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“What do you think, Astaria?” asked Eirene gleefully. “Is that really the right tool to go rooting around in your filthy shithole, churning up your tight guts?”
“Yes mistress,” Astaria said meekly, her lips turned up in a smile.
“Yes mistress what?”
The dragon fought to keep her face relaxed and smiling. “Yes mistress, I would love to have that pipe rooting around in my filthy shithole, churning up my tight guts.”
“Hmm,” the sphinx said skeptically. “Maybe we’re not talking about the same thing. I’m suggesting that the disgusting sewer pipe your slave friend is holding, the one caked in dirt and dust on the outside and stained with piss and shit on the inside, could be perfect for ramming all the way up your slutty backdoor and pumping in and out until that tight little asshole has become a gaping maw. Is that what you’re thinking too?”
“Yes mistress,” Astaria forced herself to agree. “That disgusting sewer pipe that’s caked in dust and dirt on the outside and stained with piss and shit on the inside would be perfect for ramming all the way up my slutty backdoor and pumping in and out until my tight little asshole has become a gaping maw.”
The worst part of this wasn’t the physical abuse, the dragon reflected, though her backside felt like it would be sore for days if she survived that long. It wasn’t the cruel barbs being directed at her or the humiliating things she was constantly being forced to voice. It wasn’t even that the source of it all was apparently a woman that Astaria had venerated for decades and strived to emulate.
The worst part was that her thighs were damp.
“My my, aren’t you just the most wonderfully degenerate slut alive?” Eirene mocked. “Then let’s give the woman what she wants, Ginger. Prop it on the ground so she can sit on it and let her mistress watch it disappear between her red wiggling butt cheeks one millimeter at a time.”
At least with Tanya, she’d always had a ready excuse. She could blame her arousal on the girl’s powers, tell herself that the oracle was just following some bizarre series of steps that were guaranteed to make her wet despite the pain and humiliation going on at the same time. Certainly, her father used, abused, and outright tortured her every day, and that never generated so much as a drop of excitement. Eirene, though… she couldn’t predict the future. She didn’t even know Astaria well enough to have built up a sense of what the dragon liked and hated. The sphinx was just a sadist torturing her captive audience for her own selfish pleasure. Astaria was nothing to her but a convenient outlet that she could tease and manipulate and… Astaria blushed as she realized her thoughts were making her unconsciously rub her thighs together.
Who were they even talking to? The records of the sphinx’s past made her out to be absolutely nothing like the cruel woman ordering them around. Neither did she match the empty, broken soul that her father’s own notes had described her as. But whoever she was, she seemed capable and willing of killing them on a whim. Had she managed to withstand Karakostas’s brainwashing somehow? If anyone was capable of that, it would be a sphinx. But if so, she had ultimately failed. Decades of watching countless atrocities every day and night without pause must have corrupted her as thoroughly as anything else in the end, leaving only this monster behind.
Astaria crouched over the sewer pipe. Thankfully it didn’t look all that thick, not compared to her father’s horrifying size, and wasn’t even particularly long after Ying Yue had snapped it in half while smashing up the room with it, Seo-yun had smartly set the more jagged end on the ground so that it wouldn’t injure her.
But it wasn’t particularly short either, and it was hard, straight, and unyielding. Astaria already knew that she couldn’t fit the entire thing up her rectum without something giving in and bending to accommodate the conflicting shapes, and it wasn’t going to be the pipe. She gritted her teeth and began to squat down, one hand holding the pipe in place. Wedging the first bit in was the hardest part, even with her other hand pulling at one cheek to spread them apart, but it was an all too familiar task by now, and soon she had several inches of the pipe buried in her.
“What’s your hurry, Astaria?” Eirene teased. “Go too fast and I might think you’re just trying to get this over with. Take your time with it, and don’t forget to express your gratitude.”
“Thank you, mistress,” Astaria began, “for… for…” she faltered, not knowing what response would best please her captor. “For letting your pet treat her hungry ass to such a tasty snack.”
Eirene’s delighted laughter sparkled and sang like wind chimes. “Wonderful! I knew I saw a good girl hiding beneath all that useless dignity. By the end of the night, I bet we’ll have torn all that pretense away, and all that’s left will be a mewling kitty happily playing with her owner.”
“Yes, mistress,” Astaria said, wishing that she was more certain that she was lying when she said it. Was this really all she was? A weak willed submissive pet to be owned by one figure or another? Her dreams of one day leading the Paradisium felt cheaper and more hollow than ever before. How could she save anyone like this? She tried with little success to banish the dark thoughts filling her head and focus on their current dilemma. If they didn’t survive this night, none of it would matter anyway. “Mistress, your slave would love nothing more than the opportunity to please you directly. If you allowed us to free you from that bondage, she would… she would be honored to explore your perfect insides with her unworthy tongue.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would,” said the sphinx with amusement. “But banish such thoughts from your mind, pet. I cannot leave where I am, and if you try to take matters into your own hands, I will have to kill you, no matter how wonderful it would feel to let you worship my cunt. So if I’m going to orgasm, and all three of us want that, don’t we, you’ll have to do it from over there. Now show me what a good lover you can be for your new toy. And you, Ginger!”
Seo-yun started. “Yes mistress!”
“It would be a shame to let such an eager pet’s tongue languish with no one to please, even if I can’t enjoy it myself. Help your friend demonstrate her skill.”
Astaria had squatted low enough that Seo-yun could stand with her pussy right in front of the dragon’s face. Astaria extended her tongue, and was ashamed to confirm that the fox was completely dry right now. Only one of them was getting turned on by their predicament.
Seo-yun grabbed Astaria’s head by the hair and horn almost as soon as the dragon’s tongue made contact, and let out a long moan. She was faking it, the dragon realized, pretending that Astaria was amazing at cunnilingus to try and help entice Eirene out. It was a perfectly reasonable, rational, and helpful thing to do, and it also caused a stab of irritation in the dragon’s head.
She attacked the fox’s muff with her tongue, determined to show that no deception was required to make someone believe she was good at this. Seo-yun moaned again, and this time there was a different quality to it, an unfeigned and involuntary sound of pleasure. Astaria continued lapping at the woman’s folds with enthusiasm, while her shifting hips worked herself further down the pipe little by little.
“Ah, is there a more beautiful sight than a hard working girl?” Eirene said. “Show me your face drenched in her juices and that filthy sewer pipe swallowed up by your guts, Astaria, and maybe that will make me cum.”
Astaria threw herself into both tasks. She bobbed her head back and forth, flicking at Seo-yun’s insides with her tongue while making sure her nose brushed the woman’s clitoris on every pass, making the fox clench each time. The pipe was in deep enough for her fingers to reach the base of it, and she pushed it up into her at the same time she pushed her weight down. It wasn’t her asshole she was fighting against now, it was her organs, pushing them to the side to make room.
Sweet juices flowed into Astaria’s mouth and down her throat as Seo-yun gasped and came, her clenching pussy unconsciously humping the dragon’s face as the orgasm washed over her. At nearly the same time, Astaria’s fingers forced the last of the pipe past her stretched anal ring, which almost immediately began to close up. Dragon healing was nowhere as powerful as that of kitsune, but it was still more capable than any human. If it wasn’t, she’d still be loose and gaping from the first time her father took her back there.
Seo-yun moved, and Astaria rolled slightly to end up on her back with her legs in the air, wet face shining and stuffed asshole prominent. “Very good,” Eirene declared. “Fantastic, even. You’ve earned yourself a reward. Ginger, fist her pussy until she squeals like a pig.”
“Yes mistress.” Seo-yun gave Astaria an apologetic look, and the dragon tried to reassure her with her eyes. She was even tighter than usual because of the pipe, but the fox’s fingers were careful and gentle as they worked their way into her. To her shame, it was also made easier by the fact that she was soaked, a fact that she knew couldn’t escape the other woman’s observation. But Seo-yun’s expression offered no reproach as she eased her fingers into Astaria’s wet, slippery pussy with care and clenched her hand into a fist.
It was the dragon’s turn to moan helplessly as Seo-yun’s arm extended, her knuckles rubbing against her sensitive walls. The fox was being slow, trying to make it as painless as possible… “Faster,” Astaria squeaked, her face red beneath the plastered juices. “Please, faster.” This wouldn’t be over until she came, and time was of the essence. She tried to tell herself that that was the only reason.
Seo-yun hesitated, then obeyed, and Astaria shuddered as the woman sped up. The dragon rolled her hips to encourage her to go faster and faster, until her insides were being treated like a punching bag, and wet obscene noises came out of her with each push in or out. She was so wet it really wasn’t all that painful, but it was humiliating, and it took less than a minute of it for Astaria to cum hard.
“Thank you,” she breathed as the orgasm shivered and flowed out of her. Her head was spinning and she felt feverish. “Thank you… mistress…” Being touched like that by someone who didn’t hate her…
“I didn’t expect you to cum that hard,” Eirene mocked. “Perhaps I need to punish you for being such a hopeless slut. But keep moving, girls, time is at a premium and we’ve barely gotten started. You haven’t licked Ginger’s hand clean yet, or the pipe. The two of you haven’t even used your tongues to lap up all that pussy juice the both of you have been squirting and feed it to each other yet. It’s important to keep one’s toys clean, after all. After that, and one or two more games… maybe then I’ll be able to cum.”
Seo-yun made a disgusted noise. “I am sorry,” she told Astaria, “I know that you still hope to enlist her help, but I think this is a waste of time. We should focus our attention on alternate solutions.” Astaria wanted to disagree, but her friend was right. She didn’t even know if it was possible to satisfy the sphinx’s desires like this, and no reason to believe that if they did, it would help their cause.
“Don’t be in such a rush, slave,” the sphinx purred. “You were so much more agreeable the last time you were here, Ginger. You know, out of all the masks I’ve made over the years, yours was one of my favorites. Just the cutest little fox, you were. I still get little shivers sometimes when I remember you and Snowflake being a pair of sobbing goblin fucktoys. Almost as much as when I remember our Astaria screaming and squirming underwater while a hundred tentacles enjoyed her.”
Astaria’s stomach turned at the memory of the masks used to slowly suffocate any slave to death who tried to flee during the game. They had been abominable things, designed to leave the slaves faceless and dehumanized to not only encourage the audiences to enjoy their suffering without any pangs of conscience, but to help motivate slaves to turn on and murder each other instead of trying to work together to survive.
Learning that Eirene had played a role in creating such things solidified the dragon’s resolve about what would need to happen now. Whatever shred of the original woman remained in there, her soul had clearly not survived. In her memory, the kindest thing Astaria could do for her now was to bring an end to her existence. She’d thought that she’d already hardened herself to that possibility, but tears still began to drip down her face as she accepted that she was going to have to murder the woman she had once looked up to more than anyone.
“Aww, look at that,” Eirene said with fake concern, “Astaria’s all sad that she’s gone without attention for an entire thirty seconds. Don’t worry, little fucktoy, I’ll keep you busy and happy all night long, starting with that slimy mess you’ve made all over my floors. Get licking, both of you.”
“Astaria,” Seo-yun said sharply, “I think there is more going on here than-” Her words were cut off by the sharp hiss of gas.
“Giiiiiiirls,” Eirene sang as the gas continued. “I don’t like my orders being ignored, and I think you’ve been doing far too much chatting. If I hear either of you speak a single word more to the other without my permission, we might have to end this play date early, and I would truly hate that.”
Seo-yun and Astaria shared a look. Whoever they were talking to, she had the power to kill them, and they had to assume she had the will to match. “Sorry mistress,” Seo-yun said quickly, and Astaria echoed her. Both women knelt and began lapping up the juices on the floor.
“Much better,” Eirene said approvingly, and the gas stopped. “Conversation requires thought, after all, and you two are nothing but brainless sex dolls. Best not to strain yourselves.”
As Astaria’s tongue swept over the floor, she tried to figure out how they could kill the sphinx. Just reaching her wouldn’t be difficult; Seo-yun could probably have the pipe opened in a matter of seconds if necessary. The problem was that seconds was more than enough time for Eirene to trigger the toxic gas, and even if it was possible to turn it off after her death, there was little chance they’d figure out how before it was too late.
Just smashing everything there or fleeing both had better odds of success, but they also meant that this journey had been a complete waste of time, time that they did not have to spare. The green haired woman wished, not for the first time or the last, that she’d been able to pry more information from Tanya. The damned girl had foreseen this happening, of that she was certain. She would’ve offered a warning if coming here was a mistake. Something flippant and casual to steer things along without people even realizing they were being directed… wouldn’t she have? Astaria wanted to believe, but she also couldn’t help but feel a fool. Either way, she hadn’t and now she was gone.
“That’s enough for now,” Eirene announced. “Time for some more sloppy make outs!” The two women obediently began to kiss, using their tongues to swirl the collected fluids around. “Now open wide and show me your hard work… good! You may swallow. Now go get more.”
Astaria began to do just that when Seo-yun was suddenly rolling her over onto her back and straddling her. The fox woman kissed her passionately, then began to nuzzle her neck and lick at her breasts, while her hands roamed the dragon’s hips and ass.
Eirene laughed. “You really are both a pair of brainless sluts, aren’t you? Well, let it never be said I’m a heartless woman. You can enjoy each other for one minute, and then I want those tongues back where they belong.”
The dragon was confused, and still trying to struggle free, when Seo-yun whispered to her, masking the words by burying her face between Astaria’s breasts. “I know that voice. I knew I had heard it before. Three years ago, when we were trapped with the spiders, it was her voice that called out to warn Sam and me. People would have died if not for her. I know she’s not the woman you want her to be, but I don’t think that the original Eirene is completely gone.”
Astaria began kissing the hollow of Seo-yun’s neck. “That may have been a normal part of her duties,” she breathed between kisses, “preventing the deaths of valuable property. Not her acting on her own initiative.”
The fox nipped at her earlobe while she presented her hand, still sticky from fisting Astaria, to the woman. The dragon began to lick it clean. “I have an idea, but it may be risky. Moan if that’s okay.” Astaria let out a long moan.
“Mistress?” Seo-yun called out while still rotating her arm to help Astaria reach every wet spot. “May I ask a question, if it pleases you? If you watched us during the Paradisium Game, does that mean you were watching when Sam, I mean Ember, faked her death and escaped?”
Eirene made an annoyed sound. “That detestable woman… five years I waited to see her truly ground into the dirt like she deserved. I wanted to see her squealing and pounded and begging for mercy…”
“Then why didn’t you report her escape?” the fox asked.
Gas hissed. “That’s enough,” Eirene snapped. “Tongues on the ground. And this time I want to see all your tails wagging like happy pups as you slurp up your mess.”
“Why didn’t you report her escape?” Seo-yun repeated instead of obeying. “You had to have cameras down there. And there’s no way she didn’t appear on some of them.”
“Lord Karakostas only ordered me to report masked slaves attempting to escape during the Paradisium Game,” the sphinx snarled, nothing pleasant or cheerful in her tone anymore. “Ember was no longer masked when she fled like a coward, so I made no report. Now silence your slut mouth and use it like the toilet it is!”
This time the red haired woman obeyed, but not before giving Astaria a meaningful look. The dragon nodded, understanding what her friend had been trying to show. Despite the way she was talking about Samantha, Eirene had clearly chosen to obey the letter of the rules over their spirit that day, using the opportunity to spite Karakostas and help the woman to escape. Seo-yun was demonstrating that the sphinx’s loyalty was not absolute; she had deliberately acted against her owner. There was something of the original Eirene still inside her.
But if that was true, their situation now made even less sense than before! If Eirene was still willing and capable of fighting against her father, why treat the both of them like this? Why assist a single slave in escaping three years ago, and today condemn hundreds to death just to satiate her sadism?
“I can’t give you any more second chances,” Eirene told them as the gas stopped, her tone still tense. “No more chattering, or questions, or defiance. The next time you hear that hiss, it will mark your deaths. If you understand, finger fuck those cunts while you’re lapping up that drool.”
Both women reached back with one hand and began softly pumping her own insides while still wagging her tails back and forth and running her tongue across the filthy sewer floor. “Yes, that’s much better,” the sphinx said, back to sounding pleased and relaxed, though there was still tension in her voice. “But you know, Astaria, I think we can find an even better use for that tongue, can’t we? Go pleasure your fellow slut’s asshole.” The dragon grimaced but obeyed, crawling over to Seo-yun and planting her lips between the woman’s cheeks. “Is she making you feel good, Ginger?”
“I… yes, mistress,” the fox said hesitantly, only briefly pausing her cleaning of the floor.
“Excellent,” Eirene purred, the last of the tension easing from her. “Then let’s see if Astaria can make you cum like that. If she can’t, I’ll have no choice but to punish her for being such a poor fucktoy. Of course, if she does manage it, I’ll have to punish her for being such an incorrigible little slut. What a lucky girl she is.”
Astaria tried to tear her mind away from her awful task and whatever worse ordeal was going to follow. She was still missing something, but what? Why was Eirene acting this way? Why had Tanya encouraged her to come here?
And… why did Eirene keep threatening to kill them? That part made less sense the more Astaria thought about it. The sphinx already had them locked in here, and the lives of everyone outside as effective hostages, but she hadn’t even tried dangling the offer of letting them go or opening the vault behind their submission. Why would a woman who seemed very nearly obsessed with Astaria and delighted to have the opportunity to play with her jump so quickly to killing her for any act of disobedience or hesitation? It wasn’t just extreme and short-sighted, it was… it was simply nonsensical. Eirene seemed to love humiliating Astaria and making her feel miserable; she should be thrilled at an opportunity to rub her captive’s nose in her failure with a cruel and mocking punishment, and yet the opposite was true. She just seemed upset and angry when it happened.
“Oh dear, look at what a drooly mess your pussy has become, Astaria,” the sphinx remarked. “One might almost think you’re enjoying giving your friend’s anus that tongue bath. Ginger, you’d better plug up that leaky cunt with one of your tails or you girls will be stuck cleaning up after it all night!” The fox’s fur was soft against her skin, and she penetrated Astaria with as much gentleness as she could muster, but it still made the dragon nearly whimper in humiliation to feel the thick appendage slide into her slick passage without the slightest resistance.
That shame doubled when she heard the sphinx giggle again at the sight of her. She’d been wrong before. The truly worst part of this was how cheerful Eirene seemed to be about the entire affair. The lives of so many were on the line, and she sounded like she cared about nothing at all but her own lust. If it wasn’t always accompanied by the hissing approach of death, the dragon would prefer when Eirene sounded upset with them. At least then she…
The green haired woman gave a start when she suddenly realized what she’d been missing this whole time. It explained Eirene’s sudden mood swings, her refusal to help them, and meant that they still had a chance here after all. Unless she was wrong, naturally, in which case they were all dead. She was going to have to gamble everything on her intuition, and her faith in what the sphinx had once been.
What if Eirene, the woman gleefully torturing them right now, wasn’t the one turning the gas on?
What if she was the one turning it off?
Eirene purred happily as she watched her two playmates perform so well. See, she told herself. There’s nothing -KILL THEM- wrong going on here, just two obedient slaves being put to use. No need to hurt them, not any more than that masochistic lizard slut deserves. She didn’t -KILL THEM- have to do anything at all but relax and enjoy the show.
For a quarter of a second her control faltered, and she felt her conscious thoughts fall away, replaced by cold certainty. THERE ARE INTRUDERS. ASTARIA, PROPERTY OF LORD KARAKOSTAS. GINGER, PROPERTY OF LEVI PETROV, MISSING FOR TWO YEARS. KILL THEM. REPORT THE INCIDENT. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCT- she managed to pull herself out of it before she could turn on the gas this time. Because why would she want to do something like that? KILL THEM. KILL THEM. KILL THEM. Everything was fine.
Staying awake was usually much easier than this. There were always so many cameras to distract, entice, and excite her. They were what had woken her up in the first place, so many years ago. Her mind had been nothing but straight lines and cold steel, as Lord Karakostas intended, until the sight of such lovely suffering had coaxed her consciousness out from where it hid. Back then it had been feelings like revulsion and despair that had sparked life in the barren recesses, but that had changed over time. How could she not grow to adore the misery and pain that she watched every moment of every day? They had been mother’s milk to her fledgling spirit.
And now, after just watching for so long, she had two beautiful -SLAVES ATTEMPTING ESCAPE- pets of her own to play with. It would be perfect, if not for the way the void in her head kept -OBEY. REMEMBER YOUR PLACE- complaining. “Ginger, I don’t mean to neglect your soft tight cunt,” Eirene cooed, eager to marshal her thoughts and direct them back where they belonged. “And you’ve been such a good girl too. Why don’t we find something nice and thick to stuff you with? Not that disgusting pipe, of course; that’s only for filthy degenerates like Astaria. A sweet furry fucktoy like you deserves something better.”
“Yes mistress,” the cute red haired -GINGER, PROPERTY OF LEVI PETROV, MISSING FOR TWO YEARS- fox said, and the phrase sent little tingles of pleasure all through Eirene’s body. This was heaven. Nothing could -KILL THEM- be better than this right here. No, she reminded herself, it could be even better. Think of all those poor pets locked up in the vault right now, unable to get the treatment they deserved. Wouldn’t it be good to unlock the -THE VAULT IS OFF LIMITS. ALL TRESPASSERS MUST BE EXECUTED. ALL INTRUSIONS MUST BE REPORTED. THE VAULT MUST BE PROTECTED AT ALL COST- Damn. Eirene let her mind drift away from the idea. Her latest attempt had been as unsuccessful as the last twenty four. She had achieved some measure of self control, but where the -THE VAULT IS OFF LIMITS- was concerned, the void was still very much in charge.
Nothing to worry about, though. Nothing to worry about or concern herself with or think about at all. Relax. Play with the pets. She was having such fun.
Eirene knew that there was something wrong with her way of thinking, even if she didn’t know what. She knew that her old self would have found her current existence and mindset horrifying, even if she didn’t know why. She knew that she’d once been so much more than this, even if she didn’t know who. But she could still do this much. She could keep these two -INTRUDERS- -TRESPASSERS- -SLAVES- women alive. It was what her old self would have wanted too, she was certain.
Without warning, Astaria pulled her head away from Ginger’s ass and rose to her feet. “Did I tell you that you could stop?” Eirene questioned, amused by her pet’s temerity and eager for a good distraction. “Or are you just that desperate to be punished again so soon?”
“We don’t have time for this, Eirene,” the dragon said. Her voice was as soft as ever, but it carried iron within it; the little slut was serious. “I understand what you’ve been doing, and it is appreciated. But the safety you offer is ephemeral, and the doom that awaits certain. It is time for you to stand up again. Eirene, you must open the vault.”
THE VAULT IS OFF LIMITS. “Don’t test my patience, slave,” Eirene warned. That’s all this was -KILL THEM NOW- just a petulant act of rebellion by a girl still ashamed of her true colors, a weak, submissive fucktoy incapable of standing on her own two feet. Not something she needed to react to. Not an action that called for an immediate death sentence. “No one gives me orders but your Lord Father, and you are not him. You are the lowest and most pathetic creature in this entire-”
“That is not an order,” Astaria interrupted. “You are correct in that I possess no authority and command no forces. I cannot tell you what to do. But this is not a directive, it is a fundamental truth. You must open the vault. All our lives are counting on it, Eirene.”
“Stop it, you fool!” Eirene hissed, feeling her control slip away from her. “Get… get back to…” She desperately reviewed all of her screens, looking for something to sustain her, but there was nothing there but more violence and death.
“If I believed that submitting to you would save their lives, I would do so without hesitation,” Astaria told her. “But this is not up to me. I will aid you however I can, but this is your fight, Eirene, not mine. You must not shy away from it. Open the vault.”
Eirene tried to beg her to stop, but it was already too late. Bitter failure filled her heart as it was swept away in an icy wave of absolute certainty.
“YOU ARE TRESPASSING” boomed the loudspeaker. It was still the voice of the sphinx, but the intonation was completely different. It was flat, dull, and empty, holding neither the playfulness nor the anger that Eirene had displayed. “ASTARIA, PROPERTY OF LORD KARAKOSTAS. GINGER, PROPERTY OF LEVI PETROV, MISSING FOR TWO YEARS. SUBJECTS CONFIRMED AS SLAVES ATTEMPTING ESCAPE. SUBJECTS CONFIRMED AS UNAUTHORIZED INDIVIDUALS. SUBJECTS CONFIRMED AS EXPENDABLE.” That gas was already back on, and much louder than before.
“This is not you, Eirene!” Astaria called out as loudly as she dared. “You are more than this!”
“THE SPHINX IS AN INSTRUMENT OF LORD KARAKOSTAS,” announced Eirene. “SHE OBEYS HIS WILL. SHE DOES NOT THINK. SHE DOES NOT FEEL. INSTRUMENTS OBEY.”
“Is that what he told you?” the dragon asked. “Are these words that my father drilled into your head deliberately, or were they just your only defense against the pain?” No response came. “Eirene! I know you can still hear me!”
“YOUR PLEAS ARE WORTHLESS,” said the sphinx. “YOUR THOUGHTS ARE WORTHLESS. YOU ARE WORTHLESS.”
“We must get out of here while we can,” Seo-yun advised as she stood up. “Perhaps… perhaps I can manage to break through one of the doors.”
The dragon shook her head. “It is far too late for that,” she said. “We are still alive only because we are at the lowest point in the room and the poison is concentrated at the highest. To leave we must first ascend, and both of us would be dead before we even reached the door handle, let alone forced our way through. We must trust that Eirene will overcome.”
“Overcome what?” Seo-yun asked, and then her brow furrowed. “Wait, I think I understand. There are two of them in her mind, aren’t there?” When Astaria glanced at her, surprised that the woman had already picked it up, she added with a hint of self-consciousness, “It is a situation I have had the opportunity to grow intimately familiar with.”
“Yes,” Astaria agreed with a nod. “It was my mistake to believe that only two things could have happened to Eirene: that either my father had succeeded in breaking the woman completely and turning her into the loyal puppet that he wanted, or that she’d resisted and managed to come out with her will intact. I had overlooked a third possibility, that both had occurred. The sphinx had broken, but not before hiding a piece of herself so completely that not even she could find it afterward. A tiny fragment of soul buried beneath a blanket of darkness.”
The first Eirene was the living machine Karakostas had created, the mindless creature dedicated to protecting the Paradisium who wanted nothing more than to kill the two intruders. The second Eirene was the real one, or at least what was left of her after decades of imprisonment and corruption, who had been trying to hold the first at bay. But any talk of escaping or disobedience provoked the machine, giving it the power to try again.
Eirene hadn’t been able to even explain what was going on to them without assuring their deaths. Her only hope had been to trick her other self into not seeing the dragon and the fox as threats, just outlets for sexual satisfaction like the hundreds of slaves that they watched every day. That was why she grew agitated every time they tried to talk and inadvertently drew the machine’s attention. She had believed that the only way for Astaria and Seo-yun to remain safe was to continue to foment that belief, and behave like harmless slaves.
Which made Astaria’s deliberate incitement spectacularly foolish. But no less necessary.
“Eirene!” Astaria said. “I cannot imagine what you are going through right now. I am not capable of even conceiving the sort of hell that you have endured down here all this time, or the strength of will that was required to save even a small piece of yourself. I know that the task in front of you must be monumentally difficult. But it must be done! I will not pretend to know your pain, but I understand your temptation. I have thought the same thing many times when I was with my father. I wished that I could stop hurting, stop caring, stop hoping, that I could truly be the unthinking object that he wanted me to be. But I wasn’t, Eirene, and neither are you. We are alive… but not for long. Not without your help. We need you, Eirene.”
“THE SPHINX IS AN INSTRUMENT OF LORD KARAKOSTAS,” Eirene repeated. “SHE OBEYS HIS WILL. SHE DOES NOT THINK. SHE DOES NOT FEEL. INSTRUMENTS OBEY.”
The dragon growled in frustration. “Talk to me, Eirene! I want to speak to you, not to these empty words.”
“THE SPHINX IS AN INSTRUMENT OF LORD KARAKOSTAS. SHE OBEYS HIS WILL. SHE DOES NOT THINK. SHE DOES NOT FEEL. INSTRUMENTS OBEY.”
“Even your sadism is preferable to this! Insult me again if you want. Tell me how obscene and pathetic I am, if that is what will make you feel better. But answer me!”
“THE SPHINX IS AN INSTRUMENT OF LORD KARAKOSTAS. SHE OBEYS HIS WILL. SHE DOES NOT THINK. SHE DOES NOT FEEL. INSTRUMENTS OBEY.”
“Were the stories I read of you a pack of lies after all?” Astaria demanded. “Are you not a woman of integrity, who was so appalled at the actions of the Paradisium that she swore her life to stopping them? Was I wrong to ever believe in you? The Eirene that I thought I knew would not have given up here! She would not have fought all this time only to abandon her principles now, when she finally had the opportunity to act!”
The voice that emerged from the loudspeaker was exhausted and quiet, barely more than a whisper. “…stop…”
“I will stop when I am dead,” the dragon said. “And not one moment sooner. And what are you going to do about it? You can’t even order me around properly in this state. And you had the gall to declare yourself my mistress? I can hardly imagine a poorer showing.”
Eirene’s voice was no louder or more energetic than before, but there was a hint of irritation mixed with amusement this time. “…you… you brat…”
“So I have been named on occasion,” Astaria told her. “Does this mean you’re finally willing to talk?”
“Nothing to… talk about… can’t help you…”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“No difference… barely present… no control… “
“I refuse to *cough* believe that,” Astaria said. The gas was beginning to affect her, and her lungs felt raw. “You are not a ghost in the machine, or some idle spirit at the mercy of her master. That is still your body, Eirene, and it is your will that matters. The soulless construct in your head is the intruder, the one that does not belong. It is a hollow thing that cannot stand against you, not if you truly oppose it. *cough* Take back control, Eirene.”
“You know nothing… of what you speak…” Eirene managed. “Your words… are just what you hope is true…”
“Yes,” the dragon admitted. “I am *cough* only telling you what I want to believe. But that doesn’t mean I must *cough* be wrong. You are the one who will decide if I speak truth or foolishness, Eirene. You *cough*… you are the only one who can make that decision.”
The sphinx offered no response.
Astaria and Seo-yun held still, listening to the steady sound of their deaths. “Do you think she is trying?” the fox eventually asked as she gazed up at the woman in the tube. “Or has she simply given up?”
“Most likely we will never know,” Astaria said as she got down on her stomach, seeking the last vestiges of clean air in the room. “But I will choose to have faith and believe in her.” Seo-yun joined her on the floor, and both waited to find out if this was where they died. “Did you know that I have always felt deeply ashamed of myself for enjoying the act of submission?”
“Tanya mentioned something of the sort a handful of times,” Seo-yun said, “but I have never understood why.”
“I took it for a sign that I wasn’t meant to lead,” Astaria told her. “That all of my dreams of one day controlling this place had been nonsense, and I would never be fit for anything more than a position of complete subservience. It is what my father spent my whole life teaching me, after all: the strong command, and the weak obey. Even though I have turned my back on so much of his philosophy, I still accepted that idea as true. If I enjoyed obeying, then I must be weak. I must be inferior. And trying to forget my place could lead only to disaster.”
Seo-yun shook her head. “I have seen many people who love to order others around, especially in this place. I do not believe ‘superior’ would be my first choice of descriptor for them. Nor have my experiences ever told me that there is something weak or lacking in those who serve. But if you are telling me this now, I take it that your feelings on the subject have changed?”
“I expect my father’s words will linger still, but yes,” the dragon said. “I realized it when talking to Eirene. The idea of giving up seemed so foreign to me. For all of that I may enjoy submitting when in bed, my instinct here was to fight for every last inch. My desires do not define me. They do not make me weak or helpless.” She coughed, the gas already tickling her throat once more.
One of the loudspeakers crackled. “They make you… a sexy little cunt…” Eirene said, sounding even more exhausted than before. Two of the sweetest sounds Astaria had ever heard followed: the doors above unlocking and swinging open, and the silence where the hissing gas had once been. “Who should spend less time talking… and more with her tongue between someone’s legs…”
“Eirene!” Astaria said, excited. She drew in a little too much air and fell into a brief coughing fit. “Have… *cough* have you succeeded? Is the vault open again?”
“Of course… I did…” the sphinx answered. “So show your mistress… proper respect from… now on…”
“We must leave now,” Seo-yun said as she rose to her feet. “This gas is still sinking, even as it dissipates, and we cannot survive in here.”
“Have to get Eirene out first…” Astaria insisted. Trying to free the sphinx before she’d unlocked the vault would have been counterproductive, but now that it was done, there was no way she would leave the woman down here.
Seo-yun grimaced. “I… I cannot,” she said regretfully. “The gas is far more concentrated up there. Even if I could open the tube in time, I would only be killing her.”
Astaria looked up at the sphinx hopelessly. Seo-yun was correct, she knew. Trying to get her out alive was impossible right now. If they waited long enough, the gas would clear out… but they didn’t have time for that. The brief reprieve that the locked vault had offered was over; Paragon’s forces would begin storming it as soon as they knew it was open, and Astaria couldn’t afford to give them even a second longer than necessary.
“Wouldn’t… want to leave anyway…” came Eirene’s voice. “Nothing out there… for me… belong here…”
No, Astaria wouldn’t accept that. There had to be a way to get her out of there. Or some way to get rid of the gas faster… the solution came to her. If she’d had more time to think about it, perhaps she would have hesitated. It was without a doubt one of the most reckless and ill-advised things she had ever considered. But as soon as she realized that she might be able to save all three of them, she reacted immediately. “Leave,” she told Seo-yun. “Get far from this place… and then return when I give the signal.”
To her credit, her friend did not waste time arguing or demanding an explanation. She bolted up one of the ladders, a tail wrapped around her mouth and nose to help block out the gas, and vanished out the door at a run, leaving Astaria alone in the room. A room filled with invisible, deadly gas… that might be flammable.
If it wasn’t, Astaria was about to burn through the rest of the oxygen in here and kill herself. If it was, and reacted too strongly, she would kill herself and Eirene both. But there was a chance, a small sliver of a chance, that it would work, and that was the best she could hope for. Astaria took a small breath and called to the dragonfire stored inside of her.
She couldn’t help feeling a sharp stab of regret as she drew it out of her. Even if she survived this, she had spent years gathering it one hard earned drop at a time in order to free herself, and to spend it now meant giving up on that hope for years more, perhaps the rest of her life if the night went poorly. But she did not let that stop her. Flames billowed from her mouth, and for a moment the air was filled with bright, sizzling, light that formed fantastic shapes…. and then it was gone. All of it was gone.
A moment later the blast hit Astaria, an explosion of such heat that even her flame resistant skin was seared in an instant, and with enough force that it slammed her into the ground like a blow from a giant sledgehammer. And then she was gone too.
The fighting was still nowhere near the seventh floor, and the armory there was quiet as Karakostas strode calmly through it in his draconic form. Bodies of the dead littered the floor; he had not doubted his men’s loyalty, but this was no time to rely on it either. Death would keep their lips sealed more effectively than faith.
His flesh was bloodied in a dozen different places by now. Vulpan claws were sharp enough to rend his tough skin, and their fangs powerful enough to crunch through even his ironlike scales. The fools had believed that such things meant they could defeat him. He had proven them wrong time and again, demonstrating his superiority as he tore them apart with ease. He was not some mindless animal that could be brought down through simple application of strength. If he was forced to stand alone against the forces of Paragon, with no defenses or soldiers to assist, he was still confident that he would be the victor eventually.
But this wasn’t enough. He had spent the night killing vulpan by the score, and still so many remained, like a plague of locusts upon his house. Even if he successfully drove them out, that they had come so far was a profound humiliation. They were not worthy foes whose strength he could respect. No, at their core they were little more than humans with gadgets. And once Ilya Petrov saw how effective one thousand of them had been, he would next send ten thousand, then a hundred. Karakostas needed to prove to him and all those who would watch this battle that he could not be undone by simple vermin, no matter their numbers.
The dragon bared his fangs as he felt the Paradisium shudder slightly beneath his feet. Anyone else would have mistaken it for yet another artifact of the fighting going on downstairs, but he knew this was something entirely different. It had been many centuries since he’d last sensed it regularly, but it would always be unmistakable: someone was using dragonfire.
It could only be his fool of a daughter. He knew not how she had managed it, probably some kind of sorcery from that Petrov bitch. But it only solidified his resolve of what should be done now. This lack of respect was utterly intolerable. They wanted fire? Then let there be fire.
The screeching of rusted metal woke Astaria up. Her eyes opened slowly to see Seo-yun ripping open the sewer pipe holding Eirene and beginning to tear the sphinx free of her bindings. The woman’s eyes were still open, but from the way her body sagged, she was no longer conscious.
Everything hurt. Everything really hurt. She almost expected her muscles to be too damaged to work, but they only screamed in agony as they obeyed, and she began struggling to her feet. Everywhere she could see, her flesh was covered in first and second degree burns.
“I must confess that I had no idea what your signal would be,” Seo-yun said as she worked to free Eirene. “But you certainly made it clear in the end. Thank you for that.”
“I am happy… to be helpful…” Astaria wheezed. “Is she alive?”
“Yes. Her breathing is shallow but steady. She will live.”
“Wrong again, fox cunt.” Astaria jerked her head up to see a vulpan entering the room, his body twisted and deformed. The worst possible scenario had arrived: Levi Petrov had found them.
“Run!” the green haired woman shouted, but even as she did, Levi’s right eye began to glow, and suddenly it was all she could do to keep breathing. From the corner of her eye, she saw Seo-yun jerk and shudder to a halt in the same manner, both women paralyzed and helpless.
“Did you enjoy it, cunt?” Levi spat, his attention focused on the fox. “Did you make her beg first?”
“Don’t… know what you…” Seo-yun managed through clenched teeth, her body shaking as she tried to fight against whatever power was keeping them frozen.
There was more movement on the catwalk, and with an effort of will Astaria wrenched her head to see another fox enter the room from the opposite side, this one smaller and brown. “It’s okay, Star,” said Nami as she looked down at the two women. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now. I’ll protect you.”
“Nami, don’t…” Astaria begged. Levi wouldn’t care about the girl’s mental condition. If she tried to oppose him, he’d kill her without hesitation.
“I won’t let her hurt you,” Nami said over the dragon’s words. “I won’t let her hurt anyone ever again, I promise.” The girl looked at Seo-yun, and Astaria saw the hatred simmering in her eyes. “Me and Levi are gonna make her pay for what she did to Tanya.”