Dashpuemtsu raised its head suddenly, attention snapping from the book it was reading as it felt its mistress stir on her bed, on the edge of waking up. One look through the window of the library showed the dying red light of the setting sun and the tall, lanky creature, its face wrapped in moss green bandages, got up from the comfortable leather chair by the fire. With light steps that barely made the polished old wooden boards creak, it left the library and made its way towards the kitchen.
The chef, a heavyset human on his early fifties, had just finished preparing the tea – black, mulled with cloves, cinnamon, ginger and allspice – and had laid it on a silver plate on the counter. Dashpuemtsu nodded after examining it for a moment or so, and opened one of the cabinets on the wall without even having to reach up thanks to its height, delicately pulling a small vial containing a bright, almost glowing red liquid in it – neither the Étranger nor the Mistress trusted the human thralls to handle blood, especially blood as delicate as a kelpie’s.
Unlike the Embraced, the mages who became vampires by undergoing a profane ritual could still digest mortal food, but since their bodies had adapted to the sole consumption of vitae, they needed to be ‘tricked’ by mixing a material rich in the essence of life with the food, and Dashpuemtsu’s mistress happened to enjoy the rich taste of kelpie blood. Plus, it had the added benefit of not requiring cold storage thanks to the aquatic creature’s physiology.
The tall Étranger slowly poured the thin blood into the tea cup and carefully mixed it with a silver spoon until the blood had completely disappeared into the mulled tea before picking up the silver platter and leaving the kitchen. With practised ease it took the platter past the foyer and up the stairs to the second floor, where the Mistress spent most of her time and where it was basically the only servant allowed, as the cleaning was done by the Lady’s conjured spirits.
After a brisk walk past the landing and through the hall, decorated with landscape paintings, it arrived at the master bedroom, knocking once on the door and obtaining no response, as expected. After knocking a second time and still receiving no answer, it gently opened the door and stepped inside the large room, closing the door behinds itself. Lady Elena de Sangrespino stirred in her bed, groaning something unintelligible as the Étranger approached and stood by the side of her bed.
It waited for a moment before clearing its throat, such as it were, and its mistress parted her bright green eyes, looking sleepily at her servant before propping herself up by her elbows. She stared at it for a moment more before promptly falling back down on the bed on her side, turning away from the creature and pulling the heavy blankets over herself with an annoyed grunt.
The Étranger couldn’t help but smile, its mouth distorting the shape of the bandages; while some might find the Lady’s actions immature and even childish, it found them endearing, even at her age. Dashpuemtsu stood there, perfectly motionless, holding the silver platter over the bed in offering, for a few minutes before finally speaking:
“Mistress, your tea will get cold.” Its tone was even and calm as always, and barely above a whisper, and its voice was a somewhat unsettling imitation of a low ragged bass, results of its vocal chords being, well, inexistent. In response she grumbled something that the Étranger only recognized as ‘Don’t wanna, go away’ through sheer familiarity. It did not go away, though, and instead stood there, perfectly motionless, as it knew that she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.
Finally, after a minute or so after trying, the Lady gave up and with a sigh pushed herself into a sitting position, blinking the drowsiness away. Immediately the Étranger placed the silver platter on her lap with an uncanny gentleness.
“Do I have any obligations tonight, Dash?” she asked after taking a sip of the tea and stifling a yawn.
“Unfortunately, Mistress.” It answered and she sighed, muttering an ‘of course’ under her breath. After a moment she looked up at it, a smile on her lips and a pleading look in her eyes. “It would be unwise to cancel. It is being hosted by Lord Valerian, after all.”, it continued just as she opened her mouth to ask, and watched with amusement as her shoulders sagged. The Vampire Lord Valerian was a powerful ally to have, and insulting him by not going to one of his famous parties without a reasonable motive could prove a danger even to the Lady.
“I suppose I have no choice, then.” She sighed again and the Étranger waited quietly as she finished her tea. “At least it’ll be the older kin, so it probably won’t turn into an orgy or something like that.”, she continued, placing the tea cup back on the platter.
“He is a devout of Bacchus, Mistress.” Dashpuemtsu answered pleasantly, bending over and retrieving the platter.
“Fuck. You’re right. Damn it. We are leaving early.” The Étranger at first didn’t believe in the existence of antisocial vampires, so focused as they were on their intrigues, but it had learned that as they got older, most vampires became at least a little reclusive, too focused on their own pursuits to entertain large gatherings as they once did. Of course, there always were the exceptions like Lord Valerian, who as they aged seemed to become more and more social, even deigning to mingle with mortals that showed promise.
“As you wish, Mistress.” Though it had known that this would probably be her reaction, the Étranger was still relieved by her words as it shared her distaste for social gatherings. Gatherings of any kind, really.
“How is your arm?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at her servant after looking pensively at it for a few seconds. The question made the Étranger uncomfortable for what felt like the first time in a while, and it grimaced behind the bandages.
“It is heal--” it started, instinctively taking its right hand to the spot where it had sustained a vicious wound in the duel with Lord Eric of the Giovanni after the late vampire had made the mistake of insulting the Lady within earshot of the Étranger.
“Show me.” The Lady demanded, reaching to grab its arm and though it recoiled at first, one glare from those piercing green eyes made Dashpuemtsu relent and let the lady have her way. She immediate and carelessly tore the sleeve of its expensive suit up, her nails turning into deadly claws and making the Étranger wince at the waste of a perfectly good suit. After the bandages covering its forearm were revealed, she tore through them too, exposing the ink blue of its weathered skin, such as it were, to the light of the room. She examined the skeletal arm thoroughly from fingertip to elbow, turning it around as needed, until she was satisfied that there was no sign of scarring and let it go. Her distrust was fair, the Étranger supposed, since it did have the habit of not informing anyone about any wounds it considered unimportant, and it considered any non-lethal wounds as unimportant.
“I’m glad you are healed.” Her face softened into a genuine smile as the creature withdrew its hand, muttering something without words, but that was enough of a thanks that the Lady’s smile widened. “Well, I should start getting ready, then. Want to watch a movie before we go?”, she continued, pushing the covers away and getting up. The Étranger considered its duties. The pantry was stocked for the servants; the cellar was stocked for the Mistress, both with the Rubedo Royal and with pure blood kept fresh by powerful enchantments etched into the barrels; they were running low on kelpie blood, as well as some more arcane ingredients for the Mistress’ rituals, but procuring those would take longer than they had until Lord Valerian’s party, and it’d need to check the situation of the defences of the estate with Sharruauratta, but that shouldn’t take longer than the Lady’s bath.
“It would be my pleasure, Mistress.” It answered, bowing its head and smiling beneath the bandages. As she made her way to the master bath, the Étranger excused itself and left the room, walking downstairs and through the door, into the garden. Once it had walked past the pristine fountain depicting four stone hippocampi holding a basin upon which a statue of Ganymede representing Aquarius poured water, Dashpuemtsu extended its perception, seeking the aura of the Hellguard.
It didn’t take long. The aura of the demon stood out against any others, the blazing red of fury, violence and the promise of death barely contained by the bonds of fanatical loyalty stood out like a beacon against the muted grey of the Shroud.
Though Dashpuemtsu had an eye for talent and had found many an outstanding and loyal servant to its mistress, Sharruauratta remained a point of pride for the Étranger. Hellguards were special even amongst demons, for besides being native to the Pit - unlike most of the infernal denizens, who went to the Pit from other realms and ended up becoming demons, - they were sentient constructs forged through an extremely taxing and dangerous ritual in the fiery waters of the river Phlegethon. It had been quite an adventure for both Dashpuemtsu and its mistress, but at the end, it had been well worth it, both because of its practical effect - A Hellguard’s fanatical loyalty to its creator was only surpassed by its prowess in battle, two characteristics that made them the preferred bodyguards to Hell’s most powerful denizens, - and because of its social effect, as the process of their creation was a jealously guarded secret. It had taken decades of research, bribery, blackmail and outright murder, but being the only non-Demon Prince to have a Hellguard under her control had improved Lady Elena’s fame significantly.
On one hand, Dashpuemtsu was happy that they had never faced a threat that had strained the Hellguard, but it also couldn’t help but feel that the demon’s potential was being wasted on small fries as a simple head of security. Maybe they could go hunting together for Leviathans some day, their blood was incredibly strong and their other parts were very valuable to a mage, though the matter of the transportation of the corpse would not be an easy one to solve.
A being taller than even Ertsuinbu, the physical appearance of Sharruaurata was as impressive as its aura; standing at maybe just about four meters, and with a muscular build that promised strength and resilience covered by a carapace of stone-like chitin. Its material - Elysian Gold, the metal favoured by Hades himself, - gave the carapace its distinct tarnished gold look and made the Hellguard quite a sight, especially when interspersed with the glowing silver of its veins and the dark blue of the Orichalcum - a metal that was neither solid, liquid, gaseous or plasmic, but something else entirely, - from which the runes on the armour were made, woven into the carapace by the forging ritual.
Only when it was face to face with the Hellguard did the Étranger notice something very important: it had no idea what to talk about with the demon. By the lack of gore and/or charred remains, there were no intruders and it wasn’t like they had much in common. Not for the first time, Dashpuemtsu was glad that it couldn’t blush. Conversation with the Lady was easy, almost automatic, but when looking at the demon, all it could muster was an awkward silence and a vague nod.
To its credit, the Hellguard stayed composed and professional, standing straight, eyes forward, posture tense. The Étranger felt like the demon was about to salute.
“Nothing to report…” the pause as the Hellguard tried to think of what gender to use was very subtle, only a being used to consider the eternities between seconds would notice it. “… Commander.”, it settled on, and while not exactly true, Dash was happy with the title anyway.
“So, uh…” the Étranger started, paused, cleared its throat and tried again. In its mind, it had pictured the demon’s answer as something lengthier and maybe more conducive to conversation, and, since the answer had been direct, it was left without really knowing what to do or say. “So… How are you…?”, it asked, tentatively. Dashpu had heard that that was a good way to start a conversation and that it should ask others that question constantly to be nice, whatever that meant.
“I’m… well, I suppose.” Sharruaurata looked a bit perplexed by the question, and it took some time to answer. “Bored, I think. There hasn’t been a challenge in quite some time.”, it admitted a moment later. Though Dash enjoyed the silence, something about their proximity and its attempt to initiate a conversation made this a bit uncomfortable. It didn’t know what to do, though so it just nodded, then they both stood there sharing the awkward silence for an indistinct amount of time that could’ve been just a minute or almost an hour - sometimes the Étranger’s grasp on standard time progression got a little shaky. Plus, despite the embarrassment, it had to admit that it was weirdly endearing to see that hulking monstrosity of stone and unearthly metal looking awkward.
“Good talk.” It broke the silence finally, patting the demon on its shoulder and once again being slightly impressed by the feel of its chitin, almost visibly aglow with arcane power and hellfire.
“Good talk.” The Hellguard agreed, shifting its position slightly and looking a little relieved as the Étranger started walking away. So besides the awkwardness they had the whole not liking company thing in common, good to know.
The Lady wasn’t finished with her bath yet, so it took a lovely stroll through the gardens, stopping for a moment to water the blood lilies before going back to the house and changing out the suit for an identical one - though the new one didn’t have a ripped sleeve.
“So, about that movie, then.” Dashpuemtsu was barely inside the room when Lady Elena spoke. She had chosen to wear a loose shirt, sweatpants and flip flops for the moment, though Dash guessed that she’d change later when they went to Lord Valerian’s party… probably, anyway. There was a fair chance that Lady Elena decided to go dressed like that.
They spent about almost two hours watching the movie that the Lady had picked. There was barely any plot and the characters were shallow at best, but there were a lot of explosions and action, and they both had fun, though Dash would’ve preferred something a little more comical.
“I suppose I should get ready, then.” The Lady spoke after the movie ended, sighing and getting up.
“That would be wise, Mistress. Lord Valerian would not appreciate something… this casual.” The Étranger answered, bowing its head and looking at her outfit meaningfully. Lady Elena’s response was a scoff, but she still went to her room to change as it had expected.