Following behind, Ares had a perfect view to the surreal experience that was watching mistress Alahir move. The blend of slithering- and humanoid movements was incongruous to his common sense.
She led them up a set of stairs, down a hallway and into the very last room. Inside was a wide room with a view out onto the plaza below, furnished with a long table and several comfortable-looking chairs.
“Thank you, Mistress Alahir,” said Seila, giving the proprietor another gracious smile, “Would you be so kind as to send up my companions once they arrive? We will share a meal once everyone is here”
“Of course my lady,” said the snake-woman, then snapped her fingers. A pair of servants appeared out of nowhere, carrying trays filled with refreshments of an alien kind. “On the house, of course.”
Seila gave her an approving nod, then strode to the end of the long table and sat down. Ares followed her, and sat down at her side, looking curiously at the delicacies in front of him.
“Ahem,” his mistress coughed. She might have gotten one of these bite-sized treats stuck in her throat. Ares tilted his head and reached out for one of those very same treats. They could not possibly hurt him, after all.
“Ahem!” With his hand already on the first treat, Ares looked over at his mistress to see if she might be choking. With how red-faced she was, for a moment he thought she actually might be.
Sparks flying from her spinning eyes, Seila slapped his hand as if she thought it enough for him to let go. It was not.
“Old Ones curse you, Construct,” she hissed, slapping his hand again. Ares ignored her, and brought up the treat to his nose, sniffing it. It smelled sweet, with a hint of fruit. Without further ado, he threw the treat into his mouth and began chewing. It was as sweet as it smelled, with a fruity aftertaste he did not recognize.
“By all that is holy, have you no decency?!” She was up on her feet, sparks flying from wall to wall. Ares looked up and her, his face as passive as ever, but on the inside he took a sadistic pleasure in seeing his mistress this distraught – no matter what it was he had apparently done wrong.
She tried to slap him again. Apparently she had learned nothing from the last time she tried this. He grabbed her hand before she hit him. When she tried with the other, he grabbed it as well.
Rising from his seat, and holding onto both her hands in his metallic limbs, he loomed over her; golden eyes locked onto hers of spinning silver and gold.
“What?” He asked, genuinely curious as to what he had done wrong this time.
“You are my construct,” she hissed, her face turning bright red with fury, “You do not sit at my table; you stand behind me as my guardian.”
Her fluster was so comical that even her scathing comment could not stir the anger within. Instead, he almost felt… joy.
“And you, most definitely, do not share of my meal. I give you my lifeforce in return for your obedience, so you better start acting obedient.”
He wanted to laugh. She thought he was going to allow her to push him around as she wanted. For an instant, his immovable face twisted at the mouth.
“Oh my…” In sync, both Ares and Seila looked over to the side, where Izzy was sitting on the table, peering out from behind her fingers at them. “You really must like him a lot, Lady Seila.”
“I do not like– Release me, you brute!”
With that command, Ares was forced to let go. This gave Seila the opening she needed to finally slap his face with her newly released hands. The pain stung, and yet the anger did not surge. Instead he felt even more like laughing now. The other side of his face twitched slightly.
“Now go take your place behind me,” she commanded. Adhering to the command, Ares walked over to stand behind his mistress’ chair. Even though he had ended up doing what she wanted, it felt like he had won a victory over her.
Still red-faced, with a mixture of anger and embarrassment emanating from their bond, Seila plombed back down on her seat without any attempt at grace or dignity. Pouting like a little girl, she resorted to stare daggers at Izzy.
“What… on all of Elhané… did I just witness?”
From the doorway, a voice startled both Izzy and Seila. Ares, however, had noticed the newcomer on his proximity map – partly why he felt he had won.
The newcomer was a slender creature, with deep blue skin and huge eyes completely white. Long green hair was separated on top of its head by a slight fin. Most remarkably, though, in its forehead gleamed a ruby red jewel the size of a thick thumb. Gently curves covered by a tight-fitted red-and-blue robe, suggested she was female.
“An avore,” Izzy said, with an awed tone to her voice.
“A–Alai,” Seila stammered, “You’re here… fast.”
“Yes, it seems I am,” said the avore, her voice like a chime in the wind. “What were you doing with this…” She stepped past the table and approached Ares, placing a finger on his chest, “…handsome young man?” Her finger slid down his loose tunic, following the lines of his artificial muscles.
“It’s not a man Alai, it’s my construct.”
The blue finger stopped on its way past his chest. Alai turned her face up to scrutinize Ares from below. “This is a construct? Why would anyone make a construct this pretty?” Unconcerned, the finger continued its journey down his body. Ares had half a mind to stop Alai, but the panicked mixture of outrage and jealousy from his bond to Seila made him stop.
This is more fun than I thought it would be.
Just as Alai reached the edge of his hose, Seila grabbed the avore’s hand and dragged her away. “Oh, so only you can touch him, huh?” Said Alai, feigning indignity.
“For the last time: it is not a he – It is an it. And yes, only I can touch it because he belongs to me.”
“You just called it a he yourself, dear,” the avore laughed as Seila turned bright red.
Ares liked this one.
His mistress turned on him like a viper, pointing a finger in his face as she said, “And you! Letting others touch you as if you don’t know how to stop them. You stop me every time, so why can’t you do the same to her?”
Alai put both hands to her cheeks and exclaimed, “You force yourself upon your own construct, Seila? Shame on you – for shame!”
Seila froze and looked over her shoulder. The avore looked mock-appalled, her mask broken only when she winked at Ares.
Back on the table, Izzy was near death from laughter.
“I do not force myself… upon anyone!”
“You’re forcing yourself on whom?” A deeper voice interjected. Ares looked over at the doorway, where another figure had appeared. This one looked like a humanoid panther, with cat-like features and two large fangs protruding from its jaw, turned downwards. It had two short swords strapped to its lower back horizontally, a grip to either side.
“No one is forcing themselves on anyone,” Seila said, exasperated, throwing up her hands and sending accusatory glares at Alai.
“Alright then,” said the upright cat, shrugging. In two elegant strides, he made it to the table, unstrapped his weapons, and seated himself.
“Hello, Saber,” said Alai, nodding to the newcomer. Saber looked back and nodded, but otherwise seemed content to focus on the delicacies in front of him.
Still lying on the table, Izzy was trying really hard to breathe.
Intent on acting as if the earlier conversation never happened, Seila seated herself again with great care. Trying to regain her former dignity, his mistress said, “Since we are still missing Cedwin, I suggest everyone take a seat and enjoy the treats provided by Mistress Alahir.”
Alai, the only one who did not have a seat, finally obliged Ares’ mistress and took a seat. Though it was hard to tell, with those completely white eyes of hers, Ares had the distinct sense that she kept sneaking a peek at him occasionally.
It was not long before the final guest arrived. A young man with long blonde hair, braided with fine thread and gemstones, opened the door. He was dressed in luxurious dark green clothes, a flowing cloak in a lighter shade of green, and carried an unstrung bow over his shoulder, with accompanying arrows.
Like Seila and her father, this one was tall and aesthetically pristine, with those same full ears that were so distinct from every other sharp ear around. He could practically smell the arrogance coming off him.
“Ahh, Lady Seila,” said the man after entering through the door, bowing deeply, “I came as soon as I got your summons.”
“Thank you Cedwin,” said Seila with the dignity of a queen, before ruining the image by looking up at Ares over her shoulder with a smug expression on her face. This is how one treats a Lady, you brute, she seemed to say.
“And who is this?” Cedwin straightened, following the Lady’s line of sight.
“This, Cedwin, is my new construct,” she said, an air of importance weighing her every word.
“Old Ones, you really are going to be a battlemage, then,” Cedwin said, then bowed again, “My congratulations to you, My Lady.”
Alai opened her mouth to say something, but Seila gave her a warning glare, fiery sparks flying everywhere. The avore slowly closed her mouth again, although she kept a smirk.
“So,” said Saber, who until now had barely said anything, “What’s this about, Seila. Why are we here.”
“Lady Seila, Saber” Cedwin said, his tone laced with mild condescension, “How many times must I remind you?”
Saber just shrugged, apparently caring little for the other’s tone. “Ain’t no titles in the marsh, Ced.”
“You’re not in the marsh now, Saber. These are civilized lands, and civilized lands have standards.”
The cat-man looked up and just grinned, revealing a very sharp set of teeth aside from the two massive fangs.
“Enough, the two of you,” said Seila, clapping her hands, “We have business to discuss.”
“Do tell,” said Alai and leaned forward to put her elbows on the table, allowing Ares a good look down her dress. He was gentleman enough not to look… directly.
The move did not slip past Seila’s attention, and he noted her irritation with another hint of satisfaction. Whatever was inside of this dungeon, the trip had certainly already been worth it, just from the frustrations it had caused his mistress.
“I called you, because I have been granted special permission to enter the Hymend Dungeons by my father.”
That caused the three newcomers to stiffen into attention. “You mean,” Cedwin said, leaning forward as well, “We get to delve in there?”
“And we get to keep anything we find?” Saber asked next, his deep voice suddenly holding a tinge of excitement.
“Of course. Anything you can take back out with you is yours.”
“Just the four of us, this gnome and your construct?” Alai asked, sending a dubious gaze at Izzy. The little gnome had just about recovered from her earlier fit, but was suddenly at attention. “I can hold my own; I know how to fight.”
“Sure you do,” Alai said, not quite rolling her eyes.
Izzy stood back up, retrieving the big monkey wrench from her back and held it up in front of her, as if it was some kind of weapon. “You don’t think I can, avore? We gnomes are not as harmless as you think.”
“This is Izzy,” Seila interjected, “Izzy these are my friends, Alai, Saber and Cedwin. We have known each other for a long time, and we trust one another.”
The last she said while looking at each of her old friends in turn, “Izzy is coming along, because I trust her.”
“Fine,” said Alai, leaning back in her chair, “Just don’t expect me to save her skin when everything goes wrong in there.”
“Same to you,” said Izzy and stuck out her tongue at the blue-skinned woman.
“It’s all settled then,” Seila said with a sigh, “I have ordered food from Mistress Alahir. Once we have eaten, everyone must make their preparations. Tomorrow at midday, we will make our first delve into the Hyemend Dungeon.”
The meal that followed looked exquisite, although Ares did not partake. Glazed meat from strange animals, fruits and vegetables in as many twisted forms as one could imagine, and a grand assortment of drinks – everything from a recognizable wine to a bizarre orange drink with massive chunks in it.
He was tempted to reach out several times for foodstuffs, partly to enjoy them and partly to annoy his mistress further. However, the knot of sensation that was Seila in the back of his mind felt so satisfied and at ease he could not make himself go through with it. Instead he took his duty as a motionless statue extremely serious, keeping a stoic watch over the festivities until hours later when they wound down to a trickle. In the meantime, he engaged Orca in a lengthy discussion on what he should do the next time he leveled up.
Saber and Cedwin left first, before it became too late, planning to scour the blacksmith for some throwing weapons. Then Alai, absolutely drunk from the weird orange liquid, took a hold of Izzy and dragged the gnome out with her, saying something about getting their fortunes read.
When only Seila was left, his young mistress tried to stand up, but was unable to keep her balance. For a long while, Ares watched her struggle to stay on her feet, only for them to fail her and plop back down into her seat. “Consstruct,” she finally drawled, face down into the table, “Yoush better not chell anyone about diss.”
Laughing on the inside enough that the anger was nothing more than a puddle, Ares said, “I won’t.”
“Goot… Now get me home withs-out anyone scheeing me.”
Picking up a blanket from a nearby stack, Ares wrapped Seila into it until she was covered completely. Outside the door, the guards were keeping watch along with Captain Kindon. The green-skinned man nodded when he saw Ares carry Seila out of the room.
“The Lady has never been very good at keeping the soothscent down,” he said, nodding towards the orange drink that the party had only half-emptied still on the table inside the room. Along with the guards, he descended the stairs. Kindon paid mistress Alahir, who chuckled when she saw Ares carrying the obscure bundle.
Outside, the two suns were sinking into the Ammedian Forest, the ancient trees swallowing the glowing eyes in an ancient ritual. Though a few were curious about the three guards and young male carrying a bundle, most paid them little mind. They made it to the fortress gates without incident, and soon Ares pushed open the doors into Seila’s private rooms. He managed to scare her personal maid, a tall and pretty girl with curly black hair, and she was near-panicked when she discovered what he had done to her mistress.
It took Kindon a few minutes to calm the distressed woman down, and convince her that Ares was Seila’s construct – not a dangerous kidnapper.
“Well, he cannot stay here,” she said, shaking her head furiously, “It’s just not proper!”
Shrugging, Ares stepped outside, where two new guards stood ready. Kindon followed moments later, patting Ares on the shoulder and said, “You did good today, Construct. Tomorrow I’m relying on you to protect her.”
Nodding, Ares took a position closeby. Then he left the sentinel in control and retreated back into his own flesh.
Time to go back to normal.
How he wished that was true. And yet, a part of him felt… excited.