“A grim tale is not always one you wish to hear. However, if you value the truth, you will listen and embrace the misfortune. If you seek to escape and keep hope alive, turn away from me and live your lie.”
It was snowing out. Light patches of white drifting lazily with the wind. Even though more than a year had passed, Kadyn remembered how it all began. The day was overcast; it wasn’t supposed to rain, yet the weather always had a way of disappointing those who count on it. Not that it mattered to Kadyn Stone.
He was inside a small store, working for pennies to support himself. Books would have lined shelves, but they had become less valued lately. The books were lined with nothing but dust and disappointment. Something Kadyn often mistook for a metaphor of his own existence. Why there was even a book shop was a mystery to Kadyn. After the outbreak of the D-Strain Virus at the end of the war what civilians were left, and soldiers that weren’t still active, were too busy working; practically selling themselves into slavery for a temporary cure so they can work more to get another vaccine. The state of things made Kadyn’s blood boil.
“It’s all the hierarchy's fault,” Kadyn fumed silently to himself. It had been nearly six months since they had taken his older brother to Quarantine, as they called it. Everyone thought differently, even if they did not speak of it aloud. There were rumors though, of what they did with the infected; the Strained. “I hear they test so-called cures on them to try to heal them, you know, but it doesn’t work. It only makes them worse, and then they die,” Kadyn heard some of the younger children say before. Kadyn didn’t think this was likely, but it was certainly the most realistic. Some theories were as crazy as infected were forced into an underground army, to fight a secret war. The idea made Kadyn smirk. His brother was squad leader of the Seventh in the war, and if there was another Kadyn was sure of one thing. Wherever his brother he was giving everyone hell.
Kadyn cursed himself as his fingers slipped off the page of the book below him; lost in his reminiscing he had forgotten what he was doing. Even though his eyes were poor, and his reading atrocious at best, he had always tried to read as much as he could. He stumbled over words, lost his place often, and most of the time would have to consult a dictionary to look up the meaning, but never lat that stop him. Books were a second brother to Kadyn; One who wasn’t infected, one who wouldn’t be taken, one who didn’t leave him. They revealed to him dying words of soldiers, from the very beginning of the war. Weapons and tactics used, like the Tactical monster release of the cold North. Kadyn found the modern scholar's study of Phaisa to be the most interesting. Phaisa is what ignited his reading passion. From his long research, he had concluded that “No one really knows anything about it.” Nothing solid and substantial anyway.
As the story went, Phaisa had been created from one of the Seven Gods when they decided to leave, and care for the planet in a less direct manner. One goddess, the youngest of the seven name Phasmail objected. She loved the planet and wish to stay with those who adored her, worshipped her. The remaining six began to ascend into the heavens. As they were leaving, Phasmail had a change of heart. She began to ascend as well, reaching after her siblings, only to be struck down by the second oldest God, Klusango. Phasmail fell back toe place she had love so dear, raining her holy blood throughout the planet. Some of the rain hardened into shards that contained everything that Phasmail had loved about this planet; rage, kindness, sadness, compassion, even despair, and yes, love. These shards were found all over and when touched, they absorbed into the skin, dissipating in wispy trails of smoke quickly carried away. They say you must desire to become a god for it to happen though, or at the very least want to be godlike. That’s when some scholars actually began documenting these phenomenon and individuals who went by many names; sage, magician, wizard, witch, djinn, but most commonly, they were called Ruke.
When this magical ability was passed from parent to child, as they found out Phasia manifested itself in children who had never touched a shard. Ruke, an olden tongue word meaning “chosen” seemed appropriate. Biology had chosen them, for better or for worse. Right now, fate had chosen for worse. Rukes were already dying out. The D-Strain Virus seemed to be accelerated by the presence and use of Phaisa and seemed to kill off any Ruke before they were old enough to mate. No one knew how long it took the virus to destroy someone, and without any real symptoms, no one could track the progress. The only noticeable side effect was the mild to intense headaches, and a change of the iris. One day infected, Ruke or otherwise just don’t wake up from sleep; and that was the end of it.
Kadyn found his page and tried to continue reading. He had barely finished a sentence when the front door burst open. Three figures hurriedly shuffled in; an older boy of maybe twelve, and two younger kids, a boy and a girl. They slammed the door, with their backs to it and turned the key, clicking the lock into place as if they owned the store. The older boy pointed toward some bookshelves and they quickly lost themselves behind them, eyes always fixed on the locked door like they expected it to implode at any second.
Kadyn’s mind only drew a puzzled blank. He slipped a bookmark between the crease of his page and closed his book soundlessly. Stepping from behind the counter he walked directly towards the group from behind one shelf, but he had no problem observing them with empty cases separating them. Kadyn towered over the boy from behind and poured over his feathers, like a sculptor who may be shaping his masterpiece. The boy had short black hair, cut in uneven patches. He wore a light gray coat with a hood attached, but it certainly wouldn’t keep him warm at night in this snow. The gray coat was a dark maroon on his left arm; a cut that looked deep and was still running.
“What’s this?” Kadyn said as if to no one but himself.
The boy turned and fell backwards, almost knocking over the two younger children. He nearly scrambled in fear of this stranger who had so easily sneaked up to him. Kadyn stepped out around the corner, seeing them face to face he held up his hands in a sign of surrender. Now, turned towards him, Kadyn saw his gaunt face, most likely from stress. He had a thin waist; malnutrition. It was probably several days since their last real meal.
“Well...” Kadyn began. “You’re here. Why are you here?”
The boy cocked his head up to Kadyn but did not speak, but the boy had no need to. His eyes were like sunshine with flecks of gold. This boy was being hunted, and since he was hiding, then that means soldiers collecting for quarantine were nearby.
The thought made his temper rise and blood began to race through his veins. He couldn’t have been older than fourteen, the other two maybe nine and they all already knew of the pain people could endure in this world. The boy saw Kadyn’s eyes and hung his head in the familiarity of being scanned. The other two children were hiding behind the larger child. Their fingers scraping dust from between the bookcases as the peered at Kadyn.
“Silver,” the girl started until the eldest boy shot her a look that he seemed used to giving. A glance that said “hush now; be still and quiet.”
Kadyn looked at the other two children. The girl seemed the youngest with a pretty, but dirty face. Her hair looked like it was beginning to mat from the amount of time spent on the move, and in hiding. It was dirty, but strands of amber shone through the mess. The younger boy was peculiar with longer blonde hair that fell below his ears, or what used to be blonde. They still called it the same though. The D-Strain Virus changed the arrangement of the protein and turned it a brilliant silver; basically a proclamation to Quarantineers that you were infected. You could never tell exactly how far along someone was though, it affected everyone different.
“Silver,” Kadyn started. The boy kept his head down. “I know why you're here.” The eldest boy with the gash on his arm looked up at him what what may have been anger, but Kadyn wasn’t paying attention. “You’re lucky I hate Quarantineers more than a few rude brats,” Kadyn said smirking to himself, thinking himself as high and mighty. “Let’s get that arm bandaged, and then get you all something to eat. Follow me to the back and we’ll fix both of those issues.” Kadyn turned his back and started back toward the counter when Silver said something.
“Oh yeah! And why should I trust you?” Defiance gleamed in the young boys eyes with the virility only youth can muster.
“Because,” Kadyn stated cooly. “The alternative is you leave my shop and risk the Quarantineers.”
“Well… Where do you think they went?” A man with a flutey voice said.
“I don’t know. We’ve only been chasing them for what? Two days now is it? Or is it three? All for some kids we haven’t seen use Phasia once,” Came a reply from a man with a deeper voice.
“Yeah at least that many days. What a drag. I thought becoming a soldier would—”
“Be more fun?” The gruff voice cut through knowingly.
“Yeah! What more could you want? A different girl each night, all the booze you can drink, and on top of that a paycheck for fighting. Ha!” His flutey voice played a melody anyone could enjoy. “That was the dream anyway. Now we’re stuck in a rat hole town chasing kids. Man, fucking kids. I mean, why did you become a soldier?”
Calmly, cooly, “Every man has his price.” A guarded reply.
“Money! I knew it. No wonder you’re always broke. You spend it on the women don’t you? Yeah, I bet you do! How many do you have back in the capital? Three? Four? You sly devil come on tell me about them. Do they have any sisters?”
“No? No sisters?”
“It isn’t about money.”
The fluted voice laughed nasally. “Oh yeah? Then what is your price?”
“Revenge.” The voice sounded otherworldly.
“Come with me,” Kadyn spoke simply, doing the best he could to conceal any emotion he may have regarding these children. What these children needed now was strength, shelter, protection; in other words, they needed something he was not and everything he isn’t.
A solid door in the back of the shop was pushed inward revealing a hallway to the back where Kadyn lived; four figures made their way in a shuffle to the back room, a combination kitchen with a cot in the corner. Kadyn opened a cupboard that was mostly bare and pulled out a few snacks. Crackers that were most likely stale, chocolate bars with faded wrappers, and a glass jar full of what may have been apple juice. He opened another cupboard and retrieved a few cups, set out the food and poured them drinks. Kadyn stood back almost like a proud father figure, “Are you waiting on an invitation?” He posed to them before they greedily dug in without another word. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” He tried to sound as stern as possible while still being kind. Kadyn didn’t think it would be long before the Quarantineers would show up, looking for Silver and—
Wrap Wrap Wrap!
Three sharp knocks on the front door cut through his thinking. “Shit,” Kadyn cursed under his breath. He had to make a decision. He did.
“Quarantineer’s at your door Sir. Open up or we’re authorized to use force!” The voice was gruff and the words came with plenty of authority to back them up. It made Kadyn think about his brothers voice that sounded deeper than a waterfall, and made his own voice sound like the babbling of a stream.
“Give me a tic,” Kadyn returned feigning a lower octave. “The lock is a bit sticky!” His mind was racing even faster than the pulse beating in his hands. As Kadyn jiggled the latch that kept the door secure free of its casing, he was forced backwards by the swing. He stumbled, arms flailing in comedic fashion, but one hand caught a bookcase and stopped his descent; he looked he had ungracefully curtzied. In the doorway stood two soldiers.
Covered head to toe in armor that had lost its sheen from days of travel, yet still managed to direct a beam of light directly into Kadyn’s eyes, were two Quarantineers. The armor was similar to that of the war; the same armor his brother might have worn, or so he had read in the papers. It was the badge that gave them their power. Attached to the cuirass on their chest was a chain with a badge at the end. Solid silver, painted with an iridescent yellow that shone despite the grime on the rest of their armor. A yellow sun.
“Where are they?” The shorter guard popped off from behind his larger friend. He moved left and right aiming his eyes around his buddy, his eyes dating eagerly like and eagle searching for his prey.
“Who? My customers? If I was going to have any you probably scared them away,” Kadyn did his best to sound calm as if he was used to this sort of hassle. He dusted himself off with hard pats he hoped showed his frustration.
The shorter of the guards moved into the doorway, ahead of his friend and let out a large laugh that Kadyn felt would hurt his own belly if he would have done the same. The stronger looking sentinel remained silent and still. Kadyn looked the stoic soldier in the eyes and felt he see they were wild with speculation.
“Shut up Rivers,” the voice from the stoic man seemed to deep; more soulful than Kadyn expected from him. It turned on Kadyn and he felt it pierce his bones. “My name is Lieutenant Rhalsian. We’re quarantineers and we’re looking for three fugitives. We are asking for authority to search this premises in order to find said fugitives, under the Chancellor's twelfth Edict.”
Kadyn smirked, “I decline.”
The soldier called Rivers let his jaw drop in shock. Rhalsian’s stoic face remained etched in marble; he was unphased. “You do understand it is a capital offense to harbor fugitives of law. We can fine you and confine you. In some cases, death.” He tossed the last word out their and let it hang in the air.
“I assure you my good soldier that I am just a librarian. There are no fugitives here of any sort.”
Rivers chimed in, “Well you gonna move over so we can look?”
“No thank you,” Kadyn tried to toss it away like they had offered him a cup of tea.
“Kid, I will—”
Rhalsian cut him off, “Let’s go Rivers.”
“Rhalsy? Come on! What if the kids are here?” The whine of his voice made Kadyn feel more mature, and nearly cringe, despite Rivers having more than a few years on him.
“He says no fugitives. We have no reason to stay any longer. Time for B-To-B.”
The magic words for Rivers. “Back to Base! Now you’re talkin’!” Rivers exclaimed changing his entire attitude on a dime. He went from angry to damper to excited in three minutes flat.
“Sorry to waste your time sir,” Rhalsian said as he turned his back in the doorway, eyeing Kadyn over his shoulder. Rivers followed him whispering a happy tune and slowly shut the squeaky door behind him.
Kadyn let his knees weaken and dropped down on them and let out a long sigh. He had stood his own against two Quarantineers, one of them a Leiutenant, and got his way! No less, without a scratch. The sigh gave way to laughter and Kadyn stood and made a quick shuffle in the direction of the kitchen. His laughter subsided quickly when he opened the door.