Braye's head was aching... he felt as though he'd run head first into a wall, and a piece of it was still lodged in his skull. Letting out a long groan, he tried to get up off of the ground, but he couldn't move his arms to push himself up. And his legs... it took him a short while to realize that his wrists and ankles were bound.
"Wh... A-Ari-?" he coughed, trying to focus on the world around him. As he rose up into a kneeling position, the image of several people appeared around him, all on the floor with him and bound in similar fashion. Pryconians and a few scattered Felines; it was the rest of the New Empire's crew, "Ari? Ari, where are you?" he blinked dust out of his eyes, trying to take in more. They were in some sort of cage, with thick wooden bars, that was mounted on wheels and being pushed along what felt like a VERY rocky road.
He heard a muzzy groan from behind him. "Urgh... B-Braye?" came the weak response. Braye spun around as fast as he could, seeing a familiar shape lying on the floor of the cage, blinking in disorientation. "My head..." Ari groaned, slowly pushing herself up into a sitting position. "What happened? Where are we?"
"Ari..." Braye shuffled up to her, wishing he had his hands free to help her up, "I... I don't know where we are. Just... take it easy; I think we were attacked and... we're in a cage, Ari..." he gulped. He'd known it as soon as he'd seen it, but saying... saying it made him feel trapped.
Ari looked around as her vision started clearing, and what she saw didn't allay any of her fears. "A cage...?" she gasped. "But... why?" Her eyes widened as her last memories flooded back into her mind. "The... the snake-people?"
"I don't know... I think we were boarded-?" Braye muttered, looking around himself. He and Ari were in the middle of the cage... probably thrown in after everyone else, since they were likely the last ones found. He tried to see past the bars of the cage... and there he saw one of them. Dark green scales covering the bulky form of... but it wasn't one of the snake-things? This one had legs and was, as if the snakes weren't bad enough, even bigger.
Ari followed Braye's gaze, then let out a strangled cry, pushing back against Braye. The scaled thing looked at them and hissed, and she shuddered in fear, looking like she was about to pass out again.
"What are those things even meant to be-?" Braye muttered to himself, trying to at least get comfortable on the wooden base of their cage. It was a difficult task, with his arms tied back in a way they shouldn't go. Whatever their captors were, they obviously knew very little about Lutras or Pryconians. "Well... the Felines mentioned there are other races in the south. Is this one of them-?"
Ari nodded faintly, still staring at their scaled captor. "I have no idea..." she said. "I've never heard of anything like this, at home or on the boat." She shook her head, and then sat back, leaning against Braye, visibly shaking.
"Ari..." Braye shuffled closer, sitting beside her, "Don't panic, you'll worry yourself to death... there're only a few of these things, and a whole shipload of us. They just took us by surprise this time..." he told her, letting her lean against him. At least, I hope this was just a surprise... and that there are only a few...
"Yeah..." Ari nodded softly, and then closed her eyes, leaning her head on his shoulder. "Yeah," she murmured, relaxing slightly. "We'll be fine, right?"
"Right... we just need to last out the worst of it until we can escape, or until we're rescued..." he told her, knowing deep down he was just giving her comforting lies. Admitted, Ari probably knew that, too... but she wasn't stopping him, now, was she?
Ari nodded again, sighing softly and wondering what was about to happen to them...
The cage-wagon jerked, and Ari snapped back to consciousness. She looked around, her eyes feeling a little sleep-muzzled. Her surroundings certainly weren't what they had been before. It looked... almost like a town. "What's going on," she quietly asked her friend.
"We're in a city..." Braye muttered to her, looking scared out of his wits. "There... there are... hundreds of those things. All over the place..." he continued, ears down flat. Everyone else around them seemed to share the mood; terrified, scared of their unknown fate. The big scaled beasts were slithering and stepping around the cage, looking at everyone inside. Those who could see them in the middle of the crowd seemed to take an interest in the two Lutras...
Ari's ears lay back as she looked around them. She sank down toward the floor, not liking having that many slit-pupiled eyes on them. "What... what are they going to do with us?" she whimpered.
The same as they did to the captain, no doubt. Braye thought, but he didn't dare say it. That'd likely give Ari a heart attack. "I dunno... just stay down and stay quiet..."
Ari nodded, hunching down as far as she could and wishing that her hands were unbound so she could hug her friend for comfort.
The big beasts continued on for some time, and every so often one of the Pryconians and Felines was pulled from the cage. Some struggled, to little avail, while others simply let themselves be taken, through fatigue, knowledge that fighting would get them nowhere... or acceptance of their fate. Braye lost track of time as it all happened, but roughly an hour passed as the cage slowly emptied...
Ari saw the others pulled out of the cage with a growing sense of dread. Every person that left was one closer to their turn. Having seen their captors, and their teeth, she knew what was coming for them...
Everyone was slowly taken away, one by one. The last few members of their small prison vanished in the claws of their captors until, inevitably, it was just Braye and Ari sitting together alone. By this point, the surrounding crowds had thinned. There were probably no more than a dozen individuals remaining, and they all had their eyes on the two Lutras...
The cage door opened, and another scaled head looked through. To their horror, it was looking right at the two Lutras. "Come," it growled at them.
Ari scooted backwards, shaking her head nervously. The giant reptile climbed into the cage, stalking over toward them.
"Get back! Now!" Braye growled, trying to get between the approaching captor and Ari. But he had no fight in him, and the sheer difference in size meant that no efforts he could make would do anything. He was easily grabbed and thrown over a shoulder, as was Ari, and they were taken out to the middle of the open square they'd be carted into. They were set upon a small plinth, surrounded by the last dozen or so lizard-beasts.
Ari stood on the platform next to Braye, shaking slightly. She briefly thought about running, but just a look around them showed that it was hopeless; even though there were only about a dozen people waiting around them, they were in the middle of a giant city, full of these things....
One of the creatures in particular was stood beside the two cowering Lutras, shouting something out to the rest of them. The language was... complicated, at least in Braye's eyes, and seemed rather angry and passionate.... Scary as they were, these beasts had an inspiring tone to their voice. Like an army general.
The calling turned into a shouting match, as the "auctioneer" and surrounding buyers all began to call out their bids for Braye and Ari. It seemed like some were interested in just one or the other, while only half seemed to want to take them both together.
Ari scooted next to Braye nervously. "Are they... they're bidding on us," she said softly, not looking too steady on her feet. She'd stumbled into an auction house once before, and seen this kind of thing going on there. "We're going to be someone's dinner for sure...."
"No." Braye shook his head, "Nothing's stupid enough to go this far out of their way for food... we had arms on the ship; some of the crew probably took one of these things out in the struggle. They want us for something else..." he gulped, holding tightly onto Ari's hand. The bidding war had shrunk some... there were only three individuals still in it.
Ari squeezed Braye's hand tight, looking at the dispersing crowd with trepidation. True, she just wanted to go off and collapse, but when this finished, they'd be one step closer to whatever these monsters had in store for them...
Her eyes fell onto the one of the three still betting. It looked like the first of these things they'd seen, but smaller, and it had some sort of hood coming from the top of its head to halfway down its back. It seemed to be the most focused bidder...
The shouting continued for many minutes yet; much longer than it had gone on for any of the others. But why? Were they special? Was it because they were Lutras? Or were the three bidders the last ones there and after the last captives on offer at all costs-? Whatever the reason, Braye didn't like it... even as one of the bidders stomped off, obviously out of the running all that was left was the smaller being, and a huge... Braye had seen one of those before! But... different. It was a Crocodile; he'd seen them in the swamps near northern Menes. But this one was HUGE, and walked on two legs?
Ari looked over the only two left, and sighed. "I wonder who's going to win us," she said, a little despondent.
Things began to slow down; the time between shouts grew longer, and the shouts themselves weren't as loud. Several long minutes past, until the large Croc-creature finally gave in and left. The last one standing was the serpent, who had a very triumphant look upon its cold face.
The reptile standing on the platform with the two Lutras turned to them. He grabbed Ari roughly, and she screamed and struggled wildly, sure she was about to be eaten. The creature looped a chain around her neck and snapped it shut. He released her, keeping hold of the chain, and turned to Braye, holding another one.
Braye growled, but put up no resistance as he was chained in the same fashion; there was little point resisting against something that much bigger and stronger than him. And once the chains were on, the two Lutras found the end of it being handed over to the snake-like being.... This close, Braye was able to assume it was a female. Not that he'd had much to work with- the bigger ones might have been a totally different race.
Ari ceased struggling once the beast let her go, panting from the exertion on top of everything else. She watched sadly as the chains were handed over, realizing that they were leashes. The snake-thing tugged sharply on the chains, almost pulling her over, and having no other choice, she descended from the platform to the side of their new owner.
Braye followed suit, keeping as close to Ari as he could. The snake looked them over more closely now that she(?) had the chance, seeming to take more keen an interest in Ari over Braye. After she seemed satisfied with her "purchase", both the Lutras were pulled along and led off.
Ari followed the snake, stumbling once at a tug when she walked too slowly. She quickened her pace, though still trying to stay as far away from it... her... as she could.
"This one's small..." Braye leaned in and whispered to Ari. "Think we could take it if we tried..?" He was trying to sound hopeful, but failing miserably. Both he and Ari knew they had no way to break loose, let alone fight. And even if they could, they were in the middle of a CITY. Where was safe for them here?
After a long walk through the city - part of which Ari had the unsettling feeling was to show off the snake's newest "possessions" - they came to what she thought looked like a house. It was a low building, made of old, weathered stone. The snake started up the path to the door, leading her captives along.
The first thing Braye had expected to see as they entered the snake's lair was a cold, dark room with a dim fire, littered with bones, but... what he got was very different. It was clean, and rather warm (thanks to a fire burning in the corner of the room, in a dip in the floor). The floor, walls and roof were all tiled and arched; almost like... these WERE Pryconian designs! Braye had seen them all over the ports and towns they'd visited! So why were they here-?
Ari blinked in surprise, honestly not having expected this. She looked around, rather stunned. "Braye... why do they have Pryconian houses here...?" she asked softly.
"I... I dunno..." he mumbled, ears flat as he looked around in confusion. He seemed to be lost in thought, forgetting exactly why they were there, up until a Pryconian turned the corner into the front hall. He was young, but wasn't a member of the crew. No, nobody they knew would have THAT smile on their face in this situation. Least of all with such a heavy-looking collar locked around their neck.
Ari stared at the boy, again surprised. She hadn't been expecting to see anyone, much less someone happy. "Um... h-hello?" she stammered, hoping she wasn't just imagining him.
The Pryconian blinked at them, then smiled even WIDER and began talking to the snake in some weird, angry-sounding tongue, to which the large reptile actually replied with the same tone and expression before handing him the chain that held Ari and Braye.
"Come on. Master wouldn't want you looking all messed-up like that!" he chirped brightly, leading the two Lutras off to another room. At least unlike their previous holder, he didn't pull them... not intentionally, anyway. Regardless, Braye couldn't help just walking behind him in silent confusion, "I'm Yan!"
Ari followed the boy, not having much choice, even more flummoxed by this turn of events. "What.... what's going on here," she asked him.
"Mistress just got you, didn't she?" Yan smiled back at her, "So you get to work for her and master and live here with me, now! Good thing, too! I've been alone here since my parents got too old to keep working, and that was almost a year ago!" He hummed and lead them into one of the far rooms of the (as it could be described) villa of a house. It was somewhat duller than the rest of it, and it had a door that looked like it locked tight. The walls were windowless, except for a row barred skylights on the ceiling, and it was set up rather like a small home. There were four beds, a low table that one knelt at, and two wooden chairs. Across from all that was a pool of water in the floor, with a small channel that went out of a small hole in the wall (through more bars).
"What... w-we're servants here-?" Braye asked, still beyond stringing together any more complex of a sentence than that.
"Yup! Y'are now!"
"B-but..." Ari stammered weakly. Learning for sure that they were going to spend a life in servitude, though, was one shock too many. Her eyes fluttered closed, and her legs gave out under her.
"Ari-!" Braye yelped, almost tripping over in his rush to catch her. Unfortunately, still bound by the wrists, there was nothing he could do except fight to not get pulled down with her, "Y-you, Yan, help her up!" he snapped. The young Pryconian seemed confused as to WHY Ari had passed out on the spot, but he was quick to sit her up and untie her binds. "Get her into the water," Braye told him.
"Yessir." Yan nodded, sliding Ari into the small pool feet-first until she was submerged to the chest. Braye figured getting back into the water would at least calm her down, while the chill would wake her up.
Ari groaned softly, then shifted, and her eyes slowly blinked open. She looked up, squeaked at seeing the boy above her, splashing around to the other side of the pool in her startlement. "Whuh...?" she panted.
"Ari, calm d- would you get these things off of me!?" Braye snapped at Yan, who without hesitation untied the Lutras' binds for him, "Thank you..." he then sighed, slowly lowering himself into the water. He didn't feel like saying another lie like "it'll be okay" nor did he want to tell Ari to calm down. All he did was stand there in the water, looking at her with his arms open.
Ari sprang up, burying Braye in a tight hug. "I'm so scared..." she said in a wavering voice. "What's going to happen to us....?"
"I don't know..." was all Braye could tell her as he held on tight.
- - -
They never saw their "buyer" for the rest of the day after that- Ari and Braye seemed to have been placed under the command of Yan, who spent most of his time filling them in on the information they'd need. First thing they learned was what the huge scaled beasts were called- the Reptus -and that the two individuals who currently owned them were known as Cobras. What they had in mind for Ari and Braye was unclear, even to Yan, but he managed to instruct them in looking reasonable in his masters' eyes. Once they'd cleaned themselves off, freeing themselves of several hours’ worth of dust and assorted dirts, they were brought two outfits to wear. Braye's was just a cloth belt with two sheets of fabric hanging down, one at the front to his knees, and another that rested over the base of his tail. Ari got this, plus another sheet of material to wrap around her chest. From that point, Yan deemed them "acceptable", and they were just left waiting for whatever the Cobras had in store for them.
"I don't like this..." Braye muttered, sitting on one of the beds and leaning against the wall. Some time had gone by and it was already getting close to dusk. Yan had ran off somewhere to see to his masters' needs in his constant disturbingly-pleasant manner, and it was just he and Ari left in the locked room, "Look at us... they expect us to be willing servants or something? After all of that?"
Ari shook her head, looking down at the "clothes" they were forced to wear. "I don't know," she said softly. "But do we really have a choice? I don't think these 'Reptus' would have any problem just getting rid of us...."
"...So we don't have a choice?" Braye growled to himself, thinking their situation over for what felt like the hundredth time that day. "We stay, we do what these freaks tell us, and then likely get eaten when they're done with us... or we try and break free, and likely get cut down before we even get to the nearest river...." He sighed. "...Let's just play along with what they say, for now. We'll probably get a chance to run eventually... right?"
Ari nodded, sitting down next to him. "Yeah, and once we do, we'll get out," she said, trying to smile hopefully, for her own sake as much as his.
Braye put an arm around her, nodding. Just how much of what they were telling each other did they believe themselves-?
"Braaaye! Ari!" Yan's chipper voice called out as the bolt on the door clanked open. The young Pryconian stepped in, holding two collars of similar design to his own in his hands. Braye was about to tell him to get away from them with those things... but the words escaped him when two figures followed through the door. One was the "mistress" of the house, the female Cobra who'd purchased them. The other... was the master. A much larger being that looked as though one wrong movement would cause a muscle to break through his thin, scaled skin.
Ari blinked in fear as she saw the giant cobra approach. It seemed bigger than anything she'd ever seen. The two Reptus approached the cage, and the male looked over their newest acquisitions. He spoke quickly to the smaller cobra, and then growled a harsh command at Yan.
Yan nodded and gave a single quick word in response, then stepped up to Ari and Braye and held out the metal collars.
"He wants you to put these on. They're good ones, too! All I got was a plain metal one," he told them. Not wanting to disobey and incur the wrath of the huge beast towering over them, Braye took the collar he was offered. It was heavy (probably enough to leave his shoulders in pain at the end of a day if this was meant to be worn constantly), but also oddly intricate. The metal was polished, and there was something carved on it in what Braye assumed was the Reptus' language. As he raised it to his neck to snap it on, he noticed something... if he took his time, he'd likely get shouted at or worse, so he put it on, but Braye could have sworn there was a large cut gem set into the inside of the collar!
Ari slipped the collar on unwillingly, knowing what it meant. She was their slave now, and they owned her.... She sighed sadly, looking over at Braye and seeing the collar around his neck as well. Despite her mood, she was a little curious about the designs. "What... is that on the front?" she asked Yan softly.
"Those're your names!" Yan smiled at her. "Well, as close as. There's no 'Ari and Braye' in the Reptus language, so we went for the two closest words we could." It was at this point he pronounced two words that sounded like the Lutras' names, but distorted slightly and in the same passionate tones as the he'd used to speak with his masters. "They mean Sky and River! Lucky you!"
"Yeah... real lucky..." Braye mumbled bitterly, trying to adjust his collar into a comfortable position on his shoulders. He kept this up until he realized there WAS no comfortable position for a heavy chunk of metal.
Ari looked over herself and Braye again, eyes widening as she realized something. Yan was wearing an iron collar, and a worn cloth, with a faded version of the paintings on the cobras' hoods on it. By contrast, the two Lutras were dressed splendidly: their clothes, though simple, were very fine, embroidered and decorated brightly with their new owner's mark, and their collars were delicately engraved, and looked more silver than iron. "Why are our clothes are so different from yours?" Ari asked the boy.
Yan blinked at them and looked at their clothes before examining his own. His smile went for a moment, but more from trying to think rather than his mood changing. He turned to ask his masters presumably the same question, first choosing to address the male Cobra.
The snake growled a response back at the boy, quick and gruff. He hardly even spared the boy a glance as he answered.
The only response Yan gave to that was a quiet yelp as he backed off to the side, out of the way. Much as Braye disliked him, even he couldn't help feeling sorry for the boy... probably moreso if he'd known what the Cobra had said.
The female gave Yan a brief glance, her expression (from Braye's point of view) almost... pleasant? Happy? Like how a woman would smile at her small pet. She then turned to face what was likely her husband and told him something, before slithering up to Ari and Braye. She examined them both from a distance, as if judging them for something, then turned to the door and made a motion for Ari to follow her.
Ari looked plaintively at Braye, and then hesitantly stepped forward. Resisting would only get her in trouble, and with that behemoth here, she didn't want to find out what trouble was.
Braye watched Ari go, his insides going cold as thoughts of what might be about to happen to her ran through his mind... and as soon as the two Cobra, Ari, and Yan had all left the room, and the door slammed shut with the sound of the lock closing, he fell onto his knees in a silent panic.
- - -
The female Cobra lead Ari off on a separate corridor to Yan and his master, and pretty soon the two of them were alone. The Reptus looked back at Ari as they walked (well, walked and slithered), watching her closely.
"You are ssscared, girl?"
Ari's eyes widened in surprise, and she almost stumbled; she hadn't expected her captor to speak her language! "Y-yes..." she stammered.
"You need not be." she told her, turning her attentions dead-ahead once more, "Your name. Ari, yesss?" her voice trailed off into a hiss, "Mine is Ssyrn, but you are to refer to me asss Mistresss and nothing more. Understood?" Ssyrn's voice was softer in Ari's tongue than it was in her own, but she still had the same passion under it. Slight anger, or almost like a person speaking after a great personal victory.
"Y-yes...." Ari paused and closed her eyes. The words almost had to be pried out of her mouth: "Mistress..." she said, almost inaudibly.
"Good girl." Ssyrn smiled, though on her scaly features it was a frightening sight to behold. They were soon in what looked to be a kitchen of some construction, but the "oven" was just a fire pit with a metal grate over it... it looked big enough to cook a whole man. "You shall be working here so long asss you are with usss until instructed to do otherwissse." she turned to face Ari, "Can you cook?" she gestured to a low-rimmed box containing fish that looked to be very fresh, as well as a nameless meat. To most it would look like pork... and to most, they'd be happier assuming it was.
Ari looked around the room in wonderment, not having seen anything like this before. At Ssyrn's question, she looked back at the cobra. "O-only a little," she said hesitantly. "I've only ever cooked fish before...."
"That shall do. You shall learn," the Cobra told her, turning to look Ari in the eyes. "You shall have free roam of the property while you are here, but I order you right here and now to never leave without my or my husband'sss permission." as she spoke, Ari's collar seemed to tingle. "Any other ordersss we give you are to be seen to asss needed. Do you understand?"
Ari couldn't help but stare back into the yellow, slit-pupiled eyes. "Y-yes, I understand..." she said.
"Good girl." Ssyrn smiled, running a clawed finger up Ari's chin, almost a gesture of affection. It was starting to become apparent that not only did the Mistress view Ari and other slaves as servants, but also as pets. "Now, you have no work for today. You are to make yourself familiar with the groundsss, then retire to your room. My husband isss instructing your companion of thessse same rulesss."
Ari had to try not to flinch at the cobra's touch; despite the fact that her... her mistress had shown no intention of harming her, it was still hard to shake the certainty that she was about to be skinned and eaten. Ari nodded. "All right," she replied.
- - -
Ari collapsed into her bed with a groan, hardly caring what the bed was. After Ssyrn had left her, she had wandered through the villa, trying to find out where and what everything was. She had quickly run into Braye, and the two of them had stuck together as they explored for the rest of the day. Now, though, she just wanted to rest. She was utterly exhausted, physically and mentally. The only rest she'd had was when she had passed out from the sheer strain of it all, which hardly helped. When she hadn't been physically moving, she'd been emotionally strained and on edge, for hours on end. She just wanted to fall asleep and not wake up for a week...
Braye took the bed closest to Ari (and furthest from Yan, who was already asleep in his own). He discarded his clothes - if you could call them such - with much fervor, but set them aside neatly lest being seen in ragged attire got him twenty lashes... or worse.
"At the very least, this wasn't as bad as we were expecting, right?" he said weakly collapsing onto his straw-stuffed mattress like it was the most comfortable thing on the planet at that moment. "We're not in chains, though these collars aren't exactly pleasant, and I think if we're safe from getting eaten.... When I fell behind, keeping up with the big guy, he looked as though he wanted to hit me, but he resisted." Braye was tired, confused, scared... a lot of things. But even then, he was trying to lighten an otherwise horrible situation. "I think if we do as we're told, nothing bad'll happen to us. We might even get a window to escape."
Ari nodded tiredly. "Yeah, I don't think they want to hurt us," she murmured. "...It feels weird to say it, but... I got the feeling that the woman, Ssyrn... she might like us...." She sighed and shook her head. "I never wanted to be a slave, but it looks like we're stuck," she said, as much to herself as to Braye. "Might as well cooperate with them.... At least we won't get in trouble that way."
"Right..." he nodded, letting out a long yawn, "Ssyrn... the female? Thanks for the name. The male's is Tressk, but we're only meant to call him Master..." Braye yawned again - he wouldn't be able to stay awake much longer, "Let's... let's just sleep while we can, mm?" and without so much as awaiting Ari's reply, Braye was out like a light.