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She wasn’t much better about the dark in Palaces than in real life, and Joker’s bad habit of getting ambushed in the maze hadn’t made it easier for her. I’m not a child, Makoto told herself, but she was holding onto Panther’s elbow with one hand and had the other hand against the wall and whenever that hand reached air, she’d squeak.

The Shadows must have spotted them from behind. The lightless maze lit up with orange fire, catching Fox’s shoulder, and he fell to the ground with a shout. She had sight of Joker and Mona and Skull up ahead, and Panther, pulling her hand away to ready her whip, before the flame went out. Two gunshots went off, but she couldn’t see where they had come from or if they had hit anything. The air parted for Noir’s ax and Makoto felt, against her cheek, the stiff bristles of the Rangda before Noir cried out in pain; the Shadow had repelled her blow.

“Let’s split!” Joker said. In the distance she could hear Skull’s regular, swift footsteps. Makoto stuck her hand out, trying to find where Fox had fallen. A gust of wind blew her down, and another bloom of fire struck the spot just in front of her.

“Queen, over here!” Mona said. He was alone now, jumping up and down and waving his scimitar—then he ran, pursued by a Shadow, and the fire went out. She picked herself up and ran towards where she thought she had seen Mona and ran into an empty spot. Behind, she could hear the Shadows talking to one another in their high-pitched chatter. She ran, ran, until she hit something with her elbow and knocked it to the ground. It shattered and a small orange ring appeared, far enough that Makoto wasn’t sure whether it was there, or just something her panicked eyes were sending her.

“How are you planning on paying for that?” said a voice coming from the ring. Footsteps came towards her. A woman in high heels. Her sister’s Shadow. “I think I’ll add another hundred thousand coins to your cost—how does that sound? Fair?”

“You have some nerve talking about fair when you won’t face us yourself,” Makoto said. She tried to find a wall to steady herself against. She reached out and someone grabbed her wrist. Her sister’s face appeared out of the darkness, lit by a cigarette. Makoto’s fist jabbed out, half in panic, half in anger, and the Shadow shoved her into a wall. While Makoto was still recovering, the Shadow grabbed her shoulder and spun her around so they were facing each other. She put one hand against Makoto’s chest.

“Remember, this is my Palace,” Sae’s Shadow said. “You’re a guest here, so don’t make a mess of it. Not that you kids can help it.”

“The rules never said we’d be hunted and chased by Shadows.”

“You’re so naïve. You can’t have possibly expected we’d pay you so many coins just for walking around in the dark. Are you still scared of it, Makoto?” Her sister’s Shadow exhaled, filling the air with smoke.

“I’m not scared of you,” Makoto said. Her eyes watered. She could see the Shadow’s face more clearly now as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. It wasn’t her sister, she told herself. It wasn’t anyone she knew.

“You can’t win,” Sae’s Shadow said. “Not against me. If you do what I say, I’ll let you go and you can try saving your friends, if they last long enough. It looks like the odds are against them.”

“Just hurry up and tell me what you want.”

“I want you to understand how people really see you. I want you to get a taste of the real world, what it’s like out there and how hard it really is.” Sae’s hand came up to caress her cheek. The back of her fingers brushed against Makoto’s jawline, against her ear. “But you have to say yes to it. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Fine,” Makoto said. “But I want a deal. You have to let me go once you’ve finished. And I want there to be enough time for me to actually save them.”

Sae’s Shadow removed the cigarette from her mouth. “You have until this burns out,” she said. “And in exchange, you’ll be my good little girl.”

The cigarette was put in her mouth. Makoto tried to not cough. She nodded her head.

The Shadow ran her hand against Makoto’s neck. She expected to be hit or slapped, but instead the Shadow reached behind her and unzipped her suit. Her other hand ran down the newly exposed skin, pinching here, scratching there—cupping her ass and squeezing it. That was when Makoto understood what was happening, what the Shadow might want from her. Soon all the leather and spikes were on the floor, leaving her naked, except for her scarf and mask, against the wall.

She tried to squirm away, but her sister pushed her weight against her, close enough that Makoto could feel the fishnet pattern running down the center of her sister’s costume against her arm. The only good thing about this was that the cigarette in her mouth kept the Shadow from trying to kiss her, although this way she had to see the Shadow’s leer, the way her eyes raked up and down her body.

“You understand that there are worse things that could happen to you,” said the Shadow, still massaging Makoto’s ass. More gently now, not as hard as before. Her fingers made firm circles into Makoto’s flesh. It was not her sister, Makoto reminded herself. This was not her. Even if it was her, her body’s reaction was basic defensive physiological response. That made whatever arousal she felt—which wasn’t much—better. “I was worried when you started asking about Kaneshiro. Do you think he’d be as nice as I am right now? He’d rape you without warming you up. Say you understand.”

“I—” She winced as her sister’s nails dug into the back of her thigh. “I understand.”

“You’re forgetting something.”

No. She wouldn’t say it. She breathed in hard through her nose and tried to expel more air out of the cigarette to make it burn faster.

The Shadow thrust one finger into her.

“Ow—! I understand, Sis,” Makoto said, clenching around it. Her sister—the Shadow—buried her face into her shoulder and laughed, then kissed it. Makoto turned her head away, but that just gave her a better view of her sister’s hand between her legs.

“I know some of the security guards have been waiting to corner you and your little gang,” the Shadow said. She flexed her finger in a way that made Makoto’s hips lean into it. “That’s the problem with hiring private security. I let them talk about whatever they want in the break room, but the things they say are so—choking you with your scarf while forcing you on your knees. You understand.” The expression on her face was nakedly gleeful and her nipples were hard through the fabric of her dress. Her eyes flashed impatiently.

“I—” she said, but not quickly enough: it was three fingers now, prying her apart. Her sister’s other hand had come between them, squeezing one of her breasts until Makoto tried to buck away from it, only to drive herself deeper onto her fingers. “Ow! I don’t understand, why are you doing this to me?” The next few thrusts were hard enough that Makoto nearly bent over from the force. Her cunt gripped the fingers inside her, slicking them up. The sound of her sister’s fingers inside her were even louder in the dark. The Shadow nudged the scarf aside with her nose and bit down on her neck. “I understand! I understand, Sis.”

“You have a long way to go until you understand how the world works,” said the Shadow, licking her lips. Makoto focused on the cigarette. It barely looked used. Had she been tricked? The Shadow had stopped thrusting, but now the fingers were moving inside her, exploring her in a way that made her feel disgusting for enjoying it. One spot in particular made her arch into her sister, holding onto her shoulders. Her legs shook. She prayed she wouldn’t fall down or come. “You’re much better at this than I thought. If I had known, I would’ve taught you how to do this a long time ago. You should be thanking me.”

“Thank you—thank you, Sis,” she said, and the Shadow applied more pressure against the spot. Her knee went weak. Smoke curled in front of her eyes. “You’re teaching me so much. I appreciate it—you’re doing good work—oh!”

The Shadow caught her clit between two fingers. She squeezed and pressed up at the same time. Makoto’s thighs quivered. Her knees buckled and she dropped an inch or so deeper onto the Shadow’s fingers. It hurt, but she couldn’t get herself up again. Something about the combination of pain and humiliation and arousal kept her knees from straightening.

“Do you need to lie down?” The Shadow said, almost kindly. Makoto nodded. She withdrew her fingers and wiped them between Makoto’s breasts. She raised an eyebrow.

“Thank you, Sis,” Makoto said, and lowered herself to the ground. She expected the Shadow to follow her down, but instead the Shadow put her heel just above her knee.

“I could break you right now,” the Shadow said. “Have you ever tried rescuing someone with a broken leg?”

“You wouldn’t.”

“You never specified whether I’d be allowed to or not. Remember, all you said you wanted was time. But persuade me. Touch yourself.”

“I—” Can’t, was what she was about to say. The weight on her leg stopped her. She moved her hands down her body, between her legs. The cigarette was not even half out.

“Two fingers,” the Shadow said. “You’re wetter than you thought you were, aren’t you?” It was true, but she didn’t want to think about it. Her wetness dampened her pubic hair, coated her outer lips, had even slicked up the inside of her thighs. “Answer me.”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“I’m—I’m wet for you,” she said, and slid two fingers inside herself, flushing. She couldn’t get into a good rhythm. Her eyes would flutter shut or she’d come close, but then she’d catch the Shadow’s eye and it’d ebb away.

“This is your first time, isn’t it?” the Shadow said. Makoto nodded. The Shadow smiled, and Makoto couldn’t tell whether it was contempt or pleasure. “You probably were hoping for flowers and scented candles. I’m sorry I couldn’t provide those for you. Listen, Makoto. There will always be times when you’re having difficulty coming with your boyfriend. Or girlfriend—is that what you prefer? I’m going to teach you something. Say thank you.”

“Thank you, Sis.” She hated how easy it was to say that now.

“My pleasure,” Sae said warmly. “Throw your head back. Squeeze down on your fingers like you’re trying to trap them. Take fast, shallow breaths. Moan a little. Moan in time with the thrusts. Lift your hips up. Start begging.”

“I—ah, please,” she said. “Please. Please. Please, please, please—” She didn’t know how it happened. She thought the obvious artifice would turn her off, but the longer she stared into Sae’s eyes, the more pathetic her begging became and the easier it was to thrust into herself until she came for real—eyes wide open in horror, head hitting the floor, her body curling up, trying to roll away from the Shadow’s heel, from that burning gaze, from herself.

The Shadow lifted her leg. She sat on the ground and ran her hands up Makoto’s thigh, to her hip, stomach, breasts, and then back down. She picked up the cigarette from where it had fallen on the floor and put it back into Makoto’s mouth.

“You tricked me,” Makoto said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “This should already be over.”

“People who are losing always complain the game is rigged. But it’s not the system. It’s just fate.” The Shadow forced her fingers back inside. Makoto flinched, even though it was painless. The Shadow worked her up slowly, bringing her thumb to circle around her clit and squeezing her breast in her hand in a way that made Makoto’s back arch off the floor. She shut her eyes. This was nothing but cognition. If it was cognition, it couldn’t be real. For all she knew, she, too, might be nothing but cognition and the real Makoto was doing her homework, checking her phone occasionally to see if Akira wanted to go to the Palace, while her sister was away at work. But that didn’t stop the rush of sensations, the smart way Sae’s fingers stretched her opening and curled inside her. Soon her hips were twisting into the Shadow’s hand and the small noises the Shadow taught her to fake were slipping out, unconsciously, for real, even as she tried to stop it. “This is good,” the Shadow said, and squeezed her inner thigh reassuringly. “You’re finally learning.”

“Please,” she said, and was rewarded with a kiss to her breast. “Please. Please, please, please. Oh, please, Sis, please.”

“That’s what I like to hear. You have my permission.”

She came with a sob. Her sister drew it out for longer than she thought possible; each time she thought it was over, there’d be another press or a bite or a pinch and it’d roll on through her. When it was over, it was dark. The cigarette had gone out. She was nestled against the Shadow, closer than she had ever been to anyone. Her sister placed her fingers on Makoto’s lips. Makoto opened them and let Sae put her fingers inside.

“Suck,” Sae said. Makoto did, even though she found it revolting. It was over now, she told herself. This was the last thing she’d have to do. “I don’t know what they’ve been teaching you at school. You should’ve fought harder. Why didn’t you resist more? You have to resist, or else people are going to think you wanted it. Look at you. If people didn’t know we were related, they’d just think this was some rough play.”

She slid her fingers out of Makoto’s mouth and wiped them dry on Makoto’s scarf. She reached down and squeezed Makoto’s ass again. She lit a new cigarette and stood up.

“Your friends are waiting for you at the lobby.” So she had been tricked after all. Something cold washed over her. She wished she knew where her clothes were. The Shadow smiled as Makoto got back to her feet. “You know, we have cameras everywhere in here.”

“It’s too dark for them to pick up anything,” Makoto said.

The Shadow laughed. “I assure you, we use the best cameras possible to broadcast the experience to as many people as we can,” she said. “Even if the video is bad, we can sell the audio. Remember, you said yes to everything. I’ll see you at home, sweetheart.”

The Shadow disappeared and the light with it.

Now that she was alone, the anger and humiliation rose up in the form of furious, panicked tears. She sank to the ground and gripped her hair in her hands and rocked on her heels. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t, at the very least, sob. She had to stay strong until she got home. Home was safe. Her sister wouldn’t be there. That thing hadn’t been her sister. Oh, god, why didn’t she ask the Shadow whether this was something her sister wanted in real life? She tried to push down the whimper, but it rose up as two great sobs that were almost screams. That would have to be enough.

She crawled around, searching for her Phantom Thief outfit. Once she found it, she suited back up as fast as she could, ignoring the way her hands shook, ignoring the wet smear from her cunt all the way down to her knee that made sliding the tight leather over her legs difficult and how the seam of the outfit pushed between her legs. The Shadow had taken her underwear, which struck her as a petty gesture. There were no television screens in the lobby, she reminded herself. There was no way anyone could have seen this. Not even the best cameras in the world could have… but there was a PA system. And she was still here, lost, in the maze, so she had bigger problems than wondering whether her friends had just…

She put one hand against the wall and prayed there would be a way out.