Kanae didn't think it was possible for Grand Eye Analise to look so tense. Though young in comparison to her political peers, she had always demonstrated a steeled yet firm outward resolve unshaken by pressure. Even during the threat of a rebellion and invasion from Artaggon. One would have believed her to have decades of experience in leadership. However, Analise was reduced to a frozen ice sculpture slowly melting under the burning presence of a drakeling giantess.
The second day of Arum Taum was kicked off by a meeting between Aidenhall's top brass and Estaline von Cleissor's mother. Kanae had several impressions of the drakeling woman from what little she knew, but nothing would prepare her for—
"Come now! Don't be shy. You're my daughter's master, aren't you? The largest cut of meat must go to you. How else will you live long and grow strong? No need to hold back. Eat more!" The drakeling thrusted into Kanae's face a massive roasted leg from a wyvern, which was sitting on the table and oozing with fatty oil. Three bottles of wine laid empty next to her, and a fourth was another swig from going empty in her other hand.
Esta sat to Kanae's other side, trapping her between two drakelings. She, too, looked bothered by her mother's fraternizing, but it didn't seem out of the ordinary. Back straight, both hands on her lap, and wanting to be anywhere else… If anything, Esta's mannerisms were closer to that of a child in the proximity of a stern parent.
"Mother… can you please stop pestering my Master with food she doesn't want to eat? If anyone should be hand feeding her, it should be me," Esta said unabashedly.
"I wouldn't have to if you actually fed her! You probably don't feed your master enough. Mine is bloated like a bull on the day he's to be butchered! Hah! Now, Kanae. Open wide. You're a succubus, so you have probably taken plenty of meat into your mouth anyway."
"Th-This… isn't the type of meat I'm used to eating though!" Kanae said, troubled by her insistence.
Who knew meeting the parent of one of her followers would turn out this way? Though, it wasn't so bad to be spoiled…
"Y-Your Ladyship, it would behoove you to treat the Queen of the Commonwealth and Aidenhall's Knight of Amethyst with more dignity!" King Turren exclaimed from the other end, hidden behind the roasted wyvern that took up most of the table space.
The drakeling shot him a glare that put the king's butt back into his seat.
"Forgive us, Amethyst." The Grand Eye sighed. "Allow me to introduce her esteemed Ladyship. Avaline von Cleisseldor, the Rook of Rotandrix. Also the former Knight of Silver. Though, I suppose you know her best as Estaline's mother." She turned to the drakeling who made herself at home in question. "Your Ladyship, if you want a meal, we have a cafeteria. You didn't need to go out and hunt a wyvern…"
"Nonsense! I came on short notice and without bringing anything for Arum Taum. Consider this my belated contribution." Avaline grinned.
"Will you tell us now what you're doing here? We know it isn't for Arum Taum. You didn't bother showing up for the last one," Estaline said in an accusatory manner that put everyone's eyes on her mother.
"You're always so tense and straight to the point. Fine, I'll tell you: it was all in the letter, I'm here to bring you home," she explained.
"You can't!" Kanae shot out of her seat before she even realized it. "I-I mean, I'm Estaline's master after all. Her Loyalty Fixation activated on me…"
"It would be a preposterous thing to do! Why even suggest such a thing, Mother? If you truly came to ask me to abandon my master, then you have wasted your breath and energy," Esta said.
The mother drakeling gnawed down on the wyvern leg, then gently dropped it onto Kanae's plate. There were only a few pieces of meat left clinging to it. Deep bite marks were left in the bone.
"I'm not telling you to Abandon your master. She may return with us to Rotandrix. I'll even appeal to the Ortesian lords about leaving her free," Avaline assured them with an air of sheer confidence.
"The gall on you to poach Aidenhall's Knight of Silver and Knight of Amethyst." Analise glared.
"Well, Arum Taum calls. It's more stifling in here than a salamander's ass," she said, getting up to leave but pausing at the door. "The empire isn't blind to what's going on. They know the Queen-Mother and her succubus daughters have resurfaced. Lord Charron seems to be up to something, too. It's not safe on this continent, Estaline. Come home. You have until the end of Arum Taum to decide."
Without giving anyone else a chance to respond, Avaline left to sample the festival. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as soon as she was gone. The Grand Eye called in a guard.
"Find Saint Priest Danito. Coordinate with him to deliver the finest wine to Avaline's room and as much of it as possible," Analise ordered.
"I thought I was to be turned into charcoal…" King Turren slumped down into his seat and sighed.
"I'm terribly sorry about my mother, your graces. I had received a letter from her, but nothing in it suggested she would be visiting. As for what she wanted from me, I have no intention of leaving my post as Knight of Silver, or as your servant," Esta said to Kanae, who flashed a relieved smile.
"I appreciate it, but is your mom really that bad? Avaline just looks like she's here for a good time. The choice of going with her back to Rotandrix is on us, too— N-Not that I intend to, obviously!" Kanae explained.
The other three didn't share the same sentiments. In fact, her question made them shudder.
"There were a few people Rowena, the previous Grand Eye, had warned me about before I assumed the position. The Rook of Rotandrix was among those at the very top. Avaline had served as Knight of Silver during Rowena's golden years and was regarded as an efficient tactician amongst her peers," Analise said.
Esta nodded and continued, "The title of Rook was given to her a few years after passing on the Knight of Silver mantle to Vestrid and returning to Ortesia. In that short time, Rotandrix conquered much of the smaller sovereignties that dotted the western side of the continent. For the empire, no less. They call her the Rook of Rotandrix because only weeks after arriving in a foreign nation, it would submit to her soon after."
Kanae shuddered in the same way that they did and gulped. That meant Avaline's presence in Radevic… No. No way. Especially not with such a small army… right? Efficient Tactician replayed in her head. However, it was no wonder they were suspicious of her actual intentions.
"No sense in worrying. I'll have Danito get her too drunk to scheme anything," the Grand Eye vowed as if that was a masterful counter to the Rook of Rotandrix.
"I feel like I won't like the answer, but between the Queen-Mother, Lord Charron, and Ortesia, who would you say is the greater threat?" Kanae asked.
"Ortesia," Analise and Turren answered at the same time without hesitation.
"There is nothing more dangerous than an entire empire's worth of people believing that the very gods gifted them this world," she said, expanding on her answer.
Unable to make any moves against Avaline given her status and position, they adjourned the meeting. Arum Taum demanded the Grand Eye and King Turren's full attention, especially the ceremony for the final day.
"Great." Kanae clicked her tongue as they were leaving. "I brought my kids here because I thought Radevic would be safe. Little did I know, Ortesia sent their most valuable chess piece here."
"What do you think about what Mother said about the Queen-Mother and Lord Charron? I can't imagine they know more than us. I also wouldn't put it past her to feign knowledge in getting me to return to Rotandrix," Esta said.
"That's a good point… Ugh. I don't know. Obviously Avaline has decades of experience on me. If we tried to one-up her on politics, the Commonwealth and Radevic are done. War with Ortesia isn't an option. We have what's going on north to worry about."
Kanae's train of thoughts were interrupted by an unusual sight. Aisha and Will sat awkwardly together on an outdoor table in front of a bakery. They faced away from each other while eating cake. People passing by, or coming in and out of the bakery, gawked at the strange pair until Aisha bared her teeth to scare them away.
"Hail, Lord William!" Esta bowed to the soon-to-be Knight of Azure and brother of Grand Eye Analise.
"What are you two doing here? Enjoying Arum Taum together?" Kanae asked.
"Something… like that…" Will answered nervously. "It's, uh… kind of a date…"
If this excruciatingly awkward scene could be called a date.
"It's not a date! I was hungry. The tin-wearing chumps in the palace didn't like me barging into the pantry. Will promised to buy me food, so here we are," Aisha explained.
"Aisha was a mess when I found her. She looked so scared and lost, too," Will recalled fondly.
"No, I wasn't!"
The last time Kanae had left them, Aisha had whisked Will away for a mating session. In retrospect, she felt bad not stopping her from taking him against his will. However, upon closer inspection, both of them were bright red. Something was up.
"So… How did the other night go?" Kanae asked teasingly.
They straightened their backs.
"Hmph. This male is a lot more skillful and potent than I anticipated… I didn't expect to be made to squeal like a boar in heat," Aisha grumbled.
Kanae and Esta gaped at Will.
"I-I don't think I did anything special, but I guess she liked it!" Will stammered.
"You must have picked up a few tricks from your stint in Lograin's brothels a few years back," Kanae said, laughing at his expense.
"Brothel?" Aisha whipped around angrily and faced Will at last. "You better not be taking prostitutes or sex slaves anymore. I'll see to your sexual needs." Her voice took a sudden shaky turn." I-I'll even h-h-hunt for you…"
"How is it that you're able to say 'sexual needs' so confidently but stutter over 'hunt'?" he asked.
"No reason! Shut up!"
It seemed Moira was going tickled pink to learn about them later. Though, Aisha would have the Grand Eye to contend with over Will.
The four of them decided to join together as a group and wander about for Arum Taum's second day. Festivities picked up around noon. They stumbled upon a group of flower dancers in a park block. Spectators tossed handfuls of petals into the air, showering the participants an array of colors. At the park's edge, flower vendors sold their stock by the baskets.
Dancers performed in pairs. Together, they kicked their legs out in a wide arc to send fallen petals back up again, and then landed gingerly on their two feet. Judging by the people dancing, it wasn't coordinated. They were simply citizens who had gathered together to celebrate Arum Taum.
"Tai-Tai Dance," Will began after noting their curiosity. "It's a traditional Artesian dance. Not to be confused with Ortesian. Artesian is a race of desert-dwelling humans who migrated north from the southern reaches of the continent. My sister and I happen to have Artesian blood in us."
"Your traditional dance looks silly," Aisha said.
Will's energy went down a notch.
"But, I would like to try it…" she added quietly.
"I'll teach you!" Will pulled the reluctant Aisha into the crowd of dancers.
They were extremely awkward at first, but after watching Will perform a few kicks, Aisha eventually worked up enough courage to do the same. Small and with little effort at first, but genuine laughter began to escape her stiff lips.
"Master, would you care to dance?" Esta offered a hand.
"Do you know Tai-Tai?" Kanae asked.
"No." The drakeling shook her head. "But I would like to learn with you."
Kanae gladly took Esta's hand and followed them in. They were just as if not worse than Will and Aisha. People brushed up against Kanae's succubus tail and wings. The two stepped on each other's feet. There were a lot of apologies thrown around.
Yet despite their mistakes, Kanae was learning to enjoy herself again as they frolicked under the shower of petals. A pair of dancers kicked up an especially large pile that had gathered on the ground, so much that it obscured her vision of Esta.
A gust of wind blew them away, and Kanae saw Arenade instead. Her prideful smile, the crown of curly golden hair, and the gentle divine light that wreathed her… She vanished in the next blink.
"Master?" Esta stirred her from the reverie, and they were standing a few feet apart.
"Sorry… I think I… need to be alone right now." Kanae spread her wings and flew away, leaving behind a trail of petals picked up by the wind. She found a quiet nook away from the festivities. All of the jubilations and shouts of joy served as a harsh reminder that Arenade wasn't here to enjoy it with her.
Maybe it was better to stay home until Arum Taum had passed. But before Kanae could stand up and leave, Esta embraced her from behind. She was breathing heavily and must have ran to catch up.
"You worried me running off like that. Should I have not invited you to dance with me?" Esta said.
"It's not that. I just can't stop thinking about Arenade. I'm out here having the time of my life, spending it with my children, and plotting a war, and I think… what's the point? Do I even deserve to be happy when she's gone?" Kanae asked in a trembling tone.
"Of course, you do."
"You're just saying that because of Loyalty Fixation. Obviously a drakeling would want their master to be happy. You go and enjoy Arum Taum. Let go so I can go back home."
"No," she said.
Whiplash hit Kanae in the back of the head.
"No? Are you disobeying me? Esta, let go. I'm ordering you!" Kanae shouted.
"My body wants to obey you so much it hurts, yes. But I'm fighting it. I'll fight for as long as it takes because if I let you go, Master, then you really will believe yourself undeserving of happiness. I'm staying right by your side where I belong. You once told me to be selfish and care about my own life. Well then, here I am being selfish because you are part of my life. If I hadn't met you, I would have obeyed my mother and returned to Rotandrix. Becoming your servant was the single greatest moment of agency in my life. So, I'm begging you. Rely on me. Use me. Discard me. If it brings you even a modicum of joy, then my life will have been worth it."
With tears in her eyes, Kanae turned around and faced Esta. She leaned up to kiss the drakeling. They availed themselves of each other's bodies, stripping pieces of clothing and armor down to nothing. Kanae sat on a gritty crate while Esta licked her pussy. The tongue, hot like a breath of fire, brushed against her clit and sent shivers up her spine.
"Deeper… force your tongue inside me," Kanae urged, grabbing a handful of Esta's crimson hair.
The drakeling did just that. It wasn't immediately obvious just looking at their race, but they had rather thick and meaty tongues. Esta's tongue plunged deep into Kanae, lighting an inferno within the walls of her twitching pussy.
Kanae reciprocated by clamping the maw of her tail between Esta's crotch. Her eyes snapped open, taken back by the sudden assault. The crowds and festivities beyond the alley drowned out their pleasured moans.
"How does it— nngh… your tail makes it hard to focus— How does it feel, Master? I took mental notes whenever you did this for me," Esta said, the vibrations from her speech bringing Kanae into another bout of ecstasy.
"It's so good, Esta… Keep licking me… Make me… ugh… cum! Aaahhh!" Kanae's eyes rolled to the back of her head from a mind-numbing climax. Esta did, too, as the tail pumped her to an orgasm.
They laid down on the cold, dusty ground rife with litter and probably a rat or two, hands clenched tightly in the other's grasp.
"I have no intention of replacing the memories of who Arenade was to you or fill the hole she left behind. I will, however, endeavor to become as important as she was to you, and prop you up where she no longer can," Esta said.
"Thanks. It means a lot, really. For what it's worth, I never thought of you as my servant though. You've proven yourself an important friend to me years ago." Kanae smiled.
The two returned to the mansion to continue where they left off. With the exception of the servants, everyone was out for Arum Taum. The kids were out with Moira, and Kanae's youngest elven daughters had Gretchen chaperoning them.
However, a surprise visitor gave Kanae and Esta blue-balls. The guards had let Renya in. She had finally regained use of her legs and was standing by the unlit fireplace with a young, human sailor.
"Here to join us for round two of negotiations, Renya?" Kanae grinned.
"I would prefer not to lay with the criminal…" Esta groaned under her breath.
"Already? I just got walking again this morning! Maybe later though. I learned something you're going to want to hear. This kid is a crewman aboard my Songstress. He was in Port Kandis when those fire-breathers from Rotandrix arrived. Tell 'em what you saw there, boy." Renya gave him an encouraging pat on the back.
"A couple of the lads and I were just returning to the ship after a night of drinking. I needed to empty the pipes, so I mosied over behind a warehouse. That's when I heard 'em. Peeped through a crack and saw them drakelings crack open ten crates of potions with pink liquid. I recognized 'em right away. After all, Cap'in Renya had us chase down Outriders delivering the stuff half a year back," he recounted.
The three of them knew exactly what they were. Anti-succubus magic potions.
"What are the chances they brought potions just out of an abundance of caution to protect themselves?" Kanae wondered aloud.
"A single crate can hold up to a thousand vials. Trust me, I counted one myself after the attempted coup. You tell me. What does one-hundred drakelings need thousands across seven days for? Is this out of an abundance of caution? Or are they planning something else entirely?" Renya asked.
Avaline and her drakelings wouldn't need them if they were here to just fool around for Arum Taum. They were plotting something in Radevic, and Kanae didn't like that one bit.
What was the Rook of Rotandrix plotting?
"We should inform the Grand Eye," Esta suggested. "Those potions are illegal in Radevic as a result of the city's alliance with the Commonwealth."
"No, Avaline is regarded as an efficient tacitian. If we play by normal rules, we'll fall right into her jaws. Right now, they have no idea we're onto them. Let's use that to our advantage. Your mother gave a time limit, the end of Arum Taum. I don't think she plans to do anything until then. It's more than likely she didn't risk bringing the potions into Aidenhall. During that time, let's smoke out the drakelings and those potions," Kanae said.
"Oh-ho-ho!" Renya threw her arms around Kanae and Esta's shoulders, drawing them into a group huddle. "That means the trio is getting back together? I'm ready to have myself a good old Renya, Kanae, and Estaline adventure into the night again!"
"Ugh." The drakeling knight grimaced.