Chapter Three


The man in front of me smiled, extending a hand towards me. I frowned, looking at it. There was no birthmark. Furthermore, the man was wearing odd clothes that covered all of his body, revealing only his hands and face to be bare. Why was he so… strange?

"Come on, son. Come with me," he urged, his face deceivingly kind.

"Why?" I asked, my voice floating lazily away from me.

"No, Braeden, don't!" I heard a deep voice call to me.

I turned to find another man who I vaguely remembered to be my father struggling against a plethora of men dressed the same as the one in front of me.

"Ah, so Braeden's your name, is it?" The man in front of me crooned, causing my attention to turn back to him. "That's a nice name," he continued inching his hand closer still.

I crinkled my nose, taking a step back.

The kindness in the man's eyes diminished quickly and turned into anger. "Take my hand, Braeden," he snapped at me.

I shook my head, stepping further back, this time running into the wall behind me. The man sighed, straightening up and pulling his whip out. He brought his hand back, when suddenly, my father appeared behind him, a hulking seven feet tall. After grabbing the man around his waist and throwing him hard enough to break his neck, he jumped in front of me.

"Any man who touches this boy is dead, hear me?"

Suddenly, there was a loud BANG!...And my father fell dead to the floor.

I heard the sharp voice of my sister from behind me and spun to look, but before my eyes could land on her, something hit me in the face, and my vision disappeared, her screams echoing in my mind…

I suddenly sat up, breathing heavily. I shook my head, leveling my breath.

"Braeden?" I heard Amaris's voice from the doorway.

I jumped, but calmed down when my brain registered her face. Speaking of which, it held a concerned frown.

"Are you alright?" she asked."I've been calling you."

I took a deep breath. "Yeah… yeah I'm fine," I muttered. It was odd that she actually cared.

Never trust a Despotan, my thoughts reminded me.

She nodded slowly. "Alright…if you say so," she muttered. "But because of you, I had to make breakfast all by myself," she scolded me teasingly, a sly smile creeping onto her face.

I nodded without smiling. "Sorry," I muttered, standing up, stretching my legs.

She frowned again. "Is something bothering you?" she asked.

I took a deep breath, then shook my head. "Of course not… mistress," I ended, almost choking on the last word as it slipped out of my mouth. For whatever reason, it almost pained me to say that.

Her eyes narrowed a little, this time in concern, but she shook her head and began walking away. I followed her.

"So," she said, turning back to face me. "I have a proposal to make," she started. "I am fascinated and interested in learning the ways of ou-… your people. And I am hoping that you would be gracious enough to teach it to me. In return, I'm going to help you become more…civilized."

I stopped. "Wait, what?"

"You heard me," she responded. "For now, you need to come eat," she ended.

I sighed, not entirely sure of it all, but I continued to follow her down the hallway nonetheless. It's not like I had a choice anyway. We arrived in the kitchen to find the table actually made for eating set with circular things and small spears with spiky appendages sticking out the sides.

"What on earth are these….?" I wondered, picking up the appendaged utensil between the tip of my thumb and the tip of my forefinger, letting it dangle.

She laughed this soft, musical laughter, taking it from my hand. "Don't hurt yourself with it. Haven't you ever seen a fork before?"

I frowned at the foreign word. "…fork?"

She nodded, grabbing my wrist and placing the fork in between the tip of my thumb and the crook of my forefinger instead. I frowned at the awkward position.

"How do you stab something with this?" I asked skeptically.

She laughed again, shaking her head. "Just sit down."

I sat down, still studying the odd thing in my hand. She sat down across from me, picking up her own 'fork'.

"Just watch," she instructed. I followed her orders as I watched her spear a little square of meat that was cut on her round thing and lift it to her mouth.

I just observed, my face bewildered. "You people are lunatics," I finally decided.

She rolled her eyes. "Just try it, Tarzan."

I sighed, then, holding my so-called 'fork' like she showed me. I mimicked her movements and successfully put the piece of meat into my mouth. I looked up at her for approval. She was looking at me with a pained expression on her face.

"What?" I asked.

She shook her head, diminishing the expression. "Oh, nothing. I think we might be making progress, though… maybe," she added, as if she was trying to be positive.

I sighed. "Why are you doing this?" I asked.

"Doing what?" she asked, seemingly taken aback.

"Teaching me. There is no way I could ever pass, nor could I ever want to pass, as one of you people."

"I told you. I'm teaching you about my people so you can teach me about yours. A sort of… exchange."

I frowned, not having thought of it quite like that.

Never trust a Despotan.

After I had successfully mastered the ways and techniques of the… "fork", she got dressed in what she called 'casual attire'.

Before, she had been wearing a thick white cloth wrap, without sleeves, around her chest that stretched from her collarbone to the bottom of her ribcage. And as for her legs, she wore another cloth wrapped around her waist that only reached halfway down her thighs, but draped from it was a long flowing cloth that landed at just below her knees. In the front and the back.

Now, she was wearing a similar top, except it was black, deep purple and aqua swirls dancing across the fabric. And the skirt she wore was long and thin, landing at her ankles, the same designs displayed across it.

In her hand she held a pile of clothes, seemingly rumpled and worn. She held them out to me.

"What are those?" I asked, taking a step back.

She frowned. "Well, last time I checked, they were clothes. Of course, maybe I was wrong and picked up the wrong pile," she said sarcastically.

I rolled my eyes. "Sorry," I muttered, gingerly taking them from her hands. I picked up the first article of clothing, putting the rest of the small pile down. I unfolded it, finding it to be a shirt. I slipped it on over my bare chest. It was a little roomy, but I managed to fit. It was deep green in color, and went well with the slacks I unfolded next. They were brown and scrunched at the bottoms. I slipped them on over what I was already wearing. But I found they only fell to my mid-calf. I frowned.

"Are they supposed to fit like this?" I asked.

She shook her head, clearly amused at my stupidity. "Yes," was her simple response.

I shook my head. Why anybody would ever choose to wear something like this was completely beyond me. Suddenly, I looked up to see her beaming at me, as if she was proud of herself for taming the wild monster.

"What?" I asked.

She shook her head, and the look off of her face. "Sorry. Those were my father's is all."

"Oh…" I murmured. There was suddenly a new feeling to the clothes. There was a sense of used pride in them, and I felt honored to wear them.

Suddenly, I caught myself.

Never trust a Despotan.

"I have to admit, they don't look half bad on you," she muttered, nodding, admiring her work.

"Well, thank you. That means quite a lot to me," I droned sarcastically.

She rolled her eyes at me. "Well, anyway. It's time to go shopping," she said, gesturing to the front door.

I frowned. "You want me to go out? Like this?" I demanded.

She shrugged. "I don't see why not."

"But… but I'm a slave," I admitted harshly.

She looked away from me, avoiding my eyes.

"I know."

Without continuing our conversation, she pushed through the strands of the front door. I sighed, following her lead, the small strings of dead plants reminding me of the tentacles of a jellyfish.

She started walking, and I started walking next to her, when she stopped, shaking her head.

"Sorry… in public, you have to walk behind me."

I crinkled my nose, but obeyed, not in any rush to receive another slash across my spine from a Despotan who she had no control over. Although I did resolve to not talking to her.

The last time I walked through the streets of Despotar (Colony One, at least), I had been focused on ignoring the strange glances, gazes, and just point blank stares I was receiving from the citizens. This time, people seemed to not notice as much what I was. And for the first time, I noticed how tropical it was, brightly colored birds scattered across the odd, pineapple-like trees. That was the only fruit I knew of, since it was the only thing they ever fed us on the ship ride here. Everywhere you went, banking along the right of you, there was a boardwalk that overlooked the ocean. There was a soft breeze in the air, and I breathed in the salty ocean scent.

"So, is this an island?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.

She nodded in front of me. She turned her head over her shoulder to respond.

"Each of the colonies is a separate island, but the Capital, or as we are instructed to call it, the mother country, is part of a large continent."

I nodded, then, remembering she couldn't see me, responded, "Oh, okay."

After walking for a bit, I started to get annoyed at her dreadfully slow pace. "Do all of you walk like this?" I demanded.

She stopped walking and turned around. Oh, Sawa, now I'd done it.

"Walk like what?" she asked, bitterness tipping her tongue.

"Just the people back where we came from walked a bit faster than this," I added suggestively.

Suddenly, the anger melted off her face. "What do you mean 'we'?" she demanded accusingly, fear accenting her features.

I paused as confusion clouded my mind. "I meant my people...why, what did you think I meant?"

Suddenly, her face relaxed. "Oh… never mind then," she muttered, turning back around and starting once again to walk, this time her pace quicker.

"Much better," I muttered to myself with a small smile, following her.

After walking at least halfway around the island, we came to a long street with the ocean still at one side and all along the left of the street, there were small open-faced huts with small display tables in front of them. The long alley was buzzing with busy people, lazily wandering from hut to hut.

"What is this place?" I asked.

She stepped up to the nearest one and gestured for me to stand next to her. "This is where we purchase food and other items, like clothes."

The confusion in me only grew. "What is… purchase?"

Her brow furrowed. "You know, buy?"

I shook my head. "… I'm not following."

"Well… when you want something, like food, you have to give something in return. And usually what is given is something called money," she went on, picking up a small, oddly shaped chunk of meat, seeming to weigh it in her hands. She nodded, putting the animal back down, then fished into her pocket and pulled out a small circular piece of metal. She held it up for me to see. I took it gingerly in my hands. I didn't like the money, nor did I enjoy looking at it. Even the word sounded bitter and selfish.

"You… you can get items you want…for this?" I asked, still confused.

She nodded, giving a handful of them to the man who obviously owned the shop.

"So you have to purchase food? But… it's a vital necessity. Without it you would die!" I demanded, disgust replacing the spot where confusion had just been occupying.

"Well, yes. But that's why people have jobs," she continued explaining.

"But… what if you cannot pay for it?" I asked softly.

She looked down, then sighed. "Then you die," she responded softly, her eyes sadly flitting up to me, then back down to the animal in her hands.

I shook my head in disgust. "You people are disgusting," I spat.

She nodded. "I know."

She then thanked the man who gave her a small cloth bag to put the animal in. As we were walking away, I asked her, "What is that?"

"Chicken," she responded. "A small bird that lives on this island."

I frowned as she then reminded me to walk behind her. I rolled my eyes, obeying her orders.

We walked to the next hut were there were small tables of brightly colored fruits. She picked up the first, which was a bright green color with darker green stripes running down it. She shook it next to her ear, then crinkled her nose in disgust, setting it down.

I frowned, picking up a fruit and mimicking her. There was a slosh of liquid from the inside. I nodded, handing it to her with my right hand. The light caught, making my birthmark seem to illuminate. She removed the fruit from my hand, looking at it. Using both hands, she held my considerably larger hand open. She ran two slender fingers over the mark. I felt it buzz. She tilted it away from the light and it returned back to its shimmery plainness. But despite the fact the light show was over, she didn't remove her hands.

She shook her head, smirking to herself. "You know, my father used to tell me tales of glowing things from his past. He said the land he came from was full of them at night," she continued, still looking at my marking. I watched her, slight concern on my face, knowing that the memories she was thinking of didn't bring her much happiness other than momentarily.

"His favorite, though, was little bugs that glowed at night. He said he loved to catch them and keep them as a nightlight. What I would give to just see one…" she murmured.

"Amaris?" I asked softly, taking her hand and gingerly removing it from the mark. The contact seemed to snap her out of her memories.

"Sorry, I… sorry," she ended, picking the fruit I had tried to hand her before and listening to it.

"Very good, Braeden. You are a fine watermelon selector," she told me cheerfully, deceivingly chipper, a false smile plastered across her face.

I nodded. "Thanks," I answered, not returning the smile.

She nodded and looked down, the smile fading away.

"I'm sorry. About your father," I said softly, attempting to rest a hand on her shoulder.

Suddenly, her eyes darted up to me angrily. "Yea, like you care," she snapped, making my hand recoil.

"What, I-"

"Whatever," she said, cutting me off. She turned away from me, darting to another table with different fruits, this time bright orange and circular.

I shook my head sadly, picking up another green 'watermelon'.

Suddenly, there was a scream from behind me, and it was a voice I recognized.

"No, don't!" it shouted.

The watermelon fell from my hand, and for an instant, something in my mind stopped me form thinking clearly. This seemed… familiar. But my mind quickly brushed the thoughts aside.

My eyes found the girl, kneeling on the ground, a hand shielding her face. She looked to be about fourteen, her eyes a deep stormy grey, her dark, stick-straight hair flowed like a waterfall down her back. There was a tall man towering over her, his eyes angry, his hand brought back behind his head as if he was getting ready to smack her. Hard.

"No," I breathed, so quietly it was barely audible.

It was Razi.