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“There’s another important anniversary approaching,” Szesstra said, smirking at me over her cup. She closed her eyes as she sipped her tea, and the delicate china sounded like a broken windchime as it clinked softly against her fangs.

I pushed a spoon around in my own cup aimlessly, the sound echoing just as clearly if less musically in the silence of my ritual chamber.  We’d been talking ‘civilly’ for an hour, and I still hadn’t gotten what I needed from the demoness; this entire afternoon was turning into a waste. “The anniversary of your great victory?” I grumbled. “Forgive me if I don’t plan a parade.”

“Victory?” she smirked. “My violet vainglory, I would hardly call it that. Truly I was just getting started. Come now, you had to know that bit with the belligerent bull wasn’t my style.”

“And the rest of it was?  The rodents, the incompetent imp?”

She grinned at me, her sharp teeth glinting in the candlelight. “Both more and less than you know, my darkfire child. I do pride myself on subtlety. Though some of the parallels must have been obvious! You threw your darling silver sun into the fangs of a waiting lioness, and not a day later found yourself beneath the tender claws of her cubs.” She chuckled at the memory. “And he tried so valiantly to save you…!”

My skin crawled as I belatedly understood the connection Szesstra was trying to draw. Conversations with agents of the Legion were rarely simple, but Szesstra’s love of elaborate metaphor and insistence on colorful psuedonyms (‘silver sun’, for example, was Bareris, and she had several for me) meant I was often a step or three behind her – the last place I wanted to be with any demon.

She grinned at my discomfort. “Ah, his sweet tears – like shimmering rain,” she purred. “I wanted more, I admit. But no, the bull had other plans. And of course once he had ahold of your silver sun there wasn’t much I could do. A girl has to know when to cut her losses.” She nibbled idly on a bit of biscotti. “A lesson you could stand to learn, if I do say so.”

I frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean,” she sighed dramatically, “that your silver sun set for the last time the moment he dared shine upon the face of the beast. And all the candles you light for him will not guide his way home.”

I felt a sudden chill. “He did come home,” I snapped back, more emphatically than I had intended, and Szesstra grinned at me. “I’ve been living with him for the last nine months. It’s him, he’s real – I’d know if he wasn’t.”

“Seven twirls of the lady and child,” she corrected me. “And yes, he is as real as any thing you can touch and call by name and take to your bed. But is the silver sun in whose eclipse you now dwell the same that lighted your life when last the days grew short?”

“What else would he be? Some kind of – illusion, some kind of construct? I don’t believe it.”

“So literal! Flickering flame, I recall an elf of shining stature who struggled futilely for hours to deliver a wicked and selfish witch from a fate she had earned, and spawned a river when he could not succeed. Would the silver sun you circle so faithfully do the same today? Or would he sit back and laugh, the festering wound inside him salved by her suffering?”

I did not answer.  Szesstra smiled and changed the subject. “And how is my Azshara butterfly fluttering by these days?”

That was Kuvasei. “None of your damned business,” I snapped at her.

She laughed delightedly. “Then tell me of this prowler of yours, this black wolf with eyes like fire.”

This was a new one, but took little deduction. “No.”

“And his dancing ravenhair.”

No.

“Perhaps I should pay them a visit in their lovely home. Such a dangerous location they’ve chosen, with wolves and ghosts and worse in the woods…”

No,” I said, standing up so fast I nearly knocked the chair over. “You deal with me. Leave them out of this. And get the fuck out of my head!” For a moment I was frightened; I knew she could catch surface thoughts, but I hadn’t even been thinking of Westel and Anais! But then she grinned, and I suddenly realized she’d tricked me into doing just that. I immediately cleared my mind again. Tea. Biscotti. Bloody Szesstra.

She frowned. “You’re no fun. I shall have to name you my silken shield now, in addition to all else.”

I focused on the pattern along the rim of the teacup.

“We’re done here, then?”

Tiny little painted knots, twisting and turning around; I followed them with my eyes and tried to make my thoughts flow as cleanly. I still hadn’t gotten what I wanted from her… but this wasn’t the first time she’d managed to completely derail the conversation, and I was becoming emotional.  The situation was too quickly moving out of my control, and I couldn’t let that happen. Not again. “Yes,” I said through gritted teeth. “We are done.”

She sighed. “I didn’t even get to ask how brightly my ebonstar is shining. Another time, perhaps. Another excuse for tea, yes?”

…ebonstar. Ebonstar? That was a new one, and one I couldn’t identify. Against my better judgment, I looked back up at the demoness. She smiled at me with her ruby lips and her rows of sharp teeth, and I knew before I asked that she’d won. I asked just the same.

“… what the hell is an ebonstar?”

She laughed at me. “My ebonstar,” she corrected me, sneering as she leaned over me.  “And you’re a smart girl, Astoreth,” she hissed.Figure it out.” She’d never said my name before, and something about the way the syllables fell from her tongue made me want to vomit.

Szesstra stood up and sauntered towards the door; even though we both knew she couldn’t depart the binding circle, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to be dramatic.  Such a bitch.  

“I’m certain we’ll see each other again soon…”  She glanced back at me over her shoulder and smiled.  “Mistress.

And with a flash of red light, a cloud of smoke and a brief stench of sulfur, she was gone.

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