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Desires, Known

Lilith Saintcrow

  Desires, Known

  Lilith Saintcrow

  Copyright © 2017 by Lilith Saintcrow

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  For Mel Sanders, as usual.


  1. A Castle

  2. A Dog's Age

  3. Point Carried

  4. Smooth Sailing

  5. Seed Gentility

  6. Fresh Out of Ideas

  7. Fascinating Confusion

  8. A Single Drop

  9. Good Zing

  10. Not Too Demanding

  11. What Kind of Drugs

  12. Picked Up For a Song

  13. Fairytales Closed

  14. Not Outright

  15. Far Less Comfortable

  16. A Little Tense

  17. Miracle Fulcrum

  18. The Guys in the White Coats

  19. Unintended Consequences

  20. Undo Whatever You Did

  21. The Easiest Way

  22. Emily the Safe

  23. Moved to Do So

  24. Many Principles

  25. No Way of Telling

  26. Early Enough For Church

  27. If Someone Makes You

  28. Our Tithes

  29. Strange Concepts

  30. Trust Yourself

  31. What Fear Is

  32. Neat Trick

  33. Rendering Unto

  34. Lost in HELL’S HOLLOW

  35. Right and Wrong

  36. Wake Up

  37. Fetter, Castle, Blade

  38. Academic

  39. Shows Mercy

  40. Complicated

  41. Pretend to Be Mortal

  42. Be Precise, Poppet

  43. Best You Leave Now

  44. Worthy of What Was Given

  45. Half of the Infinity


  About the Author

  Also by Lilith Saintcrow

  A Castle

  Comfortable servitude was still that—servitude. Pacing the stone halls that grew according to his whims, staring out into the gray formlessness when he wanted a window, turning away and continuing his aimless amble when he did not. Falling onto a bed swathed with satin or a hard rock shelf and pretending to sleep, summoning feasts laid on groaning tables or a crust of bread and cup of watery, metallic-tasting wine…well, it palled. There was only so much he could do between the summons he dreaded and craved at the same time.

  How long had it been? Surely Cavanaugh had not grown weary of his near-immortality? Surely the man had more he longed for, more he would ask? Even though Hal loathed the very idea of his current bearer, he had not anticipated waiting. Of course, time moved differently here. Outside his very comfortable prison, it plodded along at an accustomed, mortal pace. Here, though, it could drag—or there could be only a single eyeblink between the rushing noise and the drugging terror, the transition to elsewhere.

  He had never thought, in all his long existence, that he would actually yearn for someone to summon him and demand the tricks, the traps, the miracles.

  So Hal paced, and summoned a library of books he had already read—he could not summon more until he was aware of their existence, and that required visiting that place again.


  He played with the castle’s interior, and grew accustomed to silence. His own voice bounced off the walls when he chose to scream, and sometimes—impossible to deny it—he almost wanted another’s to measure it against. Any voice would have done.

  He endured.

  A Dog's Age

  “I hate Halloween.” Emily Spencer peered into the dusty glass cube, squinting against the sunshine and shoving dark curls out of her face. Growing out the mop wasn’t a good time, but at least longer hair might make her ass look smaller. The metabolism slowdown of her thirties felt well underway, for all that she had barely reached them. Or maybe she was just too goddamn tired for it all, and her body knew it.

  “Liar.” Behind her, redheaded May beamed, her arms full of bright cloth. The Thrift-Eez on Sanderson wasn’t as deserted as it could be on a Friday morning, mostly because everyone had the same idea May had prodded Em away from work with—specifically, that saving money on a costume for Gloria’s party next week was a good move, and that she’d probably find stuff she could wear to work as well, making it less a waste of time and more A Stab At Good Fiscal Responsibility. “Don’t do witch again this year, that’s boring.”

  “Fine. Vampire it is.” Emily squinted. At least it was only busy, and not crowded to the gills inside the barnlike building. “There’s a lot of junk in here.”

  “Vampire is boring too.” Of course May would say that. She was the creative one. Last year she’d just written FREUD in Sharpie across the bottom of a nylon slip. With some striped leggings and a pair of fairy wings, she’d stolen the entire party.

  “Everyone likes Elvira.” In other words, don’t judge my costume choices. All Em needed was a big gaudy ring or two; she could wear the long black dress she’d found, and with her hair fluffed Elvira would be simple. Maybe even a pair of those cheap plastic fangs, since she damn well wasn’t going to be kissing anyone this year. The Celibacy Tournament was going strong, and she was looking to be the winner.

  Not that any of her friends were playing, but still. It was kind of comforting to be the one everyone turned to for advice, since divorce made you world-weary. Pretty much everyone had gotten the message that she wasn’t looking to get on the merry-go-round again. They were only trying to set her up with “really nice guys” about once a month, now.

  “Nobody knows who Elvira is anymore.” May wrinkled her gorgeous little snub nose. Even her light dusting of freckles was cute.

  Emily chuffed out a laugh, swaying slightly to put her weight on her other foot. Heels were a pain and a half, even if she liked this pair. “You’re no longer my friend.” Her back was going to give her hell tonight. Getting older sucked.

  “Ha. Good luck finding a replacement.” May set off at a high clip for the checkout. Christ only knew what she was going to do with all the multicolored shit she was carrying. The copper in her hair was particularly aggressive today, and the bounce in her step showed no sign of ever slowing down.

  It had been that way since high school, and it was a comfort to see some things didn’t change no matter how ancient Em felt.

  “You wanna get in there?” An old woman in a pink vest jingled a ring of keys. Sunshine slanting through the glass front of the Thrift-Eez turned her elderly bouffant into a cotton ball, spray-lacquered in place as she shuffled sedately for the counter, and her big blue plastic earrings swayed gently. “Gonna do a costume?”

  “Yep.” Em refrained from pointing out that everyone was, or should be if they didn’t want to be caught in the last-minute crush. It was a week to the Big Night, and this early, the kids were still in school and everyone else at work. “I’m thinking a couple of big rings.”

  For once, May hadn’t had to persuade very hard to get her to play hooky. A quick run, in and out, without crowds of shrieking kids or harried parents, and she could even go back to the office if she really wanted to.

  Come on, May had groaned. Even workaholics need a day off now and again.

  The only time May had ever gotten her stick-in-the-mud bestie to skip in high school had been senior year, on the day officially prescribed for it. May often lamented that her batting average wasn’t getting any better, and Em kept telling her no amount of practice would raise it.

  Such conversations were boring, predicta
ble, and utterly comforting. There was a lot to be said for the tried-and-true.

  “Oh? Whatcha going as?” She even sounded interested, this kindly old lady with her pink lipstick feathering into the cracks around her lips. Her faded blue eyes twinkled, thin lavender lines in her irises. A brooch was pinned to her vest—who wore those anymore? Just elderly ladies. It wasn’t very flashy, but Em would have bet it was solid silver. Looked like an eye, too, with the old-fashioned pin stabbing it. Which was faintly gross, but there was no accounting for taste. Church ladies loved to get dolled up and work in charity concerns, and the Thrift-Eez probably provided them with all sorts of fashion as well.

  Em was probably looking at her future right there. Except she hadn’t stepped inside a church since she’d left home. What did non-church church ladies do?

  “Elvira.” Emily glanced up to see the woman’s expression go blank. “A vampire,” she amended. “Plus, I like costume jewelry.” There it was again, the urge to over-explain. As if she needed approval from a complete stranger for her Halloween costume, even.

  “I haven’t heard of Elvira in a dog’s age.” The woman rattled behind the counter, and her hands appeared in the case, ghostly arthritic fingers with their claw-nails painted pink. “You could do it, honey. Get a pushup and some red lipstick.”

  Well, now, Em thought her tits were just fine, but maybe even Elvira needed some padding.

  The old woman put two trays of jumbled costume rings on the glass. They sparkled, cheap paste meant to look good at a distance. For all that, they were cheerful. And the price was definitely right.

  That was when she saw the ring.

  It looked like someone had taken a slice of striated agate and glazed it, an oval that looked almost like a cat’s eye. The setting was heavy, and Em couldn’t decide if it was real silver or not. Which was ridiculous—if it had any value at all, it wouldn’t be in a Thrift-Eez, now would it?

  She touched the maybe-agate with a fingertip. Maybe it was because the display case had been sitting in the sunshine—it was strangely warm, its face a little gritty. “Huh.”

  The price tag said $1.50 in strong, faded lettering, blue ink and pale pink paper like all the others. It had probably been sitting here a long time. And really, Emily should have left it there, but she decided the flat glassy surface would reflect well at night and took it. There was another ring, with a giant round red glass gem, that would do for her other hand. The black dress she could take scissors to and the peach silk shell she’d found for work added up to about ten dollars, and she was actually kind of pleased, not only for the bargain but because she had decided to say fuck it and be Elvira no matter what anyone said. It was one baby step away from her usual witch costume, it wouldn’t require a hat, and May would finally stop bugging her about doing something new.

  The rings went in a crackling plastic bag with the clothes, and she forgot all about it for almost a week.

  Point Carried

  After the ceremony, with the aprons and robes were packed away, the sword—a real antique, sure, but duller than a letter opener for God’s sake—settled carefully in its case and the swinging censer cleaned out, Peter Cavanaugh settled in the leather chair and tented his well-manicured fingers. The new members were at the celebratory dinner, and there would be plenty of business handled in the next few hours. Normally, he would be among them, shaking hands, listening, dropping a quiet word here, a bit of confidence there. There were the waste management contracts to think of, and old loony George Sanderson to rein in before too much of the open bar was poured down his elderly gullet.

  The bare half-dozen men here in the sanctum, however, had business of their own.

  “You can’t be serious.” Henry Maggs set his glass of Scotch on the burlwood table next to his own overstuffed chair. He had taken to spray tans recently, and the orange shade added an uneasy layer on his olive complexion. “That old story?”

  “If you want to go out to Peakes End again and ask him, feel free.” Peter’s fingertips pressed against each other, relaxed slightly. Pressed again. You could see an echo of the old man in his face, the long jaw and the nose with the slight bulb on the end. His suit was hardly rumpled, though it had been a long day. Peter waited a few beats as Henry paled, and his hazel gaze passed over each man in turn.

  Henry. Bruce Vance in his off-the-rack suit, who had no business concerns but a startling facility for…other…work, so he’d been given a used car lot to run and was actually doing quite well. Tim Grosvenor, the mayor’s right-hand man, rubbed at his temples, his aggressive high-and-tight feathered with streaks of gray. He’d settled his bulk on a hassock, and his long, mournful face was sallow under the electric light. Rich Greene, Dick Sampson, and Eldridge Moss completed the council. The last three were only marginally talented, but better than nothing.

  And they believed. That was getting rare. He’d even had to haul out a Seeker for them. At least none of them had peed themselves when the concave-faced beast coalesced from the flooring and roared, a sound felt more with the chest and gut than heard with the ears.

  So Peter strangled his impatience and spoke slowly, soothingly. “We traced it here ages ago. It’s somewhere in the city. We can’t get a lock on it until someone uses the damn thing. But there have been…signs.”

  “What kind of signs?” Bruce wanted to know. He had taken to trimming his eyebrows too, and it looked like he’d been spending some time at the gym. The midlife crisis was well underway, and if old Brucie didn’t already have a mistress, he would be getting one soon.

  Peter would bet money on it. “Do you really want me to tell you? It involved—” Fire, and blood, and calf livers. Not to mention a live rabbit that screamed when the mallet came down.

  “No, no thanks.” Bruce sighed, heavily. “The old man is sure?”

  “Sure as I’ve ever seen him. Someone’s taken possession, I believe, are his words.” The thought of the old man’s too-young face and his dreamy singsong tone as he hunched over a basin of thick, rippling red liquid full of liver chunks was uncomfortable, to say the least. “Wherever it was, it’s now been sold. Or someone’s died and left it to someone. Who knows? We just have to wait for it to be used.”

  “What happens then?” Eldridge had his bony shoulders drawn up as if he expected a punch to the gut at any moment.

  Well, that spinning thing in the glass case in the foyer breaks, for one. “The the case breaks, the map is drawn, and we proceed as planned.”

  “How is this different from any other time he’s felt it moving?” Moss persisted. “How is he sure it jumped the ocean?”

  “Go ask him.” The headache was beginning, pressing on Peter’s temples, spreading down his neck. He wished he could rub it away. Go home and go to bed. Or even manufacture a business trip that required him to spend the night out of town. Now that would be welcome. “Poincare’s Pendulum told him so. You’ve seen the pendulum itself. Want to ask more stupid questions?”

  “I’ve got one.” Henry lifted a single blunt finger. “Let’s say we find it. Won’t the—the thing, the whatever—fight back?”

  “Only if someone other than us has the fetter.” Peter took a firmer hold on his irritation. The old rituals were stable, and proven, and they required at least four Sophics to hold the cardinal points while the Deputy Master worked, and alternates were always a good idea. He could have been elected to the titular Headship of this city’s lodge, but he preferred to step back. The Head—Brad Jorgenschumer—was out there glad-handing and stuffing his face with the catered fare. He, like all the other dumbasses who thought this was just a higher-grade version of the Masons or the Elks and their toothless old boys’ clubs, had no idea. They didn’t care that the floor in this priory was Carrera marble, that the hangings were lovingly restored antiques, that the entire edifice with its neoclassical lines and restrained elegance in the heart of downtown hid a secret big enough to blow the top off every media outlet’s head in just a few seconds.

numbskulls were useful, though. The network, the funds, the business—wealth had always made the Sophic Brotherhood’s work easier. Not every lodge had an inner council, either. Power tended to coagulate, and the old man didn’t like rivals.

  “I’ll bet the old man can’t wait to get that back.” Rich Greene actually laughed, his nasal little whistle of amusement made all the more irritating because of the gap in his buckteeth.

  Peter’s headache mounted another notch. “Yes, he can’t wait. So. Our Monday meeting, as usual, here. We want to be fully charged when it happens.”

  “If it happens,” Moss corrected, mildly enough.

  “When.” Peter did not move, but his tone sharpened. That was enough. “If anyone wants out, now’s the time to say so.”

  They all sat still. The gas fire under the heavy, carved bola negra mantel sizzled in the heavy silence. On the other side of the heavy door, down a long hall, the chink of silverware and low grumble of muffled conversation drifted.

  Peter’s fingers relaxed slightly, then pressed together again. The preparations he’d performed earlier that day stood him in good stead. The whiskey in his own glass, set carefully on a thirstystone coaster on the lyre table at his right hand, trembled.