You lie at your sleeping mistress’s side: in any state from tranced out from fully conscious, you know instinctively that this is where she needs you, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite the eerie auroral glow of the Basement night sky over the phosphorescent glimmers in the churning dark seas below, you eventually fall into an uneasy sleep. Your restless mind replays the last thing you can remember clearly before you met your mistress in person:
You’re in a Vietnamese cafe on Market Street, a plate of spring rolls and sweet potato fries in front of you, iced coffees on either side.
Across the table is your ex-girlfriend Chloe. Maybe just “friend” would be more appropriate at this point. It wasn’t a bad breakup: she couldn’t give you what you needed from the relationship, you didn’t think you could find it elsewhere and still have room for Chloe. You’ve both processed the hell out of this, separately and together; it’s been months; you’re cool.
It feels like every queer trans woman in the tech industry ends up dating every other queer trans woman in the tech industry eventually. Chloe “Throughput” Chen has already been there, done that, hooked up with a few of the cissies for good measure, and taken notes. She’s been trying to set you up with somebody almost since you broke up, and honestly, you could use the help.
“Babe,” she says, leaning backwards and sideways in her chair, “I think I know who you need.”
“Oh God. Did you talk to Elyse already?”
“I didn’t have to. You have like no poker face whatsoever. Not even over pure text. It’s amazing.”
“It was so awkward! She’s like this badass motorcycle witch queen on every level, except she’s afraid to tell me what to do in bed, let alone outside of it.”
“Elyse? No. Seriously? No!” Chloe is mock-scandalized, her hazel eyes sparkling under carefully shaped brows as she soaks up the vicarious sexual awkwardness. “I can’t imagine that woman afraid of anything on this earth. Seriously?”
“Seriously. At least with us, I could tell you were trying. You got me to drop a few times. You were, just, you know,” you mumble off.
“Bad at it.” Chloe says. “You can say it. I was there, remember?”
“…yeah. But you’d just run out of ideas, and then I’d kinda float back up? With her, it was like, maybe a better way to put it is, after the first time, she wasn’t afraid of telling me what to do, she was afraid that I’d do it. Whatever it was. She said it was too much responsibility.”
“Fuck. I am legitimately sorry to hear that,” Chloe says. “Well, I’m even more sure I have the girl for you, then, because I was definitely not the girl for her. Which is sad, because I’m the girl for everybody. But.”
Chloe sits up, tenting her fingers.
“The deal with this one is, she’s not Elyse intense, she’s actually kinda relaxing to be around, but there’s never a question of who’s in charge. She read me in like two dates: ‘Chloe, you have a lot of good qualities, but I’m looking for someone steadier and more submissive.’ And that was it.”
“What’s her name?”
In your memory, the answer to that question changed your life. In your dream, someone taps you on the shoulder. You turn. There’s a blonde in a tight grey turtleneck sweater and a charcoal pencil skirt behind you. A blonde with curly grey horns. The grey spade-shaped tip of a long, outstretched tail hovers at shoulder level behind her.
This isn’t how it went.
“Hi. This seems like a good place for me to cut in. I was curious as to how someone like you ended up a walking doll, but I can guess where it goes from here. Ever wonder what would have happened if she’d said a different name? Or did your controller take that capacity from you too?”
She smiles, confident, grey eyes half-closed behind long lashes.
“Doesn’t matter. The instant you fell asleep in this place, I knew I had to introduce myself. Or better yet, I’ll have your friend do it. She’s cute, by the way. It’s a shame you two didn’t work out. Maybe I’ll fix that someday.”
The intruder walks around the table to an unreacting Chloe, bends down, whispers something in her ear, then strokes the side of her neck briefly. Chloe shudders briefly, her face going slack with a moment of pleasure. The intruder takes a few sweet potato fries off the plate and vanishes in a complex, twisting puff of smoke.
Chloe says, “Her name’s Antara.”
You’re eating lunch downtown in the middle of the work day with some girl you met through a mutual friend, and it turns out you two have a surprising amount of chemistry. You bend in for a kiss for dessert. She’s absolutely into it. Her stocking-clad toes finds their way up your skirt, to a rather private spot, to let you know exactly how into it she is.
She breaks the kiss and asks, “Do you want to come home with me?”
It’s hardly a fair question. She’s making it really difficult to think.
“I w— want… yes… please…”
You’re supposed to be back at work soon, but that doesn’t matter any more.
“Yes please, what?”
“Yes… please… I want to come…”
“Lemme finish!” you try to protest.
“I want to come home with you!” you blurt out.
Your head is swimming. Your panties are damp, and that rarely happens. You weren’t expecting this on a first date. She strokes you through your panties with the top of her foot once more, firmly, and the sensation is so much that your vision briefly contracts to just her, across the table: grey eyes, blonde waves, wicked smile.
She teases you in the back of the car, a constant stream of sly little strokes and deniable touches, the entire ride home. Her home, an almost hotel-like expanse of white walls, monochromatic abstract prints, minimalist furniture in dark wood, and deep, soft white carpet.
Antara pushes you down into the carpet and straddles you, grasping your wrists and pinning them to the floor above your head, hovering above you with her mouth just out of reach of yours. Every place her skin touches your skin is electric. You’ve gone nonverbal, and you know you must look like you’re in heat: every moan, every pant, every wriggle, wordlessly begging her to take you, because you can’t think enough to speak.
She gazes down at you possessively.
“I’m pretty sure I could shatter your world with a touch, just now. And believe me, I want to. Oh, I want to. But there’s something we have to take care of first.”
She releases your wrists briefly, sits up, crosses her arms and pulls off her sweater, then her bra, revealing breasts perfectly proportioned on her hourglass frame. She hikes up her skirt. And then she changes. With a brief shake of her head, her nature is revealed: you can see curly grey horns, a thin, arcing tail with a spade tip, and then, immense leathery wings erupt from her shoulders and block out the light from the ceiling fixtures.
You’re shadowed by her infernal glory, held down as much by the shock of her true nature as by her slight weight. Your blood runs cold, the adrenaline rapidly blending with arousal into something new and terrifying and absolutely overwhelming.
“Ah, much better!” she says to the air, and then bends down, pinning your wrists again, locking her gaze with yours. “Let’s make a deal, shall we? I, Antara, of the line of the First Temptress, and of the Morningstar, in service to the Lord Archivist of the Library, offer you the duty of thralldom to myself first and to the Library second, in exchange for the relief of thralldom and the removal of your will, and also such pleasures as you are experiencing now, on a regular and recurring basis.”
She bends even closer to you. You can feel her warm breath on your neck. She whispers in your ear, “This is the part where you say ‘yes’.”
“Do you consent to the contract and bargain as I have described, you who are named,” and then her lips move, but nothing comes out. She tries again. Still nothing.
“Not that you’re going anywhere, but hold on.”
She moves on top of you, leaning down to one side, coming back with your purse. She dumps its contents, finds your wallet, flips it open with one thumb, holds the transparent flap with your driver’s license alongside your face.
“That’s you, all right. Not a bad photo. That’s the name my people looked up for you. Mortal records, Library records, it’s here in your own memories. So,” Antara growls, “Why. Can’t. I. Say. It. Tell me!”
Raptured by lust and fear, on your back in a demon’s den, under an angry succubus, and having left words behind a while ago, your answer doesn’t come quickly, but when it does, it comes first as laughter. You crack up, and so does your state of rapture. The situation is just so absurd. Doesn’t she know?
“Ahaha…” you finally start catching your breath, “…haha… seriously? I must be dreaming — but you must be too, if you think someone like me has or even needs a name.”
And you push her off of you onto the carpet, wings, tail, and all, into a briefly tangled heap. She snarls. You stand up, head clearing.
“That’s just words on plastic. This thrall’s name is hers, as this thrall is hers, and it’s not yours or mine to speak. This thrall’s designation is Theta.”
And that sounds right. Those words were spoken. Not here, but somewhere. Somewhere in the waking world. Where your mistress is waiting for you. The room fills with light.
“And she’s waking up now.”
You blink your eyes open in the waking world. In reality, or at least whatever passes for reality in the Basement, it’s still dark, but the glow of sea and sky provide enough light through the suite’s huge bedroom window to see that your mistress is asleep next to you, hair fanned across her pillow in apparently untroubled repose.
You, on the other hand, are soaked in sweat and still twitchy with the comedown from your nightmare. You quietly slip out of bed, into the suite bathroom. You relieve yourself, towel off a bit, change your pajamas for a fresh pair from your luggage.
When you come back, she’s awake, a familiar silhouette even in this unearthly place, waiting for you, pupils wide in darkness.
“Theta.” It’s as much a question as a statement.
“Y— yes, mistress!”
She pats the bed next to herself. You sit immediately.
“Bad dreams?” she asks.
Then she hugs you fiercely to herself, whispering “Ssssssshh… no more dreams now,” and you sob with relief that she’s still here, that you’re still hers.
Eventually, you’ve cried all that you can, you’ve gone to the bathroom for a box of tissues and come back and used half of it already.
You need to let your mistress know about your dream. You tell her about what Antara tried to tempt you with, promises of pleasure and perversion beyond what you’ve ever experienced.
“But it all felt hollow, even before I realized I was dreaming, because some part of me could tell there was no care behind it. No… no feeling. I would have been just a thing for her to play with, and any enjoyment I got out of it would be only a means to control me. It was nothing like the way you treat me, Mistress. Nothing.”
You sniffle again.
“I had to wake up. I couldn’t be in a world where I’d never met you.”
She strokes your hair in silence for a time, and you relax, slowly, fractionally, but you can’t let go of her yet. “Me too,” she’d said, about her dreams.
“What was your dream?”
“It was a dream of guilt,” she says. “I’d done something, failed my task, over, and over, and over. But it started while I was awake…”
She tells you how they’d retired to the Archivist’s working office, a surprisingly small room nestled on a high floor of the Library, among stacks and stacks of heavy glass tablets. The Lord Archivist himself had been there, and Tove, and lawyers from both clans. The Infernals laid out the real details of the matter at hand.
In your mistress’s best assessment, it was, indeed, something where Serpentine venom and assassins would hugely improve the chances of success. They got down to contract details. But as Cora saw it, and as her retinue of lawyers reluctantly agreed, Serpentine was getting lowballed, hard.
Your terms are unacceptable, she’d said. Thanks, but we’re walking.
That was when Tove had shooed out the lawyers.
That was when the Archivist himself made her an offer.
They couldn’t help but notice, he explained unctuously, that Cora’s current personal thrall was a human. The Library could do better if she helped make this deal happen. She would be provided with a new thrall. A cognitodemon. They had a list, in fact, and she could pick anyone that took her fancy. All above board, no vengeful families, no unfinished business; these were wards of the Library, and the Lord Archivist could do what he liked with them. No duds, either. In fact, she’d already seen one in action.
The top of the list was nigh-indestructible, already blooded in minor combats, a capable librarian and a blooming research sorceress in her own right, and familiar with the fundamentals required to understand enthrallment techniques. It’s true that she has some discipline problems, the Archivist had said, but of course, those won’t be problems for you. Not once you’ve taken her.
The top of the list was Elspeth.
There was just one further minor detail. One of the reasons they’d sought Serpentine support was that part of the plan involved the enthrallment of humans, so obviously, the Library would need one for study, for verification of claims.
Your current personal thrall will do nicely, Tove had said. Since she’s already here.
So that’s it, then. You’d already been torn apart from your mistress once tonight, and then you woke up, and now it’s happening again. But you have to do whatever is in Mistress’s best interest. You understand. You tell her as much.
This is your purpose.
“Of course, Mistress. The trade makes perfect sense. Elspeth would be quite the asset to you, and the cost to the Clan seems reasonable…”
This is what you get for daring to hope.
As you hear your own words, as the ruin of your entire world sinks in, you begin to fall apart.
“Mistress. I… I’ll miss you so much,” you choke out, collapsing against her side as you realize you have no more tears left.
Cora grabs your hand and says, “Theta. I turned the offer down.”
“I’m sorry, Mistress?”
“I turned the offer down. You’re staying with me.”
“But… but why? I’m just a human, I can’t fight, I can’t use magic, can’t do… whatever she could do for you.”
“Because she wouldn’t want to stay up late with me to watch movies. Because she wouldn’t enjoy my cooking like you do. Because, Theta, I can see that you care about me, and that’s not just because of my venom in your veins. Because resisting the call of a succubus in your own dreams, being so thoroughly mine that she couldn’t even use your former name? That’s something special.”
You’ve never seen your mistress cry. You can barely imagine it. But here, in the otherworld dark, you can hear her voice break, you can feel the tear rolling down her cheek.
“I know why you said you’d rather I have someone useful. Why you suggested I take the trade. And I can tell you that she wouldn’t have said that in your place, unless I directly ordered her to speak those words. You’re more than a thrall to me, Theta. You’re so much more. Nobody they could give me would make me as powerful as I am with you by my side.”
Cora pulls you close, lets you bury her head in her chest, nestled just below her chin. “I’d rather have no thralls at all, ever again. I’m not giving you up, Theta.” A pause, a quiet breath to steady nerves. “It’s funny. Here in the fortress of a rival clan, surrounded by a hundred enemies, I finally feel safe… because I’m with you, Theta. I love you.”
You freeze against her, trying to answer the unanswerable. This is more than you had ever dared hope for, thrall or free, human lover or demon. And yet you have to say something!
Finally, you say, “I am utterly yours, mistress. Every cell of my body is yours to command. But even without your control.”
You choke up, another flood of tears coming at the thought.
“Even without it? With the care I’ve felt from you, every day, I’d still want to be at your side, Mistress. I love you too.”
Cora takes both of your hands in hers and looks at the ceiling.
“You hear that, Archivist? Your spies listening? Well, just in case, I’m going to say it again. Theta is mine. I love her. And if you ever try to get between us again, we will make your fate a legend to frighten children, together.”
You hold each other tightly for a while, each of you perhaps hoping to physically assure themselves that the other one is still there. Eventually, your mistress nips the side of your neck, gently, so gently, the tiniest dose of venom, and says, “Sleep now, my love. We’ll both need it.”
You drift off to sleep, together. No dreams, this time.