There was little real edible vegetation on CE, mostly ferns and nutty things. If I felt like an adventurous hunter, dinosaur meat was an option. I didn’t much like my chances with that one though, and even half the water-dwelling creatures made me second guess my love of cooked animal flesh. Eggs were plentiful as well, but after that first encounter with the raptor I wasn’t keen on repeating my efforts. The Cretaceous period would not have been a good place to be vegetarian, and God help you if you were vegan. The pantry held very few coffee beans, there was no milk, and vodka was low. Beth had already been disparaged in-absentia for not stocking up better. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I found a dairy cow wandering around the airship at some point as roughly a third of the Pleiades was yet to be mapped. Between exploring both the ground and the ship, I had been working my way through the journals left behind by previous Chronians, seeing what kind of misadventure I was in for. One, an ancestor named Catalina, had been forced to face the Minotaurs maze, and been tossed out of the airlock of a prison transport in the middle of space. That was something I was not keen on experiencing for myself. It reminded me of a conversation topic Beth and I had touched on in the infirmary the second time she had put me in there….
‘What happens if we die before the next Chronian is ready?’ I had just finished the soup Beth had given me.
She looked up from her tablet, where she had been tapping away for the past ten or so minutes, and blinked several times.
‘We don’t.’ She said, putting her head back down.
‘But what if we get shot in the head, or have a limb chopped off, or get burnt at the stake?’ My voice pitched higher with the confusion I was feeling.
‘We can’t die, only once the next Chronian is chosen, of age and transitioning.’ She had sounded a little aggravated.
‘But how does that work? Are we bullet proof?’ I’d persisted, getting annoyed with her.
‘Don’t be silly.’ Beth scoffed.
She ignored my question.
‘Then how?’ The growl that slipped into my voice surprised me.
‘I don’t know, exactly.’ Beth admitted with a frustrated shout.
We both stared at each other blankly for a moment, neither having noticed just how much tension had built between us.
‘Look,’ Beth started, she combed her hair back from her face with her fingers. ‘none of us have figured out how it works– several other Chronians have been scientifically minded as well and even with all of their research to go off there is no clue as to how it works. The best any of us has come up with is ‘magic’ and I can’t accept that. It’s not quantifiable.’
Beth glared at her tablet, and I finally understood her reluctance to talk about it. She was angry with herself for not being able to conclusively prove WHY we didn’t die. My spirits sank with the awareness that if multiple Chronians had yet to figure out anything about the curse then how the hell was I going to break it? Because I WAS going to figure it out, and I WAS going to get back to my own time. I opened my mouth to ask, again, what happened if we were mortally wounded but Beth beat me to it.
‘If you get shot, or lose a limb, or – provided you can’t get yourself back to the Pleiades before then – are burned at the stake your destroyed flesh will atomize, and reform. Bullets aren’t too painful, limbs will be hard to handle but reforming your entire body is an extremely painful experience that I do not recommend trying at all. you will be fully conscious throughout the whole process which, depending on what kind of damage was done, can take up to three weeks to repair. At that length of time, you can expect to Shift while you’re healing, and that is more painful than anything you can ever experience. Anna told me that it was worse than a paper cut to the clitoris. I haven’t had the displeasure of that experience but I came awful close once, down to the warning tremors, and that was bad enough.’
Beth cringed in memory and I was reminded that I am a clumsy oaf ninety-nine percent of the time, and therefore the likelihood that some terrible fates were waiting for me was reasonably high.
‘However, after the next Chronian appears things are a bit different.’ Beth continued. ‘If you’re mortally wounded during the transition between Chronians you die. For good. If you manage to survive the transition period you simply cease to exist. I’m not sure if the soul remains, there’s a lot of debate on whether the stain of a curse, warranted or unwarranted, makes it impossible to enter heaven or the catalog of souls for rebirth. Anna was caught by a falling beam as we finished emptying the ruins of the Estate. It wasn’t a pretty death, she lasted a few minutes after the splintered beam severed her in half and impaled her against the floor. I don’t want to go like that.’
Beth looked haunted, as though that was barely the tip of the iceberg where Anna was concerned. I didn’t want to push any further, I wasn’t in any state to deal with a sniffle let alone a full on breakdown.
She’d been missing for several hours — nothing but static on the intercom — before I realised what had happened. She’d been on borrowed time since I stepped foot on the ship. My stomach churned as though stuck on the fifty eighth circuit of a neverending rollercoaster, knowing I was completely on my own now.
‘When I go,’ Beth had told me after explaining what happened after the transition. ‘You should go to the Chapel. There’s an offering in the DeVrai, a traditional send off for ancestors, that you need to prepare.’
The Shift had happened so soon after Beth departed that all memory of the offering had slipped from my mind. She would have been furious, it was a sacred tradition for us. My tours of the Pleiades had always led me around the Chapel, I hadn’t been ready for that yet. The Chapel would show me yet another truth about this wretched curse, it would show me just how alone I truly was. It had been a fortnight though, and the offering weighed heavily on my mind. Book in hand, I went to the lab to prepare.
“To usher the souls of Chronians into Heaven, an offering must be made to remove the stain of the Curse.”
There was a list of ingredients, most of which I had never heard of before and I sincerely hoped that there were labels on everything because I was kind of screwed otherwise. The book called for Rue, Benzoin, Yucca and Meadowsweet and Lavender.
“Rue for healing the soul, Benzoin and Yucca to purify the soul, and Lavender to forgive the soul.”
The DeVrai then called for four drops of my blood, taken with a crystal blade and encased in white wax. There weren’t any knives I could find in the lab, but I remembered seeing a diamond edged dagger in the armory. I didn’t know how to do the wax thing though. I fetched the knife and rummaged around the shelves in the lab, eventually coming up with a short, fat white candle with three wicks. I lit the wicks and let them burn for a while.
“Grind the herbs to a paste. Fold the waxed blood into the mixture so it makes a ball with the wax in the center. This is the offering.”
Some of the jars and containers didn’t have labels, so I had to Google a lot. The only thing I could identify without it was lavender, because my Nan used to load her potpourri with it. The Rue was a wide leaf that tapered in to the stem and bloomed with a bright yellow flower. Benzoin reminded me of Holly, and Yucca was a spiky plant with a center stalk topped in a mess of flowers. There were jars of leaves, flowers and roots but the recipe didn’t specify so I just took a stab at what I needed.
When the offering ball was ready I carefully carried it to the Chapel. I hadn’t been into the Chapel before, merely noted on the tablet that it was there and moved on. It was a cozy place, with warm wooden floors and alcoves bearing portraits of people I couldn’t even begin to name. There was a bank of candle tiers off to the right, and a long, low alter that had been covered in a white lace cloth. The ceiling was the main focus of the room however; a great dome made of intricate stained glass images. Twenty one in all, ringing the outer edge. The center of the dome was crystal clear glass, it showed a bright evening sky filled with brilliant stars and a moon so full and bright I barely needed the internal lights. It was truly magnificent.
The only thing on the altar was an ornate silver bowl with a smaller, red glass bowl sitting inside it. The DeVrai said to put the offering in the bowl, and once I managed to take my eyes off the sky I set it inside the red glass dish.
“Draw a circle around your workspace, with yourself and your tools inside it.”
The Book didn’t specify what to draw the circle with so I bent down and dragged my finger through the dust around the altar. I noticed, after a moment, that the dust trailing after my finger was sparking. Surprised, I stopped drawing but the dust kept going, like a sparkler. When I finished the circle and closed the lines, a finger of flame shot around the outline.
“Call the quarter guardians to witness the offering.”
I hadn’t the first clue how to do that. Or any of this really. Unsure of the directions on this planet, and whether or not I was allowed out of the circle once it was complete, I flipped through the book for anything on compasses. There was a direction spell for finding north in the front, along with one for dispelling glamour and creating rune seals. The spell called for water, which I didn’t have, so I spat in my palm instead. The book said to blow on the water (or spit, in my case) till it became too cold to handle, then throw it in the air. The resulting mist would blow northwards. I cupped my hand and blew, watching in amazement as my breath turned the liquid to snowflakes. When it grew too cold, and started sticking to my hand, I tossed it up in the air. It swirled and eddied, curling towards the door.
I had to do a bit of digging through the grimoire to find what quarters were and how to call them. My brain helpfully supplied a short animation of me calling little rooms like errant puppies, and I struggled to concentrate on the pages for laughing so hard. Quarters was, according to the Book, enveloping the caster in a circle of protection by invoking the elements at each of the four main compass points. Starting in the east with Air, as the sun rose to the east and so East is symbolic of the beginning of all things, and ending at the north point with Earth. Getting up on the altar, I faced what I now knew to be east, and said the first thing that came to mind.
“I call you Air, giver of life, to witness this offering.”
I didn’t feel right just turning and calling the next element, so I bowed my head over the Book. A gentle gust of wind ruffled my hair, filling my lungs with crystal clear air. Only when it died down did I turn to the south.
“I call you Fire, bringer of warmth, to witness this offering.”
I bowed again, and a warmth sprang from under my feet, suffusing me with a strength that had been fading since Beth had left.
“I call you Water, keeper of dreams, to witness this offering.”
When I bowed this time there was a slight dampness to the room that was wonderfully refreshing, and I turned to the north for the final element.
“I call you Earth, healer of hearts, to witness this offering.”
The whole space began to smell like a spring meadow, with gorgeous fresh flowers and the chirping of small birds lilted from the doorway.
‘I beseech you, Lord, to hear my prayer. With this offering I, Flynn Abigail Cole, take upon myself the burden of this curse. With this offering I free my ancestor, Bethany Johanna Lewellyn, from the taint of this curse. With this offering I seek to give my friend and relative the rest she deserves under your ever watchful eye. This I do in your name.’ I whisper shouted, wincing at how ridiculous I sounded.
The offering ball sparkled like the circle had, little shots of spark shooting from all over until flame engulfed the whole thing in a white-hot blaze. It burned for just a moment before extinguishing, ash falling from where the fire had propelled it.
The DeVrai said that this was the desired effect, and that I should collapse the circle by thanking the elements and erasing part of the circle.
“For witnessing this offering, guardians of the elements, you have my thanks.”
I bowed one final time and stepped down onto the circle, breaking the line around the altar. I picked up the bowl, to dispose of the ash, but tripped. Of course. The ash went flying, and instead of falling it sailed up towards the ceiling dome. Once in contact with the glass it melted into it and formed a portrait of Beth alongside what must have been the other Chronians. I gazed up in awe. Tomorrow I would have to come back and take a good look at the portraits.
As I turned to the doorway the lights dimmed, flickering as though a candle guttering in a breeze. There was a rush of pressure in my head, like I’d dived underwater.
‘Well, aren’t you a clever little witch.’ A deep voice muttered from behind me, and I swear my heart leapt from my mouth in fright.