Prisoner of War
A/N: I'm terribly sorry about the long wait of over a year to update this fic. I really am. I do intend to finish this one way or another, so, y'know, this might be finished before we become grandparents, eh?
Exiting the tiny house in the midst of the slums, Sheena peered over the note once more, mumbling, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…" repeatedly in hopes of revealing its meaning. Needless to say, the message behind the numbers remained a mystery.
Looking around, she saw no sign of her captor anywhere; however she still couldn't will herself to calm down. Fumbling to fold the note, she found she had no ample place to store it on her person without running the risk of it falling out, or of someone noticing the tan paper. She doubted any of the nobles knew the code, but who's to say they couldn't find out? She hesitated, contemplating burying it where she could later unearth it, but that option, too, was extremely hazardous. She didn't worry about anyone finding it, but she had little idea of what would become of her freedom once she submitted to becoming the slave to an aristocrat, so she feared never being able to recover it. Moreover, she needed to complete the tasks it held with great haste—a challenge within itself.
Finally, she had to make a decision. Carrying it in her hand, while secure, would be glaringly obvious and she could be punished for having possession of it in the first place. She unfolded the small, worn paper until it only held one crease. She rolled it up into the size of a small twig and clasped it between two fingers as she worked to undo the bun in her hair. Once she pulled out the band, letting her raven hair tumble down her back, she took the scrolled note inside the band, wrapping it around the note just once as not to damage the paper too much. She then carefully proceeded to put her hair back into her normal bun, making sure the note was secure and hidden beneath her hair.
Sheena shook her head vigorously, assuring that the tiny scroll stayed in place. When she found it hadn't moved a notch, she headed towards the noble's quarters, inwardly satisfied with her work.
Arriving outside the castle plaza within little time, she still could not find a trace of her captor as she began to feel a little on edge with all the odd stares she received from the children playing. A few of them visibly stiffened upon her arrival, abandoning their games and running towards their homes. She was drawing a notable amount of attention towards herself, which, in one way suited her just fine as her captor might find her more easily, but unnerved her with the thought that someone else might try to engage in the role instead.
She needed to make herself look lost, confused and, most of all vulnerable, so that he might not get suspicious as to why she hadn't already managed to flee the city. Spotting a nearby flowerbed, she figured it to be her best bet if she faked to be asleep amongst the daisies. After all, what more innocent seeming thing in the world was there than a flower?
Scoping out an adequate spot within the patch, she got down on her hands and knees and crawled towards an open space within the miniature garden. She proceeded to lie on her side, feeling the cool, moist ground against her skin while the rays of sunlight poured over her body so mercifully. Even within the enemy's territory, she felt completely in bliss, trying not to let her senses dull.
To feign sleep, Sheena closed her eyes and picked up every sound of the activity around her. She could hear the children nearby as ran about, their finely crafted shoes clacking against the stone while they cried out and laughed innocently. She felt the wind rustle her hair and glide gently past her as it whispered softly through the daisies. Occasionally, she could hear the steady measure of an adult pass by.
She involuntarily shivered. She hated being as truly defenseless as she was; it went against nearly everything she had ever been taught and it even instilled a small shard of fear in her. Without fault in her reason, she did not have any trust in any of the people in the entire city, aside from those she already knew from Mizuho and Iselia. Sadly, she believed the proper terms for them, and she as well, would be anything but people; they would live under words much more derogative than they—or any other anthropological creature, for that matter—deserved.
Two hands suddenly grabbed her arms and her eyes shot open. His hold was strong and firm; he wasn't going to let her escape a second time.
"Gotcha, beautiful." He almost teased with a smile—she saw it as a sneer. "Now get up and come with me. There's only so much time in a day."
She put up a weak front of resistance, but rose to her feet and trailed him with her hands bound tightly in the grasp of his one hand. As he led her onward, he muttered, "It's really a shame I don't have a pair of handcuffs for you. They would come in so much use."
Before long, he had taken her to the front steps of an extravagant mansion that seemed to pale only in the light of the king's castle. Without a hesitation, he threw open the grand doors and escorted her inside. Behind her, the doors slammed with a foreboding shut. They were large and thick, and she had a feeling it would be a long time before she would pass through them again.
"Yo, Sebastian!" Zelos called, letting his voice echo through the halls. Within little time, his butler of many years appeared in the foyer, head held high and hands neatly folded behind his back. As always, he was dressed modestly to the nines as his position entailed.
"Good day, Master Zelos." He calmly greeted. "Have you taken in another… servant?"
"Yeah, something like that," he laughed, giving her hands a slight squeeze. She subconsciously tried to squirm away but remained his captive. "I, uh… liberated an infidel hailing from the regions previously impartial to the hostilities occurring between the two great forces. I am under the moderately-founded suspicion that the incarcerated grasps a more than diminutive understanding of our maiden language, so I request your vocabulary broaden substantially when the subject's presence has been noted—for the sake of sustaining the element of surprise."
"Intriguing," the butler replied. "Would you want for me to escort and properly integrate the newest into the system and surroundings, Master Zelos?"
He paused, giving the offer a moment of thought. He then shook his head, "Normally that'd be routine but the experience in coming advises I should handle the issue myself." He then added plainly, "She's got a real knack for escape and evasion,"
He simply nodded. "As you wish, Master Zelos. Will there be anything else?"
"Nah," he said over his shoulder as he led her in another direction. "And if there is, I've got a loud voice."
"You are preaching to the choir, Master Zelos."
Even only after a minute it had gotten to the point where Sheena began to seriously consider making a break. The house seemed enormous and he still only held her wrists with his one hand. It took a lot of restraint from her part to keep walking, right after left, through every identical hallway and every equally grand room when the temptation of another escape teased her at every step.
Here and there would be a darting figure—oddly dressed nearly to the nines for carrying out elementary and lowly chores around the house. But… something within their attire seemed different from any normal nobleman or count, or whatever the case may be. There was a similar fashion amongst all of them that, regardless of the length of the sleeve on their left arm, their right arm from the elbow down remained completely exposed.
Every forearm had an eight digit code painfully etched unto their soft, pale skin. Their slave number was burned with black ink.
"Over here's where you people stay." Zelos hummed, opening a rickety door to reveal an expansive room littered with cots and basic personal belongings. At the far end a few round tables stood with worn chairs encircling them in a hasty fashion. He motioned towards everything with a sweep of his arm. "Your quarters. You'll eat, sleep and bathe here. I'll have Sebastian tell ya about how everything works in there later."
He shut the door and continued to pull her down the hall. "You know, compared to others, you'll really have it nice here. I'm not into the whole 'workers are expendable' thing." He laughed a little. "Of course, that doesn't mean you won't earn your keep." He lowered his voice, adding, "You'll just do so in different ways than most…"
Sheena didn't pay mind to him much as he spoke. She was more intently focused on assessing her surroundings and waiting for him to leave her alone so she could figure out what the auburn-eyed man had meant by the 'Brown Fox Code'. (She then prayed fervently the note had stayed in place and hidden.)
Finally, they reached an end to the hallway, a single seldom used door marked the end. But unlike the rest that lined the hallway, the door was finished in a rich oak with a polished gold-colored doorknob. He opened the door and ushered her in ahead of him. Hangars of clothes and outfits were packed into the space, hanging off rails, racks and stands littering the space. One could have made a maze out of it.
Zelos closed the door gently and called, "Hey, you in here?"
"Oh!" came a squeak from the back of the room—where ever that was. "Coming!"
A few seconds passed and a woman with brown braided pigtails resting on her bony shoulders bounded out from the maze of garments. She bowed apologetically. "Sorry, Master Zelos! I was just doing the laundry; some of your slaves are so carelessly messy! Can't you please do something about it?"
"If I did that, there wouldn't be a need for your position, now would there?" He shook his head. "I pay you to do your job, and if there's no job for you to do, why should I pay you? I pay you good money for something as simple as this, you know. Don't give me reason to rethink your salary."
Her eyes flew open wide. "Oh, n-no! O-Of course not, Master Zelos, you don't have to—there would never be a reason to—" she closed her eyes, trying to regain her composure. "H-How can I help you t-today?"
"A worker's outfit for this one," he said with a huge grin as he put one hand on Sheena's shoulder. Sheena tensed and tried intently to shake him off, but like the grip on her wrists, he held on tightly. She swore could feel him laughing quietly at her attempts to lose him.
The woman had her back turned at this point, sweeping over the labyrinth of attire with her eyes in search of a clothing that would serve for the worker and—as she had gathered from the choice wardrobe of the other female workers—would serve the master's eyes as well.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, hurrying to a stand far away. They could hear hangars clicking together chaotically. "Here're some that might work. …Oh, and this one. These'll do nicely."
She returned with an armful of fabrics. "First off, did you have anything particular in mind, Master Zelos?"
"Not really," he sighed, his hand stroking the contours of her shoulder. He suddenly slipped his hand beneath the ragged cloth without a change of expression. "Just anything but this."
Sheena jumped under his warm touch, hell bent on escaping his hold. She tore her hands from his grip, spun and landed a swift clout right to the side of his head—all in one fluid motion.
He hissed, holding one hand to his head as he took a step back. At first he glared at her through narrowed eyes, but then he relaxed his stance and his glower turned to bemused laughter. "Got a lot of fight in you, huh?" he teased, still gently holding the spot where her fist had made contact. "I like that—love it, beautiful."
Sheena considered pounding him again—she certainly had the motivation to. Though as much as she would have liked to—loved to—she had to remind herself she was here for a reason. She couldn't jeopardize her position at least until she figured out what the note said.
He watched her calculating hesitation with a smug look about him. He then looked past her to the clothing woman. "Just throw me onna those, will ya? Doesn't matter which." She did as he said. He caught it without a hitch. "Thanks." He slung it over his arm.
"Come on, beautiful." Zelos said, a hard edge to his smooth tone. "I think you've had your fun for the day."
He opened the door, waiting for her to follow. His eyes were made of blue ice. Begrudgingly and seeing no better option, she trailed him, always three paces behind. He took her back to the room where the other slaves made their residence in a chilling silence. He motioned her inside, his eyes never leaving her. She soundlessly made her way past him and he walked in and closed the door with a deafening click.
"Beautiful, resilient and smart," he whistled lowly. "You know what's best for you. You could easily run away, but you don't. You could easily escape this city, too, but you don't."
His eyes ran along every curve of her frame. "You must be the one, then. The lone one that got away from Volt's wrath." He paused, looking her in the eye. "They're dead, you know. All killed by the wicked lightning strikes… but not you. …Why is that, beautiful? What makes you so special, hmm?"
The seconds ticked away and Sheena yielded nothing to him, not through sounds, eyes or actions. She stood her ground and glared defiantly.
Finally, he shook his head, tossing her the outfit he had slung over his arm. "I'm telling you this for your own good. You leave this house, and you will be killed. I won't be able to stop them." He gave her a final stern look. "Got it?"
She didn't answer; she didn't need to.
Zelos turned and exited the room, leaving Sheena alone in the expansive, cluttered room. She let the clothes drop from her arms and laid down on one of the cots. Every curse word she in existence flew from her mouth in a long, livid slur. Fists clenched so tightly, she could feel blood trickle in her palms.
"Dammit," she finally breathed. She rolled onto her side, facing the rest of the room. Atop one cot, a small wooden wolf laid next to a carver's knife. The canine looked mangled, caught between life and the timber; it looked like it was trying wildly to escape.
Sheena drew her arms in closer as a cold shiver swept over her.
Didn't Lloyd whittle a little?
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