2 - Big, Mean, Nasty Dogs

Shanghaied, brother. You didn't expect me. But that's typical, no one's expected anything out of me in our family. I don't blame you for being your father's son. Hells, I'd strive for that myself, if I thought I had any chance of achieving it.

But, moving on to business. I have need of a poet, and it seems you're so conveniently watching that area, so why not turn your attention to me? It would be difficult to avoid such a thing, I know! I just naturally draw people's eyes and ears. And really, won't I be more useful than some underling servant who looks just like the others, the others who the King will likely forget even before he's left the room? You need me. So you'll be riding my shoulder now.

So don't think of it as a hijacking! Think of it as a favor.

* * *

...If he wasn't kin to me I'd put a bullet in his head. I could hit him from here, too. I could nail him, wards and distance be damned.

No, better to hand him off to Father. Later, when I catch him. Because I'm not leaving here without that little runt. Not now.

...I have a mission. And as idiotic as Lyric is, no matter what name he's giving to himself at this point, he does have a valid argument. He will be more useful as a pair of eyes and ears than that nameless pawn. I'll be much more easily hidden in his mind, since we're family. And Lyric's nature, bright and energetic, means that if he gives everything an extra look for me, it won't be seen as suspicious.

...And does he have special ties with the Peacock King? Lyric, what did you do after you left home? Where have you been?

Yet another advantage is that I can now fully record him, instead of the half-leaning I was doing before. So pardon me, witness, while I bow out. It is time for Poetry.

* * *

The Peacock King looks upon Lotus. His eyes sweep over Lotus's clothing after just a ghost across the boy's face and eyes. Traveler's garb, as to be expected. He's just now arrived after the summons, after all. Probably fresh off the wagon. But it is fine traveler's garb, not something worn and dirty. And he has a bit of style to him as well, the buckles are practical yet ornamental and well-polished. He's chosen his colors to match those of the court he's traveled to. And his shoes are pristine, something that he would only care about because he knew that those higher than him, more important than him, would. There's that short measure of a person, then, that is made by what they wear. A calculation that the Peacock King is well-seasoned in. His eyes return to Lotus's face.

The boy has to crane his neck to meet the rainbow gaze of the King, whose high stature is a far cry from Lotus's modest latitude. Lotus has smooth, round features, a slight blush to his fair skin, an upturned nose, and what could be a permanent smile. His hair is the color of ginger, and has been styled into an ornament itself. His bangs are cut in a scalloped line over his brow, nearly hiding his eyes. Loose strands of hair hang on either side, straight and even at shoulder length, framing his face. The rest of it is bound up in a complex knot that resembles a...

"...Hyacinth." The King's voice is smooth and precise in its enunciation. "But your name is Lotus, correct?"

Lotus makes a respectful nod, though the twinkle of mirth that's lighted in his eyes could betray it as more patronizing than he means it to be. "Yes, King of such an exalted Court, but the hyacinth's shape is so delicate, so graceful. And styling my hair into the shape of my name would be cliche. I'd never hear the end of it." He skirts a glance up to the King, unable to quell his smile. He is curious. Is there approval? Disdain? Humor? What is the response of his audience?

The King tilts his head to the side ever so slightly. "Instead, you choose to style your hair in such a way that people will ask a question of it, to which you can explain and make your first impression, mmm?" He laughs, a soft laugh with a hard tone underneath. There is real mirth in it, but no one could overlook the scoff. "Quaint, but you do have some charm." He smiles down at the boy. "Or do you? I've heard much of your skill, but I desire to test it before I hire it. You're too cheeky to take in on faith. In that, your reputation precedes both you and the reputation of your skills." He looks to the side, makes a short gesture with his hand, bringing the focus to the cell next to them.

Lotus looks over his task before even bothering to worry about a response to the question of his manners. Manners can be forgiven. Incompetence cannot. What is in the cage before him? He raises a hand, hangs it from one of the cell's bars by the tips of his fingers. His eyes look to the corner.

"...That can't be what you have, and surely you wouldn't have me train some scruffy human in the stead of it." He looks up to the King. "What do you mean by this?"

Through most situations, the Peacock King manages to maintain his composure. He's well known for assuming the regal poise and grace of his namesake animal. But right now his face is fixed into a very small grin, for that's the most control he can exert over the huge grin that wants to overtake his face so very badly.

It's only a couple of seconds later that Lotus hears the laugh, a true laugh. A belly-laugh that the Court here has never had the privelege of witnessing. The grin widens. The King simply can't contain that much more of it. He moves his hand to guard his mouth, closes his eyes. The corners of his smile still peek past the span of his fingers.

"They didn't tell me of your humor, Lotus. Only your nerve." He looks to the figure in the cage. "It is what you do not want to think it is, what you could not believe. You come from distant lands and know little of me, Lotus. You have not been a direct witness to what I am capable of." His hand waves to the cell, palm up, the scalloped edges of his sleeve fanning down from the length of his arm. "Behold, now. An animism. See it up close, with no forest grove or thicket to hide in. See it held here for anyone's eyes to look upon. And see it bound for any to reach in and touch." His hand sweeps to his waist, deep into a pocket hidden in the seamline of his robe, and plucks a key out. He turns it in the lock.

Lotus watches the cell door open, watches as the King presents the doorway to him. "Well, go on. It only came in this day. I've barely had time to even look at it before you arrived and stole my attentions from it." He makes a shooing-in motin with his fingers. "So fresh from capture that it still smells of leaves and dew. What other chance will you have in your life to encounter this, Lotus? What other Kingdom can offer you this privelege?"

He's frozen for a moment, Lotus is, deep in some sort of thought process that the Peacock King can't see into with only his eyes. Then the boy moves. It's his hand that moves first, delicate, thin fingers drifting over the coil of whip hanging from his waist. Then he steps forward, his grin and wit returned, and sweeps into the cell.

He had heard that the King has something rare. He had even mentioned it to his brother, expecting that Gerald was involved in a smuggling ring investigation. He could not have anticipated this, though.

[Walking into a cell on invitation while the Peacock King stands at the door holding the only known key? His Father would be so disappointed. Lyric brushes that aside. What his Father thinks doesn't matter anymore.]

He almost thinks, right now, that he is in over his head with this. This isn't just a rare animal. It's a high crime for him to even walk in here, to not immediately assist its escape. "Does he have a name you can put to tongue?" Death. He could actually face death for leaving here and doing nothing about this.

[He was contemplating things his Father would be disappointed in?]

"Faun." The King smiles, and there's no mirth in this smile. Only cruel smugness. "His captive-name is Faun-doe." He sees Lyric's shoulders jerk, sees the boy react to that particular crime. "It's written on his collar. I'd have hired a Poet for it, to make it more binding, but you know how hard they are to hire for jobs like that."

...Yes. That Lotus would know. Thanks be to whatever he could call Lord now that the Peacock King has no clue as to exactly why Lotus knows that.  He only gives a somewhat impressed cast to his features, and then steps closer. Is it asleep, truly asleep? How is the King keeping the creature under? Lotus wants to reach over and touch it. Just like the King said -- brush his fingers over its cloak, against its chin, to prove to himself that this thing is real.

No. He's too smart for that. His instincts are too sharp, too. He can feel the creature's regard, can feel the thing seeing him with its mind even as it lies here unconscious. Lotus thinks he's more impressed by this creature's tenacity than by the Peacock King's success in capturing it.

He has the oddest urge to play chess with it. They're remarkably intelligent, aren't they? Some mistake them for humans. In Lotus's opinion that's underestimating the things.

He's staying back, pacing back and forth in semicircles around the creature, staying outside of a particular radius. The King is watching him, noting his hesitancy. Lotus wonders what he's to do, then, to prove his skills to the King, if the animism is simply going to lie there unconscious.

Prove his skills? Might he be crazy? He should be helping it to escape. Except, he thinks as his fingers pluck over the coils of his whip, where have I to go from here? All that I have left is in puches hanging from my belt, is in my pockets. I've nowhere to run to and the animism won't care once he has his freedom.

Not enough reason. He should still be helping it to escape.

I can't. I'm just one man who barely knows his way around here, and he's drugged and confused and most likely will be feral at me. This is something Gerald could pull off, not I. I'm stuck here.

I've got to make the most of anything I have left, right this very second.

He doesn't pop the whip. No, he slides forward toward the creature's left side, along the wall, his whip uncoling as he moves. He lets his robe whisper his intent. He sees the creature's ears prick before it's no longer there.

It's leapt towards Lotus. He notes the deadly aim, thanks himself for planning his evade before even stepping forward. Lotus yanks the whip with a tough, unyeilding jerk, tightens the noose he'd formed of it before letting it coil from his fingers and then flicking it out before Faun's leap. The animism hits the floor in the middle of his dash, the whip tight around one shoulder and his neck.

Lotus moves to the side before the animism even lands, which saves him his life. The counterattack is quick. It's still got full use of its legs and arms and hands. Lotus can thankfully trip him up with the whip, though, use it to his advantage in his evades.

[Lose a hand. Lose a hand for laying an ill touch on them. That's the Law.]

He's too busy trying not to get killed to bother with the Law right now. Lotus wonders idly if that's what was foremost on the minds of those that captured this beast, then manages to sneak out some netting from a pouch at the small of his back. The creature's hands and arms snarl up in them, unable to evade while he and Lotus were dancing. Lotus quickly slips behind its back, coiling the whip under an arm, yanking it back up to the neck again for a quick loop.

He's giving ground by doing this, risking close combat and forasking the distance advantage. But he can trip it now, can make use of its own clothing, of Lotus's own cloak. It's a few moments before the creature is half-bound and half-bundled. On the fringes of Lotus's hearing, he hears a few polite hand-claps. He doesn't care. He's never played for token audience approval, never settled for it.

Lotus only thinks that he is damn lucky this creature, this poor, beautiful creature, is drugged now. Or obviously impaired in some way, because the boy shouldn't be able to do this, shouldn't have been able to succeed at all. He could have it fully bound in just a minute more. It makes him sick, and the hardest part is the task of not showing that fact to his audience.

He has to smile! Smile for the camera, for the show. There is always a role and always a mask.

Fully bound now. Hogtied. Lotus tsks. It lacks elegance. But he's at least made it so that the snarling creature won't hurt itself in its struggle. That would be the greatest tragedy in this whole affair - the animism being injured through this, a pathetic maneuver just for Lotus to prove he has some worth to this charlatan of royalty.

He gets truer applause now, applause that comes closer as he breathes. He does not look up from the animism. He dare not. Once free, it would kill him, and Lotus wouldn't blame the poor thing at all. He keeps a satisfied smirk on his face, backs all the will he has behind it to make it real.

He knows to stick to his role.

He feels the Peacock King next to him. A length of silk brushes his side before the King leans down with something in his hand. Lotus's heart almost stops as he realizes it's a gold dagger.

"Watch," the King whispers as he slides the blade forward. "Learn." He nestles the blade under the animism's neck.

The creature goes still. Docile. Limp, save for its neck, which stays still as an onyx's heartbeat.

Lotus hears the King's smirk, feels the wickedness dripping from the expression.

"He won't move a muscle now, Lotus. He won't dare be cut by me. Forget the laws, the rules. Trying not to hurt this creature is a silly excercise, a stupid dance for stupid Laws. It won't let you hurt it. It lives to persist unharmed. As long as you let it stay aware enough of itself, the animism will preserve itself for you. And it will obey you to keep that preservation. They're quite tame, really, once you have that going for yourself.

Lotus feels the Peacock King's fingers coil around his hand. They guide his hand to the golden, vaguely crescent-like blade. They slide his palm over the handle, clasp over his hand to make him hold it, and then the Peacock King lets go. Lotus is holding the knife to the animal's throat all on his own.

He must not shake.

"Now," says the Peacock King, "get it to kneel to me, and I'll let you stay."

It's really just a matter of guidance, thinks Lotus, trying to block it from his mind even as it happens. It's just a matter of pulling the blade up slowly so that the animism must rise, a matter of "If you jerk back, I will stab you with this." It's just coercion. Lotus's mind skips back as it happens. He met a man in an alley once. He was Lyrics then, and he was scared and hungry, and he had a knife that he'd stolen from some pub, and he held it in the alley. The man, old and short, looked up at Lyric. It wasn't the confusion in his eyes that did it, nor the fear. The man looked at him with doubt even then. Lyric couldn't even pretend to stab him. He couldn't pretend, couldn't become the role for such a thing. He just dropped the knife and looked away from the man in shame. The man lingered there, and then Lyric heard a clink, and the man shuffled away.

He'd left Lyric a gold coin out of simple pity for him.

Lotus cannot believe he's holding a knife to this beautiful creature, threatening it with the stakes of bloodspill. But what frightens him most, sickens him most at this moment, is that Faun believes Lotus really can, and will, stab him.

He would drop the knife right now if he weren't busy wondering if possibly the animism is right.

It is a full kneel. There's a low hiss from the animism's throat. Lyric sees the dullness in its eyes, the exhaustion, and knows to pull away the knife just as the poor thing slumps to the floor. Too much dancing for it. Too much excitement. And worst of all, too much confinement.

He strokes a hand along its back, leans in to check its breathing, and the Peacock King hauls Lotus back by the collar before Faun rips his throat out.

The tall one whispers into the trainer's ear, "The last mistake you will make is to care too much for that one." Then Lotus is pulled from the cell, still clutching the knife, and the King shuts the barred door. The animism simply glares up at them, the silent demand in its eyes simple: 'Untie me.'

"No." The King dusts his hands off, rings clinking and sparkling with the motion. He smoothly takes the knife back from Lotus and tucks it in a sash hidden by a layer of silk. "You've been naughty. The first thing you will learn is that obedience earns favor from your owners." He slips a hand behind Lotus, pushes at the small of his back.

Lotus looks up at him with no small amount of worry, flavored with surprise.

"Come. You've passed. You'll need to know where your room is in my home. Everyone learns their place here. That's the first thing."

Lotus lets himself be guided, silent, and inwardly mulls over his crimes while his exterior allows itself to look relieved.


  1. It's like Gaiman had written the Dark Tower! yay

  2. Holy crap, Anonymous! Thank you!