Fifteen years ago…
Samantha woke with a start. She lay still for a moment, head on her pillow with her eyes open, as she listened for what may have woken her. Perhaps it had been the sound of the mansion settling, or maybe it had been a dream. She sighed, and put a hand to her forehead, fuzzy-headed and annoyed. She’d been living in the demon Vassago’s house for nearly two months now, and rarely had a good night’s sleep. He was teaching her what he knew of the dark arts, but she was growing weary of the beast, who mostly looked at her with condescension, or like she were a tasty morsel to eat, depending on his mood. Was what he was teaching her worth it? She knew what she wanted – to climb the ranks of La Faer Noir, to get in the front door and become someone, crawl up from the life of a lowly demon feeding off of the table scraps the big boys dropped. She knew she belonged at the top. It was her destiny. She felt it in her bones. And she would do whatever it took to achieve her dream. Even if it meant suffering a sexist, haughty old demon who thought he knew more than everyone around him. She only hoped that the time spent here would be worth it, that it would nudge her one step closer to the world she craved. She’d certainly learned some interesting things, but were they the right things? Were they the sorts of things that would impress the right people? There was no way to know. She would just have to absorb all that she could and hope that when the time was right, she impressed the right people with her knowledge, her determination, her power.
Turning over, she saw the moonlight filter in with the billowing curtains and smiled at the romantic scene. She closed her eyes and willed sleep to come, forgetting that anything had awakened her in the first place.
And then she heard it. The sound of a scream. A cry of utter agony echoing through the halls.
Sitting up straight, Samantha was suddenly wide awake. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she inched to the edge of her bed, wondering if the sound had been her imagination. She pulled on her silk robe and slipped off of the bed, her feet meeting the cold tile floor with a shiver of pleasure on the warm night.
The scream echoed through the halls again. It seemed to reverberate through the walls, and caused Samantha’s hands to shake with something like fright. She chastised herself, and clasped her hands together. She was a demon, and had nothing to fear. Except perhaps whatever it was that could make a powerful demon like Vassago cry out like that, as if his body was the definition of pain.
What power the creature that had the ability to make Vassago scream for his life must wield. Samantha had to know where such power came from. And so without a second’s thought of running from a creature able to sow such discord, she followed the noise of her teacher’s agony, her body shuddering with anticipation as she hurried along the dark, empty hallways that led her toward the source of the wretched sounds. He was weeping, begging for mercy. Vassago! It was unheard of.
Samantha shook her head incredulously, then paused outside of a heavy wooden door. The library where Vassago kept his most precious books under lock and key. No one was allowed inside, not even under his supervision. She was sure the sounds had emanated from this room. She glanced up the halls, deserted and silent. The other apprentices who had come to learn from him had probably all fled after hearing his first cries, the cowards. But she would not waste such an opportunity. She would see what sort of beast made a mighty demon lord howl with pain, and cry disgracefully. Then perhaps she would have learned something after all, during her stay here.
Despite the brave front she put on, she hesitated as she laid her hand on the door. She could no longer hear his cries, but she could feel the residual fear that lay on the other side. A succubus fed off of emotions, after all, usually from arousal and pleasure, but also pain and despair to a lesser degree. And she felt it radiating in waves from the library. Although she could tell before she opened the door that Vassago was dead. The lingering energy was fading fast, growing cold, as surely as his body. And perhaps she would meet a similar fate should she spy on the creature who had performed such a deed, but that was a chance she was willing to take. It was such risks that separated the strong from the weak. It was the mark of character that would propel one to greatness.
But she was still unprepared for what she saw in that room.
Blood was everywhere, splattered on the heavy velvet curtains drawn over the windows, staining the spines of ancient books and manuscripts lining the shelves of texts that bordered the room. One long intestine was laid out methodically along the floor, coiled as if someone were carefully placing it to measure its length. Samantha knew immediately that he’d still been alive when this had occurred. The amount of agony she’d felt from the room corresponded with the scene.
Samantha’s eyes flicked up to the blonde woman who was leaning back against the expensive oak desk, a look of rapture on her face. Her head was thrown back, her eyes closed, a big smile spread out over her face. She was a little thing, very pretty, and seemingly harmless. The blood that ran up to both of her elbows, however, told a different story.
As if sensing another presence in the room, the girl suddenly looked up, causing Samantha to flinch. She drew in an involuntary breath, but lifted her chin to impress upon the girl that she wasn’t afraid of her.
“Glorious,” the blonde said, stretching as if she were waking from a luxurious nap. She slid off of the desk and glanced down at the intestines laid out before her. “For all of his bravado, he was rather a weak creature in the end, wasn’t he?” She looked up and Samantha met her clear blue eyes directly, marveling at their intense color, so like the sky. Just above her eyes, in the middle of her forehead, hung a pale pink stone from a silver chain that disappeared into her hairline. “But I find that most arrogant, self-absorbed men turn out to be utter disappointments when their strength is truly put to the test. And so predictable. They promise a challenge, but they inevitably burn through their wishes like little inexperienced schoolboys.” She shrugged. “Power corrupts, as the saying goes.”
“Who are you?” Samantha asked. She looked from the girl to the bedlam around her, and it didn’t seem to quite add up.
“I am Tessa. And you would be?”
“Samantha. Samantha Cummings.”
Tessa cocked her head and looked her over. “He was your teacher?”
Samantha licked her lips, resisting the urge to examine what was left of Vassago. “He was a tool, to learn, to grow more powerful.”
“A tool for power, hmmm?” Tessa smiled, and it reached her eyes, which sparkled dazzlingly. “How wonderful. But you haven’t tasted true power yet, Miss Cummings. Would you like to?”
Samantha looked at her uncertainly for a moment before nodding.
Tessa watched her carefully, before seeming to decide something. She grabbed something off of the desk that caught the light, shining like gold, and tossed it to Samantha.
Samantha caught it and stared down at the shape of a simple oil lamp, fashioned from what seemed to be pure gold. “What is this?” she breathed, feeling something intoxicating radiate from it.
“Power,” Tessa said, taking a step in her direction. She lowered her eyes to the lamp. “And please, be more of a challenge than Vassago, my dear Miss Cummings.”
“I don’t understand.” Samantha rubbed a splatter of blood from the side of the lamp and watched it gleam, as if winking at her. A shiver crept up her spine as she felt something like strength course through her veins from where she touched it. It ran up her arm and filled her whole body with a delicious feeling. Her eyes widened as she gazed down at the lamp, and the power suddenly seemed obvious, the air shimmering around it excitedly, like it were ready to burst from mere contact with the item. The lamp was something more than it seemed. Something old and terrible and full of magick.
She looked up, and Tessa bowed her head slightly. “It’s simple, really. Just…make a wish.”