Your physical presence was, of course, on your knees, eyes on your mistress.
“Thank you for coming. You didn’t have a choice, of course, but thank you anyway for not making me send a thrall to fetch you. I need you for something.”
“Yes, Elder Mara?”
“Child, you look nervous.” Mara peers over her half-rimmed glasses, slit-pupiled eyes blazing red. The elder serpent demon can see perfectly well without them; they’re a stylistic affectation lifted from humans over the centuries. Elders run from the eccentric to the positively unpredictable.
“It’s just you, me, and the thralls, Cora. You can dispense with the Elder bit, we’ve known each other too long for that.”
“Mmmph. I hear a crafty Serpentine Domina at Pandemonium managed to literally dominate a paladin on stage. You don’t happen to know her, by any chance? That kind of work leaves quite an impression on the audience, and I could use such a confident and clever woman to be the spokesperson of our diplomatic overture to the Archivist.”
Cora pales. “Me?”
The elder sighs. “Yes, you! Unless you know another Cora Fulvius?”
“It’s just that, aren’t things a bit tense with the Infernals right now? I’m not even remotely a diplomat!”
“Oh, things are always tense with the Infernals, and you wouldn’t have to do any of the paperwork. I’ll second a few of mine to you for that. You’ll strut into the Archivist’s library with your entourage and your security detail, you’ll lay out our clan’s proposal for helping with his current pet project, you’ll make a few demands in return. Then our functionaries will work things out with their functionaries, and you’ll likely have to do nothing harder than enjoy some Infernal hospitality and put up with what passes for Infernal manners for a few days.”
“Mara, I’m sure I’m not who you want on this. It sounds out of my league.”
“We have to send someone impressive, Cora. I have reason to believe the Archivist will take you seriously, provided the proper forms are followed; he wasn’t in the audience for your little stunt, but it happens that one of his relatives was. Infernals set great store by protocol, and also by reputation, and your name has been bandied about in certain circles. Like it or not, you’re in that league now.”
“He’ll see right through me. He’s going to know as well as you do that I’m…”
“What? Just a humble researcher? You know, so I was I, once.”
“I was going to say: not good with people.” Cora meets Mara’s gaze steadily. Since neither of them have any biological need to blink, this goes on for nearly a minute, until the elder breaks the stare by circling her thumb and forefinger and flicking Cora’s nose.
“Ow!” Cora recoils, her nose smarting.
“Ah, that was satisfying.” Mara chuckles. “Elder’s privilege, child; you’re of the generation who’ve broadened our clan’s remit from simply providing skulking venomous assassins to the lords of Hell, and yet sometimes you young ones can be so serious.”
Mara leans forward in her elaborately carved and inlaid throne.
“Frankly, this is going to sting more than your nose, Cora, but you need to hear it…”