Awareness came upon her slowly, pushing bits and pieces of comprehension to the front of a mind that felt infused with cotton. She swallowed and wondered at the dryness of her mouth and the tightness of her throat. Sensations that mingled with other feelings, a creeping sluggishness that made her feel dumb and loaded down by the weight of her own body. Her skin tingled somewhat, infused with pulsating heat that started from the wounds on her back and traveled across the length of her body. It was dizzying, to wake so immersed in fear and the flickering images of a craving… a desire…
To what, exactly?
She couldn’t be sure. The dream had already fled from her, a shadow over her mentality that hovered at the back of her heavy mind, unavailable for analysis. She couldn’t remember the core of it, despite still seeing something behind the lids of her eyes. The most she could do was lay there, sprawled yet unmoving against her bedding, trying to grasp not-memories while she experienced the cool Notos wind from an opened bedroom window. It was the only thing that felt… good on the sweat-slick flesh of her overheated body.
But beneath that… beneath the tingle of fear that rocked her heart and the strange disorientation that lamed her there dwelled a hunger. One born of an ancient need that called to the fire within. She’d never experienced that before, a need so powerfully present in the face of dream crafted terrors. It was fresh, new… disarming and more than enough to devour the tiny yet-grasped flicker of her concern. Suddenly, there existed only her body and the thrilling sensual grind against slick bedding as thighs flexed slowly, just to feel the power and pressure against her swollen sex. Whatever she’d dreamt of had left her dripping, and she couldn’t help but gasp at the spike of lust that drilled lowered when she realized it.
She’d never been a very sexual woman. The time that others had put aside for fumbling youthful discovery had always been dedicated to academia and the pressures of lordship. Pater had never found a suitable candidate for a betrothal contract either, so thoughts once preoccupied with the fulfillment of baser needs and familial responsibility had just… slipped away. There were other things to worry about now, the Wodd and Duluth’s demands being the most pressing. But now that lack of experience had left her powerless, vulnerable to the taste of desire between her legs and the soft feeling of her body writhing against the sheets. She wanted to… to touch… to grind her swollen pussy lips into her hand and stroke along the weeping slit…
Anything. Anything to soothe the tension that beat in her body after that dream of darkness.
But something rung across her mentality, melodious and tempting. It tugged at her consciousness enough to derail her slower yet focused thoughts—wet, wanton, and wondering. That tone echoed and curled until it tightened within her, a pull that shifted floating ideals until they moved toward purpose yet spoken. Her hand stalled, trapped between her quivering thighs as something with grew still and waited.
The bell… the bell that had rung did not belong to the Square, to be sure, but it still summoned and called with a well-trained power. This time for sun-tea.
I should stop, she thought sleepily, exhausted and squirming in the warm rays of the invasive sun, I should… I should stop and answer the call. This isn’t… this isn’t me. I’ve never felt, never been so…
Her body clenched, and she sucked in a breath, harsh between slightly parted lips. She felt so very slick and so very ready to give into the hunger and the dream-images that pulled at her focus.
But, when Cook rang the bell again the pull lessened, pushing thoughts of her dream and her body beneath the urge to obey society training. She moved slowly, but she did move, and soon her feet were on the ground, taking her toward the kitchens. It wasn’t until she’d crossed the threshold of her rooms—under her own bell—that she realized she’d done so… mindlessly.
The echo of her low frightened moan followed her down the hallway.
* * *
Alphonse was not at sun-tea. When Theodora had asked for her whereabouts the only woman present, Cook, had shaken her head.
“I’m sorry, my Lord.” She’d mumbled, before licking her bottom lip in a motion Theodora had never quite… noticed before. “I’m not sure where Lord Moryet is. Out to town… I’d suspect.”
And had Cook seemed a bit off then? A bit slower? Distracted perhaps, with a glassy gaze and a tad flushed, making the freckles on her fawny skin stand out among the deeper reds.
Had her body reflected the same? Had Cook seen the distinctive outline of her nipples straining against the cloth of her robe? Or how she hadn’t… kept… still? How she’d kept crossing and uncrossing her legs in thoughtless motions, to apply delicious pressure to her throbbing sex?
I don’t need it. I don’t… need it.
That inner mantra followed her even after sun-tea, when Theodora left Cook to the eerie quiet of the dining space, her cleaning broken, and softly mumbled utterances. She’d left shortly after that, to freshen and prepare for the day and do anything other than leer at her servant while fighting off the alien yearning that suffused her, that whispered—
It’s okay to touch. To squeeze. Cook looks... so soft, and I bet her hips would give under my touch…
That was frightening, to be so absent-minded, to allow her thoughts to wander so dangerously. She hadn’t felt so lecherous the day before, it wasn’t in her to be, and yet why… why now? Why did her body sing so sweetly in such a pronounced way? It was as if… as if she’d been colorless, living her life in odd shades of greys and now, now everything felt too vivid. Green was too green. Blues were too blue.
Cook looked too soft.
It was a wonder she’d made it out of the manor at all, but once she was away from her estate, the leash of her hound held tight within her trembling grasp, she felt a bit better. Like she could breathe in without exhaling lust. It was still present though, pervasive in her blood, a low hum that reminded her—
If I lose focus, if I slip, it’ll return, so much stronger...
She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to… if she’d want to honor her sense of propriety if that happened. But for now, it was tolerable despite the haze it threw over her mind. Maybe she could just… walk it off. It was why she’d decided to care for her hound herself, instead of leaving the chore to the usual stablewomen. A walk through Saltpotter, a gulp of fresh air, that was all that she’d need to get her head back to its proper state.
Briefly, she wondered, if Alphonse had done the same, if Alphonse… felt the same, trapped beneath the gentle urging weight of need within the walls of their shared home.
No, no… She couldn’t possibly. After all, it was only Theodora that seemed plagued by dreams and day-visions. Alphonse… she was strong, stubborn, and far too arrogant to be rattled by something as casual as receiving visitors and well-survived hunt. The gift… the gift was not as bad as she made it to be, surely. It was just a bell.
Just. A. Bell.
She gasped at the intensity of that thought, at the singular driving force. Just a bell. Nothing more. Just a bell. A beautiful bell.
She swallowed a moan.
“Good Sunrise,” A Prideswoman of blonde-cropped hair stood before the entrance to the Square, her voice soft with a breathy sort of excitement that seemed reflected in the depths of a glistening coal-colored gaze. “Praise be Saltpotter.”
“Praise be,” Theodora replied while the hound at her side shook with excitement, eager to greet.
The Prideswoman, familiar to Theodora through her presence in service, inhaled sharply. She couldn’t help but noticed she seemed a bit preoccupied, not by the hound who she smiled serenely at—for the animal was a unique and well acquainted sight around the state—but by the bell worn around her neck, gently caressed and held by curious fingers. “Good Sunrise to you too, Basil.”
The hound gave a grand and deep wuuf in response.
“You’ve…” It was difficult to finish her sentence, harder still to turn her gaze from the bell and the fingers that stroked along it. “A gift from the travelers?”
Glazed eyes moved from the hound to Theodora proper, “Oh yes.” She sighed, “I was gifted when the Commander called for volunteers… to watch over the work of the visitors. The others, they weren’t very motivated… not yet. But—” Another sigh came then, and Theodora watched her strain just slightly in her Pride leathers, “It’s… well, it’s wonderful and I wanted to help them. The... visitors and the Commander. She’s... too busy to do this sort of thing herself, but we are her Pride and we… obey.”
“Obey,” Theodora whispered, the word heavy on her tongue, so real… As real as the probing flame that suddenly licked across her still flushed sex. “Y-yes. Of course. T-the work?”
The guard inhaled again, deeply, as if to savor the scent of something Theodora herself could not smell. “It’s for… our most gracious Lord Duke, who was given a gift for quickly gathering Saltpotter’s nobility. They’ve crafted our state a bell!”
Her eagerness was infectious, Theodora found her heart thudding powerfully against her chest as her belly fluttered nervously, “A… bell? Like the one around your…”
“Oh, oh no. No, not quite. A bell, a… Bell.”
“Come,” The word, said so simply and clear by the other, sent heat up the length of her spine and sharpened her vision. The way it was said, an order, a demand with too much meaning, made something churn almost painfully within. “I’ll show you.”
“Yes.” Theodora replied, swept up in the confident delivery of the Prideswoman’s words. There was no point in denying them. She was not only curious about the newly commissioned Bell, but clearly still in need of more fresh air. Not even the Notos chill was enough to ease the sweat that trickled between her breasts and across her stomach. She should have forgone her thick wool jacket. Or, clothes at all, at this rate.
The Square was eerily empty, devoid of the usual carts and merchants peddling their wares. It brought about an unsettling quiet, one only interrupted by the soft and labored breathing of the crafters assisting at the center with the Bells. There, at the focal point of their freeDom, they sat. Light reflective shapes of polished metal only outshined by the oddity of a massive black thing nearby reminiscent of a soup cauldron. Indeed, it could have been a soup cauldron, what with the steam that spilled from the top and the gurgling sounds it expelled. And perhaps that was due in part to the small fire that roared beneath it. But it was large, far too large, round-bellied shaped, and held to the ground with sturdy hook ended ropes as it shook and trembled… As if alive itself and certainly not normal in any sense, not to mention incredibly out of place. When one of the crafters in the space went to lean over it, to gather the soft… dark metal that bubbled and popped like ichor, she feared they would fall within it. Instead, when they stood straight once more, what they held between their gloveless hands was a clump of—
“It’s made from tenebraurea,” The guard rasped out, as if she too were as enchanted as Theodora felt by the sight of it, raw and not yet molded. It seemed to drip from between their hands, dotting the cobblestone along with their working clothes as they moved back to the platform and the half-formed Bell in its shaping rack beside the others—both now mundane and lackluster in comparison. It looked soft, and she wondered at the temperature of it and how easily it yielded as they slathered it upon a skeletal metal spine made of the same mineral. “They finished the base some time ago, a little after the second moon set.”
They worked, red-faced with their own reflected gaze staring back at them from a half-finished project, intense and focused on the task at hand. They took a flat smoothing tool and molded the clump of black like clay, working to complete the shape of the Bell. The other crafters did the same, walking to the cauldron, scooping out a handful—and was it not hot? Searingly so?—before walking back to the platform to complete the task. It must have been safe to touch, for none of them worked with the standard gloves most metal crafters wore and seemed unbothered when it touched them. They only worked, completely in silence yet somehow harmonized, smoothing, rubbing, squeezing, creating—
“It’s... a little strange to watch, isn’t it?” Theodora whispered, afraid that her voice would break the spell of work that blanketed the Square. It felt wrong to speak, when she could be listening to the soft panting of repetitive and… almost mindless labor instead. “Most crafters would be upset to be… spied upon like this.”
“It’s fine,” The other answered, her voice just as low and soft, “I don’t think they… that is, their minds are focused on a singular task. Our Lord Duke told them to focus only on the work, only on molding the new Bell. I… don’t think they’ve even noticed us here.”
Theodora frowned. Something was wrong with that. Something wasn’t… right.
Then, the warmth of her hand pressed against the small of Theodora’s back and the thought sunk beneath a wave of barely suppressed desire. Oh… oh. She could feel it so acutely, even through her layered clothing.
“Look, over there,” The Prideswoman whispered hotly against her ear, “a visitor!”
She didn’t want to… she needed to leave, now. To get away from the work of the crafters who only seemed to have one thought constrained within their minds. She needed to think. Think about why that wasn’t right, why workers didn’t normally hyper focus on one task for hours, why they would forgo their gloves and hardier working clothes, why they were all glistening with sweat despite the chill.
And why watching them, knowing they could do nothing but that, made her pussy ache so sweetly.
But then the visitor was upon them.
* * *
It was not Artorius (the Dominae, her mind whispered hotly) or the hooded woman (the Lanius) from Kourt.
This woman, of rich umber skin, was different. Almost incredibly so, compared to Artorius (the Dominae, her mind whispered again) and the limited seen hooded woman (the Lanius). Her ears drew her gaze first, somewhat pointed toward their tops and sporting little scars, but only some to the many that littered the rest of her body, telling stories across all her visible flesh. Some shallow and short, some long, deep, and partially hidden behind dark russet hair worn in intricate braids. Braids that covered only half of her face however, while the other side of her skull held less of her wild mane, shaved in a style that brought Alphonse to mind. Low and severe. Even more startling was that she was tall, taller than Theodora who stood at five palms and seven fingers. Taller even than the Prideswoman at her side, whose lot averaged out at five palms and nine fingers. This woman, with her pressed lips—enhanced by a line of red ink that trailed from the bottom to her chin—sharp nose, and deep-set eyes of storm cloud grey, had to have been six palms at least. She towered over them, muscle visible within the confines of her tight traveling leathers accentuated by the plum wine cloak she too wore folded and pinned to one shoulder. But there was one more significant deviation.
She wore a pelt across her shoulders, one that ended before the center of her back while the rest of it clung to the front of her chest. It stood out over the cloak, causing glossy black to blend into the unique and once lost color. It caught and held Theodora’s gaze and despite the rattling of her heart against her chest she was trapped, pinned by the familiarity that knocked half-memorized dream-visions loose. She heard her breathing deepened, felt herself soften in its presence. In her mind’s eye she knelt before the pelt in her tucked away room, naked and slick while she struggled to remain upright and focused before its match worn upon the taller woman.
Touch it, she heard Alphonse’s voice echo across her mentality, touch it.
She dripped between her thighs.
She heard the Prideswoman whisper, “Good Sunrise,” and in return the traveler lifted her hand and smoothly executed a three fingered gesture.
Theodora did the same gesture without thought and while her motion was unpracticed and slow it was enough to bring the visitors attention from the guard to her. The head tilt she received in response to her action seemed feline-like in nature. Predatory. Ravenous.
She trembled, legs weak, wanting to bend, to kneel just as her lost dream-self did.
She swallowed the craving but could not extinguish it.
“Report.” The traveler spoke, her voice a throaty drawl so reminiscent of smoke circling fire-topped mountains. Despite the thickness of her accent, her curl of tongue offered no question and there lacked no doubt in the strength of her command. Despite that one word not being meant for her, she nearly fell prey to the power within it.
The Prideswoman, however, could not deny it. She shuddered—and for a blink or two, she tried to refute it, the need to obey such authority in one spoken word—gasped, and pressed her lips thin… but something, that tight thing within her, that aspect of her will she tried to grasp and hold, began to melt. She could… see it, see it in the tension that left her face to be replaced by deepening red across beige cheeks. See it in the near audible swallow she took as her legs came together and her arms slipped to lock at the small of her back. She assumed a position of deference and attention. Conditioned. Practiced. The very same her Commander might have demanded she take during a time of recounting. And yet, this woman, with the hungry smile and glimmering gaze was not the woman that was meant to hold her leash.
She’s falling, Theodora contemplated, and not to her Commander.
And the thought of such did nothing to lessen her inner heat.
Her words came then, thick and strained, but the guard would speak, did speak, as she’d been told to do. Efficiently, perfectly, as she’d been taught to do. It must be awful, Theodora considered, to be conditioned to such a thing by another… to have no defense to the lure of it when it was already so deeply ingrained in your persona.
And… wasn’t that the issue? Wasn’t that… why she too felt so… small around them? Ready to defer to those who held themselves with the strength of Lords? It was different than how she felt around Duluth—and within her mind she heard Alphonse’s echo of false-king—and the rest of the gentry barely deserved the bulk of her attention. Still, it had always been Saltpotter’s way to adhere to station and worship blood-based hierarchy. To do otherwise was blasphemous.
Now those Ways, whether Olde or Potterian, were too deep-rooted, coiled around each citizen with the constant beat of societal obedience. Once she would have sworn that Duluth held that control, confident in his ability to keep them secured and safe. There was no need for her to think beyond the needs of the Wodd. No need to bother with focus or deny the words he spoke. Now, she wondered if thoughtlessly giving up so much of her autonomy in deference to another would make her much easier to…
The Prideswoman spoke, grasping Theodora’s wayward thoughts and leading them back into the softness of the morning’s daze. It felt so much heavier now, strengthened by the monotonous tone of the guard at her side, a tone that grew breathy and low as it continued, laced by the need to please and submit. By the time she was finished Theodora found it difficult to remember what she’d been worried about at all. Though she knew she’d been introspective just moments before…
Now, all she thought about was how the guard licked her lips and peered up at the visitor with a heaving chest. “I wasn’t… supposed to tell you that.”
The other only gave her a closed lipped smile, before she motioned to the side. Dismissive. “Watch.”
She gave off a soft sound at that, a mewl of weakness, before she turned and stalked away. Back to the crafters and away from Theodora without so much as a wave goodbye. That, naturally, left the bulk of the visitor’s attention upon her. She wasn’t sure if she liked that. If she wanted it. Nor was she sure why she felt… restless watching the guard depart, watching her mindlessly turn with only one word pressed against her mind...
It was best to make an her own excuse and leave. Basil had been suspiciously quiet throughout the ordeal and she really should be walking her hound, least it grow restless as their afternoon crawled into evening. “I should… I need to—”
As if drawn in by the sound of her voice and the uncertainty therein, the woman turned her gaze from the Prideswoman’s retreating backside to level the power of those eyes upon her fully. Now Theodora froze, pinned not only by the weight of the storm-grey upon her, but the prevalent fog of heat made her insides tingle… oddly. Her stomach churned, infused by the same nervous air she’d felt around the women of Ashwyn the day before. Only now… now she also felt hot, warm and heavy in a manner that kept her dizzy beneath the force of that attention. She cleared her throat, tried to speak again—
“I’m Havelock.” She croaked, but a frown creased her brow. An introduction had not been her intention. To make a hasty retreat, before the heat continued to swell within her belly, seemed the best option.
“I am Azul.” The stranger replied, but her tone took on another quality, penetrative and husky. “I’ve heard of you, Lord Havelock.”
Theodora tried to keep her breathing even, “You have?”
“The Dominae and Lanius.” Azul spoke simply, and despite her accent she held masterful control over the Lord’s Common Tongue. “You own the Wodd?”
Theodora shook her head, “The Lord Duke owns the Wodd, as well as all of Saltpotter and those within it. I am Caretaker. That is my noble purpose.”
She ignored the sweat that dripped between her shoulder blades as she spoke, as she... answered Azul’s questions without fail or hesitation. The heat was growing, persistent, stirring her…
Theodora sighed softly, and despite her impatience, her insistence, on leaving she found it so… pleasant to just answer, to explain without hurry. When she spoke, the heat grew and flexed, but the thought of leaving such curiosity unquenched made something within her ache in warning. She would answer, she must answer—“The lesser work the gentry land and the gentry have been tasked with purpose. The lesser are assigned to the gentry, we manage them to that purpose.”
Azul gave off a soft hum and Theodora shivered, “Your purpose is to see to the Wodd.” She repeated, “Lesser citizens assist with this job.”
“But what else do you do? In the Wodd? If the lesser tend, then what need of you to be there? Unless...” Now something sly glimmered in the depths of that gaze. “Do you hunt?”
Her throat tightened but the visions she expected, those of the beast that made her look at her passion as something greyed and terrible, did not come. Instead, the flowing heat within her morphed, stimulated to frenzy by a simple ask. Her heartbeat quickened. She was suddenly, shamefully, excited. Stripped of her ability to remain impartial to her only hobby. It was different than her admission the day before, different then the academic regaling of the board. So rich in its presence. It wasn’t arrogance that filled her then, nor pride or want for more beyond the mundanity of noblehood. That would have been the usual, would it have not? Perceived as customary among her social class, whose only skill was the ability to boast. And yet, those feelings, those ideals, seemed so far away, smothered by… by need. Wet, scalding, and dark. And it had no place within her. She was good, normal. The average Lord had no need for such a powerful reaction when called to hunt, not for… for sport. Yet madness licked up her spine and stole her breath from simple discussion, those well-experienced defenses stripped that she normally wore so well when antsy to escape to the Wodd. She felt stained by it, twisted by the taste of such unnatural yearning.
And it had been so long since she’d ventured into the Wodd proper, geared up with hound and horse. She’d been so busy (afraid) and concerned about its inhabitants (the beast). It had once felt wrong to cross the gate and lose herself to the sound it. Now, oh goodness, now… everything screamed for the silent pounding draw of the Wodd’s embrace and the idle steady tick tock of her rifle between her clenching grip.
She swallowed it down, the impulse, the odd reaction, and shoved it far far far into the recess of her mind. It frightened her, more than the strangers or the Prideswoman’s reactions.
What was happening to her?
“I… I do,” She whispered, weak on her feet, “I do.” She tried again, with a steadier tone. She was noble, not lesser, not lost to her impulses and hobbies and above such… such consuming emotion. “When I’ve the time.”
Something glistened in Azul’s gaze, a twist of color, of golds and purples and deep liquid red. “There is always time, isn’t there?”
Theodora found it difficult to answer. Once, she might have said that. Once, before the pelt, before the strangers, before the tingling in her fingertips and the deep throb between her legs. “There are… responsibilities. Needs of the lesser… Management that I must oversee. One cannot always—” Here she gasped, unprepared for the power in the word on the tip of her tongue. “—h-hunt.”
A soft sound rolled from her company, a chuckle that pulled at something low and tight within her begging to be soothed, “I hunt. Always. It is my…” A pause then, before Theodora heard a click—Azul’s tongue as it hit the back of her teeth, “noble purpose.”
That was a familiar concept, something she could latch onto, something to keep the shivering at bay and the heat from ripping her belly apart. “Are you a huntswoman then, for Ashwyn?”
Azul tilted her head then with gaze so steady, so intense, upon her person that she felt… small, like prey—prepared to bow before a beast with greater power than itself. Knots settled low in her belly beside the idle fear and warmth as a soft whine came from her side. T-the hound, wasn’t it? Ready to be walked and restless. Or… had she...?
She couldn’t be sure. Her world felt… narrowed. Incredibly focused on the hand that reached out for her, on the grip that gently held the bottom of her jaw before it tightened, firming as it lifted her head until she was staring directly at the gaze of the woman who held it. Theodora licked her lips, tried to breath past the warmth of that hand—and goodness, goodness, Azul’s hand was so incredibly warm, far too warm for it to be normal, burning her skin, making it tingle—and the fingers that pressed just so until she was sure the strength of her pulse could be clearly felt.
But it was her gaze that captured her, beckoned her attention just as surely as Artorius had, pulling her forward until her body buzzed from just touch. Until something clicked within her mind in a manner that left her fuzzy and… out of sorts.
This time, when she heard a soft sound, one of anxious submission, she knew it had come from her, spilled past her parted lips with little thought to her pride or why she shouldn’t be still in the power of the hold upon her. She was a noble, a Havelock, and no being—woman or otherwise—had the right to touch her…
But she ached to be touched, to be held with just one hand, to understand why it felt so good to settle and wait… If she could understand it, she could… fight it—
Oh.. but what was she meant to fight? It was so hard to think with her head captured just so and her body pulsing from simple touch. And Azul was so close, moving her lips, speaking—
“I am Venandi,” Azul whispered, breath against her lips as she hissed against her.
Theodora fought to keep her eyes open as that word knocked about her skull and wriggled into someplace she couldn’t reach. It settled nicely along all the other odd and exotic words the strangers had brought with them… and the power they held. “V-venandi?”
The word felt off on her tongue, curled wrong and not properly enunciated but Azul nodded, pleased with her try, “Yes, Venandi. It is so much more than just a huntswoman, little theodora.”
The world shifted sharply, and her thighs clenched, as if the teasing pressure would ease the powerful twitch of her clit in acknowledgement. All at once she was vulnerable again, not a Lord, not a noble, just theodora… devolved and waiting, quivering and quiet. Melting in the grip of her better.
“Still, you are so close to the truth.” Azul took her other hand and drew it down the length of theodora’s arm, squeezing the muscle there in a moment of appreciative contemplation. “For I am still a hunter, Her hunter,”
The words were a rolling purr. Husky and hot. And the way Azul said Her, as if she were everything and all—
“H-her?” theodora croaked.
“Yes,” But Azul did not elaborate. Not immediately. Instead she made a soft hum of disappointment against her ear, and flicked eyes of gray to the open space about her neck. “You are not wearing your Gift?”
She felt an echo of the ring throughout her slick core and it was dizzying, more so than the sudden change of subject, “It’s… above the threshold of my… private rooms.”
“Her Gift is not to be wasted, little theodora.” Azul mused with the tone of a Matron speaking to their student. It only solidified her position. It was little theodora’s place to be chastised and taught. “I’ve always found it more effective when worn… but I suppose someone told you to place it there. The Lanius, perhaps?”
theodora squirmed and tried to pick through Azul’s musing. She tried not to feel small, to… feel the pulse of acceptance that licked through her belly at being addressed so… improperly but she wanted to know more, to learn about the bell with the ring that echoed in her sex. There wasn’t enough… she didn’t have enough space in her head right then to fight for both. “W-who is she? The woman with the gifts? The Lanius? Does she—”
“Oh the Lanius is fond of handing them out.” Azul interrupted, with a smile that seemed almost cruel, were it not for the amusement that dwelled in her gaze, “But she is not the owner, not of this.”
“Then, whose gift is it truly?” theodora said, as she tried to dull her need for more information. But she wanted to be able to think again, properly without feeling so hot and heavy. Without hearing the siren song of her body whisper of new hunger. A hunger that needed to be soothed and yet she couldn’t truly remember how. Not with the soft alluring ring of the bell in her mind.
“She,” Azul took careful time to enunciate that single word, to harden it into a capital in theodora’s mind while she remained devolved and docile, “Is ruler of Ashwyn. Our Mistress, our Sovereign, our King—”
theodora gasped, startled by the quake that settled within her abdomen, of the recognition of power in that taboo word that should have been dead. It was so sharp and cutting that her mind rung from the echo of it, from the faith held behind it. Something fierce. Unyielding, and… oh no. No, no, no—
She heard the pound of Duluth’s screeching words, all sung in the manta of their freeDom. The Longwar had been fought for the eradication of kings. To end their self-proclaimed oppression. There existed no absolute ruler, not for any state or township. It was just a collection of letters, whispered often on the wind but never so seriously, least the entirety of Grindwall fall prey to wicked haunting. Only the Lord Duke held such authority, one based on highborne status, on the blood of those destroyed, but meant to be much kinder. Fair and just. Only that word should have resonated so strongly within her. She’d been born around it. Implored to respect it! So why, why…
“There are no ki—”
Azul tightened her grip, reminded her of the power she held in just one hand, and in doing so pulled on the tide of theodora’s erratic thoughts “She is Ashwyn’s King, and She will be King of all.”
She tried to hold onto her fear, she tried so strongly to pull strength from it, to fight, to twist, to run to anyone—preferably the Commander—and expose Azul’s talk of what must be lunacy but the most she could do was pant. The idea of a living King was overwhelming. The dark curl of excitement that stirred her blood, that made her mind rush in a way that seemed so incredibly familiar despite its foreign air, was unsettling and oh so perfect.
“The flush to your face, the heaving of your chest… just to hear of Her is to yearn for Her. Have you ever wondered what it felt like? To be ruled? Truly and completely? Has your Lord Duke ever given you this?”
She jerked, and pushed at idle thoughts, at wonderment and the very yearning Azul spoke of. “He is… he is.”
“Nothing, a servant just as I am, just as you are.” Azul drew something sharp across the skin of her exposed neck, and her head fell back in near instinctual surrender. Lips pressed gently next, right below the hand that gripped her. “I am the Vox of her Venandi, Her most faithful pet, her hunter. I serve. I obey. And though I must defer to the judgement of my Dominae, she too is just a vassal, Her Sight and Control. Even this far from the Sea, I feel the weight of Her power, the strength of Her title. Pressing. Urging.”
She paused then, if only to listen to theodora’s soft sound of desire.
“Has your Lord Duke ever made you feel that way? So completely and utterly held?”
Her heavy breathing was her only answer.
“Yet,” Azul continued, “you obey him. You’ve always obeyed. You were bred for it, groomed to accept it. Noble or not, your purpose is just his own. But there’s no true power in his word, no want, no need to serve for the pleasure of serving.”
“Please…” theodora whispered, unsure of what she pleaded for, “He’s…”
Was he good? A proper Lord Duke with power in his word? His wealth must mean something. His self-proposed blood seemed true. And yet, when he spoke, when he commanded, she did not feel… like this.
“What is he?” Azul whispered, breath across her skin as something wet—oh ancient gods, it was her tongue—dabbed at the sweat pooled upon her arched neck. “He is no King, for I feel nothing in his speech. When my Mistress gives order, my very being sings. It is suddenly all that I want. To be, to exist as her Venandi. To hunt driven only be command, only by Her wish and will.” She paused then, chest against her chest, body pressed so close, too close, “While you must… sit and manage. Attending a noble’s purpose.”
And something clenched within her, something deep that left an agonizing ache in its wake. Moisture trickled down to mark her inner thighs and longing swelled in her chest for something she couldn’t properly name. She... she did not want, could not truly want, to be so controlled, so beyond her own body and will, but she was only theodora, curious about the Words of Power someone who claimed to be highborne—a King, a true King!—could wield. It wasn’t right, but the needy throb between her legs only pulsed to the tune of that desire. She wanted to know more, to learn thought beyond their walls, to savor more of the Olde that the strangers from Ashwyn seemed to wield so effortlessly. Azul, Her Vox, Her Voice, had weaved a wild tale more akin to a legend. It could not be truth, the proper Saltpotterian truth. It was treason, false, and fabricated, yet it felt so good to crave more than all she’d known, to absorb and accept.
She mustn’t listen. She could not fall to dark curiosity, to the mania that made her clit swollen and agitated, angry against the soaked fabric of her undergarments, crying out for touch and distraction when she could not afford to be.
“This isn’t true. None of it is…” theodora slurred, tongue thick and eyelids heavy while she balanced dangerously on the edge of demented understanding. Every word spoken, every whisper against her ear, felt like yet accepted gospel. They drove themselves among her sluggish thoughts and tugged at bits and pieces of knowledge to make room for their otherness. If only she would tip, tumble forward and off into the murkiness of that cliff, into unacceptable acceptance.
Into the wisdom of the world-traveled stranger, who seemed so much smarter in that moment and oh so patient, as if her only want was to guide.
Yet, she did not fall, and Azul—so tolerant, and welcoming, and warm against her body—must have noticed. She hummed, “Perhaps, it isn’t.” And, with a lingering stroke, released her hold upon theodora, to instead slowly pull away and glance to her hound. “You aren’t quite ready, not yet open.”
Her throat tightened, and she swallowed, strangled by the weight of the question on her tongue. She found Azul’s phrasing somewhat unsettling. She’d posed a conundrum with her very presence and warped perspective with only a moment’s worth of conversation. From one blink to the next Azul had dismissed her—line of thought—and focused elsewhere, now upon the hound that wriggled with barely bound energy as Azul paid upon it a semblance of her attention. What would theodora need to give to feel the warmth of her touch again, to have those fingers dance against her skin as they did her hound, who arched into the touch with wagging tail and unfocused eyes? How could she return their conversation back to truth and the unwavering force of Azul’s belief and devotion?
For, though Azul moved forward at ease in her faith, theodora felt trapped, endlessly chasing thoughts of would-bes and half-answers that spiraled her down toward a void of chilling uncertainty. It was only when Azul glanced up, away from the hound that whimpered and whined—drawn by theodora’s own soft sound of bewilderment—that her being stiffened, ready to receive what she’d instinctively deny and yet—
“Enough of that,” Azul husked, as if she’d heard theodora’s thoughts over the roar of their unbalanced tumble. “Untangle your mind.”
“Untangle my…” Words failed her then, lost before she’d managed to repeat the offered sentence. Though brief her uttered breath hadn’t gone unnoticed. Azul stared with an endless sort of patience and a sly quirk of lips but said nothing more. Then, from one blink to the next she was… she felt, a certain awareness, like heat against the front of her skull, gently coiled and curled yet loose. That conversation, as distressing as it’d been, now felt inconsequential. It was there, muttered words in the early morning, with touch and presence, but smothered beneath the ring of a… of a—
“Lord Havelock.” Azul whispered, tugging at her inner self, drawing her from the slick sticky warmth that had once engulfed her. Suddenly she could… think, breath beyond the heady pound of her sex and the gentle urging of her body to listen and accept. This was… better. Better than the lure of Kingrule and Azul’s strange intensity. Already the conversation was fading, leaving little behind other than the phantom feel of the touch she still… craved.
She cleared her throat and pushed away the sweet shiver that tickled her spine at the idea that she was answering, at attention for this stranger, just by being called her natural born title. She was… in control here. She was Lord and Azul was just a visitor. “Y-yes?”
There’s something a bit off in the smile received, still closed-lipped, “Lord Duke Duluth says you’ve a love for horses?”
Now that was a conversation she could eagerly engage in, “I do.”
“Then, I’ve a favor to ask. If you and your hound would like to take a… walk.”
Away from the Square, and the Bells and the Prideswoman. Back to fresh air and sluggish thought with the heat of the dawn at her back and the warmth of her lust between her legs.
Because she ached when she thought to do anything else.
* * *
Theodora knelt, hands flat upon her lap, back straight and slightly arched. She knelt, had been kneeling, for some time. Could feel it in the slight gnawing numbness of her knees and the tremble of her closed thighs. Yet, the lapse of time could not be read for little existed beyond her body. An endless landscape of black stretched before her, carrying the thick scent of dew and musk—so distinctively Wodd like. With each inhale she drew that scent within her, felt it become her, and when she exhaled it remained—tight within her lungs, a thudding part of her being—but the memories and visions she expected it to stir did not come. Quieted. Silenced. Everything felt… calmed.
Dreamlike and slow. Heavy and blurred.
No, not entirely. Something thick existed in the space, fog that hovered low in a form that felt tangible. If she could, if she wanted, she could reach out. Touch it as it touched her, a light and wraith-like presence. But the thought, the want, was fleeting. No more important than the next as she stiffened, content… with her current position. There was no need to move. Her hands were fine, comfortable against the warmth of her own flesh.
Her attention was elsewhere anyway, focused on the shapes that danced beyond the fog. Though its thickness obscured her vision she could still make out wisp like silhouettes, writhing black tendrils that gurgled and contorted, eating themselves in endless cycle.
Though their undulations were grotesque their thrashing shapes lacked a frightening edge. Theodora watched them with a settled mind, feeling nothing other than an odd sense of fascination as they wriggled and even that wasn’t enough to disturb the sense of peace that settled over her, tangible and almost suffocating.
But… there was dense heat around her, humid and nearly physical with the power of its beat and that was enough to make her sweat. Little patterns of liquid trickled, drawing shapes upon her naked flesh as it collected in pools about her softer parts. In the dip of her belly-button, right above the curve of her arse… and that felt… distracting, somehow more intense than the echoing snap of the tendrils and the thickening touch of the fog. It was certainly enough to part her lips, as she tilted back her head and licked them, a blurry gaze pointed toward what she thought might have been the open sky—
But instead what settled there was a large vermillion moon, one that seemed to glow to the odd rhythmic snap of the gurgling black. There was no sky, not as her mentality attempted to interpret it. No stars. No clouds. No blue melting into darker purples. Only more endless black, slightly edged by red bleeding radiance. It was low, impossibly so, and unusual for she’d never seen a moon of such color and size. Not in any season…
And yet here, among the plains of her dream, it existed, swollen and abnormally present.
It captured and held her attention, more so than the fog or the heat of the air that filled her lungs. It burned with that sticky humidity, pushed it down upon her in an unwanted breeze until she finally, finally, she felt her body move. Squirming in the increasing thickness of the elements that pressed upon her. She inhaled that heat, felt it blaze through her body, until it settled low in her belly as an uncomfortable fire. She wanted to… move, should move, to grasp her churning stomach, which felt stirred by the intensity that held her captive. And yet, even then, she felt incapable, a prisoner to her devoted position, to thighs that clenched and knees that refused to unbend.
And hadn’t, once upon a waking moment, she been craving such a thing? To kneel and worship? To gaze upon something more with mindless—
But the moon was unrelenting, spilling pressure and stirring warmth, and it wasn’t long before the heat that felt consuming twisted to something familiar, something… heady and eager, drawn up from the depths of her sex. Now when she licked her lips, it wasn’t due to the sweat that dripped down her face, it was due to the pulsating desire that spiraled up and up and up, until the taste of salt on her tongue mingled with sensuality.
And though she couldn’t hear it, she could feel the black about her warping, convulsing with new purpose as it closed around her.
Her breath quickened, stirred by an almost muted anxiety. The world should not move, it should not twist and rock and… and what if it should smother her, harm her…but the black held her gently, warm and wet and so very soft as it pressed against the outside of her thighs. It stroked with a methodical rhythm, firm then light, up and down, to the faint sound of its shifting body, a noise that twisted from horror-born sloshing to the steady beat of a thumping heart. That beat felt pervasive, pushed at her ears, as if in silent demand that her body match its tempo. And slowly, to the caress of the black, she felt her tension melt away to be replaced by a nervous curiosity. Thoughts that had once bubbled along her panic stilled, rubbed and eased away by the black that soothed her.
That… began to squeeze her.
She sucked in a deep breath, pulled more heat into her lungs, and felt the black twist once more, pushing and kneading her thighs with a knowing firmness until the flat surface of it spread and split. Now the black had hands, fingers that pressed and rubbed and clawed with agonizing accuracy, across all the sensitive parts of her thighs and—
—and then something changed, a ripple through the black that came with soft whispers, incomprehensible with a sibilant silkiness. She tried to listen, to lower her head as black hands stroked along the arch of her flushed and slender throat, but the moon pulsed with unspoken intent and she sighed, held by its glow… and the strong fingers that curled around her neck in makeshift collar, oozing from…
She wasn’t sure.
She wasn’t sure of anything. Wasn’t sure why the black began to press at her thighs, coaxing them open to reveal her swollen sex. Wasn’t sure why the hands around her neck began to squeeze, just enough to let her know they existed, that they held the power, the control. Why the whispers could still be heard over the quickening beat of the black’s pumping heart, which felt as if it now dwelled under her skin, a secondary beat that sent her blood rushing to her stiffening nipples.
And all she could do was swallow in its hold as more hands merged from wicked tendrils with their fingers hooked until they pulled down the length of her sensitive back. She jerked and bowed, moaned as they traced over raised skin—inquisitive as they explored the still raw patterns of a hunter’s war across her flesh. And there was pain, sharp and acute, but also sweet, as it drove her closer to a strange and startling sense of docility.
“Ugh…” She tried to speak, to answer the voice, feminine and deep, but the hand around her neck squeezed in gentle warning and her mind forgot the meaning of speech.
There was nothing else to do but submit, held by hands that coiled about her biceps and the pressure that kept her thighs spread and open. For a time, she could only exist, held and stilled with only the beat of her heart and the voice for company. She panted from the heat, that which pressed upon her and that which grew and swelled within, and wondered, hoped, for relief from her vulnerability, from the mingling scent of her slickness that mixed so well with the musk of the black—
Then something touched her, stroked along her exposed center, wet and burning. It slipped up between her puffy lips to tease the opening of her slit, its grooved texture pressing, rubbing, against her inner flesh. It moved at a torturous pace, patient and teasing, as her clit throbbed above it, pierced by a deeper craving. A painful desire built in her belly, one that desperately needed to be eased, but the slivers of ecstasy, the trickles of pleasure, did little more than feed her hunger, stirring darker demands from her pussy until every flick and press of that slow tongue sharpened her focus and called to luststruck lunacy. Her gaze remained open, though she was sightless, lost to the haze and the song of her sex as that tongue stroked, and stroked and fingers…
Fingers moved across her back, pressed and kneaded her tender flesh, while other hands stroked along her shoulders, slipping up and over, down to her chest, to squeeze and grasp at heavy breasts. She jerked in her bindings, rocked her hips, but the hands restrained her, clutched and held until the sensual roll of her belly began desperately twitching. Every muscle ached with newfound need, with silenced struggle, until she was breathing wildly with newfound frenzy.
The black cooed, amused, delighted, and more hands burst from its muck to circle her nipples, to run tight circles, closer and closer to their twitching tips, but never close enough, not touching, never touching—
She moaned into the darkness then sucked in her bottom lip as she heard it echoed back, sound that mingled perfectly with the audible rapid thump, thump, thump of the black’s heart and the soft whispers that stroked her mind, caressing away lust soaked fear until it twisted into primal thought—I want, I need, I crave…
And finally, finally, those fingers pinched and pulled, flicked and twisted, abused her nipples until they throbbed with electric delight, relishing the stimulus even though it hurt. But that punishing touch enhanced all senses, brought her mind down, down, into the thoughts of her pussy, into the song of her body which needed more than an unhurried rippling tongue that pressed against her slit and slowly began to slide within, pushing its own heat and wetness into a place already so slick—
Then another tongue, just as hot and curious, carefully pressed against the tip of her clit until she felt warm lips wrap around and suck. But both were so gentle, seductive with their coaxing, melting her lower torso with a perverse bliss, a sensation that began to build and build as those tongues grew… greedy. Gluttonous. Attacking her sex with audible sounds that she could hear beneath the rapid thundering heartbeat in the space.
But something morphed above her, shadows that clawed at the surface of the moon as something took shape within it.
Yess, yesss. The sibilant voice rumbled, a voice against her ear that made her arch her chest into those punishing hands and part her lips to cry out for its presence. There was power in that voice. Force that tugged at her consciousness, that turned I want and I crave into i need and i must. She sunk before that power, little and docile and somewhat afraid at her own inability to think past the desire that echoed in her wanton cries.
The shape paid her no thought. It hovered over her, large and imposing, and soon the moon was nothing in comparison to it. It was not like the black or the fog—
It was not even human.
But it was aware, more so than theodora, who whimpered and strained, against the arms that held her. Who gasped and moaned when she was reminded of her place by the hand that stroked her neck and tickled her pulse.
So close, the voice said, an echo of theodora’s own thought. She was so close, so close to… to something, something that curled and whipped through her belly. Something that beat at the back of her mind.
But she needed to be… more… open.
Softer and wetter and stripped of her purpose.
And the shadow-face smiled with lips spread so impossibly wide theodora could scarcely comprehend it. But those lips looked impossibly soft too, their ruby color accentuating teeth that seemed far too white and incredibly sharp. And she… she wanted to feel them against her. To feel those teeth nip at her skin, to have those lips pressed against her beating pulse. To kiss and suck even as the face continued to contort, revealing slender regal nose and eyes… eyes that housed two pupils—
Then the curious tongue stretched within her, long and writhing, terrifyingly abnormal as it sought out the place within her that had been untouched and virginal, giving her dripping sex and pulsating inner walls it’s very first addictive taste of absolute pleasure—
Right as she woke, pushed from the black and the crimson moon’s prison into a moment of intense delirium, as the sound of the second heart faded to be replaced by heavy breathing against her neck and face. She couldn’t focus in the darkness, couldn’t think past the powerful throb of her empty sex, which clenched in anguish from missing touch. She whimpered and squirmed, heavy… pinned by another body tangled with her own, a body that moaned against her skin as it began to rock against her.
Instinctively, thoughtlessly, she rolled her hips, pressed into the warmth against her as sweat-slick as her own. The body bucked slightly in response and slowed before theodora felt a smooth leg slide between her own. Weight shifted then, manipulating her until she was upon her back, and arms were coiled about her body. Hair tickled the underside of her chin and with each inhale she caught the others scent—honeysuckle and something distinctively woman.
“A-Al?” theodora gasped, felt the body against her press closer, one knee against her sex, while her own lower leg was trapped between hers. It was dark in the space, but slivers of light from the window gave insight to glistening skin lighter than her own. It… it was Alphonse, pressing, sensually rocking, sliding her soft center against the side of her leg while she pushed and teased theodora’s pussy with her own. She couldn’t… didn’t understand why her companion would be in her bed. Why she held her so tightly, arm around and under her back, while the other pressed up from her belly to journey toward her chest.
She couldn’t tell where Alphonse began and she ended, could barely shake away the exhaustion of her dream and the angry lust that beat beneath her skin. All that she knew was that Alphonse was there, holding her, squeezing tighter and tighter, as if they could somehow merge into one, while she squirmed in what felt like slow motion, straining against an impossible presence that somehow knew just where to touch and tease her—and she couldn’t take it, not anymore, not after the black and the hands that had melted her.
“Please… Ally?” theodora whined unsure of what she was asking for, thrusting against a tangled thigh, coating it with her wetness, ashamed and yet completely out of control.
Light flickered over her face, gave sight to a glassy gaze and half-lidded eyes. Seeing Alphonse so… dazed made her head spin. Why would she… why did she…? But the questions were so difficult to think through, not when she was certain her own expression reflected the very same. Just as drowsy and wet… but there was also something else in there, a smoldering storm of intensity that made her shiver. No one should look so helplessly hot and focused. Especially not Alphonse.
And Alphonse was incredibly focused. She could hear it in her soft whispers, in the little pleasured hisses as they rocked and writhed as one… and theodora wanted to… help her, to break them both from this moment—even though it still felt like a dream, hazy and softly edged—but she was still drowning, devolved by her weakness, controlled by her sex.
A sex that was being squeezed by an exploring hand.
“A-al!” theodora cried out, thrust once into the hand that spread her lips, and the thumb that gently pressed down on her clit. Alphonse was so slow, careful and steady as she rolled her swollen nub beneath her touch, building the pressure that had never left, feeding the ache that clawed at her center. More, she wanted… needed more, but Alphonse wasn’t hurried. She was in control, demanding, milking her of will and ability to leave her an obedient puddle.
Oh goodness what she’d do for more, more pleasure, more relief from the pain of her hyper-aroused body. The denial was so punishing, and her experience with such things so… small. What did one do when savage perversion threatened to swallow them whole?
Alphonse mumbled against her neck, “So good… you feel so good.”
And theodora flushed, embarrassed and yearning, as she fell prey to that sleepy affectionate tone. They had shared a bed before, shared warmth and tangled limbs at the Academy, but never lust, never pleasure. The intensity of the moment was only heightened by the dizzying devotion that spilled out in Alphonse moans. But why, why now… why—
“theo…” Alphonse sighed, suckling, nipping at the sensitive skin right at the juncture of neck and chin. It was enough to draw a moan from her as hands coiled themselves around bedding, but she craved, wanted to draw her other hand through Alphonse hair, to manipulate those lips elsewhere. It was only the weight of her limbs that kept her from doing so, that and the pressure of the other woman, the press of her breasts and hard nipples against her skin and the obvious dominance she held over her.
Fingers slipped lower, pushed against her slit in the same rhythm as the black—and for a painful moment theodora was back within its grasp, rocking and keening, dominated by pleasure and wicked pain—before one slipped within, prompting a moan from them both. She was so wound up, so tight that even this felt… overwhelming.
But Alphonse didn’t stop. She stroked and thrust, in an out with measured movements, practiced, experienced, heightening her passion with just that alone… until she added another, stretching her, stroking her spasming inner muscles, coaxing them to give and give as theodora felt her mind begin to soar.
“A-al… Al…” theodora gasped to the ceiling, breathless and dizzy, spiraling away into… into… the song of Alphonse black bell, as it hung between her breast, shifting with every writhing movement, thudding sound across her consciousness. And Alphonse, Alphonse held her through her frenzy, kept her pace and patience even as theodora sunk into the ring of darkness. Here and now there was no need for wonder, no need to fight or struggle. There was only warmth and ecstasy, only the pleasurable taste of her building submission.
Why am I…. what am I doing?
The black had done more than stir simple hunger. It had carved longing into her flesh, had brought her to appreciate Alphonse strength and the rippling of muscle against her softer form. She wanted to sink, to feel more of Alphonse firm body, more of her control as she hissed licentious whispers in between each press of her lips.
Then fingers curled and tugged, pushed just right with a quickened pace then slow exploration—
And theodora could only whimper while Alphonse remained unhurried, grinding, setting their primal rhythm…
It wasn’t long before all theodora could hear, all she could smell, was the evidence of their slow corruption. A deep tingling had started within her, spreading and building as the echo of Alphonse shifting bell rattled across her mentality. Each throb of her sex drew her closer to a tumbling edge, a void that was waiting, urging and urging—jump, jump, jump.
But she wouldn’t need to jump. Alphonse would push her. Would force her to fall and—oh, oh! The thought of it. To be swallowed, consumed by the darkness of her mind, by the warmth that tugged on her thoughts and the hissing voice that called to her. And she knew, in some portion small and awash by the anguish of lust, that something was happening to her, changing her and if she fell… she would not be able to… to return as things were, not with a body conditioned for pleasure, sculpted and ready to be filled with truth.
The truth, the truth—
“Their truth,” Alphonse moaned, fingers moving faster, thumb pressing just right against her clit. “So open, so close, so ready.”
And though Alphonse said the words with intense fidelity, theodora felt them, accepted them.