I missed home. I missed the kids and my best friend. I missed my freedom. I missed being in charge of everyone. When I was in charge, people needed me. People needed me now, but they were different. They were grown-ups. All I was to them was a little twelve-year-old pawn. Why had I taken this job? It may have been the stupidest thing I’d done in my whole life.
Rain pattered on the library window, and I watched just in case the sky decided to change its mind. The necklace my mother gave me years ago was heated by my rubbing of its sharp edges. Years of this friction had turned it into a dull silver shape.
Despite the weather, I was glad it was Friday, because that meant no more lessons for the week. I had been hired to study with the chancellor’s son, a boy so annoying, he couldn’t study with peers of his own class. It was easy money that I used towards the kids — orphans, really — and they were less hungry than they’d been all year because of it. Not to mention the medicine we’d been able to treat infections and chronic ear infections and other nasty looking things they developed.
“Come on, Mylo! You’re so boring today. Hide and seek?” Jorah was the devil on my shoulder. Devil because she was opposite of an angel and nearly as annoying as her brother. Nearly.
I huffed. “Hide and seek with two people?”
She prodded my arm. “Come on. Come on, come on, come on!”
“Stop!” I jerked my body away from her, still squeezing my necklace. It was a mistake. She was too observant for her own good.
“Where’d you get your necklace from?”
“Go away.” A game did sound fun, but at this point I was too irritated to give in.
“Can I look at it?” She took the metal from my fingers, the rope pushing into the back of my neck.
“Thanks for waiting for my response.”
Jorah glanced down at me. A sly smile spread across her face. This was bad. Very bad.
A second later, she yanked hard at the necklace. It didn’t give. I yelled something and tried to pull away, but she just pulled harder. Fighting her fingers to let go of my necklace, we stumbled backwards until we fell hard on the wooden floor.
“Get off!” I kicked at her kidneys and tried to roll her off of me, but her grip was a vice on my necklace.
“It’s just a joke, Mylo!” She laughed. Anger boiled inside my throat. Finally letting go of her fingers, I bucked her off of me. A tall piece of furniture fell right on top of my back. A scream ripped from my throat, not from pain but from fear.
“Look what you’ve done!” I growled as I tried to push the furniture off. Elbow slipped to the floor, something sharp crunching underneath it. Darkness covered us.
Voices neared us, men’s and women’s and frantic. Footsteps ran fast and worried and a second later the pressure on my back lifted. It wasn’t a bookshelf or painting as I thought. Hands yanked me out off of Jorah, screaming words I couldn’t understand. My heart pounded in my head. The servants weren’t concerned about me.
“Street boy! Why did they ever let scum like you work for the chancellor of the city?” a man hissed, spit flying in my face. “Filth!” He looked like he’d just eaten horse poop.
Jorah looked mildly concerned as the man dragged me away.
“Where are you taking me?” I said, forcing the burning in my eyes away.
“Fighting girls? What is wrong with you?”
“She fought me! She tried to steal my — “
The back of my neck burned. I stumbled left and right as the servant hauled me through the white corridors, eyes of portraits watching me struggle. I touched my chest. Nothing but the buttons of my shirt. I groped underneath it. No necklace.
“She — Jorah — “ My words came out in heavy breaths. “She’s a thief!” I bellowed. “Thief!”
The man yanked my arm and leaned in front of me. “As if an orphan boy such as yourself never stole anything?”
“Not like her!”
The man wrenched at my arm until he tossed me into my room. The door locked. I didn’t even know he had keys. “I’ll send Professor Bramwell here soon!” he called through the door. I kicked it until my toes hurt and tears streaked my hot face. My chest was a broken heart without its necklace. The rain had let up a little, the sky lighter than it had been.
Professor Bramwell was the one who always administered my punishments, and his punishments were far worse than writing lines. I kicked the door again with the flat of my foot. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Luther, the man who forced me into this job. He said he would take everything away from the kids if I didn’t work here. Sent here to look for clues as to why mayhem was breaking out on the streets, I’d already been here three months. Luther was a man of the streets himself. A grown-up and violent version of me, I liked to think. A person who could build his life up from nothing.
That wasn’t true. Even Luther had parents who loved him.
My breaths almost covered the sharp-heeled steps coming my way. I put my ear to the door. I could recognize those footsteps anywhere. Professor Bramwell.
The window hadn’t been barred yet, so I rushed to it and thrust it open. No wonder it was still intact. I was on the fourth floor of the manor. Below me was a long fall and a broken neck.
The door knob rattled.
I didn’t have time to think about this. Professor Bramwell was going to whip me for Jorah’s stupidity. My hands trembled as I jumped onto the slick windowsill. I dropped my body, only hanging on to the ledge. My feet barely touched the windowpane beneath me. I reached down and touched it. The stone rubbed my fingers as I clung to the wall.
Inside, the door clicked open.
“Let’s not play games, Mylo.” Professor Bramwell’s voice was caught between a sing and a growl. It took him about half a second before he was glaring at me through the window. “Foolish boy! Don’t move! If you fall you could paralyze yourself!” Then he was gone. I wasted no time grabbing the pipe to the side. It required that I stretch my body further than humanly possible, so I had to jump. Deep breath in, one, two, now!
I meant to scream, but it caught on the back of my tongue. Knuckles scraped stone as I slipped down. My knees failed to cling to the pipe. Sweat made the pipe slick and I fell, knees and feet trying and failing to get a grip until —
Flat on my back. Breath stuck inside. Dark clouds were my only view.
Voices. For me. Shouts. I needed to move. Now!
Body creaking, I crawled on all fours until I could managed a hunched stance and run into the woods.
Wet branches whipped my face and roots grabbed at my feet, but I sprinted until I could find the city. Luther’s office was in a dangerous part of town, but it was better than with Professor Bramwell. Wheezes rattled in my chest. I dodged gloved hands that tried to snatch me or dogs that tried to chase me. By the time I reached the back door of Luther’s office, I was doubled over and trying to swallow down the bile that wanted to rise in my throat. The guards looked at me with disgusted expressions, but they let me in. That was the extent of my special treatment for being Luther’s newest spy.
Luther was a stocky man with a wide nose that looked like it had been broken at least three times. He barely spared me a glance as he poured over paperwork. It gave me time to throw myself on the sofa and watch the fire. Plus, I had to bite down to keep my jaw from trembling.
“What has the little pup so upset tonight?” Luther asked. His pen still scratched on the paper. I wiped away a tear, trying not to think of my necklace, but it was my only thought. More tears ran hot down my face. Deep breaths, push the tears away. “Some tea, please!” Luther called through the closed door. Thin doors, quick responses. A few minutes later, tea was served and Luther sat across me in the armchair. “What’s new, sweetie? Have you found the killer yet?”
He wasn’t referring to an actual killer, but to any clues as to who was kidnapping children, stealing weapons, or killed one of Luther’s men. Everything and nothing was said as I rubbed the back of my neck.
“Mm. Your brother will be quite upset indeed. Doesn’t he have part of that necklace?” Luther said. He waited for a response, but I didn’t bother to say anything. “Good god, boy, what happened to you?” He reached across the table and touched my elbow. I flinched. A moment later he was next to me, lifting my arm. Above my elbow was a heavy shard of glass. Stars danced in front of my eyes from just looking at it.
“Ouch!” I screamed. A sharp pain burned in my arm. I stared at Luther, then looked at a blood and scratch covered me in my reflection. I wasn’t actually covered in blood, but this was a shard from the mirror Jorah broke on me. Luther set it down and wrapped his hand around the back of my neck.
I didn’t mean to, but I barely had anything left in me. The tears hit me, hard and nauseating and snotty. Sobs racked my body and I dropped my head in my hands. “That was all I had left of her!”
Luther patted my head. “Who?”
“My mother,” I choked.
“Why do you need a mother, Mylo? You have me.”