I hear them every night: the screams.
It is always very quiet before they begin. Silence settles upon every single house and shop and person as all await the psychological plague they know is fast approaching. During this silence, it is as if, for a moment, our whole world comes to an ice-cold standstill. Color and feeling and life leave us behind in a dark, horrifying void. And, just when we think it will never end, the sound of hell is released into the streets. In but a moment, the silence which echoes so loudly in the mind is replaced by shrill, pained cries that rip through the air, the mind, and the soul like a knife.
I used to cry and cover my ears, when I was young and scared and blind. I would try my best to block out the sound, to convince myself that it wasn’t real, to do anything to make the agony stop. However, over the years, I have come to realize that there is no escaping the merciless grip of reality. I now force myself to listen to what I know is the truth. It could save me, after all.
You see, these screams belong to a specific group. They are known as the Renegade. They’re the insubordinate, the ones who fight, those who refuse to conform, those who are not content with the lack of knowledge of the things that are hidden from us. Anything from speaking out against those in power to leading full-out rebellions gets you into the ranks with the Renegade. This is also what gets you into the Affliction.
We don’t know much about the Affliction. What we do know is that it is where those in the Renegade are taken to be punished for their sin. We know it’s where the screams come from, and we know that any sane person would never, ever want to go there. Its purpose has always been clear. They want to scare us, to make an example of what happens to those who try to go their own way. However, I don’t think it has worked out the way they wanted. If it had, the Renegade would have been stopped a long time ago. They haven’t.
In fact, I think they’re getting stronger.
There have been more rebellions. I’ve heard more whispers of what could come to be if we just fought to make things better. However, the thing that has changed the most is the screaming. Every night of my life, I’ve heard the pained cries, and they have always seemed the same to me. But now, as I stand in the streets and listen to the shouts of the Renegade, I notice that there is something missing.
They no longer contain fear. They are laced with something different, something I would never imagine they could encompass: