Laid bare, p.1
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       Laid Bare, p.1

          
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Laid Bare
Laid Bare

  By Natasha Weber

  Virtue and his little sister, Courage, had been spotted. They ran across the barren, brown, rocky plains together.

      They were being chased by a band of humans holding up a banner signifying they were from a particular clan. Humans liked to divide themselves like that.

      Courage had given them away. She had woken up before Virtue and had gone flying. Virtue told her never to take flight--humans had guns that could shoot Angels down. But Courage often said to him, "what's the point of having wings if we can't use them?"

      Virtue didn't know what the point was; but he also knew flying was tantamount to death or capture. It had been that way for thousands of years now--ever since the world turned brown and the toxins flooded the earth.

      Angels were meant to fly, however, and some were driven crazy by not being able to. His sister was probably one of them. She spent long stretches just being sad and silent--not being able to stretch her wings.

      But wings were valuable to humans. They ate them, and it sustained them for weeks at a time. Virtue had lost his two years ago while being captured by humans during that time. Luckily, his parents were around back then to look after Courage.

      But now, with humans right on their heels and his little sister slowing down, he knew there was no way he could avoid capture. He had no thoughts for his own safety; he wanted to save his sister.

      Courage tripped. Virtue skidded to a halt and gravel flew beneath his feet as he turned around and went back for his sister. He tried to scoop her up in his arms, but two of the masked humans chasing them kneeled and took aim. They shot their darts and met their mark. Virtue lost consciousness.

  ***

      He awoke in a cell like he had two years ago. There was a woman outside the cell with her gas mask off. She had an ugly scar adorning her face--spreading from her cheek to her forehead. She wore the loose fitting robes and big coats with matching colors that all of the clan did. Virtue remembered that this clan called themselves Powder.

      They were underground, safe from any would be toxins.

      The room was lit by torches on either side of the arched door behind the woman.

      The woman knelt down and looked him in the eyes as he sat up. Virtue looked back at her fearlessly. Some of his little sister's courage had rubbed off on him.

      "Where are your wings, Angel?" The woman asked.

      "Eaten." He replied fearlessly.

      The woman wasn't surprised. "Why are you so fearless? Angels usually cower in the corner and refuse to answer our questions."

      "I'm not afraid anymore. I've been captured before. But my sister... Is my sister okay?" Virtue asked.

      The woman looked at him a little sympathetically. "Her wings will be eaten like yours were..."

      Virtue was overwhelmed with sadness. "Why do you humans do such things? Why can't you let her go? She is the sweet, kindest, most innocent girl you will ever meet. She would never harm you. Please, tell me you will let her go once you eat her wings."

      The woman had to look away when the Angel's oncoming tears started to affect her. "Do not cry... Creatures like you--the ones with big eyes and soft features--they were meant to manipulate humans. They are like dogs..."

      The woman began to walk away, but Virtue gripped the bars and called out, "please! I know you are not cruel like the rest. I know you don't want them to keep my sister!"

      The woman turned back around and faced him again. "What makes you think I am better?"

      "You heard me out... You've talked to me this long... Humans usually don't talk." Virtue said slowly. "You got that scar from other humans, right? You must have... Angels never fight back."

      The woman looked down sadly. "Trying to convince me that humans are evil and angels are good? Do not tell me things I already know... You can't judge us for eating your wings and abusing you. How can we not be jealous of your ability to be able to withstand the toxicity outside--to be able to live without food or water which we humans are running out of."

       "My mother told me..." Virtue began nervously, trying to keep the woman there and sympathetic by any means necessary. "That humans could at one time live above ground. But, by their own hand, made the world uninhabitable. How is that the fault of Angels?"

      The woman was surprised. "Humans... Were able to live above ground?"

      "My mother saw it--she lived a long time before humans ate her." Virtue cried a little harder when he had to remind himself of his mother's grisly death. "She saw humans living under a blue sky with plenty of food and... Houses."

      The woman seemed to be dazed as he told her about the time where a blue sky was present. She snapped back to reality. "You just want to keep me here... Goodbye."

      “Wait! It’s just you who’s going to be my guard, right?” Virtue gripped the bars with trembling hands—looking at his jailor face-to-face. He had two eyes: But within those two eyes were held one-thousand eyes more. They pierced her soul.

      “I will… See what I can do. I will ask to be your guard.” She said, unable to look away. “Maybe you can tell me more about the world with the blue sky.”

      The woman was lingering near the bars. Virtue caught her by surprise and held her face between both hands. She stared at him a little longer. She was not wrong about Angels being good manipulators—when they knew how to be. From his time among humans two years ago, Virtue knew how to be. “What’s your name?”

      “Trisha.” She answered. “And yours?”

      “Virtue.”

      Trisha backed away from him and waved and then headed out the arched door behind her.

      There was nothing to do but wait for another human to come in. He hoped it would still be the woman. Virtue lay down on his back and looked at the ceiling. He worried endlessly for his sister. Being an Angel, he had no need for sleep. He was left alone with his thoughts. He let them drift to stories his mother told him.

  ***

      Long ago, under the blue sky which, in the present, was hidden by brown smoke and dark clouds, humans lived alone under the clear sky. There were houses, there were green plains, and humans were friends with one another. Angels did not exist back then—or so his mother told him. Angels were sprung to life, his mother said, when mankind lost what made them better than animals. Angels held those parts of mankind that humans had forsaken. Those traits that made them better than animals.

      Humans had preserved those traits in capsules, and when those capsules opened, they became Angels. Beautiful, innocent creatures with feathery skin and many eyes within their two eyes who for the most part, looked gender ambiguous.

      Angels were creatures with their own thoughts and feelings—regardless of what they were born from. And according to his mother, humans wanted to eat angels so badly because they wanted to reabsorb those traits sealed within Angels..

  ***

      Trisha arrived in the torchlit cell hours later and looked upon the Angel with cruel eyes. Virtue stood up and greeted her with kind eyes and a smile—manipulation was the only way out now. “Hello, Trisha.”

      Trisha sat down in front of his cell with a gun in hand. Her legs were crossed and her curly hair looked disheveled. “They will let me watch you for now…”

      Virtue looked down at his feet and then back at Trisha. “What do they plan to do with me?”

      “Your wings are gone so… They’ll give you three more days in this cage and then they’ll assign you as spoils to a worthy warrior who will battle for you. If the warrior does not find you suitable, you’ll be eaten.” Trisha explained coldly—not looking at the angel.

      “And you are fine with this?” Virtue tried to get her remember the human virtue, kindness. He tried to awaken any dormant ethics and morals she might have.

      Trisha was silent as she looked up at the ceiling with uncaring and dead eyes. She set her gun down and crossed her arms. “What do you expect me to say, Virtue? I know it’s wrong. Of course I do… I am not a monster. But if I let you go, I will be killed.”

      “Do you want me to convince you to let me go?” Virtue asked. “What will it take?”

      Trisha hugged her knees. “You cannot give me anything I want…”

      Virtue was silent. He stood up and leaned his back against the bars. “What is it you want?”

      There was silence as she thought and considered what it was she wanted. He jumped in surprise when he felt her loop her arms through the bars and around his stomach. “I want whatever it is you have. You seemed so happy out there with your sister—so carefree… You still have your virtue, don’t you?”

      Virtue turned around and looked upon the face of this clawing, pitiful woman. He put his hands on both her cheeks again and for the first time in his life had a positive thought about a human.

      He wanted to get to know her. She was interesting; she seemed kind. She seemed to know what the right thing was, and she wanted nothing more than whatever it was that made Virtue happy. Angels had generally not suffered the trauma humans did. It made them less interesting; less knowledgeable. In ways, Virtue could relate to this woman more than he could his own kind. They had both been ruined.

      Trisha closed her eyes that were stung with tears and Virtue tilted her head down and kissed her forehead—wanting to clear the disturbing thoughts he knew lurked inside her ailing mind.

      The woman cried all the harder and fell to her knees. “I can’t let you go! I’m sorry!”

      He made soothing cooing sounds and stroked her dirty hair. “What of my sister? Can you please just let her go? If you can let her go and prove yourself as the worthy warrior who will own me, I’d be more than happy to stay with you forever. You can eat me, if you so desire.”

      She wanted his virtue, he knew. She wanted that trait back more than anything. He was willing to die for his sister, so he didn’t mind.

      But she surprised him. “I don’t want your virtue. I don’t want to eat you. I want your company and companionship. I am lonely to the core. I have no one to love. I don’t think love exists anymore. Let me love you…”

      Virtue smiled and smoothed her hair back—tears stinging his own eyes. “I have no virtue left either ever since I was taken captive two years ago. It is now a title only. I do not have what you seek, sweet girl.”

      She looked at him with terror in her eyes. “You do not?”

      He shook his head.

      “Then how? How have you managed to stay sweet and good? Tell me how anyone could find joy in life after what we have suffered.” The woman sobbed miserably.

      “I have my sister and what my parents taught me to prop me up and keep me happy. Family is there to dry your tears and tell you there is life beyond suffering. But you had no family, did you?”

      Trisha shook her head. “I have had no one but abusers and rivals blocking my way to a spot where I can be respected and safe. I can’t be a wife like the other women are. No one would have me due to my scar. I am forced to compete with males who I can only outdo with cleverness.”

      Looking at her as she sobbed, Virtue realized that this woman was not pathetic. This woman was strong. She had nothing but her ability to fight. She had no friends, no family, no lovers. She was hanging on by a thread, and she had managed to hang on by herself for so long that Virtue admired her in ways he could never admire another Angel.

      “You’ll battle for me, then?” Virtue asked after a moment.

      Trisha dried her eyes. “Yes, I will battle for you—even if it means my death. I will also see if I can release your sister. They have not eaten her wings yet.”

      Before, Virtue would have just told her to be careful and would have urged her to go on her way. But he liked her. He didn’t want her to die. He gripped the bars and said, “you will be in grave danger if you do that though, right?”

      Trisha shrugged. “It does not matter to me whether I live or die now. I wish only to have your heart.”

      “Why does it mean so much to you?” Virtue asked.

      “Because you have been kind to me. I require no other reason.” She stood up, dusted off her clothes, and turned around—passing through the arched door behind her.

      Virtue sat against the wall and looked blankly up at the ceiling. He was powerless in the events to come and had to depend on a woman who was formerly an enemy. All he could do was try to keep bad thoughts and memories away.

  ***

       Virtue had been reckless two years ago. He had taken flight because he could not stand a moment more using his legs to get around. He had been spotted and shot out of the sky and taken to an underground human compound. They ate his wings, but the compound had not a single female in it. They kept him around for other purposes.

      Virtue escaped by luck and luck alone. The guard who was always sat by his cell door had been acting loopy and had fallen asleep in front of Virtue’s cell door. Virtue thought it must be some human toxin they drank to dull their pain. Regardless, Virtue stole the key off the guard through the bars and made off in the night through the large underground compound. When he emerged in the cold moonlight, he had never been more thankful.

      He thought it was impossible to forsake the grand gift of life given to him, but he was wrong. Virtue spent days at a time away from his family, contemplating whether his life was worth living; just stuck in a bad place with memories he could not overturn.

      Like he said to Trisha, his family had saved his life. They were there to soothe open wounds that he knew would never completely heal. But Virtue was no longer like his sister and his mother. He was moody and irritable. He had become more like a human.

  ***

      Trisha appeared at his cell again—leaning her forehead against the bars. “Your sister is free. Late last night I slipped her guard a drug in with his water. She stole the key off of him and got away. I followed her out to make sure she made it.”

      Virtue smiled and breathed a sigh of relief with tears in his closed eyes. “Thank you so much…”

      He opened them in a moment and kissed the woman’s forehead lovingly. “I hope that you were not caught putting the drug in his water?”

      Trisha shook her head and looked down nervously. “No one was around. I have worries about it though, as anyone would.”

      Virtue wished she would set him free as well, but he knew she wouldn’t. At least it would be better to be her slave than anyone else’s. “Once you win, I will be yours.”

      Trisha frowned. “I want to win, but… It will be incredibly difficult.”

      Virtue frowned as well. His sister was safe; his job was done. “Just do your best.”

      Trisha nodded. “I’ll try.”

  ***

      Virtue sat alone as time passed. How much time, he knew not. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He hoped Trisha would live and win. He thought that he loved her. Not in the same way he loved his sister or his mother, but in a different way. He thought it would be nice to sleep in the same bed as her and kiss her on the lips. He thought it would be nice to see her in something where more of her skin showed, rather than the drab, large coat and robes she had to wear to protect herself from the whirling sand and toxic air outside.

      Those were thoughts Angels were not supposed to have. He knew other Angels did not have them. But he liked having them. There were good things that came from being ruined, it seemed.

      He didn’t want to be owned by her, but he thought it would be nice to be hers eternally of his own free will—out in the air above ground.

  ***

      Trisha arrived with fresh bruises and a new cut on her face. She was weeping uncontrollably. Virtue stood up and touched the fresh cut on her face that was still bleeding. “Are you okay?”

      Trisha sniffled, “I’m sorry; I beat all my opponents but the last. I won’t let him have you. I’ll set you free and you can go. Otherwise you’ll have to go to him tonight.”

      Trisha had the key in her hand and she nervously jiggled it in the lock. Virtue grabbed her wrist, however, and tried to quell her trembling hands as he held them in his own. “You’ll be caught. I don’t want that.”

      Trisha looped her arms around him, still weeping. “Better you live than me. You have people who love you.”

      Virtue couldn’t stand to see her cry. “So do you!”

      He grabbed the knife that she kept in a sheath at her waist and held it against his wrist. Trisha clapped a hand to her mouth in horror. “Don’t! Put it down! They’ll think I killed you anyway! It’s my knife and I’m the only one who’s been guarding you!”

      Virtue’s hand trembled as he held the knife over his wrist. He closed his eyes and handed it back to Trisha. “But I am in love with you. I cannot hide it. You have laid my emotions bare. You have awoken me to something passionate and real that cannot be felt among angels. I know—this is the reason we exist on this earth. This is why any joy I have felt previously has felt hollow and muted. It is because I have been missing this wondrous thing that humans share. This thing that can hurt your or complete you. I know that meeting you has completed me.”

      Trisha cried tears of joy at his words. He knew she was complete, too. “If I have completed you, then I will always be with you. Thank you for opening my heart.”

      Trisha opened his cell door. Virtue stood where he was for a moment. He admired this woman who would cast aside her life for a creature most humans considered food or a trophy to be had. This woman who had searched and searched for any scrap of affection she could find her entire life, and had finally found it just for it to be taken away.

 
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