Lilim Tales - Part 4 (Conclusion)

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Lilim Tales - Part 4 (Conclusion)
by Armond
 
 

In the conclusion to the tale, Cassandra's friends gather to try to rescue her from Luna, while Cassie learns what her fate will be as the lilim's Second Turn Srryn.
 

   

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Lilim Tales - Part 4 (Conclusion)
by Armond

14.

Silence reigned inside Meredith's Lexus as it weaved through the early morning traffic.

Minutes before, she, Maya and Emilie had been screaming about whether they should go to the police with their suspicions about Luna; Emilie voted ‘yeah’, but the older women overruled her.

So after Meredith pulled into the 'Pie In The Sky' Bakery, and spent 15 long minutes picking up a special order, it was hard to tell if Emilie or Maya looked more stunned.

“And why, on this demon intervention mission, was it critical for us to stop at a bakery, Meredith?” Maya said.

“Open the box and read,” Meredith said. After seeing their expressions, she added, “no really, I'm not losing it. Open it.”

Emilie popped open the cake box. “'Happy Birthday Luna.' It's Ms. Longaine's birthday?”

“What? No! Or,” Meredith paused, “I suppose it could be. Look, we've got to get by their security guard, and I think this will do the trick.”

Maya picked the thought up. “Because, he or she-”

“He. His name is Robert-”

“Because Bob knows you, and if this is a surprise birthday visit, he'll …let us go on up without alerting Ms. Longaine?”

“Got it in one,” said Meredith; she was proud of her little brainstorm. “That's the Beckindorf Tower ahead. When we get inside, let me do the talking with Bob; I've been buttering him up for years.”

“Are you sure we are ready for this? If what we suspect is true, we are about to confront inhuman night creatures, and accuse them of kidnapping and ...changing Cody into Cassie,” Maya said. “And we're armed with a Birthday Cake.”

'She has a point,' Meredith thought. 'Maybe this would be an excellent time to tell them about the loaded Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver in my purse.'
 
 

~o~O~o~

 
When Jayden announced -Bruce Wayne like- that 'we must adjourn to the computer room to consult the data bases', Cassandra figured they were headed to a small study she hadn’t seen. Where she expected to find something unusual; they were lilim, after all, so maybe they used Linux instead of PC or Mac?

Turns out, her Batcave thought was closer to the truth.

Jayden and Luna led her to a secret windowless chamber, two levels below their penthouse. The room was bathed in greenish light; in the center stood five glowing skull sized crystals positioned in a star pattern on black marble pedestals.

The crystals, Jayden explained, were ultra advanced versions of the quantum computers humans were starting to develop. When she asked where the screen was, he said the information was transmitted directly to their minds.

“I've consulted our data bases, and our srryn's condition matches the definition of a srryn-ba.” Jayden was giddy. “This will make an excellent report for the Gathering this year!”

"Dammit, Jayden, Cassie is not a research paper!" Luna's voice drifted into screeching range.

"What does it mean ...to be a srryn-ba?" Cassandra failed to keep the tremor from her voice.

What am I now?

"You took Lori's life energy into you, and so she lives,” Luna said, putting her hands on Cassandra's shoulders. “Let me find out more for you.”

When Luna closed her eyes, the skulls crystals glowed bright green.

"I see …after her Turn, the first srryn's energy is weak, and she will lay dormant for the majority of the second Turn. But your 'energies' will grow together and strengthen, so rather than dissipating at the end of your Turn, you and Lori will merge to form a new srryn, and live through our last Turn!"

The continuous barrage of impossibilities that had flooded her the past days pushed Cassandra's mind to the saturation point. Another being shared her body? Should she be screaming? In terror? In joy?

What the fuck am I?

All she knew for certain was Luna's black lilim eyes brimmed with rapturous fire.

Her elation ...her ecstasy ...is to see her Lori.

The world they shared, the life they built, the one hundred year love story of Lori and Luna she had read in the journal bubbled back into her mind, and she wondered,

Could Luna ever look this way for me? Why would she?

“Look!” Jayden's 'kid with a new toy' tone snapped Cassandra attention back. “The archives say a procedure exists which allows us to speak with Lori through Cassie, if she's willing.”

“Will it …hurt?” Cassandra asked.

Luna concentrated, gathering more data from the crystals, then shook her head.

“No, darling. It will seem as though you sleep for a time. Will you …will you do this?”

Cassandra heard the unsaid 'for me,' and felt the purest longing pour from her lilim. She felt petty, she knew it was wrong, but Cassandra was jealous.

To be loved by someone so much, the way Luna loves her Lori, what would that be like? What have I ever done to deserve such grace?

Still, should she agree? To give over control of her body to some other being. The thought terrified her. She would say no. She wanted to say never! But ...this was her lilim asking, begging her for this.

“We must postpone the experiment,” Jayden said, eyes closed. “Because we have unexpected visitors above.”

Luna closed her eyes too, and when they reopened, an eyebrow arched. “Meredith, has arrived, with Maya Soutine and another young lady in tow. And Meri appears to have brought a gun with her. Now what do you suppose my inquisitive senior editor is up to?”

“She brought Maya?” Cassandra said, grabbing Luna's arm. “Maya pieced it together the other night! She figured out from my art technique that I was Cody.”

“Did she now? Then we will deal with them,“ Luna said, not bothering to hide her anger. “We might as well have some fun; here is how we will play this...”
 
 
--SEPARATOR--
 
15.

“Meredith! What an unexpected surprise! And you've brought guests! Lovely.”

Luna found them wandering the penthouse hallway. She greeted them in the image befitting the head of a fashion empire, wearing the illusion of a liquid-purple Versace evening dress and gray high heeled pumps.

“What business has brought you breaking down my door, so to speak.”

“Where is she?” Meredith said. “What have you done with her? To her.”

“Her?” Luna said.

“Don't play stupid. You know who we mean. Cassandra.”

“She used to be someone else,” Emilie said, “and you changed her.”

Luna put a hand on her hip. “I'm afraid I have no idea what you are talking about, young lady.”

“Bring her out and let us ask her,” Maya said.

“You are Maya Soutine, correct? I am a huge fan,” Luna said, “although I am not pleased about you breaking into my home and ordering me about. I'm afraid I must ask you to leave.”

Meredith drew her gun from her purse and pointed it at Luna. “Enough stalling. I don't care if you healed me or not, demon, I will not allow you to harm that girl. Bring her out now.”

“Oh dear, pointing a gun at your employer is not going to look good on your performance review,” Luna grinned. “Very well; if you insist. CASSIE? Could you come here?”

Luna’s smile broadened when the young srryn walked into the hallway; Cassie had thrown on one of Lori's 'suits', and looked scrumptious in a navy pinstriped jacket and matching mini skirt. The skirt was far too short to pass any corporate dress code, but Luna was thrilled to see her in it; getting fledgling srryns to wear any clothing was such a chore.

“Yes?” Cassandra said, and then smiled at the visitors. “Hey, Em, Maya. What are - M-merideth? Is that a gun?”

“We are here to save you.” Meredith lowered the revolver. “You have no idea what she truly is.”

“And we know what happened to you,” Maya said. “We know.”

“What ...happened to me?”

“Yes, Cody,” Emilie stepped forward. We know everything.”

“Wait a sec,” Cassandra said, “You think …I’m Cody? Seriously?”

Yes, seriously,” Maya answered. “He disappeared and you appear. Identical sketching and brush technique. Slips and hints you've dropped. Impossible as it seems, you were Cody Elias.

“Hmmm, interesting,” Cassandra cocked her head. “I'm sure Cody will think so too, since ...he's in the other room.”

“What?!” The three women said in unison.

“Yeah, he's just home from Vermont for a few,” Cassandra said. “HEY CUZ? CAN YOU COME HERE?”

“Jesus Christ! I'm not deaf, you idiot,” the young man said, as he walked into the hallway to join them.

“Cody!” Emilie stammered “…You are …not her …I mean …you are you …I mean-”

“-Hey, babe,” Cody answered. “When did you start the heavy drug use? After I dumped you?”
 
 

~o~O~o~

 
In a mere ten minute span, Cody:

-Announced he was here to tell Cassandra to get her freeloading butt out of his apartment because he was moving to Vermont,

-Insulted Maya by telling her he was studying with a real Artist genius, Catherine Kabe, of the Vermont Institute for Artistic Expression. He even quoted the tag line of Maya's rival - “each of my paintings is a snapshot of the ever evolving Me!”

and finally,

-Brought Emilie to tears by demanding she repay his loan, now, or he would sue.

Then he left, to spread his asshole-ish destruction elsewhere. Cassandra broke the stunned silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Cody Elias, in all his glory.”

The comments flew after that:

“So ...you are ...not ...Cody,” Meredith said.

“How could we ever dream of trying to save that dick head,” Maya screamed.

“Oh God! There's no way I can pay him back,” Emilie sobbed. “The money's gone, and I've already quit one of my jobs! I am so screwed!”

“There there, Emilie, is it? I have a solution,” Luna said. “That is, if you are quite through threatening me?”

Luna led the shell shocked women to her study and motioned them to sit.

As Meredith did, she realized she still held her gun. Red-faced, she slipped it into her purse. When she looked up, she saw Luna sitting at her desk with Cassandra behind her. And she remembered this was how Lori had been too, always at her side.

Luna pulled a checkbook from her drawer, scribbled on the top check, tore it from the book, and pushed it to Maya.

Maya gasped when she read it: “This is made out from Trend Magazine, LLC to my studio for …$150,000?”

“Excellent,” Luna said. “I was afraid my handwriting was illegible, but it appears it is not.”

“But …why?”

“Trend is ever looking for worthwhile -and tax deductible- community projects to sponsor. If that is not reason enough, then let us say I have a newfound love of the arts, and leave it at that,” Luna said, smiling at Cassandra.

“What am I to do with this?” Maya said.

“Use it as you need, mortgage payment, supplies, whatever. With the proviso that $15,000 of it is to be given as a scholarship to this young lady,” Luna motioned to Emilie, “to use as she deems necessary. I imagine she will want allocate some to the odious man who just left.”

When Emilie burst into tears again, Cassandra ran to her and hugged her.

“Why do you always turn on the water works when someone gives you money? Everything's okay now, right?”

“Yeah, sure. I wake up at the crack of dawn, meet up with Maya and Meredith and somehow concoct the insane idea you used to be your bastard cousin, we race here to rescue you armed with a cake and a gun, I run into said cousin, he demands I pay him or he'll break me, and then I get $15,000. And it's not even 9:00 yet!”

“Way too early to start drinking, right?” Cassandra said.

“Exactly, but we will be doing that later, girlfriend, if only to drown my embarrassment over this mess,” Emilie answered. “Hey! What about you? You're homeless now. If you need a place to stay, you are welcome.”

“Thanks, but, I'm moving in here. I accepted a job as Luna's personal assistant.”

“NO! Don't do it! You have no idea what she is, Cassandra! She will enslave you!” Meredith said. She turned to Maya. “She's buying you off, can't you see that?”

Maya glared at her, before turning to Luna. “I apologize for barging in uninvited. I let the insinuations of others, and my over-active imagination, get the better of my judgment. Again, thank you for your amazingly generous gift; why you aren't having us arrested instead is beyond me. Emilie, let's call a cab and be on our way.”

“Don't give it another thought, darling, and I would love to meet with you again, to discuss other ways Trend can assist; free publicity never hurts, hmm?” Luna said. “Only next time, I would appreciate it if you let me invite you over."

Maya nodded then looked at Cassandra. “Cassie, will this new job mean you won't be studying with me anymore? I would hate to lose you. You are one of the most talented students I've ever had, and-”

“-She most definitely will continue with you,” Luna said with a dismissive wave. “Be sure to let me know if she starts slacking.”

After they left, Meredith slumped in her chair. “What the hell just happened here? I was right! I had to have been right, right? ...I imagine this means I’m fired.”

She stood and walked to the penthouse main door. I …don’t know what to say …I-”

“-Meredith, darling, what am I to do with you? I really should fire you; you accused me of horrid actions, and, well, there is the whole problem about the gun…

On the other hand,” Luna smiled, “editors as hardworking, and inquisitive as you are impossible to find these days. And you did bring me a fabulous birthday cake, even if my hatchday was last week. So …let’s call it even.”

Meredith’s befuddlement was absolute. “I …uh …thank you …I think?”

“Oh, and Meri darling? You were right about some things,” Luna said. “Spot on.”

“Wait ...what? I was? Which ...parts?”

“Ah ah ahhh,” Luna said, wagging a finger at her.

For a moment, a split second, Meredith thought she saw a large alien creature before her with black-feathered wings spread wide.

But when she shook her head, all that remained was elegant Luna Longaine, winking at her.

She moved double speed to exit the penthouse, somehow managing not to scream until she reached the elevator.
 

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--SEPARATOR--
 
 
16.
 
“Poor Meredith,” Luna giggled, dropping her human illusion. “She is such fun to screw with; at least I didn't have to wipe her memory ...again.”

She glanced to her srryn. “Be sure to compliment Jayden on his 'Cody' acting when he returns. He takes his human roles seriously and male lilim egos are egg-shell thin.”

“Was I ...really like that?” Cassandra's voice was soft.

“Hmm darling?” Luna said, dipping a long clawed finger into the birthday cake, and licking it with her split tongue.

“So ...mean, so ...thoughtless...”

“He played you a bit over the top, but...” Luna looked up from her cake nibbling. “What's wrong, Cassie? You are he no longer...”

Oh? What has changed? Everything, yes, but inside? I was that asshole only a few days ago.

Her srryn and human 'selfs' were aligning in purpose. She wanted Luna to be happy. She wanted, wished and desired it, and was past caring whether this was from brainwashing or forced genetics. But her human side worried.

Lori was loving and selfless. She was ...everything I'm not. There is more to being a srryn than feeding psi; how can I ever please my lilim as the first srryn did? How?

A thought came to her; there might be one way.

A srryn is helpful. A srryn would do anything to make her lilim happy. Anything

“Luna? I'll do that ritual thing where you talk to Lori. What was it called?”

“It is referred to as the Ingoccil Rite, the Surrender,” Luna's voice was reedy with excitement. “Cassie! It would make me so happy.”

Cassandra nodded; Luna's joyous expression had returned; this was the right thing to do.

The only thing.
 
 

~o~O~o~

 

“What do I do?”

“The middle skull there,” Jayden pointed to one. “You must hold it, look at the green light, and …let go.”

Sounds simple enough.

Cassandra walked to the skull and gave it an exploratory touch. No electrical shock, but the crystal did radiate heat. She took a breath and grasped it with her hands.

And nothing happened.

“Got nada here,” Cassandra said. “Is there something else I'm supposed to do?”

Jayden thought-accessed the 'computer' again, and this time Cassandra felt the skull pulse.

“The archives say the Ingoccil procedure is simple. The second srryn releases herself to the crystal and passes body control to the first srryn’s essence.”

“How ...do I do that?”

“I am not sure how to tell you, love,” Luna said, as she connected to the computer. “The srryn-ba must lapse into an altered state of consciousness, but our texts are tens of thousands of years old and hard to bring forward in modern human terms.”

Luna thought hard; how could this be done? What common reference did Cassandra have?

“Cassie, remember …in the museum, when we looked at Rembrandt's self portrait?”

“Yeah...” Cassandra said, not sure where this was headed.

"You mentioned how Rembrandt gave himself to the painting. Since your conversion, I see you doing the same with your art. I think ...this feeling is what is needed. Can you draw that mood up? Relive it?"

Give herself as she did with her paintings? Had she been? The energy swirls she saw in her Market Street painting returned to her mind, the feeling of formlessness, the connection.

The crystal flared green in her hands, and then, she was so so sleepy.

She murmured four words before she slumped into Luna's arms:

“I love you. Goodbye.”
 
 

~o~O~o~

 
17.
 
She drifted down and down,

until she saw a bright swirling sphere of energy filled with green and blue sparkles.

It's Lori's essence, it has to be! God, she is beautiful, no wonder Luna loves her. Where's my damn sketch pad when I need it?

*Lori?*

*I was ...I am Lori still. Who. Are. You?*

*I am ...not important. She longs for you, Lori. Go up.*

*Luna?*

*Yes. Go to her! She needs you. You must make her happy.*

*I want to! But how? I do not know where 'up' is.*

Cassandra wasn't sure how to point, for she lacked a body in her astral state. So she propelled her essence to surround the glowing entity before her, and then she gave it a massive shove ...up.

Lori's essence floated above her, higher and higher, and Cassandra would have given a joyous laugh if she had a mouth, or at least a wave good bye if she had a hand.

Instead she relaxed her mind. There was something else she needed to do.

*I think the trick to this is visualize what I want.*

Her artist's soul showed her what she wanted.

light,
 

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~o~O~o~

When her srryn's eyes opened, Luna saw a familiar spark. And the voice coming from the srryn's mouth was modulated to a changed timbre. One she knew so very well.

“Luna? Jayden?”

“Lori!” Luna sobbed. It was her! Luna wanted to grab her and crush her in an embrace. But she couldn't risk breaking the srryn's connection to the skull. “Lilith this is wonderful beyond reason! I thought I'd lost you forever, my love!”

“You …did. Or almost… if” she blinked, trying to figure out which personal pronoun to use to describe the 'host' body she was in. I? She? We?

“…the …second srryn hadn't taken me, I would have faded. She saved me. What does this mean?”

“You will live, my love! As a ba-srryn, the two of you will continue past the end of the Second Turn. You will merge to become my Third Turn srryn.”

Her eyes glistened. “LUNA! ...this is a miracle! I will be there for the hatchlings. The second srryn and I together!”

Then as quickly as ecstasy filled the srryn's expression, Luna saw it morph to something very different.

“No! NO! Don't do it!” There was panic in Lori’s tone. “We have a problem!”

“What problem?”

“It's …the second srryn …she…no! STOP!”

“Stop what? What is wrong with Cassie?”

“Cassie is her name? I only know her by soul colors; Lilith she is beautiful. But …what did you do to her to make her do this?”

“Do what?” Luna gulped. “What is she doing?”

“She is trying to dissolve …to disband…”

“I don't understand, what you are-”

“-She's trying to give permanent control of this body over to me. She's trying to kill herself.”
 
 

~o~O~o~

 
“Kill herself? Lilith! Why?”

“She feels ...you would be happier with me as your srryn,” Lori's voice answered from Cassandra's body. “Why would she think so? I warned you about this! What did you do to her?”

“After your body burned away, we ran out of time and forced a jh'tiel conversion on her. After that I treated her horribly and-”

“-She's a jh'tiel? Lilith! She was male? Her soul essence is so feminine and fiery. I would have guessed musician or-”

“-She's an artist,” Luna answered, with pride in her voice.

“-LORI!” Jayden interrupted. “Can she kill herself? STOP HER!”

“I don't know if I can,” she said, closing her eyes. “I will try…”

“Please pleaser please, you must stop her, Lori!” Luna gripped her srryn's arm. “Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I love her! And-”

“…youdo?” Cassandra's voice had returned to its higher pitch.

“C-cassie?”

“...I …guess. Lori threw some ...spiritual jujitsu on me and ...I don't have words to describe what happened, but...” Cassandra's lip quivered. “Why did she do that? You will be much happier with her as your-”

Luna clamped her hand over Cassandra mouth. “Don't you dare say those words, and never pull a stunt like this again, do you hear me?”

Cassandra bobbed her head; Luna looked pissed!

“This is your Turn! You are my srryn now. Not Lori, and not who the two of you will become. You!”

“Me?”

“Yes you, you stubborn little thing! You made me love you.”

Cassandra felt the affection in her words; saw the bright smile on her face.

“You really do?”

Luna knew the little srryn didn't yet believe her, so she must show her Cassie. Prove it to her.

And she would.

Again and again for the rest of our lives.

But for now, she gave the only answer she could; Luna took Cassandra in her arms...

...and kissed her … kissed her …kissed her.
 
 
--SEPARATOR--
 

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18. Epilogue - Three months later
 
“Oh, and I sold another painting.”

“Which, the harbor or the rose garden?” Luna said.

“Harbor,” Cassandra said, looking up from her salad preparation.

She and Luna were in their kitchen preparing for guests. Jayden was in his study/lair, doing whatever male lilims did when they were conspicuously absent from work. Cassandra would have accused him of surfing the 'Net for lilim porn, but she was pretty sure none existed.

“They almost bought both.”

Luna sighed. “I'm going to miss that one. It is one of my favorites.”

Cassandra chuckled. “You say that about all my paintings.”

“It is always true, love, your work is amazing.” Luna said.

“They paid eight thousand! Maya smooozed ‘em big, telling them it was an investment, and someday, when I’m a famous artist, it will be worth a zillion times more,” Cassandra said. “I left the check on your desk.”

Luna gathered her srryn in her arms and kissed her head. “I am honored; thank you, darling,”

As her personal assistant, Cassandra was now aware of their vast fortune down to the last penny. But a srryn is hardwired to be helpful, and she knew how proud Cassandra was to contribute.

This was the reason she was having Cassandra make a salad. All their meals could be catered, but she learned long ago with Lori that it was good to have something on hand for the srryn to prepare; bags of salad, anything. Srryns had to be helping, or they became irritable.

“Enough small talk! What is this surprise you've been dangling in front of me for days. Tell me!”

“But then it wouldn't be a surprise, of course. Patience, srryn, you-” The door bell rang. “Ah! Your waiting is over. Be a dear and get that, Cassie.”

Luna smiled at the confusion crossing her srryn's face. Cassandra stopped her salad prep and put her hand on her hip.

“Luna? I'm …ya know …like this …so I'm pretty sure I shouldn't-”

“Oh, I think so, love,” Luna smiled.

This wasn't adding up. Guests were arriving. And she was dressed formally.

But …those concepts were mutually exclusive, right? Because, her formal srryn costume consisted of golden bracelets with tiny bells fastened to her ankles and wrists, a thin golden collar clasped to her neck, and …nothing else.

Also, Cassie was getting the strangest impulses from her soul mate, urges that were amping up her psi.

Okay, just why am I getting psi horny, Lori?

Cassandra could have sworn she heard a giggled response.

“Shoo srryn,” Luna said, waving her out of the kitchen. “Go play.”

Go play?

Her ankle and wrist bells chimed as she padded to the door. Through the peephole she saw a golden-dark young woman, wearing identical golden adornments. Another srryn! She opened the door.

Before she could wave 'hi' or speak a polite greeting, her srryn instincts drove her to kiss the woman. The other srryn responded in kind, and not with a light peck either. This was a tongue in mouth while groping smooch.

Without speaking, they clasped hands and walked down the hallway to Cassandra's room. Cassandra's goal was her day bed, but they made no more than two steps into the room before they fell to the floor and entwined.

“I'm Cherise,” the other srryn managed to whisper.

“Cassie,” Cassandra panted.

“I know. You taste divine. First time?”

“First time?”

“With another srryn? The buzz on the srryn grape vine is you are a srryn-ba! Didn't Lori prep you?”

Cassandra shook her head. “The message I got from her when I opened the door was 'standard visitation protocol.' When I asked what that meant, she said 'some things a srryn has to learn on her own.'

“Holy Lilith, she is in you! That is so her!” Cherise's amber eyes brimmed with tears. “She was my mentor for my first years.”

“And,” Cassandra's forehead wrinkled. “…she says you must be mine for my first …Gathering? Whatever that means.”

“I would be honored. Everyone’s gonna love you, sister. Now, listen up, newb, 'cause we need to get down to business. When lilim couples visit each other, there is the ever sticky psi feeding issue that must be addressed. Four lilim in a room is a dicey proposition; the couples must be psi sated to prevent any unfortunate draining incidents.”

“Yeah I can see that …so…”

“So standard protocol is for the visiting srryn to arrive first, and the two srryns …um …pleasure each other to ensure they are at maximum psi potential. Then the visiting couple arrives, and only after the lilims have psi fed can their meeting happen.”

Cassandra gave a lusty laugh. “We're having an orgy?”

“It might seem so to a fledgling, but you will think otherwise after your first Gathering; we have to arrive a day before the lilim meet. Only …there are 500 of us. In a vast room …playing…”

No words could come to Cassandra’s mind at that image, but her psi spiked several levels.

“Now, unless you have more questions, we should get to …mmmm …work.”

But Cassandra was already hard at work, biting and licking Cherise's hardening nipples.
 
 

~o~O~o~

 
Cassandra sat purring at Luna’s feet, her head on the lilim’s lap. Cherise was in much the same position across the living room floor with her lilim Kallista.

The male lilims paced the room exchanging pleasantries, the ‘how is ‘so and so’s and ‘have you heard’s.
This was the Ssthrg, the cherished time after psi feeding, when for a moment, the lilim, could come together as a people.

Nerseus nodded his head as he listened to Jayden. The younger lilim was gushing about his plans to present a srryn-ba research presentation at the next Gathering.

“Mmm, thanks for the surprise,” Cassandra murmured, still in the afterglow of the szen, “It was wonderful.”

“I am glad you enjoyed Cherise, darling,” Luna answered. “She was one of Lori’s closest friends. But she was not the surprise.”

Not the surprise? Cassandra pried an eye open. Then what is it?

“I am convinced, friend Jayden, she is a srryn-ba.” Nerseus said, and cleared his throat. “Luna, I am prepared to forgive your temerity.”

Temerity? This sounded serious. Cassandra sat upright.

Nerseus walked over to where they sat. “I have viewed her work and you are correct, she is most talented. She could do it.”

Do what? And …is he talking about my paintings? Cassandra scrunched her forehead trying to figure this out. She also detected his faint French accent.

“Oh yes, little srryn, I see your confusion. I am speaking about you. Your lilim ordered me to come here and threatened me if I didn’t. The idea! A Second Turn lilim giving orders to a Third Turner. What is next, an uprising of First Turners?”

Cassandra turned to Luna. “Um, Luna? What’s going on?”

Luna smiled. “If I am not mistaken, Nerseus has something to show you.”

Looking back to him, she saw he held a device in his hand; a silver headband with a large blue crystal fixed at the ‘third eye’ position.

“Cassandra, would you mind putting this on? We call it a Palaron viewer; do not fear, you will love this.”

“ ‘Kay.” Cassandra had no clue what was happening.

Images filled her mind immediately after he placed it on her head; she saw a 360o slide show of landscapes, spiraling buildings, lilims in flight…

…This was lilim art!

She couldn't categorize the images in human terms, the scenes and subjects were naturalistic with realistic elements, yet abstract and with Gothic undertones tones too. Those ideas had to conflict, except in these works, they didn’t.

More than anything, it was the 3D aspect of their art that blew her away. Lilim artists stepped into their paintings.

After several minutes, Nerseus removed the Palaron viewer. Cassandra blinked tears.

“Thank you, I’ve never …that was …I can’t find the words to describe it, except I’ve never seen such beauty.”

“Humans have nothing like it, and our art is especially moving to an artist such as you. You see, our art is dying; I am the last living lilim artist.”

“I’m so sorry!” Cassandra gripped his gray downed hand. “You cannot let it die.”

“I am pleased to hear you say it,” Nerseus smiled. “We are so few now, and my apprentice, she who was to carry on the unbroken line of master-apprentice, died unexpectedly two years ago. I have screened all surviving lilim, and found none who possess the talent to carry on the tradition. I announced this tragedy at the last gathering.”

Nerseus sat down beside her on the floor. “I would have screened srryns too, but their life spans are too short. It takes a full Turn to master our forms, and then another Turn, of course, to teach an apprentice. But now that we have a srryn-ba, with talent…”

Cassandra grasped it at last. “You want me to become your apprentice?”

Nerseus nodded his head. “If you are willing. Luna has agreed the three of you will move to France to be near me so you may begin your training.

Cassandra shot a look to Luna. You arranged this …for me?”

Luna nodded. “I think it high time I relocated Trend’s headquarters to Paris; we are a fashion magazine, after all.”

Cassandra’s heart was in her throat; to be able to learn this amazing art form, to master it…

“I understand the proprieties, of course,” Nerseus said. “Before any student agrees to study under a master, she needs to view his work and determine if he is worthy.”

Cassandra was about to tell him she didn’t need to judge his work, when his image rippled, and a dark bearded man with a black beret stood before her.

“A century or more ago, I wore this human guise in public,” Nerseus said, “where I gained some small notoriety as a painter.”

She knew this figure. He was …he was …It was on the tip of her tongue, and she gasped when it came to her.

“You’re …Claude Monet!”

He swept off his hat and bowed. “And I would be most honored to have you as my student. Together, we will keep lilim art alive. Will you do it?”

“Oh Lord! Oh Lilith! I’m going to study with Claude Monet?”

Emotion swept her away and she threw her arms around Luna and wept.

“Trá¨s bien,” Nerseus grinned. “I take that as a ‘oui’.”

“You can study with Maya for another half a year or so, and then we move,” Luna said. “I can even arrange for Emilie to come too and study with you for a few years if you want. Would this make you happy, love?”

“More than anything! But why? Why are you doing all this for me?” Cassandra sobbed.

The lilim grabbed Cassandra’s face and kissed it. “Because I love you, you silly srryn. I. love. YOU. And we will build such a life together! Do you hear me?”

“I hear you, I hear you,” Cassandra laughed, cried, and spluttered, somehow all at once, before she buried her head in Luna’s chest again.

“Thank Lilith that is settled,” Jayden announced. “I have had all the drama over the last few months I can stomach, and I’m only just into the second Turn. After I present my srryn-ba report at the Gathering, perhaps I shall re-enter the tumultuous European derivatives world for a breather. Heh.”

Luna cradled ‘her Cassie’ and looked at Kallista, who was stroking Cherise as well. Kallista shot her an eye roll back that said it all:

Male lilims; they don’t get it, and they never will.

Luna nodded and whispered, “Hey, Cassie, you've managed to become the first srryn-ba in ten thousand years and you are going to keep our art from dying. Do you think you can pull off a hat trick?”

When Cassandra blinked confusion, Luna nodded toward Jayden, who was once again regaling Nerseus with his lofty research plans.

“Do you think you could get it through our thick-headed Jayden to appreciate that everything he needs is right here?"

Cassandra looked at the male lilim, who was gesturing wildly with his arms and his wings to make some point.

“Sorry, Luna,” she shook her head. “I'm not sure Lilith herself could work such a miracle."
 
 

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