I suppose I did it to myself, biting off more than what I could chew. In all honesty, I wasn’t used to people being so darn uptight. Even posing as a little girl people didn’t divulge as much as I was used to.
“Mommy?” I called, a real shiver going through me as I wandered the streets. I’m acting lost and I’m getting lost at the same time. My method seemed a little idiotic at the moment.
No one stopped, which, in itself, felt odd. They cast me wary looks, but even those whose sympathy shone in their eyes passed me by. Finally, I slumped against a wall. I let myself shiver to incite some pity.
“Who are you, missy?” A boy around my age stooped down, looking concerned.
“Callie,” I replied softly, not meeting his eye. It was true. People I cared about had called me ‘Callie’ before I’d lost them.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know where my mom is.” Truth. “I was calling, but no one heard me. No one stopped.” Also, true. “I don’t know how to get back.” I took a deep breath, the cold making my nose run. Coincidentally, it made my act more believable.
“Do you want some help?”
I hesitated. “I...” Finally, I looked up at him. Thankfully, I’d never looked my age. As I studied his face, I felt myself tense slightly. There was something off about him. “I just want to know where I am.”
Now the boy looked confused. “You don’t know where you are?” He paused, muttering to himself. “Well, I suppose you said you were lost, didn’t you?” He looked back down at me. “How did you get here?”
I shook again, the shiver leaving goosebumps down my arms. “I fell asleep and then I was here. I don’t-I don’t know.”
His eyes took on an odd glint. “Okay, then. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll help you get settled until we can find your mom?”
I knew there was something odd about him. Slowly, I shook my head. “I don’t know your name,” I let my eyes widen. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
He leaned down, smiling that odd smile again. “My name is Lynon. I’m just trying to help, Callie.”
I let myself look like I’d relaxed when, inside, I’d tensed more. “Okay,” I said, faking hesitance.
He grinned. “Follow me!” He led me through the crowd and I knew instinctively that this was trouble. I glanced around, trying not to seem like anything more than a tiny, scared girl. The grey metal seemed to extend over everything I saw, but as we went, spots of rust on buildings grew more and more common. Come on, this guy isn’t such an amateur that he’d have some sort of gang in a run-down building, right? My heart beat faster in my chest. Despite being fierce, I couldn’t take on many people myself. I wasn’t a fighter; I was a shadow.
Lynon entered a building and I cautiously followed, half expecting people to jump out at me. Instead, a piece of metal fell a distance away and rats skittered away.
“You’re pretty jumpy,” Lynon observed, his eyes slightly narrowed.
I weakly smiled at him. “I just don’t know where we’re going and this place is a little creepy.” It was, too. It was so dark, I couldn’t see the ceiling. The walls were covered in graffiti and cracks and there were old broken pieces of furniture and various scraps of what could’ve been building materials once upon a time.
Lynon looked around the room as though seeing it through new eyes. “I suppose it could be creepy.” He looked at me like he was realizing that might not have been the right thing to say. “I’m sure you’re a brave girl, though.”
I looked right at him, uncertainty making my eyes squint a bit. “Right,” I dragged it out a little too long and forced myself to look around. “Now, what were you planning on doing here?”
“It’s sheltered,” He gestured carelessly with his hand. “I thought I could explain some things to you.”
I nodded slowly.
He perched himself on a chair that looked way too brittle to hold someone’s weight. “So, this is one of the five kingdoms of Salindia. There used to be a sixth kingdom, but they disappeared a while ago. You know that at least, right?”
I shook my head, forcing discouragement instead of elation.
Lynon blinked. “Wow, okay. Um, so there are five kingdoms now on this continent essentially. It’s mostly man-made at this point. There’s the Black Kingdom, which is what we’re in. Then there’s red, yellow, blue, and green. There used to be the White Kingdom, which was the most powerful of all the kingdoms because it ruled over the other kingdoms. No one knows where they went, but there were so many assassination attempts and different attempts to overthrow them that no one really blames them. Everything went downhill since that happened, though. That was around ten years ago.”
I tried not to think about how that would put me on the mainland right around the time that I was found by the gang that became my family.
“Now the royal families have just ignored us ‘commoners’ as they try to take over the over kingdoms.” Lynon spit the words out with bitterness.
I looked at him, knowing the feeling of being overlooked. “So, you just... live here?” I couldn’t resist another look around.
“Sort of,” He smiled sadly. “I move every little bit so that I don’t get found.”
I looked at him, finally letting some intellect show now that I couldn’t hold the innocent girl façade any longer. “So, you made your own home.”
I hadn’t realized that his smiles were fake until a real one broke through. “There’s the girl underneath the cover.”
I blinked, “You knew?”
“No one’s that open here,” He explained.
“Oh,” My shoulders fell. “They were where I came from.”
“How did you get here?” He asked again.
I looked at him, “I told you the truth earlier.”
He nodded, “Fair enough.” He looked behind him for a second before looking back at me. “Your mother isn’t anywhere close to here, is she?”
“No,” I said, huffing.
“So, you’re alone?” He looked excited, which was definitely not the correct emotion to show when you’re asking that question.
I didn’t reply, because all my lies had been seen-through here. Why was everyone so dang lie-proof here?
His grin widened, “You can come out now!”
Before I could panic over the words, a large group of people of assorted ages walked out of the shadows. I felt my eyes widen as I glanced around. Instinctively, I took a step back. My hand stretched towards my dagger in readiness.
“Hey, hey,” Lynon held his hands out in a placating gesture. “I wasn’t trying to scare you.” He rubbed his neck. “Come to think of it, I’m rubbish at all of this stuff.”
“And your attempt at using a British word properly is also rubbish, Lyn.” One of the women shouted out with a proper British accent.
Lynon waved his hand at her, grinning. “It’s not my fault you talk so oddly, Gliss. If you’d learned our way of speaking faster, I’d never have learned it.”
I didn’t hear what she muttered in reply, but her lips moved and the people around her laughed. Their companionship made me miss my family on the mainland.
Lynon must’ve seen it on my face because his face softened slightly. “I brought you here because I had a hunch you’d like to join us.”
I hesitated. “I...” Was it smart to join more than one group? I watched them. They were more like a family than the royals were. “Could you teach me about this place?”
Lynon nodded, “Anything we know, we can teach you.”
Both the thought of knowledge and companionship drew me in. I’d be killing two birds with one stone, hopefully.
I smiled slowly, “I’ll join, I guess.”
The group burst out into cheers.
Lynon grinned and stood, “So, do you want to meet the group?”
As he rattled off names, I struggled to keep them all straight. “Wait,” I said once he’d gotten halfway through the group. “I didn’t get any of that.” Again, I was frustrated that my skills were beginning to fail me.
Lynon laughed, “Whoops. I do that sometimes. Here, how old are you?”
“Fifteen,” I lied slightly. I was closer to seventeen, but since I could pull of twelve, I’d just aim for somewhere in the middle of that range.
Pleasant surprise registered on his face. “Okay then. Can all the teenagers step forward here?”
No one moved and a girl spoke up, laughing. “You used the word, Lyn.”
Lynon rolled his eyes, “Can you guys stop being difficult for a little bit?”
Finally, some boys and girls of all sizes stepped forward. Slowly, they sorted themselves into groups of boys and girls from the shortest to the tallest.
Lynon smiled, “Thank you.” He looked at me, “Ready?”
I nodded, taking a breath and focusing on his voice. “Go.”