Sacrifice Ch. 05bypandarus©
It was unnerving, and frankly a touch annoying, how easy everything had ended up being. After the nerves, the apprehension, the fiasco with that idiot messenger, and the resulting scene in the hall...she had been expecting a fight, and she had been ready for it. But a fight was not what she had gotten. She was a little disappointed.
Demitri had seemingly vanished again, his newest trick apparently, denying her the pleasure of demanding answers from him once and for all. So she made up her mind to see if she couldn't find some way to make herself of use as any half decent slave would, and, as much as it pained her to do so, make he and his guest as comfortable as possible.
The little blonde Calliope had seen Demitri speaking with, and who had run off in such a hurry when she and Thelios had appeared, was apparently already on her way back with the very refreshments she had been planning to ask for. What's more she was even considerate enough to ask Calliope's preference in terms of who brought it in to him.
Her evident relief when Calliope volunteered did suggest that her primary motivation wasn't necessarily courtesy or kindness. But, regardless of her reasons, the effect on Calliope was the same. The young woman was, to her continued surprise, more than forthcoming in offering her an overview of their system, 'since she was new', and without being prodded for it. It was all fairly straightforward really, painfully so, and she mentally cursed Demitri for being right yet again. Damn him.
The girl, Silva, and a man named Kal were the 'emissaries' for this particular set of suits. Yes, set, as they were shared, like a household, and the personal servants made requests directly from these 'emissaries'. So that was one issue she didn't have to fret about any longer. Of course the 'household' issue created a whole new set of concerns, particularly as she could guess fairly easily who they were sharing with.
As it was, the ease with which she'd passed this recent— semi-nonexistent— hurdle was suggesting to her that perhaps her fears had been exaggerated. That didn't mean she was about to dismiss them completely. After all, one positive example did not a rule make, and she wasn't anywhere near forgetting the incident in the hall, nor Thelios's changed demeanor...or the fact that there was a giant serpent with the face and body of an incredibly beautiful...and naked...woman keeping him company on the other side of the door. They'd been alone close to half an hour by her guess, and she was loathe to interrupt, but it was unseemly to allow a guest to go without refreshment any longer than she already had. Once more she was forced to swallow her anxieties and do what needed to be done.
She adjusted the tray and rested it on her shoulder to knock. He called for her to enter from the other side. So, with a deep, settling breath, she did. She went in expecting anything, a wise course of action when one was in as unique a situation as she, and also precariously balancing wine on a rather large tray.
She needn't have been worried.
He was slouched in a chair on the other side of the room, his chin resting on a raised fist...brooding. The snake...woman...'no, snake' she smirked mentally, was draped over a low couch, her chin resting on the backs of her bare arms which were in turn crossed over the chair's back. She was staring at him. He was staring blankly across the room. Or, more accurately, he was glowering across it. Calliope hesitated a moment seeing his dark expression, but didn't let it stop her from proceeding as intended.
She averted her own gaze to the tray when she felt their attention shift toward her, but kept them both on the edge of her vision. The room wasn't very large and held just the one arrangement of furniture, consisting of two low couches and the one wide, throne like chair. At least it looked that way, with the way he sat on it...his arms now laying along the rests and his legs braced symmetrically before him. And of course, there was the glowering. He looked very much like the king of hell himself.
She knelt next to the table at the center of the arrangement, setting down her burden and noting the open doorways, one beyond Thelios, and the other to the right, which she guessed were the less formal living quarters. The little blonde servant had indicated that her things had been taken to a room just off of the master's sleeping quarters; directed there by Demitri, apparently.
Calliope had managed to stifle her self-consciousness at what that fact might connote for the other household slaves. Namely, that she was the master's bed-warmer. It helped that the girl seemed utterly unfazed and indifferent to the fact. It was, after all, none of their business how a master chose to keep his slaves...but still, she valued her privacy and it seemed like such a public announcement of her role in Thelios's household.
She continued to peruse the room out of the corner of her eye as she set about serving the wine.
She also noted the way Thelios's eyes had shifted back to the wall, ignoring her once more, and the way his guest's had not. The snake's eyes watched her as she, still kneeling, poured the wine into two glasses and were still waiting as Calliope turned and met them with a polite smile as she offered the first glass. She returned Calliope's polite smile with an amused one of her own.
Calliope blinked in surprise, but otherwise kept her reaction to herself. It wasn't the words alone, but the low purr in her voice which had caught her off guard.
"You're welcome." She murmured, breaking her gaze and returning her attention to the other glass.
"Calliope," she continued, still purring, "perhaps you would have more luck than I have..." Thelios waved off the offer of the wine.
"You take it." He muttered. The snake scoffed, but she was looking askance at Thelios and not at Calliope.
"I have been trying to explain to my 'dearest' brother that there is absolutely no reason he can't relax for five minutes and stop being such an uptight prig. I understand you don't want to be here brother, but I mean really, how do you survive if you never let yourself have any fun?"
Calliope frowned at that. The master? uptight? That was...completely absurd.
The snake seemed to notice her confusion and looked back down at her. "Don't you think?"
Calliope blinked again and felt her lips part, as if instinctively trying to answer the question. But she was stymied for a response. "I...ah, I suppose." She finally managed with some uncertainty.
"You don't agree." It wasn't a question but the look in those violet eyes was more curious than anything else.
"Well...I...suppose it's a matter of perspective..." she hedged, glancing at Thelios for some indication of what she should or shouldn't say, but he gave her nothing. He wasn't really glaring at her though, and his frown seemed more one of general annoyance than anything aimed in a particular direction...so that was something at least.
"Oh come now. I'm sure you can do better than that. Tell us what you really think. Be honest." She grinned and shifted so she could face her fully. It was quite a bit to take in: the sly, fanged grin, the amused violet colored eyes, the bare ebony breasts which, if they were differently colored might have belonged to Aphrodite herself, and of course, the long, twisting serpent's tail, the tip of which was wavering in the air, just as a cat's might when it was waiting for the unfortunate mouse to make that one fatal move.
Calliope flicked her eyes back to Thelios, still saw nothing helpful, and sighed with a mental shrug. If she wants honest, that's what she'll get.
"Alright," she offered, straightening her back a little more and folding her hands in her lap, "Honestly, I don't think 'not' being a silly prat warrants the title of 'uptight prig,' and just because what constitutes 'fun' for the silly prats of the world isn't fun for the rest of us doesn't mean we don't know how to have our own sort of fun. But then that assertion probably makes me an uptight prig, which I admit I have been accused of...after a fashion. Therefore I'm probably not some one who should be commenting on the matter."
Thelios's head jerked sharply to the side and away from his sister, his arm bending up so that his fist obscured his frown. Her own eyes shot anxiously to his, but instead of the anger she feared to see, there was a much more familiar glow. She bit the inside of her cheek to suppress her smile.
It wasn't a frown he was hiding after all. A flood of relief made her want to laugh out loud, and she inhaled sharply as she tore her eyes from his.
His sister looked between the two of them with an uncertain smile. Calliope allowed herself a mild smile as well and settled into a much more relaxed position with her legs tucked beneath her.
The snake took a sip of her wine and chuckled softly as she toyed with the rim of the glass. "I suppose I can agree with that, but I wouldn't say simply agreeing to come to dinner and allowing oneself to be entertained is for the silly and the pratish alone. No?"
"I suppose not." She conceded. It did seem reasonable enough.
"Traitor." Thelios mumbled from behind his fist.
She decided to take exception to that and looked sideways at him. "Hardly. I'm merely conceding that it isn't necessarily all that ridiculous. I never said you should do it." She frowned thoughtfully. "Why....why aren't you going? If I may be so bold." She added carefully, for proprieties sake. He still had company after all.
He dropped his clenched hand back to the arm of the chair and looked at her straight on. "Because I don't want to. Do You want to spend an evening with my useless brothers while they preen and flaunt their wealth?"
"There are sisters too..." The other interjected lightly.
"They aren't half as annoying, and don't pester me with questions about when I'm going to come to my senses about— "
"—When Will you come to your senses, by the way?"
"I take it back— useless brothers and sisters. Well? Do you?" He turned back to Calliope.
"Not really...I guess." She answered dazedly.
He looked satisfied, as close to smiling as she'd seen all day at least, and back to his usual level of smugness. "Good. It's settled then. I'm not going."
The snake made a disgusted sound and turned on Calliope as well. "Fat lot of help you were." She bit out sullenly, before catching up her wine again with a pout. "Now I have to face the vultures alone. You're not a very nice brother."
"The vultures are also your brothers...take it up with them."
"Yes, but I Like you. And I like listening to you shut them up. If you're not there to stopper them, who will? "
"Feel free. No one is keeping you from it."
"You know they don't listen to me." To Calliope's surprise she addressed her directly again. "They don't think I have anything to worry about because of who my mother is, so I get vetoed, which is preposterous."
"I can't say I know much of why you're here, but if you have nothing to worry about and find them difficult to deal with, then why bother coming at all?" Calliope offered in return.
Thelios said nothing but nodded his agreement.
"On the off chance they're wrong. Isn't that why you're here brother?"
He sighed. "Yes. You could just do what I do and not show up."
She shrugged. "I suppose I could, but it's easier in the end if you just play along a little. Path of least resistance and all that. Besides, I'm a little more out of my element here than you are, and I've been away for so long. I do need to catch up." Again she addressed Calliope. "I've been traveling abroad, but my children insist I come back every now and then for a few years. I'm heading back home to Libya when this is over with. I want to see what little Hero –you've met Herophile?" She glanced at Thelios who nodded, "...to see what she's been up to. I heard a rumor she's made quite a name for herself. Does a mother proud that one."
"How are the rest of them?" Thelios asked, now looking more relaxed and in a somewhat better humor.
"Alive, well, and very much uneaten, thank you."
Thelios chuckled and Calliope frowned. "Uneaten?" she ventured carefully.
"Yes, uneaten. Hera can't keep her husband on a leash and the rest of us have to suffer for it. In my case she waited until I left for greener pastures, then, in my absence, started all kinds of vicious rumors about me. One of which was that I left because I'd gone mad and eaten my own babies. Can you imagine? The crazed bitch. If she wants to punish someone, she should punish him. I hate it when people blame 'the other woman.'"
"That's because you're usually the other woman." Thelios graveled with a smirk.
"Oh, shut up. Who isn't the other woman with that bloody man. And he keeps getting away with it because he's so damned charming. Just when you think you've built up a tolerance he comes out with some new trick. That's why she picks on the women...he's got this little smirk-smile thing he does and after a few 'I swear she didn't mean anything's...Lo! All is forgiven...anyway, that's not the point.
"The real point is that they, the rumors, hardly help our reputation, those of us of the serpentine persuasion that is. People are always trying to vilify us. It's patently unfair. If you don't want the dragon to eat you, then don't try to steal from his horde...is it really that difficult to understand? If you don't bother us, we won't bother you...that's how it works.
"That's the real reason I left. They're so much more respectful in the East. And the farther East you go, the better the reception. They call me Mistress Nagi, and everyone is under the impression that I'm some sort of pillar of wisdom and knowledge...which works for me."
"I imagine." Calliope murmured when she paused for a response. She couldn't think of much else to say since her mind was rapidly reassessing her impression of this creature. She was actually...sort of pleasant, and certainly charming. And she kept speaking to Calliope, explaining things to her as if she were part of the conversation and not, as Calliope had assumed, part of the furniture. She had been prepared for almost anything...or so she thought. The truth was she was prepared to be upset...not to be please, so now she was confused by the fact that nothing seemed to be painful or going horribly wrong. If that wasn't the most absurd thing she could think of...she didn't know what was.
"It's lovely there. Dragon's everywhere, so for once I fit right in. And so friendly! I met this lovely dragon, Jiaolong—he does these really amusing impressions, shape-shifter and all— who spotted me while I was sunning on a beach and once he found out I wasn't a local insisted on showing me around. Any human's we ran into were down right pleased to see us. Practically started throwing a party, wanting to give us gifts and ask for blessings. They're really very charming people.
"You don't get that here. I mean, everywhere you go it's evil snake this, and evil snake that....just look at the gorgons..." She paused with a smile, then rolled her eyes when they both just looked back, "oh come on, that was funny. Look at the gorgons....? 'Look,' get it? You know what, you two deserve each other. No sense of humor."
"Oh!" Calliope sat up straighter, startled out of her spinning thoughts when the joke hit her. "I get it." Calliope smiled as she—Nagi?—gave her a disgusted look.
"Too little too late my dear. But I appreciate the effort." She took another sip of the wine then slid it onto the little table and rose from her position, her tail curling beneath her then unfurling behind as she left the couch. The glistening black scales were so close she could have simply stretched out her hand to touch them and the lamp light flickered on their smooth obsidian surfaces like winking stars. It was vaguely hypnotic. Calliope watched fascinated as the 'Nagi' slid around the couch and came to pause behind Thelios, her slender hands resting on his shoulders.
"So you're not going to be talked into coming tonight?"
"Not for your life."
She sighed. "Fine. Let me tell them you're thinking of coming tomorrow, if I don't they'll just spend half the night asking me why I couldn't convince you."
Calliope noticed the slightly sneer which darkened his face. "I knew they sent you."
"Don't be an ass. I told you why I want you to come. If it had just been for them, I would have come, drank your wine, chatted about the weather, and left without once mentioning the blasted dinner. You know that."
"Fine. Tell them what you want."
She looked pleased. "Good. Calliope, would you walk me to my suit?" That must have surprised Thelios as much as it did her, because he turned back to look at the Nagi over his shoulder with a cocked brow. He didn't object however, so Calliope felt there wasn't much she could do but acquiesce and rose to her own feet with an obliging nod.
She cast a glance at Thelios as she turned to follow, but his expression was unreadable, if somewhat pensive.
There were a few moments of awkward silence. Awkward for Calliope at least, for whom the silence was filled by the soft, and unnerving hiss of scales against the smooth marble floor and the incessant pounding of her own anxious heart as she wondered what the creature could possibly want with her. They were already entering the walk around the garden when she glanced down at Calliope with a sly smile.
"You might want to breathe at some point. I'm sure my brother would be most unhappy with me if I had to have you carried back to him unconscious because you fainted for lack of air."
She inhaled and suppressed a blush, while making a bowing nod and keeping her eyes in front of her.
"Of course, Lady Nagi."
When the serpentine woman stopped abruptly beside her, it forced Calliope to peel her eyes from the marble tiling to see what was wrong. The Nagi was looking at her with a curious expression and a strange half grin. And just as suddenly as she stopped, she began to chuckle. "You know, I like that. Make sure you say it next time we're in a public place together. I think I'd like it to get around. I'm tired of being referred to as "That Snake." She smiled, her teeth looking startlingly white against her dark skin. Though the fangs, Calliope realized, didn't seem to bother her that much. No doubt as she was used to Thelios's...they were very similar now that she thought about it...the teeth were...but that seemed to be where their similarities ended...well, maybe their sense of humor...
She began to move again, and Calliope followed obediently. "You're probably wondering why I asked you to accompany me." She paused for an answer, so Calliope nodded.
"I admit, I am."
"It's nothing sinister. I merely wanted to appeal to you for assistance." She arched an eyebrow as she gazed down on Calliope, "He's very stubborn, so if there are at least two of us cracking away at him then we might actually convince him to see the light...or at least have him do it just to shut us up. Which is more likely, but equally acceptable."
"Might I ask why you are so anxious for him to attend?"
She shrugged. "You were there when I told him. I want some one to have my back covered...someone to put between me and them if it becomes necessary. They tend to get ahead of themselves...and even though they should know better, they are laboring under the delusion that I have some sort of influence with my mother...as if anyone does. I have no ulterior motives.
"It's purely selfish, I admit...but really what can a girl do? Well, there is the entertainment factor as well I suppose. He isn't any fun in the traditional sense...but I get a sadistic sort of glee watching him glare them into submission." She grinned at Calliope with a smile that was brimming with just the sort of glee she was talking about. Calliope's own lip twitched in response.