Lu let the heavy wooden door click shut behind her, breathing deeply.
“You're finally out.”
Lu almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of the voice. It came from right next to her, and when Lu’s eyes finally located the origin of the voice they found that it was a girl, probably about ten years old. Currently, the child was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall as if very bored.
Lu just stared at the strange, surprising visitor. The girl rolled her eyes at Lu’s silence and spoke again.
“When you fainted outside, we all thought you were dead, but I told them that you were just tired. But nobody believed me, so I've been waiting for you to come out of there.”
Lu didn't know how to respond to the strange girl, so she just asked, “How long was I asleep?”
The girl rolled her eyes again. “Forever. I waited so long. Now I'll be able to prove them wrong.”
“Them?” Lu was getting increasingly confused with every word that popped out of this girl's round face.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot to tell you their names. There's me, Lef, Turin, and Ren. Ren’s the oldest, by the way, in case Turin tells you otherwise.” The girl was tapping her feet together in a very distracting rhythm. “Oh! And there's also that boy that came with you. What's his name?”
“I don't know,” Lu said truthfully.
“For that matter, what's your name?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Lu. I'm Lu.”
“Okay.” The girl shrugged. “I'm not sure why some people aren't more straightfo—Oh! I'm so sorry, my name's Henna.” She covered her face with her hands bashfully, peeking out from between her fingers. “I forget to introduce myself a lot.”
“That's okay.” Lu tried to imitate Henna’s casual shrug, feeling stiffer than a week-old crust of bread in the process. “I forget things sometimes too…”
Henna suddenly stiffened.
“You're probably hungry, or thirsty, or maybe you want to see the rest of the house. I'm so bad at being friendly.” She trailed off into a long list of ways she failed at being kind to company. Lu took the moment to stare around at the deeply colored hallway of reds, golds, and grays. It was simply decorated, with one long rug stretching alone the floor. Everything looked so soft.
“...But you're not really company, because you're here to stay, which makes it worse that I can't welcome you properly.” She sighed dejectedly. “Sometimes I'm so bad at doing things.”
“It's fine,” Lu assured her. “I feel welcomed.” While she wasn't sure what kind of welcome it was, it was a welcome anyway.
Henna jumped up and squealed happily. She stood up to Lu’s nose, but some of her height was probably her hair.
“Yes. And I don’t think I’m hungry, or thirsty, so you don't have to feel bad about me.”
“Good. Do you want to see the rest of the house, though?”
There was a moment of confusion before Lu remembered that Henna had mentioned that before.
“Um… well, I'm not doing anything else, so If you want to show me…”
“Okay!” Henna grabbed Lu’s hand and dragged her away from the door. Lu let herself be led away, taking in the soft colors all around her. She had already forgotten the way back to her room by the time she realized that she hadn't put any shoes on. The rugs and carpets were so soft, it was confusing that Lu hadn't noticed the difference.
The walls were either beige or black, depending on which hall you were in. All the floors had the same rug, striped black, dull red, and gold. The walls were bare, which confused Lu. Every glimpse into the fancy mansions she had stolen had shown artwork and tapestries. Maybe Sir Ayren didn't like artwork.
“...so I told them that I'd tell the master if they ever did it again,” Henna was saying vigorously, “and they never have. Turin is thirteen; he should know better than to draw on the walls.”
Lu nodded. This girl could talk forever.
“Oh!” Henna suddenly cried, “Here's the kitchen. We might be able to get a snack if we ask nicely.”
Without another word, she pushed the kitchen door open and left Lu standing alone in the hallway. Lu followed after a moment. This wasn't like begging, she told herself, the food was going to be for them anyway.
Inside the kitchen wasn't at all like the hallways. Here it was white, messy, and smelled like Lu imagined heaven must. Flour was drifting down on everything like powdery snow, and the dusty-feeling air reminded Lu of the sooty dust above the mansions. The cook, a with woman with sleeves rolled up to reveal arms of pure muscle, was kneading dough in the middle of the room. Bread dough, Lu noted.
The thought of fresh bread set Lu’s mouth and stomach grumbling expectantly. Apparently she was hungry.
“Henna,” Lu whispered fiercely, “is there any bread to eat?”
Henna’s brow furrowed. “Bread? We have better than that.” She shook her head confusedly. “Why would you ask for—no, wait, never mind. Come on.”
Henna walked across the room to open a cupboard full of food. Reaching in, she grabbed one thing in each hand.
“Have you ever had a pastry?”
“A what?” Lu was feeling irrationally anxious. It felt wrong to watch Henna just grab food. It reminded Lu of stealing, which Fin had said never to do.
The cook, who had minded her own business until now, looked up with an expression of dismay.
“What? You've never—you don't even know what a pastry is?” she dropped the dough she was holding, cleaning her hands in a few eye blinks and walking to the same cupboard Henna had grabbed food from.
“Not having had a pastry is almost a sin, and I’d hardly be able to call myself a cook if I didn’t fix that. But,” she rummaged in the highest shelf, “You don't get a normal treat. For you, a special pastry is required.”
The cook turned and smiled a bright, compassionate smile. Lu felt her guard lower. This woman was kind.
Before Lu knew what was happening, the cook had run to where Lu stood and put in her hand a fist-sized treat. Lu stared at the pastry, not sure what to do with it.
It was bread, or something like bread, woven into a fat braid. In some of the cracks between strands was a dark purple goo.
“Bite it,” Henna and the cook said at the same time. Lu did.
Flavor exploded in her mouth. The crust was crumbly, chewy, and delicious, and the filling was even better. Words didn't come to Lu’s mouth, so she just bit it again.
The cook laughed. Henna cocked her head and stared as Lu devoured the rest. She looked puzzled, but Lu’s mouth was too full to ask about the expression.
Lu looked up at the cook and knew that she had found another friend. If the cook was half as good as a pastry on the inside, she'd be perfect.
The kitchen door slammed open with a bang and two boys burst into the room, breathing heavily and smiling. One of them, the older one, was laughing. Lu instantly noticed his green eyes. They sparkled like sunlight on water, and Lu just stared into them, transfixed.
Suddenly everything was quiet. The two boys looked shocked and a little curious at the sight of Lu in the kitchen. Without warning they turned and ran away, no longer laughing.
“That was Lef,” Henna said bluntly. “He's annoying.”
“The older one?” Lu was still stuck in that sparkling green color. If she had a stone that color she'd make a special ring, and only wear it on the most special occasions.
“No, not him. My twin. He has brown hair, like me.”
Brown hair. Lu hadn't noticed.
“The older one is Turin. He's annoying too, but in a better way. His eyes are pretty.”
“Yeah,” Lu agreed.
“Well,” Henna said briskly, “did you like the pastry?”
Before Lu could answer, another person walked through the door and into the kitchen. This person was a tall man, dressed in a black leather suit with a blue symbol on the chest. His face was square and handsome, complemented by his short dark brown hair. Judging by how much he looked like Ren, Lu instantly assumed that this man was his father, Sir Ayren.
“Greetings, everyone,” Sir Ayren smiled at Lu. His eyes were not beautiful. “I am Sir Ayren.”
Lu felt extremely wary towards this man. The way he smiled, and looked at her, it was too…. normal. The fake kind of normal, like whenever rich grown-ups had smiled at Lu. Empty, pitying, searching for value. But his was a little different.
Lu realized that both Henna and the cook had said “greetings” so she mumbled the same. Sir Ayren smiled again, and Lu just stared at him. What did he want from her?
“I see you've met someone already,” he said with a glance at Henna, “I'm guessing from your outfit that you were able to navigate your room and wardrobe?”
Sir Ayren looked calmly at the two girls. Henna grabbed Lu’s hand and beamed at Sir Ayren.
“We're already friends.”
“I am glad,” Sir Ayren laughed, “Nobody wants to be lonely.” There was truth there. Lu knew loneliness. Lu could feel that Ayren meant it, too. His voice held emotion, for the first time yet.
“Do you like blue?” Ayren’s question came suddenly.
“Yes. Yes I do.” Lu felt a fleeting moment of strength. “Very much.”
Ayren looked at Lu thoughtfully.
“It would seem I guessed right, then,” he said briskly. “ Well, I'm not too surprised—Blue only lies half the time.” Sir Ayren stepped backwards as if to leave.
“If you need anything, ask someone. Henna is as trusted as the cook, who is as trusted as me; equality is an idea I believe in and will uphold to the best of my ability.
“I sincerely hope you feel welcomed. Rest assured, I am very glad to have you here. You, my dear child, have incredible potential. I will try to bring it to life.”
Then he left without another word.
Author Notes: Feedback is 100% welcome.