Ascending Air 775
The Lady Lilunu was bored, and mildly piqued because of it. In the post-Calibration lull, she always found herself agitated, no longer having to rush around to keep the great and mighty of Hell entertained, and a part of her always missed the rush and fuss. During Calibration, everyone attended to her, and she could always listen to any street within her and hear them coo and breathe in awe about the spectacles that she put on. Even the demon princes came to her, not just for the matters of the All-Thing but also to admire her work and be entertained.
It was… nice to be wanted for her art, rather than because she cared for the green sun princes.
She finished off the large bowl of candied hellfruits and sighed again, draping herself over her chaise longue. Bored bored bored bored bored. She needed some cheering up, and maybe some entertainment. The best way to do that would be to find her Keris and use her as a model for something new and exciting, or maybe dress her up and parade her around the Conventicle.
But when she went looking through the graceful streets and towering spires of her body as a pattern of eyes and ears on her walls to find where her Keris was, she found that she already had found her own entertainments. Not in being dressed up, though. No, no, quite the opposite.
Her Keris was part of a tangled knot of limbs and bodies. Her, Sasimana and Testolagh, sharing a bed whose covers were already rumpled and sweat-stained.
Keris’s body, curled around Sasimana's head like a sprawled out cat, Sasimana's hand between her legs, her hips rocking back and forth so eagerly. Her red hair, sweaty and damp and moving like a living thing, a lock wrapped around the neck of Sasimana to collar her, others corded tight around Testolagh as he pushed himself into Sasimana.
Silver bled along Lilunu’s fingernails, the painted little artwork falling away into the mirrored depths. Her fingers stretched out, spraying like willow branches.
She shouldn't watch, Lilunu knew, a rosy blush spreading across a sprawling district of rooftops. They were having some private time. Her sworn loyal Keris and two of her older princes were making love. And they were having fun. Lilunu watched as Sasimana giggled to some soft remark from Keris, twisting her head to kiss the underside of one of Keris's breasts. Testolagh was giving himself to the puppetry of Keris's hair, letting it guide him into lifting up one of Sasimana's legs to his shoulder. Deeper, ah, deeper. Lilunu gazed deep into each of their eyes, taking in the genuine enjoyment and affection.
She shouldn't! She shouldn't watch! Withdrawing her attention, the Lady Lilunu sprang to her feet and tried to force away the unfamiliar brew of emotions bubbling inside her. The passions of the Yozis touched her and she had to choke away a spasm of anguish and jealousy that wasn't hers, wasn't hers at all!
Her right arm clenched without her command, swelling up as her blood burned green for a moment. Locks of indigo flooded her hair, her skin writhing over her midriff. And her gestures came out as meaning-laden words for who could not see how she was affected by the sight of her Keris so entertained? Yes, Marus once more, her love her love her love in the arms of someone who was not her and this should not be this should not be she should not let this happen for Marus had tried to run from after giving her her children and she could not let that happen for her heart clenched in love whenever she thought of him oh Marus so gone and dead the one who had enlightened her that shout of his on those beautiful lips that echoed the shout she had given when she had watched her heart die before and oh that shout was a moan a gasp a sigh a noise of their lust in their dreams dreams which had returned to her once more as her marus returned as her newborn keris a new daughter for her and yet how dare she love another did she not understand that-
Lilunu screamed, slamming an arm into the window before her. As the reflections shattered all around her, she saw her face; paler, black-haired, eyes a red hurricane and teeth as white and hard as jade. Then the glass fell away and the moment was gone.
It was just Adorjan, passing through her, a titanic whim reflected in her self. She didn’t love her Keris - not like that. Keris was her friend, her assistant, her Voice who spoke for her - and perhaps her left hand too, when there were things that needed done and Lilunu did not wish to know exactly how the matters would be resolved. Her pretty little songbird who sat on her wrist and cheered her up when times were glum. And her apothecary, too, who took the pain of those knots that built up within Lilunu’s flesh into herself.
She knew Keris and Sasimana were involved. And she knew that Sasimana and Testolagh were involved. She hadn’t known that the three of them were all involved, but… but that was perfectly fine. That churning feeling that made her want to scream and break things, and that other feeling that made her want to see more - that wasn’t who she was.
Lilunu wandered through her halls, gown shushing around her, but nothing could settle her mind; not music, not thoughts of architecture, not those initial plans for next Calibration. There was a heat inside her, right in her core, and more than that she could not draw her thoughts away from the glimpse of what she had seen. How would it feel to have Keris lying on the same bed as her, the scent of her hair wrapped all around her, Keris’s skin against hers, those agile hands she had trained so well touching and feeling and teasing. Sasimana had looked so happy, so blissful to be there. And more than that, Lilunu longed to see the same happiness, the loving and alluring expression her Keris had worn. Because she wanted her Keris to be happy! Of course she did! She was a kind mistress to her Keris!
(And Keris was a kind mistress to Sasimana and Testolagh, she couldn’t help but think when she thought of that red hair wound around the other two, so bright against their skin.)
Her path took her to one of her art rooms. Perhaps she could expunge those unwanted Yozi-born feelings in paint and charcoal and oil, letting out those feelings so she could examine them outside of her own head. The art room was an airy, blank space where a number of lesser demons scurried around, working on minor pieces to decorate locations within the Conventicle.
“Out! Everyone out!” she commanded, the serfs hurrying to obey. “And do not disturb me for anything less than a demon prince!”
Lilunu almost tore the clothes from her body, stripping down to throw on a painter’s smock. But in the queer mood that had taken her, even the finely hand-woven cloth irritated her as she paced around the room. There was a fearsome creative impulse in her, trying to escape, but the yawning acid churn in her stomach was new.
Grabbing a stick of charcoal, she started to sketch out the images in her head. Her Keris, her limbs so graceful, her hair reaching out, her lips parted in a silent whispered word of love. Those small breasts, a graceful swell that didn’t break the lines of her body. Those muscles, ready to spring into action. The curve of her hips, a hint of softness. And - Lilunu knew she should have stopped already - her other hand between her legs, spreading that sweet little pussy that Lilunu had seen in the baths plenty of times. Her eyes, adjusted to look straight at the viewer. And hints of red; the cheeks, the hair, the sex flush for her chests and the readiness between her legs.
Lilunu stared at what she had sketched out, and blushed as red as the glass that spread across the walls of her art-room, turning the entire white room pink.
Another Keris, this one between the legs of a statuesque, faceless woman, her body just a sketch but her face with the honest joy and glee as she tasted her lover. Another, a model for the lingerie that Lilunu wove for herself to wear for Ligier. Another, on all fours; another, spread out, baring herself for the viewer; another from the viewpoint of one lazily lying in bed beside her; another framed by the legs of the viewer. She couldn’t stop herself, even though her fingers were black with charcoal and she gave up on the papers and moved onto the walls.
This outpouring of art had not helped. The fire still burned within, and her filthy, sweat-stained smock grated against her nerves. With a snarl, Lilunu let a little of her agitation out and the clothing tore itself apart into a thousand thread-serpents, which immediately ignited in green fire and burned away to nothing.
“Surely she's done by now,” Lilunu whispered to herself, streaks of white creeping into her hair. It had been… it had been some time. So she wasn’t looking to see more of the expression on her face. She just wanted to see where she was now.
But Lilunu was not all that surprised to find that no, things were still going on in that bedroom. Sasimana was on all fours on the bedroom floor, being taken from behind by Testolagh. Lilunu couldn’t help but stare at the vacant-eyed expression of pure bliss on Sasimana’s features, the way her soft body shook with each impact, the generous pale curves crossed with patches of red handprints and hair-burn, and just how hard Testolagh was taking her ass. She had never seen Sasimana, one of her oldest princesses, in this state, reduced to something more like one of the courtesans she provided for her guests. And then there was Testolagh, who was constrained with black rope and collared and he hadn’t been before. He was using such force with his thrusts, but he didn’t look like he was in control. Neither of them did. Oh, that was a thought in its own right. Nothing Lilunu had experienced herself matched that; she always let her prince take the lead, but the idea of a man just giving in and being reduced to an automaton for female pleasure was… nice. That thought almost distracted her from who she had been looking for.
For watching them, sprawled out in an overstuffed leather armchair, her naked sweaty body sticking to the material, was her Keris. And if before she had been soft and loving, the Keris here was a creature of raw desire. In the gloom, the curves of her body shimmering from sweat, she was heartbreakingly beautiful. Her breasts and thighs were streaked with lip-paint, her hair fanned around her to play with herself, and her legs were spread so wide. Lilunu could see everything, and her art had not captured the little details; the pulsing of the veins in her inner thighs, the sheen, the slickness, the stickiness that told her Testolagh had spent lust into her too.
Even though Lilunu wasn’t looking through the eyes of her human-shaped body, the veins around her eyesockets swelled up thick and dark with quicksilver, fragments of broken mirrors swirling around in her cinnabar-red eyes.
Her charcoal-streaked fingers started to touch herself as she watched Keris rise, and stalk across to a collection of toys, selecting out a large strap on. Her lips parted at the expression on Keris’s face as she slipped it in, and did up the belts. One hand shifted to sketching this depraved, beautiful Keris while the other painted her clit black.
She shouldn't be doing this. Lilunu knew that much, and knew that she should be feeling guilty about being a disgraceful voyeur in watching her Keris in such an intimate circumstance. And she was losing control, letting one side of her nature dominate and that wasn’t right, she wasn’t meant to be doing this-
-but it felt so right. So right to watch unseen; so right to see what pleased her Keris and learn so she could do better.
With Ligier, she quickly added. Do better with her Ligier. Not with Keris, of course. That would be nonsense. Ridiculous. Fantastic...al.
Her Keris, preparing the strap-on with scented lubricant oil. Her Keris, walking over, it waggling in front of her. Her Keris, taking up position behind Testolagh, her lips moving as she whispered soft degradations in his ear. And then she pushed it in and now he was between her and Sasimana and when he drew back he impaled himself deeper on her Keris and-
The Conventicle Malfescant shook, but the three figures in the dark bedroom didn’t notice.
In disgust and guilt, Lilunu examined her fingers and the charcoal streaks across her own body. Her own… her improper excitement had mixed with the dust and formed a sticky paste and she was a mess and this had been wrong! She was awful! She was dreadful to-
how dare her keris attend to others like that rather than her. she should take the girl in hand and show her that her oaths were to her! that her mouth and her tongue were hers!
-do this. Looking around the red-lit profaned workroom, Lilunu saw a thousand Kerises writ in ecstasy and depravity and felt sick. She would never do this again. Never betray her prince and her Keris by thinking of Keris this way. She had made her Keris, trained her and raised her up from an illiterate pretty little thing into her beautiful, graceful Voice. If she started feeling… that way about Keris, it’d make their relationship a tawdry thing. And she could never betray Ligier, who she loved with all her heart.
Rainbow light spread from her, tinging to the green, and the fire spread, consuming walls and art alike. Lilunu pulled her smock back on, and guiltily headed off to the baths to clean herself up.
But one picture caught her eye as she went to leave. The sketch of Keris, lying next to the viewer, her eyes loving and her lips kind. And despite herself, Lilunu couldn’t let the fires consume that one.
Not long after Keris had said farewell to her lover and her lover’s boyfriend and the house servants had made her bedroom somewhat presentable and cleaned up the stains, she found herself the recipient of an invitation to meet with her lady “at her convenience”.
“What do you think this is about?” she asked Dulmea.
“Given she did not say what it was, and did not say that you should come at your earliest convenience, I doubt it is all that important,” her mother said. “She is probably just bored.”
Keris yawned, and told the messenger that she needed to sleep, but she’d be along next scream.
After a sleep and a long bath, Keris presented herself to her lady, who was atop one of the high balconies in the great central spire of the Conventicle, looking out over the landscape. Her appearance was not one that Keris had seen that often. Her hair was as white as Hermione’s, and her left eye was solid red, with mirror shards orbiting where the pupil should have been.
“My lady? Are you feeling well?” she asked quickly.
That earned her an idle flap of a hand. “I am just somewhat struggling with Szoreny’s presence in my mind,” Lilunu said. “It will probably pass, but it is bringing on feelings that I am not familiar with. I do not think I have a chakra knot you can deal with, but I wanted you near - not least because this way, you can watch and see if there are any unusual symptoms.”
Keris’s heart swelled with pride. “Of course, my lady! You can trust me with this.”
“I know I can,” Lilunu said fondly. That mirror eye locked on Keris, looking her up and down. She shifted uncomfortably, leaning on the balcony. "But Keris?”
“Yes, my lady?”
“I can see things I couldn’t see before. I suppose it might be time that I should ask you some questions about matters of relationships," she said.
The blush which rose on Keris's cheeks was immediate. "Oh. Oh!"
“Yours. Not mine.”
"Specifically, my Keris, your relationship with Sasimana and Testolagh."
"Do we have to?" Keris tried.
"I'm just curious. I don't want to pry," Lilunu said, prying, "but I don't understand the thing you have going with Testolagh."
Behind her back, Keris's hair twisted itself into knots. "He," she cleared her throat, "is Sasi's boyfriend. I am Sasi's girlfriend. That is what we are to each other, my lady."
Lilunu's beautiful brow wrinkled in confusion. "But - my Keris, forgive me, but I am quite sure that you slept with him last scream." Reaching out, she rested a hand on Keris's, honest concern in her eyes. "Is there something shameful about your relationship with him you don't want to be publicly recognised?"
The surge of emotion that hit Keris was part annoyance that Lilunu was asking all these awkward questions, and part affection for her lady who was acting like a big blundering child in this blunt interrogation while still only looking out for her. "We're not in a relationship that way," she explained. "But… well, sometimes, when we're all here, we'll… um. You know. Because it makes Sasi very happy to have both her lovers in the same bed. And it's not like it's… um, physically unpleasant. It can even be fun. He's quite handsome. So we're not in a relationship. But we're both in love with the same woman. And sometimes we, uh, have sex. But only when she's in the same bed. Well, except when we tried to make it work, but it didn't. But that doesn't count."
The ever-changing eyes of hell's crown princess held not one smidgeon of understanding.
Keris let her head sink into her hands, feeling the heat of her blush. She was probably the same colour as her hair.
"Okay, how about some wine. Spirits. Chalcanth," she mumbled. "I can't do this sober. And I'll try to explain how complex this shit is. And how my thing with Sasi is a very, uh, open relationship. And, uh. Something about how trying to make things work is so damn hard when you love more than one person."
A band of pink stone spread across the spine of the Conventicle Malfeasant, expanding as it went. Trees transmuted into outcroppings of dawn-coloured crystal and the ground cracked open, revealing pearlescent caverns filled with sweet-smelling liquid.
And in one of the chambers of the Conventicle, the Conventicle sat with her hands folded on her lap as her Voice drunkenly expanded on exactly what she had done to Testolagh Matachim which led to them deciding to break off their attempts to have a relationship.
“And he liked it?” she asked yet again, unsure whether her Keris was playing some kind of mean prank on her by tricking her.
“Hah! A lotta men are like that!” Keris declared. She threw back another shot of chalcanth, slamming the glass down and letting out a satisfied howl. “Pain’n’pleshure are all mixed up! ‘Mean, just think about your piercin’s and stuff! It’s such a rush to get a new set of tats. Or that feelin’ when a new piercing goes in, that spike of pain is soooooo much of a rush.”
Lilunu bit her lower lip, thinking about that. Her fingers twitched at the thought of… of having Ligier between her legs when she was working on a new sleeve. Because her Keris wasn’t wrong. There was something incredibly completing about that rush of pain - and some of her canvases really liked what she did to them. Like that charming little girl who Keris had given her as a present-worshipper. In fact - Lilunu’s eyes widened, as three spires stretched out their windows into contemplative stained-glasses - that girl had climaxed as Lilunu had rebuilt parts of her chakras to cut out that misery. She had thought that was just a harmonic of her pleasure unbound from pain, but maybe it had been the pain and pleasure together doing it for her.
“But then,” she tried, “why… why did you like denying him pleasure? And he liked you denying it? Surely it is better for everyone to have as much pleasure as possible?”
Keris blinked owlishly at her, considering it. “Sounds a bit borin’ to me,” she said eventually, leaning her head over so far that she had to catch herself with her hair before she fell off her seat. That gesture was seemingly hilariously funny to her, and Keris broke out into shrill giggles. “I guess… I guess… I guess it was Tessie who kinda showed me how much I get off on denyin’ people, but it took for me’n’Claudia for me to… y’know. Accept it. And see how far I could go, y’know?” She leaned forwards, propping her chin up on the table. “Oh man, Lili, Claudia’s so much fun when she’s all moanin’ ‘oh oh oh let me cum’ and you got that big huge clit of hers that’s as thick and long as a dick in yer pussy and oh! She’s so strong and it’s just the best to see her reduced to beggin’. Because she wants to be on top but when you win that bet against her she’s gotta submit and she likes it even if she doesn’t want it and it’s just like,” Keris threw her hands out, “sploosh! Insta-turn-on!”
“I, uh, see,” Lilunu said, who didn’t. But definitely, hearing her Keris ramble on like this drunkenly was helping her not see her as quite so beautiful and graceful. “So, uh. You enjoy this?”
Wide-eyed, Keris nodded. “You can make ‘em want you, an’ they’re watchin’ yer every move an’ beggin’ you to give ‘em what they want, but you don’t gotta, ‘cause iss all in your hands, an’ you get to say what they’cn have an’ what they can’t, right, an’ with the ‘chemy stuff you can make it so’s even if they try ta get off w’out permission they can’t, an’ the look in their eyes when they realise is just... just the best, an’... an’ I just love it? You know?”
“I don’t know,” Lilunu said softly.
“I don’t know. I… Ligier is so strong and I love it when he holds me and he’s so powerful - but so gentle when he wants to be,” she hastily reassured her, “but… I’ve never really been in charge in the bedroom. I wouldn’t know what to do!”
Keris leaned in, resting her hand on Lilunu’s thigh, and behind her a rooftop turned scarlet. “Ever’ girl gotta try toppin’ for a change,” she slurred. “You might like it.”
The churning in her stomach was stronger than ever before, and her nails shone like molten silver. There was a word for this, this sour heat; this cutting sharpness, this… this…
“Huh.” Keris blinked heavily. “M’lady, why… why’re you envyin’ me? You can’t envy me! You’re better’an me!”
Envy. Yes. That was it. She envied Keris; her beautiful healthy children, her freedom in Creation and in the bedroom, the fact she could take control, even her messy and complicated relationships.
“I’ve never really gotten to experiment in relationships,” Lilunu said softly. “I… sometimes I’ve wondered what another woman is like.”
“Ah.” Keris nodded wisely. “Yeah, I guess Ligier’s not gonna turn into a girl.” She scratched her chin. “Girls are great,” she confided with a giggle. “I think I like girls more’an boys, but boys have their place. I gotta boyfriend back in Creation too, y’know?”
“I… didn’t know.”
Keris blinked, and cocked her head as if listening to an unseen voice. “Well, ‘snot exactly like he’s a boyfriend, but we spent a few weeks together a couple o’ years back and… I sorta wish I hadn’t left him y’know but he had his stuff goin’ on and I had mine and we still see each other sometimes and he’s always a fun lay!”
Lilunu listened to Keris babble drunkenly about this occasional fling of hers - which was another thing to think about later, because she had thought Sasimana was Keris’s (only?) long-term relationship - while her mind reflected on these envious thoughts.
“-and the thing ‘bout him is he accepts me for who I am, y’know? He knows I’m from a messy background and stuff but when I come into his dreams he’s fine - more’an fine! - with me doin’ that and-”
She understood Keris. Maybe more than Keris did herself, because that sharp and cutting envy of Keris’s freedom told her things about Keris’s relationships from the outside. Her Keris had been treated so cruelly by Creation. The world had hurt her so awfully. She had been a Nexan harlot, a streetwalker, caught in a poisoned relationship where she and her mentor-lover-mother had both sold themselves to keep a roof over their heads. Sex had been something others asked of her, demanded from her; pleasure had been something others extracted or took from her.
“... he’s sweet. Like Sasi. They’re both so kind! I… I can’t be asked to pick between ‘em, right?”
And what did she really get off on now? Denying pleasure to others, in a way that meant when she did choose to grant it, it was all the sweeter. But that left the power in her hands. Lilunu thought back to the sight of her Keris pegging Testolagh while her hands and hair played with Sasimana. It had been a performance, but not for the onlooker she hadn’t realised had been there. It had been a performance for Sasimana and Testolagh, a performance that made them pawns in her Keris’s lovemaking, both taken up to the peaks of pleasure and sustained there. So that they could know afterwards that it had been her Keris who had done that.
So that they would always want to come back to her.
Maybe this was why her Keris had signed a contract with the Street of Golden Lanterns; to be the one who got to pick and choose among the powerful demon princes who lusted after her. Who wanted her, and had to pay to lie with her. She could deny the delights she offered, and that was a reversal of power that she had never had back on the streets. Because she was no longer a two-a-yen streetwalker. She was the beautiful, glorious thing that she had grown into under Lilunu’s guidance. Who wouldn’t want, long for, wish to lie with her Keris?
The need to be needed; the want to be wanted: Lilunu knew that. It was what she loved about Calibration, and why the season after it always left her desolate and bored. Calibration was the only time the other demon princes treated her as if she was an equal.
And now she had a word for this feeling, she realised it wasn’t the first time she had felt it. She envied them. The others. Just as she envied Keris’s freedoms to share the gifts of her body, she envied the freedom that the other demon princes had with their authority.
She didn’t want to defy them. She could never do that. But she (bitterly, hungrily, desperately) envied their freedoms. She needed them.
Keris had fallen asleep where she was sitting, hair cushioning her as she drunkenly snored.
“Oh, my Keris,” Lilunu whispered, letting her mercury-laden eyes take in everything of the perfect mirror to her own glory. Of course she loved her Keris in her own way, because she had made her the woman she was. And she should be honest enough to love herself. “My dear, sweet Keris.”
She leaned in, ignoring the haze of drink-fumes and kissed Keris on the lips. Just a brief brush against those scarred lips, but even that touch was electrifying. The guilt surge was immediate, but she could withstand it. Her Keris was her reflection embodied. She wasn’t kissing her like a lover. Just as a friend.
“Let’s get you to bed, my Keris. So you can sleep this off. You have to stay healthy, you know.”
Things were very, very awkward for Keris when she woke up in her apartment in the spire with partial memories of having had an extensive and very frank talk about sex with Lilinu. She crept to her bathroom to clean out her mouth, her head pounding.
“Did I say… anything about… um. What did I say?”
Dulmea took cruel pleasure in recounting everything, and by the end Keris was curled up in a ball on the ground, begging for everything to stop.
“Did I really blab about Ney?”
“I haven’t even told Sasi! Did… did I tell her that he’s sun-chosen?”
“No, fortunately. She just thinks he is a boyfriend of yours that you don’t want Sasi to know about.”
Keris groaned in relief; a motion that brought nausea and she emptied her stomach into the bath. “Urgh. Urgh. I… I can’t show my face to Lilunu.”
“Probably not,” Dulmea said heartlessly. “I told you not to drink so much.”
“I couldn’t talk relationships with her unless I was drunk!”
“Congratulations, child. You managed to talk about your relationships with her.”
“Urgh.” Keris wiped her mouth. “I… I definitely think spending some time inna Nests workin’ on Vipera is… is the thing for me to do. So I don’t gotta face up to her. And knowin’ her she might have more questions and I really don’t wanna answer ‘em!”
Yes. Working on her spear and making herself scarce from the Conventicle sounded like a very good idea.
And hopefully Lilunu would forget all of this and nothing would come of it.