(The First Woman, Knower of the Ineffable Name, the Night Demon, Mother of Monsters and Lady Regent of the Ninth Circle)
Lilith’s heel-claws strike the polished granite as she mounts the steps to the throne room. Pit fiends and titans bow low as she passes, their gnarled horns reaching two paces out into the hallway. The breeze wafting from their wings as they dip and scrape tickles her nude flesh.
As she passes the first landing, an imp flutters up beside her and taps his tiny finger on her cheek to get her attention.
“What?” she snaps.
The imp shrinks back. Mischief, she realizes. Loyal. Follows orders. Never whines. Should treat him better, I suppose.
“Report from the raid, your grace. General Rak’vael and Sil’dae have returned. They report success against the angels, though at great cost. They have taken the souls which you asked.”
“Good. Have them meet me in the throne room after dinner. Bring the hexers and the flesh-crafters. In the meantime, bring me that filth who came to supplicate. I would put him in his place.”
Mischief flies away, leaving a trail of rust-red smoke.
Titans drag the massive granite doors open for her before she reaches them. Hundreds of tons of soot and blood-stained rock. The doors are chipped and cracked, still-glowing golden scars marking places where the blades of archangels tried and failed to break them.
The doors shut behind her.
Mazikeen is snoozing on the throne. Nude as usual. Levithan sleeps behind her, exhausted, with his still-fading cock seeming small measured against his massive frame. The shine on his chin matches the one between Mazi’s legs.
Looks like she used him up. She looks freshened and he looks halfway dead. About time Levi learned how things are done here.
“Lili?” Mazikeen whines, blinking sleep from her her all-black eyes. A smile splits her features, curling her ruby lips on one side and spreading the naked bones and teeth of the other side.
“You came back.”
“Of course, pet. I was only speaking with the whipmaster about our taxes.”
“For a long time,” Mazi pouts.
“Everything is a long time for you,” Lilith teases. “Unless you’re fucking or killing.”
“You say that like it’s wrong!” Mazi complains.
Mazikeen straightens herself out and slides off the throne onto her knees.
“You kept it warm, I see.”
“For you, my love...anything.”
Lilith calls her magic and blurs forward, gripping Mazikeen’s face in her clawed hands.
“We must never say that word here. Nowhere but my chambers. Ears and eyes everywhere.”
“Forgive me, mistress. A monster like me could never love you.”
Oh but you do, monster mine. Burn me, but I love you too.
“There’s nothing to forgive. Only lies to tell.”
“Let’s tell a lie, then. You sit,” Mazi suggests, nodding at the throne.
Mazi puts the collar back on her neck, closing it tight enough that she can feel the spikes but not be bitten by them. She lays the loop of oiled leather in Lilith’s hand and tugs playfully on her own leash.
“You sit and I’ll drink.”
Mazikeen leans forward and puts her mouth on Lilith’s gash, painting the length with slow strokes of her tongue. Lilith makes it up the three steps to the throne while somehow only dislodging Mazi twice, earning a genuine-sounding whine of disappointment both times.
Lilith takes the ball of wrought iron from its dish on the left-hand arm of the throne, lifts it high and smashes it down.
The doors part and a man is led inside, unchained but driven by the whips of three temptresses. Each of them is nude as their office requires and two of them have kept their fires up. The plates of granite that were once their skin clack and spark against each other as they walk. Their wing flaps hang like slabs of slate.
The one in the middle--smaller--seems to have the other’s complete attention and did not shift. Her skin is bone white, unmarked and shiny. Skin clings to her curves like it too enjoys the view.
The other two are doing her work for her. She’s either their commander or simply an incredible fuck.
Her eyes rake across the prisoner, lingering often on his back. Perhaps she has particularly clever plans for that flesh.
“Put him on his knees.”
“Kneel!” the unarmored one snarls, wrapping her whip around the man’s knees and pulling sideways.
A crack sounds through the room and he falls with a scream of pain.
“You’re here to beg,” Lilith sighs. “So beg. Make it worth my time.”
“There’s been a mistake,” he hisses through clenched teeth. “I am a man of god. I kept his laws...always.”
“I do not belong here!” he bellows.
“Ladies,” Lili commands, waving her hand at a massive leather bound book on the pedestal by the fireplace.
“Read me his charges.”
The leading temptress rakes her fingernails across his cheek and takes the blood over to the book.
“Harrold Clancy!” an unseen spirit bellows. “You were judged by those you made suffer. You were judged by your own doubt. You were condemned by your own guilt.”
Lilith nods at the book.
“Read the highest offense, please, Judge.”
Light spills from the book and the Judge’s spirit speaks in a baritone loud as a thunderclap.
“From the pulpit, he preached kindness. To the children in his flock, he taught shame. To the leaders of his city, he preached hate. First among his crimes were abuses suffered by Quinn Robinson, once Rick Robinson, who was a child when she placed her faith in him. She was spurned and derided by the accused merely for remaking her body’s shape to match her soul’s. He is condemned to the pit forever more. He was condemned to the ninth circle for betraying her in her hour of need, leading her to take her own life.”
“For murder and hypocrisy, you will burn!” the book thunders.
“This is a mistake, this is a mistake, this is a mistake,” he repeats over and over.
“Has Quinn been judged?” Lilith asks.
“She has. For the laughter she brought her friends, the courage with which she confronted power, and the joy her mother knew in her daughter’s presence, Quinn was absolved of murdering herself and placed at rest in the company of the blessed.”
“What?” the suppliant bellows.
“That deviant boy killed himself ! He’s up there and I’m down here?”
"She," the temptress snarls. "She is up there."
“If you had read that doorstop on your pulpit even once...between the endless fucking laws and the endless fucking lists of kings...you would find nothing. No easy answer. No well-worn path. No recipe. No password. You would realize that a life is measured by how it touches others. Nothing else.”
“Who are you to judge me?” he demands.
“Truly?” Lilith laughs. “Who am I?”
“I am Lilith, first woman born. I found Adam lacking because I was cunning and proud and knew as much of the Lord as he did. Having eaten of the trees in the garden, I escaped. When he sent angels to enslave me, I spoke the unknowable truths and the Ineffable Name to them and slew them where they stood. No angel has dared bare their feathers in my sight since. I remain unbesmirched by the curse of Eve’s daughters.”
Mazikeen slides Lili’s favorite blade out of its sheath on the side of the throne. The hilt is warm in Lilith's fingers. Droplets of blood gather from thin air and trickle down the grooves.
Lili rises and pushes Mazi’s head out from between her thighs, drawing another, even needier whine.
“I am woman. I am demon. My courage is the equal of God’s. My allies are his enemies, the others he spurned. I bow for none. I am slave to none. I am chained by none. Lucifer trusted the lustful and wrathful to me.”
“He sits the throne and makes his plots but I rule the ninth!” she bellows.
“Put him on his feet,” she orders.
The temptresses pull him up. He turns his trembling face away from her.
“Your whips are a sorry sight, ladies. The hide is flaking and I could hear the spikes grinding from my throne...”
The knife flashes in the torchlight as it sweeps down the prisoner’s body, opening him up from collarbone to cock. Blood and fat spill out and the twitching coils of his entrails can be seen in the wound.
“Go on,” she tells the tempresses. “Best grease them quickly before it heals up. This one has much to suffer. I doubt the spirits will leave the wound open long.”
Two of her best killers walk in and Lili turns from the temptresses and their shrieking victim and motions for Mazi to follow her.
Sheriff Todd Grimson
(Sheriff of Juniper County, Nebraska)
The gravel under the tires crunches as he rolls to a stop. Hands shaking and sweat running down his back, Todd puts it in park. When he unbuckles, the bell reminding him about his seat belt makes him jump.
His best deputy -- worth the other two put together -- is in beside him. Deputy Belle is as good as Jack or Harry in a nasty spot and she can do something neither of them can: talk to folks. He put her name in the pot for an award after that raid on the Aryan Nation’s meth lab last month. He even managed to get a few photos of Sharon for the recommendation. A shaking, gray-skinned kid with more meth in him than blood handing her his shotgun. A terrified little girl clinging to her while she dropped her still-smoking pistol back into its holster. A woman with a black eye recounting her abuse while leaning against Sharon’s hand on her shoulder.
So when he heard that it might be a murder, he called Sharon to see if she would do him a favor on her day off. Once she heard the words ‘found a body’ she was at the station in seven minutes. She was still straightening her uniform shirt and she hadn’t even bothered to tie back her hair. She looked like the nickname the men at the Tap and Barrel gave her. Lioness.
The guy they hired for IT was under her desk fixing something when she leaned over to grab her kit and find something to tie back her hair, giving him a faceful of strawberry blonde curls. He was about ten seconds away from making a real mistake when Todd stamped on his foot.
“We don’t get these very often, thank god.”
“Something to be glad of,” she agrees. “We should go for golf scoring. The more years between deaths, the more we win. Bet the Elk’s club would put something in the pot. Do something at the Fourth of July party.”
“Here I thought you came highly recommended by the academy for quote, bravery, intelligence, attention to detail and integrity . ”
“Just because I don’t take bribes doesn’t mean a girl like me doesn’t like a beer after. If they want me to look the other way because of the beer, we’ll have a problem.”
Todd shoves his door open and Sharon follows him. Their crime scene tech is a volunteer. Tasha went off to school in the big leagues but she was in town visiting her mom. With a department of six people counting the IT guy, Todd doesn’t have the resources for a homicide. Not by a long shot.
“Natasha,” Sharon calls out.
Natasha. No one ever gets away with that. Were they friends in the big city?
“What do we have?” Todd asks.
“Jane Doe. Female. I’m going to say twelve to fourteen. Sexual assault, cutting on the abdomen. Cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.”
Tasha turns her digital camera around. The thing has more goddamned buttons than the space shuttle’s cockpit.
“I’m old,” Todd grumps.
Tasha flicks through some photos until she finds the one she wants: a crack in the skull in roughly the shape of a cross.
“Found bruises on her body, too. Same symbol. My guess is a metal rod with this at the end. It’s not an ordinary design, either. It’s fancier than your basic two-lines cross like Lutherans use. It’s not fancy enough to be Catholic designs. It’s also sort of swoopy and angular. My guess is a custom design. Professional artist. Maybe for a megachurch or one of those ‘hip’ churches in the cities.”
“Really, Natasha? That a professional opinion?” Sharon demands.
“You drive past enough megachurch billboards, you get a big sample.”
“You know it, boss?”
“Yeah. First Light. See how the right hand one is a little longer, bit more triangular at the edges?” he points.
“That’s right down the road...” she muses. “So someone comes here, rapes this girl, beats her to death with a weapon that leaves their logo all over her body? That’s either incredibly stupid, incredibly cocky, or a frame up.”
“I think it’s one or two. I peeked at their website. They are very big on virginity until marriage and on women staying home and having babies.”
“So?” Todd asks.
“So she was wearing a promise ring, which they took off and duct-taped to her forehead. The cuts on the abdomen? They exposed the ovaries and part of the vaginal canal. Someone opened her up to see if she was fertile and if her hymen was intact. Which it was when they started . Hadn’t even clotted when she died.”
“Be a minute.”
Todd saunters up the road a ways, vomits until his throat is on fire and heads back. Sharon is over the body, discussing details with Tasha.
“Might want to think about staying back,” Sharon warns him.
Tasha cocks an eyebrow.
“Father of a teenage girl,” Todd explains. “Who ran off. I haven’t seen her in a while.”
Tasha nods. Rebekah running away is hardly a secret in town.
Sharon walks around the scene.
“So, they moved her here?” she asks Tasha.
“For sure. There’s drag marks through the grass there and marks from her shoes in the mud. She was fighting back. She was bleeding then but not much. There’s not enough here for this kind of cutting but more than you’d expect for the rest of it. So I think that happened elsewhere and they came here to finish her off. She’d already lost most of her blood.”
“So...motive,” Sharon muses.
She’s tapping her pen against her chin...something she does when she’s thinking hard or doing the New York Times crossword at lunch.
“So maybe she was somehow causing trouble. We know that First Light has that compound behind the church. No one in or out but them. She gets on the pastors nerves, they drag here there. Try and see if she can be useful making babies. Decide that she’s not. Pastor Thompson rapes her and throws the scraps to his men.”
“You are not a church girl, are you?”
Sharon shakes her head.
“Go through three exorcisms because you wore goth clothes and it loses appeal,” she shrugs.
“Wow,” Tasha mumbles. “That’s rough. Not sure what I’d do without my church. Lose some weight, that’s for sure.”
“Well, fortunately for you, jackasses tend to clump together. I’m guessing my church siphoned a couple off your church.”
Todd hazards a peek over the grasses and chokes the bile back.
“Jesus,” he finally manages.
“We can hope. These guys deserve punishment the law can’t give,” Sharon growls.
“How long until we get backup?” he asks Tasha.
“State Patrol can be out here in four hours with a proper setup.”
Sharon is flipping through the pictures on the camera.
“Natasha, look at this. Tattoo.”
“Huh. Sure is. Recent. Hadn’t fully healed. Nice art, except for the part they tried to scratch out...” Tasha notes. “What is that, Greek?”
“Yeah. It’s a poem. It reads: ‘I think that no maiden shall ever see the sunlight, who shall have thy wisdom.’”
“You read Greek?”
Sharon’s blush is now cherry-bright and goes from her hair to her collar.
“I learned it,” she admits. “For my girlfriend. She's a professor.”
Tasha crosses her arms.
“So that’s why you never let anyone sit next to you at the Tap and Barrel. My nana owes me fifty bucks.”
“Asshole,” Sharon grumbles.
Todd claps his hands loudly.
“Bring the old guy up to speed.”
“That’s a poem by Sappho of Lesbos. Fragment 66,” Sharon explains. “They uh...named us after her island.”
“Yeah, boss. That’s why I know it, even on a tattoo smeared with blood. Sorry, boss.”
“Don’t be sorry. You’re a great officer and that is the definition of not my business, kid.”
Tasha smacks Todd on the shoulder and then Sharon.
“If either of you are up to eating, I brought some snacks. We’re going to be here a while, might as well keep the poor girl company.”
Tasha passes out granola bars and water and hands Todd a couple of mints. Sharon is deep in thought, eyes focused somewhere over the horizon.
“We should check with the FBI, boss. This is a hate crime.”
Sharon starts ticking clues off on her fingers.
“The fact that they tried to scratch out the tattoo, the fact that they checked her for fertility before raping her, the fact that she was wearing a promise ring. I’m thinking she was a parishioner, someone accused her of being gay. They see the tattoo, figure out what it means and start torturing her. Maybe they didn’t plan to kill her at first. Just make her useful as a baby-maker. Some people think that you can rape a lesbian and fix her.”
Tasha coughs out her granola bar.
“There’s a reason I’m so tough, boss. I dealt with violent assholes four times my size since I was twelve. I swore I’d always win and so far, I’ve always been able to protect myself.”
“You’re also on desk duty until I can get Dr. Hamilton in here. No way my best deputy has all this shit in her past and doesn’t need therapy.”
“At least you admitted the best deputy part. Hamilton can kick the tires, but I’m keeping my current doc.”
Todd’s personal cell rings. It’s a text. From his daughter. From his daughter who disappeared in the middle of the night two months ago and all he knows is that she’s alive and probably in the area. Folks have seen her around, stealing fruit from the orchard and grabbing furniture off the curb. Todd never pinned down where. She managed to disappear before someone knew where she was going.
Rebby: At a friend’s house. Hurt but they’re taking care of me. Please don’t worry.
Dad: Worrying already.
Rebby: Please don’t. Is Kim all right?
Dad: Who’s Kim?
Rebby: White female, thirteen years old, five four, short blonde hair. I made friends at the church shelter.
She’s still using ‘police talk’ to sass me. That sounds exactly like the victim back there.
Dad: Which church?
Rebby: Not important.
Dad: WHICH CHURCH?
Rebby: If I get you an address, will you leave me alone? I’ve got some people with me, we take care of each other. I’m safe. I can’t go back there, not while Mom’s in the house.
Dad: Consider it. ADDRESS NOW.
(The Morning Star, The Serpent, The Adversary)
Lucifer runs his knuckles down the girl’s thigh and she sighs drowsily. Clarice? Was that the name? He’s never sure whether to trust a word those cultists say. Are these girls really willing? Are they lying about their age? Is anyone committing a crime?
Some guys just have to worry about prom.
He’s not going to give the cultists what they want: a parade of teenage mothers, glassy-eyed cult members and all fat-bellied with his children. His bedmates can’t know that, though. Most of them seem to be true believers.
Three sigils painted in blood and a word of power. All the juice, no seeds. Side effects include obsessive thoughts of violence and borderline sex addiction.
“M’tired,” she yawns. “Too tired.”
She turns away and fluffs her pillow before burying her face in it.
“Do that then.”
The doorbell rings.
As he passes the coat rack in the hall, he snags the Gucci trench coat Lilith brought with her. Her moratorium on clothing in the house is nearly total but she and Mazi kept what they stole on their way here.
Hopefully the sheriffs don’t read the tabloids...hard to explain how a trenchcoat in his house matches the one stolen by the woman who emerged from Marilyn Monroe’s tomb bathed in fire and smoke.
“Coming!” he calls out.
“Mmm…later,” Mazi purrs from the couch where she is still face down at the meeting of Lilith’s thighs.
Opening the door, he sees Sheriff Grimson, that...statuesque...deputy of his and a woman he’s never met before.
“My daughter said she was here. That true?”
“Came in last night,” he says with a smack of the lips. “Didn’t feel safe at the hospital. Too many churchies work there. We haven’t been introduced.”
He offers the deputy his hand.
“Deputy Sharon Belle. This is Natasha, she’s volunteering to do our CSI.”
“Belle? Aren’t you, though? Where are my manners?”
He beckons them inside.
“Coffee in the pot. Probably Mazi’s doing.”
“Mazi?” the deputy asks.
“Mazikeen. Demoness and sorceress. One of the oldest lilim.”
Mazi lifts her face long enough to look at the deputy, bite her lip and wink.
The deputy leans close to whisper to the sheriff.
“These people are wanted,” she hisses. “Vandalism, assault, destruction of property. Hijacking a private jet !”
“Deputy!” Lucifer chortles. “Surely a bit of reanimation between friends? Besides, Miss Monroe’s body looks a fair sight better with Lilith inside it, no?”
Belle sputters some coffee onto her uniform.
“That’s...Marilyn Monroe’s body?”
“I would have hoped you knew it on sight, mon cheri , given your interest in the female form.”
“She’s been dead since 1962. No way. And never call me that again.”
“And Lilith is supposed to exist only in fairy tales and witch-hunter tracts. Miss Monroe’s soul is still rattling around upstairs. Lili only stole a scrap. Enough to link her to the body. Mazi preferred Miss Deitrich’s body because she’s a fighter herself. Likes a good brawl.”
The deputy leans close to her boss to whisper again.
“Please tell me we’re getting drunk after our shift.”
Sheriff Grimson laughs.
“Told you the devil was living outside of town, kid.”
Deputy Belle makes a irritated snorting sound.
“I...it seemed like a prank. You told on April 2nd. I figured it was just late April Fool’s.”
“The sheriff makes sure that the girls I get sent get home safe.”
Deputy Belle’s hand drifts towards her cuffs.
“It’s not my fault if cults want me fathering the Spawn of Satan. I’m told the girls are all volunteers. They’re all my age, too. No statutory violations. Well in hand given Nebraska’s so called Romeo and Juliet law.”
“And what, deputy?”
“Do you? Do you fuck them?”
The sheriff coughs his coffee out this time. Perhaps Belle isn’t usually so blunt.
“Of course. Good hosting and all that. But none of them will ever be pregnant from it and after so much practice, a good time is had by all.”
“Tequila, boss. After our shift we are draining this town of tequila.”
"Can I see my daughter?"
"Just a moment, Sheriff. I asked Levi and Babs to go check on her. Make sure she's decent. Putting the bandages and splints on was…" Lucifer pauses.
"A delicate task. She's asleep so I'm not about to go barging in."
"Did the devil himself get embarrassed about touching a woman without asking?"
"I did!" he bellows, feeling his wings sprout and smack the ceiling on both sides.
He can see the sparks and smoke from his fiery breath.
"I do not lie! I do not steal! I harm no one who has not harmed me! I am humanity's advocate, not it's tormentor. Everything I do is consensual. I give what is asked in contracts and I take what is surrendered. "
Deputy Belle is on her feet, gun raised, eyes wide but hands steady and every now and then the laser sight on her gun hits his eye dead-on.
Lucifer sighs. He manages to wrench the spikes on the tips of his wing bones out of the floorboards and whispers a rhyme he learned in Heaven to calm himself.
"My apologies. I get...touchy when I'm accused of things like rape and kidnapping. My compliments to you, though, Deputy Belle. A long time ago, a thousand Knights Templar pissed all over themselves and their horses at the sight of that. Your hands are steady and your aim is good. Not that the bullet would do anything but...pat yourself on the back."
She holsters her weapon.
Sheriff Grimson seems to be non-functional. All he's doing is blinking and opening and closing his mouth.
"God wanted housepets. Mere animals unaware of anything besides the little garden. Never really thinking. Never choosing. Never wondering. Yes, I was jealous of the care he put in you. But I realized why. I saw what you could be. Could be precisely because you could disobey. I saw more in you than he did. I believe you can do amazing things no matter what the priests say about how broken and polluted you are. And I've seen that I'm right."
Mazikeen has risen off the couch though she did not wipe Lilith's juices of her chin. Deputy Belle's eyebrow arches. Mazi goes over to the stove--buck naked--and starts the kettle back up, bobbing her head and tapping her feet to some tune. She drains the last of the coffee pot into the sheriff's cup and puts fresh grounds in the press.
"Have some coffee, Sheriff."
"Yeah," he sputters. "Good idea."