Take Me Away

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Better to die than to give in to the fever
Better to die than live with the pain
Their voices are screaming
Their hopes slowly dying

The child glanced around, both nervous and covert. It was only a piece of bread, but one had to be careful, adults or guards could be watching. Or even worse, the others. Best not to steal something the others wanted, best to keep to the shadows and only pick the small stuff that no one wanted. Things like himself.

One day, one day, he thought, casually moving closer to the stall in sync with the crowd. One day Zelgadis isn't going to be some weakling who can barely keep himself alive, someday I will be strong! When he was strong he wouldn't have to beg, wouldn't have to rely on "adults", wouldn't have to risk himself every day just for food. But Some Day was a false promise with false hopes. Zel had learned that early. Learned it when no one came for him, when no adult had claimed him as theirs, when no one and nothing had ever bothered to show him love or affection. He had stopped wishing for it a long time ago. Or, at least, that was what he tried to convince himself of.

Zelgadis was a street rat, pure and simple. The streets were his home and the alleys were his life. There was nothing outside the squalor of this city and no way he could get out if he tried. He had no money to get away and no way to get that money. He hated Sailoon.

Just a little closer ... Let the royals tout their lies and fake promises about Justice and love all they wanted. Those promises had never helped him, never made the pain less real, or the loneliness less consuming, never put food in his mouth or protected him from the others. Their guards were his enemies. They'd kill him if they caught him. So let them speak, he knew the truth about their "glorious" city.

Gotcha! He carefully snagged the loaf of bread off the stall while the merchant's back was turned, then melted into the crowd, darting between people and horse's hooves to a side alley. Safely concealed, he examined his catch.

Smooth, golden wheat bread - very expensive here. He could feel the warmth seep into his fingers. Freshly baked too. Zel's mouth watered. Oh, if only he could eat this ...

Zel looked around from his hiding spot. People surged through the streets on their morning errands, cloaks held tight around them, shoulders hunched against the cold wind. Guards bustled by, making way with their weapons, clearing a path for officials or the wealthy. Maybe the Red Priest will come today, he thought wistfully. Zel didn't know much about the man, except he was the only person who had ever been kind to him.

Out of every child that had flocked to the Red Priest's side that day long ago, why did he choose him? He was just ... just ... the mouth curved into a snarl ... trash. Why him, Zelgadis of all people. The Man had said that he was his grandfather, his family. He had smiled and dropped a gold coin into Zel's hand and left. If he was family, if he loved him, why didn't he come for him, why didn't he take him away? Zel rubbed away the tears as they threatened to spill over his cheeks. You made my life miserable! You made the others take away your gift! You made me more of an outcast! Why?! Why, why, why ... He knew the why. In the end he was nothing. That's why he was out here in the streets instead of with a family in a home. That's why ...

"Hey, Zel, whatcha got there?" He froze, glancing over his shoulder. He swallowed when he saw what he had feared seeing. The others, the older kids, the ones who were strong.

"N-n-n ..." he swallowed again and drew himself up to his three feet of height "Nothing."

Keri, yeah that was his name, shoved him up against the wall, plucking the bread from it's hiding place. "Nothing, huh?"

It was insane but he did it anyway. He glared at Keri, then shoved and snatched the bread back. Only the weak can't do that to the strong without being made to suffer. He ignored their angry cries and ran.

They were chasing him now. They no longer cared about the bread. Just him. He had to be made to pay for his daring. He must suffer for them to keep they're reputation as the strong. He just ran, between people, through alleys, past guards and adults that would never help him or care. He wished desperately that someone would help him, that the Man would come and save him, that he could escape. But wishes are nothing and came to nothing.

They cornered him in a alley with no way out. He cowered against the wall, hugging the bread to him, calling on a gods he had never known to help him, and knew they wouldn't. The others debated quietly, leering at him. Zel couldn't hear them and didn't want to, he was too busy trying to think of a way out. Keri turned to him, smiling, a dark sick smile. "That was stupid, Zelly. You were stupid. Now yer gonna pay."

Zel choked back a pathetic whimper of fear as they crowded close .....

When they were done with him, he was just a heap in the back-most corner of an alley. A bleeding, broken heap. The bread had been forgotten in his punishment, but it couldn't be called bread anymore anyway. Too beaten into the scummy, dirty water, too covered in blood ... his blood.

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Hope is so fleeting
So sharply deceiving
So swiftly destroying

The Man had come. After all these years. After Zel had escaped and run, after he'd done everything to escape Sailoon, after he had sold himself body, mind, and soul to get away ... But he had come, finally. Zel felt hopeful. Even after all these years. Maybe now the Man would love him. Maybe now they could be a family, right? Maybe now?

"So, Zelgadis, you wish to be strong?"

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