The next few days went by at a snail's pace. Neither Ari nor Braye enjoyed a moment of it, but they were thankfully quick to learn (with much of it thanks to Yan, ever eager to help) and therefore able to neatly avoid scolding and punishment from the masters of the house. The odd thing was, though, that it didn't seem likely they'd get struck for anything short of trying to attack someone. When Ari dropped a tray, she was yelled at to the point where she started to cry, but not a finger was raised against her. The same stood for Braye, too, though he did seem to get a lot more verbal abuse. Probably because he could take it without breaking down.
Most of their duties boiled down to common chores. Ari wound up with much of the cooking, while Braye shared the cleaning and fetching with Yan. One of the duty perplexed Ari most, though.... When she had nothing else to do, she would often be called in to her mistress's chamber. She would sit beside the cobra, often while she met with other Reptus, and Ssyrn would idly pet the otter's sleek fur. At first, this somewhat disturbed her, but she grew used to it. In fact, in a deep corner of her mind that wasn't bothered by facts, and though she'd never admit it to herself or anyone, she slightly enjoyed the attention.
By the time two weeks had gone past, the whole situation was almost routine to them. Exhausting, even painful at times, but routine. "I think that old beast enjoys watching me cut myself..." Braye grumbled as they ate what passed as their dinner in what passed as their room. One small blessing in the middle of it all, they got FISH to eat. Leftovers, true, but always caught that morning. "He smashed a glass for some unfathomable reason and had me PICK up the pieces...."
"Well, it's not like they have to tell us why they want us to do something," she murmured to him, idly taking a bite of her second-hand fish.
"Yeah, but wanna know what puzzles me?" Braye asked her after working a whole fish down to a clean, white skeleton, "Look at these guys... they're huge! Strong, smart, powerful, and if the quality of these houses is anything to go by, rich and with a LOT of resources at hand... so why turn to catching outsiders for slave labor? They'd probably do things BETTER than a Pryconian or Lutras." he sighed and leaned back, finishing with a bitter tone, "They're just lazy."
Ari nodded, taking another bite. "But would you rather they catch outsiders for slaves, or for food?" she asked him pessimistically.
"Don't talk like that...." Braye looked at her, ears flat. "What happened to the captain... that can't be what they do to all their slaves. I mean, we've seen how much food they can get elsewhere. You cook it- you know better than any of us!" He shrank a little, looking rather displeased with himself for what he had to say next: "You're just being negative."
Ari drooped a little, her ears laying back. "I know... I'm sorry," she told him. "It's just... it's so hard to hold onto happiness or hope here."
"I know..." he sighed, shuffling around to sit beside Ari, "But I'm sure another member of the crew has gotten out already... Pryconians and Felines. Nothing if not sneaky, right?" Braye broke a small smile and put an arm around her, "They'll get help... and come back for the rest of us. Just you wait and see." he turned looked her in the eyes, his smile now honest, "Ari, I promise you, we will get out of here."
Ari accepted the arm, then suddenly turned and hugged him tight, burying her face in his chest fur. She sniffed, and tear rolled down one of her cheeks. A small smile broke through her crowded expression, though. The sincere promise was something that she had needed: something that gave her back hope.
Braye returned the embrace, holding her close. "Nothing bad will happen to you. And if anything tries, they'll have to get through me first." He smiled down at her. "Like... remember that Shark, back home? I tried to beat it off with a stick when it swam towards you. Then we found out it was a Dolphin and the village leader made me scrub algae from all the huts?" He chuckled, releasing his hold on her.
Ari couldn't help but laugh at the memory. "Yeah. I remember Ourek wouldn't speak to you for a week after that," she said, her expression brightening and her ears perking again. The welcome reminiscence was interrupted by the clank of someone opening the door, and she turned to see who it was.
Braye quickly slid away from Ari and sat straight when he saw Tressk enter, this time accompanied by another Reptus, this one a very large male Crocodile. The two had been talking en route to the "servants quarters" and continued on asif the two Lutras weren't even there... though after a few more exchanged words, the Croc grabbed Braye by the arm and pulled him to his feet, staring down at him in silent judgement.
"H-hey!" he yelped, trying to remain on his toes as he arm was yanked up at an unreasonable angle. After some examination, he was released and pushed aside idly, then the Crocodile turned his attentions on Ari. But as soon as he was about to make a grab for her, he was stopped by Tressk and told something in a hushed (by Reptus' standards) tone. The Croc growled, but then just examined Ari without touching. After he seemed satisfied, the two Reptus turned around and exited the way they'd come, once again as if the two Lutras weren't even there...
"What the-!? What was THAT about!?"
Ari stared blankly at the door, one of her ears crooked in puzzlement. "I have no idea..." she said, cocking her head. Whatever it was, it was definitely one of the most patently bizarre things that had happened to them so far.
"You don't think they're planning on selling us on to somebody else this soon, do you?" Braye huffed, rubbing the shoulder of his hopefully-undamaged arm. "We've not even been here a month... did we do something wrong?" He walked over to his bed and sat, looking his arm over carefully. "...Not that I've started to like being here, mind you. I just think I'd prefer here to being owned by that guy!"
"Yeah.... Here, let me take a look at that for you," Ari said, sitting down next to him. She took his arm in her hand and looked at it for a second, then gently started massaging the wrenched muscles.
Braye hissed, resisting the urge to pull his arm away as Ari pressed against the sore muscles of his arm, but he soon relaxed once the initial shock of pain passed and was replaced with a dull ache. "Mm... thanks." he replied. "Gotta wonder why the mast... why Tressk-" Braye wretched a little at the knowledge he'd almost willingly called him master, "-told the bigger guy not to grab you, but didn't so much as look at me when I was grabbed?"
Ari shook her head, still gently kneading his arm. "I'm not sure," she said. "Maybe he just thinks you're hardier than I am." She didn't quite believe Tressk cared that much about either of them, though, but it was the best she could come up with.
"Eh... since when has anything these things do made sense?" he sighed, flexing the joint of his elbow some; it was already starting to feel better.
Ari nodded briskly. "Mmhmm. Our job isn't to understand them, just to do what they tell us to," she said to him. "Is your arm feeling a little better now?"
"Yeah, much. Thanks." He nodded, pulling his arm back and rolling his shoulder. "You've got magic fingers, you know that-?" Braye smiled at her, letting his arm go limp and relaxed. "Thanks again," he repeated, giving her a quick peck on the cheek before standing and walking to the table they'd been seated at before the Reptus' entrance.
Ari blushed and smiled slightly, watching him go out of the corner of her eye. She heard the door sliding open again, and looked over to see Yan enter the room. He'd been ordered out for some odd job or another, and was apparently finished.
Yan quickly made his way to the pool of water at the side of the room, kneeling down at it and wiping himself clean. Even with his already dusty-colored fur, it was easy to tell that Yan was covered in an nondescript dirt from head-to-toe... and quite a bit of it. All Braye could do as he watched was wonder what task (or tasks) the Pryconian boy had been made to do that got him into such a state.
Ari blinked at the boy's filthy condition. What had they made him do? "Um, hi there Yan," she hazarded.
"Mistress wanted me to clean out the oven," was his quick reply as he continued to scrub himself clean. "She wants everything to be perfect for tomorrow; we're gonna have a guest over so he and Master can talk business about something," he continued, oblivious to the huge grin on Braye's face as he ran an image over in his mind. It featured Yan cleaning out a big oven from the inside, and Ssyrn cackling evilly as she slammed it shut on him. It was a little morbid, true, but Braye held on to what little enjoyment he could get. Especially since the "oven" the Cobras had was just a fire pit.
"So they put out the flames, removed the grate, and had you clean out the whole thing-?" he asked, covering his expression.
"Yep. And bring in the wood to relight it."
"Huh... wonder what's special about tomorrow," Ari mused. "Is it some kind of holiday?" she asked the boy.
"Mmnope, not as far as I know... I think Master's planning to buy something from the person who's visiting. I didn't hear much of what they talked about, but he did ask for a price on something!" Yan seemed rather pleased with the clean(er) face reflecting back at him from the water, and got back to his feet. "I think this means we'll all be in the kitchen tomorrow. Master's had important guests before, and they always want a big meal for them!"
"Well, it'll be nice to have some help," Ari said. "It can get kind of lonely, working by yourself all day."
"I like working by myself, though-" Yan retorted, but quickly fell silent as the door opened and Ssyrn slithered in. Her hood markings looked freshly painted, so it was clear that the slaves weren't the only ones making an effort for the sake of appearances.
"I have work for you," she said without so much as a moment passing from her entrance. She pointed to Ari. "You are to prepare the kitchen for tomorrow. There will be much to do, and I need you to begin asss early asss you can." She wasn't very specific with what the 'preparation' entailed. She either expected Ari to know right away, or... no, she just expected Ari to already know. "And you," she gestured to Braye, "The dining hall isss to be scrubbed spotlesss. If so much asss a speck of dust touchesss my floors, you shall regret it." Feeling her duties were done, Ssyrn turned to leave again.
"Uhm... Mistress? What about me?" Yan quickly stepped up, his voice quieter than usual.
"Mm-? Oh... yesss, you...." Ssyrn looked down at him briefly. "Assist them. Do asss they say as if their ordersss came from me," she said boldly, turning away again and leaving. All Yan did was watch her go in silence.
Ari frowned softly, knowing Yan's feelings were hurt. "Here, why don't you help me in the kitchen," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure you know more about what needs to be prepared than I do."
Yan nodded, but didn't give a reply. He just started walking, out of the room and through the halls to the kitchen; he didn't even wait for Ari. Braye watched him go, oblivious to the obvious.
"What's up with him?"
Ari watched Yan go with a deeper frown. "I think his feelings were hurt from the way Ssyrn talked to him," she suggested, then shook her head, standing up. "Whatever's going on, we'd better get to work."
"Alright." Braye nodded, getting up again and walking his way out of the room. It still escaped him how Yan had gotten 'offended' by Ssyrn, since he had always been a slave to them and had always been without value. So why would being told to help himself and Ari be-
He's even lower on the food chain than us...
Ari shook her head and stood up, hoping that her massage had fixed up Braye's arm enough to let him do his work. She was going to be very busy today, it seemed.... She padded out of the room, heading toward the kitchen.
Yan was already busy when Ari got there. As testament to his hard work for the bulk of that day, the oven grate was scrubbed back down to the metal to the point it almost looked polished, and the pit beneath had been cleaned out and had fresh wood ready and in position to be lit. How a little guy like Yan had managed to pull all that off without setting himself aflame was... improbable.
Ari smiled as she came into the room. "Wow, good work, Yan," she said with a smile, looking around the room for the no-doubt-busy Pryconian.
"Thanks." Yan replied dully, walking out of a side room with a small box containing a large heap of... fruit? Ari hadn't been there very long, true, but long enough to know that the Reptus were carnivores. They didn't eat fruit or vegetables.
Ari cocked her head. "Fruit?" she asked. Reptus only ate meat, and SURELY it wasn't meant for them... was it?
"Mmhm. It's for the meal." Yan replied, but he didn't stay in the kitchen (which, as far as Ari knew, was the ONLY place in the house there was ever food, sans the dining area). Instead, he vanished out the door and down a corridor...
Ari watched Yan go, rather puzzled. She realized, unfortunately, that she had almost no idea what she was supposed to do to get the kitchen ready for a big dinner, and hurried off after the boy. After being here as long as he had, surely he knew what was what.
The small Pryconian went through several halls, unknowingly leading Ari to the furthest most rooms of the house. There, predictably, was Tressk, who just-as-predictably snatched the box of fruits from Yan's hands before barking at him to go back to work. The boy obeyed, turning back the way he came as he Master vanished behind the door to a darkened room.
Ari grinned sheepishly at the boy as he turned and saw her. "Ah, there you are," she said, rubbing the back of her head. "Um, you left before I could ask you what all we were supposed to do...."
He blinked up at her, seeming to mull over her question slowly.
"It doesn't matter. There's nothing left that I can't do myself, so you can just... go." He shrugged, walking right past Ari. "Go sleep or something; I dunno."
Ari blinked as he walked past. "Um... o...kay...?" She cocked her head, now completely confused. She sighed and shook her head. "Well, maybe I'll go help Braye then," she said, trying to retrace her steps. "I'm sure he'd be glad for the company."
Braye was indeed feeling very lonely at that moment; the dining hall of the house was rather large, to the point where it echoed the clack of a bucket being placed on the floor roughly. He was busy with what looked to be the Reptus' idea of a mop: a stick with a large sponge tied to the end. It didn't work very well...
Ari turned the corner behind Braye, her padded feet silent on the stone floor. She blinked, and then grinned, stalking silently up behind her preoccupied friend. Once she was a foot behind him.... "Hi there!"
Braye's fur stood on end and he went rigid, the "mop" falling from his hands and clattering on the floor. A long, loud echo filled the air as Braye turned to look at Ari... and tried his best to resist the desire to pick up that sponge-on-a-stick and smite her upside the head with it.
"Hello, there... Ari..." he forced a smile, bending over to pick the mop up.
Ari giggled at his surprise. "Yan said he could handle things in the kitchen, so I wanted to come and see if you needed help," she told him.
"Oh... oh, good." Braye's smile loosened, it no longer being forced. "I could use your help with something, then. I thought of speeding up cleaning this floor by spreading water over the whole thing, then pulling it all back into the bucket along with any dirt it picked up..." The theory was sound, as were most of the things Braye came up with. "Only problem... I can't manipulate the water. I think I've been too tired, lately."
"Here, let me try," Ari suggested. She tried to concentrate, and made a quick gesture, but the water stayed firmly where it was. Ari sighed, leaning against the wall. "I guess neither of us are at our best right now."
"No. No we are not." he sighed, watching Ari, "But it's not going to do us any good mulling over that. If we're caught idling-" he kicked the water bucket, making it sliiide to Ari's feet, splashing her toes, "So to work, girl! Right now! Grrr!" Braye put on his best mock serious face, an obvious attempt to make fun of Tressk. It took all his willpower not to giggle like a child.
Ari laughed, a full, heartfelt laugh. "Yes sir," she said, a pretend meek tone to her voice, taking the sponge-mop and dunking it in the water.
"Well then, get at it!" Braye laughed, going to grab a second mop.
- - -
Their duties for that day went by quickly and with relative ease. Ssyrn and Tressk weren't there to breathe down their necks, for once, so the usual pressure and paranoia that usually followed the two Lutras around was lessened. And with both of them on the same job, things were done a lot faster than usual. So when they returned to their room at the end of the day, they ached less than was usual and still had the energy to resist collapsing on the bed.
Yan returned not long after they did, too, but didn't have the energy to stay awake and so went right to sleep on his bed in the corner. Braye had no sympathy for the boy, but Ari was as sweet as ever and pulled a cover over the sleeping Pryconian.
After tucking the boy in, she sat down on the edge of her bed and smiled at Braye. "Boy, I wish they would put us together more often," she said.
"Yeah... kinda odd that they don't..." Braye muttered, neck-deep in the bathing pool. "They paid a lot for us. They seem to value us... as in monetary value, but it's still value, right?" He shrugged. "So wouldn't it make more sense to have us together? People put all their trophies in one cabinet; they don't scatter them about the house."
Ari shrugged. "Well, maybe that's what dinner tomorrow is going to be about," Ari theorized. "I saw Yan carrying a box of fruit off to Tressk.... Maybe we're eating with them and their guests!"
He examined her in silence for a few moments. "...You seriously think they'll be sharing a table with us and feeding us well?"
Ari shrugged. "Well, we can dream, can't we?" she muttered.
"Mm, I suppose..." he sighed, sinking under the water and resurfacing a few moments later. "So, you gonna join me yet? Even with all that water today, I know you ended up as dried-out as me."
Ari laughed and stood up. "Sure thing," she said, stepping into the pool and sinking down next to him. "Ahh... it's good to be in the water after a hard day's work...."
"Yeah, but it's no substitute for the real thing, eh?" Braye looked out of the barred hole in the wall that let in the river water. He could clearly see the ocean in the distance, but only a thin sliver of it. It looked as though the river that fed the house went over a cliff a few dozen feet from them. "...Huh. We've been here this long, and I've only just noticed that... we're on top of a cliff."
"Huh..." Ari echoed, drifting over next to Braye. "Yeah, the Reptus aren't terribly big on windows, are they?" she muttered. "We haven't left this house since we got here. It's no wonder we didn't know where we are."
"Yanno what's odd-?" Braye asked her. "We've been given free roam of the building. If we wanted to, we could just walk out... and this close to water, we could get away without getting caught." He scratched at his neck, trying to get under his collar. He'd began to itch and tingle suddenly. "You think the Reptus know about this, or...?"
"They probably do," she said, gazing out over the water. "Hence why they let us be as free as we are; they're sure they can keep us from running away...."
"Hm... they'll never make sense, I suppose." he shrugged. "They enslave other races - and probably their own, for all we know - have others work for them rather than actually do something themselves, they seem to rate everyone with a value... I mean, look at us. Bright fabrics, silver collars... and did you see what's in these things-? I swear I saw a gem."
Ari nodded. "And poor Yan's just got ratty clothes and a heavy iron collar," she said with a sympathetic look to the sleeping Pryconian.
"But he doesn't seem to mind much, does he?" Braye shrugged and climbed back out of the water, giving himself a quick shake to get most of it off. Were it not for the fact that he'd be required to mop it all up afterwards, he'd be perfectly happy walking around dripping-wet all day; that's how he felt most comfortable.
Ari relaxed back against the edge of the pool, soaking for a minute more. "He's probably just used to it," she mused. "He did say his parents were slaves too, didn't he?"
"I think he did, yeah... y'think he was on whatever ship his parents were taken from? 'Cause I can't see anyone ever... uhm..." He paused to choose his words carefully. "I can't see anyone ever willingly having a child in this place..."
Ari gave a sigh. "Yeah... bringing a child into someplace like here is like condemning them to slavery yourself," she said. She sighed again, pushing herself up out of the pool. She shook herself off, then flopped down onto her bed.
"He must've been too young to remember coming here... it's a surprise they didn't enjoy him as a snack, either, like they did the captain." He sighed and retreated to his own bed, flopping down on his front. Not only was he comfortable with walking around soaked, Lutras were fine sleeping on soggy sheets.
"Yeah..." she murmured. "I guess it's just as good they didn't, we really needed him to show us what to do."
"Hm. Guess he's not as useless as he looks." Braye gave a small smirk and rolled onto his side, facing towards the blank stone wall. Thinking on it, short of the times when he was being yelled at by Tressk or ignored by Ssyrn, Yan never seemed to get upset or angry. Was he even aware of his situation? Or had he just accepted it?
Ari sighed, rolling onto her back. "Well, we should probably get some sleep," she suggested. "Tomorrow's going to be a busy day."
"Yeah..." Braye yawned, shutting his eyes and curling around himself. "G'night, Ari. Wake me up when you get up... or... yanno, whenever..." he mumbled, drifting off with relative ease. The day had been easier than the norm, but was by no means had actually been easy.