Ryu sat on his seat on the hard, dirt floor, watching with noiseless contempt as his "master" and "the master's family" ate. Mrs. Birkshaw spoke up timidly to her husband.
"Kern, don't you think we could give the poor dear something to eat? He's only fifteen, he's still growing," she attempted to reason.
Kern rolled his eyes in his seat."The stupid kesak don't need nothin' to eat," he growled, his voice gruff and low. "And it aint no he." He threw a disgusted glare over in Ryu's direction before turning back to his meal.
Ryu rolled his eyes from his position on the floor, once he was sure his Master wasn't watching. His stomach growled, and he looked down at it, if only for a second. Moments later, his Master called for him.
"Ryu! Come clear the table!" he barked angrily.
The slave stood up, making his way slowly over to the table, before stopping, and titling his head to the side in mock confusion.
The Master rolled his eyes. "Clear the table, you dimwit! Of everything!"
"Every…thing?" Ryu asked slowly, as if the word tasted funny in his mouth. He struggled to hide a smile.
"Yes, Ryu. Everything," the old man said, exasperated.
Ryu nodded, then grasping the table cloth firmly in his hands, ripped it away from the table, bringing all dishes and plates and flatware along with it. It all clattered to the ground with a thunderous crash. The two young grandchildren giggled, while Mrs. Birkshaw shook her head, getting up and starting to clean up the mess, while Mr. Birkshaw helped immensely.
"You idiot kesak! Do I need to teach you everything!" he cried, pulling his whip from his belt.
"Kern, don't," Mrs. Birkshaw muttered, almost a warning.
The Master didn't listen. He reared back, snapping the whip at Ryu. It lashed across his bare back, causing him to wince in pain. But, it was definitely worth it.
"Not in front of the children, please!" Mrs. Birkshaw hissed angrily, standing up defiantly.
The Master scowled at his wife. "Oh, be quiet, you old hag. They need to learn to grow up and be strong, like their father would've been if he had had the decency to stay alive," he growled back, bringing the whip down again.
Ryu scrunched his nose, but did not make a noise.
"Kern," she snapped harshly, "Our son's death was not an act of indecency. Let the poor creature go."
Mr. Birkshaw frowned angrily, bringing the whip down again, harder and angrier than before, unsatisfied when Ryu made no sound of protest. "Why should I?" he cried, bringing it down again and again, so that Ryu crumpled to the floor. "He should be able to feel the pain of death, shouldn't he? He hasn't lost anyone important, he's just a stupid. Dumb. Animal!" he cried, bringing it down again with every word.
Ryu smiled limply; he was winning. His back was numb, he couldn't feel a thing. And yet, his vision was beginning to blacken and shrink in front of him. He could hear the children screaming, but the sound seemed far away, distant.
There must be a lot of blood, he thought, his eyelids drooping. Maybe I should just… just sleep… only for a minute.
He let his head rest on the floor, his eyes closing. He smiled. He felt… warm.
His eyes cracked open to find Brenna and Delano leaning over him, teary-eyed. He blinked at the two little ones. The poor kids; hopefully their grandfather wouldn't see them, or else they might get the belt.
He was alive?
They smiled, looking down at him. "Ryu, you're alive?" Delano asked, a small smile spreading across his little ten-year-old face.
Ryu smiled weakly. "Barely," he coughed, sitting up a little. He looked around him to find he was lying on a bed of white sheets. He raised an eyebrow. "How did I get here?" he asked the little ones.
"Gramma put you in here once she got Grampa to stop hurtin' you," Brenna explained, her words squeaking because of a missing tooth in the front. She was only six years old.
"Oh, did she? Well, that was awful nice of her," he said softly, smiling down at Brenna. He looked down to find his entire torso covered in white bandages. He sighed. "Well, I suppose I'm alive, aren't I? And I guess that's something to be grateful for isn't it? Well, you tell your Grandmother I'm very grateful," he said softly to the two of their eager faces. "Alright?"
Suddenly, Delano frowned. "But Ryu, why's it sound like you're sayin' goodbye?" he asked.
"Well, Del, I can't stay here, buddy. You know that, don't you?" he asked.
Brenna sniffled. "But… but we'll miss you," she whimpered.
Ryu sighed. "I'm sorry guys, I'll miss you too, but if I stay here, I'll die," he ended in a whisper, standing up painfully. It prickled up the back of his spine, causing his face to twist in discomfort.
"But the girl!" Delano cried suddenly. Ryu and Brenna both looked at him, surprised at his outburst. He was usually the quieter one. "The girl. She'll be alone," he sniffled.
Ryu paused, confused. "What girl?"
Delano's eyes widened and a hand flew to his mouth. He began to shake his head, as if he had said something he shouldn't have.
Ryu knelt down in front of the boy, resting both of his hands on the small boy's shoulders. "Delano, I need you to tell me. What girl?"
Delano looked down for a moment, seemingly at war with himself for a moment before looking back up to Ryu. "Well… Grampa thought… he thought you were dead. So he went to get… to get a new kes-… a new Casaket. And he says that he'll get a girl this time so that maybe he won't kill'er. But… but I'm scared Ryu… What if she's not as strong as you are? What if she dies?"
Ryu couldn't speak for a long time. They were going to replace him. He was an object, a thing; he was expendable. He finally cleared his throat, breaking the silence. "How long until he gets back?"
Brenna shrugged. "He left 'bout two hours ago, so he shouldn't be long. Maybe five minutes. Why, Ryu? What're you planning?"
Ryu looked down at her tiny, round face. She had large green eyes, and her skin was about as brown as his. Given any other circumstances, someone would've mistaken them for being siblings. But not here. Not in this lifetime. He sighed, then stood up. "I'm not gonna leave, guys, but I can't stay here. I'll be back, or may Sawa strike me down with lightning. I promise."
He then stood and leapt out the window, into the brush.
Moments later, the kids were still standing there, watching the window, when Mrs. Birkshaw entered the room. She stopped short when she saw the empty bed of linens and the gazes of her grandchildren. In spite of herself, she let a small smile grow on her face.
And just in time, because moments later, there was a rustling at the door, and Mr. Birkshaw's voice. "Kids, I'm home! Come meet your new pet."
The two children timidly wandered down the hall, followed by their grandmother. The two children stopped when they found the girl. She didn't look like the ugly, monstrous things that were often described to be Casakets. And neither had Ryu, but they had thought he was an exception.
Looking at this girl, it was difficult to think so anymore. She had long, dark hair that was silky and shiny, running down past her shoulders to about halfway down her back. She had large grey eyes and her limbs were slender, but lean. Wrapped around her torso was a band of soft-looking white cloth, and her long skirt looked to be made of the same material.
Her bright eyes were similar to Ryu's. They looked intelligent, aware, alert. Not that Mr. Birkshaw would ever be able to notice a thing like that. And her sharp eyes were darting about the room nervously, looking for escape.
But then her eyes landed on the children, and she seemed to relax. How bad could a man with two children really be, anyway? Her eyes softened, and she smiled at the two little ones. Mrs. Birkshaw stepped forward.
"Hello, deary, my name is Mrs. Birkshaw, your Master's wife. What might your name be?"
She looked down for a moment, then looked back up, answering timidly.