Mercy, and Other Costly Mistakes

5. Spiderhawk

by gargulec

Tags: #cw:gore #D/s #dom:female #pov:bottom #pov:top #sub:female #bondage #fantasy #sadomasochism
See spoiler tags : #exhibitionism #humiliation

Unlike some of her siblings, Shard had never refined her taste in fear. Watching the alchemist try her hardest not to tremble, waiting for the answer to her litany of bizarre desires, she therefore couldn't tell if the delectable buzz in her stomach was coming from that dread, or just from simply the fact that the mortal girl was finally in her place: kneeling before Shard.

Either way, she hadn't felt that good in weeks. Not since she went on the run.

"And I want…," Ifi choked up, "I dream of…"

She kept staring at Shard, face pulled taut into a ridiculous mask of anticipation and desperate need. Her heart thrummed with worry intense enough to be almost tactile. Shard imagined it as a thread she twisted around her finger, the tip of the claw tracing a circle on Ifi's cheek. There was no rush to let the moment pass; in fact it was better to make it last.

The idea of a sharp "no" appealed. The quivering mass at her feet humiliated Shard, drugged her, kept her chained. Mortals shouldn't be allowed to get away with treating the children of the Lair-Mother that way, and for all that Shard needed the alchemist alive to get back at Villis, breaking her wouldn't kill her. At least not immediately.

The edge of her claw pushed closer to Ifi's cheek; a small flick of the wrist drew a thin red line. The cut was too shallow to register, for either of them, but the alchemist shivered at the touch in a disarmingly fragile way.

It wouldn't do to have the girl crumble and break under the weight of a single word. The spectacle would likely be widely joyous and vindicating, but in the end, it wouldn't be all that difficult from just rending her the old-fashioned way. Shard picked a drop of Ifi's blood onto the edge of her claw, and then shook it off. The cut bled barely more than that; Shard was still a master of her own hunger.

The alchemist's mouth twitched, stuck on an unspoken question, on a plea. Her hands clasped at her plain robe, crumpling the fabric in a death grip. Shard tried to imagine how the silence had to feel to her. To speak all of her heart's hidden desires, and be rewarded not even with a denial, but the torture of hoping for a yes? Yes, the buzz she was riding was definitely Ifi's fear.

And how Shard could still add to it! With a cool smile, she slipped her hand under the girl's chin, pulling her head up, and allowing one of her claws to casually brush against the exposed throat. She felt her gulp, she felt the bloom of a different bouquet of fear, of this animal reaction of a body in danger.

It was a heady hit, even for Shard. But staring into the girl's face, and seeing her eyes locked onto her porcelain shell as if she was the only thing in the world, Shard reminded herself that she didn't have to rush the big release. There would be time for it in the days to come. For now, she could just longue in the sense of having the alchemist firmly in her power.

"So that's what you want of me?" she asked, careful to keep her tone neutral, but for a hint of contempt. "To mistreat you," she repeated from the litany, "like a slave, like a dog?"

"Yes," the girl whispered, the word barely making it out through the clenched throat.

Under her hand, she felt her pulse, rabbit-rapid. Blood flushed into Ifi's cheeks, painting her bright pink. There was something more to the fear, a taste that Shard hadn't sampled much before: biting shame. She didn't remember it being that sweet before. She just couldn't help herself; she had to seize on it.

"A grown woman groveling for the belt?" she let her contempt show more, adorned it with a hint of bemusement. "Pathetic."

The word went in like a knife; she could feel it open something tender; she could feel the recoil inside. And then, sure as blood from a cut, fear followed insult. Ifi's eyes went as wide as they could, and reflected in them Shard saw the certainty of an impending rejection. Once more, she stretched out the silence, careful not to relax the grip on Ifi's head.

"Admit it," she ordered finally, voice loud and sharp, her hold tightening. "Loud!"

To Shard’s visceral joy, the girl didn't hesitate even a second.

"It's pathetic!" she bawled out, her fear and need setting her voice bare and trembling. "I am pathetic!"

"Good," Shard commended her, letting a softer note into her voice, an approving one. "And don't you forget it."

She let Ifi's chin go and then, with a lazy swipe, slapped the girl's cheek with the back of her hand. She yelped and stumbled, losing her balance, falling face first, landing on her hands. It wasn't a strong blow; it barely registered as a pleasant jolt in Shard's arm. It wasn't even meant to bruise. Yet, Ifi was struggling to get up from her fours.

To be honest, Shard liked her there even more than on her knees.

"Stay there," Shard snapped at her, swiping at the air. Ifi froze, quietling panting. "Eyes on the floor."

Her arms buckling under her weight, the girl could no longer hide trembling. She was shaking, her shame sloughing off her in thick slices, each a fresh smear of sweetness between Shard's flesh and her shell. Sweat beaded on Ifi's head; Shard gathered some on her claws, letting them draw wide, red arcs across the alchemist's shaved scalp.

Shard's tongue snaked from her mouth, a thin braid of saliva dropping down to splash on the girl below. She tasted the sweat and found in it everything she expected: the fear, the humiliation, even some fading pain. And still, there was so much more she could get out of the moment. Because she missed it; she missed that sheer satisfaction of knowing that someone else is hers to hurt.

"Did you like it when I hit you?" she asked instead, still leaving that bemused edge in.

"Yes," Ifi whimpered.

"And do you like that you're not allowed to look at me?"



Shard turned around and took a few steps back, towards the counter. It struck her that every time her feet clicked against the tiles, another tiny worried tremor went through Ifi. She made sure to step loudly.

"You really are a chameleon," she mused, leaning back and taking a look around the shop. "Hide among normal people, perfectly faded into their world. But that is just camouflage, is it not? But your true colors are different, are they not? Those of a slave," she lingered on the word, drew the disdain out, "of a dog."

She let her voice hang there, to get the last sampling of the fear before she dissipated it.

"I think they suit you well," she announced, smiling to the thought of the red of Ifi's shame, and Ifi's blood. "You will have what you want."

Shard wasn't built to taste relief; but she could tell the flood of it by the sudden absence of the buzz inside. And yet, not all pleasure was gone: the shame lingered, sticky-sweet.

"Thank you," Ifi whimpered out, continuing struggling to stay in position.

Shard held her there for a moment longer before waving her hand.

"Get up," she demanded, "come to me."

Much to her amusement, and slightly to her enjoyment, Ifi still held her head down as she approached. It wasn't anything particularly physical for Shard; she just appreciated the deference. The alchemist stopped close to her, her hands on the counter, resting her weight against it.

For a time, they were both quiet. All the kinds of hurt radiating from Ifi faded one by one, as did the pangs of Shard's hunger. Only the air in the shop continued to taste heavy, thick with the stink of sweat and something more. The impurities of mortal flesh, made apparent! Yet, as the silence stretched, Shard realized, to some surprise, that she didn't exactly know what to do next. There was clearly some expectation that Ifi had and wouldn't voice. Was she supposed to hit her again? To go down the list of things the alchemist asked for at the start? Or just stop? Maybe discuss Villis now, now that the girl was amenable and easy to manipulate? Maybe that was a good idea, and…

"May I touch you?"

Ifi's voice was still the same weak, small thing; she still hasn't raised her head. Yet, it scaught Shard off-guard. It was the kind of question she was used to. In fact, people tended to beg her not to touch them. She hesitated. Was it some sort of a ploy? Then she looked at the alchemist, barely holding herself up, and sounding meeker than a beggar, and realized that maybe she was worrying too much.

"Do as you wish," she said, not sure what to expect.

Ifi came a step closer, and wrapped her arm around Shard's chest, and pulled herself in. Shard felt her press herself to the shell, her warmth spreading across the porcelain surface, her head rested in the nook of her clavicle, her breath condensing on the shell. She could even hear the beat of the girls' heart, ragged at first, only to steady as she continued to hold on tight.

It wasn't that Shard didn't understand embraces. She was aware that they were gestures of intimacy and closeness. She just didn't quite understand this one. Just mere moments ago, this girl was begging to be hurt, and now she was holding onto her as if onto a lifeline? Something here was wrong; it was just plain odd to ask for tenderness from one's torturer. Hurting was hurting, caring was caring. So which way did the alchemist want it to go? Shard stayed still, neither turning Ifi away, nor returning the gesture. Not that the alchemist seemed to need that.

But as the embrace stretched on, the question continued to irk her, like a knot she couldn't untie.

"What is this?" she asked, perhaps a bit more annoyed than commanding. "What do you want?"

"I'm…" Ifi murmured something incoherent. "Can I ask you something?" and then, without waiting, still latched onto Shard: "Am I really pathetic?" There were all shades of hurt in her voice, but none of them fresh; each more like an old bruise or a scar. "Is it true?" she demanded.

"What?" Shard sputtered. If the hug confused her, the question baffled. "You've said it yourself," she said with a dismissive shrug.

"Because you've made me say it," it clearly didn't satisfy the alchemist. She was mumbling now, her words muffled and slightly slurred. "And I… It's just… But I don't want to…"

The surprise transformed into its close kin, annoyance. She reached behind her back, pried the alchemist's arm away from her waist, and pushed her away,

"You asked to be humiliated," she stated coldly. "I gave you exactly what you wanted."

"Yes, but…" Ifi looked to the side, still avoiding facing Shard directly. She picked at her brooch nervously. "I just… you know..."

"I don't! What's the problem all of the sudden?" Shard snapped. Could that damn woman stop manipulating her? "Do you want me to tell you it's not pathetic for a grown woman to beg to be treated," she tried to imitate Ifi's voice next, "like a slave, like a dog?"

Once more, a thin film of pleasure spread between Shard's shell and flesh. But it was different this time; sharper, more sour. Ifi turned red on the face and hunched.

"You ask for it," Shard continued, a vague sense of something being out of joint worming its way around her awareness, "I give it to you. It's your demand, and apparently your pleasure. What else do you want?"

She made a mistake, she realized. She had no idea what that mistake was, but she saw a shadow go through Ifi's face, leaving it hardened as it passed. The alchemist straightened, stepped away.

"You are right," she said with flat, dull anger. She wiped something from under her eye, hand sliding over the red spot left by Shard's slap, "You gave me what I've asked for."

The stare she gave Shard wasn't entirely hostile; mostly tired. But little remained in it of the deference and desperation. Of the power that Shard had over her. An ugly feeling bubbled inside of her.

"Is it my fault that those are your wants?" she hissed, knowing it was not going to help. "Would you rather have me lie…"

The alchemist reached behind the corner, for that green bottle she had stowed away there. She uncorked it and swallowed its content in one gulp. She seemed to neither listen, nor care for what Shard was saying.

"...and pretend?"

"I have work to do," she said, without looking or acknowledging Shard's rant. "I'll be at it all night. In the meantime, make yourself at home."

"But we need to talk about Villis," Shard protested; she didn't like how needy it made her sound. "We need to plan!"

"I need to clean up after my messes. And you need to not bother me until I'm done."

She stomped downstairs, locking the door, and leaving Shard alone with herself.

Solitude has never bothered her before. There has never been a good reason for her to tie herself to others. The world was vast and open, and hers to stalk through. Others in it were prey, were stepping stones; the first to be eaten, the second to be used. And what use were there in attachment to either?

It was therefore a novel experience to have loneliness creep up on her all out of the sudden. Novel, and thoroughly unpleasant.

What remained of her prowl was three empty rooms: a sparse bedchamber, a tiny kitchen, and a shopfront where the smell of Ifi's shame still hazed in the air, an intolerable reminder of what had slipped from Shard's hands mere moments before. And that was it.

And then, filling the crack between the loneliness and imprisonment, there was the sting of being turned away from the alchemist's workshop. How could it come to this? She used to hold the cream of the High Families crop in the palm of her hand! Her words carried the weight of the Lair-Mother's own decrees! She could show at the Table splattered in blood, and feel the mighty fear even looking at her wrong! And now, she couldn't stop thinking of a Middle City alchemist on all fours, struggling to keep with Shard's silly command. She was yearning after an absolute nobody's pathetic blush.

She climbed into the small chamber that was Ifi's bedroom, just to move. But ten steps up stairs couldn't carry her away from her thoughts, and the mounting disgust of powerlessness. The crack in her shell itched; it wasn't pain as much as a constant, idle unwellness. She kept touching the sides of the wound, expecting to find her hand stained with pus, but even when her hands kept coming off clean, the relief was at best momentary.

There was no luxury to distract her in the alchemist's room. The woman lived a sparse life, seemingly suspended between nights in her workshop, and unfulfilled, bizzare. The few books were all recipes and alchemical references, the wardrobe disappointingly. The only secret that Shard could find was the money, stashed away in a hidden compartment in the dresser. But she had no use for the gems or the papers. Just as she had no use for the time slowly passing, or for herself, or for anything at all.

Waiting had a crushing weight.

The more she dwelt on the disaster earlier - and try as she might, she couldn't help but to dwell - the more she found herself longing for the high-vaulted caverns she was born and made in. That too was a novel feeling; her kind tended to flee their home whenever it could, to be reeled back in only when the Lair-Mother demanded tribute. But it was a land of simple principles mercilessly upholded. Meanings and actions were set there, and simple to understand.

She missed clarity.

Ifi left her cosmetics case out on the dresser. The large, sandalwood box asked for attention, drawing an eye to its carved panels. They were so much richer than any of the alchemist's furniture. Nubile oreads danced across them through peaks and valleys, their feet barely touching the ground. She didn't check it earlier; now it gave her an idea. It opened smoothly, revealing half a dozen compartments, most of them empty. Two balding brushes stuck by their lonesome in an extensive rack, accompanied by a lone box each of cheap face powder and blush, and a kohl pencil. She grabbed it; the rest was just sorry to look at.

The pencil wasn't the tool she preferred, but she needed to do something with her time, and painting her head required both that, and focus. She grabbed a chair, sat down before the mirror, and went to work. She knew what pattern to try for: a tarantula hawk, its filament wings wrapping around the sides of her head, legs splayed wide. Predator insects were the favoured emblem of hers. "Spiderwasp" was what Villis used to call her before he learned her name, before he learned how to speak of her without fear. But the tarantula hawk, especially, was the sign of her triumphs. She wore it when Villis was in her hands, when the fortunes of Master Glassmaker were at their apex.

The line-work came easily, and for a time, she managed to lose herself in the art, carefully painting the pattern on, from the slender string to the alert eyes. It was her talent, and unlike everything else, it survived the year undiminished. With pride, she remembered adorning her sibling's face, before they were set to appear at the High Table for the first time: she as a hornet, and it as a horned dragon.

But different memories started to drag on the tarantula hawk as it emerged from the tangle of lines. The dangerous insect was her face at the moment when she brushed against triumph, and so also at the moment of her greatest failure.

Villis was supposed to break in her hands. But she struck him too fast, and too hard, and somehow instead of snapping him, she sharpened him, and then twice again. Because every time she came close to the top, every time the world was hers to hold, there always had to be a misstep, a mistake, and a stumble.

Used to be that she could fall far and still land high. But it repeated, over and over again. The arc of her life bent into a downward spiral.

She was too good at her craft to let that stop her hand, but each line she drew on her head made it that much easier to realize that she was wrong about herself. What she was seeing reflected in the mirror was not a banner of her victories, but the mark of defeats.

How did the shells of the Lair-Mother's children break, under the chisel and the hammer? She knew: very slowly, and then all at once.

So did she.

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