"So you're back to the land of the living," a somewhat familiar voice exclaimed. "About time, too. Your meal's getting cold."
I winced at the sound of what had to be a far too loud voice to be proper and opened my eyes slowly, blearily peering across teh darkened room to the scaled boy reclining on the other bed, playing with a bit of string stretched between his clawed fingers.
"You hungry?" He asked.
"MM-hmm," I grunted, my stomach rumbling as I slowly, painfully sat up. My face felt numb and leathery, like the skin fit over my face too tightly. I ignored the feeling when I caught the scent, spicy and mouthwatering, but I couldn't remember smelling anything quite like it before.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and reached across the small gap for teh plate Xander held out. Right before my hands touched the rum of the plate I caught sight of the meal. My hands snapped back as if they were burned, moving to cover my mouth as I gagged.
Upon the plate was a thick hunk of meat, surrounded by the shells of what could only be desert beetles. Revulsion overwhelmed me, and I desparately tried to stop the gagging heaves. Did they real expect me to eat meat, the flesh of a fellow living creature? The thought of not only the waste but also of eating something of the sort was enough to make my mind reel.
The plate set aside, Xander was next ot me, stroking my back to help ease the convulsive tremors. When I could breathe again, he spoke up.
"Sorry, Vincent, I should have warned you beforehand. Plants don't grow around here, really. The moss and lichens and shit growing around here aren't all that edible, this is all we have to eat..."
I tried to stifle the anger that flared, reminding myself that I was indebted to him for even taking me in.
Eventually I managed to work up the nerve to hold the plate in my lap, the warmth seeping through the thin plastic and warming my thighs. For a while I just stared at the meal, lying innocently in my lap. My lips quirked up when I realised that some of the shells had been arranged to look like a smiling face with the meat at the top, like hair.
I looked up from the fragrant meal to Xander's patient face, my own had to be reflecting my obvious disgust and despiration.
"I don't think I'll be able to eat this," I said, offering the plate back.
Xander shook his head in disappointment. "Alright, I guess this will just go to waste..."
"Waste?" I asked, concerned. "What do you mean, waste?"
"Everyone's asleep now," Xander explained. "Except for us, and I'm not hungry. If this gets set out all night it will go bad, and no one wants to eat bad food, right? So this will just get thrown into the rubbish heap..." he trailed off meaningfully, starting to walk out the door with the plate in hand.
My entire upbringing of anti-waste being hammered into my head made me reach out and catch Xander's arm before he left the tiny room. When he turned his questioning gaze upon me, I fidgeted for a moment before muttering, "Ok... I'll eat it."
Xander's face broke into a toothy grin as he plopped the plate back onto my lap before collapsing onto his own bed. "Knew you'd come around!"
I gaped at him, possibly looking more the fish than he. "You did that on purpose!" I gasped whe nI finally found my voice.
"Yup," Xander replied jovially. "Now, get eating. You need food."
My stomach took that change to grumble loudly. I had to wonder if Xander could see my blush in the dim light and under my burn. I don't think it mattered, as Xander was in the midst of laughing at my traitorous belly.
In an attempt to block out Xander's laughter, I turned my gaze back to the meal sitting on my lap. As there was no fork or other utensils of any sort, I picked the piece up with my fingers, bringing it slowly to my mouth. Noticing the complete stillness of the room, I glanced up to see Xander, elbows on knees and head in hands, looking intently at me.
At my look he grinned. "Go on," he urged. "I'm just wanting to see a newbie's introduction to meat."
"You're not making me feel easier," I growled, the bite of meat still in front of my mouth. I realized that I must be hungrier than I'd thought, as the cooked flesh so close in front of me was making my hunger sharpe, my mouth watering.
Closing my eyes against Xander and his pointed staring, I opened my mouth and popped the morsel of cooked flesh into my mouth.
Meat, I decided, was good. Very good in fact. The sharp, smoky flavor, the juices, the whole experiance was delightful to my palate. I had hardly finished with the section in my mouth before I was tearing off a larger section to eat. The small portion was gone all too quickly, and I didn't even realize right away when my hands stoppped picking up meat and started bringing up crunchy beetles to my mouth. The shelled creatures didn't taste very bad actually. They had a bitter taste before an almost sugary sweetness flooding my mouth.
The plate was empty all too soon. I looked up to see Xander grinning at me.
"You like?" he asked. Once again, I hopped blushes weren't visible as I nodded. "That's good," he continued, taking my plate and setting it aside. "You'll need as much protien as possible these next couple days."
"How come?" I asked.
"For your changin', of course." he answered prompty.
"But... I've already changed," I protested, pointing to my white hair.
Xander made a rude noise. "Yeah, right. Just 'cause you got white hair and pointy ears doesn't mean you're done changing."
I blinked as something he said caught up with me. Pointy ears? I don't have pointy ears... To prove that point to myself, I reache dup and touched the outside of my ear. I snatched my hand away as soon as it made contact.
Boldly, I then reached to feel how exactly my ears had changed. Their chape was different, and they were covered in a layer of smooth, velvety fur. They had become pointed and curled in just ever so slightly. I explored the new feeling of my ear for a while more before Xander's contrite voice broke through my thoughts.
"I take it you didn't know about that yet?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Not really. I'd thought that only my hair had changed, and that was it."
Xander smiled empathetically. "I know how yo ufeel, for me it started with my hands growin' claws and getting a little webbing between them. You can imagine how I felt when I woke one day green and scaley.
I looked at him a moment, considering his appearance. If only his hands had changed, then the rest of him had, how much would I change? He looked just a few shades away from being completely inhumahn, would the same happen to me? That was a chilling thought...
As if sensing my worry, Xander hastened to reassure me. "Don't worry, not everyone looks like me before they stop. You saw Jeremy; he stopped changing almost as soon as he started."
"How long do you think before I stop... changing?"
He shrugged. "Depends on the person, I guess. Took me two weeks before I stopped, some people have it longer. Now come on, let me show you around before everyone wakeds up."
The next couple of days was spent getting used to the ways of the Hive and the inhabitants. Some things took longer than others to get used to. For example, there was only one meal a day, consisting primarily of animals found Outside or crawling around the endless tunnels of the Hive. Xander warned me never to go into one of the unlighted tunnels, as there had been occasions a persons footsteps caused the tunnel to collapse. All the lighted turnnels were still sturdy and safe.
Another thing to get used to were the lack of baths. All water was reserved for drinking or medicinal uses. Xander said that unless you've been rolling in muck, you had to suffer with gradually getting filthier. Unsanity as it sounded, it was how they, and now I, got by.
One of the things that took me a bit to get used to were the people themselves. Some looked nearly totally human, while others if not for the fact they could talk I would have thought them large animals. Bumping into one of them in the dim corridors was a nerve-wracking experiance, and I realized then that it wasn't really that easy to throw away notions hammered into my since my youth, especially in dealing with other Half-Beasts. I still sometimes thought about them as half wild creatures, and was shocked when one treated me civilly until guilt set in. I was one of them, and none of them acted like they did in the stories.
Xander had boasted at one point that the Hive contained about twenty-five individuals who were all kept healthy, happy, and fed. And all different species of animals.
I had once asked where many of the things they'd used come from; I could not beleive that they were all there before the sewers were inhabited.
Xander had laughed and explained that two of the Hives' citizens were twin children of a well-known political figure. Instead of banishing his children, he was actually the one who'd started the Hive and supplied it with beds, spare clothing once in a while, and the generator to give us electricity.
I'd met the two; Gabriel and Gabrielle were their names, Gabe and Gabby for short. A near-identical twins who had the markings of raccoons. They had to be perhaps the oldest members of the Hive, nearing their thirties.
Xander was right earlier. As days went by I gradually changed more and more. I never changed much at any time, but my physical appearance was becoming more and more alien to me. There was also a standing bet on what animal I'd end up being, a type of canid or cat were the main choices. When I woke up one day with orange, slit-pupiled eyes the ones who chose 'cat' won free meals off of the loosers.
I was told I was lucky that most of my changes had happened quietly at night, as day changes were usually painful. Very, very painful.
I came to know everyone by face if not by name, yet not once did I ever meet Aises, Jeremy's lover. When I mentioned this fact to Xander, he gave me a very strange look.
"Do you really want to meet him?" Xander asked.
Wondering about his change in usual attitude, I nodded.
With a sigh he stood from where we were resting next to a walland indicated for me to do the same. "Then lets go. Let's go introduce you to Aises."
I have a whole lot more written down in my notebook, but I think that this would do for now. Keep ye coming back for more, I suppose. ^-^.
Comments are greatly appreciated.