In the outer ring, one could never be too careful. Those who were careless ended up beaten down in a dark alley. Those who were foolish ended up slowly starving to death in their own homes. Those who were too naive ended up crazy, losing their grip on what they thought was once reality. Those who were reckless ended up as corpses, forgotten to the city in the blink of an eye. Yes, one could never be too careful in the slums of Britanniarum.
Through the grey sky overshadowing the city, a pale, circular light began to rise in the distance. The object brought a pale, subtle glow that slightly brightened the grey sky to that of a lighter color. Such an unfamiliar symbol to those of Bonum Annulum. Some scratched their heads as they began to awaken, trying to place a label on the pale circle in the sky. The light….. the sunlight, that was it. As for the object itself….
Oh yes, the sun. A practically useless object to the city. A forgotten symbol of time, light, and life itself. Unneeded by the people of Brit. Who needed a star to tell the people what to do? Clearly, the Brittans had figured out a way of life to survive without it.
As if to confirm the previous declaration, bells began to ring all through out the city, signifying the beginning of dawn, and that of a new day itself.
Ring. All throughout the great capitol of the world, peaceful eyes began to flutter open and sounds of cranky mutterings about sleep could be heard.
Ring. In order to keep the city in its current status of power, all Brittans had to be perfectly on schedule, up and moving by dawn, in bed and sleeping by the end of dusk. There were no exceptions.
Ring. The control each and every citizen was what mattered most; if there was a lack of order in the city, then there could only be an abundance of chaos in result.
Ring. Those who had still kept in bed began to grudgingly wake up; it was better to risk a tiresome day than to face the wrath of Aether. Some shuddered just thinking of the possibilities.
Ring. There was work to be done, there were people to see. Every day had a new motivation, every morning there was a new reason for the Brittans to comply to the system.
Ring. Six rings, meaning it was six o'clock. In one dilapidated, miniature household of the outer ring, laughter could be heard.
Grace Dawes nearly screamed when she saw her father's empty bed. Her scream of anger became a reality when she saw the broken, empty beer bottles lying on the wooden floor. Her face grew red as her siblings tackled each other to the ground, giggling hysterically as if they were little kids again. Though both were scrawny and frail, their builds didn't stop them from nearly breaking the floor in half, much less damaging each other as well.
"Lluka! Madeline!" The black-haired nineteen year-old angrily caught their attention, stopping their play fight. She scratched the back of her head, her short, stringy hair barely touching the back of her neck. "Did you see where Tobias went?" Grace nearly spit out her father's name, clearly disgusted just by the name on her tongue.
"No! Why the hell would we know?" Lluka dared to argue back, wanting to get a reaction out of her. Unlike his younger sister, he loved fighting with Grace. Grace disapproved of his annoying habits, but often took the bait anyways.
This was not the right time for that. Ignoring his query, her words were softened as she asked secondly, "Did he leave before the bells?" If anybody else were to overhear, the Dawes could possibly find themselves in Carcerem, the nearby international prison. Or worse.
All three of the siblings' faces paled as they realized the answer. Of course he had left before the bells. Being his in his usual drunken state, there was nothing stopping him from making idiotic decisions. Before Lluka and Madeline could reply, Grace was swiftly moving through the shabby excuse for a closet, throwing on average brown pants and a grey blouse to blend in with the crowd. Standing out in the slums of Brit was far too dangerous for a young girl like her.
"Stay. Get ready for school." Grace gave them the most menacing look she could muster, and then was out the front door. The girl was hustling, and walked steadily into the crowd of strangers as they began their daily work schedule.
"But it's Sunday… oh, never mind." Replied Lluka, grinning at his younger sister as he began to ready himself to go outside anyways.
Grace jumped into a crowded bus full of people, nearly falling off as she scrambled to sit down on the very edge of the back of the bus, a very unpopular place for most to sit. She liked it that way, and enjoyed the distance from others. Pulling on a dark newsboy cap, she ducked down her head to watch the dirt road move below her. Unless one were to look closely enough, it was impossible to even tell that she was a girl at all, due to her short hair and slightly muscular build. As scrawny and malnourished as she was, Grace did build some muscle due to her dancing.
Her light brown eyes began to skim over the unlucky people not fast enough to catch the bus. If there was one thing Grace made sure of, it was that she would learn to be quick. Those who were too slow died in the ghettos, she had seen it for herself multiple times. She would always have to be on her feet, always ready to be up and moving, always capable of adapting to each and every new situation thrown at her. She was light on her feet, not only for her own survival, but for Lluka and Madeline's as well. It had always been survival of the fittest, her entire life.
Observing the faces of those walking through the filthy streets, Grace tried to ignore how… sad most of them looked. Like her, they looked down as they walked, as if deciding eye contact with the floor was better than looking at the poor state of most people themselves. They held their hands in their pockets, hats tipped to cover their faces. Trying to cover themselves as much as possible. Even though Grace was the opposite of sociable, she understood them. It was a fact of nature to those of poverty. They knew the simple rules.
Be smart, be quick, and keep moving, no matter what the cost. In the outer ring, stopping to observe the unimportant details was nearly like giving up. The price of a slow, detailed life was too much a cost. Sometimes, Grace thought, it was no wonder her father resorted to drinking after his wife had died. At least he didn't have to have a real grip on harsh reality, like the rest of his people.
Grace shook the thought out of her head. She would never forgive him for giving up on his life, as it meant giving up on his family as well. That was something she could never do, she never could be allowed to give up, anyways. Family came first, even before her own life. That was final.
Yet, throughout all of the grey sky and colorless sun and darkened faces, Grace heard a cheerful shout in the crowd slowly moving behind her. A handsome young man who looked to be the age of Grace herself was hugging a dark haired, aging woman and a teenage boy. His dark mohawk looked neat and pristine, as did his expensive military uniform. Grace scoffed, rolling her eyes at the soldier. Though a logical and sensible girl, she wasn't above disliking those who had it better than herself, who didn't have to give it their all every day just to come home with a single meal for three.
There were tears in his mother's eyes. Grace could only see them from a distance now, but it seemed like the soldier was close to tears himself, wrapping his arms as tightly around his mother as possible, as if she would be sucked away from the world as if he let go. Grace didn't want to see anymore of the sappy scene. It hurt to be reminded of what having a parent was like, it hurt to have distant memories of her mother begin to resurface after being kept down for so long.
Breathing in, she regained her posture and controlled her emotions. Even one slip up could screw her over, could make her fall and be too tired to get back up again. Grace absolutely refused to give in to her petty emotions, and fortunately found herself at Tobias' favorite bar before she could look at the now vanished soldier with his family.
Trying to blend in with a crowd of drunken men in the early morning would certainly be difficult. As she approached the small, concrete building, the paint rusting straight off of the walls and a horribly drawn picture of a naked siren on the ceiling fading into the white coloring, she decided to play it confident.
Kicking the two wooden doors open with her own foot, she nearly smiled. This would be either fun, or terrifying, considering that such a cautious person was taking such a reckless risk. Peering slowly into the darkened area, she realized that the only men in the building were still sleeping, probably hung-over from the night before. Grace was positive her father was a part of this mess. Quietly, she closed the doors behind her so that only a small portion of light peaked through. If anybody observed the sleeping men, the whole lot of them would be in a dangerous situation. All Grace needed to do was find Tobias, harshly wake him up, lecture him, and then be on her way. She couldn't bring him outside; a drunkard like him would stand out in the crowd too much for her liking.
Using a small flashlight from the bottom of her pocket (Grace was prepared for this), she spotted her father lying on a stool near to her. And another woman. A young woman probably no older than herself, wearing an exposing outfit matched with a great amount of makeup all over her face. Grace was absolutely disgusted. She knew her father was a slimy, horrible drunkard, but she never imagined him with another woman. This was due to the reason that her was a drunkard in the first place because of his undying woe for his dead wife. And now he had even thrown away that, as well.
Well, Tobias could be arrested for all Grace cared. Hell, she wouldn't mind even seeing him sent away to the depths of Aether itself, where many were brought to, only to never be seen or talked about again. She wanted to forget. She wanted to forget Tobias. She wanted to forget the empty bottles lying next to his bed every night and morning. She wanted to forget the way he had punched Madeline when she had forgotten to clean the table, or the way he had kicked Grace nearly unconscious after her fighting with him over her mother. She wanted to forget her mother slowly dying right in front of the family, with nobody even taking notice. She wanted to forget the way that mother hugged her family, the way that soldier had hugged her back. She wanted to forget. She begged to forget.
But wishing for the impossible would get her nowhere but drowning in her own tears. Turning her back on her father, she wore a look of determination upon her face. No longer would she help her father out of every rut he had made for himself. From now on, he would need to look after himself. Facing the crevice of light spilling out from behind the doors, Grace took one step forward, away from Tobias.
The doors burst open. "Freeze where you are! All of you are under arrest!" Three hooded policemen demanded, black uniforms dangling weapons and machinery of all sorts, rifles held pointing towards Grace's head. She froze, silently wishing to melt into a puddle and disappear. This couldn't be happening.
For the first time in years, a single tear threatened to slip down her face, halted only when two more figures suddenly entered the room. No…..
"She's innocent! Grace is innocent!" Lluka shouted as one policeman aimed a rifle towards his head. The tear slipped down the pale face of Grace in her sudden panic.
"NO!" She screamed. Madeline trembled, as panic began to overtake her.
"All Brittans are to contribute to society. Anyone to break these laws, or to be associated with the breaking of these laws, are to be hereby exterminated. By the order of the King himself." The policeman pointing his weapon at Grace recited. A new law! A new, harsh, cruel, terrifying law. Grace was sure that the men would simply kill them all, even the sleeping men, and dispose of them before anybody would notice. It would be as if the Dawes family never existed at all….
A crinkle. Muffled noises made from the strange radio located on the hip of one policeman. Worried whispers, sounds of a small argument. One of the men in dark uniforms grunted unhappily.
"You and your siblings are free. Go!" One policeman demanded. Lluka and Madeline bolted out of the door, terrified out of their wits after having a gun held to their heads. Grace hesitated, knowing her father would never again leave the room, eternally sleeping, after she left. Exterminated. No. No emotions allowed, Grace, a voice whispered to her what she already knew. Without looking back, she sprinted past the policemen into the light of the day to follow her siblings.
Grace held her breath. Three loud bangs could be heard behind her.
She wasn't sorry.
*Grace is from thatawkwardmoment! Hope I did her me what you guys think! Honestly, please. I was sick while writing this, sorry if it sucks. I think this chapter is a little more simple, but there is a lot more that actually happens. Check out the new two other stories (completing the Four Tales of Phoenicia), and expect Thomas Bear's introduction up next!*