by Iwatani Meiko (岩谷 明衣子)
It was only a few months ago that Lavinia had picked up an apprentice, and then, not entirely by choice. She had built her Seclusium to be deliberately forbidding (a black obsidian spire), remote (atop a mountain range), and difficult to ascend (full of traps). She had been secure here for centuries, with no care in the world but increasing her store of knowledge.
And somehow, this knight from a foreign land had made it to the top of the tower. Lavinia had watched her progress for a week in the reflecting pool, which took time away from some very time-sensitive experiments with rare star-substance, and in fact caused her to ruin some of them. When the knight ascended the final steps, gleaming sword in hand, Lavinia had had her great white staff at hand, determined to send her off.
But when the knight sheathed her sword and took off her helmet, it revealed a braided coronet of thick, dark hair. Freckles dusted the light brown skin of her nose and cheeks; she was only a few shades paler than Lavinia herself. She was not young, not by human standards—she looked as though she was on the sensible side of thirty—but, then, Lavinia lived and thought on the scale of centuries. The knight’s ears, charmingly, were a bit protruding. Her eyes were an astonishing shade of green, like malachite set in the beautiful oval of her face. She was tall, her shoulders were broad, her body was powerful.
Lavinia’s resolve immediately wavered.
“My name is Iolanthe, and all I want is to learn about the stars from you,” the knight had said, dropping to one knee before Lavinia. “Please, let me stay.”
And so she’d bowed over and kissed Lavinia’s signet ring, she’d sworn to do no harm with the magics Lavinia taught her, and that was that.
Lavinia was not interested in the particulars of why this Iolanthe wanted to learn about the stars. Why wouldn’t she, and from one of the greatest wizards in all of history? In the mornings, she lectured her on celestial mechanics—the movements of the spheres, their harmonies and their interactions—and in the afternoon she set her to work in the lab.
“Hey, captain,” Iolanthe said, putting down a phial and looking up at Lavinia as she entered the laboratory’s storage room. She trusted Iolanthe to work on her own, and her trust had been rewarded tenfold. The woman had a tendency to rush through tasks she found dull, but she was wonderfully precise and rarely made errors that could not be fixed by an expert hand. In short, she was everything Lavinia might have asked for in an apprentice.
Lavinia swept past Iolanthe to gaze out the laboratory’s windows, down at the valley below. The fields were being planted and sown, and from this great height, all Lavinia could see were neat little boxes. The farms in the shadow of her Seclusium always had good harvests and were never bothered by marauders or greedy imperial tax collectors. They had never forgotten who their benefactor was, and left her yearly offerings of grain and cattle. That time was coming up. It was always a great bother to send the cattle back down the mountain, but always entertaining.
She put all of this aside. Iolanthe was waiting to be greeted. “Good morning, cadet,” she said, looking back over her shoulder.
At this, Iolanthe chuckled and went back to her work. Iolanthe had a low, husky laugh, and she laughed often. She had an enormous scar that wrapped around one side of her neck. She had all the magical talent of a large and handsome stew-pot, but she was diligent, had steady hands, and was easy on the eyes. This last one made Lavinia feel like an old pervert sometimes, but if she were not an ageless magus with command over the fundamental forces of the universe, Iolanthe could have easily snapped her neck with one big hand.
“Good afternoon,” Lavinia said, sitting with that thought for a moment as she checked over Iolanthe’s bench. It was immaculate, as usual. Everything in its right place, and a right place for all things. “Have you finished extracting the prime material?”
“Yeah,” said Iolanthe, holding up a stoppered flask of shining, ethereal star-substance. It was perfect, as always. “Anything else you need before I go to the terrace?”
“I don’t know why you’re so eager to run off and train lately,” Lavinia replied. Not that she was complaining, it was good to have a show. Sometimes she took her evening meal on the terrace to watch, and sometimes she simply left the reflecting pool set to view the terrace so she could watch at her leisure. “Nothing can get to you here, after all.”
Iolanthe’s gaze was refreshingly direct. “I’ve got an audience to please,” she said, with a lopsided little smile. “Come on, Teach, I know you watch me even when you’re not there. I’d watch me, too.”
Lavinia’s composure was immaculate at all times. Nonetheless, she felt her cheeks heat up. “You’re very good. Skilled.”
“It’s natural to enjoy the sight of an artist practicing their art.”
Iolanthe’s arms, rather than being corded with muscle, were soft in a way that bespoke power rather than mere strength. Lavinia had thought, not infrequently, of how they would feel around her.
“I like watching you work, too,” Iolanthe said, and ran the back of a finger down the side of Lavinia’s face. It was the barest touch, but it sent a shock through Lavinia, as though she’d channeled holy flame through her own body. “Can I be dismissed?”
“Yes,” Lavinia said. “Of course, you reprobate. Please don’t chop down the topiaries.”
Lavinia watched her shamelessly that night, and again the night after that. The third night, she came down to the terrace to take her evening meal and stare.
They continued their lessons as usual, but now there was a charge in the air between them. Lavinia, who had not in a very long time been excited by something other than a new discovery, enjoyed the feeling—in an academic way. Soon, this strange knight would leave her and go back out into the world, and there was nothing to be done for it but not get too attached to the woman.
The lecture this morning was magical kinetics: how the speeds at which magical rites proceeded were determined, how to control the rate of a transmutation, the effects of aetheric and planar pressures on rites grand and small, and so on. Iolanthe listened patiently, taking notes.
“What about the stars?” Iolanthe asked once the lecture was over.
Lavinia, who had been ordering a stack of notes, looked up. “What about them?”
“Are they governed by the same laws as the magics in our sphere?”
“Come here,” Lavinia said, beckoning Iolanthe up to the chalkboard. She could have delivered this explanation just as easily with Iolanthe seated where she had been. With Iolanthe standing over her shoulder, she sketched a large circle and filled it with nine concentric inner rings. “These are the spheres of this plane,” she said. She drew the symbol for phlogiston in the center. “And this is the holy engine of the star that powers the system.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Iolanthe said. She put her arms around Lavinia from behind and rested her chin on the top of her head. It felt… pleasant. Lavinia shook her arms free before she wrote again.
“The laws of the holy engine”—she leaned back into Iolanthe’s chest as she wrote out the various formulae that could be derived from knowing them—”determine the magical laws of the rest of the plane, not the other way around. As within, so without. We’ll get to that in time.”
“Right,” Iolanthe said. She kissed Lavinia’s temple, and Lavinia nearly stood on her tiptoes to strain into it. She maintained her dignity, for the moment. “Why don’t we start with the holy engine?”
“You need, ah”—Lavinia’s breath hitched, Iolanthe was running the tips of her fingers up and down her sides—”the foundation for it first. We’re scaffolding the concepts you’ll need to understand it fully.”
“Been a long time?” Iolanthe asked. Slowly, she rotated Lavinia around so that Lavinia’s back was to the chalkboard. Lavinia put her arms around Iolanthe’s shoulders, and now she did stand on her tiptoes, to bring Iolanthe down to her level. Iolanthe went willingly, happily, grinning down at her: another powerful force bent to her will.
Her lips brushed Iolanthe’s as she spoke. “Since I learned this? Yes, but I think I’m doing an able job of teaching it, don’t you? Kiss me, please.”
Iolanthe obliged her. Her palms framed Lavinia’s face, holding her sweetly and tilting her head up. Those astonishing eyes… Her lips pressed into Lavinia’s, insistent but patient. With meticulous slowness, she parted Lavinia’s lips with her tongue, raking it over the roof of her mouth, and she shuddered with pleasure. She had seen from a distance how big Iolanthe was and how strong, but now that strength enfolded her, surrounded her. Lavinia could boil a seabed dry with a thought; Iolanthe kissed her as though she was something dainty, to be cherished.
But she got a knee up between Lavinia’s legs as she deepened the kiss, her hands wandering up and down Lavinia’s back, pressing into the line of her spinal column. Lavinia’s robes were not thick, and she pressed herself shamelessly against Iolanthe’s muscular thigh. Even through their layers of clothing, the heat of Iolanthe’s skin felt delicious, like a brand.
“Get on your knees,” Lavinia said, when Iolanthe let her—let her!—up for air. “Don’t tease me, apprentice.”
“Hey, that’s the first time you’ve called me your apprentice,” Iolanthe said. Her voice managed to remain sanguine, but she looked dazed, star-struck, her lips kiss-swollen. Beautifully-shaped. Lavinia had not appreciated them nearly enough before now. She resolved to fix that in the future, at every possible opportunity. But Iolanthe did not get on her knees; instead, she undid the closures on the front of Lavinia’s robes and laid them open, revealing her body in its entirety.
She took a half-step back to look at Lavinia’s body. The intensity of the scrutiny made Lavinia want to cover herself up; her heart had not beat in at least a hundred years, but it pounded now. Touch me, she thought to say, but before she could speak Iolanthe said, “Wow.” She sounded breathless, and she ran the back of her hand down Lavinia’s body, starting at her neck and ending at her belly. Every one of Lavinia’s nerve endings was alight. There was a point at which she’d thought she was beyond base mortal desires, but this was not that point, if her toes curled from a mere touch.
“Tell me what you want me to do to you,” Iolanthe said, coming forward again to slide Lavinia’s robes off of her. The silk falling off of her shoulders and down her back felt like water. “I’ve never, you know, with an immortal star wizard.” As she spoke, she cupped Lavinia’s breasts, one in each hand. Those wonderful hands were big enough to cover each one entirely. Lavinia loved the sight of it.
Iolanthe’s thumb circled the left nipple lazily, teasing it until it was hard and aching.”You can use your mouth on those, for a start,” Lavinia replied.
“Sure,” said Iolanthe, and bent down to take Lavinia’s nipple in her mouth. Lavinia arched into the wet press of Iolanthe’s mouth, and Iolanthe took her time. She kissed her way across the underside of each one, so slow it was nearly torture. Lavinia was not accustomed to waiting for anything at all; her little world was perfectly ordered to give her pleasure. Iolanthe was perfectly ordered, too, in the way she licked and sucked at Lavinia’s breasts, worried the tender, aching skin there with her teeth, until Lavinia moaned breathlessly under her skillful hands.
Then, as abruptly as she started, Iolanthe pulled her mouth away. “Now what?”
It took a moment for Lavinia to compose her thoughts into anything resembling order—and this just from her breast. “Now,” she said, trying to sound as prim as possible, “you may touch me between my legs.”
That, too, was excruciatingly slow. Iolanthe insisted on running a hand down Lavinia’s soft belly, dipping lower, lower, then pulling back up before she touched Lavinia’s slit. She slid her fingers through the hair between Lavinia’s legs, teasing. “Please,” Lavinia said, holding onto Iolanthe’s powerful forearm. There was pleasure, just beyond her reach, if only Iolanthe would just… do it.
“Please what,” Iolanthe said. Her voice was low in Lavinia’s ear. “‘Please get me a glass of water?’ ‘Please do me up some more of that catalyst I was using?'”
“You’re a revolting little creature, Iolanthe,” Lavinia said. She did her very best to turn her nose up, though the effect was ruined by the revolting little creature in question smiling amusedly down at her. “I should have thrown you off my tower before you could prove yourself indispensable, but here we are. Touch my clit, please, and then lick me until I can’t remember which sun we’re orbiting. Then, use those wonderful arms and carry me off to my bedroom, where you’ll find that I plan to return the favor tenfold. Will that be enough? I know you like clear instructions. Get on your knees, please.”
Iolanthe’s eyebrows had risen higher and higher with every word, and by the time Lavinia was finished speaking, she was already halfway to her knees anyway. It was good to know that she still could have that effect on a young woman. It was better than good. In their kissing, she’d disarranged Iolanthe’s hair, and she buried her fingers in it
“You’re so pretty down here,” Iolanthe mumbled, parting Lavinia’s legs and spreading her open. Lavinia felt exposed, and then she forgot about everything but Iolanthe’s hands on her. This, too, Iolanthe conducted like a campaign. With infinite delicacy, she kissed Lavinia’s hipbones, the tops of her thighs and their soft insides. It put her in the mind of the way Iolanthe handled her sword: skilled, precise. Her fingertips, where they danced up the back of Lavinia’s legs, were callused. The feeling was exquisite.
After what seemed like a century of teasing, she finally, finally put her mouth on Lavinia, and Lavinia had to brace one hand on the chalkboard and the other on Iolanthe’s shoulder to keep herself from falling over. She spent all of her time in contemplation, and now she was just flesh, aching flesh, as Iolanthe licked and sucked at her.
“Good, good,” Lavinia babbled at the ceiling. “You’re brilliant, keep going, oh, stars.”
“Yeah?” Iolanthe said, pulling away from Iolanthe long enough to speak. Lavinia chanced a look down at her; Iolanthe’s smile was lazy, but she had a glint in her eye. As easily as if Lavinia was a sack of feathers, Iolanthe lifted her and laid her down on the plush carpet that covered the library floor. Then she lay between Lavinia’s legs. “That’s better,” she said, “better for me, better for you…” At the same time, her fingers ran up and down Lavinia’s slit, and slowly, inexorably pushed into her.
Lavinia cried out, pushed hard into that penetration. Instantly, Iolanthe’s hand was on her hip, holding her down so that she stayed in place. Iolanthe’s mouth returned to her clit, suckling at it, and Lavinia twisted and arched under her. Iolanthe rode out her thrashings with grace, kept her pinned to the floor, her broad shoulders forcing Lavinia’s legs apart.
What an incomparable joy to be overmastered like this, Lavinia thought brokenly, as the pleasure built in a slow wave. It came over her gradually and did not relent for a long time, and she gasped and made a dreadful sobbing noise, arched hard against Iolanthe’s mouth. Iolanthe made a surprised, approving sound into her.
And still, Iolanthe continued, bringing her through it. She was gentler, now, but she added another finger, stretching Lavinia wide, thrusting steadily, licking slow and firm. It was almost unbearable, sensitized as she was from mere moments before, but she fisted a hand in Iolanthe’s thick, soft hair and held her to her anyway. This time it was like ice breaking free from the mountaintop: the pressure, and then the sudden snap. She found herself laughing at the ceiling as she convulsed around Iolanthe’s fingers. It was just… good. She was happy. There was nothing complicated about this feeling; it was not difficult.
“Damn,” Iolanthe said, voice muffled against the crook of Lavinia’s thigh. She heaved herself up to lay alongside Lavinia, propped up on one elbow. “I bet you’ve got at least two more rounds in you.”
“This isn’t a sparring match,” Lavinia said. Her voice sounded breathless even to herself. For the stars’ sake, her midsection hurt from coming so hard. “We both win, here. Also, if you touch my clit again in the next hour, I’ll reconsider not throwing you off the tower.”
Iolanthe gazed down at her and brushed a sweat-slick lock of hair from Lavinia’s forehead. “What next?” she asked. “Tell me what you want. In detail. I, uh, like your voice, when you tell me what to do.”
Lavinia sat up. She was amazed that she could manage even that. She faintly remembered having told Iolanthe to carry her off to her bedroom, but that did not seem important at all right now.
“Take your clothes off, so I can see that magnificent body of yours,” Lavinia said, and Iolanthe hastened to her feet to comply. As she took off her shirt and her underclothes to reveal a comfortable belly, wonderful breasts, biceps that were every inch as delicious as Lavinia had imagined them, Lavinia continued. “Then, I want you to lay down so I can climb on top of you and kiss you. Then, I want you to roll me onto my back, and I want you to”—thick thighs, splendid calves—”sit on my face and let me make you come. Will that do?”
“Yeah,” Iolanthe said, sinking to her knees before Lavinia. “That’ll do.”
“Indispensable,” Iolanthe said, the next morning. She’d personally gone to the kitchen and brought Lavinia her cup of morning coffee, and the scent of it had woken Lavinia out of a dead sleep. “Did you mean that?”
“Of course I did,” Lavinia said blearily. “You’re an excellent assistant. I… adore you. Working with you.” Seven hundred years of life, and she still woke up groggy. She could have corrected it, but it had never seemed right to simply magic away such a small and fundamental truth about herself. “Are you always this sensible this early in the morning?” she asked, taking the mug from Iolanthe’s hands.
“I was a soldier before I got it into my head to run off and find a mythical wizard in a tower and learn magic from her,” said Iolanthe, which was the most she’d ever said of her past. “Of course I am. And, hey, the feeling’s mutual.”
While Lavinia struggled to catch up with the feeling’s mutual, Iolanthe crossed the room to open up the curtains and let the morning light in. She wasn’t wearing any pants, and while Lavinia had spent plenty of time appreciating those thighs, she had not spent nearly enough time appreciating her backside. She would rectify that mistake in the future.
“If we’re having sex, I suppose we’ll need to talk about our pasts,” Lavinia said. “Everything written by my detractors is a foul lie, and every good thing is true.”
“Sure. First question,” Iolanthe said. She settled back into bed next to Lavinia. “Do you do this with every apprentice you take?”
“I’ve never taken an apprentice before you,” Lavinia replied, and of all the things in the world to feel at that admission, she felt shy. She stared straight into her coffee, and wondered if this was what it was like to feel young, to have experiences be new. She’d forgotten. She’d forgotten so much.
For an uncomfortably long time, Iolanthe did not respond. “Yeah?” she said, at last. “Just me?”
Lavinia looked up at Iolanthe, and saw that she looked… happy. Pleased with herself, in the same way she looked pleased when she extracted prime material perfectly, or finished a strenuous evening of sword practice. Here was another thing Lavinia had not felt in a long time: relief, that someone was not disgusted with her after all, and in truth liked her quite a lot. Adored her, even.
“Just you,” Lavinia said. She set aside her coffee to pull Iolanthe into her arms, and Iolanthe went gladly. “Only you.”