Seven knew the world had gone to hell, but still had trouble hiding his dread as the shadowy man lead him further down the stairs. This trip was supposed to be a reward from the agency for his last job, but whatever awaited him at the bottom, he was increasingly sure he wanted none of it. As involved as he was with the underworld, there was still some boundaries he refused to cross, and this place reeked of them.
Sure enough, a wave of horror seized him as he took stock of the high-tech basement. Human slavery. Cells after cells of young women waiting like insects in glass jars to be abused at the leisure of the guests. His feet stopped of their own accord and he looked away, trying to keep his composure as he addressed his guide.
‘’Thanks, but I’m not interested. I’ll go back upstairs.’’
‘’Now, now’’ said the man with a syrupy tone that dripped false concern, ‘’you know what happens if you refuse a gift from the boss, don’t you?’’
For once, Seven had no idea, but he could imagine. It had to be something even more vile than the ‘’prize’’ he had been promised tonight.
‘’Come on, maybe you’ll get a taste for it?’’ continued the man. He was smiling nastily, obviously enjoying his discomfort.
Seven remained silent, pursuing his lips. If he had to be forced to go through with this, maybe he could find some consolation in trying to help whoever he’d pick.
That idea in mind, he ventured forward in the alley, glancing left and right at the poor women. They were all exquisitely beautiful, but broken like dolls, lying helplessly on their cots with glassy eyes. It was worse than cattle resigned to their doom; these girls were stuck in the antechamber of death.
‘’How can anyone…’’ muttered Seven under his breath, completely disgusted.
‘’Need them feisty, I see? I can relate’’ replied the guard, mistaking the intent of his words. Seven refrained the urge to punch him to a pulp. ‘’Lucky for you, there are arrivals fresh from yesterday, right there!’’ He pointed to a cluster of cages at the end of the row. ‘’Haven’t had time to tame them yet. The new ones always believe they can say no, you know?’’ He chuckled darkly, and pushed by a morbid instinct, Seven approached. His eyes widened as soon as he saw the first occupant.
“Elly!..’’ he whispered, taken aback.
Of course, it wasn’t really Elizabeth 3rd , Jumin Han’s beloved cat. It was, however, a striking impersonation of what she’d look like as a human: an albino from head to toe, with a mane of pure white hair, creamy milky skin, long graceful limbs, a small heart-shaped face and more than anything, huge sapphire eyes. It was you.
And just like that, an insane plan bloomed in Seven’s mind.
“Are you willing to become a cat?” the red haired stranger asked as soon as the door of the guest room closed on the leery guard. He seemed impatient, almost delirious, and you eyed him warily.
“Does Master…want me to be a cat…with him?” you replied hesitantly, pointing to the bed. You knew it was a common male fantasy, but the way he said it still struck you as a bit…odd.
“No, good God, no!” His kind face twisted in an appalled grimace. “Just answer the question, we don’t have much time. Would you be willing to live as a cat if I could get you out of there?”
You ignored the sudden pang of hope in your chest upon hearing those words. Your sisters had warned you against the cruel games the guests could play. The man sounded genuine, but it could all be a trick to better fool you.
“I know I don’t look the part, but I’m a gifted hacker. I can open the door of your cage” the man continued with desperate insistence, adding as if anticipating your protest, “and I know someone powerful enough to protect you from the agency. If you stick with him, you wouldn’t have to worry about them for the rest of your life. But you’d have to become his cat. So would you?”
You nodded slowly, still wary of a trap even as your chest started fluttering with excitement. If all you had to do to escape was to pretend to be a cat, even for the rest of your life—it was a fair trade to get out of there.
“Good, very good” exhaled the man with relief. “Let me explain the plan then…”
Long after you were escorted back into your cell, you found yourself still revising the details of the plan. It was absolutely insane. According to the man – who refused to give you any name except that he was a “Defender of Justice”—the corporate heir of C & R, the famous Jumin Han, was so distraught over the recent disappearance of his cat that he’d be willing to believe anything to have her back – including that she magically turned into a human.
“I know it sounds crazy, but you’re the spitting image of her. You wouldn’t even have to come up with a credible explanation. All you’d have to do is follow Jumin’s lead and agree with anything he comes up with.”
It sounded too good to be true, but the Defender had been adamant. “Jumin’s a great guy, but losing Elly has pushed him over the edge. He’s a mess without her. His company will be bankrupt soon if he doesn’t snap out of it asap. Trust me, he’ll want to believe.”
Between describing the path you’d have to take to get out of this building and giving you a quick summary of Elizabeth 3rd’s characteristics, there however hadn’t been enough time to discuss how you’d pull off being a cat convincingly, exactly, and the question made you sick to your stomach. This whole charade hinged on the success of your first moments with Jumin after all. Should you throw yourself at his feet and beg forgiveness for ‘running away’? Cower in fear of his anger? Cry? What about after? What behaviour would be credible? Should you be able to talk? Use utensils to eat? Groom yourself with your own tongue?
Before you could come up with answers, the lights suddenly went out with a deafening sound, and you knew there was no time left to worry. Just as the Defender had promised, the cell doors swung open and the basement was engulfed in chaos. Adrenaline buzzed under your skin and propelled you on your feet as shouts of anger and surprise mingled together around you. Hesitating for a millisecond, you whispered a quick apology to your sisters before dashing forward. It broke your heart to leave them behind without even a warning, but Defender had been clear about that: you couldn’t risk getting slowed down and caught.
“Trust me, I know how you feel. I’ve been there. But to protect anyone, you need to survive first. Got it?”
So you ran, using the confusion as a shield. Dodging a first guard, you almost tripped on a fellow slave flailing in the opposite direction. Finding back your footing, you lurched towards the stairs, climbing them four by four. Your heart was hammering in your chest. You could see the door!
A second guard slammed into your right side and your cried out as he slapped your face. Stars of pain exploded in front of your eyes, but you refused to give up. Acting on furious instinct, you thrashed around until your landed a vicious kick in his balls. The guard collapsed over you with a curse and you twisted away from under him, scraping your knees on the marble floor as you scrambled back up. Almost blind with fear, you threw everything in your path behind you to slow your pursuers and raced towards the exit, ramming in the double doors with your entire body to force it open.
The chill of the night prickled your skin like a thousand needles, but you were too pumped to notice. The city lights were gleaming like electric angels, beckoning you to freedom as you did your best to follow the Defender’s instructions to Jumin’s building. Screams and threats were getting closer in your back, whipping you to go faster than what your body could endure. You couldn’t get caught now! You were so close! All that was left was to find Jumin Han, findinghimfindinghimfindinghim—
You didn’t see the black Bentley before it was too late. Agony broke your legs as you collapsed on the boulevard, the car’s harsh headlights pointed on you like a prison’s projector. It was over. You had failed. Desperate pleas bubbled out of you as a man got out of the car and bent over your frame.
“Master, I’m so sorry to have run away from you. Please forgive me! I won’t do it again! I promise! Please don’t hurt me, please! I’ll be good! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
Your overloaded consciousness refused to cooperate any longer and faded to black. All you had time to register was a deep baritone saying “We found her, Driver Kim.”
You were having a nightmare. Men were reaching for you, trapping you, and now they’d punish you, punish you endlessly for having tried to run—
“Master! I’m so sorry!” you shouted as you woke up with a start. Strong hands pushed your shoulders back on the bed and you struggled to resist until you registered what was being said.
“…Shhh, it’s okay. I forgive you, Elizabeth 3rd. Calm down now, my love.”
All at once, the fight left you and you started sobbing in relief. Elizabeth 3rd. You did it. God knows how, but you had escaped and found Jumin Han.
“Yes, that’s better. You recognized my voice, didn’t you? Good girl.”
Opening your eyes, you looked at him through your tears. His handsome features were clouded with an unhinged aura, just as the Defender had said, but it was the fearsome intensity of his black eyes that truly sent your heart racing with elation.
He was a man obsessed, seeing only what he wanted to see. You had no doubt anymore the plan would work.
“I found…you…I’m so…lucky…” you hiccuped with utmost sincerity.
“You did. You came back to me. Now I’ll never let us be apart again” he promised almost ominously. Gentle fingers reached down to caress your cheek, following the path of your tears, and you turned your head to nuzzle at his palm.
Your new life was about to begin.