Silent

In a dystopian reality where music is everything, the world is ruled by a Council of corrupt dictators. The greatest punishment possible, reserved for only the worst of criminals, is called Silencing. But one Silent proves that, even if he is a outcast, shunned from society, he still has a voice.

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2. Chapter 1: Shade

            Something tugged at his memory. More like the memory of a memory, but still. It was there, calling to him, begging him to remember. A song, the lyrics lost, but the tune remaining. He hummed it to himself, trying to jog something.

            A hand cracked across his face, startling him to silence. “Don’t you ever, ever sing that again. Do you hear me?” His mother rushed across the room and looked through the open window, then quickly swung it shut. Shade Riat watched her angrily, his cheek starting to burn. His mother’s arm was strong, made so by years of punishing disobedience. As the local Enforcer, it was her duty to discipline law-breakers.

            “I don’t believe it, here in my own home. Listen, Boy, you cannot know that song, or even the tune of it.” Ah, yes, now Shade remembered. It was the revolutionists’ song. But hadn’t they been exterminated? All the members had been either killed or – Shade shuddered even thinking about it – Silenced. What could the Council have to fear from them now?

            Shade brushed his unruly blonde hair back from his face impatiently as he rose from the table. Angrily, he pushed his way out of the small kitchen and up the stairs. Because of his mother’s position, they were better off than most. Their home had two floors, the lower one taken completely by the tiny kitchen and a small entertaining area, and the upper devoted to bedrooms. They were more like closets.

            He shoved the fourth on the left open and slammed it shut behind him. Collapsing onto the bed – the only piece of furniture worthy of note in the room – Shade grabbed the little book he kept in his pocket at all times. It had been Ghost’s, before he was caught. Now, it was Shade’s. The only legacy his brother had left him.

            “I will find you. I swear, I will. And together, we can bring them all down.” It was a lie. Or, actually, it was two lies. Shade would never find his elder brother, just as they would never overthrow the Council. It just wasn’t possible.

            Shade flipped the key – dangling on its metal chain – out of the collar of his shirt and unlocked the book. He turned through the pages, until he found the one he wanted. “The Song of Rebirth” was the title at the top. It was really less a song, more a four-line chant. “Let the sky blaze with fire, let the morn dawn red! In the name of freedom, blood will be shed!”

            Gloria Riat had hidden her middle son’s placement in the rebellion from everyone. Or, at least, everyone outside the Council. She had tuned Ghost in herself. Now, almost three years later, Shade didn’t know if he was even alive. Although, if he was alive, it meant he had been Silenced. Shade thought that Ghost would rather have died. He knew he would.

            Shade struggled against the tears that threatened to spill whenever he thought of his lost brother. Because Ghost had been five years older, he had been Shade’s protector when needed, and his friend always. “She said you would be set free again. That you would come home. But you never did. Why didn’t you come back for me?” The questions poured out, as Shade, looking at that little songbook, imagined Ghost coming back.

            What would Ghost say, if he came home? Or, Shade amended, what would he want to say? He would ask why I just sat here, crying like a child, Shade thought. He would have asked why I didn’t continue on in his place. Shade’s vocal range wasn’t nearly as broad as Ghost’s, and, at only seventeen, it was higher. But he could still sing the song.

            “I just have to find them,” Shade mumbled to the book as he snapped it closed and relocked it. Grabbing a jacket – another of the spoils of his mother’s government position – he snuck back downstairs as quickly as he could. His mother, busy fretting over a pile of documents, didn’t even notice.

            They will be somewhere hidden, somewhere where the Watchers cannot see them. Underground, probably, so that the sound doesn’t carry. Shade didn’t doubt for a second that the revolution lived. The Council had had it broadcast that they had all been killed, but everyone knew that was a lie. More and more young men were constantly joining their ranks. All of them, victims of the Council’s – or their underlings’ – cruelty.

            It came to Shade in a stroke of luck. He was wandering around the city, walking slowly through the dirty, crowded streets, around piles of old garbage, between collapsing buildings. Everywhere he looked, filthy people scurried, their eyes revealing their terror.

            Terror? No, then. They wouldn’t build here. The people would give them up in a second. No, they must have built in the Old City. That was where the rich and well-placed lived. Right under the Council’s nose. Ghost would have laughed. But, it was the smartest place, as Watchers were fewer in the rich districts. After all, when the people are rich, full, and happy, why worry about them rebelling?

            The Old City was separated from the New City by a river. It was, in and of itself, a small island. The only ways across were four bridges, built at the compass points and guarded by massive gates. Shade headed for the Eastern Bridge, as it was closest. Only when he arrived did he remember why he hated the East End.

            This was where prisoners were punished. As it was midday, the crowds were thick, watching the sport. Shade paused to see who it was this time. Some of his friends had been caught before, stealing food for their families, and he had been forced to watch. They had both survived – barely – but they were scarred terribly. It was one of those reasons he hated his mother, hated the Watchers, hated the Council, hated them all.

            Shade managed to wriggle through the closely packed bodies to the front. He was very thin, so it was easy. Inglorius, he thought, with all his bulky muscle, would have had to push and shove. Although, considering that Inglorius was training to replace their mother, Shade thought he wouldn’t have had much of a problem with that.

            There were three people in the square today. Two – a girl who looked about fifteen, with the pale skin and protruding bones that marked her as an East Ender, and a boy who looked about twelve, with similar features, probably her brother – were chained to poles, awaiting their turns. The third, a boy who looked about Shade’s age and was clearly not related to the others, with his striking black hair and golden-brown eyes, was being flogged. His control was surprising. He didn’t cry out once, even when the small pieces of sharpened bone placed at intervals on the whip tore great chunks from his back. The girl was crying, whether for herself, or her brother, or the other boy, Shade didn’t know.

            He made himself stay, made himself watch. This was his future, if he joined the resistance. They didn’t say, but somehow Shade knew that was why this boy was being punished. Suppressing an internal shiver, he looked across the clearing at the crowd on the other side. Any doubt he had that the boy was resistance was instantly obliterated. Dotting the crowd were about a dozen young men, some clearly struggling to restrain their anger. One near the front, who looked shockingly similar to the boy, was visibly shaking.

            Looking around him, Shade realized that his side was also similarly infiltrated. Huh, he hadn’t even noticed. Finally, it was over. The young girl and her brother were given light punishments and sent home, but the revolutionist was locked, still bleeding heavily and barely conscious, in a metal cage that hung in the center of the clearing.

            When it was over, the crowd thinned. Shade knew it would never clear completely: some would stay to torment the boy, and he had a feeling that some of the youths would remain to stop them. Sure enough, within minutes, a group of children from the Old City – recognizable by their rich, clean clothing – started throwing stones. Most went wide or bounced harmlessly off the metal bars of the cage, but a few flew true, eliciting whimpers from the boy.

            The children didn’t see Shade until he was right behind them. The oldest boy – definitely the leader of the pack – was just raising his hand to throw again when Shade grabbed his wrist. He looked around quickly, but no one was watching. Except the boy in the cage, but Shade wasn’t sure how much he could see, what with blood dripping from a gash in his forehead into his eyes.

            “Listen kid. You throw that and, Watchers or not, I will smash your skull in.” If the boy had been older, Shade wouldn’t have dared make the threat, but ten-year-olds were gullible. Sure enough, the child’s face paled, his eyes went wide, and he dropped the stone.

            “He’s bluffing, Cedric. My father says that all the people here are terrified of the Council. He wouldn’t dare hurt us.” Damn, the little girl was smart, and she knew it. Shade wasn’t sure, but when he glanced back at the cage, he thought he saw the revolutionist smile. It wasn’t a friendly smile.

            He turned back to the children quickly. Already, one of the bolder ones had found another stone and two of the smallest were running across the clearing to retrieve more. Shade gave the boy a warning glare, but it didn’t matter. With a contemptuous flick, the rock sailed through the air in a perfect arc. The revolutionist gasped as it thudded into his ribs, leaving a bloody furrow.

            Something in Shade snapped then. He wasn’t sure what it was – his mind? His control? His sanity? His patience? But without thinking, he had released Cedric, and, taking the other boy’s throwing arm in his hands, brought it down across his knee. With a sickening cracking sound, the child’s arm snapped.

            The boy screamed, all the children cried. The girl who had spoken looked sick. “Now you know how he feels. So, next time you want entertainment, get it somewhere else.” Shade felt nauseous himself as he watched the children run shrieking across the bridge. Now everyone was staring. He addressed himself to the rich-looking couple across the clearing. “Let the morn dawn red.” The man seemed to choke, and the woman fainted. So they did know the song.

            “Kid, make any bigger fool of yourself, even the Silents will start laughing,” Shade tuned and saw the man he had thought was related to the caged boy. “You want to get us all killed?”

            “I don’t care. Although, you should. Why didn’t you stop them yourself?”

            The man smiled. Close up, Shade thought he must have been in his early twenties. “My brother can handle some kids. It’ll do him good; he needs to stop taking stupid risks. Something, I might add, that you should do also.” The man looked around, and Shade followed his gaze. The clearing was completely empty. Those who had stared to watch the boy’s pain had fled, and, along with them, the Watchers. Reporting the lunatic rebel, no doubt.

            “Ah, come on Grey, ease up on the kid. And let me out of here; my leg’s cramping.” Shade was startled to realize that it was the boy in the cage. His voice sounded so normal, without even a hint of strain. He could be lying in bed, discussing the weather, rather than bleeding and imprisoned, waiting to die.

            Grey mumbled something that sounded a lot like “Damnedest little shit, isn’t he?” Shade nodded, even though Grey was obviously talking to himself. They walked swiftly to the cage and Grey, producing a set of pins, picked the lock expertly. The boy climbed stiffly from the small space and fell to the pavement with a cry. It was the first time Shade had heard him acknowledge pain.

            “Come on, Jay, we’ve got to go,” Grey said, pulling his brother up again. Jay, pale and shaking, leaned on the bigger man as they started walking away.

            “Wait!” Shade called. They were walking away from the bridge. “I thought-”

            “Yes, we know, you thought we would be in Old City. But, if it’s that easy for some stupid teenager to guess, why would we actually be there?” Grey sighed and, glancing at his brother’s smiling face, motioned for Shade to join them. “Come on, kid, you deserve at least that before you die.”

            Shade swallowed and followed wordlessly. They wound slowly through the slums, pausing every few streets for Jay to get his breath. The first time they stopped, Shade couldn’t help but look at his back. The remaining flesh was red and swollen, but most had been stripped away. The lash marks stood out clearly against his skin.

            Jay was shivering in the cool air. Shade, with a twinge of guilt, pulled his jacket – brown leather, a relic from before the Council – off and gave it to the boy. Jay smiled gratefully, but didn’t say anything. His breath was coming in gasps now, chest rising and falling rapidly. Face screwed against the pain, he shrugged his arms through the worn sleeves, and gasped as the cloth hit his back. Grey silently helped him zip it up, and then they were moving again. After a few streets, Jay was clearly exhausted. Shade shrugged the boy’s other arm over his shoulder and helped Grey drag him.

            They didn’t have to go far, but with the winding, random path they traveled, it took almost an hour to find the inn. It wasn’t much to look at, what with its crumbling, rotten wood boards and broken windows papered over. As they went around to the back, Shade saw numerous rats scurrying through the garbage.

            Grey knocked on the kitchen door, three raps, pause, four, pause, two. A moment later, it opened a crack, showing one grey eye. “Grey? ‘s that you?” The voice was young, feminine, high. Like a wind-chime.

            “Yeah, Wren, and Jay too. He’s hurt bad, we need your help.”

            The girl drew back and closed the door. Shade was about to protest, but Grey motioned him to silence. A moment later, the door swung all the way open. Shade helped Grey pull his brother in. A pretty, young girl with brown hair and grey eyes watched them sadly. As soon as she saw Shade, she gasped, and an old woman in the kitchen reached for her butchering knife.

            “Hey Wren… my friend here…needs a place to…stay for…few days….Can you…help?” Jay’s voice was strained and breathless, his jaw clenched. Tears trickled down Wren’s face. She likes him, Shade realized suddenly. No, more than like. She loves Jay. It did fit. Wren looked about  eighteen, Jay nineteen. Maybe they were together.

            “Get him upstairs, Grey.” It was the old woman, who had put down the knife. She led them up the rickety steps with a lantern. No one in the New City could afford those electric lights the Old City had. Opening a door, she showed them into a bedroom. It was sparsely furnished, but much cleaner than Shade would have thought. And, he realized, it was about three times bigger than his bedroom.

            “You’re going to be ok now, Jay. I promise, you’re going to be fine.” Wren’s voice was soothing, comforting, as Shade and Grey settled him onto the bed. It was strange that now, talking to Jay, her slurred accent was gone. Every time they moved him, he groaned and winced. After he was lying flat on his stomach, Grey removed Shade’s jacket, now soaked in blood.

            When she saw the ruins of Jay’s back, Wren went pale and shoved her fist into her mouth to stifle her shriek. Tears were spilling quickly now, splashing onto Jay’s arm. Shade thought he was unconscious, but then he reached out and took her hand.

            Feeling like an outsider, Shade retreated back into the hallway and sank to the ground against the wall. He put his head in his hands and tried to forget what he had done. It had been so easy, so so easy. Just a little pressure, and the bone had broken. Just like that, one thought, and it was done.

            “Let the morn dawn red, huh kid? What was that about? You didn’t have to help him.” Grey’s voice brought Shade’s head whipping up. Damn, how many times would he be caught unaware by the same man today?

            Grey sat down next to Shade and just looked at him, waiting for an answer. “I guess I just snapped.” Shade swallowed, unwilling to continue, but wishing he could. Just to have someone know it all. “I had a brother, but he’s dead. And I saw Jay, and thought: What if this is how Ghost died? And then I couldn’t just stand there. I couldn’t just be an observer, watching idly as he was tormented. I just… acted. It just happened.”

            “Kid, nothing ‘just happens.’ If you weren’t going to watch, why were you there?”

            Shade smiled a little. “I’m going to sing my brother’s song. He deserves that much, at least. I will finish what he started. I will be his voice.” Shade looked at Grey, waiting for the man to laugh. After all, he was just a kid, doing something stupid on a whim.

            But Grey didn’t laugh. He was watching Shade with an unreadable expression. “How old are you, kid?”

            “Seventeen,” Shade answered instantly, without thinking about the question.

            “Crap. Well, we don’t take minors. If you’re still alive in a year, come back then.” Grey moved as if to stand. Without thinking, Shade grabbed him.

            “You can’t! Please, I need this! I can’t go back, can’t handle it anymore! Please?” pleaded Shade, in a small voice. He could feel his eyes watering.

            “Grey, leave off the kid. Besides, you owe him.” It was Wren, closing the door softly behind her. Her face was red, but she seemed in control now. She turned to Shade. “Kid, your brother was the best of us. He knew us all. If he’d talked, we’d be dead now. I don’t know what they did to him, and frankly I don’t want to know, but we owe him everything.”

            Shade just looked at her. “You knew Ghost? Wait, you’re in the resistance? But you’re a girl!” Grey smiled openly at his disbelief, as did Wren.

            “We aren’t picky. Although, Grey’s right. We don’t usually take minors, but, for Ghost, we could make an exception. But you need to be sure, kid. After this, there’s no going back.”

            Shade thought for a minute, then stuck his hand out to Grey. The man took it with a smile. “I’m Grey,” he said.

            “Shade Riat.”

            “No, Shade. You’re not a Riat anymore.” Shade didn’t know how to respond to that.

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