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.


4. Chapter 3: Shade

            Jay had been getting better slowly. After a week, Grey said he was out of danger, but still needed time. He hadn’t gotten out of bed yet, hadn’t eaten much, hadn’t been conscious more than a few hours at a time. Shade sat in his room most days. He wasn’t allowed to go outside until the rumors of his escapade slowed down. So far, they hadn’t.

            “Shade.” Jay’s voice brought the boy’s head whipping up. Ghost’s songbook still in hand, he scrambled toward the bed. Talking with Jay was one of the only things keeping Shade sane now, so he was eager to take the opportunity. “Shade, did your brother give you that?” Jay asked, pointing at the book.

            “Yeah, why? You want to see it?”

            “Did he give you the key?” Jay’s eyes were intense, burning with an inner fire. Shade felt his friend’s forehead, but the boy didn’t have a fever. When Shade nodded, Jay seemed to brighten. “Give it to me.”

            Shade didn’t know what he disliked about the command, but he was struck by reluctance. The key was his. Ghost had given it to him, not to Jay. “Why?”

            “We all have a book. It’s like our flag, if you want to think of it that way. They all have keys. Mine’s on the table. Grab it, would you?” Shade took Jay’s key and held it out to him, but Jay shook his head. “Keep it. Give me yours.”

            Shade slipped the chain over his head and reluctantly handed it to the boy. Jay smiled instantly, his face clearing. Something inside Shade changed at that moment too. It was like a corner of his mind that he hadn’t known existed was suddenly filled with light. He looked at Jay, and it seemed like he could see more in his eyes, in his expression. “That, Shade, is a bond. You’re my Song-Brother now. This way, if they catch me, they can’t open my book. And vice versa. If they catch you, your book’s safe. The only way to get my key is to find you, but they won’t know exactly who has it, so they never will.”

            Shade smiled. It really was brilliant in its simplicity. He wondered why Ghost had never given away his key.  “Hey, Jay, isn’t this kind of a big commitment? I mean, I’m touched, but I’m just a dumb kid, and everyone says I’ll be dead soon anyways. ‘Anonymity is what keeps us safe. You have announced yourself to the world.’ And all that?”

            Jay smiled. “That’s just Grey trying to scare you. The only one who cares about you now is that one kid’s father, but he isn’t high ranked. All the East Enders think you’re a hero. You’re a living banner, Shade. That’s part of the reason Grey took you in.”

            “If I was a banner then Grey would want people to see me. Instead, I’ve been stuck in here for a week. I’m dying of sun-deprivation.” Shade could hear the petulance in his voice, that whining tone that children used. It made Jay smile again, but then he was totally serious once more.

            “Because, Shade,” Jay said gravely, “the Council’s cracking down on the New City. There are more Watchers here, even some we don’t know about, now. And about twice as many Enforcers. They hired more out of the city, and brought them in from the country. It’s bad out there.”

            It was strange that Jay always knew more about the goings on outside than Shade did. Jay had been in bed for a week, after all, and at least Shade could walk around the halls and kitchen, if not the front room. “What do you mean, bad? Jay, is this all because of me?”

            “No, of course not!” Jay sounded outraged. “This is all thanks to yours-truly’s miraculous escape. And,” he amended, “the fact that they found one of our bases. Seven dead, at least a dozen others evacuated. We got hit hard. They impaled one body at each gate, then put the other three at the dock.”

            Both of them were silent for a minute, mourning the dead. And, Shade admitted, thanking God that they hadn’t been the ones found. Jay would never have escaped, and Shade didn’t think his chances were much better.

            The silence was interrupted by the door slamming open. Grey stormed in, looking upset, as usual. “Shade, the Riat Enforcer is searching for you. You’ve got to go home, or she might find this place.” He left unsaid that “the Riat Enforcer” was Shade’s mother. “Tell her that you stayed with friends, make something up, I don’t care, but you’ve got to make her call off the search.”

            Shade packed his new clothes – really some of Jay’s old ones that weren’t too big – and his few other possessions into a bundle and departed hastily. Hanging his head and hurrying, he hoped he looked enough like one of the other East Enders that no one would bother looking twice. Of course, when he got home, that was a different matter entirely.

            “Shade Riat, you little bastard! Do you know how worried we’ve been? Well? How could you run off like that – for an entire week! – and not tell me where you were?” Well, his mother was certainly furious. Inglorius was grinning behind her back, but Shade wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

            “I was staying at a friend’s. You know,” he waived his arm vaguely as he spoke. “cooling off.”

            “And you didn’t tell me before you went because?”

            “Well, the last conversation we had didn’t go that well, if you remember. I think it had something to do with me humming, and then I got a nice hand print.” Well, at least his mother had the decency to blush at that. She really did let her temper get away with her at times, and she knew it. “So, I stayed with a friend for a few days. I was only going to stay one or two, but then just got caught up.”

            The lie went pretty well. His mother yelled for a time, threatened to ground him as if that was so terrible, and sent him to his room. All in all, Shade thought he handled it nicely. When his clothes were put away and he was stretched out on his bed, he realized how close it had really been. Only his mother’s guilt had stopped her from questioning the story further.

            For days, he obediently lived a normal life. He did everything his mother asked, working his way back into her good graces. Then, finally, she seemed to trust him again. Shade knew he was clear when she left her papers on the table one night. Very carefully, wary of making any sound, Shade looked through the cases. Two under-aged prostitutes caught at a brothel; fine. A dealer of dream-weed finally found; fine and imprisonment. And, at the bottom of the stack, the order he was looking for. Revolutionist, caught spreading discontent. Reliable witnesses, evidence. Punishment: seventy lashes and death. Name: Lyer.

            Immediately, Shade wrote Grey a message, warning him. He left it under a loose paving stone by the corner, their agreed hiding place. The next day, Shade’s mother was frantic. A prisoner she had ordered executed had escaped custody on the eve of his death, and the Council was furious.

            That week’s food ration came rancid and inedible. After seven days of hunger and desperation, another stack of files came. Again, Shade read through them and alerted Grey. This time, though, the Council demoted Shade’s mother. The blow was devastating to her, and Shade felt guilty for causing her pain, even as he moved to do it again. Finally, days later, Shade met up with Grey in person. “You did well, kid. Those men owe you their lives.” But even praise couldn’t temper Shade’s guilt. He had saved strangers’ lives, true, but at what cost to his family? No. It didn’t matter. The resistance was everything.

            “Hey Grey, I’ve got a question. Why did you take me, even though I’m too young? It was because of her wasn’t it? Because my mother is an Enforcer?”

            Grey nodded. “But that’s not it, Shade. If it was, I could have taken any Enforcer’s son. You’re different. You care more about fighting back than about yourself, or your family, or anything. I think that you have the ability to be great, kid. Stick this out, and not even the Council themselves can Silence you.”

            But Ghost had been great. His voice had been stronger than anyone’s. And he was dead, with just a word from the Council.

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