Disclaimer: As always, not mine, don't sue ;)

PRINCESS

THE BIG SLEEP

"Sleep, child," Hellewise's soft maternal voice drifted in and out of Siris' mind and ears. The soft chanting and the candlelight in the background, she had blocked out a while ago. Any other time and it may have been soothing to her – but tonight all she could feel was guilt and terror.

Siris Fern was the youngest of Red Fern's grandchildren. She did not have the gentlest disposition; she was a fighter, but lately, she had found that she was unable to fight all battles. The decision to fight was an easy one to make; it was obvious to her that survival itself was determined by the will to fight. What was more difficult was to choose a side. That was how she found herself lying prone on a hard and cold slab of stone, deep in a cave, and at the mercy of the Witch clan.

Her eyes fluttered open and met the steady and warm gaze of Hellewise Hearth-Woman, the leader of the clan. Hellewise laid a soft hand on Siris' cheek and leaned in close, kissing both her eyes shut. The soft chanting continued in the background, and Siris felt her thought processes slowing down.

"Sleep, child," Hellewise sounded far away. "It will be like a dream to you, nothing more. When you awaken, the world will be a changed place, and you will find your place within it. May our love, and that of Hecate, Witch Queen, follow you always." Siris' mind continued to slow, but she was never sure whether it ever completely stopped.

Siris lay in her tomb – for how long, she could not tell. Her body was unresponsive to her, and she found that she lacked the will to push herself into complete consciousness anyway. She could not tell whether it was hot or cold in her resting place, but she knew that those hot tears that had gathered in her hairline had dried long ago – although, exactly when, she could not tell either.

There was a growing thrum in her mind and in her ears. Siris concentrated on the feeling – she finally felt like she had the strength to open her eyes and move her limbs – and yet, she made no attempt. Her mind sped up again, and almost in an instant she was aware of her surroundings. More than that – she was aware of people, and her own thirst. A firm hand held hers and she clamped down on it like a vice, she could feel her canines lengthening and parting her lips.

Siris felt a hand brush her cheek, she was tempted beyond measure to turn and draw blood to sate her thirst, but she found it impossible. The hand stayed, and there was never a point in Siris' seventeen years of living, where she desired a meal as much as that very moment.

"Awaken, child," Siris was stunned. For a moment, she even forgot her desperate desire to feed. Her eyes fluttered open, and she gasped in shock at what she beheld.

"Hellewise," she choked on the words that were to follow. The features that she beheld were the same, if not a little bit older. Not much time must have passed; feelings of guilt and terror, which she felt before her sleep, came rushing back to her in an instant. The elderly woman smiled and shook her head.

"Only from a long line of daughters," the old woman said as she indicated to another person. Siris looked out of the corners of her eyes. The thrumming in her ears was soft chanting, which once the elderly woman had indicated, had stopped. A girl, who must have only been slightly older than herself, was seated on the stone slab, opposite to the old woman. Beyond them, a boy was leading in a goat – Siris was relieved.

The boy led the docile creature towards her and she noticed that a small patch had been shaved on its neck. She felt self-conscious because of the many pairs of eyes that were watching her, but she fed rapturously anyway. Thank you, she said in the mind of the three closest to her. When Hellewise had put her to sleep, she had not considered what she would do when she awoke, and she was glad that these people had prepared a meal for her. As she drank from the docile creature, Siris imagined what it would have been like to awaken and live with the agony of hunger, possibly for days before she could have been able to satisfy her appetite.

Before long, she felt a hand on her shoulder, the girl's, gently pulling her away from the animal.

"Please stop, there is no need for you to kill her, there is another." The girl's soft voice cut through her thoughts. She licked the blood from the neck of the goat and saw the wounds close over. The same boy led it away and another boy presented another goat to her, which she again, feasted on feverishly. Several more goats were brought in for her to drink from – each time the gentle pull from the girl stopped her taking more from each creature. At length, she felt sated enough to stop. She looked at the old lady.

"How long was I asleep?"

"Long enough to keep you protected from hardship and suffering, child. However, a time of darkness is fast approaching, and if you do not wake now – you may never have the chance."

"How long?"

"You slept through the fall of the Age of the Witches, the Age of the Vampire, and now we are approaching what could be, the end of the Age of the Human. More than twenty thousand years. Child, who are you?" the old woman who looked like Hellewise was perplexed. Siris knew that the woman knew enough to know what time she was from, but that was where her information ended.

"Siris. Siris Fern." The woman blinked, next to her, she could hear a gasp come from the girl.


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