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Her house sinks down to death, and her course leads to the shades. All who go to her cannot return and find again the paths of life.
-- Proverbs 2:18-19
The world will end, or so the sagas claim, in fire and water.
Earthquakes will fell every tree except Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Gods will battle one another, and in the wake of their combat, flames and steam will blot out the sky. Without the sun's rays, summer will cease to bring warmth to the mountains and the glaciers will spread across the land.
Lilith didn't necessarily believe in the legendary descriptions of Ragnarok. She had been undead long enough to know that every religion made up stories to suit its needs. The Norsemen were no different. But Lilith lived on land once occupied by Sturmi Bonestealer, whose sagas described the cataclysmic clash of the gods that would wipe the planet clean, leaving but two people, Lif and Lithrasir, hidden inside Yggdrasil's leafy boughs, so she felt she owed the ancient bard a fair hearing.
She stretched her lean form languorously on the cold marble slab, her left hand skating up her torso, enjoying the smooth, new flesh.
Around her, six young girls -- young in comparison to Lilith, as everyone was, they had been twelve and thirteen when they were turned in 1967 -- sponged fresh blood onto her skin, occasionally squeezing drops into her eyes and mouth. Lilith swallowed what she could and let the rest soak in through her pores.
Nothing restored like blood.
Her world had not ended on that balmy April night in Los Angeles -- far across the Atlantic and the North American continent from her home near Alesland, Norway -- at the hands of Stella Olemaun. The world had not ended, but it had been close enough for Lilith.
The enormous explosion had leveled the house Lilith had rented for her mission of vengeance in the States. The pain had been intense, enormous, worse than anything she had experienced since her death, so long ago that she could barely remember it. Her skin had burned away, her organs had withered, her bones had shattered.
She had survived, though, and with the help of her young friends, she was spirited away from California, onto a freighter, and finally brought back to the shadowed forests and icy fjords of her beloved Norway.
The Olemaun woman would pay for her deceit.
Oh yes. A thousand times since that night, Lilith had sworn that Ragnarok would rain down on her head.
First Stella's husband, Eben Olemaun, had murdered Vicente -- Lilith's lover, companion, and husband these last several centuries. Then Stella had written a book (a book!) about those who had foolishly attacked the town of Barrow, Alaska, where she and Eben had been acting law enforcement. In that book, she had described Vicente's murder as if it was a heroic action. As a final indignity, Lilith had arranged to trade Eben's ashes to Stella for a computer disk containing video evidence of the disastrous Barrow invasion -- the only known recorded incident of such an event -- and Stella had repaid Lilith's generosity by trying to blow her to pieces.
Lilith closed her eyes, trying to focus on the small hands that rubbed blood across her breasts and stomach, up her legs, over her unsettled brow. Soaked in blood, she was healing quickly. But she needed to relax her mind as well as her body, needed to recuperate mentally, not just physically.
Around the world, she was hailed as Mother Blood. She was the greatest of them, giver of eternal life, matriarch of the race. Without Vicente all these months, her strength was even more important.
Without Vicente, she reigned alone.
But reign she would.
Already, as her organs reconstituted themselves, her skin growing anew and spreading over her body, her hair regaining some of its luster if not its length, she had given a great deal of thought to that. Her children were divided, some of them set on a course -- like that assault on Barrow -- that could only result in their final extermination. They needed the leadership, the guidance, that only Lilith could provide.
Lilith realized that the girl had already said the word three times, each one with a rising inflection, even a little quiver in her tone. Heather, she thought, without looking. Heather's hands were tiny, delicate, fingers no longer than the distance between Lilith's knuckles. She had black hair, blue eyes, and an angelic face that could charm a priest into offering up his own jugular. "What is it?"
"Missus, someone is -- "
Heather's voice cut off abruptly. Lilith pressed her elbows against the slab and tried to rise, but she was still too weak. She opened her eyes but saw little more than the red haze of her feeding, with indistinct shapes moving about like shadows in a dark room. She blinked, trying to clear her vision.
"Missus -- !" Then a horrible screeching.
Now Lilith could see a larger shape moving among them. The girl-shapes threw themselves at it, fighting with fang and claw, but the intruder -- a male, she could just discern -- lashed out, his strength more than equal to theirs.
The sound of flesh tearing, blood splashing wetly against floor and walls and even Lilith's nakedness.
In just moments, he loomed over her, his features becoming more distinct with proximity. Tall, his head -- like Vicente's -- had been completely shaved. Also like her husband, this one's large ears tapered at the top, almost like wings jutting out from his head. For the briefest of moments she thought it wasVicente, back from his final death --
This one didn't carry himself with Vicente's regal grace, but slouched like a common street creature. A foul smell assaulted her senses, as if he had been feeding on rancid flesh.
"I do not know who you are, but you have made a terrible mistake," she croaked. Her damaged throat burned when she spoke, forcing the words out as if pushing them across ground glass.
The intruder laughed.
For some reason, the sudden, ghastly sound actually revived in Lilith a raw emotion not felt in what could very well have been ages. It was fear.
"I would think," he said, leaning closer, "that you would be happier to see your father, dear, sad Lilith."
"You -- " she began.
"Shh...don't try to talk, daughter..." he soothed, caressing her cheek with a large hand. "You are not feeling well. Poor thing."
"I -- "
The large hand suddenly clamped over her mouth. "You never knew when to listen and when to speak. This is almost sad."
Now the hand snaked to her throat, his strong fingers pressing against the tender skin there like steel rods. He lifted her up toward him, her back losing contact with the slab.
"Hear me now, daughter. The time has come to change our ways. For too long, we have hidden in the shadows, fearing the mortals. But I ask you, does the lion fear the calf? Does the wolf cower from the lamb? Please don't answer, these are simply rhetorical questions, Lilith. And besides, you are so weak."
That laugh again, like an infant's bones rattling in a demon's skull, utterly without mirth. "So desperately weak. No, do not speak, daughter. There will be time for that." He yanked again, pulling her off the slab altogether. She tried to resist but it was useless, her muscles not yet recovered enough to even close her hand into a fist. "For too long we have been hunted by humans, chased as if we were prey instead of predator. No more. It is time for us to push back."
He closed his fingers more tightly still around her throat, until she thought he would tear through the flesh. Everything fading again. Going black. Only the cruel, unyielding voice filling her world.
"Yes, yes, I know, it's not your way. Or Vicente's. But you see...Vicente is gone. And you, daughter...you don't really have anything to say about it. In fact, I would like to think you won't be saying anything at all." Copyright ©; 2007 by Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith and Idea + Design Works, LLC