Our Dark Lies

Olyxe “Ash” Heregale is not to be messed with. She lives for violence, laughs in the face of danger. She’s driven by a rage so bright and fierce, it’s not wonder she does so many stupid things.

Freeing the prisoners of Isolation, a place haunted by living and dead alike, perhaps the most stupid of all.

With a handful of people like her, Cursed and misfits, she will either change Haven forever or bring the demise of all her kind.

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Author's note

I don’t really know what genre this fits in. It’s a bit sci-fi, with a good dose of dystopia and apocalyptic, and intermingled fantasy and supernatural. Also, a healthy amount of violence and strong women beating up bad people.
AA

13. Delay

Chapter XII

~ Delay ~

“The darkness grows increasingly heavy.”

 

 

“What’s taking so long?” Kissija calls, from where she sits perched on a pile of boxes. I search through a similar pile now, trying to remember where I stashed all of my mother’s medical creations. I don’t bother to answer, focusing wholeheartedly on the search and not on Kissija as she pesters me about hurrying up. 

I finally find the box full of glass vials and jars with tight lids, and tuck it under my arm before rejoining Kissija. 

“Here we go,” I boast, searching lazily through the mess before finally coming up with a jar full with a chalky, blue-grey paste. “This is it. There’s a couple other things in there too, but we’ll get to those later.” 

I set the box down on the floor, waving at the glass bulbs and their bioluminescent contents in order to shed more light on her injuries. Her back is my main concern. I disinfect the wounds with the ancient bottle of Fru my mother had used on me, claiming a chemical in the beverage that made people intoxicated would also kill the bacteria festering inside the cuts. 

Once the scrapes and scratches are relatively clean, I set to work with caking them in the salve. Kissija flinches a couple times, as I spread the cold paste all over her injured back. Her slender shoulders tremble, but from what I cannot decipher. 

After the salve, I wrap the worst of the damage in bandages. Kissija grimaces through the pain, and I offer her a vial of a thick transparent liquid. It came from a bag with a tag attached, identifying the contents as painkillers. I explain what it is to her, and she snatched it out of my hands and gulps it down greedily. 

“Are you hungry? Thirsty?” I ask, trying desperately to be polite. The lack of sarcasm or piercing remarks feels unnatural, especially considering I’m talking to a virtual stranger. I’d been in a similar state when I met Ridser, but I was too baffled by him to come up with sharp-witted quips. In the case of Kissija, I simply don’t want to be rude or sarcastic—even those go it goes against my natural instincts. 

“I’m fine,” she insists, looking around my house with obvious disdain for the haphazardly piled clutter. “Why don’t you come back to my house, get ready for... you know. When are you going to do it?”

“When the lights go out.” I answer quickly. “As soon as they’re dimmed, I will begin to search for him. When I find him, well, you know what’s going to happen.” 

She nods. “I’m forever in your dept. You have no idea, but you’re saving my life.” 

“Before we go, though, I have one more question. Is there anywhere else where you’re injured?”

“Mostly old, partially healed. There’s a coupe scrapes on my leg, but it’s nothing serious.” She squeezes her eyes shut, as if trying to will away memories more painful than any surface wound. “I remember the first time he struck me. His knuckles left the ugliest bruises on my cheek. I tried to fight back then, and he shoved me against the wall and punched me in the stomach, before pulling a knife and threatening to maim my face if I tried to report him or tell anyone. He said that if I ever tried to fight back, he would only hit me twice as hard...” 

She shivers, and I pull her into a hug, startling myself. She doesn’t seem to mind, worrying her lips against one another and blinking away tears. I drop her from the embrace, taking a step away and trying to understand what came over me. 

“I never thought I’d be able to trust anyone again, to tell anyone all that’s happened to me these past few months.” She looks to me, her eyes wide and glittering with tears yet to fall. I smile sadly at her, understanding exactly what it’s like to be distrustful, constantly looking over your shoulder for enemies. Maybe that’s the reason we feel as if we can trust each other, the two of us both have walls in place to guard our fragile hearts. A single tear finds its way down her cheek, glittering like precious crystal. “Thank you, Ash. I only met you hours ago but I feel as if I can trust you with my life.” 

“You know what, I’d never though I would tell someone this, but I feel like I can trust you as well.” 

We exchange slight smiles that carry more weight than any words, spending moments listening to the sound of our own heartbeats as if we are waiting, anticipating something big. 

The strange sense of calm which had settled over us shatters when Tenjey suddenly bursts in through the door, eyes wild and gasping for air. She doesn’t appear to notice Kissija at first, sucking down eager gulps of oxygen as she tries to regain her breath. I’m just readying a strand of frantic questions when she blurts out the words I’d been dreading. 

“They’ve taken them. All of them except for me, I managed to convince the guard to let me go. Olyxe, you have to help us. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for everything I said, I didn’t mean it, I was rash and stupid. Please, please, you are the only person I know who knows Isolation well enough to get them out. You have to save th—” she stops short, seeing Kissija as if for the first time. I freeze, dumbfounded and drenched in uncertainty. A fierce urge to protect my friends wars against the toxic voice’s slithery claims. 

They wanted you to take the blame. You shouldn’t do anything for them. They don’t deserve your help, they deserve to rot in Isolation until the end of times. 

“Who is this?” Tenjey demands, glaring heavily at Kissija who, to her credit, doesn’t wilt under the intense weight. I’m torn between wanting to make excuses to appease Tenjey and defend Kissija. “Don’t kid with me, Olyxe! Tell me who this person is, and if she’s any danger to you!”

“No, she’s a friend.” I flick my eyes frantically back and forth between Kissija and Tenjey, rendered incredibly uncomfortable by the animality bristling in the air. “I trust her.” 

“I’ve never met her before,” she proclaims, narrowing her eyes. “How can I be sure she’s actually trustworthy.”

“I can’t believe you! You trust me, don’t you?” I throw my hands up in frustration.

“Yes, I trust you. But I’m not going to place my faith in some stranger simply because you say I should.” She crosses her arms, scowling deeply. My heart sinks when her eyes go from bright and baffled to cold and hard. 

“In my defence, I’m not currently planning on doing anything other than what Ash and I were in the process of discussing. What going on here is simply a business conversation, not a plot for your murder.” Kissija declares with a subtle wink in my direction, as she’d failed to mention the nature of the business. 

“Oh, so you’re one of Ash’s clients.” Tenjey relaxes slightly, her eyes losing their rigidity. “I’m sorry for acting like I’m paranoid. Considering the circumstances and all I believe you might be able to understand why.” 

“Yeah,” Kissija answers. “We were just leaving, though. I hate to cut this short, but we have something rather urgent we need to do. We’ll attend to your matter after.”

I frown, not enjoying the thought off leaving when my friends are in trouble. Their trial will take time, though. The process of being admitted to Isolation is not a lengthy one, but we should have at least until the next time the lights dim to take care of Kednit. Tenjey also appears hesitant to let me leave, however she doesn’t say anything in attempt to stop me. 

Once we set off for Kissija’s, I set a quick pace. She shows no signs of strugging to keep up, but I couple of times I catch her grimacing from pain when she thinks I’m not looking. Ever since she revealed the full extent of her injuries, I’d been watching for even the slightest sign of pain. With each time she flinches my anger towards Kednit grows, until it reaches a dangerously high level. 

We walk through a handful of poor neighbourhoods, glancing against the outskirts of the Rich District where Brile Farh lives, which brings on toxic memories of Ridser and how he’d held me, how it’d felt when his lips came so close to mine. The sensation deep in the marrow of my bones, a pleasant kind of fire I’d never felt before. 

I shake my head hard, trying to dislodge the thoughts. I can still feel his phantom touch, and I resent myself for recalling every word he’d said and how his breath had tickled my skin when he spoke. 

The walk passes in silence, neither Kissija nor I knowing what to say. We begin to navigate our way through tightly packed clusters of rusty-coloured buildings, some old with chips of clay and dust staining the stone around them while other are newer, standing tall and proud even though they’ve still seen their fair share of years. As we come closer to the heart of the neighbourhood, the houses become better kept, the clay meticulously maintained so that it retains a brilliantly scarlet hue. 

Kissija stops every now and then to talk to people, young kids or elderly man, each person wearing a smile going no deeper than the surface. Even Kissija puts one on, equally as fake but laced with carefully guarded pain. 

“Hello, Kissy!” A young boy calls, and she turns and waves. I’m stunned by the effortlessness with which he fakes her demeanour, how easily she can dude sunny confidence and laugh well enough to convince me she’s incredibly happy. The contentment of the people surrounding us is also surprising, each one appearing genuinely appeased with their mundane, middle-class lives. 

“How much farther is your house?” I ask, rendered uncomfortable by both the smiling homeowners and scowling Street Patrollers we occasionally pass. 

“Not too far,” she answers, attempting to pull her coppery ringlets away from her eyes. I notice an unusual similarity between us when she pulls her hair back. She has a scar through her right eyebrow, while I have one through my left, which makes the edge jagged. A slight physical flaw which I’d earned from some spat a long time ago, though I have no idea how she got hers. In all my years in Haven, I’d never seen anyone else with the same feature, and part of me warms at knowing I’m not alone. Suddenly, she perks up and gestures at a decently sized house up ahead. “There it is. That’s where I live. We’re getting here at a good time, too. No one should be home.” 

We quicker our steps, I’m eager to see how a person such as Kissija lives, while she is clearly eager to return to the safety and familiarity of her home. I ponder what it must be like for her, to live a life with enough. 

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had barely enough to get by. Even when I’d lived with my mother, I had always worried about if we’d have enough money to buy water or food. I’d always worked if we had enough blankets to keep us warm at night, or if we’d have enough money to stay in our house, to not move to a less pleasant part of Haven where it cost less to live. Kissija clearly has to worry about none of these. She has a nice house, plenty of money she can spare some to buy a disgusting beverage for someone she barely knows. 

I’m mulling over these when we reach her doorstep. She pushes open the door, and we step inside. I’m not entirely sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a plain room without any obvious decoration or even happy clutter to give the house a lived-in feel. Instead, the house is empty and desolate, as if no one had been inside in a very long time. In fact, the only feature suggesting the house is indeed inhabited is the lack of dust and grime. Ever surface is meticulously clean and orderly. 

“So, yeah. This is where I live.” She sighs, a heavy rushing out of air which carries more emotion than any words could express. 

“It’s nice,” I comment, idly glancing around at the blandness. 

“Sure it is,” she scoffs. “My sisters are a bit obsessive when it comes to everything being neat and orderly.” 

“I would never guess,” I mutter sarcastically, still amazed by how pristine and clean it all is, giving no I dictation of being lived in. Quite the opposite of my own living area, every surface cluttered and dirt managing to accumulate no matter how hard I try to keep it clean. “You mentioned your dad passed away? How long ago was that?”

“A year and a bit. Actually, it’ll be two years a couple months from now.” She absentmindedly drifts about, occasionally looking back to make sure I’m following her deeper inside. “So, is there anything you need?”

“No,” I answer, shaking my head. “We still have a while before the lights go out. What are we going to do?” 

“Show me how to fight.” Kissija bends down, removing her shoes before straightening up and taking a sloppy defensive stance. Legs wider than shoulder-width apart, fists raised to about her chin, squat down to make quick movement harder. 

Without warning, I knock out her feet from beneath her and send her tumbling to the ground. She cusses as the air is knocked out of her chest, yet doesn’t show signs of pain. She flips over onto her back, trying to kick me away. I grab her by the leg and bend it back, hard enough that she whelps in pain but not hard enough to do any serious or lasting damage. 

She crawls away, pushing herself up quickly and without grace. She turns in me, grabbing and clawing as she tries to knock me down. I aim a sharp kick to the backs of her knees, and she falls again, giving me the opportunity to back away. 

“Here’s my first lesson for you,” I declare. “Always be prepared. Come on, get back on your feet and I will show you some more.” 

With a groan, she stands and rubs her back. I can see the bandages through the thin fabric of her shit, the black material clinging tightly to her form, giving the impression that she’s wearing a shadow. Her entire slim form is covered in black material, making her nearly imperceptible as the darkness grows increasingly heavy. 

I run over the basics with her, demonstrating how I would disarm an attacker and send them reeling. All I teach her is what I’ve learned from experience and perfected thanks to finding myself in many inconvenient situation. 

“Try and strike me. Just try.” I raise my hands defensively, preparing to defend my chest and neck. Predictably, she aims for my gut. I strike downwards as quickly as electricity strikes, her wrist hitting my forearm and her blow not coming near to reaching its target. She gulps down a cry of pain, and I instantly flush with regret. 

“Come on, show me how to do that!” She excitedly readies herself into a proper attacking stance. 

“Maybe it’s not a good idea—” I shake my head and lower my eyes so I don’t have to witness the crashing of her eager expression— “for us to be fighting, even as practice, when you’re far from in proper healthy.”

“I’m fine,” she protests. 

“No, you’re not. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to get even more hurt. Think of it this way, if you reopen one of your wounds than you’ll be even more susceptible to attack.” 

“Precisely why you should teach me how to better defend myself.”

“Just look outside,” I suggest. “It’s almost dark. I need to be reserving my strength.” 

This helps convince her, and she wanders idly around before finally settling on a room I presume is where she sleeps. There’s a bed piled high with blankets, the material having the dull texture of soft velvet. I try to imagine what it must feel like to be comfortable, to have bare skin and sleep underneath a mound of silk. Not only would I not be able to afford such luxuries, my touch would destroy it. 

She motions for me to join her, and so I take a seat in a white chair placed next to her bed. It’s crafted from cold metal, it’s armrest cutting painfully against my body. 

A heartbeat ticks by as I study her. She has a pretty face, despite her unruly hair, with wide, elegantly shaped eyes and a gently curved nose. Her cheekbones are high and give surprising definition to her face, without being harsh and cutting. She rubs her lips together, making it hard for me to analyze them, but when she finally stills I realize they’re naturally a lilac-pink and perfectly shaped. There is something strangely warming about her appearance, something in the way her nose slopes or lips curve radiating with familiarity. 

She suddenly cusses, and I realize she’d been attempting once again to pull her hair back. The curls almost appear bigger in the dimming light, glistening in the lingering sapphire glow. 

“You know,” She scowls bitterly, “neither my mother, my sisters nor my dad had hair like this. Maybe I am Cursed after all.”

I mumble an absentminded response something along the lines of “arrummhm,” preoccupied by the ever darkening city. It’s not quite dark enough yet, and my thoughts drift absentmindedly while Kissija rambles about her problematic hair. Both of us seem to want to stall, which I’m perfectly fine with. I wonder about everything I’ve ever been told, about Haven and the Topside and all the claims about Isolation which I know are lies to appease the general population. “Y’know, sometimes I find it hard to believe that humankind was ever composed of tens of billions of people. If that’s true then this really can’t be all that’s left.”

“I know,” Kissija murmurs in agreement. “I used to think about it all the time. How we once covered a planet and now are reduced to a few thousand living in some whole beneath the surface. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must’ve looked like up there.”

“My mother wanted to know, and look where it got her.” I blink my eyes to be sure they’re free of tears. As a rule, I don’t talk to people about my mother. I don’t want people to know I have weaknesses, I don’t want them to see my as anything other than strong, fierce and potentially deadly.

“I guess. All we can do is live with what we got and try to ignore our curiosity, or else it has the potential to destroy us.”

“Mhmm,” I grunt, mulling over her words. Maybe there is something out there, outside, be it another Haven or a Topside utopia, but I will never get to see it. So therefore it shouldn’t matter and it’s not worth torturing myself over. 

“It’s fairly dark,” Kissija comments, drawing my attention through the window and out at the darkened scape of Haven. 

“It is,” I answer, shifting myself up into my feet. “This will need to be done fast and efficiently, or else we run the risk of getting caught.” 

We exchange no more words. None are needed. We both understand the dangers, the potential consequences. We both understand this needs to be done, regardless of all we’re putting on the line. For Kissija, it means survival and eliminating a threat to her safety and sanctity of mine, while for me it is about doing something good for the world, even if it might not be technically considered the ‘right way’ to go about this. The images of Kissija’s wounds are burned into my mind, unable to be erased. I can’t understand why I feel the fierce compulsion to protect Kissija, but I do. 

“I-I dug up some information on Kednit before I went to visit you in case I needed to try and convince you he was a bad man. Maybe I should mention...?”

“Go ahead.” 

“Okay, well he has a history of violence. There’s been several times he’s come to see me with bruises and scrapes, and I never thought much of it, knowing the dangers of his job. However, I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend that there’s been several cases where he has physically assaulted people during his nightly watches. In one case, he even killed someone and blamed it on someone else who was tried, revealed as Cursed and sent to Isolation for the rest of their life.”

“So he’s an even worse person than I initially thought.” The idea is strangely somber. If a person who I know is bad can be this much worse, what secrets are hidden by the people I thought were good? 

“Amhmm,” Kissija agrees. 

Unable to put it off any longer but still dreading what lies ahead, I take the first steps  towards the door. Kissija follows, equally as hesitant. What we’re about to do is against every moral and every Law, but it has to be done. I can’t let a man like him continue to exist, especially if he hurts my friend. 

One step. Another, another. I count them in my head, each time my foot falls to the ground and lifts up again. Closer and closer I get to the door, closer and closer I get to an event with the potential to save the life of a newfound friend and destroy my own. 

What’s left of mine, anyways. The people I’d sworn to protect are waiting for their trial to be sent to Isolation, Tenjey is likely furious at me for not springing to their rescue right away. Ridser betrayed me and is long gone. Maybe risking my freedom isn’t actually a big deal, because in reality I’m not risking much. 

Once outside, I take a moment longer than necessary to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimness. Overhead, the once brilliant glow of the light Source has been diminished to nothing but a faint glittering to allow Patrollers to see but discourage people who don’t need to be out to stay inside. A blunt nausea rises up into my throat, which I repeatedly try to swallow. The discomfort never eases, and I eventually except the small punishment for the atrocity I’m about to commit. 

Finding Kednit will be the hard part. First we check his house, then I allow Kissija to lead me towards the area he typically watches. We wander the streets for a while, jumping at each noise, flinching every time our footsteps echo. 

In an amount of time that is both far to quick and much to slow, we find him. His back is turned to us, the heavy helmet he’s mandated to wear likely blocking out the sound of our feet passing lightly against the ground. I freeze, and Kissija does as well. Her eyes, their irises reminding me of the clay walls of my house, are burning. I burn as well, swallowed whole by the fierceness of my anger. 

I think of all the bad things I’ve done, if someone might one day look at me and decide I ought to pay for all my crimes. In my mind, I’m justified, but Kednit will not see it that way. He will never realize his heart is black, burnt and twisted beyond repair. He will hurt and destroy until there’s no one left to harm. 

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t ease my fear or clear the mounting guilt. Likely, it’ll never be easy. I will spend the rest of my life suffering from crippling self-hatred. 

Regardless, it must be done. I draw a deep breath and unsheathed my knife, transfixed by how the blade gleams eagerly in the faint glow emanating from its distant source. It glistens as Kissija’s eyes do, cold and harsh but not without merit. Both know of the blood to be spilt. 

 
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