Another chapter, as promised ;) Short on words perhaps, but not on content. Finally, some answers. However, those of you wondering what Pugsley is up to will have to wait another chapter, I'm afraid. ~TLD

Part Twenty-Nine: In Too Deep

Guest of honor… Joel shuddered, his heart sinking. This was much worse than he'd imagined. But if Wednesday was frightened, he couldn't tell. Her back was still toward him, her shoulders square, and her small frame rigid.

The cell seemed to shrink, the walls closing in and the looming figures of the surrounding vampires seemingly to hover more threateningly over them. Wednesday watched them through narrowed eyes.

The male with the missing arm shifted uncomfortably, his eyes flashing rapidly between Lilith and Joel with a desperate fury, his jaw clenching and unclenching nervously. The girls hung back in the doorway, their loose, predatory postures and matching expressions of pleased anticipation making them look like prowling hyenas anticipating the kill. And Lilith, blond and pale, looking soft and supple, save for the soul crushing menace in her cold, fathomless eyes. Her lips curled up again into a sinister smile, the barest hints of fangs glinting in her mouth.

Wednesday could still hear her last words rumpling through the cell. I have no intention of letting Wednesday go… She is to be the guest of honor. She imagined she ought to feel fear, panic even, but Wednesday found she couldn't. She felt Joel tense behind her. She could almost see his shaking form, imagine the flashing of fear in his hazel eyes, hear the racing beat of his heart. She didn't dare look back.

They were in too deep already.

The moment of silence stretched.

Finally Lilith smirked.

"Come," she shrugged, gesturing the open doorway, "We have much to discuss." She smiled as she stepped backwards out the open door, the beckoning in her eyes almost palpable. The tension in the room ebbed slightly, as if everyone let out a breath at the same moment. Wednesday threw a venomous look at the one-armed bodyguard before stomping out after Lilith. She felt Joel hesitate behind her, but didn't stop.

Joel watched her go with a gathering sense of dread. For a moment his feet wouldn't work, his muscles so rock solid he couldn't make himself follow her. He recovered quickly, but before he made it to the door he caught Ethan smirking in the corner. The urge to rip off the bastard's head momentarily overcame all fear, and Joel's eyes burned red with the force of his hate. He hissed menacingly. Ethan kept his smirk in place with effort, but otherwise didn't respond.

He followed the crowd into the next room, an open area set up something like a lobby. A couple of ordinary sofas, a couple of tables all set in mellow lighting, provided a disconcertingly mundane setting for the room's current occupants.

Lilith lounged, queen-like, on one of the sofas, looking the picture of ease. Joel watched as Wednesday crossed to the facing sofa and, with forced nonchalance, perched herself on one of the arm rests. Her posture reminded him of a panther, poised in the upper branches, lazily waiting for the kill. He stalled himself on the edges of the room, his instincts screaming.

"By now, I assume you know all about the rising ritual," Lilith drawled. Her voice was lazy, but her words affected Wednesday, who stiffened. Joel's forehead creased in confusion.

"What makes you think we have any idea what you're talking about?" Wednesday replied snidely. She rolled her eyes, her stiffened posture only barely noticeable under her attitude.

Lilith laughed, throwing her head back jovially. "Oh Wednesday," she laughed, "Now, let's do be honest with each other. It will make everything so much easier."

When Wednesday didn't respond, her jocularity vanished. Her eyes flashed evilly. She spat, "You don't really believe your family members are the only ones with connections below?" The growl in her voice echoed in the quiet room.

She smirked, shifted her position, and began again.

"As I said, you are familiar with the rising ritual, are you not?"

Wednesday nodded once, her eyes narrowed.

"Ah, that's much better," Lilith cooed. She sighed. "The various incantations are simple, and yet, I've been thwarted in my attempts time and again." Her brow furrowed slightly, her expression almost sad. Against his will, Joel felt himself lean toward her.

"I'd forgotten the key element, you see," she whispered, her voice wistful. She leaned toward Wednesday, her bright blue eyes locking on Wednesday's black ones. It was as if they were the only ones in the room. "My son," she whispered, her face warming with a small smile. "The answer was in the question. He's not just any demon," her voice rose steadily, "He can't be summoned like any other demon." Her eyes flashed with hunger. Joel stiffened, but Wednesday sat transfixed.

Lilith stood slowly, unfolding languidly like a jungle cat. Joel instinctively moved towards her, sensing her gathering power, his body preparing to throw itself between her and Wednesday. Wednesday sat immobile, her eyes wide, enthralled by Lilith's tone.

"He needs…" Lilith paused, and Joel heard the persuasion in her tone. His eyes flew to Wednesday's face, her slack expression confirming his worst fear: Lilith had her in her thrall. Joel hissed as her arms reached out slowly for Wednesday, "…a medium."

Comprehension dawned fast and heavy on Joel. "No!" he shouted, and he dove for Lilith. He'd barely lunged, when strong arms restrained him, crashing him to the floor. He landed heavily on his knees. The pain shot through him like lightning and he called out. Gritting his teeth, he forced his eyes open. The girls were at either side of him, pinning both arms behind his back. He growled up at them. Melody hissed, grabbed a handful of his hair and wrenched his head back.

Joel struggled in their grip, craning his neck to look at Wednesday, who stood, rising sleeper-like from the sofa, her eyes wide and unfocused. Joel growled loudly, struggling even more fiercely. Wednesday paused, her brow furrowed slightly, but Lilith smiled encouragingly, beckoning her closer.

"No," Joel moaned, desperation and defeat warring in his tone. Lilith's eyes shone red as Wednesday moved into her grasp. She stroked Wednesday's long raven hair with a tender caress. Joel winced when Wednesday didn't so much as flinch.

"But not just any medium," Lilith crooned, petting Wednesday fondly. "No, it has to be a human of extraordinary power." She was whispering now. "Able to traverse the below and not die, able to channel the demons of Hell and not be lost in the current. Touched," she purred, stroking Wednesday's check with her long, taloned finger, "by evil." Her eyes met Joel's over Wednesday's shoulder, and she flashed a knowing smile at him.

Joel felt his cheeks flush. So this was the price he'd pay for his one moment of happiness – opening Wednesday up to a new vulnerability she'd never even considered. But before he lost himself in the sea of self-loathing opening up at his feet, Lilith returned her attention to her captive prey.

"You, my dear," Lilith continued, will be my siren call into the abyss. You will be the one to call out to my son and bring him through to this world."

Wednesday heard Lilith's words as if from a great distance. Her body felt light and lifeless, floating as if on the edge of dreams. Her will was stripped from her and in its place was a numbness that terrified her. Her panic swelled, dulled by the cloying numbness, trapped inside her unresponsive body, watching helplessly as Lilith's throbbing red eyes and glinting fangs loomed ever closer.

"There is only one thing you still require, my dear, to draw my son to you," Lilith smiled, victory so close in her grasp, and exposed her long, glinting fangs.

Joel yelled and lurched as Lilith plunged her fangs into Wednesday's throat, shaking and struggling in his captors' grip, his eyes glued to Wednesday's slack fingers, her pale face almost mournful in its emptiness, her mouth opened in a small pout. The moment stretched and Joel could almost feel Wednesday's life being drained away. His growled ripped through the room. It echoed menacingly, hatred and violence and sheer abject horror drenching the sound, as suddenly, abruptly, Lilith pulled back.

Joel was shocked into silence. Wednesday remained on her feet, slightly wobbly, but otherwise still under her own power. Her eyes were foggy, but clearing. But even these signs of life were not enough to distract Joel from the trickling stream of blood tracing its way down her throat and chest.

"Wednesday?" he croaked, his voice a broken husk. She shook herself slightly, but didn't answer.

Lilith was breathing heavily. A throaty gasp pulled Joel's attention to her. Her whole body was shuddering, convulsing in aftershocks, her eyes pressed tightly closed and her arms wrapped around her as if she were freezing cold. He would have thought her in pain if not for the satisfied smirk twisting her bloodstained lips. A breathy giggle escaped in her ecstasy and her eyes flew open. Joel's breath caught at the sight of her, not red, but freezing icy white-blue eyes. She released a breath and a stream of white steam pour through her lips. She trembled, still smiling, as her whole body seemed to thaw out.

"Exquisite," she whispered.

Before she could elaborate, Joel's attention was once again caught by Wednesday, who was now wobbling uncontrollably. It wouldn't be long until she passed out from shock.

"Take them back to their cell," Lilith ordered, suddenly businesslike again. "They have a busy day tomorrow."

The girls started to drag him back as Ethan lifted a faint Wednesday over his shoulder. Joel couldn't even summon the will to fight.

But as they neared the cell door he called out to Lilith, "This is it? All this just to see your son again? He's a demon! You know he can't remain on earth for more than a few moments. Even if you kept him inside the circle! All this, just for that?" He was shouting by the end.

The girls were forcing him through the door, but now he fought; he needed to hear Lilith's answer.

She strode over triumphantly, her hips swaying seductively. Joel held his breath. When only inches separated them, she cupped his cheek in her palm.

"You're quite right my pet," she purred, "he can't remain for more than mere moments in his true form." Her eyes pressed into his, daring him to guess the answer before she said it, "not unless he has a host." Joel's eyes widened fractionally. "Thankfully, I have just the one in mind," she smiled, caressing his lips with her fingers. "A young, handsome, strong, immortal body in which to live," she caressed his cheek, her eyes practically beaming.

Her tone turned coy as she released him. "He could possess a human, of course, but their bodies just wear out so quickly! But an immortal?" Joel shook, cursing himself for not seeing it sooner. "Just think, Joel, you and I, together forever." She smirked as if suddenly remembering a tangential detail, "Granted, you would be little more than a prisoner in your own body, subject to the rule of my beloved son," she licked her lips as if this thought aroused her, "that is, until he gains the strength to expel your soul completely and send you to Hell in his place." She laughed, and Joel couldn't even master the strength to hide his horror. He just dangled numbly from his captors' grip and allowed himself to be dragged back into the cell.

He didn't even flinch with the door banged shut, the click of the lock clanging through the cell with sickening finality.