As Glory regains consciousness, she finds herself in a room at odds with the cold stone of the underground hallway. The walls are smooth and finished, painted a soft alice blue. She lies on soft, new bedclothes in a darker blue, unmarred except for her presence there. Overhead a gauzy white canopy is supported by elegant white bedposts.
The room is tastefully appointed. To the left of the bed is a small study; a roll-top desk, a well-stocked bookcase, and an overstuffed grandfather chair. The door—presumably to freedom—is directly ahead of the bed, down a long stretch of blue carpet. To the right sits a pretty white armoire, touched with accents of gold, and beyond that is a tall window, stretching from floor to ceiling.
And in front of the window stands a boy, arms clasped behind his back as he gazes into the moonless night. From the back, Glory can make up a few details. He is a tall boy, 5'10" or so, and very lank with stilt-like legs, made longer still by the heels of his boots. His hair is black and shineless, hanging in short, wild waves. He wears soft gray breeches, a white dress shirt, and a black pinstriped vest, all in need of a little patching.
She notices her cloak and belongings sitting on a chair. A leather apron has been folded and stashed away on the vanity, as well as a pair of thick elbow-length leather gloves, and a strange, shield-like mask. Next to this on the vanity sits an ornate birdcage. A small bird chirps inside.
Glory sat up on the bed silently, taking in her new surroundings and ending on the small bird and its cage. She didn't know where to begin - what to ask first. How long was she to stay with Pasque, how far had they traveled and how long had she been unconscious? What of the strange apron, gloves and mask on the vanity? How did a young man like Pasque come to hide out in underground pits, spiriting away women and children? She brushed aside the other questions for something that - for her - was the more pertinent issue.
"The little boy," she swung her legs over the side of the bed and tested her steadiness on the carpet, "did you release him to my companions?"
"I am a man of my word," he says, and confirms that this boy is indeed the owner of the voice she had heard earlier. He does not look away from the window. "But I can't promise he won't come back."
"Come back?" Glory's expression became quizzical. "Why come back and... For that matter, where are we?" She glanced to the full window. Was it even really the sky on the other side?
As she looks to the window, she can see far-off pinpricks of light, swaying back and forth—too steady to be fireflies, but too lively to be stars.
"Because the surface is a miserable place," Pasque says. "That's enough reason for anybody to run away. But if you want to get down to the bare truth of it: The boy has arcane magic, and that's unwelcome in a place like Brockmyr. His parents will try to stomp it out of the boy the best they can, but adults are too stupid to understand it's not something you can beat out of someone, like a bad habit."
"You are in the House of 13 Hours," he goes onto explain. "You haven't heard of it because you're not supposed to. It is far away from everything you've ever known, but infinitely close at the same time. It is my home, and for now, it is yours too."
Glory's expression softened as Pasque spoke. Her admittedly privileged upbringing in Bellenuit often materialized in blindness to the unfortunate parenting habits of others, and her heart panged guiltily. Still, she couldn't help but cling to her naive beliefs.
"The world can be cruel and indeed, even miserable at turns. But there is still good and beauty to find. Art and magic, song and nature, it's still there. Good people, like those I travel with." Or rather, she thought, at least the Steadfasts. She was still unsure on the motives behind the others. "People who try to make the world better, to change things."
Pasque gives a dark, bitter laugh, and as Glory proves to be brave enough to meet his eyes, he turns away, hiding his face. "Didn't know we were going discuss philosophy," he says grimly. "But it's ... sweet that you still believe like that. Quaint, heroic, but ultimately useless antiquated notions. The others will like you."
His laugh dimmed her smile, and Glory found herself blushing under his words. More to reassure herself than to argue with him, Glory forced a smile and replied, "Antiquated, maybe, but useless? That I am not so sure about."
The boy turn and walks to the vanity, placing his hand on top of the bird cage. His face is still shielded from her. "You are free to come and go as you'd like, but I don't recommend going alone. The castle plays pranks on outsiders, rearranging the rooms as it sees fit."
With that, he opens the bird cage. There is a soft clinking sound as the bird—black as night—flutters from its cage and lights on his finger. "I don't know if you'll want my company. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to see me again. But if you need me, you can ask the bird to find me and it will show you the way."
The bird flies alarmingly fast towards Glory, hovering before her eyes. Closer now, she can see the finer details of the bird: Its glossy eyes, the metal wings, the soft, whirring sound that hides just behind its gentle chirps. It isn't real; it is mechanical, like a wind-up music box.
Like Pasque had a moment before, Glory held up a finger for the mechanical bird to perch on and smiled.
"Look at this bird, how miserable can a world be when creations such as this exist?" She boldly met Pasque's eye, still smiling. "And this place, the House of 13 Hours, it sounds like a safe place, a place which could have been hoarded, but instead it was shared. Sharing is the act of a caring, giving heart to me."
"You like the bird, then?" he says, and a smile creeps into his voice. "But let's not mince words: I showed you this place because you're different from the people you travel with. The house is hoarded, it is guarded, and it will not be shared with your friends. I would rather die than let them step a foot in here."
She nodded affirmatively to his question about the bird, but puzzled over how she differed from the others in her party. He must have seen something in her to pluck her from their midst, but what, and what did it mean for her - and the others? Why offer that boy back to the hands of his parents if they were so cruel? What about her was worth that trade?
Considering his words of warning about the castle, Glory glanced at the door. In a moment of practicality she realized fretting over her predicament would do her no good, and while she wasn't pleased to be separated from her group, fussing about it was unlikely to get her anywhere. "I'm free to come and go as I like, but not alone? Who will be my company then, if not you?" She looked back to him, curiosity coloring her smile.
"Did you hear that fucking fox monster?" His voice drips in acid. "'I can take this child under my wing and teach him real practical jokes.' Classic. Absolutely classic. Like a kid with half a brain would want to take lessons from him. He didn't even know how the wardrobe trap worked. He thought it was a monster."
He gives another laugh, bracing his hand on the vanity. "And he thinks a single child made the trap tunnels in the rabbit hole," he says, laughter finally ebbing away. "Come over to the window, Glory, if you want to know who can keep you company."
Startled out of her rapid-fire mental whirl, Glory finally managed to frown at his harsh words. She opened her mouth to speak up for her new companion when he bade her approach the window. Pursing her lips over momentary indecision, Glory finally did as Pasque suggested - crossing the blue carpet and gazing out of the window.
As she approaches the window, Pasque rejoins her, hovering just behind. As they both peer out into the pitch black of night, he dots one of the dancing lights with a finger. His hands shown signs of constant abuse—old burns and scars and once-smashed fingers.
"This is a lantern," he explains. "And each lantern belongs to a child that the world you come from hasn't wanted."
Hundreds of lanterns are spread across the darkness.
He is close to her now, enough that she can smell the flavored tobacco burned into his clothes. "You and I ... We are among the oldest here, in a matter of speaking."
Swallowing hard, Glory managed not to stare at Pasque's much-abused hand. Her heart beat faster as she took in his words, his scent, and the many, many lanterns. "You bring them here as a rescue from the world and then...Set them out there in the dark, with just their lantern light?"
No, that couldn't be right, why wouldn't he give them rooms in the castle, comfort and room and the warmth he insinuated the world lacked. She had to be missing something.
He laughed, hand cupping into a fist against the glass.
"You know, I was hoping you weren't just a pretty face," he teases, but his rough tone softens under her innocence. "No—they live here, in the castle. We all live in the castle—a family, of sorts. Right now, they're doing their chores, like they do every day."
He gives a mischievous pause, fingers now rapping at the glass in mock frustration. "Like I would be too, if we hadn't had intruders looking for a lost boy," he jokes. His voice lowers, perhaps embarrassed by what he is about to say: "But I can't think of a better way to waste my time."
Glory flushed again, not only for her ongoing closeness to the young man, but also his teasing remark. "Is it only these... Unwanted children you take in?" Her voice was tremulous, hesitant now. His proximity had drained away most of her boldness. Still, though he had sworn off letting the others in, Glory still held out a flickering ember of an idea, a hope.
The comment about chores brought her attention back to the apron, gloves and mask resting on the vanity. In thinking of them she turned around and found herself staring into Pasque's pinstriped chest. Flustered further, Glory tripped around him on the side where he had no raised arm to block her, and tittered. "Your chores, is that what this gear is for?"
"That's all. Sometimes, they find us, though," he explains. "A lot of the monstrous kids do, since Zarus came to power. W—"
He stops dead as she whirls around and seems visibly relieved as she dances around him, face still hidden from view. "...Yeah," he chokes out, before regaining some of his composure. "I'm the castle's machinist. The build ward may say they make the castle run, but they're a bunch of snot-nosed, chicken-loving peons."
He clears his throat, before adding in a more level tone, "Don't listen to them. I make this castle run."
"Build ward?" Glory echoed, her hand running absently over the apron. Turning back toward Pasque, she spoke to his back. "What is the build ward? And what do you do as machinist? I can't imagine a magical castle needing much mechanical work."
Realizing she was putting her ignorance on display again, Glory fiddled with the seam of her bodice nervously, hoping another barb wasn't coming her way.
"The House is divided into wards," he begins to explain. "Devoted to certain tasks to keep the place running. Children stay in the foundling ward for the first six or seven years, and then they transfer to somewhere else, whatever they're good at. The build ward...Builds things. Shitty things, to be honest. Like a gun that launches chicken eggs or something equally retarded—I don't know, I haven't ascended to that level of divine incompetence yet."
There is a pause as he considers the second part of her question. A smile creeps into his voice. "...Do you want to see what I do? I can show you."
As he elaborated Glory nodded pointlessly to the back still facing her. She tried to file the information given away for later recalling, but was quickly distracted by his question. Considering only for a moment, Glory nods again, realized the silliness of the gesture and spoke up instead. "I would enjoy that, I think. Thank you."
There is another, longer pause. It's clear her would-be captor thinks, then reconsiders, doing several things, before finally leaning against the window pane, forehead pressed against the glass and fingers pounding out a thoughtful rhythm.
"But, let's not beat around the bush anymore," he says, hand waving over his head dismissively. "Unless you're a lot dumber than you look, surely by now you realize I've been keeping my face hidden. It's because I'm a freak. I didn't exactly want my 'captive' to hurl herself out of the window. But I don't like being treated like a child—it's not fair to treat you like one, either."
He clears his throat.
"So what's the story, Morning Glory? You mind turning away for a second while I get that mask back on, or you want to get the pity-party and pep talks about my great personality out of the way early?"
"Hurl myself..." Glory echoed him again. True, she had cottoned on to his aversion to looking at her, but had been too distracted by the conversation and her new situation to give it sufficient thought. Clearly he had, however, and now she worried she had been, as he accused, treating him like a child by not giving due consideration to that particular situation.
"You know, at the sight of me," he finishes her sentence for her. The self-loathing in his voice is thick enough to cut with a knife.
She started to speak, thought the better of it, and turned away, walking several steps removed from the vanity to give him space as well as privacy. "So tell me," Glory began, attempting conversation anew, "What other wards are there?"
After a moment, she can hear him walk to the vanity. Pasque slips the long, shield-like mask over his face, and then dons his leather apron and gloves, explaining as he works. "There's Hunting, Defense, Scavenge, Scout, Magic, Healing, Inventory, Kitchen, Cleaning (poor bastards), Blacksmithing, Stable, Animal Husbandry (don't laugh—it's not what it sounds like), and about a half-dozen Farming wards. And then there's Lizzie's tailor shop, our border outpost."
His mask now fitted properly, he looks over his shoulder. "You got all that? There'll be a test on it later," he teases.
Safely turned away from Pasque, Glory relaxed her expression, allowing her concern, curiosity and confusion all to slide across her face as she felt them. What could possibly be wrong with his appearance to incite such a dramatic imagining of her reaction to it? She had seen headless monsters, gardens birthing slimy beasts and heard tales of yet worse creations roaming Avani, and yet she had managed not to dash herself out a window in fear or repulsion. How could his visage be worse still than those things?
As he ticked off the wards, she thought again of the hundreds of lanterns. "So many tasks..." As before, Glory tried to file the information away as quickly as it came. Hunting, scout, magic...wait, did I miss one in there?
"We keep busy," he explains. "We have to, or the House will fall apart, and there are a lot of people out there looking to pick up what's left over, if you get what I'm saying."
Daring a glance over her shoulder, she saw his mask on and glanced over his modified appearance. He made something of a daunting figure weighted down in the heavy leather apron, gloves and mask. "Is what you do dangerous, that you have to be so protected? Should I have something on as well?"
He walks to the door.
"Do you plan on crawling into machinery?" he asks her, but it's clear he already knows the answer. "The biggest thing you got to worry your pretty little head over is the rogue oil spray—and I'll get you an apron for that. Shit, sister, I'll commission Lizzie to make you a pink one, if you want."
He opens the door into a hallway. Glory can hear the distant sounds of happy chaos: Shouting, laughter and the loud pounding of footsteps. "Come to think of it, Lizzie will probably love you. You know the last time he's had a real girl to dress up?"
Glory followed him toward the door, giving a sidelong glance to her belongings as she passed them. Not wanting to earn any more of his ire, she decided to have faith that her things would be safe in this room while they wandered the House. Petting the bird once more, she slipped him back into his cage but did not close the door.
The sounds rolling in from beyond the doorway were both reassuring and confusing. She half-wondered if she were under a spell - after all, she'd been separated from her group, transported to a location she knew not how to leave (but hadn't that been willingly, technically?) and was at the mercy of this bitter young man. Shouldn't she be feeling more fear about now?
The notion of this Lizzie and being dressed up were like magic words to Glory's ears and she couldn't help but smile at the whole situation. "I don't think a pink apron would suit, but thank you for thinking of me," she dared a light retort as she passed Pasque by and entered the hallway. Turning back to him, she swept an arm out and said, "Lead on, monsieur."
A brass ring containing what seems to be an infinite number of keys jingles in Pasque's hands, surprisingly deft despite the thickness of his leather gloves. "Most of these kids know how to pick locks," he explained, "But it serves as a deterrent. They usually won't steal what they can't pocket easily—lazy fucks. I should have found you a hidden room, but then there's the likely scenario you'll stand at a suit of armor or desk for hours, looking for hidden buttons that aren't there because you're at the wrong one..."
She could almost hear him suppress a smile at the thought. He banishes the notion with the shake of his head and begins to walk down the hallway.
"Perhaps another color," he answers. His Bellenese is perfect. "Girls usually like pink, hence my suggestion. You would look nice in blue—like your eyes. That's why I brought you to that blue room. You look like you belong there."
The stately hallways and spiral staircases eventually give way to unfinished stone. It's a strange place, as if two very different castles from two very different time periods were stitched together by stone and mortar. The sound of children grows louder, and soon their presence makes itself known in other ways: Waist-height drawings in wax and paint on the walls, wilted daisy chains, an old bed knob left in a window well, balls of string, a collections of pretty rocks—the odd sentimental items that only children would prize.
"Mind your head," he utters, and then pushes the door open to what looks to be a war zone.