Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Resistance Chronicles PART TWO: Initiation

It's here!
I present to you: Part TWO of The Resistance Chronicles.
If you are unfamiliar with this series of short stories I'm writing, here's a description:

The city of Thera is not all it seems-- the people there live controlled by the cuffs around their ankles, forced to comply to whatever Ferucil wishes. But there is hope: The Resistance, the rebel faction, fighting for the true ruler of the land. Four members of the Resistance find themselves in dire situations, some a result of the war, some a result of their personal struggles with anxiety, pride, doubt, and worth. This series of short stories focuses on these members, each one from one of their perspectives.

Check out part one here.
You can also read both parts on Wattpad.


        I add one last sweeping swipe of jet black onto the page, pulling my brush so it will feather out at the end. It’s finished. I breathe a sigh of satisfaction and welcome the bittersweet feeling I always get when I finish a project: the pride of completion mixed with a twang of sadness at moving forward from the inspiration I used up.
        I’m not sure where it came from this time, the inspiration. But the raven’s wings spread across the page in a way that’s so familiar, so—bold. I glance over it once more before I leave my room, the morning light glinting off of the still wet watercolors, highlighting the emerald green of the trees.
        “Cameron! Coffee’s ready!”
I grin widely, pulling on a military coat. Today I get to bring Zayla to the Resistance meeting, where she’ll have the chance to hear Adiano speak surrounded by other Recruits—and I hope against hope that she feels comfortable.
        Unlikely, but you never know, right? I still don’t know what I can do for her. She’s so upset and confused—and to think her family is being so cruel. My heart aches at the pain she must be going through, but it seems to me that, between the rough spots, she’s actually happy. I’d never seen her smile as she walked down the street. I’d never heard her laugh when she stood across the room. But now, there’s joy in her eyes. Hope in her voice, despite the pain. I just want her to feel welcome here. To feel safe.
        I jog into the kitchen where my mom and dad are talking over breakfast. Mom smiles over at me softly, her hair a tousled blonde mess pulled back in a bun. She’s beautiful even in this state that she likes to call “unfit for public,” and my dad knows it. After all these years he still looks at her like she’s an angel, and I have to agree with him.
        “Are you off to see Zayla again?” She asks while she slides a mug of coffee down the table.
        I nod, catching the cup in my palm.
        “You’ve been hanging around her quite a bit this last week,” my dad raises an eyebrow.
        I laugh off the veiled criticism. “I have, as I do with anyone I recruit. She just needs some help adjusting. It’s been harder for her than the others, you know.” I take a sip, the hot liquid burning my throat. “I’ll see you guys at the meeting?”
        “She’s going to come, right?” My mom stands up and stretches. “I want to meet her.”
        “Of course. She’s been looking forward to hearing Adiano speak. I mean, when she’s not freaked out about being in a room full of strangers. It’s a fifty-fifty thing at this point.” My smile fades a little. “It’s okay though. I think once she gets the first visit over with she’ll be a lot more comfortable with it.”
        “Don’t keep her waiting then,” my dad mutters, suppressing a chuckle. “My little leader can’t be late.”
        “Right.” I pull on my sneakers as I tumble out the door, the sharp cold air burning my nose. I’m not a leader yet. Pressure rises in my chest. I’m not sure I’ll ever be. But it’s what Adiano wants for me. It’s what my parents see in me. But I don’t see it in myself. Adiano’s never given someone the wrong job, and every recruit that followed his requests is thankful they made the right choice. But could he be wrong about me? Am I really cut out for it?
        I shake off the doubts as I make my way to Zayla’s house. I can’t think about that now. I just have to help her.
        One person. That’s it.
        “They don’t love me anymore! I’m going to lose my family!” Her eyes are magnified by a layer of tears. I don’t know what to say. This isn’t the first time a family has rejected a recruit. It’s not easy, but Ferucil doesn’t want his people mixing with ours.
        “I just want to live this life. I want to be in the Resistance. But they don’t want that version of myself.” She fights back a sob and loses. “It’s not good enough for them.”
        “Just—tell me what happened, Zayla.”
        “It’s not like that,” she says, brusquely wiping at her face with the corner of her sleeve.

“What do you mean?”
She lets out a small sigh before answering. “I expected them to treat me differently. But they hate me now. And Tristan—he feels like I abandoned him. Like I’m some kind of curse on the family or something.” She sits down on a bench and pulls her knees to her chin. “I can’t handle this.”
        “They don’t hate you, they just don’t understand,” I whisper, sitting down beside her. “It’ll get better with time.”
At least, that’s what I hope. Not every family has a happy ending. Alyssa’s didn’t. But we have to hope for the best. “And you’re strong. You can handle it.”
        “You believe that?” After a long pause, she pushes her bangs out of her eyes and looks down the street. “I see the world differently now, you know. And the earpiece—it’s like having someone I can trust at my side all the time.”
        “It is pretty great isn’t it?” The headsets are one of the best parts of being a Recruit. We can talk to Adiano anytime. And he talks to us. “How are you feeling about the meeting today?”
        “I doubt the day can get any worse. But the minute I start thinking positive is the minute things start going wrong, apparently.” She stands up again with a huff.
        “They’re going to love you, you know that? And you’ll get to meet my friends.”
        “Yeah, I’m not really good with group dynamics.”
        I let out a snicker I meant to hold in. “Trust me, Alyssa is. And Keiko is quiet, so there’s no pressure there. I think you’ll do fine.”
        She rolls her eyes. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I smile broadly at her. She’s going to fit right in.
        I help her through the tunnel that the Recruits use to reach headquarters, and watch in amusement as she takes everything in, trying not to show the emotions the journey is clearly sparking inside of her. She hardly says anything, getting quieter, tenser, as we approach the larger building where we hold weekly meetings. I’m excited, but I worry that she’s just anxious.
        I breathe in the forest air, taking in the misty tang of the pine needles and the warmth of the sun’s early rays. A piercing cry breaks into the atmosphere, and I squint above me, searching for its source.
        “How does that thing always know where you are?” I ask, admiring the falcon’s spread wings, silhouetted against the sky.
        “I— I don’t really know.” Her voice sounds strained. She’s getting more anxious by the minute. “I’ll send her home.” She whistles at the bird and holds out her arm, and I cringe as the bird’s talons clasp around her wrist, even though I know she wears a leather bracer underneath her sleeve, only the ends of her fingers ever exposed to the elements.  It black feathers are flecked with strips of gold, like pyrite resting in a bed of murky water.
        “It’s fine, really. Don’t worry about it. A bunch of us have animals here, but if you don’t want to bring her in you can leave her at the stables.” I smile, trying to ease her anxiety.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days, it’s that easing her anxiety takes much more than a desperate grin.
        She runs her fingers along the raptor’s feathers, making them shimmer in the sun. I stand in awe once again at the creature, amazed at the sheer wildness it possesses beneath its tame surface. It’s terrifying and beautiful all at once, its fierce eyes piercing through to the inner workings of my being. I wonder if it likes what it sees.
        Zayla makes a small sound and sets the bird off in the direction of the stables. She clenches her jaw as she turns to face the entrance again.
        “It’s going to be fine,” I say.
        She doesn’t respond.
        The room is loud and crowded, full of bustling recruits. Everyone is eager for today’s meeting to begin, to hear Adiano speak. Being able to have these meetings is a privilege; It’s not something we should take for granted. At least, that’s what I tell myself on the days when I’m tired. The days I don’t want to deal with the pressure anymore.
        The days I feel like giving up.
        Zayla is silent, and she seems smaller every moment. She pulls her navy hoodie over her head, forcing her bangs to stick to her forehead and hang over her eyes. They aren’t shining now, a dull, dark green that barely peeks its way out from under a curtain of black.
        Alyssa and Keiko are already here—Alyssa’s never late, so I’m not surprised—and Keiko looks out of breath. She spots us from across the room and waves hello with a shout. Her hair falls in the usual hip-length cascade of near white curls that blend with her silvery skin and crystal blue eyes. She’s almost transparent—and her personality matches her looks.
        I chuckle as she pulls Keiko through the crowd, her face beaming, his apprehensive.
        Zayla tenses beside me, and I wonder for a moment if she’s ready to meet someone as exuberant as Alyssa.
        I don’t have much time to reconsider.
        “Who’s your friend?” she says in a chipper tone, her face gaining some color from the rush over to meet us.
        “This is Zayla. She’s been a recruit for just a few days now.” I smile back at Zayla, who stands two steps removed from the group already. “Zayla, this is Alyssa and Keiko.”
        She tries to smile at them, but it looks more like a grimace.
        Alyssa takes notice, of course. “You okay?”
        Zayla looks at the ground. “Yeah. I’m fine,” she mumbles.
Lie number one.
        Keiko taps Alyssa on the shoulder, eyebrows raised.
        “Oh! Translating! Sorry. She says she’s fine.” she says, this time using sign language as she speaks, her hands flying in diverse paths across the air, writing words in the sky. When she finishes, she looks back over at Zayla. “Kei is deaf, so it helps if you look at him when you talk so he can read your lips. I translate for him most of the time, though.”
        “I—I didn’t know.”
        And I forgot to tell her. Probably not my best move.
        Keiko signs something, and Alyssa vocalizes. “He’s says that’s fine. Most people don’t expect to meet a deaf person here anyway. It’s not all that common in the city.”
        She smiles broadly, but Zayla is clearly feeling worse than before, and I can hear her breaths coming in jagged gasps. I half wince, half grin at Alyssa, silently begging her to come up with something to help pull Zayla out of this shell.
        Alyssa’s not great at being sensitive.
        “So, do you have any family?”
        That was the last straw. Zayla glances at me in a panic. “I—my family—They don’t—I—“ her words come in strained chokes, and she is shaking visibly now. She glances frantically around the room, looking for an escape, but the crowd is too thick for her to move. She clasps her hands around the back of her head and closes her eyes, but it doesn’t help. She falls to her knees, and I drop with her.
        “Hey, it’s okay. We’ll figure this out together,” I whisper, my hand on her shoulder. “Just listen to Adiano’s voice. You’re not alone.” She shakes under my fingers, unresponsive. She’s lost to us now, and all I can do is wait.
        Wait for the fear to subside.
      “What happened today?” Alyssa jogs to catch up with me as I walk the streets of Thera, soaking in the night air like a toxin.
        I pull a few leaves off a topiary as I walk past, deep in thought. “It didn’t go so well, did it?”
        “You think? What’s wrong with her?” She pulls her beanie down to cover her ears and crosses her arms. “She’s not like—crazy, right?”
        I shoot her a critical glance. “No. She’s not crazy. It’s called anxiety. She has panic attacks sometimes.” I take a deep breath. “It’s a real challenge for her to enter the unknown, and she’s having family problems on top of it.” I sigh, twisting the leaves between my fingers.
        Alyssa lets out an ‘oooooh’ of realization. “So bringing up family at her first meeting was a bad idea.”
        No kidding. “It wasn’t what I would have started with.”
        “Well—it’s not like I knew it would freak her out.” She shoots a puff of air into the atmosphere, white smoke against the onyx sky.
        I sigh. I just want this to work out, but I can only do so much. “She could use a friend. Maybe if you reached out to her—“
“I don’t think I can.”
What? “Alyssa, I know you’re busy, but couldn’t you just—“
“Things have been crazy at Spera Domus. We’re still trying to fix the old building up from the storm—“
I grit my teeth. “That was two weeks ago.” She can’t do this. I just want her to help.
“Every time we get something fixed, we find something else that’s broken. Look, I have my own problems. I mean—If it was you personally that needed help, I’d find a way, but I just can’t take on someone new, you know?” She glances at me, but avoids eye contact.
“Right. Well, let me know when you find some time in your busy schedule for people who actually need you.” I pitch the leaves at the ground, and turn away, escaping into an alleyway.
“I will,” she says, her voice rising at the end. Without seeing her, I know she’s jutting out her chin, raising her nose, and squaring her shoulders.
She’s usually better than this. Whenever Keiko or I need her, she’s there. But she’s selective, few people worthy of inconveniencing herself. I just hope she’ll come to her senses. I round a corner and lean back against the brick wall of a convenience store, watching the stars. I don’t want to go home. Dad will want to know why I ran out of Headquarters early today. He’ll want to know why Zayla panicked.
Why I failed.
        The clash of metal sounds through the armory as everyone rushes to prepare for battle. Ferucil’s army is on the move already.
This is bad. Very bad.
Zayla is terrified, but she’s doing her best to keep it under control. She doesn’t speak, but I know it’s because she’s listening to Adiano’s orders.
I don’t know if she’ll make it through this fight.
She picks up a sword, the steel clearly heavier than she is capable of wielding properly. She doesn’t know how to use it, but what other choice does she have? She looks to the sky, where her falcon is soaring, keeping watch over her.
The roar and screeching of the enemy’s creatures resounds in my ears. Ferucil knows Zayla joined the Resistance, and he’s not happy about it.
        She looks at me, her eyes wide. I want to comfort her, to assure her she’ll get through this without any scars. But I can’t.
        I don’t want to lie.
        The last alarm sounds through the building, and the lights flicker. Alyssa rushes past us giving me a wide grin and a thumbs up, and Keiko stops to put his hand on my shoulder and nods. He smiles at Zayla before latching on his headgear. During battle is one of the only times he isn’t glued to Alyssa’s side. Instead, he runs our high-tech operations, flying observation drones and missiles most of us couldn’t begin to understand. But tech isn’t enough. We have to go out there and battle Ferucil’s creatures ourselves. Alyssa rides her horse into battle armed with a spear, her pale complexion suddenly fierce in the heat of war. I use a sword, as my father does.
        But Zayla isn’t trained in weapons. She doesn’t know how to fight.
        We run through the woods, Zayla doing her best to keep up with me as we near the battlefield. Already the clang of metal, the zip of arrows, and the purr of the drones fill the air. Even from the edge of the expansive field I can see Alyssa’s white hair flying as she pierces her way through the throng of Ferucil’s beasts, mounted on a steed that’s mottled grey coat blends into the sea of soldiers. I take a deep breath and turn around to face Zayla, but she does something surprising: she starts running first.
        She’s a keeper, that one. Though I’m not sure where her newfound confidence came from, I know mine has been restored. I charge after her, and we meet the fray within seconds. A creature charges after us, his long claws stretching from his shoulders in place of arms. He blunders toward us on two thick, scaly legs and lets out a loud hiss from his snout. Dangerous as he may be, the keraguan is notorious for being slow as well. I jump to the side, and he twists to face me, the fur on his neck blowing in the wind. The creature dives at me, but I spin out of the way just in time for him to fall flat on his wrinkled face. I lift my sword and plunge the blade into his neck.
        One creature down.
        I look at Zayla, the adrenaline coursing through my veins now. She smiles—actually smiles—until my own face drops. Behind her is something more fierce than a keraguan. With its long spindly appendages that bleed poison into whatever it touches, and its flaming breath, I know that I have to think quickly before it hurts her.
        Her breaths are coming in sharp, shallow gasps now, and she steals a glance over her shoulder. A scream resonates through the air as she jumps back and holds her sword in front of her with both hands, as if it were a spear. The beast plunges at her, and I run. I strain every muscle to gain momentum with my weapon, and slice one of its six appendages off, but that only makes it angry. It rears on its hind legs—if that’s what you’d call them—and lets out a piercing cry that sends shivers down my bones. But, instead of attacking me as I hoped it would, it goes after Zayla with a more devastating passion than before. That’s the thing about these creatures: we each fight the one that attacks us, and it’s up to us to defeat it in the end.
        It whips it ghastly head around and spouts flames from its throat, and I watch in bitter agony as Zayla falls back, gripping her arm. I fall by her side and block the next onslaught of fire with my shield, and make sure she’s still conscious.
        And she is.
        “You have to cut off the head!” I shout above the noise. “It’s the quickest way!”
        She nods silently, her eyes blurred with tears. Come on, girl. You can do this.
        She gathers her courage, but she can only grip the sword with one hand now, her other arm too burnt to offer any strength. My pulse races as she charges the creature with a battle cry worthy of the most powerful heroine—and she swings for the head.
        She misses. My heart plummets into my stomach.
        She doesn’t give up, though. She spins on her heel and sends a desperate jab into the beast’s chest, and once more it rears itself into the air, but this time it carries her with it. She hangs on the sword, her knuckles white, and I scramble to my feet. The Strach gives its death cry, a resounding wail, and falls to the ground. Zayla falls on top of the beast, and wastes no time in retrieving her weapon and backing away.
        She won.
        But it’s not that easy. Already the poison is affecting her from the direct contact—and within minutes she’ll be a pale, shivering mess. I have to get her out of here, and I have to do it now.
        As I support her weight around my shoulders, half running, half-tripping, I can’t seem to fight off the doubts that invade my mind. Why were we doing this? Would she be okay?
        Is it all worth it?
        Keiko’s puts a hand on my shoulder, silently reassuring me. He motions at Alyssa, who speaks what he does not. “She’s going to be fine.”
        He steps back again, and signs something else to Alyssa.
        “I know. And I’m going to.” She looks over at me, her face still dirty from the fight.
        Keiko nods and leaves the room, his steps quiet.
        “Cameron—we should talk.” She steps over, her stride smaller than normal. “I don’t say this often, and I’m not repeating it. So listen carefully.”
        I straighten in my seat.
        “I was wrong. I got caught up in everything I was doing—and it was quite a bit, you know—but this girl needed someone. And you were right. I could have helped.” She sighs. “And I’m going to now. But—I’m not sure I know how, you know?”
        I smile.
        “Anyway, I’m sorry. And I’m thinking I should introduce her to someone I know who can help her learn to fight.”
        “What, I’m not good enough?” I laugh, crossing my arms over my chest in faux indignation.
        She smirks at me, and cocks her head. “She can use a sword okay, but I think her area of expertise is probably something else.”
        “Like what, exactly?”
        She puts her hands on her hips and lifts her chin. “Archery. And Varity is the best one we have.”
        I lean back in satisfaction. Chances are, it would be the Strachs that would attack her most. That’s the way it goes… Ferucil sends certain types of creatures after certain types of people. And the best way to fight a creature that can poison you with its skin is to kill it before it gets close enough to touch you.
        “You know what? I think you’re right.” I grin.
        “I always am! With a few exceptions I guess.”
We both laugh, her giggle trumping my chuckle.
        The doctor enters the room. He takes careful steps, and my chest tightens with each one. Please let her be okay.
        He smiles, and I unconsciously return it, eager to hear good news.
        “She’s stable now. It’s a good thing you were there to help her back, otherwise the damage might have been more extensive. But she’s already healing. I think she’ll be back to normal very soon.” He looks over his notes, his glasses clinging to the tip of his nose. “I hope she’ll visit frequently until she does, however. I want to keep an eye on her.”
        I stand up and extend a hand. “Thank you so much, sir. May I take her home now?”
        He cringes a little. “If you must.”
        Seeing her brings all the doubts back. How could I let this happen? Her arm is blistering: brown and blue and red all at once. What was the point of dragging her into this, pulling her from her life so she could face these monsters?
        Her eyes flutter open, the color a stark contrast to her grayscale complexion. She looks around the room, pushing herself up when she sees me.
        “How you feeling?”
        She smiles again.
        “Like I battled a beast and almost lost.” She laughs, but winces immediately afterward. “I won’t be doing that again anytime soon,” she sighs.
        “I’m so—“
        “Thank you,” she interrupts. “For helping me. Adiano was right about sticking by you.”
        I clench my jaw.
        “I mean, I was bound to face Ferucil’s army at some point, right? And he was with me the whole time. And even though I didn’t quite succeed, I think—I think I’m stronger for it. And I know that next time will be better.” She slowly adjusts herself so her legs fall over the edge of the bed. “You know what’s strange? That monster--”
“The Strach?”
“Yeah. It used to show up in my nightmares. And I never beat it. I couldn’t.” She runs her finger over her arm and cringes. “But you know, I stand a chance now. I actually can improve. For the first time—ever—I have hope. For a better tomorrow. Hope to grow.”
        So it wasn’t for nothing. It makes sense now, and a pang of guilt courses through my veins for doubting. Zayla would have to face painful things in her life either way, but with Adiano she stands a chance. She has hope to get better, and a secure future. So maybe-- maybe this is what’s best for her. Joy rises in my chest again. If she has hope, so do I.