Well west of Needwood Village, and deep within Needwood Forest, there stood a tall tower of moss-covered stone. Unusual for the region it occupied, the tower’s four sides and crenelated battlements bore a closer resemblance to structures found in the British Isles than to any in North America, but then the tower’s sole inhabitant had long held a fondness for the Old World and sought to mimic it in the new.
Employing her magic, the Sirachim named Lilith had erected the tower two centuries earlier and the very sight of it terrified the native folk who then inhabited the land. The people needed little prompting to fear Lilith, however, for she had repeatedly terrorized them whenever they drew close. “Fallen From Stars,” they called her in their tongue, the name referring to Lilith’s opaline skin, and they gave her a wide berth until the rushing tide of European settlers swept them from the land for good.
Lilith noted the passing of the natives with callous indifference and for many years she enjoyed the emptiness of her sylvan enclave. She conjured glades bright with flowers and invited magical beings from far abroad, among them faeries, sylphs, and dryads, to join her in what she called New Eden. Thus did peace reign for many years in the forest, enforced by the power of Lilith’s magic, but then the first permanent European residents of Needwood Village arrived and with them commenced the taking of Lilith’s trees.
Logging in New Eden, which in their ignorance the villagers called Needwood Forest, shattered the idyllic world that Lilith had created. Unable to countenance the slaughter of her trees, she lashed out at the villagers by sending sudden storms to wreck their sawmills and frighten lumberjacks. At first, Lilith sought only to scare the people of Needwood so that they would keep their distance. Yet as the villagers persisted, her behavior grew more sinister and Lilith did not hesitate to murder them in cold blood if they came near. Accordingly, she killed Connor Bain when his lumberjacks entered the forest some twenty years earlier, an act of terror that sealed forever the reputation of Needwood Forest as an enchanted woodland where sensible men feared to tread.
A shaft of late-day sunlight streamed in through a high window, falling upon the sparkling skin of a woman of sublime beauty. The Sirachim known as Lilith lounged on an ornate sofa in an elaborately decorated chamber, her eyes closed and scalp tingling from the gentle pull of an obsidian comb through her smooth auburn hair. The long tresses flowed down past Lilith’s high-cheekbones and onto the gown of sage green silk that she wore belted at the waist with a chain of gold. Lost in a pleasant daydream of bodily sensation, Lilith did not notice when a fluffy white cat with red-rimmed eyes leapt onto the cushions by her feet.
“Mistress, it’s time you returned to work,” purred the cat.
“Oh, Alabaster, don’t be a stick in the mud,” cooed Lilith in reply. “Can’t you see I’m enjoying myself?”
“I see that, Mistress, but you told me to remind you when the sand had run out of the hourglass. That happened some time ago and yet here you sit.”
Issuing a low snarl, Lilith’s eyes opened fully. Her hazel irises darkened to black and she pointed her long fingers at the cat, levitating it helplessly into the air.
“You forget yourself, Alabaster. Must I remind you that I am mistress here?”
“N-no, Mistress Lilith, I am sorry,” stammered the cat, as he squirmed in the air. “I’ll remember my place. I promise.”
“Good,” quipped Lilith and with a flick of her wrist she flung Alabaster into an overstuffed chair.
Placing her comb on a small table of marble and gold, Lilith rose to her feet and padded lightly across the room to a thick door of iron-bound oak. Motioning with her hand, the door swung wide open, allowing Lilith to pass into a large stone chamber considerably more spartan than the room she had just left. The walls of the chamber stretched upward into darkness above a broad table laden with books, metal instruments, and small jars of colored glass. Lilith approached the table to consult a thick tome that lay open upon its top. Complicated diagrams and spidery runic script covered the book’s yellowed pages and these Lilith gazed down to regard.
Behind Lilith a shallow pit enclosed by a curb of heavy stone lay in the center of the room. Blocks at the cardinal points of the circle stood higher than the others, each bearing a carved triangle representing a direction of the compass and element of the material world – earth, wind, air, and fire. Lofty wall slits on all sides of the room let in a dim glow, but most of the chamber’s natural light entered through a double-arched window set above the table. The sun’s rays streamed in through this stained glass portal, casting multi-colored beams that grayed at the pit as if some imperceptible force there blotted them out.
Running her long fingernail down the vellum page, Lilith found the place where she had left off and resumed her memorization as Alabaster leapt onto the table beside her. At first the cat stared at his mistress while she whispered the foreign words, but soon he became bored and he commenced bathing.
“You will destroy your sister with the stone, yes, Mistress?” purred the cat between strokes of his tongue.
“I will, indeed!” hissed Lilith, her eyes growing dark, and grinning wickedly, she reached for a wooden box carved with runes. Undoing the latch, she opened the lid to peer down at a shining ruby on a cushion of blue velvet. Crimson light from the gem sparkled eerily on Lilith’s nacreous skin.
“The time has come to do away with Fiona, just as I did with our foolish sister,” she said, her voice going soft as if to hide a secret. “Magdalene turned her back on our kind for the love of a human man and for that her life had to end. Fiona begged me to let Magdalene live as she wished, but how could I? Her weakness betrayed us, Alabaster! We are magical folk and she renounced our ways by entering the world of men. Claiming that her fluttering heart would not allow her to resist the amorous advances of that Edward Morgan. Bah!”
A venomous sneer formed on Lilith’s lips. “So I put an end to her and to the threat that her apostasy posed to our kind.”
Alabaster flopped onto his side, the tip of his tail flicking in the air. “Prrrr, that’s very good, Mistress. What will you do now?”
Lilith gazed down at her book of spells. “This book contains the incantation I need to summon an ally from the darkness, a demon that will do my bidding. Have you heard of the Krytten?”
“The Krytten? No, I have never heard of such a thing. What is it?”
“Ah! The Krytten is a feline devil from the netherworld. It is powerful and swift and deadly! Yet it is also capricious and impossible to command without the jewel, without Samael’s Bane.”
“I see now, Mistress. So that’s why you searched so long for the ruby.”
“Yes. I could have easily summoned the Krytten using the spell in this book, but had I done so without possessing the Bane I could not have controlled it. It might have destroyed me and gone out into the world unchecked. I aspire to power, dear Alabaster, but I am not such a fool to think that I may unleash a demon without being able to bend it to my will.”
“Tell me, Mistress, why is the jewel called Samael’s Bane?”
“As you wish, Alabaster. Many ages ago, a sorcerer of great power also sought to use demons for his purposes. For year after year he labored over the stone, pouring all of his magic into it to create a talisman that could control creatures from below. The creature over which he sought mastery was named Samael, the same minion I intend to summon.”
“I take it he met with success?” blinked Alabaster, now rubbing a paw above his eye.
“He did indeed, but what he failed to realize until too late is that once he had given his power to the stone he could not extract it again. Very slowly at first and then with increasing speed his efforts drained the life force from him until he fell dead with the Bane pulsing in his withered hand.”
“Oh my, prrrr, how positively awful,” said the cat.
“Is it not rich?” giggled Lilith.
Suddenly, Alabaster peered up at a slit in the stone wall.
“Something is coming!” he warned.
Following the cat’s gaze, Lilith watched a crow land on the ledge in a flurry of flapping wings.
“Caw! Caw!” squawked the bird. “Men are cutting trees in the forest!”
“WHAT!” exploded Lilith. “Who are these men and where are they doing this?”
Leaping from the ledge, the crow floated down to a tall crossbar that stood beside the table.
“Caw! There are three of them and they are from Needwood Village. I watched them cut down a sacred oak with their axes.”
“A sacred oak! How dare they? By Samael’s Bane, I ought to have destroyed Needwood Village years ago when the last lumbermen entered the forest. I was rash then, however, and thought frightening them off would be punishment enough. Never should I have underestimated the selfishness of men. NEVER!”
Peering up at the fading light, Lilith shook her head ruefully. “It is late and the men will have gone soon. But they will return tomorrow and when they do I will have a surprise waiting for them.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Alabaster.
“I am going to have our feathered friend here set watch over the fallen tree and I will cast a spell so that I may see what he sees. When they return, I will go for them.”
Alabaster rose and paced an excited circle on the table. “You could do that, Mistress, but I have a better idea.”
“Pray, tell it!” implored Lilith.
“Why not summon the Krytten to destroy the men? They have already cut down the tree, so there is no way to change that, but if you set the Krytten upon them and have it slay them no man from Needwood Village will ever enter the forest again.”
Grinning evilly, Lilith wrapped her hands under Alabaster’s front legs and lifted him into the air. “Why you fiendish grimalkin, I had no idea you possessed such a deliciously wicked streak! Summoning the Krytten is precisely what I should do. I’ll set it on the men and see how well the Bane performs before turning it loose on Fiona. You’re brilliant!”
“Tink oo, ’istriss,” choked Alabaster, his windpipe clenched in Lilith’s overzealous grasp.
Releasing the cat onto the table, Lilith turned back to her book. “I must resume my work. The summoning will take time and much of my strength.”
Lighting candles to fend off the gloom, Lilith meditated at the table with her eyes closed, the strange words of the incantation slipping softly from her lips. Then she opened her eyes and taking a deep breath she lifted Samael’s Bane from its box. Holding the Bane by its golden links, Lilith slipped it around her neck before moving to a large silk cushion by the pit. The Bane glowed as if it divined her purpose and when Lilith knelt down it pulsed with a warm burgundy light. Lilith felt the jewel’s power and a smile graced her lips. Then she raised her hands toward the ceiling and opened the invocation.
“Samael, Samael, vocatis meah.”
(Samael, Samael, hear me calling)
“Audi vocem meam, Samael. Sanguine manet, Samael. Veni ad meah, Samael.”
(Heed my call, Samael. Blood awaits you, Samael. Come to me, Samael)
“Samael, Samael, vocatis meah.”
The Bane throbbed on Lilith’s chest, bathing the chamber in red light. Alabaster watched his mistress until he had fallen into a light doze. Soon, however, the awareness of a sinister presence jolted him awake and he peered around the room. Lilith lay slumped forward on her knees with her hands on the floor and her hair flung out around her head.
“I summon thee, Samael” she intoned while beneath her folded form the Bane cast a bloody glow onto the floor.
Alabaster blinked and shook his head to be sure that what he saw was real. A spark of blue fire hovered in the center of the pit, growing larger amidst a cloud of blackness that spilled over the curbstones and into the room. The fur on his back stiffened and Alabaster leapt from the table to hide in the doorway, a venomous hiss escaping from his lips.
Lilith too sensed the malevolence that she had called and she rose onto her knees. Now, however, she raised her chant and let the crimson light of the Bane pour into the blue flame within the pit. A crackling blaze of purple fire erupted upward, warming Lilith’s skin.
“COME TO THIS WORLD, SAMAEL!” she shrieked.
The column of fire flashed brightly and fell in on itself as a stench like that of rotting flesh entered Lilith’s nostrils. Then the room fell dark except for the reddish glow of the Bane.
“Sssss,” came a chilling sound from the inky blackness and two green almond-shaped eyes with feline pupils peered at Lilith from the smoke.
“I am Samael. Sssss. Who summons me?” said a chilling voice as Lilith rose to her feet.
The words sent a shiver down Lilith’s spine and she quietly thanked herself for having procured the Bane before summoning the Krytten. Then, after mustering the strength to project power with her voice, Lilith cried, “it is I who summoned you! I am Mistress Lilith of the Sirachim.”
The floating eyes narrowed.
“Mistresss Lilith. I know that name, sssss, but you are not she, the one who defied Elohim at the beginning of time.”
“That is true, Lord Samael. I am merely a descendant named in her honor. Will you not come forward?”
The black clouds dissipated, revealing a monstrous figure six-feet in height that stalked from the pit on sinewy legs. Samael’s claws clicked ominously across the stone floor of the chamber below powerful shoulders that hunched grotesquely atop a bony torso covered with loathsome black fur. Rows of sharp yellowed teeth filled the thing’s lion-like snout and revolting strands of spittle dripped onto the stones at its feet.
Repelled by the sight of the creature, Lilith shrank back, but then she recalled the power of the enchanted ruby and fought to regain her composure.
“You possesssss the Bane,” Samael hissed, pointing a clawed finger at the talisman. “I’d thought it lossst.”
“It is not lost and you must do as I bid or I will send you back to the darkness!” bellowed Lilith in reply, a slight tremble in her voice betraying fear.
A low chuckle rumbled from the Krytten.
“You think that punishment for me?” it asked, taking a step forward. “You would be but sending me home, sssss.”
“Remain where you are!” commanded Lilith. “Hell may be your home, but if I send you back you will not reap the bounty of blood there is to spill in this world. I have a design, Samael. There are lives to be taken and souls to be tormented.”
“Ach, sssss, this is another matter altogether, Mistress Lilith. I will hear your proposal. What would you bid me do?”
“I would bid you slay two men in the forest; miscreants who cut down a sacred oak. There will be a third man with them as well. Him I desire you to spare so that he may tell the others in his village that death stalks the land.”
“Two souls for Samael, sssss, is this the extent of your offering? It is meager, indeed.”
“You have a great appetite, Lord Samael. These souls are just the beginning. After the men are dead we will speak of another more gratifying task. There is one of my kind I would have you slay as well. You may take her soul with you too.”
Samael’s sinister eyes grew wide. “One of your kind? The souls of magical folk are of great interest to me, sssss.”
The revolting beast rubbed its claws together and slobbered hideously onto the floor. Repulsed by the foul thing, Lilith drew back in disgust. The very stink of it made her want to vomit.
“Do you agree to our bargain?” she choked.
“Yessss, yessss! Samael agrees. It is a worthy bargain. A magical soul. Ohhh, yessss.”
“Excellent. Then this is what you will do. Go to the place where the men cut down my tree. Keep watch there until morning and slay them when they return. Then return to me. Remember, though, you are to kill only two of them. Leave one alive. Do you understand?”
“I understand. Two souls for Samael.”
“Quite right. Now go. This crow will lead you. Serve me well, Lord Samael, and there will be a much richer reward to come.”
The crow took flight and with a hiss the Krytten vaulted after it onto the window sill. Pushing open the glass, it sniffed the air and, after peering back at Lilith, it leapt into the night. Lilith gestured the window shut behind Samael and slumped against the table. Summoning the Krytten had taken every ounce of her strength and controlling it required even more of her willpower than she had expected. Still, the Bane had worked exactly as had been foretold. It remained now to be seen if Samael would follow instructions. Killing all three of the men would not be unfortunate, but it would slow news of the terror that Lilith hoped to sow among the people of Needwood Village.
Pushing herself from the table, Lilith stumbled toward the door where Alabaster hovered in the shadows.
“It is gone?” he asked.
“Yes, Alabaster, you need fear no longer.”
“Thank the Sphinx. It is an awful thing—that Krytten.”
“It is a vile thing, indeed, but only we are here now,” replied Lilith. “Come to me my grimalkin.”
Lilith stooped to pick up the cat and stroking its soft fur she retreated to her chamber for a long rest.