The stairway leading above the bar is blocked by a velvet rope and a sign which reads “PRIVATE EVENT”. The bored bouncer barely even looks at you as he says, “Read the sign, honey.”
You present the black and red lacquered invitation card, and the small book bound in snakeskin, place them on the counter in front of him, and curtsy deeply and precisely.
“I don’t know what that is,” he says without even looking at it. “Not on the list.”
Still holding the curtsy, as instructed, you say, “My mistress, Domina Fulvius of Clan Serpentine, humbly presents the compliments of her Clan, and the invitation extended to her by the Lord Archivist.”
“That’s nice. My boss owns the bar and he says not to let anyone upstairs who’s not on the list.”
Your instructions have run out and you’re unsure what to do. Falling back to a more general set of orders, you carefully back up, still bowing, still facing towards the bouncer, and then return to your mistress’s side, not daring to look at her.
“Mistress, this thrall was rebuffed by their gatekeeper,” you whisper, ashamed. “This thrall is not confident of the protocol for this occasion, and requests correction.”
Cora grits her teeth, upper fangs showing briefly above her lower lip, not looking at you either. You bow your head in intensifying shame.
“‘This thrall’ did her job perfectly,” she says. “Your education requires that I explain later.” She whispers in a lower, barely audible voice, “That gatekeeper, on the other hand, could learn some manners.”
Louder, to the retinue around her: “Security One and Two, to me.” Your mistress strides forward, two well-muscled Serpentine demon thralls in fitted suits flanking her slightly shorter form.
Her choice of formalwear for the invitation was a sharp black pantsuit, moss green blouse, and expensive-looking pointy-toed black silk flats. You assisted her in dressing not two hours ago, and while some of the subtleties of Cora’s fashion sense are totally lost on you, you are absolutely certain that the blouse sets off her gorgeous green eyes.
“Is there a problem?” she asks the bouncer.
“Depends on who’s asking. That yours?” He indicates you.
“She is mine, yes.”
“Sorry, lady. Wasn’t expecting, you know,” he makes a vague dismissive gesture with one hand, “cattle.”
“Mm.” Cora’s mouth narrows, but she doesn’t say anything immediately. “It’s ‘Domina’, actually.”
“Okay?” The bouncer doesn’t seem to recognize the term.
“Please remember that,” she says. “As my thrall mentioned, as the invitation no doubt reads, we are here at the invitation of the Lord Archivist. Do I need to wait for you to contact a superior and confirm this, or are you adequately informed about your master’s guests?”
The bouncer pauses, picks up the invitation. “Yeah, it does say ‘and retinue’, I guess. I’ll skip calling it upstairs, lady, just keep ’em in line. This for the boss?” He picks up the small book bound in snakeskin that you were instructed to present along with the invitation.
“It is a gift from Clan Serpentine intended for the library of the Lord Archivist, yes.”
“Yeah, you can take it up yourself,” he says, and tosses the book at Cora. Your heart skips a beat at this threat to your mistress. Time seems to slow, and you’re about to dive for it, but you’ll never make it…
Before your body can react, one of the security thralls steps in front of her and intercepts it neatly. He turns and hands it to you. You take it from him, outwardly composed, but your mind is still racing.
Then Cora says “All, follow me,” so you follow her, your threat reaction fading. Something very, very far inside you doesn’t think this is quite right, but it’s not supposed to be thinking anyway. Instructions are instructions. Security has their role. You have yours.
Upstairs is a lot bigger than downstairs. The top of the tiny spiral staircase expands into a large reception area, a forest of columns and furniture, and bookcases, everywhere, bookcases, in rich, dark wood. Your heels wobble slightly on the thick blood-red carpet.
There’s a curved desk near the top of the stairs. There’s a demon behind the desk. You came away from your brief exposure to the various Clans and metaspecies at Pandemonium with the correct impression that demons can look like nearly anything, but you can tell this one is definitely a demon, because of his spiraling, ram-like horns.
He rises from his chair behind the desk, flashing an extremely toothy smile.
“Domina Fulvius! Welcome to the Library. I hope your journey here was a pleasant one.”
“Pleasant enough, thank you,” your mistress says. “May I assume you are the Lord Archivist’s majordomo?”
“You may,” he says, flashing that grin again.
“And if I actually assumed that,” she asks, smiling, “how far off would I be?”
“Ah, now, I’d heard Serpentine still retained some respect for the way things are done, but the last delegation was so stodgy that I’d almost lost hope. You may correctly assume I am his majordomo, at least. I am called Isaac. Two security, these two?”
“Excellent. It would please me to provide accommodations for you and your retinue, Domina; you’ve arrived well in time for a tour of the facilities and dinner before business. Allow me to direct you to your suite.”
You hear the grunts of bearer thralls somewhere behind you as they heft the delegation’s luggage again. As Cora follows Isaac through wide stone hallways hung with tapestries and lined with the same treacherously deep red carpet, you and her security follow Cora closely; the Serpentine lawyers and their secretaries trail out behind.