Author's Note: Sorry about the confusion, folks. Susanna's been the villain in my mind for so long I forgot how much it shocked me when I first realized it myself. Hopefully, everything will be explained in this chapter. As always, my beta, ColeandPheobeForever, is awesome.
Susanna stepped delicately around the pile of furs that had traumatized Lena so much as a child, and sat in the chair by the lamp, grinning broadly. She was wearing a beautiful black lace dress and one of her signature necklaces, a thick band of ribbon, edged with lace and glittering with tiny black diamonds.
"You have no idea how long I have wanted to do that," she said in that faint, raspy voice, reaching out and turning the lamp higher so that its light could reach the rest of the room. "Do have a seat. We have much to discuss."
Lena did not move. Abby remained behind her, clinging to her arm so tightly it was beginning to go numb.
Susanna Bennington. Baroness Bennington. Memories flashed through Lena's mind, searching for anything that might help her understand what was going on.
The only thing that came to mind was the flash of hatred she had seen on Susanna's face at the ball a few months earlier. At the time, she had chalked it up to Susanna's bitterness at losing Stanford again.
Now Lena thought it might have been more than that.
Susanna's smile dimmed, and her eyes narrowed.
"Sit down," she hissed.
Lena lifted one eyebrow at her. "I would prefer to remain standing."
Susanna's lip curled in a silent snarl, but then, a moment later, that predatory grin was back, and she started laughing again. It was the sound of madness, high-pitched and harsh… almost animal.
"Fine, by all means, remain standing," she said through her giggles. Her voice had always been faint and raspy, but now it barely even sounded human. "I do so enjoy the sight of you two standing in the corner like frightened little mice."
Abby's grip on Lena's arm loosened, and her hands stopped shaking. Lena felt herself stand straighter, and she heard Abby take a deep, calming breath.
Dubois women do not cower in the face of danger.
"Susanna," Lena began, "what is…"
"Do not call me that!" Susanna interrupted, voice harsh. "My real name is Lilith."
Lilith. Adam's first mate, who was cast out from the Garden of Eden, to become the first demon.
Lena blinked. "Very well, Lilith," she said tonelessly. "What is going on? Why have you kidnapped us?"
Lilith smiled that feral smile again, all teeth bared at them, like an angry dog. "Do you remember when I chased you into the river, when you were a little girl?"
Lena felt the blood drain from her face, but she did not waver. "Yes," she said through gritted teeth.
"I wanted to kill you because you were beautiful. So colorful, so vibrant! So full of life!" She tilted her head and sighed. "I wanted to rip your little face off. I hated you from the moment I saw you."
"Why?" Lena whispered. What had she done to deserve such animosity?
"Jealousy is one of the strongest emotions in us," Lilith replied with a casual shrug. "We have been denied so much, and so unfairly. I envied your innocence, your beauty, and even your family. You had everything I did not."
"Us?" Abby whispered. Lilith's icy blue eyes flickered to Lena's cousin, and Lena tensed and moved to block Lilith's line of sight. It would be better if Lilith forgot about Abby entirely. Then Lilith would not have any reason to harm her.
"Yes, little Abigail," Lilith hissed. "We are Melius. Created by science, not nature. We are superior to humans in every way."
"How many of you are there?" Lena asked, drawing Lilith's attention back to her.
Lilith grinned. "Three," she said softly. "Me, and Jack, whom I created," she paused for a moment, narrowing her eyes, "and, of course, Helena's secret companion; darling Eros, who visits Psyche in the darkness to conceal his true form."
This time, Lena could not control herself as the blood drained from her face. Her sight blurred, and darkened, and her lungs constricted. She gasped for breath, and felt Abby take hold of her arm and guide her to the small sofa nearby. Distantly, she could hear Lilith laughing. Abby was murmuring to her in a comforting voice.
"How do you know about him?" Lena demanded, trying to blink away the spots that danced in her vision.
"Know about him? Know about him?" Lilith's rasping laughter turned maniacal. "I have known about him for twelve years, you ignorant little fool. I know his past better than you do. I know everything about him."
Lena forced her dizziness away, focusing on Lilith's face, determined not to faint. Not now. Not when she was in the hands of a psychotic enemy.
"How?" Lena whispered.
"Little fool," Lilith repeated, smiling. "He was the one who pulled you from the river."
At first, Lena didn't understand. Her mind simply couldn't process the information Lilith had given her.
Her mind flashed back, to the day she had nearly died. The day she was pulled from the darkness by a fallen angel.
Her angel. Pale skin and white scars and golden eyes that flickered with their own light. A strong jaw, an aristocratic nose, and long black hair.
I have seen his face, she thought suddenly. All this time, he visited me in darkness, when I already knew what he looked like.
"He saved my life," Lena whispered.
He saved my life, and then he returned, twelve years later, to save it again. To bring me back to the world of the living. She had made the decision to stop running from her nightmares, but if he had not been there to show her how beautiful life could be without terror, she never would have known what she was missing.
He truly was an angel.
"Yes," Lilith said with a sigh, "an unfortunate mistake, I think. But in a way, I am glad he did. For if he had not shown himself, I would never have known who and what he is."
"What… what he is?" Lena asked, frowning in confusion.
Lilith blinked at her. Then that wide, terrifying smile crept back onto her face.
"He is a Melior, like me," she said proudly. "He was made by science, constructed from the detritus of humanity, and brought to life by lightning. I followed him, I heard him tell his story to his father. I heard him beg for a companion, but he did not know that I was already there. I had already been created, just for him!"
"Constructed…?" Abby wondered.
Lilith reached up and unclasped the necklace from around her throat, pulling it away and tilting her head back.
Her neck was neatly bisected with a thick, white scar. As if she had been beheaded, and then pieced back together.
Lena's angel had a scar just like that.
You have to know what I am. His voice echoed through Lena's mind.
"We were not born, but made," Lilith said. "We were constructed from the corpses of others, created to be faster and stronger and smarter than you pathetic little creatures. We are Melius; we are superior." She smirked at Lena. "You did not realize this. My darling Adam did not see fit to explain it to you."
"Adam?" Lena demanded.
Lilith shrugged. "He was not given a name by his father."
Why don't you have a name? It felt like years since she had asked him that question, in the middle of a peaceful spring night in southern France.
I was not given one.
"So I gave him one," Lilith continued. "A good, strong name. A name befitting the first male of a new, superior race. I was the first, of course. I was created several years before Adam."
Lena exchanged a quick glance with Abby.
"Perhaps you could tell us more about your creation," she suggested cautiously. If they could distract her, perhaps they could buy some time for their rescuers. "Then we might understand."
Lilith tilted her head at Lena. "You will never understand," she said. "But I will tell you nonetheless. I was created by a man named Gabriel Waldman. He was a professor of biology at the University of Ingolstadt." She leaned back, and her gaze drifted to the ceiling. Her voice grew faint. "I was his masterpiece, each limb cultivated from the finest specimens and stitched meticulously together. He brought me to life only to enslave me. Me, his greatest creation! I was kept in a cage for the first year, while he taught me and tested me and used my body to satisfy his desires. How I hated him!"
Lilith sighed, and closed her eyes. "And yet, I loved him. He was all I knew. He was God." She smiled. "I escaped, of course. I was far cleverer than he. But my time with him had damaged me. I was angry, and wild, and frightened. I could not bring myself to kill him, and that infuriated me. So I ran, I ran as far and as fast as I could. I lived in the wilderness, avoiding humans, for two years, scavenging and foraging at first, and then, as my strength grew, hunting and trapping animals. I wore their skin to keep me warm and I quickly found that when I put the skull of a wolf over my face, I could scare humans away from my hiding places with ease."
Her eyes slid open again, and locked onto Lena's, burning bright and pale. "That's when I found you. I heard your laughter, and when I saw you I knew I had to kill you. You, who had everything I did not; you were so innocent and carefree, and my envy so strong, that I had to destroy you."
She smiled. "I failed, of course. I was distracted by the man who came to your rescue, the enormous, tall stranger, whose skin was covered in scars. I thought perhaps he was like me, for I, too, had those scars, just not as many. I learned later that the uniformity of Adam's construction was hindered by his father's passion and youth. Waldman was older, and wiser, and more patient. That is why Adam has so many scars. His father put him together from ill-fitting pieces. It took years for his skin to even out in tone and texture, and to take on the hue of living flesh."
When Lena did not react to this bit of news, Lilith shrugged and continued. "I followed him, I watched him, and I waited. He has done things that you could not imagine. He has struggled so much, and suffered so greatly. I followed him to his father, Victor Frankenstein, and I heard him tell his story. I heard him beg for a companion, and I knew that he meant me. He just did not realize it. He did not know that Frankenstein's mentor, the one who had encouraged him in his scientific endeavors, had already discovered the secret to life. My darling Dr. Waldman."
She sighed. "He's dead, now. So is Frankenstein. Men who play at being God are never long for this world, no matter the magnificence of their creations."
She does seem to be rather in love with herself, doesn't she?
Lena brushed the thought aside. Being catty would do her no good.
"I could not find the courage to approach Adam, no matter how long I followed him, no matter how much I learned about him. And then I lost track of him when he went north with his father, into the lands of ice and snow; I was not strong enough to keep up with them, and I would not have survived the cold. When they both failed to return to Ingolstadt, I assumed them dead." Lilith's brow furrowed, and her lips turned down in a dark frown. "I was devastated. I mourned Adam's death." She sighed. "Six years passed, and during them I devoted most of my time and energy towards learning to become a human, learning to fit in. It was dreadfully tedious, but I managed to work my way into high society. I wanted everything I had been denied. I wanted security, and money, and power, and control. And I achieved my goals. I even created another Melior, though Jack turned out to be substandard, for reasons I do not understand. It did not matter; I had created a mate, I had wealth and influence, I had beauty and luxury. And that's when I found you again." Her sharp, pale eyes landed on Lena again, and her voice grew harsh and venomous. "Alive, and dancing, smiling, and flirting with every man you met. How I hated you! How I railed at fate! I had failed to kill you once, and you returned to haunt me in the new life I had created for myself!"
She calmed, and that vicious smile returned. "So I resolved to destroy you, but this time, I would do it without killing you. I had hoped you would do that yourself once I was finished with you."
"What do you mean?" Lena asked, careful to keep the accusation from her tone.
"You still haven't figured it out?" Lilith asked, laughing. "I told Stanford to fall in love with you, or at least pretend to. He was my lover; he would have done anything for me. I told him to seduce you, to lead you into believing that he meant to marry you. And I told him to abandon you."
"I don't believe you," Lena said quietly. She did, though. She believed every word. She knew this creature was capable of that kind of torture, that kind of cruelty. She said she did not believe it, because she knew that was what Lilith wanted her to say.
Her mind flashed backwards through her memories, bringing up that day in the garden, when Stanford had come to visit her, and to apologize for what he had done.
She knew, now, that he had meant every word. He was a coward, and a brute, but he had truly been sorry about what he had done to her.
And the last words he'd said to her that day were: "Whoever he is, I hope he can protect you from…"
And she had the sneaking suspicion that what he had been about to say was, "Lilith."
But that was just a guess.
Lena let the thought go, and with it, she let her anger towards Jacob Stanford go.
He had not been a good man.
But perhaps that was not entirely his fault.
Lilith shrugged. "I don't care if you believe me or not," she said, smiling. "But haven't you ever wondered who started the rumor of your father's death? And your brother's?" She paused, and tilted her head. "You fled to France, and two years passed. When you didn't kill yourself in that time, I decided to hunt down your darling cousin, Abigail. I hoped her death might push you over the edge. But she had already left for England. I overheard her parents talking about Helena's new love, the nameless man Abigail had spoken of."
Abby gasped. "If you injured my parents…" she began, voice trembling with rage.
"Relax, child," Lilith interrupted with a wave of her hand. "I did not harm them. They are very special to Adam."
"My parents know… Adam?" Abby asked.
That is not his name, Lena thought angrily. I don't know what his name is, but it is not Adam. It is not any name Lilith has given him.
Lilith nodded. "I believe you knew him as the Forest Spirit," she said casually.
Abby's mouth dropped open. Lena was not surprised. In fact, she doubted she could even be surprised anymore. She was still reeling from the shock of discovering that the monster that had chased her into the river had turned out to be the hateful little creature in front of them. She was still having trouble processing the idea that her companion had not been born… but had been made.
It was strange, to think of it. But when she put that together with the rest of her knowledge of him, it made sense. It explained his fear of being seen, and it explained his intense self-hatred. It explained his jealousy, and his possessiveness of Lena.
It explained why he had tried to separate himself from her, as well. If he truly thought he was a monster, he would not have wished to curse Lena with his presence for the rest of her life.
Her heart ached for him. She was suddenly consumed with the desperate need to hear his voice, to touch him with her own hands. If she ever saw him again, she was never going to let him out of her sight, not for the rest of their lives.
"I sent a letter to Stanford ordering him to return to England on the next ship. He arrived a day before you did," Lilith said, eyes focused on Lena. Her lips curled into a frown. "Unfortunately, his presence did not have the devastating effect on you that I had hoped it would. He became a liability."
"That's why you had him killed," Lena murmured.
"He was helpful in one aspect, though," Lilith said quietly. "It was through his meeting with you that I discovered that Adam was still alive. That he followed you everywhere. That he never left you unguarded. And that he believes himself to be in love with you."
Silence fell. Lena nodded. It was no surprise to her, that he had followed her to London. She had felt his presence in every shadow, at every street corner. But she'd had no proof, only dreams and wishful fantasy, and that had nearly driven her mad.
Lilith was trembling visibly. Her face was carefully blank, a mask that hid emotions so dark and powerful Lena could feel them on her skin.
"It was not enough that you had everything else, was it?" she whispered, eyes blazing. "You had to have him, as well. You had to have my mate, the only creature in the entire world who is just like me."
At that moment, Lena knew, without a single doubt in her mind, that Lilith would not stop until Lena was dead. She would never stop. She would follow them to the ends of the Earth. She would haunt Lena's shadow for the rest of her life.
At that moment, Lena knew what it felt like to be someone's curse.
But she would not bow to Lilith's demands. She would never give up her companion.
If she were going to die, she would die fighting for the man she loved.
Fighting for everything she loved.
She looked down at her hands, clasped tightly around Abby's, and was relieved to see that they weren't shaking. She lifted her gaze to meet her cousin's, and found them warm and reassuring. Comforting. Loving.
"He was the Forest Spirit," Abby said quietly. "He was your angel."
"He is the man I love," Lena whispered. She shifted her gaze over to meet Lilith's mad blue eyes, and when she spoke again, her voice was firm and calm: "and he is nothing like you."
Lilith's blank expression melted away, and her lips curled into a silent snarl, eyes narrowed, teeth bared. She looked wild. She looked feral. Her eyes flickered in the lamplight, as if she was staring into a fire. But there was no fire.
She stood from her chair, back straight, shoulders squared. "Jack!" she called, her voice hoarse.
The door opened, and Jack stepped silently into the room.
"Tie them up and put them in the carriage," she snarled, eyes burning into Lena's. "We're going to the river, to finish what we started."