Theodora ran into a tree.
The smack of her flesh colliding with wood had been the only thing to break through the hammer of terror driving her forward. She’d gone out. Away from the confines of the Commander’s space, past the seductive gleam of the black ruling Bell, and then out even further through the unusually open Pride-abandoned gates. Saltpotter’s only entrance and scrutinized exit.
How long ago had brick and structure twisted into green wilderness? When had the press of the sun grown absent, choked by the thick umbrella canopy of the Wodd trees? In her brief bout of madness, she’d run blind, exchanging cobble streets for mud slick paths. Now, she laid on her back cupped by dew sprinkled earth with the thunder of her heart in her ears only surpassed by the painful pressure radiating from her face.
She hoped nothing was broken, even as the taste of copper painted her lips and tongue.
With a wheeze she sat up, disorientated but driven. Above her, as she stood on unsteady legs, shapes danced off a mass of leaves—birds, she presumed, by the cries that wrought the skies. Light-headed and out of breath she leaned against the very tree that had assaulted her, arms outstretched and head bowed as blood dribbled a path from her nose to the whiteness of her blouse, staining her chest with sprinkles of red.
It reminded her of the last time she’d been in the Wodd. When the comforting scent of life and clockwork powder had been tainted by the harsh, driving smell of her own life’s fluid.
She licked her bloodied lips, feeling oddly giddy. Wrong, everything was so wrong.
She swallowed down the dizzying sensation of hysteria, of that clawing rocking buzz that danced through the storms of her painfully clear mentality. Was it the Wodd that made the fog feel lesser, or the terror that still hummed beneath her skin?
Did it really matter?
She stumbled away from the tree with the sound of its hidden birds cawing at her back. There were greater worries now, those that had more to do with the Ashwyn women and less with her own state of mind. If she could think, she could act. Whether she had her bruised and battered nose to thank for it wasn’t of import. She needed… help. Help from the sane and uncompromised. There was little left to do but march away from Saltpotter and the uncertainty that ruled there.
Even as the idea formed, there was hesitance. She did not want to leave. Saltpotter was her home, the base of her lordship, and the cradle of her birth and attachments. Cook was there. Alphonse was there—
She sucked in a harsh breath. Alphonse. She could not leave without Alphonse! There was something so terribly binding in the thought that her once weak legs locked up with sudden certainty. She could attempt the long trek through the Wodd, away from the path to Springhammer, from which direction the strangers had come and maybe down toward Athril and their esteemed Academy. But in doing so she would leave her greatest possession, her vassal.
No. The thought echoed in the cavern of her panicked mind. She was without a horse, without supply, and without her rifle. Worst yet, she was without Alphonse. The journey would be arduous anyway, in nothing but boots and bloodied clothing, with the bite of Notos nipping at her heels.
She swallowed painfully.
Was it better to trek forward alone with the hope of returning with help or turn back?
What would it take to bundle Alphonse in the coming night, toss her over a horse—or woman, if they were still transformed—and ride away?
The sound of her own snort, gargled through a bruised nose, surprised her. Her vassal would think her mad.
Her vassal probably already thought her mad. Stress, Alphonse had called it. Hysteria, Theodora had named it.
But that couldn’t be all that it was.
Wearily, Theodora turned a gaze to the tree that had halted her. If she could be so easily downed by cowardice and mania, what hope did she have of—
There, carved deeply into the wood, coiled an unsettling symbol tinged in blacks and purples. Its general shape appeared to be circular, with one large strike through the center. However, that strike broke off at the ends in a splattered design, spilling veining through the rest of the bark like messy spider webbing—twisted and disconcertingly unnatural. Tilting her head back, she followed the path of the individual tendrils that twined up and up and up until the branches above her appeared more like imperceivable shapes, shadows that swayed in what little wind could be felt.
For a while all she could do was stare, drawn toward patterns that weren’t and shapes that couldn’t be. She swayed, dizzy as her vision blurred and her mind spun whispered tale.
And what was she to do about her broken imagination, which made those branches twist into thick vines? They reached for her as the birds above stretched into abnormal shapes, all of them hungry and drooling, aglow.
She shook herself and winced with gritted teeth. Her nose had stopped its dribble, but the pain from her collision with the tree lingered. It was enough to tear her gaze from the attention sucking canopy above. She stumbled away from the defaced tree with clumsy feet.
Right into the pathway of another just like it.
Theodora’s heart stuttered as her fingers twitched with the urge to touch the markings. A quick glance to the sister-tree beside her was enough to let her know the defacement was far reaching. Wherever she looked, no matter the direction, there pulsed color in veins that throbbed on Wodd-born trees.
And here she stood, in the center of some unnatural star, disorientated and bloodied. A sacrifice of sorts.
What had become of the land she’d maintained?
The hum of a low cry interrupted her ponderings, a grotesque sort of garbling that echoed through the Wodd, painfully familiar in a way that made her throat tighten.
The trees quivered, reactive, as their liquid veins glowed. Their branches shook as the sun-blocking canopy spread out, blanketing the space with thick shadow in all directions. Theodora’s hands flexed, but there was no clockwork rifle to hold as the keening sound lingered—pushed on the wind. She was alone, stripped of all that made her unique in a land that was no longer within her control.
The Wodd had been taken as completely as Saltpotter, transformed (and transferred) right under her nose. Where were the lesser that were meant to be here? Where did normalcy dwell with its perceived safety?
Gone. Gone. Gone.
Theodora wheezed as she stumbled backwards only to gasp as her back pressed against something writhing above her from the trees. A vine, sharp and insistent, clung to her shirting and pricked her skin. She knew, without looking, that she would bleed. Oh, how silly she must look, wrestling with dangling foliage as the wail beyond her grew closer.
She tore away from the reach of the vine with only a grunt for all its effort.
Only to twist around into the red-eyed stare of a beast.
Theodora had never been a woman prone to fear. She was a hunter first and foremost. A noble, second—though that had been no less important an aspect of her character—and thus a loyal citizen of Saltpotter third. Her Pater had raised her to idealize the courageous. To find value in the size of the pelt and the worth of the person in the tick-tock precision of their gun. She respected the power of the Pride and their bravery, but more than that, to walk without hesitance into the darkness of the Wodd, to cultivate, capture, and rule all things within it?
That had been her only constant driving desire. The final and ultimate symbolism of what it took to be noble.
Duluth could keep his aspiration and thoughtless comments of power while his lesser suffered poverty. He could pretend to care for all of Saltpotter and drive the Commander into the open arms of lunacy. True virility and strength could only be measured in the weight of something conquered.
Theodora had built her legacy on the pounding thrum of slaughter and had felt more alive for the innocence she’d taken.
What would this beast feel once it killed her?
Her body quivered with an unusual thrill as her mind slipped into the depths of terror. Its slick teeth caught the pulsing reflection of the veined trees. Within its open mouth, she saw herself—dangling, limp, and held there. Crushed and bloodied.
Her scream was strangled, trapped within lungs that struggled to draw breath.
She only found the ability to run when it wailed at her again in a manner that seemed…
Horror kept her from questioning the idea that she could understand it, for no man should be able to hear the language of monsters and perceive it.
The Wodd became a mixture of shapes and patchwork colors, blurred. She ran at a speed nearly immeasurable, powered by the terror knocking at the back of her skull. Trees spun by with foreign color while the dirt beneath her feet hummed with disorientating power. The air was thick with unnatural vibration, a flow that spilled from the paws that pounded behind her.
The irony of her situation was cutting.
She’d been in this place. Being chased. Chest tight. Head burning. Back split open. Oozing life.
Could anything else be torn from her?
A powerful spasm ripped through her leg in a pop more felt than heard. She went down in a tumble, stumbled by roaring agony and a numbness of foot. The distance she slid, face first in the muck, was admittedly comical. It was only luck (or a lack thereof) that no one would be able to appreciate it.
In a jerky motion she twisted onto her back, aching and sore from exertion. She heaved great breaths as she kicked her twitching legs, straining to put distance between herself and the beast. It swept forward with envying grace and muscles that rippled beneath the inky sleekness of its pelt.
Theodora, drenched in sweat and drooling, thought it beautiful.
Its wail brought a maddening itch to the space behind her eyes. Theodora wanted to close them and spare herself the vision of death, but they only widened as the jaws of the beast parted again. She gripped the grass, thoughtless, as she stared into the rippling darkness beyond the teeth it carried.
She hoped the gods her Pater had prayed to would grant her a swift and merciful death.
Something lumpy fell upon her, its warmth and weight familiar as it squirmed and scrambled for footing.
When the hectic movement settled, Theodora found herself beneath the large bulk of Basil, who stared at the beast with glowing eyes. Relief struck her fiercely in a complex tangle and despite the otherness that dwelled within it—displayed in the eerie red of its luminous gaze—she clung to the hound as it began to bark and buried her face amongst the wrinkles of its lightly furred skin. Sheltered and trembling she counted her moments, waiting for the pain of mutilation.
Unable to face the beast meant to claim her life with the dignity befitting an outplayed huntress and all the more ashamed for it.
Yet, the sense of being pulled apart never came. Beyond Basil’s erratic panting, there dwelled only stillness.
A hush swept through the Wodd as Theodora held her breath.
“I wasn’t going to eat her.”
Something stretched over her, a shadow that flickered behind Theodora’s clenched eyes as a hand wrapped around her ankle, unbearably hot against Theodora’s terror chilled skin. She flinched, aware of the human touch, while Basil rumbled against her.
The hand paused in action, then tugged once. Testing.
“Don’t be like that. She must stay, just like all the others. You know this.”
Grass crunched as the figure shifted. Theodora heard the soft whisper of their skin, which carried the scent of earth and something dark, sweet, and stirring.
The hand around her ankle tightened, “What are you doing in the Wodd, Lord Havelock? Staring at the trees and absent of Her Gift? I hope you weren’t trying to run.”
Azul’s words curled through Theodora like liquid smoke, plucking at emotions that were raw and frenzied. She swallowed with difficulty, struck dumb by the power of beast instilled terror and wondering where the monster had gone.
Could Azul have frightened the beast? Or had… Azul herself been—
Understanding came upon her like a jackhammer, pushing at the stuttering thump of her heart. All at once Theodora knew what it felt like to wake. The dream where she’d existed, disconnected and floating, peeled back in a manner most brutal.
Clarity of self, no longer struggling, sung along to the thrum of pain in her legs as Theodora spared a glance at the woman above her, who was nude in the spliced light of the thick umbrella canopy.
Dressed only in the embrace of a glistening black pelt.
Azul cocked her head and returned Theodora’s stare with the alien glow of two-pupiled eyes.
With a thump Theodora went completely limp, her body wrung of strength as it shuddered and shook from the weight of truth.
No place was untouched. Even the Wodd had been taken. The only thing left was Alphonse, but how could Theodora possibly save her?
Azul made a curious noise above her, a soft hum of understanding that was soon overtaken by the sound of Theodora’s sobbing.
“Oh, Theodora…” Azul whispered, voice thick with the signs of her pleasure. Through the blur of Theodora’s tears, she saw moisture gather at Azul’s sex and glisten. “I feel as if you thought to do something bad out here. Something I should kill you for.”
Azul tucked her hands beneath Theodora’s body and she hiccupped as she was lifted. Effortlessly, Theodora found herself held, tucked against the heat of Azul’s bare chest while Basil shuffled anxiously around them.
Against the shell of Theodora’s ear, Azul hissed, “But, I very much enjoyed hunting you, and my Mistress shares that pleasure. We’d still like for you to kneel for Her, along with the rest of Saltpotter.”
Theodora’s heart ached, burdened by the knowledge of their takeover and still she yearned for it; more than the awareness that haunted her, insistent with the memories of the last beast she’d encountered—
Had that also been a person she’d slaughtered?
“Tell me, little one,” Azul husked, “which is worse? Death, or to still crave despite what you know?”
Theodora wasn’t sure.
But the scars on her back burned the entire way back to Saltpotter.
Theodora dozed, lost to the rhythm of Azul’s steady breathing. This close, Azul’s presence buzzed with a force that squirmed invasively against the rawness of her nerves. Theodora meant to escape it and the arms that carried her, but her body reacted with addicted abandon. Despite her fatigued clarity—or because of it—a strange craving filled her. Mindlessly, Theodora rubbed her tear stained cheeks against the nakedness of Azul’s chest and caught the rolling power within the sweet musk of her flesh. It poured warmth amongst the terror-chill that still infused her, and her spine tingled from the weight of it as it pooled in her belly. Drowsily she drew her lips against the nearest source of skin to suppress her moan.
Exhaustion whispered at her to take one of Azul’s hard and swollen nipples into her mouth instead.
No. I mustn’t…
But Theodora wanted to with alien urgency, still strained from the fear of the Wodd and its oddities. Some deeper darker need wished to take comfort in suckling.
The shimmer of Azul’s pelt around her neck, hypnotic in its glossy dance, splashed color across Theodora’s unfocused vision. Theodora thought to squirm and turn her head, if not to escape the sight of it then to prevent her lips from parting against the sweat on Azul’s skin, but the gentle bounce of Azul’s graceful walk plucked the idea from her.
Past Saltpotter’s open gate, something tight within Theodora’s chest relaxed.
The Wodd and its horrors were now beyond them.
When had Saltpotter become her cage with her, the frightened lordcattle, within?
“You still aren’t wearing Her Gift, Theodora. You will be contained another way.”
Theodora opened her mouth to reply—I’ll go to the manor and get the thrice-damned bell—but all that came out was a soft sigh. She was too drained.
Burdened by thought and knowledge.
“Your head is very heavy when it’s too full of thought.” Azul rumbled, “Don’t fight us this time when we empty it for you.”
With those words dancing through her mind, Theodora rolled her head across Azul’s bicep and slept.
When she woke, it was to the absence of her hound and the sight of the Kourt’s decorative hallway, darkened by sheets strung up on the windows. The boisterous clusters of Lord and common bodies normally amongst the Kourt’s inner workings were absent, creating a vacuum of silence most eerie. Only the sound of Theodora’s breathing disturbed the sense of quiet.
That and noise generated by two others.
Further down the hall were two half nude women, lost within the softness of their bodies. One had pinned the other firmly to the wall, distracted by the clumsy tugs to the band of her trousers. The gentle sound of roving lips mingled well with their sighs of satisfaction, melodic in the strangeness of the Kourt’s silence.
Though not at all appropriate.
Still, Theodora couldn’t help but watch them, recognizing the desperation in the steady caution of their sensual movements.
Alphonse had once writhed against her like that, slow in pacing but just as intense.
Theodora licked her lips as Azul moved them closer.
Across the shoulder of the nearest woman Theodora noticed intricate linework, each little vein of glowing blue a callback to the webbing of the Wodd-born trees. Her attention was immediately captured, held, and focused.
Then, Azul adjusted her grip on Theodora’s body. A forearm was soon applied to the top of her face, successfully blocking the linework from view.
She shivered with thanks.
“I don’t quite think that’s meant for you,” Azul rumbled. “Their loop of need isn’t meant for them, either.”
There was something comforting in being held so tightly, where even Azul’s voice was muffled and warped.
Safe in the bondage of Azul’s restraint.
Beyond that comfort, Theodora heard a fleshy slap and a sharp, moaning gasp.
“The Pride must guard. You are Pride. You will guard. Go back to your duty.”
Theodora heard what she thought might have been keening before Azul relaxed the press of her forearm. When Theodora blinked into the darkness, the shapes of the writhing women were gone.
They continued onward, passing by a line of covered windows while Theodora wondered at how far Saltpotter had fallen beneath Ashwyn’s control.
When they entered the Kourt proper, Theodora knew.
The heart of Kourt was at the Open; a multilayered room shaped like a deep oblong bowl, with rows of plush seating raised and held within boxed off sections. It was the chamber where the Board and its Lords held their sessions, displaying their crestflags proudly on their designated box poles. Some of those flags were lifeless as Azul entered, bound with knotted cords a color Theodora had never seen before.
She hadn’t the time to ponder the meaning, as the rest of the chamber stole away her focus.
A thin fog hung low to the ground, carrying the rich scent of honey and smoke. Its presence blanketed much of the room, flowing from some place beyond Theodora’s vision in the shape of weighted clouds. Several of the box sections were open with their elaborate chairs missing, thrown haphazardly into unoccupied corners along with unfurled parchment papers and loose or shredded clothing.
The podium that once stood at the center had been tipped on its side, utilized now as a makeshift table. Dozens of books sat on it, some of them open. Others had spilled to the ground, their decorative covers torn, their fragile pages missing. Theodora recognized some of their covers through the fog and knew them to be account books and grimoires of her fellow Lord brethren.
A part of her was horrified to see the private pieces of their lives casually rifled through. Taken. Discarded.
Theodora tore her gaze from Saltpotter’s collective history and took in the full disorder of the room. Cushions, and bedding mingled with more shredded clothing to carpet the marble chamber floor. Amidst the mess were sweat sprinkled bodies, soft and feminine—some of them snoring. The ornamental curtains on the chamber windows had been removed and transformed. They now hung, somewhat haphazardly, over several stolen crestflag poles in a mockery of tents. Some of those slumbering bodies now slept under them, curled around one another like kittens.
Theodora only had time to notice a crestflag pinned to the closest tent before she caught sight of the other occupant in the room.
“What did you bring me this time, Azul?”
Theodora held tight to Azul as she went rigid. If Azul noticed, she made no indication, “Theodora Havelock. She was out in the Wodd.”
A distracted ‘hmm’ floated over from the figure. “She’s supposed to be, isn’t she?”
“Not in the way she was.”
The Lanius, absent her hooded cloak, lifted her head from the book that occupied her open palm and Theodora trembled at the sight of her.
The Lanius’ lips moved but Theodora could hear little past the rush of her blood. Without the darkness of her hood, the Lanius was an otherworldly vision. Beautiful. Haunting. With skin as pale as the moonlight and lips a tenebraurea black. Her cheeks were absent of the color of life but her eyes—great gods those eyes—were inhuman tones of gold and emerald. It was startling but not frightening.
What was frightening were the writhing symbols that stood out in black against the left side of her cheek and neck. They looked more alive than she did, constantly churning and begging for Theodora’s attention.
Theodora closed her eyes with a wheezing breath and burrowed deeper against the safety of Azul’s arms.
“So, you didn’t kill her?”
Azul rumbled curiously as Theodora tried to press against her chest. She could hear the careful steps of the Lanius as she drew closer and all at once Theodora wanted to greedily soak in her eerie beauty and hide away against Azul’s breasts.
“No.” Azul said, simply.
The Lanius made an off-key clicking sound, “Why not? You killed that other one.”
Theodora’s eyes popped open, shifting from Azul’s wide and feral smile, to the Lanius.
Closer now, Theodora could tell the Lanius was other. There was little human in the perfect curves of her body, covered by the tightness of her traveling trousers, or the way her eyes caught the midday light of the half-covered windows. And yet… it was her upper torso, absent of covering, that provided the most evidence of the Lanius abnormalities. Her arms…
She had too many damn arms.
Four, Theodora counted. Two of which were no different than Theodora’s own, perhaps lacking in some muscle tone. But the other two upon her body, just as pale as the rest of her skin, were black as coal past their wrist and tipped with sharp points.
The Lanius handed her book to one of the hands of darkness-flesh and laughed when Theodora swallowed audibly.
Azul spoke, “It was trying to sell off Lord Franklin. I did everyone a favor.”
The Lanius lowered her gaze to Theodora, a small spark of recognition in her gaze, “Bell or kion?”
“Neither.” Azul huffed, “It’s—”
“—hanging in the rafters above her bed.” The Lanius said, “Yes, I remember this one.”
Theodora sucked in a breath as the Lanius leaned over her, intense and searching. She couldn’t help her whimper as one of the Lanius’ hands-of-black gently cupped her chin. The warmth of her touch invaded Theodora’s flesh in a wave of tingling sensation. It heated the skin of her neck as Theodora arched into it, reactionary and mindless as the Lanius’ grip tightened.
Oh. Oh. That hand felt g-good…
“Lord Havelock, the pretty little hunter,” the Lanius purred in accented tones. She tilted Theodora’s neck further and studied the puffy skin around her nose.
“She needs to be contained.”
The Lanius hummed thoughtfully. “Yes, I don’t want to lose this one. She’s been marked.”
Theodora felt a nail trace along the raised skin at the side of her neck. It pressed firmly against the wound just beneath her pulse and Theodora couldn’t help the involuntary buck of her held hips.
“Hel bit this one.”
The Lanius released her. Theodora shivered, hating the longing that swept through her belly and the prickling bliss that crawled across her neck. She lifted a hand to rub away the sensation, but the strange stillness in Azul made her hesitate.
The Lanius continued. “I’ve time to do it now. Let’s start.”
Without the overwhelming presence of the Lanius before her, Theodora noticed a nearby table. The very same Saltpotter had used to host the women of Ashwyn when they had been far too eager to show off their bloodlines and titles. Impressing these strangers had been a mistake. One of many Theodora felt she would pay for.
Azul carefully lowered Theodora onto the wide table, though there seemed some hesitance in the motion.
“Don’t be that way,” the Lanius groused, “are you displeased with Hel’s choice?”
Azul gave the Lanius a peculiar look as she held Theodora against the table with a hand to her chest. A useless action, Theodora thought. She didn’t have the strength to roll off it, not if it would add to the pain she’d already received from the Wodd. “If I had known she’d been marked I might not have played with her so hard.”
“Did you do this to her nose?”
Theodora flushed and covered her nose, feeling like a voyeur to a conversation undoubtedly about herself.
“She did that to herself. Before, I think.”
From beyond one of the veils another appeared. Naked, like the many women that slept around them, wearing only the slick black of an Ashwyn bell. This one, however, Theodora instantly recognized.
As the Deaconess drew closer Theodora sucked in a breath, yet her eyes—glassy and wet—were focused only the Lanius. She made no indication that she’d even noticed Theodora, prone on the table and trapped. As the Deaconess bit her bottom lip, Theodora was sure she couldn’t see much beyond the beckoning of the Lanius. The four-armed woman had become her world.
With one of the Lanius hands now against Theodora’s chest, Azul sat on the floor with a heavy grunt. Still noble amidst the shreds of Saltpotter’s dignity.
“Staying?” The Lanius asked.
“You get distracted easily,” Azul drawled.
The Lanius made a motion with her hand, a rapid twist of her fingers and wrist with clear jerks that held meaning Theodora almost understood. The Deaconess, however, did understand and as she absorbed the actions her lips parted with a breathy moan.
She dropped her gaze to Theodora and croaked out a befuddled, “Hello.”
Theodora shivered in response, distracted by the pain that ebbed throughout her body. Without Azul’s scent and skin to hold some portion of her mind, it was clear that she’d overworked herself. A single twitch brought insight to more sore muscles than she’d ever known. Only the pain in her thigh was stronger, eclipsing even the sensitive throb of her nose.
The Lanius called for her attention and she gave it. Beyond the Wodd and the horror within, she’d felt little else but exhaustion and the burden of unwanted clarity. Though desperation danced at the edge of her consciousness, yearning thrummed in her body. This was the most awake she’d been in some time and yet it hurt in a way she couldn’t really describe. She was lonely and changed by her experience in the Wodd—scarred and different even before that. With each blink she could see the beast and Azul merge, and worse than that, she saw the bloodied meat beneath the pelt she’d skinned.
Theodora rasped and refused to cry again.
She wanted to sleep, deeply and undisturbed, and forget that she’d ever seen the festering reality within their walls.
Why? Why, did she still crave oblivion?
And if not that, why couldn’t she fight harder for freedom?
Theodora’s lips parted as the Lanius motioned at the Deaconess. She drew black nails along the Deaconess’ bell chain then held it up by that chain before Theodora’s gaze.
She had enough time to whisper ‘Alphonse’ before the bell dropped and Theodora fell to its ring.
I am… Theodora Havelock.
Alphonse is, um…
The pieces of her self were harder to gather, barely recognizable against the backdrop of her mind. The ring of the bell was a gentle echo, a reminder of what-could-be-and-had-come. She ignored the chime in exchange for thought, despite the wrongness that slithered through her.
I am a Lord, she thought more easily, but beneath that came a new thought.
I am a Lord in a taken state.
I am a Lord without a King.
Discomfort squirmed beneath her skin. She did not need a King to protect Saltpotter, she had a Lord Duke.
A Lord Duke without any power, a Lord Duke whose words don’t inflame me.
He might as well have been a lesser.
Theodora opened her eyes with a soft mewl, shuddering from the power of her traitorous thinking. Her thighs clenched with refreshed heat, stirred by a lingering heart-thumping thrill. She tried to hold onto her last invasive thought but pain from her thigh swept away the notion. Awareness struck her with a dizzying swiftness as she blinked into the candlelight.
Hm, something was different.
She was no longer on the table.
The Deaconess’ bell hung at the center of her chest, wicked and threatening as it swung over her head. With each motion of the Deaconess’ body, it shook. Theodora strained to hear the ring but found the gift of Ashwyn silent. Instead, all that Theodora could hear was the humming swish of running water.
Theodora sputtered as a bucketful ran over her head.
Further away, she heard the Lanius laugh.
Despite Theodora’s indignation, the Deaconess said nothing as she put the offensive bucket to the side. Beyond a veil of wet and wild hair, Theodora realized she was in a large copper tub.
As if hearing her thoughts, the Lanius tittered, “It was a gift from your precious Lord Duke. He said, ‘Women of such quality shouldn’t go without our finest offerings.’”
Theodora shivered as the Deaconess poked and prodded her sore body, but there was something calming in the smell of the oiled waters that sloshed around her and the gentle press of the Deaconess’ hands. She worked in silence as the Lanius tinkered beyond them, clunking this and that on the makeshift podium table that had been cleared of its precious books and taken Lord memories.
It was only when the Deaconess firmly turned her face into the presence of a hand towel that Theodora realized she was being bathed of debris and Wodd grim.
“Deaconess,” Theodora croaked, but the Deaconess made no indication she’d heard her. She moved the rag down the length of Theodora’s face, careful of her nose that no longer ached, to her neck and shoulder, where she nudged the raised skin of Hel’s bite. Theodora moaned, flushed and startled by the electric thrill that surged through her body before the towel moved on to her chest.
“You’ve enough energy to talk? Surprise surprise,” the Lanius muttered.
With exquisite slowness, the Deaconess drew the cloth downward, teasing the center of a captured breast with pinching fingers textured by the towel. The sharp sensation of liquid warmth mingled well with the pressure that built behind her nipple. Theodora could do little but luxuriate in the sensation, filling up with liquid softness caused by the Deaconess’ squeezing hands. When she finally moved on the wash the rest of her, Theodora felt oddly vulnerable, left with only the throb of her agitated nipples and a sense of being methodically cleansed.
The Deaconess manipulated her sore body with expertise, rubbing perfumed soaps of rosewood against her skin. She moved around the copper tub, kneading away dirt and dried blood from Theodora’s bruises, only to pause when she reached her back. Theodora jerked when the Deaconess’ fingers touched the heated scars instead of the towel, tracing over each angry ridge with their tips.
“Lord Havelock,” the Deaconess husked, slow and drowsy, behind Theodora’s shoulder, “these haven’t healed?”
The Deaconess applied maddening pressure to the wounds of her back and Theodora felt flashes of Alphonse’s own wicked diligence, stained in patchwork lust and haze. They moved as one within her mind, both phantom Alphonse and the Deaconess, meant to drive her to the edge of her sanity.
Only there did it hurt so good. Only there did she feel the edge of her mind begin to split.
Theodora jerked when the Deaconess’ hand slipped lower, clawing heat across her spasming back. The sound of water sloshing over the edge of the tub was loud against the vertigo that infused her mind. It practically left her purring.
It certainly left her kneading the edge of the tub.
“That’s enough. Bring her here.”
Theodora melted at the gentle ring of the Deaconess’ bell as it rolled and shook between her soft breasts. The Deaconess trembled and stood with a soft, confused moan before she assisted Theodora out of the tub. Using a strength that made Theodora feel small, the Deaconess controlled her body perfectly, lifting Theodora into her arms.
When did she… how did she...?
Theodora tried to twist or kick her legs, more out of disbelief of the Deaconess’ strength than any real urge to pull away, but pain shot up her spasming thigh. She hissed and stilled, flushed red from the deep, rolling laughter that mocked her from Azul before the table.
The Lanius motioned for the Deaconess to place Theodora on her back.
“If you’re here to be distracting—”
“No, no.” Azul interrupted as she stood with a grunt, “I’m here to help.”
“You’re here to watch me.”
Azul rubbed the back of her neck and shrugged.
Theodora shook on the table.
The Deaconess hovered, waiting for orders, as the Lanius shoved leather straps into Azul’s waiting hands.
“Well?” the Lanius sneered, displaying the tips of her teeth.
Azul returned her look with a smile, showing the Lanius that her teeth were sharper.
With assistance from the Deaconess, Azul utilized the straps, working with unwavering patience to bind her to the table. She struggled sluggishly, earning huffs of excitement from Azul and unkind snickers from the hovering Lanius. Only the Deaconess seemed hyper-focused on the task. Lost to the order that currently held her.
“Chime her?” Azul mumbled, after taking a particularly strong kick from Theodora to her chest.
Theodora felt smug when the Lanius shook her head.
“No,” the Lanius mumbled, “I want to see how aware she is.”
Theodora gave Azul a thin-lipped smile, satisfied when she caught her face with the flat of her foot.
Azul deserved a bit more than that after chasing Theodora throughout the Wodd.
Azul snatched the ankle of Theodora’s offending foot and released a low wretched growl. Theodora went limp with confused uneven breathing, her energy (and thoughts) momentarily defused. A slickness that had nothing to do with her time in the tub assaulted the depths of Theodora’s belly, drawing her attention to the nudeness of her body and the twitching of her aching nipples. She forgot even to squirm when Azul bent her leg thereafter and bound it tightly.
When she moved to the other leg, Theodora blinked rapidly.
“Careful,” the Lanius hissed, “she’s injured.”
Azul bobbed her head and moved Theodora’s leg cautiously, the warmth of her skin hot against Theodora’s wet thigh. When she sought to bend it in the same way as the other, Theodora jerked up with a strained cry.
Azul did not stop, she held her gaze as she stretched the tight muscle Theodora swore had popped in the Wodd. It hurt in a way that wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but still strong enough to stutter her breathing. Only once her leg was bent and bound, did Theodora realize that stretch had felt good.
Distracting, too. Since, she was now held in the grip of the Lanius restrictive straps. Her legs were wide open, her knees bent and out of the way, her arms above her head. She was immobile, sore, and undeniably helpless.
And for once that also made her afraid.
“Ah, I see.” The Lanius said, “You are very awake today.”
“Awake enough to find the web in the Wodd.” Azul said, “I told you, she isn’t contained.”
The Deaconess gently pressed at the side of Azul’s nose and despite Theodora’s fear, she relished Azul’s brief pain.
The Lanius offered Azul no response as she took up position between Theodora’s legs. She tugged on Theodora’s hips, causing the bindings to stretch as she pulled her arse to the edge of the table. Tension danced along her legs, bringing with it the threat of pain, as the pull of the straps spread her bound thighs further, exposing the chamber to the sight of her sex. Shame, heady and thick, filled her chest as the Lanius’ gaze caressed her twitching center.
“Don’t…” Theodora whispered, “it hurts.”
The Lanius made no indication that she’d heard her.
Instead, she ran a hand across Thoeodra’s fluttering belly. She couldn’t help the sound that spilled past her lips; low, confused, and husky.
Nodding to herself, the Lanius used her hands-of-black to add delicious pressure to the muscles of her spread thighs. Her grip was so tight, strong, and kneading, unusual in the heat that ebbed from their palms and the ridged texture of her fingertips. The immense pain that Theodora expected from the strain never came. Instead, the fearful tension she struggled to hold there, twisted into giddy knots within her chest.
She mustn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t react.
And yet, Theodora was so busy diverting her attention from the massage that was trailing toward her hips that she was ill prepared for when the Lanius used a normal hand to part her lower lips.
She tugged on her arms as the Lanius leaned closer, peering at the erotic pink of Theodora’s sleeping clit. With a grunt she said, “I’ll contain her. Sit down. Get out of the way.”
Azul gave the Lanius a narrowed-eyed look then sat back on the floor, away from the Deaconess who blinked at the now empty space.
Neither the Lanius nor Azul addressed her thereafter, so the Deaconess closed her eyes and slept in place.
Leaving Theodora alone with monsters.
She could not afford to be docile. “I know what you’ve done to Saltpott—”
Theodora sucked in a sharp breath as the Lanius brought her black hands to her hips, squeezing their softness with their sharpened tips. The giddiness that burned through her chest filled the depths of her belly with a strange anticipation. Somehow the touch from those wicked hands had infused her nerves with concerning brilliance. Her accusation danced on the tip of her tongue as her throat wildly bobbed.
If she hadn’t been bound to the table so tightly, she might have pressed her hips into the fingers that held them.
Beneath her breath the Lanius muttered, “Lovely, yes. Not too soft.”
At her spot on the floor, Azul smiled, her eyes alight with weighted fire.
Theodora swallowed once, then again, to keep back the moan that threatened to spill when those abnormal hands swept lower. “Wh-what…”
“I suppose it makes sense that you’re still thinking,” the Lanius lightly brushed across the soft curly hair upon Theodora’s pelvis, “I never made you wear the bell.”
Theodora closed her eyes and gasped when the Lanius gave her soft curls a tug. She heard Azul laugh at her little twitches and felt something tight in her core begin to melt.
Keep it together, she thought, please keep it together.
It would be so much harder now. With the teeth grinding urge to do otherwise still rattling in her skull.
“Strong muscle tone. Sensitive. Reactive. Worthy of her blood if she is a true Havelock.” The Lanius assessed, using all four of her hands to touch. Fingers cupped her bottom and pinched at her sides, while hands of black palmed and weighed her breasts. Oh, gods… what was this woman-creature doing? “But is she really a hunter?”
Indignation rolled through Theodora, hot and blinding as she snarled, but a firm squeeze to her bicep forced the emotion to wither.
“Such intense emotion,” the Lanius whispered softly. “Azul did well not to kill you.”
Theodora squirmed in a sea of melting sensation, trapped beneath the touch of too many hands. She bit her bottom lip to keep from moaning when a hand-of-black barely touched the tip of a hardening nipple, leaving a yearning burn within her heavy breast.
“Do you know what I’m doing, Lord Havelock?” The Lanius said, “Does it frighten you to feel Her hands?”
When Theodora opened her mouth to answer, two pale fingers slipped between her lips. Immediately she thought to bite them, before those fingers swept across her tongue.
The scars along her back tingled as something deep within her spasmed. It took all of Theodora’s waning energy not to suck on the Lanius’ fingers.
“My figure can be startling.” The Lanius withdrew her fingers to trail them across Theodora’s puffy bottom lip. “But my purpose as the Lanius is to provide assessment.
These extra hands as dark as the night are one of Her Gifts, used to appraise Her taken treasures.”
All four hands swept down Theodora’s chest, brushing across her pebbling nipples, but refusing them any attention. Instead, they returned to the apex of her thighs, and one hand-of-black worked with pale fingers to spread her sex again.
This time she was… warm. Flushed. Wet.
Her sex clenched and her clit stirred, feeling the weight of the Lanius attention.
“Do you like Her touch, Lord Havelock? The way it feels on your skin?”
Theodora turned her head to the side, to avoid the intensity of the Lanius two-toned eyes as they sought her answer. “Wh-why are you doing this?”
It was better to avoid the question.
The Lanius gave off a curious sound with furrowed brows, “Why? Because my King commands me.”
Suddenly, the Lanius expression grew empty as she met Theodora’s gaze with cold intensity, “Saltpotter is a den of filth and lies and I intend to cleanse it. My King will have what Saltpotter owes Her. Its blood now belongs to me.”
The smile that stretched the Lanius lips tipped toward fanatical devotion, “How long has your bloodline been in Saltpotter, Havelock? A decade? A century?”
Theodora gasped past a heady cocktail of heated fear, full of questions with no ability to ask them. She didn’t want to answer the woman-creature. Shouldn’t. Mustn’t.
But a black fingertip brushed against the head of her clit, light and teasing—
Her pussy clenched in warning hunger, craving something other than terror. Wishing to lose itself in the promise of pleasure.
“O-oh… L-long before the Franklin’s or the Shire’s,” Theodora panted.
“And you’re absolutely sure? If your blood were true, then...”
The fury that had withered surged back unbidden, too strong to control or ignore, “My blood is true! Don’t you ever question that!” Theodora yelled.
“Don’t tease her,” Azul growled low and dark, causing Theodora to loosen her hold on the emotion. “She’s so close to losing control.”
The heat in Azul’s voice was more concerning than her statement.
The Lanius smile hadn’t faltered, instead it only widened. “Of course, I don’t mean to offend.”
“You do,” Theodora moaned as the Lanius gave her thigh a squeeze, softening the flame of her agitation until it barely flickered. “Y-you do offend.”
Damn them for coming to Saltpotter, and damn her for questioning everything she knew.
The Lanius continued, “I’m still waiting on your grimoires, you know, but I’ve cause to believe your bloodline was stolen.”
Theodora sucked in a breath with a furrowed brow.
“It’s just that… Saltpotter is such a wretched desperate place, all wrapped up in a pretty noble bow. Too many true families in one place. Traded away from their proper homes.”
From behind lowered lashes the Lanius bit her bottom lip, suddenly coy despite her cruelty. “How did you come to own Lord Moryet, anyway?”
Theodora’s mind slowed, awash in the early memories of Havelock estate while the Lanius probed for answers she didn’t have:
“How did your Pater know a noble from Springhammer?
How did they get them to trade Moryet away?
Or was someone important taken in the night and forced to stay?
Until they were conditioned to think it had always been that way?”
“Stop it,” Theodora wheezed, her eyes upon the ceiling instead of the maddening gleam of the Lanius gaze.
“Maybe the illustrious Duluth estate has always been in the business of blood trading.”
Theodora jerked her gaze from the ceiling as the Lanius fiddled with her tools, no longer so focused on the appraisal of her body.
“My King has allowed me to acquire incredible knowledge. She’s become the Mistress of my insatiable greed.” Within one of the Lanius’ hands rested a small ring, it’s slick reflective surface a tenebraurea black. “She’s forced me to search, unendingly, for the highborne lines She deserves. Those that were taken, and worship false-kings, will be returned to Her.
It’s nice that your Lord Duke has already caged so many in his quest to turn his freeDom into a kingDom.”
Theodora was held by the strength of the woman-creature’s words, forced to absorb information she couldn’t, wouldn’t comprehend. Yet, she was seized by the passion of the Lanius’ theories in spite of its inconceivable madness. Her eyes burned. Her chest hurt.
All Theodora had ever known was Saltpotter, their freeDom of incredible wealth, coddled behind their too-tall stone walls. He’d kept them safe from the influence of others, had welcomed them with opened arms—
Had told them the Sea could not be crossed when Theodora had wanted to visit the places in the maps hung on her late Pater’s walls.
—and approved of Alphonse’s vassalage back when Theodora had been just a youth. Even though Springhammer itself had so little noble blood.
Theodora trembled, overwhelmed by roiling feelings that she couldn’t pick apart. Only the tingling of her spine from the Lanius silence released her attention.
S-something... else had happened while she’d been captured by the faults of her faith.
Though one of the Lanius’ hands was occupied—weaving the strange ring between her fingers—the others had been touching her without her immediate notice. One of Her hands had gently brushed against her clit over and over again, tickling the head in barely felt strokes. In the lull of conversation, Theodora felt an evolving ache, milked from the textured pad of the Lanius’ overheated thumb.
Her pussy throbbed, seeking firmer touch. Begging for more than the near phantom caress. Uncaring of her crisis.
Theodora sucked in a lungful of air as the Lanius nodded, pleased with the results of her distraction. “I apologize, Lord Havelock, I couldn’t help myself.”
One ridge along Her seeking fingers nudged at the plumpness of Theodora’s clit. She’d become painfully swollen, ambushed by the boil of rising arousal. A powerful throbbing forced her inner walls to spasm as her belly clenched with agitation.
“You were so focused, and I do love to teach,” the Lanius grinned, “but I should end our lesson. If I want to take advantage of your Lord Duke’s theft, I really should contain you.”
Theodora thunked her head against the table, almost missing what was said beneath the Lanius breath, “I didn’t think we’d find the Havelocks after the fall of Elysium.”
The Lanius spread her lower lips carefully, despite Theodora’s rolling hips.
“W-wait,” she gasped as her clit throbbed impatiently, stiff and needy as the Lanius’ lightly rolled her thumb against it, “What do you mean—we… Elysium…”
Her words were scrambled as her bottom clenched, goodness she was getting so hot. It was bothersome.
“I’ll know for certain when I have those books,” the Lanius breath was warm against her sex as she cautiously leaned forward with the ring of black metal. It appeared to be pulsing, alive within her careful grip, held by two fingers over Theodora’s lower lips. “But the Havelock bloodline originated on the other side of Grindwall. No one stepped to claim it when Elysium fell, however.”
Theodora’s breath quickened as the ring parted, the metal spreading until it resembled an open ‘c’ clip with round bulb-like ends than a closed and whole ring. “E-explain! Explain that, please.”
“Hm?” The Lanius hummed as Theodora groaned. The touch—Her touch—was slowly increasing, rolling her swollen nub up and down as her slit throbbed with envy, empty. Wanting.
“Lanius,” Theodora whispered, watching as the Lanius tilted her head, pleased at being addressed by title, “tell me more about—”
“—no time for that. Soon, Theodora.”
Azul laughed at Theodora’s panicked expression.
The breathing tenebraurea lowered, flexing against her skin as the Lanius hooked it around the thickness of her tormented clit. For a moment it did nothing, fitted and snug around her clit, with the rounded nubs at the end of its arms nudged against the bottom of the head. When Theodora looked at her swollen pussy between her legs, she saw her clit—distended and plump—held by the metal.
Despite her apprehension Theodora relaxed, warmed by the erotic appearance of her held clit.
She looked… collared.
“What is this?” Theodora shivered.
“Oh?” The Lanius rubbed her chin. “Ah, yes. This is your container.”
Then, with a black finger, the Lanius tapped it.
It tightened, wrenching on her clit with such power and force that Theodora screamed, startled. Agony ripped through her sex and lit the surrounding nerves aflame with sensation. Her clit ballooned, red and angry against the dark wicked gleam of her container and with a sob she begged—
“Please, please, please—take it off, take it off!”
Azul was a tense and sudden presence beside her, using her hands against her shoulder and chest. Theodora barely noticed Azul was holding her in place. That she was jerking around with renewed and alarming strength, tugging at her bindings far too hard. Desperate to be free and away from this.
The Lanius pressed a black hand to her belly, but Theodora couldn’t feel it. Not over the pain. Not over the panic. Her entire world had become her collared clit.
“It’s alright,” the Lanius said, soft and soothing. Theodora’s throat was too tight for her to debate whether it was or was not. “Shhh now, little one. The pain will end soon, but it is necessary to put you in your place.”
Theodora struggled to breathe as the metal between her legs began to loosen. It remained impossibly tight around her, but it was no longer horribly constricting.
Azul watched her with blown beast-eyes, breathing heavily as she dabbed at the sweat across Theodora’s forehead.
With the metal not as oppressive, Theodora begged again, “Please, Lanius, I’ll get the bell…!”
“It’s alright, Theodora. You don’t need that.” The Lanius gently cupped her and Theodora whined, long and drawn out as renewed pain swept through her. “You just need to adjust. Be patient—”
“—I can’t!” Theodora interrupted, yanking her legs desperately to close them, ignoring the sharp pain that spread out from her strained thigh.
“Let’s play a game, then.” The Lanius husked, her expression gentle, her wide smile concerning, “I’ll have you count down from ten. If you make it to one, I’ll take the container off.”
“Yes,” Theodora barked, “y-yes, yes, I’ll count, please—!”
“Ten,” the Lanius started for her.
“N-nine,” Theodora continued, gasping as the metal clung to her. Her heartbeat to an irregular rhythm as a sharp pang shot throughout her pelvis. She sought the next number within her mind, knowing it existed beyond the metal’s constant flexing. It gave her clit an unyielding squeeze, forcing her sex to jerk with the motion.
Then it relaxed slightly when Theodora sputtered ‘eight’, sending perverse relief through her pelvis. Pressure returned to her sex soon after, making her clit throb with irregular motion, but this time something liquid surged along with the pain, goading her pussy into a euphoric spasm.
Seven hung on the tip of her tongue as Azul shifted her hands to rub up and down the length of her trembling throat. She parted her lips as her struggles slowed, drawn to the metal’s rapid squeeze and release of her button. Pain now churned alongside something other, a fever that built within her belly—encouraged by the Lanius steady petting.
“What comes next, little one?”
Theodora struggled to remember as warm lassitude filled her, surging from her stoked belly to fill her limbs. “S-seven,” she whimpered.
Azul gave her throat a slight squeeze and heat burst from her neck to fill her lungs.
Blood rushed to overfill her clit and she suddenly felt too big and heavy. She wanted, desperately, to close her legs, to squeeze at the hardness that throbbed there. Just a bit of rubbing between her thighs and maybe she could heed off the rising sensation of…
How could she even name it? The cotton building in her head? The agitated burn tingling through her sex? With each clench and flex of her container, she found herself drawn more between her legs. Was she still in pain…?
Had she ever been?
“What number, Theodora?”
She wasn’t sure if it was Azul or the Lanius that had asked for her number, but Theodora thoughtlessly answered “Six.”
“Good girl,” the Lanius—she was certain—murmured. “You’re so close to one, so close to being free. But it’s hard, isn’t it? How does it feel?”
Theodora wasn’t sure. How could she explain?
“It hurts…” Differently from the pain in her thigh or the spasms of her back. Differently than anything she’d ever felt before.
Incredible. Agonizingly incredible.
“Does it feel oppressive? Can you think past its exquisite taste?”
Theodora mewled as a voice rumbled against her ear, harder now to tell them apart when all she knew was the ache of her clit. The pain had turned sweet, distracting, and vibrant. Spilling bliss with each abnormal squeeze and release. This thing between her legs was alive, tugging at her to the beat of her speeding heart. Learning her body—
—and how to contain it.
“Theodora.” Azul spoke. Or was it the Lanius at her left ear? “Number.”
“Uh…” Theodora whined, “Th-three..?”
“You don’t sound sure.” Someone laughed. “We best start again. I won’t have you cheating.”
The collar tightened, and Azul stole away her scream, squeezing her throat so that she only squeaked.
She needed a way to express the pain that churned uneasily with surging delight. Yet, Azul forced her to absorb and accept as the metal began to loosen its punishing grip. When it returned to hugging her clit with a pulsating squeeze, Theodora couldn’t hold back her low groan. Each tug and throb of her clit felt so good, so dizzying. She nearly missed it when the Lanius gave her the order to count.
This time, in a breathy voice, Theodora was able to say the number ten on her own.
Nine was harder—as was her clit—by the time she managed to gasp it past her lips.
By the time she whispered eight she was so wet, her lower lips pearly with moisture in the chamber’s light.
Seven was a faint moan as the bindings stretched, she wasn’t sure when she’d started rolling her hips.
“It’s not so bad, is it? Being held like this…” the Lanius comforted, “knowing just how much you can take for Her.”
Theodora rocked on the table while Azul stroked her throat, thinking only of the kneading of the metal around her clit. Her pussy wept, hungry and hot, as the sensitive glans was nudged by the rounded nubs directly beneath it. By the time Theodora had moaned out a six her agonies had transformed into a different sort. Fervent helplessness and pleasure pulsed painful desire throughout her body. After the initial torment of the collar she was left full and sensitive. Every breath she took shook the collar, and triggered a less harsh tightening. She was aware of each powerful beat of her heart, feeding more blood into her plump messy sex.
She could feel the container’s purpose in her womb, a deep molten submission that melted her further.
There was something she’d meant to be doing but need had a hold of her mind through her pussy.
Synced voices pushed truth against her sense of self. “You stopped counting, little theodora.”
How could she when her own clit throbbed so seductively? Aching and tight. Pounding on the vibrant edge of something new.
“Do you even remember where you’d left off?”
Azul or the Lanius, she couldn’t be sure, tapped at the metal around her clit. theoodra could feel each vibration through her sensitive nub—so tender after its torment—sucking away at her sense of self. She drew in a breath as something swelled behind her clit, a vivid wave of warmth she could nearly taste that ebbed and flowed, feeding off the hyper-focus she gave to her dripping sex.
theodora wanted to… needed to release the pressure of the collar. It was churning through her, perversely thrilling, stirring mania between her legs. She wanted the metal off—
But wasn’t it better to be slick and needy, dripping between her legs instead of chasing that selfish brief moment euphoria? Desire made her soft and attentive, wasn’t that how the King of Ashwyn wanted her?
—wh-where had she left off counting again?
The metal rippled with warning and she forgot as strange frustration stirred throughout her body. Tension tightened her sex and her entire being quivered, so ready.
The yearning within had become a frantic urging—she needed to cum.
The metal pushed her to succumb to the grip it held on her. And if she did—oh gods if she did—what would happen to Saltpotter?
What would happen to Alphonse?
“It’s alright, theodora,” Azul soothed, “release all your energy, let it contain you, let it empty your thoughts.”
theodora arched as well as she could, mouth open and eyes wide. The metal had taken her again tightly and the surge of delicious pain sent her tumbling, falling. Relief surged through her, sharp and overwhelming, driven by the collar that burned the taste of its climax into her body. Its pinching driving motion worked tirelessly against her and it forced her mind to savor the sensation.
To crave it.
It drove the oppressive pleasure through her relentlessly until she was little else but collar and clit.
theodora wasn’t sure when she finally slept.
But the Lanius called her a good girl for doing so.