By Nicola Ward
I woke to softness beneath my body, my head resting at an angle on a feather pillow. A stranger with billowing grey or white hair sat on a chair opposite the bed I lay on, his features young and pristine in the moonlight that shone through the open window. "So, we are awake now?" he asked pleasantly.
I sat up and gasped as a pain rang through my head, quickly lying back down. "You shouldnít do that," the man said. "The pain will subside after a while but until than you must rest."
"Who are you?" I asked weakly.
"My name isnít Lucifer Cattral if you must know," the man replied. "Lucifer disappeared five thousand years in the future, but Iím sure you already know that by now. My name is Marcus Attor, but you can call me Marc." He looked at one of his fingernails and cleaned it with a swipe of another, nodding to himself afterwards. "Isnít is ironic that, if you had gotten away with it, you wouldíve killed me instead of Lucifer, the consequences being that you wouldíve failed your mission. Is that correct?"
I closed my eyes and tried to think. Yes, I had come here to kill Lucifer Cattral. But he wasnít here. This man, Marcus, was here and I wouldíve killed him by mistake, thinking him the Lucifer Cattral. My employerís wouldnít have been too happy about that. "Where is he?" I asked. "Where is Lucifer Cattral?"
Marcus shrugged. "No one knows. He disappeared, remember? You read the newspaper so it shouldnít be too difficult for you to recall it."
I closed my eyes again and cursed myself silently. I had indeed failed in my mission. I would have to suffer the consequences for it. I tried to move my arm to sit up again but soon realised that I couldnít move, I was so numb from the cold. Marcus came over and sat beside me, lifting my one of my eyelids to see my pupil had dilated. "Oh dear," he said to himself. "I think itís a hot bath for you. I keep on forgetting that you people feel the cold more easily than I do." He wandered into the corridor and was away for a few minutes before I realised that the sound I could hear was running water. Marcus came back soon after and, even though I tried to resist him by cursing and unsuccessfully moving my limbs, stripped me of clothing, my naked body open to his gaze. He didnít even spare me a glance and picked me up effortlessly, carrying me into the bathroom and placing me in the hot water. I gasped as my body broke out in goose pimples and the warmth returned with a great gush.
"Thatís better," I said without meaning to, and flinched from an invisible hand.
Marcus smiled. "But donít think that the warmth you feel now enables you to move. The gas you inhaled disables movement for a few more hours yet, even though you did manage to sit up on the bed just now. Until you are able to move you are in my care." He retrieved a sponge and some soap, rinsing them both in hot water, and began soaping me down. I blushed crimson as the sponge worked its way downward but Marcus didnít pay it any mind and rinsed me down afterwards.
I yawned after he had towel-dried me off and put me in some clean clothes, with some hassle because of numb limbs, and he placed me inside the bed, lying me down on my back. "Thanks," I said after a while. "You didnít have to help me."
"But I did and nothing can change that. Now I require some payment off of you in return for keeping you from hypothermia." He glanced at me before returning to his drawing that he had retrieved from the drawing room. "But that can wait until morning. We both know the seriousness of the situation however, and the price must be considered based on what has happened. I donít doubt that you agree with this, young Christopher Leo."
"How do you know my name?" I gasped. "I havenít spoken it to anyone."
"No, you havenít have you." He laughed softly. "Christopher, the reason I know your name is because I am your employer. I wanted to see how clever you were to assassinate someone who isnít here. Not to clever it would seem."
My breath caught in my throat before I could release it, my mind struggling to accept all that I had learned in a short time. "You wanted Lucifer dead when you knew that he wasnít here! So this was a stunt just to see how good my skills were, is that it?" I struggled to sit up and, having done so, rubbed my eyes from the sleep beginning to gather in them.
"Well, you could put it that way," Marcus agreed, not looking up. "I hired you for a reason, Christopher. The one you stated wasnít it, and it doesnít come any closer to the one Iíve chosen."
"So Iím wrong than!" My temper flared.
"No, not entirely," Marcus replied. "I said that the one you stated wasnít correct, but I didnít mean that it was incorrect in other terms. I was hoping youíd spot the correct reason without fail, but instead you come up with a reason not entirely wrong, but not right either. You will learn, with time, and soon maybe you will even outguess me." He looked up and grinned at me. "You really should rest. You donít look too good at all. But I can guarantee that you will feel better in the morning." Marcus stood and came over to me, making me lie back down and tucking me in before walking out the room, closing the door behind him.
So cold I thought. His skin was so cold
I hadnít realised Iíd slept in so late until the warmth of the rays on my cheek rose, the light shining through my eyelids in a colour of bright red. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the room, but my senses were as alert as ever. The most delicious smell came from the table that Marcus had been drawing on last night; though I couldnít figure out what it was, I was looking forward to my breakfast.
My door opened and Marcus walked in carrying my clothes, which looked as if theyíd been washed and ironed. "Good morning," he said cheerfully. "Did you sleep well?"
I nodded. "It got quite warm in here last night actually. It was freezing in the drawing room."
"It normally does get a bit chilly in that room of late," Marcus sighed. "And itís my favourite too. But lets not go into that. Your clothes and breakfast are prepared thanks to my good butler, but you must wash first. The first rule in this house is Ďcleanliness before handling food takes priorityí. Also, seeing as you are my worker and I am your employer, we will be eating together from now on." He placed my clothes on the end of my bed before throwing the covers off me. I instantly drew my legs up and wrapped my arms around my body.
Marcus had changed a lot since I saw him last night. That morning he didnít seem so lost in another world, if you can describe it that way, and he seemed a lot more cheerful and full of life. When his fingers had touched me though, they were as cold as a gravestone during winter, and Iíve touched many of them in remorse for people I have lost. I didnít say anything about his touch being cold but I did comment on how he had changed from last night. He stared at me for a moment and then hung his head. "I didnít realise that that was the case," he said sorrowfully. "I really was like that last night? My apologies to you for being so careless."
"No, no, no," I said quickly. "I didnít mean it to be an insult. It never was. Iím just saying that itís like there are two sides to you. One where youíre all joyous and everything. And the other where you seem to close in on yourself and reflect on what has happened during the day."
"Now that, my young worker, is a nice way of putting it. Yes, I like that very much. But now itís on to breakfast. How does chicken sandwiches sound to you?"
I grinned. "Great." After getting dressed and washed, I hurriedly sat down and ate with an appetite I canít recall having before. I was finished before Marcus had even started, starting on my third glass of coffee.
"Someone was hungry," Marcus commented. "What did you have yesterday?"
"Breakfast, lunch and supper," I said, swirling my drink in the cup. "I think it was because of the drug yesterday. Made my hunger grew perhaps." I drank the last of my coffee and set the cup down, waiting patiently for Marcus to finish his meal. "So whatís on the agenda today?"
Marcus wiped his mouth and poured some coffee out for himself, sitting and watching the steam rise in spirals and swirls. "We talk," he replied. "You listen and learn while I explain. Thatís whatís on the agenda today."
I stood and looked out the window overlooking the garden, watching the sunrise before it disappeared behind a cloud. "You truly believe that you can help me help you by you teaching me."
Marcus thought for a moment, thinking about what Iíd said before answering. "Yes," he agreed after careful working out. "I do think that thatís the case. But the question is, what are you good at?"
"Good at what, exactly?"
"Your skills in attacking, defending and killing."
"They are good enough." I opened the window slightly, breathing in the fresh air. "Why do you ask?"
"How do I know that what you say is good enough is your best?" Marcus asked, his eyebrows raised. When I didnít answer he chuckled. "You have a lot to learn in how I think things through, Christopher. You say that your skills are good enough. To me that translates ĎI donít know everything.í You could learn everything though it would take a lot more training than you realise."
"So how come you employed me than?" I turned back to watch him only to find him watching me.
"I employed you so I could train you in what you would need to know to survive. Then I will use you as a tool in what needs to be done." He stood and rang a bell on the table. The butler appeared a few minutes later and cleared the table before departing again.
"You think to much," I told him. "Youíre worrying about how good I am when it should be that you should be worrying about how good you are."
Marcus smiled. "Is that a threat?"
"No. But I know more than you may realise."
He laughed, closing the window and twirling me towards him to hold my shoulders firmly. "Just what Iíve always wanted in a student," he cried. "Just what Iíve always looked for in a student. Come than. Let me teach so you may learn."
I looked outside. "But this place is hardly the place to teach anyone. Itís too small."
He just smiled and didnít say another word.
Later that day, while I was looking around the city, dodging the cars in the roads and finding routes through crowds of people, when a young boy came up to me and pulled on the sleeve of my shirt uncertainly. He looked very frightened beneath his black fringe, his grey eyes wide.
"Whatís the matter?" I asked. "Are you lost?"
He shook his head. "No, sir. Lucifer Cattral wishes you to return to his house so that you can leave, sir."
"Oh." I held his small hand in my own and knelt down in front of him. "Are you sure youíre all right?" With that tears flowed down his cheeks in silent sobs and he turned his back to me, lifting his shirt. My heart seemed to have stopped beating and my own eyes seemed to water as I looked upon the childís back, where it had been beaten black and blue and heíd been recently whipped. Time seemed to slow down as I looked upon that sight.
"I have to leave now," he said quickly and tried to run, but I caught his hand and pulled him back.
"Who did this to you?" I asked softly, barely keeping the tremble from my voice. "What did you do to deserve that?"
He hesitated before answering. "I was late for work, sir" he whimpered.
"How old are you?"
"Six years old, sir."
I shook my head. "This is bad. Do you have any family to take care of you?"
He shook his head. "They all died of yellow fever, sir."
"Stop calling me Ďsirí, little one. Iím called Chris, not Ďsirí."
He flinched. "Iím sorry, s-, I mean, Chris."
I smiled my warmest smile; taking is other hand in my own. "Whatís your name?"
My smiled dropped. "Boy? Thatís your name?"
He nodded. "Always been called it. My mom died before I was old enough to know her and my dad and sisters named me, but I canít remember the name. Then I went into work where they called me Ďboyí all the time."
I couldnít leave him here. I knew that if I did than I would regret it for the rest of my life. "Will you come with me?" I whispered. "This city is no place for a child like you. Where I come from young children donít get treated this way. Come with me and Iíll give you a good home. Plus weíve got to think of a name for you to."
His eyes brightened a little and a small smile touched his lips. "What about Pip?" he asked. "Iíve always liked Pip."
I stood, still holding his hand. "All right than. Pip it is. You will come with me? We are going to Luciferís house."
"No, sir," he cried, going back to formality. "I canít go there, sir. Heís a cruel man."
"No heís not," I assured him. "Mr Cattralís a good man. He wonít hurt you."
He seemed to relax again with my assurance and allowed me to lead him back to ĎLucifer Cattralísí home. I didnít knock but walked straight in after opening the door, Pip trailing along behind me. I saw the butler and called to him. "Take this child to a room and make sure he has a bath and something to eat and drink. Also give the boy some clean clothes. I wonít settle for anything else, do you hear me?" The butler quickly nodded, seeming to sense the rage seething beneath my skin. After Pip had left with the butler I went to the drawing room, looking for Marcus. Coming to the drawing room I opened the door and banged it shut, making Marcus jump in his seat.
"Oh look!" he said, irritated. "You made me jog the pencil you stupid boy!"
I marched across and tore the paper from the desk, screwing it up into a ball and throwing it across the room. Marcus looked positively horrified. "I donít give a shit about your stupid drawing, Marcus!" I couldíve spat venom right now. "There is a little boy downstairs with the most horrific wounds I have ever seen on a child! I believe in disciplining children, by all means. But beating and whipping them?" I choked and turned my back on him, holding my head in my hands. "He doesnít have any family, he was beaten because he was late for work! He doesnít have a name!" I turned back around. "What child doesnít even have a name!"
Marcus sighed. "I shouldíve warned you in advance and I am sorry." He stood and walked over to the drawing, but upon seeing my glare he stopped and just stood there. "But the boy that you brought back has only minor injuries compared to those of others," he said. "There is nothing that I can do about it."
I lunged at him and shoved him against the wall, my rage flaring inside me. "Donít you dare say that," I spat. "Youíre the leader of this sinking city Ė you have to do something about it. Itís your job for Godís sake!"
Marcus took my wrists and shoved them off of his shoulders, taking me by the shirt and bringing me forward till my face was mere centimetres from his own. "Donít you ever talk to me like that again!" he said quietly. "I am your employer. You will show me respect when in my presence and you will do exactly as I tell you. Another word from you and that ruffian will be back on the street where he came from."
I was trembling when he released me, but not just with rage. I felt a terrible sadness that he didnít care what happened to the people he had been left to care over. I turned around and walked away, leaving the door open, his voice trailing behind me telling me to come back. Fuck him I thought.
Pip was in his room bouncing on the bed when I found him. "This place is great!" he cried with glee. "Thank you so much, Chris!"
"Get your belongings, anything you can carry, and come with me," I said. "Weíre leaving here and you can come with me to Orion Academy."
Pipís eyes flickered in surprise. "Leaving? Is that place better than this place?"
I shrugged. "It depends on what you think when we get there. But we canít stay here."
"Why?" Pip scooted across the bed and sat on the end with his legs dangling.
"Iíll tell you when we leave. Youíll just have to trust me. But that place is a lot safer than this place."
My companion shrugged. "If you say so." He looked around for a moment. "All Iíve got is my clothes over there and the clothes Iím in now. Is that all right?"
I nodded, amazed at the formality in his voice, which he was able to use as he saw fit. "Thatís fine. Lets get out while we can."
I held Pipís hand tightly as we walked along the less-than-crowded streets, still aware that someone might snatch him up at the slightest opportunity. His employer was still out there; ready to bash the childís head in if he got hold of him. I couldnít let that happen. After ensuring that my money was secure, I took Pip to the Inn where I ran into Bunker.
"Hello, Jay," he greeted. "How yer been?"
"Iíve been okay, Bunker. I have to go now. Itís very urgent." I tilted my head slightly towards Pip and mouthed, Ďheís in dangerí. Bunker nodded.
"Best you leave as soon as possible than," he agreed. He shook my hand. "Thanks for coming to see me again. If you ever want to contact me Iíll be at my home just outside Metra. Youíll see it. Only those that I like see the house and youíre one of those people. You take care and also take care of that youngster with yer."
"I will. Hopefully the next time we meet it wonít be so quick." Pip smiled at Bunker and waved to him as we left.
"Heís a nice person isnít he," Pip said, when I was in the front seat and he was in the passenger seat next to me.
"Yep. Heís the nicest person you could ever want to meet." I put the car in reverse and backed out of the car park, before putting the pedal down and accelerating along the highway. "You looking forward to where weíre going, Pip?" I asked.
He nodded. "I hope itís as good as Mr Cattralís place. That was great. The butler was really nice."
"I bet he was. But weíre not going back there unless we really have to, Pip. Itíll be a new life for you, do you understand that? You can go back if you want. I wonít force you into anything you donít want to be in."
"I wonít, Chris. I want to go with you. You took me off the streets, gave me food and stuff, and now youíre taking back to live with you. I didnít like the way they treated me in that city. It was horrible."
I shifted into the next gear up and cast a glance at Pip before returning my eyes to the road. "Itís all in the past now, Pip. Donít worry about it anymore. If they come for you again then Iíll protect you."
I took Pip straight to the Medical Centre, even though it was eleven oíclock in the evening on Tuesday 14th. His wounds needed immediate attention and I didnít think the butler made a very good job of cleaning up the wounds.
"Chris!" Lor came striding towards me and gave me a quick hug. "How are you? Did the job go well?"
I waved that aside impatiently. "Weíll have time to say our hellos later, Lor. I picked up Pip before I left. He needs a doctor."
"Well thatís what Iím here for. So whereís the problem?"
"Itís on his back. It happened roughly two days ago and the wounds appear to be healing, but I want to make sure heís okay."
Pip turned around for Lor and took his shirt off, revealing a pale white back with whiplashes and bruises. "Am I going to be okay, sir?" Pip asked, his shoulder-length hair flicking around as he turned his head to try and look over his shoulder.
Lorís hands glided over the boyís back, his mouth open in horror. "The wounds are healing," he said slowly. "But they must be treated in case of infection. Come on, Pip. Letís go get you fixed up." Pip slipped his hand into Lorís as they headed to one of the private rooms, mostly for emergency cases. I quickly followed suite.
"Donít you worry, Pip," I said. "Lorís going to take good care of you."
Pip turned to watch Lor getting medicine and bottles from a nearby cabinet. "Can I call you Lor?" he asked. Lor turned around, smiled, and nodded.
"Sure. When did you get those marks, Pip?" He carried one bottle and a clean cloth, soaking the cloth with the medicine.
"I donít remember. It happened a few days ago I think. But it doesnít matter now, right? It wonít happen again. Chris said he would stop the bad people if they came after me."
Lor flicked a glance in my direction before getting back to what he was doing. "Pip, this is going to sting for a while, but that means that itís getting better so donít you worry, alright?"
Pip nodded but still breathed in sharply when the cloth stroked the cuts. "Itís not as bad as some things that have happened to me, Lor. Iíve had worse. Broken bones and everything. Thatís what the healing people told me when I went to them for medicine. They said I was lucky to be alive."
"I think youíre the luckiest boy Iíve met so far," Lor replied, washing the wounds clean with warm water. "Chris, Pip can go back to your dorm with no trouble. But Iíll bandage his torso first and give him some more clothes to keep the bandage covered." He went to another cabinet and took a bottle out, handing it to me. "Make sure he has this at least twice a day starting from tomorrow, though only in tea-spoonfuls. Itíll help ease the pain for him. Remember itís one in the morning before breakfast and another before he goes to bed. He wonít need any other medication. This stuff will do the trick."
It didnít take long for Lor to finish with Pip, and we agreed to meet later tomorrow evening so he could give me details of what had been happening.
Pip was extravagant while walking through the Academy. "Wow," he said, at almost every opportunity. "This place is huge!" He felt the floor tiles with his fingers, rubbing them together. "And itís clean too!"
I smiled and ruffled his hair. "Weíll get that cut tomorrow when we go down to the village. Make you look like a boy instead of a girl."
"Girls are yucky," came his retort.
"Wait till you get older," I replied smugly. "But now itís off to a quick soft drink, brushing of teeth and bed for you." We turned into my dorm where I switched a few lights on and headed to the kitchen, putting the extra clothes on a chair. Pip headed for the bedroom and bathroom, looking at himself in the mirrors there.
"I do look like a girl donít I," he whinged and crossed his arms. I laughed at him.
"I told you that weíll get it sorted tomorrow. But for now youíre going to have a nice glass of drinking chocolate and then weíll get you settled in."
Pipís eyes brightened at the thought of drinking chocolate. "I saw in your bedroom you have a cabinet on the wall above it. A great big cabinet. Whatís it for?"
"Thatís a bed," I said, heating the milk in a saucepan and putting chocolate powder into two cups.
"Ooh, can I sleep up there, please, Chris?" he asked, wringing his hands. "Iíve never been a bed like that before."
I motioned him towards the lounge, carrying the glasses of drink, where we both sat on the sofa. "Be careful itís hot," I teased when he burnt his tongue.
He smiled and blew on his drink. "What are those white things floating on the top?" he asked. "Theyíre very sweet."
"Marshmallows." I drank my drink quickly and got Pipís bed ready for him by the time he had finished his own. "Pip, time for bed," I called.
"Iím coming," he called back. He ran towards me and showed me his teeth. "Are they clean now?"
I had a quick observation and nodded. "Theyíre clean. Now, off to bed. Go on."
He stripped down to his underwear before clambering up the small ladder and snuggling into the covers. I watched the boy through the bars I had set up; I didnít want him to fall out of bed. "I feel better now," he said before yawning.
"Thatís good." I quickly got undressed and ruffled his hair again before climbing into my own covers, sighing with contentment. I clapped my hands once and the lights went out, upon which Pip gasped with surprise before falling to sleep. Smiling, I did exactly the same.
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