“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Lenore toyed with tendrils of Kirsty’s hair, listening to her breathe as she slept. She didn’t want to get up and return to the couch.
Why does it matter if Joey knows? Can’t I have pleasure if I want it?
She tried to relax again, but something tugged at her memory and the feeling that there was more to experience persisted. She pressed her fingertips to her lips and licked them slowly. A strange sensation ran through her, making her body shiver.
What is it? What’s missing?
Tears filled her eyes. Her dreams were full of images she didn’t understand. Kirsty would listen but always refused to explain them, and Lenore felt she knew more than she was saying.
As quietly as she could, she got out of the bed and pulled her nightgown back on. Crossing the room, Lenore saw the cardboard box full of documents sitting on the floor by the closet. It had been on the coffee table outside, until she gave up this bedroom to Kirsty.
Is the photo in it? She knelt beside the box and picked up some of the papers. Joey had the picture of her father upstairs, but she wanted to see the other one. There.
Lenore picked it up. It was lying on a sketch of an intricately decorated square object. Looking from one to the other, she froze. There was a pattern to the black clothes worn by the strange being in the photo, though it was hard to make it out clearly. Her other hand reached out to stroke the patterns of the sketch. Memory trembled, and without knowing why, she knew they were the same.
~ ~ ~
“Joey had to show up at work this morning,” Kirsty said as she closed the bedroom door behind them and locked it.
Lenore let her strip off the nightgown and allowed her to lay her down. The pleasure she gave felt good, but it wasn’t enough anymore.
Kirsty moved to her side and kissed her. “Something wrong?”
“I want to know about my dreams.” When Kirsty tried to look away, Lenore caught her chin and stared into her eyes. “Why won’t you tell me?”
“Some dreams can hurt you.” Kirsty kissed her again, her hands stroking her. “Forget them and be with me.”
“Tell me about the Favored Son.”
“The less you know about him the better.”
“I want to know more, to experience more.”
Kirsty sighed. “Do you want to live? You could have a lot here. Go looking for him and you’ll get us all killed. I’m a better bedmate, trust me. His idea of pleasure is gut-wrenching pain.”
Lenore frowned. She got up and put her nightgown on. “I’m hungry.”
Kirsty frowned and got up. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were raised a princess.” She left the room without looking back.
Lenore heard her opening cabinets in the kitchen. She went to the document box and put it on the bed. Setting the photo and the sketch aside, she quickly went through the rest of its contents.
When Kirsty returned with a breakfast tray, Lenore didn’t try to hide what she was doing. Putting her father’s letter back with the papers, she picked up the photo again. The sketch of the patterned square, called a puzzle box and the ‘Lament Configuration’ over and over in the documents, was still on her lap. She studied the face of the being she knew was called the Favored Son, trying to force her fragmented memories to tell her who he was.
“You called him a Cenobite, from the Labyrinth, or Hell. I don’t understand why you won’t tell me anything. This puzzle box is in my dreams – so is he.” She looked up at Kirsty. “You talk with Joey about it. You’re both afraid of him. Why?”
“His kind destroyed my life. He tried to kill Joey.” She set the tray down and glared at her. “He would kill us if he found us.”
“In my dreams, he tells me to find a puzzle box. He says it will make me remember … and he told me you have one.”
~ ~ ~
Joey and Kirsty were arguing in the living room. Lenore opened the door a crack and saw Joey pointing angrily at the documents box that Kirsty had returned to the coffee table.
“That’s how she figured it out,” Joey said. “It’s all there. Why didn’t you tell me you brought one with you?”
“It isn’t to use. It’s insurance.”
“I thought you were destroying them. Damn it, Kirsty – what the hell are you doing with her?”
“You said Elliott wants her to have a human life. I’m teaching her to want one.”
“In this reality, it’s called statutory rape.”
Kirsty laughed. “The only crime that scares you is libel. Besides, what court of law is going to believe she’s five years old? She can live with me and I’ll keep her safe. What’s the harm? You’d rather hand her a puzzle box and battle demons?”
“I only wanted to get the tattoo information back to Jack Merchant’s family. It could make the Elysium machine work someday. If it’s meant to defeat the Cenobites, I’m behind it a hundred percent.”
“We could ask Louis,” Kirsty replied, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Why didn’t you tell me the Cenobite was after you?”
“You never mentioned having chats with him in your dreams.”
“I’ve been playing keep away several years longer than you. I’m the last person who is going to mess with this crap. You haven’t got a thing to fear from me.”
“Elliott said the demon wants you. He said you were in danger.”
“I’ve been in danger since I was eighteen. Longer, if you count visits from Uncle Frank.”
“Please be honest with me. Why does he want you?”
Kirsty sighed and sank into the couch. “I’m probably earmarked for a post on Hell’s sales team. I’ve ‘won the suit of the Prince of Hell’. That’s a quote.”
“And it didn’t seem important enough to mention?”
Kirsty lowered her voice and Lenore strained to hear her words. A sick feeling twisted her guts. In her dreams, he had called to her – told her to come home to him. The pleasure he had given her had taken her breath away – shorter and sharper than what she shared with Kirsty. She wanted more.
Turning from the door, Lenore shut it softly. For a moment she stood still, looking around the room.
Where is it?
She opened the closet and pulled out Kirsty’s suitcase. Half an hour later, the bedroom was in shambles and she had found nothing.
Does she keep it with her? The coat!
Lenore crawled quickly from her search under the bed to the coat that hung off of the back of a chair, but its pockets were empty. Slumping in defeat, she fought back tears.
~ ~ ~
Dinner was a silent ordeal until the phone rang. Joey went to answer it. Lenore got up from the table and wandered to the couch. Kirsty had been out that afternoon without saying why or where she’d gone. She’d asked Lenore to straighten the room without commenting on why it was torn apart.
Reaching for the television remote, her eyes rested on Kirsty’s purse. It sat in a chair across the living room from her. She flinched when Kirsty sat beside her.
“It’s not in there,” the woman said.
Lenore stared back at her. “I read that journal. There’s a lot of them.”
“I know you heard us this morning.” She reached to stroke Lenore’s golden curls. “Elliott wants us to help you find a life here. I’d like to do that, if you’ll let me.”
“But you won’t tell me the truth.”
“I haven’t lied to you, either.”
“I want more.”
“Show me what you want.”
Lenore covered one of her breasts with Kirsty’s hand, holding it there as she kissed her. Breaking the kiss, she moved her lips over her ear and whispered, “Give me pain.”
Kirsty recoiled, moving away from her. “No.”
Joey approached. “I don’t mean to interrupt your felonious pursuits, but that was Tom Ramsay on the phone. He wants to meet me. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Should I come with?” Kirsty asked. Lenore kept her eyes on her.
“Not the best plan, leaving her alone. In the interest of our new agreement to be honest with each other, I’ll tell you what he had to say when I get back.” Joey headed out the door without another word.
Kirsty turned back to Lenore slowly. “Lovers shouldn’t hurt each other.”
“There’s a lot of those, too,” she replied, and left her.
~ ~ ~
The covers had been torn to the floor an hour ago and both of them were bathed with sweat. Lenore’s teeth bit down on Kirsty’s nipple again, making the woman’s back arch as she moaned.
Working wet fingers inside her, she would withdraw again and again to ply her fingernails against the delicate slick skin in vicious pinches.
Kirsty had been shocked to discover the pleasure of pain, and leading her into it had made Lenore feel closer to her. Receiving it was exquisite, too – yet nothing they did matched what she’d felt in her dream of the Cenobite.
When they heard Joey return, they were lying panting in each other’s arms. Kirsty kissed her forehead and got up. Pulling on her bathrobe, she avoided Lenore’s gaze and went out to speak to the other woman.
Lenore turned onto her back and closed her eyes. “Who are you?” she whispered. “Please help me. I can’t find the puzzle box.” Trying to relax, she forced her breathing to be even. She held her fingers to her mouth and drifted into sleep muttering the words ‘favored son’ against her fingertips.
Images bloomed in her mind. A flash of metal in water – the box, not twelve feet away from her. With a shock, she woke.
Voices in the kitchen spoke softly when she opened the bedroom door. Both women looked up at her and a slight blush colored Kirsty’s face. Lenore smiled at them and went down the hall, her hands knotting in her nightgown.
Locking the door of the small room behind her, she placed a knee on the lowered lid and lifted the heavy porcelain cover of the tank. Shimmering at the bottom was a yellow glint. She set the cover over the sink and reached inside the tank. Her fingers closed on the plastic bag that held the hard intricate surface of the box and lifted it out.
She tore open the bag and grasped the object, discarding the plastic on the floor.
Dripping water soaked her lap as she turned and sat on the lid, stroking the glistening thing in her hands.
In the distance, she could still hear the women talking, but another voice spoke almost at her ear. Lenore twitched and glanced around; she was alone. The voice, distinctly male, low and full of majesty, was speaking in her mind.
You are beginning this journey. If you serve me, you will stand at my side through eternity.
The touch of his flesh, ethereal white and cold, made her shudder, but it wasn’t him she touched – it was the box. Had she pledged something to him?
Flesh and soul you must keep, for now.
Kirsty had said the Cenobites only killed – but this being reminded her of a priest. The pleasure and the pain rose in her memory, enticing her and frustrating her at once.
Think on these initiations. Seek to understand their mystery.
What had the initiations been? “Please help me understand,” she begged him. Her thumb stroked across the center circle of one of two matched sides. It depressed slightly, like a button. She sucked on her index finger out of habit and felt the soft electric shock again. What was it?
You have tasted my blood. I will always be with you.
Tears rose to her eyes. She’d been alone – but he seemed wise, even kind. Why did the women fear him?
In the moment that I claim your soul, you will know your true name – and all of Chaos will tremble.
“Chaos. Kirsty calls this world that, but he is a lord of the Labyrinth. The Prince of Hell… Why can’t I remember?”
Do not fear the veil that will cover your memory – seek the patterns of the Lament Configuration and you will know again who you are, and who awaits your return.
“Favored Son, help me. I want to know you, and myself.” She held the box tightly in her hands, caressing it over all six sides. Her eyes were closed in prayer. “Show me.”
As she fell silent, a black light began to glow from the box. She knew it was only a vision in her mind, but she watched it eagerly. It enveloped her body, and inside it, she saw a thousand flashes of memory at once.
The Cenobite carried her out of fear. His hands on her neck, the gift of pleasure, his lips on her flesh, the gift of pain. Her vow to serve him, and the Labyrinth … the voice of Leviathan. The thing called the Schism, and then – nothing. A horrifying loss descended as his name left her at the gate of Chaos, her birth world … and the enemy of her lord.
The box was struck from her fingers to clatter across the tiles. When she reached for it reflexively, she felt a blow against the side of her head. It knocked her to the cold floor. She lay there dazed, but not from the attack. The shuffling images in her mind prevented her from feeling the pain. A small stab of regret for that washed over her.
“What are you doing, damn it!”
He said he wanted me to return, she confided to the tiles. Her vision swam as she was hauled up to sit leaning against the wall.
The images hadn’t stopped and abruptly he was before her in her mind, the eternal smile of benevolent guidance on his lips, and she was bathed in the dark blessing of the Black Pope of Hell. Weakened and stunned by the glory of it, she slipped back down to the floor.
Dust motes shined like diamonds, her lashes were branches on a sill. She knew hands tugged at her but she couldn’t feel them. He was calling to her, bidding her to come.
“I obey, Vasa Iniquitatis,” she whispered. As she succumbed to the pull of the visions, her eyes slowly closed.