Orphans of a Dead Nation Chapter 14: Rules are Broken, Lights Out
To the man that robbed my everything from me,
Have you ever felt what it feels like to have fallen into despair? Have you truly felt it? No matter. I will tell you how it feels anyway. Like your gut has been punched; your body breathless. Your mind scrabbles hard to focus. Trying to grab onto something to ground you, to understand why. You try and try to think of ways to get out of it. Ways to make it untrue. And yet, no matter what you do, you’re locked in that truth. A truth that will ever be yours. And then you drift. Drift on what could be if only you did this. If only you did that. If only…
I remember that night clearly. It’s clearer than the brightest days of my life; clearer than the water that flows from the taps of the noble houses in Volaris; clearer than the dark pools of my mother’s eyes. I remember that first blow. That sound as the cudgel cracked her skull open.
You were drunk that night, not more drunk than any other, but I tell myself that you were to appease the pain. A pain that is multiplied from knowing that it was you who did it to me. To her.
That night you roved around after you hit her. For some reason you never touched me that night. How unlike you. But as I stood there kneeling, my hands slick with her blood, I felt as if you had more than ever. I closed my eyes then, recalling all those times you beat her in the past. It hit me like a wave. I cried, the tears pouring out like water behind a broken dam.
I crawled to the door, the very door that was to keep the monsters outside. But instead, now locked one with me. Do you remember? Remember her blood on the wood as I pawed it before you dragged me back. You grabbed my hair, and the alcohol swam up my nose. You stank.
You were the first person I wanted to kill, but I was too weak to fight back. I was always too weak.
For some reason, a reason unbeknownst to me, you let me go. And I took that instance to run. I ran out the door, my feet seeping into the snow covered earth below me. I yelled out to the neighbors. Banged on doors, but no one answered. I could see their shadows through their curtains, though. See the light turn off one by one as I got close.
How could they not have known? How could they not have heard? The walls were thin. The screams were loud; but they turned their heads still; closed their eyes and blocked their ears.
It was then that I realized how alone I was.
You may never have felt despair before, but on that day, I made sure you did. Do you remember when I walked back in? When I grabbed that cudgel you left lying in the pool of my mother’s blood? You were leaning over the small counter with a cup in hand. You downed the drink, not caring for anything, only cursing time and time again as the cold wind came through the cracked doorway, not bothering to close it yourself.
I launched myself at you.
And I did not stop until your finger stopped twitching.
That night I learned something.
I learned you cannot rely on anyone to save you. To save you from the horrors of this world.
So, to you, the man that took my most precious thing,
Thank You for teaching me that most valuable lesson.
And thank you for leaving me in a darker, and even more cruel world.
Undercity, as they called it, was massive. It was at least five times bigger than the town between the two walls, and three times larger than the one they just came from.
The door lead them to a large city underground. More precisely, under the bridge. A space between two levels that made it. The buildings were as high as four to five stories, and there were many crystal lantern posts every few meters on the roads. Even a festival a good distance away midst the square. The entire place was lit up with people walking back and forth, chatting and having fun.
The place was dark though – closed off. There was no sky, only stone tens of meters up; and there was a must in the air.
Navari wondered how Alaina seemed so relaxed here. She stretched and moved on with a quickness that showed how sure she was of herself.
As they went deeper into the city, they saw some more steel poles like they did up top. The tips branched out, generating a transparent membrane that kept some shops out in the open without being out in the open. It gave people an illusion of the feel.
Smoke rose from a grill as a chef seared salmon on a grill in front of a long, bar looking table. There were only a few customers, but the chef seemed content. In fact, the entire city seemed somewhat joyous, regardless of their situation. There was just always a smile on their faces.
Popping her head in through the membrane flap, Alaina took a deep breath, and a smile etched onto her face. She seemed almost… happy.
Navari was puzzled as to why. Why would she be happy? For someone who was in a rush to leave; for someone who was being hunted even at this very moment; why take a part of our valuable time to sniff the smell of grilling salmon?
Alaina did not keep sniffing shops and restaurants though. She lead Navari towards the east.
The two traveled for the better part of an hour before something happened.
All this while, Navari had not sensed a thing. He had not felt anything odd about their surroundings. He even began to think they lost their pursuers.
And the sirens broke the air.
It was long, and loud.
They rang, hurting Navari’s ears, and went on for two more times.
Once the sound of the sirens ended, the city, that seemed joyful and in, some small but special way, peaceful, exploded.
People started running. Stores began to pack their things. Everyone was bustling about, closing doors and windows; grabbing their children off the streets and dragging them home. It was noisy; it was crazy; and it was scary.
She could hear Navari screaming in her ear, asking what was wrong, but it only came as a dull roar.
Alaina closed her eyes. She tried to drown the sounds as best she could so she could think.
How is this possible?
And then she remembered the words Jarnice spoke to her before, Everything has a price.
“We must go, now!” She roared. Bolting down the street, pushing past people, Alaina rushed to the far east. Her arms were pumping as she flew. She did not even glance back to see if Navari was following her or managed to keep up.
We have to get out of here before…
And as her mind raced, the lights turned off.
One by one, sections of the city blackened. The only lights left were the crystal lantern posts on some of the nearby roads. Citizens of Undercity screamed as the darkness overtook them.
Most managed to get to their homes, but there were a few that did not. They huddled in corners and remained quiet.
Alaina was the same, albeit she was not from Undercity. She dragged Navari to a corner of some alleyway, and sat down. She hid herself from the crystal lanterns dangling from above and into the alley shadows.
She could hear Navari breathing next to her.
“They call this place the Undercity. It’s not a real city, not real under the eyes of the Magistrates or the Executors, anyway. It was built by a commoner. And yes, imagine a commoner becoming powerful enough to build something that could be considered a city? Awe inspiring? Now imagine how those nobles felt? They probably choked on their drinks as this all happened beneath their nose. And yet they do nothing. Why? Because they fear him. The one that built this city is frightening. I was told once when I was a kid, a story of the last time the City Master of Undercity got mad. At the time, a few nobles thought they could challenge him. Challenge his authority in his own city; but he did nothing. Nothing until they overtly broke the rules. His rules. It was then that he unleashed sirens just like you heard now.
“No one breaks the rules of Undercity. No one.”
“Didn’t we do so just now?” Navari asked, his voice no louder than a whisper.
Alaina was quiet for a while. She closed her eyes and thought deeply. What she had done. What she had led Navari into was after thinking of the ramifications. Going by that passageway was forbidden unless passage was granted by the City Master of Undercity. But, after all these years, for no one to break such a rule, or any rule of Undercity, was she really the first? She had done so because she thought it was not a big deal. In fact, she knew it wasn’t. That at most she would be weighted by a fine. A hefty fine was better than her life any day, but now?
It seems I was the first. But how is that possible. I’ve seen others do it. I’ve seen many things they do to break the less serious rules. How am I special?
For the first time in ten years, the sirens of Undercity had rung.
Looking at Navari, Alaina answered his question. ‘’Didn’t we do so just now?..’