We are the angry and the desperate,
The hungry, and the cold,
We are the ones who kept quiet,
And always did what we were told.
But we've been sweating while you slept so calm,
In the safety of your home.
We've been pulling out the nails that hold up
Everything you've known.
So open your eyes child,
Let's be on our way.
Broken windows and ashes
Are guiding the way.
Keep quiet no longer,
We'll sing through the day,
Of the lives that we've lost,
And the lives we've reclaimed.
Prayer of the Refugee by Rise Against
Your hair is so beautiful, Addie, she murmured, carefully pulling the ivory comb through my unruly tresses. She was very gentle, as always, and her fingers felt good as they lightly touched my scalp. Comforting.
I wiggled a bit. I don't like my hair, I announced brashly. It's the color of blood, and it's always messy. The stableboy said it always looks like my head is on fire.
She smiled and lifted a golden-red lock from my shoulder, holding it to the light. Fire, is it? It certainly bears a resemblance.
Not you, too! I cried out in dismay. But she only laughed quietly.
Rest easy, my little one, she said soothingly. We all could use a bit more fire to give us courage in these dark times.
I frowned. Father said that this is the age of enlightenment. That an angel and a goddess have descended into our midst to redeem us all.
A rattling breath. If that were true, I'd still be alive, wouldn't I?
A chill went down my spine, as I turned around to look at the speaker of that dry, harsh voice. Mother? I squeaked uncertainly.
The face that looked back at me might have once been human, but it was unrecognizable now, charred and burnt into a mass of blackened and pink flesh, features all twisted and grotesque.
I opened my eyes blearily. Weak gray light was just barely visible from the tiny window high above, filtering between the iron bars. A nightmare. Of course. I glanced at the fiery red hair that fell across the bed in dirty, matted tangles and shuddered.
Beats a rattling drum
Marching back up the steps
Into the rays of the sun
Under crushing skies of grays
Paralyzed with phantom pains
Before this room became just a place
Where I just sleep through endless days
Spinning webs and carving names
Where thoughts break up, exploding in space
From the Bottom of My Heart by the Wallflowers
The soft scratching and clicking came in the middle of the night, bringing me instantly out of a restless slumber. At first I thought it was one of the many charred specters that plagued me. But when I saw the form outlined against the cold moonlight, I knew this was no dream. The silhouette slipped silently onto the floor of my cell, as natural and smooth as ink.
Good evening. The man's light and pleasant voice met my ears in an unnatural contrast against the macabre surroundings. I laughed coarsely, amused by the anticlimactic greeting. He paused as my wild laughter echoed around the stone walls, perhaps wondering if I was mad. I might have been. The thought sobered me up immediately, and my hoarse voice died out. I collected my thoughts.
So, what are you here for? Justice? Vengeance? Divine punishment? I drawled, the words falling easily from my lips; I had long resigned myself to no happy ending. It didn't really matter what he was here for.
I'm here to rescue you, he said mildly.
I raised my eyebrows. That was a new one. Don't tell me you say that to all the girls? It's not very original. I heard his lips move over his teeth, and imagined a feral smile. I wondered vaguely if he was not a demon after all. I collected my thoughts once more. There's no reason for you, or anyone else for that matter, to want to rescue me. I'm the most hated criminal of the century. I watched him as I said the words, looking for his reaction. His face was in shadow, but he didn't move a muscle. So now tell me what you're really here for.
He sighed theatrically, the motion expressed by his entire body. Alright, you got me. I'm not here to rescue you, strictly speaking. I said nothing, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew how many hated me, wished me dead. I want to recruit you to the Ortus.
Before I could process the sentence, he continued on unhurriedly. We need more people like you. People who take action on their beliefs. People who aren't afraid to sacrifice.
I won't force you to join, of course. But it's not like you have any choice, right? He looked around the stark cell pointedly, and I caught a glimpse of a very white, very cold smile. No, you destroyed all that when you lit the match.
I considered his words for a moment. How do you know I won't run away as soon as you break me out?
He shrugged. I figure if you were the type to run away, you would have done so before. Avoided all this mess. Not stand in the middle of the smoking ruins, waiting for them to find what you'd done. Within the last statement was a question, so quiet I almost missed it. It was my turn to shrug. I'd been asked the question so many times, in both anger and grief.
So, what'll it be? I felt the intensity of his gaze even in the blackness. Will you join us, or will you rot for the rest of your days in this cell?
The night was deliciously cold on my face as we raced away from the dark looming compound. Or at least, it felt like we were racing—the ground moved beneath us dizzyingly fast, and my legs could hardly support my weight. The scent of the outside world was intoxicating, making me feel light and woozy. Sirens began to go off, and the woman hissed, We have to hurry. She had joined us after we had slipped from the building, with only a quick word and a hard look at the man.
He called back, She can't run properly from being locked in there. She was in solitary confinement, you know. They both glanced at me then, and without another word, began to half carry, half drag me the rest of the way.
The flight throughout the rest of the night was long and cold, but to me it was a kaleidoscope of color and sound and smells. I remember at one point shrieking uncontrollably in mirth, and the three of us diving into a heap of trash, the woman's hand clapped firmly over my mouth. You're not making this any easier for us, she snarled under her breath.
Dawn found us curled up in a dank alley. Cold, numb, exhausted, and bruised all over, but safe. Free.
"Nothing would ever change; nothing new could ever be expected. It had to end, and it did. Now in the dark world where I dwell, ugly things, and surprising things, and sometimes little wondrous things, spill out in me constantly, and I can count on nothing." ― A Scanner Darkly
I woke to the smell of frying eggs. Bewildered, I sat up and looked around. I lay in a bed that was slightly rumpled and patched. The room itself was small and bare, except for a rustic dresser, old but very well maintained. The wooden floor was scuffed and nicked from years of use. I wandered out of the room to find myself directly in the kitchen.
The scene before me was alien in many ways. The man stood in front of the cast iron stove, his back to me. He was idly flipping eggs in the pan, wearing a decidedly feminine apron and singing obscene lyrics to popular songs. Long silver hair cascaded down his back, getting tangled in the lacy edges of the apron. A few feet away, the woman sat at the round wooden kitchen table, perusing a newspaper with hawkish attention.
The man noticed me as he turned to grab some pepper. Good morning, Addie! His cheerful face and forcefully effeminate pose sought to make a mockery of my enshadowed memories of him only a handful of nights ago. I snapped reflexively, My name is Admonit.
But Addie is so much cuter, he wheedled, batting his eyelashes, and I realized he was playing some sort of game. It did not put me at ease.
Just ignore him, he's an idiot, the woman said, glancing up from the printed text only briefly.
The man only laughed at this, relaxing from his playacting. I don't believe we've introduced ourselves. How rude of us. He made a deep bow, and the woman rolled her eyes. He then straightened up, quick as a whip. Now, I am known as Alder. You may also call me Lord of the Universe, King of All That Moves, Master of— The woman punched him in the side, but he continued on as if nothing had happened. And this charming lady here, the epitome of all that is delightful, the name of grace— A second punch, less gentle this time. This time it took him a moment to continue. —is Vireen. Vireen nodded in my direction.
Now then, who wants breakfast? Alder asked, setting down plates of eggs and oatmeal. Stony silence was the only answer. Alder shrugged and began digging into his own plate.
What exactly does the Ortus do? I asked after a moment. My knowledge of the organization was weak at best; most of my understanding of the rebel group had come from my father complaining about them during breakfast. The memory brought a pang to my chest.
Alder brightened. Nice idea, Addie! Let's have a heart-to-heart chat.
Alder is a really odd guy. He drives me crazy, actually. He constantly walks the thin line between idiocy and genius. Xiao Tian says it's because he's half philosopher, and that's simply what philosophers do. I still have my reservations.
Alder has no problem telling us about his past, although he's never told the same story twice. I've only been here for a year and he's told me all variations of stories, including an abduction by assassins, travel with a circus, and in one case, a scandalous escape with a lovely young lady. Interestingly enough, each of his stories starts the same—a young boy living with his kind father, making a living chopping wood in the remote woods. So I guess that part is true.
Vireen is a mystery, at least to me. She's short in stature, but has plenty of attitude to make up for it—I've never seen the lady anything but cross, especially when it comes to Alder. The two bicker like a married couple.
Vireen doesn't talk about herself, or nearly at all really, but I have the feeling from what little hints Alder has dropped that her situation was similar to mine. When we go on missions together, we just work in silence, which is fine by me. She knows her stuff and that's what matters. Sometimes Alder jokingly calls her our "lady surgeon", but it's no joke: she uses her weapon, two knives linked together by a silver chain, with medical precision.
Xiao Tian is probably the only one of us that could be considered "normal". As I understand it, Xiao Tian was born and raised in a gypsy caravan, but you'd never know it from her demeanor—she acts more like a modest middle-class lady.
She does have her odd points, though. She loves peaches and cockroaches, and she can hold her own pretty well in a pinch with a sword, although her true calling seems to lie with explosives.
I spend most of my time with Xiao Tian; her presence is calming. I've often wondered why Xiao Tian is with us, since out of all of us, she has the best shot at a normal life. Alder mentioned once that she makes the most beautiful paintings.
Friends: Xiao Tian
Enemies: The Empress
People often have difficulty understanding Admonit, but her personality is quite simple. She seeks truth and pursues it with single-minded determination. She does not believe in any shades of grey; there is the truth, and then there is the untruth. Addie sees past deception as easily as a veil; whether this is because of or the cause of her beliefs, it cannot be said.
Addie does not think when she takes action, she simply does. Addie cannot obey authority well; she refuses to follow the directions of those who are misguided or just plain wrong. She follows her own path, through the dark alleys and the ashes of her mistakes. She may be bruised and scarred, but her wounds, at least, are the result of her own decisions alone.
Addie is always honest towards others, albeit often far too blunt for refined social settings. She rarely learns from her mistakes, believing that her gut instinct will lead her towards truth, for Truth is the only god she follows.
The Sun Goddess
I met her once, as a child. It was at a formal ball arranged by my father, and only the most prestigious were invited to attend. I remember the guests, powdered and perfumed, trimmed and teased into perfection. They laughed and gossiped and complimented and glared at each other in equal measure. All except her. I was introduced only briefly, as the sorghum lord's only daughter. They did not name her title to me, yet I could tell by the way people glanced at her quickly before they said anything that she was important. Very important. She did not smile when she greeted me as the other gentleman and politicians did. Her long golden hair flowed freely over her rich crimson robes, and she smelled of nothing but sunshine. But her eyes were dark, dark like an eclipse.
Later, after the party, I learned that she was the queen. I finally understood why they called her the Sun Goddess. I'd wished I'd known she was the queen at the time, so I could have asked her if an angel really watched over her, like the stories said. The cook swore it was the angel of death, but the stable master said that was nonsense, that it was the angel of victory.
Either way, for a long time after that, my dreams were full of sunshine and angels.
Thanks so much Kiru!
Credits♠ Coding, art and writing by Solo; please do not use without permission.
♠ Background tile by someone else
♠ "The King and Queen" font published by Fractal Eye