Number 7 hummed tunelessly as she wandered through the halls of Heartfilia manor. Her voice echoed off the bare walls and floors making it seem like there were others humming with her. There weren’t, the others had gone their separate ways a long while back. Not that it mattered. If the others were there it would all sound the same regardless.
They didn’t have any lessons at the moment and Lord Heartfilia had given permission for them to do what they wanted; so long as they didn’t leave the manor at least. They never left the manor. Leaving was grounds for being disposed of and that was something Number 7 didn’t want to happen. Not to her. Not to any of the other five either.
The only one, other than Lord Heartfilia, who could leave was Miss Layla. However, Number 7 knew that was because there was only one Miss Layla. She couldn’t be replaced, she couldn’t be disposed of. Miss Layla was unique. Not like Number 7. She was not unique, she was disposable.
She was told that she was the seventh out of ten, though Numbers 1, 2, 6 and 9 had never woken up, so instead she was the seventh out of six. She supposed it wasn’t so bad. Number 10 probably had it worse, being tenth of six. Not that Number 10 complained. None of them ever complained. Complaining meant being defective, which was not something any of them wanted to be.
That’s what Miss Layla told them. She said if they had anything to say, to say it to her unless it was a direct question from Lord Heartfilia with regards to their lessons.
Her humming ended along with the movement of her feet as Number 7 stopped in front of the only piece of decoration in the Heartfilia manor. It was a perfectly preserved, life sized portrait of Lord Heartfilia, his wife and their daughter. The four year old in the painting was a mirror image to the four year old looking up at it.
Number 7 had only seen this picture twice before in her young life. Both times she never knew what to feel. She still didn’t. Miss Layla had given Number 8 a dictionary once. Number 7 hadn’t had the chance to try to read it yet; Number 8 didn’t like to share. Number 7 thought that if she could read it, she’d be able to figure out just what it was she felt when looking at the picture of their original.
More footsteps echoed down the hall. They were louder than hers had been, but not the great big booming noise that meant Lord Heartfilia was on his way. Number 7 grinned and turned.
“Hello Miss Layla.”
She got a small smile in return, “hello my little lucky number.” She knelt beside the smaller blonde and placed a gentle hand on her head. “Are you ready for the next lesson?”
“Maybe. What is it?”
The small smile widened. “Why, writing of course!”
Miss Layla giggled at Number 7’s pout. “Don’t worry, it’ll be over before you know it. Although…”
Number 7 looked up at the suddenly thoughtful adult. Miss Layla’s lips were pursed and her pointer finger was tapping her chin. “Yes?”
“If you’re really very good for this lesson, and if you try your best…I might be able to give you a treat!”
“Really!?” Treats were a rare thing, though they could be just about anything- like the dictionary that Number 8 was supposed to share. However gaining a treat was a difficult thing. Especially with regards to lessons. Number 4 hated their handwriting lessons almost as much as Number 7 did. It’d be hard to convince her to be good. If they weren’t all good, then they were all bad; that was the rule that Lord Heartfilia passed down. “What kind of treat?”
“Mm…it’s a surprise!”
“A surprise?” she practically danced in place. Number 7 hoped that she could convince the others to behave. A surprise could mean anything, though Number 7 wanted it to be a story. Those were one of her favorite treats. Though Number 4 hated them, she always said that stories were one big lie, and Number 3 hated anything that didn’t have to do with stars.
Miss Layla giggled again before standing and holding out her hand for Number 7 to take. She eagerly grabbed it and together they went back down the corridor to where their lessons would be.
As they walked, the small child peeked up at the older woman. She took in the others long golden hair as well as her soft and kind face. Number 7 couldn’t help but think that Miss Layla was very pretty. Which was good, it meant she’d be pretty when she grew up as well.
By the time they were halfway to the classrooms Number 7 noticed something, or rather a lack of something.
“Where’s your keys?”
She gave a gentle smile. “Aquarius wanted to travel for a bit, so I lent her to a friend. Capricorn is looking after a student of mine. As for Cancer…” She held up the clawed key with a wink. “He wanted to stay and look after everyone’s hair.”
Number 7 giggled, “will we be able to see him later?”
Miss Layla’s face fell slightly. “Maybe.”
“Miss Layla?” The older woman was frowning and her eyes were sad. It reminded of the time when she and the others had asked her how Miss Layla had become unique and irreplaceable.
Miss Layla suddenly smiled again, though it wasn’t as happy as the one she had before. “Sorry, today isn’t the best day.” Number 7 nodded. Miss Layla couldn’t do magic all the time, there were some good days- it was how she and the others had met Miss Layla’s three Zodiacs- however some days were also bad. Miss Layla wasn’t in bed today, so while it wasn’t a bad day, it wasn’t a good enough one for her do use magic.
Miss Layla squeezed her hand slightly. “Who knows, perhaps you’ll be the one to summon him next time.”
Number 7 nodded, “Number 5 will.” Number 5 was the best with regards to magic, though she didn’t particularly care much for celestial spirits.
Miss Layla gave a hum. “Or you could, lucky Number 7.”
“But I’m the worst at magic.” It was true, of their group, though they were made identical, she was the worst at gathering and using her magic. Number 7 would even say that she had the least amount to use even if such a claim didn’t make sense.
“You love my spirits don’t you?”
“Of course!” It wasn’t even a question that she loved the stellar spirits. On Miss Layla’s good days Number 7 would spend hours playing with their uncle Cap, or swimming with Aquarius or letting Cancer do whatever with her hair. Whatever spirit was out, she would stay with them for the longest, even long after the others lost interest. Not even the promise of a new story would draw her away from them.
Though now that she thought about it, she wouldn’t see Uncle Cap or Aquarius anymore. She swallowed past a sudden lump in her throat. “Miss Layla?”
“Wi-Will I see them again? Aquaris and Uncle Cap?”
Miss Layla chuckled. “Aquarius would drown you if you said her name like that to her face,” she muttered before speaking louder. “Don’t worry, they’re only going to be gone for a little while.”
The little girl pouted. “But-” she cut herself off. They had arrived at the classroom and Lord Heartfilia was standing at the door. He was holding the hand of one of the other girls. At a glance, Number 7 couldn’t tell which one she was. They were, after all, all identical.
Both Number 7 and Miss Layla gave a small bow. “Lord Heartfilia, what can we do for you?” Miss Layla let go of Number 7’s hand as she spoke. Neither of them looked Lord Heartfilia in the eye. You were never supposed to look at his face, much less make eye contact.
“I am taking Lucy Number 4.” His voice was flat and monotone, as always. Number 4 seemed to be doing her best to keep her face blank as Lord Heartfilia then started to walk away, taking her with him.
“Ah!” Miss Layla reached her hand out to Lord Heartfilia, as if to stop him. “When will she be returned, my Lord?”
He paused to look at Layla from the corner of his eye. “When the experiment is finished.” With that said he began walking once more.
Number 4 looked back at them, her face was pale as they turned a corner.
“Miss Layla?” Number 7 questioned as Miss Layla shuffled her into the room. All the other ones were there already, all of them looked as scared as Number 7 felt. “Is Number 4 going to be okay?” Almost as one they all looked to Miss Layla for the answer.
The woman sighed. “Lucy Number 4 was taken for Lord Heartfilia to experiment on. This wasn’t so uncommon before the…accident…” She paused for a moment, inhaling sharply to steady herself. She always got this way when she spoke of the event that happened before their generation had been made; the event that wiped out the 51st, 52nd, 53rd, and 54th generations. Miss Layla was the only one to survive, though whatever happened had also left her sick.
The girls stayed quiet and let her recover. After taking one last breath she started speaking again. “Lord Heartfilia will likely bring her back. However there is a good chance she will be sore from the experiment, so please, be kind and patient to her if -when- she returns.” Miss Layla clapped her hands gestured to the chairs and desks scattered about. “Now, take your seats, it’s time for today’s worksheet.”
Though Number 7 diligently went to her seat, her heart wasn’t in the lesson. It wasn’t likely they’d get the surprise, but she couldn’t bring herself to care too much at the moment. Her mind was on Number 4 and what Miss Layla had said before she corrected herself. What was Lord Heartfilia going to do to Number 4? Why did Miss Layla say if, and what did she mean by it? Was Number 4 going to be okay? Would Number 7 ever see her again?