The cobbled streets lay before her, streaked black with grime, an insidious mirror image of the inky sky above. Neviah observed the houses as she walked between them, their roofs slanted and ridged, balancing precariously on the exposed brick. The houses are far too close together. They sprawled out on either side of the cobbles, stacked against each other like dominoes, poised to collapse. The street lamps adorning either side of the street were crooked and rusting. They were hardly ever lit these days; not even the wealthiest people in Dimidium could afford that much coal. Neviah didn’t mind the dark much anymore. She had grown accustomed to it. Neviah turned a corner quickly, stepping to the left to avoid the fallen rubble from the wreck of the old hospital. The hospital had been burnt down years ago, not long after Neviah had been born. She avoided looking at it; it made her sad, thinking of those who had died in the fire. The ash still thickened the air around the dilapidated corpse of a building. Neviah coughed and spluttered as she made her way past it. Eventually, she reached the outer edges of the town, and she sucked in a breath of cleaner air before looking up at it, as she always did. In front of her stood the Wall, a heaving mass of smooth concrete that separated Dimidium from Renatus. It looked the same as it did every day. I wonder what it was like, before the wall, she contemplated as she stared up to the sky, trying to find where the wall ended, and the darkness began. She continued down the path, turning left and down to the bottom of the hill, where she would find her home. Her family’s house was weathered and old but stable. It sat on a patch of yellowing grass filled with yellow flowers. Her mother called them weeds, but Neviah thought they were far too pretty for that name. The door was painted red years ago, but now the paint was peeling and faded. Mother said they could repaint it one day, but Neviah hadn’t seen paint in the market for months. She sighed a breath of relief before pushing the door open, the hinges creaking a little with the effort. She stepped through the door, closing it softly behind her and wiping her dirty shoes on the doormat. She heard her mother’s voice in her head as she did, ‘We might live in Dimidium, but that doesn’t mean we have to live like pigs!’ Neviah smiled. Despite their circumstances, her mother tried to give her and her brother the best life she could. She walked through the hall and into the living room, where she found her mother settled into her favourite armchair. Her mother was a short woman with delicate features and light brown hair. Her face was wrinkled with age, and her remaining eye was an incredible shade of blue, striking against her pale skin. “Neviah! I didn’t hear you come in. Come and sit with me for a while.” Her mother said, beckoning her forwards. Neviah smiled and slid off her shoes, sitting on the rug next to her mother’s chair. “I need to talk to you about something, something important.” Neviah turned to face her, listening intently. “You’re almost sixteen years old… you know what that means, don’t you?” Neviah nodded. She’d learnt about Iudicium, or The Judgement as it was called in the common tongue, in school. “I want you to be prepared….” Her mother continued, “I want you to know that no matter what happens when you get up there, this is your home, and I love you.” Neviah felt a chill run over her spine; her mother’s words felt like a preemptive farewell. She felt her voice falter as she spoke, “What if… what if I’m sent to Renatus? Will I be able to come and see you and father? Is that where Cecil went?” She regretted her words as soon as they left her mouth. Neviah hadn’t seen her older brother since his judgement day two years ago. She’d always wondered what his life had been like on the other side. Her mother turned away from her, shielding her face to disguise the pained look adorning it. “We’ll see, love. We’ll see.” She managed to choke out. The next few weeks flew by, as usual, the ball of anxiety in Neviah’s chest growing with each passing day until it arrived; her sixteenth birthday. She had tried to fall asleep for hours now, but all she could see when she closed her eyes was the wall, only this time, she was on the wrong side. She clutched her knees close to her chest, making herself as small as possible. After a while, she began to pray. A desperate mantra playing on repeat, ‘Dimidium is my home, don’t make me leave’ over and over again. She had no idea who or what she was praying to, but that didn’t stop her from trying. Eventually, she managed to lull herself to sleep; her brow still furrowed with anxiety. Dreams plagued her mind as she slept, unrelenting and vicious. She dreamt of him, a booming voice telling her she wasn’t worthy, mingling with her prayers. By the time morning came, her body ached, and her jaw was sore from clenching all night. The second the clock struck seven AM, she was up and out of bed. She began to dress as she had practised, in the traditional Iudicium garb- a long white dress made of cotton, bare feet, and of course, the amulet. Her mother had given her the amulet the night before. It was supposed to bring luck and good fortune during your judgement. She twisted the chain between her fingers, weighing the pendant in her hand. It was engraved with a large eye, and she felt uneasy as she stared into it. She dropped it quickly as her bedroom door opened, the chain swinging gently as it fell back to rest against her chest. “Hey… How are you feeling?” A head appeared from behind the door; it was her father. “Honestly?” She began, “I’m terrified, Dad. I’ve heard rumours, at school, about what happens if… if he doesn’t….” She trailed off. “If he doesn’t think you’re worthy?” Her father finished. Neviah nodded intently, looking into her fathers' eyes. They had taught her the basics of Iudicium at school, so she knew that you were either chosen to live in Dimidium, Renatus, or even chosen to be an Oraculum… but nobody would tell her what would happen if she wasn’t chosen at all. “That won’t happen.” Her father responded, but it seemed like he was reassuring himself rather than her. Neviah smiled at him weakly. She wasn’t naive enough to believe what her father told her; she knew he didn’t want to scare her. But today was the day, and there was no avoiding it. She must be judged. Neviah made her way downstairs and into the living room, where her mother waited to see her off. An unmistakable terror was lingering in her mother's eyes, a terror that she couldn’t mask, even with the forced smile decorating her lips. Neviah ran straight into her mother's arms, holding her close. She smelt of bread and old perfume. Neviah breathed the scent in, willing it to stay firmly planted in her memory. She knew that there was a chance, a chance that she’d never be able to hold her mother like this again. “I love you, Neviah '' Her mother said, her voice faltering with the weight of the tears in her eyes, threatening to overflow. “I love you too,” Neviah choked back, not managing to prevent herself from spilling her tears. Her mother smiled and reached for the amulet hanging around her neck. She gently kissed the worn brass before placing it back against Neviah’s chest, “Good luck, my love.” Neviah stepped onto the street, anxiously looking around as though she expected something momentous to have changed. It was the same old street. She turned back to face the doorway and waved goodbye to her parents. Every fibre of her being wished that she’d be coming right back, but something in her head told her not to be so optimistic. She made her way to the town square; well, they all called it the town square, but it was more of a clearing between the many rows of houses. Two other teenagers were standing there, and she recognised them from her school. By chance, they all shared the same birthday, so today was their judgement too. I wonder if there will be anyone from Renatus? The group began to make their way toward the mountain's base, where they would start their journey. Neviah held her breath as the base of the mountain came into view; she had been told that judgments were always guided by members of the Oraculum. The Oraculums were the real chosen ones, the ones that he had blessed with the sight. At least, that’s what she’d been taught. She’d never seen one in person, though. They lived up in the mountains and were far too important to visit places like Dimidium. There hadn’t been a new Oraculum chosen in almost fifty years, and there were only ten of them left now, all elderly men. A woman had never been chosen to be an Oraculum. The boys in her class said girls weren’t smart enough to be blessed with the sight. As she grew closer, she saw him. A man stood in front of the iter, the path leading them to their judgement. He was tall and slender, with silver hair and a matching beard that nearly reached his waist. He wore robes of pure white, as was the tradition for Iudicium. However, he wore clean white boots to match, while the teenagers were prohibited from wearing shoes. Neviah glanced briefly at her own feet; they had become black with grime and soot. The man stood there, perfectly still, with his eyes closed as they approached. They stopped before they reached him, leaving space between him and them. As soon as they stopped, the Oraculum’s eyes flung open, bearing down on each of them. Neviah had to stifle a gasp. His eyes were as white as snow in winter. “Welcome, young ones.” His voice came not from his lips but resonated in their minds clear as day. “Do not be afraid. I am here to show you the way.” He continued as he turned and began to follow the Iter. Neviah took a deep breath and stepped forwards toward him. The others soon followed her, and they stuck together as a group as they made their way up the winding path until they reached a steep staircase made of stone. The stairs reached up into the darkness, seemingly endless. “Wait.” They heard the man’s voice in their heads again. “We need to wait for the others.” Others? Before she could question what that might mean, she noticed three figures approaching from the other side of the mountain. They must be from Renatus. Finally, they came into view. There were another two teenagers, dressed similarly to Neviah and her friends, accompanied by another Oraculum, this time a short bald man with a round face. “You will begin your ascent now.” This time the two men spoke together, their voices merging into one. Neviah was startled, she didn’t know why, but she had expected the children from Renatus to look…different in some way. She was almost disappointed to discover they looked exactly like her and her friends, perhaps a little cleaner, but that was all. She was the first to begin the climb. The steps were steep and slippery; she almost fell a few times but managed to catch herself before she did. The climb took them several hours, and the sky grew darker above them. Neviah admired the purplish colour as she climbed; she’d never been this close to it before. After a long and arduous journey, they made it. The mountain plateaued and stretched out before them. Neviah couldn’t help but look back; the climb seemed impossible now. She could see the lights of her village blinking away in the distance. She hadn’t realised just how far up they were. As she scanned the horizon, her mouth hung open in surprise. She could see it. She could see Renatus. Neviah had always wondered what it would look like, but pictures were forbidden, and she’d never been anywhere this high up before. Their building rose, almost as tall as the wall, and they were made of metal and shiny blue materials. She’d never seen anything like it before. The streets were clean and perfectly smooth; they appeared to be made out of some kind of black rock. Lights shone everywhere, and the houses were detached from one another, perfect cubes in perfect rows. I don’t know what I was expecting…but it wasn’t this. She said to herself, eyes still fixed on the incredible city on the other side of the wall. It is time. She heard the echo of the Oraculum’s voices in her head and snapped back to reality, tearing her eyes away from the lights down below and back towards the other kids. This is it, the hairs on her arms standing on end. The air felt different up there, heavier, almost like it was laced with him. She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself, feeling colder by the minute. She glanced down at her feet, swollen and red with the cold. She never understood why they weren’t allowed to wear shoes, but it was tradition. It was meant to ground you, tie you to the earth and bless your judgement. She stood there, buried deep in her thoughts, until she heard the voices again, Benedict, you shall be the first. She looked to her right at the boys next to her; Benedict, a small boy with auburn hair, looked to the floor as tears began to well in his eyes. The Oraculum ushered them toward the opposite end of the mountain, right next to a steep cliff. Neviah peeked over the edge, careful not to get too close. She could see something down there, some kind of colourful mass, but she couldn’t quite make it out, straining her eyes against the wind. She inched a little closer, but He appeared before she could take another look. She stared at him, her eyes frozen open with shock. He was inconceivably large, blackening the sky atop the mountain like a brewing storm cloud. Tendrils of smoke slithered and shifted around him, some seeming more solid than others. The air felt hotter, almost humid now, and Neviah felt like he was breathing down her neck. She didn't dare look at the centre of the mass; deep down, she knew that that would be a bad idea. She tore her eyes from His form and cast them towards the ground, her mind still struggling to comprehend what she had just observed. Benedict, she heard a voice boom inside her head, only this time, it wasn’t coming from the Oraculum. The voice was raspy and hoarse, but it filled her head and bellowed in her ears until she felt like she just might drown in it. Clutching her ears as though that might provide relief, she looked over at Benedict, standing next to her, agape. The Oraculum appeared and pushed him towards the centre of the mass, tilting his head to stare into the abyss. It happened so fast, but simultaneously, the moment seemed to last for an eternity. The ground shook with a violent tremor, and Benedict screamed. He turned to face the rest of the group, his hand plastered to his forehead. Neviah didn’t understand what had happened. Had he been chosen? The truth began to dawn on her as he gingerly removed his hand from his forehead, revealing a third eye, set into his forehead, clear as day. You have been chosen to live in Renatus; the Oraculum spoke again. They moved in and took Benedict to the side, separating him from the rest of the group. His judgement was complete. Neviah’s brow furrowed. Why did he scream? She wondered, frightened at the prospect of imminent pain. However, she didn’t have a chance to dwell on it as He called the next name, Mallory. Mallory must be one of the Renatus kids. Sure enough, the Oraculum ushered a young girl forward, she had black hair and sunken eyes, and Neviah thought she was rather pretty. She knew the tremor was coming now, but that didn’t stop her heart beating faster in her chest as the ground shook beneath her feet. This time, however, Neviah heard no screams. She watched as Mallory turned towards the group, expecting her to have grown her third eye or perhaps even lost one of her eyes, as her parents had. As she stared at Mallory’s face, Neviah felt sick to her stomach. Blood streamed down Mallory’s cheeks like a crimson waterfall, and her mouth hung open in a permanent expression of pure fear. Neviah stood there, unable to move, watching Mallory’s eyes tumble from their sockets and land on the ground with a loud squelch. She reached out her hand, wanting suddenly to hold her, to tell her it would be okay, but the Oraculums were faster. They grabbed Mallory by the shoulders, and in one swift movement, they hauled her over the edge of the cliff, and she was gone. All that remained were Mallory’s blue eyes, bloodshot orbs adorning the ground. That was until one of the Oraculum swiftly collected them and held them up to him like some sadistic tribute. Suddenly everything began to make sense. This is why nobody would tell her what happened if you weren’t chosen, why her mother had seemed so terrified of Neviah’s judgement. Taking another wary glance at the cliff on her left, she understood exactly what the colourful pile she saw below was: bodies. She could feel bile rising in her throat as she imagined the mound of flesh and bones forming a mangled heap. She could almost see them down there, their faces full of fear, and their eyes… She shook the thought from her head. It wouldn’t do her any good to think about them now; she needed to focus on surviving, on passing her judgement. The next judgement passed in a blur, she didn’t even catch the name of the Renatus boy, but she saw the shock plastered on his face as he returned, missing an eye. She knew that it wouldn’t be long until it would be her name being called, until she would have to face him. As she stood there, waiting, she prayed to every god she knew the name of, to be able to go back home to her family. Neviah… She heard her own name reverberate in her brain. The word felt scalding hot as it bounced around her skull, as though the word itself was ablaze in her mind's eye. Every ounce of her was desperate to run, to flee this god-awful place and never be judged. But that could never happen. She felt hands wrap around her small arms, and she was propelled forward. Neviah tried her best not to look at him but to no avail. She felt a finger reach beneath her chin and tilt her head toward the darkness. Then, she saw them, the thousands of unblinking eyes circling the centre of the void, staring straight at Neviah. Her eyes darted between the eyes, the burn of a thousand stares eating away at her. She squirmed and tried to shake off the uneasy feeling that covered her body in a thick blanket, but she could not help but look back at them, at all of them. Tears began to fill her eyes and spill over her cheeks. They were there, at the edge of the darkness- Mallory’s Eyes. As the ground shook, Neviah’s body began to convulse alongside it, her vision clouding until she couldn’t see any longer. She clutched her skull as it filled with the unbearable hum of a thousand voices at once, her brain flooded with images too blurry to make out. As the tremors began to subside, the images became clearer. A young boy was standing beneath Him, his arms dripping with blood as he clutched at his face. His face… it seemed so familiar to Neviah, but she couldn’t quite place it. The boy drops his hands from his face, and two empty black caverns stare at nothing, raw and bloody, where his eyes have fallen from their sockets. “Cecil!” The word left her throat before she had even had a chance to think it.’Cecil… I can’t believe it. I thought… I thought he was in Renatus’ Her tears turned into sobs. But the images would not stop. A house on the edge of the mountain- the Oraculum- ten men in white robes- chains and rope- hands against her flesh, over her mouth- incredible agony- a child crying in the distance. Neviah dropped to her knees, her gaze fixed on the darkness above. ‘I can’t go there; I can’t! Neviah knew precisely what they were planning to do with her, and the thought of it made bile rise in her throat again. She swallowed it, pushing it back into her stomach as another vision filled her head. Her mother and father lay in a pool of blood, their home ablaze around them- Smoke fills the air in Dimidium- the whole city burns until there is nothing but a sea of ash and blood. The final image of her parents' lifeless bodies lingered for a moment before it too gave in to the darkness. Neviah’s eyes shot open, revealing their new milky white colour. Oraculum…Oraculum… Oraculum… She heard the men chant over and over again, a cacophony of sound overlapping in her head until she began to feel sick. ‘Stop!.’ She screamed. This time she heard her own voice echo back at them, a piercing scream that shattered the wall of voices building up in her mind. The noise in her head began to subside, and Neviah rose to her feet, projecting her voice louder. She wanted all of them to hear this time, every single Oraculum. ‘I have seen the pain you will cause, I have seen your plans, and I will not be a part of this. I will not play your little game. I will not be an Oraculum. I would rather be with my brother.’ As she spoke, her body filled with immense energy that she had never felt before. Neviah knew exactly what she was going to do. She saw no point in remaining here in a world destined to crumble before her. Before anyone could stop her, Neviah raised her hands to her newly whitened eyes and dug into them, tearing at the flesh until she couldn’t see anything anymore. She felt no pain. Her body was numb and determined. She didn’t stop until her eyes were free from her skull, and she held them in her open hands, their stark white irises still staring forwards. I won’t let Him have them. She clutched the eyes to her chest and inched over to her left, where she knew what would be waiting for her. She didn’t know why the Oraculum didn’t stop her. Perhaps they knew that she wouldn’t be of any use to them now. Neviah braced herself before stepping off the cliff, tumbling through the air with incredible speed and joining the mangle of broken flesh below. As her last moment of consciousness faded into the dark, she was left with the image of her parents' bloodied bodies circling her mind- then nothing.
About the Author Anna Jackson is a York (UK) based poet and short fiction writer who recently finished a creative writing degree. Anna's work takes inspiration from her love of horror, the uncanny, and video games.
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