The Center Circle prepares for the ritual to induct Neil and Cynthia into it. Neil speaks to Dora, to make sure that she’s not unhappy about him taking her place.
“Why did Mom and Dad tell us? Make us anticipate? Didn’t they know how hard it would be not to be chosen?”
“How would they? I never understood your disappointment. I tried, but there was so much to absorb right after, I lost myself in that. And along the way, I lost you. Only Cliff and Heath clung to you, kept you close. Then we had kids, and I was so busy with them, and working…. I missed you so much. If we hadn’t had our dream chats, I think I would have lost my mind.”
“You and Cliff kept me sane. I felt it, too,” he admitted quietly. “I didn’t tell Cynthia, but I did. I was out on a training exercise and collapsed. The doctor thought it was heat exhaustion—I was vomiting, running a high fever, felt like my insides were boiling…. Was it—horrible?”
“He was tortured by Mr. D. or his minions. We aren’t sure. It wasn’t a quick death.”
“Oh, Jesus, Dora. I’m so sorry I asked!”
“No, you have a right to know what we’re asking of you. You can still back out.”
He shook his head. “If I did, I’d not only let you all down, I’d lose the woman I love. I’m not doing that again. This is something I’ve wanted my entire life. I just feel bad that you’re not going to be a part of this anymore.”
“I’ll still be here, I’ll help and I’ll train people, but I can’t do this without Cliff. It will be a relief.”
The Inner and Outer Circle members started to arrive. The food was put inside and everyone gathered around the bonfire pit. David walked with the help of Chase and Brian. They practically carried him, but he managed the last few steps on his own. He settled on a sturdy chair at the east end of the circle around the fire.
Chase and Marissa conjured flames and lit the bonfire. They took their places in front of David, on the inner circle. The grandparents gathered around, taking their assigned spots. Then the Center Circle, and finally the Inner Circle. There was a gap in the Center Circle, since Dora, Neil and Cynthia stood apart. There was a small stone altar set up with their ingredients of herbs, blessed salt, holy water and a variety of other things they needed for the ritual. As the moon peeped over the top of the trees, they began.
Stepping forward, Dora spoke. “I ask the Circle to release me. Since the death of my mate, I have found myself unable to fulfill my duties to this Circle, and to the rest. I ask that my brother, Neil, be accepted in my stead.”
Neil stepped forward. “I ask the Circle to accept me in my sister’s place. I swear to uphold the precepts of this Circle, and the rest, and I formally ask Cynthia to be my perspective mate.”
Cynthia joined them, taking his hand. “I ask the Circle to accept me in my brother’s place. I swear to uphold the precepts of this Circle, and the rest, and formally accept Neil as my perspective mate.”
The glow they had experienced the night before, returned, brighter. Burning all the colors of flames, they shone in the darkness like a beacon. No one knew exactly how to deal with it, because it was unprecedented. No one in the history of all three Circles had ever done that before. Everyone stared, hardly remembering what needed to happen next.
Zofia and Janus hopped into the area around the fire, loping around until they got to Neil and Cynthia. Flopping on their bellies, their tongues lolling, they reminded everyone what needed to be done. Dora stepped back, bowing her head. Neil and Cynthia stepped forward, hand in hand. When they got to the gap in the Circle, they took hands with those on either side. The glow receded, flowing through the others in their Circle. It spread to the Inner and then Outer Circles, a warm, golden glimmer. Blue sparks burst from the fire, followed by dark green, purple and bright red. Every color of the spectrum glittered and glimmered in the flames, dancing happily around without consuming the wood.
Brian couldn’t help watching it warily for a few minutes, remembering the bonfire two years ago, which had spawned fire elementals that had attacked them. Brian’s quick thinking, and the help of Heath, Chase and Cliff, as well as Jordan’s gutsy counterattack, had kept them safe. When it became apparent that they had nothing to worry about from the fire, he relaxed and enjoyed the meal.
Everyone congratulated Neil and Cynthia on their entry into the Circle, as well as their engagement. It hadn’t been the way that Neil had intended to declare himself to Cynthia, but it was part of the ritual. They had all gone through it themselves, including the teenagers.
“So, I guess this means you’ll be my aunt and uncle by marriage as well as blood. I wonder how it works when you have kids. They aren’t needed in this Circle….”
“I’ve been wondering about that, too,” Cynthia said. “I’m not sure how to find out.”
“Let’s have a few before we worry about it,” Neil said.
“You just want sex,” Cynthia teased, forgetting their audience for a moment.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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