Just Say Yes
As Althea’s world crumbled Cyperian could only stare. He wanted to rush to her and gather the tiny human up in his arms. He was always weak for tears, and hers had started to roll slowly down her sweet, flushed cheeks. He was impressed, however. She wasn’t breaking down, wasn’t bawling, wasn’t screaming. She just methodically yanked each long strand of beads out of its curtain, not speaking or looking at him.
The sound of footsteps broke his reverie, and from the back of the Sanctum he heard the familiar voice of his Second in Command.
“Cyperian? Is that you, Sir?” He started down the aisle toward the pair. At the altar, Cyperian winked at the princess.
“Careful of my friend… you’re libel to spill your secrets.”
Agaliarept hustled down the aisle and, as usual with Cyperian’s friends, threw an obnoxiously over the top salute.
“My Lord, the Decimators are in place and Murmmer is firing up. I suggest you catch your prize and get out of here.” He looked Althea up and down, giving her a disdainful look.
“Who is in charge, Gal? Should I remind you?” He playfully poked the other in the chest. His face blanked, brows drawing together.
“Sir, I would caution your overly familiar tone.” They stared down, eyes flashing, clouds swirling and the whites of the eyes disappearing, low growls from their throats. Cyperian folded first, laughing uproariously.
“How do you always manage to beat me?” He turned to Althea, “A thousand years, give or take, and I’ve always lost.” Their eyes returned to normal, but their animal aspects still remained. Agaliarept turned his attention to Althea.
“It’s obviously because I’m older, handsomer, stronger…”
Cyperian pushed him lightly in jest, which barely moved the taller man’s frame.
“Stop it, you’re going to scare her.” Agaliarept rolled his eyes.
“Oh no. I’m going to scare her.” He mocked. “Just stun her and toss her over your shoulder and let’s go. We have probably 20 minutes until Murmmer is at full capacity.” He turned to leave.
“Yeah, I was debating that but…surprise surprise. It didn’t take.”
“Excuse me,” Althea pushed between them. “You tried to stun me? WHEN?” She turned furious eyes on the blonde.
“Ahh..when I first touched you. Didn’t you feel that spark?”
Althea looked down and blushed as her mind flitted to mere moments ago when she was still tied on the dais, her blood pumping and cheeks flushing.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now you,” She poked him as high as she could reach on his chest, “are going to let me go. My people need me. The other priestess need me.”
“Oh. I think we already took care of them.” Agaliarept tentatively mentioned.
“ ‘Took care of them’? Are they dead? You monster!”
Althea lunged at the huge menacing figure, throwing wild fists to his torso…not that they affected him much.
“There were many young girls who were dressed similarly to her. We found them in a secret room behind that wall, but as we opened the door…before they saw us and we could stun them they used their long hairpins to... stab themselves in the heart.” As he commented this he pulled the long silver spike from Althea’s hair, and tossed it far across the room. Her headdress with its huge horns crashed to the ground. “Lets be safe with your new pet, I suppose.”
“Little Thing, look at me.” Cyperian took her by the shoulders and whirled her around to face him. “If I can prevent death, I do. I promise I will explain it more, but right now we don’t have the time. Gal, you wanna help me out here?”
The Lieutenant smiled a dark and unnerving smile. He advanced toward the princess, rounding the altar, his manner calm and discriminating. Althea took a step back, then another, retreating around the corner until she bumped back first into Cyperian and whimpered. The new beast was even larger than the other, with more arms than he should have had and small wings. He had pointed white teeth and dark black eyes.Veins that scattered across his face did nothing to take away from his high cheekbones and strong jaw.
She stared into his eyes, unable to look away as smoke swirled into the black abyss. He put a hand to his lips, shushing her frightened agitation. He quietly spoke, his words melodic and omnipresent. The din of the battle outside faded away. She could head a soft tinkle, almost like wind chimes, and then only his voice.
“Hello. I’m Agaliarept. This here,” he gestured, “is Cyperian. What is your name?” She tried to retreat further but she only succeed in pushing herself closer to the giant behind her. He was so warm, the eyes in front of her so inviting. She blinked and relaxed her shoulders and before she could stop herself,
“Althea, Sir.” Why had she responded? These beasts were most likely going to kill her. Why was she giving them the satisfaction of a response and worse, of being polite?
“Althea?” he made it a question. Agaliarept reached his hand out smoothly, and gently drew his long nails from her exposed chest, over her throat, and to her jaw. He held her face to his, the energy between them radiated as he concentrated.
“High Priestess Althea of Galeed. I used to be called Princess, but the King...my father...” She shook her head and in a swirl of emotions she broke eye contact. Agaliarept’s eyes voided of the smoke, and he stumbled backwards as if he was pushed by a great force.
“What the fuck is happening here?” He gestured to Cyperian’s wound. “Is there something wrong with us or with them?” As with his General’s injury, this was an anomaly. No human should have been able to break his mind link.
He pulled her into a rough embrace, and against her nature Althea threw her arms around his waist and sobbed into him, as he slowly made clucks of comfort and drew his fingers through her hair. Cyperian drew close as they whispered to each other.
“I want to keep her.” Cyperian spouted cheerfully, a dog with a shiny new ball.
“Sir, with deep respect, there is something wrong with her. Why else wouldn’t she succumb to the stupor, like all the others? I would caution trying to take in something that will bite your hand when you try to feed it. Perhaps in this circumstance...”
“This is amazing! Not damage! No one should be able to do this too us. TWO special circumstances in one day? We have to talk to Nachi, we may have found another Vein.”
“Abdiel would say to just snap her neck and be done with it.”
“Well, luckily he isn’t in charge.”
“She was going to be sacrificed! I don’t know the details yet, but she was tied down. All white clothing, creepy ass priests, lots of attendants. This was something sick, Gal. We need to find out what was happening.”
Althea’s sobs had begun to abate and as she slowly came back to the front of her mind, she realized she was clutching onto leather straps and hiding her face against hard flesh. She slowly looked up and realized she was against the stomach of a huge man, his olive skin covering muscles that flexed as he spoke with the man who released her. Not men, she had to remind herself as she finally remembered where she was. She let go of the colossal figure and tried to push him away.
“She’s back.” Observed Agaliarept as he arrested her progress, “Be nice. 15 Minutes now. Rendezvous point as soon as you can.” He gently pushed her back against his commander, and strode away to finish the sweeps, ridding the city of the remaining Dregs.
“Well, isn’t he boring?” Cyperian jovially addressed Althea, looking down at her, bending far over to catch her eyes as she looked up at him, back to him. She slid out from under his gaze, and spun around to face him suddenly furious.
“What WAS that?!” She rubbed her hands together, unable to focus on a single object, her mind racing. Less than an hour ago, she was sure she was going to be violently killed for the good of her people. Now, giant men with beast’s features were rescuing her. “Why did I tell him all that?” She crumbled like a beautiful old statue, somehow graceful even through the tears, to her knees and off to the side, unable to support herself upright. Too many thoughts and too many conflicting possibilities made her unable to focus, her breath suddenly hard to find.
Immediately Cyperian was on the ground, balancing on the balls of his feet in front of her. “Althea? Althea?” He placed a hand on her back and she violently reacted. Thrashing her arm to remove the it, she lifted her chest off the floor. Her hand twisted in the fabric at her chest trying to coax in a breath. Cyperian held his hands aloft, showing her his palms and breathing slowly. He let out a low growl. Locking his golden orbs to her blue, he put a finger to his lips and closed his eyes. Disbelief stopped her attack as his face changed. His horns shrunk considerably, the nose morphed from a bull to something closer to a human, ring still intact. Opening his eyes, they voided of the full gold, showing soft honey gold irises and whites like a human. The hair slowly retreated in his roots, up to his shoulders and he seemed to shrink in size, the shoulders relaxed, though the muscles still defined. He was still a menace, imposingly tall, but no longer a giant. He looked...human. Althea calmed and stared at him, not realizing her breathing was soft and regular. Watching him contract was thrilling, every part of him morphing, a new face revealed that she quickly realized was unnervingly handsome. He still had the gorgeous golden horns, though much smaller, the nose ring matching them in material. The eyes, the lips, even the color of the skin was more recognizable. He rolled his jaw and twisted his neck slightly, giving it a small crack.
“Ah, always an interesting sensation,” as he cracked his neck the other way. He gave her a soft smile, “Are you alright, now?” His eyes searched her face, full of concern. She tried to speak, but she had no words. Her mind was so blank and racing at the same time. She opened her mouth and all that came out was a small noncommittal noise of ascension. She tried to raise herself up on her knees, maybe meant to stand but the strength had left her, and she fell back. In a second, Cyperian was catching her, strong arms surrounding her as he stood up. He placed her gently on her feet, and stepped away, using his hands as a ballast for hers, supporting her but standing away to give her space. “Althea, we only have a few minutes to get out of here. You need to make a choice very quickly, can you do that?”
She found his eyes with hers and nodded dumbly. He ran his hands up her arms and a soft, warm sensation emanated from his fingertips and calmed her.
“I can put you right back on this altar, leave you in this city.” He traced her collarbone with one finger,“ Or, you can come with me.”
“Will the city stand after you leave?” Finally finding her voice, she spoke though it seemed to take all her strength. Cyperian tilted his head and sighed softly, not breaking eye contact. He slowly shook his head.
“No, Princess.” His hand retreated back to her shoulders. “This place holds the seeds of great evil. I can tell just by the air that something sinister was growing here.” She softly exhaled a short, aspirated breath, which he took to mean “You have no idea.”
“We don’t have much longer to get to safety. I need you to trust me, and follow my orders. We won’t survive otherwise. Do you want to come with me?”
She betrayed herself with a slight shiver as he touched her. With a start, he slid his hands down to her wrists and pinned them tight.
“I need you to say ‘yes’, Princess.” He whispered into her ear, backing her into the altar. His lips were so close to her skin that she felt sparks. “One word puts you back on this altar and one puts you in my arms. Will you come with me?”
Earlier today, she was prepared for death. She was ready. But now? She had met God. He had come for her. The men who put her on the altar were dead. But how could she trust the beasts? She resolved that nothing could be worse than the situation she had been in, and at it seemed that the beasts could be human some of the time. The Priests had always been monsters, human or not.
“Yes, I will.”
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