Chapter 2, part 1

In which the cat eats the canary, and chokes on it.

Dev had only taken a few steps away from the door upstairs when Kain fell in beside her. She didn’t bother glancing at him, simply adjusted her pace to head for the resting room that she and Naj had occupied a little earlier.

As always, having him walk beside her sparked her annoyance. It was hard not to walk next to a man that stood over six and a half feet tall and not feel dwarfed, no matter that she was only a few inches shy of six-foot herself. Feeling small always made her feel childlike and vulnerable, something she abhorred.

It didn’t help that his smile always seemed so damned smug. It made it feel like how close he walked was deliberate, escalating how aggravated she felt with his presence. She felt like he was laughing at her most of the time.

It certainly didn’t help that he often chuckled for no discernible reason.

He followed her into the resting room, striding past her to flop dramatically onto the same couch she’d occupied earlier. One knee came up onto the cushion, an arm took one armrest and the other took most of the back. The sprawl did not help him look any smaller.

She scowled at him as she shut the door behind her. He didn’t bother with the lights, so neither would she. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t both see just fine in darkness thicker than this. Kain’s eyes caught the now dimmed backstage lighting, flashing with a predator’s reflective gleam. He blinked slowly, disappearing in the low light as he calmly waited for her to get on with it. Such a great, lazy cat. It was hard to believe that such indolence was actually left in charge of running the nest most of the time.

He was still dressed in the flowing purple pants that was part of one of his tribal costumes. The rich color popped against the near true black of his skin, the brightness of the fabric making his complexion seem darker by comparison. A grin split his lips, black eyes alight with amusement.

She was a little surprised that he hadn’t flashed spots at her over her thinking him a lazy cat. His grin widened. Dev folded her arms over her chest in defense. While she could shut him out of her thoughts completely, it was an effort of energy she didn’t like having to spend.

“We have a new dancer.”

The grin didn’t vanish, as much as she’d hoped she had caught him off guard. He eyed her from where he lay, waiting for the punchline. “So I heard.”

“I’m sure you did. He’s a serpent.”

“Mhmm…” He tone took on a bored note, his gaze scanning the floor as if it were interesting.

Dev scowled. “A red cobra even.”

That caught his attention. It was simply in the way his breath paused, his eyes staring at a fixed point. He sat up, attention finally coming back to her.

This time she felt the satisfaction that she’d been seeking as his grin began to fade. “Cobra? You’re certain he’s not just a viper?”

She made a face at him. “I’ll be sorely dismayed if the new dancer is a liar on top of being feral – he showed red scale and named himself cobra.”

“Which reminds me – does the name Naja Pallida ring a bell with you? Or the word Aezir?” Anyone else and she wouldn’t have bothered asking, but Kain was ancient and full of random tidbits that sometimes came in handy.

Now was clearly one of the times she could be glad she suffered the lazy cat. He swung his leg off the couch, fingers lacing as he leaned forward.

“Aezir? What about him?” His expression was as dark and serious as she ever saw it. Which was intriguing to say the least.

“He mentioned the name when he was introducing himself in the old tongue, but I barely kept up with it when it was still pertinent. All I caught was his name and this… Aezir. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it at the time.”

Kain made a rude sound low in his throat. “I would expect a demon to recognize the name of one of the Ahn’Ki Dai’s more prominent summoners.”

Whatever joy she’d been taking from their conversation fled. She didn’t like it when Kain gained the upper hand in their discussions, but this blindside was a bit much, even for him. It was true though. Now that he’d named the organization, she could remember hearing other demons whisper the name of a summoner that always seemed to survive, century after century, in a profession where lifetimes were often measured in decades.

“Dai.” Her jaw worked as she suddenly thought harder about who – or what – she had just let into the nest. “That organization was destroyed centuries ago.”

“But Dai themselves are like cockroaches, someone always survives.” Kain’s tone held disgust and she briefly wondered what experience he’d had with the meddlers. The curiosity faded as quickly as it came.

“The serpents they tamed were little more than tools – you really think one survived its master?”

Kain hummed, but didn’t divulge whatever thought that sparked. She frowned at him. “Or do you think that means this Aezir is still alive and lurking nearby? How much of a threat is this Naj?”

The great cat’s eyes fell to the floor again. She waited.

Finally he sighed, the sound coming as if from the earth itself as his shoulders heaved. “I don’t think Aezir is a problem – nor do I think this serpent – Naj, you called him? – is a threat. He made an oath and it was not one a serpent would make lightly.”

Dev’s frown deepened. The oath that Naj had made earlier tonight? She couldn’t tell how much was eavesdropping from the cat and how much was just pulling it from her thoughts. Neither option sat well with her, but if he said the serpent wasn’t a threat… Well, he’d put more into this nest than she had.

“So you think it’s a coincidence that a summoner’s tool shows up to join the nest the same night that Az sends me the message that he’ll see me soon?”

The silence seemed to grow impossibly deep. If she hadn’t felt his presence across the darkened room, she might have wondered if she’d scared him off.

“He’s free?” Kain’s voice was soft and she could feel the tightness begin at the corner of her eyes.

“He shouldn’t be – his… punishment should have lasted another fifty years.” For some reason, she didn’t want to look at him as she admitted it. It wouldn’t make that fact more or less true. It didn’t make it any easier to say either. She felt the first wash of fear slip down her spine.

“But he is.” Kain sounded as unhappy about it as she was – something she knew wasn’t possible. He’d never been at Az’s tender mercies at all, let alone for centuries as she had… She shook her head abruptly and stood, turning on the spot to cross her arms over her chest defensively.

The action didn’t make her feel any better either. Nothing would touch that pit of ice Az had left in her stomach. Maybe when she saw him again he would make it a reality…

“Stop, Dev. There’s no point in torturing yourself before he makes his move – you’ve said it before, his attention span is worse than a child filled with sugar. It may be another century before he remembers you’re here again.”

She sighed, the force of his voice giving her something else to focus on. Her response was hushed. “I know.”

“Then focus on what we can do right now. There’s a new dancer.” He laughed, a harsh bark that drew her gaze up to see him shake his head. He spread his hands wide, but she didn’t see the point of the gesture. “Even if he was Dai, he’s a dancer now. The organization is dead and we all have skeletons in our closets, Dev.”

Dev made a face, but before she could counter him, he had stood. Kain stepped forward, a smile beginning to twitch at his lips. Nothing kept him somber for long. “Not to mention – You’re calling Nica home.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” Despite it being her idea, she was less than thrilled with the actual prospect of it.

“More than crossed – you’ve already decided to tell her there’s a serpent in the nest again.” He laughed again, this time letting it rumble around in his wide chest. “You’ll have to do better than that. When my hawklet runs, she doesn’t do it by halves. A lost, cold serpent will do nicely though, especially if you pair it with a possible threat to the nest. Pull at enough of her responsible, protective strings and she’ll have no choice but to fly home.”

Dev gave him a dubious look. “You really think she hasn’t written us off completely? It’s been two years, Kain, and she hasn’t looked back once.”

That sobered his humor and he sighed, relaxing back against the wall. He shook his head, giving her a dubious look. “If you truly think she hasn’t looked back, then you haven’t learned a thing about her, Dev. She’ll have spent every waking moment rethinking herself and second guessing her decision and wondering how everyone is doing without her micromanaging. Give her a reason to come home and she’ll jump at the chance.”

“She’s been free to come home since she left, but I don’t see her.”

“True, she’s almost as prideful as you.” She glanced up in time to see a brief smile reappear on his lips. He curled a hand as he continued. “She’ll feel she’s made a mistake, and that will eat at her. This frees her of the awkward, absentee return and makes it into a responsibility that she cannot ignore.”

“You have a lot of faith in someone who abandoned her duties in your lap at our darkest point.” She didn’t hide the scorn she felt. She never did with Kain. There was really no point, when he would know exactly what she was thinking anyway.

“And you have too little.” He sighed, letting a bit of his disappointment show. “You still don’t understand her, even after all these years of running Asylum together. She feels directly responsible, Dev. For her, that is a burden too heavy to bear.”

She could practically hear him bite back whatever he’d been about to say. Dev debated asking, but it was of so little importance, she let it go instead. She hated it when the cat was cryptic, and indulging him only encouraged that behavior.

Instead, she sighed heavily. “Fine. She had her reasons, we’ll agree to disagree on whether they’re legitimate or not. What matters is that you think I should tell her about Az’s threat – you really think that will seal the deal on her return?”

Hell knew she would have run in the opposite direction if she thought there was a corner on Earth that could hide her from Azriel.

“I think if you pair it with the promise of rehabilitating a serpent, it’s foolproof. Threat and reward, Dev.” He smiled at her obvious disgust.

“I’ll never understand why everyone loves serpents – don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the creatures, but they’re not that fascinating.”

Kain chuckled. “But they are the most familiar to Nica. Raised by them, taught by them… That is where she feels most comfortable. Why do you think she ran to Ariella’s nest when she needed comfort?”

“And Marie?”

“Do you really care?” A grin spread across his face as he teased her.

A moment’s hesitation and she shrugged. “Not really.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Previous: Chapter 1 part 4                                                                                                                    Next: Chapter 2 part 2

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Language Play: Goddess blessing

When Naj meets his fellow dancers, he uses a traditional pri’mn greeting. “Li’Daea’mn yt ki’n, ÿ’arieÿ’ehna.” Immediately afterward in the text, I offered this loose translation: May the Goddess’s blessings sing to your souls. As you might have suspected, it’s not quite that simple. Let’s break it down.

Li’Daea I’m hoping by now you’ve all come to recognize this one. Li’Daea, from Li and Daeos brought together in a more poetic form to be a specific goddess’s name, rather than just “Light God”. She’d pretty much “The Goddess” of serpent mythology, though she’s recognized in many other shifter pantheons too. But if a serpent is talking about deity, they’re most likely talking about this one.

mn yt ki’n With it’s little apostrophe attaching it to Li’Daea, the pri’mn word for music is given specificity: Li’Daea’s song. In this music worshiping culture, “song” carries a lot of weight with it, especially as it’s followed up with a mention to ki’n, an artist’s passion or inspiration. In serpent terms, mn yt ki’n could be translated to mean “heart and soul”.

ÿ And this is where things get messy. You might remember from the forms of address video the a’ e’ o‘ and eij‘. These are gonna color pretty much everything else you hear in pri’mn, because they set the tone of what’s being said, and can sometimes drastically change the message’s meaning. English doesn’t always have a tidy solution for pri’mn grammar (seriously, all these apostrophes and dashes drive me crazy, cause they don’t always mean the same thing) and the divine mode of address is one of these messy places. eij has that funny j in it because that’s how my brain tried to related the character to me. The ÿ seen here is another such attempt. I’m not totally clear on what makes this reference gods and the lesser eij simply reference super respect, and I’ve honestly not pestered my characters about it too much. Deity address will happen so rarely, and there’s so much else about this language that I barely grasp, that I decided it wasn’t too important. Just know that when ÿ shows up, it means the most serious of business.

’arieÿ arieÿ is a conjugation of aria, which is a verb that loosely means “to sing into being”. It’s the m equivalent of aret, to dance into being. While the serpents who speak this don’t know it, the fact that this blessing uses aria instead of aret shows that it comes from a culture when song magic was just as prevalent–or maybe even more important– than dance magic. In our modern era, that would point to the avians. Hmmm….

’ehna And lastly, the receiving end of said blessing. Since Naj is using ehna, it tells us he’s either a) Not deviating from the standard usage as it’s most likely to be recognized that way or b) isn’t comfortable using a more familiar ending like ohna, indicating closeness while maintaining a “proper” form, a more relaxed but still respectful e, or the  most relaxed, a simple o.

Chapter 1, part 4

In which dancers show their colors, and Maleo shows his ass.

They stopped just beyond the hallway entrance and a few dancers looked up with interest, pausing in what they were doing to await introductions.

“This is Naj, a serpent who’ll be dancing with us for a while. Naj, I’d like to introduce a few of my dancers – Gwendolyn,” a tall, lithe blonde nodded in his direction as she moved towards the hallway opposite from them, her pale shoulder flashing tawny tiger stripes before she slinked from view.

“Travis,” a tanned youth at the counter grinned around the slice of pizza he was stuffing into his mouth. His broad shoulders shrugged sheepishly before dark grey fur rippled across his muscled arms. He grinned, but thankfully, didn’t try to speak.

“Maleo,” she gestured to a golden skinned man on the stairs who scowled at Naj as black feathers rose from his head in a warning, making his dark hair stand on end with their motion.

Naj didn’t know what to make of the dancers’ greetings. He was elated to see the old practice of declaring the colors of their second skins, but he still hadn’t quite recovered from the burn out of opening his aura earlier, and without that cue to guide him… The tigress’s quick retreat and the avian’s obvious annoyance gave him pause. The wolf seemed open enough, but it wasn’t wise to interrupt a wolf who was eating… Naj fell back, the first doubt creeping into his heart. But Dev drew his attention along to a pair of dancers curled up together on the couch, who smiled and were much warmer.

“Natalia,” a dark skinned brunette lounging on the farthest couch raised her head and her hand, which lightened in places revealing the odd splotchy coloration of an African wild dog, “and in her lap is Marie.” The redhead cuddling a fur to her chest rolled off Natalia’s lap to bound across the room to them. As she moved, the fur she’d been cradling swayed behind her, revealing the large fluffy tail of a red fox. She was petite, standing just over five foot, with a trim frame. Her unruly red hair fell past her shoulders and the amber eyes of her animal form gazed up at Naj with a friendly grin. She held out her hand to him, the other hand tucking behind her back in a show of restraint.

She hadn’t missed Dev’s warning look and had adjusted her greeting accordingly.

“I’m Marie, happy to meet you. If you ever need good warm cuddles, I’m your girl.” She shrugged a shoulder as her grin widened to wrinkle her nose. “My temp runs higher than most, so I’m kinda the unofficial group space heater.”

Naj took the tiny fox’s outstretched hand by the wrist, only pausing a moment to marvel at how hot her skin was. He touched her palm to his heart, an old gesture of harmlessness and yielding. Warmth spread across his chest, and he released her with a wistful sigh. Naj took a step back, to include the whole room. He pressed a red-scaled fist to his chest, then gave a small bow to the people who were opening their home to him.

“Li’Daea’mn yt ki’n, ÿ’arieÿ’ehna.”

May the Goddess’s blessings sing to your souls.

Mal gave him a disgusted look as Marie released a high pitched noise and launched herself at the serpent as he stood up out of the bow. Dev rolled her eyes and stepped back. She’d known the girl wouldn’t be able to contain herself for long. From the other side of the room, Natalia’s rich laugh grew closer as she stood to join them.

Marie wrapped her arms around Naj’s neck, cuddling into him even as her feet threatened to leave the ground with their height difference. Her voice continued, though dropping a bit in pitch as she murmured at him. The exact words were lost to her face buried in his neck, but the idea of being welcomed and being glad he was here was clear.

Naj froze, back almost straightened, but not quite. Once he felt the small woman’s feet leave the ground, he’d been unsure of what to do. But she seemed happy enough to be there, and her welcoming words reassured him as her heat washed over him. He let his knees soften and sunk gracefully into a kneeling position, so that they were closer to face to face. He could feel the line of her body, heat spilling around her to fill the space between them. Such a warm welcome. He chuckled softly at his own cleverness and said the words out loud to his diminutive welcome wagon.

A renewed, but quieter squeal of delight devolved into a giggle at his words. She let her feet take most of her body weight again and leaned back a bit when she felt Nat move closer.

Dev touched Naj’s shoulder briefly to get his attention. “There are a few things I still need to take care of, but if you need anything, feel free to ask.” After she glanced at Natalia, she added, “Nat and Marie can help you finish settling in.”

His eyes found her eyes slowly, mind already retreating from the press of so much goings on. The warmth of the little fox called to his serpent like a sunning rock, and the serpent mind had had quite enough, and was ready to sleep since they’d eaten. Lost in the fox’s embrace, it would be so very easy to sleep…

He shook his head, bringing himself back. Dev was speaking. She was leaving. Her eyes moved to the other woman and Naj followed. Natalia was a darker, taller copy of the fox that held him, dark hair loose in an equally glorious mane, blending into her rich skin, except for the golden highlights in the front that drew his gaze to her soft eyes. Naj nodded to her slowly, though he couldn’t remember why he had needed to nod in the first place…

Sure that Naj was being left in Natalia’s capable hands and knowing she would keep Marie from overwhelming him, Dev turned to head back upstairs. As she passed Maleo though, she paused. When he didn’t look away from the spectacle of the fox and the serpent, she touched his shoulder hard enough that he had to continue the turn and look at her. It was a grudging glance and she didn’t like that he didn’t bother hiding his distaste.

“Behave yourself. I won’t have any fighting down here, especially not with the new serpent.” Her voice was quiet, deliberately pitched to keep those further downstairs from hearing her warning.

Mal didn’t bother looking ashamed that she’d noticed. He took a breath and shuddered, letting his feathers settle back into place along his scalp and neck. His golden eyes flicked back to the scene below them.

“I mean it, Mal. If your jealousy is going to be an issue, find somewhere else to sleep tonight.”

He pressed his thin lips together, the lack of color making it seem as if they’d vanished. When he answered, his voice was tight and low with effort. “I know the rules.”

Dev leaned closer, nearly hissing in his ear. “I know you do, but that didn’t stop you from harassing Jax. This one has enough to deal with without adding your childishness to it.”

Warning issued, she continued upstairs, satisfied that he would listen. There was a brief moment of voices murmuring down from backstage, and then all was quiet again.

Previous: Chapter 1 part 3                                                                                                               Next: Chapter 2 part 1

Character Art: Naj

Lookie look! Another picture!

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Those of you who’ve seen my past work on RaevenlyWrites know that I’ve done TONS of sketches of Naj. There’s just something about his face that I’ve never been able to nail down. Most of past work plays with shadows, but I wanted to do something cleaner because I hope to get some character pages up at some point. I just need to do more clean shots of some other people. If there’s anyone in particular you’d like to see next, drop me a line in the comments. 🙂

Chapter 1, part 3

In which Naj is shown around, and daily life is explained.

Dev glanced at the door that would lead to the backstage area and the dancers therein. At the thought, she could almost feel the chaos of the space vibrating through the door. With the show ongoing, the likelihood of anyone taking the time to investigate the stranger with her was low. But the likelihood of them all being manic on performance energy was high. She pursed her lips, briefly wondering if she shouldn’t just leave the new serpent here until things had quieted downstairs. But she didn’t want to leave him alone yet either. If he was a recovering feral, and slipped into his magic, getting him to return could be problematic. Damned if you do, damned if you—She chuckled to herself at the inadvertent witticism, then she reached for the door. To waylay the questioning glance he gave her, she added, “Backstage will be chaotic right now and introducing a new arrival would only make it worse. We’ll keep the tour up here brief and focus on the downstairs living area until the performance is actually over.” She reached out and patted his arm, in what she hoped was a reassuring way. It was always so much harder to keep up a stage persona with serpents and other aura-sensitive races. Had to smile inside and out.

Heat flooded through him, radiating from her hand on his arm. He could hear the life pump through her, feel her vitality pulse off her body. After so many centuries in the cold company of the Dai, surrounded by ghosts with their every thought and emotions locked down… Even if her warmth was from annoyance, it was the sweetest thing, to be touched by someone alive, someone capable of showing signs of anger, passion, sorrow. He almost missed the fact that she was cautioning him, her words lost to the feeling of her emotions.

The vibrancy of this nest would take some adjusting to, certainly, but he was looking forward to the challenge of it. If drowning in her annoyance had thrilled him, well – he couldn’t imagine how much sweeter being caught up in a nestmate’s joy might be.

He grinned at her, excitement at the prospect getting the better of him.

“I think I should like to meet these enthusiastic dancers.”

“All in good time.”

Great. He was dreamy and doey eyed already. The sooner he was tucked safely downstairs behind the wards, the better. If he got overwhelmed and shifted, she’d rather he do it out of sight.

As they moved down the hallway, Dev paused by a door on the right. “This leads back out to the main floor. The door we came in to enter the resting room from the main floor is usually kept locked, this will be the door to use when you need access to the club proper or the bar.”

She kept walking, pausing again when she reached the end of the hallway. From here, they could see most of the backstage area, full of clothing racks, random stage props, and people milling about in colorful clothing. A few glanced their way, but Dev shook her head and they all returned to what they were originally doing.

“The curtains on the right are the entrances to the stage itself. To the left you’ll find various dressing rooms and bathrooms. If you need privacy for whatever reason, I suggest using the room we just left.”

Naj nodded, pleased to see the space so open and full of life. Privacy was almost a foreign concept to serpent-kin; there was little point to hiding what everyone could plainly taste in your emotions. The fact that these dancers seemed just as open, despite none of them being serpent, made Naj feel more at home already.

He sipped at the emotional auras that brushed him as they passed, feeling the expected blend of curiosity, excitement, and distraction humming against his skin. He relaxed his own aura, letting it billow around him in a more naturally serpent way. It left him feeling light-headed and disconnected from himself, but grounded more firmly in the nest as a whole. Every dancer shone like a brilliant beacon, burning with ki’n. Echoes of the past layered on themselves in a mad riot– performances, rehearsals, fights and trysts, nervousness, failures, triumphs and celebrations all shouting at him, and all of that was nothing compared to the dancers themselves. Taking in that much at once was enough to leave his senses dazed, like staring too long into the sun. Immediately, his aura clamped back down against his skin, clinging to him like a frightened child.

It had only been for a moment, but in that moment, he felt like himself again.

Dev was moving on, harder to pick out now that he couldn’t follow her aura among the rest. Relying on eyes alone, he would quickly lose her in this mad dervish of activity, so even though he was still reeling, he urged himself forward to keep on her heels.

During a lull in the backstage action, she moved them straight across the bustling room to another door on the far side. This door had a strange design engraved above the doorknob and as she touched the knob, the design warmed under her free hand.

“Security here is taken very seriously. This symbol is connected to a ward that only allows specified people downstairs.” She didn’t turn to look at him as she spoke, keeping her attention on the door. It took little effort for her to sweep through his aura, letting his energy mark the symbol. “Now it will recognize you as someone who belongs downstairs. It’s meant to keep outside influences out of the most private of spaces here.”

Seth jerked back from the feel of her magic brushing over their aura, but relaxed into it when it became clear the demon wasn’t reading what she was sampling. It was merely an identifying tag. Naj was still headblind from his little experiment backstage, so Seth felt confident he wouldn’t notice as Seth slipped a piece of his own aura along with Naj’s. Now there would be no trouble getting downstairs later. With any luck, it would be a moot point, but better safe than sorry.

The door opened to reveal a short flight of stairs, lit dimly by small wall lights. Dev descended the stairs first, trusting Naj would follow. At the bottom, the steps opened into a large room, split partway back by a counter and bar stools. The front two thirds of the room were defined by large overstuffed sofas and cushions strewn about the floor. Blankets were tossed haphazardly in a few places. There was a large TV and shelves filled with movies and books to either side. A few instruments revealed that someone had clearly been playing before the night’s performances.

“This is the Great Room, and the kitchen just beyond it. A lot of free time is spent in this space, during meals or simply lounging – they always seem to be watching something when I come down here.”

The back third of the room held an open kitchen, punctuated by a large kitchen table and seating for ten. Behind the table were a sizable refrigerator and separate freezer unit. Dev was exasperated to see the messy remnants of the pizza that they’d clearly ordered from Roman’s earlier. The evidence had been left splayed over half the kitchen bar. It wasn’t normally so unkempt when she came down here.

Naj peered about the space, hardly recognizing anything he saw there. His last clear memories were of a time when horse and buggy and gas light were the norm, but he had hints and pieces of the times changing around him. He remembered automobiles, distantly, and radio, but nothing in the Great Room was familiar to him, save the cushions on the floor and various musical instruments scattered about the room. Those were a comfort to him. The more things changed, the more some things stayed the same. Right down the chaotic state the dancers had left their home in, the implements of musical joy laying just where they had been left, in easy reach to be used as the mood struck.

Naj wrinkled his nose at the smell of food and sweat, stronger to him now that his sense of aura was still recovering from upstairs. The mess in the kitchen offended his sense of discipline, but often most dancers used their home spaces to escape the rigid control of their training. Naj knew he was the odd man out, and simply did his best to ignore the way untidiness made his skin itch.

Dev continued her running commentary as they moved further into the space, which was empty of anyone but the pair of them. Naj looked about for signs of anyone – the space clearly looked lived in, but it was just as clear that there was no one down here now. Most likely, they were all busy upstairs. There’d certainly been enough people when they’d made their way through the backstage, but it was unusual for a nest to be so small, wasn’t it? Just another sign the times had changed, he supposed.

As she moved into the room, she explained that for tonight’s show, everyone was upstairs working in some form or fashion. She expected her dancers to be able to help keep everything running – whether it was working the lights, the music, the bar, the floor, or just by dancing on stage. Everyone contributed in some way every night. As she eyed the messy bar counter, she shook her head. “Everyone is also expected to help with the cleaning – especially down here. Since the ward is keyed to aura signatures, only dancers are allowed down here in the first place, which means no maid service.”

The last was spoken in dry humor.

Naj listened as she detailed various chores that meant little to him. He assumed he would learn in time. He liked that he would be expected to help out–the more he was held accountable for, the better. It would help him stay on task, give him a meaningful way to measure out the days.

He moved further into the large room, approaching the kitchen bar that had drawn Dev’s ire. A large cardboard box with some kind of half-eaten circular bread sat on the counter. He tried to tidy it, both wanting to help and wanting to ease the itch, but the lid refused to close. The top was emblazoned with a large Roman coin, cut into eight pieces at the bread inside had been. It smelled of tomatoes and herbs and spices, and Naj’s belly rumbled softly.

At the gentle rumble, Dev turned back to find Naj fussing with the pizza box. It derailed whatever she’d been about to say and she moved towards him with a quizzical look. “However, don’t feel you have to clean up everyone else’s mess. If you’re hungry, feel free to grab a slice, but otherwise, there’s more to see down the hall.”

He jumped at her look, feeling guilty for some reason. But when she offered him food, he took it, not wanting to be rude. And he was hungry besides. He couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten, and if he wanted to wean himself off magic, he’d have to make sure to tend to his physical needs in the old fashioned ways, lest he fall back on old habits.

The bread was crispy but soft, and a red sauce leaked out from under the cheese melted on top. He licked his fingers, enjoying the tang of the tomato and the spice notes. It went well with the slight sweetness of the bread, and he finished it all quickly.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“Help yourself.”

Dev smiled again when he took another slice, then fixed the box so it closed. “As far as the kitchen goes, anything stocked is fair game. You’re free to cook for yourself whenever, there’s no set meals. However, a few of the dancers like to cook, so it isn’t uncommon to find someone already making a large meal at any given time.”

To either side of the large room were open archways. Dev moved as she talked, leading him down the one on their left, closest to the stairwell. It opened into a very long hallway marked with doors at equal intervals on either side. Most of the doors were open and they could glimpse inside as they passed by. No two looked alike.

“These are all bedrooms. You’ll figure out quickly if a room is claimed, but there should be several open. There are a multitude of different bedding options available and if none of these catch your interest, we can always find something that will.”

They passed one room that held a hammock suspended in one corner and feathers were strung from the ceiling. Another was empty, save for a small daybed. Still another had a corner filled with blankets and pillows in a cozy mound, the walls full of colorful pieces of paper. A few doors were closed, one of which was nearly hidden behind a crimson tapestry. A few more rooms looked to be empty, with either different types of beds or clusters of cushions.

He was pleased to see so many different options filling the rooms. He made note of a room that was empty save for a pile of blankets. He would settle there, or somewhere else out of the way. He didn’t want to impose, and he’d honestly be comfortable anywhere. He’d spent most of his life sleeping on simple pallets, a soft blanket below and above was enough for him. Briefly, he flashed on the memory of tangled limbs, warm bodies and soft breathing surrounding him while he slept. A surge of longing, for something lost… No, not thoughts for now. Focus on Dev, don’t keep her waiting.

Seth scowled, but left Naj alone. If he needed space for the first night, he would grant it to him. But he would not allow the serpent to hide down here like he’d hidden upstairs. That wasn’t the point. But for now… well, at least he was downstairs and socializing with this demon hostess.

The irony of that was not lost on him, but he let that go too. Their demon summoning days were long, long gone. If she didn’t recognize, or care, that he was of the former Dai, he would leave it alone as well.

When they reached the far end of the hallway, Dev motioned to the doorway in front of them. “This is another communal space.” She ushered him into a small tiled ante room, with a bench and several cubby shelves mounted to the walls.

There was a door before them, and one set in either side wall. “To the left are the showers, the right holds the toilets, and in front of us, this door will lead to several bathtubs and our hot tub, should you want to relax your muscles after practice or work.”

Naj listened dutifully to everything she said, but his brain was beginning to get over full. There would be time a plenty to familiarize himself with the place, and if this was a communal space, he would not be intruding if he came back to look over it later. A myriad of scents were lingering in the air: herbs, spices, flowers, musk. He didn’t relish the idea of exploring these rooms with his senses so open and raw. He’d wait until his aura recovered fully and could offer him a buffer. So he simply nodded and did his best not to let the motion sway down his entire off-balanced frame.

She frowned slightly when he didn’t give any acknowledgment. It wasn’t a long or overly involved tour, but if he was feral, who knew what sort of tolerances he had? She moved them briskly back down the hallway towards the Great Room. “The other hallway will be the same, except that the door at the end leads to single-stall showers, and a laundry room. Dancers do their own laundry, save for specialty cases with some of the costuming. Those we send out for cleaning.”

Upon reaching the Great Room again, Dev was pleased to see that a few of the dancers were already settling into the space. It would be a relief to hand him off so she could get back to her own rooms and begin planning.

Previous: Chapter 1 part 2                                                                                                                       Next: Chapter 1 part 4

Character Art: Dev

Looky look! A picture! It’s Dev!

broken-demon

I’ve been doing #Inktober this year, paired with the #30DayMonsterGirlChallenge, pairing the official  2016 Inktober prompts with monster girls. When the entry “Broken Demon” came up, I knew I had to do Dev.

This is a little early, as far as continuity goes, but I wanted you guys to get a hint of what Dev looks like. For more character sketches, check out my past work on RaevenlyWrites.