Lionhearted

Kidnapped at the age of thirteen, Lin has already faced death hundreds of times in his short life. That's why, when a strange boy offers him friendship and calls him brother, he doesn't question it. Lin's friend warns him that he cannot save him; however, this new relationship gives Lin something he's never had in his imprisonment: hope. But as the slave of a demon for whom horror is both pleasure and compulsion, hope may be more dangerous than anything Lin has yet experienced.

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3. Shem

Keeping his pace strictly under control so that he wouldn’t attract her attention again, the pale one  turned down several stone corridors until he came to a tall, winding staircase that ran up to his room, in a high loft near the top of the fortress that he and his fellow demon had occupied for the past thirty years. The interior was bare, grey stone, but the exterior had been plastered over with a light cream color that blended into the white sands surrounding it. Her activities had driven them far from civilization, but occasionally a caravan or even a jeep brought tourists close. To the outside eye, the fortress appeared to be a massive chalk formation, sticking up out of the bleached sands like an iceberg, with nothing to set it apart from other, weirder rocks shaped like mushrooms or camels, which had been left behind by long ago sandstorms. So strange to think that people could drive by and never suspect the terrible things that were done on top of that structure.

Inside his room the pale one began to pace back and forth, gradually picking up speed. His face betraying no emotion, he stopped and slammed both of his fists into the wall. Small fractures appeared in the stone where he’d struck it. “What’s happening to me?” he asked the world in general, then shook his head. “Just fantastic, Mephistopheles: trapped in a personal hell by your own brilliant idea.” He strode to a long, frameless mirror propped up against one of the walls, and dropped to a cross legged position in front of it. The demon closed his icy blue eyes. “Shem,” he breathed, concentrating on the word. “Shem.” His boney hand rose of its own accord, and began to trace loose forms onto the mirror, becoming more precise as he went. Where his fingers skimmed the surface color began to bleed into the mirror and spread; when he opened his eyes, a moving image was alive before him.

Like the pale one, Shem had wispy hair that stuck up in all directions like the down of a baby bird; unlike the demon, his hair was black and his skin and eyes were brown. His wide eyes and softly rounded face reminded his watcher of the etching he’d made of Lin as a young child. He was thin for a three year old, clearly already the victim of hunger. No sound reached his ghostly observer through the mirror, but from the tears streaming down his face and his open mouth, he appeared to be wailing. A large welt had started to appear on one side of his face. He was crowded inside of a metal storage locker with several other boys, all of them different shades, from cream colored to charcoal. From somewhere outside his range of vision, a large man cut into the scene, fleetingly obscuring the boys from view; he was raising a whip over his head, preparing to strike them again.

Something hot built up inside of the demon; if he hadn’t know such an emotion was impossible for him, he would have thought it was rage. His vision went black for a moment. Without pausing for thought, he propelled himself through the mirror.

To those on the outside, it must have looked as if he suddenly exploded into existence, a vengeful ghost whose pale eyes crackled with flame, blazing from light blue to deep red. No one screamed; their jaws simply dropped open. The large, bare chested slave trader’s mouth began to work like a fish. His whip sang through the air, striking harmlessly against the side of the container, and dropped to his side, useless, leaving him hopelessly unprepared for the demon’s attack. By the time the world had slowed to its regular pace and he could see again through the darkness that had possessed him, blood was dripping from his chin down his chest; he raised his his hands, staring at the swollen knuckles, slippery with blood. So much of it - it was collecting in a river at his feet. Those colorless eyes found Shem’s, which mirrored his own uncertainty. At his feet in the dark pools of scarlet blood lay the slave trader’s severed head, still gaping at him in disbelief. All at once, realizing their liberation, the boys sent up a cheer.

A quarter of an hour later, Lin sat bolt upright against the wall of his cell as his friend burst into existence in front of the door. He was covered in blood, clutching a dark eyed toddler to his chest.

“What have you done?” Even Lin was surprised to hear the note of anger in his voice.

“I don’t know!” For the first time, emotion was raw in the pale one’s voice: panic, desperation. “I don’t know, I don’t know!” he shouted, issuing another of his inhuman, birdlike shrieks. Lin winced, wishing he’d had warning to cover his ears. Next thing he knew, the pale boy was sobbing against Lin’s shoulder. His icily serene composure had melted off of him like the tears that now soaked into his friend’s shirt. “You can’t die, you can’t! You’re all I have,” he choked out. Feeling sick, Lin put his arms around the demon. The toddler regarded them solemnly with his huge, glassy eyes. After a few endless moments of feeling helpless, Lin noted with relief that the sounds of sobbing had subsided, and the pale one’s speech became slurred against his friend’s body. “All I wanted is to protect people, but I can’t even protect them from myself.” His weight began to deaden, pulling him toward the ground, and Lin helped ease him against the wall. “What’s happening to me?” he asked groggily, allowing his head to rest against the rough, cool stone; those light blue eyes began to droop closed underneath ghostly lids. 

“You’re falling asleep,” the human boy told him, slightly awed.

“Oh,” and then: “I killed a man today. For the first time, I -” After so long having extracted all emotion from his voice, the pain was unnervingly clear in that statement. His speech cut off as he yawned. “I’ve never slept before.”

“It’s going to be alright,” Lin said, with more confidence than he felt; he wondered if it would be. Fortunately the pale one didn’t dispute this. He was already deeply asleep. That was when Lin heard the handle of the door begin to turn.

In a split second, he reacted, snatching the little boy off of the ground and stowing him behind the pale one’s limp form. He didn’t know why, but somehow he was deadly certain that this was extremely important. He held a finger to his lips, gesturing for the boy to keep silent, and then threw himself toward the other side of the room. Only a fraction of a second later, the door was throw open, and Nefertiti’s dark eyes were glittering cruelly at him.

“Hey,” Lin ventured. “How may I help you?”

Nefertiti hissed, her eyes narrowing in anger. She aimed a savage kick at him that bowled him over. He resisted the urge to protect his face with his hands as she advanced. Her boot left the ground, preparing for a second attack, and he couldn’t help but flinch waiting for it to land, but abruptly it halted and lowered. Peering up at her warily, he was startled to see her blood stained teeth flash in a wicked grin. Lin could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He wanted to throw his body in front of her, to prevent her from seeing the little boy, but he was frozen in fear.

His heart leapt into his throat when he heard her cackle, “If you’ve got one thing going for you, boy, it’s that you never cease to amaze me. I’ve never before seen a sheep that would allow the wolf to sleep in its pen. But then again,” she snarled, “you and I both know true wolves don’t sleep.”

For some reason, anger flared up inside him. “You’re right,” Lin told her. For a moment she seemed caught off guard. “He’s not a killer. But that doesn’t make him a coward.”

“What are you implying?” She growled deep in her throat.

“The only coward I see,” the human boy spoke out boldly, “is the one who feeds off others’ fear. And I have been very afraid of you.”

“Have been?” She hissed. “You’re not now?”

Lin just stared back at her, meeting her eyes squarely. She was the one who broke eye contact first. “Don’t you fucking lie to me!” She screamed. Her hands groped for the door wildly, and she fled, slamming it in his face.

A thrill raced up Lin’s spine. He allowed himself to savor the moment, eyes closed and mouth open, breathing deeply the taste of victory. “She’ll be back,” the pale one’s voice warned from behind him. He heard his jaw crack in a yawn. “You’ve hurt her pride, but in a day or two her need will be greater than her offense. Incidentally,” he shifted topics smoothly, “I don’t need you to defend my honor. My skin’s a bit thicker than yours, pragmatically speaking.”

“Incidentally,” Lin shot back dryly, “I don’t know what you planned to do with the kid you brought here.”

“Well I suppose since I saved him that makes him a guest, so we can’t exactly eat him -” They heard a squeal from where the little boy was still concealed between the demon and the wall. Lin couldn’t help but crack a smile. 

“It’s kind of amazing,” he observed, “to be able to smile in a place like this.”

“Don’t say depressing things like that. We’ve got an impressionable child in our midst.” This time Lin actually laughed. Nevertheless, his amusement faded quickly as the little boy began to cry. 

“Don’t hurt me,” he wept. “I’ll be good! I’ll do everything you tell me.”

Something stirred within Lin. “Hey kid,” he said, moving to crouch down at his level, so that he could meet his eyes seriously. The threatening flood of tears slowed to a trickle. “I promise you, anybody who wants to hurt you is going to have to go through me.” He offered the toddler his hand, which was accepted gravely, to shake on it, and prayed that it was a promise he could keep.

Nefertiti returned the next night, filled with fury beyond anything he had seen before. She stepped into the cell, carrying a lantern rather than a torch this time, which she set in the center of the room. Lin rose, striding toward her, but she ignored him utterly, instead locking eyes with the pale one. “I want you to watch this,” she snarled deep in her throat, and then spat on the human boy’s face. He steeled himself not to flinch. It took everything within the pale one not to run to his friend’s aid as she began to tear into him with fingernails, which she had filed to points just for the occasion, and teeth. As often as he dared, Lin met those milky, pigment-less eyes with his own, desperately hoping his plea not to intervene would be communicated; they both knew that as soon as the pale demon arose, Shem would be revealed to her bloodlust. In her frenzy, she did not seem to notice these shared glances.

Finally, she released Lin and allowed him to crumple, lifeless, to the floor. Bathed, head to toe in his blood, she held up his still beating heart in her hands, and then, curling back her lips in a feral, scarlet grin, she swallowed it whole. Somehow, his fingers pressing into the stones beneath him so hard that his knuckles almost glowed white from the effort of restraining himself, the pale one managed to remain still; however, his thoughts raged in an incomprehensible whirlpool of sorrow, self loathing, helplessness, and blinding anger.

Nefertiti left them, leaving a trail of perfect scarlet boot prints behind her. Too sick to stand, the pale one dragged himself on hands and knees to his friend’s side. Looking up for a moment, he caught sight of Shem, his gaze flitting rapidly back and forth from him, where he crouched beside his friend, to Lin, lying broken and motionless in an ocean of his own blood. The toddler screwed up his eyes, and opened his mouth to wail. “Stop it!” the demon yelled, with what he recognized as unnecessary harshness. A part of him hated the little boy, albeit consciously unfairly, for having had to watch Lin die and do nothing in order to protect him. “Don’t you get it?” he snarled, “If she hears you all this will have been for nothing.” Shem’s mouth snapped closed, and he nodded, solemn through his tears; at least now he was silent.

The demon drew in a deep breath. The air steadied his nerves, though he did not need it. He was no more alive than Lin was at that moment. He drew out his pocket knife, and without hesitation sliced open his own chest. He heard a gasp escape from Shem, but ignored the toddler as he set to work. When he had cut deep enough, he reached into himself and removed his own heart, placing it gently inside of Lin’s corpse. His own wound knit back together quickly and painlessly, disappearing without a trace in a matter of seconds, but the human boy remained torn and lifeless until the pale demon bent over him and kissed his forehead. “I’m sorry, brother,” he whispered, eyes shut and head cradled in his hands. He remained in this position, rocking slightly on his heals, keeping a silent vigil over Lin, for several hours. At what must have been sunrise for the outside world, he finally opened his eyes, hearing his friend issue a choked, wheezing sound. He was beside him again, instantly, in time to hear Lin’s first attempt to speak.

“What?” he asked, bending down so his ear was closer to his friend’s lips.

“Is the food here yet?” Not waiting to hear the answer, the human boy began to snore softly.

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