come to me" she said softly. She went back to her corpse, satisfied that the seed she had planted in this man's mind would lead him to her. She made her dead lips move.
"We will be having company soon. See that all is made ready" she said through cracked and rotting teeth, watching as the man with the missing eye leapt to obey her.
Roses were the most magical of things, Virginia thought. Each one unique, a tiny world contained within itself, each one a provider of sustenence, shelter, and beauty. She was sitting cross-legged on the grass in the front garden, watching the morning dew on the buds and leaves burning off with the rising sun. She reached up to draw down a great crimson bloom, breathing in it's spicy sweet scent. Never had the scents of such things captivated her as they did this day. But then again, never had she paid that much attention to them. Now, scents and smells crowded her nostrils, each beckoning, tantalising, taunting her to identify them. Virginia shook her head slightly in puzzlement. Her enhanced senses obviously did not come with their own instruction manual. Roses at least were easy to identify and they inadvertently screened out some of the more strange smells to be found on any farm. She half smiled at herself. Here she was, getting picky already. Only a few days had passed since she had been marked by the werewolf Elias and since that first awakening, a strange calm had settled over her. She supposed that the calmness might in itself be a part of the disease process, a way of keeping the newborn lycanthrope from leaping off the nearest cliff. She tried to recall if Elias had ever described it that way. It was a euphoric sensation, at any rate, but then Virginia knew next to nothing about the physical processes that had gone on in her body since that night and she suspected that Elias had garnered little knowledge from his maker either.
She shifted a little, restless again. The great gaping wound left on her torso a few nights past was healing well, with some of the stitches starting to disappear already under the new flesh. She could walk without difficulty, but some sitting positions were uncomfortable still, the slashed muscles complaining as she unknowingly hindered their reconstruction work. Virginia felt like a work in progress, except that someone had thrown out the original plans and replaced them with something completely different. Yet, how different was she, really? Her mind was still her own, that she was sure of. She was still Virginia, a strong capable woman, a loving mother, a cherished mate. A monster. Virginia shivered despite the warm morning sun. No, never call yourself that, she told herself firmly. Not that word. But then, what else? Werewolf? Lycanthrope? She rolled the words silently in her mouth, not liking them, but accepting that she would have to get used to them, for now anyway. Or maybe forever. Her heart pounded a moment at the thought of spending the rest of her life like this. The trouble was, of course, that right now, sitting in the sun, surrounded and feeling a part of the vast natural world, her new condition didn't seem all that bad a thing. Again, she suspected that the disease process was at work, ensuring it's own survival, but did that mean that it was a living, sentient thing with it's own plans? Had it conciously resisted the magics worked upon Elias?
She wondered where he was, her unwitting creator. Wolf had left him in the forest, not willing to drag him back here against his will. Wolf had meant to go back for him, she knew, and yet some days had passed and he had shown no inclination to do so. Virginia couldn't blame Wolf for his reluctance, any more than she could bring herself to feel anger towards Elias. It made her think about fate all of a sudden. Wolf was a great believer in fate, she knew. He saw signs and portents in everything and was generally much more accepting of things than she was. And yet, he had fought hard for Virginia's life. He had stepped up and taken fate out of the equation, using resources and careful planning to ensure the result of his choosing. Virginia wondered if he felt something like superstitious fear that he would somehow be punished for his interference. Maybe he thought that her becoming a werewolf was exactly that. He had been typically silent on the matter, but that would have to change soon, she realised. What happened to her affected him and Caelum. But she knew he had been watching her closely since they realised what had happened. Although he usually kept her at a certain level of awareness (he knew just where she was most of the time, and what she was doing), Virginia had definately noticed an increase in his observation of her, and he was not even trying to be subtle about it either. His green eyes followed her everywhere. They had sparkled at her in the darkness of their bedroom when she had returned from the bathroom, they had roved back and forth over her at breakfast, watching every little movement, gesture. When she had stared back pointedly at him, letting him know she was aware of his scrutiny, he had just smiled secretly and continued on.
Virginia wondered whether she really did appear all that different. Elias had displayed no outward signs of being a werewolf, no long fingernails and hairy palms, and neither did she (thank heavens!), but then even Virginia had noticed his mannerisms as being wolf like and that had been before she even knew what he was. Did Wolf find her more attractive now, or less? Putting herself in Wolf's place, she supposed that he might find her new skills and senses exciting, just as if he had mated another half-wolf instead of a human woman. But he had never reproached or belittled her humanity, her lack of awareness; rather she felt that it gave him an extra sense of responsiblity for her safety. Virginia knew that his pride in his ability to look after her had been dealt a sore blow, but she was infinately glad that he hadn't been there that night. He would have launched himself at the werewolf without a second thought and probably have been killed for his effort, or worse, they could both be sitting here visualising what was going to happen to them one month from now. She laughed quietly at the thought. Wolf was bad enough at full moon time and she could only imagine how cranky he would be had he the werewolf in him as well. Which raised another issue altogether. When would she change anyway? At the new moon, when she had been first made, or the full moon? If it was the full moon, then she had less than two weeks to prepare for it, however that might be done. Did she want to change at all? She stared back up at the rose bush. Beautiful as it was, it hadn't really helped her decide what to do next. If she had any decision to make, that is. Even if she wanted out of this whole thing, what could really be done? Elias had tried, and failed miserably, to cure himself. Magic couldn't be trusted to undo what had been done to them. Virginia sighed and reached to snap the stem of the huge bloom, wincing suddenly as a stray thorn jabbed into her palm. She stared as the tiny drop of blood swelled out of the wound. A sweet, coppery scent, yes, that was the scent of blood she thought to herself. Then she remembered Snow White. Had not Snow's own mother pricked her finger, and in the drops of blood that fell, foreseen the fate of her unborn daughter? Virginia stared hard at the devious appearance of the rose and then, in a fit of sudden anger, she shredded it to bits.