“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.”
– John Milton
Time was an idea she barely recalled as she grew and her world had long ago shrunk between the walls of the private chambers she occupied. The chambers belonged to her benefactor, the lord of the Cenobites, but she saw him seldom in his vast and varied rooms.
Her constant teacher and companion, the man she learned to think of as her father, was a slight man with kind eyes as brilliantly blue as her own. His name was Elliott Spenser, and he had named her Lenore, meaning ‘light’.
Elliott had taught her to read and write, and told her many things about her birth world, though she couldn’t remember it anymore. He always hesitated to instruct her about her immediate surroundings, the winding eternal hive that made up the Labyrinth – and he refused to discuss the nature of her benefactor at all.
Angelique would visit her at times and Lenore would ask her questions. She knew the woman was a Cenobite but she always appeared in these chambers in her human guise, her dark beauty a mysterious fascination. There was some mystery about Angelique’s status, too. Her manner was regal, privileged – but she was as bound to the service of her lord as any of the other creatures that dogged his heels.
From Elliott, she knew that the Labyrinth was endless and that it existed in a different place than the world called Earth. Yet Angelique told her of Leviathan and a little of the work that she did for Xipe Totec, her lord and master. The collection and manipulation of souls baffled Lenore. She assumed that they were being punished but she had no concept of what really took place beyond her walls.
The fear Angelique showed whenever the lord of the Cenobites might approach confused Lenore too. Xipe Totec was a stern cold presence in her life but he had never offered her harm.
She knew his power protected her from the many creatures who served him and that his will provided for her needs. This was enough to win him her loyalty, though she wished sometimes that he might want her company more. Because of that, the few times he would send for her to attend him at his chair, she always listened intently to the things he told her, learning quickly anything he seemed to wish her to understand. At those times, he would answer many of her questions.
The best moments were when he would take her out into the Labyrinth itself, never entering the individual doors they passed. Once, he had escorted her out to see Leviathan. He made no demands upon her to decide how she felt about any of the things she learned or saw, seeming content to allow her to form her opinions about all of it in her own time. This freedom, long before she became his acolyte, won him her love.
She often tried to discuss these discoveries with Elliott when she returned and she found that this was the only time he would talk about the lord of the Cenobites at all, asking what he had shown her, told her, and helping her to understand the things that he could explain. She was surprised at how much he knew about it all, too, since he never seemed to leave their chambers.
Once, Xipe Totec had called her to his side and told her many things about human frailties and how she must not learn to adopt them.
“You are young, child – yet you may step on the wrong path if you are not watchful. Observe your own thoughts and emotions; learn which of them are worthy and which should be discarded. This will become easier as you grow older and as you learn much more about the ways of your kind.”
“How old am I?” She asked. She stood at the side of his chair in the room Angelique called the Chamber of the Schism.
Though she rarely dared to, as he rarely allowed it, she touched his pale fingers with her own. He didn’t withdraw his hand, the palm flat on the ornate heavy stone arm of the black chair. Encouraged, she slipped her fingers between his.
“Your human years remain the same. In this place, your soul could claim a decade, though you need not be concerned about time. Your blood will tell you when you are grown.”
“Will you let me help you then?”
“Perhaps, when I feel you are ready – but you would have to endure many changes to stand at my side and share my work with me. As you are, fragile flesh, you are not safe to walk alone through these halls.”
“I would do anything.”
He turned to look at her and she gazed into the abyss of his eyes fearlessly. “First, there are other matters, other lessons to learn, which can only be experienced through the possession of warm mortal flesh.”
Her fingers twined with his fully as he lifted his palm. His skin was cold and she had learned long ago that Cenobites, servants of Leviathan, were not mortal.
“What lessons?” she whispered, enthralled.
“Pleasure – and pain.”