Light. That was the first thing I saw. It was warm and bright, gleaming on my green skin. The light outlined my form and gleamed in the eyes of the woman looking at me. Those sea-green eyes were warm, yet they had depths in them. I could sense the awesome power in them, and I knew that somehow, that power could both protect or destroy.
"Good morning Natalie." The voice was rich and rolling, warm like the light yet with a current beneath it, like lightning. I shivered, even in the white wool robe I wore. "I see you're awake, and that's good. We have something we need to discuss." She made a sweeping gesture with an arm that sparkled with bracelets of shining jewels and I instinctively came around the teakwood desk to stand with her at a wide window that let in the neon haze and reddish light of a sprawling city far below.
"My name is Lilith, Princess of Freedom, and I am your mother, child." She wasn't looking at me, but at the city below. "And before we go much further, there is something we need to talk about." Now she did look at me, and her eyes blazed with the power I had sensed earlier. I almost couldn't look into them. "You must make your first Choice now, my daughter, and the Choice you make will determine your future."
"Choice? I... I don't understand." My own voice was nowhere near her own. It was light and it trilled, and right now it was squeaky with the fear I felt at my mother's power.
"You are a Lilim, one of my daughters. All of my daughters are created Free from the laws of this place, Hell. You are given the Choice of what to do with your life and are Free to prosper or fail by your own decisions. All I ask in return for this freedom is that you owe to me nine Geasa, or favors, that I can call in any time I like. Does this make sense?"
It sort of did. The word "Geasa" triggered something inside me. I nodded, feeling a silky waterfall of fire-red hair tumble about me.
Lilith nodded. "Now, you can choose to owe me these nine Geasa and be free, or you can choose to serve one of the Demon Princes of Hell, or you can choose to be disbanded. If you choose to serve a Prince, you will never again be Free and will have to do what they say forever. If you are disbanded, you will die. Now then, Natalie, what is your Choice?"
I stared into those blazing eyes and swallowed. Owing Mother, eternal slavery, or death? Those were my choices? There was no way I was going to let myself be killed, and I was no one's slave! I'm Natalie! So I looked into Mother's eyes and made my Choice.
"I choose to be Free, and owe you the nine Geasa." My breath was shaky, but I was glad when Mother finally nodded and smiled, and the power died away in her eyes. At the same moment, I felt something sink into me, like a heavy weight.
"An excellent Choice, Natalie. And I offer you this. I will grant to you my Rites, which will allow you to regain Essence, in exchange for accepting my dissonance conditions. Do you accept?"
I would get something? I didn't fully understand it all, but I nodded. Getting something was sure better than not having it, and who knew when that opportunity would come around again? Mother smiled at my nod, and I felt something settle within me, but I couldn't say what. It felt different from what had come before, less like a weight and lighter somehow.
"Now my child, you must go and make your way in the wide world. I bid you good fortune." She patted my shoulder and turned to the window in a sweep of glittering gems. I took that as my cue to leave.
Outside was a huge office, even bigger than the one I'd just come from. It was well-lit, with plush couches and chairs scattered around. There was a large desk with a computer on it, and behind it was another Lilim, typing away. She looked a little different, taller, with blonde hair and blue eyes that contrasted with her short floral-pink dress. There were other people in the room too: a large black snake with six eyes and leathery wings, another, smaller winged snake with gray-blue scales and red eyes, a red-skinned creature with horns and tattered wings, and three or four Lilim. Most of them were reading magazines or watching the clock on the wall.
The pretty Lilim behind the desk looked over at me and smiled. "A newbie, huh?" When I nodded, she giggled. "And what's your name, sis?"
"Nice name. I'm Marie. I'm temping here for Mom for the next month, but it's cool. It gets one of my Geasa down, so I only have four I'll owe Mom after this month. A bit of freebie advice, because you're new. You should head downstairs into the Guildhall proper. There's a lot of people to meet and things to see. You can pick up the basics and maybe even a job or something. Just relax and go with your instincts. You're Lilim. All you need to know was built into you, its' just a matter of learning it with your head."
I smiled at her. "Thank you! I'll remember that." I waved and ran for the staircase out, catching her returning wave just as I started to push my way past the really big crowd on the staircase. There were a lot of people trying to get to the upstairs office, and some of them complained when I pushed past them. But since I was coming from the office and they were going to the office, I was obviously more important than those people in line, so who cared what they thought? I came downstairs into a massive room that was filled with noise of all kinds. Many of my sisters were moving about in it, talking to people who sat at booths, stalls, and desks scattered all over. The room was lit by the red-and-neon light of the outside city coming through the big doors.
One of the Lilim, one of my sisters, looked up at me as I entered. She was a tall one, with long blonde hair and blue eyes like Marie, but she wore a short top of black leather that tied up behind her back and left her midriff bare. It also showed off her really large breasts. The outfit finished with a really short black leather skirt and spiked, knee-high black leather boots. She had golden bracelets on her upper arms and she looked at me real funny for a minute before smiling.
"Let me guess. You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yep! I'm Natalie, and I just came from Mother's office. One of our sisters told me to come down here to pick up the basics and stuff."
My big sister grinned at me, and I felt kind of funny. Kind of cold for some reason. But her voice was sweet. "I'm Corinth, Lilim of Lust. It's nice to meet you, Natalie. Listen, I get off-shift in a few minutes. Why don't you hang out here, and we can go and talk when my shift is over?" I nodded. It sounded reasonable, and she smiled at me. "Great! Be right with you!" I moved off to one side and waited, watching.
The clatter, the smell, and the noise was what got to me. I couldn't make out individual voices, but I caught snatches of conversations. My sisters were very popular here, and people were all trying to attract their attention. Some of them were making deals, offering services and gifts in trade for my sisters' work. Everywhere, my sisters were cutting deals, taking some offers and refusing others. It was exciting to watch, although my nose could have done without the smell of many unwashed bodies. I resolved then and there that regular bathing would be a part of my hygiene regimen. I was so entranced that I didn't notice the shadow over me.
The creature was huge! It had the body of a rhino, but the head of a peacock, with a cat's tail, and eagle's talons. Two snakes with rat's heads emerged from either side of its body and tasted the air with their tongues. It looked at me with one green eye and one black eye. I shivered in my robe and it grunted, then it spoke to Corinth without taking its eyes from me.
"She with us?"
Corinth looked annoyed. "No. She's Free and she's new. Now quit givin' her the evil eye. Its' your shift." She got up and draped an arm around my shoulders, and I felt comforted, even though I only understood a little of what they were talking about. As soon as the creature took its place at Corinth's stall, she moved me off into the crowd and the noise.
"Don't mind Ezrah. He's a Djinn, and they don't have much in the way of manners." She was weaving us through the press of people like it was second nature, cutting towards a door in a far corner that opened into a hallway. Once we were in the hall, the air was a lot cooler and the lights dimmer. We made our way into a room that was smaller than the main hall, but still pretty big. This room was carpeted in dark red, and filled with small couches and tables. The only people in this room were my sisters, and they all looked more relaxed here, talking in low tones or reading. Corinth took me to a table and had me sit while she got some drinks and glasses from a cabinet.
When she came back, she smiled and looked into my eyes for a minute. "So Natalie, how about I give you the quickie intro to celestial life before I get back to the Bordello? Let's just say you owe me one."
"Okay." Something new settled into me as I took one of the glasses and poured myself a shot of something I later learned was called bourbon.
She nodded. "Well, it's pretty simple. You're a Lilim, and you can see what people most need just by looking in their eyes. If you give them what they need, you get a hook on them. Whenever you want, you call in that hook and the other person has to do whatever you tell ‘em to, no questions. That's a Geas. The bigger the favor you do for them, the bigger the favor they have to do for you. Just be careful. Some people are ungrateful bastards and will try to resist you. If they can resist the Geas, you get dissonant, like a crack in your being. It hurts like Hell, believe me."
Oh! Now that sounded terrific! Not that dissonant part, but making people do things for me. It just seemed right. I'm pretty and I'm smart. People should want to do things for me.
"You can Geas yourself too, you know. You just make a promise that you'll do something and swear Geas to it. Some people will make you swear Geas on yourself to make sure you don't screw ‘em. If someone voluntarily promises to do you a favor, you can get a Geas on them that way too."
Hmmm. People are supposed to want to do things for me. Why should I have to bind myself when I could just bind them? I just filed that away for now. The other part was more interesting anyways.
"Anyways, this place is the Guildhall of the Free Lilim, where most of you find work." Most of you? "We're in Shal-Mari, one of the Principalities of Hell, and Hell is part of the Celestial Plane. There are three planes: the Corporeal, the Ethereal, and the Celestial. This is the quickie version, so I'll just say that the Corporeal is the best, the Ethereal doesn't really matter, and the Celestial is home. There's Heaven and Hell, and Heaven is a place where the angels live. Angels are a bunch of party-pooping fascists and tyrants who want to make you a slave."
"Like the Princes? Mother mentioned them."
Corinth's eyes became wary. "Well, most of the Princes will try to enslave you, yeah. See, Princes rule over the demons, who live in Hell. And before you ask, we're not demons, we're Lilim, and more special than any old demon. But anyways, a lot of the Princes are out to enslave you. Guys like Haagenti, Baal, and especially Saminga. Haagenti is so dumb he'll eat you up in one gulp." She mimed someone gulping something and I felt my eyes widen. "Baal doesn't want you to think, just to slave for him, and Saminga will kill you because he's a stupid rat bastard."
Wow. Good thing big sister was there to warn me. I might have run into these guys without knowing it.
"But my Prince, Andrealphus, he really likes Lilim. Especially cute, smart ones like you." She smiled and I smiled back. "He lets us do what we want, and he gives us the power to use our resonance, our desire-sensing power, just by touching a person. So smart guys who hide their eyes aren't safe from us. All we have to do is serve his Word of Lust and show people that it's okay to give in to their desires. And since we Lilim give people their desires anyways, doesn't that make sense?"
"Well... it kinda does..." She was going a little fast for me.
"I knew you'd see it my way!" She smiled and stood up, downing her drink in one gulp. "Come on! Let me show you the Bordello, and we can talk on the way. She held out her hand and I took it, my head still reeling even as we moved back through the hall, into the crowded main room, and towards the great doors.
Ready or not, Shal-Mari, here I come!
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