A door opens silently on a pitch black room, shedding light on a lone figure slouched in a chair. Her skin, for it is a young woman, bears a striking resemblance to distressed caramel-colored suede, the role of scuffs being played by a respectable quantity of battle scars. Roughly cut, dark-brown hair keeps her face in darkest shadow, even when the harsh fluorescent light is turned on.
“The minions tell me they found you skulking about in the ventilation system,” a cool voice says from the threshold. The woman remains still, breathing deeply as though asleep or unconscious. “It surprised them mightily to have an ill-clad woman drop through the ceiling into their break room. I’ll have to buy them a new ping-pong table to replace the one you landed on.”
Still, no response. Her interrogator wrinkles his nose as he glides into the room, heavy black cloak whispering behind him. Her clothes, a dark t-shirt and cut-off Capri jeans, are filthy, caked with (possibly) mud. Her heavy black boots are starting to fall apart at the soles and she probably hasn’t seen a bar of soap in months. The smell is difficult to stand in the close quarters of the cell, but he cannot be seen to balk due to olfactory discomfort.
Death, his three-quarter skull mask firmly in place beneath his midnight black hood, slowly paces a circle around the captive. He sees that she has worn her fingers bloody working at the sturdy knots of the ropes binding her wrists and ankles to the chair. He smiles, a chilling expression. When he is directly behind her, he speaks again, “What business do you have here, little girl? If you are selling cookies, we are well stocked for the year.”
Silence. Death becomes uneasy, a wholly new sensation for him. This rat can’t be here as a rescue attempt. The Council approved everything. Lady Fabulous is coming to get her little sidekick in a few days. All completely legitimate. Yet, why else would someone be creeping into his facility? Especially now, when all his work is finally coming to fruition?
And he will never admit it, not even to himself, but even tied to a chair the girl feels threatening somehow. Susan has that effect sometimes, when she remembers how powerful she is. This mysterious little interloper puts the same pit in his stomach. And according to the blood screen, she might be more like Susan than any other creature on the planet. He is professionally intrigued. How long must it have taken to breed what took him ten years of intense research to genetically engineer? Four generations? Six? A dozen? Susan had warned him to stay away from her, but he cannot resist such a specimen. Now, with her safely secured, he thinks it is past time he took a read on her mental state.
Death reaches out to her mind, gently coaxing his way past natural mental defenses. Normally he prefers eye contact for such a delicate procedure, but he wants to feel her fear when she realizes the invasion. That jolt of panic is never as strong when they know what is coming. He sometimes imagines that the world would have significantly fewer physical rapes if more men were Empaths. Penetrating someone’s mind is much more empowering than penetrating their orifices. And much less messy. He cannot abide messiness.
There. He can sense her emotions, get an idea of her personality, her wants, desires, purpose. It isn’t like in the stories that ‘zens tell their little children. It is far more like watching the movie of the mind, rather than reading the book. The human psyche is too chaotic for something so straight forward as words. But with practice, an Empath can very nearly align himself with another’s mind. It makes Death very difficult to lie to.
Feeling that they are in sync, Death’s cheerless smile returns. She is…annoyed. Hmmm. That cannot be correct. He had expected fear. Even Susan fears him, though she’s been his guest for nearly a month. Granted, she usually sees him with a sharp implement in his hand with the intention of using it to test her, but familiarity might be expected to decrease her fear at least somewhat.
This one doesn’t fear. She is mildly uncomfortable and vaguely irritated. She needs to be free to complete her tasks. Instinct is pulsing in her, like the heartbeat of a large predator. Her whole body is thrumming with the anticipation of a hunt. Thoughts flee from the basic need to kill. Intrigued, Death delves deeper.
Her mind feels animalistic, primitive, dark. There is an undercurrent of blackness, a feeling of coming death. And abruptly, Death realizes that he is being swept up on the riptide of her darkness. He no longer glides, but stumbles stiff-legged to face his prisoner and collapses to his knees like a man seeing his god for the first time. His mask falls away to reveal his long pale face, drained of what color it had, and his vivid green eyes wide with incomprehension. Slowly, Joan lifts her head, just enough for her glowing yellow eyes to be seen in the shadows of her face.
“B-but,” Lucien stutters, “Susan said you needed to t-touch me.” The Hero had called the girl a Parasite who could draw his powers through physical contact. She had warned him fervently against going anywhere near the intruder, insisting that he just let her go. “She’s your friend isn’t she?” he’d asked. “No,” she’d replied. “We aren’t enemies, but I am unclear as to how she understands human conventions like friendship.” Staring into those yellow eyes, it occurs to Lucien that Susan had to specify ‘human.’
“You touched me first, Empath,” the girl rasped in an ill-used voice. Her smile is not the practiced grin of a man trying to convince others that he is evil incarnate. It is sharp and feral. The base part of his brain, which had been trying to get his attention since he had entered the little cell, understands exactly what she is. It just can’t figure out how the tiger has managed to hide in the skin of a girl. That is camouflage on an unheard of level. “I am not here for…Susan,” she says slowly, seeming to pull the words from a far distance. “You have two blood-drinkers here.” It isn’t a question so Lucien deigns not to reply. “I will kill them and go,” she says, smoother now. The words were coming easier. “Call your minions to release me.”
Lucien, forgetting that this means he might survive this encounter, stupidly asked, “Why?” She stares at him and sweat beads on his lined forehead.
Then she straightens up in the chair, closes her eyes and rolls her neck to each side with audible pops, then takes a deep breath and releases it. When she opens her eyes, they are a dark brown, black in the fluorescents, and fathomless in her exotic face. She looks down her aquiline nose at her captor and tilts her head, a cat observing the curious behavior of a mouse caught by its tail. “I came here to dispatch the last of Mother’s brood, those responsible for the massacre of nearly a thousand children three years ago.” The familiarity of her speech patterns chills him. It is like listening to his mother when he had misbehaved as a boy. “Susan’s presence is interesting, but as you could hardly keep her against her will, I find it unlikely that she needs rescuing.” She pauses and leans her head back to sniff the air. “I could drain you of everything right now. Your memories, your powers, your very soul,” she murmurs softly, then, her eyes paling slightly. She leans down as far as her restraints allow and Lucien finds himself pulled irresistibly toward her. Now she smiles softly, a coy, gentle smile that warms him in ways no woman has managed in decades. “But you are not mine to kill, Angel-born. When it is time, She will judge you. Until then, it is better that I avoid the temptation. The thought of what I could do with your skills is certainly intriguing.”
She leans back abruptly and Lucien drops back, scrambling shamefully across the floor to the open door before he can recover his natural calm. Then he regains his feet, straightens his cloak, and leaves, slamming the door behind him, but not before he hears his own evil laugh echoing out of her throat.