Everything was blue.
The air was not exactly stagnant but it was so humid he was shocked that he could breathe in the sparkling blue cave, surrounded on all sides by sea water. He didn’t understand where the air came from in the cave, because it had to be underwater. The soft blue light seemed to have no source.
There were so many tables and shelves, and the cups were everywhere, crowding every available surface; he had to kick them out of the way to move at all. They were all different, some more beautiful, more adorned than others, but they were all cups. Many of them were made of metal, many of them were covered in jewels.
The one he was looking for was buried, behind many others, on one of the many shelves lining the walls. He had to reach past them to pick it up, to grasp it. It was cool to the touch, like everything else in the grotto, and Xaxac stared down at it. The metal was made bluer by the blue lights, and the crystals sparkled along the rim.
“I’m not here anymore,” the beautiful man with the blue skin said, “I was for a long time, but not anymore.”
“How long?” Xaxac asked.
“The number of stalactites changed,” Lapus said, and pointed to the ceiling.
Xaxac opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling of the bedroom. There were sixty tiles there, each with a six-petaled flower.
The sunlight streaming in through the windows told him that it was afternoon, and he was starving. He was still exhausted, and briefly considered trying to get more sleep, but he was afraid he would have to eat or die, so instead he pulled himself up to a sitting position and looked to the bedside table to see his breakfast fruit tray had been laid out, along with his normal glass of wine.
The wine didn’t seem to do much anymore, but he devoured the food and his hunger was not sated, so he shoved himself to his feet and wondered what he was supposed to do. The outfit he had worn the day before was laid out on the chair by the dressing table, but the packages full of clothes were still stacked neatly in the place the wardrobe had once been.
It was likely safer to wear what had been laid out for him.
He was so hungry his body shook and his stubble was even worse than usual. He needed the razor before he could do much of anything else and he doubted he could shave himself. He would have to go out into the hall to ring for Lee.
It did not take him long to get dressed, because there was so little to the outfit.
He made his way to the door and laid his hand upon the knob.
It would not turn.
He tried again, in incomprehension.
It would not turn.
It was locked.
No, they were past this!
He was a good boy!
He could be trusted!
But the door was locked.
What had happened last night?
Xaxac could feel his chest seizing, so he closed his eyes and leaned upon the locked door. It was alright. Everything was fine. It was already after noon. Agalon would be home soon.
“Lee?” Xaxac begged the empty sitting room, “Lee, Aggie’s gonna be home soon and I need to shave! I gotta do my face!”
There was no sound, save the steady tick tick ticking of the clock.
Xaxac released the door and wrapped his arms around himself; he tried to breath in time with the clock.
If he had a wardrobe, he could put the clothes away.
If he had the supplies, he could shave.
But he had nothing.
So he held himself, trying to will himself back to sanity. It didn’t seem to be working, so he went back to the bed, to set it to rights. He smoothed out the sheet, then the quilt, then set up the pillows. He washed and refilled the pitcher and the basin. He carefully combed out his hair, then went about what little cleaning he could do with his few scant supplies.
He was so hungry.
He collapsed onto the bed and doubled over into himself with the pain of it.
He wondered how poisonous certain things were, the parts of food that you were supposed to throw away, as he stared at the tray that still sat by the bedside.
He did not hold out very long before he picked up the core of an apple and began to eat.
He rolled over and carefully chewed the hard, rough texture of the core as he stared up at the ceiling.
Three hundred and sixty pedals.
He loves me.
He loves me not.
Xaxac did not move. He stared at the ceiling, concentrating as hard as he could on his counting.
He tried as hard as he could not to think about the windows. He tried not to think about what had happened last night. He tried not to think about how much he knew about fabric, about the clothes in the packages or the twine that tied them together.
Xaxac did not like being in the room.
Not like this.
He tried as hard as he could to count the petals on the ceiling instead of the length of the fabric in the packages or the length of space from the bedpost to the window and the window to the ground.
Why would Aggie lock him in again?
He had been such a good boy. He had done everything he was supposed to, learned everything he was supposed to.
He loves me.
But he was a monster. He was cursed. He couldn’t control it! He had tried to warn Agalon! He knew something terrible would happen!
He loves me not.
But Aggie didn’t think he was a monster. Aggie thought Xaxac could be an example, because he wasn’t dangerous, and he could show the elves that shifters weren’t dangerous.
He loves me.
But he must have been wrong. Xaxac wondered what had happened last night.
He loves me not.
The afternoon sunlight turned to twilight, and the room sat, silent and still, save for the tick tick ticking of the clock, and Xaxac tried as hard as he could not to think of anything.
He wanted to shave.
He wanted to be cute.
He wanted to live.
He ate the green stems he had picked off the strawberries.
“Rabbit whatcha sittin in the corner for?
Ain’t gonna rain no more no more
Rained last night and the night before
Ain’t gonna rain no more.” He sang, softly to himself, and he was startled when he was answered, both because there had been no indication that anyone was in any position to answer him, and because the song that came in reply made no sense. It had a completely different melody, meaning, and intention, so the overall effect was unsettling.
“Little baby bunting
Daddy’s gone a’hunting
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap a baby bunting in.”
“Lorry?” Xaxac asked.
“Be real quiet,” Lorsan warned, and Xaxac heard clicking, not like a key in a lock, but as if someone were scratching at the metal of the door, scratching on the inside of the doorknob. He didn’t know how such a thing was possible. What was he doing?
Xaxac sat on the edge of the bed and watched the doorknob rattle as if someone was trying a key that didn’t fit. It was some time before it turned.
Lorsan sat on his knees, on the floor of the sitting room, with a pouch rolled out to his side, into which he was sliding long, metal tubes. Once he had them arranged how he wanted them, he rolled the whole thing back up and stuck it into his pocket before he stood.
“He locked us both in that time,” Lorry said, “And I don’t know about you, but I’m starvin.”
“What’s goin on?” Xac asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Lorry shrugged, “Hell of night last night, little rabbit. Hell of a night.”
“Where’s Aggie?” Xaxac asked, and drew himself as far against the headboard as he could.
“I’m lookin at the same empty room you are,” Lorsan waved his arm to indicate the empty bedroom. “Everybody’s gone as far as I can tell. Don’t do nobody a damn bit a good to listen at keyholes ‘cause the whole damn house is empty.”
“Lorry?” Xaxac asked, quietly, as Lorsan walked up to his bedside table and picked up the picture of a demon that his friend Alex had painted for him, and seemed to be quite impressed with it, given how hard he studied it.
“Yeah?” Lorsan asked.
“Did I hurt anybody?”
“No,” Lorry shook his head, “I don’t reckon. I wouldn’t there when they found you. And nobody told me they found you so I was out half the damn night on a wild rabbit chase. I just got up a few minutes ago and everybody was gone. You run, is what scared um. You dug outta the enclosure and run off. Daddy found you, though. You was here by the time I got home. Xac, where’d you get this picture?”
“Alex made it for me,” Xaxac said, “he paints.” He curled his knees up to his chest and laid his face in them.
“You got a lotta stubble goin on,” Lorsan told him, “fuzzy little bunny.”
“I need Lee to help me shave,” Xac lamented, “my hands are shakin real bad. I’m hungry. I get real hungry after I shift.”
“I ain’t tried to ring nobody,” Lorsan said, “want me to try and get him?”
“I don’t think Aggie wants me to talk to nobody,” Xac said to his knees, “I think I’m in trouble.”
“Fuck him,” Lorsan said.
“I’m too tired to argue with you,” Xaxac said matter of factly and rolled away from him.
“I’m leavin soon,” Lorsan said after the silence had gotten so heavy he felt a compulsion to lift it, “I gotta go back to school. Xac… once I get there they got a lot more information than we got here. I’m gonna find a way to help you.”
“You don’t even like me,” Xac said, “I… why are you doin this? Why do you keep gettin all flip-floppidy? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“I’m not flip-floppidy,” Lorsan said, sounding insulted, “I’ve been pretty upfront since I met you. I do like you. And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t want you here. I don’t like… the whole thing.”
“What thing?” Xac asked. “The shifter thing?”
“That scares the hell outta me, not gonna lie,” Lorsan said, “But I mean the… pleasure slave thing. I don’t know why we’re all actin like this is ok? Look at you! Look how you’re dressed! Do you even know what that is? That’s a mockery of the outfit the priests wore at the fire temple! There are records of ‘um, paintings of the high priestess of the Fire Temple, Orenda Firefist, being defeated by our ‘great army’. They took something that was sacred to them and tried to make it all slutty and- they went over there, wiped them out, then took the pretty part of their culture and made it into a costume for the animals they wanna fuck!”
“Did water elves wear robes?” Xac asked.
“How’d you know that?” Lorsan asked.
“Alex had a slutty robe,” Xaxac turned a little to look at him, “I liked it.”
“Daddy’s the fuckin monster,” Lorsan said, “not you.”
“Lorry, can you please just… quit? Quit doin that? To me? Can you save that shit for your friends? You got friends?”
“Why?” Lorsan asked.
“On account of I love him and it drives me fuckin crazy!” Xac yelled with all the enthusiasm he could muster in his fatigued state, “And it’s already real, real hard for me not to be crazy!”
“You gonna cry again?” Lorsan asked, as if he was interested, not as if he was judging.
“Yeah, probably,” Xac shrugged, “Why the hell not? Everything’s so fucked at this point what’s it gonna matter? I know I done went and did somethin last night. I know it. That’s why he locked me up!”
“Oh my god you- I’m gonna punch you in your pretty little face,” Lorsan snarled, “You can’t be that fuckin stupid! Even for an ape, sweet glowin Thesis, you can’t be that stupid!”
“I can be as stupid as I want!” Xac countered.
“He don’t lock you up because you’re dangerous, dumbass!” Lorsan yelled, “It ain’t a punishment! He does it for the same goddamn reason he locks me up! Because we’re just things to him! You’re a slave; I’m an heir, and we’re just pretty little things he owns! He locks up all his shit when he leaves! It ain’t got a goddamn thing to do with you as a person; it ain’t nothin you did, it’s just what he does!”
“He don’t own you,” Xac snapped, “You’re an elf!”
“He sure as hell thinks he does!” Lorsan yelled, “That’s why mommy left him, because he thought he owned us! Thought he owned me! Thought he could do whatever the hell he wanted with me, ‘cause he owned me!”
He was full of the kind of anger Xaxac had gotten used to, the energy he envied, as tired as he was, but he watched him try to control it, watched his body shake with the force of it as he tried to contain it. Lorsan was wearing the earrings he had stolen, and they glowed as he closed his eyes, balled his hands into fists, and tried to quiet the rage within him.
When he spoke again it was softer, as if he was telling a secret.
“You saved me,” he said, “mommy wouldn’t here no more. After Kenny died I thought sure he’d… he’d come after me again… like he did before. If it wouldn’t you, it’a been me.”
“That ain’t how that works,” Xac said.
“You don’t know how nothin works,” Lorry said, “That’s why he likes you. He thinks you’ll stay little and stupid forever if he can control who you talk to. But that ain’t gonna work like he thinks it will. You ain’t like the rest of um. You’re too smart for that. You ain’t as stupid as you act.”
“I been thinkin too much,” Xaxac said. “Fuck me… I been thinkin too much…”
“I’m gonna get some food,” Lorsan said, “You do what you want.”