Violet paused, crouching in the snow in the lee of the rock, her breaths enraged and steaming.

It was so damned cold.

She scanned the darkening landscape with her sniperís eyes. Evergreen trees. More looming crags of rock. She listened intently. No sign of the blonde bitch. No sounds, except the thick silence of the falling snow. Maybe Violet really had shaken off her pursuers by circling back around through the damn woods. She still had to make it back to the main road, but if she did... she would be at some tropical resort, maybe that one in Mexico, Cara Del Este, but someone would be coming back here, oh yes..

Her nostrils twitched. No sound, no sights, but a smell.

Inside her gloves, her chilled fingers flexed into talons; it couldnít be.

She sniffed again. Her stomach growled, was ignored.

Coffee. There could be no doubt she was smelling goddamn coffee.

She slithered forward, between the wet fat snowflakes, and peered around the last of the rock.

The Bastard, the one who had sicced all these crazy bitches on her in the first place. It really was him. He was sitting comfortably in a chair, under an umbrella, drinking coffee from a thermos.

He had been sitting here all this time? Waiting for her?

Something snapped inside her, and her dagger was back in her hand, she was literally snarling forward, even as another interior voice, the cold sharp one she usually listened closest to, rasped too late and unheeded "Trap! TRAP! TR-"

And so it was. In one swift motion, something, someone, burst from the snow at the Bastardís feet, and was firing a gun, only what kind of useless gun was th- phut. Something slapped against her forehead, not painful, almost a kiss, but then a horrible sharp spike and most of the world went away. She could just feel her knees dropping to the snow, the dagger slipping from her fingers. There was a vague pulsing hum somewhere in the middle distance, soothing and empty-stomach-churning all at the same time. She tried to move, half-heartedly, a dying voice was telling her move, but she could only twitch bits and pieces.

She was staring at the ground, watching the snow endlessly fall. And then a new voice spoke, not inside her head. At least not entirely. Sheíd heard it somewhere before. The Bastard? No. Of course not. He was busy drinking coffee. One of the crazy naked bitches. The redhead? Yes. "Well done, Lady Violet. You have more than fulfilled our Masterís hopes, and are indeed worthy of joining us." Violet twitched again.

"Yes, of course thatís what this was all about. We had to test you. Only the very best are granted the privilege of joining the Masterís service, being allowed to grovel for eternity in his shadow."

"no." It took everything she had to force out that one syllable, and the last bits of her strength drained out of her in its wake. She almost toppled over.

"Oh yes, my sister-slave." Footsteps, crunching loudly now in the snow, coming up relentlessly behind her. Somehow, she knew it was the blonde bitch, knew exactly what she was carrying. "You will join us now. And, youíll be happy to hear, the Masterís wonderful earmuffs donít just strip us of our free will, and enhance and focus our intellect, they also keep us all toasty-warm (or cool and collected, as it happens), no matter where our Masterís requirements send us."

The blond bitch was standing right behind her. Violet tried to summon up one last chunk of defiance to hurl Bastard-ward, but nothing came.

Nothing at all.

And then the earmuffs-headphones-instruments of slavery were slipped on her head, over her ears, clamping tight, clamping forever

The pain-spike was a thousand times worse, shooting right through the center of her brain, but it was gone in less than an instant, and she could finally, truly hear that hum, which was really a glorious song, the song of her Master, pulsing forever at the center of her brain.

The suction cup popped off her forehead, went snaking away, coiling back into the gun to be used next time. Next time.. the thought of doing this to another woman, turning her into the Masterís obedient slave.. She smiled. Her sister.. Brigitte.. she knew the names of all her sister-slaves now.. had been right, of course. The song cleared away all the fuzz and goo, made everything so much sharper and clearer now. She thought of a thousand ways she could improve her beloved Masterís life, make his happy, and she smiled wider.

She could move again, as free and easy as any puppet, and she was feeling slightly stuffy and warm. Of course. She started pulling off her clothes, but then remembered the dagger, retrieved it from the snow (her fingers found it unerringly) and began sawing and cutting. This was important, this was a ritual, a display for her Master, and she took her time, one sleeve and leg at a time. Her sisters Brigitte and Svetlana helped, and finally, all too soon, there was nothing left but her boots and gloves, bits and pieces, all the wrong color, but good enough for the moment. She tucked her dagger back into its waiting spot in her boot, and then the three of them were kneeling before their Master in the snow, (and Destiny, a statue holding the umbrella over his head), warm and blissful, bits of their thoughts flickering back and forth.

Everything was wondeful and perfect

Only no. Violet realized something, something horrible: the tips of her Masterís boots were befouled with snow. She crawled to him, slithering through the drifts, began licking, and two other eager slave-tongues were right there, of course, joining her, helping her.

And the snow fell forever.

A hypnoscene in the snow

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