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Golden Skies

by Sophia Knauer 11 months ago in Young Adult
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A dystopian short about sister mercenaries

“Come on, move!” Lina shoved her way through the crowd, ducking into an alleyway. Laughter rang out, telling her that her younger sister wasn’t far behind. She slumped against the cool stone wall, taking shelter behind a trashcan. Out of breath, she turned to her sister. “Did we lose them?”

Shiloh poked her head over the top, glancing over old boxes and other abandoned garbage. “I think so…You didn’t have to take them, you know.”

Lina unwrapped her coat from around her with glittering eyes, letting the contents spill out. “A couple pounds of dried meat, some potatoes, and fruit are hardly worth getting chased after. The guards are just assholes.” She tossed a few paper wrapped bundles to Shiloh, who promptly stuffed them into her own coat with a glare.

“I’m just saying we could’ve settled for some bread or a couple eggs.”

“This will last us longer.” Lina stood carefully, inspecting the shadows around them.

“And why would we need it to last us longer? Weren’t you just saying yesterday that we should be expecting another job soon?”

Lina shuffled deeper into the alley; eyes fixed on the ground. “I know there’s one around here somewhere…”

“Lina…You said—”

“I know what I said, and I wasn’t wrong. There is another riot happening soon, and we are going to find a job from it. I’m certain of that. There’s always more work after the riots. I’m just not sure when.” She stopped over a sewer grate. “Got it. Help me out?”

Shiloh groaned and lifted the cover to one side, hopping down into the sewer tunnel. “I will never not hate doing this.” She helped Lina down, shifting the heavy grate back into place.

“Yeah, well. We have to keep anonymity somehow, Shy. The less they see the better.” Lina shoved her hands into her pockets as they walked.

“I just want to live somewhere decent for once.” She started. “Somewhere with stars and the sky, where we don’t have to live like rats. The tunnels keep us safe, but—”

“But nothing. What we do calls for discretion. Now can we just get home to rest, there’s a meeting at the docks tonight.”

“You mean a protest.”

Lina just shrugged.

“You know, maybe one of these days we can actually participate, instead of using the events for job hunting. Try and make a difference for the rest of us Golden Eyes?”

Lina snorted. “And waste our talents? The guards call us rats for a reason. Besides, we’re good at what we do.”

“Scrounging and hiding?”

“Getting the job done.” She rolled her eyes.

They’d been called many things, mostly unsavory: half-breeds, rats, mutts, mutants…the Golden Eyes were products of a different time. A time where no one cared where you came from, whether it be from across the water or within the city, before pedigrees and purity became law and the Highbrows decided to outcast the rest. Lina couldn’t remember the last time they could so much as walk freely through the streets without needing to hide.

“Look, all we have to do is show up.” She kicked a rock into the stinking water by their feet.

“If that’s the case, couldn’t you go alone?” Shiloh spotted the door and jogged up ahead to yank on the wheel that kept the hatch shut. She grunted as it gave way and Lina shoved her shoulder into the door, hearing the creak echo down the tunnel as it swung open.

The little gas lamp overhead swung slightly, casting spinning shadows on the walls. Their home used to be an apartment meant for electricians and maintenance workers, but had long since been abandoned by the time they’d found it in the underbelly of the city. The tunnels existed as a sort of hidden world, full of small sanctuaries, keeping Golden Eyes safe ever since the guards started hunting them down. It was enough to keep them warm and many of the ventilation shafts led out to the bay, washing away the stench of the tunnels with the fresh ocean air

“Feel free to stay here, then. I suppose I can handle it.” Lina’s words echoed in Shiloh’s mind, long after her sister had left for the docks. She wished she’d chosen to stay home, the guards were always on the lookout for Golden Eyes, and they took great pleasure in the violence that followed when they did. Rats with bright eyes and mixed blood, different and ominous in the eyes of the Highbrows. The Chancellor had been making promises to keep them out of the cities, saying “they only come to thieve and beg.” It was by misfortune and his own actions that the statement had become true. Most of the Golden Eyes Shiloh knew were mercenaries for hire, much like her and Lina. There was always work to be found, work no one else wanted to do: finding people, hurting people, helping people…the Golden Eyes were known to do it if given decent coin.

Shiloh had just finished scrubbing the grime from her skin in the small washbasin when Lina flew in, slamming the door with labored breathing. She cranked the wheel, locking it tight, before letting her head drop against it with a hollow thunk.

“What’d you nab this time?” Shiloh said a smirk, as she clipped her pendant around her neck, stuffing it into her shirt to hide it.

Lina shook her head vigorously.

“A job then?” Shiloh’s brows knit together.

“A job, but we have to get it done by morning.” Lina’s usual glimmer to her eyes had glazed over, leaving them dull in the flickering light.

“Well hopefully we get a decent pay from this one, the last guy was such a cheaper.” She griped.

“We won’t be getting paid with this one.” Lina went to the mess of blankets they used as a bed and threw down a pack.

Shiloh turned. “I’m sorry?”

“We’re doing this for Kreaves, Shy.”

“Kreaves is back?” She paled. They hadn’t seen their father’s partner since before he’d passed, leaving them to fend for themselves.

“He was. He’d been here with his wife. They’re both dead.”

“Kings’ sake, Lina what the hells happened?” She started to understand her sister’s panicked state.

“The guards were ready. They opened fire on the runners and grabbed whoever they could.” She paused, wringing her hands. “Shy, Kreaves had a daughter with him…a little girl.”

Shiloh swore under her breath.

“He had a kid, a kid that’s currently spending a night in the guard tower. Kings know what’ll happen to her in the morning.” Shiloh shook her head but Lina pressed further. “They shot Kreaves and her mother in front of her. If we don’t do this job, she’s as good as dead and we’ll have abandoned our own.”

Shiloh groaned, passing a hand down her face. “If I do this, I’m doing this for Pops and Kreaves. We aren’t taking her in. And Lina,”

Lina looked up from her pack.

“I swear, if this gets out of hand, I’m bailing.”

It’d been a long time since they’d gone as far as to break into a guard tower. It wasn’t difficult to go unnoticed on their way in, but getting out…getting out was always the worst part. The guards couldn’t care less who came in, their job was simply to make sure no one left.

Lina and Shiloh made their way to the holding cells in the lower levels through the sewers. Lina handed her sister a small pistol, tapping her neck to signal her. ‘Only tranquilizers’ the motion said. The girl’s weeping made it easier to find her, she sat in a smaller cell alone, hugging her knees to her chest.

“She can’t be more than seven years old…” Shiloh thought grimly. “Psst. Kid.” She whispered to the girl as Lina got to work on the lock. “We’re going to get you out of here, but you need to keep quiet.”

The girl’s large shining eyes gave her away as she stared at them in shock.

“You understand me?” Shiloh hissed, demanding a response. The girl nodded, wiping her tears away roughly. “Lina…” She fingered her pendant through her shirt nervously.

She muttered through the picks she held in her teeth. “Almost…. got it.” The lock clicked and the door creaked.

Lina ushered the girl out as Shiloh checked the corner, pistol in hand. She took out a large guard by a grate that served as their exit. “Go. Quickly.” She waved them past her as she turned to glance over her shoulder. The door to the holding area opposite the hallway opened and someone shouted an alarm.

“Run!” Shiloh scooped up the girl, running to meet Lina at the grate.

Lina held the cover open, beckoning to them. “Shy!” Two guards rounded the corner, one taking aim with a gun of his own. “SHILOH, NOW!” She cried out. Crimson burst from between Shiloh’s gilded eyes and she sprawled forward. The girl yelped and grabbed at the air in vain, hitting the stone floor and rolled far enough for Lina to pull her into the tunnel.

Lina swallowed the bile in her throat as she tore her eyes from her sister’s lifeless form, letting the tears fall as she ran, dragging the girl with her.

Back in the warmth of the apartment, Lina lay in a ball on the makeshift bed, numb and unmoving.

“It’s my fault.” The girl’s voice shook as badly as her hands.

Lina looked up at her with empty eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Anna.” She sniffled.

“You have no blame in this, Anna.”

Anna twisted something in her hands, unwrapping a chain from her fist, she let the cordiform pendant lay flat in her palm held out to Lina.

“Her locket…” She whispered hoarsely. Her hands trembled as she shoved her nail into the edge of the heart, opening it to find a small folded star, the corner stained with blood.

“I think I grabbed it when I fell…” Anna choked out.

Lina sighed. “It was just a trinket, something she’d found a long time ago. Keep it.” A tear fell from her nose as she looked to the ground. “I suppose she can finally see the stars now. Just like she wanted.” She said bitterly.

It was a summer afternoon the day the Chancellor had planned to give his announcement celebrating longstanding peace. The town square outside Capitol Hall bustled with cheery masses, musicians tuned their instruments in alleys, and shopkeepers set up stands on the sidewalks, greeting passersby enthusiastically.

Chancellor Bridges stood with pride at the podium, his advisor at his side.

“Ms. Avlar where do we stand with public regard?” He asked, hands clasped behind his back, surveying the open amphitheater that had just begun to fill with people.

“You have positive responses from the four capitols, and the support of the merchants. They’re all eager to stand with your decisions.”

“And the rats?”

“There’ve been no sightings for months. If any remain in the cities, they’ve gone underground. We have guards on standby should any reveal themselves, but if I may speak plainly?”

“Please do.”

“I think it’s safe to say, they’re no longer a concern.”

“Finally.” He squinted against the bright sunlight glancing off of the buildings surrounding them, taking in the general commotion with a soft smile.

On the other side of the town square, a heart-shaped locket dangled from a young woman’s neck, glinting in the sunlight as she stood at the window unlocking a slender black case. The musicians on the below had let her pass into the building with hardly a second glance. She carefully removed the polished pieces from the case, fitting them gently together. Rifle in hand, she watched the crowds fill into their seats. A band started playing and she raised the scope to her eye.

“The stars give their greetings.” She whispered, and her finger closed on the trigger.

Young Adult

About the author

Sophia Knauer

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