A Fistful of Collars

Part 2♣️: Informed by Context / Burning Questions

by MourningStarsOfLakes

Tags: #cw:noncon #comic_book #dom:female #f/nb #sub:nb #slow_burn

Author's Note: As said in the story intro, the general format here is a plot with a bunch of mind-control (that may not always focus on being erotic) in the main chapters and then sections dedicated to being erotic scenes in the Interludes.  If you just want the erotic mind control, feel free to skim to the Interludes which shouldn't require a whole lot of understanding of the main plot to enjoy.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good symbol is worth a million.  It consists not of a single moment in time, but of all moments in time.  It consists not of one event or person or thought, but of everything it ever touched.  Everything said for or against it becomes attached inextricably to it, every person who bears it is absorbed into it.  With time it becomes a tangled web of connections to the nightmare of our shared history and the ever-unfolding future.  Its clarity becomes lost and, encompassing all, it perishes for it ceases to be distinguishable from the known universe.  A good symbol is worth a million words, but when it is worth all words then what does it symbolize but totality?
Codex, Flannigan DeSelby

The ugly office door bore only a nameplate and a single, taped-on piece of paper beside it: 
Charlotte Kinbote, BITCH!

With a sigh Kinbote ripped the paper off the door, crumpling it in her hand.  The full nameplate, now uncovered, read:
Charlotte Kinbote, Adjunct
Artificer saw her face scrunch in disdain at her actual title as well.  It made her wonder which she hated more.
Kinbote turned the knob and pushed inwards revealing a cluttered, cramped office packed with reference books.

“You get hate mail often?”  Artificer asked as she scooted into the room.  It was barely large enough to accommodate the both of them.

“Unfortunately.”  Kinbote squeezed around her desk and fell back into a battered chair.  “Dr. Barton’s leave of absence wasn’t exactly... of his own choosing.  And a few of his graduate students hold me to blame.”

“Sorry to hear that, it sounds awful.”  She slid the manilla folder between them, opening it slowly.  Three pictures sat inside: one of the ones she’d shown Mae the day before and two close-ups of the crimson word "nadir" and the symbols scattered around it.

“It’s fine, I can handle a few snotty PhD students hating me.”  Her green eyes lit up as they met Artificer’s.  Her mouth twisted into a wry smile.  “Besides, I’m living it up down here in my corner office.  Funny how that has a different level of prestige when you’re in the basement, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”  Artificer looked above her head at the peeling lilac paint on the wall and then over to the broken, slanted shelf the professor had still tried to cram books on top of.  This poor woman was working out of a dump.  She looked back down at the pictures between them, trying to focus on her job.  “So about the symbols I called you about…”

“Everything is informed by its context,” Kinbote mused, picking up one of the photographs, “Status symbols just as much written ones."
A look of intrigued surprise brightened her face as she looked at the photo.
"Oh my!  There are quite a few different glyphs and pictograms here.  What do you need me to tell you about them?”

“I have a theory that our suspect is using these symbols to work some sort of malevolent magic on people and, in this case, a company.  I was hoping you could help identify the symbols and how they might fit into something called sigil magic.  Maybe even help me work out what these sigils are capable of.”

“Well I can help you with the symbols themselves, although it’ll take me a while to cross reference everything.  But sigil magic?  That’s going to be more of Professor Harwick’s wheelhouse.”  She balled up a fist and slammed on the wall twice.  “Hopefully he’s in.”

Kinbote hoisted a heavy-looking tome off the nearby shelf as the door to the next office over opened.  Artificer could just barely make out the title in faded, red lettering: The Key to All Mythologies.  A gentle knock bled through the cheap door, the sound hollow and somehow wet in Artificer's ear.  The door opened a second later and a bald head poked its way in.

“Huh?”  The man asked, eyes darting between Kinbote and the superheroine.

“She’s looking into a case for the League of Superheroines,” Kinbote explained without looking up.  Her hand slid one of the close-up photographs along a page of the book until she found what she was looking for.  She nodded her head slightly, and then scribbled on a scrap of paper.  “Know anything about sigil magic?”

“An interesting subject,” he said, grinning as he sidled into the already-packed room.  He offered a calloused hand to Artificer.  “You are?”

“Artificer, Gamma Squad.”  She took his hand and shook it awkwardly, the smallness of the room leaving very little space to maneuver.  

“Gideon Harwick.  Professor of Cultural Anthropology with a specialization in magical rites and rituals.”  His voice was creaky and high-pitched, a hinge in want of oil.  He nudged the door closed.  The latch made a worrying, stuttering click; like it had closed twice.

“Another member of the Department of Cryptic Linguistics?”  Artificer asked, smiling slightly.

He shot her a disappointed look and then shifted it to Kinbote.

“You’ve ruined her already,” he grumbled.  A thin, red smirk pulled at the corners of Kinbote’s mouth as she pulled down another book.  “I’m an anthropologist, not a linguist.  Calling Fenning a linguist is a far stretch, and Trelain’s a physicist… or a chemist… or... or something.  Something scientific.  Radios maybe?”  

A wave of confusion passed over his face.  Outside in the hallway a dull thump pounded against the flimsy door right before a burst of chilly air forced itself underneath.  Artificer jumped in her chair.  Neither professor paid it any mind.

“My point being that with Barton and Umbra gone the department isn’t even half-full of linguists anymore.  We’re just a bunch of programs the college has no use for but is too afraid to disband.”

“I thought Alterra U got a grant to study magic last year?”  Artificer piped up, having regained her composure.

“Superheroine magic.  Modern, realized, empirical magic!” Harwick threw his hands up in frustration, smacking them into the wall.  “Not a lot of use for third-century Peruvian rain rituals when Nimbus can just change the weather with a flick of her wrist.”

“Which category does sigil magic fall into?”

“Ah.  Ah!  Well that would be my field, albeit just barely.”  He rubbed his hands together excitedly.  “See sigil magic was one of the last forms of magical ritual to be created before Egality Gal shot lasers from her eyes and shifted us all into the Superheroine Age.  Categorically, it exists in an odd place between–  How much do you know about ritual magic?”

His eager eyes bored into her own as his hands trembled in excited anticipation.

“Not much,” she admitted.

“That’s not a problem!”  His enthusiastic tone made it very apparent that he didn’t get to talk about his chosen field very often.  “So starting off simple, the foundational categories are homeopathic magic and contagious magic.  As much as we can rightly criticize The Golden Bough for Frazer's attempt to force disparate cultures to fit his generalizations, those categories still prove useful!  Homeopathic magic is when the ritual attempts to directly mimic the effect it purports to have, like scattering drops of water over a field to try and invoke rain.  Contagious magic is where you use something’s perceived connection to something else to apply some sort of hex or charm to it.  A popular one was keeping or stealing a person’s baby teeth to work magic on them through the tooth that once was part of them.  Follow me so far?”

“I think so.  Which one does sigil magic belong to?”

“Ah!  Well see these two categories aren’t mutually exclusive, most rituals use a bit of both.  For instance you might drop an enemy's tooth into a bowl of water and whisper incantations over it to hex them to either drown or catch pneumonia.  Sigil magic is interesting in that its most common practitioning starts as being homeopathic and works its way to becoming contagious.  Following the works of Austin Osman Spare and others in the early twentieth century, the process of creating a sigil is generally to write out an intention or effect, reduce the intention to a symbol or set of symbols, forget the original intent, and then focus all of one’s energy onto the sigil.”

“For example I might write an intent, I want to lose twenty pounds, out on a slip of paper.  Then I’d rearrange letters, form them into complex pictograms, maybe add in some other symbols I associated with my goal.  The point is to create something that the unconscious recognizes cleanly as your intent, but that the conscious mind no longer understands; a shift from the clear intent and relation of homeopathic magic at the outset to a contagious magic operating through the relation of the symbol you create to your desire.  Then you try your best to forget it through time, drugs, hypnosis, whatever.  The idea being that the conscious mind acts as a censor for the manifestation of our subconscious desires and this process is a way to slip past the censor.”

“Once forgotten, you charge the sigil by focusing all your thought and energy on it.  Techniques range from deep meditation to heavy exercise to, and pardon me for saying this, masturbation.  This supposedly activates the contagious magic in the sigil, activating the intent behind the symbols in the unconscious mind without the conscious censor being able to stop it.  That’s the theory anyway.”

A chuckle escaped from Kinbote’s lips.  Harwick glared at her.


“Oh nothing, it’s just…” Her emerald eyes twinkled merrily as they swept up towards Artificer, “Just the part about masturbation reminded me of an old symbologist joke.”


“Oh yes, it’s a real doozy.  What do you call the study of signs and symbols that only half arouse you?”

The other two stared at her with a mixture of confusion and incredulity on their faces as she held back a cascade of giggles.


Kinbote laughed loudly at her own joke.  Harwick rolled his eyes and Artificer scratched her head.  

“Because the study of signs and symbols is semiotics,” Kinbote explained upon seeing their faces, her laughter rapidly fading, “And the… nevermind.”

Embarrassed, she returned to her books.

“Um.  This sigil magic, did it ever work?”  Artificer asked Harwick, trying to get her investigation back on track.

“Oh gods no,” he chuckled, “There were self-reports of success here and there, but now that we have actual super powered people among us we can cosign most of these old rituals to the dustbin of history.  Not very impressive to spend a week making one of these things, a month forgetting it, and two more months letting it ‘manifest’ all to lose twenty pounds when the Flesh Sculptor can remove that from you in a minute.  And even then, it’s generally thought to only have ‘worked’ because you focused so much time and effort on it that you actually changed your own behavior to take steps to actually make your intent happen anyway; like restricting caloric intake or vastly increasing the amount you exercise.”

Artificer nodded as she glanced back towards Kinbote, the professor’s sharp face scanning over the pages of two overlapping books and then squinting at one of the photographs.  The superheroine snagged the unused, zoomed-out photograph by the tip of her finger and slid it up into her hand.

“In your informed opinion,” she asked Harwick, handing over the photograph, “does this look consistent with sigil magic?”

“Hmm well…” The old eyes narrowed and his lips pursed.  He shook his head lightly from side-to-side.  “Normally any words or symbols that could be parsed by the conscious mind would have been reduced further until they’re no longer understandable.  Yet in this case there is a clear word, ‘nadir’, and even I can recognize a few of the symbols that surround it.  Is it… is it carved into a wall?”

“Yeah.  At Zenith corporate headquarters.”

“Interesting.  Normally the sigil is written on something that can be easily destroyed once it’s been charged, to keep the conscious mind from being able to work out what it meant.  But here… Zenith, you say?”  He rolled his head up towards the ceiling in thought.  “There was a revival in the eighties around a form of sigil magic by a handful of artists who proposed an alternative method to the classical one.  Whereas the classical method was personal, creating a sigil to trick one’s own mind into letting the result manifest, their alterations swung to the other end of possibility: that of the societal unconsciousness.  Their works obscured less of the intent, believing that mass distribution and recognition of the sigil would break through the reality-enforcing, conscious-mind censor better than a single person could ever hope to.  It’s a mind virus of sorts; even looking at it here and now, so the theory goes, we lend it power as we attempt to understand it.”

Artificer frowned, that didn't sound very good.  “How do we stop it?”

“You don’t, not this one anyway,” the professor said with a shrug, “Zenith stock crashed a month ago from what I recall; this sigil has already done its work.  At the simplest level it’s a juxtaposition of opposites in a place of power: the word ‘nadir’ being the opposite of the company name placed in its headquarters.”

“In the CEO’s office, actually,” Artificer added.

“Even better.  To place this symbol in the office representative of the top of the company whose name itself means ‘the highest point’ creates a poetical dichotomy in the mind, granting power to the sigil as one subconsciously attempts to reconcile the opposites.”

“Everything is informed by its context,” Kinbote echoed from earlier as she closed a dusty book with a thud.  A sheet of paper rattled in the air as she thrust it towards Artificer, the heroine reaching across her body to take it.  “The symbols surrounding the central word are all ones of ruination, representations of strife, and omens of ending.  I think I’ve also recognized a pattern to them: each one has a partner, placed almost perfectly opposite radially around the central word, that share commonalities.”

She placed turned the close-up photographs towards Artificer, her deep-red nails pointing at two serpentine shapes.

“Here you have Jormungandr from Norse mythology releasing his tail: the event that starts Ragnarok.  I almost thought it was a simple ouroboros but note that tail is not actually in the mouth, the circle is broken.  Also note that the Norse rune Odal, given horns, resides in the serpent’s stomach: the head of the word ‘ox’ playfully depicting the ox’s head Thor once used to bait the world serpent.  Quite clever.  Now see opposite it we have DeSelby’s chronosaur, the serpent who eats the past.  As his Codex says–”

“The Codex?” Artificer almost jumped out of her seat at the word.  Kinbote arched an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Yes.  DeSelby’s Codex, one of his more difficult works.  Does it mean something to you?”

“No,” she sighed, shaking her head, “Unless… It wouldn’t happen to be dark-red in color, would it?”

“No, it’s two thousand loose sheets of foolscap paper.  It’s white and perhaps a bit yellowed.”  She nodded her head at the paper she’d given Artificer.  “I tied all the symbols back to their sources in the notes I gave you if you’re interested.  The Codex itself isn’t often replicated, but a number of translations are.  I’d personally suggest the Bassett one.”

She shifted her gaze back to the photographs.

“In any case, DeSelby’s chronosaur was a being that devoured the past, the leftover remnants of previous days as we moved forward into the present.  To DeSelby time was a true dimension in which everything was infinitely copied from millisecond to millisecond as the present occurred, leaving a record one could return to if one could just figure out how to move along time’s dimensional axis.”

Behind Artificer, Harwick gave a snort of disbelief.  Kinbote continued unphased.

“However this also meant that there could be other beings sliding along that axis that were offset from our own collective experience of time.  He was convinced that we were being trailed by a monstrous serpent that devoured those records of the past, offset by a handful of weeks at most.  More worryingly he surmised, through a five page inductive proof of surprising logical rigor, that the chronosaur was slowly catching up to the present.  That one day it would overtake our version of the present and destroy us all.”

“I see,” Artificer said, head nodding slowly, “So two serpents, one that destroys the world in time and the other that destroys the world in space, placed opposite around a sigil that we think destroyed a company.”

“Exactly,” the professor was beaming, “Opposite in method, alike in effect.  And the twelve other symbols I was able to isolate work in the same way.”

“Each one subtly increasing the power of the sigil,” Harwick added, his face contorting slightly, “But what I don’t understand is if this is supposed to be a sigil from the latter variant of sigil magic, one that operates in the collective unconscious, how did it become powerful enough to wreck a company without wide-spread distribution?”  

He cast a worried glance at Artificer, holding the photograph of the full scene in front of her face.  “I don't recall seeing this on the news or even in the tabloids.  How many people would you say have seen this?”

“Between staff, police, superheroines, and us I’d say about forty.”

“See that’s concerning,” Harwick replied, shaking his head as he stretched to place the photograph back on the desk, “These sorts are supposed to require tens or hundreds of thousands of people to see them before they manifest.  You’re supposed to slide them into a published story or a comic book or graffiti them on a wall near a famous sculpture.  For forty people to cause this much upheaval— less than forty perhaps given that the manifestation occurred, I'd assume, before at least some of your investigations.  For this to happen after fewer than forty people saw it, well, this is either an alteration to the form of greatly increased potency or—”
He screwed his mouth closed, unwilling to continue.
“Or what?”

“Or you’ve got yourself someone with superpowers who can manipulate a very versatile type of magic,” he stated, color going out of his face, “Someone who’s ability to change our reality is only limited to their imagination.”

“Someone eminently dangerous.  Someone who’s playing with fire.”

A tongue of flame licked her gagged face, its painful heat threatening to burn her.  The smell of singed hair met her nostrils a moment later as she pulled hard against her restraints.

“Oh Lena, you had one very simple job and you fucked it up.”
Claire scraped a chair along the floor in front of her, the sound grating and irritating in the echoing room.  She positioned it facing her captive and lowered herself into it, her lips twisting into a sharklike grin.  The bound woman mumbled into her gag unintelligibly as Claire narrowed her eyes.
“What was the one thing you weren’t supposed to let happen?”
The flames at her face receded as Claire waved back the blond woman they were emanating from.  In the past minute Lena had watched the fire-powered superhuman turn from a potential rescuer into a dead-eyed drone at the mere touch of Claire’s fingers.  The two other woman in the room appeared to be in a similar state, mindlessly watching the tortuous proceedings where any normal human would be running for the door.  Lena would give anything to avoid their fate, and she had a good explanation for her failure.  All she needed was for Claire to let her talk.  
Lena mumbled into the gag, trying to shift it to allow any intelligible sound past.  She was not successful.
“See?” Claire mocked her, “You can’t even tell me!  No wonder you failed.”
With a bored wave of the hand the flames drew closer to Lena’s face again, the woman shooting them from her hands looking completely unperturbed.  Her blue eyes stared through Lena, the flames dancing in their braindead reflection.  Lena screamed into the gag once more as the heat became painful, squeezing her eyes tightly shut as she wriggled as far away from the fire as possible.  Was one minor slip up really going to get her killed?  
Maybe she should have quit instead of agreeing to work with the Crimson Codex.
The heat died down again and her panicked eyes focused back on Claire.  The villainess was staring at her with a cold excitement.  One grease-smudged hand was raised, halting her human flamethower.
“Alright, you have one chance.”  Sadistic glee punctuated her voice as she held up one finger between them.  “If I like your story you go back to working for the Crimson Codex, albeit under increased supervision.  If I don’t…”
She twitched two fingers and a fireball burst above Lena’s head.
“Got it?”
Lena nodded her head frantically even though it chafed the skin beneath the strap around her neck.  Claire turned towards one of the other women in the room, the one kneeling on the floor and wearing headphones, and snapped her fingers before pointing at Lena.  For a few seconds nothing happened, the woman simply stared dully ahead just as she had been doing since Lena awoke.  But then the muscles moved slowly, methodically, and almost mechanically as the kneeling woman rose to her feet and walked towards her chair.  Stiffly she pushed a button on the outside of the gag causing it to deflate.  Mindlessly she followed the strap around to the back of Lena’s head and opened the clasp, the gag falling into the bound woman’s lap.
Lena relished the feeling of cool air on her sweating skin as the heat trapped between her cheek and the leather straps was finally allowed to dissipate.  She worked her jaw in a circle, stretching it about now that it was no longer obstructed.  A distinct odor hit her nostrils that took her a moment to place.  
It was the smell of sexual arousal.
She worried briefly that it was her own, triggered in her precarious situation against her will.  As she looked at the woman who removed her gag however, it was clear that the musky scent was coming from her.  Around her waist was a silver metal belt drawn tight against her prominent abs.  Black rubber stretched down to two other metal rings cinched around her upper thigh, almost at the crotch, but spaced far enough apart for a large, circular stud of metal right over her vagina.  Thinner articulated metal supports ran between the metal rings and the vaginal stud, flexing slightly as she walked.  This close to her, Lena could hear the telltale buzzing of the vibrator hidden inside, ceaselessly teasing the enthralled woman.  
She shivered in horror at the thought of Claire doing that to her.  She readied herself to ensure it didn’t.
“Let’s start out simple,” Claire said, eyes gleaming wickedly in the bleak lighting of her lab, “What was the one thing you weren’t supposed to let happen?”
“Let anyone snoop around the warehouses,” Lena intoned flatly, “But I—“  
Claire stopped her with a raise of her hand accompanied by an icy glare.
“And what did you let happen, Lena?”
“I— someone snooped around the warehouses.”  Her face sank into a pout.  It hadn’t been her fault, but she knew her interrogator would only silence her again if she tried to speak out of turn.
“Sounds like quite the failure to me.”  Claire snapped her fingers and pointed at the ground.  The vacant-eyed woman with the vibrator roaring between her legs fell onto all fours and crawled across the steel floor, stopping at Claire’s black ankle boots.  Lazily Claire swung her legs up and rested her booted feet on the woman’s exposed back.  Lena watched with carefully concealed horror as the human footstool’s face lit up with a dopey, wide grin and her kneeling legs squeezed harder against the member throbbing between them.
It was a show of power, of how much the super-villainess could twist a person into an obedient plaything.  It was supposed to scare her, and Lena had to admit that it was working.
“So tell me Lena, why did you let that oafish heroine in green spandex go rustling through our employer’s things?”  Lena saw a smile flicker across the face of the fire-powered woman out of the corner of her eye.  Claire leaned forward, putting more pressure on the woman kneeling before her.  Lena could see her muscles bulge as she strained to keep her back steady.  “And remember, you get one chance.”
Lena swallowed hard, her heart racing.  She took a deep breath and gripped the arms of the chair she was strapped into tightly, as if trying to channel all her nervousness through the furniture.
“Ms. Farras and the board asked us to cut all staffing for the dockyards starting with the eldest staff members,” she stated cleanly and crisply, fighting back the panicked warble in her throat, “Calmwater Logistics needed to meet quarterly expectations and given her participation in the smuggling operations, I assumed she—“
“Regina Farras?!” Claire’s snarl frightened Lena back into silence.  “You reduced staff because of Regina fucking Farras?  She may sign your boss’s boss’s paychecks, but you don’t work for her.  You work for the Crimson Codex.”
Claire pointed a scolding finger at her, a blue spark whipping into life at its tip.
“You keep one thing straight: Regina Farras works for the Codex and not the other way around.  Do you understand?  If we tell you to keep a warehouse guarded and she says to leave it wide open, what are you expected to do?”
“Ke— keep it guarded.”  Despite her efforts, Lena’s voice was trembling as much as her arms.
“Wrong!”  Claire kicked her leg down harshly on the woman beneath it.  The enthralled woman's arms buckled at the sudden force and she fell forward, her forehead smacking into the ground.  Claire didn’t seem to notice.  “Keep it guarded and tell us Regina was pulling staff!  Anything you know, we need to know!  Got it?”
Claire’s eyes were staring hatefully at her.  Without looking down at her collapsed thrall, Claire snapped in the downed woman’s face.
“Yes!”  Lena emphatically agreed, “Of course!  From now on—“
Claire held up a hand to silence her again, her attention turning to the crumpled slave.  She snapped twice more and frowned as the woman refused to raise her back into a nice, flat surface again.
“Emily, get your back straightened out.  Now!”
The woman began to push herself upwards once more when one of her arms started shaking violently.  It flew to her head as her eyes rolled back and her mouth stretched into a silent scream.  Fear filled the once-vacant eyes as they looked first towards the frowning Claire and then towards Lena.
“Hel-  Help m-m-me me me.”  Emily’s voice was desperate and shaky as her quivering arm fought to pull itself away from her head and back towards the steel floor where it belonged.  Lena bit her lip, burying any show of emotion that might draw Claire’s ire.
“See what happens when you cut corners, Lena?” Claire grumbled as she patted her pockets.  With an exasperated sigh she craned her neck over to where the other, non-superpowered woman was grinding against her own hand.  She squinted her eyes before calling, “Alisha, bring me that remote!”
The masturbating woman straightened immediately at her command, her dreamy smile still plastered to her face.  She slid off the table with ease, the hand beneath her legs continuing to lightly draw her middle finger back and forth over her slick slit.  Her other hand scooped up a compact remote off of the desk and she approached Claire with the device, arm outstretched in offering.
“You with the guards, Regina with her idiotic ideas of corporate dominance, and me with Emily here.”  She snatched the remote from Alisha and tapped a series of buttons.  The roar of the vibrator between Emily’s legs became deafening and Lena saw the pleading fear snuff out in her eyes.  The thrall’s palm pushed into the ground and sprung her back up into its previous position, her whole body trembling with pleasure.  Her mouth whispered over and over again something it took Lena a moment to pick up:
“I obey.  I obey.  I obey.”
She regretted focusing enough to understand the words.
“You cut corners for expediency and short-term benefits and they always lead to premature failures,” Claire rambled as she reached down to unzip her right boot, “I did Emily as a rush job, and the neural rewiring I gave her has kept her mostly under my heel, but apparently her consciousness has found a few ways around the short-circuiting pleasure-obedience-pleasure loop I gave her and the intrusive obedience heartbeat signals.  Increased pleasure stimulation can drive her thoughts back along the rails I gave her, but should I just settle for a shoddy rush job and let the problem continue unabated?”
She was staring intently at Lena as she threw her boot onto the ground in front of the kneeling Emily.  The thrall’s eyes locked onto the discarded item, her chants of obedience becoming punctuated with whimpers.  Claire began peeling off her sock as she cocked her head at Lena, flaring pupils demanding an answer.
“N-n-no?”  Lena answered tentatively.  She was relieved to see Claire smile in response, even if it made her squirm in terror on an instinctual level.
“That’s right, we should address the core of the problem and not the symptoms.  Stop cutting corners and do it properly.”  There was a cutting coldness to her voice; a cruelty that reveled in its cruelty.
“Emily, face me.”  
The woman tore her eyes away from the black boot before her to spin towards Claire, hands and knees still firmly on the ground.  Lena watched her ass jiggle in the latex and metal panties Claire had confined her in, her hips bucking against the phallus embedded inside of her.  Claire pressed her bare-soled foot into Emily’s face, the thrall nuzzling back against the soft skin of her Mistress.
“I just don’t have the time to make you function as well as Alisha or Summer,” Claire remarked blandly, as if Emily was just another project she’d been tinkering with, “But unlike them, I don’t need you to be able to pass as a human.  Which allows me some leeway…”
Her eyes glowed a baleful blue and Lena watched sparks of the same hue zip through her foot and into Emily’s head.  Floating on a crinkle and crackle of static, Emily’s dark hair drifted upwards as electricity zapped her mind.
“As much as I love you chanting ‘I obey’ in your mindless stupor, there’s still a problem with that statement.”
Emily’s arms turned to jelly as more current swept through her, sinking beneath the force of Claire’s foot pushing on her face and the electrical impulses frying her brain.  Lena squinted her eyes and looked away from the blazing blue glow, not wanting to see.  The lingering musk of arousal in the air was joined with the odor of singed ozone and copper.  The worst part was the sound: the tiny crackles and pops yipping over an omni-present, ominous hum that seemed to be throwing itself against Lena’s eardrums.  
Then came the worst sound of them all: the whimpering shriek of Emily’s voice.  An uncanny, harrowing “Nooooooooooo.”  Lena squeezed her eyes shut as the elongated vowel dragged on, losing volume by the moment.  Volume and something else, something human.  The objection had started as a pitiful mewl, but at least Lena could identify the fear, desperation, and even a bit of anger in it.  As it went on it became a hollow howl; a sound being made with no reason behind it, no person behind it.  Just the mindless repetition of a sound because Emily had lost the ability to remember why she began it and then the ability to think to stop.  Among the hum of the electricity, it almost sounded like a machine losing power in its final few seconds.
Soon the last sound of Emily’s consciousness faded into oblivion, followed soon after by the pulsating hum of Claire’s powers.
“Drone, footstool!” Claire ordered.  Lena snapped her eyes open to watch a last spark bridge the gap between her toe and Emily’s forehead.
“It obeys,” Emily droned as her arms locked back into the proper position and she turned to allow Claire the maximum space to rest her legs on her back.  Lena could hear the vibrator still roaring in her pussy, but the blank drone was motionless on its hands and knees.  It didn't shudder or moan like before, it just stared in perfect stillness of thought and being.
“See?  Fixed.”  Claire’s eyes turned back to Lena, their unwavering glare making her deeply uncomfortable.  “All the synapses that gave her any sort of identity fried beyond recovery.  I should have done it from the beginning, but I thought maybe she’d have something useful in that brain of hers.  Ah well, all is made right in the end.”
Her casual dismal of the reduction of a sentient being to an obedient object faded away instantly as her eyes narrowed at Lena.
“Which brings us to you.”  
Lena gulped hard as she awaited judgment.
“Listening to Regina’s orders over Scarlet’s, she’s not going to be happy about that.  The safest choice on my part would be—“  She gestured to the fire-powered woman and a deluge of heat poured over Lena, uncomfortably hot flames raking her arm.  Fuck!  This time she was sure she'd actually burned her.  Lena yelped in pain, hoping for a quick death and fearing that it wouldn’t be granted.
“But why waste a perfectly good pair of hands?”  The flames fell away for a final time and Lena panted in relief, the thud of her heart threatening to shatter her eardrums.
“I’m one person short for an operation we’re running tomorrow and abducting someone else for the part would be too much of a chore.  So, live and let live.  You get to keep serving the Crimson Codex under my supervision... provided you can pass my job interview.”
Claire hopped off her chair and walked towards a desk with four light-blue umbrellas.  She seemed slightly perturbed by her uneven gait from wearing only one boot and paused at the desk to slip it off and cast it aside.  She grabbed one of the umbrellas and returned to wave it in front of Lena.
“Question one: Can you hold an umbrella?”
Lena narrowed her eyes, searching for the trick in her question.  There had to be a trick, right?  
“Good.”  She set the umbrella down and leaned in closer.  “Question two: Did you learn your lesson?”
“Yes.”  Lena said it with as much confidence as she could muster, weakly nodding in her bonds.
“Close, but not quite,” Claire chuckled as she slowly moved her pointer finger towards Lena’s forehead,  “That tiny burn on your arm isn’t going to suffice if Scarlet asks how I punished you.  Not to mention your answer fails to internalize our chat on cutting corners earlier.”  
Claire’s finger was poking Lena in forehead.  She whimpered.
“You haven’t learned your lesson because you haven’t addressed the root cause of your failure.  But that’s where I come in.”
Sparks surged through her forehead, tinting the edges of her vision an electric blue.  Images and sensations came to her mind unbidden as she tried in vain to wrest away from Claire’s controlling finger.  She remembered snatches of speeches from weeks before, could smell shampoo and toast, felt the wind tussle her hair and the gentle warmth of the noonday sun.  And then a salvo of blue amplified the heat, shutting out all the other feelings as it painfully intensified.
“Failure!”  Claire hissed, her other hand grabbing the burn on Lena’s arm as it lit up with blue light as well.  The pain magnified and Lena screamed.
“Understand what happens when you fail us Lena.  When you fail me, when you fail Scarlet, when you fail the Codex.”
It felt like the burn had spread to her whole body now as she felt Claire knit the pain into part of her brain.  She was being altered so the agony could be recalled at any moment by the villainess and that thought filled her with deep-seated dread.  A flutter of blue whisked by and the dread was incorporated into the punishment thoughtform as well.
“Failure!  Failure!  Fucking failure!”
The words scorched through her nerves as wave after wave of dread and anxiety overtook her.  Everything was pain and fear as blue whispers spoke in static to remind her why.  She was a failure.  She had failed.  She deserved to endure this forever.  She would endure this forever if she ever failed the Codex again.
She squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered, totally broken.

Claire let go and the pain stopped.  The blue light faded from Lena’s mind.
“There,” Claire panted, the ordeal appearing to have drained her, “Now you’ve learned your lesson.”
Lena nodded and stifled a sniffle.  She flinched as Claire reached past her and then she felt the strap around her neck loosen.  Tears welled in her eyes and her ragged breathing began to steady: the nightmare was over, she had passed Claire’s judgment.
“Alright, you got the job,” Claire explained gruffly as the final bonds fell away, “Take the umbrella and stand at the marked spot by the door.  Keep it closed until I say so.  Don’t move from the spot until I say so.  Clear?”
“Yes,” Lena said, nodding.  She grabbed the umbrella with a shaking hand and practically ran to the little tape X marked on the floor near the doorway.  Stopping right on top of it, she turned back around to face Claire who was forcing an umbrella into the hands of the thing that had once been Emily.  As Lena watched the destroyed shell of a woman mechanically march to another spot in the room, she felt a tug in her mind to look over her shoulder.  She glanced back at the door, the exit, unlocked and so very, very close.  
She looked back at Claire.  The super-villainess was pulsing blue light through the masturbating woman, Alisha, and whispering in her ear.  She was distracted.  Lena could fly out the door before she’d be able to react.  She could escape, start a new life in another city.  She took a trembling step towards the door.
Instantly she felt the burn on her arm get larger, its pain intensifying.  The word “failure” echoed in her mind as her stomach plummeted.  She suddenly felt ill and claustrophobic.  Her body quivered in distress.  She began to hyperventilate.  With a nervous glance to check if she’d been seen, she moved her foot back on the tape mark and relief flowed through her.
Claire had made failure a fate worse than death.
She stood as still as possible, watching as the villainess directed Alisha to another spot on the floor.  The woman had stopped masturbating, instead clutching the umbrella with both hands.  A dreamy smile stretched across her face as she stumbled to her mark.
Next was the fire-powered superhuman.  Claire grabbed her by the hand with surprising gentleness and led her over to the final mark on the floor.  Claire said something Lena couldn’t make out and pointed at Lena, the fire-powered woman snapping her head to look at her.  A moment later she began walking towards Lena, eyes empty.  Lena felt herself tremble, fear of the flames fresh in her mind.
“When Summer gets within five feet of you, open the umbrella towards her,” Claire barked.
Lena raised the umbrella at the ready, watching the mind controlled woman pace slowly towards her.  She waited until Summer reached the instructed distance and then slid the umbrella open.  Summer slowed to a halt and shivered.  She mumbled something to herself and turned ninety degrees right, walking directly toward Emily.
“That looked like seven feet Lena,” Claire called from across the room, “Don’t fuck it up next time.”
Lena scrunched over in pain and nausea as the words hit her ears.  The effect was short but brutal.  She straightened again and resolved to do better next time.  She couldn’t fail Claire again.  The feeling would be even worse next time if she did; she knew it instinctually.

Summer had made another right turn at Emily and was now walking towards Alisha.  The dreamy-faced woman lazily opened the umbrella in front of Summer and again she shuddered and murmured and turned sharply to the right, heading straight towards Claire.  The villainess hoisted her own umbrella up, readying herself.
“Good first lap.  Again!” Claire commanded as Summer jerked right and walked towards Lena.  She focused on estimating exactly where the five foot mark was as her target approached.  She had to be sure this time.  
She waited until her best guess and reopened the umbrella.  Summer shuddered and this time Lena could hear a snatch of what she mumbled: “… dangerous…”
“Better!” Claire advised from her corner of the square as Summer walked towards Emily.  Lena sighed at the first feeling of true solace she’d felt all day, her heartbeat steadying.
Again and again the pattern continued, each woman waiting for Summer to get close and then flashing the open umbrella in front of her prompting a sharp, right turn.  They repeated it over and over until it became second nature.  Lena spent her idle moments wondering why, wondering what the point of this exercise was.  
She didn’t dare ask though.  She didn’t want to give Claire a reason to yell at her again.  Fortunately most of her ire was directed towards Alisha for trying to touch herself instead of holding the umbrella and occasionally towards Summer for not taking her turns sharp enough.
Claire was insistent that she not cut any corners.

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