I was woken in the middle of the night by a knock at my door. Half asleep, I went to answer it. It's not like I was completely unused to being woken up in the middle of the night by my obnoxious neighbor, so I didn't think much of it until I opened the door. Standing in the hallway was a beautiful woman with silky black hair and porcelain skin. She brushed past me silently, like a wraith, and sat down on my couch. She looked so out of place there amongst my shabby furniture and piles of dirty laundry.
"Who are you?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. I didn't even realize that my hair was a mess or that my breath smelled like sour ass. I felt like I was in the presence of royalty. This woman seemed more godlike to me than Kotik or Krysa ever would. Her lips, red as cranberries, parted and she began to speak in a smooth, otherworldly voice.
"My name is Laume, but that is not important right now. Why don't you go make us some tea?" she said, waving her hand. As if in a trance, I was compelled to obey. My head felt foggy, and my vision was blurred with drowsiness, but I managed to make to make the tea nonetheless. When I was finished, I sat down on the couch next to my enchanting guest and handed her a mug of tea.
"Thank you very much, dear," she said, taking a long sip despite the scalding temperature of the liquid. "Mmm...simply divine," she said, setting the mug down on my coffee table. "You know, not many people in this country know much about good tea, but that is lovely. Now, let's get down to business, shall we? I have been informed by my, er, colleagues, that you have recently been in contact with my daughter?"
"I-I don't think so," I stammered, struggling to remember if anything like that had happened. She couldn't be talking about the little ghost girl, though. How could she possibly know about a spirit that can't communicate with normal humans? Unless…
"She's been missing for so long, and some of my friends recently informed me that they had seen you conversing with her. Is that true?"
"H-how did you get my address?" I asked, standing up suddenly. My knees felt weak and the room swam.
"Please, sit down," she said, her icy blue eyes stabbing into my skull. I gasped and stumbled towards the door. Something was wrong with me.
"I can't help you!" I cried, fumbling with the doorknob. I had to find Kotik. Or anybody, for that matter. I just needed help, and fast, before I passed out. "I don't know anything about your daughter!" In an instant, she was standing behind me. She placed her hand on my shoulder, sending a spear of ice shooting down my spine.
"Your friend won't be able to help you now," she said. Her light, airy voice sounded thicker than syrup. I fell to my knees, desperately clutching the doorknob, but my fingers were too clumsy to operate it. I felt like I might throw up right there. "I'll leave you alone if you take me to the girl. I promise."
"I…won't…" I said, feeling myself quickly fading into unconsciousness.
"You are way in over your head, little girl." She leaned in close, her unnaturally red lips brushing against my ear. "There are things lurking in this city; things you can't even begin to imagine. Many of them would pay a pretty penny for your head on a stake. You see, the denizens of the spirit world don't like to be seen by mortals, especially humans. So when someone with your particular…talents shows up on the scene, it makes them nervous, which is why I just might give them what they want if you don't tell me where that precious little child is."
"Why do you want her so badly?" I coughed.
"Her soul belongs to me. She's a…servant of mine, if you will. That's why her little escape plan failed so miserably. She should've known that it wouldn't work while I still have her chained to this world. Foolish thing." She stood up straight and shook her head disapprovingly. "Oh well then. If you aren't going to give me what I want, I suppose I should just kill you now." A knife was in her hand and bloodlust was in her eyes.
"Stop!" I said weakly, struggling to back away from her.
"Look at you, girl, squirming around on the ground like the worm you are!" she said, her voice full of childish glee.
"Please stop!" I said again. "I'll give you what you ask for, just don't kill me!" I couldn't believe what I was saying. How could I betray the little girl who I had promised to help?
"Oh? Is that so?" the woman said, toying with the knife. "Tell me child, where is that little spirit hiding?"
"She was in the park when I saw her. I don't know if she stays there or if she was just passing through, though."
"Hmm…I'm afraid you'll have to do better than that," she said, smiling. "But don't worry. I won't kill you yet."
As she said those words, I felt the last of my consciousness slip away.
When I came to, I was in a strange place. It was fancy, in a gaudy, trampy sort of way. Like some kind of whorehouse. I was lying on a soft, cushy bed covered in frilly pink pillows. The room was filled with a heavy, sickly sweet perfume, and equipped with every luxury imaginable. Mere moments after I awoke, the woman from the night before swept into the room elegantly, looking just as perfect as she had before.
"Ah, you're awake, my darling!" she said in her sweet voice. "Welcome to my home! Me and the girls are just so delighted to have you for company! I can assure you, my guests want for nothing. Here you will be treated as a queen!"
"What do you want from me now?" I asked, my voice hoarse and my mouth dry.
"Oh, you'll see soon enough, my dear," she said. "Now, I am very busy today. If you'll excuse me, I must get back to work. Feel free to make yourself at home, my child." With that, she left the room, leaving a pleasant scent in her wake.
After she was gone, I began to look through the room. It seemed to have everything: a television, a mini-bar, a refrigerator, and a full wardrobe, but all of those things were empty. The only thing I found was a green fairy mojito that I didn't quite trust. There was nothing to do, and I didn't plan on exploring this freak's house, so I just sat there, waiting for her to return.
After a while, a young woman walked into the room carrying a silver platter of hors d'oeuvres. She was about sixteen with stringy yellow hair and sallow cheeks. She was no doubt one of the spirits that the woman had enslaved. She set the platter down on the nightstand and turned to leave.
"Wait," I said, standing up. "I want to leave. Tell me how to get out of here."
"You can't leave," she said. Her voice was so fragile it could've been made of glass. "Nobody ever leaves this place alive."
"What is she?" I asked, fearing the answer. "What is she doing here?"
"She is what humans call a necromancer, although she deals more with life than with death. She is a powerful witch who can control spirits both living and dead. I do not know what her business is here, miss, but it is not good. She has many like me—spirits of the dead—under her command. She is very powerful, miss. I would do as she says if you value your life." With that, the girl bowed her head and left the room.
It felt like many hours before Laume finally returned. With her she brought three more serving girls. I glared at her as she entered, but she paid no attention to me. She sat down on the bed next to me, so close that I could feel the icy cold that radiated off of her skin and smell her sweet scent, like a rare flower.
"How has your stay been, dearie? I believe you've met one of my girls. What's this?" she said, looking at the platter. "You haven't even touched the food that I brought you. Oh well, we'll be having dinner shortly, so it doesn't matter."
"I'm not eating anything you offer me," I said. "I know you're a witch. You could have poisoned all of this food."
"What would I gain from poisoning you? Don't be so foolish now."
"I have powerful friends, you know. They'll find me eventually, and they'll give you what you deserve." She scoffed at my words, a cocky grin on her face.
"What, you mean that wimpy little thing you call a god? You think what he has is power? If anyone around here is a god, it's me, not that fool. Freak of nature would be a more accurate term. Those creatures you call gods, they are nothing. Mistakes. Anomalies. Nothing more. Sorry, honey, but your little boyfriend can't even touch me. If you like, I could show you true power. Power that your gods can only envy." There was something in her eyes, like a sinister spark that told me I should say no more. I didn't know what she meant about the gods being mistakes and freaks of nature, but I didn't care much either. I had seen their power, and I knew it was real.
"Come now, let us go to dinner. I'm sure you'll absolutely adore the meal I've had my girls prepare for us tonight!"
The dining room was gorgeous. The walls were covered in a deep, delicious crimson satiny wallpaper and Renaissance-style paintings of beautiful women in elaborate dresses. There was gold everywhere, and the chairs at the table were plush, overstuffed armchairs that looked disgustingly comfortable. The only light came from the myriad of candles on the table, giving the room a warm, sultry feeling.
"Come, dear, take a seat," Laume said in her honeyed voice. We were the only ones in the room save for a dejected-looking serving girl standing in the corner staring at her feet. The food was already on the table, and it looked fantastic. Foods that I didn't even recognize covered the table: exotic fruits, meats of strange animals dripping with savory juices, and strange vegetables. I couldn't help but let out a small gasp when I saw it all, which made Laume giggle. God, I hated her so much. Laume sat at the head of the table, and I sat by her side.
"I didn't even really need that girl," she said as we ate. "She's such a weakling that I could've easily done without her."
"Then why are you keeping me here? It's not like I can give you any more information than I already have."
"I want you to get one thing clear," she said, putting down her fork. "You are powerless. This world, this things that you've gotten yourself involved with, they will destroy you. You are meddling with the natural order of things, and even I grow tired of your little games. The next time you decide to fool around with matters of the spirit world will be your last."
We ate the rest of the meal in silence, not even bothering to look at each other. It was an unimaginably uncomfortable situation, but I imagined that the witch was very much enjoying herself. The food was not nearly as good as it looked. It tasted like ash in my mouth, and I had to force myself to swallow it, but it didn't seem to faze my host. When we were done, a spirit girl brought out desert, which was a large, decadent chocolate cake.
"Is that for me? Oh, you shouldn't have!" I jumped in my chair, startled by the new voice that came from the other end of the table. I turned to see a small girl sitting in the chair, her legs crossed and her hands folded neatly in front of her on the table. It was Krysa, queen of the rats. How she got there, I had no clue, but I had to admit that I was rather glad to see her, even though she had turned my friend into a rodent.
"You!" Laume hissed through gritted teeth. "How did you get in here?"
"I noticed that your warding spells were quite weak, and I figured that you wouldn't mind if I dropped by for desert, so I did. What, aren't you glad to see me?" She looked like a little Victorian princess with a frilly red dress and perfectly styled hair. She rose from her chair and strode over to where Laume was seated, and sat in her lap. She scooped up a gob of thick chocolate ganache with her finger and licked it. "Mmm," she said. "Perfect."
"What are you doing here, rat," Laume growled.
"I've come to retrieve her," Krysa said, pointing at me.
"Did Kotik send you?" I asked.
"Are you joking? I haven't seen him in days. No, I just thought I'd try to make peace between us. I'm really not a bad person, you know. Anyways," she said, hopping off of the witch's lap. "I think it's high time we returned home, don't you think?" She took my hand and I stood. Laume sat in her chair, fuming. "Not so powerful now, are we?" Krysa whispered as she passed by.
"This isn't the last we've seen of each other, my love," Laume said, glaring at her chocolate cake. With that, we left the house and all of its fabricated trappings behind us and returned home.