Ryan stood on top of the fountain, trying to look strong, sure of himself, and like he wasn’t the least bit scared. It took all the effort he had to hold his knees steady, keep his shaking hands hidden and for him to not allow the cold sweat to drip down his face. He had to look like he was in control, that this decision was easy and not killing him. If he showed even the slightest bit of weakness this whole thing could collapse around them.
Airylana stood below him on the ground, arms crossed over her chest. She stared straight ahead, her look empty. A look he had been seeing for months, a look he could no longer take. He didn’t know if it was that dead look, no empathy or care in her eyes, or his own guilt that had brought him to this place. He didn’t care anymore, right now all that mattered were the decision the council made.
“Ryan Mickerson you are here in front of the whole neighborhood, to give up your voice,” councilman Walker proclaimed. He stood on a raised platform surrounded by the four other members of the council.
“Yes,” Ryan wasn’t going to list his reasons or even try to explain.
“Even though she has earned her own voice?” the question wasn’t accusing, more curious and confused.
“Her voice has been lost,” Ryan stated. He watched the council closely, no one seemed to shift at all. There were no accusations or calls for immediate arrest. Just eyes of curiosity. Ryan let the slightest bit of tension ease from his shoulders.
“Ryan, stop!” the voice rang out from the back of the gathered crowd. Every head snapped backward to see who would dare stop this meeting. Ryan wasn’t surprised to see Marley, his sister.
“Marley!” he called to her. It was more a call to delay the inevitable, the longer he could prolong the proceedings the better. He wanted to hear the verdict but at the same time he never wanted to get to that point.
“Ryan, please wait,” Marley elbowed her way to the front and crawled up the fountain to stand at his side. “There is another way, you don’t have to do this.”
“Too late,” Airylana stated, even toned. She hadn’t looked once at Marley, she had never looked away from the council.
“I already told them. We are in their hands now,” Marley’s eyes glistened but she wouldn’t cry. She was too strong for that. She turned to face the men, grasping his hand tight.
“You say her voice is gone?” the eldest councilman asked. He came forward to stand by Walker’s side. His eyes were searching and scanning every inch of Ryan’s face. Ryan wasn’t sure what they were looking for but he would not give anything away.
“It was taken from her. No one was able to stop the theft or find her voice. I wish to give up my own to her,” he felt Marley’s fingers twitch. She wanted to protest so badly but he knew she would leave him to act alone. This was hurting her as much as him but she knew there wasn’t any other option. No move or action that could save them both.
“You wish to give up your voice, a powerful one. One that turns heads and changes hearts?” the elder asked.
Ryan really wished they would stop with repeating his requests. He knew them, he had made them. What weren’t they understanding?
“Yes,” he tried and failed to not sound irritated. It was like he was a child, someone who didn’t understand what he was asking. As if they were trying to give him the chance to change his mind and run.
“We need to discuss this,” the men pulled themselves into a tight circle. Their heads bent inwards, not giving Ryan even the slightest hint as to what they were discussing. Did they think him insane? Would that matter? Something was clearly bugging them but Ryan couldn’t even guess at what. This should be a simple Exchange.
Ryan reached forward with his free hand to grip Airlyana’s shoulder. It was sturdy and hard, not even slightly shaking or tense. Ryan hated how dead she had become.
Months she had walked around with nothing but her vacant stare. She spoke only when spoken to with no emotion. She moved around as if a puppet, moving because she had to not because she wanted to. She was dead inside, her voice, her defining feature had been stripped away leaving nothing but this imitation of a person behind.
Ryan couldn’t take one more day with this only half of a woman. His heart was beyond its breaking point. Her voice was gone, no one could even begin to guess where it might be. He had to do something, the only thing he could do was to give her his own voice. He would die inside but she would live, and that was all that mattered.
Ryan knew he was making a dangerous decision. The council could decide to punish them all for not reporting the theft. They could strip the whole town of every one of their voices. But Ryan was certain he would be the only one to pay. The council wasn’t a harsh ruling body, they listened, sympathized. Besides Airylana’s voice wasn’t a real loss, it had possessed little power. No one would miss it.
The council’s heads lifted and they turned back to the crowd, once again in a straight firm line. “You say you are prepared to give up your voice, to hand it over to this woman. Why?”
It was a simple word but a question that contained so much. Ryan could delve into his love for Airylana. Explain how he would walk away from everything for her. He could explain how she made him feel worth while and like he mattered. His voice was strong, everyone listened when he spoke and understood his position. He could sway even the hardest hearts. Inside though he felt hollow like he was nothing but his voice. Airylana filled that void.
“Because,” was all he said. The explanation would be too much and more than they needed to know. The reason shouldn’t matter, they could hear the desire in his voice. His voice was pure, strong. They knew he had made up his mind. It wasn’t practice to debate and hold an inquisition for an Exchange. It was the owners decision only. Voices were the individuals responsibility. The council was there to give advice and make sure the decision was what was really desired. They listened for wavering and someone being forced to give up their voice. The council was only needed ultimately for their power but not their permission.
“Generally we would require a better reason than that but you sound sure. You know what you are doing. Though we don’t understand it,” he lifted his hands and brought them together. A light, bright white and glowing began to grow between his palms. Ryan felt his chest constrict and his throat tighten, it felt like all the air was being pulled from him.
Ryan fell to the ground, trying to stay conscious. He placed his hands flat on the stone fountain trying to get some type of breath. He barely heard the councilman’s next words. “You are smart. Your voice, it was given to you for a reason. You get to decide how it is used and where it goes. That is one of the rewards of being given your voice. Though we don’t understand why you would hand it over to someone whose own voice is intact and working just fine, we trust you,” Ryan felt his head become light, as if it was a balloon about to float away.
Why were they white? Why weren’t they blue or orange? Why wasn’t he flying? Or standing hanging from the sky? Or using the clouds as stepping stones? How could the world still be whole and right side up when that last sentence had upended his own world?
He heard frantic squeaking from Marley but he couldn’t make out the words. She still had her voice, for months Airylana had been lying to him. She had been playing with him, hoping to get here, to get to this point. It all made sense now. This was her end game, get him to give up his voice. Take from him the only other thing that mattered.
Ryan slowly sat up, the world returning to vibrant sound and color around him. Airylana was up on the fountain now, making a loud screeching speech with heavy gestures.
Ryan cringed, wanting to cover his ears if only he could have found the energy to move. She was too loud, she was just screaming. Didn’t she understand? She had his voice now as well as her own. All she had to do was mean what she said and people would listen and most likely agree. She just needed to speak with determination and believe every word she spoke. People would hear her, no matter how loud she was. She had his
gift, why was she acting so damn dramatic? She didn’t understand.
“Ryan do something,” Marley pleaded in his ear.
Ryan wanted to comfort her but he couldn’t find the strength. He felt like he had run a hundred miles. He was limp and dead tired. He couldn’t muster the motivation to move. He couldn’t even begin to try to truly speak.
“What did you do?” Marley asked still trying to get some type of reaction out of him.
“Destroyed her,” Ryan whispered, using the last ounce of the effort he had.
Marley looked down at him, first in shock than in understanding.
“Good, good,” she murmured lifting him to his feet and walking his shell of a person out of the square and towards their home.