Jillian blinked. Where had that come from?
“Good. I’m having a small party tonight, a dozen or so friends. You get to help with preparations for it and keeping everyone supplied with drinks and food, and otherwise keep my guests happy. That won’t be such a big deal, hm? I have something here for you to wear that will be appropriate. Because I have no desire to disrupt your relationship with Gary, I’ve already made it clear to them that sex as such is not permitted tonight. That isn’t worth being frightened over, now, is it?”
Mistress wanted her to be reassured. And it was such a relief to have an answer, any answer let alone such a reasonable one, that she actually was relieved.
That gave her a warm sense of rightness. What Mistress wanted her to feel and what she felt were in alignment, and that was as proper and expected as dropping something and it falling to the ground. It was what should happen.
But the little ripple of certainty that she was on the right track had been… rather nice. Comforting.
“Help?” Jillian echoed in confusion, latching on to something concrete. It was only one question of several, since it was rather unlikely over a dozen people could fit comfortably into this space, and why was there any question about sex? What kind of party was this?
Min chuckled, and let her hand fall. Jillian only realized then that Min had been gently stroking her cheek, her hair, her throat, all along, and only because she felt a strange disappointment that she’d stopped. “Turn around, dear. Flair, time to wake up.”
Jillian obediently twisted in place, and froze, her heart accelerating again.
The statue in the corner stirred, stretched, and focused on Min instantly. “Yes, Mistress? Is it time for Jillian and I to start getting ready for your party?” The clear voice sounded entirely human, and positively delighted.
Jillian could only stare, speechless. How could that even be real? The ex-statue moved like a real person, not stiffly or slowly at all—if anything, she moved more gracefully than many humans. Her expression was animated, and her breasts jiggled in their spiralled metal cages. But the fact remained that Jillian had seen her as a statue many times, and how could anyone look like they were made of alabaster with metal embedded into it?
“Yes, it is. Jill, this is Flair, my companion, handmaid, sometimes housekeeper and cook, and all-around right hand.” The affection in her voice was impossible to miss. “You’ve run into her before, but I was hiding her appearance at the time for obvious reasons. Now. I want you to listen to Flair and do what she tells you. You have an hour to get yourselves ready, and three hours to make certain everything is ready for my guests. That should be plenty of time, so I expect you to be done on time without excuses. Before my first guest arrives, the solar will be set up properly, food and drinks will be ready, and you will both be dressed properly.”
“Of course, Mistress,” Flair said.
The solar? Wasn’t that an old-fashioned name for a sunny room or something? But the apartment consisted only of this room and the mostly-open kitchen and a short hall to the bathroom and single bedroom.
“Come on, Jillian,” Flair said. “I’ll show you where the bathroom is. The real one. It won’t take me very long but it’ll be a bit more complicated helping you get ready.”
“Remember, please,” Min said. “Unfamiliar does not equate to dangerous. Nothing in my home will do you harm. Things may feel strange and almost certainly you’ll be frightened by that strangeness more than once in the next twelve hours, but you will be safe.”
“I’ll try,” Jillian said, hoping she sounded less uncertain of that than she felt. She was supposed to go with a woman of alabaster and metal to a room that should not exist here. She’d given up all power over her own fate for the next twelve hours. You belong to me, Min had said. For twelve hours, her own desires and discomfort were meaningless, because she was—temporarily—property.
The thought brought back that sick feeling of being not just out of her depth, but increasingly far from shore.
But at the same time, something inside felt warm and tight, and she suspected that she’d find her panties were damp. That must be something about the bargain, right? If it could fill her with a desperate need to go to her Mistress, then it could probably play with other feelings to make her… what, more receptive?
She got up, feeling oddly clumsy compared to Flair, and took a step towards her.
Yes, that was right, she was doing what Mistress had said.
She blinked, and hoped fervently that whatever was going on in her head, it stopped at the end of the twelve hours—and that it really was only twelve hours. It only occurred to her now that there were stories of people taken by supernatural forces who were gone for hundreds of years in the real world but swore it was only a night with the fairies, and more rarely, stories that went the opposite direction. Was twelve hours the same in this weird reality of animated statues as it was in her normal one?
Flair led her towards the short hallway, and opened the door that should have led to the bedroom.
But they stepped through into an immense bright room with a ceiling that had to be two storeys high—and tall ones at that. One wall was curved outwards and made all of glass, with a collection of plants in standing and hanging pots blooming into flowers like nothing Jillian had ever seen. The rest of the room was smooth grey stone, walls and floor alike. Most of the furniture consisted of luxurious-looking long benches, some with backs, some with a single scrolled arm, some with neither, all elaborately-carved and inlaid dark wood and upholstered with rich-looking multi-hued dark fabric. Scattered among them were several tables, with cabinets under them, matching the seating.
“This is the only way in and out of Mistress’ villa,” Flair said. “That’s the solar there, where Mistress has company over.” She gestured to a massive pair of double doors, metal-bound solid wood, directly opposite the windowed wall. They’d come through a door of normal size, now closed, though the bedroom door hadn’t been that same heavy wood on the other side. It was one of three on that wall. “I’ll show you that in a bit. Right now, we need this one.” Flair opened the centre door, which was perceptibly larger than the two flanking it, and beckoned.
The corridor beyond was wider than Jillian was used to in residential buildings, and the ceiling was higher, but neither one to an extraordinary degree—six feet wide, maybe? Fifteen feet high? She’d been in old houses occasionally with high ceilings and this didn’t seem much worse. The doors they passed were also wider and a bit taller. It all combined to give her the disquieting sensation of being a child in an adult space.
“Bathroom is here,” Flair said, opening a door and ushering her into another huge room. “Are you all right?”
Well, there was the question of where they were, because this definitely was not part of Min’s apartment in any normal sense.
“Everything is so big.” Here, too. The tub could probably hold three people easily. She would not have been surprised if that and the sink were real marble, and she wouldn’t have wagered anything on the fixtures being merely brass. One entire wall was mirrored; the others were covered with beautiful decorated blue and white tiles, and the floor tiles were a medley of small tiles of so many rippled shades of blue it felt eerily like walking on water.
“Mistress needs a bit more space, whether she’s in her chair pretending to be human or in her real form. Fae come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Some are so small you could hold them in one hand, and some are giants. They can change size, of course, and they do when they need to, but some are better at it than others and the greater the change, the more tiring it is.”
“Are you…?” She trailed off, wondering whether she was being rude and what would happen if she offended Flair.
Flair only laughed. “I’m not fae. I’m human.”
That was not an answer Jillian was ready for.
“There are fae who consider modifying human appearance to be an art form,” Flair added. “They’re good at it, aren’t they?” She stretched, posing, then relaxed with a grin. “For a while I was all wood and leaves and flowers and Mistress called me Fleur instead. Being Felis and Filly were both fun too. I don’t know which one I like best. But it isn’t up to me anyway. Which is part of the fun, not knowing. Like a wrapped present.”
Jillian tried to decide what part of that was the most horrifying, but they finished in a dead heat. How could the same woman she’d considered such a trusted friend do this to the girl? And it sounded like Flair had been here a lot longer than a few days.
Flair paused to see if Jillian had anything to say, then shrugged. “Anyway, we only have an hour to get ready. You need to hop in the shower.” She reached across the tub to tap the glass bottle and two squat jars resting on a convenient ledge. “This one,” she indicated the bottle of something bright dandelion yellow, “goes on your hair. It’s the best conditioner ever. Use lots and work it in really thoroughly as soon as your hair’s wet, and leave it in until you’re done and rinse it off last. This one,” she tapped the jar of something pale pink, “is skin cleanser. Don’t get it near your eyes, but you need to rub it all over, and I mean really absolutely everywhere, and then scrub it off. There are a couple of clean washcloths in the shower for that. I’ll do your back for you, and I’ll show you how much of your face you can safely do. The green one,” she tapped the top of the pale green jar, “is for just around your eyes. Even if it gets in them, it won’t hurt, so you can clean up the makeup you’re wearing.” She regarded Jillian expectantly.
“I really don’t like undressing with other people around,” Jillian confessed, blushing, self-consciousness overriding everything else.
It felt wrong, though, on some deep subtle level she was barely even aware of consciously. Like someone singing a favourite song off-key in the next room and mangling the lyrics, it was background noise but it was unpleasant and irritating. Mistress said to do what Flair told her, so in resisting, she was struggling against Mistress’ wishes.
Flair didn’t laugh. She only tilted her head sideways thoughtfully, then shrugged. “I could leave, but I seriously doubt you’ll get through tonight without running into things you don’t like, and most of it, you won’t be able to avoid.” Her words were matter-of-fact, but her expression showed only sympathy. “Mistress wants her pets happy and safe, but she’s fae and so are her friends, and right now, you’re as much her pet as I am, even if for you that stops after twelve hours. And the consequences of kicking up a fuss or disobeying are more or less guaranteed to be worse than anything Mistress would actually expect from you, plus she’ll be disappointed. You asked Mistress for something you wanted a lot, and the price is that for twelve hours, it doesn’t matter what you want, you just do what she wants. If you can just accept that, then tonight will be easy and you might even enjoy some of it, which would probably make Mistress happy. But if you can’t…” Another shrug. “It’ll be harder, but it’ll all happen anyway. We need to get on with this. Being late getting ready isn’t a good way to start. Okay?”
Jillian closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d agreed to this, to keep Doug from spending much longer than twelve hours in prison, which was a worse setting—probably. She’d been promised repeatedly that she’d be safe, Min had specifically promised that she wouldn’t have to have sex with anyone. And she really didn’t have a choice. Any power that could rearrange reality and make a human look like Flair wasn’t something she could fight, even if she wanted to renege on her debt. She rather doubted she was going to see anyone here who was a part of any other aspect of her life, other than Min herself.
Which meant she really needed to just resign herself to having to do things regardless of her own comfort level, and do them with the best grace she could muster. She’d done things before that she wasn’t comfortable with, for her family, and for Gary, and for that matter, she’d gotten resigned to most of her current job consisting of doing things she’d much rather not do. This, at least, wasn’t going to make anyone else’s life worse. She could do this.
The sense of wrongness in the back of her mind faded into a rather pleasant warmth. Yes, that was better. That was what Mistress wanted. If she trusted Mistress and did what Mistress wanted, everything would go smoothly.
Where are those thoughts coming from?
On the other hand, they generally seemed to point her in the right direction. And they did bring a whisper of calm and reassurance that helped fight her apprehension.