The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Title: The Pact

(mc / fd)

Chapter: V

Description: Truth has tried for twenty years to live quietly, to tend her farm, to forget all about the Pact that she was born to obey and bound to enforce. But an urgent need will pull her back to the magic that she’s spent so long seeking to abandon.

This is a work of fantasy, which involves magic, mind control, and sexual situations. If there’s any legality preventing you from viewing pornography, or you think you would find such a story offensive or inappropriate, please don’t read it.

* * *

We rode in quiet down the road away from Jiralesh. Callum twiddled with the buttons on his coat, muttering complaints about the heat. I just hoped, prayed, or both, that no one from the capital city was yet after us. Once it seemed safe, after nearly an hour had passed, I passed Callum the reins for Patience, the big brown steed doing his best without complaint for who drove him.

“Here,” I said, pressing the leather cords into the apprentice prodigy’s confused but open hands. “You know how to drive a horse?”

He shrugged, met my eyes with an equally ambiguous look. “How hard can it be?”

“Yeah, sure.” I chuckled, then flipped open the ornamented box on my lap.

“What are you doing?” Callum asked—not concerned, not yet.

I withdrew the restraining band, holding its matte surface up to the midmorning light, then I deftly slipped the silver focus from my left arm. I shuddered as I did. That alone wasn’t enough to put me out completely, as I still made the smallest contact with it, dangling both rings together by three of my outstretched fingers. I still felt weak without it. I’d only begun to wear it again days ago, and it was already taking this much of a toll. How could I work the fields when I felt I could not go minutes without reaching for and grasping onto the strength of another’s thoughts?

Tricks, tricks in my mind. I dropped the silver-and-jade band into its box, felt the palpable loss crashing over me: sudden sweat all over my skin, discomfort on every inch of me, twitching in my muscles that, if allowed to continue, would surely lead to desire, and compulsion, and need to put the focus back on my arm.

Callum watched the ritual from my right side with unrestrained awe. I turned to see him gaping, and he flinched away from the struggling, pained look on my face. “Truth,” he began hesitantly, “I really think you should be careful… with… um, all of that.”

The frenzy of my thoughts wanted to screech at him. More than that, they still wanted me to find my focus, find his thoughts, and deliver a reprimand so severe he could never speak out of turn again. Such thoughts soon became distressingly frequent; I shut my eyes, tried to breathe. I found a rhythm with the rolling wheels of the cart, the unsteady sway that the pitted stone track gave to my body. To and fro, like a tree in the wind of a storm. Great, deep gusts of wind, in, and out…

“Keep the cart moving,” I muttered, when the world had quieted just a touch.

“Sure, but I don’t know why you couldn’t just—” He saw it, I knew. The slow and drifting motion of my arm through the air, the black band buzzing up and over my wrist. Every inch pushed my mind, thoughts, and awareness farther and farther away. Up my arm to my elbow, past that, squeezing tight around the shape of my bicep. I felt myself heave one more breath, deep and tired. Then I could feel my head lolling, turning slowly on my neck before falling down, and down and down into the deep.

* * *

Not sure when it was that I woke. Or began to wake. The line between the dreamless dark and the haziness of the real was blurred this time. I could remember the swaying clearly, rocking like a crib’s constant lull, keeping me comfortable in the slumber of magical purport. Maybe I imagined Callum’s concern for me—his fussing that I stayed in place and would not roll off the side of the cart, his murmurs of care, and… his fascination.

But when I opened my eyes, blinded by the sun of noonday, Rigorious’ apprentice had his eyes fixed ahead on some distant destination. It was a face that was difficult to focus on. Lots were, when I wore the restraint. My eyes wished to go everywhere, take in everything, or maybe just to take in nothing. Perhaps a blindfold would help, but then that, too, stirred certain thoughts, random and idle imaginings, an image not entirely undesired…

I shook my head. The motion blanketed those thoughts and all others like the chaotic fluttering within a snowglobe, and when things settled, Callum had a smile cocked in my direction. “So nice of you to join me, Truth. Have a nice little nap?”

“Ha, ha.” I put my palms on the cart’s bench to push myself upright, fighting against the lulling sway to keep my consciousness securely in hand. I rubbed my eyes blearily, still adjusting to the blaring sunlight overhead. “How long was I…?”

“Couple of hours, give or take.” His eyes quickly assessed me before returning to the path. “You know, I’d be a bit jealous of that—falling asleep anywhere, anytime you want—if I didn’t know what else it was doing to you…” He went quiet, then laughed. “Actually, er, I don’t really know what else it’s doing.”

“You’ve seen one before,” I said, rolling my sleeve down past the band to stave off any temptation toward moving it, “but you’ve never made one, never had cause to study one?”

“Right,” Callum nodded.

“Because you’re scared of them?”

“What?” His laugh was just as awkward as the last, but more uneasy. “I’m not… well, alright, perhaps I am, a little. Wouldn’t you be, if you were… normal?”

I shrugged. “I’ve never been normal. Wouldn’t know what it’s like.”

He smiled in spite of himself. “You seem pretty normal to me right now.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood erect. I remembered the vow I took, the need to try and be better, or at the least, to be different. Normal would be different. Maybe better, too. “Thanks,” I said.

“You’re like a… like a whole different person when you’re wearing that thing,” Callum went on. “Maybe that’s the scary part of it. Oh—not that I’m scared of you, per se, I’m not.” He grinned at me, as if the whites of his teeth would prove the point. “But imagining that for myself? That’s something to be afraid of.”

I lifted the small box from my lap—Callum hadn’t dared to move it while I was out—and placed it in one of my bags in the cart bed behind us, questioning as I did. “When I’m wearing which thing?”

“Your focus,” he said outright. “The silver one. Green beads—are those emerald, by the way?”

“Jade, actually, but I don’t know why that—”

“Jade! Of course. Though I hadn’t known jade to be the cause of such emotional… ah, volatility?”

I shook my head, with my hands moving back to bunch up my shoulder-length slew of blond and tie it into something that wouldn’t bounce and bob around so much. I didn’t remember deciding to tie it, nor was I really aware of the process. It was just something my flitting thoughts felt was necessary. “The focus doesn’t make me crazy. Don’t worry,” I smiled ruefully, “you’re not the first person to think that it did.”

Callum’s brows came together. “And who was that asshole?”

I chuckled unexpectedly; the word was a fair fit. “A man I used to know. We were close, and… he said he wasn’t afraid of knowing even more about me.”

“And then?”

“Turned out that he was.” I shook my head, clutching my hands on my kneecaps and sitting up straight. “He didn’t much care for the woman you saw me being earlier today.”

“But that’s you,” Callum insisted. “However different or strange it is—that’s still you, right?”

“He didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want it to be.”

“Ah.” The prodigy averted his eyes, looking off to the side and blindly passing me Patience’s reins. I kept mine away, too. The vitriol had just bubbled out of me, when I thought I’d had it managed. “Sorry,” he said, when his eyes came back around, hands busily tying a knot into his own shaggy black mane.

I waved a hand dismissively. “It’s fine. They aren’t great memories for me, so I can be testy when it comes to them.”

“What happened after?” Callum still asked. “Once he saw… that person?”

“He left,” I said. Not a lie. The new me wouldn’t lie. She could still omit the truth, though—for if Callum knew that Lorick had learned what I was and acted with such revulsion, fear, and terror, if he knew that I’d went into his mind and made him leave, made him forget all he knew about me, all that we were, all that we wanted to be…

Well, I had no doubt that he would not be too fascinated with me anymore. And though I wasn’t certain why, I didn’t want to lose that. Not yet, anyway.

Callum, thankfully, seemed wise enough not to press for details. Or, maybe he was too eager for other details. He turned fully in the wagon’s seat to face me, his eyes wide and practically sparkling with interest. “So if it’s not the focus that makes you so different…?”

The question left hanging was difficult to ignore, though I did try to. Maybe if I can rationalize it to him, then I could at least think about making sense of it for myself. I gave him a sidelong glance before I spoke. “It’s not as if I’m truly a different person. There are just… impulses that come to me. It’s hard enough to recognize them, let alone push against them.”

“And the impulses come from…?”

“If there was a tangible source, Callum, I would have destroyed it years ago.”

“Fair,” he grinned. “But those thoughts have to come from somewhere.”

I thought about it, for long enough that the prodigy’s gaze took to wandering away from my face. I tried not to pay attention, but I knew that he was looking at me still. Which made the explanations more slippery to get ahold of, as I wondered what it was he was seeing. A body made as hard as I was isolated through years of labor? A mind in constant flux? Or something much deeper, much darker, that any torments were worth trying to hide. Maybe he saw it as a blackness, like the shadows he could conjure with his gift of magic. Something lurking within: insubstantial, intangible, but so very powerful.

I cleared my throat, and his eyes snapped back to mine with a wide-eyed, almost guilty look. “It’s temptation, I think.”

Callum tilted his head, and the embarrassment vanished so quickly that I thought I’d imagined it. “Temptation to what? To use your magic, whatever it is?”

“To do all sorts of things,” I sighed. “Have you ever read from the Pact, Callum?” He shook his head ‘no.’ For that, I was thankful. There would be no easy tether to grasp, no premade leash that I could pull him by. But the desires, dulled as they were by distracting, unfocusing magic, felt that it was… intriguing. Gladdened, to my surprise. That he would not be so simple a conquest. That I would need another way to make him…

I chose not to think about what he would be made to do. Or made into. As soon as I put my focus back to conversing, the line of seditious thoughts dissolved and left only twisted and unnerving echoes in its wake. “The Pact,” I said clearly, loud enough to dispel those last whispers, “says that desire and temptation are the roots of every evil thing. Violence is spurred by greed—the desire for more, of material or nonmaterial things—and jealousy—the desire for that which another has, and you do not.”

“And temptation?”

“Temptation stirs the soul to act in ways that it knows are incorrect. If desire creates the path, temptation is the vehicle which will take you down that dark and dangerous road. You are its passenger, and you are also its driver—that other you, that more evil self.”

“Well done,” Callum chuckled. “I’ve never had such an amusing history lesson before.”

“It’s not history,” I snapped, speaking sternly. “Though you may be safe from it, though we believe Jir-Qan to be safe from it, the magic and power of the Pact is alive and all-too-well mere miles from our eastern border. Do you know what happens on that border, Callum?”

“I’m not certain,” he said slowly. “But the Division—”

“The Division severed the leash, but for many, it did not destroy the collar.”

I hazarded a glance toward him. His face was pale, and he stared out from the cart, out to the east. “You mean to say that the Pact still binds us…?”

“No. It does not bind you.” The desire in me delighted at that.

When he turned, Callum did not look so relieved. “What about you, Truth?” His hand fell on the bench between us, then pulled away, as though he had thought and failed to reach me for comfort, for solidity, whether it was mine he sought or his own. “You’re old enough to remember the Division, aren’t you?”

I was. And the truth of it was that I might have been more vulnerable than any other in the country. My bond to the Pact was still so strong: it had been molded, forged, hardened since my earliest days. A Judge was to be bound inextricably to the virtue of the Pact, to be its living embodiment, so much so as to not even be fully human. When the mind thinks in the language of ancient ritual, not in the tongue of common or highborn men, what kind of mind has it become?

“I don’t go near the border for a reason,” I said by way of explanation. “The closer you get, the more dangerous it becomes. Some of the Pactkeepers will ignore the laws, violate the sovereign borders, and exact their influence on those whose wills remain supple enough to bend to the old ways.”

“Probably best that we don’t go there, then,” the prodigy smiled warily. “Wouldn’t want to meet one of those. Or worse, a Judge.”

I kept my eyes straight forward, while the muscles of my body stiffened. “Of course,” I said.

“Rigorious has told me about their magic. And everybody tells the stories, though, some of it I can’t really believe.”

Maybe you should, I thought inwardly.

Without a gift for mindsight, to see my warning, feel my fear, and heed them both, Callum went on. “I mean, just thinking about it practically. I heard an old man in a tavern, once: he said, this was back before the Division, mind you, he said that a Judge came into his village, and everything just… stopped. No one moved a muscle, nobody could even think, but when he came to? His brother and his best friend were gone to the center of the town, already locked up in irons and chains, following along after the Judge with three dozen others.

“Or even Rigorious—he tells me that a Judge can smell when the Pact is being broken. Like a hound. They just know when you’ve done something wrong, and they sniff it out right quickly. If it’s bad enough? He says, if the crime is bad enough, they can just… pop. Traveling miles and miles in less than a second to stop the offense, or walking through a solid wall to get after someone that they think must be a criminal.”

It was hard to listen to his words. Not only because they could have all been about me, nor because the restraining band made the creaking of the cart’s wheels louder than Callum’s voice, but because they were all true. Every last one. “They would know you to be a criminal, Callum,” I said with caution. “Rigorious was being honest with you.”

“But how?” The apprentice stared up at the sky in his confusion, in his frustration, as though the answers would be written on the clouds. “It doesn’t make sense. Teleportation of that scale requires an immense amount of power, or a focus larger than a building to do it with! Not to mention phasewalking—there’s only been one prodigy here in the last twenty years that could do anything like it, and she died after she materialized mid-walk, halfway through a door that she just couldn’t be bothered to open!”

My stomach turned upside-down. “Saints alive, Callum, that’s revolting!

He looked at me, abashed. “Well, yes, but it’s true. There’s records of every prodigy so far, at least the ones that’ve been found after their outbursts. And not one has a power anywhere close to what a Judge can supposedly do.”

“You’re more a student than I’ve ever been,” I murmured.

“Then… how is it you know so much? About prodigies, about the Pact…” I tapped my left sleeve. “Oh. Right,” Callum chuckled. “Rigorious.”

“I only met him six times, and he talked my ear off in every meeting.” I groaned. “It’s infuriating.”

“It’s amazing,” Callum laughed. “He’s truly a genius, you know. He talks for hours and hours and hours.

“How can you not get tired of it?”

“How could I ever get tired of so much knowledge?”

“If every word spoken made you miserable, you wouldn’t be so eager to listen.”

“I’ve got a strong stomach,” he said. “Knowledge like that never upsets me.”

“Not even if it was about yourself?”

That drove him to silence. “Are your abilities really that terrible?” he asked, after a time that I wished would have been longer.

“Yes. Now be quiet, and drive the horse. We’re not stopping until nightfall.”

I was glad, as he took the reins from my hands. The fog on my thoughts made it easy to ignore the stories he’d told, the words he’d chosen, the tone of his voice as he described such horrible things. Like they were crimes against the natural way of things. Like I was one of those crimes.

I could ignore those words quite easily; not a one of them chased itself around in my head, bothering me with its incessant repetition, driving me mad from fear and worry. The only bother was that I still knew: those words were there. Deep inside. Lurking like shadows. And ready to spill forth, should my focus ever alight on them again.

* * *

“... this is all you could get?”

Callum put his right hand on his hip, squinting at me while his left balanced the tray on his palm. “Listen, you saw how many people were down there. The coins you gave me barely even covered this.

I looked down at the plates on the tray once more. Two measly chunks of bread, two small puddles of soup, a random smattering of vegetables, and two lumps that looked like something that might once have been meat.

A bit sickened from just the look of the meal, I adjusted the bags on my shoulders with both my hands. Tethering Patience for the night had been expensive enough, and they weren’t going to ensure the safety of our bags overnight, either. Callum had wanted to take his own, but after seeing the way I’d lifted them and easily carried them on my back, he was glad to have the task of securing a room and a meal instead.

“Couldn’t you have…” I swung my head this way and that, curls bobbing with me, making certain that the dark, upstairs hallway was truly empty. “You know. Used a little magic? Made a few more counterfeits?”

“Truth!” Callum hissed.

“What!” My arms crossed, jingling and rustling the mounds of packs strapped across me. “You made paper forgeries well enough. Why not gold? Can you not make shiny illusions?”

“I can,” he rumbled, “but the only reason I forged that paper was because we had no choice. And that guard was an asshole.”

“Language,” I muttered.

“Whatever. I’m not about to defraud an innkeeper who knows where we sleep just so we can get three stale pieces of bread instead of two.”

“You have a point,” I remarked.

“I tend to,” he said cheekily.

“Did you at least get us a room?”

Deftly, his right hand flew into view dangling a silver key from an old iron ring. I could have sworn he used a touch of magic to make it appear shinier than it was, just to spite me. “Sixth room on the right, my dear,” Callum said with an obnoxious voice and a more obnoxious bow.

I turned down the corridor so he’d be out of my sight. “Don’t call me that.”

“But of course, my lady,” he laughed from behind me.

Definitely don’t call me that.”

“As you wish, my wilting water-lily!”

I stopped in my tracks and fixed him with a glare that was meant to be threatening, but I was certain looked more puzzled than anything. “‘Wilting water-lily?’”

The prodigy shrugged. “You try working under these constraints.”

“I’ll be constraining your lips, if you keep this up.” I snatched the key from his hand, and smiled as I turned away. When he wasn’t talking about my monstrosity, or asking endless questions about things that I didn’t know, or answering endless questions that I didn’t ask, he could be witty. Fun, even. It’d been years since I’d thought about having fun with a man. Ordinarily, it was either pure business, or pure pleasure. A trip into town to sell grain, negotiations with a merchant, then negotiations with a brothel-owner…

I snapped myself out of the reverie as I reached the sixth door. I glanced to the prodigy as I fumbled the key into its matching lock. He was scratching at the stubble on his chin, as if trying to will it into a full beard, rather than just the little black prickles.

No matter where my wandering mind tried to go: Callum and brothels did not belong in the same line of thought as each other. Or even in the same country as each other. They were wholly opposed, like apples and acorns, birds and bees, friends and f...

A spark of light flashed in my eyes as Callum snapped his fingers. “Truth. The key has to be turned to open the door, yes?”

I shook my head. The days after a bleed could, and often did, lead to idle lines of thought like this. The distraction would make them vanish soon enough. I turned the key and pushed on the door, having to kick the base of it a few times to get it to swing open.

The sixth room on the right was miniscule. Smaller even than Callum’s untidy bedroom and far more claustrophobic, despite the lack of scrawlings on the walls and mess over the floors. The tidiness of it was oppressive, in such a small space. The wooden floorboards were perfectly clean, so as to let shine through the cracks the light coming from the tavern below. Dust and grime would have clogged those cracks, making the room more isolated, more private.

But more private would have been worse. The walls bore no windows, nor any ornamentation, and all that stood on the floor was a tiny table, two tinier chairs, and one bed which occupied the room’s opposite wall. Though it stretched across the room’s entire length, and was wide enough as to nearly block the door from opening, the bed was clearly small, made just for one. Only one.

“So are we going in, or…” Callum poked his head in from behind me, and I imagined his eyes going agog as his voice dropped off.

I didn’t want to move. To cross the precipice meant accepting this as the place we would stay. “Are you certain that you won’t defraud an innkeeper tonight?” I asked again.

The prodigy shook his head beneath me. “Ah. No. He, uh, did state that this was the only room left, but…”


Callum laughed his nervous chuckle, and in the dim light from below, I could see that his cheeks were red. “Well, he said that it would suit a couple adventurers just fine…”

And there went my hopes of chasing sex from my mind. I ducked through the doorway, unlatching our bags from their straps and dropping them onto the bed to cover it and hide it from my sight. It was a fact I hadn’t considered, a fact I certainly hadn’t wanted to consider: two adventurers, close enough in age, journeying to the same destination, opposite in gender and likely matching in sexual interest… it was almost a given that any pair like that would take to sleeping together. It was both sound from an economical perspective, in taking the smallest, cheapest rooms an inn could offer, and wise from an emotional standpoint. Everyone needed intimacy, and if the intimacy was good, it tended to bring those intimates closer together in all manners of things.

Adventurers had sex. All the time. Didn’t matter if they knew each other beforehand, or if it was pure happenstance. Everyone knew it. Everyone assumed it. It was part of why the Pact barred anything even resembling the practice, and part of why questing of any sort was so popular in our nascent, defiant Concordancy.

Everyone assumed it, at least, except for us two. My face was flushed, and Callum’s was no less so. We arranged our things in awkward quiet, disturbed by shouts and laughter from the bar below that made us both jump, often bumping into each other in the small space, and often startling again from just that much contact.

“Dinner?” Callum said, after the second of these.

“Dinner,” I agreed, and very quickly.

The meal began in a similar stretch of silence. Only when I was struggling to chew through half my bread did Callum decide to speak, while his three-pronged fork poked and prodded at what was left of his meat. “So where are we going on this… adventure, exactly?”

I made a noise similar to “mmh.”

The prodigy grinned at me. I felt my blush keenly while I chewed hard, swallowing some of the dry bread and spitting the rest out onto the edge of the table. His grin faltered, but as I wiped my mouth clean on my sleeve, he laughed, and I giggled with him for a long while, the two of us driven to near-hysterics by the whole day’s conversations, travel, and most-recent events.

Finally the moment subsided, and I had to clean my mouth of spittle once more. “We’re going to help a friend of my mom’s. Dess,” I told him.

“Who is she?”

“A friend of my mother’s.” Callum rolled his eyes, but he smiled into my smirk even still. “She rode for a whole day to find where I live. I’d never met her, still barely know anything about her.”

The prodigy pointed his fork at me with a brow raised. “Then why did you travel to Jiralesh and back to help her?”

I shook my head. “Long story. Lot of reasons.”

“I’m here all night.” Callum smiled, and stuck the points of the fork into his mouth.

I thought about it, for a few moments. I thought about telling him all of it—what my life had amounted to since I lost mom and dad. What mistakes I’d made along the way. The mistake of my own birth, that I was hoping this journey might somehow correct, or at least make better.

Then I realized it was much, much easier to just shake my head again. “The old lady needs help with her kid. That’s all. She came in a panic and I figured I could help.”

“What’s the kid’s name?”

That’s your question?” I laughed. But Callum didn’t laugh with me. “I, ah. I don’t know it.”

His other brow rose, both of them arched above his eyes. “You’re doing all this for a kid you don’t even know the name of? A kid you haven’t even met?”

“Hey, I didn’t have much time to—”

“—You’re kinder than I thought you were, Truth.”

Oh. I found myself staring into his eyes, seeing clearly for that moment how much he meant those words. In the next moment, the shadows of my guilt rose up to snatch that fluttery, warm feeling away, but it still lingered in my head and my gut as I turned my head away. “Um, thanks.”

“I still don’t know, though,” Callum continued, “why do you need me for this?”

“Oh. Oh!” I turned my head back to him and smiled. “Dess thinks that her son’s going to be a prodigy.”

Ohhhh.” The apprentice nodded and pressed a hand to his forehead. “Of course. Gods and saints, I should’ve figured that much out hours ago.”

My arms crossed, clutching my sides and bouncing as I held back laughter. “You couldn’t have figured it out hours ago, because you didn’t know she existed hours ago.”

“I can figure anything out,” he said, turning up his nose at me. “Try me. Ask me anything.”

“Hm. Alright.” I gestured to my right, where the bed still sat, covered in packs and bags. “Figure out where we’re going to put all those bags so you can actually fit onto that bed, and I can actually fit onto this floor.”

“Excuse me. That’s a false assumption—for you see, Truth, I’m going to be sleeping on the floor.”

“Oh no,” I groaned.

“It’s simple logistics. I take up less space, so I can fit in a more compact fashion on the floor.”

A smirk grew on my lips. “Are you calling me big, Callum?”

“I—no!” he stammered, “you’re just… taller than me, and more muscular, and more… ugh, fine, I’m sleeping on the floor because you’re my host, and that means you deserve the comfortable bed.”

“The bed looks less comfortable than the floor,” I said as retort.

“Only because it’s covered in bags.”

“Fair. However, you forget that you’re my guest. That means I’d be an awful host if I took the most comfortable position for myself, doesn’t it?”

Callum shook his head. “Forget all that host and guest business. You paid for the room. That means you get the bed.”

“Technically, you paid for the room, if I recall?”

“That’s a technicality!”

“That’s why I said technically.

“Ugh.” He threw up his hands, marched toward the bed, and began to remove every satchel and rucksack from its surface. “If I paid for the room, I should get to choose where I sleep.”

I sat back in my chair, watching him work, seeing how he pushed through his struggles with the heaviest loads. “But if you paid with my money, shouldn’t that right be forfeited to me?”

“It’s only because of me that you’re in the situation of having to choose at all!”

“True,” I grinned.

So,” he said, hefting a large bag, “doesn’t that mean I should get to decide?”


“Oh fuck you!” He tossed the bundle at me, laughing while I scrambled to catch it.

“Language, Callum!”

Gods, you’re so old-fashioned, you know that?”

“Some habits are hard to break,” I murmured, as my hand settled within the bag, around a small, ornamented box, feeling a prickling sensation across my skin.

Callum went on, even as inexorably, I felt my hand opening the lid and gliding over smooth silver, over beads bearing magical power. “I swear, Truth, sometimes you act like your my age, and other times you act fifty years older.” He paused, turning his head back toward me. “How old are you, anyway?”

“Old enough,” I said. I wasn’t watching him, I was barely even paying attention to his voice. I was too focused on withdrawing my hand, the hand that held the ring of silver, the silver that brought a heart-pounding clarity into my mind.

He faced away from me, back toward the bed. Without thinking, I rolled up my sleeve, methodically pulling it ’til I could feel the band of black, ’til I could roll it down instead of higher up. Callum still spoke. I still listened, responding as needed, never drawing his attention away from the work. Soon I was free of the band, while he remained distracted. I slipped the ring of silver up my arm, tingling, pleasurable feelings washing over me, rolling down my back and over the grooves of my spine.

The room slipped into focus, hyperfocus compared to the dull, swimming awareness that my mind had borne previously. I was keenly aware of the closeness of the space, of the pressure on all sides, of the importance and meaning of a bed so small and so large at once. A bed that could take two, but needed to take only one. The same pressures that pushed me would push Callum, too. His mind distracted, his body occupied, I thought a simple tickle at the back of his brain would suffice, a nudge to get lost in the task I had given him.

But he straightened up instead. Erect and alert, even as I impressed further upon him the need to focus on his task: he was so close to done, so few bags remaining, so little to do before we could rest. Such a long day deserved such a deep rest. “Truth?” he said, his voice clear amidst all that distraction.

“Yes?” I could hear my own voice, with focus and sense like this. I could hear how it sounded unafraid of the power, even as I twisted it in my hands, and how it sounded uncontrolled by it. I was not subject to those desires, those temptations. I could make them subject to me.

“Is everything…” Callum shifted on his feet. “Alright?”

He sensed something. He would have to sense something. He was far too clever, far too perceptive, far too smart not to sense something. He had no knot of the pact, nor of service, nor of duty, nor of dependence for me to pull so easily. I had to fashion tricks of my own, a new binding on his mind, just to exert even the littlest nudge without drawing his suspicion any further.

Something about that excited me. “Everything is alright, Callum,” I said smoothly, calmly, slowly and pleasantly. “I’m only tired, aren’t you?”

“Sure I am,” he answered, but he still held that unease close to his thoughts.

“You seem very tired, don’t you?”

“... sure I am,” he murmured, and a subtle yawn left his lips.

“But you still have to clear the bed, do you not?”

“... right?”

“Right,” I sighed, “because you’ve bested me, Callum. I’ll sleep on that lovely, comfortable bed, just as soon as you’ve cleared those bags. Doesn’t that sound lovely?”

“... right.” His hands went into motion, just as the wheels in his mind turned down the path I made for him. His pride, and his eagerness to satisfy me. Wherever they had come from, whatever made them up, it didn’t exactly matter. Those were the stones I used to make the road, smooth and simple and easier to follow than any other path he could think of.

“Right,” I agreed. “And when your hands move on the sheets to fetch those bags for me, doesn’t the bed feel so soft?

“Soft,” he yawned, “right…”

“And as you lift the bag into the air, doesn’t it feel just as heavy as the rest of your body?”

“... heavy,” Callum mumbled, letting the final bag fall to the floor with a thump. He stood on two feet, but he swayed to and fro, and even without seeing his face, I could tell his eyes were half-lidded, as heavy as his body and mind.

I slithered up from my chair to his back, to press my hands into his shoulders, to hear the way he moaned with delight and surprise. “You’ve done so wonderfully today, Callum—you’ve done such a great job for me, haven’t you?”

“Mm… mmhmm…”

I leaned closer, over the shoulder my fingers massaged, to both see his dazed, blissful, leaden expression, and to whisper directly into his ear, directly into his thoughts. The band on my arm gleamed with green light, just as the same shade flashed within the dark of his eyes. “You just want to sleep now, don’t you, Callum?”

“... sleep… now…” The words pushed their way out slowly, as though the cart on that road had lost its wheels, and he was left to pull it step by slow, heavy step, all by himself.

I would offer him relief. I would offer him pleasure. That is what I could do, so easily inside his mind, that is what made my lips quiver, what made my skin feel so tender as a shudder shook through my chest. “Then sleep for me, Callum. Sleep for me, sleep, sleeeep…” His body began to crumple beneath my soothing hands. Quickly, clumsily, breaking the spell that had held me fascinated and confident and powerful, I grasped beneath his shoulders, hauling him around and dropping him with a heavy flop, half into the bed and half out of it.

His eyes were shut before he reached the pillow. Gently, as if it were possible for him to wake while my magic lingered so heavily in his thoughts, I lifted his feet and drew them up onto the sheets, then placed his arms at his sides. My hands continued up his sleeves, around the edges of his fraying blue cloak, up to smooth his clean white shirt across his chest, to feel his deep, warm breaths as they pushed through his lungs.

My hands rose higher, possessed: perhaps by desire, perhaps by temptation, perhaps by the magic that I could feel roiling beneath the skin of his neck, his chin, his flushed cheeks. I stared at his shut lids, and a twist in his thoughts made them snap open. Glazed and unseeing, his eyes stared up at me through the murky, churning glow of green.

I hadn’t realized my own closeness to him. I stumbled back, removing my hands, breaking that momentary connection and causing his eyes to fall closed once more. My breath came quick and heaving, then. I’d lost control, but… this was something else. Not the manic desires of one held by the Pactbinder’s Gift. This was something else entirely. Something perhaps far, far more dangerous.

I sought not to disturb what rest I’d granted him, even as my clear head spun itself into a panic. I found a blanketroll, spread it out across the wooden floor, and lay my back flat on it with a satchel of Callum’s notes and papers for my pillow. Still, no quiet came to me, no calm, no overpowering feeling of sleep that could smother my confused, worrying, wondering thoughts.

With care, as though the noise might wake him, I removed the silver focus from my arm, letting out only a small whimper as the waves of power receded from me, as the bond I felt in Callum’s mind vanished to nothingness. I had placed the band into its container and pulled out my restraint, when I saw his face and loose locks peer down at me from the edge of the bed. I nearly screamed.

“... Truth?” he muttered. “What are you… doing on the floor? And why is your… why are you holding that?”

I looked to the dark band held by my fingers, then up to his eyes. I began pleadingly, already feeling tears in the backs of my lids. “I’m sorry. Callum, I can explain—”

“Am I in danger?” he asked abruptly.

I swallowed hard. “No?”

“Are you certain, Truth?”


“... then I don’t really care.” Callum flashed a grin at me, wide and mirthful, before he rolled back over into the bed and shuffled his body beneath the thin sheets. “Goodnight, Truth.”

I stared up in confusion, and in awe at where his eyes had been. That wasn’t my doing. I hadn’t made him fine with it. He knew I’d done something, he knew I’d exploited him in some way, and yet… he simply took it?

“Goodnight,” I whispered softly, for I couldn’t stand that perplexed, warm, shivering feeling any longer. I yanked the black restraint up my arm, fast enough that my mind went blank before I could feel how tight it was.

* * *