A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp: Act 2.2.2
- Chapter 24: Eleanora feels like Stilettos is a return to the Forbidden Woods. Yet the restaurant is designed as a glass forest, not a dark pine; and everything is candlelit by chandeliers, creating a fake sense of eeriness, rather than the authentic weirdness of a fey-wood. While navigating the restaurant, Lutz sees a redcap, but Eleanora warns him, “Redcaps are fey that lie to consume; they’re the lower class of the fey people.” Lilli says that the ones in the restaurant are refugees. Surely that’s foreshadowing something for later.
- Chapter 25: Ben guides everyone from Stilettos to the Laughing Gardens, his “inn of choice whenever I visit Mother and Father.” Lutz and Elly are gagging on the smog, sleeves held to their noses. Ben notices that Eleanora’s gone from “white as a ghost” to “skin like bronze now, hair a dark black-gold,” so that he concludes, “the longer I travel with Elly, the more her color surfaces.” Ben then says they’ll need healing potions when they reach the inn, after the exposure to the poor air. When they reach the inn, Lutz asks Ben if he’ll be leaving them, and he says, “Soon,” because he doesn’t see his place in their life after escorting them to Bound Castle. But he “feels Elly’s glowing blue eyes…maybe the way gazelle feel the gaze of lions,” and Lutz’s face sours at the thought of losing his friend. This sense of belonging tears Ben down the middle. At the end of the night, as the chapter changes to Elly’s perspective, she describes what Ben looks like while he’s unfastening healing potions from his belt to give to everyone:
He leans one of his hips as he bends to a pouch at his side, unraveling the leather thong. The knives tucked in his bracers, belt, and boots glitter in the candlelight, twinking with his subtle movements. The iridescent blue sheen of his skin also catches glints of light—the only other evidence he’s a cyborg, beyond the gears hidden in his chest.
He frees a small, bright green vial from the pouch, then offers it to me.
I take it hesitantly. This is the same potion he pours into his clockwork. When I pop the cork, it definitely smells like the healing brew I learned to make in lives past; but if it’s the same, how does it power his machinery as if it were oil?A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp
- Chapter 26: While Eleanora is sneakily following Ben—to see if she can catch another glimpse of him opening his chest, revealing his clockwork—she describes the scene: “Since the Laughing Gardens is safe under a glass dome, the waft of air from the yawning window is simultaneously artificial and fresh. it feels like breathing underwater through a plastic bag, high in oxygen, low in Mother Nature.” Then she describes the application of medicine in his body in intricate detail:
I lower my eyes to the rose garden just in time to see Ben tuck the glass funnel into the clockwork of his peeled-open chest, and my throat tightens between fascination, horror, and the gag reflex I used to get when I scraped my knees on river rocks.
After I collect myself, I look again at how meticulously he angles his arching back and chin, how delicately he pours the fragile vial into the center of him, the moonlight beautiful on his dark hair.
I hide behind the indigo curtains that frill around my window, unable to give him privacy, yet determined to hide from him. I’m curious to know how his body works just as much as I’m scared of him ever understanding my shifty, shapechanging life.
And as he looks up to the inn, where I move sneakily around my window, I think he must see me—I must’ve blown my cover—until he returns his gaze to the vial and funnel, his face emotionless and focused as before, and I sigh in relief. He doesn’t suspect me.
After he drains the potion, and the neon liquid cycles through the gearwork—into the veinous fibers that I imagine sync with his circulatory system—he gently returns the papery skin to the toughened rim of his chest cavity, pressing along the edges to make himself whole again.A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp
- Chapter 26, Cont.: While Eleanora and Ben are exposing their weaknesses and insecurities in the previous scene, without ever actually interacting with each other, Lutz takes over narrator in the next scene to reveal inner struggles during a casual conversation with everyone else. Lutz is shifting between several of his past lives in his head when Ben hands him coffee, and the warmth and bitterness grounds him in reality. Ben talks about wanting to show them a library and bath house, which Lutz sees as an opportunity to ask him why he’s leaving them. When Lutz asks Ben if he has a family waiting for him, he tells him that he has a cat. Lutz says he’d rather meet the cat than go to the library or bath house.
- Chapter 27: They leave for Ashtree, Ben’s home. As they’re headed to the mechanical hippogryphs that will take them there, Ben says that he didn’t even know dragons existed until Lutz said he lived as one. This reminded me that Lutz revealed he was a dragon in the carriage; did I include that in the outline? Also, there’s a part where they talk about dragon slayers. Was Ben in on that conversation? Because if he was, he knew there were dragons (either that, or there aren’t any dragon slayers). They put on breathing masks in preparation for flight as the chapter ends.
- Chapter 28: Lutz has no issues flying the mechanical gryphon, but that’s because he’s flown before as a dragon. Elly also learns to fly fairly well, since she’s used to changing forms. Ben, on the other hand, “rides his gryphon the way a human would. He is forceful and jerky, overly intentional in his manipulation of the dials. He remains separate from his mount, like a dancer who doesn’t trust their partner.” Then Ben guides them “through another tightened space of bedrock and slate, into an enlarging forest, towering with redwood ancients and thick moss that feathers like wings along the leafy floor.”
- Chapter 29: Eleanora struggles as she lands the mechanical gryphon, which cues Lutz to judge her landing, so that she has an unusual shapeshift:
My skin and hair reddens as I try to reason my way off of this metallic beast. By the time I slide from the gryphon, and return to the hard earth, I’m blossoming pink, my hair crimson like fire, even the fuzz on my arms and legs feeling as hot as embers.A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp
- Chapter 29, Cont.: When Ben says hello to Buttercup in a “milky, childlike voice,” Eleanora observes, “even humans and cyborgs know how to shift into different guises, in their tone, behavior, attitude—internal gears, recalibrating.” When Ben looks at her, Eleanora explodes with internal love scene struggles, then they reach the huge tree where Ben lives.
- Chapter 30: Lilli notices Ben’s anxious and waits for Elly and Lutz to head inside the tree before offering to relieve his anxiety. Ben tries to lie to her about his feelings, but Lilli reminds him that it’s kind of her gig to find emotions and eat them. When they head inside, Ben feels embarrassed by Elly’s interest in his wood-carved animals. He’s not used to anyone caring about his art. The chapter ends with a fear that Largest and Middleman are still coming after Lilli—and they’re close.