“How come Nix doesn’t want me going to this ceremony tonight?” I glanced at Rupert in the mirror before I turned back to look at myself.
A long black cloak hung over my shoulders and wrapped around my body. It was a soft heavy fabric that kept my body heat in. Along the edge of the cloak golden stitching was sewn in. There was no specific pattern to the gold stitching. It was just enough that the light would catch it and cause it to glitter.
“She wouldn’t say.” He shrugged his shoulders as he sat on the edge of my bed.
“Maybe it’s because I really shouldn’t be there.” I turned to face him. “I’m not fey.”
“I want you there. Nix is the only one that is opposed to it.”
“Are you sure?” I moved closer to him. “I really don’t want to go if I’m not welcome.”
“Trust me. It’ll be fine.” He reached out and grabbed my hand. “Come here.” He pulled me towards him.
I moved in and straddled his lap. I wrapped my arms around his neck before I leaned down and planted a soft kiss on his lips. He smiled up at me as his hands moved beneath the fabric of the cloak. I felt the rough skin of his calloused fingers against my bare skin.
He looked at me surprised. His hands travelled over my hips and down my legs before he began to move the opening corners of the cloak to the side.
“Are you-” He began.
“Completely naked?” I smiled. “Yes.” I let go of his neck and released the golden clasp up at my neck. The cloak pooled down to the ground, leaving me exposed on top of him.
I heard him let out a soft groan as his hands moved up my stomach and over my breasts.
“You kill me.” He leaned up and captured my lips with his. I smiled against his mouth before I pushed him back against the mattress.
“Ditto, baby,” I whispered against his lips.
He let out a small laugh before he rolled us over. His hands came up and pushed away the hair from my eyes.
“You’re so beautiful.” He said before he pressed his lips to mine. Leaving my response left unspoken.
I stood beside Rupert huddled under the layers of my clothing and black cloak. I had on thick dark pants and tall black boots. Under my cloak, I wore a thick wool sweater and a wind jacket. I had my long hair tied back in a thick braid to keep it from blowing in my face. I secured it by keeping the large hood over my head.
I glanced at Rupert out of the corner of my eye. I kept quiet, like everything else around me. There were seven of us heading out tonight. Myself, Rupert and Nix. A couple from town that has been struggling for a child will now be bringing one home, and finally the two guards of the gate. Those two I had remembered from the night that Rupert had taken me back to Emerald City.
We stood on the narrow path. Each in pairs of two, exactly like it had been when I had entered this place. The two guards stood at the front on either side of Nix. I looked up at the trees that surrounded us. The tops swayed in the cold breeze, but nothing else moved. I watched as the light began to grow between the two large trees. The soft whispers from the guards and Nix could be heard. Their words were spoken in a language that I did not understand. Nix moved her hands out in front of her and mimicked the same pattern of movements the guards were making.
I watched her in awe. The movements were just as beautiful as the first time I had seen them. The golden veil formed a few feet away from them. Directly between the two large trees that swayed a little faster than the rest of the trees around us.
Nix moved to the side to allow the couple that were going with us to move through the veil first. They held the hands of each other while they moved through the warm magic. I felt Rupert loop his fingers between mine and step forward. As we moved closer I could feel my heart begin to beat faster in my chest. My nerves were beginning to form. This would be the first time in four months that I would be leaving this realm and going back to my own.
I looked over at Nix, who was staring at me as we moved to step into the veil. Her golden eyes seem to be shining brighter than normal. They were narrowed in a glare, her lips were pressed together in disagreement. It was clear that she didn’t like this idea. I just wish I knew why.
Before I could comprehend what was happening, Rupert stepped through the door. The heat of the magic danced around us. It twinkled around our heads before it circled around our hands. I felt the soft touch of the orbs on my skin before they floated away and we moved to the other side.
I squeezed my eyes closed while I took a deep breath. The air felt different, cooler, damp. I counted to three in my head before I opened my eyes. My gaze met Ruperts. His violet eyes were staring deep into mine. He stepped closer to me and ran his hand over the side of my face. I nodded my head and let out a soft sigh. I knew he was checking on me, wanting to know that I was okay.
He stepped away and turned to join the couple that had gone through first. Instead of following him I turned back to look at the door. Nix and the guards had already come through. They were closing the door, the light that it had granted us was dwindling from sight. I turned to watch Nix. Her hair was hanging down her back with a few small braids down the sides and back. She turned to look at me. She pulled her hood over her head, but her eyes still shined in the shadow that covered her face.
I stepped to the side and allowed her to move past. Her movements were quick and light. Her steps barely made a sound against the sticks and soil under our feet. We moved quickly and quietly in the darkness of the night. The stars were high in the sky but slightly covered by the clouds. The moon would show its face every now and again but mostly stayed hidden.
My heart was in my throat the whole time. I wasn’t sure what to expect on this side of the ceremony. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Nix there. She was angry, I could see that. Her disapproval of me being a part of this was clear. Her emotions left me uncertain that I had made the right choice by joining the ceremony. Everything about this night was leaving a sinking feeling in my stomach, a feeling that I couldn’t explain.
I looked over at Rupert. He was a few paces ahead of me. Clearly not worried that at any moment I could leave this trail and him behind. His confidence in me was heartwarming. As if sensing my gaze on him he turned back and smiled at me. Like Nix’s eyes, his were bright under the shadow of his hood. The warm hues of violet momentarily reminded me that everything would be okay.
He reached out his hand for me to grab. I took a few quick steps to catch up with him. I snaked my fingers between his and moved in step with him. He leaned down and kissed the side of my face before we continued to move with the rest of the group.
We had been walking for about two hours and the closer we got to the hill the more I wanted to stop and run. My stomach was in a painful knot. I wanted to vomit, something was going to happen. I could feel it, I just didn’t know what.
We stopped a few yards from the base of the hill. I looked ahead, taking in the details of it. Details that I had once missed in a panic to find a crying child. The hill was a grassy hill that was filled with towering trees and low growing shrubs. The light that had plagued my dreams so long ago was not there. The golden light had yet to be called to this place.
I stood there as I watched the guards spread out and walk to the base of the hill. Nix moved up the middle. They moved slowly up the hill, the golden white glow came from their hands as they continued to move. The magic stayed low to the ground, dancing against the tips of the blades of grass.
My eyes caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to Rupert as he moved to the base of the hill. I moved to walk with him, but he turned back quickly as if he had just remembered I was still there.
“Stay here. I have to move around the base of the hill. Stay with Nix.” He whispered before kissing me quickly and moving off to the side of the hill.
I wanted to protest and go with him, but I knew the importance of these ceremonies and I didn’t want to give Nix a reason for me to never leave the gates again.
I watched as his tall, dark frame moves into the darkness of the tall trees. I swallowed the lump that was growing in my throat and turned back to watch Nix. They stood close to the top of the hill. They turned back and looked at the three of us standing below. The couple, whose names I was never told, began to move up the hill. I followed suit but stayed a few steps back.
A strong cold breeze blew from behind me. I turned to look back. The golden orbs that were dancing below in the grass now rushed to the sky. They left a dusty trail behind them, it moved much like the veil did when we entered this world. I watched as the golden light moved together to cast a dome over the tops of the trees and down to the bottom of the hill. I stood inside the dome that was created.
I took a deep breath to try and calm myself. I balled my hands into fists and wrapped my arms around myself. I tried to keep my breaths even as nausea began to bubble in my tight stomach. I moved slowly up the hill hoping that this would be over soon.
I leaned against a tree for support as I looked back down at the valley below. Everyone had made it there already. I watched as Nix danced around the base of a fallen tree. I watched her as she moved to pick up a small bundle from the large hole in the tree trunk. The moment her arms wrapped around the baby I heard its cries. She looked up at the couple who stood across from her. She moved the bundle from her arms into the open arms of the woman. Nix took her hands and touched the foreheads of the woman, her partner and then finally the baby.
The woman pushed her hood back from her head and released the clasp that held her cloak around her shoulders. It fell to the ground and left her in a white nightgown. She turned to face her husband. He smiled at her before he pulled on the strings that held her gown together at the front of her bust. I watched them as her husband pulled back her dress to expose her breasts. The crying baby nuzzled its head into her chest before latching his mouth onto her nipple to feed.
The husband stepped closer to his wife before he wrapped his arms around them. They stood facing each other, their foreheads pressed against each other and Nix began to recite the spells the language that she had used at the gates.
A golden bubble formed over them as the magic began to move through the body of the woman. The golden magic filled her veins and pooled to her breast to feed the child the magic. It was a sight that was similar to the first ceremony I had seen.
As the magic grew brighter around them the wind began to pick up. The cold wind blew against my skin, leaving a stinging pain across my cheeks. My hood blew from my head, it fell against my back. The light that was circling around the new family below was blinding. I looked away as it burst into a million particles and fell towards the now sleeping child.
I watched wide-eyed as Nix began to speak her words against the loud howl of the wind. Her voice was loud, carried by the wind. Her golden eyes that glowed beneath her hood snapped to mine. I let out a soft gasp as my knot in my stomach exploded. The golden light that had begun to pool at the feet of the parents left the ground and came barrelling towards me.
I pressed myself against the trunk of the tree and turned my head away as it hit my body. My breath escaped out of my lungs. My eyes shot open as my back arched in an unhealthy way. My mouth opened as the pain boiled over my body. I felt like my spine had been severed, my legs and body were completely paralyzed. I couldn’t move as my body lifted a few feet off the ground before I crashed back down to the cold soil. I laid on the damp grass, my body twisting in ways it shouldn’t be. My lungs burned in my chest, desperate for me to breathe. I felt my fingers claw into the ground as air finally entered my lungs and an ear-piercing scream passed my lips.
I felt something wrap around my body, lifting me from the ground. My eyes moved to the shadow that hunched over me. I reached up and touched the face of my unknown rescuer. I couldn’t see anything. Black spots covered my unseeing eyes. The fire that burned inside me exploded and left an unimaginable pain. I felt like each bone in my body was quickly breaking, healing and breaking again. I could hear nothing but the screams that were stuck in my head as my lungs once again stopped pulling in air.
The blackness covered my eyes, I felt my mind cave in on itself. My screams slowly felt farther and farther away before I was greeted with nothing but silence.
“Ella my love.”
“Mama?” Ella-Rose rubbed her small hands against her sleepy eyes.
“Come with Mama.” The woman scooped up the little girl. The woman moved quickly across the room. She pulled a thick wool blanket off the back of the chair that sat in the corner of the room. She quickly tucked the blanket around the sleepy girl that hung onto her mother like a baby monkey.
“Where are we going, Mama?” Her voice was groggy as she spoke.
“Shh baby. You gotta stay quiet for me okay?” The woman turned her head to look down at the small redhead that was cuddled into her shoulder. “I promise I’ll explain later okay.”
Ella-Rose stayed silent and looked over her mom’s shoulder as she quickly moved down the dark hallways. Her mom made so many twists and turns that she didn’t even know where they were going.
“Ella I need you to listen to Mama for a moment.” Her mother set her down on the ground. Her toes curled as they touched the cold grass. “You’re going to spend some time with Auntie.”
The little girl looked at her mother confused. “Will you come too?”
“No baby. Mama can’t come.” Her mother’s voice cracked as she spoke. “Mama’s in a little trouble but I will see you soon.”
“I don’t want to go without you.” Ella-Rose began to cry.
“I know baby. You have to, I need you to go with Auntie where you will be safe.” The woman got to her knees in front of her daughter. “It’ll just be for a little while. You’ll have lots of fun.”
“Will Rupert be there too?” The little girl looked up at her mother with hope in her eyes as she asked about her dear friend.
“No baby.” Her mother tucked her daughter's hair behind her ears. “You’ll see me again soon baby.” She wrapped her daughter in her arms for a tight hug. Tears poured down her cheeks as she held her daughter one last time.
“Be a good girl for Mama, Ella-bug. You’ll come to see me again soon.” Her mother stood back up and nodded to a person that stood behind Ella.
“Mama I don’t want to go.” Ella looked at her mother before she turned to look at the hooded figure behind her. “Don’t make me go, Mama.” She turned and reached her arms out to her mother. “I don’t want to go with Auntie.” She cried.
“I’m sorry baby. Be a good girl. Mama loves you.” Her mother kissed her cheeks and turned away from her.
“Mama!” Ella-Rose cried out as arms scooped her up off the ground. She fought against the tight hold of her aunt. “Mama!” Tears poured down her cheeks, unknowing that matching tears poured down her mother’s cheeks as well.