There’s a fair bit of foot traffic through the book-lined Library hallways. You lower your gaze as instructed to avoid accidentally meeting the eyes of any of your hosts and possibly causing offense, but you can still see monstrous forms: wings, horns, goat legs, the occasional flicker of burning eyes. Your calf muscles are burning: your mistress likes you in heels, but she’s taller than you, and keeping up is an effort. You dimly remember not having had much practice wearing them before she claimed you.
Suddenly, at an intersection, something bumps into you from the side, not gently. You’re sent sprawling onto the carpet. The security thralls wheel. You want to get up and shove back, but your mistress was very clear: do not offend.
Maybe it was an accident. Maybe they were just rushing down the hallway not looking where they were going. Maybe this is bullsh—
The thought of defiance dissolves in the venom in your system, the fight going out of you before it starts, a chemical calm flooding you to reinforce your mistress’s verbal orders. From the floor, you watch and listen, passive, your world centered on your mistress, taking in only her and anyone near her. The one that knocked you over is a tall man in a vest, long red hair, crimson clawed fingers, a sour expression.
“This is the Serpentine delegation, isn’t it, Isaac? What the fuck?”
“Tove, you’ve knocked one of them over,” the majordomo observes.
“Never mind that. This is what they’ve sent us? Humans and paper-pushers? My team could have handled this matter just fine on our own without dragging another Clan into it.”
“Excuse me,” Cora says. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. Isaac, would you care to present me to this… individual?”
Her face is calm, no gritting of teeth as when she spoke to the bouncer, but her voice is frosty, as if she has to let out her frustration somewhere, soon.
“It would be my pleasure,” Isaac says, turning to the long-haired man and bowing briefly. “Your Grace. I present to you Domina Cora Fulvius of Clan Serpentine, visiting us in the Library for a diplomatic matter at the Lord Archivist’s invitation.”
He turns back to Cora: “Domina, I present to you His Grace Matthias Tove, the Earl of Bloody Shadows, our 55th Master of Overdue Books.”
It’d sound funny. Except this morning, in the briefing, they told you that Overdue Books was the Library’s unofficial external security branch. Famously brutal. Famously brutal for demons.
You slowly shift into a less cramped position, not daring to leave the floor just yet, but your mistress did order you to be generally ready to serve her in all things, before she ordered you to be very cautious around Infernal nobility. If she calls for you, you want to be ready.
As if she will. What use would you be, anyway? The thought bubbles up, unbidden, and takes longer to dissolve than you are comfortable with.
They size each other up, Cora’s brilliant emerald irises reduced to thin rings around enormous pupils, the Earl’s claws and forearm ridges rippling subtly with his muscles. You hadn’t noticed that the sharp-looking material of his claws extended so far up before. You’ve had something sharp against your neck recently, a paladin’s blade, and you really don’t want to repeat the experience. The Earl doesn’t look like he’d pause, as the paladin did, to justify why he was going to kill you. He’d just kill you. He could kill your mistress. He could kill your mistress and you couldn’t stop it.
Cora slowly extends a hand. “Your Grace.” And to your shock, the Earl kneels, takes her small hand in his huge clawed one, and kisses it. “Domina.”
Behind you, you hear someone exhale a breath she’s been holding.
The Earl rises. “I beg you to forgive my boorishness,” he says to your mistress, voice greasy as anything. “My mind has been occupied with little but thoughts of the task before me, and I was not expecting the, ah, assistance of another Clan. But I was sadly unaware of exactly who the Archivist had requested, and now my heart lightens.”
“It’s true that our profile is not so high as some of the bright stars of Clan Infernal, but we do take pride in our specialties. May I ask,” she says, “how are you familiar with my work?”
“Oh, one hears things, here and there.”
“I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our more recently announced capabilities, in case that makes it easier. And of course I can offer additional, personal insight into the T series options.”
“Ah, T series?” He clearly has no idea what she’s talking about.
“A specialty venom,” she says.
“I’d be delighted. Perhaps later? Isaac, will you make sure the Domina is seated close enough for a chat at dinner? Formal briefings are always so, well, formal.”
“Yes, I will most certainly continue to do my job, Tove,” Isaac says, “and I suggest you get back to yours.”
“Until later, then, Domina,” the Earl says, and departs down the hallway he came from, long red hair swirling in his wake.
Your mistress stares daggers at his back until he’s out of sight. Only then does she say, “Theta, to me,” and even if it’s an afterthought, even if her mind is clearly somewhere other than you, you gratefully rise to follow behind her again.