The monster dug its way out of the plantation as the twin moons, full and bright, shone down overhead. It ran in leaps and bounds, into the forest that stretched on in either direction, away from the fearful shouts, away from the crowd, the noise, and toward the illusion of safety. It was not safe, of course. It was the lesser of two evils.
The monster was not exactly a rabbit, but it was not exactly a person. It was much too big to hide in the underbrush, like a rabbit would be able to, standing nearly seven feet tall if it stood on its hind legs, which it did now, sniffing the air with both ears standing tall and twitching, trying to pick up any sounds of danger.
It was dusk; the moons had just risen, and that was the most active time for rabbits. But this rabbit was being hunted, and it knew it.
“I’m offering a two hundred gold reward!” Agalon, Duke of the Agricultural District proclaimed as he swung himself onto his horse, “For whoever brings him back alive!”
“Hey dad,” Lorsan said from his position, on his mount beside his father, “Remember how I told you this would happen? Remember how I said I wanted it documented that I said this would end horribly?”
“Alive!” Agalon reiterated as the other earth elves gathered around him, on horses, with weapons. His humans slaves had scattered and were no longer gathered around the enclosure where he kept his fighters corralled, but he wasn’t concerned with them. He had to find the rabbit. He had to find Xaxac.
He took off at a gallop, followed by the soldiers who had arrived to aid in his search, but Lorry held the reigns taunt, stayed behind, and scanned the vast open fields of his father’s plantation. After a few seconds, he took off at a trot, moving not off the grounds and into the forest, as the others had done, but toward the wooden shacks where his father’s slaves dwelt.
Something was wrong.
There shouldn’t be any earth elves near the slave quarters. They had all either gone back to the house, or had gone to look for the monster.
So there was no reason he should feel that someone was trying to cast earth magic. Humans could not cast magic.
He dismounted as quietly as he could, gave the horse a knowing look, and walked silently in the direction he sensed the magic was coming from. He moved swiftly and threw open the flimsy wooden door with much more force than he had meant to; he was not used to doors being so light.
“Oh, shit,” he said.
The kitchen maid, Alice knelt on her earthen floor, staring at it and clutching a single gold earring, inset with an earth crystal. A small crowd had gathered around her, including her husband Jimmy, Lorsan’s valet, her mother Abigail, the cook, and her father Abraham, the field hand Lorry had been looking for.
“Aw shit,” Alice agreed.
Lorsan looked around the empty plantation, stepped inside the shanty, quickly slammed the door, and leaned against it.
“Are you tryin to cast?” He asked.
“...no?” Alice asked.
“Humans can’t… you’ll tear yourself apart,” Lorsan warned, and it seemed to come from a place of genuine concern, “You can’t control it. And you can’t scry like that. You gotta know what his soul looks like and he’s gotta be able to answer. You can’t just spy on him like that. I mean… maybe you could but you… it’s forbidden. And even I don’t know how.”
The humans all stared at him, and the stillness was so overpowering Lorsan had difficulty drawing breath.
“I’m not mad,” he promised, “but you’ll get hurt.”
“He’s my brother!” Alice said, as if she was close to flying into a rage, and Jimmy put a hand on her shoulder, but it did nothing to deter her, “He’s my baby brother! And your daddy has ruined him! I’m gonna-”
“He’s an elf,” Jimmy hissed, and put both hands on her shoulders to shove her back down as she tried to rise, “He’s an elf! Have you lost your mind!?” He held her tightly and jerked his eyes to Lorsan, “I’m sorry, master, she’s pregnant, she’s got that crazy folks get when they’re pregnant.”
“Is that a thing?” Lorsan asked, “I don’t… know nothin about that. Look, I was… Abe, I was lookin for you. Last time you was the only one able to calm him down. Reckon you can find him? I mean, we can find him?”
“I need to be out lookin for him,” Abe said, “I was gettin ready to go. Soon as we knew where to look.”
“It don’t work that way,” Lorsan said again, approached Alice and held out his hand, “Gimme that. Please? It’ll kill you. It’ll drive you crazy an’ kill you. Humans can’t channel magic, it’ll tear you apart. It’s too much.”
Alice clutched the earring to her chest and glared at him, “You can pry it outta my cold, dead hands.”
“Alley, fuck’s sakes!” Jimmy grabbed her hands and tried to pry them open, “Just give it to him! What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Give it to him, baby,” Abigale begged, “Just give it to him. Don’t be startin trouble, not tonight!”
Alice jerked, violently, from her husband’s grasp and sprinted, full force toward the door. Lorsan tried to grab her, but she had the door open in the time it took him to turn.
“Goddamn that whole fuckin family is fast!” He snarled and bolted outside after her, just in time to see her climbing onto his horse.
“Alley no!” Abigale shrieked as she ran after her daughter, but the horse turned, and carried Alley off in the direction the elves had gone, towards the open gate and into the woods.
“What the fuck!?” Jimmy shrieked, like a man who had lost his mind.
“Great,” Lorry huffed, “Fuckin great. Great night.”
Abigail had given way to hysterics, while the men folk stared in awe, trying to process what they had just seen.
“Find her!” Abigale shrieked, though no one could judge to whom she was speaking, “Find her before the master does! She… ain’t nothin wrong with her, I swear! She don’t mean nothin by it! That’s just hormones is all that is!”
Jimmy rushed back into the house, and as that was the only movement, Lorsan turned to follow him, and that seemed to cause him to stop whatever he had been attempting to do and freeze in place, hovering awkwardly in the middle of the room, but Lorsan followed his eyeline, traced it to a mattress stuffed with hay.
“What are y’all doin?” Lorsan asked with as much kindness as he could muster as he stepped toward the mattress, and Jimmy cursed, “What am I gonna find?”
“We need to leave, master,” Jimmy said with great practicality, “We gotta go find Alley and Xac.” He took a deep breath, and begged, begged like a man pleading for his life, “Lorsan… Lorry… please. Please. You said… you’ve always been… you ain’t like the rest of um… I thought… I thought you was one of the good ones.”
Lorsan threw back the knitted blanket and saw nothing but the mattress. He grabbed the edge, rolled it forward, and saw a piece of paper, stark against the rich brown of the earthen floor. It was a piece of watercolor parchment, and when he picked it up, he knew instantly what it was.
Someone who was apparently skilled in watercolor had drawn a map. It would take whoever followed it through the agricultural district and into the town of Basilglen, then farther still, to the port town of Seaweed beach, to the ocean.
Lorsan’s hands shook as he stared down at the map. Nothing was labeled. There was no writing. But it would be simple enough to follow. It would probably be simple enough to memorize.
“Shit, Jimmy,” Lorry said, “Y’all… y’all can’t have this. Daddy would lose his goddamn mind.”
“I know,” Jimmy said, refusing to meet his eye.
“Where the hell did you think you was goin?” Lorry asked.
“Nowhere,” Jimmy said, like a man resigned to his fate, “we ain’t… we ain’t goin nowhere.”
“If you made it,” Lorsan said, “You’d have to find somebody to take you off, have to find somewhere to go. Jimmy there… there ain’t nowhere to go. You know that, right? There ain’t nowhere to go. Xandra’s got her claws in the whole world. There ain’t nowhere where it’s gonna be no better than it is here. Not for you.”
“Can I please find my wife?” Jimmy begged, “If your daddy catches her he’ll kill her.”
“Yeah,” Lorry said as he folded the map and stuck it into his pocket, “Let’s head to the stables.”
The monster crouched low to the ground and tried to make sense of its surroundings. It was away from all the noise now, possibly away from the danger, but it still did not feel particularly safe, and had no idea where it should go to find safety.
It was starving, so hopped further into the underbrush and began to nibble on the grass.
Alice had to tread carefully. The elves in the woods were soldiers or hunters, and they were all around her. She suspected she may have made a mistake, but she needed to be solution oriented. She had to find Xaxac before they did. If she could just find her brother, they could easily outrun the elves. He ran like a rabbit, and she suspected that if they traveled together, tonight, they would never be able to find them again. They could move so fast and so far that they would never be found.
She loved her husband, loved her parents, but she had to think about the baby. They had to make it to Seaweed. If they could get that far, they could figure something out. They could get lucky. Xaxac had always been lucky.
The monster stood on its hind legs again and sniffed the air. The ground was vibrating. Something was coming towards it.
But it wasn’t afraid, because it knew that smell.
Roses. Tobacco. Whiskey. That perfume he sprayed in his hair to overpower the scent of the hair color.
It was the smell of love, of safety.
The monster turned and took short, tentative hops toward the smell.
Agalon stilled the horse and held up a hand; the soldiers surrounding him followed his lead.
When the monster hopped out of the underbrush, none of them dared to breath. Its claws, easily half a foot long, and its sharp teeth glistened in the moonlight, but it was those eyes, those big, brown eyes that seemed to have an intelligence behind them that were the most unsettling.
“Nobody move,” Agalon warned, then, in his kindest voice he said, “There you are, Honey Bunny. You scared me to death. I’m so glad I’ve found you.”
The monster moved toward him again, and Agalon felt the horse tensing under him. He was afraid the creature would bolt, despite his best efforts, so he slowly, and with great care, climbed off the animal, keeping his eyes locked to the monster.
“You done went and caused me a whole heap of trouble, Honey Bunny,” Agalon said in his most soothing voice, but the monster seemed to believe this was praise as it took another small hop towards him, “That’s it, darlin, that’s my good boy.”
Agalon held out a hand, and the monster crept forward towards him, towards the love, towards the safety he provided, until it snuggled its head into his outstretched hand.
“Perfect,” Agalon praised, “That’s perfect darlin, what a good boy.”
The crystals in his earrings began to glow with a soft, green light, and the monster let out a blood curdling shriek that pierced the stillness of the night air, so loud it must have been heard through the entire agricultural district.
“Now!” Agalon shouted as the monster’s muscles seized and it fell to the forest floor in a heap. “Hurry!”
The soldiers dismounted and moved quickly with their ropes and chains.
Alice sat, hidden by the treeline, and watched the elves capture her brother as she considered her options.
She had to think about the baby.
She would move faster on the horse, but she would move quietly on foot.
So slowly, silently, she dismounted, moved a few feet away to a more secluded spot, and bid her time until she watched the group climb back onto their horses and ride back towards the plantation, dragging her brother behind them as he seemed to awaken from his stupor, gasping for air.
Then she turned and walked in the opposite direction, wishing she had the foresight to bring supplies on what would, undoubtedly, be a long journey.