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

8. Morals

Chapter VII

~ Morals ~

“The line is blurred, black and white spread out into infinite shades of undefined grey.”

 

 

 

There’s a throbbing at my neck from the knife, albeit diluted by the thick fabric of my collar. The guard escorting me is a humourless man, with a face white and cold as a block of ice. In the alien world lit by torchlight, his eyes are black like my own and his hair is red like rivulets of blood cascading into his face. 

“They told me about you,” he spits out the sentence with such hatred I’d almost say he hates me as much as I loathe him. “Olyxe Heregale, the girl with the poison touch.” 

“My touch isn’t poison,” I declare sinisterly. “It’s destructive.”

“Quiet!” He snaps, driving the knife harder against my neck. It won’t hurt me, it can’t, but the sensation of the blade even through the fabric is enough to make my gut clench with fear. “Keep your filthy mouth shut unless I tell you otherwise, understand?” 

To spite him, I don’t answer, firmly pressing my lips closed and staring ahead blankly. There’s not much to see in the dreary passage, earthen walls illuminated by the occasional sconce. The fire in itself is the most interesting part of the journey. Banned in the civilization above, fire is utterly foreign. Flames intrigue me, how they dance and whirl with elegance and grace, burning hot as the growing anger inside of me. 

This is merely the first hundred steps into the world below Haven. The aptly named catacombs of Isolation, cut off entirely from the city except for this one tightly guarded passage. My way in, and hopefully someday my way out. 

The blackness at the end of the corridor draws nearer and nearer, with each footstep, breath, heartbeat I can feel my future slipping away. It falls through my fingers no matter how hard I try to grasp it, the effort as futile as trying to keep ahold of fistfuls of loose sand. 

“Savour this,” the knife presses even harder against my throat, threatening to tear fabric. It can’t hurt you, I insist to myself, desperate not to give my guard the satisfaction of my fear. “Savour these last moments, chances are you’ll never see outside of this prison again.” 

“You must really hate people like me,” I drawl, stupid with fear. The blade is so close to my throat, and I can’t be sure my Curse will turn it to ashes before it breaks my skin. “Really hate us, or else really fear us.”

“Hate,” he snarls, shoving me over the threshold. There’s a slight drop, more than the gradual downward slope of the corridor. My feet hit stone, the knife suddenly jolting upward to glance against the exposed skin un the underside of my chin. It’s the faintest of brushes, a slight wavering of the guard’s hand, but it’s enough. 

The blade crumbles to ash and dust, followed by the handle. It falls to the floor and out of sight, much to the horror of the guard. 

He’s weaponless. He knows it. 

There’s hands suddenly at my throat, tight enough to cut off my air. I cuss my stupidity for wearing a shirt that covers my neck. If not, the guard would meet the same fate as his trusty knife. 

“Filthy Pov, dirty barbarian, abomination and plight on humanity.” The guard splutters, dark spots clouding over my view of his face. There’s a crushing pain in my lungs, but stubborn defiance keeps me from gasping for air. I will gladly turn blue in the face before I let the enemy win. 

The burning in my lungs is under struck by the dull throbbing of my growing enmity  towards this place, the Isolation Law and the guard holding my throat. 

“Enough.” Someone barks, gruff voice echoing in the cavernous tunnels. The pressure immediately loosens and I suck in a greedy lungful of air, blinking furiously as I try to clear the spots and the dizziness. 

“It’s so much fun, Lenwig. You should try it sometime.” The man who seconds ago tried to strangle me laughs. It’s a strange sound coming from his throat, still carrying hints of venom as if he’s unable to truly feel anything other than passionate hate. “To see the fear in their eyes... joyous.” 

“Careful, Henxer. I can easily get you decommissioned.” The way he—the one called Lenwig—says the word decommissioned,I can inference it means much more than the mere loss of a job. Henxer, the recipient of my deepest loathing, gulps. Decommissioning from this place probably means death, in order to keep the many secrets the catacombs hold. “Now do your job and bring her to her cell. If I see you trying to hurt a prisoner again I won’t be so willing to let it slide.” 

“You’re no fun,” he grabs me roughly, dragging me farther into the darkness. By now I can see again, but strength is yet to return to my legs and I stumble. This lights up Henxer’s eyes, while Lenwig laughs from behind us. He’s the same stern face as Henxer, white and cold with eyes that only light up when they see pain, but evidently he takes his job seriously. He enjoys lording over the guards as much as the prisoners. 

“Be sure to enjoy the views,” Lenwig calls ominously, his voice fading behind us as he takes the passageway leading in the opposite direction. Despite common sense telling me not too, I peer at the walls around us and scrutinize what little I can see in the firelight. 

When we reach the first cavern, I realize what Lenwig had meant. 

The tunnel abruptly opens up, lit well by many torches. At first I could have mistaken it for a temple, until my eyes found the bones.

Hundreds of them, there had to be. Some as tiny as finger bones, some massive femurs. There’s piles of them haphazardly stacked, while others are arranged meticulously to form patterns or shapes. There’s fragments and dust, complete skeletons laid out. 

“The Gate of Skeletons.” Henxer declares, trailing fingers whiter than the bones themselves over the top of a skull with two slivers of jet for eyes. “The largest of the six main catacombs, two of which you’ll be seeing along your journey. But don’t worry, there’s many other micro-tombs along the way for you to enjoy.” 

I could grab the thick, heavy hip bone to my left and knock Henxer senseless. Or I could stay passive, compliant and defeated, follow meekly through the archway framed by polished fingers and, much to my disgust, teeth. 

I follow. The horrific Gateway of Skeletons has left me hollowed out and empty of all my fight. I want nothing more than to close my eyes and erase the seared-in images of skulls, teeth, entire skeletons—all of them human—used like some kind of artwork to inspire fear. It sickens me, sapping the little strength I’d been clinging to desperately. I was at the edge of a cliff, and now my grip is starting to fail. 

There’s not much I can do for the rest of the walk except stare ahead, trying not to look at the bone-filled chambers on either side. This is what Haven does with their dead. The oblivious people above discard their loved ones, family, to be forgotten and used to inspire fear in prisoners. In the Rich Districts the catacombs and Isolation are two separate places, one a prison and the other a sanctuary for the deceased. It doesn’t take much to realize this is far from true, amidst the sea of empty skulls we occasionally we pass by cells occupied not by the deceased but by living, breathing people. 

Their eyes are haunted and desperate, full of shadows and torment. Soon I’ll look like them, give up whatever resolve I have left. But I will not let Henxer or any other cruel guard see my pain. 

As I’d been told, we cross through a second catacomb chamber. This one is smaller and far less elaborate, lacking the morbid elegance the Gate of Skeletons possessed. There are bones everywhere, haphazardly strewn for the most part except for a few haunting fixtures encasing torches that burn white-hot. 

“This is the Tomb of Varyel. According to popular lore, Varyel attempted to free the prisoners and was consequently slain by a guard. They keep his corpse here as a reminder that no one is coming to save you.” Henxer sneers, popping the lid off a steel coffin propped on a table in front of the exit. Inside is the partially mummified body off a man, with a mouth twisted open in a perpetual cry of agony. Henxer is sure to give me time to take in every horrid detail, before finally easing the coffin closed once more and shoving me roughly. “Now, move it. We can’t have you arriving late.”

He sets a brisk pace, one I find hard to keep up with. I pitch and sway. Whatever strength that’d been keeping me upright had started to wane, leaving my legs too weak to support my weight. My head spins, pounding with the force of a thousand drums. 

We walk for what feels like days, until I’m finally numb from fear and exhaustion. Seeing the prisoners no longer has any effect on my, so I’m chucked into the nearest empty cell and left alone. Not without a degree of taunting, Henxer only leaving once he realized I was too far gone to react. 

I stare at the wall. The stone is rough and uneven, as if this cell had been created by hand, the first few prisoners slowly chipping away at the rock to create their torture chambers. The wall is damp, a trickle of water coming from somewhere in the room and providing enough moisture for everything to be encrusted with toxic black mold. The smell of rot and decay has reached the point of being all-consuming, as the vile air forces its way up my nose and into my aching lungs. 

My neck throbs in waves of pain, and I absentmindedly reach up to touch it. The skin there is hot and swollen, likely to fade into nasty bruises by tomorrow. 

It won’t be long before the cold and dampness start to make my bones ache. Pain will become the only certainty, the only constant. It will drive me mad, and kindle an all-consuming rage. 

After an eternity, I finally slipped into a troubled sleep. Not deep enough for dreams, the chilled stone creating enough discomfort to keep me from fading away into anything more blissful than a light doze. When I wake up, my throat is dry and sore. Swallowing is difficult. 

Eventually, someone comes by with a tray of food. Nothing edible, dried and shrivelled fungi that didn’t make the cut in Haven. Leftovers, scraps, trash. I don’t eat any of it, nor do I drink the rusty brown water brought to me in a cup made from lead. All the utensils and dishes are formed from toxic material, a plate carved from arsenic, fork painted with bright red paint undoubtedly sourced from the eggs of a poisonous variation of the common rockbeetle. 

I don’t eat anything after my next sleep either. It becomes my new rebellion, refusing temptation. With each passing second I feel my strength waning, a hunger roiling in my stomach. Emptiness takes on a whole new meaning. 

After four sleeps, I finally give in and gobble up a plateful of potential toxins. I wake up from my next sleep to vomit it all up. 

They quickly learned torturing me will be frivolous and a waste of perfectly good weapons. They’ve taken small scraps of my clothes, but it’ll take them a great deal of time to figure out my mother’s secret fabric. Even longer to find a way to make something out of it hard and sharp enough to break skin. 

I gloat in the temporary victory. The guards, Vultures as I’ve heard the prisoners call them, march along with whips and daggers, spikes and swords, hauling each prisoner out of their cell in turn to cut them open and watch them suffer. Always pushing them to the brink of death, but never over. I learn to recognize my neighbours, even if I can’t see them through the stone walls of my cell. But when they’re dragged out of their’s to be flayed and maimed, I can’t help but peer through the iron bars and watch. There’s one with a Curse that makes him fade in and out of view, especially when he’s afraid. He has russet hair, grown out long, greasy and tangled. I call him Red, for the colour of his hair and the ruddy flush of his skin. 

Another one is Tooth. On one of my early days, I watched her lose a tooth. A couple days later, she repaid the guard by knocking out one of his teeth. It took me a while to figure out her Curse, but I’m pretty sure it’s abnormal strength. 

They call me Silence. Probably because I never speak, never shout, moan or wail. They watch me with jealous, curious eyes that ask why is she exempt to feeling this pain? 

A couple times, they bring in new people. More times though, they’re carrying out fresh corpses. With each time I fall asleep, a part of me yearns not to wake up. Whenever I close my eyes I’m haunted with memories of Haven. My life in the city above was far from perfect, but it was sublime compared to this. 

By about two months worth of sleeps, there’s been a change in me so drastic I fear what they’d be unleashing if they set me free. My body itself has wasted away to nothing, my already showing bones not jut as if I’m nothing but a skeleton covered in skin. No, it’s the rage I’m worried about. It grows and grows, ravenous even though my appetite has only dwindled since throwing up ever meal my first week. It tears away at my insides, gnashing and clawing. There’s nothing I can do as it spreads through me like a virus, contaminating every ounce of my mercy until there’s nothing left. 

There’s a black pit yearning open inside me, with fangs and talons. A vicious venom ready to be used. It gives me strength on my darkest days, the will to fight when all is empty. And I start to think; maybe it’s not so bad. 

What’s wrong with being furious, anyways? I can’t remember, I can hardly remember anything about the barriers between right and wrong. Here, the line is blurred, black and white spread out into infinite shades of undefined grey. I give in to the black storm. 

 

 

 

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