Send in the Swallows

July was a big month. Not only did I complete the first draft of the final installment in the Dark Horse Trilogy – lovingly called Book 3 for now, but I also completed a second story I’d been working on through tattoos. Brücius von Xylander, the owner and genius behind Black Serum Tattoo Studio, recently finished a swallow on my left forearm. 

Why a swallow?

First, I’ve always loved the look of swallows in photos and old prints. But more importantly, swallows are a symbol of freedom, rebirth and overcoming adversity. Pirates used swallow tattoos to denote their sailing experience and for good luck since the birds return home to the same location every year to nest. They represent constancy amidst chaos. You may recall that in November of 2020, Brücius gave me my beautiful Raven feather on my right forearm. Ravens are misunderstood, often seen as dangerous, but in some cultures, they represent wisdom, affection, healing powers, longevity, death, and fertility.

Are you beginning to see a theme? 

Together, these images tell a visual story of survival and rebirth. When I walk down the street, I feel a bit like Wonder Woman with her magic cuffs that repel danger. After a year of sheltering in place, my entire family catching COVID and my father dying, I felt the need to memorialize my feelings and mark my body with totems that are both symbolic and protective. I gave Olivia a similar experience in Book 3, which I hope to publish by the end of the year. Take a look below and let me know what you think!

“Runes. We all need protective runes,” Lily said as she walked over to a nearby shelf and pulled off a book. “Runes are an ancient system of letters and symbols used for protection and divination. Look at this and you’ll see what I mean.” She opened the pages to reveal what looked like a primitive set of stick drawings.

I leaned in closer trying to decipher the markings.  “What do you want to do with these?”

“I want Nadia to paint them on us,” she said.

“Brilliant,” Elsa said. “We can mark our bodies with them to ward off danger.”

“How?” I asked.

            “These symbols can be combined to offer protection, health, safe travel…even courage,” she said. “We need Nadia to paint the entire coven with exactly what you described Olivia, a magical second skin. Between our invisible armor and the other work we’re doing, we ought to be able to keep our teams alive.”

The great hall was aglow with the flames of a thousand candles when I walked in later that evening. There in the center of it all, surrounded by bowls of various ingredients, stood Nadia. She was flanked by Sabine, Elsa and Lily who were helping oversee the ritual. My heart gave a quick lurch at the sight of them. I loved two of the women more than my own family – my two best friends, whose loyalty and courage were indisputable. And now I had Sabine, who was coming to feel like a sister. Where would The Council be without them? Where would we be, I wondered, if my father were orchestrating our responses? I quickly closed down that line of negative thought, knowing it would take me places I didn’t want to go.

            “Hello Olivia,” Nadia said when she noticed me approaching. “Your aura is looking better, but death still follows you.”

            “I’m not surprised given my line of work and the company I keep,” I said. “As long as death follows but does not overtake me, I am content. In fact, that’s why you’re here this evening. Tell us about what will happen.”

            “I’m creating a binding potion for the runes. Once they are drawn on the skin, they must be bound to the person and connected to the rest of the Coven. The magick of the spell is partially derived from a common purpose; that is why everyone must contribute a lock of hair and a nail clipping. The spell operates as a giant energy grid, using all of you as its power source. Once the potion finishes curing we will use special brushes made from the hairs of a rare wild Tibetan horse to apply the symbols.”

            “I want everyone to do this,” I said, catching the eye of my two vampires lurking in the corner. “You won’t always be on assignment and that’s when you’ll be vulnerable. That’s what Stoner does, he comes out of nowhere and attacks from your blind spot. While he practices the dark arts, he is not really a wizard. He does not know magick or respect its traditions. He only knows power and in pursuit of it, he will stop at nothing.”

            I sensed the moment anxiety and fear filled the room and I shut down my senses to avoid being overcome, but I was not immune to their concerns. War was coming and this was the beginning of our preparations. None of us had a choice, least of all me. All I could do was send people into battle with this armor made from our DNA, a raven’s feather and St. John’s Wort. Nadia hovered over the caldron, tossing in the last of the snapdragons.

A ray of light shot out of the caldron, warming the room with a saffron glow. Nadia beamed, a satisfied smile on her face. She ladled the mixture into several stone bowls and handed them to a group of volunteers. Bodies had to be covered from head to toe, so people stepped behind privacy shields to undress. I did the same, feeling the curious tingle as Sabine ran the brush across my limbs. I heard a voice in my head uttering a chant in what sounded like old English and then watched as the drawings began to glow on my body.

“Whoa,” Sabine said. “I’m pretty sure that is not supposed to happen.”

“Keep going,” I whispered, feeling my skin tighten as the final rune was painted on the top of my foot. The chanting grew louder as I stood there, my body an incandescent spell of ancient words and deeds meant to protect and shelter. I knew in my heart that the voices were the dead wishing me a safe journey.