* * *
"...So what are you?" Gaav lifted Xelloss' head by the hair, coaxing the mazoku to look up. "A traitor?"
Xelloss' eyes didn't meet Gaav's. His gaze stayed low, fixated on the floor. He hadn't moved much after he was caught, letting the master of this place curse him or carry him or beat him. He didn't speak out of turn. He didn't struggle or try to escape from his cage. He behaved. "Whatever you want." His voice was so smooth. He was calm, because he was very, very afraid. He behaved. "Whatever you want me to be, Master Gaav." He wasn't going to die. He wasn't going to-
Gaav chuckled. "Oh, Xelloss. You really don't want that. Believe me..." He wound his hand around the priest's neck, fingers sliding against dry hair with a crackle. "...that's the last thing you want to be right now, Xelloss."
The boy swallowed, forcing himself not to squirm as Gaav rubbed his middle finger against Xelloss' adam's apple. "Nevertheless, that's what I am, Master Gaav." He shut his eyes as Gaav's breath quickened. "That's what I'm here for."
The Chaos Dragon idly brushed a finger down Xelloss' neck. "I see." He looked over his captive. Xelloss was lying chest-down, almost turned to the side but not quite. His arms and legs were limp, though not from anything Gaav had done. The lesser mazoku hadn't fought him after he was attacked. He had dropped to the ground, not even reacting when Gaav kicked him. After Gaav had dropped him here in this 'cage', Xelloss hadn't moved at all. He simply lay on the raised stone surface, waiting. The subtle flicker around the table gave away its true purpose. If he had tried to escape, the wards would have stunned him and dropped him back to the surface. Gaav was unaffected by them, of course. He could freely move in and out of it, while Xelloss was trapped. It was an exquisite cage.
...But Gaav was beginning to suspect that for some reason, he didn't need it. "What you're here for? Really? Were you ordered to come here, then?" His fingernails scratched against Xelloss' cheek ever-so-slightly. "Do they think you'll convince me to give myself up, or lead me into some sort of trap?" He paused, a new idea bringing a wicked grin to his face. "Or were you sent here as an offering to appease me?" He laughed. "Are they giving up their own kind, just for me? I could see them feeding a maiden to the dragon." His fingers slid around Xelloss' chin, gripping tightly. There would be no looking away from Chaos Dragon King Gaav. "So? Is it true? Or is the answer even more provocative?"
The priest did not respond immediately. His eyes, though locked between Gaav's twin emeralds, wandered into the invisible corridors between dust and spirit. His chest rose and fell steadily as an occasional twitch revealed the aches in Xelloss' body. What could have been an answer became a marriage between whisper and moan. He slowly blinked, pulling some sense back into his mouth. "I'm yours. I've been given to you in offer of a deal. Whether you accept or refuse to take part in the deal, keep me. Please keep me." Xelloss tried to stop it, but a shiver went through his entire body. "Zelas wants me sent away from her if you don't take up the offer."
"O-ho. Zelas has extended an offer to me? Rebellious, half-blooded Gaav? How gracious of her." Gaav propped his chin on his fist. "What could she possibly demand of me..." his other hand stroked Xelloss' head, fingers running through the short purple hair. "...that would make a servant such as yourself worth giving up?"
Xelloss' eyes locked with Gaav's, unabashed and pleading. Wide and deep, Xelloss' gaze gave away something to the Lord, told him secrets that Xelloss usually kept so easily. Gaav almost flinched. "Please come back to Zelas. She'll give you all of her support. With you two united, perhaps others could join, and Dynast and Fi-Fibrizo wouldn't-"
"Wouldn't murder me, is what you're going to say?" Gaav's gaze was stone now. "Forget it. Zelas can't protect me from them, so why should I-" Gaav did a double-take. Something in his words had made the priest react. "What did I say?" He wouldn't normally care about Xelloss' feelings in a situation such as this, but the twist in Xelloss' face while he spoke was more than just a flinch. There was a history in it, echoes of the hidden secrets in his eyes...secrets that weren't there before Gaav had been made half-human, and rebelled. Before he left Zelas and her and Xelloss' love.
Xelloss tried to curl up as whatever secrets were inside him began to make him shake. It wasn't a constant shiver so much as all of the muscles in his body seizing up together and relaxing to no rythym or heartbeat. The pulse hit him randomly, blinding him as it came and went. "I-it's just what you sa-said...Zelas c-can't protect m-me from them. She couldn't after you left. She can't...she couldn't...I couldn't..." The spasms came too rapidly for Xelloss to speak now. He just huddled against them and cried.
Gaav watched silently, letting the sobs rip through Xelloss as he wondered at how much the boy had changed. He had thought that the hesitation, the somberness, the way he yeilded to Gaav's orders and touch were just an act. But he was beginning to realize with dawning comprehension that Xelloss wasn't acting broken. He was broken.
Not broken by circumstance or tragedy. Broken intentionally, for the fun of it. Gaav mused to himself on Xelloss' condition. And then there's Zelas sending him away if I'm not there to protect him. But I didn't think...well, at least Dynast wouldn't go that far, and he usually keeps Fibrizo in check...but why should Xelloss have to be their toy at all?! Why...was Zelas really that weak? "...Your hair."
Xelloss sobbed harder.
He'll rip himself in half doing that. Gaav sighed, cancelling the ward with a flick of his wrist. Gingerly he picked up Xelloss' body, holding him close. The boy was shaking so hard that he was afraid he would drop him. "It's okay. I like the cut. It looks good on you." Talking to fill the silence more than comfort his guest. He knew better than to think words like that would matter to Xelloss in his current state. He walked, keeping his eyes on the boy. It had been a long time. He had...he had missed him. And Zelas. He really didn't want to admit it, but he did.
"Here we are." Gaav approached his bed and lay Xelloss down on it. He considered pulling the blankets over him, but despite the possibility that they might comfort the boy, Gaav decided against it. He wanted all of Xelloss' hands and arms where he could see them. Xelloss was too unstable right now. And honestly, Gaav didn't want him sleeping now. He wanted answers. At least the sobs were quieting as Xelloss calmed down. Gaav tentatively put a hand out and stroked Xelloss' cheek. He smiled as the boy leaned into his palm. The affection was still there. Good. "Maybe I might take Zelas up on her deal." A faint shadow of hope rippled over Xelloss' face, and Gaav actually felt guilty. "But I need to know what has happened in my absence."
Xelloss' breath caught in his throat. "I...I can tell you what they did. I can't...I can't remember it all..."
"You don't have to, Xelloss. Why did Zelas let them take you?" I probably can't make him tell me what I want to know without hearing things I don't. But still...I can try...
"Th-there wasn't much of a choice. Fi-Fibrizo could easy kill her on his own anyways, what would it take to snuff my life out like a candle's flame? She gave me to them rather than let me die or be taken anyways, and punished for her refusals. They wouldn't have dared it when you were there, but now they can take me, and play with me..." Another shiver. Gaav wrapped his coat around Xelloss shoulders. "They promised that they wouldn't hurt me. Dynast, to his credit, wasn't lying. Zelas thought that was enough, that since since they always played together, Fi-Fibrizo wouldn't try anything that Dynast wouldn't agree to. She...she really did hope that I would still be safe."
"Fibrizo convinced Dynast to play his games, then?" Gaav didn't want to know, but he knew he would hear it anyways. Might as well make it quick and direct.
"H-he d-didn't...he didn't have to. He just convinced Dynast that they should take turns with me instead of playing together. Dynast took me for a month, then Fi-Fibrizo would have his month, and then Dynast, and back and forth..."
Oh, shit. "For how long?"
"A year. It lasted a year."
Gaav knew. He knew he would have to hear it. "...What did they do?"
Xelloss closed his eyes and began to speak for a very long time.
* * *
He forced himself to stand straight, to not let the fear in his heart show on his face. Zelas was beside him, but not close enough that Xelloss could feel safe because of her presence. Really, Xelloss would only feel safe if he were behind Zelas, and possibly invisible.
Dynast and Fibrizo were ahead of him, looking at him, and all he wanted to do was run.
He forced himself not to. He must be a credit to his mistress' training and honor. He must be well-behaved. And just as she did not show fear, he would not.
Dynast had a few words with Zelas. Bargaining, or more likely the usual words of flattery that always laced his speech. The king had a quick tongue. In fact, Xelloss knew just how quick that tongue literally was. The thought almost made him lose his composure. But any more musing along that line was cut off by the sight of Fibrizo. That was who Xelloss was looking at. After all, it wasn't Dynast he had to worry about.
They had discussed it as they played with Xelloss only a night ago. Dynast thought a few days was too short a time for their fun, and after such a long war, surely Zelas had nothing important for Xelloss to do? He could be put to better uses right now.
Fibrizo agreed, though it took him some time to convey this. His mouth was busy at Xelloss' neck. His ministrations were very arousing for Dynast to watch, especially when Xelloss had such exquisite reactions to what he did. He was so sexy when he squirmed. Of course, Dynast didn't know that the reason the boy was squirming was that Fibrizo's teeth were digging into his skin much farther than the king would have liked. But Fibrizo's lips were closed over that little detail, and his tongue was very swift at cleaning the blood away. After a few more squirms, Fibrizo was satisfied. He healed the priest's neck and then pulled away.
"We can have him for however long we want, of course." He smiled down at Xelloss. "But I think we should take turns. After all, we both, being in such high positions, have many duties to attend to. It would be difficult to manage our tasks in such a way that we would both have time to play with him together, especially over an extended time. But if he stayed with one of us, he could be useful when he wasn't...otherwise engaged."
Dynast frowned. Fibrizo had quite a few good points, but...he liked doing this together. He liked watching Fibrizo toy with Xelloss. He liked watching Xelloss attend to Fibrizo's needs. And Fibrizo was so good at making Xelloss move in interesting ways. If he had Xelloss alone, he wouldn't be able to watch anymore, and he'd have to think of alluring things on his own. And he wasn't good at that.
But he did not by any means want to admit any of that. "You're right. That sounds like an excellent idea."
Fibrizo's smile widened as his eyes still pierced into Xelloss'. "I know." The boy paled just a little. Good. Fibrizo liked that Xelloss knew what was in store for him. The fear and dread would only add to the lord's delight. His voice dropped to a whisper, and his gaze became loving and sinister. "He's ready for more. Do you want to take him, or should I?"
Dynast swallowed, his mouth strangely dry. "I'll watch."
What followed wasn't pleasant or painful. It was just something for Xelloss to endure, much like standing here, next to Zelas, listening to his death sentence ring out in Dynast's honeyed tones.
Fibrizo only looked at Xelloss, his smile widening.
* * *
Xelloss lay on his stomach and kept still and silent. It was so hard. Everytime Fibrizo touched him he could barely control his muscles. The lord's hands slid down his arms, long fingers reaching around them, squeezing, nails exploring the skin where it was softest. Xelloss could barely resist the whimper in his throat. Fibrizo made his skin crawl whenever he touched him. He wanted to run away and hide. He knew it wouldn't be long before he tried that again. He couldn't control himself. He was so scared. But he must keep still and silent. Fibrizo sometimes found his retreats and whimpers amusing, but now they would only anger him. Xelloss just had to last through this. He had to.
Fibrizo caressed Xelloss' arms a little more, then finally squeezed his wrists and forced them above his head. He let go, and Xelloss obediently kept his hands just where Fibrizo wanted them. The lord's attention shifted focus. "Xelloss, your hair. It's a thing of beauty." He slid his fingers down, brushing through the entire length of Xelloss' hair. The dark purple mane reached all the way to the boy's calves. Fibrizo's fingers plunged into it, squeezing silk hunks of it against his palms, relishing the cold feel of the hair as it slid against his skin. He rubbed his cheek against it, resting his head on Xelloss' back, reaching up to stroke along Xelloss' ribs. "You're so soft, Xelloss. Your skin, your hair...so beautiful." He ran his fingers through the heavy mass. "So...beautiful..."
Xelloss almost didn't realize what was happening as Fibrizo tugged a thick cable of hair and pulled it upwards, dragging it along his skin. His energy was completely focused on banishing the almost maddenning urge to shiver as the cool, thin strands whispered against him. All he knew was that all of a sudden his wrists were tied together in loops of his own hair. As the true meaning of Fibrizo's actions finally dawned on him, the lord slowly pulled the cables of hair. They tightened around Xelloss' wrists, drawing them against the base of his neck. Fibrizo cinched the knots with a final, cruel tug that made Xelloss shriek so loud that pain stabbed through his throat.
Fibrizo smiled at the sound of it. "So beautiful." His hands slid over Xelloss' wrapped wrists, rubbing against the cool dark strands, squeezing to test his knots. Xelloss couldn't supress a whimper. The Lord's fingers gracefully drifted lower, brushing the base of the boy's neck. Fibrizo pressed his fingers to the knob at the base of Xelloss' neck, fingers curling into the soft skin, and in a swift downward motion his fingernails scratched all the way down to the base of the boy's spine. This yielded a set of long red stripes from the skin and a ragged gasp from Xelloss' mouth.
Fibrizo tsked at the priest's sensitivity. He hadn't even drawn blood. Perhaps the boy didn't understand how nice he was being. Keeping his fingernails curled against Xelloss' skin, Fibrizo slid his hands outwards, scratching harder around Xelloss' waist, just above his hips. When his palms rested on the bumps of Xelloss' hipbones, Fibrizo stopped clawing into his skin and spread his fingers out. Now he was holding Xelloss against him, his hands pressing against the priest's stomach. He rested his cheek against the back of Xelloss' neck, hearing the boy breathe softly, feeling the pulse of his heartbeat through his throat, his back, his belly. The breathing was jerky and slow, the pulse frantic, rapid. Fibrizo could practically feel the boy's thoughts through his skin. "Shhh. It's alright." Fibrizo's lips stroked Xelloss' neck with every word. "It's alright to be afraid."
A cry escaped Xelloss, short and high. The sound was just what Fibrizo had been lying in wait for. He pulled Xelloss up against him, wrapping his arms around the boy's waist, his hands reaching up to the boy's ribs. Here his fingernails dug back into Xelloss' skin, scraping down and then up, drawing thin lines of blood now. Now Xelloss let out his first screams. Fibrizo felt them before he heard them. Xelloss' back was pressed tight against the lord's chest, and the screams vibrated right through them both. Fibrizo closed his eyes and smiled, biting his lip as his loins grew warmer, his fingers growing wet and sticky with blood as they continued to scrape against Xelloss' ribs. He rubbed his cheek against Xelloss' back, shuddering with pleasure as he felt the boy tremble. Finally, he ripped himself away from the boy, turned Xelloss over and onto his back, and straddled the priest's waist.
There were few places left on Xelloss' chest that weren't bleeding. Fibrizo's hands slid to Xelloss' sides, slowly scratching bloody trails down from below his armpits to the tops of the boy's hips. Another scream erupted from Xelloss, this one longer, and because he was facing upward now, louder.
Fibrizo hissed through his teeth with the sound, savoring it. His fingernails dug deeper now, traveling much more slowly. The blood flowed in shallow ribbons. Xelloss' chest and sides were striped in red, and it was beautiful. Fibrizo leaned down to taste him. His tongue slid in a long trail across Xelloss' chest until it found a nipple. Fibrizo stopped to tease it, and as his teeth closed around the tiny ball of flesh, Xelloss finally began to struggle.
This time the scream that came from Xelloss was almost a wail. Bound as he was, any struggle from Xelloss brought repercussions. Pain stabbed into him as he inadvertently pulled his own hair. Fibrizo had tied his knots carefully, weaving the ropes from many differrent areas of Xelloss' scalp. His whole head was affected when he struggled. Even a twitch of his wrists hurt. Tears crept down Xelloss' cheeks, surprisingly late considering how much Fibrizo had already done to him. The Mazoku Lord only smiled and bit harder. Xelloss couldn't help his body's reaction. He couldn't stop the instinctual struggle. He could only lie there and scream as Fibrizo ground his teeth around his flesh.
Fibrizo laughed around the coppery taste in his mouth. The nipple between his teeth was ragged and bloody now. Xelloss only flailed more, his struggles becoming more desparate and more painful. Fibrizo let the bit of flesh escape his teeth, licking it slowly with insincere apology. With that warm, aching sensation, Xelloss lost reason. His screams came out practically on top of each other, and his struggles grew wild.
With that, Fibrizo climbed away from Xelloss. This was what he had been waiting for. He caressed Xelloss' legs, his thighs. He leaned down and bit into Xelloss' hip until he drew blood, for no reason at all. He kissed the boy at his belly button, dragging his tongue down along his groin, trailing saliva down his penis. It was still soft, utterly soft. Fibrizo took it into his mouth and sucked it, knowing that it wouln't respond. That was okay. Fibrizo didn't want Xelloss to get hard. He didn't want Xelloss to enjoy anything at all. He only wanted this in his mouth so he could bite it.
He dug his teeth in, and Xelloss' scream was so long and ragged that he lost his voice from it.
The struggles hadn't ceased. Xelloss couldn't stop himself. He was beyond any sort of control. Fibrizo let the boy's penis go, in his infinite mercy not drawing any blood. He sat up, reached under Xelloss' legs, pulled the boy's hips upwards and forward, and sank his erection right into him. There was a scream now as well, but it had no melody to it. There was only the shudder of air through Xelloss' chest and the hiss of it in his throat. Fibrizo made a guttural sound that was something like a moan. It was smug and very, very pleased.
Xelloss still struggled as Fibrizo ground in and out, struggled even more wildly than before. The lord shuddered with pleasure as Xelloss arched his back in pain just as he sank into him again. He almost lost his grip on Xelloss as he rammed into the boy harder, his movements more urgent now. The lord pushed Xelloss down into the bed, bruising the already-bleeding skin. His thrusts were hard now, brutal enough to steal ragged, voiceless screams from Xelloss every time he entered him. Fibrizo moaned with each stroke, his voice compensating for Xelloss' silence. Xelloss was so soft inside here. Fibrizo could feel every shudder, every jerk and breath. He could feel every bit of pain in Xelloss. He could feel the struggles so well from here. Fibrizo opened his mouth, looked up at Xelloss to tell the boy something. But the sight of blood on his neck wiped all words from Fibrizo's mind. Xelloss' wrists were bleeding from the struggle. The hair had cut into them, rubbed against them so much that the skin had chafed.
With that, Fibrizo shuddered hard into Xelloss, warmth spilling from his groin.
The first thing that made Xelloss realize he was awake was the sound of his own voice. The fact that his voice had a sound. The squeak he had let out was at the usual higher pitch that he spoke in, but it had a rusty quality to it, broken, serrated. He had made a sound, with his half-voice.
The squeak had been a reaction to touch. Fingers had touched him. Had touched his hair.
Fibrizo was touching his hair.
Back to staying quiet, back to forcing himself into silence...he couldn't make a sound now. He must be still, obedient...he mustn't cry out. But as Fibrizo's fingers stroked his hair, stroked his beautiful, blood-stained, mistreated hair, Xelloss yelped again, his voice sounding like a bell made of broken glass.
"Shh...no need to fear, beautiful." Fibrizo stroked a hand down the back of Xelloss' neck, soothing him. At least, the intent was to soothe. No touch from Fibrizo would ever calm Xelloss again.
For a moment, Xelloss almost thought he had dreamed the entire terrifying encounter. He was right back where it had all began - lying face-down, naked, quiet. The cuts and rips in his skin were all gone, along with the pain they had caused. But the sharp pain in his head still came every time Fibrizo's fingers played too roughly with his hair. His wrists were still at the nape of his neck, still bound...still bloody, though thankfully not bleeding.
...All of him was still bloody.
"You're so beautiful..." Fibrizo continued to croon to him, running his fingers through dark cords of hair. "This hair is so beautiful. So soft, like silk. So long and dark and healthy." A single finger stroked the top of the priest's bound wrist. "So sleek and strong, and so useful. Your hair is amazing, Xelloss. No other hair would be so resistant to pulling, could be styled so tightly in knots, would look so striking when held against pale skin. And look-" He slowly pulled a thin lock out of the bands that tied his wrists. "So silky that styling is easily undone. Quickly, if I wanted it done that way. Easy regardless." Another lock was tugged free, slowly, carefully. "Am I hurting you?" He looked down at Xelloss, awaiting a reply.
Xelloss fought to make his mouth respond, to untie his tongue from its knot. "No." His voice was still ragged, but the word was soft.
Fibrizo nodded, and then resumed his work. Pain was something to be rationed and measured carefully, used only in the most perfect calculations. Pain was useless if it was wasted. Xelloss was useless if he was wasted. And Fibrizo, above all, prided himself on perfection. "Such beauty in your hair, in your hands and feet...your lips and eyes, your every curve. Such beautiful perfection." He slowly worked at one wrist, was halfway to freeing it. "Are you tired? How well can you move?" His voice stayed perfectly casual, even-toned, almost businesslike.
Xelloss tried to slide a leg forward a little, but he barely managed a twitch. Moving hurt. His muscles refused to budge without sending out dull, sour pain, and they were so tired that he couldn't force himself to move even if he ignored them. He just lay there like a wet rag. "I...I can't. I tried."
"Ah." Fibrizo unraveled the rest of the hair around Xelloss' left wrist. He grasped it, seeing how the hand and fingers flopped down. Like a doll... He carefully guided Xelloss' arm down so that the hand rested by Xelloss' head. "You're awake, and you hurt, and you feel, but you don't move." He grinned. "You do yourself ill, Xelloss. I want to use that now. It sounds like so much fun..." He stroked Xelloss' left cheek, feeling a tear slide over his finger. "I could use you, Xelloss. Or I could bathe you. I know you want a bath." His finger dragged a wet, salty trail down to Xelloss' neck. "I'll let you pick. I'll ask a question, and your answer will determine what I do with you. So, Xelloss..." His fingers wandered back up to the boy's hair, winding into it gently, but in a way that would hurt so badly if he pulled. "If I fucked you right now, could you scream?"
Xelloss' mind swirled with relief so dizzying that he had to wait to give his answer until he could actually focus thought into word again. "My throat would give out almost as fast as my body. I would faint or lose my voice, whichever happened first. No. I could not scream." Even now, his speech was deteriorating into a whisper.
Fibrizo sighed. He withdrew his fingers from their grip in Xelloss' hair and set them to freeing the boy's other wrist. "Ah, well. Perhaps tomorrow. For now, bathing you won't be too sorry of a task." The wrist slid free, and Fibrizo gathered Xelloss into his arms, walking to the bathchambers. "I certainly won't mind prettying you up with my own two hands."
The bath would have been an ordeal in itself. But as the warm water and mist surrounded Xelloss, sleep did not wait long to come for him.
* * *
Xelloss tried to keep from shaking. He didn't want Lord Dynast to see him like this. He might start to wonder. He might ask questions. And Xelloss could tell lies for only so long.
Dynast couldn't know. If he found out...
Fibrizo splayed his fingers across Xelloss' face, the boy's left eye between the index and middle digits. "My companion would be distressed by any stories of what goes on between me and you in my private chambers. And we don't want to distress Lord Dynast, do we, Xelloss? I don't like it when he's upset. You wouldn't like it either. If you upset Dynast I will dig this eye out with these very fingers and I will fuck the hole that's left in its place." He smiled, and the glint in the lord's eyes gave Xelloss the sickening realization that Fibrizo would enjoy that punishment even more than he had enjoyed this month's playtimes. "I know you don't want to be fucked in the eye, Xelloss. So keep your sweet mouth shut for me, will you?"
Xelloss couldn't stop shaking. He tried to distract his mind but he couldn't. He was free to go about Dynast's extensive chambers as he pleased. Dynast wouldn't hurt him like Fibrizo did. The lord hadn't even made any advances yet, and Xelloss had been there for a week already. He should be able to relax. He was safe here.
Ice slid down his back with no warning, and Xelloss crashed to his knees. He was shaking. Again. There was something...something so cold...in his mind...
"So beautiful..." A hand stroked through his hair, squeezing, touching, caressing. "Your hair is so beautiful..." And then he was on the floor, pinned, as dark purple ropes were wrapped around his hands--
Xelloss jerked upright. He had collapsed face-down onto the floor. Sitting up, he hugged himself to stop the shivers.
They were already gone.
What was that? He had been in Fibrizo's chambers. He had felt it, heard it, even smelled the tang of blood on Fibrizo's lips. He had felt fingers parting his hair--
Fibrizo yanked a handful of Xelloss' hair. "Fucking open your legs back up. Open them or I'll rip this right out of your head!!"
Xelloss cried out as Fibrizo forced him back onto the bed, grabbed his wrists, held them out to the sides...he had tried to run, had tried so hard to run, but the lord had tied his hair around the bedpost. He tried to stop crying, but his head hurt...it hurt so much...
"Kiss me." Fibrizo looked deep into Xelloss' eyes, a horrible passion in his voice. "Kiss me." He pulled the boy closer, tugging on a lock of hair wrapped around his neck like a collar.
"...my hair." Xelloss finally pulled himself to his feet and walked through Dynast's chambers, shaking so hard that he barely stayed upright.
* * *