The screams started long before the blades first grazed skin. Raum basked in the delightful sound, the need to appreciate it making him sway through his laboratory in a lonely but graceful waltz. How he loved this, how blessed he felt he could appreciate the delicate pleasure of hurting others past the point of return. He took in the exact moment when the first blood drop fell, the string chord tune it produced and how it perfectly balanced the screams on the forefront. What a bliss.
The couple of prisioners chained to the walls were courteous enough to not spoil his moment, just illustrating it with their horrified expressions. As if it were the first time they were seeing this. Heliots. Raum paid them little mind, his eyes closed in his ecstasy.
Raum's steps with his imaginary Empusa drew slower as the music dropped slowly. The villagers had struggled so much to hide this beautiful young girl. She had stopped her thrashing and her prestissimo dropped to adagio and then lento movements, leaving the string of blood as the solo foreground melody, still rythmic enough for Raum to finish the last round of dance steps, swirling happily and ending in front of the machine. A quick peek let him assess the donator's condition. Not quite dead yet. She might last another harvest, but why waste the remaining blood in her and risking it to spoil?
He left her there until the last of her blood was pumped into the machine and into the chalices. She looked like a beautiful demonical ragdoll without its filling.
Humming a little tune of his own composing, Raum took a look at how carefully filled the two cups were, not resisting to take a quick sip, his finger touching the surface of his chalice and taking it to his lips. The acrid and metallic taste had mostly become stale and common, but this one was like warm, pure wine. Of course it had to be, coming from such a delicate owner. The tragidy of this world was that they couldn't drink such fine blood everyday. At least he had saved up quite a bit of it, enough for a week or so.
Grinning in antecipation, Raum stepped up the stairs, eager for the night's souper.
Empusa gathered as much patience as she could - which was below zero - and snapped the wip against the tiles of the ballroom. The guards were quick to dismiss, encouraged and reminded why they were not to fail again at procuring the necessary donations from the common folks' houses. Of course, Rauma had acquired that beautiful young creature, but that was far from being the necessary number for their wellbeing. Not to mention Empusa had suggested a couple of experiments he could try next time. After all, the villagers had lied - of course they had - the filthy scavangers. Punishment was not only due, it was mandatory. Empusa would have nothing else.
"Not now, Elizabeth!" she snapped, the wip still on her hand flying and hitting the floor in front of the child, who immediately jolted back and grimaced. Empusa snarled. "I have no patience at all for you, specially not now."
"Why should you be always complaining?" the child dared to answer back. "Father just got a new pet for you both, and you still aren't-"
"I told you to shut up! You ungrateful brat! Get out of my sight!"
Empusa was ready to bellow when she caught the doors opening and Rauma stepped into the ballroom. She breathed out in relief, the mere sight drawing a cold black warmth into her heart. The anticipation of knowing they'd soon share their blood tonic, as well as knowing she wouldn't have to be bothered to handle Elizabeth right now, put an ugly smile into her features.
Elizabeth felt more than saw her father, the smile on Empusa's lips a denouncing signal. The little idiot turned on her heels and screeched like a little rat.
"Oh, child," Raum sighed, disappointed, looking at her from above. "You are growing up to be such an utterly bothersome brat."
Elizabeth hiffed and pouted, crossing her arms over her chest but cowering when Raum leaned forward.
"I do wonder if I should try to put you on my machine one of these days. Surely a little spice of a naughty child would be delicious."
"No!" Elizabeth squealed immediately, head turning in distress to Empusa as if she expected any help from her. All she got was a scoff.
"You be a good child then, and leave me and your Mother alone."
Elizabeth tried to protest, but her attempts died fast. Blessfully, she avoided her usual tantrum that irked the very skin out of Empusa's bones, and left them alone as Rauma had ordered, hiding those ridiculous tears.
"I swear, I cannot put up with her."
"She's growing up," Raum sighed. "A terrible accident, that one was."
"You tell me," Empusa complained, quickly removing herself from such nuisances and holding her Rauma close. "I'm terribly thirsty, my love."
"So am I, my love."
They didn't wait long for their chalices to be delivered to them. Empusa's long fingers drew lovely circles on Raum's forearm.
"Rauma? I've demanded the guards to bring me three helots by tomorrow."
"For me. I want arms and jaws. I don't want heads this time. The lying little bastards deserve punishment. I don't want to put up with their quarrels."
"I can always cut off their tongues."
"I want jaws this time."
"Of course. I have prepared my table with your suggestions. I promise I'll deliver you the finest cut arms and neatest cleared jaws."
"And then hang the remains on the square for all those rats to see."
Rauma returned her smile, the pride in his eyes making Empusa so grateful she had him in her life, a monster as twisted as she was, eager to push her limits and to be pushed back. They tasted the blood together, hardly able to keep their lips apart from each other as soon as they were removed from the chalices. A rebelious drop fell from the corner of Empusa's mouth, a waste of delicious blood, or it would be had not Raum quickly moved his finger to trace it in its landing point, gathering and smudging the red on the greyish skin of her bosom. Empusa smiled at the expression on his face as he took the blood-stained finger and licked it not too subtely.
They kissed longly and deeply.
Claude squirmed. His sharp claws attacked straight into her hands and drew blood. Elizabeth yelped as she pulled back in a jolt, looking at what the rat had done. She showed her teeth and hissed at him, snapping her left hand forward and grabbing him by the long tail as the rat screeched an annoyingly piercing complaint. Her second shove was now filled with anger rather than boredom or frustration. The pet had already been somewhat stunned by the previous attack, and now Elizabeth crushed something inside him. He stopped squirming. A small dark puddle started gathering under his skull.
The girl's breathing started to calm down. When she felt it normalized, she looked down at what she had done. She pet the rat's coarse fur softly, her touch becoming gentler by each stroke. The rat didn't move again.
"That's better now, Claude."
She picked the dead pet, feeling how warm he was. She knew how fast the body would grow cold, how stiff his limbs would become. It was nice to play with him this way. He wouldn't complain further now. It was hard to play with someone who didn't want to do as she wanted. It was hard when there was no other Wraith with her, just rats or heads. But if she killed one of the heads, Father would be mad. At least this way she wasn't bothered or threatened.
She would grow tired of dead Claude eventually. She wanted someone to play as she ordered, but she also wanted a friend that wouldn't die. It was hard to have everything she wanted.
Elizabeth sighed and quickly dropped the subject, petting the still warm body and wire-like fur. She yelled for a guard, demanding someone to take care of the blood on the floor. When a servant came, both Elizabeth and Claude had started to bounce through the room, an imaginary song in her head because, just like friends she didn't have, she couldn't have music either.