Lamia was sitting in a pool of purple fabric in the middle of a clearing. In the hour before dawn, she had picked her spot carefully--just off the edge of a well-worn path and only a few meters from a slow-moving river, far enough from the site of her last kills to avoid suspicion--and artfully arranged her dress around her human legs. Her magic would make her irresistible once she locked in a target, but she had been at this a long time. It grew tedious if she didn’t put in an effort.
At the sound of rapid hoof beats, she dropped her face into her hands and sobbed, just loudly enough to draw concern. A man wouldn’t embrace a woman who was too loud or overbearing. She needed to seem just sympathetic and helpless enough to warrant protection from someone bigger and stronger.
The hoofbeats slowed and then swerved, coming toward her. Lamia was disappointed to hear it was only one horse. It would satisfy her craving for now, but it wouldn’t delight her as much to consume one man as it would to have a whole horde fight for the privilege of dying in her arms.
“Are you alright?”
The sound of a woman’s voice instead of a man’s startled Lamia out of her false tears, and her head shot up. “I’m fine.”
The woman frowned. It was a silly expression on her, especially when combined with the slouch of her shoulders and the myriad flyaways making her hair look like a bird’s nest. She was not the sort of woman who could seduce a man to death, Lamia thought. “I heard you crying,” the woman said as she hopped down from her horse. “It’s alright to admit it.”
Lamia turned her head aside, hoping to ward off the woman through sheer standoffishness. “I wasn’t.”
“Really, there’s no need to be embarrassed.” The woman crouched down and punched her in the arm.
Lamia stared at her. The punch hadn’t been quite hard enough to prove a threat, but it put her off-balance. It wasn’t at all like the comforting touch Lamia’s victims usually used.
The woman seemed to realize her mistake and grimaced, lower teeth visible above her pulled lip. “Sorry. Is there anything I can do to make it better?”
Lamia went back to avoiding eye contact. When the woman didn’t leave, Lamia shook her head in response, then paused. “Are you traveling alone?”
The woman gave a loud snort and a snicker. “I wasn’t when I started. My father still hasn’t found any guards fast enough to keep up with me.”
Lamia perked up considerably at this but tried not to show it. “So there are guards on their way?”
“There are.” The woman peered at her intently, lips pursed and brows furrowed above her wide eyes. It looked even sillier than her frown. “Did someone attack you? Or rob you, perhaps?”
Lamia burst into sobs again, knowing she needed to stall long enough for the guards to arrive. This woman claimed she was faster than them, but how much faster could one horse go? They had to be here soon. The woman would draw them here, believing Lamia to be no threat, and Lamia would take deep pleasure in turning her own guards against her before killing her prey. She quite loved the taste of mortal angst, the slow swell of terror as the uncanny became horrific. Most times, her victims only traveled with other men, and they all fell under her spell, but it was more fun to have an uncharmed witness to their macabre fate.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright.” The woman patted her far too vigorously on the shoulder, and when Lamia cried harder, she pulled her into an uncomfortable hug, pressing Lamia’s cheek into her bosom.
Lamia writhed. She was too far from the woman’s face to suck out her lifeforce, and the arms wrapped around her felt restrictive and caging, far more than any normal human’s. Despite Lamia’s hissing and thrashing, the woman only let go many seconds later, seemingly unaware of her fury.
“That’s better,” she said, taking Lamia’s glare for an improvement over her tears. “Why don’t you come wash your face in the river? I know some nice, cool water always makes me feel better. My nurse Grunhilda brings it straight from a nearby pond whenever I’ve had a rough day. Come on, then.” The woman hoisted Lamia up by her arm, once again proving to be impossibly strong, and linked their elbows before marching to the stream, horse in tow. “Do you have a name?”
“Lamia,” she mumbled. “My name is Lamia.”
Several meters from the river, the woman tripped over a tree root, and naturally, she dragged Lamia with her. In her effort to remain upright, Lamia found herself pressed into the woman’s chest once again, fingers gripping her yellow dress.
A pair of arms wrapped tightly around her. “I’m Elena,” she said, petting Lamia’s hair. “You seem to like hugs a lot, which is nice, because I do, too.” Elena extracted herself from Lamia and gave an unflattering grin, her nose wrinkled up in joy. “Can you believe our luck in finding each other? I can already tell we’re going to get along.”
Lamia nodded before she could stop herself. She wondered if it had been too long since her last meal. Usually she preferred to consume men, but she couldn’t deny the urge to...do something to Elena. Perhaps just shut her up.
By the time she recovered her wits, Elena was in a pile of limbs on the riverbank, hiking up her dress and tugging off her riding boots to stick her feet in the water. Lamia left her own boots on, tucking her feet under her so they stayed dry. As she settled in beside Elena, she reminded herself that this strangeness would be rewarded with a hearty meal once the guards arrived. She wouldn’t have to endure this brazen, frumpish human much longer.
“I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about whatever’s making you sad,” Elena said, biting into a peach she had pulled out of a pocket in her dress, “but we can talk about other things. Like...what do you like to do? I like horseback riding myself. My father tried to teach me to joust, but it’s just not as fun as racing through the trees. I beat all the best riders in Gawant last year.” She took another bite, juice gushing down her chin. When Lamia didn’t respond, Elena nudged her eagerly and prompted with her mouth full, “What about you?”
Something about the sheer enigma of this woman made Lamia bold enough to say, “I devour the souls of men.”
Elena blinked at her. She leaned away for a moment, head tilted to the side, and then relaxed, splashing her feet in the water. “I eat frogs sometimes.”
Whatever Lamia expected in response--disbelief, fear, or even awe, perhaps--it wasn’t that. She had never told anyone the details of her unusual existence unless it was too late for them to escape, and she didn’t know how to proceed.
For better or for worse, Elena didn’t seem to need a reply to keep the conversation going. “It’s nice to know I’m not the only girl in the world with peculiar tastes. My nurse Grunhilda catches the frogs for me as treats, but she says I’m meant to keep them a secret. I know she only wants what’s best for me, but it’s hard being told I have to hide what I like, you know? It makes me feel all odd and out of sorts--not at all like the perfect princess I’m meant to be.” She sighed heavily and said, “I don’t think I’ll ever manage it. I wish you could just devour the soul of the prince my father wishes me to marry.”
“I can,” Lamia said. It startled her to realize her reason for saying so was to please Elena rather than to gain better access to her next meal. “You need only tell me where he is.”
Elena looked at her, a hint of a smile on her lips. It was softer than her grin from before, and it made her look like an angel.
Lamia’s breath hitched at the sight. She had consumed a woman’s lifeforce only once before, and this didn’t feel anything like that. When she hunted, she could feel a shift the moment a soul was in her grasp, the way it ebbed toward her and begged to be taken. Elena’s soul was locked away behind her precious smile, and Lamia didn’t know what to make of it. She had never thirsted for anyone who couldn’t be consumed. She hated to feel powerless, so those who were immune to her charms raised her hackles rather than drawing her in.
But she didn’t hate Elena, and she didn’t feel powerless. Somehow, even though her magic couldn’t call out to Elena’s soul, she had placed the woman under her thrall--and Lamia had been placed under Elena’s. The reciprocity of it was tantalizing, something Lamia had never experienced in all her years of playing an object of desire or an agent of consumption.
Elena’s neck and face were flushed, and her eyes darted to Lamia’s lips. For the first time, Lamia wondered what it would be like to kiss without taking, devouring, destroying. She wondered what it would be like to be on the other end: taken, devoured, destroyed. She wanted this woman to make Lamia her victim.
The peach fell from Elena’s hand. “Is it just me, or should we kiss right now?” she said, her voice rising in the middle.
Lamia leaned in. As her fingers curled around Elena’s neck, pulsing quick with warm, metallic blood, she took a moment to weigh the pros and cons of just swallowing Elena’s soul--and perhaps taking a nice long nap while she waited for the guards. Then her lips parted around Elena’s peach-stained ones, and--
The first kiss was dizzying. The second was heady. By the third, Lamia had lost herself in the insistent, hypnotic motion of skin against skin. Elena grabbed at her waist, tugging her closer, and Lamia lifted herself up so she was straddling Elena’s thighs. She clutched Elena’s face in her nails and sunk down in her lap, bringing a new delicious rush of power that made her moan into Elena’s mouth. When she killed, she had to play weak until the moment when she attacked, but here, she could dominate even as breathless sounds were dragged out of her like souls offered up for Elena to ingest.
Elena broke the kiss to reach for air, and Lamia attached her lips to her jaw, kissing and biting her way down that warm, pulsing neck. She reached under Elena’s skirt, desiring just this once to give, give, give instead of taking. Elena’s breaths turned into gasping moans until she captured Lamia’s lips once more.
Distantly, Lamia heard hoofbeats, and it took her several seconds to remember to say, “The guards...they’re looking for you,” between kisses.
“I can...catch up to them...later,” Elena said, voice rising in pitch as she grew close. Lamia redoubled her efforts, mesmerized by the sight of Elena falling apart at her fingertips. Falling apart, but not dying. Heightening, not diminishing.
Elena let out a high-pitched sound and shuddered, arching back toward the ground. Her skin glowed a swirling blue from within, shifting to reveal a different face underneath. Lamia’s own concealed form flared up at the sight. Her eyes grew snakelike, her vision dichromatic, and her many tentacle limbs remained trapped inside only with utmost willpower.
When Elena recovered enough to open her eyes, they widened and her mouth curved into an ‘o.’ Slowly, she reached up and cupped Lamia’s cheek, thumb straying as close to her eye as she dared. “Oh, you’re lovely,” she breathed. Her head quirked to the side. “Are you going to eat my soul?”
Lamia shook her head.
Elena’s eyes sparkled and she kissed her again.
Lamia barely noticed the sound of the hoof beats receding into the distance, carrying away a whole brigade of mortal prey. Just this once, lunch could wait. She had discovered a taste for something much sweeter.