TBOTSG-Chapter 19

July 10, 2024

The seven women chattered happily. Everything was ready for a pagan ritual.

In the middle of the clearing, they had built an impressively large fire, a huge bundle of branches a meter and a half tall was standing upright. M had just lit it at the base and now, slowly but surely, the flames licking the wood eagerly made their presence felt. Around the large hearth, seven smaller fires were arranged radially. Each had its carefully placed hearth with small bottles beside them. Above each fire stood a small, black cast iron cauldron on a tripod, like those used for cooking polenta, but seeming to contain a fragrant liquid. Likely a herbal concoction, because the clearing smelled of rose petals, lavender, mint, and various other fragrances that I didn’t recognise but which gave me a sense of well-being.

Ofelia and Andreea placed the final stones between the small fires, thus linking the fires together. Similarly, from the small fires to the large one, rays made of stones of various shapes and sizes radiated outwards. I enjoyed the mystical feeling that the whole arrangement gave off, designed to transport the women into a state of meditation. I knew people couldn’t simply connect to the universe’s energy. They needed rituals like this. Just as M and the priestesses from Second Home had their purification baths, initiation rituals, or 100-day fasts.

I watched the preparations from the sidelines. From there, M seemed extremely enthusiastic, which I found amusing. It almost reminded me of Filip.

The seven witches abruptly stopped talking, and Nica made a brief nod to M, who carefully threw some pieces of wood into the fire and then retreated into the shadows. I couldn’t see Ofelia and Andreea anymore. The witches vanished into the woods for a while, leaving me to contemplate the silence broken only by the crackling of the fire and the strong scents of sage wood in the velvety midnight air.

When they reappeared, they wore only pleated skirts and their breasts were uncovered. They had golden coin chains around their necks and hips that jingled with every move they made. It seemed like I was the only one left in the world, with the seven mortals ready to restore my divine power. I smiled ironically and stepped inside the circle when Nica signalled me. Each woman had taken her place to the right of a cauldron. When I stepped over the line of stones inside the circle, they began murmuring words known only to them, yet in perfect harmony with each other. Then they started performing a kind of dance, with slow, deliberate movements, chanting incantations in a language I didn’t recognise, to the rhythm of the jingling. Each jingle was more intense than the last. Each murmur louder. After each chant, they kneeled down, and in trance-like movements they poured a few drops from one of their bottles into the cauldrons, on the ground, on their breasts, and the scent in the air gradually became dizzying, intoxicating, overwhelming. Until at one point, I truly felt their power. I felt how they emanated an energy that I eagerly absorbed. At first, it seemed unreal to me. As if my senses were deceiving me, but as the ritual intensified, as the women screamed louder, moved more wildly, and became more immersed in the vapours of their brews, I felt my own power growing. I felt my body burning, boiling, ready to explode.

I realised I was smiling, wearing an expression I didn’t like on my face. I felt my greediness, and that made me ashamed. And as I gained control over myself, I felt I could also control my body and my energy. The women had reached the climax of their trance and were screaming the ritual words, murmuring them, uttering them in guttural, wild voices, and their wildness exploded, merged, and penetrated me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. I had been trapped in this body for a while now and before that I had been in a vegetative state in the atomic bunker for so long that I had completely forgotten what my power felt like. And now, now that a wave of sensations had overwhelmed me, I felt like a predator who had caught the scent of blood. For a second, I saw red before my eyes. Then silence fell.

When I opened my eyes, I was in the middle of an endless desert. I could clearly see the Third Home right in front of me. Then I looked around and saw devastation. Dead people all around me. As if there had been a great battle. People burned, decapitated, split in half, hands twisted in unnatural positions, legs severed… corpses of various kinds seemed to fill the desert to the horizon. Someone spoke to my right and I turned my head. I wanted to ask what had happened. But instead, Fiiuea spoke.

‘When can we start burying the dead?’ she asked, but no one answered. She looked at her counsellors and none seemed brave enough to tell her the truth. That they would likely remain there to rot forever.

Then I blinked and felt transported to another time. This time, Fiiuea was in the war room with strategies laid out in front of her, surrounded by counsellors and generals around a huge table. She stood leaning with both hands on the table, as if she had just received devastating news. I wanted to ask her what had happened. But I had no power. I didn’t even know how long I would be connected to her, so I tried to understand what was going on from the strategy laid out on the table, which foreshadowed new battles on multiple fronts. The Second Home was clearly in the midst of a world war. And the locations that seemed to be under attack were former temples. The area where most forces were concentrated seemed to resonate with me more than the rest.

I felt the connection breaking, and I was drifting back to the world I came from, when I heard Fiiuea uttering some words that I only understood when I reconnected with my body:

‘Failure would mean extinction.’

Something serious was happening on the Second Home. When I came to my senses, I couldn’t stand the chaos caused by the women, so I absorbed all the energy from the large fire and silence fell. The ritual was over.