Living Beyond Life by Neve McSweeney
[Ruins of Stjarnagaaard/Afer Starfall]
Rubble clattered over the ground. Smoke hung in the air suffocating anyone unfortunate enough to breathe it in. Buildings lay in ruins, the only remnants of the floating city left. Small fires still flickered from the lack of moisture. In the middle of the wreckage stood a girl. Except she didn’t look entirely human. She had a long braid down her back, matted with knots and singed at the ends, slit pupils, amber eyes, pointed ears, long claws and fur across her back and shoulders. She wore a skin tight jumpsuit and black mask across her nose and mouth. A fluffy, grey tail swished along behind her. Her face bore the scars of brutal attacks, a slash across one eye and another down the side of her nose. She stood, watching the fires. The orange flames reflected in her bright eyes. Her expression betrayed fury and thrill. She was free from her prison. The masters of the lab had been punished. She could do whatever she wanted now.
“You okay?” a voice asked. The girl didn’t move, already knowing who it
“Yes. I’m fine” she replied. A boy walked up beside her, his brown scruffy hair the only similarity between the twins. He had piercing blue eyes, large black wings and feathered fur across his body. His hands and feet ending in
“Where are we going to go?” she asked. Her brother shrugged.
“I heard the lab masters talking about one place, they were laughing about it though so I don’t know if it’s real or not, but they called it Yoha and it was supposed to be a utopia” he replied.
The girl looked up to glare skeptically at him.
“A paradise?” she scoffed.
“Apparently so” the boy replied, unfased by her rudeness.
“Well, if this place exists, where do we find it?” the girl asked.
“Beyond the Great Desert, I think.”
“Well, do you have a better idea?”
“No. At least we would be safe in Yoha,”
The girl grinned at him, displaying her glittering teeth.
“Alright then,” the girl sighed, giving in.
Together they set off towards the Great Desert
—— Time jump ——
Wolf stood up, her ears perked up, listening. She couldn’t hear anything, but she sensed eyes watching her from the shadows. The night air washed over her, filling her nose with the unnatural, fragrance of the jungle. Raven sat
perched in a tree nearby, watching the dark earth below him. The darkness was almost solid, making it impossible to see. This was another trick of the Afeared Wilds, blocking their senses, making them vunerable to other attacks
the land launched against them. Wolf lowered into a crouch stretching her eyes and ears as much as she could, searching for whatever had made her awake so abruptly.
Suddenly, a scream from above alerted her a moment before her brother came plummeting out of the tree. He landed with a resounding crash on the forest floor. Wolf ran over to him and when she was a few inches away, her foot splashed in a shallow puddle. She looked down, but the darkness blocked any sight of the liquid. She bent over her brother and reached out to touch his head. As her hand slid across his back, as she reached for his arm to turn him over, she froze. His wings had been savagely torn off, leaving only bloody stumps where they’d been. Wolf flipped him over and felt his chest. His torso had been ripped and slashed, right across his heart. Wolf felt her heart drop and her stomach heave. She leapt to her feet and, only then, noticed the pure white eyes watching her. Only visible because they glowed in the dark. Wolf turned and fled.
She knew, without turning around that the thing was giving chase. She could feel it gaining on her as she wove in and out of the trees. She felt tears begin to fall rapidly down her face. She had let Raven convince her to sleep. It was her fault that he’d been in that tree. She was right, the Afeared Wilds was angry and it should have been her
that suffered and died because of it, not her brother. She should have suffered the wrath of the jungle and instead she was left all alone. No convoy to help her. No brother to comfort her. No one to hear her scream as the thing pounced on her from behind and pinned her to the ground. Wolf kicked and struggled against the creature, but even though she could feel something on her she never hit anything with her arms or legs. And then, she felt something
on her throat, the blade of a knife, or spear, or axe. As it slit her throat, the world lit up, despite being night time and Wolf saw what was on top of her. A massive, ebony black figure with those ivory white eyes. It stood on top of her with a sword held out in front of them, dripping with fresh blood from Raven’s wings and chest, and Wolf’s throat. Then, the figure expanded, wrapping around her and swallowing her up in a darkness even blacker than
the night. But, this time it was calming, making Wolf feel free, untethered for the first time ever. She thought she’d felt freedom when Stjarnagaard fell and she was allowed to leave the lab but, now she was free. Free from danger. Free from harm and pain. Free from the trauma of her past. Free from life.
Wolf opened her eyes. She was lying flat on her back on grass. Wind rushing across her face and torso. The smell of water and dirt comforting to her nose, after the sickly fragrance of the jungle. Slowly, she stood up feeling energised and strong. The muscles in her legs itched to run, her arms wanted to pull and her body felt light and powerful. Gradually, her eyes adjusted enough for her to see. A field of waving grass stretched around her, to her left was a crystal clear river and to her right stood a small forest, a small copse of trees that looked full of life and welcoming. Paradise. Rang through Wolf’s mind, along with the words, safety and freedom. Wolf walked over to the river and scooped up some of the water up in her hands, splashing it across her face, then shaking off. It felt clean and refreshing after the poisoned waters of the Afeared Wilds. Taking deep breaths of fresh, clean air, she turned and made her way towards the forest, shaking water out of her hair as she went. She was a few feet away when something came tearing out of the trees, towards her, swooping up at the last second. Wolf sprang back, snarling, her hackles raised, but stopped as she saw Raven flip in the sky his great, black wings healed and whole. The slashes on
his chest absent. Unnerved, Wolf reached up and brushed a hand along her neck. The skin was clean and sealed. Then, she felt her unburnt hair an scarless face. Her hand dropped back to her side as her mind whirled and her
Raven dove back for the ground and as his eyes fell upon his sister, his face went from joyful to miserable.
“What?” Wolf asked.
“I’ve discovered the secret to Yoha” Raven said, mournfully.
“So, why do you look so sad?” she asked.
“Because there’s no proof of it. It was just a myth.”
“What do you mean?”
“No one, alive, has ever been here.”