Timmy held his head in his hands and sighed softly. He could not stop thinking about Maria, when he should have been thinking of himself. His curtains remained firmly shut, as though not seeing could keep him from remembering. Had he decided to look out the window, he would see the standard view, which seemed inappropriate for a day full of such sorrow. Thousands upon thousands of chains, always reaching toward the mainland, eager to bring their captive's fears to reality. His mother knocked on his door gently, as if not to disturb his sleep, when she knew Timmy was awake.
"There's no guarantee they won't take me anymore," said Timmy. "Is there?" His mother, a dark-skinned woman with hair pulled into an intricate braid, walked slowly over to him, and kissed him softly on the forehead.
"I wish I could protect you," she whispered. Timmy nodded, and wrapped his arms around her waist. They sat on his bed for a minute, until Mrs. Jasper briskly clapped her hands together, her eyes unnaturally bright.
"All right, then," she whispered in a forced voice. "A special breakfast to start the day off right. Pancakes, Timmy? I'm afraid they wouldn't give me any eggs, but..." her voice trailed off uselessly, and Timmy held his hands together, shocked at his mother's sacrifice. Pancakes should be saved for later, or rather the ingredients to make them should. She could be beaten, put on the Sauce for a day or two. He shuddered at the thought, yet didn't argue. He knew she wouldn't take no for an answer, on what very well could be his last day of sunshine.
The sweet taste if buttermilk startled him out of his stupor. The fluffy texture the Masters enjoyed was somehow lost on these; they were hard as rocks and the maple drizzled on top sat there, refusing to be absorbed. Even so, Timmy savored every morsel.
His mother perched at the edge of a rocking chair, anxiously making sure he gobbled every last bit. When he desperately offered her a bite, she declined, vigorously shaking her head no.
No matter how indulgent it had been, breakfast was a cold, tense affair, and Timmy was relieved to be free. No matter how dangerous the streets, he knew it was his responsibility to see Maria, to comfort her. Besides, this was his chance to say goodbye.
The long paths of shackles glistened evily as Timmy crept past them. Not a soul was out, and he was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he nearly walked off of the cruel steel pathway, into the water as black as oil.
Timmy bit off a shriek of terror, staring into the wide, eager eye of the Guardian. Its long, nail-like teeth moved slightly as it fought the current, waiting for its snack to come. If he fell now, it would be an almost merciful death, he reflected. An image of Maria came up in his mind, though, and he leaned backward enough to fall on the back of his thighs. "Ouch," he mumbled, then glanced around nervously. He had been in the open far to long, vulnerable for far too long. He scrambled to his feet, then sprinted to Maria's hut.
Short of breath, Timmy collapsed on the hard earthen floor, his lungs crying out for air. His lengthened time outside only increased his panting. It was a relief to get fresh air.
Maria emerged, standing in the doorway, waiting for him to cough up the poison in the atmosphere. Once he had, she came to him, giving Timmy a nervous hug, which he returned without hesitation.
He whispered, "Don't be afraid, Maria." as her mother came into the entrance. She was a tall, long-limbed woman with caramel-colored skin and beautiful black tresses. Seeing her child's despair brought tears to her eyes, which she tried to hide.
Maria looked like a smaller version of her mother, save for the fact that her eyes were the same shade of brown as Timmy's the same shade of brown as all other children. Her chain inched down her ankle, revealing red, raw sores where it had rubbed, had been rubbing for years. Unfortunately for Maria, she had no siblings to lighten the workload.
And now she had no mother.
A scream pierced the dawn air as her mother clasped her head between her hands, agony making her hands tremble.
"I won't do it, I swear!" she sobbed, rolling on the floor, rocking back and forth. "Take her! TAKE her!" Tears rolled down Maria's cheeks, and she slipped from the room, unable to look at the woman who had just condemned her. Timmy knew that the angry whisper always in their heads had just turned into a shout. Blood poured out of her nose, her eyes, her pores. Soon, her cries stilled, just as her kicking limbs did. The door swung open, revealing two dark shapes. Guardians. One roughly yanked a chain onto his leg, and he shuddered as its soft, moist scales brushed against his exposed skin. He would not run, running would make matters far worse.
He felt himself being shoved, his shiny new chain intermingling with he old rusted ones. The doors to the castle, the castle that hid the Master from view, swung open on silent hinges. Timmy took one last gulp of fresh air, thinking this must have been what it was like for his brother, Peter.
The blackness swallowed the crowd, and he heard the first children inside begin to scream.