Lilim Tales - Part 1
The lilim. They were First Born, and ruled the earth with fabulous biotechnologies, at a time when Cro-Magnon man painted crude figures on cave walls and grunted around campfires. They live among us today in secret, these winged creatures men fear as demons. Aspiring artist Cody Elias is about to learn of their existence in an up close and personal way, when he is recruited by the lilim for a ...hmm ..."special attribute" ...of his DNA. Part 1 of 4.
Author's note: for a cleaner pdf version of this story, please click here.
She was dying.
It was not disease or injury that was ending her life; her body was vanishing like the Cheshire Cat, burned away by her energies. After a hundred years with them, her Turn was over.
Still, she looked no older than twenty.
"We knew this day would come. I'm blessed to have been your first. I love you more than life itself. I …I love you too much.”
Luna couldn't answer her; if she said one word, her emotional dam would burst, loosing a flood of tears. So Jayden spoke.
“Are you in pain?”
The golden-skinned girl managed a weak headshake. “Sorry more than anything.”
“Sorry?” Jayden blinked in surprise.
“For the one who follows; I fear Luna will never accept her. And jealous, of the one who follows her. She's the srryn who will care for your hatchlings.”
“No one can take your place, Lori, NO ONE” Luna hissed.
“Dammit, someone better, or you will die,” Lori said. “Promise you'll accept another. Swear it!”
“We will,” Jayden said.
“Let me hear the words, Luna”
“Liar,” Lori moaned. Her body was transparent, more mist than real, but she fought to speak again. “Let me go!”
“Take care of her, Jayden. Don't let her destroy herself over this.” Lori's voice was a whisper. “Luna, you know how I feel about you. I'm sorry ...I tried everything I-”
Her lips stilled and her eyes closed. Then, her body blinked into nothing, and faster than eye could follow, a sparkling light flew into the air.
“Gone,” Jayden whispered.
For a century, she was the only srryn they had known. She was everything. How could they carry on without her?
Luna’s screech, long and raw, clawed the night.
He was sketching in his bathroom.
Pastel on paper, to be exact.
He needed to leave soon, to show his oils at Knox Art Gallery's open show, but since he had some spare minutes of uninterrupted silence, and as this was the room in his apartment with a mirror, ergo, his self portrait must be done here.
With the easel in front of the sink, space was tight, and he was forced to stand with one foot on his toilet. Not ideal masterpiece conditions. Yet Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling in all sorts of pretzel positions, so who was he to complain?
“Okay, you, stop stalling; you have one hour before the showing, you can make a start on this idiocy. Forget who you are. Look at where everything sits on your face ...how much your hair covers your forehead ...the shape of your face.”
That he was giving himself a cheesy pep talk was a bad sign. He had no trouble sketching others, yet when it came to his face, his hand rebelled. It's not as if he had unusual features -olive skin, hazel eyes, black hair- so his problem must signify something psychological.
He couldn't, or wouldn't think about that shit!
“Dammit, hands, do something!”
Minutes dripped away. His cell phone rang. He set his pastel stick down.
“Yeah? …kind of busy, here, Em. What? That again? I'll talk slow and use small words so you get it this time. No ...I ...won't ...lend ...you ...money. Get a job if you want to keep studying with Maya so much...hmm? ...well then, get a third job …what? Aww …poor baby …wait …wait …listen for it…”
Cody hummed few bars of a tune.
“…that’s me playing Paganini’s Violin Sonata No.6 on the world's smallest violin. Honestly, two thousand dollars? Babe, you weren't that good ...hello? Hello?”
He shrugged, put his phone down, and looked at the blank paper again.
“Screw it; I'll do the background.”
Thirty minutes later found Cody still shading dark blue around a blank white oval.
A thought bubbled in his brain - what's the time? He looked at the watch he'd placed on the toilet tank lid; it blinked 6:30.
Cody raced to his bedroom and threw on clean pants, socks and a shirt. He jumped into his shoes, grabbed his portfolio carry bag, and sprinted down the stairwell to his Silver Bimmer below.
Batman would have been proud of the way Cody weaved through the city streets to the gallery. The half a dozen drivers he honked at or cut in front of? Not so much.
Dusk. The Beckendorf Tower rooftop.
She landed softly, folding her feathered wings close to her back.
Jayden waited at the other end of the roof to keep his distance. He had to.
They must live this way until they found another srryn; brief encounters only, never too close. They had been a mated couple for a hundred years, but now they could be together for only a few minutes before their psi lust grew. They must tread carefully, or instinct would kick in and they would feed from each other.
And one, or more likely both of them, would die.
For now, they would take their psi by feeding from humans 'in the wild.' Which was risky; humans were much more dangerous these days. And human psi never satisfied. They needed another srryn.
Jayden growled his frustration, then composed himself. “I've found three candidates.”
Luna looked up at the first evening stars and whispered. “No one will replace her. Ever.”
“The others said losing your first was hardest, but we must go on," Jayden answered. “We promised her."
Luna sighed. She could not explain how she really felt without hurting him. How she loved her srryn more than her mate. It would crush him.
“I never believed this day would come. I told myself she would go on forever.”
“She tried. Our little one tried so hard.”
At his speaking of 'little one' Luna sobbed.
“I know, love, I know.” He wished he could hold her in his arms, and wipe away her tears. But he couldn't, not as psi depleted as they were; it would be a suicide. Best to distract her.
“Do you want to hear about the prospects?”
Luna jerked a nod.
“Two from the Aaro line, and the third from the Eliyahu line,” he continued. "We must screen them tomorrow morning.”
"Does it matter whom we choose? After losing Lori, I feel my death flight has begun.”
"Stop that! I'll give you the easy one, Cody Elias."
"A man? A Jh'tiel?” Luna barked a laugh. "The last thing we need is a conversion."
"Agreed, but other than ~that~ complication, he meets the criteria; the Eliyahu blood line is the richest in psi, he's in his twenties, and has no direct living relatives.''
She gave a mechanical nod, but her look of profound desolation moved him past caution. He bounded to her, grabbed her and held her in his arms.
Then, with minds of their own, their tails tips started pulsing blue light, and their psi senses came online.
Extending to the other. Probing.
Gasping, she shoved him away.
“Cody …Elias?” she rasped. “Fine. Text me his information.”
She heard the snap of his wings unfurling. “Be careful in your feedings, Jayden.”
She heard his lonely “you too, my love,” echo back as he shot into the dark.
“One babe said they looked 'just like photos'. Her idiot boyfriend wondered why I didn’t just take a picture and Photoshop it to look like a painting.”
Cody wanted to punch his fists through something, but decided Maya Soutine's renowned art studio wasn't the ideal venue for such a cathartic experience. Instead, he flung his hands into the air.
“What's wrong with me, Maya? What the fuck am I doing wrong?” Cody said, waving his arms in wide circles.
Where to start, where to start? The middle-aged woman bit her lower lip to hold back the tart response.
The extent of his self-absorption astonished her; always demanding to be the center of attention. How deep did his egotism run? Did he, for example, wish to be the corpse when he attended a funeral?
“I don't know what to say; your technique is among the best of my students.”
"~Among~? I am your best student. Period. In all media."
He was, technically, one of her top students, she admitted, but his smugness hit her like fingers scraping a chalkboard.
"And yet, others have sold works and you-"
“-can't! Yeah, thanks for reminding me,” Cody said, dropping his head. He had shown his three oils -a still life of irises in a vase, a rocky outcrop on a mountainside, and a migrant worker harvesting corn in the fall- at tonight’s open showing, and no one expressed any interest at all.
Maya felt a guilt twinge for her words. “I know how much you want a 'WOW' painting, but I can't manage to teach you to transfer emotions to canvas.”
“Have I not been trying hard enough? Have I failed to grasp some critical technique or have I been too impatient-”
“-Cody! You have the patience of Job, as far as I can tell,” Maya said, tucking a stray salt and pepper hair strand behind her ear. “But an artist has to be willing to have no limitations, no barriers, and something is obviously blocking your expression.”
“What should I do? How do I break through this?” Cody sounded desperate.
“Are you doing the exercise I suggested?”
“Your self-portrait shit? God, I can't believe I pay you for this new-agey advice.”
Maya shook her head; she was disappointed …in herself, for feeling the slightest guilt about hurting his feelings a moment ago. Amazing! He still hadn't connected the dots about why her other students never came to his showings. The trust fund boy who never worked a day in his life. She had to play nice, though; he'd donated a handsome sum to entice her to take him as a student, and he was one of the few paying full price.
“Yes, how is it coming?”
“It's pointless and stupid to-"
"-Have you even started? I suggested this a month ago."
"I ...can't seem to get going on it. Look, if I paid you an extra couple of bucks, would you look into your magic crystal ball and just tell me what will work? Better yet, check my aura and-”
“-Leave my spirituality out of this!”
Dammit, he'd gotten to her again! She took a deep breath and centered herself. “It's a simple question ...who am I? ...yet artists have used self-portraits to answer it since the Renaissance. I hoped that by making you study your physical appearance, you would also reflect on your personality, your character ...that you would be forced to ask what expression, posture, setting, colors, texture, style, and material ...best translates the real you?”
“It's not happening. It's painful-”
“-It's not supposed to be easy, self discovery never is,” Maya said, and then she shrugged. “But perhaps this is beyond you? Maybe you should think about becoming an Art Historian, or an Art Critic?”
“Wait here; I've got a knife in my car toolbox. I'll get it and let you ram it into my heart. You know, to put me out of my misery?”
“Oh, you're quite the one for drama, aren't you, Cody Elias? A shame we can't bottle that passion and pour it into your paint.”
Luna needed this to be brief, so she and Jayden could get busy choosing between the other candidates and start the srrynah. They were fatally psi, low, and would last but a day or two before they lost control.
Jayden called her minutes ago to download on his second candidate. Beth Ahron was a poster child for selective breeding; Jayden could stand no more than ten minutes with the woman, so how could they contemplate a 100 years with her? What had Jayden said? 'Were Beth to die a senseless horrible death, that tragedy would only be surpassed by the senseless horrible life preceding it.’ No, not promising at all.
Yet she sparkled compared to Deana Aaron, whom Jayden interviewed first. Neither were ideal srryn material, and Luna knew she'd hate them both. The srrynah process worked improvements, but it would take a miracle to make these two -or anyone- a srryn close to Lori's level.
Jayden said their k'jarn readings were dismal, so that wasn't going to help in the decision either.
Ah well, her promise to Lori required her to at least take this last candidate's k'jarn reading, though he was already out of the running. She'd psi cloaked herself in invisibility, and followed Mr. Cody Elias throughout his morning. From her observations, she determined a Jh'tiel conversion to be out of the question.
The term ‘asshole’ sprung to mind, but the word didn't do him justice. He wasn't guilty of kicking puppies and stomping on flowers, that would have been preferable. Instead, Cody traveled through life oblivious to puppies and flowers and anything but the thoughts echoing in his skull.
Today, she watched a homeless person approach him and beg for money. He didn't say no, or lower his eyes to pretend she didn’t exist. No, he didn't see her at all.
Luna judged him to be not an asshole but an assclown; so filled to the brim with himself, and without any just cause.
“Let's get this over with.”
She double-checked her 'human image' projection, and selected a sexier look; Cody was a human male, after all. Her image shimmered, and she pressed the buzzer to his apartment.
The sound of which triggered mutters in Cody, not unlike a certain bell prompted drool in Pavlov's famous pouch.
“Dammit dammit dammit! What idiot is here now?”
He looked at the portrait; he had shaded the background darker, but had gotten no further. He set his pastels on the bathroom floor.
Cody unlocked the deadbolt and yanked the door open.
“Are you Cody Elias?”
“Uh-huh,” his voice softened, “that's me.”
It softened, because before him stood a woman in a black silk pantsuit with legs that stretched forever down to black high-heeled pumps. Once his eyes made that trip, they roamed back up again, to an oval shaped face framed by hair so lustrous black, it reflected the morning sun. Her skin was moon white, accentuating lips red and soft; Cody ached to sketch them.
“Is this a bad time, Mr. Elias?”
Cody looked down, to realize he wore grubby overalls. And nothing else. He reddened.
“Um …I'm an artist, and-” Wait, he had forgotten to ask this angel’s name. “How can I help you Ms-”
“-Longaine. Luna Longaine. I'm a genealogist. I am researching a family called Eliyahu. Your surname is derived from it, and I wonder if you'd mind me asking you some questions?”
Luna Longaine? That sounded like one of Superman's girlfriends. She didn't look like a genealogist, but then, he had never met one, so how would he know? He sighed; he did not want to waste the time to answer questions about stupid parents he never knew, or relatives who always tried to sponge off his trust account. At least she was easy on the eyes.
“Make you a deal; you let me sketch you, and I'll answer your questions.”
“I won't have to be naked, will I?”
“Not unless you want to.”
She smiled. “I doubt you're ready for that. Deal.”
Over the next minutes, she sat in a chair in front of him, and peppered him with questions, while he sketched away. Soon, her questions drifted from family history to art.
“Inspiration? From everywhere. When I start a painting, I try to make it the best painting ever done.”
‘Could this cretin be any more conceited?’ Luna thought. "Any luck?"
"Luck? What do you mean?"
"In painting the 'best one ever'?"
"Uh, no, I'm...” he sighed. "I'm mediocre, I guess. I get criticisms like 'that's nice,' and 'how beautiful.'
A point in his favor was he seemed alive, vibrant; from the way Jayden described Beth and Deana, Luna got the impression they were brain dead.
“You sound frustrated.” Luna said, trying to be patient; all humans were juvenile, this one more than most. It had been easier with Lori; they had been young together.
“I am. I work hard on my technique, but I can't seem to transfer any of what's in here,” he touched his chest, “to the canvass. I want ...I want to express so much ...I can't ...I can't. And I'd give anything to.”
Luna blinked; could this be true? This one was displaying genuine depth, and for the first moment since Lori died, Luna felt an emotion other than sadness, a …spark between them.
“Maybe this comes with time? With patience?”
“Raphael did a self portrait when he was just a teenager living in Urbino. It was a quick sketch, a trifle, yet he showed more feeling than all my paintings combined! A teenager!” Cody was shouting by the time he finished his sentence.
“Lilith, but you've a flare for the dramatic; I'm sure you're exaggerating.”
“No, I'm not, and who's Lilith?”
“Sorry, obscure reference. She was Adam's first wife.”
Cody's forehead wrinkled. “Adam as in biblical Adam and not Adam Sandler, right?”
“Right, in some mythologies she gave birth to beings different from man; the first born of the earth.”
“The first born? What were they called?”
“They are named ‘lilim.’ Sorry, didn't mean to digress.”
“Uh, no problem. Interesting; never heard the story.”
“Hmm, maybe it would help me understand if I saw your work? If it's not too much trouble.”
“Yeah, well, I doubt you're qualified to give a critique, but what the hell,” he answered, and led her from his main studio room to a large walk-in closet.
At least he was honest - his paintings were devoid of feeling. As he gave her his assessment of each painting, she finished her assessment of him:
He was ultra immature; she guessed he could not be more than twenty-five. Besides being self-consumed, she believed he disliked what he was consuming; subconsciously hating his persona. And he projected this loathing to others. Luna guessed this personality knot explained his artistic expression problem, freezing his ability to translate emotion to the canvass.
Even considering his flash of emotional depth a moment ago, she told herself she did not like him. No, more than that, she agreed with his internal assessment; she profoundly disliked him. No way should they risk a Jh'tiel with this screwed up human.
To put this issue 'to bed', it was time to check his k'jarn levels. She reached in her purse and pulled out a long silver chain, on the end of which was a small crystal ball.
“Cool,” he said, “what's it called?”
“A k'jarn,” she answered, and held it next to him.
When she did, the crystal pulsed brilliant emerald light. The glow enthralled him. Luna was wide-eyed as well; his readings were massive, far above anything she had seen. Brighter than Lori's had been.
“Dammit! Jayden will have to see this.”
“Hmm? Who's Jayden?” He looked up from the crystal, to see a sphere of white energy leaving her hands and bellowing toward him.
“Ms. Longaine? What are you-”
The energy sphere enveloped him.
It took forever for Cody to say the word, and he never managed to finish the 'ing' before the blackness hit.
“See?” Luna said, holding the crystal jewel over an unconscious Cody; its pulsing green lit the room.
She called Jayden to witness Cody’s k'jarn reading before she wiped his memory. Perhaps they would investigate Cody's family further to see if a less flawed srryn candidate might show the same amazing psi levels.
“Holy Lilith! I've never seen a glow so bright. A level twelve? Higher? We haven’t had a reading like this in thousands of years,” Jayden said, his hands shaking.
Jayden sensed this turn of events was more than coincidence. They were desperate, and soon psi cravings would drive them to feed from humans indiscriminately. Which, in this day of modern human weaponry, would eventually result in their death. Now Lilith sends the richest psi prospect in millennia? He thirsted for the incredible energy this one would produce.
He was certain the Council would agree with what he intended if he put the issue before them, but lilim met but once a year at the Gathering, and his need was now.
Jayden knew what he had to do.
He removed a long red crystal from a satchel he carried.
“Stop! Not the Jh'tira stone!”
Jayden did not hear her, he was laser focused on injecting the Jh'tiel serum into Cody's bloodstream. He touched the stone to Cody's upper arm, and the crystal flared bright.
“NO!” Luna scrambled to him, trying to knock the crystal from his hands.
“What's wrong with you?” Jayden hissed. “Stopping the injection before it's complete could kill him!”
He looked at the crystal in his hand and saw it was clear. He let out a sigh. “Empty, thank Lilith.”
“I do NOT accept this one as our srryn. He is detestable.”
“Too late; the serum is in.”
“How could you do this without asking? I will not be bound to him for the next century! I refuse to suffer his putrid emotions when I feed from his psi.”
“In case you hadn't noticed, we are starving. His potential demanded we change him…”
Jayden he looked on Cody's face, and saw the Jh'tiel working already …softening …smoothing.
“…change her The transformation has begun.”
“I will have nothing to do this pig. Do you hear me? NOTHING!”
“Love, calm down. Your psi is low and you aren't thinking rationally. We will make this one work and she will taste fantastic.”
“A hundred years of heaven with Lori, and now you expect me to suffer this? Better to have a mindless pet than her.”
He blinked. “You ...you can't be serious.”
“You would end our mating over this? End our lives over this?”
Her silence was his answer.
“No! We …we cannot abandon her! This is unprecedented! She could be the strongest srryn in memory.”
He knew Luna had been devastated by Lori's loss, but nothing in their hundred years together had prepared him for this intractableness. Why?
It was unthinkable to cast the poor thing adrift. What if she should fall into the hands of certain human government agencies or private organizations? Humans were not ready for the DNA treasure trove now contained in Cody's genes. Jayden tried an appeal to Luna's sense of compassion.
“You would walk away and expect her to deal with a gender change and heightened sex drive? That's cruel.”
“It was not I who-”
Luna’s words halted as she looked at the transforming girl's face, already more female than male. Her skin tone was darkening from olive to golden black; as disgusting as she had found his personality, Cody’s new srryn features were going to be the opposite. She might become the most erotic srryn Luna had seen.
Luna brushed a hand across Cody’s smooth soft cheek. Would it not be fun to see how she would turn out?
When she caught herself smiling, she jerked her hand back. No! This one could never replace Lori!
Yet …Cody had done nothing to merit this. She didn't stand a chance on her own; Luna foresaw bleak outcomes: suicide, insanity, drug addiction, or limping along in a damaged half-life. If she was lucky enough not to end up as a lab specimen.
She sighed. “I will work with her to ease her transition into something resembling a normal life.”
“But she will be so potent! Who will we turn to now to be our srryn? Beth? Deana? Their psi will be pathetic!”
“Beth or Deana? It matters little. Flip a coin; either will be better than this one.”
“What has this human done to have hardened you so?”
Luna folded her arms. “This is the best I can offer. I will help her with a new identity, make sure she's financially secure, and pay for human counseling. Past that, we pray to Lilith she never fully activates. If she doesn't, then she'll at least age and live as normal female humans do.”
Jayden looked at Cody and shook his head. He reached into his satchel again and withdrew a white crystal.
“We must erase her memory of you. When did you arrive?”
“A little over an hour ago.”
He nodded and rotated the base of the crystal.
“I've set it to four hours, to be safe,” Jayden said. As he touched the tip to Cody's forehead, it camera flashed. When Cody gave a soft moan, Jayden stood.
“When she wakes her first reaction won't be pretty. Leave. Go to Beth and Deana and choose. I will cloak and remain here after she wakes, to determine she isn't inclined to self-harm.”
“You have enough psi to maintain invisibility?”
He nodded; he was painfully low, but if he fed on human females this evening, he should have enough to limp through tomorrow.
Luna walked to Cody's sketchpad. She ripped out the page that held her image and looked at it. It was a good rendition; he had talent.
'No …she has talent,' Luna mentally corrected. She looked down on the small dark beauty, curled on the floor.
“I am sorry. Even you did not deserve this.”
She should be screaming.
Someone or something had fucked her up good. When she woke this morning, she realized a full day had passed for which she had no memory.
Oh, and she was now a she. Yeah, can't forget that little gem.
She should be calling the police, or 911, or a psychiatrist. She should be trying to finger the secret government agency that did this to her, or visitor from Alpha Centauri, or vengeful demon.
She should be doing a lot of things, but instead, she was standing in her bathroom, looking in the mirror…
“Lilim. Heh heh. Funny name. Lilim.”
Jayden sighed. The c'taia was affecting her at last; it had taken over an hour and a gallon of the potent srryn drug. Now he could attempt to explain the srryn role to her without her screaming murder.
Luna still refused to reverse her position on Cody Elias, and, out of sheer desperation, he agreed to inject Beth Ahron with the srrynah treatment.
The task of indoctrinating Beth had also fallen on him, and he was mangling it. Since Lori's death, Luna spent her time outside of her 'human work' barricaded in Lori's room. Luna swore she could feel Lori’s essence there, and it comforted her. Aside from the danger of their meager psi levels, he now worried for her sanity.
Today, she had promised to check on Cody; perhaps the task would take her mind off its morbid obsession.
“Funny or not, we are the lilim, the first born. We evolved before man.”
The mousy haired woman smacked her lips and giggled. “You look human.”
'So do you,' Jayden thought, 'too human. The srrynah should have darkened you more. Not a good sign.’
“Yes I do. A survival necessity in this age of man. I can appear as anyone you imagine. As Clive Owen, for example…”
His form rippled, his chin clefted, his hair turned curly black, and his eyes shaded green.
“OMG! Can you turn into other people? Like Johnny Depp?”
Jayden nodded, his features shimmered again; chin smoothing, eyes shading brown and the familiar Depp mustache and goatee appeared.
Beth squealed. “Too cool! Is it magic?”
Jayden's 'normal' blonde hair and blue eyes reappeared. “To you it may seem so, but I am projecting an image using an energy that emanates from all living creatures. Completely explainable.”
Beth scrunched her face. “So it's like ...the Force? Star Wars and everything?”
Jayden muttered "Lilith" at Beth's description; she was so childlike.
"Lilith? Who's that?"
"Sorry. It is our -the lilims'- ancient goddess."
"You worship a goddess instead of God?" Beth started to chew on a fingernail. "Won't you go to hell or something?"
"The ancient lilims worshiped Lilith as the Mother Goddess,” Jayden said. "But we don't worship any deity today. When a lilim says 'Lilith,' he is using the word the same way a human might exclaim 'Jesus' or ‘God’ when he is excited."
"Lilim. Lilith. Funny names," Beth snickered.
Jayden rolled his eyes and plowed ahead. “Back to our discussion. We call the energy 'psi,' but yes, think of it as the Force if that helps.”
Beth was silent so long Jayden feared she was passing out from the c'taia dose. The drug was engineered for srryns to turn them pliable and docile, but its side effects included euphoria and drowsiness.
Her head suddenly bobbed up. “Hey! What do you look like without your disguise?”
“You mean without projecting a human image? We are taller than humans, and instead of skin we are covered in a velvet-like fur, gray for males and powder blue for females. Our eyes are large and black, and we have no outer ears. We have long tails tipped at the end by a purple bulb we call a janja, and ... we have wings. We can fly.”
“Oooo, you sound gross and scary. Do you eat people?” Beth scooched away a little.
“Not exactly; I explained this before, and it's why you are here. Long before humans evolved, we lilim were the dominant species. Fifty thousand years ago, we genetically altered our physiology to be able to ingest psi-energy.”
“You eat Force? Is it yummy?”
Srryns were like wines; the stronger the srryn, the tastier the psi. The psi Lori produced had been divine. He cringed thinking how Beth's would taste.
“How do you eat it? With a straw?”
“Good question. Lilim scientists altered the tips of our tails -our janja- to become a receptor to draw psi energy from other living beings.”
“Like an antennae or lightning rod-”
“You got a lightning rod ...up your butt?” Beth giggled.
He had to admit the genetic modification to their species -which represented the height of their technological achievements-sounded absurdly stupid when described this way.
“You see, it draws the psi energy to us, as a magnet. And then we draw it into our bodies.”
Through the touch of a hand, the taste of a tongue, or, most directly, the tail tip.
Beth giggled again. “Kinda makes you sound like energy vampires or something.”
Jayden blinked; her characterization was dead on. He despised this part of their history, all lilim did, loathed that a once noble species gleefully changed themselves into monsters. How proud they were of their knowledge, that they could choose their next evolutionary step.
They called it the Svara, the Altering. They manipulated their bodies genetically to ingest, store, and then control energy.
What vanity! What hubris!
Yes, because of the Svara, the lilim gained 'magic' powers - psychic projection, telekinesis, and similar talents. Also longevity; where once their life span was a hundred years, now it was tripled.
Generations later the true cost of the Svara was learned; the horror. The lilim became dependent on psi; consuming it became a matter of survival, as critical as ingesting vegetable matter, for a lilim drained of psi would die. Worse, they became addicted, needing more and more to fuel their growing power lust.
Soon, drawing psi from lower life forms failed to satisfy the hunger. It was inevitable an instinct to draw psi from other lilim developed. Psi murders became common, one lilim robbing, and draining another of his or her psi. All societal bonds threatened to dissolve, matings screeched to a halt, and birth rates zeroed. A male and female lilim could no longer even kiss for fear of what might follow. The lilim civilization tittered on the brink of extinction. Perhaps they should have died; divine Lilith's retribution for their arrogance.
“Jayden?” Beth said. “You went all blank on me.”
“Sorry. I was thinking about ancient history.”
“I watched some of that once on the history channel, but my fav show is the Bad Girls Club.”
'We have to depend on her for survival? Great Lilith help us,' he thought, but smiled and nodded. “So what do you think so far?”
“Kind of hard to swallow, ya know, but I saw you do that magic face changing stuff, so it must be true. So, um, why did you pick me?”
“Another good question. You come from a family tree we call the Aaro Line -your last name, Ahron- is derived from it- and we have found the people from this line are genetically superior for psi production.”
“Cool! My family is like, the best Force producers? Can I go all Obi Wan?”
“The Eliyahu Line is the best modern line, but Aaro's excellent too.”
“And now since you’ve changed me into a whatchamathing-”
“Sr-ryn …right …we'll live together and you'll drink my psi and I'll never have to work a day in my life? And you guys are like Bill Gates rich, right? This setup sounds sweet.”
'Sweet?' he thought, and shook his head again. 'A novel way to describe our convoluted solution to avert annihilation.'
As lilim society disintegrated, lilim scientists frantically turned for help to the next evolving species, man, for humans radiated almost as much psi as lilim. Psi released during human matings produced its purest form; males gave short bursts, but the lilim found that females, if altered, generated rich sustained psi.
Their scientists screened primitive human females for the most promising psi producers, identifying the richest human psi ‘Lines.’ They developed the srrynah, a gene procedure that grafted lilim and a small amount of feline genes into the chosen human female. This resulted in a new hybrid species called srryn; creatures who existed in a near perpetual state of sexual psi producing heat.
Their scientists tinkered with human genetics more radically, for the number of human females from the Lines possessing the necessary psi levels were statistically too low to ensure lilim survival. So they identified human males with exceptional psi potential, and developed the Jh'tiel procedure; a dual serum which rapidly mutated the male to female by altering his chromosomes from XY to XX, in addition to injecting him with the normal srrynah formula.
With the creation of the srryn species, the lilim concept of marriage evolved from couple to trio, for a srryn supplied a lilim couple with the psi needed to prevent them from cannibalizing each other.
It was a solution, true, but a ghastly one. The hyper-sensual lilims became celibate, for sexual intercourse still proved too psi risky for a lilim couple, and conception was only attempted during the end of their marriage, the 'Third Turn'. Lilims learned to convey intimacy indirectly, through their intercourse with and affection for their srryn.
Though they didn't sink into extinction oblivion, lilim numbers still plunged, until now less than a thousand remained, scattered across the globe.
Were they the monsters humans believed them to be? The incubus and succubus nightmares embedded in the Homo sapien psyche? What right did they have to alter another species so? Did survival justify it? Was their crime mitigated by the love and adoration they showered on their srryn?
Jayden shook his head to clear it of their sad pathetic tale. When he glanced at Beth, he found her slumped on the table and snoring. He snaked his janji under the table, up her skirt, and entered her vagina. She gave a slight grunt, but didn't wake.
The psi he pulled from her was diluted and weak; it made him gag.
“Once we ruled the world. Now we sneak rancid table scraps from one whose life revolves around watching the Bad Girl's Club.
We. Are. Doomed.”
“Are these seats taken?”
The young woman looked up from her latte, to see to an oval shaped face framed by lustrous jet-black hair. Her luminous skin and soft red lips made the girl automatically reach for her sketchpad in her backpack. For some weird reason, her hand felt like it had sketched the woman before, but she had no memory of it. A page was missing from her sketchbook, though...
She shook her head, wondering if she was deteriorating into a world of conspiracy theories. After what had happened, why should this surprise her?
“No …it's free …just leaving.”
The girl started to clear her trash when she felt a hand touch hers. An odd warming traveled up her arm, a pleasure tingle, and she looked up again at the woman.
“I was hoping to talk to you. My name is Luna Longaine, and I'm managing editor with Trend Magazine. This is my associate, Meredith Benson; she's my senior editor.”
She hadn't even seen the middle-aged woman; hadn't gotten past Luna's face. Jumping up from her seat, she shook Luna's outstretched hand. It felt softer than expected. Downy. Then she shook Meredith's, which felt normal. Weird.
“Nice to meet you,” she said. “Luna Longaine? That sounds like one of Superman's girl friends.”
Luna cocked an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“You know, Lois Lane, Lana Lang.”
“It's a comic book reference,” Meredith explained to Luna.
“Ah, pop culture,” Luna said. “And what might your name be?”
“I'm …Cassandra Albornos.”
It was hard saying that, to speak it naturally, this contrived identity she'd improvised.
After she sketched for three intense hours, and finished a self-portrait that thrilled her, she turned her mind to her impossible predicament. She kept waiting for the dream -or nightmare- to end, and find she was Cody again, but it hadn't happened. It felt like she'd been thrown into a Kafka story, only instead of waking up as a bug, she arose as a 5' 2” golden-haired pixie.
And an exotically skin toned pixie at that. Her near black coloring fell somewhere between Mediterranean and African, but it had a definite gold tint to it, and tiny sparkle flecks too. Very strange indeed.
Her first action had been to carve out short term order, to allow breathing room to figure out how in hell one minute she was a man, and the next a woman.
After a fierce internal debate, she determined she would NOT go to the police or a hospital. She didn't seem in danger of dropping dead -in fact, she felt fantastic- and the last thing she wanted was to be labeled insane, or a freak, or worse, an insane freak.
No, she would handle this on her own. There must be an answer, she figured, because, tabloid headlines aside, bizarre mutations didn't just happen.
Her debit card still worked and she had plenty of cash in the bank. She fired off an email to her landlord saying 'Cody Elias' had taken a one-month artist's grant in Vermont and his cousin, 'Cassandra Albornos', will be apartment sitting.
Coming up with a last name -Albornos- was easy. She had needed something to explain her dark pigment, and luckily, her family history provided it. Two generations up her family tree, a dark skinned Albornos woman had married an Elias. Someone had told her the name was Moorish, but she'd never bothered to investigate; as Cody, she hadn't cared.
Now she thanked God above, because it provided a plausible explanation for how the olive-skinned Cody could have an ebony skinned relative.
As for the name ‘Cassandra’ …well, she couldn’t explain why …it kind of chose her, which seemed weird. But, given the monumental strangeness she already faced, her name choice methodology was the least of her worries.
So food, money, bed to sleep in, internet connection and temporary new identity ...check.
Finally, she mustered the energy to endure a trip to Walmart, to buy jeans, t-shirts, underwear, socks and other basics so she could move about unnoticed in the world of the normal people.
Her next step surprised her; rather than diving into solving her gender changing mystery, she called Maya and begged a meeting. She had to show the self-portrait. She sensed the work was a break through, that held the expression every other piece she had tried lacked.
When she introduced herself as Cody's cousin, Maya almost refused to meet with her. Why?
But Maya relented, and 'Cassandra' was killing time until their meeting. Hence the caffeine imbibing at Starbucks. Which was the most unsettling thing of all, to have this incomprehensible altering of her being, and then to go to Starbucks for the most mundane activity.
“Did you say Albornos?” Luna asked. “An unusual name.”
Luna’s brain spun now; was it coincidence, or did Cody really have Albornos relatives? The name derived from Auhbornae, a legendary srryn Line thought to have died a millennium ago. Could a strain have survived and intertwined with the Eliyahu Line? That would produce …explosive psi results.
“Do you go by Cassie?” Meredith asked.
“S -sure.” She hadn't thought of it, but why not?
“Well, as I was saying, I'm the editor of Trend magazine,” Luna said, and put her hand back on Cassandra’s. Which again spread delicious warmth through the girl’s body; liquid sunshine.
“The rage these days is to push the notion you don't have to be five foot eleven and emaciated to have a beautiful body. Since everyone is rushing to do 'plus-sized' spreads, I wanted to focus on something different. Someone with a smaller frame. You caught my eye.”
“Because I'm a …midget?” Cassandra's forehead wrinkled.
“A midget? Is that how you think of yourself? Darling, you've got a great body, even if you're hiding under grungy clothes.”
Luna was stroking Cassandra's hand now, and it was all Cassandra could do not to let out a low moan. Actually, a soft moan did escape her lips.
“You are slim and busty, at least for your size, and your dark skin is so erotic and flawless. Let's be honest, it's still 'beauty' that sells, and I think you'd be perfect for a 'petite' angle to this. Don't you, Meredith?”
Meredith had no idea where Luna was going with this, but years of working with her enigmatic boss had taught her to roll with the punches. Clearly, this girl came from the same clan as Lori, -Luna’s live-in personal assistant who Luna had abruptly announced was gone- but what tribe produced a complexion that was onyx and gold?
“Absolutely,” the middle-aged woman finally answered. “This is just the angle Trend should take.”
“But I'm a dwarf!”
“Lilith, but you're a drama queen,” Luna said.
“Lilith? Who's Lilith?”
“Sorry, I keep doing that! Just an expression, darling. Anyway, you are not a dwarf!”
“Could have fooled me; I'm shorter than everyone!”
“Five foot, what, two or three is not a dwarf. Stop belittling yourself, no pun intended.”
Cassandra smiled. She couldn't help it; just being near Luna was giving her a buzz.
“Okay, so, what does that mean, you wanting to do something on me?”
“I'm thinking budget chic. Let's see …why don't we take, say, a thousand dollars and see what damage we do? The idea would be to buy a complete wardrobe. Then we'd photo shoot the results.”
Was this how things worked in the fashion industry? Cassandra had no idea, not that she had any reason to pay attention to it until yesterday. She had been a girl less than twenty-four hours and was already being approached to do this? The universe most definitely conspired against her.
“What if, you, um don't like what you get, or-”
“The clothes will be yours no matter what, your prize for playing. Are you in?” Luna said, pleased her strategy to guide the poor dear into a semi-normal human existence was bearing fruit.
Cassandra couldn't believe she was considering this! The Powers That Be deal her a gender twisting wildcard and her first reaction is to jump into new clothes? Maybe this explained why she couldn't paint with depth; her own soul's depth was paper thin?
Still, she knew shit about women's fashion, and now a fashion editor was offering to help. Since she couldn't predict when her strange condition would reverse, shouldn't she at least think about it?
No! She needed to solve what had happened to her, and then ...well, she didn't know what followed that, but hoped it involved a quick change back to 'Cody.' What it wouldn't involve was a fashion shoot!
“I'm flattered you asked, but I going to have to say-”
“-Please?” Luna said, and petted Cassandra's hand.
'Mmmm.' Luna drank a mega hit of the girl's psi simply by touch ... -amazing! Delicious!- How much better would it be if she could draw directly through her janja?
Luna's stroking caused Cassandra's eyes to droop to half-mast and the girl struggled to think.
“Um ..wouldn’t I …have to …to sign a …mmm …contract?”
“Nothing to worry about,” Meredith said, “all you have to do is give up your first born, and ink with your blood.”
Cassandra laughed; she allowed herself that. With Luna holding her hand, everything was …wonderful.
“There are some waivers about our use of your image, but I'll tell the suits to dial it down,” Luna said, still caressing Cassandra's hand. “Please Cassandra?”
“I'll …think …think about …ummm …got go to …to …Maya's stu …stu …ohhhh…”
“Studio?” Luna threw a lifeline, since Cassandra was obviously struggling to finish her sentence. “I know of one Maya with a studio - the amazing Maya Soutine- and that's a bit of a drive. You'd better get moving, darling. Sleep on it and give me your answer tomorrow.”
Getting her mind to climb out of its pleasure buzz seemed like tackling Everest. “ummm …where? When?”
“Why don't I meet you here, same time? “
She gave a groggy head bob, grabbed her Walmart bags, and stumbled off to find her car.
“Cassie's adorable and ultra erotic, no question, but a petite spread? What bullshit is this?” Meredith's eyebrow arched as high as an eyebrow could. “You're recruiting her as Lori's replacement!”
Luna frowned. Why had she been stroking Cody?
No, correct that, Cassandra.
Her name floated in Luna's mind. Teasing her was playing with fire; how easily she could have activated! Foolish! Surely her psi depletion explained her actions; she doubted the Jh'tiel conversion could have made Cassandra any less odious than Cody.
“Her? NEVER!” Luna growled. “I'm trying to help her adjust to a sudden ...change of perspective. Nothing more.”
Meredith wasn't buying. “I don't know what your intentions are, or what strange power you have over her, but I swear if you told her to, the girl would have rolled on her back and let you scratch her belly.”
“Meri, you know you are my dearest human friend, but things are happening here beyond your understanding. Don't pry into this.”
‘Her dearest human friend,’ Meredith thought. ‘How amazing to hear those words spoken and not bat an eyelash.’
Six years ago, Meredith discovered Luna was not human, when Luna cured Meredith of breast cancer by touching odd crystals to her chest. Luna's only explanation was to say she was one of the first born, the lilim.
Meredith's research into the term chilled her. She learned Adam had a wife before Eve named Lilith, who ran away from him when he refused to treat her as an equal. After that the legends say she mated with devils, and her children became known as sex demons, called incubus and succubus.
Hard to believe, true, but then, how could she explain her magical healing? So, yes, she owed Luna her life, but had she made a bargain with the devil?
Also, in the years she'd known them, she'd never unraveled the mysterious relationship between Luna, her lover Jayden, and Lori, the dark golden girl Luna called her 'assistant.'
Lori was …well, Meredith wasn't sure what; at times she seemed enslaved to Luna and Jayden, and at other times they worshiped her as a queen. Then, two days ago, Luna mysteriously announced Lori was gone. Was Luna drafting another ‘assistant’? Could she sit back and watch her unfathomable boss do whatever evil she planned to this clueless girl?
“As one with knowledge of what you are, I am bound to warn you: do no harm to Cassandra.”
“A threat? Reeeeally? Going Van Helsing on me, my dear?”
Luna lazily tipped her head and smiled.
“If it makes you feel better, you can chaperone our meet tomorrow. Point of reference, darling, when we chatted with her a minute ago …technically speaking? You were the only human at the table.”
“I love this!” Maya squealed, as she pushed gray bangs away from her face, a habit she did when something grabbed her attention.
“You do?” Cassandra was excited. She'd never seen Maya react like this to her 'Cody' works.
“Oh yeah, everything's fresh; there's a sense of wonder about it. It's like you were seeing yourself for the first time. It's obvious you've had the same training as Cody.” Maya sighed. “I wish you could teach him how to capture something like this. You say he told you to try this?”
“Yeah, um, we’ve had pretty much the same training, though I'm a few years younger, I guess. Cody decided to go away for awhile, and let me stay in his place while he's gone. Before he left, he mentioned your self-portrait suggestion.”
“I bet he's charging you rent,” Maya said. “He'd charge his own mother rent.”
Cassandra studied Maya's face for a clue about why she would say that. Her smile said she was joking, but her eyes were serious.
“No …he's not.”
“Sorry, I was trying to be funny, but it came out a bit harsh. It's curious; you say Cody recommended my exercise to you, yet he's expressed nothing but contempt for it to me.”
“He did?” Cassandra felt her cheeks warm and hoped her darker skin would hide her embarrassment. What had she said to hurt Maya so? Was she so oblivious to other people's feelings? “I'm sorry if ...if he offended you-”
“-Oh dear God, I'm the one who should be sorry; how rude of me.”
“No, s'okay, he and I …well, no one in the family's close to him.”
True; as Cody, she had pushed everyone away. She's thought them jealous of her inheritance, but if she had been treating them the way she apparently treated Maya, well…
“Not surprising,” Maya said. “To answer your original question, yes, I will let you study with me while he's away. I love what you did; I've known you a few minutes, and already like you more than your cousin. You are welcome to take his space in my classes while he's gone.”
Then Maya cocked her head. “Don't take this the wrong way, but I love your skin coloring, the delicious mix of gold and black. …Are you African? Indian?”
“Ah. Would you consider posing for our class? I would love to see my students take on you and …oh hell, I want to paint you.”
Cassandra gulped. Models were, of course routine for Maya's classes, and her art teacher’s ongoing challenge was to come up with interesting subjects. Still, first she's ask to do a fashion shoot and now to pose nude? How much more of this absurdness could she take before she broke down into maniacal laughter?
“I …um …don't …uh-”
“-Just a thought.” Then Maya's eyebrows rose. “Speaking of thoughts, let's do an experiment in genetics. Cody's your cousin? I asked him to paint a watercolor of Market Square last month. I wanted him to capture the energy of it, and I thought the medium would facilitate it. Why don't you try it too, and see what you come up with. Then we'll compare.”
Cody's reaction to the Market Square assignment was 'fuck it,' but he did it, and was proud of the results. Yet the painting was panned by Maya and her other students. Cassandra bit back her automatic Cody insult, and tried an approach she'd never used. Politeness.
“Thank you for taking me on, Maya. If the weather's good, I'll start the painting tomorrow.”
Maya smiled. “Hey. We’re having a potluck at my house tonight, with my other students. Seven o'clock. We’ll brainstorm to see how we can help Emilie, another of my students; she's struggling to make ends meet and continue studying with me. You are welcome to come.”
That stung; no one had mentioned this to Cody. Everyone did hate him. She tried to hide the hurt, plastering a smile on her face.
“Thanks. I'll be there, and…”
She paused, racking her brain. Cody would have walked away now -well, he'd never have agreed to go in the first place- and if her old Cody approach rubbed people the wrong way, then maybe doing the opposite would be better?
“…um …shouldn't I …bring something?”
“How about a potato salad dish. We can always use more salads. Can you do that?”
“I've never tried one, but I'll give it a go,” Cassandra answered. “How hard can it be? It's potatoes and …gooey stuff, right?”
Maya laughed. “Don't go to all that trouble. Pop down to Krogers, buy their potato salad, spread it in one of your dishes, sprinkle paprika and bam, everyone's impressed.”
Cassandra nodded; that seemed easy enough. “I'm all over it. Anything else? I mean, I'm driving Cody's car, so if anyone needs a ride…”
“You can't be related to Cody. Or if you are, it's gotta be by marriage,” Maya said. “As a matter of fact, the guest of honor needs a ride. Emilie had to sell her car because she couldn't afford the insurance. Could you pick her up?”
“Yes. Glad too.”
“Great.” Maya took Cassandra's sketchpad and jotted down Emilie's address. Then she looked at Cassandra.
“Honey, don't take this the wrong way, but I hope Cody stays away for a long time. I like you sooo much better.”
Maya’s words echoed in Cassandra’s brain as she drove home. What if 'Cody' did stay away a long time? Like ...forever? What would she do then?
Her hands shook on the steering wheel. For just a moment, darkness descended on her; she was falling into a black hole, and was powerless to turn away.
End Part 1.
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