All The Warm Lives, part 8: Music Box

Yserveielle stood just inside the doorway to Glenn’s bedchamber, keeping his door propped open with the tip of her tail as she stared at the items laid out on his bed. She could feel another smirk tugging at one corner of her lips. Glenn had insisted that he had nothing to do with how her lingerie ended up arranged on his bed in such a way that would suggest he was more than willing to see her in it – and have her make use of the cold-iron tipped riding crop that accompanied the outfit. Indeed, he had seemed quite panicked when both Yservielle and Osanna had inspected the scene in his room just minutes ago; the fear emanating off of him in that moment had been almost intoxicating to her, and if Osanna had not been right there, Yservielle felt certain she would have dragged Glenn back into the bedroom and taken him then and there, despite any protests he might have voiced.

Osanna had gone back to sleep now, though, and it would be a simple thing for Yservielle to don the underbust corset, crotchless panties, garter belts, and stockings before descending back down to her own chamber where Glenn was waiting. She felt it would not be difficult to convince him to let her have her way with him; she had done it many times before, and no man or woman had ever refused her before.

Yservielle reached for the corset, letting her fingers run down the buckles that fastened the front of it. It would certainly be a pleasant end to what had started as a rather distasteful evening.

Osanna’s half-sister – a half-succubus born to the same demon mother as the paladin, and a human father she barely remembered – had returned to the temple earlier in the evening after an extended trip to Kaer Maga in eastern Varisia. Yservielle had spent ten long years trapped in what was now the basement of Osanna’s church, a place that she now tentatively called home. Their mother had locked her in the crypt when she was a child with the ultimatum that one day, when the two sisters would meet, Yservielle would have to kill Osanna, or their mother would return to kill Yservielle. The day had finally come, last year, when Osanna found her sister sealed beneath the earth, and the two had fought. Yservielle had trained in the magic of binding spirits and harnessing their otherworldly power for her own use, an ancient occult art that had long been forgotten to the outside world, but that had been buried with her in the crypt that she was imprisoned in. When the two sisters finally met, Yservielle used her powers to their full capacity to try to destroy her sister, and she had come close; they fought each other to a draw, and it was only because Osanna had the other Heroes with her – Glenn included – that Yservielle wasn’t able to best her. When they met again, Yservielle implored Osanna to kill her instead, fearing that their mother would already see her as a failure for not killing her sister at the earliest opportunity she had. Instead, Osanna had taken Yservielle in, sparing her life and promising that, if their mother should ever try to harm either of them, they would be strongest together and together they would be able to stop her.

In the year since then, Yservielle had found her newfound freedom to be terrifying, exhilarating, and overwhelming. Despite having been locked in the crypt for over a decade, she still found herself returning there from time to time between her exploits throughout Magnimar and Varisia at large. It was familiar, and that made it secure. Plus, now that it had been cleaned up and made into a respectable living quarters, the temple basement was actually a rather pleasant domicile to return to after weeks of traveling.

Tonight, however, she had returned to find her home invaded. Osanna’s two children – the acolytes she had taken on some months ago – were in her space beneath the temple. As if this weren’t bad enough, they had, at Yservielle’s first inference, rifled through her personal belongings. When the tiefling woman had opened her armoire, she not only found her clothing disturbed, but the aforementioned unmentionables missing, and came to the natural conclusion that the obnoxious little brats were behind their disappearance.

Where are they!?” Yservielle demanded, storming out of her private chamber and into the common quarters of the basement, where the two children were reading a book to each other, seated on a woven rug in the middle of the floor. They had looked up at her in fascinated curiosity, and she down at them in inquisitive distaste, when Yservielle had returned earlier in the evening, but otherwise had not spoken to each other.

Now, the two children’s look turned from curiosity to concern. “Where…where’s what, ma’am?” the girl started tentatively, staring up at Yservielle uneasily.

The girl’s apprehensive tone turned to a shriek of alarm when Yservielle practically flew across the room toward her, snatching her by the elbow and hauling her to her feet, despite the girl’s scream of protest. “You know perfectly well what I’m talking about, you thieving little brat,” Yservielle breathed, her voice low and dangerous as she brought her face close to the child’s. “Some of my…personal belongings are missing, and you two are down here pretending to be playing nice? Tell me what you did with them, or I’ll–”

Let her go!” the boy yelled suddenly. Yservielle had only been half aware that he had clambered to his feet as well, and was standing next to her holding a broom. “We didn’t – we didn’t touch your things, Lady Osanna told us not to–”

Please, ma’am, you’re hurting me–” the girl whimpered. There were tears running down her face as Yservielle twisted her elbow.

The tiefling almost smiled at the boy, brandishing the broom before her. “Oh, you think you’re big and tough, do you, you little asshole? Think you can take me?” She released the girl with a rough shove, where she fell backwards into a sobbing pile on the floor. Yservielle turned instead toward the boy, making a feigned grab for the broom with one of her clawed hands. The boy jumped back, looking terrified. “You know, I use the blood from whelps like you to draw my summoning circles, and feed their entrails to the spirits I summon in them,” Yservielle cooed. She paused for a moment, enjoying (perhaps just a bit too much) as she watched their eyes grow wide in horror. “When there’s not much left, I melt the fat off their bodies and use it to make candles – candles like the one you were reading by, there.” She pointed to the flickering light that still sat next to the opened book in the middle of the rug, and the girl burst into tears, burying her face in her hands as she sobbed.

Please – please ma’am, we didn’t –” the boy stammered, backing up further until he nearly tripped over his companion huddled on the floor.

A knock on the trap door above them suddenly drew all of their attention upward. “Uh, Yservielle? Is that you?” came a voice that the tiefling vaguely recognized, but had not heard in a long time.

Yservielle stared at the bottom of the trap door for a moment before turning back to the children; the girl was gripping the boy’s leg, and the boy was trembling slightly, the broom wobbling in his hands as he still brandished it before him. “You’re coming with me,” the tiefling snarled as she darted forward again, snatching him by the wrist and twisting sharply.

Ahh!” he screamed, hurriedly trying to back away from her again, and again nearly tripping over the girl. As Yservielle grabbed him, he tried to pull away, but only managed to drop the broom in the process, which clattered off the stone floor with a sharp clat-tat-tat that rang out over the boy’s frantic protests and the girl’s terrified sobbing, which had redoubled since Yservielle had advanced on them.

Uh, Yservielle?” came the voice from outside the trap door again. “Is everything–”

Before it could finish, Yservielle dragged the boy, still screaming protests, up the stairs and slammed the trapdoor open. As she pulled herself and her quarry up into the temple proper, Yservielle could see patches on her own arm of her normally blue skin beginning to turn a deep violet tone – an indication of how exceedingly angry she had become at this situation. As she hauled the boy up the steps after her, Glenn stumbled away from the trapdoor hurriedly, looking alarmed.

Good evening, Glenn,” Yservielle purred sweetly as she started past him. It had been a long time since she had seen him. He was a little leaner and a little smaller than she remembered, but that was no matter. If anything, it would just make it easier for her to bind him and have her way with him.

Pity she wasn’t seeing him under better circumstances.

Yservielle!” Glenn cried, his eyes darting between the tiefling and the boy she was dragging behind her. “What’s…what’s going on?”

Yservielle paused, hauling the boy up next to her and lifting him right off his feet. “Either this mewling quim, or the other one, has practically ransacked my armoire and ‘misplaced’ some of my effects. I was dragging this little shit to my sister for discipline… I don’t think she’d like it if I used his eyeball humor to draw one of my summoning circles.” Yservielle turned slightly, glancing back toward the trap door. “Save me the trouble and go get the other nosy whelp, would you? I’m about out of patience, here.”

There was silence for a moment, aside from the boy struggling against Yservielle’s deathgrip, as he was now sobbing quite similarly to his companion down in the crypt below. Glenn stared at him for a moment, then glanced back at the open trap door where more faint crying could be heard, then looked back at Yservielle. “I… I don’t think bodily hauling them up here is really necessary, is it? They’re not about to go anywhere.” There was another pause before he added, almost apprehensively, “What are you missing, anyway?”

Oooh, you would love to know, wouldn’t you?” Yservielle cooed as she heard a door open and slam shut further in the temple. She grinned at him, a predatory gaze she reserved for those people she liked most, and he gave her a rather unnerved look in return. “I’d tell you, sweet thing, but you look like you’re already having enough trouble sleeping. I wouldn’t want to… keep you up…

One night in months that I manage to turn in early, and it’s ruined by you dragging a screaming child through my church!” came Osanna’s voice, and a moment later, Yservielle’s sister appeared, looking stern and cross as she joined the rest of them. She was dressed in a long, golden silk dressing gown and matching red robe, which she was tying around her waist as she approached, scowling. “Yservielle, let the boy go. Now. And you,” she turned to Glenn, who immediately took half a step away from her in alarm. “Why do you look so guilty, Glenn? Did you put him up to some kind of prank??”

I did not!” Glenn protested, but Yservielle could practically smell the fear emanating off of him by now.

The spirit binder lowered the boy back to the floor and unceremoniously released him, where he nearly collapsed in a heap between the three adults before scampering off full-tilt toward the trap door. They watched him for a moment before he disappeared into the basement, the door slamming shut behind him, further muffling the sobs still sounding from below. “Be lucky that I didn’t use him to summon one of my spirits,” Yservielle warned, turning back to her sister. “You haven’t seen that one yet, and believe me, you don’t want to!”

Uh, Yservielle,” Glenn started, shuffling nervously, “can I talk to you for a minute?”

Yservielle glanced at him, the smirk returning to spread across her lips. “You can do far more than talk to me later, if you like. This…aspect of fear fear about you is…” She paused to savor the sensation for a moment before turning back to Osanna, her smile disappearing instantly. “Sister, why are your children in my room? More importantly, why do they think that it’s at all acceptable to ransack my armoire and make off with my knickers?” The last two words were spat in a dangerously low, angry whisper, just loud enough for Osanna and Glenn to hear.

Osanna stared at Yservielle like one cat might stare at another challenging it for right over its territory. “You have an entire city’s worth of space to make sexual advances on people. Do not do it here.” The paladin took a deep breath, brushing a strand of fiery hair back behind her ear before continuing. “As for the children, they are down there because I am letting Glenn stay here at the temple and he took their room.”

Yservielle–” Glenn tried to interject.

You are soooooo boring sometimes,” Yservielle drawled, rolling her eyes. “Those brats have their own room. I don’t want those magpies in my space ever again! If they get into the wrong things, I’m very much the least of their worries.”

Hey, would you both listen to me for a minute?” Glenn exclaimed. Both of the tiefling women turned to stare at him; Yservielle could feel a vein above her eye start to throb, probably quite similar to the one that was pulsing above Osanna’s eye. “I have something to show you, but first, listen! There’s been weird things happening around the temple lately, right? Like Ular’s holy symbol turning up in my room? Or that fork that I found the other day? You remember?” He looked toward Osanna, but the way she gazed back at him caused him to take another step back until he ran into one of the large pillars that supported the massive cathedral ceiling of the temple. “Why are you both giving me that look!?”

She and I are arguing at the moment, and you’re talking about spoons,” Yservielle said. There was almost a note of laughter to her voice, but it was a maniacal strain, a hint to her demonic heritage. “Dear me, man, I thought you were intelligent.”

Glenn stared between the two of them for a moment, suddenly looking annoyed. “Oh, well, sorry for trying to help resolve the problem at hand,” he snapped, crossing his arms across his chest. “I’ll let you two get back to it, then.”

Yservielle opened her mouth to sling back a retort, but Osanna’s hand on her arm caused her to pause. “Glenn,” the paladin said quietly, and Yservielle saw that the annoyance in her gaze had evaporated. “What is it?”

Go look in my room, but I’m trying to tell you, I didn’t do it!” Glenn cried. He was adamantly avoiding both of their gazes, and, curiously, Yservielle thought she saw a flush creeping up his neck.

This piqued her curiosity, and whatever annoyance she had felt toward him a moment ago vanished. “Me first!” Yservielle declared, and sauntered toward the bedroom where she knew the children used to reside. The door was already cracked open, and she pushed it open the rest of the way with her tail, taking a step inside before stopping short.

I didn’t do it,” came Glenn’s voice from a ways behind her. He hadn’t moved from his position near the pillar in the middle of the prayer hall.

The tiefling stared at the scene before her for several moments. There, neatly laid out on Glenn’s bed as if waiting for her, were her missing items – the corset and matching lingerie, as well as the riding crop set next to the outfit. Yservielle was intrigued. This was certainly one of her more risque outfits, and not one that she would have expected Glenn to choose on his own, at least not without a little prodding from her. Not that she was complaining. Perhaps this night wouldn’t be a wash, after all.

Sister,” Yservielle called after a long pause, “come here and see this. Please.”

Yservielle didn’t take her eyes from the bedroom as she heard Osanna approach. In truth, she was trying very hard not to laugh; as it were, a grin the likes she had never felt tugging at her lips was already threatening to expose her nearly overwhelming mirth at the situation. She wasn’t sure if she could handle seeing the look on Osanna’s face without losing it. She sensed her sister join her, stopping half a step behind her in the doorway to the bed chamber, then silence. Yservielle knew Osanna was taking in the scene, as she had, perhaps looking back at Glenn – still presumably standing in the middle of the prayer hall – before she heard his voice call out again, “I DIDN’T DO IT.”

The little bastard wasn’t even going to buy me a drink first,” Yservielle murmured to her sister, risking a glance toward the other tiefling. Osanna was standing like a statue, staring back at Glenn with a mixture of shock and confusion. Yservielle quickly looked away, her smile broadening. “You’ve clearly picked a winner.”

I…” Osanna started, and Yservielle chanced another look at her. She didn’t miss the undercurrent of distress, both in her sister’s voice and on her features. “I…you…”

You can go shopping for me any time you like, dear man,” Yservielle interjected suddenly, turning around to face Glenn with a beaming smile, “but if you’re going to rummage through my unmentionables, at least make sure that I’m there to model them for you, hmm?”

Glenn glanced between the sisters, his face rapidly contorting into a scowl before he threw his hands into the air and stalked toward the entrance to the temple. Osanna turned to face her sister, glaring. “Really?”

What?” Yservielle said playfully. “You can’t wear those. You’re much bigger about the hips than I am.”

By the gods, Yservielle, shut up!” came Glenn’s voice from across the temple, and both of the sisters startled slightly as they turned back to face him. He had reached the door of the temple, but before opening it, had whipped around to glare at Yservielle. “Do you try to pick a fight at every opportunity that presents itself to you?” He paused, looking frustrated before taking a deep breath. “You got your items back. I don’t know how they left your possession in the first place, but I’m sorry they ended up in my room. Believe me, it wasn’t my intention, and I am quite confident the children had nothing to do with it, so please don’t harass them, either. If them being in the library is going to be a bother to you, I can be gone tomorrow so they can have their room back.”

Yservielle could feel Osanna staring at her expectantly as they waited for her response. The spirit binder frowned. “You can stay put. But if you didn’t do this and they didn’t do this, then we need to figure out who – or what – did.”

And so, ten minutes later, Yservielle found herself gathering her belongings up out of Glenn’s room but alas, not for an evening of fun and excitement as she had so been looking forward to. She scowled. She knew there were more pressing matters to attend to at the moment. Having her way with him would have to wait.

After depositing her apparel back where it belonged in her armoire, Yservielle found Glenn and the two children in a side room of the basement. They were seated around a large table with a bowl of roasted chestnuts set in the center. Glenn was reading the book to them that they had been studying when Yservielle had first come across them. “The grown-ups have grown-up things to talk about,” Yservielle said as she came into the room, and the two kids shrunk back against each other as she approached. “Off to bed.”

Hurriedly, they got up and began making their way around the table toward the door, but a look from Glenn reminded Yservielle that she needed to play nice. “Children,” she started, and the two acolytes froze, turning around hesitantly to face her. Yservielle sighed faintly. “I’m woefully inadequate at ‘I’m sorries.’ But… it seems that you didn’t deserve to be at the business end of my wrath, and that was rather unfortunate for you two. To make it up to you, I’ll see to it that your chores get done for you tomorrow and that you get to sleep in. That said, don’t ever touch anything that isn’t yours down here. Am I clear?”

The children glanced at each other, then nodded at her. “Yes, ma’am,” the both muttered in unison.

Wise beyond your years,” Yservielle muttered. “Off with you, now.”

Glenn ruffled the boy’s hair as he scampered off, waiting until they were both gone before glancing up at the tiefling. “Generous of you.”

Mm,” Yservielle grimaced. “They really don’t know how good they have it, do they? I understand that your childhood was almost as shitty and dismal as mine was.”

Living on the streets of the city, never knowing from one day to the next if I would have food to eat or a roof over my head – or a knife in my back?” Glenn folded his hands across his lap, leaning back in his chair. “I, at least, wasn’t locked in a lightless hole with no one to talk to and trained to kill my own sister.” He paused, glancing toward the common area of the basement, where the kids had disappeared moments earlier. “I don’t think having a poor childhood is any reason to deny them a happy one, though. If anything, I want to make sure no one else has to go through what I did, if I can help it.”

Too right.” Yservielle pulled out a chair across the table from him, catching his gaze as he turned back to face her while she sat. “So. What’s this about? Items showing up in your room unannounced?”

Glenn hesitated, looking a little uncomfortable, before leaning forward again, resting his elbows on the table. “Little things,” he started, “like a fork that I don’t remember putting there. Osanna and I thought the acolytes left it there when they moved out a week ago, but then more things started showing up. A sword from the armory that we recovered from the warehouse that Ular and I are working on. A quill from the Bastion of the Nail, the night after I checked in with the Hellknights. Ular’s holy symbol – he never parts with it. And now–” He cut off abruptly, the flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks again as he turned away from her.

Yservielle smiled coyly at him. “And you’re quite sure you didn’t accidentally leave these items laying about? Or perhaps you’re telling me all this because you think you’ve been possessed and you ‘sleep walked’ into my room and stole my lingerie?” She winked at him before pulling the bowl of chestnuts toward her and popping one in her mouth.

What? No!” Glenn cried, turning back to her with an annoyed look. Yservielle was pleased to see that his face was still flushed – perhaps even moreso than it had been before. “There’s been a… a Daemon following me, ever since I left the city earlier this year. It’s never done anything like this before, but it hounds me, and it’s the only other explanation I have for everything that’s been going on recently.”

Yservielle couldn’t help it. Before she could stop herself, she had thrown her head back and uttered a chortle of laughter. “You! Someone should be writing your drama into a book and selling it to young girls. They eat this kind of thing up for breakfast.”

When she looked back down toward him, the tiefling saw that Glenn was glaring at her across the table. “Hilarious,” he said dryly.

We’ll have to look for your sense of humor. In the meantime, sit in that black chair over there. The one in the corner.” Yservielle motioned indifferently over her shoulder toward a large chair behind her, covered in a shiny, viscous black substance that oozed ever so slightly across the surface of the seat.

Glenn followed her hand motion with his eyes, staring at the chair for a long moment. “Uh–”

Oh!” Yservielle added, almost as an afterthought, “and you’ll need to take your clothes off.”

Excuse me??” Glenn sputtered, turning back to face her with something akin to abject horror and disbelief playing on his features.

Yservielle popped another chestnut in her mouth, crunching on it slowly before answering with a sweet smile. “You came here for answers, right?”

I’m pretty sure there’s no need for me to find any sort of humor when you seem to have plenty enough for both of us,” Glenn spat across the table, glaring at her. “There’s no way I’m sitting in that–” His eyes flicked toward the chair once before settling back on her, “What the hell is that thing, anyway? Let alone without any clothes on.” He paused, although Yservielle was quiet certain something along the lines of “especially with you in the room” was on the tip of his tongue.

You came to me,” Yservielle said bluntly. “If you want life to go on for you just as it has been, then there’s the door. Otherwise, you have your instructions.”

Glenn stared at her for a long moment, the only sound in the room coming from Yservielle crunching on another chestnut. “You’re really serious?” he asked quietly.

Yservielle didn’t respond. The smile had slipped off her face, and she stared coolly across the table at him as she took another chestnut from the bowl.

Glenn’s features seemed to harden as well, and Yservielle saw a harsh animosity in his eyes that she had never witnessed before – even when the two of them had fought against each other, back before Yservielle had agreed to live at the temple with Osanna. “What are you going to do? And you never answered my question about what that thing is.” He pointed back at the chair, although his eyes never left Yservielle’s face. “And before you get all cute and tell me that ‘I’ll see’ or try to give me some cryptic answer, consider that if I do decide to leave, it may be something even more personal – or dangerous – that disappears from your collection next time.” Before she could react, he snatched the bowl of chestnuts from across the table and jerked it away from her, still without breaking his gaze.

Yservielle studied him for a long moment, feeling a mixture of emotions brewing inside of her, like a pot of boiling water threatening to bubble over. Gone was her playful disposition, the fervor she had felt upon seeing him again, to be replaced by a stab of anger and impatience. Had he not been the one to ask for and accept her help in this matter? Who was he to question her orders?

Yservielle opened her mouth, then promptly closed it, biting back her initial response. “I have taken great steps in creating that chair over there, in order to…deal with…spirits or beings from the outer planes of an evil nature,” she began instead, forcing her voice to remain steady. “It’s been hand carved from wyrmwood and cured in a mixture of essence of silver and holy water. The blackness of it comes from a mixture of blood from four evil outsiders, one of each type, plus the blood from a recently deceased corpse of a poor bastard elf that was possessed by a spirit that I expelled. The ‘slime’ on it is comprised of cold iron shavings; the vitreous humor of the previously mentioned corpse; a paste created by pulverizing demon teeth and mixing it with angels’ tears; and then boiling the whole thing down to the necessary consistency. It’s used so that whatever is called forth cannot actually inhabit the poor bastard sitting in the chair.”

Yservielle paused, giving Glenn a pointed look, although he did not respond, so she continued. “You must be naked for the ritual to work. Why? Because if there is a daemon that is stalking you, then I must be able to clearly see the creature’s true purpose and the nature of the tethers binding the two of you together in order to rid you of it.”

Glenn continued to stare across the table at her for several long moments before sitting back in his chair. “I want Ular here for this.”

No,” Yservielle spat incredulously before she could stop herself.

Then we’re done,” Glenn said flatly. He stood and turned away, starting for the door.

Glenn.” He paused, his hand on the handle to the door, although he did not turn back to face her. A dozen vicious retorts spun through Yservielle’s mind in the span of a breath before she settled on what to say next. “My sister tolerates your moods much better than I ever will. Everything that I’m telling you here tonight is with a purpose, and that purpose is not to humiliate you. If you walk out that door now, then so be it, but every harmful act that this alleged daemon will cause from this moment on will be your doing. Thievery. Chaos. Murder? You. Not me. And why? Because you won’t sit your naked ass in a chair and let me give you the help that you asked me for. That’s pride, Glenn. That’s the worst sin of them all.”

Asked you!?” Glenn snapped, still facing the door. He paused, his shoulders heaving slightly, before turning to face her, looking enraged. “I never asked you for anything, Yservielle – you were the one who dragged me down here. Now give me one reason why I should trust you! You’ve been nothing but combative, rude, ill-tempered, and secretive since the moment you opened your mouth this evening. Not to mention that you’ve tried to kill me on occasion before. You are VEXING, and yet you expect me to simply jump at your whim. I want Ular down here to make sure nothing goes amiss – for my sake, and for the kids sleeping in the rooms next door. If they can be down here, he certainly can be as well.”

Yservielle opened her mouth to reply, then paused. He did have a point, on all accounts – she had offered her help (although he had accepted by joining her in the basement and telling her about the daemon), and perhaps she had come on a little strongly earlier in the evening. The two of them glared across the room at each other for a long moment. Then she took a deep breath. “Accurate on all points,” she conceded calmly, “except one. I’m not telling you anything on a whim. He can’t be in the room because he’s weak-minded. I can guarantee my own safety, and yours because of the chair, but not anyone else’s. If you want him to stand outside of the room after I seal it because you don’t trust me, then so be it. But the rites I will enact after I shut the door will prevent him from entering, or anything from getting out. It’s almost like I don’t want anything to happen to the kids.” She allowed herself a thin smile, somewhere between charming and cruel. “Will that answer suffice for you, Mr. Midori?”

Glenn continued to stare at her for several moments longer, his face contorting through a range of emotions before he finally dropped his hand away from the door handle with a scowl. “Fine,” he snapped, “let’s get this over with.”

Yservielle allowed the smile to widen across her features as she watched Glenn cross the room. He paused to unfasten his sword from around his shoulders and set it against the table before making his way toward the black chair. The tiefling followed him after a moment as he began unfastening his cloak from around his shoulders. “When this is all over, I do hope you’ll think better of me,” she remarked lightly, taking the cloak from him as he began unbuttoning his vest.

Glenn glanced at her with a frown as he handed the vest over as well. “I just don’t like being jerked around,” he muttered before slipping his tunic off.

I don’t know that I’m doing it, I think,” Yservielle replied. She laid his garments over the back of one of the chairs set around the table before walking over to a small cabinet set against the wall, pouring a chalice of dark red liquid from a long-stemmed bottle. “Here,” she said, returning to where Glenn was kicking off his boots, “drink this.”

What is it?” he asked as he took the glass from her, and she didn’t miss the suspicious tone to his voice.

Wine,” Yservielle replied blandly. “An elven red I picked up while I was in Kaer Maga. It’ll help you relax. One glass. No more.”

Glenn swirled the liquid in the chalice for a moment, smelled it, then took a long sip. They stared silently at each other over the rim of the glass, and Yservielle took the opportunity to study him.

He had the build of someone who had been in prime physical condition, and then lost a lot of weight very quickly, and was slowly gaining it back. She knew he had been away from the city for an extended period of time – Osanna had made her disapproval at his sudden disappearance well known – but had no idea where he had been or how he had gotten in this condition. Even more striking than his physique, however, were the scars that distorted his figure, particularly across his chest. Undoubtedly trophies left over from the war he and her sister and the other Heroes fought against the Runelord and his army, there was one in particular that stood out – a blackened mass, roughly in the shape of a seven pointed star, set just above his heart. It was cruel-looking and fascinating, and Yservielle almost found herself reaching for it when Glenn’s voice broke into her reverie. “So you said this thing is made of demon blood and angel tears? Does Osanna know you have this down here?” he asked, studying the chair as he took another sip of wine.

Hn,” the tiefling replied, pursing her lips slightly. Some things were best left alone.

Glenn glanced back at her, but it must have been apparent that she wasn’t going to speak on the matter further. He tossed back the rest of the wine, then held out the empty chalice to her. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Wordlessly, Yservielle took the goblet and set it aside on the table as Glenn turned around and finished disrobing. She saw that the blackened scar on his chest had a duplicate on his back, a smaller starburst in the same location as if whatever had struck him had pierced his torso clean through. She wondered how he had survived whatever it was that had caused such a gruesome wound. Then she suddenly wondered if he had.

Sit,” Yservielle said abruptly, turning toward the door of the room. She still needed to seal the chamber. “I’ll warn you, this is going to be unnerving.”

Because I haven’t seen my share of unnerving things before,” came Glenn’s sarcastic response.

Yservielle ignored him for the moment as she placed the palms of both of her hands on the door and spoke an incantation in an ancient language. A moment later, two nearly translucent creatures appeared, angel-winged, human-like in nature but too large, clad in plate armor and crested helms. They stood on either side of Yservielle, who glanced between them, then took a step back as they crossed their halberds across the door before disappearing. “The room is shut,” she murmured over her shoulder. “Nothing will be able to get in or out until I unseal it when this is over.”

Right,” she heard Glenn mutter in response.

Yservielle turned back around, finding Glenn already seated in the black chair, looking uncomfortable. She crossed the room toward him, pulling up a chair from the round table as she went. “Tell me of this daemon, Glenn,” she said as she sat in front of him, pulling out a small vial of clear liquid from her cleavage. “Tell me of its nature. Its appearance. Its mannerisms.”

Glenn stared at her for a moment, frowning, as if collecting his thoughts. “It…it looks like…me. When I was a grippli,” he started slowly, “but wrong. Its skin is grey and putrid, and its eyes are red, and it has claws like talons. It appears randomly to hound me – sometimes every few days, sometimes every few weeks – it calls me ‘father’ and wants me to give it a name, or attention, or affection, I think. And when I don’t, it gets very, very angry. I’ve killed it – many times – run it through with my sword – and each time, when I think it may be gone for good, it just comes back. What’s worse, I can feel it, now, when it dies. It hurts me, like I’ve been stabbed myself.”

Yservielle nodded silently during his explanation, then took a dropper out of the vial of clear liquid. “Tilt your head back,” she instructed. He complied, and she dropped a single drop of the liquid into each of his eyes. “This will help you to see the spirit world as I do. Not as clearly, which is a blessing to you, but clearly enough to get a better look at this beast.”

She replaced the dropper into the vial and slipped it back into her cleavage as Glenn blinked several times, his eyes watering slightly. When his eyes cleared, his irises had turned from their normal bright, bottle-green color to a much darker shade, nearly black, almost indistinguishable from his pupils. “What…what are they?” he muttered, glancing around the room, and Yservielle knew he could see what she saw and dismissed every day – the spirits that she currently had bound to herself, and were tapping into the powers of.

The spirits that I’ve bargained with today,” Yservielle replied. She bit both of her thumbs, piercing the skin with her canines and allowing the blood to begin pooling on the tips of her fingers. “It’s opportune that I chose well. Now…hold still and be quiet. I’m about ready to begin.”

Glenn nearly flinched back when she reached up toward his face with her hands, pressing her bloody thumbs to his temples as she gripped his head firmly. She felt him steady himself, and she held his head in place for several long, silent moments as she gazed into his darkened eyes.

While Yservielle was all too familiar with spirits, having learned the craft of binding them and harnessing their powers, she was not unfamiliar with souls, either. Far from it. She had gazed into many a creature’s depths, and seen the gamut of how deep a soul could run. Unlike spirits, which took on actual physical characteristics, especially once bound by a spirit binder, souls usually manifested themselves as colors when they were still residing within a creature. Yservielle had seen all colors of souls, from the deepest of black to the brilliant gold of her sister’s.

Glenn’s was nearly translucent. It had a very faint, crystalline green hue to it, the way light might reflect off the clearest mountain spring water. Green could mean a number of things when reading into a person’s soul – fear, greed, hope, love. With the luminosity being displayed in his core, there was no doubt which emotions were dominant in Glenn’s soul. It almost made Yservielle a little ill how pure he was.

But the deeper she reached into his core, the more colors she found – no soul was ever solid, no matter how it appeared at first glance. First there were swirls of blue, like clouds dotting an otherwise clear sky – sadness and melancholy, she surmised, based on her interactions with him this evening. Further still she encountered a streak of red, and then another, and after finding several, she was able to piece them together to form a rough symbol that she vaguely recognized. She had seen it on Glenn’s forehead, a tattoo of some kind that she didn’t remember him having when they had first met. She had never bothered to ask him about it, assuming that it was simply another Varisian fashion statement, but now she thought perhaps she should. Red indicated anger, passion, and desire – certainly all things she had sensed in him recently – but she was unsure how this symbol related to them.

Now was not the time or place for that, however. She had other issues to concern herself with. Deeper still she swam through Glenn’s consciousness until she sensed it – an alien presence that didn’t belong anywhere near his soul, but was lurking, deep in his core, trying to hide from her. “There you are, you ugly little fuck,” she whispered.

In an instant, Yservielle had manifested one of the spirits she had bound to herself that day, an enormous spider the likes of a horrid, spined black widow. The beast formed itself, translucent, around her body, and before he could react, Yservielle spurred it forward onto Glenn, where it latched itself around him and sank its fangs into his neck. Glenn uttered a startled yelp, jerking backward into the chair as the widow injected him with its venom – a toxin that would serve both to weaken the daemon that she had seen lurking inside him, and to sedate him, making this process easier. She knew he would fight her, otherwise. “Yservielle–” he gasped, his eyes wide in confusion and apprehension as the widow began to open its maw again.

Breath, Glenn,” Yservielle whispered, still holding his head steady between her hands. From between the widow’s gaping jaws, a number of tendril-like appendages appeared, each tipped with a tiny fang. They fluttered before him for a moment before the widow lashed out again, this time latching the fangs into his chest and imbedding themselves deep within his flesh. Glenn yelped again, gulping in air sharply at Yservielle’s command, although he was beginning to struggle more against her as the widow burrowed deeper into his core. “The beast has delved deep where your soul resides. I need them to expose it so I can see it. Just breath.”

Glenn was practically trying to climb backward over the back of the chair at this point. The venom from the widow had weakened him enough that he couldn’t actually get away from her, but his flailing made it difficult for Yservielle to concentrate and do her job properly. In another instant, Yservielle manifested her second spirit, a clockwork automaton. Where its arms normally would have been, it instead had massive metal pincers like some kind of mechanical lobster, and she immediately slammed one of them into Glenn’s forehead, using the claw to pin him back to the chair. He exhaled sharply, as if the wind had been knocked out of him, looking dazed. Yservielle took the opportunity while he had stopped struggling to bury the other pincer deep into his chest, where the tendrils from the widow had wrapped themselves around a small, grotesque figure. She wrapped the automaton’s second claw around the creature, yanking on it sharply, and a terrible scream rent the air.

In fact, it wasn’t just a scream, it was a pair of screams. As Yservielle wrenched on the beast clinging voraciously to Glenn’s soul, she could not only hear Glenn himself screaming – a horrible, spine-chilling howl, as if she were butchering him open, although she had not actually pierced his skin – but also an otherworldly keening that came from deep within him and grew louder and more intense the more she twisted at the beast in her grasp. In the back of her mind, she was faintly thankful that the guardians she appointed to the door also blocked out noise from escaping the room.

With one final pull, she had extracted it at last – or at least, part of it. It looked like a small nightmare that she’d expect to find in a jar in some crazed wizard’s laboratory. A green-grey skinned warty creature roughly the size of a human infant, with a much larger head, bulbous red eyes, a maw of three rows of sharp teeth, and claws located on both pairs of webbed hands and feet. It struggled violently against her, and she was only able to extract half of it before she felt her grip on it loosening.

So that’s how it’s going to be, is it? So be it,” she snarled. With a forceful twist, she snapped the creature’s neck, extracting one final wail from the beast before she yanked it completely free from Glenn’s chest and flung it on the ground between them. Without a word, she released Glenn and manifested her third spirit, a massive blue-skinned worm that engulfed her head and neck. In a single, sweeping motion, she slammed the worm’s maw, lined with razor-like teeth, down over the twitching daemon and swallowed it whole before dismissing the spirit.

Yservielle was vaguely aware that Glenn had still been screaming throughout the ordeal, although when she swallowed the daemon, his cries had cut off abruptly to be replaced by a wordless gurgle of pain. As soon as she released him, he fell forward out of the chair, landing hard upon the floor on his knees, just managing to catch himself with one outstretched arm before collapsing completely. Yservielle turned in time to see him retch forth a pool of crimson liquid, and for half a second, she was concerned he was vomiting blood, and that something during the ritual had gone wrong. As he gagged violently, wrapping his other arm around his abdomen, she realized the red puddle was actually the wine from earlier in the evening.

Better out than in,” she sighed. “Alas, the wine. On a brighter note, unless I’ve completely missed my mark, you ought to be feeling quite a bit better soon.” Yservielle turned, stepping toward the cabinet where the wine sat and retrieving a cloth set on top of the counter. “For your face,” she remarked, holding the cloth out to Glenn as she walked back toward him. He was still heaving slightly, although nothing more seemed to be coming up, and Yservielle was careful to avoid the mess on the floor. She grinned, the same wolf-like grin she had given him earlier in the evening when she had been so pleased at the prospect of things that might have been. “If you go upstairs with something red on your lips, someone’s bound to start wondering.”

There was a pause before Glenn turned his head just enough to gaze at the handkerchief for a moment, still crouching on his knees and steadying himself with one hand. He snatched at the cloth with his other hand, wiping wine and scum from his mouth. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then trembled slightly and closed it. Yservielle knew he was probably still spinning from the experience – truth be told, she wasn’t feeling the greatest either, her stomach twisting uncomfortably, but she had performed enough exorcisms that the sensation was at least not as alien to her as she knew it was to him.

The tiefling let the smile slip off her face, then stepped lightly around to Glenn’s side and crouched down to wrap her arms around his shoulders. He jerked away at first, but she silently pulled him to his feet, knowing that he was too weak to actually fight her off in his current condition. Predictably, after a moment, he slumped slightly and allowed her to guide him into one of the chairs set around the table in the center of the room. “Tell me how you’re feeling,” she said quietly as she handed him his clothing, “it’s important that I know.”

Glenn sat silently before her for several moments. His eyes had returned to their brilliant bottle-green color – the eyedrops she had used that allowed him to see the spirit realm having run their course – although he avoided her gaze. He was shivering, despite the perspiration that beaded his forehead, matting his hair against the strange mark, the same one she had seen inside his consciousness. “Cold,” he finally whispered.

I warned you that it would be unnerving,” Yservielle said with another sigh. She walked back over to the cabinet with the wine, this time crouching down in front of it and opening a door in the front to retrieve a thick blanket. “You’re not cold because of the temperature. Your soul has been traumatized, and the viscous medium on the chair has its own effect on the chair’s…inhabitant.”

I noticed,” Glenn muttered in reply as she draped the blanket over his shoulders.

Take your time,” Yservielle continued as she moved around the table to take a seat across from him. “Sort your thoughts. I’m not going anywhere.”

Glenn didn’t reply. He was staring at some indeterminate spot on the table. Yservielle watched him for a moment, then turned her head away. Her stomach was queasy, and the lingering smell of Glenn’s regurgitated wine wasn’t helping. Her senses seemed hyper-aware of everything around her; she saw the faint flicker of the wings of one of her guardians, still standing near the door; could hear Glenn’s breathing as it gradually returned from ragged to steady and normal; could smell the sweetness from the wine mixed with the foulness of the bile in the puddle on the floor.

Finally, after several minutes, Glenn stood suddenly and silently began pulling his clothes on. Yservielle glanced at him, mostly to make sure he was steady enough on his feet, before looking away again. “Is it dead?” came his voice after a moment, and she turned back toward him. Some of the color had begun to return to his face and he had wiped the perspiration on his brow away with the cloth she had given him earlier, but he looked exhausted.

Oh, no,” Yservielle responded, smiling faintly. “I’ve simply extracted it from you. I’m… hanging on to it for a while. I don’t know exactly what this thing is, its daemon origin notwithstanding, which means that I don’t yet know how to eradicate it. I need to read, ask questions. My source material here is likely inadequate for the task, so I’ll have to look elsewhere.” She paused, feeling her stomach turn again, and stood up to pace back and forth next to the table a few times before continuing. “I can, however, contact any spirit I like here. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that since this building is a direct conduit to Sarenrae, that I’ll have greater ease communing with the angelic spirits. That’s as good a place as any to start…and it won’t enrage my sister when she finds out what I’m up to.”

As she explained the situation to him, Yservielle watched Glenn carefully out of the corner of her eye. She could tell that his mind was likely still too muddled to have taken in everything she had said, but after she was finished, he had a doubtful, almost distressed look on his face. “Hanging…on to it?” he said slowly. “What does that mean?”

Yservielle allowed her smile to broaden again, narrowing her eyes. “That means that it’s mine to torment,” she whispered. “I need to become keenly in tune with its nature in order to understand what it’s capable of. Then, I’ll know which questions to ask. The beast is cruel, but if it thinks that it’s more cruel than m–”

She cut off suddenly, the smile faltering slightly. Her stomach turned again. Something was wrong.

Yservielle?” Glenn’s voice cut through the sudden pain that spasmed in her abdomen. She glanced at him, grimacing. He was giving her a cautious – she almost thought, concerned – look, but before she could reply, she felt her stomach contract, and wrapped her arms around her midriff. She opened her mouth to reply – although she wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to tell him – but all that came out was a sharp gasp of pain.

What?” Glenn asked, his voice full of alarm, and although her head was spinning slightly, she sensed him stepping toward her. “What is it??”

Move!” Yservielle managed to bark, flinging an arm outward and feeling it connect with him. She pushed him roughly aside as she stumbled forward, then crumpled down onto her hands and knees as her stomach convulsed again. Agony shot through her abdomen, and she was vaguely aware that she was retching violently; she was quite sure that the pain would have made her black out if her entire body weren’t heaving. It felt like every muscle in her belly were on fire – or perhaps that something were trying to cut her open from the inside – or maybe her stomach was simply turning itself inside out. She saw droplets of something red spatter on the floor beneath her, and thought of the wine from earlier. Is that what that was? Wine? Had she even drunk any of it? She tried to remember.

A larger gob of the redness spattered across the floor, and Yservielle could taste a salty, coppery substance on her lips. Blood.

She wanted to pass out. Her vision was cloudy, and she could feel something wet and hot running down her cheeks. She closed her eyes, but another eruption from her gut prevented her from letting the blackness take her entirely. Through her own retching, she thought she could hear yelling. Her spirits? No…spirits don’t yell. It was Glenn, trying to get the door open. She hadn’t bothered to unseal it yet, the guardians still standing dutifully at their post. She heard him banging against the egress, then cursing when it wouldn’t yield.

Then she felt it. Something was forcing its way up out of her stomach, through her esophagus, and past her lips. Whatever it was, it was not suited for the journey, and tore at her insides as it went. For a horrible moment, she thought it was the Daemon – the blood she had been spitting up had been from the creature clawing at her organs, trying to get free. She tried to warn Glenn – she knew he was not really in any condition to deal with it at the moment, but she felt she was even less so, given the circumstances – but as soon as she opened her mouth, another shower of blood splashed across the floor, followed immediately by a wooden, cube-shaped object that landed on the floor beneath her with a dull ker-thunk.

Yservielle barely registered that the object she had just vomited up was some sort of ornately carved box before she collapsed onto her side. She laid there, motionless, for several moments, trying to catch her breath. Now would have been an excellent time to pass out – the heaving had stopped, but her abdomen still felt like it was on fire – but she knew she couldn’t. When some of the feeling had started to come back to her limbs and her vision had cleared, she sat up slowly, pulling herself onto her hands and knees and glancing around.

Glenn was still standing near the door, the guardians standing motionless on either side of him. He was staring at the box silently, and what little color he had regained to his complexion earlier seemed to have vanished again.

Yservielle opened her mouth to say something, but only managed to spit out another mouthful of blood and bile that had accumulated on her lips. She trembled. She had no spirits bound to her that she could use to heal herself with, so, shaking slightly, she crawled over to the cabinet where the wine sat, pulling the door open again. A wand. It wasn’t much, but it would stop whatever internal injuries she had from continuing to bleed.

Ys…” she heard Glenn stammer. “Yservielle, are you alright?”

Yservielle didn’t even bother to dignify him with an answer. She healed herself with the wand – the pain in her abdomen faded slightly to a dull throb – then sat with her back propped against the cabinet, glaring across the room at him.

Glenn, however, didn’t seem to be paying attention to her. He was approaching the pile of blood, bile, and gore on the floor, in the center of which sat the box Yservielle had just thrown up. He had a curious, but apprehensive look on his face as he knelt down next to it, then slowly reached out to unlatch it and flip it open.

It was a music box. Instantly, it began playing a soft, melodic tune that Yservielle was not familiar with. Glenn, on the other hand, utter a startled cry and fell backward away from the box as though it had shocked him, staring at it wide-eyed. “Where–” he gasped, “how–”

Once again, Yservielle found she was unable to stop herself. Despite how much it hurt her belly, she was laughing. “It’s for you, Glenn,” she said finally when her amusement had subsided. “You know who it’s from. Tell me why I just vomited up a music box, though, would you?”

Yservielle settled her gaze expectantly on Glenn. He looked even more agitated than before, like a cup brimming with too much water, threatening to spill over at the slightest nudge. His eyes flicked back and forth between her and the music box several times before he lunged forward and slammed the lid of the box closed, leaving the room in an almost deafening silence. “It’s…” he started as he sat back again. He opened and closed his mouth several times, like he was trying to get his throat to work right. “I…I stole it…when I was living on the streets.”

Yservielle snorted quietly. “That’s not all of it,” she said bluntly.

She watched him for several moments as his eyes took on a remote look. She could tell he wasn’t really there any more, lost in some distant memory. “I stole it from another homeless family after I stabbed the father and left him to bleed out in front of his two kids!” Glenn blurted suddenly. His eyes were wide and full of pain, and he looked like he might be sick again. “I hadn’t eaten in three days. They had food. I took it, and then I saw the box. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it might be valuable. So I took that too. Except the father caught me. And we fought. And I then I stabbed him. And then I ran…”

Yservielle stared at him for a moment. “Well, well!” she cried, feeling a smile play on her lips. “Revelations abound, tonight! And what did you do with the box after you ran away from daddy dearest?”

Glenn pulled his legs up to his chest, resting his elbows on his knees and pressing his face into the palms of his hands. “Sold it,” he muttered, his voice muffled. “Haven’t seen it in years.”

So,” Yservielle whispered. “You’re damaged after all, Glenn. Good. I find that I can stomach you more, now.” She glanced back at the music box. The blood on it was quickly drying, staining the wood dark red.

Yservielle heard a noise somewhere between a hiccup and a cough, and looked back to see Glenn’s shoulders heaving. He was either laughing or crying, but she couldn’t tell which with his hands covering his face – perhaps both. She opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and stayed quiet.

After a minute, Glenn let his hands drop away from his face, which was slick with wetness – either sweat or tears. Again, Yservielle couldn’t tell which. Whatever kind of emotional whirlwind he was experiencing seemed to have passed; he looked impassive as he pulled himself to his feet, steadying himself on one of the chairs by the table. “I can help you clean this up,” he offered, glancing between the two crimson puddles on the floor.

My dear man,” Yservielle said, smiling up at him, “there are few things that I’d enjoy more than watching you clean for me. But… I think you’ve been through quite enough for one night. Take the box. Go to sleep. I do believe that you’ll sleep more soundly tonight that you have in a long, long time.”

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