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

2. Wraith

Chapter I

~ Wraith ~

“If only they knew the truth, they’d be twice as afraid.”

 

 

Fifty feet below the surface, the city of Haven thrives. In a cavern created by ancient explosions, humanity has found its last hope for survival. The ground above, ravaged except small pockets in deep valleys or hidden glens. Rendered uninhabitable by the scorching temperature, igniting fires in what little dry, brittle brush manages to grow in the poisoned ground. Famine, drought and disease had long-since wiped out any who were foolish enough to take their chances Topside. 

“Olyxe! Your time to shine!” A young woman cries. With her ruddy brown hair, caramel skin and wide, innocent eyes it’s clear to see how she managed to get herself backed into a corner, a much older man breathing down her neck. 

“Come on, buzzkill,” he hisses, eyes glittering with animal hunger and a sadistic smile slashing across his face. “No need to go calling in your friends yet. Those imbeciles can wait their turn.” 

“Ash! I could really use your help!” She cries, voice tinged with desperation. The man’s smile goes from sadistic to greasy and crude. She’s not a fighter. She’s the master manipulator, who can have anyone wrapped around her slim fingers without even having to say a word. A look is enough. Right now, those eyes capable of bending even the strongest wills search the sky, the rooftops. “I know you’re out there! This is not funny!” 

I sigh. She’s right; I can’t leave her at the mercy of Sir Greasy Grin. Grumbling to myself about Tenjey’s utter uselessness, I drop from my place amongst roof trusses and into bare stone. 

“A’ight, fight’s on.” With the speed of a striking cobra, my foot connects with Greasy Grin’s side. He doubles over, wheezing for breath. I don’t give him time to recover. My next blow sends him sprawling on his back, confusion and fear swirling in his dark eyes that roved over my sorta-kinda ‘friend’ mere seconds ago. 

“Olyxe!” Tenjey pleads, watching how I strike yet another kick, slipping a knife from its sheathe on my hip. If I’d reached for the one on my shoulder, it’s likely she would have raced over to restrain me. But despite its size and fearsomely curved blade, the knife at my hip is almost completely blunt. To scare, not harm. “Olyxe, no! You’ll bring the Isolation Law into effect again, Ash. Ash, please!” 

“And you’d be left alone, I know. Because Jasma is too bossy, Katpin and Noko are too boring and Fenly can’t be trusted.” I roll my eyes. Tenjey is annoyingly picky when it comes to friends. “I s’pose I ought to be overjoyed you’ve deigned me fit ‘nuff to be in your company.” 

“Come on, you know I hate it when you don’t talk proper.” She whines, eyeing the man on the ground. He’s dripping blood from his forehead, stringy blond hair mussed into something to the effect of a rat’s nest. 

“Yes, ‘cause that’s what is at issue here.” I turn to Greasy Grin. “You, Sir, should consider yourself lucky. If you dare touch, look or so much as breathe the same air as Tenjey here, I’ll finish what she’s so kindly stopped me from doing. If I ever see your ugly face again, and Tenjey isn’t with me, I will finish it. Understand?” 

With that, I’m off. Tenjey can fend for herself from here on out. It’s no trouble for me to scale the nearest wall, once again racing alone the flat rooftops. If anyone saw me, they’d assume me a Topside wraith having found its way into Haven. I give them good reason to, swathed head to toe in black fabric. A tight black top drawn skintight by thick cords of leather and fastened with crude steal buttons. Leather and lace pants, with trailing cords to flutter like whispers of black smoke. My hair, drenched in a black lace veil to hide its dark waves, the colour of burnt silver. A wraith, a spirit. If only they knew the truth, they’d be twice as afraid. 

Tenjey’s words haunt me. Maybe it’s her gift for manipulation. You’ll bring the Isolation Law into effect again. 

People like me and her are considered dangerous. We’re tentatively allowed to integrate ourselves with the rest of society, but any slight misstep and we’re put into Isolation. Far from a pleasant fate, spending anywhere from months in solitude to years. Isolation is the catacombs beneath Haven. Used to store the bones and bodies of the deceased as well as the people the rest of humankind want to forget about. 

I stare in distaste at my leather gloves. Leather and lace, like my pants. With clunky metal accents stitched on using thin leather cord to make them less delicate and feminine. To be fair, ‘metal accents’ is a lighter term for nuts and gears. 

Desperately, I want to yank them off and run my hands over anything I can reach. Watch how even the most solid materials disintegrate into dust and ashes. How I got my nickname, Ash. The gloves are ingeniously designed to ‘turn off’ the curse. The first and last gift I’d ever received from my mother, a reclusive scientist who’s last known location was travelling up the one tunnel that leads Topside. When people recognize my face as being so like hers, they eye me with pity. 

“Her mother’s mad,” they whisper, they think. “Well she was, she’s dead now.”

“She’s the one who’s half-crazy mother went up... up THERE,” the bolder ones say loud enough for me to hear. 

I don’t think she’s dead. She found one of those rare inhabitable pockets of land, and continues whatever researched she’d been doing. In my mind, she lives a long and content life surrounded by bushy vegetation so much brighter and delicate than the dreary moss and mildew growing along the stone walls, streets, rooftops of Haven. 

Suddenly, I realized I’ve wandered so far I don’t know where I am at all. I tend to stay mostly in one area, never straying from where I can easily reach on foot. Where I’d fought with the man was already toeing the edge of my territory, I’ve went even farther in the wrong direction. It’ll take forever to get home. Well, to where I live. I’d hardly call the five-meter-square box with a roof and a bed my home. 

Really, no one has a home anymore.

Haven is humankind’s only refuge, populated by only a handful of thousands of people. At one point, the population was as high as twenty billion. People lived on top of one another, covering ever inch of land and poisoning it with each breath, each footstep. They spread to the ocean, to the sky. But until Topside became completely inhospitable, they never so much as though as migrating to the ground below. The explosion which created Haven wiped out what few survived the plagues, the droughts, the famines. It poisoned the ground even farther, made several natural caverns around collapse. Buildings caved in as well. Trapping, crushing, leaving people without anywhere to call home. It was the final nail in humankind’s coffin. 

Do I turn around? No. One thing most people tend to learn about me rather quickly, I almost never do what’s logical. I’m still riled up from the fight I couldn’t finish. I need to move, to feel my muscles burn and lungs seize for gulps of air. 

I speed up. Tenjey will fend for herself, she’ll find someone. Coerce random strangers into leaping to her defence. It’s what she does. If not, Jasma or Katpin or Noko will likely be just around the corner if she sticks to our usual haunts. Even the two-faced Fenly will occasionally decide to do something helpful for a change. Tenjey’s used to me disappearing. For days, sometimes. So I’ve no worry she can take care of herself. 

What I do worry about though, is the man who’d attacked her earlier. She couldn’t persuade him away. Which means he has to be like us, which means the Curse is not new as we’d always thought. Only the Cursed can stand a chance at resisting Tenjey’s command, and if this was new, within the past twenty years, there’s no way middle-aged Greasy Grin could be like us. Yet Tenjey’s compulsion was useless against him. I’d been there, on the rooftop, I’d seen how her attempts to get him to leave her alone had slid off of him. 

If I hadn’t been on the rooftop, able to swoop in to the rescue, what would’ve happened? What would’ve happened if instead of reaching for my knife, I’d tugged off my gloves. Most pressingly, what would of happened if I punched him right in his leering face, bare skin coming in contact with his pale, pockmarked cheek? So far, no one has volunteered to satiate this burning curiosity, which is understandable. That doesn’t mean the question isn’t there, though. Would my Curse be as useless as Tenjey’s on those like me, like us? Maybe I’ll never know. As I said, there’s not exactly a line up of people willing to help me find out. 

I’ve never touched another person before. Not through layers of my mother’s special cloth, the only material my Curse doesn’t reduce to ashes. I never knew my father. Sometimes, I figure he must’ve died. My mother never talked about him, I’d blamed it on pain. But maybe he simply left. Saw me, saw my hair a silver so dark it’s almost black. My eyes, so dark that are black. He saw I was a disgrace, an abomination, I was Cursed. So he left. I’m not sure which I’d rather. 

The curse started to show almost immediately. When I was young, only hours into life. It grew ever since. Apparently, I at first only ate away small holes in thin fabrics, my tiny, plump fingers smudged with dust. It was small, but it’s grown ever since. 

It took almost a week for my mother to come up with the first draft of a material that could withstand my touch, months before she perfected it. And years later before she made enough, I’d never run out. Nine years, to be precise. Seven years ago, she began planning to leave. Six years ago, she did. I was ten, maybe nine-and-three-quarters. 

I try not to think about my past too much. Mine’s far from the hardest. Noko was beaten by his father until his Curse was strong enough that his broken body didn’t matter anymore. Jasma was kept locked away, starved half to death. Her parents even faked her death, so technically, she doesn’t exist. Katpin was abandoned at age three, living on the streets ever since. Most people take one look at her dark skin and either whisper nasty cusses, or turn the other way. 

Tenjey, and her much subtler talent with persuasion, was the only one who loved a normal life. Until she went too far and robbed a fancy-pants, rich-person store. 

I’m lost. I’ve been lost before, so I know I’ll find my way back. Even though I’m fine with not panicking, I know I should feel at least a shade of fear. Haven grows gloomier by the second, the lights of the houses dimming. The lights on the cavern’s roof have winked out, one by one. I should be afraid of danger. Instead, I’m craving it. The adrenaline of the one-sided battle still fizzes in my blood like sparks spurting from a young fire. I crave violence like some people crave food, or love, or money and the influence it brings. 

So, fancying for a fight, I drop from the rooftops. The shapes of the buildings are recognizable as being the homes of averagely wealthy people. Maybe I’ll find someone as angry as I am, and we’ll hit it off. With literal hitting. 

Instead, I see a candle. Fire is forbidden in Haven, as with any other uncontrollable force of destruction. All heat, all light, comes from natural sources. Bioluminescent fungi cultured and modified to fit our knees, then contained and controlled. Coming across a candle is rare, so rare I at first doubt the dancing light is actually candle-flame. 

It moves, exposing more. A face in the window, a hand curled around its metal base. Someone inside, holding a rugged—doubtlessly hand made in a hurry—candle. 

Their lips move. I think they say ‘hello,’ but the exhaling Of breath stirs the thin, twisting flame and it winks out. Like a wraith, disappearing into darkness and dragging whoever had been holding it with them. 

There’s the creek of the door, a soft pattering of footsteps like the delicate fluttering of a rockbeetle’s wings. In the dying light of Haven, I can make out a face. 

“Come inside with me,” it says. “You look lost.” 

“I am lost,” I reply, narrowing my eyes at the stranger inviting me into their home. “But never in a million years would I trust someone I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I ought to be on my way.” 

“So, you’re one of them,” they sigh, tilting their head as if studying me anew. I decide his voice must be masculine. It’s rasping and dominate, but I was never one to be cowed by male dominance. “You ain’t need to be worryin’ sister,” his dialect is more relaxed now. “I’m one of ‘em too.”

“One of who?” I ask, playing dumb. He couldn’t of guessed my most veiled secret by as little as a glance and sentence delivered with cold anger. He couldn’t have. 

“What do you call it, ‘round your part? Here it’s Cursed, but I don’t like to be called that. So what’s your word?”

“Cursed? Yeah, I am Cursed.” I snarl, fingers itching to reach for my knife. Or tear off my gloves. Or to curl into fists and connect with his face. Anything. 

“Knew it.” He grins. Not the same as Greasy Grin, who’d been sleazily baring his crooked teeth. An excited smile. “I’m just like you. What’s it you can do, exactly?” 

“I can fight real well,” I declare, a hint of warning creeping into my voice. “But that’s not my Curse. There’s no way I’m telling you what I do, and there’s no way I’m following you inside.”

“When I look at people, I get glimpses. Of their personality, their memories, their emotions.” He confesses sheepishly. I shiver. With the lowering of lights comes the lowering of heat. “And in the time we’ve been standing here, I’ve gotten more glimpses of you then anyone I’ve ever met before. Even from the window I could get a sense of you. So trust me when I say a girl with as much anger as you isn’t safe out here. You pick a fight with the wrong person, end up in Isolation for the rest of your life.”

I shiver again, the cold sinking it’s talons into my bones. Then I tilt my head, trying to assess my opponent. Maybe I will go inside, so if a fight breaks out there’ll be less chance of someone witnessing it. 

Also, I’d like the warmth. In the darkness, the cold, damp air, I’m reminded of my time in Isolation. Of misery, kept warm by only an anger so bright it would sometimes blind me. I cannot go back there. Never again will I be sloppy enough to get caught fighting. Not ever. 

There’s a burning in my chest, a grudging resolve to follow this stranger into his home. I know I can easily beat him in a fight, especially if he tried to undress me. 

I smile to myself. If he’d mistaken my thin, wraithlike appearance for weakness he almost deserves what’s coming to him. There’s a slow laugh bubbling in my burning chest. How foolish people are.

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