“Now you’ve done it, Naja. Was that a damn pure paralytic? What is it, 1992 again? Did you learn that one at a festival in some muddy field outside Cornwall? Ketamine revival chic?”
“Look, she’s not running any more,” Naja protests, toeing your collapsed but still very much aware body with the tip of her slingback. “Same end effect.”
“No it’s not. We’ve still got most of the pre-conference reception to get through and now she can’t move her muscles consciously. Well, there’s nothing for it. Help me stand her up. If we move her around occasionally until it wears off, pose her by a different cocktail table or something every few minutes, maybe Cora won’t notice? Oh, wait, she can’t talk!”
“You worry too much, Brina,” the shorter, darker demon says. “Half of the plus-ones here aren’t exactly capable of conversation any more. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She gets an arm under one of your shoulders, and you feel the silk of her romper against your bare back; the dress Cora picked for her toy has a lot of cutouts. “C’mon, gorgeous, up you go.”
The two slowly manipulate you into a standing position by one of the farther tables of the reception and prop a phone in one hand and a drink in the other, their hands everywhere on your body as they adjust every major joint. You can see yourself reflected in the glass, a metallic black minidress hugging your modest curves, sparkling jewelry at your wrists, your throat, your ears, pinned in your hair.
“I think she looks fine. Frankly, now I feel a bit underdressed and inelegant next to her. Oooh, can I take a selfie?” Naja doesn’t wait. She poses against your motionless body and grins, showing big amber eyes and two huge fangs. Her phone camera flashes.
“You’ve sent it to me and Cora. Naja, you utter prat. Hope you liked free will while you had it.”
Thirty minutes of inconsequential talk about fantastic things later, Cora hasn’t returned. Some of the feeling in your body has. Naja catches you shifting your weight slightly.
“Hmm. Has it been that long already?” She steps directly in front of you, and reaches up to wrap her arms around your neck, looking directly into your eyes. One of her fingers twines itself into your hair. “Are you going to try to run away again, or are you going to be a good girl and wait here with us for Cora?”
As if you could want anything more than to see her eyes again, feel her teeth again, drop once more and feel yourself dissolve in the vast sea of her will. You were just scared, apart from her, in a zoo of unfamiliar shapes and voices. It won’t happen again. You’ll offer up those traitorous synapses to her and feel them crushed into oblivion.
“Oh, don’t act like you’re expecting a straight answer, even you’re not that stupid,” Brina mutters irritably.
You force your lips to part just the slightest amount, push through Naja’s fading paralysis venom to make the faintest whisper of accession pass your lips: “I’ll be good.”
Naja smirks. She wraps more fingers into your hair, uses her grip to nod your head up and down, then lets go of you. “Brina, an outside observer might think you’re often pointlessly cruel to me for no reason.”
“You’re one of my closest friends and a constant embarrassment. I have no end of reasons. For example, one is that I’m babysitting you, and another is that if you weren’t here, I’d still not be allowed to do anything fun with Cora’s gorgeous little marionette. And by the way, she’s trembling. I think she’s likely to fall over.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Given these heels Cora put her in? I’m surprised she could put up with the pain before I locked up all of her muscles. She’s only human.”
“I could fix that…” Brina sighs. “Wait. I see a booth.” She puts the remnants of her drink down on the little cocktail table. “Help me with her.”
The tall demon with the teal hair slings you over her shoulder as best she can. You start sliding off almost immediately, but Naja eels around to your side and shoves you back into place. Between the two of them, you’re slowly dragged to the booth, where Brina dumps you into an open seat.
Naja kneels to force your legs into a sitting position, whistling as she does so. “This dress is fucking incredible. You really have to see it from down here, but that slit goes all the way up, and so do the straps on her shoes.”
“She always did have good taste when dressing up her toys.”
“Oh yeah?” Naja slips into the booth beside you and bends your arm so that your elbow is on the table and your chin is resting on your hand. She’s not gentle about it; you really hope it doesn’t bruise. “I guess you’d have had the whole experience. Personally, I don’t think I could ever, y’know, give that much of myself away.”
“Sod off,” Brina snaps, “I’m not defending myself to you, of all people. I needed it at the time, and she’s… caring? I don’t know. You wouldn’t get it.”
Naja opens her mouth, then closes it without saying anything immediately. Instead, she reaches out to grasp her friend’s hand across the table, touching it much more gently than she’s been touching you.
You hear Brina snort.
There’s a moment of silence. You wonder what kind of person, even a demon, could have parted from Cora, or even formed the thought. You’d try to ask, but you still can’t move most of your muscles, especially after the effort it took to answer Naja.
“Did she say anything? Did she see the photo?”
“Indicator says she still hasn’t read it.”
“Shit. I’ve been expecting to feel her pointy little fangs on my neck any minute now, but the first presentation’s quite soon. This isn’t like her. Do you suppose she’s got pre-show anxiety again?”
“I wouldn’t blame her. Have you seen the people out there? We poor suckers from Clan Serpentine are midweight for this crowd, at best. I passed what I think was a Heresiarch in the hallway earlier and their aura nearly made me piss my playsuit. Speaking of which,” Naja stands up, “I’ll be right back.”
“I’d come with, but,” Brina waves a hand in your direction, “her.”
As soon as Naja leaves, Brina puts her phone down.
Minutes pass. More of your muscles return to sensation, first numbness, then an acid searing, followed by pins and needles.
Once more, as she did the previous night, she runs her fingers gently over the now almost invisible bite marks Cora left on your neck. She brushes some hair out of your face and she sighs.
“Do you know,” she says to you, “if Cora does get biting mad, I’m not sure I’d mind it. But it wouldn’t be the same.”
Her phone on the table buzzes once, then again.
“Shit,” Brina mutters. She shows you the screen. It says
BATHROOM. LAST STALL. NOW. “I can see your eyes are tracking again. Do you think you can walk?”