Part 2: Double or Quits
Lady Livuetta strode into the House of Balance, clutching the invitation the Dealer had sent to her. It had been five days since she had lost her sister and many of her friends in her game against Madame Catalina, and she had petitioned the House’s otherworldly owner on each one of them to speak with her about her sister’s loss, confident that she could buy Theresa back.
Only today though had the Dealer deigned to reply, sending a messenger who had interrupted Lady Livuetta just as she had been enjoying the one good thing to come out of the contest. She had left her former rival Catalina tied naked to the bed, with the servants given leave to enjoy her while Livuetta was gone.
Things had been complicated even in the few days since the contest. Since Catalina had no heirs, Livuetta had her lands to administer as well as her own. Combine that with the change in the balance of power around her lands, and she had already had a number of offers of marriage to consider. Not that she had accepted any of them, or any of the offers for more… interesting connections.
“Lady Livuetta. The Dealer bids you welcome.” A slave of the House of Balance stepped forward as Livuetta entered. The woman wasn’t human, that much was obvious, although she was still certainly beautiful. She was softly blue and hairless, that much made obvious by the fact that she was nude but for a collar around her throat. She knelt elegantly before Livuetta as the noblewoman entered the place.
The main floor of the House of Balance was filled with games. Tables and platforms stood in every direction, each playing host to games of chance or skill. There were people, too. So many people that it was impossible to imagine that so many could be in one place. Many were human, from the five kingdoms, but many more were not. There were elves, goblins and other, stranger things that could only have come from other worlds. All playing. All held to their deals by the absolute power of the faceless entity that owned the House when it came to what passed within.
“Where is the Dealer?” Livuetta demanded. “It invited me here, so where is it?”
The slave shook her head. “The Dealer is very busy today, but invites you to take part in the gaming for your sister.”
Livuetta stared at her. “The what?”
It was a gaming area like so many of the others, roped off to keep it from the public, yet fully visible to everyone there. At its heart sat a table set for cards, in front of which were three sturdy chairs. Two of them were occupied. At the other side of the table was a space for a card dealer to stand, while slightly further back…
It was Theresa. It had to be, even though the leather hood made it impossible to know for sure. As for the way she was presented, that made her seem more like an object than anything human. She was seated in a chair identical to those in front of the table, completely naked. Her arms were behind her, over the back of the chair, held with leather straps at wrists and elbows. More straps held her ankles to her thighs, so that she seemed to be kneeling astride the chair. Livuetta could see the plugs shoved up inside her both front and rear. More straps ran above and below her sister’s breasts, while clamps completed the picture, one set at her nipples, another strung from her labial lips, running under the chair to pull with any movement.
Livuetta swallowed at the sight. “What is all this? Why do this?”
It wasn’t the only disturbing part of the scene. The two figures seated in the other chairs were just as worrying. They were fully clothed and free of bondage, but it was their presence that was the problem. Livuetta recognised both of them. Tameon Renheart was the son of a noted merchant, golden haired, handsome and elegantly dressed in a silk tunic, undershirt and britches. He had been one of those who had made Livuetta a marriage offer, although his lack of a noble title had meant she’d turned him down out of hand.
“Oh good, she’s finally here. We can get on with this.”
“There’s no need to be impatient, Tameon,” the other player at the table said. Lady Eva had all the nobility Tameon lacked, and she was more than beautiful with it, despite the fact that she was at least two decades older than Livuetta’s nineteen years. Blonde-haired and with features that demanded attention, hers had been one of the more complicated offers to come Livuetta’s way. She was elaborately dressed, right down to elbow length gloves and jewelled slippers. “I’m sure we all want to savour the game.”
“If I may, my lady,” the slave woman said, moving to the position a dealer would take. “The Dealer has decreed that several of its more recent acquisitions are to have the time they owe placed up as the prizes in the games here.”
Livuetta swallowed again. She had heard of players winning nights with the House’s slaves, and occasionally more, but this… the slave woman was talking about almost a year of Theresa’s life.
“You can’t do this!”
“Forgive this one, my lady,” the slave said with a bow of her head. “But Lady Theresa is the property of this House for another three hundred and sixty days. The Dealer may do what it wishes with all its property. Although it has required this one to remind the master and mistresses that should one of them win Lady Theresa’s time, she must be returned here in the condition she leaves when that time is done.”
Tameon laughed. “Of course, although I fail to see what’s to stop someone from taking her off in a ship to the far side of the outer sea.”
Lady Eva looked across at him. “And do you think that would be far enough to protect you from breaking a deal with a thing like that?”
“Forgive me, master, mistresses,” the slave woman said. “It is the appointed time for the game to begin. Lady Livuetta, will you be playing?”
Livuetta looked around the table. “Playing? Playing what? What’s the game? What are the stakes?”
Even as she asked it though, she knew that whatever the game, she would have to play. What else could she do, when there was a chance to free her sister from her year of servitude?
The game, it turned out, was one Livuetta knew well. One she had played for different stakes on a number of occasions. Players received four cards, which they had to split into two hands, each consisting of a pair of cards. Players bet on each ‘hand’ separately. The combined value of the cards gave their score, and the highest score in the pot at the point of revelation won. The skill in the game came partly from being able to know when to get out of a hand before the reveal, and partly from knowing which hand to place more emphasis on. Typically, the first hand was played for points, while the second was played for forfeits. When Livuetta had been a girl, the forfeits had been kisses. Now, she didn’t think it would be so innocent.
“As the master and mistresses can see,” the slave woman said, “the slave, Theresa, has been subjected to a number of steps of confinement. Bets in the first hand will be for days of servitude. Bets in the second hand will be for steps towards her condition. The minimum bet in the first hand is one day. The minimum bet in the second is one step of clothing or bondage.”
As she said that, Livuetta couldn’t help looking around at the crowd. And there was a crowd, people obviously there to see three peers of the realm stripping one another for their amusement. Was that why the Dealer ran this place? Did it have a sick sense of humour that demanded this humiliation? It was said that some Outsiders fed on emotion. Maybe that was it.
Another thought came to Livuetta then. She had dressed quickly when she had left Catalina, throwing on only simple under-things beneath her dress, and only the most basic jewellery. Compared to someone like Eva, she had to be a step or two behind.
The blue slave-woman went on. “Please note that should the slave Theresa become freed, even naked, the one who does so wins all her time. All debts owed by the players will still stand, however.”
“So we all just wait until she is nearly free and then steal her out from under one another?” Eva asked.
“The mistress may choose to make the slave Theresa’s bondage more stringent again should she wish when she win steps from her.”
“What about if we end up like her?” Livuetta asked.
“Then your remaining chips would be forfeit,” the slave woman said evenly. “Are we ready to begin?”
They began. Even though all sense told Livuetta that she should walk away, she couldn’t leave her sister to be won like this. And she could win. She could. It wasn’t just a game of luck. There were tactics. There was the ability to read other people. Maybe she could teach Tameon and Eva that there was a price for trying to harm her family.
A pile of chips appeared in front of her. Each a day of her life. As the slave-woman dealt out cards to Livuetta, the others and herself, Livuetta tried to work out what her tactics would be. It made most sense to try to free her sister directly, didn’t it? It was far quicker than trying to win every day her sister owed. Which was all well and good in theory, but her hand contained only one high card, a king. Not willing to risk too much, too soon, she folded both hands.
To her surprise, Tameon and Lady Eva focussed more on the first hand, fighting it out over a small pile of chips in what turned out to be a draw before Lady Eva pulled out of the second hand. The Dealer’s slave stayed in to the end with Tameon for another draw. The blue skinned slave looked over to Livuetta expectantly.
“Lady Livuetta, Lady Eva, please remove your footwear.”
Livuetta swallowed, hesitating at that small requirement more for what it might portend in future than for anything inherent in removing her all dainty shoes. The slave-woman looked at her evenly.
“If you wish to leave the game, you may, mistress, after you remove your shoes. If you are not able to do it yourself, I am sure the crowd will assist you. And if you do wish to leave, please note that you currently owe the Dealer one day. You can see how it prefers its slaves, mistress.”
Livuetta thought about slapping the other woman for her impertinence, but she knew that the Dealer would not approve of one of its slaves being hurt outside of a game it had arranged. Besides, it would change nothing. She slipped her shoes off quietly. Lady Eva had already done so, placing her stockinged feet up on the table casually.
Livuetta decided to take the warning for what it was, and when she saw her next cards, she knew that she was going to play. An ace and a king, she put into her second hand, but she played the first one two, venturing a few chips. She lost them to Lady Eva, but when the other woman pulled out of the second hand and Tameon did not, she knew she had the advantage. Until the slave woman matched her hand.
At least she had the amusement of watching Lady Eva peel off those long gloves, while Tameon had to remove both his shoes and the merchant rings he wore. That gave her enough confidence that, even though she had to fold her next first hand, she played the second, even matching a bet of an additional step when the Dealer’s slave proposed it, reasoning that the woman must already have used her best cards.
She hadn’t, and turned over both a king and a queen. “Tameon, that costs you your over shirt. Lady Eva, your jewellery if you please. Lady Livuetta, I must ask you to remove both your jewellery and your over dress. Now, please,” she continued when Livuetta did nothing.
Livuetta removed her jewellery first, looking at her sister all the time. Reminding herself of why she had to do this, even though the sight of Theresa naked and bound there only served as a reminder of just how badly this could go wrong. The time she took only meant that Tameon and Eva were staring at her while she peeled off the outer layer, revealing the under-dress beneath.
“Damn,” Lady Eva said. “I was counting on you being a single layer kind of girl.”
“She is now,” Tameon joked.
Another round, and it seemed that no one had anything in the first hand. That persuaded Livuetta to fold the second along with Eva and Tameon, and she was instantly grateful when the Dealer’s slave turned over kings. It seemed that the woman was playing the tactic of focusing primarily on the second hand, just as Livuetta was. Almost as though she didn’t mind losing Theresa’s time, just so long as she stayed naked and bound. Talking of which…
Lady Eva peeled off her outer dress with casual panache, revealing a corseted waist beneath and an under dress beneath that. No wonder she didn’t mind losing the second hand, she had more clothing than anyone else. Tameon stripped off his under shirt, revealing a muscular torso. Livuetta…
“Your stockings, my lady.”
Livuetta didn’t argue. Instead, she slowly peeled off her stockings one by one, letting them fall beside her. She thought that she saw Theresa trying to move, making muffled sounds as she did so. Was she trying to warn Livuetta not to play on? It was too late for that.
Eva and Tameon fought a small battle over the first hand again, with Tameon coming out the better while Livuetta and the Dealer’s slave folded. Livuetta managed to lure the blue skinned woman into a two step bet on the next half of the hand, which the slave woman lost, for once. Eva stripped off her stockings by way of an answer as to whether she was in, while Tameon did the same.
Livuetta didn’t care. “Take two steps off my sister, now.”
The blue skinned woman moved smoothly to remove the strap from Theresa’s upper arms. She then slipped off the hood, which seemed to have a phallus like protuberance in it to serve as a gag. Theresa looked round frantically, shaking her head when she saw Livuetta.
“Liv, you have to stop.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“But you’re doing it wrong. Betting on the second hand. Even if you win me, you’ll still have to win your days back without losing any more clothes, and by then-”
The Dealer’s slave stopped her short with a look. One that had Theresa silent instantly. The trouble was, by then, Livuetta had the message. Her sister was right. She had dribbled away… what? A month of her life in hands she didn’t play? While she was still no better off than the others.
“Thinking you might have picked the wrong approach?” Eva said, almost sweetly.
Livuetta tried to switch her focus to the first hand, but she was already behind. She bet twenty days of her life, and was almost shocked when the Dealer’s slave and Eva both folded. She was even more shocked when she beat Tameon. Of course, he promptly won the second hand.
Eva stood to remove her corset, one lace at a time. It seemed almost a deliberate insult. A reminder that she had that one extra layer of protection. Tameon nodded to Theresa. “Put one step back on her.”
Theresa winced as the blue-skinned slave put the strap back around her elbows, drawing them tight, forcing her breasts out. Hers were no bigger than Livuetta’s, but like that they thrust forward obscenely.
And Livuetta still had to strip. She stood to do it, trying to do it with some dignity, but there were tears in her eyes as she thought about the figures around her. She let the under dress fall, then sat down again quickly, not daring to look around at the other two players. Although looking forward was hardly better. Theresa’s eyes were on her, almost begging her to abandon this to leave her.
Maybe she could. Maybe she could just get even again and then pull out. It wouldn’t take much. Just one more good bet. She tried for it, putting in the days that would bring her even, mouthing a simple “sorry” to her sister as she did it.
It would have gone better if Tameon hadn’t immediately doubled the bet. Livuetta matched him, not knowing what else to do. Hoping it was a bluff. It wasn’t. He won enough chips from her that she was further behind than ever. Worse came when he, Eva and the Dealer’s slave all drew on the second hand.
Leaving her as the only one who lost anything. The Dealer’s slave did it, taking out a strap that fit around her torso, under her breasts, tight enough that Livuetta gasped. Now, she had even more ground to make up. She tried it on the start of the next hand, but the others folded in the face of her big bet. Worse, when she folded the next hand, she was no better off than either Tameon or Eva, both of whom lost only one step. Tameon stripped off his hose, naked now and apparently uncaring.
Lady Eva did show a glimmer of something at removing the last of her clothing, hesitating slightly before she let her underclothes fall. She had no reason to be ashamed though. Livuetta had to admit that she was beautiful. And she realised in that moment that she was staring at that fine body. Those heavy breasts.
While the Dealer’s slave fastened a strap above her breasts, pinning Livuetta back in the seat, she found herself thinking about the others. Which of them would it be best to fall as a slave to? The House of Balance, where she would be used in a dozen different ways each day, passed around to customers? Tameon, whose uses for her were obvious? Or Eva, who... well there was no other way to put it. Of all of them, she was the only one who made attraction burn through Livuetta.
No, she mustn’t think like that. But it was hard not to when Lady Eva won both halves the next hand. When she watched Tameon strapped to his chair at the waist, Theresa hooded again. When she turned icily dominant eyes on Livuetta while the Dealer’s slave attached clamps to her nipples. She seemed almost to drink in Livuetta’s whimper at the pain that shot through her from the steel’s caress.
The pain distracted Livuetta enough that she put all her cards into the second hand once more. It meant that the hood came off for Theresa again, that Eva found herself strapped to the chair, and that Tameon got his second strap, but she was still leaking chips. When she bet on the first half of the next hand and lost, she had to ask herself the obvious. How many days would she lose if she got up now? Wouldn’t it be better than-
No! She was a noble! She had defeated Catalina, even when it had looked lost. She wasn’t going to just accept weeks of slavery. She was going to win this, somehow, see her sister free, Tameon on his knees in the House of Balance, and Eva on hers beside Catalina, where she belonged!
Tameon raised on the second hand, taking the bet to three steps. He’d obviously decided that no one had good cards left after the first hand, and was probably getting worried about his own status, a step ahead of Eva. The Dealer’s slave went with him. Of course she did. She wasn’t gambling with her own freedom. What was more surprising was that Lady Eva did too.
Livuetta had two kings left. Enough to play. Enough to do more than play. In one move, she could put both of the others behind her and give herself enough space to start to eat into the chips. She could remind them of who she was.
“All in?” the Dealer’s slave asked. “I must ask you, my lady, if you understand-”
“Every remaining step.” Livuetta looked at her in a way that dared the other woman to forget the difference in their status again. “Yes, I understand.”
She wasn’t surprised when Timeon folded. The Dealer’s slave did too. Three steps closer to freedom for her sister. Three more towards slavery for the merchant’s son. And Eva would never-
“I call,” she said. “You don’t bluff well, dear.”
Livuetta smiled in triumph. The other woman was two steps behind her, but two steps from total slavery? She would look as Theresa had a moment before. “I’m not bluffing.”
She turned over her cards. Two kings.
“Match me if you can,” she said, savouring the moment.
“Oh, I’ll do more than match you.” Eva turned over hers. Queen-Ace.
For a moment, Livuetta simply stared at them. No. That wasn’t how this was meant to work. They were meant to yield. They were meant to see what she-
She didn’t even react until the Dealer’s slave pulled her hands behind her, a strap drawing tight at her wrists before she could react.
“We’ll do this first, even if it’s a little out of order. You look the type to try to renege.”
“No, you can’t do this, you-”
“You made the bet.” She leaned in closer, and there was at least a little sympathy there then. “It’s only a year, dear. Not even that. Some of us have gambled away lifetimes. Now be quiet, or I do the hood next.”
Livuetta shook her head. “No, you stupid slut. Let me go. You can’t-”
Because she was so busy shouting, Livuetta couldn’t do anything to stop the gag being forced into her mouth, the length of it filling her mouth completely, stopping only just short of making it hard to breath. The hood brought blackness with it, total, absolute.
The Dealer’s slave continued about her work, piece by piece. She pulled Livuetta’s legs back, and Livuetta fought that too, but by then, it was just a fight to show that she could, not because she expected to win. Slowly, inexorably, the blue-skinned woman brought her ankle up towards her thigh, binding it there with another of those straps. Binding her other leg as tight as the first, forcing Livuetta into an uncomfortable choice of pushing up with her thighs or having her weight on her arms. That discomfort only got worse when the next strap came, above her elbows, pushing her chest out.
“You were asking before about why my master does what it does,” the slave woman said softly, her voice still audible through the hood while her fingers worked with brisk efficiency to apply a lubricant to Livuetta’s anus. She didn’t know which was worse, the fact of it, or the casualness with which she did it. “I would not presume to speak for a creature of such power, of course, but I believe that there is a clue in the name of this establishment.”
Something hard pushed against Livuetta’s anus, forcing its way inside. She tried to scream around the gag, but it achieved nothing. She could stop nothing, as the plug was pushed slowly into her.
“This is a place of balance. In this case, your victory over Lady Catalina created instability. It gave you too much power, with no one to balance you. It created too much conflict among those who suddenly wanted you.”
Another plug pushed at her vaginal opening. This time, Livuetta didn’t fight.
“This solves the problem,” the Dealer’s slave said, almost in the same moment that she let the final clamps snap closed on Livuetta’s nether lips. That brought another muffled scream.
That wasn’t the only reason Livuetta wanted to scream. How did this solve anything? How did… no, they couldn’t… they couldn’t.
“My Lady Eva. Master Tameon,” the slave woman said. “My master organised this contest because he had only one slave girl suited to your needs, and three people who wanted her. Now, it seems that the numbers are even. As such, I have been instructed that I am to offer the remaining days of the slave Theresa’s debt to you, Master Tameon, and the remaining days of the slave Livuetta’s debt to you, Lady Eva.”
Livuetta raged in the darkness, impotently, almost immobile. Although not so immobile that the movement couldn’t send the plugs moving in her, humiliatingly.
“Of course, you could continue the contest,” the slave woman said. “But from this position, it is likely that one or both of you would be enslaved before you won the chips that have just fallen to the House.”
They agreed, of course they did. And then Livuetta felt the delicate, feminine hand that touched her shoulder. Stroked down it to the slope of her breast.
“It’s only a year, pretty girl,” Lady Eva murmured. “But I think you’ll find that a year with me is plenty of time.”
Livuetta swallowed. She knew she would.
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