“Each day of human life contains joy and anger, pain and pleasure, darkness and light, growth and decay. Each moment is etched with nature’s grand design – do not try to deny or oppose the cosmic order of things.”
– Morihei Ueshiba
She felt his presence in her mind and turned, arms opening in welcome – but it was not her lord. Surprised, she ran to embrace her father.
Lenore, at last.
Father! I’ve missed you.
He held her close, and she listened to his heartbeat. It was an old comfort she no longer needed, but Lenore found she wanted it desperately. She covered his heart with her palm, imagining that she could feel its rhythm through his uniform.
You finally found me – and I haven’t forgotten my promise. I met the human who sired this flesh. I will seek out the others soon.
Lenore, no. Leave them in peace. I was wrong to try and reunite you. They won’t understand the changes you’ve been subjected to, and the knowledge of your heritage alone could bring harm to them.
I already told the male I was made of his flesh. If I’m not to seek them out, what would you have me do?
Desire a life of your own, and find love.
I have love – but I was sent to learn many things.
There is something I must tell you, and I need your help. It will further your lessons, too.
What is it?
Kirsty. She is balancing on a knife edge. Help me save her, and you will save yourself, too.
I understand you are not in agreement with the Favored Son, father, and it grieves me – but I don’t need to be saved from him. I am his.
He will take you as one of his legion perhaps, but you aren’t the one he will raise up to share in his power. He wants Kirsty for that.
Lenore pulled back away from him. No. She can’t – she rejects him and all of the teachings.
Do you think he wouldn’t take her, willing or not? I felt something in her – a wish to redeem you and with you, herself. It was the only hope I found. He touched her shoulder. You must trust me. What you want to become, it is not as he has led you to believe. Turn back, find all the delights the world can give you. It’s not too late for either of you.
Lenore picked up his hand and kissed the knuckles. Father, I knew this day would come. There is a choice before me, the same choice that has waited all my life, though I never understood it fully until now. I must follow one of you, and keep only those commandments, live only that belief.
Don’t do this. You can defy him. He knows it, and so I do. When she didn’t answer, his eyes darkened with pain. If you won’t do as I ask, and you must serve him, you can still help Kirsty. If she falls, it will be to take the place you covet. She must live, and want life again.
She reached out and held him close. Expecting tears, she felt none threaten, and a tiny joy was born. Human emotion was losing its hold on her, as her lord had promised it would when she claimed her destiny. The knowledge softened all regrets.
I love you, father, forever. I will help her if I can, if she will allow it.
Lenore woke and sat up as a small frown curled her mouth. Her eyes narrowed.
“I will not allow Kirsty to steal my place.”
She left the couch to stand naked before the windows. It was still dark, but morning would come soon. Her fingers touched the chilled glass.
“I choose,” she whispered, “and I will follow my lord’s wishes – in all respects but one.”
Lenore dressed warmly in clothing that Kirsty had said was alluring. Every piece of cloth was put on with reverence, as a priestess would dress for the consummation of sacred rites.
Pulling her long coat on last, she paused to listen. Kirsty’s room was quiet, and Joey didn’t stir upstairs. Silent as a ghost, she left them.
~ ~ ~
The city was as much a maze as the Labyrinth but without the pristine perfection of Order. She didn’t fear it now, as she had when they had brought her here. It was Chaos, her enemy, but she was not helpless and she knew her path. The Dark Pontiff of Pain had shown her what she must do.
As the sky began to lighten, she found them: males, boys – some barely her age, some older. They loitered around a lamp post, smoking cigarettes and posturing for the passing cars. Their uniform was ratty denim, t-shirts and plaid work shirts, tennis shoes and heavy boots. They shivered in thin jackets. She watched them from across the street until they noticed her stare.
“Hey, Goldilocks, lose your bears?”
Crossing the street, she walked into the midst of them, unconcerned as they gathered around. “I want two of you. You,” she pointed to the youngest and most beautiful, “and you,” she added, indicating one of the older males.
“Sure, sweetheart,” the older boy said, grinning, “but you look a little young for our prices – and Stevie here, he never goes with girls.”
Lenore reached into her coat pocket and pulled out the roll of bills Kirsty had given her for shopping, or if she got lost in the city.
“I have enough. Where do you go?”
“Not the Ritz, babe. Our own home sweet home isn’t gonna be –”
“It will be fine, if it is private.”
~ ~ ~
After she dressed, Lenore sat in the armchair again to watch them. Mark was half asleep, draped over the younger Stevie. That one stared back at her around his friend’s shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to touch her, so Mark had done it, and then she paid them to be with each other as she lay near them.
It was instructive, but hollow, and the pleasure given was weak. They had seemed to take greater enjoyment in each other, but she wondered if they would find it paled in comparison to the gifts of the Cenobite. Without a Lament Configuration, she couldn’t know.
Mark stirred and picked up his head to look at her. “You surprised me, Goldilocks. I’d have bet all the money you were a virgin richie pulling a prank.”
“My Order values experience, not purity.”
“Order? You screwing a priest?”
“This act is beneath him, but he set me the task of understanding it. There is another lesson you can help with, however.”
“Slap another president on the rest and you can learn whatever you want.”
Lenore rose and slipped her hand into her coat pocket. The coat remained draped over the chair when she approached the bed.
“Close your eyes.”
When he obeyed, she brought the thin switchblade forward and stabbed his throat. Stevie’s cry of horror was cut off when the body fell over him. He scrambled out of the bed as Mark clutched at his neck. Lenore gave Stevie a long slice down his arm, but didn’t try to stop his escape. The door crashed behind him as she turned back to the bloody bed. Mark made a gurgled choking sound as he tried to staunch the wound.
It took some time to secure him to the bed frame with sheets and both belts from their clothing, but his strength was gone by the time she managed it.
The blade, stolen from Kirsty’s suitcase, wasn’t strong enough to sever limbs or head. Pointing the blade down, she pierced the belly, watching the blood well and flow as the body bucked.
Her sense of his pain was limited, and she couldn’t consume it as the Cenobites did. Nor could she strip the flesh at once, or explode the body. That power awaited her, but for now, the blade would be enough. As the room became quiet, she got to work.
~ ~ ~
Voices called and shouted in the street at the front of the building as Lenore slipped silently down the back stairs. Her coat covered the few blood stains on her clothes. In her pockets, she held the cleaned and folded knife, and the remaining money.
Turning down another busy street, she was swallowed up by the hustling mob of the morning pedestrian traffic.
A woman’s voice, hesitant and weak. She stopped and located a car, one of the yellow ones Kirsty said you could wave to and have them take you somewhere. A woman sat in the backseat, calling to her from the open window – the woman who had wanted to see her tattoo.
Her father had asked her to keep away from this woman, but the Favored Son wanted her to find her birth family. He had given no instructions to harm them, so for now, she could please them both.
Keeping her coat closed, she walked to the waiting car. “Hello.”
“I’m so relieved I found you. Joey said you were missing. Get in, and I’ll take you back.”
Lenore struggled to remember her name. “I want to talk to you … Bobbi. Can we go somewhere quiet?”
Bobbi opened the door and let her in. “I’ll take you home. I wanted a chance to speak to you, too.” She brushed Lenore’s hair back with a fond gesture. “I have so much to tell you. I hope you can believe me – and I want to introduce you to someone very special.”
~ ~ ~
The Ramsay home was a comfortable place that had slowly acquired some trappings of the family’s growing wealth. A woman who seemed to be some sort of servant moved around the room preparing food.
Lenore sat at the kitchen table with the toddler on her lap. Louis stared up at her with wide blue eyes. Bobbi sat next to them smiling, her eyes bright with tears.
“I don’t understand it,” Bobbi told her again, “but I know it’s true.”
“They made you grow up. Why?”
“I don’t know. I thought I lived my life there. Kirsty said it must have been dreams, all within the same year as I grew. I have not presumed to ask my lord why.”
“You can’t mean one of them?”
“Bobbi, things aren’t the way they said.” She paused, and smiled. “Mother.”
The woman’s fingertips covered her lips as tears slipped down her face. “May I call you Renée?”
“If you wish … but I shall have a new name soon.”
“What do they want with you, or us?”
Lenore frowned. “The Favored Son never told me his purpose or plans. Only that I should come here, to learn. Yet the others have lied to you. The Cenobites are at war with this world, that is true, but they are not evil. They have been kind to me, and love me.”
“Can you tell me anything, about Jack? If you remember him…”
“It’s been so long.” Petting the child’s dark hair, Lenore sighed. “If I had a puzzle box, I could reach him.” Raising her eyes to meet Bobbi’s, she saw the naked undying hope there and smiled.