“No dice. I’ve been to the Liminal only once. The only thing we know about it is from a decades-old journal. And that alone was enough to tell me it’s too dangerous. You said it yourself: Ameritat was afraid Tristan might not come back.” I raised my hands in a pleading gesture, hoping she’d see reason. “I want Maisie cured as much as you do, but toying with powers I can’t control yet all but insures disaster. I’ve failed Maisie too many times to f**k around anymore. There has to be another option besides me going in with her.”
Rhea sighed and chewed her lip. “The only other option is to make a larger sacrifice to Asclepius to ensure he’ll fulfill our request. More than just honey cakes and a few gold coins.”
“A blood sacrifice.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not talking about killing a chicken?”
“Because in this case, the blood sacrifice has to be from the one asking for aid. You’re going to have to shed blood on the altar.”
“Why me? Maisie’s the one doing the incubation.”
“Normally it would be her, but since she’s unconscious, we’re acting as her agents. And since you’re tied to her by blood, the offering will mean more coming from you.”
The idea of shedding a little blood for my sister didn’t bother me that much. After all, it’s not like the stuff made me squeamish. And a cut would heal almost as quickly as it split the skin. But I’d been around magic long enough to know there had to be a catch. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Rhea grimaced at how easily I’d figured that one out. “Gods are fickle beings, Sabina. If you offer him your blood, it’ll bind you to him.”
“Bind me how?”
“He’ll be able to call on you for a repayment of the favor whenever it suits him.”
I sighed. I didn’t exactly love the idea of being beholden to a god, but it beat another trip to that f**ked-up in-between place. Besides, Asclepius was a god of healing. How bad could any favor he asked be? “I’ll do it.”
Rhea’s eyebrows went up. “You’re sure?”
I nodded resolutely. I was tired of talking. It was time to get this done.
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.