Being Amber

Without any memory of her past and not knowing why people react to her as they do, Amber has to learn to survive in the hard underworld of the City, among gangs and the unwanted citizens.
Her appearent resemblance with Ben's dead girlfriend, places her in the middle of a war that easily can cost her and others their lives.
In her quest to find her identity Amber has to learn to tell friend from foe, see behind the lies and decide if Ben's past matters at all.
When Ben asks Tom to train Amber he gets pulled into the war happening around him, far more than he wants to be.
Tom's alliance with Ben hangs in a thin tread when he not only falls in love with Amber but also starts a relationship with Kattie, who already has a boyfriend in Clay, Ben's second in command.
Will Amber ever find out who she really is ?
And how Will they get through the war ?

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9. A run in with Zombie

 

 *Amber*

 The school is amazing. Tom's predecessor had managed to make a practical and comfortable base without slackening on the security. There were guards at the gate and again at the main entrance at all hours of the day. Tom and Drew had their rooms on the first floor, were they also had offices, school rooms and dining hall. On the second and third floor there were sleeping halls for the rest of the members. Should someone happen to get by the guards at the gate and the front door they would need to get by Tom and Drew before getting to the other members.

 The basement was in three levels. They first two had training facilities, divided in to several room and halls. The lowest level was for storage.

 Tom also had his on swimming hall, two outdoor paintball arenaes, a shooting range, obstacle courses, a playground and a giant vegetable garden. Everything safe behind the walls.

 A little less than half of Tom's members was kids and women, they weren't active in the gang. They didn't have the knowledge or the skills to defend themselves against enemies like Zombie, but inside the school grounds they were safe.

 Tom was more like a king of his own little kingdom, than a leader of a gang. He had close to 1000 people under him. And everyone seemed to love and respect him, despite many of them being older than him.

 Tom took advantage of Ben being away to start me on my training. Or actually he started me playing games. On his orders I spent most of my time playing football with the kids outside the school. As all the kids from the underworld spent their days under Tom's protection, having lessons with teachers, there was a lot to play against.

 I also played tennis against Tom or Mike and fought through the obstacle courses against the youngest of the teenage boys.

 This was how I had spent eight days when Kattie arrived. It was a relief being able to leave the games with a good excuse. Even if the kids didn't laugh at me, I found it rather embarrassing. Especially since it showed how bad my stamina was.

 "Sorry I have just abandoned you with Tom". Kattie told me . "I should be more involved in your training myself".

 "It's okay. Tom has been nice enough to me". I shrugged. Honestly I hadn't really needed her. "With Ben in jail and Clay stil recovering you have a lot to care for".

 "You can say that again". Kattie sighed. "Clay and KC talked me into letting Hope selling. I hate the idea of her being so involved that she is out selling drugs".

 "Drugs ?" I felt the colour drain from my face. "Is that what you are selling ?" Why hadn't I thought about that any sooner ? Why hadn't anyone told me ?

 "I totally get your reaction, but it's good money and we need money. Ben don't want to listen to ideas about finding another way of living". Kattie didn't seem happy about it. And I hated the idea.

 "Even if it lands him in jail ?" I said sounding rather indignant.

 "We have to take the risk or we can't afford to take care of everyone in the gang". Kattie shrugged slightly.

 To change the subject Kattie brought me outside Tom's safe walls, for my first trip out into the underworld and the real life.

 

  The park was in the middle of the city. It was a green area cordoned by big trees toward the harbour and with small store at the opposite side. There was a pub, a small grocery store and a clothing store. In the middle of the park was a fountain with no water, a skating ramp and a ball court with tattered nets.

 There was a lot of people in the park. Most had visible tattoos, telling that they belong to one of the five gangs. Children were playing on the ball court without worries even though all the adults around them were armed. On the skating ramp a group of young men seemed totally out of place.

 The spoiled princes of Catrista". Kattie said looking annoyed when I asked who they were. "They come here thinking they are cool with their skatebords, acting all entitled. But as soon as it's getting dark out or things get heated they run home to their nice mansions, warm beds and food others cook for them".

 She sat down on the grass and I followed her example. Sitting in her own thoughts she pulled out a knife and started cutting in the grass.

 "Kattie ? Who was she ?" My voice was barely a whisper, but still Kattis head snapped up like I had yelled at her. "Who was Amber ?" It was a guess that I wasn't the first to carry that name. But it was the only logical explanation for the way people acted.

 "The uncrowned queen of the underworld". Kattie sighed. I could see pain in her eyes. "I have been fearing this day since you showed up here".

 "You don't have to talk about her if you don't want to". I told her apologetic, feeling badly about bringing it up.

 "You deserve to know it. And it isn't fair to the others that they have to keep it hidden for you any longer". Kattie said looking at the pattern she had cut into the grass. "You need to know one thing about her. She was confident, she was strong and she knew it. No one knew where she came from. She just showed up one day demanding that one of the leaders took her in. She ended with Zombie as his first active female member ever. She was icecold and ruthless. She put herself above all others. She became a pawn in the game between Ben and Zombie and after several tries Ben managed to capture her and hold her as a hostage". Kattie took a deep breath before moving on. "I don't know what happened between them. From one day to the next she had moved in with us. Her and Ben was hopelessly in love. It didn't help Ben and Zombies relationship one bit".

 "So they fell in love with the same girl". I said, I mean not excatly a story that hasn't been told before.

 "Not just in love. They really, truly loved her. And she loved them. Both of them". Kattie said. "She keept up her ruthless life, except that now she was on our side. She was still on our side when we went to war backing up Kress. It was the first time she did something for someone else. And it got her killed". Kattie dried her eyes, even though there were no tears.

 "I am sorry to hear that".

 "You have no idea what this will mean for you". Kattie looked at me very seriously. "Ben and Zombie was standing with guns pointing at each other. They shot at the same time. I don't know why Amber did it. Which of them she wanted to save. But she stopped them from killing each other the only way she could. She jumped between them, taking both bullets. She was dead before she hit the ground".

 "Why did Ben give me her name ?" My voice a whisper. I was afraid it would break if I tried to speak out loud.

 "Because Ben is a very broken man". Kattie said harsly. "He tried to soothe his own pain with the drugs he was supposed to sell. They made him malignant. They stopped him from thinking clearly. It broke him even more than her death had".

 "It doesn't explain..".

 "Because you look like her". Kattie cut me of, closing her eyes like she tried to hide from the truth. "When I saw you the first time, I wondered for a moment if you were really her".

 My hands were clammy and I felt nauseous. As if it wasn't enough that Ben had given me her name, reminding everyone about what happened, I also looked like her.

 "Don't blame yourself that you ended up here". Kattie took my hand. "Ben fucked up when he gave you that name and he knows it. But you belong here now. You are one of us".

 "I am a pawn in Ben and Zombies games.. just like she was". I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt totally out of place, like I could no longer live in the apartment. I could no longer be near Ben.

 "It is not everything you are". Kattie squeezed my hand, sending me a smile. "You have chosen to be here and we want you here. That you look like her and carries her name is just an extra bump in the road".

 "One that makes it impossible for me to get my own identity. Ben and everyone else will always compare my to her, see me as her". Ben would always look at me and think of her.

 "I feared that, but I don't believe it any longer. When us in the apartment, who lived with her for more than a year can see you as you and not her, then everyone else should be able to. You might look like her, but you are nothing like her". Kattie smiled. "Don't compare yourself to her, be yours..". Kattie suddenly flew up. A knife ready in her hand, the other hand reaching for her gun.

 "Get up now". She didn't look at me, but handed the knife back towards me. Without knowing what to do with it, my hand closed around the handle.

 I looked the same direction at Kattie. Four muscular young men was coming towards us. The all wore the same loose pants with the pockets down the legs that everyone seemed to wear. It seemed to be the standard clothes here. They also had visible tattoos and I knew from my lessons with Clay, that it was Zombies mark.

 The one in front had to be Zombie, he looked a lot like Ben, same high cheekbones, same perfectly drawn lips, same green/blue galaxies for eyes. But his hair was longer and stark white and his skin much paler. He was taller than the others and carried himself with a stature like a king.

 The three others was as different as could be. One had long dark hair in a ponytale, another was totally bald and not taller than me, maybe even a bit smaller. They were both hard putting an age to, but twenty something was my best guess. Both had a gun in their hand.

 The last one was younger, maybe around KC's age. He had darker skin and a slight cover of pitch black hair, like he had recently been shaven bald. He had a knife in his hand and his eyes rested on me.

 "Zombie !" Kattie's voice was a barely audible hissing.

 "Well, good afternoon Kat". Zombie said. He sounded like he was actually happy to see her. Like it had made his entire day to meet her here. "And I am guessing that this is the princess herself, finally let out of Tom's castle". He smiled at me in a way that made all the hairs on my body stand on ends.

 I had heard so much about this man, mostly about how evil and gruesome he was. And now he was standing here in front of me, talking like we were old friends and he had just told me a joke.

 "Has Ben really allowed you to leave Tom's safe fortress ?" He didn't look evil or malicious, but something about him still gave me bad vibes.

 "What do you want Zombie ?" Every muscle in Katties body was tense as a bowstring and ready to attack. She looked like a prey that had been run into a corner and only waited for the right moment to strike at the enemy. It was a big contrast to Zombie's relaxed stance.

 "I just wanted to see the princess". His eyes burned into mine. "Amber". He said the name like he tasted it. "I can se why he gave you that name". His eyes ran over my body. "Lacking a bit of muscles and a bit to skinny for my taste, but we can do something about that".

 He reached out with one hand, like he wanted to caress my cheek, but at that moment Kattie attacked.

 It all went so fast and I couldn't take my eyes of Zombie's. That is why I never saw how Kattie ended between two of Zombies men with a gash over one eyebrow and a gun pressed against the back of her head.

 "So you are not going to try and run ?" Zombie looked at me like he had a fun time. I refused to look him in the eyes. I wasn't a good runner and I knew that any one of these men could catch me in no time. So I choose to slowly back away, while thinking of a sharp comeback.

 "Alec, could you ?" Zombie said casually. With no further explanation the dark guy stepped up behind me. I couldn't make my body resist as he took the knife from me. He held both my hands on my back with one of his and pressed the knife against my throat. "You see princess. Amber isn't a name Ben kan just give to anyone.. Actually he can't give it to anyone.."

 "Zombie !" Kattie's voice was a bit high pitched. "Don't let her pay for Ben's stupidity and your grief".

 "Shut up Kat". Zombie whipped around and slapped Kattie so hard her head lolled forward and her body went limp. She would have collapsed if it hadn't been for the two men holding her up. The panic grew like a ball in my chest. A ball that made it hard to breathe and made my chest hurt. The sobs was stuck in my throat, right underneath the knife pressed to it.

 "You had a knife in your hand, you were armed". Zombie said totally calm. "I can claim there was a fight, I thought you were better trained, so I accidentally killed you". He shrugged with one shoulder, like it didn't really matter, as he stepped closer. "It will spare you a lot of pain in the end".

 "Please don't, please leave me be ? My voice was meek as I begged for my life.

 Zombie stepped closer and in a single, all to well rehearsed motion he took the place behind me. Those two had done this before. No doubt about it.

 My hands were no longer locked on my back and desperately I grabbed for the arm that was placed around my neck. His other arm was around my waist, pressing me into him in an almost sensual way.

 "I don't even need a weapon. It would just be a single snap. You wouldn't even feel it". His tone was like a soft cares, which was in stark contrast to the words he was saying. "It would be like wringing the neck on an unwanted kitten".

 I was crying. I couldn't stop the tears and even if both my hands was gripping his arm and I was digging in my nails, I was nowhere close to making him let go.

 "Let her go".

 The voice come from behind us. It was a authority voice with a threatening edge to it. Zombie slowly turned us to face the newly arrived. I didn't know him, but he had three stars on his neck, telling me he was from The Stars.

 "Kress". Zombie said the name like they were best friends and he had missed him tremendously. Like he wasn't standing ready to wring my neck. Kress looked icy cold. I had heard a lot about him. He had been Ben's mentor and friend for many years. I had imagined him older, but beside for him being only around forty my image was pretty correct. Dark blonde hair that looked like he cut it himself and a thick beard. But he looked strong. He hadn't pulled any weapons which made him look like not much of a threat. But he was a friend of Ben, did that make him my friend ?

 "You understand why she can't be allowed to live, don't you ?" Zombie asked him.

 "I understand why you don't want her to live". Kress corrected him coolly. "But we can't go around killing people because they make our life difficult Zombie". He sounded like a father telling of his son. "Your grief wont be bigger or smaller because she is in the world".

 "She is going to change everything". Zombie was loosing some of his self-control and with that also some of the amusement and indifference in his voice. "Her being her will ruin everything. Everything we have tried to make right the last two years".

 "I agree". Kress sounded almost like he didn't care. Didn't he notice how Zombie was tightening his grip around my neck ? That he was squeezing the breath from me. I could barely breath at all by now.

 "Then let me do it. We don't have to let anyone know that you were here". Zombie's voice was enticing. "Don't you want to spare Ben for more grief ?"

 "Yes Zombie". Kress smiled half-heartedly. "I would do anything to spare Ben from more grief. Which is the reason I can't let you kill her". He nodded to someone behind us, which made Zombie snap around, pulling me with him.

 Ben was standing right in front of us, a gun pointing to Zombie's forehead. "Let her go brother". His voice was close to making me smile. White spots were dancing in front of my eyes and I couldn't focus on Ben's face. I couldn't find those beautiful eyes I so longed to see.

 "Oh Ben, so they did let you go". Once again Zombie seemed over joyful. Like had his best friend or brother just returned to him. "I am just getting to know the princess".

 "I can see that.. LET HER GO". Ben hissed through gritted teeths.

 "Really Ben ?" Zombies grib on my neck loosened just a bit and I was gasping for air. "Is she what makes you forget ?" He must have seen something in Ben's eyes I couldn't see.

 "I will never forget". Ben answered icy cold. "But don't let someone innocent pay for that".

 "Oh this is going to be so much fun. You have just showed me what a thrill it will be letting the princess stay alive for now". It took Zombie less than three seconds to turn me around, press himself into me and place his lips on mine. I  couldn't push him away. I couldn't even resist the kiss. Even his lips were stronger than mine. A knife pierced the thin skin on my cheek and it hurt when the salty tears ran into it.

 I couldn't breathe.

 I couldn't collect my thoughts.

 I couldn't push away from him.

 I hated Zombie. Not only hated him, I wished him a world of pain. I wished him dead.

 "So I got the first kiss.. Again". Zombies pushed me away and into Ben's arms. I broke down. My whole body was shaking and I couldn't stop the sobs coming from my throat. I hid my face against Ben's chest, while his strong arms held me protective into him. Everything hurt. My throat, my cheek, my chest, everything.

 "Ben, I ...". Kattie's voice reached us. I hadn't even realise she had woken up. 

 "Later..". Ben cut her of.

 I felt that the others left, but I couldn't munster enough strength to pull myself out of the protective embrace that right now was keeping me in one piece. I felt I was going to pieces inside. Zombie had tried to kill me. Who knew how much more time he had needed.

 In one smooth motion Ben lifted me so he was carrying me with one arm behind my back and one under my knees. I rested my head against his shoulder, wrapping my arms around his neck.

 "I need to learn how to defend myself". I whispered hoarsly. It hurt a lot in my throat to talk. "Yes". Was all Ben said.

 He didn't promise me he would keep Zombie away from me or that no harm would ever come to me. He didn't make promises he couldn't keep. But his arms gave me a silent promise, that he would always fight for me and that he would be there when I needed him.

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