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

20. Caverns

Chapter XIX

~ Caverns ~

“Reds, oranges and golds blend with cool blues like magical paint smears.”

 

 

An urgency consumes me, until there’s no drive left except for the desire to reach safety. I churn my feet hard against the stone. My body is almost empty, I am running out of fuel to keep myself going. This only feeds my desire to get off the street, away from the prying eyes of those unlucky enough to be awake at this ungodly hour. 

I try and recall the last time I slept. Really slept, unperturbed by nightmares or restless tossing and turning. It’s been a while, and the idea beckons. My eyelids grow increasingly heavy with each step, my muscles burning worse than the anger within. 

The weight of physical exhaustion has left me distracted and clumsy, and as a result I barrel straight into someone. A mundane person, going about their ordinary life, heading to their work as soon as the lights start to glow. I have no quarrel with the innocent passerby, so I mumble an apology and keep running. Obviously, my hasty ‘sorry’ didn’t do the trick, as the man I’d bumped into whirls around and grabs me by the shoulder. His eyes glower down at me, and I realize his sheer size. He’s a mountain of a man, but he still picked a fight with the wrong woman. 

“Has no one ever taught you to watch where you’re going, you filthy—” he breaks off as I ram my elbow into his face. Not wasting a moment, I sprint off. 

When I glance back around, I see the awkward brute trying to give chase. His size serves only to intimidate, it otherwise does nothing for him but slow him down. Once he fades from sight I slow down to a rushed trot, unable to go any faster. 

I need my strength for what’s to come. It’s a plain fact, I wont be of any use if I’m tired and clumsy. 

When I finally do see the sloppy, lopsided walls I call home, something loosens within me. Using the last dregs of my strength, I fling myself inside and catch myself against a wall to keep from tumbling face first downwards. Using it as a guide, I creep forward to my jumbled, haphazardly piled blankets. I strip down and exchange my old clothes for looser, more comfortable ones before finally throwing myself onto the makeshift bed. 

Closing my eyes, I review the cell numbers in my head. Noko, Cell thirty-six, hallway one. Katpin, Cell thirty-seven, hallway one. Jasma, Cell Two hundred and thirty-four, hallway three, Fenly, Cell sixty-eight, hallway five. 

Fear and self-doubt poison me. I am the only person who knows those numbers, I am the only one who can save them. Everything rests on my shoulders, which is utterly terrifying. I’m not a hero, I don’t save people. I get into fights and beat up people who get on my nerves. Hero’s are honourable, they don’t think tell lies, they don’t swear or insult their foes. I’m not a hero, so maybe that’s why it falls on my shoulders to save my friends. A hero would have been selfless from the start and turned themselves over, so this never would have happened. Maybe, being selfish is what keeps us all alive. 

I’m thinking all this as I’m drifting off to sleep, sinking deeper and deeper down. Dreams rise up, and for once I don’t fight them. I will embrace these nightmares, because they can only scare me if I let them. From now on, I only let the real world instal fear in me. Dreams can’t hurt me, life can. 

I surrender to the pull, and relish the moment I drop below the surface.

***

Isolation is a place where people are sent to die. I watched with only numbness as they carried away the resident of my neighbouring cell. 

For a week’s worth of sleeps, the smell of rot had become closer and more pungent than ever. I hadn’t realized right away, until the guards came on their hourly rounds and skipped that cell. They hauled out the inhabitants of every cell before it, and every cell after mine. This went on for three or four sleeps before it finally clicked they weren’t being allotted time to recover, but that there was no one alive to inflict suffering upon. 

The deceased had only been in Isolation for a couple weeks’ worth of sleeps. They would never get out, they would never get to see the brilliant lights of Haven ever again. Sometime I took for granted my sheer stubbornness. I was so stubborn, I refused to die. 

Part of me did die, though. Maybe if that part had survived, I would’ve become a hero when I emerged, instead of what I did become. 

In my dream, I’m weak and sickly. More so than I actually was. I’m sprawled out over the hard, damp stone with seemingly no concept of how uncomfortable I am. Seeing myself like that, weak and defeated, is torture of its own. 

One of the Vultures come closer, his angular features steeped in shadows, making him appear sharp. He’s carved from harsh, slanting lines of darkness as he steps straight up to the bars of my cell, his eyes entirely devoid of emotion. They are blue, he is human, but within his chest lies the blackened heart of a true monster. 

The door of the cell swing open, and I stare at him for a moment. He carries two knives, two of my knives. The blades are curved, designed to claw and tear away at flesh. 

He steps forward, a haunting image. The broken version of myself trembles, before the real me surges to the surface and takes over. I spring elegantly to my feet, laying a hand upon the wall to disguise my unsteadiness. The Vulture takes another step towards me, raising the knives so that they taunt me. 

With a sudden explosion of strength, I launch myself forward and smash my foot into the Vulture’s shoulder. He’s  a small man, lean and wiry, but without any real strength and an ego bigger than he is. 

The knife clatters against the stone and I dive for it, tearing my already tattered pants as my knee scraped against the ground. A faint residue of ashes settle on the surface from the faint brush of my skin. 

I grab the knife and ready myself. The Vulture whirls to face me and freezes, the knife suddenly at his throat. The emotions he portrays are an odd combination of fear and anger. He’s enraged because he was bested. I wait a few moments, allowing time for the situation to fully sink in, before I yank the knife away and take off down the corridor. I’m fleeing, leaving behind the prison and all its dreadful memories. 

When I come to a door, it’s bolted shut. I waste precious minutes pounding against thick steel in hope of rescue before I realize that I must save myself. 

Fumbling, I attempt to pull off my gloves. They are clinging desperately to my hands, moisture from sweat and the damp air acting as a glue to bind them to my skin. Footsteps come thundering down the tunnel behind me. The dreadful realization clouds over my mind. I’m running out of time. 

I pound against the door once more. I’ve become frantic and desperate, and as a result all reasonable thinking has been reduced to a low buzzing in the back of my mind. 

The Vulture will reach me in a matter of seconds, I can already imagine his heavy hands grasping me by the shoulders and dragging me. Dragging me back to my cell, back to a life of pain and suffering. I don’t want that to be my fate, and I will fight tooth and claw for my freedom. Refusal to be broken once again is what drives me. I jam my fingers into my mouth, biting down on the edge of the glove and using my teeth to wrench the fabric away from my skin. 

I slap my hand to the metal, feeling the cool brush of it against my skin. Nothing happens. There is no shower of ashes and dust, no dramatic crumbling off the massive barricade. For once in my life, I am no longer Cursed. I am pitifully weak, pitifully human. 

The guard breaks out into a malicious grin, alighting at the realization he has me trapped. I clutch the knife tighter, but my shaking hand betrays me. 

I am afraid. 

The Vulture moves forward with terrifying grace, every subtle movement of his body the epitome of lethal grace. His lips, thin and cracked, with a purple tinge from the sudden chill in the air, are smiling with all the joy of a giddy six-year-old. I know without a doubt that I am about to greet my demise. 

My body is being wracked by violent tremors. I whimper, unaccustomed to such intense, blood-curdling terror. The shaking refuses to stop, and the dreamscape around me wobbles violently. Knowing the nightmare will do its best to cling to me, I focus on the hands on my shoulders and the rocking of my body. There’s a voice, thin and wispy. I latch onto it, allowing myself to be pulled back to reality, which is somehow fraught with more dangers than any dream yet far less frightening. 

My eyes flutter open, and almost assume I am still dreaming when I see Tenjey. Her hair is a mess around her face, but her brown eyes are bright and intense. 

Despite the nightmarish dream, my strength has been replenished and I feel well rested, full of energy. I blink persistently for a minute straight, trying to clear away the last few cobwebs of sleep. 

“It’s good to see you,” I murmur, still drowsy. Tenjey smiles, and my heart does a small leap. My closest friend, despite our constant quarrelling and disagreements, is Tenjey. She knows me better than I know myself sometimes, and she will always be there for me. 

“I’m sorry I vanished on you,” she whispers, sitting down cross-legged on the floor next to my blanket mound. I roll over, pushing myself into a sitting position as well. 

“Tenjey, in a few hours I’m going to break into Isolation and free our friends.” I close my eyes, awaiting her reaction. She will not be pleased, I know she won’t. There’s no way she’d be easy to accept the fact I’m putting my life in grace danger, even if it is to save people who mean a lot to the both of us. 

“No you’re not,” she immediately snaps. “Don’t be an idiot. I don’t care who you think you’d be saving, you can’t risk your life.” 

“I risk my life simply by existing, as do you.” My tone is uncustomary in the sense that I speak softly, gently. Tenjey blinks, too dumbfounded for a moment to continue her protesting. “I risk my life every single second of every minute, the only difference is that this risk has a possibility of reward.” 

“I can’t let you do it,” she argues. “I’m sorry, I really am, but I wouldn’t be able to survive is I lost you.” 

“Why not!?” I’m beginning to become exasperated. Tenjey sighs, tears glittering in her eyes like the stars my mom once raced about. In a way, we are all like stars, balls of fire which most people will only witness burning from a distance. 

“Because...” she looks away, distraught. “Because you’re my family, Olyxe. I wouldn’t be able to survive if you weren’t here.” 

“I have to do this, Ten.” I soften, unable to stand the pain written so clearly in her eyes. She swallows, blinking slowly. A single tear glistens, nestled between the lashes of the bottom part of her eye. It falls, and she looks away. She believes crying to bee a weakness, when really all it symbolizes is that you are alive. I take her hand, patting it comfortingly. She grins, finding the space amongst her pains to be amused by my awkwardness in the area of physical contact. 

“I know,” she finally dissolves, more tears falling. I gently squeeze her arm reassuringly, and she discovers the strength to smile. “Is there any possible way I can help you? Anything at all I can do to make this easier, safer?” 

“Actually...” I stifle a sigh, pushing away the dark waves of self-loathing rolling over me. I shouldn’t be endangering Tenjey, I know she can’t fend for herself like I can. She’s not a fighter, she gets herself out of trouble instead of purposely barging at it head-on. Which is fine to me, because I’ve always been more than willing to fight for her. Now that it is time for her to do the same for me, guilt is tearing me apart. “I could use your help, yes. Ridser’s going to be pulling some strings to get me inside, but I’d like to have a backup in case his plan fails.” 

“I... I don’t know what to say,” she whispers, anxiety deepening her feature into a frown. 

“If I’m asking too much, then you don’t have to do anything. I mean it, anything. What I want more than anything is for you to be safe, and not have to go back in there, or even get within sight range of that hole.” 

“No, that’s not it.” She looks up, searching my eyes as if this is the first time she’s truly laid her gaze on me. “It just hit me, I could be doing this. I mean, with my manipulation it would be easy for me to get in and out, but I’m too afraid. Never in a million years would I think of doing good what you are doing, so I guess I’ve got to say thank you.” 

“Trust me, this doesn’t make me a good person. My mother once told me ‘in the eyes of the public, your bad deeds will define you and your good deeds will be next to meaningless.’ Now, with a history like mine, do you think helping out others once is going to erase all that?” Guilt weighs me down like a stone resting in the pit of my stomach. “I’ve done bad things, I am the reason they are in that prison for the first place. So don’t thank, there’s nothing to be thankful for. Certainly don’t beat yourself up about not being the one rushing too the rescue. All you need to do is play your part, and if you can’t do that, then there’s not even anything to worry about.” 

“Olyxe...” she trails off, but her eyes convey more than any words ever could. A thick silence ensues, neither of us quite willing to disturb it. 

As if synchronized, the two of us push to our feet at the exact same moment. Tenjey appears unsettled, her expression troubled. Unsure what to do, I wait, standing drenched in the utter absence off sound. In fact, it’s so quite I can hear the stirring of our breathing and the soft thudding of my heart against my ribcage.

“Can you show me how to fight, teach me how to defend myself, in case I get in trouble?” She pauses, nibbling on her bottom lip. “In case you’re not there to save me.”

“I’ll always be there,” I answer without thought or hesitation. Tenjey offers me a pleading look, mixed with just enough are you kidding me? to be effective. I grimace, but nonetheless plant my feet and raise my fists. “All right. Show me what you can do.” 

“Ash, I’m not just going to swing a lunch at you out of nowhere—” she cuts off immediately as I throw a punch. It flies wide, missing her by a fair distance, but nonetheless she tenses in fear. A second later I swing a second punch, which narrowly misses her cheek. 

“Come on,” I taunt, taking a step back. “Let’s see what ya got!” 

She grits her teeth, taking a step forward. I anticipate her move long before she actually acts, grabbing onto her forearm while she’s in the midst of a sloppy, poorly-aimed strike. I use her own momentum against her, twisting her arm and yanking downwards. She crashes to the floor with an oomph. 

I step back from where she’s fallen, a laugh bubbling out. She glares at me, pushing herself back off and brushing the dirt from her clothes. 

“Here’s something you ought to remember. If you move to slow, your attacker will have time to block you, dodge you or land a blow of his own. Also, if your opponent is moving slow, always be sure to do something similar to what I just did.” I tilt my head, gesturing with my hands for her to try again. She readies herself, but before she can even think of striking I’m knocking out her feet from beneath her. 

“Hey! What was that for!?” she splutters, once again picking herself up and dusting herself off. 

“Be ruthless and act quick, and always be ready for your enemy to do the same.” I instruct, gesturing once again for her to have another try. She readies herself, and this time doesn’t hesitate before launching a kick. It hits its mark, her heel landing squarely in my gut. I grin through the pain. “Yes! That was good!”

“Did I hurt you?” She gawks, and I break out in a laugh. 

“Don’t worry about it,” I wave off her concern. “Here’s another pointer, when you are fighting with someone never stop to ask if they are alright.”

“Got it,” she affirms with a nod. We go back to practicing, and I show her just about every way there is to best someone in combat, even if they’re twice your size. The whole while I get flashbacks to when I taught the same things to Kissija. Then, we believed there was a lot at stake. That pales in comparison to what we are planning now. 

After a few hours, I can tell Tenjey is teetering at the edge of exhaustion, and that any moment she is liable to topple over. 

“Let’s take a break,” I declare, striding over to where I keep my water. There is only two bottles left, and any day now I’m going to need to scrape up enough currency to buy some more. 

Sighing, I hand a bottle to Tenjey. She gulps down a few swigs, before recapping it and handing it back. Her expression is carefully neutral, but I know she barely wet her lips when she drank. I hardly take a sip, tossing the water into my mouth, careful not to allow the bottle to touch my lips. I’ve barely swallowed before I’m replacing the water and pushing the awkwardness behind me. 

It’s not a secret that water in Haven is scarce, harvested by hand from underground streams. Other than those employed to collect the water, no one knows the location of these precious reservoirs. For the Cursed, water must be payed for in full, out of pocket. When it comes to the rest of Haven’s inhabitants, the price is much lower and if they can’t afford it they can get half-rations until they can pay back the Governor. It’s another method of regulating our population, allowing us to die from dehydration. 

A fierce restlessness settles over me. It winds its way through my body, my legs begging to run. The walls are suddenly a cage, with no way to escape. 

“Tenjey, stay here,” I mandate, quickly heading into another room to haul off my loose sleeping clothes, replacing them with tighter, more uncomfortable counterparts. Almost as an afterthought, I grab the necklace my mother gave to me before she left. She said it would keep me safe and grant me good fortune. I slip it on over my head. Really, the necklace is nothing more but a braided leather cord with a gear from an old timepiece threaded on it. Nonetheless, I could use favourable luck right now. 

“Where are you going?” She appears in front of me barely a moment after I finish dressing, and a crimson flush rises in her cheeks. I laugh it off, embarrassment staining my face scarlet as well. 

“I need to get out. You need to stay here where it’s safer, and I’ll be able to find you when I get back.”

“You can’t force me to stay here.” She bristles, but the apprehension inn her eyes tells me she won’t be going anywhere. Haven is fraught with dangers and secrets, and some people do their best to avoid getting caught up in either. I know Tenjey well, and I know that she’s cunning. She’s smart enough to know that wherever I am going, I will find my way into trouble. She also knows I can take care of myself. 

“I can’t force you, but I can do my best.” With this I turn away, walking out the doorway and turning down the street. 

“How do you think you can keep me here, when you do even have a door?” She shouts after me, and I turn around momentarily to make a rude gesture. She grins, tossing my action right back at me. 

As I walk away, I catch a glimpse of electric green eyes. My head snaps up, following the path of a young man with dark hair and confident posture. He faces back on to me, so there’s no way to be sure he’s the person with green eyes from my hazy memories. I decide its not worth finding out. After the rescue from Haven, I’ll track him down and make him regret ever treating me as someone weak, lesser than him. As of right now, I need to reserve my strength. 

That’s why I walk, instead of run. Not wanting to be forced to interact with people, I aim my trajectory for the outskirts of Haven. In a handful of minutes, I’m walking along the wall. There’s no houses nearby, and the stretch of stone is utterly deserted. Absolutely no one has a reason to be out here. 

I lazily drift along, finding myself in an area very distant from the clusters of civilization. The nearest house is maybe a five minute walk away, which gives me a wide area of open space all to myself.

The solitude is blissful, and I could spend long hours simply wandering aimlessly around, enjoying being wrapped up in my own head and far away from the concerns of humanity. I can simply exist, without a purpose or an anger blazing like an inferno within me. When I am in the company of my own thoughts, I don’t need to install and maintain boundaries, walls, shields. There’s no one here to toss hateful words my way, so I don’t need to be primed to sling sarcastic remarks in return. 

I drag my fingers over the wall, the chill of the stone soaking through my gloves. It’s serene, having only the sounds of my breathing, my footsteps and my heartbeat to fill the silence. I could close my eyes and lie down, letting the world drain away and my only problem be that I didn’t quite get enough sleep. 

Sadly, that’s not an option. I have to much to do, to much to think about before I can empty my mind. Absently, I study the rock. For the most part, it is smooth and unmarked, except for the occasional creases reminiscent of the wrinkled face of an elderly woman. The most curious feature, which catches my eye almost immediately, is a fair sized pile of stones. Nowhere else along the entire rock face is there anything similar. 

Bending down, I pull away one of the stones from the base of the pile. To my horror, the entire structure comes tumbling down. I wait for a moment, stunned, before clearing away the tumbled rock. 

What lies behind them is surprising. A hole, wide enough and high enough for a person to comfortable crawl inside. I drop down, poking my head inside and marvelling at the tunnel burrowing deeper into the earth. Without even registering what I’m about to do, I plunge into the tunnel and begin to crawl forward. After I pull myself a few meters forward, the tunnel begins to widen until it finally becomes high enough to stand. I leap to my feet, brushing dirt off my clothes and plucking bits of gravel from my palms. 

I glance around. The walls are uneven, dampened by a trickling of water leaking down from above and slick with algae. The passage is clearly not made by human hands, as it is imperfect in a pristine, natural way. 

With each step brining me deeper into the unknown, I begin to feel a slight sense of apprehension. The food we eat has to come from somewhere, and who knows what could be down here in the oppressive darkness. My hairs stand on end, and I glance back several times to watch the glow from the opening fade as I leave the city of Haven behind. 

Once the darkness takes over in full, panic sinks it’s claws in. I suck in rapid, shallow gulps of air, squinting as if squeezing my eyes nearly shut would make the darkness suddenly evaporate. 

A few minutes trickle by before the blackness is finally cut through by a faint, pulsating glow. My feet carry my forward, and the walls surrounding me fall away. 

I have found myself within a cavern, lit up in dazzling shades of blue. The arching roof is smattered by luminous sapphires, drenching the air around me in cerulean. The sound of running water is an alien yet enchanting music, drawing my gaze to a waterfall pouring out from an opening near the top of the cave to my left. The exquisite liquid spills over the rock in a blaze of cyan, tumbling into a profound pool which fills the cavern with beryl-hued light. 

I gaze around, transfixed by the otherworldly cavern I was after discovering. The passage continues on straight ahead, but I hardly register the tunnel plunging farther into the unexplored depths. A faint purplish glow drifts out, the colour foreign and enticing in the way all mysteries are. 

The water beckons to me, and I languidly stride over to it. The edge of the pool is rimmed by pearly white mushrooms, speckled with the occasional cluster of pale grey or white spattered with brown. There’s no telling if the fungi are toxic or not, so I do my best to avoid them. Nonetheless, the water’s pull is undeniable. I can’t remove my eyes from its gemstone surface. 

I’m distracted by a firebug buzzing close to my head. The small creature pulses with golden light, joined by several others in a blend of warm hues. Reds, oranges and golds blend with cool blues like magical paint smears, the colours running fluidly into each other and creating an ethereal illumination for the cavern. 

I follow the firebugs as they float over to the tunnel, leading me deeper into the unknown. 

The tunnel closes around me, strangely dim after the cavern’s brilliance. The walls are painted in shades of pale violet and golds, the firebugs’ light dappling elegantly amongst the otherworldly purple. 

I follow the tunnel, each twist and curve. In some places it widens, in some the roof soars, while every now and then it tightens around me and brings with it a sense of claustrophobia. After so long, I lose my firebug guides, but refuse to turn back. Several times side tunnels branch off, but I resist the urge to follow them in fear of getting lost. After I’ve traveled about an equal distance as I initially ventured to reach the cavern, I hit a dead end. By chance, I glance down to view a slight unevenness in the stone slightly larger than at the other end. I drop down to its level and shove my shoulder as hard as I can against the stone. It groans, moving only a hairsbreadth. I drop farther and push again, scowling when it doesn’t move. I place my hands on the rock and shove it with every ounce of my strength. It finally give way. 

“Yes!” I shout with childish joy, the slab of stone tumbling over and revealing Haven in all of its glory. I dive outwards face-first, the memory of my discovery blazing in my mind. Once free, I curl my fingers around the edge of the stone and haul it back into place. It fits into the wall almost perfectly, an innocent seem the only indication something might be amiss. 

I take a step back, crossing my arms and tilting my head as I admire my handiwork. No one will ever know I was here. I doubt anyone even knows of the passage’s existence anyways, the air was stale and the stone was lodge in there like it hadn’t been moved for decades. Centuries even. 

Slowly, I begin to make my way back, attempting to process all I was after experiencing. 

I squeeze my eyes shut, blotches of blue, purple and dots of oranges and reds dancing over my vision. The sound of footsteps echoes in the distance. I snap my eyes open, taking off in the direction I came from. 

Tenjey is still at my house, likely bored out of her mind, and frightened to death as she awaits my return. Time slipped away from me, and guilt twists my gut. 

As a result of the discomfort feeling guilty causes, I quicken my pace in order to return to Tenjey. I can’t bear the thought of something happening to her right now, when there is already so much I have to do. The chains on my boots clank furiously as I break into a jog, unaccustomed to being able to hear anything but the roar of anger. I thunder forward, painfully aware of how loud my movements are. It’s an utter mystery how I have ever managed to ever sneak up on anyone. 

After a painfully long stretch of minutes, I’m busting in through the open entryway of my home. Tenjey appears immediately upon hearing the commotion, a sense of relief washing over me when I see she is unscathed. 

“What took you so long?” She is furious, hands planted firmly on her hips. I laugh.

“I got lost.” The lie slips out, followed immediately by a pang of regret. For some reason, a voice is insisting to me that I don’t tell Tenjey about the cavern. Maybe it’s selfishness, wanting to keep the secret utopia all to myself. 

“Yeah, I’m sure.” She laughs, faking skepticism. Despite her clear discrediting of my  words, she doesn’t push it any further. Instead, she queries about my plans for the near future. “So, what now? Do we just wait around, with nothing better to occupy our time? Or is there something we should be doing?” 

“Ugh, I don’t know.” I fall backwards onto my pile of blankets, kicking my heels together distractedly and studying the ceiling. 

“There’s got to be something more productive than lying around here,” she murmurs with a sigh. My legs are aching and despite a decent sleep I remain fatigued. Tenjey wanders around, restless, while my limbs ache from my recent jaunt. 

“Really, I don’t think there is.” I raise my legs up in the air, examining my boots. The black leather is dusted with dirt, gravel haas wedged its way into the grooves on the bottom while the chains have finally begun to speckle with rust from the dampness in the air. I lean my head back, tilting it over the edge of my blankets. My hair swishes against the floor. One time, I hated my hair. I thought the charcoal grey was only fit for someone well into their old age, but now I know my hair is far too lustrous to belong to anyone elderly. It goes to show how time is the most effective way to sway someone’s opinion.

“There has to be something we can do.” Tenjey faces me, folding her arms and planting her feet. She levels me with a sturdy glare. “Come on, if I have to sit still for one more moment I’ll go mad!” 

“Then go for a walk,” I mumble, my eyes drifting closed. I pry them open for a moment, just enough to witness Tenjey shaking her head and rolling her eyes. 

“Alright, but don’t lose it if I’m not back within an hour,” she prods, already heading for the open doorway. In my hazy, sleepy mind all I can think is that I really need to find a way to replace my door. I can’t even remember how I broke the original one. Though I have a feeling it had to do with punching a hole in the flimsy barrier.  

“Have fun,” I call out half-heartedly, but Tenjey is already gone. I close my eyes, studying the shifting blotches of brightness and colours left on my retinas by the dimly luminous lights in the ceiling. 

Despite my sudden tiredness, my brain refuses to shut down long enough for me to drift off into the blissfully still abyss of sleep. My thoughts drift and wander, languidly rolling through. I focus on nothing, letting my mind unwind and open up, entertaining a myriad of ambiguous ideas. A few are applicable to the real world, situations I have a high probability of encountering in the near future. Though the majority are completely detached from reality and serve no function whatsoever. 

What would the world be like if we hadn’t fallen? If humankind was not reduced to a scant few, living in a measly hole in the ground, fraught with hatred and turmoil. Back when this world was bursting with living things, in its prime, I bet we didn’t have half the troubles of present times. 

When they—our ancient relative, our ancestors—built their empires, there wouldn’t have been so many terrible aspects to their culture. 

Or maybe humankind had a predisposition for hate and war. Woven into our genetics, a desire to friction with others of our species. Before the Cursed, before Haven, maybe there was already people treated as if they were lesser, just as the Cursed are now. Ancient people who were forced to suffer for being born a certain way. After all, they fell for a reason. Why couldn’t the very hate burgeoning within today’s civilization be the cause behind the Topside’s decline?

This is where my mind wanders, the darkest parts of history that appear in very few books, if any. Something terrible had to happen, but if it was sudden and concise it would be no mystery. No, our downfall had to have crept up stealthily, evading detection until too late. Or maybe we knew something would bring us down all along, we simply chose to ignore it. In that case my ancestors must have been stupider than I thought. 

After all, no one would ignore their coming fate or not catch wind of their rapidly  approaching demise. I force the morbid thoughts out of my mind, beginning to sense the dreadful onslaught of a headache. Because how Haven came into being is trivial. All that matters is that this is the world now. 

 
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