Age 7 - Versailles, France
The warm luminescent light of softly lit candles bathed the luxurious walls of the Bertrand Chateau. The favored daughter of fortune, Lily, captivated herself with a spatial reasoning puzzle set out on the lush Persian carpet in front of the marble fireplace. Her father, Andre, an esteemed financier sat on the supple black leather couch, going over ledgers and conversing with clients through e-mail using his sleek new iPad.
Without further ado, their all around helping hand and savior, Cecilia came through the emblazoned French doors. A middle-aged woman of modest height and weight, she was as much a mother to Lily as her own had been before the divorce and her subsequent move to an unknown locale. The look on her face set Andre slightly on edge and he immediately rose to his feet.
"Monsieur, there are some men here to speak to you." The men subsequently shoved Cecilia out of the way and barged into the room. There were five of them, all sturdy tall men save for the one at the head of the group. Small, portly and balding, Henri Lefevre was a glorified thug. The diamond rink gracing his pinkie finger glistened in the light as he gestured wildly.
"Your debts are overdue, Andre."
"Get her out of here." Andre growled the words to Cecilia as he strode past his young daughter, now paying apt attention to the strange men in what was once a comforting home.
"Non, I don't think that's necessary." Two of the men stepped forward at the silent signal from Henri and forcibly grabbed Andre, hauling him into the other room. Mumbled yells could be heard; begging, pleading, bargaining. But the man's time had run out, as had any inclination on Henri's behalf to further extend the window of time for which Andre could repay his debt in.
Two gunshots echoed in quick succession and a thud could be heard. After that, only silence. Wide eyed, Lily looked up at Cecilia, who had gone ghost white, her hands shaking as they clenched together. Rushing to the child, she crouched down and took her into her arms, comfortingly stroking her hair. Lily was the first to see one of Henri's henchmen walk back into the room, weaponless. "It is time to find new living accommodations, Madame."
Age 9 - Mas-Jambot Orphanage
Two years had taken her from a pampered princess living a life in the lap of luxury to an orphan who had lost everybody she'd known. Her father murdered brutally, Cecilia passed from 'accidental causes' and her mother still unheard from, Lily had been placed into custodial care, the kind way of saying she'd been dumped in an orphanage.
Every day was miserable and every person was a potential threat. The caretakers were paid less than minimum wage and out of all seven of them, there was only one that had any genuine care for their charges. Sitting at a table in the kitchen eating area, Lily constantly scanned around her, knowing full well that if she took her eyes off her food for even a moment, it would be snatched. It may be disgusting porridge, but at least it was sustenance.
"Well, if it isn't Princess Lily." Robert, one of the oldest of the orphans at age fourteen, had dubbed her with the nickname Princess Lily due to her father's illustrious past.
"Go away, Robert." Keeping her head down, she continued eating.
"Shut up, Princess. You think you're so special, you think you're better than the rest of us." He crowded her personal space, whispering in her ear, the sneer on his face quite evident in the tone of his voice. "You're nothing but trash."
"I said go away!" The chair squeaked across the linoleum floor as she stood up, her small body shaking with an unquenchable anger. His two henchman goons came forward, one standing behind Lily and the other to her side.
"Whatever gave you the impression that you had any semblance of control in this situation?" Quicker than her young eyes could track, he came up, cupped the back of her head and slammed her face down into the remnants of her porridge.
The two friends physically restrained her, rough fingers bruising pale skin as she flailed wildly. Once she'd suffered enough embarrassment she was released and quickly ran to the hidey space she'd discovered in the back of her bedroom, the most removed room in the building, shoving porridge off of her face and out of her hair as she went.
Refusing to allow the tears to fall in front of anybody else, she allowed herself ten minutes of continuous sobbing. Her entire body shook with the force of the crying, tears falling for who she'd lost, for what she'd lost, for an innocence that was being quickly and forcibly stripped from her.
It was as she wiped the tears away that something caught her attention. Markings scrawled onto the wall that were illuminated when the light hit them at just the right angle. She stayed there for hours, dedicating them all the memory and deciphering their meanings.
Digging around, she found a loose floorboard and popped it loose. Hidden in a hidey hole within a hidey hole was a journal of markings. Beginning that afternoon, Lily spent hours a week in her new favorite place, memorizing the journal and markings, studying them and figuring out what they meant in the grand scheme of things.
It took six months for the former daughter of fortune to piece together Jean Luc's writings and what he had gone off to do just a couple of years prior to her arrival. "Brûle en enfer," were the last words out of her mouth as she slunk out a window on the eve of her thirteenth birthday.
Age 13 - Evry, France
It had taken her over two years to nail down the prodigious group of nomads known as The Arashikage. Spoken of in hushed tones among the streets, Lily had spent those years sharpening her skills as a thief and testing her battle prowess at every turn. Building up a small reputation as a dirty, efficient fighter and an uncatchable thief, she'd bided her time.
Throughout the last week, there had been murmurings on the street about a job that the Arashikage were planning to pull. Lily had beaten them to it, pulled it off effortlessly and left coordinates for a meet. Settled at a table in the back of Rosso Caffe, a plate of untouched crepes in front of her, she studiously watched the front door, tensing a little every time somebody walked in.
After an hour, a teenage boy approximately the age of seventeen walked in, the dim lights of the cafe casting a glowing sheen on his sandy blonde hair. He made a beeline for her booth and sat down across from her. "Are you stupid or just crazy?"
Lily simply smiled at him. "No risk, no reward."
His shoulders stiffened as the assumption that she was planning on blackmailing them came to mind. "And what kind of reward are you looking for? Us allowing you to walk away with your life?" The renegade nature of the unpredictable Arashikage clan had been whispered about, but nobody other than those involved truly knew how deep their ties to unsavory organizations actually went.
"Non. I want training, I want to become one of you." In that moment, no matter how much bravado was evident, it was quite clear that she was a lost little girl looking for a home, looking for a cause, looking for something to live for.
"What gives you the bravado to declare yourself worthy, ma petite?"
She grinned while reaching into the worn leather satchel that was always by her side. Sliding down a sleek hard drive onto the table and looking up at the boy who sat across from her, she cautiously watched for his reactions.
Gregory simply smiled, making a studious humming noise as he reached out for the drive. It was what the Arashikage had been looking for, what this mysterious thief had been able to snag before they were even aware their perimeter had been breached.
"You may also be interested in this." Sliding him a small, thin folder containing write ups of merely half her exploits over the past few years. It was her resume.
After several minutes of paging through it, he looked at her, a curious light to his jade green eyes. "Magnifique."
Age 16 - Château de Vincennes
Lily tucked a sweater tightly around her thin frame as she walked along the tower row of the abandoned Chateau. The Arashikage had settled in, taking over what was once a royal hunting lodge. The courtyard had been converted into a training ground and it was where she'd spent most of her time. In the last three years she had risen through the ranks, proving to be an expert infiltration specialist, an uncanny shot with a bow and arrow and a promising martial arts practitioner.
Slowly winding down to the courtyard, she came to stand next to Greg, her shoulder bumping his as they watched the newer recruits."Care for a go, ma petite?" Over the years it was something he'd taken to calling her, an homage to her small stature and her chosen codename.
The two launched into a masterfully orchestrated ballet of martial arts, moving simultaneously and with knowledge of each other accrued over time. It made a show for everyone else and took away from the stress of the lives that they had chosen for themselves. Gregory allowed Lily to get the upperhand, giving her a false sense of bravado, only at the last minute to cut her down.
Pinning her with a soft armbar to the throat, she smiled up at him. "Suppose you win this time." Rising to her feet and brushing the dirt off of her jeans she went back inside, better off after a scuffle. Settling in on the four corner canopy bed, she pulled the tattered covers over her head and slid out the journal that she'd pilfered from the orphanage.
Every page was perfectly committed to memory, the tales of the exploits of the one and only Jean Luc. He had become a figure that she'd put up on a pedestal. Hearing stories of his legendary exploits throughout her tenure at the orphanage. He had become a beacon of hope, of what could be done, of the belief that you could break out of this life. Ever since, she'd been doing her best to follow in his footsteps.
Age 17 - Château de Vincennes
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Resounding cheers and catcalls rang throughout the small stonewalled room as toasts were made to Gregory in honor of his 21st birthday. He sat at the head of the oversize wooden table, Lily directly to his right. Shots were passed around and the tequila burned as she tipped it down her throat.
Wandering away from the table after placing a birthday kiss on her best friend's cheek, she made her way out onto the back deck, overlooking the fields and woods that ran for miles. Languidly sipping the beer in her hand, she stared up at the stars, wondering if this would be her life forever. Stealing, thieving, fighting. She thrived at it, but it was empty.
Tossing the empty bottle over the railing, she shoved her purple-tinted hair off of her face and let out a sound reminiscent of a howl. "Wild child." Greg's smooth voice drifted melodically across the night air as he walked up behind her. Resting one hand on her shoulder, he swept her hair to one side and placed a kiss on her neck, eliciting goosebumps across her skin.
It took her off guard and she allowed herself to thrive in the momentary emotion before turning around to face him, a confused expression on her face. "We're not..." Her words slurred slightly as she spoke, the apples of her cheeks colored with the vibrant blush of one who had been willfully drinking for several hours.
"Non, we're not." Bending down, Greg placed a kiss on the top of her head before taking a seat on the deck railing, his legs dangling several feet above the emerald grass. Patting the spot beside him, Lily followed suit, drifting slightly to the side as she did so. "You never did regale me with the story of how you heard the whispers of the Arashikage." With their hands beside them, he slipped his pinkie through hers.
Loose lips sink ships. Lily was not overly acquainted with alcohol and at the age of seventeen, with two beers and a shot or two in her system, her mind was not functioning at its best. During her tenure with the radical mutant group, she had gone out of her way not to namedrop Jean Luc. But those instincts and the frame of mind were gone.
"Knew one of you, once." It was half truth, she knew of him and due to his journal she felt like she knew him. "He was legendary."
"Who?" His curiosity had been piqued and the young con artist had no qualms against using her slightly inebriated state to gather information.
"S'name was Jean Luc."
Greg stiffened next to her, sighing wistfully. For several years the Arashikage clan had been looking for ways to lure Jean Luc back into their midst. He had been a prodigy, the best they'd ever seen, the likes of whom only came along once in an age. It sent a pain through his heart before he closed it down. If Lily was the way, then something had to be done.
Sending a signal to Thomas, the highest ranking member on site, he rested his head atop hers. "How did you know him, ma cherie?"
She hiccuped, her eyes beginning to drift closed. "Kind of like a brother." An embellishment to say the least, when he had no idea that she even existed, but this make believe tie to him somehow gave her the strength to soldier on.
Greg swore beneath his breath and then swiftly apologized. Standing up, he scooped Lily into his arms and swiftly carried her inside. Below the main hall of the chateau, there was what amounted to their holding cell. A cold, dark room with no windows, no natural light and stone walls. Before Lily even knew what was going on, she had been gently deposited on the once majestic but now threadbare carpet.
Coming straight to her feet she slammed her fists against the heavy antique wooden door. "What the fck, Greg?!? Greg? GREG?!?!"
He opened up the slot two thirds of the way up the door and looked down at her. "I'm so sorry, so sorry. But we need him, we need Jean Luc. We'll leave signs, he'll come for you...or he won't and we'll find another way."
If looks could kill, Gregory Broussard would be dead on the ground. "I'll kill you for this." Turning her back to him, she sat down on the floor Indian style and closed her eyes, hoping against hope that he came.
In the run down study, Thomas sat perched on the edge of the antique desk, his cellphone in hand as he spoke with an unknown entity. "Yes, ma'am, we may have a way to lure him back in." He waited while she spoke, giving out direct orders and warnings. "Yes, ma'am. Mmmhm. Mmmhm. I'll do that."
After hanging up, he called for one of the younger members, Ava, only nine years old. She was small, light and fast and he sent her out into the city to leave signs and signals for Jean Luc, signs that only he would recognize and would then be able to follow back to their current base. "We'll have him soon enough."