The Queen was young and beautiful, firm of body and fair of face, and utterly corrupt. Magic made her cunning and lazy, not to mention cruel. The bulk of her magic lay in transformation spells and she chose to employ them on her subjects. For amusement or expedience, sometimes both. Often she used it for punishment. All knew of her and feared her accordingly.
She was a woman of far-ranging appetites, and foremost among them was for entertainments of the carnal sort. In her chambers erotic statues were placed, former lovers, some said, whom she had tired of, or slaves who displeased her, their writhing forms all frozen at the apex of their pleasure. Some figures served as footstools and cloakracks, while others were bent over at the waist to stand with legs wide apart, arms linked, their smooth, naked backs forming tables at which she played at dice or cards. The sheer, decadent depth of her vision dazzled those who had the fortune to see it, all that petrified flesh used as rare woods or marbles would be in more wholesome environs. Hers was a great sorcery indeed, very rare, very powerful, and I confess I envied her greatly.
One day the Queen told her kitchen slaves to concoct a special feast for a visiting dignitary. Her lead pastry chef, called Petal-Blush, was ordered to create a soign-berry gingercake for the dessert. But too late the slave discovered there were no soign-berries to be found in the palace.
Panic-stricken, she considered her options. If she went to market to buy some she would certainly be punished, as kitchen slaves were under strict orders to keep to the kitchen. On the other hand there were plenty of flossberries, but they were underipe and still green about the edges. What should she do? Either directly or indirectly she might anger the Queen, and her skin would pay.
But ultimately Petal-Blush was practical rather than enterprising. Self-delusional, rather. She used what was available, telling herself the flossberries were a serviceable substitute if not an inspired one, and that the Queen would surely understand. Unfortunately, her Mistress did not.
Why did the Queen choose that moment to visit the kitchen? I don't know, and neither did Petal-Blush. In retrospect, you could say she was looking for disobedience, to punish a slave in some cruel and novel way. At any rate, she strode in imperiously and immediately sighted, on a tea-towel on the counter, the freshly cooled and frosted pastry. But it not covered with the sweet, claret-colored soign-berries as she ordered.
"What is this?" the Queen said coldly. The slaves shrank back from her, their spoons trembling in their hands. "I specifically asked for a soign-berry gingercake. Who made this mistake?"
No slave lived long in the palace by ignoring the Queen. As one the staff pushed poor Petal-Blush to the front. She had been originally trained as a pleasure slave and still bore the endowments, and she was to be a most spectacular recipient of the Queen's magic.
The Queen looked the cowering slave up and down. "Why were they not used?
"They...they were not available, Mistress," Petal-Blush stammered.
"Do you not know unripe flossberries upset my stomach?" the Queen thundered.
"Mistress, I..." the slave babbled as her friends shrank away from her.
When you are a slave, it doesn't take much to displease a mistress who wants some amusement. "When I say soign-berries, I mean soign-berries," the Queen said. "I think a spell or two will make you more pliable to my orders."
Poor Petal-Blush begged for mercy, groveling on the floor, flinging herself at the Queen's boots. But the Queen would have none of it.
"Stand up," she commanded. "Since you have been lax, I will enspell you to serve more faithfully, to the best of your abilities, so you will never make such a mistake again." She raised her right hand. A white beam of light shot from her snow-white palm, all the colors of the rainbow and none. It struck the fear-stricken slave and froze her in place. "Yes," the Queen smiled. "I know exactly what to do with you."
With a curl of her wrist the frightened slave began to shrink. Her clothing fell away from her as she assumed the height of a child, though not its proportions. Panic roiled behind her paralyzed features, and a fevered, silent plea: Please don't do this to me, please don't! But the Queen, as everyone knew, was merciless, and the kitchen staff could only watch in horrified silence as Petal-Blush continued to diminish in size, her glossy ivory skin now taking on a bright coppery hue. At the same time she flattened as if fed between two rollers of an invisible press, curling in on herself as if she was a sheet of metal being shaped over a mold. In another second she took on the gleam of newly mint copper fresh from the forge.
Suddenly the shrinking stopped. Petal-Blush was now twelve inches high. She remained poised on the tips of her toes for a second, then fell over on the tiles with a clatter. She had become a cake pan. A most voluptuous cake pan.
One or two of the slaves wailed in fright, which the Queen chose to ignore.
"Take your former coworker and see that she produces finer cakes than the one she made," the Queen said. "I expect to see them on the table at every major feast."
With trembling hands, the assistant pastry chef bowed and took up the copper mold which had been her friend, and barked orders for the preparation of the dough. No slave in the Queen's kitchen could afford to waste time on tears.
The dessert proved wildly popular with the court. The former Petal-Blush was henceforth kept very busy popping out fresh, steaming replicas of herself, which were frosted in marzipan with chocolate shavings for hair and candied cherries for lips, with pink sugar at her nipples and loins; the filling, I have heard, was most creamy and delicious, with a certain flavor reminiscent of... well, never mind, but it put lascivious thoughts into the minds of the diners. Indeed, it was as if the former pleasure-slave was still being used for the purpose she was originally created for. Not that she had much of a choice, of course.
The Queen furthermore instructed that the cake pan hang from a hook on the wall when not in use, so that all everyone should see the evidence of their Mistress's displeasure. The slaves say they see it move sometimes, as if the slave trapped in the mold is struggling to get free, but that's probably only the nonsense of slaves. As this whole tale may be.
What kind of story is that? Aurena protested. There is no heroism, no quest, no romance. Only defeat from the very beginning.
I found it entertaining, the Basilisk hissed, giving her a slim, stony torso a squeeze to remind her of his strength.
Aurena was silent. Though the story's exoticism had momentarily taken her mind off her troubles in the end it had unpleasant parallels to her own plight. The thought of the poor slave continually turning out edible replicas of herself made her depressed. Was she ever set free? she said.
The Basilisk chuckled. Do you think I would tell you if she was?
You torture me, the warrioress said in resignation.
As I said, it is my meat and drink. He slithered over her cold, stony shoulder to look her in the face. How do you think she feels, Aurena, when she is thrust into a flaming oven, her transformed flesh brimming over with sticky batter? Knowing that every cake that is made of her takes away some of her vitality for uncaring others to consume? In time even a magical copper will become blackened and greasy and dented with use... an eyesore to hang on the wall, forgotten and unused. He flicked his tongue over her unresponsive eyes. Do you feel her despair? Her lack of hope? Her complete and utter helplessness?
Aurena refused to give the creature the negative emotions it sought. If she controlled her reactions, it might grow frustrated with her noncompliance and set her free. The only thing I feel right now is hunger, she said flippantly.
Bah, the Basilisk said, and slid off of her like a wave.
You think to destroy me with these stories, Aurena said. But they are only stories.
Think again, the Basilisk gloated, and continued.