Between Heaven and Hell
By Kasmi Kassim
Authors Note: This story takes place before the game of Xenogears. All standard disclaimers apply. This is my first attempt at a fanfic; please give me feedback!
The July heat was relentless. The air surrounding the quiet house was humid, quenched with a call for an oncoming storm. The trees were hushed, the tiniest leaf frozen in lack of wind.
The scorching rays of the sun penetrated into the quiet house that stood among the silent trees, and found its way to the figure inside that was kneeled before an unlit candle. The heat danced around his form, as a beast spying on its prey. Licking, cradling and seeping into him, the heat dug relentlessly into the boy. It burned into the material covering him, biting into his flesh. Yet the boys eyes remained closed, hands clasped together.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
Outside, sounds of running feet and laughter of the neighbors' children could be heard. Yet they failed the reach the ears of the boy, drowned out by the voices that haunted him.
You have a family to feed, don't you?
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
Beads of sweat slid down his forehead, dampening his robe. He didn't notice.
How will you feed her without a job? You know this is the only chance you got
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned
A sudden touch on his shoulder halted his feverish prayer. Slowly, he waded his way out of the abyss of voices that threatened to swallow him. Allowing his eyes to focus, he slowly raised his head. He noticed the excruciating heat surrounding his body for the first time, and realized that he was drenched in sweat. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he turned to face a pair of eyes that mirrored his own.
"Hey, princess. Didn't notice you coming in." His pale face broke into a tender smile. He reached for the girl's small hands and gently pulled her down, embracing her frail body onto his lap. The girl wrapped her white arms around his neck and leaned her head against his chest.
"Are you bored, Prim?"
The child shook her head. They sat silently, the child with her eyes closed, and the boy seemingly lost in thought. The girls eyes slowly opened when her brothers fingers made contact with her smooth, silver hair. She looked up. With a brother who didnt talk much, and the inability to talk herself, she had learned ways to sense her only familys sentiments through subtle ways. And she knew well how her brother felt when he stroked her hair.
"I know it's kind of late, but I have to go out again, Prim. I think I may be able to get a job today." He waited for her response. The child watched his eyes, giving him none. She saw his eyes waver. Was it guilt? Her brother was always honest to her, and though she was young, he told her everything except for the things that would bother her. She could tell.
But, that was all that she could tell. His eyes gave away no thoughts, no hints just guilt and a wall that locked away everything he didn't want her to see.
Finally, she nodded.
"So you're back after all!"
The boy gracefully steered himself away from the embrace of the ecstatic young woman. She pouted at him with full red lips.
"Oh, come on. You have to be a little more gracious if you want to work. What's your name?"
Billy hesitated. He didn't like the idea of letting these people know anything about him at all. But it was too late now. These people knew his weakness. And he seemed to have no way out of this predicament without their help.
He had been walking in the marketplace in despair, letting his mind replay the images of starvation. Of Primera, without any food. Her sweet innocence, wilting away. He felt his grip around his gun tighten under his coat.
He turned his head to see a running figure. It was the man who had told him of his misfortune over a week ago. Covered in sweat and matted beard, he came to a halt behind the boy and bent his back to gasp for air.
"Still didnt find a job, I see, he panted. Straightening his back, he wiped his brow and met the serene gaze of the 14-year-old before him.
Billy shook his head. The mans expression broke down into that of shame and sadness. Im sorry, Billy. I really am.
The boy smiled. It was a sad smile, and it burned into the guilty salesman even more. "It's all right, Mr. Conner. It's not your fault they cut off the trade route. You know I don't blame you."
The man's heart scorched painfully at the boy's calm demeanor. "You know I'd love to do anything to help you, Billy. Oh man, stupid war! What are you gonna do now? Isnt there a place that has a spare space for another worker?"
Billy's eyes fell. He was silent, and the man hung his head. "I'm sorry, my boy. If it would help, I can gather up what I have and pay for your "
"You can't afford that, Mr. Conner. Billys voice cut in sternly, and prompted the older man to look up. The boys expression then softened, as he smiled reassuringly. Don't worry, I can take care of Prim."
The man's foot kicked a pebble. "Yeah, I know you can, but what about yourself?"
He walked away, mumbling under his breath. Billy watched him leave, silently contemplating the answer to the question. Realizing that he had none, he turned to continue on his way when he found himself staring at the face of a stranger.
The man had a burly build, with dark masses of hair that resembled that of a sailor's. He held a pipe in one hand, and his other hand was fingering a concealed object in his jacket pocket. His small eyes narrowed into slits, as he peered down at the boy studiously. Billy dropped his gaze and turned to go around him.
"I heard the conversation, kid. Lost your job because of the army, huh?"
Billy nodded slightly and walked past him. The marketplace was filled with all kinds of people, and he wasnt in a mood to chat with strangers about his affairs.
The man, however, got his attention when he said his next line.
"I can get you a job."
Billy stopped abruptly. There was a silence. Then the voice behind his back spoke again.
"Yeah, you heard me. I can get you a job."
Billy slowly turned to face the stranger. The man was smoking, looking down at the boy with an unreadable expression. Finally he turned his back to Billy and took a step forward.
Billy watched the woman turn briefly to greet a customer. Clad in a shiny silver dress with a slit that reached up to the thigh, the woman was smiling in a fashion that seemed a bit too friendly for a stranger, at least to Billys standards. She asked for his preferences and taste, and began to lead him up the stairs after receiving pay. Billy looked around the lobby as the man in the counter put away the cash.
The dimly lit lobby was decorated lavishly in a combination of red and black. The crimson rug with intricate black patterns not only dominated the floor, but up the spiraling stairs as well. Contrary to the darkness of the lobby, which held slot machines and a casino at the back, bright light flooded down the stairs from above. Music and laughter could be heard, and Billy noticed that the place reeked of alcohol and perfume.
The woman returned shortly afterwards, flashing Billy a sly smile. The boy dropped his gaze in discomfort, and waited for her to return to her place by the door.
"Billy, huh? Come here and stand next to me. Don't worry, I don't bite." The woman was twirling her blonde locks, which cascaded down her back aside from a loose bun at the top of her head. She was an attractive woman, but her demeanor somehow tempted Billy to look the other way.
"My name is Katrina. I'm the guide and the attention icon at the door, so you can always ask me if you have any questions. Now, about you. How old are you?"
Billy forced himself to look directly at her. Her gray eyes glittered in delight when they met his.
"My, but aren't you a statue! Jack, look at him. I can't get my eyes off him!"
"Yeah, pipe down, will ya," mumbled the young bald man at the counter. Katrina turned back to Billy with a shrill laughter.
"He's just jealous because he doesn't look good enough to get my attention. Well, where were we? Ah, yes, yes. How old are you?"
Billy pushed down the urge to turn away from the woman. "Fourteen."
The woman's smile grew wider. "That's perfect! You'll be one of our main fish once you get started!"
Billy didn't answer. Instead, he looked up the stairs once again. Katrina was scanning him up and down meanwhile, her eyes hungrily devouring his slender features. "Do you do any athletics?" she asked.
Billy's eyes snapped back to attention, focusing on hers. "Excuse me?"
Katrina giggled. "Your skin is so white. And you look pretty slim down there, under all that covering. Do you get out in the sun at all?"
Billy's gaze dropped from her eyes, unwillingly trailing to the wall behind her. "I do a lot of work outdoors, but I usually cover up," he said warily. His ears immediately picked up her nearly inaudible gasp.
"Modest, are you! We can't have that here." Then she cocked her head, wringer her hands behind her back. She peered at the boy's eyes under his silver hair, a peculiar smile lighting her face. "Of course, some people do go for the hard-to-get types "
"Save the drooling for someone your own age, Katrina!" yelled the man from the counter. Billy felt immense relief as the man motioned him to come closer. Anything to get away from that woman and her questions.
"When do you wanna start, kid?"
"Whenever you want, sir."
"Good. Come at around four tomorrow. You'll get some basic training and start your work at five. We'll notify you through a bell connected to your room. All you have to do is do what the customer says. Do you drink?"
Billy shook his head.
Its basic stuff to be able to drink here. Not enough to get yourself hopelessly drunk, but enough to please your customer. Well try to get you an easy one tonight.
Billy nodded. He bowed his head slightly at the two and walked out the door, fighting the temptation to rush out as fast as his feet would carry him. But the thought that had been tugging at him since a week ago didn't allow him to leave yet. Finally, he stopped and turned. The man looked up from the counter, and Katrina flashed him a charming smile and batted her eyelashes. Billy watched them a moment before gathering the courage to speak.
"Are many people into this business? Customers and workers alike?"
The woman turned her head at the man, and man looked at Billy sympathetically. "It's a hard world, boy. This town is lucky because it's a port, and many rich bums from the government come here for entertainment. If you can't find work in a busy market like this, this is the last place you turn to."
Billy nodded slightly and turned to go. Then he heard the man call out behind him.
"Some people enjoy this work and some don't. But heck, you get three grand a night, so why not look on the bright side? It all depends on how you think about it, boy."
His last words were shut out by the door.
Primera eyed her brother carefully. It was after dinner, and Billy wasn't doing anything. Usually he would work around the house, chopping logs for winter, fixing the fireplace, or if he was too tired, read. But today, he was unmoving. And silent. He was never the one to talk much, but he would usually talk to his sister about small happenings of the day as if he was talking to someone who could talk back.
Primera sighed and looked down at the carpeted floor. She was sitting on the floor as her brother was, with nothing to do and unable to focus on anything but Billy.
He was sitting in the corner wall by a large window, resting one hand against a propped up knee. His head was leaning against the glass, every fiber of his muscles revealing his fatigue. One would have mistaken him for being asleep, if not for the fact that his eyes were open. They were fixed on an invisible target before him, and Primera knew that they were seeing through whatever happened to be there, if they were seeing at all. His aquamarine orbs looked as if they were floating through a deep hazy lake of jade.
Primera knew that his eyes took on this appearance when something was deeply troubling him. Billy seldom showed any emotion that would upset Primera, and this was a look he had when he was oblivious of his surroundings. He hid his troubles well.
Though his sister wished he didnt. Primera caught flickers of emotion occasionally, but it was rare. She only sensed hidden emotions when he was sitting alone, unaware of his sister watching his translucent orbs and when he was stroking her hair. Stroking her soft hair gently and slowly, with that smile the smile that seemed to surround him with sorrow. He only looked at her that way when he thought she wasn't watching, but she saw it in his eyes. The only thing that softened his eyes in such a way was sadness, of which she knew she was the cause. He always felt guilty for her. He blamed himself for not being able to protect their mother, blamed himself for making her stay in the house alone all day while he worked, blamed himself for not being a good enough brother he blamed himself for everything.
You don't have to, Billy, she murmured. The words her throat had forgotten to speak flowed in her head. You alone are good enough for me. I'm happy as long as you're here
Of course, he could not hear it. If only she could talk, she would console him, encourage him, tell him that she loved him but she couldn't. It was true that Billy had an extraordinary understanding of her thoughts by looking at her eyes, but he would not be able to read this. He would never see, for he did not believe it.
Don't be sad, Billy, the child whispered in her silent voice. I don't care if you can't find a job. Don't be sad.
She crawled to her brother's side and gently touched his raised knee. Startled, he turned to face her, shifting his position. Primera took the opportunity to crawl in between his knees and perch herself on front of him. She reached for his arms and determinedly put them around her small body, and leaned back against his chest.
Billy smiled. He squeezed her and sat back, closing his eyes. There was silence.
But silence was the only thing that ever existed between them, unless Billy was talking.
"I found a job today."
Primera simply squeezed his hands with her own.
"I have to start work tomorrow, Prim. It starts in the afternoon, and ends in the morning. I have a night shift."
There is no job in the market that needs a night shift, countered Primera. Yet she sat unmoving.
"I'm an apprentice. That's why I have to learn and work overnight. But once I become professional, I won't be working at nights anymore."
Billy took a deep breath. It had been so hard, to tell his baby sister these few sentences. He just couldn't lie especially on front of those large, innocent aquamarine eyes. He was grateful that her face was turned away from him.
"But it's really hard work, Prim, and the job isn't really steady. So I'll start apprentice work tomorrow, and continue looking for other jobs. When I find something better, I'm planning to quit this one."
Anything is better, he silently told himself. Just one night. Just one night for three thousand, and we can live off that for at least two weeks. I'll find a job by then
He heard rhythmic breathing of the child in his arms. He bent down and gently picked her up. The child snuggled closer to him as he carried her to her room.
"Good night, Prim."
The child stared at the darkness. The door was left ajar, and she could see light seeping in through the crack. Billy was probably still up, praying. She stared at the black ceiling, and moved her lips.
Everything is black
She had trained herself to at least think in clear sentences, instead of a blur of emotions and images. It was a preparation for the day she could finally talk.
If I can ever talk again
She wanted to talk, more than anything. She wanted to chat with her brother and reply to his musings. Of course, her brother never mentioned her disability to talk. He seemed content to talk to her and watch her. But Primera wanted to speak to him. She wanted him to have one less guilt burdening his young shoulders.
She had tried often, forcing the sound to come from her throat. But all she managed was ragged breathing worn with effort, and not a single sound. At one point, she finally gave up trying. Billy was still waiting; she could wait.
The candle flickered, outlining a form of a boy kneeling on the floor. His head was bent, hands clasped together. The room was silent.
Please forgive me
His face contorted with pain. His conscience was tormenting his soul to no end.
How could he go through this?
But he couldnt back down from this chance any more than he could starve Primera. He had a duty as the older brother to do whatever it took to take care of the child.
The candle danced, throwing oblique shadows across the lonely room.
Father, guide me
He was unconsciously calling for a God that he had been taught about, when he was in a bleak world of despair in his younger days. The sole entity that he could not see but still leaned on through his trying childhood.
The God did not answer.
Billys face began to perspire as his lips moved silently. His eyes were closed, trying desperately to see what he wanted to see, and believe in something he wanted to believe.
The darkness before his eyes faded, replaced with whiteness. His vision, though his eyes were closed, began to clear. The room was pure white, and he was alone in a hot prison of infinite light. He alone was the darkness, a stain upon purity. Willing himself to be taken by the Devil, he was still trapping himself in light, tainting it. Was this right?
Billys feverish prayer continued as the heat surrounding him intensified. He accepted the pain readily. It was blazing into his body mercilessly, but it eased his soul. With grim satisfaction, he allowed the agony to torture him.
A sudden voice rang in his head. Billy couldnt make it out, thought it was familiar. It was a clear voice, untainted and pure. And it was sad.
It was a voice of a child.
The light began to fade. The burning heat lessened, and soon the whiteness disappeared completely, replaced by a soothing darkness. Everything was silent and still.
He opened his eyes slowly. They met the warm light of the candle, elucidated with the light of holiness. Enveloped in the gold of the solitary candle, his eyes narrowed. They were deep, lucid with a fluidity that almost seemed transparent.
The darkness began to slip away slowly, and Primera began to see patches of color. They were yellow and black, like old photographs. The colors arranged themselves into a pattern, and soon she could see that they were forming a picture.
She looked around. She saw a small cottage, and a small boy looking up at the sky.
The woman who stood behind him approached, taking his hand in hers. She led him inside.
The boy was smiling. He was talking to his mother, chatting innocently and glancing at the small crib that rested at the corner of the room.
Primera watched as the boy approached the crib and put his hands in. He lifted a small, plump baby and gently held her with his lean arms.
"Did you have a good nap, Prim?" the boy said to the baby with a smile. The baby gurgled and waved her hands. "Mamama "
The boy laughed and hugged his baby sister. "Look, Mom! Her eyes look like mine!"
Primera was suddenly thrown in a state of shock as the scene abruptly changed.
The house was in ruins. Billy was older, around eight or nine. He was screaming out for his mother.
Billy was gripping his sister's hand, standing between her and the men who had taken his mother's life away. Tears, blood and death filled the room. The boy's knuckles gripping his sister were white.
Don't cry, Billy
Primera looked around the room and found the body on the floor. Her eyes hurriedly skimmed past the figure, and let her eyes rest on the small girl that was herself.
Not even fazed, are you
She watched her younger self stare at the body, eyes wide and mouth shut. She didn't budge. She was like a doll.
Staring at the mess as if you weren't affected at all
Primera watched in silent contempt as her younger self collapsed into her brother's arms.
He was so small, so young
Don't cry, Billy
The yellow and black began to blur together.
The colors whirled around, sucking in all the memories. The whirl was like a black hole, spinning and sucking and swallowing. Primera watched in fear as it began to tug on her.
Leave me alone!
It's your fault
I didn't do anything!
Which is why your brother must suffer so
Primera gasped for air, frantically reaching out for anything that might keep her from being sucked into the abyss.
It's all your fault he throws himself into the world of lust it will destroy him and
She screamed and cried for the only person she knew would come. But the echo of her voice did not escape the black whirlwind. She thrashed and struggled, desperately trying to block out the voices that haunted her
She woke with a start. For a moment, she lay sweating and panting, staring at the black ceiling. She reached frantically for the light. Everything was so black, as black as her dream, and she wanted light to make it go away.
Her hand fumbled in the dark, knocking over the small lamp by her head. She sat up, trembling. She could feel tears welling in her eyes.
The darkness threatened to return to swallow her. The voices refused to leave her head. And Billy, the small boy who cried out in sorrow, shook her vision. She crouched and began to cry.
Of course, her tears were silent. Ever since that incident, she did not make a sound
Lightning flashed, illuminating her frail form. A roll of thunder roared ominously. She could hear rain pelting at her window. She shuddered violently.
The door suddenly opened, and light streamed in. Primera looked up amid her tears, her eyes locking with aquamarine pupils that looked over her with concern.
Billy was standing there, lamp in one hand, looking down at her. His tall figure in the warm light flooded Primera with relief. She scrambled to her knees as Billy kneeled, putting the lamp on the floor. His arms encircled the small girl's body as her arms wrapped themselves tightly around his neck.
How he heard her silent screams did not matter. All that mattered to Primera was that he was there when she was sure he couldn't be. She let tears wet Billy's shoulders as she buried her head in his neck. Billy stroked her back, murmuring soft whispers of comfort in her ears. He didn't need to be told that Primera had a nightmare. He knew.
After her trembling shoulders became still, Billy rose with his arms still around her. Picking up the lamp with a finger, he let it dangle as he walked out the door with the girl in his arms. He turned his back to his door and pushed it open, and walked into the candle-lit room.
Once Billy sat down on the blankets that served as his floor bed, the girl loosened her grip around her brother's neck. He continued to hold her protectively with one arm as he reached out and lit the rest of the lamps and candles by the bedside. Once the room became bright with an assembly of lights, Billy settled down, holding the child and rocking her slightly. Not a sound was made.
Primera relaxed. Warm light soothed her, and she knew her brother wasnt going anywhere. She slowly released her hold around Billy's neck, eyes meeting an older version of her own. She smiled sheepishly.
Billy let out a smile as his baby sister clung onto his shirt. She was unwilling to return to the dark. He stroked her cheek with the back of a finger.
"Do you want me to read to you, Prim?"
Reading bedtime stories to his sister was a habit that he had dropped some time ago, but he knew Primera would be happy to revert to the old routine for one night.
Seeing her eager nod, Billy stood and began thumbing through rows of books on the shelf.
Primera watched her brother contemplate over book titles, pondering over her age and preferences. Billy was usually busy, but still he found time to read. He was greatly taken up with history and theories of religion, topics that bored her to tears.
As if sensing her gaze upon him, Billy turned and looked at Primera. The child smiled, and motioned for him to come and sit next to her. Billy smiled back and complied.
Once he positioned himself on the floor, Primera snuggled close to him and looked up hopefully. She knew Billy understood what she was asking for. She preferred oral stories, not readings out of books. Billy didn't do this often, for he found it challenging to talk for such a long period of time.
Billy sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Might as well
He put one arm around the girl and began to talk.
"A long time ago, Prim, there was a world where no humans existed. There were beautiful trees, lovely birds, and beasts that roamed the land in peace "
His voice was even, flowing over the candlelight with lightness that caressed Primera's ears. She listened half-heartedly, savoring her brother's company. She lay on the blankets, resting her head on Billy's lap, and closed her eyes with a light smile.
Billy stroked her check with his finger again.
I'm sorry Prim
The brilliant rays of the sun had already streamed into the room when Primera opened her eyes. She squinted, lazily tossing to one side. She stopped abruptly when her fingers made out the texture of a light blanket. She sat up in as quick as lightning, eyes scanning the room for the sight of her brother. The room was empty.
Primera quickly exited the room and ran out to the small living room in her nightgown. Seeing no one, she ran to the kitchen. Then she stopped in her tracks.
On the kitchen table was her breakfast, an assembly of dishes that Billy probably made early in the morning. Leaning on one plate was a small white paper with Billy's slim handwriting. Primera approached and began to read quickly.
Sorry I had to leave so soon. I got a call from one of the Ethos priestesses in town, asking me to come help her take care of an orphan who got attacked by a Reaper. I'll try to be back in the afternoon, but I may have to go straight to work. Breakfast is on the table, and lunch and dinner is in the fridge don't get lazy just because I'm not there to make you eat, okay? I'll see you in the morning.
Primera put the note back on the table and looked at the clock. 9 a.m. She had to spend a whole day and night without Billy. She sighed.
She hated it when Billy wasn't with her. Billy was also reluctant to leave her alone whenever he was called out for Etone duty, and made it up to her later with camping trips and such. Still, it still made her feel empty whenever he was gone. Though she was unable to verbally express how she felt, she found herself bored and anxious during the day when he was working or was away on a mission. She would wait for his footsteps her hearing was well beyond normal and throw herself gleefully into his arms as soon as he entered the door. She felt lonely and insecure without those calm eyes always watching over her.
I've become too dependant
She sat down on the table and scanned the dishes, smiling despite herself. The meal was extravagant for a girl her size; he was obviously drowning in guilt from leaving her without saying goodbye.
He could be a cook
Billy was a good chef, and he enjoyed making new recipes and surprising her. Sometimes they werent the most pleasant surprises, but everybody made mistakes. Dinnertime was the happiest time of the day. Primera grinned at the thought of Billy as a cook, however. Knowing him, and hed make full use of his resources; and speaking of which, gunpowder was an excellent source of heat.
She picked up the spoon. Though she had no appetite without Billy around, and probably couldn't eat the amount prepared for her, she needed proof that she had not slacked off on eating. It was the least she could do for her protective brother.
I probably couldn't live without him
She reminisced back to the day when Billy left for his first mission. He had told Primera that he would be okay, that he would come back in three days. Primera had spent nights awake, fearing for his life and praying for his safety. By the third day, she was glaring at the clock every other minute. But Billy had not returned that day. And accident had occurred during his trip back, and he was injured. Primera had been near hysterics the next day, with nobody around who could tell her what had happened to her brother.
Billy had made it back to their house by the evening of the fourth day, with wounds he didn't bother to take care of. He had gotten back on the road despite his fellow Etones' protests. Since that day, Primera had always hated it whenever he was called on a mission.
True, she sometimes wanted to yell at Billy and throw a tantrum at him, when he seemed eager to go on missions. She could see that he was never too willing to leave her, but as long as purging the Wels was concerned, he was dedicated to his duty. Primera wished he was a normal boy, so he wouldn't have to be called every time the Ethos needed someone to do the dirty work. Billy never considered his work as anything but benign, however; he truly believed that his work, along with his religion, led him to the land of peace one day.
Primera highly doubted that.
Her brother Billy was so taken up with that man Stone, his name was and didn't see that his eyes narrowed maniacally behind his back. He didn't notice the falsehood in his words, or the cowardice of his actions. He didn't understand that the man was using him, that he was evil. He had his own purposes, and Billy was a tool.
All her brother saw in the liar was a savior, a holy man who was kind and willing to give. Her brother saw nothing but kindness in that man, for kindness was all he sought in people and held in his own heart.
But the true frustration was being unable to tell her brother about her feelings regarding this man. She could see that her brother was being used, but could not help him.
Even so, she felt that it would be no use even if she could tell him. He would not believe her; he would never doubt that man without solid proof shoved in his face that spelled out his evil.
Primera stopped. Evil. Lust. Those words seemed to capture Billy in a deadly embrace wherever he went. Just like in her dream
It's all your fault he throws himself in the world of lust it will destroy him
Her eyes became wide. She felt lust enveloping her brother's innocent features the previous day, when he walked in with the new nameless job. She felt it in his breath, in his gaze. He had been fighting something in his soul; that much was clear. And she knew that the only time Billy put up such a fight against himself was when he was torn
He was sad yesterday. He was distressed. He had stroked her hair in that guilty way again. He had looked at her with those liquid eyes.
Primera dreaded the doubt that continued to lurk in her mind.
She had to stop him. She had no solid reason, but she needed to stop him before he went any further.
"Is she going to be all right?"
"I think so. She was just stunned. How old is she?"
"Maybe six or seven. I don't really know. There are way too many orphans to keep track of these days."
"Why doesn't the Ethos take them in?"
"The Ethos is not a charity foundation, Billy. You were an exception, because you're a talented kid, and religious. Not all kids turn out to be like you. We can't accept just any kid running around."
Billy furrowed his brow. "Isn't it the Ethos' responsibility to take care of those who can't take care of themselves? It is, after all, meant to lead people to salvation "
The young priestess shook her head. "You're a good kid, Billy, but still too innocent. You don't know the things that go on in this world. It's hard work doing what we do, Billy. And it's not like we have an endless supply of money. We can't afford to foster a whole pen of kids from goodness knows where! It's not realistic."
Billy stopped walking. He turned to the priestess before him. His eyes scanned her up and down.
She was a short brunette, the youngest cleric in the church next to Billy. She was almost twenty, but her eyes looked as young as his own. He would have never expected her to talk like another one of those grownups.
She stared at him in confusion as he studied her garment. It was a flowing white robe with a gold sash, with intricate designs running down the train. It didn't betray any signs of deficient wealth.
Billy turned back to his path and shook his head as he resumed his walk.
"I don't know, Feina. I usually don't like to link money with religion, but as you say, reality is reality. Speaking of which," he sighed. "Ethos has plenty of money to go around. It's obvious when you look at the facilities at the quarters, not to mention the garments of the clerics. I just don't understand " he furrowed his brow again in frustration. " why they don't even try to think about ways of making things happen. If they tried, they could make such a big difference I just dont see why they just say it's not possible, without even trying."
Feina caught up with him. "Maybe it's because they don't want to try, Billy."
Billy glanced at the older girl from under his bangs. "Why not?"
The priestess sighed. "It's something you'll understand when you grow up, Billy. Well, maybe you won't if you continue to stay so innocent. Trust me, kid, don't bother your head with these matters. You go on with your missions with the Reapers and preserve what you have."
You mean innocence, Billy responded silently. Thats one thing I threw away the day I walked into that mansion a week ago.
The thought of what lay ahead of him a few hours later made him want to get away from the priestess. He turned to her. "Listen, Feina. I have something to attend to later this evening. I won't be available until morning. Is that okay?"
The cleric smiled. "What if I say it's not?"
Billy smiled. "The kid's gonna be okay by tonight. You'll take care of her, right?"
He didn't wait to see the response. He hurried out of the Ethos camp and headed back to town.
Youre on time, Billy. Lets get started. Come this way.
Billy followed Katrina up the stairs, looking around at the glamour of the second floor. The woman smiled slyly. Youll get used to this, honey. Dont worry.
Billy shot an irritated glance at the back of her head.
This is your room.
He stood at the entrance of one of the rooms lining the walls. It was a small but exquisite chamber. There was a window looking over the streets of the marketplace, and elegant draperies hung over the glass. The walls were a dark vanilla color, and a rug of red and gold covered the floor. On front of the bed was a small table with two plush chairs; on top of the table were two empty glasses. The huge bed by the wall sported exotic fabric and two feather pillows. Other than that, there was no furniture.
Katrina stepped away. Feel free to look around. I dont know your plans, but it really would be nice if you decide to take this job full time. Its easier for both of us if you dont drop in and out. Ill see you later.
Billy listened as her footsteps faded away. He sighed and finally let his eyes rest on the huge bed. Then, as if recoiling from a taboo sight, he jerked his gaze away.
Primera wanted to cry. She had been searching for Billy in and out of town, and yet there was no sign of him. She had asked everyone by paper for traces of him, but so far there was nothing. Biting her lip, she waded through the crowded marketplace, fighting the urge to give in to tears.
Of course she knew she may be paranoid. Billy could be anywhere. He could easily take care of himself. But then again, could he? She shuddered as the nightmarish voices rang in her head.
A world of lust ..
She trusted her instincts. She believed that Billy had to be found. She had no idea why, but she felt that the rest could come later, after she found him. She trudged on forward.
Billy was still standing at the doorway, scanning the room. He had already taken in the details, memorizing every minor feature in his head. Yet his eyes remained fixed where they lay, and he didnt budge.
He couldnt bring himself to enter the room.
Come on, Billy its just one night
He clenched his fists.
This is not such a big sacrifice You have a family to feed
He let out a breath he had unconsciously been holding. He slowly closed his eyes. What was he hesitating? Nobody had ever told him that this was wrong. Then why did it feel so wrong?
Billy shook his head to clear his thoughts. Then he realized that his forehead was coated in sweat.
Am I making a mistake ?
A sudden commotion outside the window snapped him back to reality. He heard shouting and pounding feet. He frowned.
This whole town is decaying with lust and sin
He calmly approached the window and looked out to the streets below. A few shops down on the dusty street was a crowd. A burly man was shouting, trying to shove people out of his way. Billy saw that it was the same man who had brought him to this place. People were crowding around him in a futile effort to stop him. In the mans hand was an arm of a small girl, who was feebly pulling away. Billys eyes widened as he spotted the silent girl. He whipped around and dashed out of the room.
Katrina looked up when she heard pounding feet upstairs. She saw a figure leap over the railing of the spiral stairway. She watched in shock as the figure landed silently on the floor and broke into a run. In a second, he was gone.
The man was yelling at the crowd. I tell ya, shes an orphan! And I take care of orphans! Now back off!
A voice among the crowd yelled, Shes got a family! Leave her alone!
The man whipped his head and looked down at the face of the girl. She was pale, her face frozen in fear.
You got a family that takes care of ya, little girl?
Primera nodded fearfully as she tried to tug her hand free. The mans scowl turned into a vicious grin as he grasped harder. Primera gasped in pain.
The mob of people dispersed as soon as the man took out a gleaming blade from his coat pocket. He looked down at the trembling girl with a smile. Shall we go, my pretty?
Primeras face was ashen. Her feet skidded on the ground as the man literally dragged her. She began to desperately wish she hadnt come out. Billy had always told her not to come to the marketplace alone. She had scarcely believed him when he said there were slave traders about.
The man stopped short. In front of him, standing alone in the cleared street, was a boy in his early teens. He had one hand resting on his side, under his coat. His face was expressionless. He was simply staring at the man, still and silent.
Primeras face flooded with relief as she started toward him. She was immediately held back by a harsh yank.
The slave trader eyed the boy menacingly. Recognition dawned on his face, and his rough features wrinkled into a knowing smirk. Youre the family shes supposed to have? he asked tauntingly. The spectators watched in tense anticipation.
The boy didnt seem to have heard the question, however. His eyes were fixed on the mans hand, rough and callused, squeezing the small fragile hands of the little girl. When he saw the older hand wrench harder, the boys pale eyes flashed.
Billy took a step forward. The watchers swallowed nervously.
Billy slowly walked on, and came to a halt directly on front of the slave trader.
Let go of my sister. His voice was calm and quiet. However, Primera picked up the underlying danger in the tone. Billy was never the one to lose his temper, but he changed 180 degrees when things came down to his sister.
The man peered down at the silver-haired boy before him. If you know whats good for you, boy, you stay out of the way.
Prim swallowed. She could feel the intense gaze of the townspeople resting on her and the two that were locked in a death glare.
Billy moved. The man flinched reflexively, and quickly composed himself. Ignoring the slave trader, Billy held out his hand. Come on, Prim.
The mans eyes burned in anger and humiliation. The girl struggled again. Then she gasped in pain. Billy stopped.
Clutching Primeras hand tighter, her holder violently pulled her back. Then he whipped out the knife and pointed it at the girls throat. There was a hushed silence.
Billys eyes slowly rose to meet the seething ones of the older man. Finally he stepped back.
The slave trader smirked in triumph. Thats more like it.
He began to move forward, but stopped abruptly as he felt cold metal pressing into his stomach. Stunned, he turned his eyes down and saw cold aquamarine eyes looking up into his own. Billys hand was well concealed behind his jacket, which covered both sides of the mans front as they were standing so close. The gun in his hand was firmly connected to the abdomen of the frozen man.
Primera couldnt see what was going on beneath the jacket, but she knew well enough. She felt the older mans grasp release her hand slowly. She quickly pulled away and stood behind Billy, clinging to his sleeve as she did whenever she was afraid.
Hatefully, the slave traders eyes stared down at the boys unflinching gaze. The gun slowly withdrew, and was holstered silently in its hiding place. Billy turned from the raging man, but not without a pressing gaze of warning. The crowd breathed a sigh of relief. Immediately it was replaced by confusion and excitement. And as if unaware of the commotion, the boy quietly left the marketplace, holding the girls hand tightly to his side.
Primera was sitting on the carpeted floor in the living room. Billy had gone outside right after bringing her home, and had not returned since. It was already dark.
She hugged her knees and let her eyes linger on the door. She wished he would come back, but she somewhat dreaded facing Billy again. After all, she had ignored his warning about the marketplace and made Billy come for her. She knew better than anyone that if Billy would be mad at her, it would be due to fear of losing her, not disobedience. Still, that didnt make it any easier to look at him in the eye.
The door opened suddenly. Billy always moved silently, and even Primeras keen hearing sometimes failed to detect him when he was concealed from view. She looked up as her brother entered the house. Billy quietly shed his gun belt, and hung his coat by the door. Then he turned to face Primera. The girl tensed.
Billy sat down on the floor. He looked at her wordlessly. His expression was not that of anger or reprehension. In fact, it didnt show any emotion at all. There was that usual pale mask he wore outside the house.
His prolonged gaze made Primera feel uncomfortable. She looked down and fidgeted with her fingers. After a while, she finally looked up and met her brothers eyes. Her gaze dropped again guiltily, and Billys wall finally slipped. It was not easy to stay reproachful of her; it made him ache inside to see anything but a smile on her angelic face. He sighed and sat closer.
Why were you looking for me, Prim?
He sounded a bit tired. The girl of course could not answer vocally, and continued to wring her hands. Billy watched her for a while, and sighed softly again. He held out his arms.
The child looked up in mild surprise, and smiled sheepishly as she climbed onto his lap.
It was my fault
Billy pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her delicate form. He closed his eyes. Dont ever scare me like that again, he whispered into her hair.
Primera nodded as she disengaged herself from her brothers arms, and smiled. She held out her little finger. Billy could not help but return a weak smile.
If it hadnt been for you, I would have made a grave mistake
Their fingers intertwined. Primeras smile broadened.
What do you mean, youre moving? You dont even have a house!
Billy didnt turn to look at the astonished priestess. He continued to pack his gear. Im taking the orphan girl with me, Feina. I have a cottage out in the west, where we used to live when we were young.
What are you gonna do with the girl?
Im going to take care of her.
The priestess stared, slack-jawed. You? Youre fourteen! And youre penniless! And youre always away on missions!
Billy straightened his back and turned to face his companion. Well, I am taking her. The Ethos wont, and Im capable of surviving without a mob of people. And I cant leave orphans out in the streets when Im an orphan who turned lucky. Its my duty to take her.
Feina shook her head. I still think youre crazy. You dont have to make yourself responsible for every orphan out there, you know. I mean, for heavens sake! It wont do any good to starve the kids to death!
Billy turned his back to her as he moved on to packing Primeras belongings. Prim and I survived fine on our own after our parents were gone, Feina. We both know how to take care of ourselves, and I would trust our cottage in the woods more than the people in the marketplace.
Feina furrowed her brow and looked at him skeptically. Yeah, I heard that you almost had your sister kidnapped yesterday, but that was only because she was out there, practically screaming for attention. Do you think its a good idea to move away like that?
Billys voice was light, as his deft fingers were as he was packing. Clearly he was informing her of his decision, not asking for her opinion. I made up my mind, Feina. If you want me to stay here, you have to give me better reasons than that. Ill still keep in touch with the Ethos, if its my role in the lead of the battles that youre missing.
Feina wrung her hands behind her back and grinned, like a child caught guilty trying to steal. Yeah, okay, then. You know we couldnt do without you.
Ever since I joined, yeah, threw in Billy with a hint of good-humored sarcasm. Feina smiled as he gathered his belongings and headed for the door.
Billy, she called out.
Billy looked back at her. His face was serene, as always. It was luminous with goodness. Feina swallowed as she watched him raise his eyebrows. She hoped that life in this town had not marred his innocence. True, he was wise beyond his years, but he was still fourteen. She felt her stomach knotting. She silently prayed that Billy would stay the same, always.
Take care, she said. That was all she could say. Billy seemed to have read a troubled note in her voice, but when he was met with only a smile and a nod, he simply smiled back and closed the door behind him.
Were here, announced Billy. He went ahead to put down their items at the corner of the cottage. He straightened his back and looked around.
The wooden floor of the cottage was coated with a light layer of dust. The rays of the sunset streamed in through the window, producing a warm golden glow through the thick layers of dust and cobwebs. The hinges of the doors were a bit rusted, but other than that the cottage was in a good shape. He noticed that the little furniture they used to have were stacked away in the corner of the kitchen.
He turned and saw Primera standing in the doorway, standing behind the orphan girl they had taken in. Her pale eyes were downcast, and she was fidgeting restlessly. Her feet were drawing small circles in the dust on the floor.
Billy approached the children. You can go outside and look around while I set up some things, he said gently to the orphan girl. Dont go too far, okay?
The girl nodded and exited. Billy turned to Primera and kneeled. He looked into her eyes searchingly. Prim?
Primera continued to look down at the dusty floor, unmoving. Billy reached out and took her hand. She drew it back. Billys eyes probed through Primeras eyes.
Would you rather go someplace else, Prim?
Prim didnt respond. She simply wrung her hands nervously. Billy watched in silence.
Primera finally raised her eyes to meet Billys. She couldnt stand it when he said nothing and just looked at her. She looked pleadingly into Billys aquamarine eyes. The look in her eyes suddenly brought Billy a déjà vu.
Is it the dream, Prim?
Primera nodded. Billy lowered his gaze and bit his lip. He could bring her anywhere, but he couldnt help fend off her nightmares of the past. She had to do it on her own. But could she?
Billy then smiled tenderly, stroking Primeras silver locks. Its okay, Prim. Maybe staying at this house will help you overcome what happened. Well make this place different from our memories. Well make an orphanage and bring in a lot of orphans like ourselves, and youll have lots of friends to keep you company while Im gone. Well have kids running around screaming and playing, and well have animals, and gardens, and live like a happy family. Okay?
Primera looked at him uncertainly. His eyes were strong and sure now. His smile was reassuring. Finally, a thin smile spread on her face. She nodded.
Primera wasnt sure she could overcome what had happened. But she trusted Billy. She had to be strong for him. The last thing Billy needed was her sentimental whimpering. She had promised herself that she would be strong and independent, that she wouldnt stick to Billys sleeve all the time. Billy would never have to come running to save her, or wake up at nights because of her nightmares.
Yes. She would be strong. Ever since their parents were gone, they had wandered everywhere, going here and being put there. They had now come a full circle, back at the place where all of it started. Now, she just had to defeat her own nightmares and live on happily with her brother and his dream.
She looked into her brothers translucent eyes and hugged him tightly. His embrace was warm, protective. As long as he was there, she had nothing to fear.
They would start a new life from here on.
Billy panted, and wiped his forehead. He looked down at the large wooden table he had managed to haul out from the corner. He realized that it was too big for just three people.
But it didnt matter. He would have more. There was bound to be many more orphans joining the family. He would make them happy, at all costs.
Billy left the table and slowly walked to the dusty window. Eyes deep and withdrawn, he watched Primera show the new girl around the woods surrounding the cottage. After letting his eyes linger on Primeras pearly form, he turned away from the window and looked around the interior of the cottage.
He had also gone through his share of nightmares in this place. His memories, him being older, were even clearer than Primeras. But he was determined to start a new life and, this time, succeed in being happy. The warmth of the small child was so secure, so comforting, in his arms. As long as she was there, he would not fall. It was Primera who had pulled him out of the hell he had almost thrown himself to.
Heaven bless the children
The words formed silently on his lips as a clear laughter echoed in the air. Billy turned and spotted the two children peering intently into a mother stump. Their eyes were fixed on a butterfly resting on the edge of a jagged strip of bark. Its wings were moving slowly and meditatively, catching the rays of the sun and throwing a brilliant prism of light into the air.
Billy watched Primeras pearly face glow with happiness. She was nodding as the older girl pointed to the butterfly and chatted. Billy let the childrens smiles slowly reflect on his own face.
Forgive me Father, and help me atone for my sins
The sunset was throwing orange-gold lights upon his face, as he narrowed his eyes and looked at the dipping sun. The warmth of the sunsets fading glory engulfed him, gently caressing his pale face.
Perhaps his sins were forgiven.
Kasmi Kassim's Fanfiction