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The baby’s wails were growing softer. She had been lying on the hill a long time; so long it was a miracle that the wolves had not yet eaten her.
By a stroke of luck, or misfortune, Syra, the village witch woman found her instead. She took the little babe to the hospital, as it was obvious by the marks on her back and the skinniness of her legs, that she had been starved, beaten, and left to die. Times were changing then, and the government would not allow a witch woman of the hills to take home a child, especially not a beaten one she claimed to have found. They instead gave the child to the midnight school, (always in need of small children) leaving Syra nothing but an assurance to keep the name she had given the babe: Tara. Hill, it meant, and shining. Tara, Shining Child of the Hills. It had befitted the child as she found her, but the midnight school was a strange place, and Syra had no doubt it would rid the child of all her shining.
The villagers were in agreement with the witch woman; clucking their tongues and shaking their heads at the fate of the babe. As far as they were concerned (and Syra as well) the baby girl would have fared better with the wolves.
The girl ran through the burnings. Her clothes were darkened, her blonde hair so coated with ash that it may well have been black, her face streaked with ash and tear marks; her head was spinning, whirling with shock and grief from her parents, her cat, everything that had been taken from her in such a short, horrific hour.
Still, she kept her eyes open wide, listening as hard as she possibly could, but she could not see anything or anyone alive through the thick smoke, not even the birds. Perhaps they were driven out by the strange, wailing screech, she thought, somewhere in the back of her mind, but did not dwell on it. It would be a long time before she, dropping to the ground, exhausted, realized it was coming from herself.
The flames were catching towards the place she was curled into. For a moment she thought about simply staying there and letting them consume her, but almost in spite of themselves, her legs stood and ran, without her telling them to. They seemed to know where to go, where to duck and turn to avoid the massive flames. For a while, she seemed to have a possibility of escape, and then the flames were everywhere, crackling and burning, reaching out to her with their dizzying fingers, almost comforting her with their heat….
“In here!” A rough voice shouted, as a hand reached across her mouth, her waist, pulling her down, down, down into darkness.
The dark haired child peered at the girl that her brother had brought into their hiding place. She was dirty, she thought contemptuously, and crying. Why was she crying?
“Are there others?” Ashton was asking the girl.
“No.” Her voice was a whisper, soft and scared….and sad. Ashton let her go, and she seemed to recoil, twisting into herself. The dark haired girl couldn’t help herself. She was curious about this girl.
“What is your name?” She asked.
“N-Nina. Nina Ciels.” The scared girl replied.
“I’m Emma Leynn.” She replied. “And that is my brother, Ashton.” She sighed, waiting for Nina to ask the obvious question.
“Where am I? What are you doing here? Where are your parents?”
“We’re in a basement. It is fire-proof, left over from a war or something. It’s really old. Ashton and I are waiting until the fire ends, and then we’ll leave, and find somewhere else to go. You can come, if you want. Our parents, well, they are sort of-”
“Dead.” Ashton shot at her, before Emma could elaborate. “They died of cholera. And I set the fire to their bodies, like they asked me to.”
“You set….” Nina’s voice broke of, choked, and she started crying again.
“Hey, hey, it’s not so bad. Everyone was already dieing.” Emma tried terribly to comfort her, wrapping her arms around the shaking girl.
“Had the cholera. I know they did. Everyone did who was burned, because everyone who didn’t got out in time.”
“They weren’t dead!”
“I know.” Ashton said to her, putting his hand over his sister’s mouth. “But listen, Nina, they wouldn’t have survived that. They couldn’t have. And it is a terrible, terrible way for them to die. This way, the smoke numbed them. They didn’t feel a thing. But without being burned, they would have died in a week. And it would have been terrible, and painful. The people who survived, they would pass on the disease to whoever they came to, whoever comes to help. Fire, burning, it kills the disease. It makes it so no one else has to watch their parents die, not from this. That’s good, isn’t it? That no one else has to suffer?”
“No.” Nina replied. “It’s not.”
They sat the rest of the night in silence, eventually falling asleep on one another. Nina was surprised to wake up with her head on Emma’s legs, curled beside Ashton. The other children were asleep, and stayed that way as she looked around. The basement was empty, save two knapsacks, a blanket, and some cans of food. She didn’t know why, but for some reason she put the food and blanket into the less full knapsack.
Ashton was awake by then. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“I, it seemed like….”
“Packing? Good thinking. The fire’s stopped; I imagine we’ll be leaving soon. You’re smart, Nina. I bet the midnight school would like you.” He bent down next to her, and slid one of the knapsacks onto her back. Then he went to wake up Emma.
“The midnight school?”
“Mm, it’s terrible.” Emma mumbled sleepily. “They make you go to school at night, people say. And the kids who go there never come back….”
“It’s just a myth.” Ashton said, decidedly, slipping the second knapsack onto Emma’s back.
Suddenly, there was a hard rap on the basement roof.
“Come out! We know you are there!” Deep, decidedly rough and mean voices came from overhead, frightening the girls.
Ashton’s face contorted darkly. “Follow me. On my signal, I need you to run, as fast as you can.” He climbed the ladder, rising upward. Nina followed him, Emma at her heels.
The sunlight was blinding. In the midst of the ruins by a dark, queer truck stood two men, dressed entirely in black. Ashton glared at them. “No. We won’t.” was all he said.
“Really now?” One of the men smiled, almost, a cruel, half-smile. He raised a gun, and Ashton spun around wildly, grabbing Emma by the arms. His face froze as a spot of blood swelled on his green shirt, growing bigger and bigger. And now it was Emma screaming that same, strange wail as Nina looked in fear at the men.
“Come along, children.” The second man said, giving Ashton’s body a kick. “Danse Academie is in need of two new students. How would you like to go to school, at night?” He grabbed them by the arms, and led them to the truck, Emma screaming all the way.
Dr. Glade was a very well established physicist and biologist. Having won numerous awards for his research, the government put up with him, but only under the strictest of conditions. He was to hide away in the deep recesses of the Sahara desert, away from all civilization. His experiments were to be conducted in the deepest secrecy, and only on himself. Any violation of this would result in immediate death.
But Glade very rarely did anything according to the laws of others. He had brought his son and daughter with him, into the place where no other human was supposed to tread. He experimented on the as well as himself, and they loved every moment of it. Maria with her laughing smile, running and shouting down corridors, she loved sitting in that chair, she loved the electroshocks that increased the use of her mind. She loved it when she was first able to move things with her mind, watching the sterile equipment rise and fall again and again. But most of all she loved the language that she had developed with her father and brother- a way of speaking without words, without moving your mouth or body at all. Her father told her it was called telepathy. She and James had another word for it: Labes. Falling, descension, collapse, blur. How it felt when their minds melded, blending and blurring until they became one.
James never learned to move things with his mind. Neither did he laugh like his father and sister, nor did he have their same dark, beautiful hair. He was in all ways normal, despite the number of times his father had placed him into the Introspector. If not for his labes, his falling, his father would have thought that perhaps his son was the owner of a brain hardwired completely differently than that of the average human. But in truth, James’s mind had taken the shocks and transferred them in a different way- that of music.
It was something Maria understood, from the moment she could fall- she understood the deep intensity that music had on her brother, perhaps more than he would for years to come. But his father never came to understand his son. They did not give him a chance.
It was all too swift for a boy of just nine. In the one last, happy moment of his brief childhood, he and Maria sat on the floor, deep in their labes, collapsed in the depths of each other’s minds. And he was conjuring up the most beautiful songs for her- no, not conjuring. They were already in his head, and she was as well; all they had to do was listen.
And then, deep within the whirring melody of The Dance, came a note so wrong, echoing and shrieking, that it tore their world apart.
It was a gunshot; a noise the two children had not heard before, but would many, many times again.
And as James watched in horror; as Doctor Glade came stumbling in, blood pouring out of his chest, Maria stayed eerily calm. She did not run, she did not scream, she simply sat, calmer than any child of eleven should be. She did not flinch when her father fell to the ground, and the men dressed in black came in. They shouted, James cried, and she sat. It was only when James wrapped his child arms around her that she moved, hugging him back fiercely, protectively.
The dark men pulled him away. He screamed. She sat.
“Burn the premises. Leave her inside.” The biggest man spat. And so the midnight school claimed James for their own.
Maria considered allowing herself to be burnt. Father was dead, and James was, momentarily, safe. She phased through the wall. There were people to save, and monsters to assassinate. Starting with Mother. James would have to wait.