By Neon Tiger and Yuki Ryu
"...Do you really have to go...?"
A young boy, looking to be in his late teens, sighed while shuffling about as he looked up rather pleadingly. He was wearing a rather plain tan tunic, nothing too special or decorative, which covered every inch of his body save his hands, bare feet, and from the neck up. A golden mop of unruly hair covered his shoulders with bangs dangling over his piercing violet eyes.
The woman he was speaking to, who had been facing away from him, ready to leave, paused and turned towards the younger boy. She had long dark hair that was mostly obscured beneath a light colored cloak and hood to protect her head from the sun, and bright blue eyes that looked reminiscent of a clear sky. She wore a tunic, much like the boy did, only one more fitting for a female to wear, and it was adorned with symbols denoting her status as a priestess in training. A soft sigh escaped her as she reached out to ruffle the blond boy's hair in an affectionate manner.
"I am sorry, Malik, but I need to return to the temple to continue my training," the young woman said gently. "I told you before that my visit home was for only these past few days, remember?"
"I know..." the young boy sighed, slumping his shoulders. He had known she would respond as such even before he asked; still, there was no harm in trying.
The woman smiled gently before she leaned forward to kiss the boy's forehead softly. "Goodbye, little brother," she said as she leaned back. "Be good. I will try to come back and visit again soon."
"Yes, sister Isis," Malik replied, smiling at the woman despite how pained and miserable he felt inside at her departure.
Isis ruffled Malik's hair one last time before she turned and walked out the door, her sandals lightly clicking across the floor before going virtually silent against the sandy ground outside.
Malik fell silent as he watched Isis leave, listening intently as the sounds of her footsteps grew softer until they became nonexistent. He knew she had important duties at the temples, training to become a Priestess; perhaps even High Priestess!
Still, he missed her greatly.
Malik jerked up, his back going stiff as his eyes widened.
An older man who wore slightly ornate robes colored with shades of red and tan gazed at Malik with dark eyes the color of a stormy sea that were just as unforgiving as their color. He had a number of wrinkles on his rough tanned skin, although they were mostly hidden by a scraggly white beard and mustache. He also wore a wig of tightly braided black hair that denoted he was someone of high standing.
"Isis is gone," the man said, his tone as sharp as a razor's edge.
"Yes sir!" Malik turned about, keeping his eyes focused intently on the floor.
"If you know then why haven't you gotten dressed and gone to work!?" the man roared as he backhanded Malik across the face without warning.
Malik yelped as he fumbled back, grimacing as his cheek burned red. The teenaged boy quickly regained his balance and bowed low, muttering an apology, before he reached into his robes to pull out a hood. He placed it over his head quickly, hiding his hair from view, before fastening the attached veil so as to cover most of his face.
"Good," the man nodded sharply in approval at the young man's addition to his attire. "Now go scrub the room you've tainted with your filth. It needs to be purified."
"Yes sir, right away sir." Malik scurried to the closet, proceeding to open it quickly to grab a large bucket and scrub brushes. Balancing them precariously in his arms, he closed the closet door.
"Make sure you do a better job than last time, or your punishment will be worse than it was then," the man said as he parted open his robes to reveal a coiled whip at his side, which he patted for emphasis.
Malik cringed, a shudder running up his spine, before he darted from the room as quickly as his legs could carry him.
"Piece of filth," the man spat as Malik fled, not caring if the blond heard or not.
Malik scrambled down the hallway, gasping, until he ducked into a room. He fumbled to a stop, panting heavily, before he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
Malik had heard what the man said about him; he was well aware how much his father hated him. Not that he was allowed to call him "father" or acknowledge any kinship to him; he had accidentally done so once and was nearly beaten to death for it.
To his sister Isis, whenever she came to visit, he became Malik, her brother. As soon as she left, he once again became Malik, the filth. Isis was not to know of what happened to him when she was not around, hiding just how his father treated him with smiles and false words of happiness. And his father made sure that Malik understood that he would regret it if he dared try to tell her, not that he wanted to taint his time with her by mentioning such things. His happiest moments were when Isis came to visit, even if he had to clean the house furiously both before and after her visit to prepare it and then decontaminate it.
His father loathed him; in his eyes, Malik was lower than even the lowliest slave on the market. His father had never forgiven him for "killing" his mother during childbirth. His father had adored her beyond all treasures; to take her from him, Malik had earned himself a place within the sheer depths of the man's hatred.
Malik shivered as he removed one of the brushes, sighing.
With a grunt, Malik dropped to his knees and proceeded to scrub at the floor. He had to scrub the floor until the brush was dry, and then wet it, before scrubbing again. The entire process took hours, but it at least kept him out of his father's way (and his wrath); at least for a little while.
If only Isis didn't have to go...
A sudden sharp crack pierced his thoughts before a searing pain exploded across Malik's back. Malik cried out as he arched his back, dropping the brush so that it clattered against the ground loudly.
"Who told you that you could take a break!?" his father roared as he held the whip in a tight grip at his side.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Malik whimpered as he grabbed the brush and scrubbed the floor furiously.
"I can't take my eyes off of you for a moment, can I?" the elder man snapped.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Malik repeated, scrubbing the floor as hard as he could. "I'm very, very sorry!"
His father just snorted in disgust. "Sometimes I wonder why I keep you around at all," he muttered, although it was hard to tell whether he was saying it to himself or Malik. "I suppose that I'm too generous for my own good to even keep a demon like you alive."
Malik didn't respond, keeping his eyes on the floor as he scrubbed. He hadn't meant to pause; he had just gotten so lost in his thoughts he hadn't noticed that he wasn't working anymore. He didn't blame his father for being angry with him, though he wished he didn't have to express that anger by beating him.
Malik sighed as he worked. He just wished that Isis could take him with her. At that, anyone would do. He just wished someone, anyone, could take him away to a better place: somewhere where he might actually be wanted.
Even if only a little bit.
Night came all too quickly before Malik was finally done scrubbing the room. Darkness filled the house, covering every inch with its ominous presence. The poor boy could barely see as he trudged through the hallway, carrying the scrub brushes and buckets.
His entire body ached, especially his hands. He could barely even feel them anymore, save for the dull aching pain in his bones. He supposed it would hurt worse if he could feel them completely, so he counted himself lucky for small blessings.
Malik trudged towards the closet, slowly opening the door before placing down the bucket with the brushes inside. He closed it once more, then sighed and slumped against it to rest. He was exhausted, but he wasn't looking forward to bed. When Isis wasn't around, he slept in the barn with the animals. It smelled rather badly in there, though he was normally used to it. However, it was always so hard getting used to it again after sleeping in a clean room...
A sudden noise reached his ears, soft yet startling: it sounded almost like someone had started to cry out but then stopped for some reason.
Malik blinked and looked up. He waited for a moment, listening. Was his father awake?
As he listened another noise was heard, a faint groan, but it sounded as if it were coming from the other room.
Malik blinked, then stood up and fumbled towards the source of the sound. All of his instincts told him to flee, to run and hide. However, morbid curiosity won out over self-preservation.
As he cautiously peered around the corner into the next room he suddenly found himself staring straight into someone else's eyes.
Malik's eyes widened drastically as he jerked back, shielding his head with his arms. "I'm sorry-!" he cried, instinctively.
However, his apology was quickly silenced as a hand moved to seize his mouth roughly. Something cold and sharp suddenly pressed against his throat, lightly cutting it, as the vague shape of a man with striking silver eyes spoke just as darkly as the shadows that mostly hid his body. "Scream and I'll slit your throat," the stranger hissed harshly into Malik's ear.
Malik's eyes widened drastically as he gasped sharply, his body going cold as the fact dawned on him: it wasn't his father or one of the servants. "Y-yah...?"
"Be silent and don't resist," the man hissed. "Or I'll kill you."
Malik squeaked, his eyes trailing down until he noticed that the hand at his mouth was covered in blood. The blond's pupils shrunk as all the color drained from his face, a tremor running up his spine.
"You will show me where the valuables are," the man ordered as he moved to stand behind Malik, one hand still holding the captive boy's mouth while the other kept the dagger's edge at the poor boy's throat.
Malik trembled, his heart racing so hard he could hear it in his ears. Shakily, he lifted his hand to point down the hallway to the living room. He knew that his father would be furious at him for exposing the hiding place of his valuables, but for the moment he was only concerned about death: more importantly, his fear of it.
"Lead the way," the man whispered almost mockingly as he moved the knife to poke the point at the back of the blond's neck.
Malik yipped in response, and then fumbled forward. He slowly walked down the hallway, gasping loudly as his heart raced even faster. He could taste the blood on his lips, feeling the sticky substance cling to his face. It repulsed him and terrified him, as it reminded him that his own blood might soon be liberated from his veins.
"No tricks," the man hissed in Malik's ear. "I'll see right through it and kill you before anyone even knows to help you."
Malik swallowed hard and whimpered in response, slowly walking into the living room before coming to a stop in front of a large altar to the gods. He quickly averted his eyes and tensed, staring at the floor. His father and sister were both very religious; he himself had been taught a few things about religion, but nothing too special. However, the young boy knew that he wasn't allowed to be in the room, let alone look at the altar. His father insisted it would be an insult to the gods; Malik could still remember the beating he had received when his father caught him looking at the altar, making certain the young boy would never again think to gaze upon the likeness of the gods.
The man said nothing as he poked Malik with the knife between the poor boy's shoulder blades.
Malik swallowed hard and moved forward, struggling to squeeze behind the statue, trying his best not to look at the idol or else risk angering the gods anymore than he already had. He had a vague idea where the vault was, having once heard his father tell Isis its location and instruct her to use it in cases of emergency. He reached up to push at the wall, causing a stone to slide in, revealing a hidden compartment. Slowly, the poor blond reached inside to pull out a large pile of expensive jewelry, idols, and gold.
"Good," the man practically purred as he laid his eyes on the prize. He then pulled Malik out from behind the statue, moving his arm back around so that his hostage could see the knife's blade glint in the pale moonlight that shone in through the window. "I will release your mouth for now, but if you make a sound you will die."
Malik nodded weakly, his hands shaking visibly as he held the valuables. His fingers ached, protesting such abuse, but he didn't dare drop anything.
The stranger slowly removed his hand from Malik's mouth, being very cautious to make sure that the blond wasn't going to scream. Once confident that his captive wasn't going to resist him, he reached out to snatch the valuables.
Malik swallowed hard, shaking despite his attempts to hold perfectly still. In spite of his fear, the blond couldn't help but look at his captor in an attempt to at least see his face.
The combination of the light that shined in from the stars and moon outside and the reflection of that light from the knife blade and the gold gave just enough light for Malik to finally get a better look at his captor. The man wore a large open robe over a dark sarong and a pair of soft shoes, all of which were obviously stolen considering how finely they were made. The fact that the thief was wearing quite a bit of expensive jewelry only accented that thought. After a moment he recognized some of the pieces and realized that this man must have stolen from his father's own bedroom. The bandit's head was partially obscured by a hood, but from what Malik could see, the thief's face wore a wicked smile as his piercing silver eyes scanned over his ill-gotten loot. Bits of silver could be seen from underneath the hood, possibly stolen jewelry that was worn on his head. Most likely the silver-eyed man was adding insult to injury to his father by wearing one of his best bejeweled wigs.
Malik blinked slowly as he stared at the thief, and then looked away slowly. He doubted his captor would appreciate getting stared at.
The man looked over the treasure for barely a minute before he hurried to place them all in an empty sack tied to his waist, eager to take what he wanted and leave before getting caught.
Malik paused as he noticed the thief's distraction. Half of him screamed at him to hold still, else the thief would kill him...
But then, the thief most likely intended to kill him anyway.
Malik chewed on his lower lip before he narrowed his eyes. He had to at least try; maybe the thief wouldn't even follow, now that he had the treasure.
His mind made up, the captive boy tensed before he whirled and bolted towards the hallway.
Malik gasped as he darted out of the room, hurrying to try and escape. He didn't dare scream for help, as it would alert the thief to his whereabouts as well as give the bandit a reason to chase. If he were quiet and simply hid, then the thief would have no real reason to chase him.
Save that Malik had seen his face...
Malik cringed at the thought as he hurried down the hall, and then darted through a nearby doorway. He looked around wildly, finding himself in a guest bedroom, and then lunged towards the clothes closet and threw himself into a corner. He pressed up against the wall, out of sight and concealed by the shadows.
The blond clasped his hands over his mouth to stifle his heavy breathing as well as any noises that he might accidentally make. Then, he held perfectly still and listened.
Malik was greeted with silence, thick and stifling. The sound of his heartbeat grew more prominent in his ears as the silence seemed to thicken around him like a fog.
Minutes ticked by slowly as silence continued to reign. Perhaps the thief was satisfied with his prize and fled before Malik perchance found someone to help him? However, the terrified boy decided to wait for just a little while longer before he dared to look around.
Time slowly past until, finally, Malik simply couldn't stand the wait anymore. Slowly, the blond moved towards the closet door and peered out into the bedroom.
Suddenly a whisper tickled his ear.
"Did I say you could go yet?"
Malik nearly jumped out of his skin as he let out a strangled squeak, jerking back instinctively. However, he didn't watch where he stepped and accidentally slipped on a slipper. The poor blond fell backwards and let out a pained cry as his back hit the wall roughly, then slipped down into a sitting position.
Again the familiar feeling of a hand covering his mouth roughly came to the fallen boy, to silence his cry. A pair of silver eyes glittered slightly in the dark as they peered into his soft lavender ones once they opened again.
"I told you not to scream," the thief half hissed, half chided.
Malik's eyes widened as he stared up at the thief, his body trembling with pain and fear. "Please... no..." he whispered, muffled by the thief's hand.
"Hold out your hands and don't move until I tell you to," the man ordered.
Malik swallowed and did what he was told, his slender hands trembling as he held them out. "Please..." he muttered, pleadingly.
The thief said nothing as he removed his hand then briskly tied the blond's wrists securely. At least, that's what it felt like, but it was too dark in the room to really make out much more than vague shapes.
And those eyes...
Malik whimpered as he bowed his head, shoulders slumped as he continued to tremble. "Please... please..." he begged. He didn't want to die, no matter how terrible his life was with his father.
Once the blond's wrists were securely tied, the thief tugged on them. "Stand up," he commanded.
Malik squeaked, and then fumbled up to his feet, flinching and letting out a soft gasp of pain. His ankle throbbed, most likely injured due to the fall.
The thief let out a soft grunt before he tied something around the blond's mouth, effectively silencing the quiet noises of pain Malik made. Suddenly, he took a hold of his captive and slung the poor boy over his shoulder.
Malik squeaked in surprise, and then shivered as he tensed. He didn't know where he was going or what the thief was going to do to him, but he was so terrified that he felt like he was going to throw up. He only hoped that he could keep it in. He sincerely doubted that the frightening man would appreciate it if Malik lost the contents of his stomach on him.
The thief carried him off through the house with only the occasional glimpse of light from outside giving the poor captive boy any indication as to where they might be exactly. Malik craned his head to see, though he wasn't sure what good it would do. He idly wondered if his father would even bother to save him...
Or if he'd just let the thief take him and be done with him.
That thought brought a soft sob to Malik's throat, his eyes watering.
"Be silent and don't struggle," the thief ordered in a quiet yet sharp hiss.
Malik flinched and lowered his head, closing his eyes as he did so and forced himself to go slack against the man's shoulder.
It was hard to tell exactly how long the thief carried him or to where, but eventually the blond could feel his captor stop moving. A sharp whistle pierced the air suddenly, apparently from the thief.
Malik jerked at the noise, opening his eyes in spite of himself. He blanched as he found himself outside of his house, out in the middle of the street. The sound of thundering hooves, the only noise in the night, save for the rustling of the wind, caused him to crane his head around to find its source.
A black horse without a rider, almost unseen among the darkness, charged towards the thief and his captive. It was as if it was planning on running over them, but it didn't. Instead it chose to slow to a stop next to the bandit.
Malik blinked, staring in awe at the beautiful horse. The blond managed to catch a glimpse of the thief's smile as he was moved, hefted onto the dark horse's bare back; slung over sideways like a rolled up rug like the traders he occasionally saw visit his father do with their camels.
Malik grunted in pain before making a gurgled noise, the impact of the horse's back on his stomach not helping his nausea. The thief was apparently oblivious to his captive's plight, or, more likely, just didn't care, as he leapt onto the horse's back, took a hold of the reigns, and quietly commanded the horse to move with a cluck of his tongue and a kick of his heels at its sides. The horse reared back, causing the captive boy to slide back against the thief, before it tore off into the night.
Malik cringed, curling up against the horse as he trembled. He couldn't hold onto anything, so the ride was even more terrifying with each bump and jerk. The blond tried to ignore how the ride made his stomach more and more nauseated, though it was a battle he was quickly loosing. Unable to help himself, he started to cough and dry heave.
The thief freed a hand from the reigns to suddenly grab the blond's cloak and jerk Malik up into a sitting position, although still sideways on the horse's back. "Don't you dare throw up on my horse," the thief growled, glaring at his captive.
Malik cringed and curled up, shaking violently. He bowed his head as he let out a pathetic whimper, wondering what gods he had offended to bring such a thing upon himself. Was this karma for his birth coming around to finally bring him to hell?
The thief kept one hand on the reigns and adjusted his hold to pull his captive close, both so that he could see and so that the blond's movements wouldn't upset his horse.
"Don't you dare throw up on me either," the bandit whispered into Malik's ear.
Malik's only response was a heart-wrenching sob.
Nothing further was said as they rode off into the night.