As she curled up in the tree, the branches wrapped around her like large arms, sheltering her from the night. It’s where she came to relax, to hide, to feel safe. This is where he would meet her, where he taught her what love is, where he made love to her the very first time. She closed her eyes and let the memory wash over her.
Their first kiss, his lips were so gentle and tentative. With such tenderness he laid her back into the curve of the branches; as if they were made to cradle their bodies together. He lay with her, hands caressing her flesh as he bared it to the night air. The bark of the tree was soft, like lying back against cotton sheets on a sturdy bed. The smell of fall filled the air around them, the tree still full of leaves that had just begun to change with the season. She never knew another like him, so tender, so full of warmth and emotion.
The memory left her with warmth inside of her that turned icy as she remembered all that had happened since that night. Her father had found them as they came out of the woods just before dawn, hand in hand. The cold fury breathed through him like the winds before the storm. He brought his rifle up and sighted down it, leveled straight at her lover’s heart. She stepped with a boldness that belied her torn heart between the man who reared her and her true love.
“Lacey Meredith Connor, you betrayed me, you are a disgrace.” She flinched as her father spat the venomous words at her. Kevin placed a hand on her shoulder as if to give her strength. With a flash her father lowered the rifle and backhanded Lacey across the face so hard she flew off her feet. Stunned, he had never struck her before, the pain seared through her cheek and mouth. Just as Kevin went to bend to her aid, her father shoved the muzzle of the gun under his chin. “I think you’ve had enough manhandling my daughter boy.”
The memory continued in slow motion. She sat up and wiped the blood from her mouth. As her father spat more venom and insults at them, he brought Kevin to kneel facing her, hands laced behind his head. He brought a piece of barbed wire that was hooked to his belt. As she watched helpless to stop it, her father wrapped the wire around Kevin’s throat. As if realizing what was about to happen, Kevin looked at her and said, “Lacey, I love you” and the rest was cut off as her father pulled the wire tight against his neck and dragged it across, shredding open his throat.
The blood pumped out of his throat, staining her hands and clothes red as she caught her lover as he fell forward. Cradling his dead body, she looked at her father with tears in her eyes. There was nothing left of the man that had raised her with tenderness, years of laughter and lessons. The man before her was mad as he picked his rifle back up and walked towards her. She turned and ran as fast as her legs would carry her. The first shot missed her by mere inches and she ran harder back towards the woods hoping to lose him before she shared the same fate as her beloved. The last thing she heard was her father screaming, “Whore, you’ve killed us all!” Another shot and there was silence behind her.
It had been five years since her world had been turned inside out. She had run to the only other person she knew, her Aunt Crystal’s home on the edge of town. Covered in her lover’s blood, feet torn wide, and looking like a wild animal broken from her cage, her Aunt’s butler ushered her into the back parlor.
Crystal never cared much for Lacey; she was too carefree and cheerful for her taste. Children and women should be seen and not heard. But it appeared she was the only thing that kept her brother from madness after his wife had died of pneumonia when Lacey was just a year old. For her brother, she tolerated Lacey as one would tolerate traffic on the cobblestone streets of town.
Lacey had just turned sixteen the week before that fateful night. Girls her age were courting and looking for a good husband to settle down with. But she was the daughter of a poor farmer, and had neither status nor any friends with which to travel in that type of circle. Kevin was the son of the neighbor’s field hand and they had grown up together playing between the farms; inseparable from the start. She was always happy and content in her life, never saw herself as less than the apple of her father’s eye, after all, what more did a girl really need?
Lacey knew she should be grateful to her aunt for taking her in that night and for helping field the authorities when they found the bodies of her Kevin and her father. She tried since that night to prove to her aunt that she was appreciative for her generosity. Five long years of service to her aunt, every evening from the moment she woke, until she collapsed in exhaustion the next morning. Lacey learned much about her aunt’s twisted pleasures, as well as the dark secrets that she had fallen into.
Crystal allowed Lacey to stay with her, but told her she would have to earn her room just like the other girls. It was then that she discovered her aunt’s business was entertainment and escorting for the fine gentlemen of the town. “While you are not pretty enough to be an escort, I am sure that you can be serviceable in other ways to the men.” Her aunt sneered at her, Lacey paled; tears welled up in her large eyes. Crystal seemed to enjoy the moment as Lacey started rocking back and forth, shaking her head in denial.
Stammering, Lacey begged her aunt not to force her into this. Crystal stood and looked down at Lacey, “You always did think you were so much better than everyone else you ungrateful whelp.” She spat out, and with a flourish of skirts she turned and went to the door. She paused, looking back at the girl covered in blood and near broken curled on the parlor floor, and a slow smile curled her painted lips. “You want a third option dear niece? Very well, you can become my servant, I suggest you get yourself cleaned up and rested. You will have a long night ahead of you tonight.” With a suddenness that was not human, Crystal was gone.
Crystal was waiting on her when she walked in the door, the usual scowl on her face that she reserved just for Lacey. “You’re late.” She said as she stood there waiting for Lacey’s latest excuse. Lacey had no intention of going pointless rounds with her aunt and brushed past her. Crystal’s hand shot out, gripping Lacey’s arm with inhuman strength. “I’m not done with you niece,” Lacey bristled at the venom in her aunt’s words. Just as Percy, one of her aunt’s guards, entered the room, Crystal’s demeanor changed more quick than the blink of an eye. “I have a special present for you,” she purred at Lacey as she pulled her towards the parlor, “Come Percy, you might be useful.”
Lacey thought she was numb to all of her aunt’s antics by now, but as they entered the parlor, the sight that assaulted her struck her down to her toes. The room was lit by hundreds of candles, the furniture moved off to the sides of the room, and the heavy plush rugs rolled back to leave the hardwood floor bare. Her aunt’s girls were seated in a large circle, blood connecting the spaces between them. A dark figure was standing on the edge of the circle, his black robes dusting the ground around him, holding a large book that seemed ancient. Laying in the center of the circle of blood was her father’s decayed corpse.
Her aunts laughter echoed through the room, “Why child, you look as if you might faint, Percy, help the girl have a seat.” Percy looked almost as ill as Lacey, but he did as Crystal bade him. He took Lacey’s arm and with tenderness led her to the chair and had her sit. He moved his hand to her shoulder to make it appear as if he were holding her there, but he was trying to lend her some strength.
Lacey held herself stiff in the chair and regained her composure as she looked her aunt dead in the eyes and said, “Why aunt, I did not know you were getting me a gift, I haven’t gotten anything for you.” Crystal’s eyes gleamed at her rebellious niece, “Oh no my dear niece, this night is all about you, the last of our family who has a pulse.”
Percy’s hand tightened on her shoulder, fearing for Lacey, she was after all only mortal in a brothel full of vampires. Women vampires no less, with all their jealousy and pettiness. He detested Crystal, but he had been sold off to her for service. He had grown fond of Lacey, she was honest and kind to him. He had watched her since she first came to the house, she had been reserved and quiet. While she kept to herself, she treated him with kindness and honesty, as if he were another human, not just some monster.
“Let me introduce you to our guest here Lacey,” Crystal preened. “He is a high priest of black arts and has traveled to us from a very long distance just to perform a great service to us in giving you this gift.” Lacey arched her eyebrow at her aunt waiting for her to continue. “His price was steep, but I assure you, he is worth it.”
Taking the bait, Lacey asked, “What would this service he is to perform for you, and at what price?” Crystal looked as if she would crow, “Why dear, he is going to bring your father back from the dead, I know how much you adored him.” With a smirk Crystal continued, “And his price is a virgin to return with him to his lands.” Lacey frowned, the last person her aunt would know is a virgin she thought. As the realization dawned on her who Crystal intended to send with him, Crystal practically jumped up and down with glee. She hadn’t told anyone that she had made love with Kevin, so of course she would assume that Lacey was a virgin.
Lacey glanced from the priest to her aunt, as if trying to decide which was the lesser of the two evils. Should she say something now to her aunt, or go with the priest and tell him later? Her aunt mistook Lacey’s indecision as panic, walked to the priest she said, “Please, let us begin.”
Lacey reached the tree panting, struggling to catch her breath. Still unable to grasp what had just happened, her mind reeled to grasp the full concept of all she had just learned. She knew her aunt was twisted and took sick pleasure in tormenting people. But even this was beyond anything she had ever imagined possible. She dragged her battered body up into the comforting arms of the tree and curled up in a little ball and sobbed.
The high priest began the ceremony in an old language she couldn’t understand. The horror and shock of what they were attempting to do still reeling in her mind. Her aunt’s self satisfied grin as she stood next to the priest made her stomach lurch. A bitter twinge of pride pricked at Lacey’s mind, reminding her in the end her aunt would not win, because Lacey wasn’t a virgin. The only question that remained would be at what price?
The girls in the circle started chanting low and swaying with the beat that was orchestrated by the priest. There was a definite magic building in the room, the hair on Lacey’s neck stood on end. The priest walked towards Lacey to the rhythm of the chant, a silver blade in his hand, Percy’s own grip became painful on her shoulder. “No worries now my dear, “her aunt crooned from his side,” he needs just a small bit of virgin blood to complete the spell.”
Again Lacey paled. She wasn’t going to be able to escape her aunt before it was discovered she was not a virgin. Things were about to get very bad. The priests hands were dry, almost leathery, as he pulled her hand into his. The sharp blade sliced her palm, the blood pooled in her hand before the pain registered in her brain. The priest was delicate as he allowed the blood to run over his blade, the look in his eyes was more disturbing than anything she had ever experienced.
As the priest walked towards the circle, cupping the blade, she heard a voice in her head, “Be ready.” At first she thought it was just her knowing the disaster that was about to happen, then Percy’s hand moved a slight breath on her shoulder. “Be ready Lacey.” He had not spoken out loud, only to her mind, and it was something he had never done before. But Percy had always been kind to her, and she knew that whatever was about to happen, he was going to help her.
As the priest dropped the blood on the edge of the circle and drew the blade outward so it reached her father’s corpse, the spell broke. It was as if an audible pop happened and everything just fell apart. Sensing something was wrong, her aunt demanded, “What is wrong, why is my brother not up and walking?!” She stalked towards the priest, her anger growing, “You told me you would bring him back!”
The priest turned and with a wave of his hand silenced her aunt. A heavy silence fell over the room as the priest turned and looked at Lacey, his eyes penetrated her as he brought the blade that still had some of her blood on it, and licked it. Lacey trembled at the gesture, she saw death in those eyes for the betrayal. Holding her breath, her aunt broke the silence with a shriek, “You WHORE!” And all at once things began to move very fast.
The problem with magic is, even if the spell fails, the power will hover, waiting to be used. It doesn’t care who uses it, it has no feelings, no sense of right or wrong, it just wants to be spent. The priest and her aunt both bore down on Lacey, using the power to levitate her and the chair up off the ground, forcing Percy back from her. She was shot across the room and slammed into the wall, the chair shattered, her body tumbled to the ground. Splinters of the chair pierced the bare flesh of her arms and legs.
The priest stalked towards Lacey as she tried to get up, and found she was unable to breathe. It was as if something was being wrapped around her throat and all the air was being cut off. Her eyes flew open wide and she saw the priest and her aunt’s eyes were glowing a fire red. The girls had gotten up from the circle and were salivating at the blood. Everything was closing in fast on her when she heard a guttural sound from across the room.
Percy was glowing a brilliant white color, his body was morphing and growing with the light. It was so bright it hurt to look at him, but you couldn’t help but stare at the beauty of it. Percy was almost as tall as the cathedral ceiling in the parlor now and the light was warm and getting brighter. Lacey realized that she could breathe and everyone’s attention was on Percy as he unfurled the most beautiful wings she had ever seen.
“Run!” She heard it in her head and hesitated for only a second, she couldn’t leave him here to fight her battle. But she was only a mortal after all. “RUN!” His voice roared through her head and she didn’t look back as she bolted from the parlor and out the front door. The sounds of bloodshed and the shrieks of the girls ringing in her ears. She didn’t stop running until she got to the tree that she had come to, her safe haven for all these years.
The moment Lacey had laid her head down in the tree; she was cast into a deep sleep. Images flashed before her from things that had just transpired. Everything was in such clarity that she screamed inside when the dark priest touched her, it felt so real. When he threw her into the wall, everything went black and she slipped deeper into her dream.
Her father swam before her with the madness in his eyes. Hate seethed from every part of his body at her as she walked out of the woods with Kevin hand in hand. This time she saw the razor wire, she wanted to plead with her father, but was unable to change the fate of that night. The wall she had built up around her heart tumbled down and the wounds bled fresh, again everything went dark as she slipped further away.
The next vision that came to her dream was of a tall woman with long blonde hair. She was incredibly beautiful, Lacey felt an instant connection with her. The woman was in a battle with something Lacey could not quiet make out in the dark foggy area she was in. She moved with a grace and speed that had an almost inhuman quality to them. The amulet around the woman’s neck started glowing, raising the hair up on the back of Lacey’s neck. The power filled the area, made the air so thick you could have cut it with a knife. As the glow of the amulet grew, Lacey could see the opponent was not human at all. It was a creature she had never seen before, the massive size of it alone was more than double that of the woman. Hair covered it’s body and eyes that glowed green, reflecting the light of the amulet. The beast appeared to grow weary of the battle and despite the toothy snarl, it became almost docile in action.
The woman pounced on the beast and with a blade Lacey had not noticed before and sliced it’s throat open. On the back swing of the blade, she plummeted it into the creatures chest. With a shudder, it became very still in the area, the fog lifted and the moon washed over the area. Lacey recognized the farm she grew up on. Looking back at the woman, Lacey noticed that she had risen and was walking towards where Lacey was watching from the edge of the field in the woods. Unsure what her role was, Lacey stepped back as the woman passed by her. A faint fragrance of spice wafted in the air behind her and Lacey was drawn to follow the woman.
The woman came to the very tree Lacey was having the dream from. She paused touching the tree and the woman became more solid to Lacey, less dreamlike. Turning to face Lacey the woman met her stare, “Hello my daughter, I have been waiting for you to come here.” Her voice was soft and strong at the same time.
“Y-you are my mother?” Lacey could not hide the tremor in her words.
Smiling the woman said, “Yes my child, I am so proud to finally get to meet you finally. You have become the woman I had hoped you would, so strong and beautiful.” Her eyes became sad as she looked at Lacey. “I am so sorry I was not able to be a part of your life, but for the women of our family, it is not possible.”
Lacey took a step towards the woman, closing the gap enough to reach out and tentatively touch this woman that claimed to be her mother. “Mom?” she whispered, tears pouring down her face. Her mother reached out and caressed Lacey’s cheek and Lacey fell into her mother’s arms crying. “Hush now my precious child, we have very limited time for this.”
Sniffling, Lacey pulled back enough to see her mother’s face, everything was still very surreal to her. Was this just a dream? “It is time for you to learn the legacy of your lineage, what you are about to become.”
“I don’t understand,” Lacey’s mind raced trying to grasp what she was saying.
“I know, it’s very sudden and much to take in. I’ve been watching over you all this time, but was not allowed to interfere. In this space of time, while your body sleeps in this place, I can see you and pass along what you need to start the next chapter of your life.” Her mother paused for a moment, a proud smile that reached to her eyes as she looked at Lacey. “You are a magnificent woman, and that is because of the blood that flows through your veins. Centuries of women warriors, fighting the evil that lurks in the shadows and terrorizes our world. I am so proud of the woman you have become. You are a true fighter.”
Her mother reached to the amulet around her neck, lifting it over her head, “This is the symbol of the power of our lineage, it will help you as you continue to learn and grow.” She placed the amulet over Lacey’s head, letting it rest around her neck. “It will protect you when you need it most. This is the blade of our family. It has been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years now. Hold it true and it will guide you in what you need to do.” She held Lacey’s hand as she placed the hilt of the blade in her hand, their hands closing around it.
Something changed, the feeling of power and wisdom being handed down in this private ceremony. Lacey felt a strength come over her, and a sense of peace she had never known before. “I do not understand Mother, but I will do my best.”
“Things will be very different for you now. Percy will be here soon, listen to him. He will train and guide you where I cannot.” That sad smile came over her face again. “It is time for me to go now.” She reached out with her hand and touched Lacey’s face again, the scent of spices filling her with an overwhelming sense of love and peace. “I love you Lacey.”
“Lacey.” she heard her name called, but no longer by her mother. Sitting up she rubbed the dream from her eyes and found Percy standing there before her. The amulet was around her neck, and the blade by her side. She whispered, “I love you too mom.”
Lacey trained for the next two weeks with Percy, the long hours and grueling tasks took a toll on her small body. Through all the bruises and scratches she was a diligent student, never once complaining. Having grown up on a farm, Lacey knew a fair amount of necessities to survive; Percy took that knowledge and nurtured it.
Pausing for a break, Lacey finally got up the nerve to ask, “May I ask what your role is in all of this, other than my trainer and guardian that is?” She tried to slip a peek sideways at him. He was so kind to her, she knew nothing about him, but didn’t want to risk upsetting him with the constant questions that bubbled to the top of her brain.
Percy stiffened slightly, he knew the question would come, it always did. He really liked Lacey a lot, she did her clan proud. He knew she was incredibly strong and intelligent, and that she would take whatever was thrown at her and adapt the best way she could. She had proven that before the night she finally met her mother and received the amulet.
“Over the centuries I have been guardian of the Rose clan. I have served all of the Rose women from training and education down to overseer and protector.” Percy shook his head, not feeling right giving her the same speech he had given so many before her. He vowed she would never know the true depth of the things he had done and been required to do for all the women before her. To him, Lacey was different; she was special, delicate, and vulnerable. She was the most pure Rose to come from her family for longer than he could remember. No, he decided, he would not lose Lacey to the dark curse like he had the others.
“It has been my duty to protect and train each new daughter when the time came for her to come into her powers. To help them understand their gift and what it means to be a Rose clan descendant.” His chest grew heavy having to hide from her the truth, but her spirit had been through enough turmoil, he had to save her from her fate. He looked at her and her eyes were wide with curiosity, “Just how old are you Percy?”
He laughed at that question, he couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed like that and it was deep and hearty. “I am old as time itself, the Gods and Goddesses created me to be what you see before you.” He reached out and caught her as she stumbled over her feet with that information. Laughing as she peered up at him trying to see some sign of old age, “Don’t be deceived by looks Lacey, many of the things you will fight are just as old as I am, and just as strong as you are.”
Taking the opportunity at his vulnerability with her, she spun around with light speed and swept his feet from under him. Landing with a loud grunt, he looked at her surprised. “Don’t underestimate me Percy, just because I am tiny doesn’t mean I cannot hold my own,” she said triumphantly. She caught the flash of movement of his feet as he went to bring her down with him and the amulet got warm to the touch, her body seemed to fly as she jumped up and over his foot to tumble down in a neat summersault, coming back up on her feet on the other side of him.
“Very good!” Percy said with pride. “I think it is time to take you out tonight for your first battle.” The warmth radiated through her body and she felt strong, looking down, the amulet pulsed with a deep crimson glow against her pale flesh. The strength of what she felt was centuries of warrior ancestors flowed through her body, and she knew her purpose. Percy hid his eyes and prayed to those that made him that he would be able to keep her from the curse that haunted him in every fighter since the dawn of time. Please, this one is special.