The excitement of it all died the moment the harpoon embedded into the wall. It was covered in blue blood, struck deep into the stone, but the terror, the dread of it all, like its target -the real target- was that there was nothing else to be seen in between, transparent that it was never the true threat. Samantha realized that all too late, that she made a grave mistake. She came to this hall without thinking, without even questioning, simply knowing that it belonged to Scarlette.
A fact she shouldn’t have known.
To her, Scarlette should have been but a simple skull, with no name, in the middle of nowhere in the undercroft, and yet she came as if second-nature... But... she would play the fool until the very end, even as Lilith drew her towards that named skull at the back of the room. Scarlette’s eyes widened as they approached, though she did her best to change to a glower, glaring at Lilith as she saw Samantha shaking her head softly, mouthing “no”.
It was quick to turn into a yawn as Lilith looked back at her, just a step behind, though her little act didn’t seem to be working, smirking at her.
“Oh. So you do know her,” Lilith said. “At least I don’t have to offer any formalities.”
“What are you talking about? Er, who are you talking about- no, what are you talking about?” Samantha said, and jumped a little, seeing the skull. “Wait. We’re here again?”
Lilith sighed, and picked up the skull.
“I suppose it’s possible you ended up here by chance. The cameras showed you taking several wrong paths, but, curious thing, your steps would go the right way before trying to divert, most likely to slow down Ginger... Whatever the truth may be, though, that you were simply foolishly lucky, or hoping I am that much a fool- Tell me: which would be better in your favor?”
“Okay! Okay... I knew the way, but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“I also know that you brought Bella here. Twice.” She raised Scarlette, as if brandishing her like a fine glass of wine. “Alas. Poor Scarlette... I knew her far too well. She tried to take my love. Even made a deal with a demon that made it so she stayed alive as long as my love was, and... well...” She leaned on the plinth, smiling so smug at Scarlette as she lowered her onto it again. But not before she pushed the button under, the door in the back sliding away. An act Samantha jumped the gun for; she started moving towards the wall BEFORE it ever even moved.
Samantha caught herself in time... hopefully... and even feigned a jump as Lilith placed Scarlette on top of the button once more. She snapped her fingers, and leads Samantha towards that spiral staircase and down, down into the purple light. The steps echoed and boomed with each lurching trot, seeming to continue on forever, but Samantha knew all too well there was an end.
What end would she show me, though.
Her eyes fluttered down every other step. To Lilith’s side, to the gun resting there in its holster. How it gleamed, shimmering, swinging just out of reach of the succubus’ grasp. Samantha saw her hand too, though, how it closed, instinctively, when it hit against, but that wasn’t the only danger, was it? Not since her last visit.
Samantha looked back, time and again, making sure the way up was clear, that nothing and nobody, blocked the way, continuing on into the depths. The purple light faded, only the smallest traces left to stain the dark a twilight hue, fringed further by the glow of soft, yellow light coming from below. The elevator; it opened, and Lilith waltzed in and stood before the console inside, humming, waiting for Samantha. Her finger lazed before the options, tracing in between them.
“Which way did you go,” Lilith asked. So nonchalant, so simple, yet the question felt like a shot in its own right.
“Huh? Way?” Samantha uttered, shell-shocked, and pointed back up the stairwell. “I d...didn’t come down this far. I stopped at that slit up there. Saw through that.”
“Ah. That would be B1.”
“B...1? Wouldn’t my Halls and the undercroft be that?”
“Good question. Don’t really have an answer... Weird, I know, but that’s simply how these elevators were labeled.” The doors closed. Lilith pulled her hand away from the buttons a moment, waving her hand, almost dismissing whatever Samantha was already going to say. “So, you only saw the vats? You assumed they were used to clone?”
“W-well... well... what else would giant, purple-f-glowing canisters be used for?”
She chortled. “I take it you’re not a Sci-Fi buff... but you were right. That’s what they are for... You’re probably wondering why I dragged you down here –aside the fact I haven’t answered your questions.”
She looked over her shoulder, her eyes gleaming, as if like a cat’s after having cornered their meal. Cats don’t kill though, no. Not right away. Instead, they play with their meal, more than happy to paw and toy at it as it tried to squirm and writhe away.
“Questions,” she drawled, purring it. “Yes, the women you met above are clones... were clones. Terminated.”
“Protocol. The town believes you are dead, and we couldn’t exactly have them look any further. An unfortunate fate, but... not the first time they had to be purged so soon after awaking.”
“So the three I knew weren’t the originals?”
She chuckled, patting her chest. “Oh, goodness no. Nowhere near it. They were the... seventh batch? Eighth? I lost track.”
“So what happened, then? What really happened?”
“Lola’s ring. Due to... outside stimuli, it failed... on an atomic level. Which lead to a chain of events inside that car. It, and the the other witches’ rings -aside your own- all exploded. The amount of energy released inside the cab of that compact sedan was equivalent to a missile. There wasn’t really anything left of it, but we couldn’t exactly leave it to look like a bomb went off in the middle of the highway. Thus why I had to... pretty up my car.”
She turned around slowly, reaching out for Samantha. Specifically, her left hand, with the dragon.
“Yours, however, was not the same as theirs... I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but you were still not a part of their coven. Whether it was because they still didn’t fully accept you or you weren’t really looking for a coven... it doesn’t really matter. What does was that this ring did not explode, did not fail, and, instead, saved you. Protected you.”
“So... I am-”
“You are still you.” She let go her of Samantha’s hand and wheeled to the panel again, circling her finger before B6. “Which is why I felt it was time you were clued in on some things. I had been meaning to do this, but things have been... hectic.”
She pressed the button, and the elevator whirred to life, cranking and shuttering as it descended into the depths. Samantha’s heart raced more with that number, its green light held in its pearl disc fading to a stormy gray. All color, in fact, seemed to flush, to flee, save for the rubies that were Lilith’s eyes. They were still watching her, gleaming, sparkling with an unnatural light... Samantha couldn’t look into them. Not for long. Not for the tawdry affairs that would intrude but to get away from that... hunger.
She watched the top of the elevator’s door, instead, watching as the numbers counted down. Time seemed to stretch between five and six, and Samantha felt a single bead of sweat trickle down her back. Its cool orb slithered down her spine, raising its hair. Her skin prickled, raised to gooseflesh, as her whole body felt like it was...
Her muscles twitched, constricted, almost knocking her over as she simply watched and waited. She hoped- nay, prayed for it, and welcomed as it click over to six at long last... completely fine. The elevator came to a shuddering halt. The doors clacked open, revealing a dark hall. The only light inside was at the end of it, a single desk lamp lording over a computer. It was an older model, slate gray, clashing against the light brown desk it and the lamp both sat on. To the right of it, just above the tower, sat under the desk on a raised shelf, was a stack of folders. And the papers spilled out against the wishes of whomever stacked it, like the rebels they were.
The rest of the room, however, was hidden in the shadows, but Samantha could make out the outlines of vats. Like the ones above. Samantha raised her hand, feeling a bit of blood trickle from her left nostril as a simple blue orb floated off to the right, showing they were black. And empty.
Lilith pushed her out into the hall, each step bounding, booming back against them as they made their way passed the large, hollow hulls. They groaned and creaked. Shadows loomed inside, phantom eyes seeming to glint from the metal, making Samantha’s skin crawl. She kept her head forward, though, focused on that desk, on its halo of light, safety at the end of valley of shadow. She would not fear any evil. Not at that moment.
They reached the desk, and she could make out a rickety chair in front of the fat CRT monitor. Samantha could see now that it flickering, showing that it was on but faded out to black. She wondered where the mouse and keyboard were, but it was answered as Lilith pulled the old, wooden chair out, seeing a shelf at arm level. The succubus gesture to it, had her sit, but was ready to stand as it creaked and wobbled. She didn’t, though, and rested her hands on those keys and the mouse. All coated in dust.
I should have brought some bread and butter, she thought, smirking. This thing is a glorified toaster.
“So, Lilith, when was the last time the firmware was... upgraded down...” She began, looking back... but Lilith was gone. Everything seemed to have vanished in that halo of light, that bastion that now protected her, shielded her from the harsh truths beyond –while still holding onto its own fair share of dirty secrets. No one and nothing was truly innocent, after all... Samantha jiggled the mouse some more. It took a bit of force to get the ball moving, which made a sickening slurp as it freed itself, and the screen flickered to life.
There was already a program running, showing a layout of the room, with all of the vats flashing yellow. Samantha moved the mouse over one. A prompt raised, stating it was on standby. She clicked on it, and was met with a status screen, of what she wanted to put in, on... on... Samantha had no idea what the next chunk of the program was asking. It was but an open box meant for... something, asking for four letters to begin its compiling: GCAT.
Samantha pushed in the drawer, and slid the top manila folder off the pile. There was a dossier of a lycan inside, a high-born named Victoria Cyril. Her blue eyes shined, as though they still had such life, such pride, as if they were unable to be contained on the page, itself. She had elegant, sleek silver hair, washed and primped with such care. She could have been considered regal... if not for her attire. She wore a ripped, denim jacket, embellished with so many different shades of stains from gods know where. The red shirt under wasn’t any better. It had been torn, almost perfectly, to expose her breasts while keep the rest of her covered, though she had some modesty. Her left nip was covered by the middle finger she slung at the camera.
Samantha closed it, and pulled down the next dossier, finding it to be for another lycan. Another high born, no less. This one had brown hair, though... and always will if the sticky note attached is to be believed.
Only one alpha needed. Genes altered to make her a beta.
The next two were for lycans, both low born, but they bore the same red stamp.
She looked at the pile, at the sheer volume of paper, of the amount of files that were stacked there, so neatly. So orderly. A graveyard, Samantha thought. Another chill ran down her spine, and slung the four files back on top, bending them too far vertical.
From the top one, from the alpha, a small baggie fell out.
It had been wedged in between a few papers, freed as she had let go and able to slide out onto the table. Inside, there was a simple, clear phial, with a nail in it. A bit of blood and flesh held on to its end- but she put it back in the dossier, now curious. She checked the others, finding they all had one.
But it wasn’t long before her attention returned to the screen. The open text bubble still blinked, the four letters still waiting to be continued, and another wash of realization whisked over her.
“It’s asking me to write DNA code,” she said, and looked back at the room, still unable to see.
Jumping a little as she felt a hand touch hers.
She screamed as she snapped her head back around, seeing Lilith there. She was leaning over the light, blocking, blotting that bubble, her red eyes still so bright.
“For those in the files,” she started, and stepped around, into the light. Her very presence seemed to dim it, made the room seem that much colder as she stood behind Samantha. She laid her hands on her shoulders, creasing them, clenching at them, “they could be given life once more, be able to atone for the ones that were... wasted, shall we say... Oh, they won’t be exactly the same, but we can replicate to a degree. Even their memories... You see, they used to go to this school. As you know, succubus can read minds. With such, I could create a catalog, an Archive of memories, of certain... trigger points to make them into the people they were... or even for the better. With this, death is not an end but simply a... learning experience.”
“W... why are you showing me t- why am I here? What are you going to do?”
She giggled again, and patted Samantha’s shoulders- letting go as Samantha bolted to her feet. Lilith beamed at Samantha, yet the room only seemed to grow colder with their heat.
“Considering how much you have braved, my dear, I would finally like to offer you a job. Here, at the Academy. You did, after all, fulfill your end of the bargain. You taught, tutored, had them pass –maybe not all at once, but they all had a passing mark at one point or another. You have earned it, dear Samantha.”
She motioned to the computer, to the vats beyond the blanket of light.
“Because you were exposed to this, to your own demise, you can help... educate the new born. The reborn. You’ve already shown capable of teaching the basics, as well logic and culture; that’s all you would really need. Isn’t this what you want? To follow in your mother’s footsteps, to work here, permanently, as a respected member of Vereor Nox Academy?”
Samantha... wasn’t sure what to s- Lilith shook her head, and took Samantha’s hand, leading her back to the elevator. Again, that tingling sensation overtook Samantha. She clawed at her leg, at Lilith’s hand, twitching, fighting her wince as she drew a touch of blood from herself until they were clear. Lilith sighed, looking at her again, those eyes still shining so much.
“Of course, I’m not expecting an answer now. This is a lot to digest, to understand... and Samantha?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask... How did your mother die?”
“Y... you k-”
“It’s kind of hard not to see such a spark, such a... beauty... be extinguished. You have so much of her gift. It’s... astounding, really, how much. Witches, even those of blood, tend to have vastly different abilities, but it seems the only difference between you two is that you can manipulate the metal away from your body. How is that possible?”
“Wind. A shitton of it.”
Samantha sniffled, but would not let her tears fall as she glared, her gaze locked, staring right into Lilith’s eyes. Damned be the consequences.
“Painless,” she stated.
Lilith hummed, mulling it over, unblinking as she continued to stare. but snapped away as the door opened. She lead Samantha all the way to the Black Halls entrance, and did something far worse than pervade her mind with lewd thought. What she did was more tortuous, vile, and repugnant than any form of punishment she could have ever done -no, the very act she did was punishment.
Lilith hugged her. HUGGED her... then kissed the top of her hand.
Samantha shuddered as she let go and swiped her card, smiling as she left.
“I hope to receive your answer post-haste,” she said, barely heard above her heels, and waved, “but no pressure. No rush... I know where to find you, after all. Oh, and please don’t discuss this with the others.”
With that, she left. Her heels took their sweet time to fade away, her echoes haunting Samantha all the way to her room. Finding it empty. Again. She looked at her bed, fatigue and pain finally allowed their time to shine, making her head pulse and throb while her eyes wanted nothing more than to close and let gravity take its course. It had been a long day... but she wasn’t ready to give in. Not yet.
She wheeled herself around –a bit too much... She waited for the second pass to head for the door, lumbering to Ayn’s. She hammered on her door, not really caring what time it was. How long had she had truly been out there, been down below... but it didn’t matter. Not then. NOT EVER... She did not relent until Norman touched her arm.
“Sam? Are you okay?” He said, yawning. “It’s incredibly late.”
“I don’t care,” she said, thundering on Ayn’s door again. She slid the shield away, seeing that she was in bed, still awake and on her tablet. “Hey! Bitch. You know I can see you, right?”
“Uh huh,” she said... and nothing else.
Samantha punched the door, denting it in, tensing as Norman tried to move her away.
“Come on, Sam,” he said. “This isn’t the time for this. You look exhausted; let’s get you to b-”
“I’m not going to bed until I find out what her fucking problem is this time!” She shrugged him off, clawing at the slit in the door, tearing it open as the metal continued to wrap around her hands. “Did you go to Minos last night? Did you tell him?”
“No, and no,” Ayn said.
“Why! I asked nicely.”
“You did. I still didn’t.”
“What’s your problem now! Are you still hung up on the fact that I don’t want to fuck you? Is that why you became like a frigid spouse?”
Ayn sighed, exasperated, and finally looked away from her tablet. She stood, and stormed over to the door, opening it, towering over Samantha in its frame.
“No, and I don’t very much appreciate you sharing our dirty laundry with everybody.”
“Everybody? It’s just Norman!”
“Hello,” he said.
Ayn kissed him on the top of his head, then shoved between the two, heading for Samantha’s room. Samantha followed after- while Norman strayed behind, forgotten as the steps rung under their feet then the door slammed. Ayn turned around in the center of the room, glowering, scowling at Samantha, and folded her arms underneath her chest, gripping her tablet tight.
“You want to know my problem?” She whispered.
“I already said yeah.”
“But do you really? Do you really care?”
“Bitch, I’m not repeating myself, so get on with it.”
She huffed, unfolded her arms... and hugged Samantha. Their hips never touched, but Ayn still held strong. Firm. Far too... intimate. Samantha could hear her breathing, ragged, shaking a little, and felt something wet patter on her neck.
“Um,” Samantha began.
“This is where you hug back, you know,” she said, and sniffled. “It’s been so long since... anybody actually gave me a hug... That’s my problem, Sam. I’ve been feeling... lonely... I know I don’t come across as the most emotional or touchy-feely, but even I like to be held. I like to hug, to cuddle... to be cuddled... and, as of late, it’s come to a head. I miss being held by another, Sam. I miss it so much.”
Samantha... embraced her. Warily. She patted, rubbed her back as the succubus cried softly into her shoulder.
“And then, last night, when I thought I finally had a chance... I was pushed away again,” she said, clenching Samantha’s back harder. “Even when Norman was in here, he preferred to hold you... am I really that bad?”
“It’s what you come off as, yeah.”
She scoffed, pushing away, sneering at Samantha.
“Nigga, you didn’t have to be that blunt.”
“Isn’t that what you appreciate, though?”
… Ayn smirked, and waved to the bed. Samantha climbed in first, leaving her shoes behind, and turned to watch as Ayn climbed in, as well. She held up her arm- but Ayn pulled her into another hug, the pair holding each other, both weary in their own way.
“It’s getting awfully tempting to accept Lilith’s offer,” Ayn said, gently rubbing Samantha’s back, quickly fading.
“You remember, right? About how she said she could find my true love... Never thought I’d miss the intimacy, but reading about it and seeing you and Minos-”
“There’s nothing between us!”
“Right. The dinners, the movie nights, the sidelong glances you give each other in class; totally nothing.” She sighed, and sunk deeper onto her pillow, yawning. “Makes me miss hi-”
Samantha shot up, looking at her. “Wait. What was that?”
Her cheeks flushed red as she looked away. “Nothing. It was nothing. Nigga be hearing things... go to bed already. I’ll still be a while on my tablet.”
Samantha didn’t really need her permission to. She already started to fade away again, whisked away with each breath, with each rise of Ayn’s chest.