Portent, A Ravensborough Novella (The Ravensborough Saga)

BOOK: Portent, A Ravensborough Novella (The Ravensborough Saga)
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PORTENT

A Ravensborough Novella

 

 

CHRISTINE MURRAY

 

MERMAIDEN MEDIA

 

 

Cover designed by Wicked Cover Designs

 

 

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Kindle Edition| Copyright Christine Murray 2012

Christine Murray asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The air was ice cold, but it didn’t matter. I had no choice but to stay where I was.

The stone steps of the temple were cool to the touch, and I could feel the frigid temperature through my jeans. A harvest moon hung high in the sky, fighting the lights of the city below. A clock tower rang out the hour across the square. Midnight – the witching hour.

There was hardly anyone around. Darkfield had once been the most popular district in Ravensborough, at least for Pagans. It was situated on a fault line – a notorious area for magical power.

Just as I was starting to fear that I might turn into an ice sculpture, Morgan walked over and sat beside me on the steps. I was glad to see him, and not just because he was holding two cups of coffee.

I wrapped my hands around the cup, trying to extract some warmth from it. That was probably the best use for it, considering it came from a fairly ropey establishment a couple of blocks away. It was one of the few places that had managed to hold on in the area. While their coffee wasn’t great, it was cheap and better than the stuff I could make inside the temple. Proper coffee machines weren’t high on the list of things to buy for the Daughters of Morrigan.

‘What’s up?’ asked Morgan as he sat down beside me.

‘Nothing much,’ I answered. ‘It’s been pretty quiet tonight.’

It was never particularly loud here anymore. What people remained kept a low profile, and most of the traffic noises came from further down the road in other less patrolled districts. Though when Morgan said that things had been quiet, he was talking more about our military friends.

Soldiers were a fact of life in Ravensborough, a troubled city on the island of Avalonia. During the 1500s, Europe had seen a plague of witch trials which saw many innocent people burned at the stake. Many of those had never practised any sort of magic in their lives. But there were those who had. Fearing persecution, these practicing Pagans fled and managed to reach Avalonia, an island in the far Atlantic, on the same latitude as the Faroe Islands.

The fledgling community started as a haven for those who were different. But over time things turned sour. European countries, fearful of Avalonia’s occultist connections refused to trade with inhabitants of the ‘Devil’s Island’. People desperate to make money turned away from Paganism, calling themselves 'Rationalists', and used outside help to dominate the Pagans.

We’d been enemies ever since.

Over the years Pagans seeking justice had sometimes turned to violence and even murder. Rationalist extremists did the same thing. We were caught in a cycle of hurt and killing that seemed to roll on without end.

Darkfield was mostly peaceful. Pagan groups congregated here because of its latent magic, not to cause trouble for Rationalists. But a number of violent outbreaks recently in Avalonia’s capital city – Northport – meant that the army were cracking down on areas like this.

The area used to be a hive of activity, and some of Avalonia’s best loved artists, writers and composers had lived here over the centuries. One of the oldest parts of Ravensborough, Darkfield had windy streets that dated from the late medieval period. It was charming. But the Avalonian Guard were calling around more often, which definitely wasn’t so pleasant. The soldiers with guns at their hip were a stark reminder that violence was only ever seconds away.

Many Pagans chose to stay away rather than face the indignity of being stopped and searched. The city council had stopped putting money into the area, meaning that the bins went uncollected. Streetlights that broke weren’t replaced. Business owners were hassled, and restaurants were closed down on trumped up health and safety violations. Although maybe they weren’t so trumped up now that the bins weren’t being collected…

In any case, the area was semi-deserted that night. Most of the temples were still open to some degree: army presence or no Avalonia had some pretty impressive religious freedom laws. They could search us, they could intimidate us, they could try to smoke us out. But they couldn’t actually go into any of the temples unaccompanied, not unless they wanted a media storm on their hands. Most moderate Rationalists didn’t want to talk to us Pagans, true, but as long as we kept ourselves to ourselves and didn’t try to corrupt their children, they were cool with us. Out of sight, out of mind.

But here was the thing. While they weren’t allowed normally to enter a temple, they were allowed to enter one to protect it. If they got in, they could say that all kinds of shit was happening, and use it to justifiy searching the place for some alleged threat. They could also, according to my good friend Morgan, plant stuff in a temple and use it as an excuse to lock up the main head of the chapter. In the case of the Daughters of Morrigan that would be me. Yeah, sure a new high priestess would be appointed. But try getting recruits or an active membership when there was a threat of jail time hanging over you. It was hard enough getting new members as it was.

'What time are you on until?' asked Morgan.

'Three in the morning,' I answered.

'Your parents are ok with that?' he asked. I just raised an eyebrow at him.

‘I’m nineteen,’ I pointed out. I didn’t like the implication that I was a child. Sure, he was older than me, but only by a couple of years.

'My Dad gets irritated with it,' I admitted. 'He'd prefer I stayed at home and wrote up my chemistry essays like a good student. But he lives with his new wife, so he doesn’t really know what's going on. My mother on the other hand…'

'Yeah, she seems a bit highly strung,' he said blowing on his coffee. Not that he needed to: in this temperature it would be cold within minutes.

'Huh, you don't know the half of it,' I grumbled, blowing on my coffee and risking a sip. Maybe I was just a caffeine snob. It was alright – warm anyway.

'Most parents wouldn't be okay with their nineteen year old daughter hanging around in the wrong part of town,' said Morgan. 'Especially when armed guards are patrolling the area looking for any excuse to cause trouble.'

'Yeah, well my mother isn't most people,' I answered. 'She always wanted to be part of the Daughter's, but her magic wasn't strong enough. She helped out with associate stuff. Still does, a bit. You know, raising money to repair the roof and all that. But then I came along with stronger magic than her and well...'

'Ah, parents living their dreams through their children. It’s been the same throughout the ages. You probably never had a choice.'

'Exactly,' I said. 'It was just a given that I'd be part of the council. Me being the youngest person on it is something to boast to the neighbours about. But she never asked me what I wanted. Like, whether or not I'd prefer to be hanging out with my university debating team, or taking up rock climbing.'

'What?’ Morgan said in mock drama, moving his arm around to encompass the entire area – the shuttered up shops, the litter and the overgrown grass verges. 'You're honestly telling me that there's somewhere else you'd rather be right now than here?'

'Funnily enough, I am.'

'Company's good though,' he said taking a drink from his cup.

I gave him a small smile. 'Well, there is that.'

Morgan was a recent acquisition. When I'd initially been brought onto the council of the Daughters I'd had less duties so I hadn't been around the area so much. As members of the council started getting scared and intimidated, I'd taken on more and more work, until I was basically the high priestess of our chapter. It was something I fell into and had foisted upon me: not something I'd ever set out to become. Now that we needed to have a Daughter watching the temple at all times I was spending an uncomfortable amount of time sitting on the front steps watching the world go by. Morgan worked at the Centre For Pagan Records across the square. It housed a lot of important Pagan documents dating back several hundred years. He was doing some post-graduate archival work or something, and working there was part of his study programme.

He was a smoker and spent much of his lunch time on cigarette breaks. Now that the streets were practically empty he'd seen me across the road and started up conversation. We'd been friends ever since.

I'd seen him around a couple of times on the university campus, almost always surrounded by a clique of friends. I should be so lucky. I spent so much time here guarding an empty stone building that I barely had enough leeway to attend all my classes, leaving me no time for extracurricular stuff. I didn't even get to do anything as normal as hang out at the library. All study was done sitting on the unforgiving stone steps of the temple. It was as if our friendship was a clandestine, secret thing. A Darkfield thing. I don't know if we'd be actually friends in real life, but honestly I didn't care. He was the only face – apart from Peg Meg, the owner of the sub-par coffee shop – that was friendly in this urban wasteland.

'Wait, why are you still here?' I asked. 'The centre is closed now, right?'

The pagan centre actually used to get some pretty heavy traffic. Even now, it still got a respectable trickle compared to the other businesses and buildings around Darkfield. Academics couldn't get by without it.

'We needed to sort some new documents we got in. We only finished half an hour ago.'

'What, and you're still here?'

'You're the only reason I come here at all, sweetheart. The centre is just an excuse.'

'Less of the 'sweetheart' if you don't mind,’ I retorted. ‘I'm not like the rest of your posse.'

'My posse?'

'You heard me.'

'What, are you jealous or something?'

I glared at him. 'I'm not even going to dignify that with a -'

The crunch of tyres over concrete alerted us to the arrival of the Avalonian Guard, the military unit that ostensibly kept our country safe.

Morgan muttered an expletive under his breath.

'Bet you wished you'd foregone the pleasure of my company,' I said, keeping my eyes fixed on the patrol car. It was probably nothing. Patrols ran all over the city and suburbs after dark. It was the price we paid for living in a military state. But there was always some part of you that held your breath until they passed. Just in case you'd gotten an official on a bad day.

I bet they didn't have it nearly so tough in the Rationalist areas.

'Maybe I like living on the edge,' he answered, under his breath. The car crawled around the square, an officer in the back of the truck shining a torch on the buildings while another covered him with a rifle.

I wasn't doing anything wrong. I wasn't going to do anything to get that gun pointing at me. But still, there was something about the sight of someone holding a weapon and coming toward you that you never quite got used to, even if you'd grown up with it.

 

The truck finally got over to our side of the square. When it got to us we raised our coffee cups in what we hoped was a conciliatory gesture. They drove on.

We both exhaled.

'You should really get a move on,' I told him. 'It's cold and we have guests. It's not going to be the party of the year.'

'I'll stay for a few minutes longer,' he said, the joking tone that had been present earlier completely absent from his voice. 'Just to make sure they're totally gone.'

I nodded.

'Do you think it will always be like this?' I asked.

'Like what?'

'Rationalists making life difficult for Pagans, always staying just inside the law but treating us like dirt? I mean, I can't remember it ever being any different. Do you see things changing?'

'They're dangerous words, Kara.'

They were. But really, was it so much to ask just to be let go about our daily business?

'That's not answering my question.'

He sighed. 'Honestly? No. I don't see it changing in the near future. The powerful Pagans are so busy trying to ingratiate themselves with the Rationalist government and carving up the Pagan quota of state jobs that they don't care about the rest of us struggling. Another bunch run around playing at soldiers, killing people and getting themselves locked up. As for the rest of us?' Morgan's voice held a note of disgust. 'Let's be honest: the rest of us are so scared of them that we just swallow the Kool-Aid without questioning it. Even worse, some of us are so fed up and ground down that we just can't imagine anything other than what we have right now. We're apathetic. Emphasis on the pathetic.'

BOOK: Portent, A Ravensborough Novella (The Ravensborough Saga)
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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