Interlude 2

Ilrot was not happy. When he wasn’t happy, things around him started breaking. People around him started breaking. That was unfortunate, because the only people near him were Sybill and Shodo. Sybill was on her knees, her eyes blank but her face tight with pain.

Shodo stood behind her, his fingers dug deeply into her scalp. An image hung in the air before them, one of Sybill’s memories from her fight with Jorath. Ilrot watched it play out, watched Jorath trick her into the void, watched his own daughter hurl all three of them through the portal.

That marked her failure. As much as Ilrot wanted Jorath back, wanted to punish him for his audacity, for daring to believe he could triumph, it was the human girl he’d taken from Earth that Ilrot needed. Allowing herself to be pushed through Jorath’s portal was the tipping point where Syball had lost control of the situation.

Ilrot said nothing. Shodo shot him a quick, questioning glance, and he nodded for the illusion to continue. It showed the three of them pass through the living, hungering darkness of the void, a journey that appeared to have damaged Annidra, given how weak she was when they went through.

It was a brief passage though, merely a matter of moments before Jorath brought them back out into the mountain highlands that surrounded the Valdrite family’s home, now Ilrot’s, of course. It was a deliberate snub, bringing them there, mere miles from Ilrot’s seat of power. Then again, perhaps even after all the centuries that had passed, Jorath still instinctually sought out what he considered his home.

Either way, if he’d been thinking logically, he would have abandoned Sybill as far from Ilrot’s influence as possible. It had been all too easy to retrieve her, to determine exactly when and how she’d failed.

The battle picked up again in the illusion that Shodo projected into the air. But Jorath was no longer trying to fight, and Sybill wasn’t prepared to keep him pinned down. He scooped up Annidra and faded away in moments, leaving Sybill fuming amidst the towering trees that surrounded Valdrite Keep.

“So you lost the Montrose girl, failed to return my daughter, and let your traitorous brother escape, all in one spectacular round of incompetency.”

Ilrot gestured for Shodo to move aside. Without his hands there to hold Sybill upright, she prostrated herself on the floor. “My Lord, forgive me, please. Jorath was nowhere nearby. I am sure. I don’t know how he knew to interfere with my plans.”

“You didn’t think he might have contingencies in place to protect the girl?” Ilrot asked, his voice soft. It was always like that when he was truly angry. Some people let out their rage in bellows, great voices booming out. He wasn’t one of those people, and Sybill knew it. She trembled in place, no doubt expecting her punishment to be immediate and severe.

The base part of his nature wanted nothing more than to tear her to pieces and leave her as quivering lumps of meat splattered across the floor. He overruled that desire. Sybill was unwaveringly faithful, far too useful, and he had more personally invested in her than any other demon he’d ever created.

“It surprises me that you’ve failed,” Ilrot told her. “I’ve come to expect better from you.”

“Master, please-”

“I wasn’t finished,” Ilrot said, his voice clipped. Sybill fell silent, but her trembling only got worse.

“As I was saying, it surprises me, but perhaps it’s my own fault. Your brother is strong, almost as strong as you, and probably more clever by half.” He smirked as he said it. That it was the truth didn’t make it sting any less. Half of the reason Ilrot had kept Jorath around was because he enjoyed watching the siblings hate each other.

“If you can not be more clever than him though, then I will simply have to make you stronger. Stand up.”

Sybill scrambled to her feet, her eyes wild and her breathing shallow and rapid. Ilrot circled her once, then again, before placing a hand on her chest. His fingers dug into her flesh, pierced it, and sent tendrils of his magic into her. They touched the calcified, unbeating stone that had once been her heart, back when she’d been human.

She convulsed and jerked away. He’d been told the pain was unimaginable, something indescribable, so agonizing that his victims couldn’t even remember it afterwards. Ilrot didn’t blame her for flinching, but that didn’t stop him from sending another burst of magic into her heartstone.

Sybill screamed then, and Ilrot’s lips curled into a sadistic smile. The scream went on for long seconds before she passed out completely. It wasn’t as fun when she wasn’t awake to experience it, but he wasn’t torturing her for fun. There was work to be done.

He finished augmenting her heartstone while she was still unconscious and held upright only because he hadn’t let go. When he was done, he released her to collapse to the floor and beckoned Shodo over.

“Wake her up.”

“My Lord? You don’t want her to have time to recover?”

Ilrot raised an eyebrow. Shodo bowed low and, saying nothing, began the process of stimulating Sybill’s mind to wakening. It was a matter of half a minute before she was awake, and seizing from the pain her body had tried to flee by knocking her unconscious.

“You will go out after them again,” Ilrot told her, knowing she could hear him. “And Sybill, if you fail to capture your brother again, you’ll take his place in the Cloister.”

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