by No "I" In Void

Tags: #cw:noncon #dom:female #f/f #fantasy #ritual_of_the_familiar #sub:female
See spoiler tags : #ego_death

Camilla is becoming concerned about her prospects for succeeding in the Ritual of the Familiar. So many of the remaining students are either too powerful to defeat or would make for weak familiars. Fortunately, it won’t be a concern of hers for much longer.

This story was inspired by the setting for Ritual of the Familiar.  It is likely prudent and encouraged, although not necessary, to read that story first.  I make no claims to the canonicity of my work within the setting.

“Well that’s that.”

Frilla’s words are hard to hear over the chattering crowd.  Fried ozone flits on the dwindling breeze.  Through the warped air of the receding shield ahead of us we can all see Sishi squirming on the scorched ground with Lorie looming over her.  The pitiful whimpers pouring from her mouth as the ritual crushes her will make me wonder how much is physical pain and how much is existential.  How much does the mind realize that it’s fading away, being subjugated and leashed to the will of another?

The crowd begins to disperse.  Frilla and I linger on a while, watching Lorie comfort Sishi into her new role in life.  Her touches are gentle, almost loving, as everything the apprentice was is subsumed by her new bond to her new master.  Lorie leans in and whispers words too soft to hear into her new familiar’s ear.  I am certain they are sweet ones.

Another Ritual of the Familiar undertaken.  Another duel between two aspirants of the mystical bent, each wagering all.  Another Magus born of victory, another familiar born of failure.

Such is our way.

“That’s two fewer from our year,” Frilla muses aloud, “The pool’s getting smaller, Camilla.”

“I know.”

“And of course, our word is bond.  I’d never challenge you to a duel.”

“Nor I you.”

“But someone is going to soon.”

Frilla’s eyes drift to stare over my shoulder.  As casually as I can, I turn my head and peek.  Minerva is standing amidst her cronies, raven hair curling down her smirking face.  There’s a predatory coldness in her eyes, a measuring of my skill and worth.  She’s waiting for the perfect moment to pounce, running the final few assessments of my weakness before challenging me to a duel.  My stomach gnarls into hopeless knots at the prospect.

“Shit.  I can’t fight Minerva.”  Frilla nods at my words, uncomforting but truthful.  A second of silence passes between us before I continue.  “Maybe if I could survive the first minute or two I’d have time to get the upper hand, but you’ve seen her in practice.”

“Hits hard and fast.”  There’s a touch of awe in Frilla’s voice.  Detestable.  “She’s a mad ox plowing through every obstacle.  Her Wall of Force is like a giant, invisible iron fist.  I’ve seen her splat a fireball against training targets that obliterated twenty of them at once.  And the Lava Plumes she evokes are gigantic–”

“And they’re all horribly inelegant and brutish.  She can hold them for what?  A minute?  Then she’s exhausted herself.  It’s astounding that you’d give such praise to poor form.”  My souring mood stops Filla’s babbling.  Her cheeks redden.  Twenty feet away Sishi is nuzzling her new Master, begging Lorie for her touch.  A pit of horror yawns open in my chest at the idea that Minerva, my despicable rival, the living mockery of the skillful art that is magic, would be able to hold such a position over me just because she could sucker punch me before I had a chance to weave her demise.

“She’s not even that powerful,” I continue, leading us away from the new magical couple as Lorie’s touches grow more intimate.  Sishi's broken mind stammers out Yes Masters that follow us all the way out of the courtyard.  “It’s all that burst at the beginning and then she’s tapped.  So if she challenges me and I win…”

“Then you’re hamstrung by having a weak familiar,” Frilla finishes.  Her brown eyes swell with pity.  “Shit.  You’re going to have to find someone else to duel before she gets up the nerve.  Then you’re a Magus and she can’t touch you.”

“Yeah.  But who’s left?”  My teeth pinch my lip.  A dozen classmates scroll through my mind, each one more inadequate than the last.  “Poltin would have been perfect to challenge, powerful but hesitant.  Would have given me all the time I needed to snare him.”

“But smart enough to make his own arrangements first.  Jessup wouldn’t have been my first choice as a familiar, but it was a safe bet and now Poltin is a Magus.  Didn’t maximize for power, but his mind is still intact.”

“Dammit.  Who else?  I could trounce Annalise in a heartbeat but then I’m the weakest Magus in a generation.  Doing party tricks for princlings.  No.”

“What about Sebessa?  She’s good but not too good.”

“A month ago I’d take those odds.  But she’s been practicing ten hours a day and has developed some really nasty spell combinations.  She’s gotta be feeling the same pressure as us.  If I was careful then I’d probably still win out, but one wrong move and I’m being spun too quickly between torrents of water and gravity wells to know which way is up.”

Frilla stopped and spun me to face her.  She looked terrified of what she was about to say, but every word was laced with compassion.

“I know we promised, but if worst comes to worst we could always duel each other.  I know whichever one of us wins will take good care of the other.”

“No.”  I shake my head so hard my neck pops.  “No no no.  We’re going to be Maguses together, Frilla.  We are going to find another way.”

“Okay.  Just if it comes down to it…”


“Okay.”  She forces up a smile.  “If you wanted to get snarky you could try to steal one of Minerva’s little squad out from under her.  Think about how pissed she’d be to see one of them under your sway.”

“Sure I could, but nearly all of them are bottom-of-the-barrel students with barely any grasp–”

“Destali isn’t.  She’s quite good.”

I snort.

“Even with full control over Destali’s body, mind, and soul; even being able to reshape the very essence of her being, I couldn’t cleanse away her foulness.  I would rather die.  I would rather place my head below the hoof of a horse and–”

Frilla tugs hard on my arm, stopping my words in their tracks.  With a wicked smile she points at a lounging figure dead ahead.  Half-snoozing in the late afternoon sun is Ryla.  Golden hair sticks haphazardly to her face, a trashy novel pinned between her elbow and the conjured blue-and-white cushions below her.  Her half-lidded eyes watch us from afar as her smile stretches into a yawn.  Ryla; my lovely, sweet, lazy ex.

“I couldn’t do that to her…”  

“It’s been months, Camilla.  And she’s got a lot of natural magical energy but doesn’t bother practicing.  Plus oneiromancy, powerful as it can be for divination, isn’t really useful in the dueling arena.”

These were all true, but still my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea.  There had never been any ill will between the two of us, even as we’d decided to part.  We had cared for each other.  I still cared for her and about her.  There had been no wrongs done, no injuries to the other’s emotions or psyches.  It was just the age-old tragedy of life and love that sometimes the piece of us that loves is at odds with the rest of what we are; and therefore often at odds with the ones we love.  

Ryla was a wonderful being, but every bit of her carefree, warm, laughing soul had irked the cold, calculating, headstrong aspirant within me.

“I know I could take her.  It just feels wrong.  Like kicking a puppy or taking sweets from a child.”  A smile twitches unbidden across my lips as Ryla turns over to sun her other side.  “Part of me still loves her.”

“Duh.”  Frilla smirks at my sidelong glance.  I feel my cheeks redden.  “But that’s just all the more reason to challenge her.  If you don’t take her on then someone else does.  Hell, imagine Destali becoming her Magus–”

“That’s horrible.”

“Exactly.  But if you’re her Magus then you’d treat her with respect and care and love.”  Frilla leans close and drops her voice to a whisper.  “Not to mention that you can remake all those parts of her that didn’t agree with you.  Win-win.”

I try to work out a way to say no, but my mind is waltzing with elation at the proposed concept.  My heartbeat quickens, the galloping hooves of the horses of desire.  Her beautiful form twists again beneath the sunlight.  I lick my lips remembering soft kisses and pleasurable touches.  If I made her mine, then she’ll be protected just as much as I am.  One Magus, one familiar; once bound, never to be parted.  Our love could blossom anew.  No longer would I be worried that I was burdening her, that I was a constant damper to her sublime brilliance.  She would be joyous because I made her so and whenever I wanted assurance I could just reach through our bond and make her say how happy she was to be mine.  And it would be the truth because I’d have twisted her mind into believing it.

My thighs clenched and I swallowed hard.

“Okay, okay.”  My teeth chatter with excitement.  “Should I do it now?  How do I look?”

“Like you haven’t been laid in three months.”  Frilla grins.  I blush and try to still my breathing.  “But yeah, no use in waiting.  Ask her.”

Each step towards her is like wading through seawater.  Electricity is coursing through every nerve.  My mind drafts a hundred ways to start our conversation, to ask her the question that will seal her fate as my thrall.  

Her eyes open slowly as my shadow steals the sunlight from her face.

“Hey Cam.”  Her yawn is adorable and she says my name with a sweet sigh.

“Ryla, hi.”  A drumbeat behind my eyes feels like it's pushing them outwards.  “I… So…  So you know how most people in our year have already performed the Ritual of the Familiar?”

“Mhmmm.”  She yawns again.  Her face is happy but blank.  If she has any inkling of what I’m about to ask, it doesn’t show.

“Well I was thinking… We… We both know each other pretty well and still like each other decently.  So if we dueled it out then whichever one of us won would treat the other fairly well all things considered.  It wouldn’t be one of those situations you hear about where the Magus makes their familiar constantly suffer or aware that they used to have a family but unable to remember them.”

“Mhmmm.”  Her eyes are on me now; blue irises deep as an ocean, amber flecks shimmering like coins at the bottom of a well.  My heart skips a beat.  Every indication she gives is that of absently musing over an abstract hypothetical.  I need to make myself more clear.

“So I think maybe if we dueled that would be… good?”  The rest of the world fades away as my vision locks on her smiling lips.  There is no noise; only the absence of her response across the anxious eternity my perception manages to stuff into a handful of seconds.  A little laugh tinkles out from between her teeth just before the beauty of this moment shatters with the voice of another.

“Camilla De’ys, I challenge you to a duel.”  There is no mistaking Minerva’s voice, haughty and grating, coming from behind me.  All my efforts have come to naught.  “We shall face Apprentice to Apprentice in the Ritual of the Familiar.  The worthy leaves a Magus, the unworthy as a mere battery and servant.”

My heaving breaths spin my mind in the directions of rage and sorrow simultaneously.  “I… Minerva I…”

“Alas, but you are too late Minerva.”  Ryla perches her chin on her hand.  Her voice is breathy and dreamy but there’s a sharpness just below the fluff.  Has that always been there?  “I believe Camilla just challenged me to a duel mere moments before you arrived.”

“You believe?”  Minerva’s face pivots between us, incredulous.

“That I do.”  Ryla’s lazy grin begins creeping up the left side of her face as she meets Minerva’s stare. Minerva’s shoulders hunch and she takes a step back.  Ryla turns her gaze to me and butterflies kick in my stomach.   “Is it not so, Cam?”

“I… yeah.”  

“See?  You’re too late.”  Ryla rises to her feet, graceful as a swan.  I’ve never seen her this assertive before, nor this… possessive.  Her lazy ease falls away as she approaches Minerva, staring her down.  My knees feel suddenly weak, invisible anchors pulling them towards the ground.  Ryla is the same height as my rival, yet towers over her with the intensity of her gaze.  “Why don’t you find someone else to duel, Minerva?”

“Right I uh…”  Minerva’s step backward falters just as much as her words.  “I’ll find someone else to duel.”

“Fantastic.”  The word is barely out of Ryla’s mouth before Minerva scuttles off to her pack of sycophants, metaphorical tail tucked between her scurrying legs.  I chuckle and the ocean-blue eyes dotted with gold turn towards me.  Her grin is almost predatory, a lioness sizing up her meal.  A heat I mistake momentarily for fear rushes through me, settling between my legs and within my chest.  How did she– When did she get so powerful?  

“How about tomorrow for our duel, Camilla?”

“I thought…” What do I think?  My mind is swimming in those eyes of hers, drowning trying to reach the gold in their depths.  I shake my head clear and stare at her shoes.  Whatever this is, this newfound confidence and swagger of Ryla’s, she’s still a magical slouch.  “Tomorrow will work perfectly.”

“Once more: fantastic.”

“May the best Apprentice win,” I mumble, daring to meet her gaze once more.  Her grin unnerves me, but I don’t let it show.  At least, I hope I don’t.

“Indeed I will,” she asserts.  Her giggle is light in tone, but tugs at my spine.  

Something in the back of my mind, doubtful of my skill and worried how fate might unfold,  believes her.  

Somewhere deeper still, wriggling in the forbidden parts of my soul, a desire for what she says to be true, awakens.

The rest of my day flashes by.  I train for two hours, enough to perfect my techniques while not tiring myself for tomorrow’s duel.  After a quick dinner with Frilla, I walk along the outskirts of the academy to clear my head.  For the first few minutes, my thoughts are pounding.  What if I lose?  What if Ryla is more talented than I’m giving her credit for?  What if I make a stupid little mistake and forfeit my life, my freedom?

I take a deep breath.  The trails, crawling with ivy, beckon me into the woods.  Exhaling, all my worries fall away.  I slip into the forest for a few moments of self-reflection.  Familiar markers lead me along a dozen twining paths; my legs follow them almost automatically.  I emerge in a grove of a thousand flowers, petals glowing with moonlight.  At the center a great tree, its wood almost onyx, its branches welcoming me like wings, waits for me to sit at its base and lean back into it.  

I rest against its bark, surprisingly warm in the coolness of night, and listen to the wind through its branches.  A hundred times I imagine the duel to come, of every way I might achieve victory.  I walk through, in my mind, every measure and countermeasure Ryla might take and concoct my own strategies for countering them.  Focusing on them I burn them into my bones, into my muscle, into my memory; so that tomorrow the responses will be instant, automatic.  

This is the way to victory.

When it is time to leave, when I am sure my mind is becalmed enough to sleep soundly once in my bed, I rise.  I cast a glance to my left as I leave and spot the mahogany chest that sits, locked, half-hidden beneath a score of glowing petals.  One day I hope to learn what is within it.  All my attempts to open it so far have proven fruitless.  Once I’m a Magus I’ll find the time to fiddle with breaking the locking enchantments and finally know what treasures await within.  It could be something powerful, a weapon or tool.  More likely it's something sentimental, a time-capsule of sorts hidden by Apprentices past.  It could even be as simple as a stack of niche erotica and a tin container of psychedelics.  I smile at the thought.

Whatever is inside, I want it.

By the time I’m back at my dormitory, the moon hauls high in the indigo night.  I was out wandering later than I’d intended, but my head is clear and, catching the face of a ticking clock, I reckon I’ll have enough sleep to compete tomorrow.  I slide beneath my sheets, rest my head on the pillow, and almost instantly I’m asleep.

I dream.

I dream I am sailing on an ocean, upon a raft losing its spars wave-by-wave.  I dash from side to side, trying to hold the craft together, but my arms get sore and tired.  In the center of the craft is a chest of mahogany, the locked one from the woods, and it rocks tauntingly on the battered raft.  Piece-by-piece the deck beneath me breaks off into flotsam and I retreat to the dwindling center of the raft.  I know I should keep fighting, but I need to rest for a moment.  Just a moment.  Then I’ll have the strength to fight anew.  

I sit beneath the mast and take a deep breath.  The raft creaks beneath me.  I begin to pick myself up, to try and hold it all together, and the raft snaps apart.  The chest plummets into the deep.  I splash into the cold water, treading futilely to stay afloat.  I’m so tired.  Every kick, every swish of my arms, tires me out even more.  My head goes under briefly.  I gasp in the air as I bob back up, knowing that in a second I’ll plunge back under.  It happens again and again until finally I don’t come back up.

Yet I don’t panic.  

Beneath the waves there is no need for breath.  It is no longer a concern of mine.  I look beneath me and see the mahogany chest, its latch broken on the rocks below, its contents spilled across the ocean floor.  A million gold coins dot the deeps, stars of a drowned firmament.  I swim down to pick one up, but however deep I go they retreat even deeper.  Twice as deep as they were before, dropping faster and faster into the darkness below.  

My arm is no longer outstretched, my legs no longer propel me forward.  Instead I sink, having no energy to propel myself any which way.  I am too deep to control how I move anymore, it is no longer a concern of mine.  A stray thought wants to struggle, but it's so tiring to even think about struggling that I drown the thought myself.  Acceptance is so much easier, so much more peaceful.  

I float down.

The water grows darker, blue to indigo to black.  The coins scatter into constellations whose names I no longer remember.  I drift deeper and further and the stars grow thinner, the constellations more dim and distant.  It is peaceful out here.  I realize that I no longer remember my own name.  I do not worry, it is no longer a concern of mine.  

I am as empty as the void around me, and that is beautiful.

One final star outlasts all the others, a golden point that draws me near.  My hand floats out on its own to grasp it, but just before my fingers touch it the star flattens and flips like a coin through the air.

Breath floods my lungs and I am in the Courtyard of Keepers.  A pond burbles with enchanted fountainworks, green grass sighs beneath my feet.  The academy buildings twist around me, each familiar but somehow wrong.  They are like hollow sets with empty windows, facades behind which nothing exists.  I am still dreaming and Ryla, stretched like a lioness in the sun, is there with me.  She flips a coin in her left hand.

“Heads or tails, sweetie.” Her grin is creeping up the left side of her face.

The coin slows in the air.  I focus on it turning over and over, my mind rolling with it.  


Ryla captures it in her hand and peeks at it.  

“Heads,” she announces, “I win.”

“Wait, but I called–”

“You called heads and I win on heads.  Are you unaware of the game we’re playing or just trying to be difficult?”

“I guess maybe… I guess I don’t know what game we’re playing.”

“You guess and I know; such is our dynamic, isn’t it?”  She doesn’t give me a chance to answer.  “But I know that has to be it; you would never be difficult for me, would you?”

“No.”  The word is past my lips before I can stop it.

“That’s right.”  She flips the coin again.  “What will it land on?”


She catches it and holds it right in front of my eyes.  I find that I can’t look away.

“Tails you lose,” she purrs, “But is there any more of you left to lose?”

“No!”  I consider the implications of that only after I’ve already said it.  “I mean, yes!”

“Guessing again, my dear Camilla.  But I know how little of you there is left to lose and I know exactly how you’ll lose it.  There’s peace to be found in acceptance, isn’t there?”

My head, even while dreaming, is spinning.  I don’t want to agree with her, but she’s not wrong.  I nod in meek agreement.

“Being a Magus, sweetheart, it’s a heavy burden.  A lot of responsibility and work.  And you’ve already worked so hard, proven so much, shouldn’t you allow yourself some reprieve?” 

She pats the ground beside her as weariness overtakes me.  I sink into a pile of tired flesh beside her, looking up into her giddy eyes.

“Besides Cammy, you know where you went wrong in your studies.”  Her fingers twist through my hair, petting me as she sits upright, towering above me.  I feel so tiny in her presence, but it doesn’t frighten me.  In fact, a jolt of joy hops through my stomach as I nuzzle at her ankles.

“You were always guessing at the world around you, always believing that asking questions is a tool to discover what the universe is.  But we know the truth now, don’t we?”  Her thumb slides into my mouth, pressing down on my tongue.  She leans over me, the dreamwork sun flaring about her curls in a golden aura.  “Asking questions, asking the right questions, is the way to mold the universe to one’s bidding.  Do you remember what happens when every answer serves my will?”

“Yes,” I mumble, wriggling in the grass beneath her touch, “You win.”

“Correct.”  Her words thrum across my nerves with electric pleasure.  “And tomorrow you’ll answer the way I wish, you’ll be my good little familiar forever.”

“But…” My vocal cords whine.  She slips her thumb out of my mouth and arches her eyebrow inquisitively.  “But what about my dreams of being a Magus?”

“It is no longer a concern of yours,” she says, matter-of-factly.  Her tone, her words, feel so correct; they slide right past my defenses and register as truth.  Being a Magus is no longer a concern of mine.  I feel myself relax, tension dissipating, as I’m given an answer to know.  No longer do I have to guess about the outcome of tomorrow’s duel.

“Besides, you’re dreaming right now, aren’t you?  And it’s not of being a Magus, Cammy, but of kneeling at my feet.  Of finally finding all the answers you sought from one wise enough to manufacture them.”

My words are gone with my mind.  I can only look up at her pleadingly.

“What is silence in these moments, but agreement?”  

I nod, knowing not what else to do.  With a grin she floats, lighter than air, to a nearby tree with onyx bark.  She places the coin in a slot on its trunk.  The world rumbles, and from its branches falls the mahogany chest, still locked and latched.

“One question, I suppose, still remains.”  Ryla’s teeth are fangs now, her ears leonid.  Dark shadows twist from her back, star-streaked curving absences of light.  “What is in the box?  It is locked now, that is true, but the key’s key I’ll give to you.”

Clockwork stars churn in the cerulean sky of her eyes.  One of her front claws digs in beneath my chin, tilting it up to stare into blissful eternity.  

“What walks on two legs in the morning, on four paws in the afternoon, and on three in the evening hour?”

My mouth flaps open, my tongue lolls.  I can’t remember my name, can’t remember my body, can’t remember myself.  I fall into Ryla’s eyes, into an ocean flecked with gold; clamoring aboard a sinking raft.  I know, for a split second, that I’m going to go through the whole dream again.  Again and again, as she breaks me.  It does not bother me.

It is no longer a concern of mine.

I awake the next morning, my bedsheets damp with sweat and fluids unmentionable.

“This is it, Camilla.  You ready to make Ryla little more than a doting battery?”

Frilla’s encouragement sidles across the edge of my hearing; supportive words I’ve deemed, on some level, to be unnecessary.  Something about them, something within them, doesn’t feel right.  My intestines twist as if to practice self-haruspicy; knotting into ill-formed shapes to foretell the outcome of the coming contestation.  Across the courtyard is Ryla, relaxed hands unfurled at her sides; waiting.  

Waiting for me to come to her.

The knots twist in my stomach again, the patterns of prognostication change.  How can she be so gracefully nonchalant in the face of possible defeat?  A defeat that will lead to her eternal enthrallment on a leash of my will.  Perhaps she has something planned; an ace up her sleeve, a trick she hopes to snare me with.  But how could she?  She who spends her days dreaming; how could she hope to make up for all my hours of study and practice?

I push away my worries; they are no longer concerns of mine.

“Ryla,” I say, as my shadow darkens her skin.  There’s a meekness to my voice, it’s almost a whimper.  I clear my throat and adapt a harsher tone; one more self-confident.  “Ryla.”

“Is it time?” she purrs, opening eyelids of wavy lashes to reveal those two fascinating portals to oceans of unfathomable depths most would call eyes.  My breath catches in my chest and the world around us both blurs for a moment.

“Yes,” Ryla answers for me, “It must be.  Follow.”

“Ryla,” I mumble, shaking my head clear, “Ryla I want you to know that there’s no animosity behind this.  I’ll treat you well and we’ll do wonderful things together.  If you take a dive, there’s no shame in it; if you take a dive then I don’t even have to hurt you.  Just kneel as soon as the duel begins; submit and we’ll both walk away happily.  I still care about you in many ways and– where exactly are we headed?”

Her grin is lazy and lopsided.  “To the forest circle, of course.”

“But isn’t it standard–”

“Are we here to merely perform what is standard?”  Her hidden fierceness flares, kindling brighter with every word.  I reflexively shake my head no.  She continues.  “It was not unheard of in previous generations to use one of the smaller dueling circles, even for the Ritual of the Familiar if circumstances called for it.”

“And circumstances…”  My voice is the splash of raindrop in a thunderstorm.

“You are most practiced in the weavings of shadows, yes?  More shadows, and darker ones, exist in the woods than in middle of the school.”  My head is already nodding along, even before her question is finished.  “And the woods hold special meaning to you, correct?  A place of peace and safety; a sanctuary of calm and focus.”

I nod again and catch the fleeting image of the locked chest out of my periphery.  The tree I mediated before last night, the one that arched through my dreams thereafter, looms before the both of us.  How had we entered the woods so quickly without my noticing?

“Furthermore, you are expecting the Ritual to end quickly, is that not so?  A poor spectacle for a main stage.”  As we pass by the tree I had so often sat beneath to center myself, Ryla looks up into its boughs and then makes careful, practiced motions across her face and torso.  There’s a reverence to her every movement, and an unfamiliar-yet-powerful magic lurking behind them.

“Still,” I sputter as the snakes in my stomach clench together in dread, “Maybe we should go back to the main Circle.  We can adjust it before the Ritual to fit whatever–”

“Is this what you concern yourself with?”

“No.”  My words are as automatic as my breath.  “It is no longer a concern of mine.”

“That’s right.  Ready yourself, it’s just up ahead.”

The minutes stretch in panic’s throes; this is not the situation I had prepared myself for.  This is not correct.  An easy victory in the grand Dueling Circle in front of all my peers was how the day was supposed to go.  But I feel so off-balance, so ill-prepared for a change in venue and a change in my victim’s temperament.  Is there… no.  No of course not…. But...

Is there a chance I could lose this?

The clearing is dotted with stumps magically carved and smoothed into spectator seats.  A ring of inscribed, dark wood glowers with power; its round interior matted with grass kept perfectly short by spells woven long ago.  The wind blows and the sharp scent of pine washes over the both of us as Frilla pushes past with a little pat upon my shoulder.  

I just about jump out of my skin.  How long had she been following us?  Had she been with us the whole way?  It seems unlikely, but when I think back it’s all a blur.

All these last-minute changes, all these strange worries arising at the last minute; they all spark anxiety and self-doubt.  If I am to emerge victorious, I must push them all aside so I can focus on what matters.  I must allow them to no longer be a concern of mine.

“...no longer a concern of mine,” my mouth mutters as I open eyes I don’t remember closing.  Ryla is at the other end of the forest Circle, standing on a plinth of teak wood lined with curling runes.  How she managed to get over there in the blink of an eye, I don’t know.  She points to my spot across the arena from her and I shift into place.  I shake out my shoulders, crack my neck, take a steadying breath, and place my hand upon a waist-high pillar of polished stone.

I look at her as I speak the words of initiation.  I ignore the runes flaring to life around us in favor of staring at my opponent.  A glimmer flows like spilling water from the boundaries surrounding us; separating us from Frilla, her face fixed upon me with a bittersweet smile.  A crackle erupts as the blobby edges of the shielding meet in the sky above our heads.  A force nudges me to let go of the stone pillar and into action.

The first thing I do is call the shadow of a nearby elm to my aid, twisting it into twelve-foot crenellations across my side of the battleground.  I dart behind one of the onyx fortifications as I rip another patch of darkness from a prickle patch of berry bushes.  The shadows snap and throb, distending into a pair of thorned serpents that hover at my side.  I look at the latticework of branches and leaves surrounding the arena and begin to send my magics through them.  

Ryla was right, this venue would be much easier to work with.

I focus on the darkness behind me and meld backwards into the cool stone.  Skulking through its interior, I spy on my opponent.  She’s just standing there.  Her head nods from side-to-side slightly as a tourist viewing a mountain range, her hand twirls through her hair; but otherwise she is still.  Her grin is one of amusement, as if this is all just entertainment.

After all my worries, is she actually just going to give up?

She’s not kneeling; no hands behind her head or call of surrender.  Perhaps it’s a trap?

I send a portion of magic to an area fifteen feet further along my conjured wall and stitch a shape into being.  In a flash, a shade of myself pops out and rushes towards Ryla.  She chortles a little, but does nothing more.  I dispel the shade before it reaches her.  

She’s not readying a counterattack.  This must be her idea of surrender.  Yet the knots in my stomach are tying themselves tighter, pulling at some ethereal part of myself to make it backpedal into yesterday when it could challenge anyone else to this duel.  It is, of course, too late for that.  But there are ways to be cautious without harming Ryla.

With as much power as I can muster I inhabit the latticework shadows of overlapping branches and move them in concert to surround Ryla.  She doesn’t seem bothered at all as their criss-crosses march up her legs and over her torso, cinching together to restrain her.  I take a slow step out of my dark hideaway, my opponent at my mercy.  I close the gap between us cautiously, ready for any sudden bursts of resistance.

Ryla offers none.

Yet the Ritual is not over, the magics have not detected her loss.  Perhaps in this older circle, they need a little encouragement.

“Do you yield?”  I’m amazed at how quickly the confidence falls off in my question; how in three words that start so strongly it feels like I’m begging her by the end of the third.  Ryla doesn’t need to speak to answer; her easy defiance is all in her eyes.

“Please, Ryla.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Do you think you could, sweet one, even if you wanted to?”  

The undignified whine that leaves my lips comes before the realization.  I can’t do it.  I can’t bring myself to choke the life from her with the forest’s midday shades, can’t pummel her with an army of silhouettes.  The magic knows it better than I: knows my chained desires, knows my fear of the future, knows my weariness chasing down a dream; knows, above all, the place I belong.  

“You’re remembering, are you?  No?”  Though she’s kneeled before me and wrapped in cords of darkness, I know on all the levels that matter she’s perched high above me, staring down upon my pitiful form.  “Why don’t you let the shadows go, Camilla?  You’ve proved you could win the ritual if that’s what you desired, but is that really winning to you?”

I hold the answer tightly in my mouth.  Tremors run along my lips, my knees begin to shake.  My summoned shades disappear in fraying dimness as Ryla pushes herself to her feet.  With a mundane gesture and a plain syllable, she reaches through symbol and word to freeze me in place.


I want to scream at her.  I know, on some level, what she’s done to me.  I know I’ve already lost.  My body feels far away and my mind is swimming in a sea of molasses.  I try to struggle against the feeling, to move and arm or leg, but they won’t budge.  Ryla, a foot in front of me, smiles a toothy grin.

“You could win if that were your desire; that is clear.  But who controls your desires, Cammie?”  

The words force themselves from my lips.  Words that were supposed to be long gone.  “You do, Mxtress.” 

“That’s right.”  Her finger hovers between my eyes, the lingering threat of salvation. “Are you ready, now, to remember?”

Her physical touch terminates at the midpoint between my eyes, but on an ethereal level it penetrates into the recesses of my thoughts.  In my mind’s eye, the box of mahogany secrets looms before me, rippling with dreamy patterns of ensorcelling beauty.  Deftly, with one finger, Ryla taps the lock upon it and it shimmers into mirage.  Her strong fingers wrap around my wrist and place my hand on its lid, pushing open the object of so much mystery.  Joyful, beautiful thoughts swarm out in a firefly parade of brilliance; stars shooting from the void within the open chest.  They swarm through my eyes and mouth and nose and ears like streams of sublime revelation, racking my mind with memory and commands.

I am, as I was before, Ryla’s sweet, little Cammy-puppy.

My fur is shadow-black, my snout small and wet-tipped.  I feel again the pads of phantom touches on the bottoms of my paws, the circles traced by Ryla’s fingers a year ago as she whispered words into my suggestible ear.  Above my butt, a similar focusing of muscles reintroduces the feeling of a tail jutting from out of the base of my spine.  All mental inventions of my classmate– lover– Mxtress who dabbled in mesmerism recreationally; all so wonderfully tempting to experience once more.  Each piece invited me to lay down my load, to relinquish responsibilities unto Ryla.  I only had to be loved, to play, and sometimes, to obey.  Gifts of certainty and directness in an uncertain and muddled world.  

Gifts that came with strings attached; strings that supplanted my nerves over time and made me want to kneel and bark and beg at her command and love every second of it.  

I hadn’t been able to allow myself to enjoy it for very long; not when there were spells to learn and rituals to study.  I shut out the light of our love so I could warp shadows to my bidding, and yet that accomplishment proved so utterly hollow.  Ryla had locked all the suggestions away in a box she’d made me imagine, and I had forgotten.  I had forgotten and put myself back on the path to power, the path of becoming a Magus.  But now, somehow–

“Four on the floor, missy.”  

At Ryla’s command, my front paws drop to the ground before her, snapping me back to the present.  Sinister levity trickles through her giggle.  “Is it not, after all, abuse to make puppies stand upright on their hindpaws?”

“Ryla, please.  What did you do to me?  How did you–”

A sharp pressure invades my mind, a sudden cinch around my thoughts.  I try to focus on it, try to make it stop, but it just squeezes harder.  The Ritual of the Familiar has determined who lost the duel.

“No no no no no no!”  My breaths come raggedly between words.  I lock eyes with Ryla and see just a hint of pity dancing behind their entrancing centers.  “Ryla please, not like this.  Don’t make me disapp–”

“Hush, pet”  is all she needs to say to cut me off.  It is with great warmth and pity that she begins stroking through my hair.  Her lips, an inch from my ear, whisper: “Just focus on me now, and let it happen.  What’s happening to you is none of your concern.”

“None of my…”  

The bottom falls out of my mind.  Ryla shifts to place herself in front of me, and I plunge into the safe waters of her eyes.  The pain of the Ritual crushing my will and leashing it to Her own is muted beneath the waves of Her power.  Somewhere across a yawning chasm, a young aspirant named Camilla is being annihilated thought-by-thought; torn apart and remade into a dutiful servant and familiar.  Here in Her eyes, in the fuzzy swim of trance-space, Her little pup is floating down and further down with every pet through its fur, with every flutter of its eyelids.  

Camilla De’ys, the person, the consciousness, the ego; studious, cold, and anxious; perishes screaming into a forgotten void.  pupmiliar, Her doting servant and thrall, cocks its head for a moment at the dying reverberations before wagging its tail and staring up into the gold-flecked eyes that command it.  Whatever that sound was, it is none of its concern.

pumiliar’s tongue laps at Magistrix’s boot, shining black leather ever brighter.  Magistrix is seated upon the furniture, a place puppies are not allowed without invitation.  A leash within its mind, shadow ribbons of sensuous silk, tug a little of its consciousness forward.  it looks up at Her.

“You serve so well beneath me Cam– my pup.” Magistrix’s voice swells pupmiliar with pride and pleasure.  “A mind so pliable and well conditioned shouldn’t be wasted.”

“No, Magistrix.”  its mouth moves as if puppetted from the inside, maintaining its overeager grin.

“What starts as fun and games often wanders down the paths of desire, and those are dangerous woods to get lost within.  One night you give up your mind for stress relief, to feel small enough to be fully held and powerless enough to bear no responsibility.  Two months later and I can drop you with a word, make you bow with a movement, make you kneel with a look.  But how could you reconcile being my sweet pet with the strongheaded, superiority that you thought you needed to achieve?

“I broke you.  I had fun breaking you, you had fun being broken.  But then playtime was over and Camilla the Aspirant needed to study hard to become a Magus.  Into the box went all our toys; triggers, commands, and mantras.  I thought it would be cheating to open that back up and using it to force you into surrender.  Reminding you of it, of all that delectable submission and subjugation you craved within it; that was where I set my limit.”

“Very kind of You, Magistrix.”

“Thank you.  It could be argued that knowing what you’d respond to ahead of time, what training methods would work best, was an unfair edge.  Perhaps the fact that I used your dreams to instill desires and triggers, to make you into my unwitting sleeper agent if you will, and you will, excuse the pun, could be considered an invalid approach by the less thoughtful mages.  But how else is a oneriomancer supposed to make it past year three?  And, after all, you could have warded your dreams.”

“it is this one’s fault that it lost, Magistrix.” pupmiliar wags its tail happily at the admission.  “it should have warded its dreams if it wanted to win.”

“That’s right.  Feel good for me.”  Magistrix’s words burn trails of pleasure down pupmiliar’s body.  it trembles but remains upright by Her grace.  “And now you’re mine forever.”


“Good thing.  I suppose I still owe you an answer to the riddle I placed in your brain last night.  Or not so much an answer, but a final clue.  Are you ready for it?”

“If You wish, Magistrix.”

“I do.”

pupmiliar feels a surge of magic energy whipping like wires beneath its left forepaw.  By its Owner’s will, that paw reaches down into its crotch to massage between its now-bucking hips.  Whines trill out its pitiful snout, She smiles down on it in utter delight, and it lowers its eyes once more to continue the work of cleaning Her boots.

Outside the window of Her room, the nightsky ripples with stars.  Within, pupmiliar is only upon three paws as it pleasures itself in submissive bliss.

Her riddle is answered.

“And it will be that effective on Minerva?”  Frilla asks Magistrix. The sun is warm, its heat kept in check by a gentle breeze.  pupmiliar sits at Magistrix’s feet, head on Her lap, and idly lets the words drift through its ears.

“Well with Camilla I’d had some pleasant history bending her mind to my will.”  Warmth floods its fur at its Magistrix’s voice.  She does not allow it to understand what they are talking about right now, but Her voice is radiance in its soul.  “Easier to leverage old associations and conditioning via dream projection than to establish new ones; but that just means it’ll take a little longer, not that it will be less effective.”

“Longer?  I don’t have time to wait around, Ryla.  If someone else–”

“A deal’s a deal, Frilla.  I won’t let someone else get to you in the meantime.  In a day or two, Minerva will challenge you.  She’ll set the date for the duel a week out and keep finding excuses to push it back until she’s ready to lose.  I’ll be there to witness the ritual as you witnessed mine and no rules will have been broken and we’ll both be Magi.”

“I still kind of feel bad.”

“Don’t.”  its brain clicks on for a moment at the commanding tone in Magistrix’s voice.  it looks up, sees the command is not intended for it, and nuzzles back into Her thigh.  “Camilla would have worked herself to death as a Magus and been unhappy in every moment of it.  pupmiliar loves its existence as my tool and toy, and once I’ve tinkered with Camilla’s old memories a little more, I can bring a simulation of her back to chat with from time-to-time.”

“Hmmm.  Still can’t believe they let oneiromancers do this.  Forcing their way into rival’s dreams to erode away their minds; it seems dangerous in a way little else is.”

Magistrix chuckles.  Her levity is its joy eternal.  “Let is a strong word.  It’s more that it isn’t disallowed… explicitly.  Still, better to do the Ritual out away from everyone else just in case someone gets… mad about it.”

“About that… Just this morning Magus Braithwight was already asking about what exactly happened out there.  Two days, Ryla, that’s all it took for them to suspect something was wrong.”

“We’ll be fine.  Just once more and you’ll have a familiar and they can’t do anything to us.”

“I hope you’re right.”


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