Rire raised an eyebrow, and Ellie pushed her hair back. “Look, there’s sort of a build up to the whole event; I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to really explain what happened without some preamble.”
Rire crossed his legs and leaned back in the dining chair, turning one hand over briefly in a “go on” gesture.
“When I moved away from home, I decided I wanted to get as far away as I possibly could. I didn’t have the best relationship with my parents, and at that point I’d lost touch with most of my friends, so I decided screw it, let’s try something crazy. I met Ceri after coming to this city. She showed me around, we had a few dates; soon we did everything together.” She traced a finger around the rim of her glass, a sad smile on her face. “One day, a couple months into it, she said to me, ‘You were right to leave everyone behind. You have a power in you that they would suppress if they knew of it.’ I just thought it was a weird pick up line, yeah?
“But as we got to know each other, she apparently meant that very literally. I’ve always kind of hoped that I had something... unique about me, I guess, and Ceri proved that to be true. She got me into witchcraft and legitimate sorcery, and I really got into it. I picked up really simple stuff easily — waving my hand and bringing things to me, making stuff appear and disappear, and then short verbal spells came pretty quick since they’re unique to each person as far as what you say and what you want them to do. So pretty soon, I had access to all this once untapped power, and I was way, way too eager to use it — I just wasn’t sure how or what to really use it for.”
Ellie paused to take a drink. “So, essentially she tells me, ‘You can use it to help me. I’ve done a few things I’m not proud of, and I need you to protect me from the people who are out to get me.’ And at first, that’s what I did — someone broke into our apartment one night, got all the way to the bedroom before I woke up, saw him, and...” She made her hands into fists before splaying out her fingers, accompanied by a wet squishing sound with her tongue. “Made his head explode.”
Rire’s eyebrows twitched at the image that produced, chuckling as he sipped at the wine. “Just like that, hm?”
Ellie started giggling, putting one hand on her face. “Motherfucker scared the shit out of me, I didn’t know what else to do! I just pointed my fingers at him like a gun and said, ‘BANG!’ Like something out of a cartoon, I swear to Christ... Anyways, Ceri started taking me to all these sketchy places and meetings, and brought me as her bodyguard.” She took another drink and snorted. “Me, five-foot-fuck-all, big blue eyes like a Barbie, a bodyguard.”
Rire smiled around the rim of his glass.
“And the looks on everyone’s faces when they saw what I could do. I mean, I didn’t go around blowing people’s heads up, that was just the one guy and I’ve never been so startled where I’ve done it again. But I could twist people’s arms, break legs, blow out kneecaps, all without ever touching anyone. Then it turned into frying their insides with the flick of the wrist, scrambling someone's brains until they were left a babbling mess with just a couple of words in Latin — there was one time where we were in public at some crazy dance club, and while I was getting drinks from the bar this fucker lunged at her in the middle of the dance floor with a knife, so I pulled his spine out from across the room.” Ellie tried to hide her grin behind taking another drink. “I dunno how, but the DJ somehow figured out it was me — I guess he'd seen his fair share of weird shit — and told me that while that was probably ‘the sickest shit he’s ever seen’, we probably weren't welcome at the club anymore. I did so much more, too. It was scary at first, but I was protecting Ceri, so I figured nothing was too far to make sure she was safe.
“After about a year, she started actively sending me out to get people for her. She never really wanted anyone brought back alive, and the few people that I did bring back were just so she could flex that she was the boss, and she wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work every now and then. All the while whenever I did something for her she rewarded me with love, and attention, and some pretty...” Ellie cleared her throat, lifting her glass and muttering, “Pretty mind-blowing sex. At the time.”
Rire couldn’t help but smirk at the addition. “I’m flattered.”
She quickly took another drink and refilled her glass, her cheeks beet red while she continued. “It was exhilarating, being so powerful. Being able to do things I’d only dreamt of doing. And I had this amazing woman who loved me and who I loved, and I thought to myself that life couldn’t get any more exciting.”
Ellie fell silent, staring down into her wine glass. Rire arched an eyebrow, patiently waiting. He watched as she clenched and unclenched her fists, feeling the slightest rumble in the room.
“...she cheated on me. She had slept with plenty of the people she associated herself with, but this wasn’t like I caught her in bed with someone else — that was whatever by that point, because I thought that the sex with me was loving, so it was different. But... I caught her when she was actively on a date with someone, whispering things and all these loving touches. The kind of stuff that... I thought was only for me...
“I disappeared for about a month after that, to sort of mull over everything that had happened. I was mostly in shock, at first. And then I was hurt, because I’d been lied to. And then... I felt humiliated, and angry, and I wanted...” The rumbling grew louder, almost thunderous, before abruptly stopping as Ellie took a deep, shaky breath. “I kept my eye on her from hiding, watching as she kept going from lover to lover, treating them all the same way she did me. By the time I came back, Ceri was all over me, upset that I was gone, wondering where I went, and at first I believed that it was true, that she really missed me.
“Then I dropped her most recent loverboy’s head in her lap.”
Rire chuckled again. “And you say she is overdramatic.”
Ellie shrugged. “Arguably only when I’m severely pissed off.
“Anyways, the second she sees I caught her, she completely changes her tune. She suddenly knew that I was aware of the relationship, and wanted me to prove my loyalty. I think she was expecting me to roll over and keep quiet about what I had seen, or to do the whole eye-for-an-eye thing and start seeing someone else. She couldn’t hide that was shaken by what actually happened, because she kept looking at the head.
“And then it occured to me: I spent so much time before I had left my hometown making sure that I would only ever do the things I wanted to, to not let someone take advantage of me and use me like past exes have, and to be my own person. And Ceri had completely ruined that for me. She buttered me up, and then almost ate me whole.” She took a sip of her drink. “I snapped.”
Rire raised an eyebrow. “Snapped?”
Ellie swirled her wine a bit, worrying at her lower lip before setting the glass down and getting up to stand next to him. She gestured for him to lean forward. “May I? It’s easier to just show you this part.”
He set down his own glass and obliged, his mouth quirking into a curious smile.
She placed her hands on his temples, and muttered softly under her breath.
Clouds of dust hung in the air like a fog inside the warehouse. The gaping hole in the ceiling provided a spotlight for the crater that lay beneath it, as well as for the two women in the center of the debris. They were bruised and bloody, and though Ellie had come out on top, her eyes were welling with tears, blurring the vision that Rire was watching through her eyes.
The brunette woman beneath Ellie’s legs laughed quietly, turning her head to spit out blood. “Look at you. If you wanted to top me, all you had to do was ask.”
Ellie’s hands wrapped around the woman’s throat, but she didn’t squeeze. Instead, she sobbed, “Why did you do it?”
The woman laughed, her green eyes glittering in spite of the immense pain she was in. “Because you’re weak! You are so, so goddamn weak. You and that stupid, soft heart of yours.” She grasped Ellie’s wrists and continued, “You can kill anyone else without a second’s hesitation, but you can’t even bring yourself to kill me; all because you just can’t bear hurting someone you love.”
“But you’ve hurt me Ceri.” Ellie’s eyes flashed with anger, and the electricity in the air thickened. “Aren’t I someone that you love?”
Ceri choked on her scathing reply as Ellie’s grip tightened and she slammed Ceri’s head on the concrete. She violently jerked her up by the neck and repeated the motion, leaving cracks in the ground and filling the cavernous warehouse space with sickening crunch sounds. The grip around Ceri’s neck tightened, Ellie’s fingers squeezing so tightly that her nails broke through Ceri’s skin. She slammed her head against the ground again, so focused on watching the light fade from the woman’s eyes that she didn’t even register Ceri weakly pushing up against her chest.
“Of all the people I’ve killed for you,” Ellie seethed, her voice low and gravelly, “you’re getting a much more merciful death than they could’ve hoped for.”
Ceri croaked, “ Désespoir.”
And then it had faded. It hadn’t been much, but Rire was surprised at how he could feel Ellie’s rage, and the sheer volume of power she had pulsing through her veins in that moment. It was reckless, lashing out every time the woman’s skull was bashed against the concrete, filling her with strength that shouldn’t have been possible for her. Ceri hadn’t been wrong: Ellie had power within her that was beyond what her appearance betrayed. The witch had trained her to harness it, without fully realizing the ramifications of what would happen if her little creation turned on her, until it was too late.
Rire decided it’d be much more interesting after all to watch the two witches fight in person.
Ellie brought her hands back, reached across the table, and lifted her glass once more, avoiding his gaze.
A slow, sharp grin stretched across Rire’s face. “You really are going to kill her, aren’t you?”
Her eyes snapped to meet with his, the shades of blue swirling like a star’s flaring tendrils. “I’m going to take her with me if I have to.”
“Let’s make a deal then.” Rire stood from the table and took her glass, setting it on the table and gesturing for her to follow him. She wandered to the couch first to grab Annabelle, and in response he wound ichor around her waist to pull her along the rest of the way. He sat down on the edge of her bed and placed her on his lap, her knees bent on either side of his legs. He smoothly took Annabelle from her hands, turning the doll over in his like he had done when they first met, before setting her aside on the nightstand.
“I’ve decided not to kill you. Yet.”
Ellie’s heart skipped a beat, and Annabelle’s eyes grew wide. “What? ”
Rire’s smile didn’t fade, and he peered at Ellie over his sunglasses. “You’ll be free to live your life until it ends. However, when it does end, and how it ends, determines a few things. If you die before killing Ceri, whether by her hands or from this curse you have, I’ll take your soul and do whatever I please with it.” He chuckled darkly, adding, “And that includes putting it in a bottle to consume at a later date.
“On the other hand, should you survive this battle, and you die at a later time, I’ll reconsider the part where I swallow your soul.”
Ellie’s hopeful expression fell. “You’ll take my soul no matter what?”
“Well, that is the price of letting you live for now,” Rire laughed, brushing the side of his hand against her cheek. “You should be thanking me, really. I normally don’t detail conditions like this for just anyone.” His hand drifted down to her neck and he curled his fingers around it, not choking, but applying the slightest bit of pressure. “I like to save it for anyone who could be useful to me, or that I find particularly... interesting.”
She squirmed in his lap some, furrowing her brow. “And... and if I refuse?”
“I really don’t think you want to know how disappointed I’ll feel if you do that.” He tightened his grip. “An opportunity like this shouldn’t be wasted so carelessly.”
Silence hung between them like a guillotine. Annabelle remained quiet, afraid that even the slightest noise from her might make Rire let the blade fall.
With trembling hands, Ellie gripped his wrist, taking as deep a breath as she could manage.
Rire’s grin split wide open, the sharp teeth within taking on a menacing gleam. “Contractus signati .”
In one fluid motion, he pulled her from his lap and onto her back, laying her on the bed and straddling her waist. The tentacle holding her retracted back to him as he loosened his cravat. Ellie, her cheeks flushed a bright red, immediately understood his intentions, and quickly went on the defensive, scooting away and sitting upright against the headboard.
Rire smiled, leaning over her, putting one hand beside her against the headboard and blocking her escape route. He brought his free hand up to her face, watching as she bristled and tried to lean away from his touch when, almost affectionately, he caressed her cheek. Ellie had squeezed her eyes shut on instinct, but when it became clear that he wasn’t going to strike her, she pried one open, slowly relaxing her shoulders.
Hesitantly, Ellie reached out a hand toward his face, mirroring him and hovering near his glasses. “...May I?”
Rire couldn’t help the laugh that crept up at the request. “So polite.” He tilted his head slightly to rest his cheek in her palm, nuzzling it before dragging his teeth over her skin. The veins at the base of her thumb were so close to the surface that the action drew blood, and her hand began trembling slightly. “As long as you’re a good little human, I suppose it’s only fair I grant you that indulgence,” he purred.
With his permission given, Ellie carefully removed his glasses, setting them aside on the table. After another moment of hesitation, she settled her hands on him, carefully keeping her bleeding palm from touching his skin as she placed that one on his cheek again, the other resting at the nape of his neck.
He looked her in the eyes, grinning wide and tracing her lower lip with his thumb. “Feel better now that you can see me?”
Ellie shook her head, but her smile clashed against the motion. “I don’t think ‘better’ is the word I would use. I think I feel even more terrified now, actually.”
Rire’s grin grew wider. “Good. Wouldn’t want things to be too boring, now, would we?”
Technically speaking, Rire could have just marked Ellie and left. He really didn’t have to fuck her before leaving, but be it beyond him to pass up such a perfect opportunity, especially since she had, once again, surprised him with how her attitude completely changed. Being disobedient, then challenging him, and then reluctant compliance — though, the last one he supposed was because she didn’t know that their fornication hadn’t been necessary for sealing the contract.
As he re-dressed, he glanced at the doll on the nightstand. “I’m surprised you didn’t have any protests to the agreement.”
Annabelle’s eyes stayed on Ellie’s sleeping form. “I did, but I was afraid of the consequences. ” She emitted a soft sigh. “It may be better this way, really. She lives, sees her revenge fulfilled, but after that... ” Her eyes finally met Rire’s. “That’s when you’ll take her, isn’t it? ”
Rire gave her a bemused, closed-lip smile. “Are you always so grim?”
Annabelle’s own smile turned sad. “That’s the condition of my existence, unfortunately. I’m afraid I don’t get to see happy endings — at least, it’s very rare. ”
He reached over and picked her up, twirling one of her braids between his fingers. “I guess it’d be pointless to lie to you then.”
He set her down on the pillow by Ellie’s head, admiring his mark one more time before flashing a toothy grin. “Until next time.”
Ellie jolted upright, her heart pounding in her ears as she pulled Annabelle into her arms. “What happened? Where’s —”
“Gone, ” Annabelle said softly. “Though, he may come back to torture you another day. ”
Ellie let out the breath she had been holding, shakily standing from the bed and going to her closet. As she passed her vanity mirror however, she froze, and looked at her neck.
It didn’t quite look like a sigil, and definitely felt like it carried more weight than one. The lines wrapped all the way around in a sharp pattern, stemming from a ring of dots on the side of her neck that looked an awful lot like teeth marks. She reached up and traced a finger along the pattern, paling. She made a soft “tch” sound, sighing as her hand fell back at her side.
“Of course he will.”