Blood pooled around her body, creating the illusion of a floating corpse. If not for its crimson color and the reflection of Tatiana’s exacerbated expression, one might never know the difference.
“She was already dead when I got here,” Tatiana called to her unwanted companion.
“Shit,” Dune sighed. He stepped around the thick tree trunk, revealing his God-like form. Tatiana was used to Dune’s shadow looming over her. His assignment to hone her skills and develop her earthly magic meant he often appeared at inopportune moments, though she couldn’t say she ever learned a thing from him. “And here I thought you were starting to come around to your true nature. Guess your link to the Blood Moon Witches isn’t as deep as your grandmother thought.”
Tatiana rolled her eyes and gathered her waist-length hair into a high ponytail. She wrapped her dark brown locks in the turquoise tie her mother gave her the night she learned she belonged to the coven.
“Well, no need to let the blood go to waste,” Dune scoffed as he pushed past Tatiana and approached the body. A collection of ancestral bottles rattled violently in his messenger bag as he took the ceremonial walk around the sacrifice.
“I have my own bottles,” Tatiana protested. “She’s mine to claim.”
“Your obnoxious turquoise bottles have never seen a drop of human blood,” Dune retorted, never turning to make eye contact. “Besides, your mixed-blood can’t even perform the ritual.”
“Aren’t you in the least bit curious about what happened to her?” Tatiana challenged, her jade-green eyes locking on Dune’s.
“That’s not our place,” Dune replied. The gravel in his voice warned her not to push any harder.
“She’s so young,” Tatiana repeated, walking closer to the young woman. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen, perhaps freshly graduated from high school. Tatiana wondered about the woman’s mother. Was she worried about her? Who else might be looking for her? “It makes you wonder if anyone else knows she’s out here.”
“The younger, the better,” Dune chided, now washing the bottles with a small vial of water from the Dead Sea. “Don’t make this into more than it is. You DeLuca witches always have a way of complicating things.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Tatiana snapped. She felt her mixed-blood rush past her ears.
“You know exactly what it means,” Dune growled, grinding his teeth. “Your grandmother made a fool of the Blood Moon witches when she allowed your mother to marry that human twit.”
Tatiana suppressed her rage. She kept her hands on the ground, absorbing the energy fields from the moss-covered trees and micro-organisms that crawled in the dirt beneath her. If she wasn’t able to keep her anger at bay, she feared what might come next.
“And now look what we have to look forward to – a half-blood heir,” Dune tossed his hand towards Tatiana as if he were tossing away a piece of greasy trash. She didn’t like the way that looked, but she dared not move. Not when he was just getting to the good part.
Dune ran his hands through his dirty blonde hair and drew a deep breath of fresh air from the trees around him. For Tatiana, the action was perceptible, each molecule of oxygen jumping from the trees to Dune’s mouth like a coordinated parachute mission. Tatiana’s eyes danced back towards the young woman lying on a bed of rust-colored leaves, her odor becoming impossible to ignore.
Dune took two large steps towards her, setting the bottles down as he moved to her side. The vines and branches that littered the forest floor made the task of keeping the bottles upright a challenge.
“When your mother refused my father’s proposal and chose a human instead, your grandmother should have turned the coven over to my father. At least to keep the leadership bloodline pure. Half-witch, half-human. It’s ridiculous to think you will ever lead us,” Dune said, this time with an eerie calm in his voice. “You can’t even perform the blood ritual we need to keep us young. You and your mother will never lead us, not when my father defeats your mother in the next Blood Challenge.”
“I’m sure my grandmother has her reasons for refusing your father’s requests for leadership,” Tatiana snipped. “Arrogance, perhaps.”
Dune’s head snapped back to meet Tatiana’s gaze, this time holding it, his chest elevated as if he were wearing a suit of armor beneath his thin shirt. “Arrogance is better than stupidity. Despite your grandmother’s appearance, thanks mostly to the blood sacrifices acquired by the pure bloodlines, she has proven herself senile. It’s just a matter of time until the Blood Challenge changes the tides for our coven. Now, shut up so I can focus.”
Because Tatiana’s mixed blood interfered with her magical abilities, she was eager to prove her worth. Of course, it wasn’t exactly her father’s human blood that was interfering with her abilities.
Dune circled the body once more, this time placing a bottle at metaphorical points on a pentagram.
“Len vie cerebeza,” Dune chanted, setting the first bottle to the right of the woman’s head.
“Len vie muemazon,” he continued, this time setting the bottle next to the woman’s right hip.
“Len vie estontri.” He placed the third bottle next to the woman’s left hip.
“Len vie ojoculus,” he said, setting the fourth bottle to the left of the woman’s head.
He held the fifth and final bottle up in the air, his eyes closed and pointed toward the slowly rising moon as he chanted the final incantation.
“Len vie almina.”
He bent over to place the final bottle at the point of the dead woman’s head. The pair watched as the blood began to move, flowing effortlessly up the sides of each bottle before falling like a polluted waterfall into their depths. The odor of the human’s now-flowing blood overwhelmed Tatiana’s Lycan senses, sending her connection to the earth into hyperdrive. She began to convulse under the pressure cooker of anger and the scent of an unharvested meal. Though the growls of the beast within fought to tear their way out, Tatiana held her human form a few seconds longer.
“This is the magic that will save us. Your family should be stamped out,” Dune said, ignorant to the transformation happening behind him. He watched as the final drops of blood made their way into the bottles, providing the coven with enough blood to last a month. He bent over to retrieve the first bottle, but a cold chill danced down his spine as he recalled one of Tatiana’s questions.
“Wait,” Dune said, connecting the dots too late. “How did you say you found her out here?”
Years later, at the conclusion of the 300th Blood Challenge, Tatiana walked toward her mother to claim her place as Elder. Slung over her shoulder was a messenger bag holding five turquoise bottles. They never did see a drop of human blood, though the same can’t be said for the blood of a Blood Moon Warlock.