“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
Lenore snuggled up to Elliott on her huge bed, feeling his arm encircle her back. She asked him to tell her about the Great War again, not because she needed the tale repeated but just to hear his voice thrum in his throat in time with his heartbeat. It was good to know that someone else possessed a beating heart in this place and whenever she felt lonely, she would seek him out this way.
“Why don’t you tell me about your talks with Angelique instead?”
“There’s not much to tell. I learned about the Vasa Iniquitatis, which you taught me means ‘Vessel of Iniquity’ in Latin. Angelique calls them the holiest sect of the Order of the Gash but she says their members call my lord by that name, too, sometimes. She’s a good teacher,” Lenore mused, and then she frowned. “Yesterday, she asked me things I didn’t understand.”
“What did she ask?”
“It was all about love. I guess… She asked if I dreamed things – about pleasure. Then she asked about what I might want.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That I want to help – with their work.”
Elliott sighed and held her closer. “You could want more than that if you knew other experiences. You must promise me, Lenore – if you are allowed to return someday to your birth world and mine – that you will try to see things with your own eyes and learn about other paths you might take. This place will always be here … but you could have life, and love life, as I … once did.”
“Before the war?”
“I promise to learn all I can but I don’t want to leave you – or them.” She looked up at him as he closed his eyes. “Please tell me about the war.”
She daydreamed while he spoke of battles and ideals but soon lost the thread of his words as she slipped into dreams.
~ ~ ~
Elliott had told her that time moved differently in the Labyrinth. When she aged and he did not, she knew it was true. Yet she was learning so much about the struggle against Chaos and how it strove against the Order of Leviathan, that she did not notice time as it changed her.
Her dreams were filled with fragmented visions and splinters of emotion she barely understood. Angelique, her teacher in the concepts of emotion, tried to help her understand but it was all removed from real experience.
Sometimes it seemed that Chaos reached out to claim her as her body grew tall and her shape changed. Was it because she had been born in that world? She had been taught to scan her thoughts and weed out those unworthy of perfect order. Even so, and all too often, the weapons of Chaos would overcome her.
This day, waking from a dream of desire, she sat up and smoothed her hair from her face. She glanced at her nude body and felt heat rise in her cheeks. Her lord had been present in her dream. Her weakness had drawn his image from her memory, dragging Leviathan’s chosen, the Dark Pontiff of Pain, into her chaotic sin. It was an insult to the Order he served, that which she aspired to serve. Holding herself, she tried to bring her thoughts under control again.
The chamber was as silent as before but she knew abruptly that she was not alone. Looking up, she saw Xipe Totec standing at the foot of the bed. Sure her distress had called to him and that her sin was known, Lenore rose and knelt before him on the cold stone, her head bowed. She opened her mouth to speak her confession but his cold and commanding voice stopped her.
“Child, is it truly your wish to join me in my work?”
Eyes wide, she nodded but kept her gaze on the stone between his boots, her hands cupping her knees. “Though I am not worthy, my lord … that is my wish.”
“I will judge if you are worthy. This is my will for you – I will send you into Chaos and you will learn all you can until I call you home to me. You will take my lessons with you and study our enemy.” He was silent a moment and she felt his eyes on her. “You may speak.”
“It is not my wish to leave your side, Vasa Iniquitatis, but I will obey you in this, as in everything.”
“Look at me.”
Lenore raised her head and met his dark gaze. He reached out his hand and placed his fingers under her chin.
“You fear the carnality of the darts of the enemy – yet these same barbs are the very weapons Leviathan would have us bring against them. Be comforted.”
“Yes, lord, but I – am weak.”
“Because you feel desire? This is what I send you to learn. How can you fight the enemy if you cannot understand the very things we wield to defeat them? I have told you that you must learn of pleasure and pain. You have grown in both mind and body and now the time has come.”
“Can you not … teach me these things?” she whispered. He removed his touch, the lines of his mouth hardening in displeasure. Ashamed, she lowered her head.
“You are beginning this journey. My steps are too far along the path before you for such simple instruction. Were I to teach you my pleasures, you would not survive them. Is it your wish that I renounce the knowledge I hold in turn to dally as humans do, in a brief and fading desire?”
“No! Forgive me, Vasa Iniquitatis. As you see, I am weak. I only wish…”
“Tell me, child.”
Lenore took a deep breath. “I wish for my first understanding of these things to come from you. That I might know what you wish me to feel before I learn any other truth. Please, lord … I would never seek to dishonor you with any touch of Chaos.”
Swallowing her fear, she stood. She was nearing his height now. Her naked body trembled slightly as she waited for him to speak.
His hands rose, his palms, fingers, touching her arms, sliding up her flesh to rest on either side of her neck. He lowered his head until the golden pins touched her forehead, tangling in her hair.
For a moment, she was silent, shocked at his gift of touch. Then a heat entered her body, coursing through her blood, making her breath catch. It came from his flesh, from his hands, burning her nerves into aching life – and beneath its onslaught, her body changed again.
The skin of her breasts tightened, the nipples becoming so hard that she felt tiny stabbing sensations in the flesh there. The feeling from her dreams, the ache deep inside, thrummed to life and seemed to pulse with her quickening heartbeat. The pink flesh between her pale legs grew moist as her breath drew in with quiet gasps.
Without thinking, she reached out to touch his chest. Her fingers found the silver hooks that flayed him open there, pinning the flesh down in twin strips over the black leather worked with runes and whorls that were parts of Leviathan’s pattern.
“Short is the pain, long is the ornament,” she breathed, reciting a tenet of the Order of the Gash.
Beyond a clasp a hands when she had been a child, Lenore had never dared to touch his body before, let alone the markings Leviathan gave him. In that moment, seemingly with his blessing, her fingers explored his exquisite wounds. The touch of his blood on her fingertips coursed through her like the lightning of Leviathan.
His invasion of her nerve endings intensified and she cried out. Wetness dripped down her inner thigh as the mounting feeling abruptly broke, leaving her stunned and trembling. For a moment, she feared she might buckle and fall.
When his hands left her neck, his palm rested on her head as he raised his own away from her forehead. Tendrils of long blonde hair pulled loose from the pins and floated down to cover her face. Pressure on her head directed her – he was pushing her down. She almost fell to her knees before him, only regretting that she couldn’t touch him now. His hand pressed her down further, inducing her to lie on her back on the stones.
Lenore felt dazed, hardly noticing the cold. Her eyes drifted shut as she reveled in the heat snapping through her body, weakening her into a delirium that she welcomed.
“Is this pleasure?” she whispered.
“As mortals know it – yet in a form few could stand to endure.”
His fingers closed on her ankle, lifted it with the slightest caress, and set it down again, leaving her legs open wide. A soft rustling sound made her eyes flutter open and she stared as he lowered himself to kneel between her knees. The leather of his garment stretched across his thighs, the markings on it mesmerizing her.
“The first blood of the Daughter of Hell is not for mortal eyes. In this, I instruct you in pain, the root and source of true pleasure.” His hand reached for one of many silver and serrated tools hanging from the cord that wove in and out of his abdomen: a thin straight blade. “Will you have this teaching?”
“Please … yes.”
The thing he called pleasure still had her in its thrall. She brought her fingertips in front of her face and licked the crimson traces of his blood from them. The taste was shocking – burning into her consciousness like the heat of pleasure. It gave with its taste an afterglow of knowledge – some ethereal interpretation of wisdom held in the blood. Lost in the wonder of it, she slowly became aware of his fingers.
They touched her wet flesh for only a moment before opening it wide for the blade to pass inside her. The cold metal made her skin flush. Then a sharp, bright heat struck deep inside. She gasped out and her body went rigid for a moment.
Pain. This is pain. It burns hotter than pleasure, quicker and quickly over, but more intense. Nerves raw, breath ragged, she looked up into Xipe Totec’s face.
He held the blade that had pierced her up to his lips. Its silver was covered in a thin sheen of red. She watched as he opened his mouth, extended his tongue, and sliced it open in a shallow cut. Then he licked her blood from the blade as it mingled with his own.
The electricity of the pleasure in her body mingled with the sharp edge of pain, blending together until she couldn’t tell one from another. She watched him rise before her in a haze, heard the chime of metal as the blade was returned to the black rope that passed through both leather and flesh. Was he holding out his hand to her?
“Rise, child. Come to me.”
Lenore struggled to her feet, grasping his hand and grateful for his strength. Her fingers struck one of his hooks as she steadied herself against him. She found herself stroking it before she realized it and stopped.
He escorted her to her warm bed and laid her down on it, her feet barely touching the floor, her legs still opened to him. Pleasure and pain continued to coil there but pain was the first to fade. She could have wept for its loss.
Fearing he would leave her, she clung to his leather sleeve. His fingers moved to stroke between her legs again and when he held them up, her red blood dripped from them. Will it stain the leather that covers his thumb and little finger? A part of me joined with him forever…
“If you serve me, you will stand at my side through eternity.”
“But you say I must leave you,” she whispered. “I can think of no worse punishment.”
“Many trials await if you choose this path. You have tasted my blood. I will always be with you, from that moment.”
“No. In this mortal form, it could harm your mind.”
“Then take mine. I give you all – flesh, blood, soul…”
“Flesh and soul you must keep, for now.”
He bent to her body, his fingers spreading open the pale and crimson folds. When she felt the fingers smear into the blood, inserting inside her flesh, his power entered her again and this time, flowing through his touch, the gift was pure pain.
Lenore writhed with it, welcoming the blessing of it, her knees rising and widening to give him all of herself that he might want. Her mind filled with ancient and sacred prayers to Leviathan, supplications of sacrifice: praying that the Suffragor Filius of the Pit would come to want everything she possessed.
Overwhelmed by the exchange, she sank into a trancelike state, unsure if she were awake or asleep.
His voice was soft, low and distant. “Sleep. When the gate opens, I will summon you. Until then, think on these initiations. Seek to understand their mystery – their truth.”
He left her there alone. Lenore turned onto her stomach and buried her face in the pillows. She had been allowed to touch him. The hints of knowledge given by tasting his blood whirled in her mind, tilting her senses.
Pleasure … and pain.
His gifts had filled her soul – but she had never felt as alive as when the pain itself had drawn the blood from her body.
Short is the pain… What is the secret his blood whispered? The answer seemed almost on the edge of thought but before she could reach out to grasp it, sleep drew her down to oblivion.