“Come on, Honey Bunny,” Agalon shouted, trying to be heard over the crowd as he opened the door.
“I’m Little Bunny Foo Foo!” Xac shrieked, still bouncing on his feet, “I won! I won!”
“Come on, Honey Bunny!” Agalon tried again, but Xaxac still didn’t hear him. He was busy waving to the crowd even as the elven soldiers came in behind him, eyeing him suspiciously to drag away what was left of the Viper.
“Xaxac!” Agalon snapped, and Xac finally turned to look at him
“Aggie!” He yelled, and Agalon liked the pure joy radiating from his big brown eyes, “I won! You believed in me! You knew I could win! And now everybody loves me!”
“You gotta get outta the cage, darlin,” Agalon said, “There’s another match startin.”
“Did he chew through the fence?” The loud man asked, not into the contraption he held, not meant for the crowd to hear, “Is that… did he break the fence?”
“Like a bunny!” Xac said cheerfully.
“Get outta the cage,” Agalon had walked inside and took him by the hand to lead him away.
“Bye!” Xac shouted to the crowd, smiling with his entire body as he bounced and waved, then to Agalon he said, “I wanna do that again! I wanna go again! Everybody’s so happy!”
“You don’t go two matches one after another,” Agalon said, “I’ll… I’ll sit you down and explain the rules. Look, darlin, right now I gotta be here for Wyatt’s match, but you go with Lee, alrighty? He’s gonna take you to the vet to get looked at, then you head over to the bathhouse an’ he’ll have a new outfit for you.”
“I won!” Xac said, and Agalon’s eyebrows knit together in concern, because Xac was still staring at the crowd and didn’t seem as if he had heard anything he said. Instead, he threw his arms around Agalon and squeezed, buried his face in his chest, and didn’t seem to have thought at all about the fact that he was covered in the blood that had sprayed on him during his stabbing spree.
It was not the first time someone covered in blood had clung to Agalon, but it was perhaps the happiest anyone had ever been in that situation.
“I gotta go, darlin,” Agalon explained as he pried him away, “Go with Lee.”
“Oh!” Xac said as if he had suddenly remembered where he was and who he was talking to, but it did not impede his chipper attitude, “Yes, master! Good luck, Wyatt! You’ll win too! It’s so fun!”
“Come on, Xaxac,” Lee grabbed Xac by his cleanest arm and began to lead him away, but Xac turned and waved behind them.
“Good luck!” He said.
“Be quiet,” Lee said, “the exit goes through the sidelines. Let’s try to get through there without no-”
“Did you see me?” Xac asked as Lee led him past the benches, and though they were roped off he could speak to Alex, who was sitting there with his master.
“Go on,” Kyrtarr said, and Alex gleefully climbed under the ropes and threw his arms around Xaxac. Two of the elves who Xaxac now realized worked for the rodeo had moved forward as if to stop their embrace, but Lee held up the pass Agalon had written and spoke.
“He ain’t a fan,” Lee explained, “He’s with us.”
One of the elves glanced back to Agalon, who was shaking hands again at the behest of the loud man and nodded to the other, and Alex was allowed to stay in Xac’s arms.
“That was amazin, Foo Foo!” Alex cried.
“That poor laundress,” Lee sighed, “Y’all make me tired. Come on.”
“Where we goin?” Xac asked as he followed him.
“To get you cleared on medical,” Lee said. “Vet’s gotta look at you.”
“I feel great!” Xac proclaimed, “I heal!”
“Yeah that… that ain’t good, boy,” Lee said as he drug Xaxac through the fairgrounds, “It ain’t hit ya’ yet, what you just done. And you’re so goddamn sensitive, cryin all the time that when it does hit ya… I’m gonna have to deal with it.”
“I won!” Xac argued, “That’s what I just done.”
“Yup,” Lee said.
“-don’t know what the hell you’d expect me to do,” the vet was saying as they entered the stables, “He ain’t got a skull. It’s dust. No heartbeat. I don’t know why you even brought this in here and made me look at it.”
The earth elf who had been standing outside was glaring down at the form the vet was covering in a sheet and seething.
“This is bullshit!” He snarled, “I know he’s the goddamn duke but if that thing really is a shifter there ain’t no way in hell it oughta be allowed in the cage! That ain’t a human it’s a fuckin monster! It broke off a chunk of the fence barehanded! Started stabbin bitches!”
“They’re allowed to use the environment,” the vet said, “You think you was done wrong, you can go file a complaint-”
“Yeah, let me go file a complaint with his fuckin cousin!” the earth elf snapped, “That’ll do somethin! She’ll be real interested!”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Kharis,” the vet said, “this is the second one he’s tore up. I wouldn’t put nothin else against him.”
“Sir,” Lee said and the vet glanced over at him, saw that he was tugging Xac along, and his eyes shot open.
“Speak a’ the devil and he’ll appear,” The vet chuckled, “How you feelin, Xac? First match hits hard sometimes.”
Xaxac’s enthusiasm had faded as he stared at the misshapen lump under the sheet.
He was a good boy.
He would never run, but he ran away.
He would never get in a fight, but he fought Billy.
He would never hurt nobody, but as he watched the thing under the sheet staining it not only red but also a strange grey that almost looked clear mingling with and diluting the bloodstain, he realized that the Viper was dead.
He had been alive, but because of Xaxac, not he was not.
But humans were mortals with short, transient lives, not unlike the other animals. Xaxac had told Agalon he liked his leather gloves, he watched people around him eat meat, wear fur and leather, work creatures, including humans, to death. It didn’t mean anything, in the long run. Yes, most people would prefer to be alive, but once they were dead it was like none of it had ever happened. It didn’t mean anything. Xac was going to die one day too. When you were a mortal creature, when you were an animal, you began to die from the day you were born. The Viper went out among the roar of the crowd; it was the cool death Xaxac had wanted.
Among these justifications another thought that had been buried like a fertile seed took root and broke the surface of his mind, winding slowly around all the other thoughts like a grapevine.
Xaxac was small.
He was cute.
He had always thought he was the weakest person in the room.
But he was a shifter.
He was strong.
He was fast.
Xaxac was cursed; he was a monster, and he had always been afraid that people would fear him. But as he stared at the corpse that had once been a person, that thought wound and wound around all those other thoughts and finally bloomed into something he was sure, as soon as he heard it in his own mind, he had known all along:
Goddamn right, they should be scared of me.
“I feel great!” Xac proclaimed, “I heal.”