Seraphina glanced over at Gelda, trying to suppress her own smile upon seeing her friend's excited grin. The elves were making their way through the Forbidden Forest to trade with the Tallah tribe, and this was the first expedition that Seraphina and her childhood friend were considered of proper age to embark upon. At a youthful sixty-five years, they were finally mature enough to be taken seriously among their Fella'aya people.
Seraphina had heard that the Tallah elves were known for their extraordinary strength and prowess, and she was excited to see some of the young warriors of the tribe herself. Gelda had made more than one joke about deflowering some of the young Tallah men during their stay. A dozen other elves accompanied them on their travels, walking alongside six lumbering rhynoks generously loaded with trade goods. Their destination was close enough that they could walk there easily, and elves were a long-lived people who were never much in a rush to get anywhere. They lived to fully experience their surroundings and enjoy all aspects of the natural world around them.
The Tallah lived on the far end of the Forbidden Forest, which earned its name from the zeal with which young Tallah warriors defended their territory from outsiders. The Fella'aya had nothing to fear venturing into their territory, having been welcome trade partners for generations. Some collapsed trees in the usual path had forced the Fella'aya delegation to deviate to the less traveled path that wound its way around the northeastern edge of the forest, which nestled up to the Frostgate Mountains. Seraphina had no idea what could have toppled such large trees, but she imagined some tremendous beast rampaging through the forest, knocking down everything in its path.
When they paused to break bread, Gelda sauntered over to where Seraphina sat on a blanket of fallen leaves.
"I heard that the Tallah men are most skilled with a bow. They are said to have very strong arms...and agile fingers," she said with a wink. Seraphina blushed as she laughed and tossed a breadcrumb at her friend.
"Gelda!" she scolded, shaking her head, but smiling all the while. She was excited to meet some young men outside of her own tribe. She'd seen some Tallah from afar before, when they'd visited Fella'aya lands, but she was certain they had to be more exciting than the Fella'aya men, who were much less attuned to the ways of combat, preferring as a tribe to follow more peaceful pursuits.
She scanned the group as they all paused to enjoy their midday meal. Apart from her and Gelda, there was Elder Tomar who led the group, the senior elf among them. He was at least 700—Seraphina wasn't sure of his precise age. Celenithra the healer was one of the most respected members of the Fella'aya tribe, and the eldest woman on the journey, though by no means was her 247 years old by elven standards. She still possessed the same sharp beauty she was said to have had when she was Seraphina's mere 65 years. There was Eldo the farmer and his daughter Binha, a rather annoying young man named Delspar who she had been dodging the advances of for far too long, and some other tradesmen and bowmen she knew only vaguely.
She and Gelda had been allowed to accompany the expedition because of their talent at leatherwork, and they'd argued that they'd be able to talk up their own goods for selling better than someone who hadn't poured hours of work and passion into their creation. But mostly, they wanted to get out of the village, have a bit of sightseeing, and maybe enjoy a quick fling with some young Tallah men.
A short while after the meal, they were back on their way, edging closer to the Frostgate Mountains. Seraphina only recalled hearing the name vaguely mentioned from time to time, but they certainly didn't sound a very hospitable place to visit. She hoped they wouldn't get too close. When sundown approached, Elder Tomar declared a good spot to camp for the night, and they all began the work of setting up. The Fella'aya understood the importance of working together to achieve an end, and thus were able to finish their work quickly and have time to enjoy some drink and song before retiring for the evening. Seraphina realized that perhaps she had a bit too much of the drink as she collapsed into a heavy and peaceful slumber.
Seraphina awoke to a loud clamor happening all around her. It took her a moment to realize that the shouts and cries were not part of some deeply unpleasant dream. Still disoriented from her slumber, she sat up just in time to see a large reptilian creature toss a net in her direction. She raised her arms out but the net landed heavily around her, tangling her limbs within it. As the reality of her situation pierced through the fog of sleep, she jolted into full consciousness and looked around wildly.
She saw at least three other reptilian men—they looked almost snake-like, with sharp fangs and yellow eyes with black vertical slits—wreaking havoc among the camp. A few Fella'aya bodies lay around her, she noticed with a frightful start. They are killing us! She looked around for Gelda in a panic and saw her friend frantically scrambling away on her hands and knees only to be scooped up by one of the snake-men a moment later. He heaved her over his shoulder and cracked Celenithra on the side of her head with a wooden staff just as she was trying to cast a spell of protection. She fell to the side, and the snake-man caught her in mid fall, hoisting her up to his other shoulder.
So relieved she was to find that Gelda was still alive that she was caught by surprise when she felt a lurching sensation as the snake-man who had ensnared her enveloped her fully in the net and began dragging her way. "No!!" she screamed, flailing in vain at the net, trying to find an opening, but the snake-man had the ends held tightly together in his hands.
"Haha, ssstruggle all you like, elf maiden, it isss fun to watch," the creature laughed at her in a raspy voice.
She saw that Gelda and Celenithra were being dragged off in the same direction she was, and she was trying to take stock of what had happened to the others—who still fought against this menace—when she felt something thwack her head and everything faded to black.
Seraphina groggily opened her eyes to discover that her arms were tied tightly behind her back. She bolted upright only to be brought short by the taut rope that fastened her to her neighbor, Celenithra. She looked to her right and there was Gelda, and the farmer's daughter Binha, also tied together. To her left past Celenithra were two elves Seraphina did not know. Women, both of them, and from their dark skin she surmised that they likely belonged to the Tallah tribe.
She saw the snake-men, three of them at least, standing off to the side hissing at each other in some disagreement.
"Who are they?" she leaned over and whispered to Celenithra.
"Slethraans," Celenithra spat.
"What do they want?" Gelda asked desperately, leaning past Seraphina to have a look at the healer.
"Pray, child, that you do not live long enough to find out," she responded, her lips tight. "I had thought their kind departed this world a long time ago. The tales I have heard are...not pleasant."
Seraphina studied her captors as they argued amongst themselves. They were nearly seven feet tall, which to an elf's five-foot stature, was quite imposing. They had long, scaled limbs and wiry frames, but tightly coiled muscles could be seen under their thick skin—they were clearly strong. But for all their snake-like appearance in their skin and their faces, they had arms and legs, unlike actual snakes. They wore no clothing but for leather loincloths—even their clawed feet were bare.
She tried to listen to what they were saying. She thought she caught the words "have enough" and "exccccelent sssslavesss", but could not make out more than that. Then, a fourth snake-man came into view from around a large tree, apparently there the whole while.
"Enough! It isss time we take our prizesss and head back. That is my decissssion," he barked at them. They argued the point no further, and soon, Seraphina and her companions were hauled to their feet, and they began a march through the forest with snake-men on either side of them. It appeared to Seraphina that they were heading towards the mountains.
"Where are all the men from our group?" Seraphina leaned back and whispered to Celenithra.
She just shook her head sadly in response, not wanting to look up and meet her face.
"They don't take men," one of the Tallah women said in a voice of cold iron. "What they do with us, they don't want men," she said.
"How did they get you?" Seraphina asked, suddenly worried that her increased volume would earn her some rebuke from their captors, but they did not seem to notice or care thus far.
"We were on patrol, watching your camp. They caught us by surprise. Vissel injured one of them before they took him down," she said, gesturing to the blue-skinned Slethraan on the left. Seraphina noticed that he had dressings around his leg and walked with a slight limp.
"What is your name? I'm Seraphina."
"Aleura," she responded with a note of sadness.
"If the stories I've heard have any truth to them, we had best pray we find some way to escape," Celenithra said quietly, but not quiet enough.
"Heh. Essssscape," the orange-toned snake-man chuckled.
But they were marched hard, and bound together as they were, hands behind their backs, no opportunity revealed itself. After several hours they arrived at a dark cave opening in the side of a mountain. Upon seeing what appeared to be their destination, Aleura suddenly looked even more grim than she had before.
The six elves were led into the dark hole and through a winding dark passageway. They could see alright in the dark, but not as well as the Slethraans evidently could. Whether they had the route memorized or could see the way clearly, Seraphina was not certain, but it made things more disorienting for their captives. No doubt to decrease the likelihood of our escape, she thought.
As they delved further into the caves, a light source up ahead began to reveal the passage around them. At some point while they'd stumbled through the darkness, the natural cavern had given way to stone worked halls, with several heavy-looking stone doors placed at various intervals along the sides. Sconces with lit torches became more common as they weaved their way through the tunnels, but so far, they had not seen a single other Slethraan. Nor had they been able to see into any of the rooms they passed.
They turned at one intersection and then shortly thereafter at another, and found themselves nearing the end of a short hallway with another heavy stone door. Two other Slethraans stood guard on either side of it.
"I sssee your hunt was a sssuccesss, Glissskill. Congratulationsss," the guard on the left said, with what Seraphina supposed might pass for a Slethraan grin.
"I am here to ssshow my prizesss to the high priessst," Glisskill announced.
The guard on the right nodded and pulled the stone door open by its circular handle. Seraphina noted how strong his muscles appeared as they heaved the heavy door. She doubted that she would be able to open a door like that on her own. Even with one or two other elves helping, she doubted their chances of escape if they had to open one of those doors.
The captives were paraded into a large, dimly lit circular room with an ornate obsidian altar positioned in the center. Carved into it was a relief depicting winding serpent bodies trailing around its edges. A naked white-skinned Slethraan with red eyes stood behind the altar, and on top of it, sprawled on her back, was a naked elf woman. Her legs were spread wide and she moaned loudly as the Slethraan fucked her.
Seraphina was startled by the sight, and she could tell by the reactions of her companions that she was not the only one. The elf woman wore a thin silver collar around her neck, and her nipples were pierced by large metal rings, with a chain that connected them. The Slethraan had a clawed finger hooked under the chain, lifting it upward and stretching her nipples away from her body. Apart from that Seraphina could see no bindings holding her in place, though she did wear thin silver cuffs around her wrists and ankles. Her body appeared to be adorned with tattoos of some kind, but in the dim light Seraphina couldn't make out what they were. The Slethraan looked up at the newcomers, but the elf did not even appear to notice the intrusion, continuing to writhe and moan under his attentions.
"Glissskill. You appear to have done well for yourself," the Slethraan said, looking over each of the captives with an appraising eye. He did not pause from fucking the elf on the alter before him, nor did he show any embarrassment at being interrupted.
"Thank you, Ysssgkar. All that I do isss for the glory of Ssslethraa."
"Good. Then he ssshall sssee to it that you are generousssly rewarded. Sssix new ssslavesss is no sssmall thing. Essspecially ssspeciminsss asss fine asss thessse." Seraphina looked nervously over at Gelda. What was to be done with them?
The white Slethraan turned his head to look down behind him. "Sslit, go and have the kitchensss prepare a grand feassst. Tonight, we cccelebrate!"
Another elf woman who had apparently been kneeling behind the Slethraan quickly stood up. "Yes, Master," she said and quickly walked out of the room, sparing a quick glance at the new captives lined up on the other side of the altar. Seraphina thought she saw the corner of her lip turn up in an eager grin as she looked at her and the other elves. The other elf had spared them not so much as a glance, all of her attention seemingly devoted to her ravishing by the Slethraan who was fucking her. "Oh, yes Master, yes my Master, I am your unworthy slave," she purred softly as he thrust into her. Seraphina's mouth gaped at the sight of this elf woman apparently enjoying what was happening to her.
"Think about which one you want to claim for your own prize, Glissskill. But for now, take them to the holding pensss until we are ready for them," he commanded, waving them away with one hand and yanking on the elf girl's nipple chain with the other. She yelped in response—whether in pleasure or pain—or both—Seraphina did not know.
"Of course, Ysssgkar," he said, turning toward the exit, yanking on the rope leash attached to Binha and connecting them all to each other, forcing them to follow. They wound their way through several dark corridors before coming upon another door. Glisskill opened the heavy door with ease and deposited them inside.
"Won't be long now, ssslavesss," he chuckled. "Won't be long at all." And with that, he slammed the door shut. A heavy metal clank of a bolt being locked into place reverberated into the room, making clear that there was no need to try opening the door—not that it would have been easy anyway, with them still bound together in a line and their wrists tied behind their backs.
The line of captive elf women stood uneasily in the dimly lit room. It was completely empty save for a few piles of rags scattered about the floor and two buckets in opposite corners. They did not smell pleasant.
"What can we do?" Seraphina asked after what felt like an eternity of awkward, hopeless silence.
"I'm not sure there is anything we can do," Celenithra said bleakly. "Except wait and see if an opportunity arises. If it does, we must take it at once."
Aleura twisted and grunted in frustration as she tried to loosen her wrist bindings.
"Those elves in the other room..." Seraphina broached the uncomfortable topic with hesitation. "The one on the alter seemed almost...happy," she said with a shudder.
"They are not as they once were," Celenithra said, her voice tinged with sadness. "The Slethraans intend to do similar things to us."
Seraphina wondered what that entailed, but Celenithra seemed to have no desire to speak of it further.