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The Darkness Within

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In the shadowy remnants of a once-great world, Tasha finds herself at the heart of a divided society. As the grip of authoritarian rule tightens, Tasha embarks on a journey, driven by the belief in democracy's resurgence. In a land cloaked in secrets and fear, loyalty, love, and a relentless quest for justice will lead her to confront the darkness that looms over her beloved home.

Thriller / Mystery
Jamie Strudwick
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: Ignorant Bliss

Today daw as the culmination of six relentless months, the day when Tasha, having honed her skills, is poised to ascend into the formidable ranks of the Guards - a bastion of order in a world where the once-mighty and powerful Government has crumbled into mere echoes of history. She lives in a modest town named Ravencroft, nestled in history. A place once known as Kensington, London. Though diminished, whispers of Kensington's former beauty lingers in faded memories.

In the year 3933, a relentless disease, christened "The Final Plague" by scientists who believed humanity's end was nigh, swept across the globe. Against all odds, humanity endured, but barely. A mere three million survivors now inhabit the remnants of Western Europe and South America, as every other continent succumbed to the merciless Plague. Three million souls left in a world once teeming with life.

A prevailing sentiment among many is that the turmoil Ravencroft faces today stems from a history marked by reckless resource management. In classrooms, students are instructed about the grim chapters in their town's past, where thousands were crammed into overcrowded ghettos. The world, they are taught, had always possessed the capacity to accommodate its populace, yet the leadership across nations remained myopic, consumed by their greed, conflicts and territorial disputes.

Amidst the mounting evidence of looming catastrophe, some contend that those in power had chosen to turn a blind eye, deflecting blame onto the powerless. For nearly half a century, Ravencroft had been gripped by a perpetual state of lockdown, casting a pall of fear and darkness upon its inhabitants. However, in the midst of this pervasive despair, glimmers of hope persisted—occasions that promised brighter days.

Today was one such day, marking the culmination of Tasha's arduous six-month training under the stern but fair guidance of Commander Jask. As she readied herself to "pass out" and take on her role as a Guard, she clung to the belief that her efforts, alongside those of her fellow recruits, could contribute to a brighter future, a ray of optimism in a world that had long yearned for a respite from its oppressive past.

In Ravencroft, a set of guiding principles serves as a moral compass for its residents. Principles that many held dear and abided by:

(1) Embrace kindness, fairness, and honesty.

(2) Shun deceit, theft, and harm to others.

(3) Champion the protection of nature.

(4) Uphold equality and fair treatment.

These principles constitute the de facto law of Ravencroft. It's a poignant reminder of a bygone era when the nation boasted an intricate web of hundreds of laws, meticulously crafted by a democratic Parliament. In those times, positions of power were earned through the voices of the people, manifested by a simple cross on a ballot paper—a true democracy where every voice resonated.

However, those days are long past. Ravencroft, under the enduring leadership of President Deanna Lewis, has forsaken the dreams of elected leaders. Hereditary succession defines her ascent to power, a lineage stretching across seven generations, each inheriting the mantle from their forebear.

In the current state of the nation, the prospect of resurrecting democracy appears a distant and futile hope. Ravencroft's citizens must navigate their lives with the realities they face, making the best of what remains.

"Tasha," says a voice from down the hallway. It is her mother. Tasha walks through the bedroom door to see her stood next to her uniform which is hung neatly on the door. "It's almost time," she says with a soft smile. Tasha walks over to the uniform and takes it down as her mother gives her a kiss on the cheek. "You have worked so hard. Enjoy this day, my love."

She retraced her steps to the bedroom, their modest living circumstances reflecting the reality of life in Ravencroft. Tasha's mother held a crucial role as a Decider, navigating the intricacies of an occasionally unpredictable legal system. In their town, law and order held sway, albeit under the guiding principle of 'actions have consequences.'

The Guards stood as the enforcers of the law, tasked with apprehending those who dared to transgress it. However, it was the Deciders who wielded the power to determine their fate. In Ravencroft, devoid of prisons, justice was meted out through three distinct forms of punishment.

Firstly, there was the grim sentence known as the "Life of Labour," a fate that condemned the guilty to toil endlessly without compensation, their existence marked by ceaseless work. Reserved for those who sought to steal or inflict harm upon the community, it represented a grim and uncompromising form of retribution.

For lesser offences, the punishment of "Expulsion" awaited transgressors. This softer-sounding term masked the harsh reality of exile. Those who committed crimes such as harassment or inflicted grievous harm upon others found themselves banished from Ravencroft for a protracted period, cast adrift beyond its borders.

Finally, there was the irrevocable sentence of "Death," a punishment that required no further explanation. President Lewis had championed the introduction of the death penalty for those who took the life of another or sought to ravage the natural world. It was reserved for those whose actions struck at the very heart of society, an ultimate reckoning for those who posed an existential threat.

In a town like Ravencroft, where the delicate balance between order and consequence held firm, the Deciders wielded a unique power, ensuring that justice was served with an unyielding resolve.

Despite the discretion she should exercise, Tasha's mother often found herself confiding in her daughter about the cases she encountered. In her thirteen years as a Decider, her mother had signed the death warrants of only two individuals, a testament to her exceptional character and unwavering principles. Tasha admired her mother's strong values, secretly harbouring the hope that one day she might realise her dream of reintroducing a semblance of democracy to Ravencroft.

As she prepared for her ceremony, Tasha donned her uniform, a dark green coat adorned with a crisp white leather belt, paired with black trousers and shoes. The uniform bore a thematic consistency, with a matching green stripe tracing its way down the outer leg of the trousers. Depending on one's rank within the Guards, a coloured sash complemented the ensemble. The hierarchy comprised six distinct ranks: Constable, Inspector, Superintendent, Deputy Commander, and Commander.

Ravencroft, nestled in the shadows of its enigmatic past, was home to approximately twenty thousand souls. Yet, it counted just sixty-four dedicated Guards among its population. As one could imagine, their responsibilities were staggering, an arduous task in a society where maintaining order and justice was paramount.

"Tasha, it's time to go!" her mother's voice rang out, punctuating the quiet of their modest home. Tasha emerged from her room to find her mother slipping into her own coat, her intent clear as she headed for the front door. Tasha followed in her footsteps, traversing the bustling but dilapidated streets that wound through their neighbourhood, their destination: Parade Square, a mere five-minute walk from their residence.

Their journey culminated at the imposing gates of the Guard Headquarters, colossal barriers that bore a lofty inscription at their pinnacle: "Inde ad desperandum," translated to "purpose from despair." When this motto was first penned, it had been infused with the fervent hope that it might serve as a beacon for those emerging from the depths of adversity, guiding them toward a life rich with purpose. Tasha embodied this ideal. Her decision to apply for a position within the Guards had stemmed from the belief that a world where law and order reigned supreme was one worth striving for—a value her mother had instilled in her from a tender age.

Tasha's father remained a mysterious figure, an enigma shrouded in shadows, someone she had never truly known. He had cast a long, dark shadow as a notorious criminal, a man whose destiny led him to the grim embrace of death shortly after Tasha's birth. His departure left behind a legacy of notoriety and darkness, a heavy burden that Tasha had inherited without ever having a chance to know him.

Throughout her life, Tasha's mother had been discreet when it came to discussing her father. She firmly believed that Tasha was better off not knowing the full extent of her father's criminal activities. It was a decision made out of love and a desire to shield her daughter from the harsh realities of her father's world.

Stepping through the grand entrance of the building, Tasha embarked on her familiar route toward the Parade Square. In these troubled times, the spectre of the plague loomed overhead, casting a forbidding shadow over any notion of large gatherings. Despite these constraints, passing-out parades remained an exception, drawing the presence of none other than President Lewis herself.

With measured determination, Tasha took her designated position within the Square, mindful of the solemnity of the occasion. Her gloved hand gently smoothed over her uniform, ensuring it lay immaculately against her form. With unwavering resolve, she assumed the posture of attention, ready to participate in this symbolic ceremony that marked the beginning of another chapter in her life.

As the ranks of newly minted Guards assembled in the Parade Square, Tasha felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension surging within her. The moment she had prepared for, the start of her journey in service to Ravencroft, was now at hand. The weight of her responsibilities and the ideals she held dear bore down upon her shoulders, but she stood tall, determined to uphold the values that had guided her throughout her life.

The square was filled with the rustling of uniforms, the muted chatter of her fellow recruits, and the palpable anticipation of the occasion. President Lewis, a constant presence at passing-out parades, would soon address them, reinforcing the gravity of their roles as Guards. Tasha, like the others, awaited the president's words, her heart brimming with resolve, ready to embark on a path fraught with challenges, yet rich with the promise of making a difference in the world she called home.

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