Sometimes, she liked to imagine that she was a spy on a secret mission. Instead of sneaking through the dull broken hallways of the orphanage, where the wood was splintered and the faded pink paint was peeling off, she was traipsing of magnificent building tops and slinging through dark alleyways. She would gather information on corrupt Kings and capture rogue dragons rather than steal food from a practically empty kitchen. In her imagination, Anna was free. Not a parent less, homeless piece of trash. But that fantasy was shattered when she heard Shang coming up on her heels.
"Anna wait up!" he whispered. Well, at least it was his idea of whispering. Anna looked around nervously, silently cursing herself for giving in to his constant whining.
After months of complaining, she had told him that he could come along on one of her escapades as long as he could remain silent. So far, he wasn't really keeping up on his side of the bargain.
The house was quiet around them, but she knew better than to let her guard down. Though sneaking into the kitchen seemed like a ridiculous task, there was a real danger in getting caught. Her ribs still ached from the last time they had found her stealing food.
Shang's excuse for wanting to tag along was that he had decided that she needed someone to protect her. Anna looked back at the scrawny 9 year old who had enlisted himself as her own personal army. His face was determined, and may have even been somewhat formidable if it wasn't for the shaggy black hair that kept falling over his eyes. She chuckled to herself. Though she was only a few years his senior, she felt so much older. Childhood was something that was lost with suffering. The boy might have thought that he was there to fight off anything that threatened her, but really, she was the one determined to protect him.
As they moved slowly along the walls of the old orphanage, the floorboards creaked beneath them. She had tried to teach Shang how to walk without making a sound, but the young boy had been unable to grasp the concept. They creeped through the house sounding more like a stampede then two small children.
And for some reason he could not keep from talking.
"Anna I'm hungry," he whined. Again. Anna only spared a glance his way before continuing on her way, stretching her senses to make sure that nobody had heard them.
They were supposed to be outside with the other kids, tending to the gardens. But Shang was literally starving, and taking straight form the kitchen was the only way to get him enough food. He wasn't the first child to become this malnourished and exhausted, and he certainly wouldn't be the last. Most kids who got this sick died within weeks, thier bodies so narrow that it was too easy to see the bone sticking out beneath the skin. But the Owners didn't care. Whenever someone became to weak to work in the fields they loaded them on the truck that usually brought supplies, and smiled as their problem magically disappeared.
The Owners were the two worst people that someone could ever have the misfortune to come across, and Anna did everything in her power to avoid them at all cost. Despite her attempts, the Man had taken a special interest in the girl who did not want to be seen. Such attention was awarded with senseless beatings that seemed to not only hurt on impact, but also sting her flesh as if a current of power had moved through her skin and burned her.
Shang also had marks, and every time she looked at him she saw the scar around his left eye that look as if his skin had been touched by flame. After that had appeared, Anna had decided to take the beatings that he earned for herself. Shang was her charge, and no one would lay a hand on him if she had anything to do with it.
They approached the kitchen cautiously. Though Anna's senses were sharp, the man was better. If they were caught this time, she could only imagine the beating they would get.
She stood absolutely still, waiting. She was about to move forward when she heard it. It was only the faintest squeak, but she knew what it meant.
"Go!" she said, loud enough for Shang to hear, but still so quiet that if someone was waiting nearby they wouldn't have been able to tell that someone had spoken.
Shang looked at her wide-eyed for a moment, then followed her orders and ran. She watched him go sadly, knowing that he tried so hard to be quiet, but seeing him fail completely . When he had made it safely around the corner, she spun around to face whatever punishment may await her. As she stepped forward, she looked down the hallway to her right and saw the Man was there, lounging against the wall lazily. He was smiling. Anna had a sense that he had known that the little boy had been with her, but he was content to settle for her. After all, she was his favorite.
He stalked towards her, victory obvious in his expression. It was impossible to miss the mad glint in his eyes. He was going to thoroughly going to enjoy this. He reeled back his fist to strike, but as he did, Anna felt a sharp pain at the base of her skull. Her body started to shut down, her head reeling. The last thing she saw before her world went black was his fist hurtling towards her face.
It was amazingly bright where she was. For a moment, she thought that she had been transported straight into one of her fantasies. Gold, red, purple, and other rich colors were all woven together in intense complicated patterns that seemed to move along the wall. White pillars help up the sky above her, and silver shells of men lined the walls, as if protecting the beauty from curious eyes. She could tell there was money here, and lots of it. Her gaze wandered to the double doors in front of her, but she stopped and froze when she saw the young boy standing in front of them, staring at her.
He was like no one she had ever seen. His skin glowed as bright as the golden walls, and his eyes were greener than the grass during First Spring. He watched her cautiously, studying her as she could imagine she was studying him. His clothing was every bit as elegant as the room that surrounded him. Though only in a simple shirt and trousers, his pants were lined with gold and purple and his shirt seemed to radiate its own shine. He smiled as he watched her, his white teeth just another thing to glare brightly at her sensitive eyes. The boy, three or four years her senior, gaze suddenly became rather arrogant. She could feel the resentment within her rise.
"Where am I?" she asked. Anna had meant for the question to come across sharply, but she could not help the wonder that laced her tone.
He smiled at her smugly, and instead of answering he continued to regard her curiously, looking her up and down as if trying to make sense of the person standing before him. She looked down at her appearance, noticing that she still wore the rags she had worn at the orphanage. Anna suddenly felt a wave of embarrassment, shifting uncomfortably beneath his scrutiny.
"How did you get here?" he asked accusingly, as if she had imposed an inconvenience by magically appearing in his precious hallway.
Well it's nice to meet you too.
Instead of actually saying anything, she decided to take a page from his book and remain silent, regarding him with cautious eyes.
"Answer me!" he demanded angrily. Anna almost laughed outright. She would bet money that he was mentally stomping his foot.
"Do you really think that if I asked you where I am, I would have any idea to how I got here?" she said calmly, though in reality her temper was beginning to get the best of her. She couldn't help the sense of satisfaction that she felt when he had the decency to look embarrassed.
He stood there in silence, evidently choosing not to challenge her any further. The air turned awkward as they continued to simply stand there, both unsure of what exactly they should do.
"Who are you?" she asked hesitantly. She was beginning to get largely uncomfortable with the way he was still eyeballing her as if trying to tear he apart and put her back together in a way that would make more sense.
"Why do you ask?" he responded, his voice suddenly suspicious. Anna threw her hands up in exasperation. She clearly wasn't going to get anywhere with this idiot.
She turned to leave, but some force stop her from going any farther than a few feet.
"What did you do?" she faced away from him, her shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Don't look at me, I want you here just about as much as you want to be here," he said, his voice borderline incredulous.
It was never a good experience for anyone when Anna got angry, and with this kid, well, she had just reached her boiling point. She did the only thing that she felt like she could in this situation.
She flat-out punched him.
He yelped in pain and stared back at her, mouth slightly agape. She smiled back, not even attempting to conceal her pride.
Then the world started to change again. She was being taken out of this world and back into her own. She almost sighed in relief, but then she remembered what she had left behind.
This was going to hurt.
Anna woke up to pure pain. It seemed to radiate from every part of her body. She was still by the kitchen, but the Man was no longer with her. She laid crumpled up in a ball against the wall. He must have kept hitting her even after she had fallen. She tried to get up, but found that the task was harder than she originally thought. She'd tried to figure out where most of the injury was focused. Her jaw was still intact, and besides that initial hit she didn't think that he had caused much damage to her face.
Guess he wanted to keep it pretty.
Most of her anger had dissipated, spent towards the boy in her dream. Now she just felt exhausted.
She checked her arms next. They were lined with welts, not unlike the one on Shang's face.
She tried calling his name, but it sounded more like the croaking of a frog then an actual human voice. Somehow he must have heard her though because while she was trying to figure out whether her arms were cracked, bruised, or broken he came running around the corner. When he saw her he his eyes immediately filled with unshed tears. He tried to help, but he was young and really had no idea what to do.
"Go get Will," she whispered to him painfully. Will was the oldest boy in the orphanage. Even though he was only 16, he was far bigger than the rest of them. He was her very first friend, and even though they weren't as close as they used to be, he still kept an eye out for her.
When she saw the mass of flesh and blonde hair run around the corner, her body seemed to relax. That is until he picked her up. She moaned with pain as strong arms lifted her off the ground. She felt a small hand clench around her fingers and saw Shang reaching up, looking towards her with tears running freely down his cheeks. His eyes were sunken in from tiredness and lack of food.
She wanted to tell Will to help him, but as she turned, her body screamed in protest and blackness started to cloud her vision. Determined not to travel back into the golden world, she stayed awake, taking note to talk to Will about Shang later.
When they made it to the girls room, he laid her down gently on one of the many rock hard mattresses. Will grabbed Shang to make him leave, but Anna shook her head. As the older boy left, she grabbed Shang's hand and held it for a while. A few minutes later she turned to him.
"I'm sorry," she murmured painfully. She watched his face as tears began to fall more heavily. She moved over in the bed, groaning as she did so. She ushered for Shang to join her, and he curled into a ball on her side. They laid there for a while, and her mind drifted back to the boy in her head. Convincing herself that it really was just a dream, she slipped back into unconsciousness, letting the pain float her mind away.