Rhea shot me an approving look. “Set these candles around her body. While you do that, cleanse the athame you’ll use in the offering.”
I busied myself forming a circle around Maisie with the votives. “How long until she reaches the dreaming stage?”
Rhea lit the smudge stick and paused to check her watch. “Not long now. We need to hurry.” She waved the sage over the ceremonial dagger.
I placed the last candle. “Done.”
“Okay, I’m going to smudge her now.” Rhea’s tone was all business now. “Go kneel before the symbol of the god and offer the cakes and the gold pieces. When that’s done, use the athame to cut your palm and let three drops of blood fall on the altar. As you do that, ask the god to accept the offerings in return for aid. And, Sabina?”
I stopped and looked up. “Yeah?”
“Try to be humble. The gods know when you’re patronizing them.”
“I can do humble.” I tried not to sound offended but failed, judging from the shake of Rhea’s head.
“Sure you can.”
I grabbed the cakes and the coins and approached the altar. Kneeling before it, I looked up at the symbol. “Asclepius, please accept these humble offerings,” I said loud enough for both the god and Rhea to hear me. Then I pulled the dagger across my right palm. The sting was slight and blood welled up instantly. “God of healing, I implore you to aid your servant, Maisie Graecus, this night. Protect her on her journey through the dreamlands. Help her find her visions. Return her to us whole. In exchange for this boon, I, Sabina Kane, offer you my service at a time of your choosing.” I squeezed my hand into a fist and squeezed three drops onto the stone.
The instant the third drop hit the altar it sizzled against the stone. The air shimmered and magical static skittered down my spine. The message had apparently been received.
I opened my eyes and stood. When I turned around, Rhea was watching me. Her eyes shone with a light I didn’t recognize. “What?” I asked.
Rhea smiled. “Well done.”
Suddenly self-conscious, I averted my eyes to Maisie’s still form. “Now what?”
Rhea rubbed her hands together. “Now we wait.”
Ten minutes later, I sat at Maisie’s feet and Rhea behind her head. We’d remained silent but I knew Rhea’s head was filled with silent prayers similar to my own.
Lilith, Great Mother of the dark races, protect your daughter and give her strength. Hekate, bringer of light, guide her back to us safely.
By then, it had been almost an hour and a half since Rhea had slipped Maisie the sedative. As if on cue, my sister moaned. My eyes shot to her face. Behind her pale lids, her eyes rolled back and forth in their sockets. I glanced up at Rhea, who nodded to confirm my suspicion—Maisie had entered the dream state.
I tensed, waiting for the first sign of a nightmare. If she cried out or flailed or anything else that indicated distress, I was prepared to force Rhea to rouse her. But other than a couple of eye flutters, she remained peaceful.
The first REM cycle lasted about two minutes and passed uneventfully. When her body relaxed again into deeper sleep, Rhea let out a breath. “So far so good,” she whispered. “Hopefully the longer REM cycles will go just as smoothly.”
“How many will she have?”
“Three or four, each longer than the last, with ninety minutes between. My guess is that if she’s going to have a prophecy dream, it will be in the final cycle, closest to waking.”
“How exactly does Asclepius heal people through their dreams?”
“The legends say he appears in the form of a black dog that leads the ill to a sacred spring in the Liminal. Apparently, drinking from this spring can heal even the most grievous wound—physical or mental. But first, the supplicant must be deemed worthy by Asclepius.”
“Deemed worthy? How?”
“Purity of heart and intention. But the offerings help, too.” She winked. “The gods love presents.”
I blew out a breath and adjusted my sitting position to ease the numb spot on my ass from the cold stone floor. “Here’s hoping the blood sacrifice will soften his disposition.”
Here’s the thing: Watching someone sleep isn’t exactly the most exciting activity. Sure, every time Maisie hit a REM cycle, we both tensed and watched her like hawks. But my sister hadn’t gotten the memo that she was expected to put on a display that we could observe and dissect for clues. Mostly, her dream state involved lots of eye twitching and the occasional shift of position. Eventually, Rhea and I took turns grabbing some sleep of our own. Which is how, six hours into our vigil, I was asleep on the floor.
At first, I wasn’t sure what woke me. My first thought was that the sun’s ascent roused me. My vampire instincts were fine-tuned for detecting the evil orb’s arrival. When it rose, I felt a twinge in my gut, almost like a cramp. My second thought was that it was a mistake to sleep on a hard stone floor. My spine felt like it had been compressed by an industrial vise. I rolled over, trying to ease the kinks out.
That’s when I heard the laughter. Opening my eyes, I realized that sound—so foreign after all these months—is what had really woken me. I sat up slowly, hope blooming in my chest.
Rhea stood over the pallet, her body frozen in shock. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw me rise. She put a finger to her lips. I nodded and padded across the floor to the dais. Closer now, I finally saw the wide smile on my sister’s lips. Her eyes were still closed, but whatever she was dreaming was making her happy.
Tears sprung to my eyes. We’d done it. Or rather, Maisie had done it with a little divine intervention.
A few moments later, Maisie’s smile faded and she rolled to her side, a move that signaled her exit from the dream world and into a state of deep sleep once more. The move exposed the star on her left shoulder, so like my own. A symbol of our mixed heritage and the bond we shared as twins.
Rhea pulled my sleeve and we retreated to the far end of the altar.
“That was amazing,” I whispered.
Rhea reached for me and pulled me into a tight hug. Against my ear, she whispered, “Praise be to the gods.”
When she pulled away, her eyes shone with relief and happiness. “We need to move her back to her room before she wakes.”
“If she wakes here, she’ll realize she was manipulated and it will undo all the progress we’ve made. It’s better for her to believe she did it on her own.”
“But surely she’ll remember drinking the wine and passing out,” I argued.
Rhea shook her head and glanced over to make sure Maisie was still sleeping. “Not necessarily. The sedative is strong. She might remember being in the dining room but not the passing out part. We’ll just tell her exhaustion finally caught up with her and we moved her to her rooms.”
I sighed. “Okay. Let’s do it quickly though. It would really suck if she woke up midtransport.”
Two hours later, Maisie found Rhea and me sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen. She wore a pink silk robe and her hair stood up in odd tufts. She yawned as she entered but stopped when she saw us.
“Good morning,” she said, sounding dazed.
“You look like you slept well,” Rhea said.
“You know, I think I did.” Maisie’s eyes squinted as if she was trying to figure out how that was possible. “What happened last night? The last thing I remember is Sabina getting here.”
My eyebrows rose. Rhea wasn’t kidding about the power of that sedative. But it was fine by me if Maisie didn’t remember our argument. “You gave us a bit of a scare,” I said. “One minute you were talking and the next you nosedived into your soup bowl.”
Maisie’s cheeks turned pink. “Really?”
Rhea rose and put an arm around her shoulders, guiding her to a chair. “And it’s no surprise. You looked like death warmed over. You must have been exhausted.”
Blue eyes shot to mine. As far as she knew, her lack of sleep was our secret. “I haven’t been sleeping well,” she evaded.
Rhea forced an awkward laugh. “Looks like that isn’t a problem anymore.”
I poured my sister a cup of coffee. “Must be something about the beds here,” I said. “I haven’t slept that hard in days. I don’t even think I had one dream.”
Maisie took a sip of coffee, totally unaware she was being played. “Not me. I had this really strange dream.”
Rhea and I both spoke at once. “Oh?”
She nodded. “I was alone in a dark forest. A white stag with red horns jumped out at me.” Her body shuddered like someone walked over her grave. “But all of a sudden this big black dog jumped out of the shadows and attacked the stag.” Maisie busied herself buttering a piece of toast as she spoke, so she missed the look that passed between Rhea and me. “At first, I thought the dog meant me harm, too, but then it scared the stag away.”
“That’s weird,” I said, trying to sound casual. “What happened next?”
“The dog got hurt in the battle but managed to limp over to me. Then it—” She paused and shook her head like she was embarrassed to go on.
“It what?” Rhea prompted; her hand clasped her mug so hard her knuckles were white.
Maisie smiled sheepishly. “It talked to me. Said it was there to help me.” She shrugged. “It led me to this underground cavern with a large lake. The dog told me that if I drank from the water I’d feel better. When I knelt at the edge, the water turned to blood. I was scared at first, but for some reason I trusted the dog. And suddenly I realized I was thirstier than I’d ever been. I drank and drank until my stomach was so full I thought I’d burst.”
I blew out a breath. “Wow, Maze.”
She nodded. “But that’s not the weirdest part. After I finished and thanked the dog, he said, ‘Tell your sister she owes me big-time.’ ”
My knife clattered to my plate. As happy as I was that our experiment seemed to be a success, I wasn’t looking forward to my comeuppance from Asclepius.