Arya sighed as she leaned out the window, looking upward at the blanket of trees, searching for her dragon that had gone out on its daily exercises earlier in the day. Through the sea of green, she could see little, and though internally she knew she was not alone, Arya still could not prevent potential thoughts of that loneliness from welling up.
It had been seven weeks since Arya had last spoken with Eragon. The young, fellow dragon rider was strange, immature in many respects, and had Arya's curiosity. She felt in her heart that his decision to leave the continent and begin the order of the Dragon Riders anew was the correct one, and yet she hadn't quite met anyone like him.
It was times like this that Arya thought back on Eragon's proposal to her during the night of the Blood-Oath Celebration. She had made the correct decision to reject him, even if it broke both their hearts. This, Arya was sure of. And despite everything...
The boredom was beginning to get to her. The unfathomable boredom of leadership. Now that she was the queen of the elves, she had so many responsibilities to attend to, and though Arya wasn't resentful, she had begun to fall into the trap so many fall into in their post-war days. Memories of her greatest successes and glories, of battle, the ability to make a true difference with only her sword and her spells.
Arya snapped to reality. There was a knock on her door.
It must've been Arya's handmaiden. Nobody in the palace proper would know that the elf queen had her own private, gently-furnished apartment that she used as a retreat from the pressures and business of royal work, except for her handmaiden. Arya didn't lie to them -- it would've been impossible in the Ancient Language anyway, considering the magics binding those that used it -- but she simply omitted her destination when she chose to retreat to it.
Arya stepped to the doorframe, her bare soles feeling each knot and gnarl in the sung oakenwood of the floor. She opened the simple door to see a "young" elf woman dressed in light and casual garb, holding a large wad of red cloth.
"Greetings, my liege," she said, twisting one hand in front of her sternum -- the typical elven gesture of respect -- and holding out the wad with the other. "This is for you. It is a gift."
"For me?" Arya was confused, and she took the object, feeling it in her slender hands. It became clear the cloth was simply a wrapped covering, and the real gift was inside.
"Thank you. You may leave, now."
The handmaiden curtsied and departed from the apartment. Arya disliked that she was so formal, but decades of being the Queen's daughter had gotten her used to such treatment.
Closing the rough-hewn door, Arya soon removed the satin covering to reveal a cylindrical capsule. It was about the size of, say, a metal canteen, or a bottle, and was made of silver. A note was attached, which Arya took hold of and read quickly.
A gift, from monarch to monarch.
Arya's eyebrow raised at this. There were only a few monarchs in Alagaesia, and she was one of them. She doubted it was Oromis, or Orik, considering neither of their names began with an N. The only likely possibility was that it was Nasuada.
Arya smiled. Most of her interactions with the Varden queen had been quite positive. She was similarly aged to Eragon, but possessed a certain wisdom beyond her years. This enabled her to have conversations on a far deeper level than she was wont to have with someone like Eragon.
Arya moved the note aside before realizing there was another message written on the back.
I'm aware your kind do not eat meat. I do wonder, however, if you can make an exception for me, just this once.
This was... odd.
Arya took the capsule in her lithe hands, rolling it over. A number of lumpy objects fell into one another inside. Gems? No... there were no clanging sounds. Some sort of food? It wasn't impossible, but why would Nasuada send her food? And meat at that, in a metal capsule no less?
Not wishing to wait longer, Arya unscrewed the cap, popping it open. She placed it on a wooden table and peered inside, only to have her eyes widen.
Inside of the capsule were four shrunken men and two women, all naked. Her hawk-like elf vision allowed her to identify on all their bodies a snake tattoo, emblematic of those citizens of the Empire who had yet to swear fealty to the new order, and who chose to actively undermine Nasuada's rule. Their activities ranged from staging protests against Nasuada to even ranging full-scale terror attacks, hurting hundreds and killing a few. There were dozens of reported cases of these terrorists, all with this same tattoo. And now, for some reason, six of them occupied this capsule.
Arya remembered it now. The new Empire had made extensive use of shrinking as a punishment for crimes against the crown. Before Saphira left, she had shrunk at least thousands of similar criminals at Nasuada's bequest, always being paid in return with eating the leftover prisoners whole. Many people were rather uncomfortable with the punishment, such as Oromis and even Eragon himself, though it was impossible to argue that it didn't make quite the impression. Now that Saphira was gone, Nasuada was most-likely going to have to find another source of dragon magic to shrink the next batch of convicts, and now that Arya was a dragon rider herself, she seemed like the next best place to receive it from. Perhaps this capsule of people served as both a gift and compensation in exchange for Arya's (or rather, her dragon's) services in doling out corporal punishment.
Arya extrapolated this in nary a few moments, during which all the inhabitants could see, piled one on top of the other in the cramped cell, was Arya's massive cheek and a single green eye, robed in a few strands of night-black hair.
Without waiting, Arya overturned the entire can, pouring the motley crew out in bundles onto her hand.
Immediately, they began to stir and tremble, attempting to stand up and get their bearings. A few began to shout things in human tongue, and Arya could understand well that they had no love for her. Or Nasuada for that matter. Arya's fascination was truly piqued. That devilish woman had done quite a number on these people.
Clenching her fist lightly, she poured the people in her palm back into the jar and sealed it. Arya opened her hand again and there was only one figure within now. It was a blond, somewhat younger than most, and likely socialized in the militarized loyalist culture of what had once been the citadel capital, Uru'baen. He reminded Arya of Eragon in an odd way, and her heart fluttered at the comparison, thinking about what she intended to do with this prisoner.
The one on her hand was terrified, standing stock still, appearing to assume a running position. But where would he go? Arya's hand was at least a meter off the ground, and the young lad's pale skin would stick out quite clearly against the dark oak wood of the apartment. So he simply stood there as Arya's pale lips parted, and her mouth began to open. She raised her hand, thumb and forefinger now plucking the young human's leg, immediately breaking his brittle stance as he now dangled above the elf's uninviting mouth, humid breath spilling out. For as much as elve's prided themselves on their cleanliness, the simple truth was that nobody wanted to be this close to any creature's mouth when they were this small. And his screams seemed to attest to that fact.
With little preamble, she dropped him into her mouth.
Immediately, the bitter taste of human skin, marred by a lifetime's worth of sweat and blood and odor and battle, assaulted Arya. The taste of death that had filled her nostrils everytime she went into combat was what it reminded her of the most, as the man in her mouth squiremed and tried his hardest to struggle against the elf's pink, moist tongue. Arya sloshed him around, filling one cheek with him, then another. Her sensitive, pointed ears could hear every scream and struggle, and considering their stance as traitors to the crown, she had no complaints over their suffering. Once the flavor had run out, Arya prepared to swallow when a realization came to her.
She had never eaten meat before. And typically, most try to chew the meat they eat. Clearly.
And with that, Arya positioned the man between her incisors, and bought them down.
Immediately, in addition to the piercing set of screams that had accompanied it, a metallic flavor began to fill Arya's mouth, titillating her taste buds. Getting a random taste of blood from steel on the battlefield was one thing, but this? She closed her eyes in rapture as the bittersweet taste of blood consumed her senses.
This. This was a delicacy.
She realized now why Saphira loved the taste of man flesh so much.
She swished the in-pieces man around in her mouth again as the juices saturated her teeth and tongue. Arya continued to crunch and chew before ultimately swallowing the mangled wad of flesh that had once been a traitor to Alagaesia.
Arya breathed a sigh of indulgence. The man was only an inch and a half tall, but the intense experience of consuming another life -- not merely to kill; she had done that hundreds of times. But to consume life -- left her more sated than she had been in a long time. The experience, with Arya standing in the center of her room, likely took only a minute or two. But emotionally? It felt like several electrifying hours. Which is saying something for an immortal elf.
Arya glanced at the canister as an idea came to her, before grabbing it and getting to work.
Arya sat at her table, head forward, cheek against the hardwood. In front of her was another man, older this time, with developed facial hair, standing on the wood, petrified through no fault of Arya's. While technically Arya hadn't told the other tiny humans what she'd done to their friend, she reasoned the smell of blood and the red on her lips was quite obvious.
Arya looked vaguely bored, but her elfen heart was beating fast, and she said, without raising her head to a more attentive position, "I simply would like you to walk forward, into my mouth."
The tiny man was resolute, shaking his jittering head.
Arya repeated her request, adding, with regal intonation, "I must assure you, if you simply do what I ask, it will indeed be the most advantageous course of action you can take."
Arya felt an electric chill, traveling from the tips of her toes up into her body. And she shivered. The rest of the captives were doing good work.
The man, surprisingly to Arya, began to speak. Arya once again could make out precisely what he said, despite his small stature. "I don't know what you did to the rest of ‘em, but I'm not falling for it! You demon!"
To this, Arya did chuckle. It wasn't terribly common even amongst humans for magic users to be scrutinized by their non-magician peers. And considering Arya was an elf, the embodiment of the other, she wasn't particularly offended in the least by the insult. Of course, he couldn't have been talking about precisely what she did to his friends, as he had no way to know.
So, Arya decided to show him.
Arya pushed her stool out from the table, and reached to the floor, taking in her hands a few items. The stock-still captive on the table watched as Arya's head disappeared, then reappeared. Her hands emptied, and on the table dropped the four remaining captives, who fell in fleshy piles on the surface, fully intact but seemingly asleep.
The small bearded man's eyes lit up. His associates were alive, it seemed. He ran to meet them before smashing into a seemingly invisible wall and falling down. With confusion, the small man tried to breach this space of air roughly a foot between him and his friends, but instead found a barrier made of energy.
This was Arya's doing; the elf had mentally intoned a spell preventing the man from leaving that space. She smiled as she then raised a single pale leg up above the table, stretching it out so that one colossal, rosy foot stood as a monument before every creature on the plane, the earthy scene of twigs, flowers, and wildberries emanating and dominating the very pores of these poor souls.
Arya was just beginning to prop her second foot upon the table as the rest of the captives began to stir, called upon by that scent. Like zombies, they each rose, one by one, and began to walk, two and two, to a sole each. The two lone women in the group -- a dark-skinned younger lady and an older pale one, walked to the left, while the remaining men traveled to the right foot. Upon reaching the massive fleshy wall, each one fell to their knees, oblivious to their companion's confused yells and screams, and spread their arms, hugging the mass in reverence.
Arya cocked a smile again as the bearded shrunken man ceased his yelling, still impossibly confused. It was well known that elves did not believe in any particularly higher power, for what could be higher than them? And it was here, now, as Arya asserted her place over this human, that this dictum became more apparent to her than ever before.
With a patient, perverted slowness, Arya began to descend her left foot, the angle of its contact with the table becoming more and more acute, the tinies not the slightest bit fazed as the doughy white skin became a pillow-like encompassing force, still silent, ever grateful. Arya's sole flattened, and the tinies were gently caressed by its weight. She then repeated this process with her right foot.
The bearded shrunken man had begun banging on the forcefield a few moments prior, and only now did Arya see fit to lower the barrier and allow him to trot up and inspect Arya's perfectly-kempt toes. The woodland scent was intoxicating, and for a moment as the man came to Arya's right foot, he felt as if touching this skin would cause him to fall through it, the table, and into the very essence of nature from which it seemed the elves were birthed.
The man tried with all his might to curl his fingers around Arya's right big toe, attempting to heave it upward, but to on avail. Panting, he trotted to the other foot, expecting better luck perhaps, but was once again met with little reaction besides some slight, invisible mirth on Arya's part.
"Your associates are perfectly fine. As fine as they can be, anyway."
And Arya raised her feet again, standing them up on the heel. There, adhered to the feet by a thin layer of sweat (and a bit of binding magic) were the four captives, spread eagle on the bottom of the soles. Their sluggish moans of pleasure and contentment were the only sounds they made.
The remaining captive did not have to speak before Arya answered his question for him, "These simple creatures did not require much time to reason out. I could glean their true nature -- and thus their true names -- quite simply. A desire to be dominated. A desire for comfort. To never again have to encounter challenge, even if the hegemony of oppression were to remain upon them forever. From there, it was a simple matter of entering their heads and... tinkering, a slight bit. Only I changed the object of their affection from that false king... to the only two objects in this world that will now ever have any power over them."
Arya stretched her right leg directly upwards, in a show of her dextrous elven flexibility, then descended it upon the table with a resounding, deathly THUMP.
An audible splatter sounded from beneath, and a pool of blood spilled out from betwixt Arya's toes.
The final man fell to his own knees at the sound of his comrades' deaths, until... he noticed the blood. As if it had a mind of its own, it was traveling back beneath the soles. The feet. It was...
Arya raised her foot again, allowing a peak at the two women beneath it. They were splattered, true. And yet... they were not dead. In fact, the pieces of their bodies remained connected by several sinews, being rebirthed and re-knitted together, slowly, ever so surely becoming the makings of two complete humans once again.
"Unlike that false betrayer, or any number of your gods, these deities truly do have the power to grant and take away life."
And Arya's left foot, still flat and caressing, began to press down more firmly, harder, on its own, resulting in a similar SPLAT, followed by her lifting the sole up from the inner edge of the foot, as the dumbfounded, defeated final captive could see the others reforming before his eyes once again.
"They cannot live without these feet anymore, my friend," said Arya. "It's simple. The more I walk upon the bounteous land nature has given us, the more life energy my own feet absorb. And thus, the longer these young humans are going to live. My feet have gifted them that indelible gift of immortality that Galbatorix so cruelly stole from the rest of this continent for a hundred years. And all they needed to do was give up their own willpower. Their minds. Their ‘so-called' humanity."
Arya lifted her legs, repositioning them back under the table. The final sight the last man had of them was of those four comrades of his glued to their surface, mentally and blissfully dead. It was haunting. And yet, the smell of them remained. The waxy tree-like, leafy scent had permeated the table, and by extension the senses of this small man.
"By asking you to enter your mouth, you see, I'm allowing you an escape. I've no need for more such patrons of my feet. Though perhaps every time I sit down, the sweat that accumulates between... maybe that could be your sustenance if you find this arrangement disagreeable. Hm?"
The small man could only shake his head, taking steps backwards as the colossal face of the elf cocked an eyebrow.
He turned, trying to run away, and Arya simply sighed and leveled a potent spear of mental energy at the little man's mind.
It shattered his psychological defenses so completely and utterly. To be fair, he did offer slightly more resistance compared to his companions, but it was still not even close to the slightest struggle for the trained elf.
He stopped running. He turned around. And he began to walk toward Arya, who had since rested her chin on the hardwood and had her lips ready to part, their supple fullness smiling at the treat she was soon to enjoy.
The walk was little more than a few feet, but deep inside the subconscious of that man, he could feel something was wrong. And with every step he took, his understanding of that wrongness elevated by ten. He shouldn't be doing this. He didn't want to be doing this. And yet, why couldn't he stop? Another step. Then another. To the inviting face of the elven queen. He wasn't far now.
He collapsed upon Arya's pink lower lip, speckled with a mere drop of red here or there. He hugged it, wrapping his arms around its pillowy mass, crawling upon it. Like a blanket, he lifted Arya's upper lip up, by his own strength entirely, before somehow managing to squeeze his head into the moist blackness of her gums. The man squirmed, trying to get his bare body into the crevice. Before him, a set of pearly white, guillotine-like, beautiful teeth were there to greet him, silent and still, ready to commemorate his success at entering his new god's mouth. There, at the back of her mouth, the teeth were parted just enough, and there on her molars seemed a nice enough bed to lay in. Traversing the wet fleshy ground of the front of Arya's gums, the man traveled about the curve of her cheek, before climbing up and onto the white molars, like giant building blocks, and positioning himself along them.
Finally. He had done it.
Arya let up her puppeteering of this man just enough for a bolt of fear to travel through him, as he realized, Why does it smell like blood?
Arya chewed this delicacy once again, his mind totally eradicated in the first bite, before swallowing him down to join the first of those she executed.
"Ahhhhhhhh..." sighed Arya, standing up to stretch the length of her perfectly-toned elven body. She grabbed her foot and rubbed it, absolutely loving the now ever present feeling of these bodies gifting her with their own love, appreciation, and devotion. If there was one thing humans were capable of doing far better than it seemed elves did, it was love, unconditionally and unabashedly. And these humans loved Arya's feet.
She made sure of it. And she had no intention of being lonely ever again.
Arya then prepared to leave her apartment. She did have a kingdom to run after all; though, perhaps... maybe... soon... eventually... she could pay Nasuada a visit... and bring her dragon along.
Perhaps this could be the start of their friendship being taken to newer and grander heights than ever before.