“You’re trapped? For real?” Goldie exclaimed.

Lucian was only vaguely listening to Goldie’s call. His attention was focused on the man outside. Dell had been standing outside of the building for a couple of minutes now. He looked to be talking to himself and making numerous small gestures. Lucian had seen him doing something similar before, but there was a light show afterward.

“They said they would be here as soon as they figure out how to get free,” Goldie said. “We just have to hang on. Is he still, like, praying or whatever?”

“Yeah,” Lucian said. “Last time he did something like that, he was shooting lasers.”

“Huh. Maybe he’s, like, buffing himself. Like in a video game.”

“Buffing?”

“Oh my god. You’ve never played a video game?”

Lucian sighed. How often was he going to get asked that in his life? He’d have to play one eventually if for no other reason than to get any of the references.

“Wow, I heard you were sheltered, but that’s just silly. Humans love video games. I’m not human, and even I like ’em.” Goldie said. She almost seemed insulted.

“Does it matter? What’s buffing anyway?” Lucian said, making no effort to hide his annoyance.

“It’s when you use magic or something to make yourself stronger for a fight. It’s called buffing. This guy must know how strong my mom is and he is getting ready to fight her.”

“I wonder why it’s called buffing?”

Goldie shrugged. “I dunno. It won’t matter though, because unless he can fight her without wanting to touch her, she’s gonna eat his soul like a chocolate chip cookie. Magic and all.”

Dell clasped his hands and touched them to his forehead, seemingly done with his prayers or buffing, if Goldie was right. He approached the door, drawing something from his pocket. After fiddling with lock for a moment, Dell stepped away and whispered more words, making rapid clockwise circles with his hand over the bolt. He then grabbed the handle and pulled the door open after jiggling it briefly.

At that moment, Amber appeared in the hallway camera. She was swinging her arms and stretching.

“Pay attention, Children,” Amber said. “Should I fall, you’ll need to tell the others about this fight.”

“Can she hear us?” Lucian asked.

Goldie shook her head.

The light in the lobby flicked on. Dell was in the Lobby, looking around warily. “Knock knock,” He called out. “Excuse me, but is anybody here? I seem to have lost my rabbit, and I think you have him.”

“We do not usually keep any rabbits here,” Amber said as she entered the lobby. “Even if I had one, we are closed for the day. I only have one thing to give this late. If you want it.”

“I think anything I get from you would be a bit more stimulating that I was looking for. “

“That’s too bad. I really want to give it to you. Won’t you stay?”

“Are they flirting?” Lucian said in as much amazement as disgust.

“It’s how we fight. Now shush,” Goldie said, biting her thumbnail excitedly. “My mom’s glamor is on twelve right now. I can feel it from here.”

Amber was taking measured steps towards Dell. Her arms folded behind her back and each step in line with the last. Dell was standing firm at first, but Lucian could swear Dell’s head was pulling back on his shoulders ever so slightly.

“She’s using revulsion on him,” Goldie said. “Making him want to look away. She’s gonna move on him. Watch! Watch!” She slapped Lucian’s shoulder with glee.

Lucian winced and tried to focus though Goldie’s uncontrolled excitement. It did seem as though Dell wanted to look away with the way he body was stiffening. Dell’s chin shifted to the side ever so slightly, and he blinked slow enough for Lucian to notice the change.

Amber cleared the distance between them faster than Lucian could draw his attention back to her. Dell threw himself to the side as she filled the space he was in. She embraced herself lovingly, abruptly slowing the same deliberate speed as before.

“You dodged? Why?” Amber pouted. “I only wish to embrace you. You have already left your mark on me. Would you deny me the pleasure of knowing you more intimately?”

“I would love nothing more,” Dell said with a laugh. “But I’m on something of a schedule. Why don’t you give me what I actually came for? I promise if you do so, I’ll keep the gift I made for you. Refuse, and when I finish with my project, I find that cute daughter of yours and take my time.”

This time, Lucian saw it happen. Amber flashed into motion and slammed her shoulder into Dell. The larger man bounced off the wall behind him back into a series of powerful hooks and straights. Amber ended her barrage by grabbing Dell’s collar, crossing her wrists in the process. She turned her body into him, throwing herself and the larger man to the ground.

“Yes,” Amber almost purred. “You want to touch me now, do you not? You want to breathe, but I will not allow it. Your air is mine and so is your worthless infanticidal soul.”

Dell struggled to push Amber away, but she used her grip on his collar to pull herself in closer, straddling his chest and choking him at the same time. He struck her repeatedly in the side but was unable to move her enough to get free.

“You disgust me. I do not know how you have managed to hide your soul behind the one I currently feel, but worry not. I will find yours in time,” Amber growled. “Then you will understand why it was so foolish to threaten my daughter.”

Dell pushed his hips into the air making a bridge of his body. He reached one arm under his back and pulled out a strange looking knife.

“He’s gonna stab her!” Lucian said.

“With that stupid looking thing? Mom is too tough for that. Stupid mage,” Goldie said, chuckling.

Dell drove the strange knife into Amber’s lower back. Amber sat up with a howl of pain, letting him go and scrambling away. Dell rolled over, coughing violently and rubbing his throat.

“That looked like it hurt,” Lucian said, grimacing.

“What the hell kinda knife was that?” Goldie said, scratching aggressively at her own back.

Amber struggled to her feet holding her back. There wasn’t a wound to see, but she moved like she had one all the same. She leaned against the wall, breathing heavily.

“This pain,” Amber said as she tried to steady herself. “This won’t be enough to save you, Human. I will carve your contrition from your soul.”

“Aren’t you the least bit curious about where I got this?” Dell asked as he rose to his feet, waving the odd knife mockingly.

“I could not care less, Human,” Amber said with a hiss as she launched herself at Dell again. “In mere moments, it will not matter!”

Dell stepped into the charge, swinging the odd knife upwards, but Amber was faster and stepped around the attack. Catching his arm before he could retract it, Amber ducked and spun to the side, twisting Dell’s arm over her head. She straightened, pulling his elbow down on her shoulder. Dell’s arm snapped like a summer sapling, and his knife dropped to the floor. Lucian instinctively grabbed his elbow and winced.

Amber kicked the blade away. She then stepped forward into her kick, pulling Dell off balance, and drove her elbow into his stomach. As he doubled over, she met him halfway with the same elbow, angled upwards. The upward strike started him reeling, but Amber turned towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist before he could fall. With a furious shout, she leaned back, pulling Dell into a belly to belly suplex, smashing him through a nearby chair.

Amber gave Dell a light shove from her bridged position, knocking him flat on his back and then stood up herself. She walked in a circle for a moment, breathing audibly.

“Does it hurt?” Amber asked between breaths. She took a step and kicked Dell solidly in the side. “Does it?” She shouted. “Does it hurt?” She shouted again, punctuating each word with a kick.

She stood over the top of Dell and sat heavily on his chest. “I am stunned at your resilience, Human. Better beasts have died from less at my hands. Though, they weren’t using the souls of baby humans as shields. I would commend your ruthlessness, however vile, were it a matter of survival. It was not, though. You act on some other grotesque need that I can not understand.” She wrapped her hands around Dell’s neck. “I have taken your armor from you, mage. Now, I will take back what I have wasted on you here.”

“That was kinda tense there,” Goldie said. She was breathing hard, enough though she had done nothing but watch the fight. Lucian noticed she seemed to be mirroring her mother, to a lesser degree. It was almost like the pair shared a link of some kind.

“What’s she doing now?” Lucian asked.

“She is gonna eat him,” Goldie said, happily. “I mean, she’s been taking bites out of him this whole time, but she’s gonna eat him proper now.”

“She’s been biting him?”

“Not, like, literally. Succubi feed by physical contact. As long as you are willing to touch us, we can taste your life force. It doesn’t hurt or anything, and unless we take too much, you won’t even notice.”

“I’d think you’d feel something,” Lucian said, his brows furrowed in thought.

“Nope. I nibbled you a little in the car when I was holding your hand. I wanted to figure out why you were so special so I took a taste. Did you notice?”

Lucian shook his head. “So, it’s like a mosquito bite without the itching. What did my soul taste like?”

Goldie wrinkled her nose and started scratching the palm of her hand. “Like everything and nothing? Like a pitch black room that you’ve memorized and forgotten or the starless sky over a lake so large it could be an ocean, but the wind won’t touch it, so it’s like a mirror that goes on forever,” Goldie said. While she was talking, her fidgeting and scratching became more pronounced.

“Those aren’t flavors. Those are ideas. And are you alright?”

“No. I’m not. What’s wrong with me?” Goldie said, her pretty features twisting in distress and confusion.

“What is that?” Amber shrieked, drawing Lucian’s attention.

The elder succubus we desperately pushing herself away from Dell’s still prone body. She thrashed about, clawing violently at her face and arms. Amber stood, fell, writhed, and scratched, all the while making small choking sounds and screaming gibberish.

“Something’s wrong. Something is so wrong!” Goldie breathed. She was shuddering violently and shaking her head like a dog with something in its ear. “This isn’t being sick. This isn’t right. What is wrong with him? What is this taste?”

“Goldie? What’s-” Lucian started.

“He tastes impossible! Mother is hurting! He isn’t possible!” Goldie said, throwing herself to the floor.

The sound of retching came from the monitors. Amber was throwing up a viscous black fluid that hit the floor in thick lumps. They sizzled and turned to a mist that hung in the air around the suffering woman.

Dell began to stir. As Amber writhed and vomited, Dell woke and rolled slowly to his feet. He winced and grabbed his broken arm at the shoulder. Dell looked around the room in surprise then clamped his hand over his mouth when his eyes fell on Amber. He gazed at her for a moment in confusion then glanced at his odd knife in the corner of the room. Dell retrieved it and walked briskly over to Amber. Without a word, he leaned down and jammed the knife into the base of her skull. Amber shuddered, stiffened, and was finally still.

Goldie screamed and fainted.

Lucian threw up. It was all too much. He wanted this day to be over so much. He hated how his life had been before, but if this was the price for change, he didn’t want it. He didn’t want to be the reason people keep dying. He didn’t want to feel all these emotions. He couldn’t process them.

Dell leaned on the wall holding his broken arm, wincing, and whispering to himself. He arm shifted and distended slightly around the elbow before returning to normal. He flexed his now healed arm before heading to the back. Dell walked warily into the cage room, scanning the area carefully before heading over to the cats.

“Is anyone else here?” Dell asked the cats.

One of them hissed at him.

“Okay, that is a thing that happened, but in my defense, she has stolen my prey. I want it back.”

Another cat growled its response.

“I’m trying to be polite here. I could just as easily pull one of you out of there and tear off your limbs. Now, just point me in the right direction, and I’ll let you all out.”

After a moment there was a mollified meow, and Dell looked in the direction of the dog cages. He walked over and looked them over.

“It’s this one in the middle?” Dell asked.

There was another meow.

“I will once I know you aren’t lying to me,” Dell said as he stepped into the cage.

Dell pulled out a small bottle and gave it a shake. He opened it and poured its contents on the wall. He then stepped back and began whispering to himself again and making a clockwise circle with one hand. The wall started to crack and warp, revealing the seam of the hatch in the wall. Seemingly satisfied, Dell walked back over and opened the cat cages.

“The front door is open. If you push on it, you can get out.” Dell said to the cats.

The cats left without responding.

“Listen, I know you can hear me,” Dell said as he walked back to Old Dog’s cage. “I know where you are hiding. If you send the boy to me, we can end all this. I know it’s just you left with him, Goldie. Send him out, before I come in there and return you to the void your mama pulled you from.”

Lucian began shaking Goldie, desperate to wake her up. “Goldie!” he said urgently. “Goldie, wake up.”

Goldie’s eyes fluttered open. “Wha?” She mumbled.

“Goldie, he found the hatch. He is trying to get in.”

“What? How?” Goldie said, wide awake now.

“I guess the cats told him?” Lucian said with confusion.

“Those traitors!” Goldie hissed.

“Well, he did say he was gonna rip their legs off. Also, I didn’t know cats could talk.”

“Neither did I, but then I don’t know what mages do. I guess they talk to cats as well as have impossible nightmare souls.”

“I think he killed your mom. I’m sorry.” Lucian said sadly. Goldie didn’t seem that bothered. He began to wonder if not reacting to one’s mother dying was normal.

“He didn’t. Mom had a shed. She’ll be okay.” Goldie said as she drew her knees into her chest. “If he gets in here, though, I won’t be.”

“A shed?”

“Yeah. My mom is so strong that if someone kills her, her essence will escape her body and rebuild itself. It’ll take a few months if I’m around to help her. A year or two if I’m not,” Goldie said with a sigh. “I wonder if she’ll miss me when she comes back?”

Lucian looked at Goldie. He looked at the tears filling the bottoms of her eyelids. She sounded resigned to dying. It tore him apart. Why was all this happening? If it kept up, would the whole town have to die? Would it all be his fault?

“Hey,” Lucian said as he stood up. “I’m just gonna give up, okay?”

“He’s gonna kill you and do weird stuff to your soul to make himself into some sorta super mage. You know that, right?” Goldie said as a tear finally fell free.

“Yeah, but then it’ll just be me, right? Besides, maybe the others will save me. I don’t know, but I know if he gets in here he will kill you for sure, so if it’s just me or both of us, it should be just me. At least then you’ll be here for when your mom comes back, and she won’t be alone.”

Goldie just stared at him for a moment. She nodded her head slightly and let it drop. “There is a button by the hatch that will let you out.”

“Thanks,” Lucian said as he headed towards the hatch.

“I’m sorry, Lucian.”

“It’s not your fault. Goodbye, Goldie. It was nice meeting you.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Lucian. Goodbye.”

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