I turned to Arius once Zagan had left the room forgetting our closeness. That I should forget when he was still very much pressed against me was a testament to my inner turmoil. I now had a face to attach to the horrors of my childhood. Yet based on all that Zagan had said he was not the antagonist in my own story. The beast in the forest was my true adversary but such an abstraction I could not hope to fathom. Zagan was a villain that my lizard brain could more readily comprehend and yet he was, for me, just as insurmountable as the darkness. My revulsion did not extend to Arius who had proven, in every respect, his sibling’s opposite. If anything I respected him even more than before. My attention returned to my companion with a start, my silence, having prompted him to look that much more intently at my face. “He is really intense…” I said nervously getting up from my spot on the sofa and moving from foot to foot.
“Your face is flushed…” Arius observed without understanding the finer points of my predicament. I took up my tea, which had grown tepid under the influence of the cool air, and downed it quickly.
“Yeah I am just worked up is all. Hey are we really spending the night?” I asked hoping to dodge the issue of my embarrassment which was a conversation best reserved for another time. Taken in totality there was more overlap in our emotions than there was disparity and yet there was still so much I did not understand about my companion. Was he subject to anything like the human condition?
“Perhaps a night’s rest will see him in a more favorable mood. I would like to continue our discussion if possible but only if you are in a agreement.” I was torn but in Arius’ resolve I was made steadfast. How would I wish to spend my last night? If the darkness should come as it would someday invariably what must I first accomplish? I could not presume to know what was best for those who remained with Zagan and as for the humans still being sacrificed what alternates were at my disposal to offer? For all I knew if Zagan stopped feeding the beast the entire universe would unravel with everyone in it.
“I would not recommend that you wonder around on your own.” Arius took up his tea again. I waited for him to finish before continuing.
“I’d like to stay. I’ll be careful.” I said in a tone that fell somewhere between reassuring and uncertain. My emotions were seldom as discreet as I would have liked in such moments but of what use was bravado when it was only the two of us? I would have been a fool not to feel the gravity and danger of our current undertaking.
“Do you think they’ll put me in the stables or something?” I asked, only half-joking. I might have understood Zagan’s prejudice simply as product of his superiority in the food chain but it didn’t mean that I had to agree with him.
Arius started to answer but Yuki’s sudden appearance silenced him. “I’ll see you to your room now.” He said casting me a withering gaze. I was certain of two things as I stood there, foot in mouth. First that Yuki had overheard me and second that he disliked me immensely.
The room was spacious, clean, and tastefully decorated in accordance with Victorian fashion. “Would this be room as in singular?” I inquired airing on the side of nonchalance. My fear of separation outweighed whatever inconveniences that close sleeping quarters might impose. I had no reason to believe that Zagan would adhere to the agreement and no way of knowing what, to his mind, constituted a violation.
“If you are uncomfortable with the arrangements feel free to sleep on the floor.” Yuki was proving a rather difficult guy to like. I smiled ruefully in his general direction but thought it best to keep my mouth shut.I didn’t know what the guy’s deal was but it went without saying that his past contained a fair amount of trauma.
“This is more than adequate thank you Yuki. If you don’t mind I would like to be alone with my lover now.” Arius said. Why he’d adopted the term lover I couldn’t say but it sufficed in hastening Yuki out of the room.
As soon as the servant had left Arius fell backwards onto the bed and sighed with relief. His hair fanned out across the red satin in a vivid contrast of color that I thought striking. I had spent countless hours recreating this man’s image in monochromes to no real purpose. I would have loved to paint him as he appeared then but it was hardly the time to indulge in my hobbies.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you tell a lie before.” I commented with a smile. There was no use even attempting such a portrait in charcoal, it just wouldn’t have the right pop to it I concluded.
“It’s only a little lie isn’t it? Anyhow I figured it would be easier for everyone to understand. My brother doesn’t exactly have any friends.” I indicated with a wave of the hand for him to move over which he did obligingly. I sat down on the edge of the bed with my tart. Friends wasn’t really the right word either I thought. What would you call someone that comprised your world in its entirety?
“I am not really surprised.” I said turning to look down at my companion. Zagan didn’t seem the sort to socialize with his servants and if not his servants than who else was left? “Just a little one.” I held up my fingers to illustrate what I presumed to be the distance between our relationship and that of lovers and then laughed out right. I doubted either one of us had actually had sex. Well I knew that I hadn’t at least. Returning my attention to the tart I took a bite. Were it that I had words to describe it. Sweet, tart, sunshine, juicy, flaky, bliss, plump. Suffice to say I ate with enthusiasm and once finished I licked my fingers clean. When at last I came to my senses again Arius was sitting up his face inches from my own.
“I should have chosen the tart.” He commented in a tone that was something between amused and matter-of-fact.
“You’re too damn close…” I said pushing against his shoulder playfully but it was ultimately ineffectual he didn’t budge a bit. He just blinked at me owlishly.
“Do you want me to move over?” He asked his sedate tone in complete contrast to my racing heart. I had more concerns about the guy then his personal space violations. I was rather resigned to believe that he was just innocent and if not innocent then not of the same sentiment. It was infuriating not just because I had no other alternative but because I would have chosen him regardless.
“No…it’s fine.” I said after a moment thinking it best to distract myself with conversation. “Do you think Zagan was telling the truth about everything? About Oz too?” I asked eyes fixedly ahead. We have this exact same wallpaper only it’s not faded and peeling I thought.
“I don’t know…but if you want a more intuitive answer I’d say he’s not telling us the whole truth.” Arius admitted and I saw that he played nervously with his fingers. In telling me his opinion he risked that I might endanger myself in pursuit of the truth.
“We’ll just have to be clever about it. There’s no way he’s going to let me near any of the servants but what about you?” I asked turning to him momentarily.
“Doubtful.” He answered. Arius’ words only solidified my assumptions. Although I suspected that Zagan did harbor something akin to family loyalty he did not strike me as being blind to his brother’s eccentricities. He would never believe that Arius wished to partake of any of the services that a servant might be obliged to provide because Arius was “too good for this world”. Besides the only servant we’d seen thus far was Yuki and there was no chance of his disobedience. Even if someone would talk to us could we really let them take a risk like that? It was hopeless. I tugged at the hair on my scalp with both hands in frustration.
“You think we could take a look around?” I asked more for the sake of employment than for any projected reward. I doubted that Zagan would show us anything which he did not wish us to see and yet there was always a chance that fate would give us a crumb to follow.
“We can try.” Arius rose offering me his hand which I took thinking he intended onto to pull me to my feet.
“You’re very literal about sticking together…” I commented as I found myself coaxed toward the door, our fingers now laced together.