THE FOLLOWING ENTRY CONTAINS LANGUAGE AND REFERENCES TO VIOLENCE AND ABUSE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED–DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU SUFFER FROM ANY TRAUMA BENEATH THE ABOVE UMBRELLA TERMS.
OH AND ALSO “DRUGS” BUT IT’S FREAKIN’ 2019, DO WE SERIOUSLY STILL BELIEVE THAT MARIJUANA IS HARMFUL? DO SOME RESEARCH.
“Well?” Monty asked. His question was aimed at the man who descended the stairs within his home two at a time, joining him and Chris on the first floor. “How is she?”
Kris sighed and gave them a half-shrug. “She’s fine now. She had some fractured ribs and lots of cuts and bruises, but I was able to heal all of that…”
Monty frowned. In all the time he had watched the enigmatic human heal their warriors, he had never seen him as disturbed as he was in that moment. “What? Was there more?”
The healer nodded. “She had a lot of internal tears, mainly in the cervix. I took care of as much as I could, but some of the damage has been there for a while. She’s going to have scarring, and that’s going to make intimacy difficult for her.”
“Won’t it heal on its own if left alone?” The advisor pressed, folding his arms over his chest. His fingers dug into his skin, forcing him to focus on the healer’s report and not the pain the child had endured. “I mean, it’ll be years before whatever family takes her in has to worry about her hooking up, right? She’s just a kid.”
“She’s actually fourteen, but considering the amount of neglect and malnutrition she’s undoubtedly been dealt, I can understand how you would reach that conclusion.” Kris pulled a thin hand-rolled cigarette from his pocket and lit it, taking a couple of hits before offering the smoke to the porter. Chris gladly accepted, his eyes lighting up as he puffed on their shared vice.
“I’m gonna shoot straight, man–this girl’s been through hell, and there’s a good chance this hell began with her own family. There’s a scar on her left shoulder blade that I’m pretty-damn-sure is a brand for one of the bandit clans. I’ve heard of some clans branding their victims for fun, but those are usually the ones they sell. This brand is similar to a couple I’ve seen on the corpses of some nearby clans.”
Mona had joined them during his explanation, plucking the cigarette from Chris’ hand as he offered it to her. She took two hits before offering it to her brother, coughing all the while. He acquiesced, taking a single drag and holding his breath as he returned the cigarette to the healer.
“Are you saying,” Mona croaked between coughs. “That the kid Monty found in the park comes from a family of bandits?”
“Not just any bandits.” He exhaled swiftly, a plume of smoke filling the space between them. “The Jesup Gang.”
Before another word was spoken, Mona threw a quick jab into her brothers abdomen. Her action forced him to release the smoke he’d been holding in while attempting to suck in a breath, causing him to cough repeatedly.
“Ow! What–what the hell, Mona?”
“Most humans have to worry about their baby brothers bringing home a stray animal,” she seethed. “Not me! No, my brother brings home a fucking bandit!”
“We’re the same age,” he wheezed, prompting her to take another swing at him. Chris caught her by the wrist and stood between them, asking her to calm down as Kris eyed the advisor suspiciously.
Mona and Chris paused from their bickering and returned their attention to the healer and lieutenant. Monty recovered from his coughing fit, his eyes already glazed over as he met Kris’ pointed stare.
“I thought she was being held captive by some bandits, maybe even raised by them,” he admitted. “But I guess it makes sense that those monsters would torture their own kids.”
“We have to tell Frankie,” insisted Chris, his hold on Mona faltering. “He’s the only one the colony might listen to–“
“We can’t tell Frankie until we know he won’t report her to the council,” Monty declared. His hand was raised in a cautionary gesture; he had made his decision, and was firm on keeping Lizzie a secret.
Chris’ jaw stiffened. “Monty–“
“Chain of command, Chris. I outrank you, and you can’t go over my head.”
The porter shook his head. “You know I don’t want anyone to get hurt, man. This kid should be kept safe and socialize with normal teenagers, not cast out into no man’s land–“
“Then why’re you arguing with me?” The royal advisor challenged his subordinate.
“Because if we don’t tell Frankie now, he won’t be able to keep the council off our asses!” Chris shouted. “You know he hates them as much as you do–without him in our corner, they’ll get suspicious and make him do whatever it takes to get answers.”
Monty shook his head. “No. Aside from us, only Alexa knows, and she doesn’t even know the kid’s a bandit. If the council has Frankie question us, we’ll be able to lie–“
“Yeah, you and Alexa!” interjected the porter. “Not me. I’m not like you guys, man–I’m not exempt from the prince’s orders. If he asks me anything with his influence, I have to answer. You know that.”
Monty did know. He let out a growl and buried his head in his hands, the frustration hitting him like a brick wall. Their options were limited.
“If we tell Frankie,” he began, lifting his head. “It won’t change anything, because the colony doesn’t trust him like they do the council. They know our princes are basically just puppets, and that the council is pulling the strings. Which means we’ll either have to lie about where she comes from–which is doing a little wrong for a lot of good–or Mona and I can keep her here until I can discreetly find a family that won’t care that she’s a bandit and won’t put her on blast.”
Mona cleared her throat, granting her the attention of the healer and the angels. “Why don’t we try a little of both?”
“What do you mean?”
“You should go to Frankie tonight and ask for his help. Chris can go home, bring Alexa up to speed, and ask her to keep things quiet. I’ll go see my friends in the morning and ask if any of them would mind taking Lizzie.”
“No offense, but you probably shouldn’t be leaving the teenager that was raised by savages alone in your home,” Kris reminded her.
Mona rolled her eyes. “Seriously? What, you think she’s dangerous?”
“No, she wasn’t dangerous in that state you found her in,” he commented, taking another hit. “But now that she’s healed and getting some rest, she could probably steal some food and clothes and run off. Bandits don’t do well in confined spaces–they’re used to traveling by any means necessary.”
“Well, yeah, she’s a flight risk,” Monty acknowledged. “But I don’t see how that means she’s dangerous.”
Kris blew out another cloud of smoke. “Monty, why do you think bandits have kids?”
The angel frowned. He had never considered that a roaming pack of scavengers would find a purpose in any action they took. “I don’t know.”
“When the plague hit, those who survived realized that they needed to do whatever was necessary in order to keep the human race alive. The worst of humanity broke up in groups, claimed hundreds of miles of land as their territory, and they traveled around and killed everyone they met. The few who impressed them were either recruited or sold for more weapons. They taught themselves to ration their food to a degree that no colony would fathom, and when they finally got around to producing offspring, they realized that babies who knew love and good grew up too soft to carry on their genes.”
“What’s that mean?” Mona pressed. “Bandits have kids to purposely hurt them?”
The healer nodded. “They think the only way to prepare them to live is to make them hate. They train them to take lives from a young age because no one suspects a kid who needs help.”
He then turned to Monty. “When she saw you in the park, what’s the first thing she did?”
Monty shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “Nothing. She kind of just froze on the spot and watched me, waiting for me to make a move.”
He sighed and brushed his fingers through his hair. “She climbed into the fountain, threw a big rock at me, and ran down a side path.”
Kris frowned. “You’re sure?”
“Bandits don’t teach that,” he insisted. “Their children won’t run from a fight, even if they’re outmatched or outgunned. They’ll die before going home empty-handed.”
“Lizzie told me she wasn’t alone,” Monty continued. “She said she wanted her brother, and when I mentioned the colony she said, ‘no colony’. When I asked about her family, she just cried. That’s why I thought that she was a bandit slave.”
“Except the brand on her back says otherwise,” Kris countered. “It’s the brand on every member of the Jesup Gang–she has to be the daughter of a bandit.”
“I am,” said a voice from above, prompting the four to peer up the stairs at the mysterious teenager.