Once again, the grotesque sound of flesh meeting flesh echoed throrough the dome. Again and again, followed by insults, mocks and spiteful laughter. Nobody seemed unfazed, already used to witness the scene. He who dared to meddle in the fight took the unthinkable risk of being the next one.
This time, though, it was different. The death weight of the victim fell on the floor without a grunt. He had resisted the beating gritting his teeth and with his arms over his head to protect himself. He was a stange kid. Nobody had ever heard him whimpering in pain and he had never done a thing to defend himself from the constant abuses. He had been in The Catacombs for barely a week and he already had a heavy reputation he dragged wherever he went.
That dark complex tarnished with moldy light had earned by the unanimity of the interns the name Catacombs. One day they woke up with no memory of their lifes and nothing more than greyish, coarse overalls that hurt their skin and a random number engraved on their right wrist.
Nobody knew who held the reigns of the macaber system designed to create cold-blooded killers. Neither did they care.
The girl with the number 022 engraved on her wrist, the one who had decided to call herself Lara, had received merely a week ago the uncaring announcement of her twelfth birthday. She observed the scene with her bottom lip painfully trapped beneath her teeth and her fingers wet and trembling with anger. She wanted to interfere, to save the poor new boy from the villains' claws, but she knew better than that. She could end up once again in the infirmary, hearing Mrs. Min scold her for being reckless. They were five older boys, much bigger and much stronger.
Lara was thinking about a way to rid the boy from the torture when she remembered the rumors she had heard about him. In that hellhole, surviving depended on reputation, favors and the blazes burning in the prisioners' eyes. And hers, even though she was physically weak, were a roaring fire. She walked toward the gang with her head held high and laughed noisily, clutching her stomach with both hands.
"Poor boys", she laughed, "You really don't know where you're getting yourselves, do you? Do you not know who the kid is?"
Five pairs of eyes eyed her coldly, hungrily. The one who made himself the leader had his knuckles tainted with blood. He shook his hand sharply, red rain on the concrete floor. Lara remembered he called himself Joonbeom.
"What are you trying to say, midget? What do you know that we don't?
Lara brought a hand to her lips, feigning surprise.
"It's dangerouse not knowing the rumors around here, you can never know if they are true. But if ther are..." she trailed off
Joonbeom grabbed the collar of her overalls and lifted her a few inches from the floor.
"Get to the point, midget!"
"I've heard he's the son of a high-up. He's been put here so he can inform him about how things are from our point of view."
The grip on her clothes faltered. The guy who held her was a beast and always ranked first in his year's weekly competition, but he was a hopeless idiot. She dared to look him in the eyes.
"I wouldn't like to know what would happen to you if they found out the little prince has his pretty face bruised because of you"
Joonbeom let her go roughly. She fixed her clothes calmly, with a serene gaze that hid her disdain.
"Those are just rumors. They are most likely not true", he snarled
One of the other boys came close to him and whispered something she could not hear. The leader opened his eyes widely. She had a reputation too. Lara cocked an eyebrow and crossed her arms.
" Are they?"
He gritted his teeth and actually though about his next step. Wow, he actually has a functional brain- she thought. Then, he walked towards her and stabbed his finger in her chest, towering over her small frame.
"I'll let you go this time because it is in my benefit. But don't forget your place. You are just a useless midget, don't you dare talk to me like that again. Or you'll be next, pretty girl"
Lara waited with pale knuckles until the gang was gone. Joonbeom, that grotesque teenager with holes in his skin and greasy hair, spit to the victim's face and kicked him on the stomach one last time before swearing under his breath and movin away. She knelt before the injured boy slowly and he curled into himself more (if it was even possible).
Nobody knew his name and many doubted his . He was too slender and his features were far too delicate to be a boy, but he was too rectangular and even fiercer to be a girl. He had rosy delicate lips, ruthlessly split by a bleeding cut. The milky skin of his cheeks and his arms was littered with reddish marks which would definetely turn purple in the next days.
"Take this" she said.
He put his hands away from his eyes and looked at her, his eyes cold and distant. One second later, though, he had to hide his surprise. The girl, probably his age, smiled sweetly. She was kneeling by his side with a clean tissue in her hand. He was extremely concious about the acrid taste of blood in his mouth and he didn't even want to imagine how he looked.
He grabbed the tissue with his gaze on the dark splotches on the floor and mumbled a quiet "thank you". He cleaned his face, flinching when he rubbed a certain bruise far too roughly. She kept smiling and he couldn't help but wonder how there could be such a warm, bright person burried underneath the gray walls of The Catacombs.
"You haven't eaten, right? I didn't see you at lunch time. Come with me, I have some cinnamon muffins. You need to eat to recover"
Without hesitating, she took his hand. Her skin was too pure, too soft for him to taint it. He stumbled after her, unconciously tightening his grip on the little hand with the pain of his bruises. She walked slowly, aware he was limping but his pride was too big for him to admit he was in pain and a visit to the infirmary would do him no bad. He wanted to scream in pain, but he kept his mouth shut and focused on the small hand that grabbed his carefully yet firmly.
Lara took him to the area with the benches built with a kind of heavy cardboard that resisted the heavy weight of the exhaustionof the capives. They both felt gazes pinning them down and a veil of mumbles muffling the silence. The inmates looked at them surprised but, hidden under the creases between their eyebrows, was pure terror.
The boy was too preoccupied trying to keep the blinding pain off his mind to catch the words people threw their way. Lara, on the other hand, had her gaze on her small group of friends, painfully aware of the meaning behind the words people whispered.
"What is he doing here?" some asked
"Isn't that the loner who killed three on his first night?" Lara recognized the high-pitched voice of the annoying girl who always insited on aiming all of her knives at her in practice hours.
"He's the one who doesn't have a mark..."
"I've heard he still has things from his previous life"
"Don't look at him, it's bad luck"
Lara turned around and looked at him with her teeth painfully sinked on her bottom lip. He had his eyes shut, trembling to resist whimpering in pain. She could feel cold sweat clamming their hands together, but she wasn't a bit disgusted. Her friends, Yixing, number 010, and Eunhee, number 038, looked at her wide eyed. Not only with surprise, but concern too. Everyone in The Catacombs, including herself, knew the rumors that surrounded the boy with honey caramel locks and droopy eyes.
In that hellhole, being alone was the most nonsensical idea, and by far the most dangerous and idiotic. Those who decided to isolate themselves couldn't survive the first week.
That boy, nonetheless, had survived his first week remarkably well. And with his fierce passion he had managed to top the weekly competition and many of the classes with no other name than a disdainful "you" from the teacher. He was peculiar. Noone had ever heard his voice, let alone his name. Everyone got away from him and from the pristine skin of his right wrist, free of any mark of bleeding ink that would leave the numbers anchored in his body forever.
Lara sat opposite from her friends and pulled the boy to sit by her side. She gestured towards Yixing with her head who, grunting and mumbling under his breath moved away from his seat and opened one of its lids. Then, without looking, he reached inside and tossed two packed muffins towards the newcomer.
"Eat" Lara commanded "Don't make me regret sharing my precious muffins with you."
The boy didn't even think it for a second. He devoured the muffins as if he hadn't eaten in days. They tasted like cinnamon and care. Before he could finish the second one, Yixing had already handed him two more. Not a single crumb was left over the table.
He got up slowly to leave, but Lara's gaze pinned him down. Her eyes blazed with curiosity and a hurricane of dark emotions he'd rather not name. Her smile, on the other side, was warm and sweet. She raised her right sleeve and exposed her wrist, showing the black numbers engraved on her milky skin.
"My name is Lara"
Her friends sighed and raised their sleeves too
The boy observed the numbers, fascinated.
"You know our names" Lara concluded "It's only fair you tell us yours"
Without thinking it much, the boy answered
Lara was surprised by the softness of his voice and his lack of doubt. When people arrived in The Catacombs without barely memories of his past life, they took a long time to think an appropriate name. But Baekhyun seemed to have his name beautifully written in his soul.
"Don't you have a mark?" Eunhee inquired
Baekhyun stared at his covered wrists and, after nodding slowly, he raised his left sleeve. His mark was different: 04B. Lara couldn't hold in her curiosity and he reached for his wrist, tracing the outline of the symbols with her fingertips.
"Wellcome to our family, Baekhyun"
Thank you very much to all of you who read the prologue.
This takes place when they are 12 years old. It is a flashback to introduce the main characters, their relationship and that they are all the same age.
The actual story starts in the next chapter! :)