In the center of the cavernous diplomatic suite’s large, high-ceilinged common room, you kneel by Cora’s feet; the big, impassive security thralls flank her; the independently cognizant members of the Serpentine delegation circle around Cora for a re-briefing. Your mistress is big on repetition when she’s concerned about getting something exactly correct.
“Okay, people. Let me repeat the instructions given to me by Elder Mara and given to you by me, this morning, back home. Some of you no doubt know them already, some of you do not; please pay attention in either case. One,” she ticks the number off on her finger, “assume we’re bugged. We have countermeasures, but cognitodemons, the main occupants of the Library, have an astonishing ability to know lost and hidden things, and we are in their house, as it were. Two, you will show our hosts respect at all times. Although our Clan chose to go a different route from Clan Infernal many generations ago, we are here today in the spirit of friendly cooperation and common goals with our Infernal cousins. Three, we do not have borrowing privileges, so do not attempt to check anything out: we’ve already been introduced to their Master of Overdue Books, and I truly don’t care to meet him in his official capacity.”
Is that a flash of disgust on her face? Probably. Then a smile, a broad, genuine, fanged smile.
“But, four, the Library is supposed to be incredible, so please, when you’re not working, take a tour or something. Read everything you can. This is not an opportunity extended to many.”
There’s some shrugging from the delegation at the last point. Perhaps the Serpentine demons attached to Cora for the duration expect to spend most of it working, or maybe they’re just not that excited by the prospect of a library. Generally, her enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be reflected in the audience. She sighs, and scans the crowd, tongue flicking, assessing the mood.
“Very well. Those of you I can force to enjoy this, I’m not worried about. Those of you who volunteered: thank you. Let’s get this done right so we can go home. Questions? Actually… hold onto your questions for just a minute.”
She turns to a pale, crimson-eyed woman in the front row. “Yelena, are you all right?” Now that your mistress has pointed it out, you’re sure she wasn’t quite that pale this morning.
“I’m not sure, Domina,” Yelena says. “Been a little nauseous since I got here.”
“Have you eaten or drank anything?”
“No, Domina, not since we arrived.”
“Dizziness? A feeling like everything’s just a little too big?”
“Ma’am? How did you know that?”
“You almost certainly have Basement sickness. I felt a transition when we came upstairs from that little bar, and I have a whole lecture for R&D newbies who will be dealing with these phenomena professionally, but I’ll skip it: the short version is that we’re a little bit under the mortal world, in the extra spaces between there and Home. There’s actually a lot of extra space, hyperbolically connected, and while I’m sure the Library has stabilizer pylons, it can be disorienting if you’re far from one and sensitive to that sort of thing. Fortunately, there’s a reasonably effective remedy; Yelena, do you know Radja’s Chrysanthemum?”
“The pleasure venom, ma’am!? I’m just a secretary!”
“Please answer the question, Yelena, or I’ll be forced to report to Elder Mara,” and Cora pauses, staring at the secretary, “that at least one member of my team had a very boring education.”
There’s some polite laughter, and Yelena smiles weakly. “Yes, Domina, I do know it.”
“About a third of the usual dose, I think, and you’ll be all right in half an hour. Try not to overdo it. And, all of you, remember that no properly trained Serpentine demon is just a secretary, just a lawyer, just anything. We’re here because no spell in these books can grant the Lord Archivist the subtle power of our fangs. All right? All right. Any questions?”
There are no questions.
“Fine, go unpack or whatever I’m keeping you from. Security, go secure something, or whatever Crotalus would tell you to do if he was here. Theta, with me.”
You’re alone with Cora in the suite’s enormous master bedroom, which features an antique roll-top writing desk in dark wood, a king-size bed surrounded by an ocean of carpet, and a nearly wall-to-wall window flanked by carved stone columns, opening onto an alien sky and sea below, dark and turbulent. Having unpacked her clothes into the armoire, your clothes into a drawer in the bathroom, and some preliminary paperwork into the desk, there’s nothing for you to do, so you kneel, hands clasped behind you.
Cora stands by the window, arms folded, gazing out at the untamed Basement region beyond, for a long time. But there doesn’t seem to be anything for her out there.
“Mara,” she mutters eventually, “did you really need me to hear that?”
Then she turns to you. “Remove and hang up my jacket.”
You rise and take the jacket as she shrugs out of it. Your hands brush briefly against her silk blouse, the bare skin of her arms. She shivers, the tiniest bit, and yet it’s not cold in here, even by the standards of a snake demon. You hang the jacket neatly in the armoire and return to your mistress’s side, anticipating another instruction.
“How long until this wretched reception dinner?” she asks you.
The entire delegation left their cell phones back at the Serpentine front company building that you departed from, not wishing to test mortal-built device encryption against cognitodemon infomagic. It’s just as well; this dress doesn’t have any room for pockets. Another one of the ways your mistress has chosen to decorate her property is with a delicate gold wristwatch, just like hers, with a band that resembles the fine diamond scales of a snake’s back. It’s mechanical, analog, and not all of the hands measure time, but from the ones that do:
“Two hours, six minutes, Mistress.”
She sits on the edge of the bed and tells you to remove her shoes. You kneel in front of her, between her legs, and carefully slip off each one of her pointy-toed flats. When you rise to put them away, she puts a hand on your shoulder.
“Hold on. I like seeing you like this. Just… let me enjoy it for a bit.”
“Yes, Mistress,” you say, and hold the position, still kneeling before her, head slightly bowed. Your face wears the same neutrally pleasant expression as it has most of your time in thrall to her. You can’t see her face, but she hisses very slightly in satisfaction, and from that time, you know your Mistress’s moods well enough to imagine her smile.
“Oh, Theta. As pretty as you are with most of your will locked away, I need a little more of you tonight. At least for now. I need to be able to breeze into that dinner with you on my arm, and then I’ll know I’ve got one person at my side who isn’t watching me, judging me, and waiting for me to fuck up.”
She bends down to near your eye level, tilts your head back with a finger under your chin.
“Not a lot of time before dinner, though. And I want you in my bed first. This day has been a lot. Every time I think I have a moment to just watch and appreciate how good you look in that dress, someone gets in the way, and if I wasn’t here in a diplomatic capacity… let me put it this way, Theta, you’re about to get a lot of venom in you that should have ended up in the necks of other pests. My glands are aching.”
Your mistress pats a spot on the bed near her. “Sit.”
From even a fairly short distance, your mistress wouldn’t look all that intimidating to a naive observer. Cora wears her straight blonde hair in a blunt-cut bob. Her sleeveless moss green blouse shows off arms which are toned but not particularly muscled. Standing, she would be a little taller than you, maybe 5’9" to your 5’7".
But you’re up close. Something in her speech and her eyes remind you that you’re right next to a demonic predator, a member of a demon Clan that was created, or evolved, or whatever, to take on other demons and win. You’re only human. You could no more refuse her instruction than you could heft the armoire over your head. And she hasn’t even bitten you today.
So you sit, your body trembling with anticipation at an autonomous level. Your heart speeds up, your skin tingles. No doubt she’s noticed it, the response of prey to her predator nature. Perhaps she likes it. Why not? You do.
She brushes your long, dark hair back from your neck and shoulders, gathering it into one hand as the other one grips your shoulder gently. You know what she’s looking for: the bite marks always heal unnaturally quickly, but they’ll still be visible in two hours, a visible reminder of what she’s done to you for anyone familiar with Serpentine venoms, and it wouldn’t do to look as if she had to discipline you. You’ve packed several of the dresses she likes to see you in, and none of them cover much in the way of arms or shoulders, but there are other places.
“Yes, this will do nicely,” she murmurs, and then leans in to whisper an instruction gently into your ear: “Wear your hair down tonight.”
You feel her warm breath on your skin, and then she sinks her fangs into the back of your neck. You gasp with the sharp pain, then whimper slightly as it continues, deepens into an ache. It’s not excruciating, but you can feel the forceful flow of venom into the skin and muscle and minor veins of the back of your neck.
She usually nibbles when she bites, working her teeth a little deeper into you to better introduce the venom, but this time she just bites you again with the same powerful flow. And again. And again. You lose track of how many times. The pain fades as your vision starts to swim and distort. With this much in your system, it won’t be long before you drop.
“Ahhh, that feels good. I like this better, here with you,” she whispers. “Better than temporarily enthralling fools and meddlers. You’ve taken it all so beautifully. Tonight. Every night. I feel like nothing I’ve put into you is ever wasted.”
She lets go of your shoulder, sits beside you on the bed, holds your hands in hers as you begin to slide into hypnotic oblivion. Already she seems to shine and ripple in your vision, like the sun seen though shallow, clear water.
Though the sheer amount of venom makes your movements slow and dreamlike, and even makes it hard to recall your mistress’s standing instructions for you, there’s one that you very much like doing for her, and that you’re always supposed to do for her if you’re alone together when she envenomates you. So you reach down, crossing your arms over each other, grip the hem of your dress, and pull it over your head. You lay it neatly on the floor, then reach behind yourself, unhook your bra, and put it on top of your dress. Then you return to your seated position, clasp your hands behind yourself, and await your mistress’s instructions.
When they come, they don’t seem to be traveling through anything as mundane as air. Her lips are moving, and sound is coming out, but it’s as if your whole body is now tuned to receive them directly in your nerves and muscles, no longer requiring your brain and ears. She stares unblinking at your nakedness, carefully licks her lips clean of a few stray smears of venom, and says, “[…].”
Suddenly you are kneeling before her again. Her pants and blouse have vanished, as have your dress. She’s completely naked, sitting on the edge of the bed. You’re wearing only your stockings and heels, and her necklace, that you never take off. You taste her, only her. You smell her all over you, and you can feel your own arousal in your nipples, between your legs, where your hair moves across your bare back. She brushes a strand back from your eyes, and says, “[…].”
You lie beside her on the bed, bodies nesting against each other, the small spoon to her big spoon. The deft fingers of one of her hands work between your legs, pressing hard against you on either side of your clit; her other arm wraps around you below your breasts, her hand squeezing one rhythmically, not pinching your nipple but pinching behind it, a powerful sensation. Your body strains against hers. You feel as if you’ve been moments from orgasm for a very long time. She murmurs something in your ear that can only be “[…].”
You kneel at one end of the bed, legs spread far apart, hands clasped behind you, back arched, displaying everything about you that only she is allowed to see, in an even lewder version of your normal pose of submission. She reclines below you, not touching you except with her hungry eyes, pupils wide and dark. Her legs are spread, her fingers pressing hard into herself. She closes her eyes, rocking her hips in a quick rhythm, and she gasps one word, over and over again, that you understand as your designation, “Theta…” And then she moans, “[…]!”
You stand just outside the shower, totally naked, waiting for your mistress to emerge so that you can give her the fluffy bathrobe that you’re holding. Instead, she opens the smoked glass door, extends a hand, and beckons. You approach with the robe, and she bats it out of your hand, pulls you into a damp embrace, and kisses you energetically.
Later, as you’re blow-drying her hair, she murmurs, “Thank you, Theta.”
“Of course, Mistress.”
“No, I mean it, I really needed that. I can handle tonight now. I’m sure of it.”