SHADE (for writelongandprosper)

Yellow for mild swearing and some scenes of a sensitive nature.

To the north, there lies the old lake. South, the mountains. The west of the city is bordered by desert. To the east, there stands a wall.

Myles Lakeman is 18. He is a man, and it is time for him to receive his mission. His mission? Survive the night.
Myles must capture the rebels, conquer the landscape and most importantly, escape the elusive Shades... but along this journey he meets a girl, a girl with a mission of her own: she must find her brother.
Together, they discover that their world is hiding so much more than they once thought: what are the Shades and where do they come from? What are the rebels doing? What is on the other side of the wall?

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8. Chapter 7: Lydia

“I can tell you’re different,” Lydia says, letting a smile play on her lips as she sits at his side, tucking her false leg beneath her. “You look the same, but you move differently. You’re more…. Human.”

He smiles, but she can tell he is uncomfortable. His uniform is stained with blood and dust, his hands cut and shaking in his lap. Lydia knows there is more food tucked into the pack on his belt, and her stomach rumbles hungrily. He looks so defeated, his shoulders sagging and his eyes red with tears.

“Why?” A gunshot echoes across the city and they both flinch. Her chest tightens in fear and she forces herself to breathe, scooting slightly closer to him across the dusty floor and gazing at him until he lifts his head again to look at her. “Why are you different?”

He looks down again, rubbing at the thickened, dark blood oozing from his nose with the back of his hand. “I didn’t realise that I was,” he answered, shifting from his knees to sit with his legs crossed. “Maybe they haven’t finished with me. When we turn eighteen, we’re given a mission to complete. That’s why I’m here- it’s my mission.”

“What’s your mission?”

He shakes his head, pulling his knees towards his chest and wiping his hands on his filthy uniform. “I can’t say. It’s supposed to be confidential.” When he looks up, she is staring into his eyes, examining the point where the metallic circles fuse with the edge of his brown irises. There’s something about the way she looks at him that forces the words to spill quickly from his lips. “I have to find a rebel and take them back to base- that’s what everyone has to do. What’s your story, anyway? What happened to your leg?”

This time, it’s Lydia who lets her gaze fall. She fingers the edge of the straps, her mouth opening and closing as she wonders how to phrase her response. “The monsters took it, just like they took my mother.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t remember,” She shrugs and lifts her arm awkwardly to rub against a sudden itch on her shoulder, her eyes looking anywhere but at him. “My father always said she gave herself to save me, but I almost died anyway. My whole family gave themselves to protect me, and now they’re all gone. My father was killed by people like you. My brother too, I guess.” She pauses, her mouth half-open as the realisation hits her. “He was taken. Do you think he could still be alive?”

 “I don’t know,” His voice is quiet, muted by the dust collecting in his throat. He coughs, a low beeping noise emanating from beneath his uniform. “I’m sorry.”

“They took him. He set out like he always did, just after dawn, and they shot him and took him with them.” She falls quiet, her eyes travelling up through the hole in the ceiling and resting on the stars. All of a sudden, she misses the relative comfort of her mattress, the familiarity of the four crumbling walls she calls home.

They sit in silence for a while, hundreds of questions and answers resting unspoken between them. Eventually, Myles lies down against the dusty concrete, his back pressing against the uneven floor as his eyes drift shut against the stars twinkling high above. Lydia watches his chest rise and fall, her mind running through a hundred different ways she could handle the situation. Should she steal his gun and take off into the night? They’d find her, she knew they would. Instead she sits still, her limbs aching from a day of running. When she is sure he has fallen asleep, she unhooks the small white bag from his belt and opens it in her lap.

It contains more of the protein bars and a bottle of water, clearer than she’s seen in years. She cracks open the lid and lets the pure liquid flood her mouth, gasping in relief as it clears the dust caking her throat. She digs out another protein bar and rips open the foil, shoving bite after bite of nuts and seeds into her mouth and washing it down with the rest of the water.

A loud bang sounds somewhere below and Lydia freezes, her eyes wide with fear. Myles jumps to his feet and grabs his gun, holding it tight with both hands. Lydia tenses, stumbling upwards and pressing her back against the wall, the LIFEPAK falling from her hands. The blanket has slipped from her shoulders, and she holds the limp fabric in one clenched fist as she eyes the weapon.

The sky above has started to turn yellow with dawn, and Myles’ heart beats furiously in his chest. His hands sweat with anxiety, his eyes glinting in the golden light. “I have to go,” He whispers, his knees weak.

“Take me.”

“What?”

“Take me. If they took him, then he might still be alive. I have to find him.”

“You’d give yourself up to find him?” Myles asks, his voice rising in incredulity. “Why?”

“Because I love him,” she chokes, letting the blanket fall to the floor. “I need to find him, and you can help me. Besides,” she adds, almost as an afterthought, “it’s not like anyone will miss me.”

“Just go, Lydia. I’m not going to take you back with me. I don’t even know what would happen to you if I did that- what they do to the rebels we bring back.”

“Rebels?”

“They think… they think that anyone who is outside after dark is out for a reason. Like, they have a purpose or they’re planning something or doing something that they want to hide. My job- the soldiers’ job- is to stop them.”

“Just do it. If you don’t take someone back, you’ll fail, right?”

He nods, but the tranquiliser gun remains dangling at his side.

“Will it hurt?”

“I’m not shooting you, Lydia. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“How do you know? You don’t know me.”

“Trust me, I’m not qualified to judge people on whether what they’ve done is right or not.” The image of the man lying in the alley leaps back into his mind and he flinches, letting his tired eyes droop closed for a second. “What if they kill you? If they can’t use you, or they find out you’re not a rebel… one of us is going to end up getting hurt.”

“I’ll take that chance, Myles. Have you ever lost someone?”

“My mother.”

“What happened to her?”

Myles shakes his head. “I don’t know. One day she was there and the next she was gone. Nobody told me what happened. My father would avoid answering and then wouldn’t speak to me for weeks, so I eventually stopped asking.”

“But you know how it feels, right? That emptiness in your chest, the feeling that something isn’t right. Please. I need to find the answer. Even if he’s dead- I have to know.”

He knows. Sighing, he lifts the gun, and she closes her eyes as she waits for the bullet to collide with her body. She wonders where it will hit- her stomach, her chest, her head? Her brother had been hit in the back and dragged down the street, his dignity removed alongside his life. Her father was shot in the head, his green eyes so similar to her own turning blank as a trickle of blood seeped from the hole in his scalp and pooled onto the floor.

She and Owen had been forced to move his body themselves while the rest of the city looked on, their eyes unseeing to the pain of the siblings as they carried the limp form of their deceased father between them. At least the soldiers had taken Owen with them, she had thought, not long after he vanished. This way she could at least kid herself that he was still alive, or convince herself that even if he was dead, at least she didn’t have to drag him up to the lake bed and bury him by herself.

A chill runs up her spine, shaking her whole body as she remembers the awful stench of the pit where they had buried their father. They had worked together, kneeling in the soft earth of the lake bed to paw away at the dirt with their bare hands until they had dug a hole big enough to roll their father into. They pushed the earth back over him, trying to ignore the way his cold, dead eyes begged for mercy, desperate not to think of the terror he must have endured in his final few seconds. Even though she had barely turned thirteen, she had witnessed enough death to know that the stench filling her lungs was the smell of a hundred rotting bodies buried just below the surface of the earth they dug in.

“Myles, just shoot me already.” She says, squeezing her eyes shut until lights dance in the darkness of her vision.

He runs his finger along the trigger and breathes in, like Bandit had told him to do. “Whatever happens to you, just remember,” he says, too aware of time quickly ticking by, “I didn’t want to do this. This isn’t my fault. Promise you won’t blame me.”

When she speaks again, her voice is little more than a whisper. “I promise.”

He takes another breath, positions his finger on the trigger and exhales slowly, closing his eyes as he presses down. The dart whistles as it escapes the end of the gun, the needle burying itself in Lydia’s thigh. “Ow.” She hisses, opening her eyes and glaring at him. “You said it wouldn’t hurt.”

But before he can retaliate, she stumbles, falling to her side on the floor. Myles throws his gun over his shoulder and lifts her up, cradling her in his arms as he moves towards a gap in the crumbling wall. The street swims below him, illuminated in the golden morning light, and he holds his breath as he jumps onto the cracked pavement, almost dropping Lydia’s unconscious form as he lands.

She is too light in his arms, too easy to carry back towards City Hall. He is halfway there before he realises that his LIFEPAK is missing, but he can’t help but admire her guts. Bravery or stupidity?, he wonders as he steps past the first few citizens who have risen from their beds to queue for supplies. The two guards flanking the doors raise their guns and point them at the crowd to allow him to step through into the too-bright artificial light of the atrium, Lydia’s tagged wrist and chocolate-stained fingers flopping aimlessly over his shoulder.

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