A Hopeful Silence


Chapter One: And the Ocean Swallowed Them

 Micheia leaned like a curving hawk out into the splitting currents of wind. Her Sunlong swerved soundlessly through the air — though not as sharply or swiftly as her previous plane had. Her previous plane was a one-seater, a real fighter Sunlong whose engine had been beaten up so badly in the war that no scraps could be salvaged. Whose wings of bright gold had been stripped angrily bare by the talons of the Yue.

  She missed her old plane. The precision in which it angled… The way it always seemed to know where to go, speeding through the layers of atmosphere like a shooting star gone wild. 

  Micheia gazed across the serenity of the ocean. It felt wrong – the cries and crashings of battle replaced with a silence as soft as clouds, the blue sky empty once again. 

  “See any yet?” her co-pilot, Lunar, called from the other seat. Lunar’s appearance contrasted Micheia’s in every way possible. Instead of muscular, he was lanky. Instead of shortish, tall. Instead of pale blonde hair, dark brown… His voice brought Micheia from her cold concentration with a start.

  She preferred piloting alone.

  “Not yet, Shhhh,” Micheia leaned back in and looked straight ahead. They were on a mission. Their patrol was sent to hunt down Yue stragglers; the leftovers and deserters of the defeated Yue army. She bit down hard on air like a ravenous dog desperate for something to tear to pieces and waited. Something inside of her whispered a name into the darkness of her mind, over and over and over.

  Silence. (Avise, it whispered)

  More silence. (Avise.)


  Her fingers drained of blood, Micheia turned the plane into a near vertical dive down before bringing it into a predatory circle, circle… Her face felt feverish as her gray eyes darted as her eyes locked on the sickeningly familiar white. She focussed, and in that moment the mystical, dragon-like creatures below her were the only things in the world. Yue.

  She was going to rip their snowy wings to pieces and let fire devour them whole, just like they did to Avise’s plane, there above the watchful sea. Avise… Micheia was above the stragglers now, in close enough range to shoot. 


  Lunar moved too fast to register, and for a while Micheia’s thoughts spun mid-circle, because yes — her elder brother, Avise, was really and truly (without a splatter of a doubt) gone.

  One day she’d kill the Yue queen, just like he’d been aiming to do on the day the ocean swallowed him.

  The Yue bodies tumbled after each other like bloodied rags until each had broken the waves with their great weight. It was over in an instant. Lunar seemed to be talking to the pilot in the other plane, but Micheia was too spaced-out to register what they were saying. Something about heading back to the island… and dinner.   

  What little she did catch made her feel nauseous. Her stomach still wasn’t used to normal food…and the last place she wanted to be was home. 

  “Hey Catfin, hurry up,” that was Lunar, sounding less impatient and more concerned that her hand would slip and send the plane spiraling. Micheia ignored him. She’d follow the others, sure, but as slowly as this engine could take her…too late. Lunar was steering back to shore. Layer upon layer of mist broke away to reveal a path to land across the watery planes. Down, closer, skimming the surface with wings dipper wide and low.

  SPLASH!! Skidding to a halt in the disrupted shallows.

   In a dream-like sequence like the ending of the war, their entire patrol had left the empty atmosphere, civilization but a short walk uphill. Just a month ago, this very beach had been littered with Yue corpses, and the air still smelled vaguely of burnt reptilian flesh. Other than that, the view was hollow and calm. Birds nested among the sea cliffs, and the towers of the Island Settlement peered gaily upwards into the chill. Bits of Sunlong crackled beneath one’s feet, unrecognisable among the seashells.

  From the moment Micheia’s hand let go of the steering gear, ambivalence overtook her. She climbed lightly out after Lunar and began to wade, ocean churning greedily around her boots till it released her onto the crumbly gray sand.

  “Well, I’ll see you in school tomorrow, Catfin,” Lunar removed his helmet as the other pilots with them went on ahead. One or two gave a pat on the shoulder to Micheia or Lunar — the precious child soldiers who had survived the war. It made Micheia sick to think of the one who hadn’t.

  She stiffened at Lunar’s words. 

  “I’m killing the queen. I don’t have time for school,” she sounded more like a dismal kid than Avise’s courageous younger sister. Coldly, she focused on dusting off her uniform.

  “No excuses. You’re only fifteen, you shouldn’t be so evasive. Especially now the fighting’s done and the island’s been given its chance to develop. Your duty isn’t to fight anymore. It’s to learn.”

  “I have only one duty. And that isn’t being a student in a civilian class, learning things I won’t even need.” That came out harsher than she anticipated. She sucked in a breath, noting how she’d just spoken to his face.

  Lunar responded exactly how she knew he would.

  “Micheia,” he was using his reasoning tone, “you can’t be a soldier forever.”

  But she’d already started away, her helmet still firmly strapped to her head and her hair still firmly trapped in a non-obstructive bun. Lunar sure liked to question things, but apparently, once she started questioning them it made her wrong.

  To be fair, Lunar had hardly ever been wrong. That’s why she hated arguing with older people, because no matter how much she believed she was right, they would find some way to make her feel like a naive child. 

  She didn’t look back.

  As the streets came into view before her, she could see they were lit with a somewhat friendly glow. The island where Micheia’s people lived was uphill all the way, higher and higher, with ledges and slanting roads down to the bays. Each house seemed to be under repairs of some sort – the metallic domes of their roofs still ripe with ash and new paint. 

  The steep incline led to the town square. From there, Micheia could see the repaired school building; its grand pillars, stairs and earthy courtyard. It was the largest building she knew, and it had barely been scratched by the attacking Yue. Just this morning she’s been inside one of the many classrooms, her foot tapping away distractedly as the teacher talked. 

  She felt like an uncouth stranger the moment her house came into view. The spotless residence of Catfin, her family name, white as Yue and standing three stories tall. Her aunt and uncle were in there, bogged down with fancy paperwork as usual, about to call it a day. Micheia took off her helmet and placed her boots carefully outside before opening the door.

  Her grip on the doorknob was cold, and she had to force her fingers to let go one by one till her hand fell limply at her side. White light greeted the pulse of the door shut.

  She wished the people didn’t have to end days so early to keep up with the short hours of the night. It was all quite disturbing with the town suddenly not on edge anymore.

  “Oh, Micheia, you’re back,” Her aunt was in the central dining room at the central table, reading reports. She was a nice person upon first impression, slender with rich brown hair and seeing glasses. It wasn’t her fault that the only thing which interested her was the study of field insects… or that she wasn’t very good at expressing affection.

  “Yes,” Micheia replied promptly, avoiding her eyes. 

  “…That’s good.”

  “Yes,” Micheia made her way a bit too swiftly upstairs and into her room. She knew her aunt wouldn’t shout to her to come down for dinner, because her aunt wasn’t the shouting sort. Faintly, Micheia recalled the day she and Avise had been placed in her care, those many years ago before the war even began. 

  “Avise,” eight-year-old Micheia gazed questioningly up at her brother, “what’re you doing?” 

  For a second, the boy in the cockpit let go of the steering gear, and the whir of the plane’s engine seemed to calm down. Sunlight bathed the leathery wings in a pure, untainted gold. “Practicing,” was his reply, “you know those things which killed mum and dad? Well, THIS can combat even them… it’s a Sunlong fighter plane.”

  Micheia felt nothing at the mention of her parents — foggy silhouettes whose faces she couldn’t possibly have remembered. What stirred her was the Sunlong, and even then the most captivating thing in the picture was the person seated in it: a person who felt something for the past. A person with a purpose — a mission which he had to accomplish no matter what. 

  “One day, I’m flying out in one of these. I’m going to kill as many Yue as I can once the fighting starts for real. You can join me, sis. When you’re a bit older,” the thing about Avise was that he always smiled, even when he was being deathly serious. Sometimes, Micheia couldn’t tell if he was on the verge of reckless abandon or simply chilling out – but mostly she could. It was a skill she’d picked up from years of studying him instead of her own reflection. 

  Micheia decided to push him a little, “Lots of Yue, right? Not just the small fry. The really big ones, too. Even… You’d kill the Yue queen?” She could tell the moment those words left her mouth that her brother was deathly serious. His head tilted to face the vast open sea, gray eyes hidden from view. When he turned back the answer was written all over his face.

  “She’s the culprit behind all these deaths. I’ll do it, sis. I promise, I will definitely kill her.”

  He was smiling.

  Back in the present, fifteen-year-old Micheia gazed at the face in the mirror, seeing once again the pale hair and sharp gray eyes in the dimness of the evening. She tried to pretend she was going to school with Avise tomorrow. 

  Time for dinner, went her mind instead, ever so desperately practical. Survival and food. Rations, to be precise. She opened the case she kept hidden beneath her bed and took out a can of salted crickets. Using a knife to open the can, she let the smell pour into the room and sting her eyes with that familiar acidity. After the brief meal, she turned her attention skyward, through the sealing-off ceiling and even the roof way above. 

  Micheia was not going to school tomorrow. She knew that now. She was getting on a Sunlong and heading out in thirst of a bloodbath. If she could only fly far enough, scrape the edges of the map and flush her prey out…if only she were swifter, stealthier, silenter. Then the Yue queen would surely die. Yes.

  That was the ending she was aiming towards, she told herself in a flash of golden glory that the soldiers of the island often spoke of. The victory and the sweet revenge…and that was when she stopped, because the air pressure was choking her. Spirited back into the darkness of her room, Micheia let her gaze fall down onto her shadow-soaked hands. 

  It was a numb sort of fear, one that she knew all too well.

  Kill the Yue queen — find her, snuff her out. The war would finally be over for real, and she would be free of her brother’s goal and dying ambitions; free

  And Micheia Catfin would have nothing left to live for in a world free of Avise.

Penelope Loy (Class of 2023) will inevitably become a Primary School English teacher in the future and scare your children! She and her characters mutually inspire each other to be lame. They are her offspring. So are a pair of chunky rabbits.