Wren strained his eyes in the darkness and followed the sound of splashing water, keeping his hands out in front of himself so he didn't run into another tree. He'd ventured out of his room in search of food, and though he didn't know too much about human dwellings, he didn't really think he was heading in the right direction. When his hands met a wall of wood he paused, but his momentum sent the door creaking slightly open. Pushing it again, he peered inside.
The door opened onto a small porch of wooden slats. Beyond that was what appeared to be a hot spring. There were a couple large baths made of gray, water-slicked stones, with surrounding leafy foliage. The building's roof only extended over part of the spring, so that the rest was exposed to the clear night sky. The air smelled mostly fresh, but there were underlying currents of scented oils and other perfumes. The area would have been completely abandoned, were it not for the two soaking in the water. One, a creature with dark sea-green hair and sandy-brown eyes, waved at Wren, smiling in greeting.
The other bather looked at Wren upside down, long auburn hair spilling over the side of the bath he was leaning on. Wren stared back at them, dark eyes wide.
The brown-eyed one waved again, but this time in a gesture meant to call Wren over.
Wren cocked his head, puzzled, and the other bather turned around to see him better. To his companion, he said, "Awww, he looks like a little deer."
The companion smiled kindly and leaned forward. "He does. Or maybe a baby bird. What's your name?" His voice was liquid-like and bubbled slightly with amusement.
Wren stepped past the door, jumping when it closed behind him. He went over to the two in the bath and knelt down on the wood floor, curious. The auburn-haired bather reached out to fluff Wren's hair, and Wren started again in surprise. "I could just eat him up. Though he looks a little small to be very filling..."
"Once we fatten him up, he'll be fine, I'm sure." The sandy-eyed one glided through the water to the other edge and leaned up to get a closer look at Wren. "Well, if you're not going to tell me your name, I'll tell you mine. It's Sunil." Sunil grinned at Wren.
"And I'm Cassius," the other put in. Wren returned the smile, though he still looked somewhat confused. "They called me Wren... Is that what you mean?"
Sunil laughed warmly. "Yes, it's your name. It's nice to meet you Wren. You must be the new kid... I heard they were bringing someone in. You're younger than I expected, though..."
Cassius reached for Wren's hair again. "Your hair is really soft." Wren tilted his head, watching them both with a mystified expression. "Here? Where is here? And where are your feathers?"
Sunil laughed again. "Feathers? Sorry, I've never met a kelpie with feathers. 'Here' is one of the most exclusive and elite brothels you'll ever find. So what are you, and how did they bring you in?"
"Kelpie? A what? I'm a swan... I was looking for weeds, and I must have wandered too far because I woke up in this strange body... and then... I was brought to a room, over there," Wren pointed back towards the door, "and I was hungry so I've been looking for food... These ponds look very clear, though."
Sunil's amusement melted away from his face for a moment, and he blinked. Then it all returned, though the smile now was less amused and more kindly. "Oh, you poor thing. Why don't you come in the water with us? We'll explain things to you, won't we Cass?"
"Of course we- don't call me Cass!" Cassius flicked water at Sunil. Wren touched the surface of the pool experimentally, then pulled his hand back. "It's hot!"
Sunil grinned at Cassius briefly before turning back to Wren. "It's a hot spring. It'll be fine once you get in. It feels good."
Wren poked the water again, causing his long sleeves to get wet. He lifted them up to his face. "They changed color! Are you sure I should go in there?" Cassius stared at him, then turned away and started laughing.
Sunil splashed water at Cassius and then smiled propitiatingly at Wren. "Yes, I'm sure. But you have to take that off," he said, gesturing to Wren's shirt.
Wren looked down at his shirt, which fit his small frame very loosely. "Take...off...?" Cassius leaned his arms on the wooden floor to keep himself afloat as he continued laughing.
"Oh dear..." Sunil sighed and pushed himself up out of the tub. Water sloshed onto the wooden planks and rolled into a puddle beneath him as he knelt beside Wren. "Here, this..." He plucked gently at Wren's shirt. "It's a shirt. It comes off. You can't wear it in the water."
"A shirt? Why not, what's wrong with it?" Wren looked at his damp sleeve again. Still laughing, Cassius pulled himself out of the water and wiped his tearing eyes. "I don't think he gets it. Here, put your arms up." Wren cautiously obeyed as Cassius tapped his elbows, and shivered when the air hit his skin as Cassius pulled the shirt off over his head.
Just then, the door that Wren had come through very recently was being opened again to admit a couple. One, with caramel-colored skin and golden eyes, was wearing nothing but a silky green robe. He had been talking with his companion as he entered but upon seeing Cassius and Wren, he froze, his smile gone so suddenly it seemed like it had never been there.
Cassius casually tossed Wren's shirt aside and ran a hand down his chest, making as if to kiss him, then fell on his shoulder and started laughing again. Wren turned a horribly confused gaze to the doorway. The second person was similarly dressed as the other, and more curvaceous than anyone else in the room. "Oh, my."
The green-robed one of the two charged forward and stopped just short of Wren and Cassius. A snake, which had been sedately wrapped around his leg until then, raised its head and flicked its tongue at Cassius. The golden-eyed creature looked like he was going to explode in anger, but instead just let out a whined, "You're so mean!" and stamped his foot childishly. Sunil had slipped back into the water and was quietly watching them from the edge, an amused smile on his face. Then, as he tried to catch the fourth person's gaze, he made a 'come hither' gesture.
Cassius crawled over to the golden-eyed one and hugged his leg. "Aww, baby, you know I love you." The fourth person smiled at Sunil and walked over to his side of the pool, sitting down beside a detachable shower fixture. Wren looked back and forth between all of the action.
The golden-eyed creature turned his nose up and sniffed, pretending to sulk, but the green snake betrayed him by affectionately nosing Cassius's cheek. Sunil turned his attention to the fourth party sitting beside him and smiled. "We have a newbie here." He turned once more to reach for Wren, calling the boy's name.
"At least he likes me," Cassius sniffed in return, letting go of the gold-eyed one's leg so he could stroke the snake's head. Wren scooted over to Sunil and the other as the fourth one smiled, voice pleasantly androgynous. "He's so tiny."
Sunil wrinkled his nose playfully at Wren. "Isn't he? His name is Wren. He's..." Sunil giggled, "a swan. We were trying to get him to take a bath with us..." The green-robed one sighed and scratched the back of his head as he looked down at Cassius. His hair was long, thick, and varying shades of brown, mostly light on top and darker underneath. Two slender horns poked out of his hair and curved slightly over his head. "He doesn't really like you," he teased, "he's just an attention whore." The snake peered up at the one he was attached to and seemed to scowl.
"A swan? In these parts?" The fourth person smiled at Wren's perpetually confused expression and patted his cheek affectionately. "My name is Haizea. Do you like water?" Wren nodded. Cassius laughed again and pulled the snake back to his face. "Awww, don't listen to the mean man up there. He's just jealous."
The golden-eyed creature huffed, though his smile belied the affected exasperation. He reached down and petted Cassius's hair fondly. Sunil smiled more at Wren, and then glanced over at the other two. "Hey, Dionaea, come over here and meet Wren." Dionaea looked up. "Who?"
Cassius kissed the top of the snake's head, then Dionaea's leg, and rolled back into the water with a faint splash, surfacing beside Sunil. He poked Wren's clothed knee. "Now you have to take your pants off too."
Dionaea took a few steps towards Wren and peered down at him. "He's so small." Sunil giggled. "That seems to be the general consensus, yes." Dionaea's tail raised its head to flick its tongue at Wren's cheek while Dionaea patted the swan boy's head, grinning toothily. "Welcome. I'm Dionaea. Not to be confused with Diana. She's the chick with the weird laugh and bad haircut." Sunil rolled his eyes. "You're just mad because she hit on Cassius that day... a long time ago. You need to forgive and forget."
Cassius started undoing the ties on Wren's pants, shaking his head and clucking his tongue. "She's going to think you like her, with the way you have at her all the time." Wren just blinked and smiled guilelessly. Haizea smiled in amusement, folding the robe and putting it aside before turning on the showerhead, rinsing off without bothering to get up. Haizea's body blended from female to male, and was at current an unblemished dusky color that was hard to describe in the half-light.
Looking vaguely horrified at the thought, Dionaea untied his robe and then went to sit beside Haizea to use the showerhead. "No she won't," he said, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than anyone else. He sighed and put his chin in his palm as he waited until Haizea was done to use the shower. Looking for a subject change, he asked Wren, "So, have you been put to work yet?"
Haizea passed the showerhead over to Dionaea a moment later and slipped into the water. Wren looked at Dionaea, seemingly unperturbed by his nakedness. "Work?"
Dionaea accepted the showerhead with a thanks and rinsed himself off. Raising an eyebrow at Wren, he said, "You do know why you've been brought here, right?" Sunil glanced a little worriedly at the swan boy. "Do you know what a brothel is, Wren?"
Wren shook his head slowly. "No... What is it?" Cassius sighed and told Wren to lift his hips, tugging his pants off and tossing them in the direction of his shirt. "That's not nice. Come here, sweetheart." He helped Wren into the water and let him go, leaning his head on Sunil's shoulder with another dramatic sigh. "You tell him."
Sunil sighed in a similar fashion. "He didn't even know what a shirt was; this isn't going to be easy," he murmured. Then, he said more loudly to Wren, "A brothel is a place where... people go to...pay money to have sex with..." "Whores," Dionaea inputted before slipping into the water with a hiss. Sunil gave the golden-eyed creature a reproachful look.
Wren looked, if possible, even more confused. "A what what what? I'm sorry, I don't understand most of what everyone has been saying..." Cassius pretended to cry into Sunil's shoulder. "I feel guilty and I didn't even do anything! Oh, hold me."
Sunil patted Cassius's shoulder sympathetically. Dionaea observed Wren critically for a moment, and then asked, "Boy, do you know anything about mating?"
Cassius sniffled. Wren lit up. "Oh! That's what the adults were talking about!... uhm... but I don't know anything about it, no."
"Oh dear," Sunil murmured. Dionaea sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face. Sinking down into the water, he observed Wren a little more. Sunil coughed and shouldered Cassius. "Why don't you start, hm?"
Cassius cleared his throat and straightened up. "Of course, of course. So, first... wait, how come you don't know what mating is?" Wren scratched his ear. "Because I'm still a cygnet?" "A what?" "A cygnet." "A who?" "A...baby...swan?" Cassius laughed. "I was just playing with you. Of course I know what a cygnet is." He cleared his throat again and observed the chipped paint on his nails. "So. How about them donkeys. Caused quite a stampede last night, eh? Eh?"
Sunil swatted Cassius's head. "Oh yeah, and was your brain by any chance caught in their path?" Dionaea bared his fangs in a grin. "What brain?" "Okay, really now..." Sunil looked beseechingly over at their silent hermaphroditic friend. "Haizea? Do you have anything to say?"
"Oh, I am so abused..." Cassius put his hand to his forehead and swooned into the water. Haizea smiled as Cassius drifted a few feet away from the group, playing dead. "Well... I don't think Cassius or Dionaea should break it to the poor boy. They'd just confuse him more."
Dionaea bristled. "Hey, what's that supposed to-" "So are you implying that that leaves it to you and me?" Sunil raised his eyebrows at Haizea.
Haizea thought some more. "Maybe we could regroup in the morning, after devising a strategy. We can hide him away in one of our rooms so they don't throw him to the wolves before we've educated him." Cassius popped up beside Dionaea and rested an arm on his shoulder with a snort. "Who'd want him like that anyway? They'd confuse him and he'd confuse them and nothing would ever get done." He shook his head, as if that were a great shame.
Sunil brightened at the idea. "I like that. I can take him to my room."
Cassius smiled. "Great! ...So, what are we doing?"
Sunil repressed a smile and gave Cassius another swat.