A familiar yet awful smell fouled Alistair McCad’s nostrils and he pressed himself in fear against the wall of his green glass prison. Peering around the room, he saw nothing out of place. The sofa upon which Lilith liked to lounge stood unoccupied in the center of the room and the other décor also looked as it always did: the plush velvet curtains covering the windows, the deep carpets on the flagstone floor, and the wide array of curious artifacts arranged atop sideboard tables and bookshelves. Still, Alistair had detected the unmistakable stink of the Krytten and it made him highly uneasy.
The stench seeped in through the open top of Alistair’s bottle prison, carrying with it, if Alistair listened closely, the sound of voices from an open doorway nearby. At first, he heard Lilith chanting words in some language that he did not understand. Then the vulgar smell filled the room and Alistair heard two voices, Lilith’s, and a second, terrible voice that hissed and rumbled, chilling Alistair to the bone. He plugged his ears to shut it out, but better judgment soon took hold of him and Alistair decided to listen in the hope of learning something that might prove helpful for making his escape.
“Sssss, Mistress Lilith,” hissed the Krytten. “Why have you called upon me?”
“Lord Samael, you have been difficult to reach these past weeks,” replied Lilith in a stern tone, the enchanted ruby throbbing bloodily on her breast. “I thought the Bane guaranteed you must respond when I summon you.”
Samael’s eyes, floating eerily in black smoke over the conjuring pit, thinned to green slits.
“Tread carefully, Sirachim,” he said with palpable bitterness. “Samael has been preoccupied since the harvest of souls in the forest. The joy of tormenting the newly damned is intoxxxicating, sssss, and difficult from which to pull away.”
“It is you who must tread carefully, demon, for I possess the Bane!” scolded Lilith in reply. “Have you not benefitted from our arrangement? I desire assurance that you will come when I call you.”
Samael fell silent, his eyes drifting in and out of sight amidst the smoke.
“Sssss, you speak the truth, Sirachim,” he responded at last. “What is it you desire of me?”
“Our work is not yet complete. Have you forgotten the plan for my sister’s demise? There is a magical soul on this plane for you to collect.”
Hearing this, the eyes widened. “Yessss, Samael remembers the girl with the red hair. The sweet bouquet of her blood smelled irresistible to me. If she had not escaped, she would be mine now, sssss.”
A scowl furrowed Lilith’s brow and she shot a quizzical glance at Alabaster, who cowered by the chamber door.
“Alabaster, who is this girl of whom Lord Samael speaks?” she asked.
“Prrrr, I do not know, Mistress Lilith. I have not heard of this girl before,” replied the quaking Felim.
Lilith turned back to the column of smoke. “Pray tell us who you mean, Lord Samael. Who is this girl?”
“Sssss, is she not your sister? Her scent was as yours.”
“No, she could not have been my sister. Fiona’s hair is yellow in color, not red, and she is no girl. She is a mature Sirachim like me. Neither would she have fled from you. She would have stood and fought you with every spell at her command. By the power of the Bane, I demand you recount to me what you saw!”
“As you wish, Mistress. Once I had taken the souls of the men in Needwood Forest, I heard the cry of a youth. The souls of the young come rarely to me, so I followed the voice to a rock ledge above the glen where lay the bodies of the slain. There I spied two children, a boy, and the magical girl with red hair.”
“Do continue,” said Lilith, her fingers tapping thoughtfully on her chin.
“Ahhh, the scent of the girl!” tittered Samael, his voice growing louder. “Her blood smelled to me like honey, but she and the boy fled through the forest. I gave chase and nearly had them, but they found refuge within the walls of a faery rath, aided by a meddling cat, sssss. One of my own kind betrayed me!”
Alabaster shuddered at these words and hid himself in the darkest shadow that he could find.
“A cat? What did this cat look like?” growled Lilith.
“Of mixed color: brown, black, and gray, sssss. Black rings encircled the tail.”
“LeBits!” Lilith shrieked, her eyes growing as dark as the smoke around Samael’s eyes. “He has been missing for weeks. I thought him lost in the forest, but he’s been with Fiona. I can feel it in my bones. That’s why he shut his mind to me too. Oh, woe is me! The spy in my household has been revealed.”
The eyes drifted silently as Lilith ranted, until at last she calmed herself and turned back to the column of reeking smoke.
“Who is the red-haired girl?” she asked.
“This I cannot say, Mistress.”
Lost in thought over what Samael had reported, Lilith resumed pacing. Silence filled the room for several moments. Then an idea popped into her head.
“Lord Samael, you said there was a boy with the girl. Did he smell magical?”
“No, sssss, his was the scent of an ordinary mortal.”
“I see. I believe I know the lad of whom you speak. Remain here a moment while I retrieve something that may be of interest.”
Striding from the summoning room, Lilith went to the mantelpiece in her chamber for the bottle containing her prisoner. Alistair cowered like a trapped insect as Lilith carried the glass back to the demon.
Presenting the bottle to Samael, she asked, “Is this the human boy you saw in the forest?”
The terrible eyes squinted at the tiny figure.
“I cannot see him clearly enough,” rumbled the Krytten. “Hold him closer so that I may catch his scent.”
Lilith pressed the bottle close to the smoking column, causing Alistair, faced fully with the demon’s stench, to gag and vomit on himself.
“Ugh, I’m going to regret that later,” he gasped.
Meanwhile, the sound of sniffing filled the air and Samael’s green eyes widened. “Ahhh, yessss! That is the scent of the boy in the forest. I would gladly take his soul back with me to the Malebolge, if you so permit it.”
Lilith carried the bottle to the table behind her.
“I think not,” she said. “The boy is useful to me. Should there come a time in the future when that use comes to an end, I will give him to you.”
Still cowering in the shadows, Alabaster hissed low.
“Oh, Mistress!” he groused. “You promised the morsel to me.”
Turning the bottle upside down, Lilith dumped Alistair onto the table. He fell onto his backside and scrambled away from the puke that dripped out behind him. Lilith loomed huge over Alistair as she leaned in to peer at him.
“What is your name, boy?” she asked, her voice booming in Alistair’s ears.
“It’s-it’s Alistair,” he stammered. “Alistair McCad.”
“Well, Alistair McCad, it seems we have a mystery on our hands. Tell us the name of the girl you were with in Needwood Forest.”
Looking around him, Alistair sought to escape now that he was free of the bottle. He climbed quickly to his feet and shot toward a cluster of small bottles at the back of the table. Lilith made no effort to stop him as he disappeared among the clutter. Instead, she laughed and called for Alabaster.
“Come here, my Felim,” she said. “I have a game for you.”
Alabaster crept from the shadows, his white fur standing fully on end as he crept past the billowing column of smoke.
“A game, Mistress? What do you mean?” he asked, leaping onto the table.
“A hunting game, Alabaster. Do you smell the small boy from the bottle? Find him and return him to me.”
Alabaster licked his lips and sniffed the table where Lilith had dropped Alistair.
“Do not harm him, though,” commanded Lilith. “Simply find the boy and bring him back.”
“Yes, Mistress, prrrr.”
The cat started toward the bottles behind which Alistair sheltered, sniffing out the boy’s scent. Alistair slid behind one of the cylinders and sought a place to flee, but there was nowhere for him to go. Then he spied a large crack in the stone wall into which he might be able to fit. The cat stopped opposite his bottle and peered at Alistair through the clear glass. With his heart pounding in his chest, Alistair took a deep breath and made for the crack, but Alabaster was too quick for him and he swatted Alistair off of his feet with a single smack of his paw. Alistair crashed onto his face, the breath punched from his chest by the fall.
Alabaster pinned Alistair to the table and bent to whisper in his ear. “It is only a game this time, tiny morsel. Prrrr. Someday, though, the Mistress will give you to me and we will play a real game. You will seek to hide, but I will find you out. Then I will make a meal of you, but not too quickly. First, I will break your back so that you cannot run and then I will chew your legs. You will live for a time and suffer mightily before I put you into my belly.”
Sweat poured down Alistair’s face as the cat grabbed hold of his shirt with his teeth and carried him back to Lilith.
“That’s very good, Alabaster,” cackled the evil Sirachim. “You see, young Alistair, you cannot escape. Now, if you value your life, you will tell me the name of the girl with the red hair.”
Dangling from Alabaster’s mouth, Alistair shrugged. “She’s just someone I know from Needwood Village, a friend from school. She’s nobody.”
“Why, Alistair. Tsk, tsk. Lord Samael here declares otherwise. Are you calling him a liar?”
Alistair gulped, offering a weak grin.
“N-no, ma’am,” he said.
“If you will not disclose the name of your friend, perhaps you would prefer the Krytten takes your parents? Your surname is McCad, you say? It ought to be easy enough to find out where they live.”
“No! Don’t you dare!” shouted Alistair.
“As you wish,” purred Lilith, bending close to Alistair. “Then tell me the name of your friend with the red hair.”
Out of options, Alistair shook his head regretfully. “Forgive me, Savvy,” he mumbled.
“What’s that? Speak up, I cannot hear you.”
“I said her name is Savilla!” he shouted.
“Savilla, you say? That’s very good, Alistair. What is her surname?”
Lilith’s eyes went wide with shock. “Savilla Morgan? Was Magdalene the name of her mother? Speak quickly, boy!”
Shame gripped Alistair so tightly that he could not speak the words. Hanging there, he mutely nodded his head.
“Arrrrrrrgh!” Lilith screamed, her eyes going black with rage. “Savilla Morgan? Magdalene had a daughter with that filthy man and hid it from me. Wait! It must have been years ago that Savilla was born. Tell me, Alistair McCad, how old is Savilla Morgan?”
“Th-thirteen,” stuttered Alistair in terror.
“Thirteen! Why, that makes her old enough to begin using magic. Where is Savilla now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Alabaster, shake him!” commanded Lilith, her eyes darker than the blackest night.
The cat slung the boy back and forth, twisting Alistair mercilessly in the air until he thought his bones would break. His head spun and he groaned that he was once more going to be sick.
“I’ll ask you again, Alistair. Where is Savilla Morgan?”
“With Lady Fiona,” Alistair choked.
Lilith’s hands went to her head and she howled with fury. Taking great fistfuls of her auburn hair, she paced violently before the table, which began to shudder under Alabaster’s feet. Dust and small pieces of rock shivered from the walls as Lilith spit with rage.
“The sow knew all along that Magdalene had given birth to a daughter. She protected her and waited all of these years until … until Savilla was old enough to pass through the tunnel. The Revealing! She has gone through the Revealing, I can feel it in my bones. Oh, woe is me! Woe! Woe! WOE! Fiona will seek to turn Savilla against me because she cannot stand against me alone, not while I possess the Bane and command a demon. I must devise a plan. I must move against Fiona and her apprentice before they move against me.”
So Lilith raved until finally she began to take hold of herself. Alistair could tell the storm of emotion had passed when the Sirachim’s eyes regained their original hazel coloring. Throughout Lilith’s fit, Alistair dangled from Alabaster’s mouth, feeling the cat’s hot breath on the back of his neck. His body ached from the shaking and his stomach continued to revolt from the stench of the Krytten and the odor of vomit on his shirt.
“Alabaster, release him,” commanded Lilith at last.
The cat opened its mouth, dropping Alistair onto the table like a tortured mouse.
“I have one last question, boy,” said Lilith, pressing her face close to Alistair’s. “Was it Savilla who taught you magic? Did you learn the bottling spell from her?”
“No, I learned that myself,” croaked the tiny boy. “Savvy didn’t teach me magic. We’ve read about it together for years, but I’d never tried practicing it until she disappeared with Fiona.”
“Savvy, eh? So that’s what you call her? Learning the spell was very resourceful of you, young Alistair. You are an intelligent boy and show some potential, but you are clumsy and need to learn discipline in your studies. Spellcasting is no idle pastime. I may let you live, after all. We shall see. For now, however, you will return to your confinement.”
Lilith reached for an empty bottle of red glass. She laid it on the table and ordered Alistair to climb inside, unless he preferred that Alabaster give him a nudge. Glaring at the cat, Alistair dragged himself into the bottle. He tumbled to the bottom when Lilith stood the bottle upright and placed a stopper in its mouth. Then she turned back to the green eyes floating evilly in the black smoke.
“Sssss, very entertaining,” chortled the Krytten.
“I am not amused,” retorted Lilith. “We must design a plan to draw out Fiona and her new apprentice. The bait must be important enough to convince them of the need to fight.”
“Aye, the boy, will he suffice?”
“Mm, perhaps,” grunted Lilith, casting a glance at Alistair’s new prison. “There are also the people of Needwood Village to deal with. Their presence has been a nuisance long enough and now that I know they helped to shelter Savilla from me, I am doubly resolved to destroy them.”
“Sssss, I have an idea that will solve everything,” volunteered Samael. “Allow me to lead your legion of imps against the villagers. They will harvest souls for me and cause such mayhem that your sister and her delicious smelling apprentice will be forced to intervene.”
“Yes. YES!” cried Lilith. “The imps will do the trick nicely. In their compassionate weakness for humans, the destruction of Needwood Village will draw Fiona and Savilla, giving you the opportunity to slay them both. It is a devilish plan, Lord Samael. What do you require from me?”
“I will need you to open a door between the realms so that we may enter, sssss.”
“So be it. I shall need time, however, to prepare the spell. Opening a portal for so many beings is an arduous task, even for me.”
“Excellent, Mistress Lilith, sssss. We shall await your call. Merely beckon when the portal is open and we will come.”
“As you wish,” nodded Lilith. “Prepare then, Lord Samael. I shall not be overly long in summoning you.”
“Very well, Sirachim, sssss.”
The smoke in the summoning pit billowed higher before sucking in upon itself, taking with it the fetid stench. Lilith turned to the table and picked up the bottle containing Alistair.
“Water!” he cried.
“In due time, young Alistair,” replied Lilith cruelly. “First, there is much work to be done. I must prepare for the summoning of Samael’s army. The imps will overrun your dear town and frighten away every human within miles of my precious trees. Then Samael will destroy Fiona and your friend Savvy and I can return to my solitude as the queen of New Eden.”
“You can’t do it!” shouted Alistair.
“Ah, but I can,” cooed Lilith. “And, what’s more, I shall.”