7 - The Art of Training the Trainer

These maps and such are all very well, but what I want now is the King's geneaologies, and they aren't kept in places such as this. I imagine they'll be much more well-guarded than what I have here. So it seems I'll have to penetrate the King's wards and begin my reconaissance within the inner confines of his Palace. Really, that would have come eventually anyways. It's just that I have something specific I'm looking for, now.

And I have the oddest feeling that where his geneaologies are located, I'll also find records of purchase or sale of his most prized 'living treasures'.

So I begin my first serious forays into investigating the King's wards as Lyric is reunited with his new friend from just last evening.

* * *

Lyric is, in a way, happy to see Faun again. There's a relief that washes over him when he realizes he can work on the simple task of training him for the Peacock King[or giving off the pretense of it, more likely] and the task of learning about him for me. That's much less daunting than all the creatures in the King's wall-less cage of a garden, much less frightening than whatever the King might have done to his daughters. Faun is small, fast, and deadly, but compared to the other trials Lyric may soon face, he is mercifully simple.

The Peacock King looks down at Lyric, analyzing, pondering. Lyric can't discern what the results of the scrutiny may be - only that he is under it. After a few moments the King gives a nod, coming to a decision. "In my experience, I have come to find that the first exloratory jaunt with a new catch is something best left unwatched. A witness makes the whole affair more oriented towards performance than to the relationship that develops. And, Lotus...while I do value your skills highly, take no offense when I comment that you do seem a bit nervous since you've stepped into my Court. It's no surprise to me - most new visitors are much the same." He steps back, bowing his head down just a notch. "So, if I may leave you with your quarry, I am sure that you will report back to me when you're satisfied you've made good progress for the first day." He gestures to the door that leaves the room of cells. "If you approach it, I will recieve a signal from that gem set next to the doorknob." A pale aqua onyx the size of my hand glows softly from its setting in the wall.

The Peacock King looks down expectantly at Lyric and recieves a short bow from the boy in return. "Of course, your majesty."

With that, the King gives another nod and then floats out in his drifting layers of silk and embroidery.

Faun is the picture of alertness. He is seated on the floor with his back to the wall, his chain too short to allow him to stand. His eyes follow Lyric's movements, darting from his face to his hands, then to his feet, and then back to his hands in quick succession. Lyric is sure that the animism was watching the Peacock King's every movement when he was still in the room, and that he of course was listening to every word spoken between them. As Lyric enters the cell, he notes how Faun's intelligence is shown very clearly through his face. The animism is always thinking, and surely, along with that, planning.

Lyric gives the animism a nod, then sits in the center of the cell, cross-legged, facing him. The animism stares at Lyric, unblinking, his face showing no reaction other than an obvious displeasure that Lyric ever existed at all. Lyric is immune to this expression, something he built up long ago from constant exposure to it through a few family members and almost all cats. He returns it with nothing but a neutral expression, his mouth closed. Smiles were often interpreted as grimaces by animals, and baring his teeth would be an obvious sign of ill will. He waits until he feels his presence in the room has been established, that it will be obvious he will be staying in this position and not making any sudden movements.

He has very, very little to establish any trust with Faun, so he has to make these moments count.

The animism's eyes narrow as he regards Lyric more closely. He scents the air, learning the smells that hang about the boy.

Lyric watches the animism's nose wrinkle. The scented bath oils, he thinks, were probably an ill choice, but that can't be helped now. Next time he would select ones better suited to this task. Right now he smells of pastries and overachieving flowers.

Faun's inspection of the boy seems to end there, with the animism now simply regarding Lyric with an intentful gaze that obviously will not shift from him until Faun is alone in his cage again.

Lyric wonders how best to go from here, then decides to take an unusual tactic. He nods his head to the animism, then gestures out with his hand in a twirl while bending forward at the waist - the best he can do for a bow while seated. The animism seems surprised, but Lyric is happy - he does seem to understand a gesture of greeting often used between lower-level courtiers of the same rank. Lyric is equally surprised when the animism returns it.

Faun's face shifts into a faint smile at the reaction, the first expression Lyric has seen on the animism that wasn't a neutral deadpan or a scowl of defiance. "It seems someone in this godforsaken Kingdom knows the barest breath of manners, or has the wit to display them. May I have the pleasure of a name?" His voice is almost a whisper, but is clear, his words spoken in a light breath. Lyric is...

...Lyric is charmed, to be blunt. He didn't expect anything like this from an animism. He didn't even know they could speak more than ten words. "I...am sorry, you may have heard my name but I have yet to introduce myself properly. My name is Lotus." He gives a nod and another odd waist-bow. The animism returns the nod, making his own gesture of acceptance.

"That is good. A pseudonym will do." His smile is wider now, with an uncomfortable touch of mischief. "I won't let the King know." He turns his head, looking at Lyric from the corner of his eye. "...If you're a nice boy, and keep to these wonderful manners you've become so keen on displaying. Otherwise...it would be a shame to break a budding relationship full of such promise and hope." He notes Lyric's look of dawning horror, then gives a sad shake of his head, smile still shamelessly lingering on his face. "I am no novice to affairs of the Court, Lyric. Those affairs always, always include blackmail. You haven't been at this long enough. ...And you've not been alive long enough, it seems, to know that my eyes read the true names in human faces and hearts. Or perhaps you've not learned to mask either properly." He sees that he's gone a little too far. Lyric is approaching something akin to shock. Faun pauses in his conversation, then, to let the boy recover.

Lyric attempts to school his face into something less obviously terrified. The fact that such an exercise is futile by this point doesn't cross his mind. He thinks he should be thinking now. Thoughts should be darting back and forth in his head, trampling the carpet between his ears and elbowing into each other. But there's no frenzy in his mind, no stunned peaceful bliss either. Just a dull roar of static, barely audible, and the kind of mental quiet that usually comes from walking a long course during a hot day. An exhausted, uneasy quiet that thoughts have too much trouble navigating through to get anywhere productive.

Faun has truly fried him.

The animism's mouth twists into a smirk that's not quite natural. Lyric has noticed, with what little of his brain isn't busy with going into shock, that Faun's more human facial expressions all appear very practiced and purposeful. As an actor Lyric picks up on it very fast - he knows how much control it takes to make one's face look natural and shift from one expression to the other with ease. He knows how hard it is for some to learn. He wonders whether Faun had to practice in front of a mirror, had to puzzle out the actions of humans he watched and connect emotions and social interactions to the twitches of certain facial muscles. He wonders if Faun even feels the emotions that generate those expressions, or if he simply makes them as an attempt to better interact with Lyric's kind.

He wonders more, then realizes his thoughts have trailed off elsewhere while he is still sitting in a cage across from someone who is supposed to be his job, according to both his new King and his older brother. He looks up at the animism, hoping that the creature hasn't noticed. Faun's smirk is still there, but it seems just a tiny bit more genuine now. Shit.

"Are you going to come back now, or do I have to pop that whip of yours to wake you up? It might take awhile. I have no idea how you work that infernal thing. Don't bother demonstrating for me, I'll want to claw your eyes out. And I will try. Because you'll have deserved it." That natural scowl creeps back onto Faun's face.

"I'm sorry." Lyric can't follow it up immediately, just looks down, dejected. He examines his fingernails. One has managed to accquire a chip in it. He reaches into his sash for a mortar board and begins to groom the nail back into shape. It's more a motion of habit, and of occupying his fretting mind, than an act of narcissism.

He misses home, utterly and completely, in one heavy, unexpected moment.

"I didn't want to make you kneel." It's all he can think to say.

"That's nice of you. When the flames of the Inferno spite your heels and bid you to leap into the Chasm we shall see if your regrets give you wings to fly back up." Faun picks over one of his own fingertips, examining the claw on it. "I could take it out of your hide if you're feeling that penitent. Otherwise, forget it. Your sins will be counted in the end, until then why dwell on it? You could be using that mental energy to find a way of getting me out of this accursed region, where even the trees are tamed." He looks up at Lyric now, yellow eyes pinning the actor. They almost pierce him straight through. Yellow, like his Father's eyes, and a gaze just as intense. "I demand aid from you, Lyric, as is my right to ask when mortals imperil my kind. And I ask it of you, Poet."

"I'm not-!" Lyric manages to hide his surprise, the darling. It's a shame that's worthless with someone like Faun, who can see through acts.

And through my connection to my brother, it seems. I am impressed. I knew animisms could see through masks - I did not know they could see through writing itself.

Lyric hears my mental reply, even through the additional shock of Faun's unexpected perception of me. "...The Poet shall extend his aid, as shall I."

"And along with it, his Guns?" The animism's eyebrow raises ever-so-slightly. A subtle nuance of expression for a being who has had to practically learn our emotional indicators from textbooks.

I curse softly. He shouldn't be able to see those. Damnit, he knows he's calling on the Law by asking that of me. And I'm in a tough position to answer that call from. Damn animisms and their demands that they know can't be refused.

"...He shall match his Guns to his Words, yes." Lyric closes his eyes, takes in a deep breath, then sighs out. He opens his eyes, regards his temporary cellmate. "I can't just free you, like it's nothing. You know that.  You've seen exactly what position I hold here and exactly what's expected of me. You know well the dangers of crossing this Kingdom." He holds his hand up to ward off a rebuttal before he's interrupted. "My oath will not be broken, but I want you to understand the complications involved."

The animism nods. "Oh, take your time! I'm not going anywhere." He grins, a fox-grin, and shakes one of his chains to punctuate the statement. Lyric looks a little sickened in response, and the grin only gets less human. "So I imagine you'll have some problems when that overplumed monarch comes and you've done nothing but just sit and talk with me, hmm?" He sees Lyric's panic rise, raises his hand in an impressive imitation of Lyric's earlier gesture. "Ah-ah-ah! Not to worry, Faun's got it all figured out." His eyes sparkle with animal mischief. "Tame is a funny concept. It means submitting my will to yours, or his, am I correct? When we boil it down to the very grit of it, that's the real spirit of it. The question you should ask yourself when you 'tame' any animal, Lyric--I mean Lotus: 'am I training the animal, or is the animal training me?'" And with that said, Faun's posture changes completely. Lyric's hair rises on the back of his neck, just enough of a warning for him to stand and look ready. He feels someone approaching. Faun rears at him at the moment Lyric realizes who that someone is.

He ducks down, uncoiling the whip and sweeping his arm out in one fluid motion. His head bowed, he doesn't see the movements the other makes, rather senses them. In a way, this is his favorite part of training: the show. It's a dance for him, a set of steps with no possible rehearsal that must be performed flawlessly.

Faun dodges the whip before Lyric has even set a trajectory for it. The pop doesn't come anywhere near the animism, but of course neither of them mean for it to. It drives Faun into the corner from the echo of it, the simple hurtful sound having its own effect. Or so he intends to show with his movements. Faun can act well, just as well as Lyric can, and the boy learns this fast. But it had been his personal theory in the first place, hadn't it? Animal behavior and training was its own form of acting, even on the animal itself's part.

It's a display for the King, a puppet-show to please him. Lyric is suprised at just how much give Faun is showing, how much he backs down and away from the trainer. But it's the animism's will that dictates these actions, not Lyric's. It's a blessing that they both can dance so well. The movements look natural that way. Sincere. He can feel the King's eyes upon him. He can feel the approval - and another kind of sizing-up that Lyric grew used to very quickly in his life as a performer.

He's sure Faun feels that as well, along with another type of look that Lyric prays in his deepest, most secret places in his heart that he'll never feel from that King. Ownership. Pure, unbridled, and unapologetic: assumed mastery.

He can feel it bleed over from Faun, it's so potent. Lyric can't quite take that. He pops the whip to make Faun dart into a corner, shake him and move him in a way to interrupt that moment. It felt dirty to him. That hot, humid feeling you get when you're in a room with two people that are arguing but you can't leave. He'd rather advance the steps of the dance quickly so that no one can dwell on the feeling.

In the end it's a matter of exhaustion that ends the dance - or possibly, feigned exhaustion. Faun does look tired, Lyric knows that. The animism's collapse into a panting heap of furs and chains onto the floor certainly looks genuine. He worries that it's a little too genuine. He knows that Faun's body is easily fatigued by the captivity he's forced into. Animisms survive poorly in bondage - if they survive at all.

He worries.

But the Peacock King only gives a nod and a proud smile in response to the show, then gestures for Lyric to approach him. Once the boy reaches the bars, never fully turning away from the animism, the King gives him a bundle of cloth and silk.

"I want you to dress him. He is to be a part of my Court, after all - he must wear proper attire here." Lyric recognizes the cut and trim of it, even bundled up - a robe much like his own. He doesn't let himself frown. He only regards his target, the task before him.

He regards Faun.

It's easier than he ever would think. He wonders if the animism's limpness is an act, right up until he feel's Faun's teeth gently prick his forearm. It's almost a play-bite, but Lyric knows what it really is. A message: 'I am in charge of this. You are not, whatever it may look like to a King who can't see my jaw gripping you while your belled sleeve obscures the view.' After that he can't feel guilty about stripping the animism down and dressing him in clothing the Peacock King designates for slaves. [Lyric recognizes the difference in the lines, in the colors. He knows the meaning.] At least, he can't feel too guilty.

It's a quick task. The animism falls asleep soon after, and Lyric takes that chance to divest himself of the cell. The furs that Faun wore are still in his hand.

The King smiles, nods down to them. "You may keep them, Lotus. I wouldn't deny my trainer his trophies."

Lyric expresses his gratitude as sincerely as he can muster.

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