Lily woke up groggy and decidedly unrested. As they hauled themself out of bed, their legs nearly gave out beneath them. Last night had been rough. In more ways than one, they giggled to themself. They were alone. Magnolia had a meeting to get to, so she hadn't stayed with them overnight. It was more than a little disappointing. They'd been hoping for a reward for last night, although they supposed Magnolia had given them her name as one.
Magnolia. The name felt resonant, larger than life, as they repeated it, their heartbeat fast and strong. It was such a beautiful name, and it complemented the one she'd given them so wonderfully. When they'd gotten home last night, they couldn't help but sit on their bed, repeating 'Mistress Magnolia' in a soft whisper, then squirming with a huge, goofy smile on their face. They'd grabbed a pillow, practically crushing it as a surrogate for their Mistress. Lily and Magnolia. Two beautiful, gorgeous flowers, that looked so lovely together. They couldn't remember the last time they were so proud of their name. When they'd picked the name Delta, it was more out of necessity. They wanted to get away from their deadname, which sounded so... feminine.
Although, come to think of it, 'Lily' sounded pretty feminine. But something was different there. It didn't feel bad, or like it wasn't theirs, like their deadname had. This name, Lily, was a gift. They weren't one to turn down such a gracious gift, especially considering who it'd come from.
So, steadying themself against the wall, they got up to make themself breakfast. They figured they'd just make something simple. Eggs and toast seemed like a good idea. Living alone had its advantages, like not having to worry about their appearance straight out of bed... but the silence as they prepared, then ate, their food alone was not one of them. And for the past few days, they'd experienced something very new to them - being alone. Kassandra seemed subdued whenever they reached out to talk, and never said more than a few sentences before retreating. It had been like that ever since that Pokken tourney on their birthday, and since they'd... met him. They were usually grateful their Mistress gave them so much freedom and time to relax, but in that moment, it just felt like more time for them to worry.
They weren't going to get anywhere agonizing over it, though. Whatever had happened, they had to wait for Kassandra to be ready to explain it. And after all, they did have things to do - things their Mistress, Mistress Magnolia, had ordered them to do. And doing things for her made them so, so happy.
They barely thought about the fact that Magnolia had literally purchased them these days. It didn't matter. In fact, it might even be a positive. Who knows where they'd be if not with her? But with her, they were happy, they were loved, and they could love.
Once they finished eating, they pulled on their running clothes and shoes. Stuffing their watercolor supplies in their bag, they started their morning run.
"...and then you gotta do this combo. It's a really strong confirm, so fish for it whenever possible."
Lily had, of course, gone to the Pokken group after they finished their drawing practice - once again without Jenn, who'd been busy for a few days now. They'd gotten there early, and the tournament wasn't for half an hour. So, to pass the time, they were playing friendly practice matches with Rye. Lily had felt like competing for the first time in a while. Part of that, they had to admit, was fueled by spite. They would get better. They would beat him. Whenever they'd competed before, they didn't make it far in bracket, but they felt a lot more confident in their skills - and themself - lately. It couldn't hurt to try.
Asher hadn't shown up for weeks, just like Rye had said. They let out a sigh of relief each time they came to ASZ and he wasn't there now. Lily hoped they'd never have to run into him again.
But they would keep coming, Asher or no. Rye was there. So was Pierre. Rye, in particular, was getting close to Lily, and Lily didn't mind having another friend. They'd get drinks after tournaments and practice matches on occasion, and Rye would coach them on the gameplay mistakes they made - something about 'giving that asshole a run for his money' - or just chat about himself. Lily talked about themself too, but much less, since they always had to be on guard so as to not mention Magnolia or their situation.
Rye glanced at the clock, then his eyes went wide. "Shit," he muttered. "Uh..." He hurriedly showed them one last sequence before the tournament started. Lily prepared themself mentally, getting into what they thought of as their 'gaming mindset.' It was time to see what they'd learned.
The first match wasn't too difficult. They'd been doing well lately in the local tournaments here, so in a seeded tournament like this, they were up against the newer people. He seemed inexperienced - he didn't handle the character he was using nearly as well as Pierre did, and they beat him seven times out of ten nowadays. Although they still didn't really understand why he played one of the worst characters in the game competitively.
The next match wasn't awful either. Of the eight players who were attending today, they were seeded third. The seventh seed had beaten Pierre, but Lily knew from experience that didn't always mean much. Skill or no, anyone who was halfway decent could dance circles around him with a better character if they found an opening. Their opponent was a thin guy, about the same height as Rye, and he looked nervous, and played just as erratically. He seemed good, though, beneath the mistakes. Maybe they should find him after the tournament, give him some tips like Rye did for them? It was a nice thought, though they doubted they could actually teach someone.
It was the farthest Lily had ever made in one of these tournaments, but they weren't sure they'd make it any further. Their opponent was first seed, the best player in the local scene. Someone they'd beaten only once or twice on a fluke. They were up against Rye.
They were doomed.
"To the best player," Rye said with a smirk. It wasn't a mocking one, though. It felt more like... a challenge? They weren't nearly that good, though. Lily nodded, their mouth dry.
The match started, and Rye was instantly holding the advantage. Lily struggled for a moment before they found their footing, putting up a weak defense as they adjusted to his pace. They were used to that, at least. They had plenty of experience against his playstyle, although when he was teaching them he usually used Lily's main instead. His actual main was a weirdly human-yet-not thing, with green hair and a thing sticking out of their chest - Gardevoir, they thought he'd called it? They'd played against it a few times, but Rye had decided they needed to work on fundamentals.
Which is still definitely true, they realized. Darkrai's tactics were easy to predict, he'd explained, and the fact that he was the one who taught them made that easier. They were getting into the rhythm of it, but they weren't fast enough, and Rye took the first round before they even really got a handle of what they were doing. They'd misinputted a move he'd shown them, and he had exploited it immediately.
It's nerves. It won't happen again, they told themself. And, surprisingly, they even slightly believed it. Rye's coaching had to be paying off.
That didn't help them with the next round, though. A moment of worrying about whether they were good enough, and Rye seized it, taking them down.
So he won the first match. No big deal, Lily thought, with conviction they didn't have. They still had another chance. The match rules were best of three. They just had to win the next two matches. Against Rye. Who they'd never beaten.
The next match began, and people were crowding around, watching the third and first seeds go at it. Rye stuck with the same character, and Lily did too. It was going to go differently this time. It had to.
Lily played the first round careful, but Rye seemed to expect that too. His character was really hard to deal with from a distance, and the first round went to him before long. Now they were beginning to panic. So, they needed to win not only the next round, but the round after that? In order to have a chance of winning? They shook their head. No. They would win. This was just practice for Asher. The next round, they came back in force, throwing in some maneuvers that Rye had used against them, but never taught them. His expectations got the better of him and, after a bit of struggling, they finally managed to take a round off Rye. But that was just evening it out. Now they had to win the next one.
The next round was heated, and most of the other people there had stopped doing friendlies or playing Smash or card games to watch. Rye definitely cared about Lily. He definitely wanted them to be better. And that meant that he wouldn't go easy on them. I'm not as good as Asher, he'd explained. And he uses Gardevoir as a secondary. If you can't beat me, you'll have a hell of a time beating him. They didn't really know how they'd won - they panicked, and mashed random buttons, but it ended up working. They'd taken a game off Rye. Could they do it again?
They had to.
"Student surpasses the teacher, eh, D?" Rye snorted as they selected their characters - same ones again. Neither was backing down for the final match.
"Thank... thank you," Lily blushed. "I've been practicing, and you helped. A lot."
"Well, don't get cocky. Let's see if you can take game two."
Rye flew out the gate with aggressive attacks, surprising Lily. His character wasn't good at close-range... but then again, neither was theirs. He hadn't been holding anything back earlier, but... now he wasn't being nice. He was exploiting their playstyle, their inexperience. It was a test, and one they weren't sure they were ready to pass. Overwhelmed by the pressure they weren't expecting from a zoner, they fumbled the first round. So, the same situation as last time. Great. They just had to perform a miracle for a second time. No big deal.
The crowd was hushed as they watched the two players. Lily used to be shy around the attention, but lately, they'd been thriving off of it. Magnolia had shown them it was ok to enjoy everyone seeing them, being entertained by them... just like at the party they were at last night.
Lily managed to scrape by in the second round, somehow - they were a bit distracted by that thought. Rye, though, didn't like the attention at all, and so he messed up worse than they did. Both of them leaned towards the screen, focusing as the match-deciding round started. The crowd had started cheering - cheering for Rye, cheering for Lily, some just cheering for the sake of the game. Lily was barely breathing at this point. They were too focused on the game. Reality was an afterthought.
The last match was close. Both pushed themselves to the bitter end, and, again in panic, Lily managed to do a combo that Rye hadn't taught them, taking the round, game, and match. The crowd dispersed, tournament over - although there would still be friendlies for an hour or two - a couple of the people raising fists to the victor with grins. Lily stood up, grinning wildly, as Rye fell back in his seat. Defeated, but not disappointed.
Lily extended their hand to Rye, and he took it. They hauled him out of his slumped posture with a grin, and he couldn't help but grin back.
"You know what? You should come to the regional tournament in a few months."
Lily blinked. "The... what?" Rye nodded enthusiastically.
"It's really fun. It's a weekend long trip. Our region's been looking for players to go. Of course, you can go on your own, but it's kind of expensive, and every year we get to send our highest seeds to go for free."
"Um..." Lily faltered. That sounded... really, really cool. They wanted to go, but... would it be okay with Magnolia? After all, she didn't really understand the whole gaming thing. She was dismissive whenever Lily brought it up, and had steered them away from any conversations about it at the party. So how would they explain wanting to go on a trip for gaming reasons, with people she'd never met before?
"Hey, you don't have to answer now. I just wanted to offer. And... well... it might give you your rematch."
Rye was reassuring... almost too much. Yes, his point was tempting, but leaving the decision in their hands was far more terrifying than they'd expected. They'd tell their Mistress, though. They had to ask.
They needed that rematch.
Lily's home felt emptier than usual when they came home from the league. After being around so many people for so long, the loneliness was suffocating. Usually, they didn't mind it too much. Usually, being alone was a rare blessing, a chance to relax. But lately, they'd started to thrive on the attention.
They almost wanted to call Magnolia and ask when she was coming over. But... they shouldn't be too needy. But they also wanted her to know they were thinking about her. But they didn't want to bother her. So maybe just a quick text...
Their mind then drifted over to Jenn, their once-stalker art teacher. They were surprisingly good at teaching Lily, who had gotten much better at drawing thanks to their help. But they still had a far more basic problem; they never knew what they wanted to draw. Should they ask their Mistress what they should make?
They groaned in boredom. Normally, that would call Kassandra to their side, berating them for not trying to escape or for wasting time. Although... they didn't have anything to do for a bit. And they were worried about her.
Kassandra? they thought into the void.
A wordless acknowledgement floated back, just as tired and worn out as before. They hadn't shared more than a couple of words since they met Asher. Was he why Kassandra seemed so tired and weary?
How are you doing?
They felt the distinct impression of an angry glare. "What do you want?" she grumbled.
"You... seem tired," they said softly, out loud. "Is... everything okay?"
A pause. Was Kassandra trying to hide something from them? They didn't share memories, so that was possible... but why? "I'm fine, Delta. I just don't feel like being out much."
Lily opened their mouth to protest the name, before they realized... had they ever actually told her? Well, even that landmine was probably better than being alone again. "Um... Mistress gave me a new name, Kassandra."
They were expecting the rage, muted by fatigue. The abject hatred. What they weren't expecting was horror, bleeding through. "She what. Tell me you're joking."
"No... um, it's Lily. So I'm going by that now. I haven't, erm, I haven't told many people. But... you should... should know."
Kassandra took a deep breath, which was purely for effect, since she didn't need to breathe. "You're Delta," she said, carrying the impression of a grimace. "You'll always be Delta to me."
Lily wasn't surprised. This wasn't the first time Kassandra had resisted Lily changing their name.
"I'm not in the mood to deal with your bullcrap, Delta," Kassandra spat, emphasizing their old name. "I don't want anything to do with your fucking Mistress and her ability to sound ever so convincing as she buys your fucking soul. I want to get out. I just... want to go home."
Their mouth opened, but no words came out. What were they supposed to say? She wouldn't listen to any excuses, and she knew they... well, they were home. But... it was better than being alone.
"Did you know her name is actually Magnolia?" Lily ventured, trying to lighten the mood... and failing. "She told me last night."
"I don't care," Kassandra groaned. "She doesn't deserve a name in my eyes, and hell would freeze before she deserved to change yours."
"Leave it, Delta."
Lily backed off. Kassandra didn't want to talk. Why had they expected anything else? Her presence faded from their mind with an angry huff. There was no use in trying to get her to stay, they knew. She was only going to try to argue with Lily. And now, alone again, that silence felt far more isolating than it did before.
They almost reflexively picked up their phone, scrolling through their contacts - mostly people from the Pokken league, who they just saw, and Pierre and Rye had things afterwards anyways... and then Jenn, Gregory the chauffeur, and, of course, Magnolia. They weren't about to bother her, though.
Sighing, they texted Jenn.
"Hey," they wrote, "it's been a while since I last saw you. You wanna draw together sometime?"
It didn't take long for a response.
"HELL YEAH. When and where? Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow sounds good," Lily texted back. "I guess we can just meet in the park. I'll bring my stuff."
"YES," Jenn texted back, the capital letters practically screaming in Lily's ears. "Figure out something to draw, I can teach you! I know everything lol"
Lily just responded with a smiley face, then closed the conversation. They opened the one with Magnolia - or, as their phone had her listed to protect her name, M with a flower emoji- but as if they'd summoned her, they heard the door unlocking just as they started to type.
Magnolia walked through the door.
"Hello, Mistress," Lily said nervously, standing up to greet her.
"Put on some tea for me," she said firmly, not even looking at them as she put down her bag. Lily knew the signs of her moods well enough by now. It must have been a bad day at work. So, rather than talk back - which they were sure she normally loved, since it let her degrade them even more - they silently went over to the pot to turn on the water. Magnolia sat down at the table, taking her coat off.
"How was your day?" Lily asked softly, trying not to bother her.
Magnolia paused, not meeting Lily's eyes. What was on her mind, that could have made her so quiet and reserved? They didn't have to wait long to find out, thankfully, as she responded.
"Lily. What were your parents' names?"
Lily blinked. Why... would she ask that? Why would she need to know? She wasn't going to hurt anyone, Lily was sure. But otherwise... what? She couldn't tell anyone that she owned their child now. Unless... She wasn't planning to send them back, was she? Lily's eyes widened in horror.
"Don't look at me like that," she scowled. "Just answer my question."
"Um... okay, Mistress. Well... I - I didn't know my dad. He left when I was young, but my mom never talked about him, except to say mean things," Lily said softly, twirling their fingers together. "But, my mom's name, erm, her name was Whitney."
"Whitney," Magnolia echoed. "Interesting."
Silence. They couldn't stand silence. Not after... before. They opened their mouth, needing to say something, anything. "Forgive me for asking, but… Why do you want to know?" They winced. That was rude, wasn't it?
"My parents gave me a call today," Magnolia said calmly, surprising Lily. No anger? What... She'd never brought up her parents, or really, anything about her past, to Lily. "For the first time in fifteen years."
"...Oh," Lily blinked. "Um... is that a good thing?"
Magnolia just chuckled softly. The teapot whistled, and Lily went to pour it into a steeper. They'd never even thought you could make tea with loose leaves before Magnolia had showed them the weird device, but it wasn't that much harder than a regular tea bag. She'd insisted they use it ever since she'd brought it back from a business meeting with a tea chain that was opening stores nearby. Once they were done, and had prepared glasses for them both, Magnolia responded.
"They were asking me for money. Apparently, they went bankrupt recently. Poor financial decisions, or something equally ridiculous. I didn't care enough to ask." She poured the tea after the timer beeped and took a sip, which seemed to help her relax.
"What... what did you do?" Lily asked hesitantly.
"I laughed in their faces, of course," she chuckled, though there wasn't any humor in it. "Calling me after fifteen years of silence, only to ask me for any of my hard-earned fortune? What a joke. As if they were responsible for even a fraction of my success."
Lily didn't respond, captivated by the idea of hearing more about her.
"Then they yelled at me, calling me ungrateful and disrespectful. That I was selfish and being stupid. I couldn't help but laugh. It was the funniest thing I'd heard in years. And yes, even funnier than when you, Lily, fail to do the most simple tasks because you're so stupid."
Magnolia just rolled her eyes when Lily didn't respond, their eyes wide, waiting to hear more.
"What?" she snorted. "Did you honestly expect anything else?"
"Um... I don't know," Lily laughed nervously. "Why would... are you on bad terms with your parents?"
"They kicked me out of the house when I was... seventeen, I believe," she scoffed. "I wouldn't say they've particularly earned anything from me, least of all my money."
"They... what?" Lily blinked again. "Why?"
Magnolia just stared at them blankly. It took a moment before it dawned on them in silent understanding.
"Oh... oh. I'm so sorry, Mistress," Lily said, their face falling. "I had no idea."
"Why are you sorry, plaything?" she smirked. "It made me who I am today, and I would call that a worthy end." As she spoke, she flipped her hair elegantly for effect. "I'm not lying when I say I built myself from the ground up. I had nothing. And now, well... I can do whatever the hell I want, including buying people. Right, Lily?"
"Um... yes, I suppose it is, Mistress," Lily blushed. "But you didn't have, well, someone to go to when you needed help? Or, guidance, or... or something?"
"I don't need a leader. I've made myself my own leader, and that's worked just perfectly for me."
Lily hummed in understanding... or at least, they thought they understood. They weren't the kind of person who could really consider themself a leader. Obviously. They knew themself well enough to know they were pretty passive. It was just one of the ways they looked up to Magnolia. She was strong, and powerful, so much more so than they were. Lily couldn't help but lose themself in their admiration.
"Come here," she told them, and Lily did without hesitation. "Sit down."
Lily sat down in the chair next to her, and Magnolia began to rub her hands up Lily's thighs, under their shorts and into their inner thighs. Lily shifted nervously, clenching their hands to the sides of the chair. Something in Magnolia's touch felt different - less possessive, more forgiving. It was a sharp contrast to the other night.
Just as Lily was beginning to think that perhaps she was being nice, Magnolia slapped them across the face. The shock stung more than the actual slap, and they had to take a moment to recompose themself.
"You didn't do anything wrong," Magnolia smirked as she watched them flounder. "I just felt like doing that." She slowly returned to stroking Lily's thighs, and that stinging in their cheek became just one more reminder of how much they were hers. "And I can do what I want, remember?"
"Yes, Mistress." They responded automatically, having spoken before they even registered her words.
Magnolia took her hands off of Lily, and pulled out a now-familiar pocket watch, the very same one she'd used last night. "Watch the clock," she said, voice slipping into a rhythmic drone as the clock began to swing back and forth, ticking and ticking... Lily watched the motion, eyes following it ever so carefully.
"I'm going to bring you back into trance tonight," she mused, though Lily was too focused on the watch to reply. "Just watch the clock, and breathe in... and hold... and out... and in..."
Lily nodded, taking deep breaths in a pattern so familiar to them now - inhale, hold, exhale. Just as they were trained, as easy as slipping down, as automatic as breathing...
"Feel the mist filling you up again. It's so easy for you now. You're getting so good at being mine, being mist, right from the tip of your skull, down your face... and neck, and shoulders... all the way down..."
So easily, the mist flopped over, eyes still tilted up to watch the clock as they literally felt the mist filling them, becoming them. Their mind faded, becoming mist, so easy to shape to whatever Magnolia wanted, with the lightest of touches...
"And since you're becoming that mist, you can take a little break, while I get to talk to your subconscious. After all, it's mine. Your mind is mine, just like your body, your name, and everything about you."
Those words were comforting to Lily, the mist flowing warmly around the sounds. All they could hear was her talking. That was all that mattered. They couldn't even hear the ticking of the clock anymore. Nothing else mattered at all - not trauma, not nerves, not Rye or Jenn, or even Kassandra, unless she chose to interfere. The only thing that mattered was their Mistress. That was comforting for them. It gave them a sense of security, an anchor in a storm of confusion and pain. Even with how scary the circumstances had been at first, they felt truly safe with Magnolia, especially in trance.
"I'm going to give you a trigger," she said quietly and calmly. "An association, one could say, where a phrase is tantamount to an order. And when you hear the words, 'my lovely, loyal Lily,' you're going to drop back into trance, into this lovely state, where the mist is surrounding you, in you, and through you... back into this state you know so well. Listening to my words so easily, letting them shape you. Do you understand?"
Lily made a sound - they tried to say yes, but they were so deep it came out as a murmur more than actual words. They didn't notice.
"That's right," Magnolia smiled. "My lovely, loyal Lily." It was so easy, when they heard those words, to fall, just like she said. They were already in trance, but the mist surrounded them, filled them even more, made them a part of it... "So sweet. So good for me. So willing to obey, because obedience is pleasure... isn't it, my lovely, loyal Lily?"
"Mmmm..." Lily moaned, too far gone to form words or sentences.
"Now, the mist is retreating, leaving you open, but awake. As I count up to five, the mist will leave you completely. One... two... three..."
The mist drained away, and Lily felt themself returning as she counted. As she reached four, Lily was just beneath the surface, but holding on to that wonderful feeling of trance for as long as they could.
"My lovely, loyal Lily."
Already holding on to their trance, Lily fell straight back, in freefall as the mist flowed around them and into them and through them. Faintly, Lily could hear those words, over and over again, reminding them they were loyal, and lovely, which they weren't sure was true, but it had to be, since she was saying it. It was comforting, safer than the real world. The void where they floated was almost like a blanket in its security, where the only thing that mattered was Magnolia's voice, and her will.
"Now that you're listening so well, I want you to know one more thing, my lovely, loyal Lily," she smiled, beginning to rub Lily's arms affectionately as their breathing slowed even more. "You are just my property. That is all you are. Nothing else you do in life matters. The only thing you're good for is serving me. Is that clear?"
Lily nodded, unable to remember the words to say.
"Good," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "And as my property, what you do matters to me. Your life is mine, and you will respect and cherish what I own. Burn these words into your mind. Know them as true, although I'm sure you already do. 'I am Mistress Magnolia's property, now and forever,'" she said firmly, and Lily joined with their own slurred recitation, knowing the words were true, were fact. They could feel it becoming more and more real, as if everything else was fading away slowly. Mistress Magnolia’s property, now and forever. Mistress Magnolia’s property, now and forever.
"I'm going to wake you up now, Lily. No tricks, this time. I'll count you out. Ten... nine... eight..." Lily stirred.
"Three... two... one... and awake."
Just like that, Lily's eyes snapped open. Their muscles felt stiff and hard to move, and they felt as though they shouldn't be here, on solid ground. Looking around, seeing the room helped them center themself back to reality, the mist gone, the room bright. Their eyes turned to meet Magnolia's. Taking time to readjust, they stretched their arms up, as if they'd gotten hours of sleep.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Good," Lily responded. "Refreshed. At least... I think?"
"Do you feel as if your mind has shaped itself to my words?"
Lily paused to ponder, stretching themself out further as they did. "I think so... I feel different."
"I suppose I did my job, then." She lifted her hand to their face, running it down their cheek. They'd expected a slap, not affection instead of ownership or rage. "Now, I have a question. Where has Kassandra been?"
Lily's face drained of color. They were awake now. Pure, raw dread tended to do that. Kassandra. They had no idea how to explain her recent demeanor to Magnolia. Hell, they didn't even understand it themself! And how to explain Asher? They hadn't told her about him, and they were worried they were going to get punished for that - actually punished, not just in play. Regardless, they couldn't not tell her. They wouldn't lie to her.
"Kassandra has... been acting differently lately," Lily sighed. "We met someone at the, uh, the tournament, and she... well, she freaked out."
"Define freaked out."
"She wanted to run. She usually fights back, is angry. She'd never dare run away if it'd show weakness. You saw that, even if she was weirdly... subdued, with you. But she was scared. I've never seen her scared like that." Magnolia raised an eyebrow. "Since then, she... she's been tired. As if she's been fighting something, although what, I couldn't possibly know. She doesn't want to talk to me, or come out. She's... exhausted. And that's not something that I knew she could even be."
Magnolia pursed her lips as she parsed that. "I... see. And... how does that feel to you?"
Lily was taken aback by the odd question. "I-I don't know. It's new. And weird."
There was silence, both understanding that neither of them understood anything. Although Lily was secretly hoping that Kassandra would come back soon. They didn't know what to do with the loneliness. As much as they'd dreamed of being free from her, they didn't know what to do without her.
A thought crossed their mind.
Was she... fading away? Back into Lily?
Magnolia dragged them out of that thought with a sudden order. "Bring her out."