The Lost Desert's sun, high in the sky, beat down on the
sand. It was two hours past noon, and the lunch rush at the Golden Crescent Inn
was just tailing off.
Lapis slumped, resting her head in her paws
and her paws on the high counter where some of the Inn's patrons sat on stools.
There were only fifteen or so left, scattered around the common room with authentic
Lost Desert drinks and food. That day's rush had been particularly bad; the
past few weeks had been awful, but this was the worst so far.
The Lupe pulled herself up off the counter,
moaning at the sore stiffness in her neck and back, and walked slowly across
to the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. She pushed through them and fetched
a bucket, balancing it restlessly on her hip for the trip through the steamy,
warm kitchen to the pump that brought water up from far underground to supply
She filled her bucket and hoisted it up, sloshing
water onto the floor and her skirt until she'd adjusted to the weight of the
full pail on her hip. Her clothes would dry quickly in the Lost Desert's heat,
and the floor would keep.
She set the bucket in the common room and returned
to the kitchen for a mop. Plunging it into the bucket, she swished it around
and brought it out, dripping, to soak the dusty, grimy floorboards clean. The
wood's polish came out with the cleaning, glistening dully in the sun that crept
through the shuttered windows and covered doorway.
As she worked, the room emptied slowly. A few
pets came in, mostly just for something to stave off the heatstroke that claimed
most visitors to the arid land. Lapis straightened when they did, and served
them before returning to her mopping. She was coming back from one such errand
when disaster struck.
A vague-looking Kyrii pushed the door closed
behind him and stepped out across the Inn floor without waiting for his eyes
to adjust. In the relatively dim room, sunspots danced before his eyes, but
he stubbornly strode onwards.
And tripped over Lapis's bucket of dirty washwater,
sending it spilling all over the freshly-cleaned planks.
The Lupe stepped back involuntarily as the wave
of water splashed forwards; nevertheless, half of her skirt was drenched.
She stood speechless for a moment. The Kyrii
had fallen forward, his head mere inches from her nearest toe. He sat up and
groaned at the state of his clothes, which was worse than Lapis's. Only a few
inches above the hem of his short pants, and a few spots on the back of his
tunic-like shirt, had stayed relatively dry.
Lapis pulled herself together--or tried.
"You despicable Kyrii!" she snapped. "I'll have
to start all over now!" Her back ached from the constant work; her wrists were
tired, and the common room was now half-flooded from this buffoon's bravado
in not waiting for his eyes to clear.
"I--I'm sorry," he muttered, scrambling up quickly
and setting the bucket upright.
"Sorry? Sorry doesn't fix it!" Lapis said. "'Sorry'
doesn't put that water back in the bucket. 'Sorry' doesn't do anything whatsoever."
She took the mop from where it was resting against the counter and jabbed the
end of it at the Kyrii. He jumped back, clearly startled.
"You said that already." The Lupe leaned on
the mop, inspecting the other. His clothes were slightly shabby and a little
too large, as if whoever had bought them wanted them to last a long time. He
wore no shoes, but then neither did the majority of Sakhmet residents. The few
who did donned sandals to keep their paws clean from the sand that covered the
"I--what should I say, then?" the Kyrii asked,
tucking his paws behind his back rather nervously.
Lapis regarded him for a long moment, watching
his uncertainty turn to discomfort. "Let's say you work here three days and
we'll consider it fair," she said at last. "Agreed?" She held out a paw.
His expression was odd, but he extended his
own paw to shake. Lapis couldn't determine what emotions mingled on his features,
and turned sharply from the sight, letting go of the Kyrii's paw.
"You'll need this, then," she said, bending
to survey the contents of a cabinet underneath the long counter. She removed
a dusty apron and placed it on the wood near the Kyrii. "Put it on. It marks
you as being in the employ of Bursh'kar."
"Who?" he asked, but slid it on.
"The owner of the inn. He's never here, but
it's claimed in his name." She placed paws on hips and watched him fidget. "You
can start by cleaning up the spill," the Lupe said at length, gesturing at the
pool of water. "Here." She shoved her mop into his paws. Startled, he didn't
resist, but clutched at it as if it was his only hope of rescue.
Lapis began to turn away, but the Kyrii spoke.
"What's your name?" he asked hesitantly.
"Lapis." She turned back, pinning him with a
glare. After a moment, when he was certainly aware that she only asked out of
courtesy, she replied, "And yours?"
"Seth," he said.
"Very well. Now, Seth..." She let her expression
relax into peace and tranquility, to disarm him. "Get to work!"
Seth spoke little to her that first day, save
to ask where things were or what chore he should do next. Lapis spent the afternoon
at ease behind the counter, lounging with the newest newspaper on a hard-backed
wooden chair. Occasional customers entered the Inn; she gave Seth brief instructions
on how to serve them, and left him to it. He was shy, not responding to the
patrons' kind comments on the weather; several recognized her and hastened over
to ask if the odd Kyrii was a new employee. She told them a severely edited
version of the story; her practiced eye saw they were in a hurry, though they
seemed calm enough. True to her expectations, the questioners all left quickly,
their thirst--and passion for gossip--satisfied.
The dinner rush was precisely on time; Lapis
abandoned her newspaper with some regret to help Seth serve the customers. They
were nearly through it all when he ducked behind her as she handed him a plate
of fish stew. It tilted, splashing onto her paws.
Her sentence went unfinished as a middle-aged
Kyrii stepped up to the counter. She set the stew quickly on the wood and wiped
her paws on a towel, eyeing the Kyrii. He was... tidy. That was the only word
He peered around her and saw the futility of
the situation. He stepped out, eyes on the ground. "Yes. Father," he said, his
"So this is where you have been." He turned
his head, inspecting the Inn. When his gaze at last fell back on Seth, he gave
his son an unpleasant look. "Come, then. I believe you've squandered enough
Without waiting for a response, the elder Kyrii
turned and disappeared once more into the crowd.
Seth glanced at Lapis; he shed his apron, dropped
it on the counter, and followed his father without a word.
She watched him go, frowning. A shout roused
her from her reverie, and she jumped and took up her tray, mentally preparing
herself for the wearying work of serving the room by herself.
To her surprise, when Seth stepped into the inn
the next morning he said not a word about his dramatic exit the night before.
Lapis looked at him narrowly; smudges under his eyes showed that he hadn't slept.
She shook her head and pushed the apron he'd worn before at him.
He put it on.
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth,
but she smoothed her face and directed him over to chop onions for that night's
stew. The Lupe tended the common room, delivering beverages and food to those
few patrons who braved the last of the night's chill to come to the Golden Crescent
for breakfast, but it only took a moment to tend to each, and there couldn't
have been more than five all told.
She sat down behind the counter and snagged
the newspaper from farther along its length, and began to open it.
The kitchen doors swung apart, and Seth stepped
through, his mild-mannered expression firmly in place.
Lapis glanced up. He bowed elegantly.
She frowned and dropped the newspaper back on
the counter. "Where would you have gone, if I hadn't commandeered your help?"
she asked abruptly.
An emotion flashed over his face, and was gone.
This time she identified it as alarm.
"Sorry," she muttered, beginning to pick up
her newspaper again. "You can start--"
"My father..." Seth began at the same moment.
Both stopped, and glanced at the other. Lapis made a meaningless gesture with
one paw, motioning him to continue.
Seth dropped his gaze. Staring fixedly at the
floor, he said, "My father believes that the only true course to take is thievery.
He wishes to have me inducted into the Desert Scarabs, the most prominent thieves
he can find. His son deserves no less," he added with a twist of irony. "The
ceremony was to be yesterday, at three hours past noon."
It was the longest speech she'd heard him make.
"Then--" Lapis started to say, and stopped herself.
Seth must not have wanted to be a thief, then, she thought, wondering.
"Indeed." He glanced, almost sheepishly, at
her. "I didn't intentionally spill your water, though. I give you my word on
The Lupe looked at him, surprised, and then
laughed. Seth gave her a wry smile.
"This doesn't change anything," she said when
she was able to speak without giggling. "You still owe me the rest of today
"And more, if I may," Seth said, serious again.
"More?" She frowned at him.
"My father has... officially disowned me," he
said. "After yesterday's events, I'm not sure if I wouldn't do the same, if
I was him."
"I'm sorry," Lapis said automatically.
"Sorry doesn't fix anything," Seth said, in
a reasonable impersonation of her voice.
The Lupe laughed. "You want the job, then?"
"I want the job."
"There isn't that much pay," Lapis warned him.
Seth shrugged. "I don't need much."
"Since you seem intent on it, fine," the Lupe
said grumpily. "You're hired."
The Kyrii bowed. "I will see to it that you
do not regret your decision, milady," he said gravely.
"Oh, be quiet," Lapis said, grinning in spite
of herself. "And get back to work. You're not getting paid yet."
It was only later that she remembered to ask,
"Why did you tell me that? About your Father, and the thieves?"
Seth glanced up from scrubbing the counter clean,
a task that hadn't been done in years. Lapis had been putting it off, but the
wood was responding surprisingly well to water and a bit of soap.
He shrugged. "I guess, well--I owed you it.
For letting me escape that life."
The Lupe nodded slowly, understanding something,
now, of Seth's thoughts.
A moment later he said, "You know how you always
say 'Sorry doesn't fix it'?" he asked.
Lapis nodded, and frowned at Seth to continue.
"Well... 'thanks' is like that for me."
The Lupe smiled.
"And telling you... fixed it." He twisted the
washcloth between his hands and gave her a hesitant smile.
She paused, then smiled. "And since there's
nothing left to fix--thank you, Seth, for tripping over my bucket of water."
He grinned, dropping the cloth, and gave her
an elaborate bow. "My pleasure," he said. "Milady."