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24

After Benjamin had interrogated the other two students for whom survived the carpet snake, he was no closer to finding an answer to who was after his grandson or why. Would the perpetrator allow himself to be eaten by his own summon to maintain the facade, to keep suspicion off them? If that were the case, then they were worse off than he once believed. That would mean they regressed into the shadows, just as lost in the dark than when they started.

But who would it be, in that case? There were four-hundred ninety-seven others in the belly of that beast. Four-hundred ninety-seven other potential perpetrators. Four-hundred ninety-seven others to question, and that’s only after they recovered. Professor Klan was good at what she did, arguably the best, but even then some of them would take months to be well enough to endure a questioning. No matter how far modern magic or medicine has come, there was no easy way to deal with refeeding syndrome.

Cursed carpet constrictor. Though they were only weeks inside its belly, that was one of the few tools it had in its repertoire to hasten digestion: hyper metabolic distortion. The air in its stomach made the body break down faster, accelerated cellular respiration and reeked havoc on the person as the entirety was forced to go fast, even if, say, lying in a pile with others. In fact, doing so would slow it down, since they’d be breathing more of their own air, but the first few down its gullet wouldn’t have had that luxury and so it made him wonder if one of the first victims was more than likely the perpetrator. Again, what better way to avoid suspicion than to garner pity?

That was a matter for another day, however. Benjamin stood, groaning, his back and legs popping as he straightened and stepped out from his chair. He yawned, looking out upon the starry sky above the courtyard, his eyes lazing on the tower across. It was still little more than a flickering illusion, but the fairies had done a splendid job of laying the groundwork for the marble that would once again reach for the heavens after being blasted down by shame, indulgence, and lust. Three words he never wanted attached to the Llorwyn name, alongside mercurial, absent-minded, unambitious, zealous, and the lexicon of others that was quite literally dumped upon it over the last two years.

The Llorwyn name was an old one, its bloodline ancient, revered and respected. Janice was a proud woman, a strong woman, a master of the spiritual and primal forces. She always gave her adversaries a choice: die by their choice of element, or become a mindless thrall. The amount that simply chose the latter because she was such a beautiful woman was one of the most disgusting articles that was attached to the name once upon a time, but even that was a sign of her power. Her granddaughter, Marwin, would become one of the greatest clerics ever born, while her grandson, Bartholomew, would live on in infamy for being the most merciless spiritualist to ever walk the Earth.

On and on, with each member with the Gift adding another chapter to the annals of history, adding something great, whether it be for good or bad, right or wrong, all the way to him. And what has he done? What has Benjamin added to his family’s legacy?

Something he wasn’t exactly ready to share with the rest of the world... Not aloud, at least. He was working on it, even now, as he started down the steps and to his grandson’s abode, of which was the true focus of the question. What would Mel add to the legacy? How would his progeny’s true scion be remembered? How would he etch himself into the world... because, as it stood now, he would appear to be the blot on the page, the asterisk to be ignored. And he thought Benjamin hated him? He simply wanted to guide Mel, lead him down a path that won’t lead to his own censoring, to his own silencing and removal. If he didn’t get some form of focus, if he didn’t end these random, destructive ways, that’s exactly what would happen to him. He would be an even bigger failure than every valley in between, the generations that were born to be forgotten... Eh. If the worst came, at least he had a sibling, but he was the firstborn. He had the burden of destiny upon him.

And so Benjamin walked up the steps to Mel’s tower, each step of his blue suede shoes swishing on the marble steps, as if grateful to have his presence. Mel’s door started to flicker, but, upon the great eye seeing it was Benjamin, it immediately started to open, rumbling with haste.

And the scene that awaited him made his heart die a touch.

Blood splattered every wall, running down in thick rivets. The ceiling, the illusion was gone, showing that it was plastered with more of the crimson ichor all the way up to the peak, given light by the unfinished tip. There were thick claw marks in the stone, in the floor and metal. Mel’s futon was a crumpled heap, the mattress emptied, its stuffing gone. Its metal frame was broken and twisted into a giant claw, beaten down into the ground with such force, but what about its keeper? Where was Mel?

Benjamin scanned the room, ignoring the succubus in its center though taking note that she was still glowing green and had received quite a thrashing of her own, until his eyes fell on the broken, mangled form lying against the stone plinth and orb in the top left corner. Where Mel had originally hidden it with a stand and a TV. Mel was covered in cuts, scratches, and bruises of cascading shades, the brightest of which originated at his waist. What clothing he had left was dyed purple, loose clumps simply hanging off him through sheer will.

Benjamin rushed over to him, stepping over his bent legs, taking care not to dislodge his twisted arms from the stand he sprawled back against, and checked to see if his grandson was at least still breathing. The shard of ice he held to his lips fogged, but his breathing was deep, each exhale taking minutes in between. Benjamin threw the glass aside, making the succubus in the center of the room wince as it struck her on the left tit, and gently smacked Mel’s cheek.

“Lad?” He said, giving another smack. Mel groaned, and slowly blinked his eyes open. However, he could only muster the smallest inch, which made Benjamin wonder if he could see at all. “What happened here? It looks like someone tried to take your life.”

“Felt like it, too,” he managed to croak out, panting from the force. “I got in way over my head with this.”

“Who was it? Did you happen to see them before they got away? How did it all happen?”

“I saw everything. It was as if I was... on the outside. I was simply watching everything happen. Powerless.”

“It’s okay, lad. It looks like you put up one helluva fight.”

“Mama didn’t raise no quitter. I stuck it out to the very end. And then some.”

“That’s a good man... explain what happened, Mel. In detail.”

“Well, I left your office and came back to the room. The next thing I know I was in a storm of pain, exhaustion... and oh, so much pleasure.”

“W...what? Pleasure? What truly happened here, Mel?”

“I got LAID!!!”

“W...w...what? By who? Please tell me it wasn’t with the succubus in the middle of the room.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Saliim grumbled, growling as she picked herself up off the ground. There were still gaping holes in her chest, gut, and through her left eye, but they were wreathed in green, healing as she lurched over. “No. It wasn’t. It was that other succubus... Dark Lords save me, I thought she was lying. I thought there was no way... no in all of Hell he summoned a true, virgin succubus.”

Benjamin paled, and stepped aside as Saliim lurched too close, letting her fall onto Mel. They both uttered a weak groan, echoed in the stone of the plinth they laid against, while Benjamin rubbed his chin.

“So her Hunger awakened, then,” he said, keeping his voice cool and collected. “I am so sorry, Mel. I was hoping to find the way to send them back before it happened... Where is she now?”

“I was in the kitchen,” Brin sung as she came out, and Benjamin’s heart skipped a beat seeing her. She was wearing nothing but a frilly apron and Mel’s trucker cap, so more clothes than usual. Her runes were bright yellow, almost pale gold by the sheer glow she was giving off. Even the food on the platter before her seemed cold in comparison, the steam that rose seemingly from the heat SHE was putting off. She tilted her head, giggling a little as her spade tail bounded behind her, wagging so... merrily as she skipped over. “Good morning, Benjamin. You’re just in time; I made breakfast. Stuffed waffles.”

“... H... how does one stuff a waffle? By definition, wouldn’t that be more a pancake to allow for said stuffing?”

“No, they’re waffles. See?”

“But waffles are supposed to be thinner but still airy and flaky while crunchy. Pancakes would have the volume t-”

“They’re stuffed waffles.” The way her voice changed actually did chill the room around her, back to normal as she waved a finger at him. “I was VERY careful. This one is stuffed with country-fried chicken. This one has sauteed steak- oh, and this one has shaved honey ham and fried potatoes.”

“Those all sound fucking delicious right now,” Mel mumbled, which made Brin turn to him. It was an unnatural glide, as if the world turned for her, and even continued to slide under her as she moved to him.

“I know, master. That’s why I made them.” She cut off a bit of one and put it to his lips. “Here.”

He took the bite, but barely had enough time to chew it before she was shoveling another one in.

“Enjoy, master. Enjoy! I need you nice and strong again.”

“Can’t I savor i-”

“But you are. You get to savor every. Last. Bite.”

After she tried to choke him for the third time in quick succession, he took the platter and fork away from her. She used the opportunity to rush into the kitchen and grab a large pitcher of orange juice as well as a towel, settling beside him... rubbing against as he ate. Her yellow runes started to sparkle pink, then black as Benjamin cleared his throat, pulling Mel’s attention away from the platter and, in turn, from her.

“I simply wanted to tell you that I questioned Destiny and Dennis,” he said, being very careful not to show weakness. There was a vicious predator stalking them all now, lying in wait. “Neither had any leads, so we are no closer to finding who is targeting you or why they are.”

“What are you going to do now, then?” Mel said.

“Yes. What are you going to do?” Brin said, and Benjamin could feel the underlying threat in her question.

“I will begin questioning the other students, the ones that were eaten, as they recover. In the meantime, I shall continue researching on how to unbind these poor, poor creatures from you. Without knowing the exact summoning spell you used, it has been hard to narrow it down, and that’s only accounting it wasn’t a critical failure not once but twice.”

“And? If it was?” Again, the threat was palpable in Brin’s words, accentuated by the thick, black lines that had taken over for the yellow in her runes.

“Then there may not be a way to undo it.”

“I mean, you make it sound grim, but is it really?” Brin giggled as she hugged Mel, kissing his cheek. “All we want is for master to be happy. Isn’t that right, Saliim?”

“I gues-”

“We do! So you don’t need to try so hard. Worry more about who is trying to HURT him. The sooner the BASTARD can be found, the better. So how are they, master?”

“These stuffed pancakes are great,” he mumbled, biting into the third, and you could hear the twitch of Brin’s eyebrow.

“D-don’t be silly, master. They’re stuffed waffles. Waffles.”

“But they’re wide and airy with a bit of crunch on top; these are obviously-”

“Waffles! Most definitely waffles!”

She shoved the fork hard into his mouth, tittering as he spluttered and gnawed on the stuffed breakfast puff pastry, but Benjamin saw that Hellfire in her eyes. He saw the monster underneath, the Hunger that had laid dormant for so long. Now freed.

Benjamin bowed his head and casually made his way out of the room, making sure he was out of sight and hearing before he made a dash for his office. He had rode on his laurels for too long; he had to crack down. Saliim was a weaker succubus, one who had tamed the Hunger... Brin? He thought she would be the same, thought she’d be one of the lower echelons of succubus. He didn’t think she’d be one of THEM; time was of the essence, and he prayed to Isis that it was one of the millions of summoning rituals and not a critical failure. If she was, there may be no saving him... but, at least he would be remembered. Oh, he would be remembered.

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