Stolen Ch. 03byTidakSense©
The trip back to the apartments felt like it took less time than our initial foray to Gianna's shop. Nenny waited as I dropped off the clothes bundle in my apartment. I was surprised to see that my bed had been made in my absence.
"Nenny, someone made my bed."
She smiled, amused at the indignant tone of my voice. There were few things as pointless as making a bed. I never saw the reason to it, it was just going to be slept in and messy anyways. Beside, sheets exposed to the air were cooler and felt better against the skin.
"None of you Stolen are here voluntarily. Expecting you to take care of your rooms would be foolish. So when you leave, caretakers clean up while you're out. They also refill the toiletries and do small repairs."
"I suppose that makes sense," I said. I hadn't really thought about it after all. "So do the maids get nosey and poke through our stuff?"
"Caretakers, not maids. They do not poke through your belongings," she replied. "You will probably not see them at all, so don't worry."
After pausing to show me how to secure the money pouch to the inner waist of my skirt, she led me back down the narrow stair. We headed in the opposite direction of Gianna's shop down the same narrow street. Just a few blocks away from the apartments was the Lounge.
It was a wide two-story building with a small courtyard to the side. The structure was the first I'd seen in the city that actually had windows. They were wide arched windows set with clear glass panes and were opened to the outside. Tables and seats filled the courtyard and the second story of the building had a wide balcony with additional chairs. The roof of the Lounge was covered in bright canvas over even more tables and seating.
The doubled door entrance to the black stone building was propped open with granite statues of smiling lilim. The arms of the statues were wide in a welcoming pose. The interior of the first floor was filled with low stone benches set around wide trellis tables. The tables were arranged around the large square of an open kitchen, complete with grills over bright coals. Wide sweeping stairs led to the second floor on either side of the building.
Nenny waved as she left, leaving me to explore the Lounge on my own as she returned to duty. Immediately I noticed the women. Human women and not one of them had a collar like Gianna. The women sat in small groups of two or three with a few empty tables filling the space between them. Succubi sat near each cluster of women, either singly or in pairs. The lilim kept trying to catch the attention of the women with flirty gestures.
I felt a strong sense of déjà vu as I surveyed the scene. It reminded me of the hotel bar Briselen had found me in, only with the succubi acting the part of the bar girls. That had been a normal Friday night, even though it had only been a day, it felt like a year had passed. Shaking my head, I looked around the area, trying to spot Emmet and Bale.
As I quartered the plaza, looking for the errant blonde and brunette, one of the succubi stood and approached me. She was taller than me, reminding me that I was now a Lilliputian in a land of giants. She had bright red skin and long golden hair. Her head was crowned in short black horns and her wings were dusted with a golden powder. Her bright yellow cat eyes were giving me the once over with a wide speculative smile on her lips.
I recognized the look she was giving me. Being flirted with might be nice but I really wasn't in the mood. I suppose she was reasonably cute, but I just wanted to find Emmet and Bale and possibly have a few drinks. Altering my direction, I headed to the stairs leading to the second floor, hoping she wouldn't try to intercept me.
There was a tingly feeling along my spine, like a whispering surge, and she moved faster, far faster than she should've. She stepped into my path and gave me what she probably thought was a flirty grin. It was too toothy to be cute and a little creepy, but more importantly I saw it happen. I could see how she used dark strands of power that flowed out of her to pull her body to the space before me.
Frowning, I circled around a table, keeping it between her and me as I considered what I had just witnessed. It looked pretty simple like she was just tugging herself along a rope for added speed. The amount of magic she used looked negligible to my inexperienced eye. That must've been the same trick Briselen had used on me when I had tried to leave the hotel.
Thinking of what had happened caused my own power to surge within me. The unwelcome reminder of how Briselen had stopped me from leaving, of what she had done to me, irritated me. I felt like using the swell of power to strike at the smiling succubus, to knock her through the wall or something more permanent. This urge to violently lash out with magic was starting to worry me. I couldn't tell if it was normal, a result of stress and the changes to my body, or something darker lurking within me.
I paused after circling the table to consider my craving to visit violence upon her when the succubus did it again. She used her magic to pull herself through the air to intercept me. I suppose it looked impressive as if she was bending distance to her will while casually taking a stroll. It just aggravated me further; I was only there to meet Emmet and Bale.
She was looking down at me, a hand on her hip, with the other running down the front of her tight white dress. It looked like she was trying to guide my eyes to the parts of her body she felt most attractive. I clenched my teeth and stared at the ground behind her.
She cocked her head and as she opened her mouth, I experimented. Throwing out strands of power, just as she had, I pulled. I pictured myself walking while being pulled through the air just as she had done. The power inside me surged and I moved. Only I moved faster and farther than I intended.
The nearest stairs that had been perhaps twenty feet away were suddenly right in front of me. The momentum behind the pull toppled me off balance and I fell, stomach first, into the railing with outstretched arms. The impact knocked the breath out of me and I struggled to avoid bending over in pain. The lilim I had avoided cried out in surprise. Some of the succubi who had been watching stood and looked in my direction in astonishment.
Surreptitiously rubbing at my abdomen, I smiled sweetly at them and went up the stairs. Experiment successful! Mostly. Practice would work out the kinks. Once I was certain none of the lilim in the courtyard could see me, I leaned against the wall and tried to breathe.
My stomach already felt bruised and the impact was going to leave one hell of a mark. But it had worked, I had controlled and used magic just as I intended. Bale and Nenny would be happy I hadn't destroyed anything.
The urge to visit violence upon everything near me was gone but the power was still there, ready to be used. I was able to take small breaths after a few moments though it felt like hours. My mind wandered as I leaned on the wall and clutched my abdomen. Maybe I could use similar strands of power to rappel down hills. Could it support my weight? Maybe I could fly.
I really needed to meet another catalyst before attempting that. Mimicking the fate of Icarus, flying too high to the sun or exceeding the possible, would be unpleasant, to say the least. Maybe Bale and Nenny had a point about unauthorized experimentation.
With a hand on the wall to steady myself, I went up the rest of the stairs. Trying to look like I hadn't just nearly knocked myself out, I looked around the second floor. The floor plan mirrored the first level with tables arranged around the square of an open grill and bar. Another pair of stairs led up to the roof on either side of the room.
This level of the Lounge was nearly deserted. There was only a small group of women in the far left corner talking amongst themselves. A few succubi tended the bar and kitchen in the middle of the room and hadn't looked up when I reached the landing. Not seeing Emmet or Bale, I continued up the stairs to the roof.
The canvas covering the roof was propped up on long iron poles. It was a riotous clash of color, made up of many smaller fabrics sewn together. It looked like a gaudy circus tent but it made me smile to finally see color against the dull black of the city.
The bar area was smaller than on the lower floors with more of the area given over to a stage. Instead of wide trellis tables and benches, smaller circular tables with high backed chairs filed the area. Each table had four to five of the sturdy seats arranged around them. There were more women on the roof than the on the first floor and courtyard.
"Tony, over here brah!" called Emmet from a table in the far right corner of the roof.
She was sitting at a table with Bale, two mugs were set on the table before them. Bale smiled when she saw me, I guess she had recovered from my morning tantrum.
"Looking good," Emmet said as I walked over to them.
"You think so?" I asked looking down at my skirt. "It feels weird when I remember I'm wearing women's clothes."
Bale nodded and said with a smile, "You do get used to it, it helps to remember that there aren't any men's clothes available."
Pulling out the chair between them, I sat down and rubbed at my stomach. It was already very tender; the bruise would probably be spectacular.
I glanced around and said, "So this is the Lounge. It looks like a regular beer garden."
"It's okay," Bale said before taking a drink from her cup. "It gets tiresome coming here so often."
"How often do you come here?" I asked.
"Daily. Usually two or three times a day."
"Why so often?"
Bale shrugged while Emmet said, "Brah, there's not much we can do here. It's either come here, the Old Market or sit around the apartments."
"Huh? There's a whole metropolis here, there's gotta be other things to do, other places to visit," I said as I looked between the two.
Emmet leaned back in her chair with a sigh and pulled her cup to her.
Bale shook her head and said, "We're allowed to the Old Market and here. Everything else is off-limits."
I stared at them in disbelief.
Emmet took a sip from her cup and nodded to me. "Yeah brah, they say it's for our safety. It's probably true but it sucks being stuck here."
"That's it? Two places when we're not in the apartment? Like dogs kept in a kennel on a short leash?" I asked incredulously, the magic within me started to surge with my irritation.
"Please calm down!" Bale implored while leaning back, her face draining of color.
"Easy brah," said Emmet soothingly while she lightly placed a hand on mine. "It's not like that. Some of the watch will escort us around when they're free. We can hit up the vendors on the streets and visit some shops. They're just worried someone might steal us again."
Slumping in my chair, I let out an exasperated sigh. I wasn't sure what was worse, the initial kidnapping or the hint that they coddled us for our own good. Tilting my head back against the seat's backrest, I stared up at the colorful canvas covering the roof. It sounded like the Stolen were bored to death with nothing to do until going home.
My eyes drifted to the iron poles holding the fabric roof in place. Part of me wanted to see if I could break them with magic, the other wondered why I wanted to destroy things. Snapping my head forward, I straightened up in the seat and looked at Bale.
"Do they have libraries here?" I asked. They had parchment they must have books too. Surely, we could borrow them and read to pass the time. Maybe I could learn more about how to control my magic or what was done to me.
She nodded and looked sad. "We're not allowed in any of the libraries. Even with an escort," she said while looking into her cup.
"Why? Aren't libraries meant to store and share knowledge? Cause I could do with a lot of knowledge about this messed up place."
The brunette shrugged and said, "Only lilim are allowed in the libraries."
I leaned against the back of my chair again and rubbed at my eyes.
"So let me get this straight," I said with a groan. "We can't explore the city or the portals. We can't go home yet, can't go to the library to read or research anything and are only allowed here or at a market."
Emmet gave a slight nod when I glanced at her. I leaned forward and rubbed at the large sore area of my stomach. "We're supposed to stay and bond why? Cause this sounds like hell. A boring, dull, dreary hell with a purple sky."
"We are in a hell," Bale said sincerely while she set her cup on the table. "Asphodel is a hell."
My head swiveled to her and I stared. "Seriously?" I asked. "A hell hell. A real hell?"
She nodded. "Technically it's a nexus, a convergence of many worlds, but it is a hell," she added as she gestured at the sky. "We think it's why the sky doesn't change its illumination. All the worlds with portals here sort of have their light leak in through the barriers."
"So there really is no sun or stars?"
"As far as anyone has determined, there are none here."
"How do the plants grow then? What about tides, or seasons, or weather?"
"No oceans," muttered Emmet as she drank. "No oceans, no large bodies of water and no weather. Just a river that surfaces from some springs and vanishes underground."
Bale shrugged and said, "We don't know why plants grow here. The lack of night doesn't speed up their growth either."
"No need for windows if you always know it's light out," grumbled the blonde as she set her mug on the table.
My gaze shifted between the pair. They seemed serious and there were no indications that they were pulling my chain. There was so much wrong with their statements I didn't know where to begin. No weather? Where did the water in the buildings come from? Why have a roof over a building if they didn't have to worry about the elements? Every statement just raised new questions.
I glanced around while my mind raced. The other human girls, they all looked the same as Bale and Emmet. They all seemed bored. A bone-deep tedium seemed to be the most prominent part of their body language. No wonder the girls were so eager to wake me up this morning. I was something new that shook up a long dreary wait.
I shook my head and stared at Bale. "If this is Hell why don't you want me to destroy it?" I asked gesturing widely with my hands.
Emmet snorted in laughter; it sounded very cute and pointed at Bale. "She's got you brah."
Bale chuckled and looked at her mug while shrugging. "Wait until I leave."
I leaned forward, placing my elbows on the table and said, "So Asphodel is a hell. Guess that explains succubi and harpies." I frowned and added, "And cloven and shedim, whatever those are."
Bale shrugged and said, "The lilim probably know more about the nature of this place but they won't say."
"And they won't let anyone into their libraries to find out for themselves. Wonderful," I groused while watching the pair. They look dejected.
"So they really are demons," I mused as I flopped against the backrest of the chair frowning. "They don't seem all that malevolent though. More like hormonal teenagers instead of creatures of infinite evil bent on subverting all life in century long plots."
Emmet and Bale were staring at me.
"Is that what your world says about lilim?" Bale asked.
"About demons, yes. Succubi are supposed to steal the life and soul out of anyone they have sex with while delighting in their victims suffering," I replied.
"Brah, what world are you from?" asked Emmet with a disbelieving expression.
They looked at each other, sharing a quizzical expression. Guess they hadn't heard about the Crusader world. Maybe the succubi kept that to themselves to avoid giving someone else ideas. Or maybe they really were masterminds and this was all a game.
Except, Briselen hadn't struck me as a genius schemer. She only thought of herself and her desires for a sex slave. Nenny didn't seem the type either and none of the watch that I had met seemed the sort. Masterminds would never take on the roles of protectors or guards after all, too demeaning to their ego.
I mentally shook myself. I had enough problems without inventing new ones. Glancing at the pair I asked, "Never heard of Earth, huh?"
"No. I thought I was familiar with all the worlds they visit," replied Bale.
Emmet just shrugged and took a drink from her mug.
"They hadn't been to my world in a long time," I said.
They had been there though and then closed the portals after Earth sent Crusaders through in an invasion. I leaned forward and tried to remember all that I knew about the Crusades. The first one was in the eleventh century, wasn't it? I was pretty sure they occurred periodically until the Mongols showed up and wrecked everything. Then there was that whole Black Death outbreak.
Shaking my head to myself I decided to change topics and asked, "Doesn't it get expensive coming here all the time? Does the stipend really cover three meals a day here?"
"Naw brah," said Emmet after she took a drink. "Meals here are gratis, on the house."
"The city covers the cost of our meals and drinks here," said Bale as she slumped in her chair. "We don't have dining at the rooms," she added.
They both nodded. Great. That's just great. They kept us bored and drunk so we'd take the first offer for a bonding that came along. They weren't very subtle for being demons. It was another blow to the mastermind theory. I leaned my head on my hand, elbow planted on the table.
"Drunk, bored and easy marks for a persistent suitor looking for a factotum. What a happy coincidence," I grumbled aloud. They both stared moodily at their cups and didn't bother to say anything. They didn't need to.
Sighing I stood up and looked down at them. "So what's a good brew here? Any recommendations?"
Emmet perked up in her seat and nodded saying, "Witch's Tit is pretty damn good beer. Grab me one will you?"
I giggled at the name. She seemed serious though.
Bale also nodded and said, "It is pretty good, lighter than a Starless. Grab me one too?"
"Sure," I said as I walked away smiling. The silly names had broken my gloomy mood.
I wove my way through the tables up to the bar. Preoccupied with rubbing at my sore stomach and avoiding bumping girls crowded around the tables I didn't pay any attention to the succubi working the kitchen.
"What can I get you," asked a succubus while I peered at my torso. I was irrationally trying to see if I could make out any marks through my top. That and I was admiring my cleavage.
"Three Witch's Tits, please," I requested before looking up. Saying it caused me to smile again.
"Sure thing," she replied and turned her back to get the brews. I stared and then jerked when I realized I was staring.
She was a lilim with no wings and her horns ended in short jagged irregular tips. It looked like her horns had been roughly sheared off. While she got the three beers, I covertly studied her. She still had a tail; it twitched and moved around like a cat's. Her gray shirt wasn't loose or big enough to hide any outline of wings hidden beneath it.
Placing the mugs on the bar with a sad smile, she turned and walked to another patron. The lilim was still pretty, like all succubi, with an hourglass figure and regular symmetrical features. Her missing wings and broken horns were disconcerting. It didn't seem right to me, to see a lilim without her wings. That thought caused me to frown. Was I starting to see the succubi as normal?
Slightly shaking my head to clear it, I carefully picked up the mugs and gingerly walked with them back to the table. The girls half rose in their seats when I returned and helped me place the large cups on the table without any spillage. Resuming my seat, I took a sip of the bubbly golden brew.