The first order of business, Cindy decided, was to retrace her Mistress’s steps from the past few days. If she was going to find out what caused Ariella’s sudden loss of control, it was a logical place to start. Her Mistress had been using her power for years without any sign of weakening or wearing out. *Something* must have changed, and Cindy wouldn’t, *couldn’t* rest until she found out what that something was.
*I need to narrow things down. Start with what I know for sure, and go from there.* When did Ariella first notice there was a problem? Mistress had said yesterday that she’d tried to control somebody at the gym, but failed. But Cindy wasn’t sure that her troubles had started then. It had been strange when Ariella had come home acting drunk the previous night. She’d never known her to go out for a night of fun without bringing her slaves along. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
If there really was a connection between Mistress’s uncharacteristic behavior and the loss of her power, that narrowed down the timeframe significantly. Cindy was the one who’d organized Ariella’s schedule for that day, so working backwards through it shouldn’t be too difficult. *Who was her last client? It was someone new. What was their name?* She pulled out Ariella’s phone, quickly navigating the familiar interface. She knew all of Ariella’s passwords. She had to, to be able to do her job as what was effectively her Mistress’s secretary.
At about the timeframe she had suspected, she found an appointment for a man named Magnus. That seemed like as good a place to start as any.
Most of an Uber ride later, Cindy found herself growing uneasy. Was she just grasping at straws? She was playing with powers she hardly understood, that even her Mistress hardly understood. How was she supposed to find the reason it had turned traitor? She’d always taken it for granted that the power was something her Mistress was simply *meant* to have.
The car slowed to a halt. She was there. If this was actually where something happened to her Mistress, wasn’t it dangerous? Though the plain white house didn’t have any right to inspire much dread, something just felt *wrong* about it. Like she wasn’t supposed to be there. She shivered.
In spite of that, she had no choice but to go. Danger or not, she had to help her Mistress, and waiting in the car wouldn’t get her any closer to the answers she sought.
Leaving the car, she anxiously approached the front door. She wanted to leave, wanted to run... but she had a duty to her Mistress, and she wouldn’t abandon that so easily.
So she knocked. A muffled voice replied, and footsteps approached the door. Her chest tightened, but she forced herself to stay rooted in place. Moments later, the door opened.
“Hello?” a distinctly *not* sinister man answered politely. He couldn’t possibly have been the one to do something to her Mistress, could he? She didn’t know how to look, but he didn’t seem like some evil mage or dark warlock. Still, though, there was something… *off* about him.
“H-hi. I’m, um, I’m Cindy. I work with Mistress Ariella. I think I have the right address…” Cindy mumbled, unable to hide her apprehension.
“Oh! Yes, yes, she was here a few nights ago. She seemed a bit under the weather. She offered to reschedule the appointment, but honestly, I’m not sure if this whole business is for me after all. Is that what you’re here about?” Magnus asked politely. There wasn’t the slightest hint of deception in his expression. He... genuinely just seemed concerned. He couldn’t have been the one, right?
“Oh, she did? Um, did she say why she didn’t feel well, or..?”
“No. It seemed like she had drunk too much, and it had caught up to her. She was fine at first, but suddenly collapsed, so I called her a cab. Why do you ask? You said you work with her, right? Like I said, I’m not really interested, but I appreciate your diligence.”
“Y-yes, I understand. I’ll, um, pass that along. Sorry to bother you, sir.” Cindy stammered. This didn’t make any sense. She *knew* something was off about Magnus. And if Ariella had really lost control of herself *while* speaking to him, that certainly sounded like it implied a connection between the two things. But Cindy was a good judge of character. As far as she could tell, he wasn’t hiding anything from her. Magnus *had* to be the one she was looking for. Nothing else made sense. But he seemed like he genuinely didn’t know anything. And if that was the case, then she’d lost her only lead.
Despair crashed into her. Maybe if she could get Ariella back here, then *maybe*, just *maybe* she could learn more about what happened. But that was easier said than done. If Mistress was free to move, she wouldn’t have been so panicked in the first place. Instead, she was trapped at the mercy of the person who hated her most. So she didn’t have a supernatural answer to the problem. That only left the mundane one. She had to find a way to free Ariella from her captivity.
If only she knew how.
Lex stared at her phone, numb with anticipation. After so many months, she finally had a chance. Her little sister’s phone number was there, in her phone, waiting for her, and all she had to do was press call. She couldn’t even begin to count how many times she had wanted to reach out, to let Kate know that she hadn’t abandoned her, that she still thought about her always. But until now it had never been an option. When Ariella had first kidnapped her, she’d decided, in yet another act of blind cruelty, to force her to give up all the passwords to her devices so that she could install her fucking parental controls. She’d locked down the system so that Lex was only able to send messages to a handful of pre-approved contacts, and even blocked the internet *entirely* to prevent Lex from sneaking a message out that way. All to break her will down. It hadn’t worked. It just stoked the fire.
Extracting the passwords she needed from Ariella’s mind had been trivial, thanks to her former tormenter’s newfound obedience. That part wasn’t hard, but summoning the will to face what came next was proving difficult. She hadn’t spoken to Kate in over a year, and... it hurt to think about what her sister must think of her now.
The memories were painful, but that pain had become her constant companion, a candle Ariella tried to snuff out. Kate would come home from school every afternoon, eager to tell her big sister all about her day. Lex’s heart would melt before Kate’s glowing, innocent smile, which was so earnest it was impossible to refuse. If only things could have stayed that way forever. What had Kate done to deserve the mental illness, the depression and anxiety and everything else, which slowly sapped the joy out of her? The depression had set in gradually, but that hadn’t made it any easier for Lex to watch as her sister fought a battle with herself.
She’d spent so many nights consoling the weary girl, trying to be a source of calm and stability in a world that felt increasingly dark and unforgiving to her. After Lex had graduated college, she’d offered for Kate to move in with her. That way, she didn’t have to be alone. And didn’t have to be in the house they grew up in. It hadn’t been a bad home, but it was stifling. And as the days and weeks had gone by, it was obvious that her little sister had appreciated it beyond words.
And then Ariella had wanted a new toy. She’d never even *asked* if Lex had any family, when Lex had come, stumbling under the weight of her responsibilities, to enjoy a night of bliss, and had ended up a slave to an egotistical bitch instead. Was Ariella really so heartless that she hadn’t even considered the possibility? There was no telling how much damage Lex’s unexplained absence had done to Kate, and the moment she made the call was the moment the consequences became real and tangible to her.
*But each moment I don’t make the call is another moment I spend worrying.* She made the call. The phone rang, then it rang again, and again. Her heart sank. Then, thankfully, she heard someone pick up.
It was her. Lex’s mouth was dry. She didn’t know what to say, paralyzed by a veritable storm of emotions. Finally, after what felt like hours, she responded.
“Kate? It’s… it’s Lex.”
Another pause, longer this time. Then, Lex heard faint sobbing.
“Oh, God, I’m… I’m so sorry. Kate, I… I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to leave you. I love you, you know, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” Lex choked back tears of her own as she struggled to find the words.
“You… I… You don’t…” Kate whispered, “I thought you hated me. I thought you got tired of taking care of me and ran. I…” Kate was barely coherent between sobs.
“No, oh, God, no. Kate, I love you. I didn’t want to leave. Something happened, someone made me. I wanted to call you so many times, but they wouldn’t let me. Oh, please… please, forgive me.” Those words weren’t enough. How could they be? There were no words for moments like this.
Kate was bawling now, though from sadness or joy, Lex couldn’t tell. For a moment, they just sat there, Kate crying. The pain of not having her sister in her arms was too much. She wanted to hug Kate for hours, do anything she could in a desperate attempt to make up for the time which had been stolen.
Eventually, the crying from the other end of the line grew softer. Lex squeezed her eyes shut.
“Are you...ok?” she asked hesitantly. “Where are you?”
“I’m… I’m fine,” her sister said slowly.
“I know better than that, Kate. Please. Tell me.”
“A-alright. I’m still at our apartment. I’ve been here all this time, I… couldn’t bear to leave.” That was all Lex needed to know. She wouldn’t waste a second longer. It was time to make things right.
“Alright. I’m... I’m going to come over. I’ll be there soon. I love you, Kate. I won’t ever leave you again, ok?”
“Yes, ok… I… I... thanks, Lex.”
Lex’s heart leapt. She’d missed this. She’d missed Kate. She hung up the phone, wiped her eyes, and tried to collect herself. The wait was almost over. She was going to see her sister again.
She turned to Ariella, who had been sitting motionless on the couch throughout the exchange. Tears were rolling down her former Mistress’s face. Maybe the bitch was finally starting to see the evil she’d done. During her captivity, Lex had tried to hide her pain, knowing Ariella would probably just taunt her for it. But now, she had the upper hand, and she was going to make Ariella see exactly how much suffering she had caused. No punishment could ever be enough to make up for what she’d done. But this was a good start.
However, Ariella couldn’t be present for the upcoming reunion. Not just because it would weigh on Lex’s mind, but... Kate had always been ashamed of her struggles with self-care and maintenance. Lex wasn’t sure what sort of state her sister was in, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Bringing Ariella along would be needlessly cruel to the innocent girl who was doing the best that she could.
“Ok, listen up, slave,” Lex said.
Ariella was still frozen, but her eyes met her Queen’s.
“I might be gone for a while, and I don’t want you starving to death, so you can move freely for the time being. However, you may not leave this apartment under any circumstances, and you will not make any attempt to escape or deviate from the spirit of my instructions. Understand?”
Ariella visibly relaxed, stretching out with a groan. Then, she looked back into her owner’s eyes with a pitiful expression.
“Yes. Yes, my Queen. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I-” She started sobbing.
“Stop. I don’t want to hear it,” Lex growled. “In fact, I don’t want you to speak unless spoken to. You get to stay here in silence while I try to pick up the pieces of what you shattered. And while I’m gone, you get to live through a *glimpse* of what I went through these past months. You’re going to think about what you did until it *burns*. You won’t even get to know the extent of the damage, so feel free to imagine the worst case scenario, because you’ll be trapped here instead.
“And maybe, maybe once you’ve finally had a taste of what my life was like, you’ll have the *privilege* of spending the rest of *your* life trying to fix what can’t be fixed. Listen to me. This is an order. You *need* to make this right, whatever it takes. That is going to be the only purpose to your existence until *I* decide I’m done with you. Got it?” Lex spat, towering over the uncharacteristically meek Ariella.
“Yes… Yes, Queen.” Ariella sighed, bowing her head in shame.
“Good. See you later, shithead. If you’re lucky, I’ll be back soon,” Lex said. She gathered her things and made her way towards the apartment door. Then, she stopped dead at the threshold.
*What the fuck?* She tried again, but couldn’t budge. *I’m not allowed to leave without permission.* The thought pushed its way into her mind of its own accord. Lex snarled. *Oh, right. Even though her power is broken, I still couldn’t leave the bed this morning until she told me to.* Thankfully, there was a simple solution to that problem.
“Ariella, tell me that I can leave the apartment and go wherever I want, whenever I want,” Lex said calmly.
Ariella sighed. “Yes, Queen. You can leave the apartment and go wherever you want, whenever you want.”
Lex felt barriers in her mind melting away. She hadn’t even realized how complete her prison had been until she was free. For the first time in a year and a half, she was *free*. Flush with victory, she set out to make things right.