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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/979768-Chapter-13-Samantha
Rated: 18+ · Book · Sci-fi · #2216358
Go read Box: Detach instead!
#979768 added July 15, 2020 at 3:20am
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Chapter 13: Samantha

Chapter 13

Samantha

Eleven-seventeen. It had taken us all more than half a day to get prepared, and even then, I still felt underprepared. The yellow backpack on my shoulders felt too cumbersome, the ballistic vest I wore under my black jacket was constricting down on my chest and making it annoying to move in, and the earpiece I had looped around my ears was loudly broadcasting the Aerilosac boy's annoying voice from even halfway across the room, where I shouldn't even be able to hear him.

Every Aerilosac-touched piece of apparel on me felt horrible. I wasn't sure if it was my own head messing with my senses, or if physically being so close to Aerilosac made tech was genuinely making me shift uncomfortably. This had happened when I was first chased by Losar yesterday, too. Every time I got close, my body cells screamed at me to distance myself as far as possible.

On the insistence of Rivin, I kept my calm for the time being and decided to play compliant. I still didn't trust Losar - his voice was way too smooth and cool compared to all the other ones that I have heard - but I could see that we needed him. I needed him. I may have fallen unconscious and hadn't seen what had happened, but I didn't need anyone to tell me to know it was this pale-haired boy who killed the Aerilosac and came to our rescue. I could practically sense the oppressing presence on him, just like I had with Lyla, only he was much stronger than her.

It was no time for that, though. We had just finished our dinner of bread and water again, and we needed to head out now whether we were ready or not. The dark will be our cover, especially so for Rivin and Roya, who wouldn't be going with an Aerilosac unlike me. The two of them had slept from six to ten soundly for reasons still unknown to me, because I could not fall asleep at all. Losar didn't sleep, either, and spent his time doing everything but talking to me.

Not that I cared. The only times when he spoke to me were when he was explaining the various weapons I had chosen from that cabinet of his, and to discuss some strategies regarding the higher firepower insurgents that would be coming after us. It hadn't sounded too complicated, and he had wanted me to be the support, but I knew well enough never to underestimate the Aerilosac again.

And now that the twins had finished stuffing the diverse range of light-weight weaponry into their pockets and were getting ready to leave for upstairs, I wanted to hold them back.

What if my brother died because I wasn't with him?

He had seemed so confident when he said he was going to go with Roya. They even snuck off to their corner to discuss something secretly, just between the two of them. While their tired and fatigued eyes spoke volumes about their physical health, I couldn't find the authority as the older sister to stop him.

I remember how badly one single Aerilosac had beat us.

But I also remember how I had never managed to find Rivin when he was playing the hider.

"When we come back, we're going to have a long talk," Rivin spoke to Losar, who was standing right at the edge of the patch of floor that would rise back up to the surface on the pull of a lever.

"We will."

"And you will protect my sister even if it means your own life."

"This oath I swear."

"Then I thank you once again on behalf of me and my sister." Rivin deeply bowed to the boy, and Roya copied his actions. Losar didn't quickly usher them back up, and instead nodded back in acknowledgement.

Damn these chivalrous boys.

Then, Rivin walked up to me, and before he could say anything, I slapped him on the top of his head. His head bobbed up and down from the impact, and I wondered if I perhaps hit him so hard that he was about to topple over from the slight motion.

He tried to slap my face as a sudden counter-attack, but I saw it coming from a mile away and leaned back from his hand while rearing up my crystal palm to slap him back. My hand was about to fly forwards when someone grabbed it and slapped me on my right cheek. I let my head kick to the left, then laughed.

The twins grinned at me, which was when I realized even Losar was looking surprised.

"Huh. I thought you were Rivin," he murmured, and Rivin - No, that was Roya - turned and bowed with his coat lifted up behind him like a showman.

What the shit? Even I thought the boy who I thumped on the head was my own brother. And when did Rivin move to the side to grab my hand?

... I had to trust them now.

"See? No one could tell," the twin on the left joked. Wait. Was that my brother?

"All we had to do," the twin on the right began.

"Was talk the same, sound the same, and act the same," they said simultaneously without looking at each other, and then they high-fived each other. Both Losar and I stared at them, completely dumbfounded, then we shrugged them off and waved them our goodbyes.

The twin on the left shot me a wink just before the patch of floor beneath them rose up, pushed by a single metal piston from the floor. So, was that my brother?

Once we heard the two of them unlock the door back into the likely empty and closed restaurant, Losar pulled the lever on the wall for the elevator to come back down. It was like an impossible magic trick, where the two boys were sent up to be squashed by the roof and simply disappeared from the platform without a single trace of their existence left. If I hadn't known any better, I would have started panicking.

Losar moved back to his desk to pick up his backpack, before slinging it over his back. His was much smaller than mines, since he had said he wouldn't be using any weaponry. On the other side of the spectrum, my backpack was decked from top to bottom with enough guns and grenades to take down a small army. I'm sure at least half of it would turn out to be useless against them anyways, but since Losar hadn't pointed anything wrong with my selection of weapons, I'd be keeping them all in my bag despite it looking like a camper's backpack.

In my trouser pockets were two Aerilosac pistols folded into just their handles. They were eerily similar to the Raixien pistols that I used back at home, and even their folding mechanism was identical. I wondered if the Aerilosac drew influence from the Raixiens for their weapon designs, because most of them could condense itself into half its size for easy storage. It was how mom kept the weapons hidden from any visitors.

Losar stepped up to the centre of the hideout while laying his unflappable eyes on me.

"Are you ready, Samantha?"

"Yes."

"Then we should leave. It would not take long for the insurgents to converge on Rivin and Roya."

"Wait. I will ask you a question." I scowled at the Aerilosac before I could move next to him. "Why are you helping us?"

He blinked. "As I have said before, after the fight, we will sit down and have a lengthy discussion."

I reached forward and stared him down in the face. "No, you're going to tell me now. If I'm going to be relying on you in a fight, I need to know you're not going to suddenly turn on me, say 'Ha, you fools' and then kill me."

"It is unfair, then, because I requested nothing from you Raixiens."

"I don't care if it's unfair."

That's right. These Aerilosacs have brought nothing but suffering to mom, and though Losar in particular never tried to harm me, everyone else seemed to want to do just that. This entire insurgency problem was brought up because he failed somewhere along the line as Commanding Officer. If he had kept a tight leash on his own subordinates, then he wouldn't have allowed this all to happen. While there was no evidence or sign of him even wanting to hurt us, there was also no evidence that this wasn't just a ploy, either.

I can't take it easy with these Aerilosacs.

Never again.

Losar seemed to read my mind.

If he had any indecision about telling me, he didn't show it on his face.

"Very well. I am not a violent person. I do not enjoy unnecessary conflict. I wish to live a quiet life with my friends free of any suffering. For that, you Raixiens will be helpful in fulfilling my wish."

I started to laugh.

Then, when I got no response from Losar whatsoever, my laughter began to die down. I scratched my already messy hair with my left, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"That's it?"

"What more could an Aerilosac wish for?"

"But that's so... tropey. And generic. You mean a Commanding Officer of the Wandering Conquest wants to not wander and conquer?"

"Yes."

"What?" I was genuinely confused. This was not at all what I expected from him. How could someone with such overwhelming strength not want to gain more boundless strength and power? How could this guy even say that out loud with a straight face?

I gulped when I sensed not a single bit of falsehood in his words.

Could I be wrong about them?

Could some of them genuinely be like that? It felt unreal when all I'd heard from mom was about how terrible and vicious they were.

No, that wasn't right. While that was mostly the case during our dinner conversations, there was also a story that mom told us, a story that happened before her home planet was destroyed by the Aerilosacs. If I remember correctly, she spoke very fondly of an Aerilosac who frequently came to visit her and go on trips together. Mom is very old - I think she might be upwards of two hundred, even - and still can recall every single bit of detail about the Aerilosac in question. It was the only time she ever spoke of the Aerilosac as anything but our enemy.

As a kid, I never bothered to remember the name of such an Aerilosac that could exist. I was certain mom told us on more than one occasion what his name was, but I just couldn't place it at the moment. It'd been half a century since she'd last seen him, and I do know that the Aerilosac was even more ancient than her, so he could be dead now.

Who knows?

But right now, as I looked into Losar's eyes, I felt a glimmering and unveiling strand of hope. That maybe, just maybe, this was one such Aerilosac that I can put some trust into.

And just as quickly as I had dismissed him, I decided to step up to the elevator with him, pulling my hands away from the pistol handles at my side.

I had spent much of the last day or two underground, hiding like a cornered rat in a cage. It was pathetic and demeaning, and I needed to do something. With no small amount of pride, I needed to retake myself.

I sucked in a breath and re-activated my Parallel Eyes that I hadn't even noticed was deactivated in the first place.

"I'm ready."





We weren't even five minutes away from the hideout before Losar gave me a tap on the shoulder, indicating that the insurgents were onto us. How he knew that, I didn't know. Perhaps he saw something missing where it shouldn't be, or he sensed it just like how he found us underneath that church. I still had doubts about how he could so easily lead me through the blocks of near identical buildings without stopping to think about where he was going.

For our group, we would be taking higher numbers of insurgents. The stronger ones, too, and so, Losar had suggested we find a large but enclosed area to do our fighting. Fifteen or more Aerilosacs would prove to be difficult even for him alone - or so he said - which was why he wanted to go into and between the industrial buildings. We had already left the residential and commercial area and into the gloomy darkness of hard metal and towering blocks.

His reasoning was simple. 'Aerilosacs are better fighting in enclosed spaces' was what he said. Though it came off as a bit stupid to me, considering our opponents were also Aerilosacs but in copious numbers, I had to follow him wherever he went. I was just the fire support here to his... style. Whatever it was.

"Stop." Losar shot out a hand to block me from advancing right before we could enter a building from its back entrance. He pointed at a single sprinting figure in the distance who had just turned the corner from the other side of the building, and the both of us immediately backed up behind a stack of conveniently placed metal pipes. "Can you shoot?"

I pulled out the pistol in my left pocket and snapped it open with a flick of the wrist. The barrel of the gun shot out, and I thumbed the trigger lightly. It was just like the ones we had at home, too.

"Yes."

"Do not miss. One shot to the head will still kill them," he said calmly before nudging me to switch places with him. I moved to the left and activated my purple eyes, keeping watch of his outline that may appear before us at any second now.

My wounded right hand was still trembling, but I tightened it into a fist. No more shaking.

When the greyish outline of the running Aerilosac appeared next to me, I leaned out from behind the pipes to take a pre-emptive shot at the unaware soldier. It wasn't exactly pre-emptive, since I knew where and how high his head was by his outline. Though it was grey, it didn't mean he would suddenly be able to dodge a bullet flying his way.

The Aerilosac tried skidding to a stop just too late. His outline disappeared and fell behind him before I even heard the faint suppressed fire of the pistol, and the Aerilosac dropped to the floor dead. A perfectly clean shot to the forehead, and I blinked out of complete bewilderment.

Was it that easy?

Losar grabbed my shoulders to pull me into the back entrance of the building while I stood there with a shaky gun in my hands, just realizing that this Aerilosac was my first kill.

"Good shot, but that was the perimeter guard. That was why he came from that corner instead of from behind us, now move." Losar didn't let me stop and think, and I slapped myself out of it.

That was the first, but it won't be the last. I will live through tonight.

The two of hurried and slammed the back door behind us, and I quickly scanned the large open warehouse before me. It was noticeably darker than outside, without the moon and the distant streetlights to illuminate the streets, but Losar had already prepared for this scenario. I reached for my waist and unclipped the demon mask that has night-vision inbuilt, pulling the string over my head and around my ears. It fit perfectly, and in an instant, my sight lit up.

It wasn't by a whole lot, but I could at least clearly see Losar signalling for me to move forward with him. I nodded and followed him just as I heard two loud bangs on the back door we were just at. They're here.

I leapt over a stack of wooden pallets while Losar stood in front of it. I threw down my backpack to fish out the railgun larger than half my height, slammed a fist on its side to snap it open to double its length, then propped the gun onto the pallet before I could drop it to the floor. Five bars of yellow lit up in tandem on the sights, indicating that the five charges were ready to fire.

Losar tilted his head to the right, before shooting a hand out to point at an opening in the wall I hadn't seen before. There was a quick flash of golden crystals, and someone cried out from beyond the hole. Another perimeter guard?

"Keep your eyes on the back door," Losar commanded, and I couldn't respond in time as the door burst open, flying at least five meters from the sheer force of the advancing Aerilosac. They were blood-orange figures in my night vision, and the moment I saw the first one moving in with orbitals of crystals surrounding his body, I pulled on the trigger once.

The railgun shuddered for a brief moment, then discharged a straight beam of concentrated power at the first unfortunate Aerilosac, who tried to block it with a makeshift barrier of crystals. The yellow energy curved around the barrier and zipped straight into the heart of the Aerilosac, and he fell. I cheered in my heart and quickly attached onto my wrist a watch from the backpack, tapped the side of the railgun to set it to remote, all in the span of six seconds until it refreshed and was ready to fire again.

The two others behind him fanned out and leapt to the side as I missed my second railgun shot, cursing my own impatience. Losar remained stoically staring forward with a nonchalant pose - he wasn't even in a fighting stance with his hands in his pockets - before a blur of an outline appeared on my left.

My eyes barely even caught onto it as I tried to twist myself out of the way, but luckily, Losar intercepted the crystals sent at me with his own, finally taking one hand out of his pocket. The crystals hovered in mid-air next to my temples, then flew back at the hole from where it came from. There was a loud clang indicating that it had struck someone, but hadn't killed him. Losar scowled and immediately tore out his second hand to sprinkle a fistful of grounded crystals in the air as two more zigzag streams of crystals were sent at me from the back entrance.

You're getting in his way.

Help him.

Even though I saw three more Aerilosac piling in through the back entrance with knight-like armour, I abandoned the railgun and tore off my night vision mask. There was a downside to it that I hadn't considered before. I couldn't use my Parallel Eyes if I wore it over my face, since it was using digital cameras instead of normal glass panes.

My world plunged into near total darkness, but that was the only choice. I should've accounted for that before I had left with Losar. He could see just fine because... I don't know, he hasn't told me anything about his abilities, but I couldn't. I took a deep breath and instantly whirled to my right and above me when I saw greyish outlines standing out from the dark, and pulled out pistols with both my hands, ignoring my right palm threatening to let go of the weapon.

I counted to five while Losar fended off three separate attacks from unseen angles in the dark, then fired rapidly without a care for the expended ammunition. These were all suppressed weapons, but the sound of the bullets slamming into two unknown entities were still loud all the same. Whoever I shot from above me dropped to the floor with a groan, while the other hiding behind another stack of wooden pallets darted back into the shadows.

I pulled one gun down and fired three times into the downed Aerilosac besides me, muffling his cries before I could let them distract me. I don't know where I shot him, but only that I had finished the job. I kept low and moved away from Losar - who was now engaging in a furious dance of pure flashiness and speed with his three combatants - and towards where I last saw the Aerilosac that I must have shot.

Four outlines, one lighter in colour than the others, jumped forward from a concave angle at me, the crystal outlines also joining them from behind.

Five seconds.

Without the cumbersome backpack weighing me down, I fired my right pistol up at the windows above me to shatter the glass before throwing it away at where I assumed one of the Aerilosacs would be, before grasping at a pallet and threw the piece of wood in front of me. It landed right before where two of the grey outlines would emerge, and I started to walk back steadily while training my pistol on the brightest outlines out of the four.

Five seconds past, and I heard the suddenly speeding footsteps of the Aerilosac flying at me. I fired first at the brightest outline, and caught the Aerilosac in mid-air, the bullet slamming into his unarmoured chest and stopping his forward momentum. I immediately ran back and weaved between the pallets when I saw that only one of the Aerilosac was caught on the pallet that I threw, turning my body left and right to avoid the spears of jagged crystals they sent at me.

It was heart-wrenching every time I saw a crystal stab at the ground or fly past me, but I kept my cool and returned back to where I dropped my backpack, and noted that Losar had disappeared along with his combatants.

From somewhere above me, I heard screams of pain and crystals clashing against crystals, the sound akin to rubbing a metal utensil on a ceramic plate. It was a pain in of itself to hear, and my mind wandered, wondering how it was possible Losar could have moved himself up to the second floors so fast.

And he was supposed to be the shield for me, so why did he leave?

Damnit, now I'm on my own.

The three Aerilosacs behind me seemed be the only ones after me, so I grabbed the backpack by their straps and ran for my life. There was no other Aerilosac outline that I saw in my field of vision. Did that mean all the other ones went for Losar instead?

Hadn't he said one versus ten would be difficult?

So all I have to do is kill these three, and I can go help him.

My wounded palm started to slip, and I flung the bag behind me just as something fast struck my back. Thankfully, I was only knocked forward while the bag took the brunt of the crystal attack for me, and it ripped apart, leaving the folded weapons all sprawled over the shadowy floor.

I panicked for a second when I couldn't see every individual weapon on the floor, but I had no choice. I kept moving just when two outlines - they were darker this time - leapt on top of two stacks of pallets with orbiting crystals around their torsos. I kept my breathing as quiet as possible to hide from the Aerilosacs, my legs practically moving on its own.

No, they weren't moving on its own.

This was like the training mom always made us do.

I heard another burst of crystals cutting through the air and jerked myself away from them, one of the streams grazing my left thigh even as I did. I barely even felt the pain, and took the risk of turning around to scan for my enemies.

Three of them on the first floor. The others are all converging on Losar on the second floor or above.

My face twisted when I couldn't see any of their outlines. Could they have darkened so completely that they were blending in with the rest of the warehouse?

I fired twice the moment I noticed the outline that had been hiding behind a pillar for at least three seconds, but the Aerilosac slid out and waved his hand up and down, the crystals vibrating in place to stop the bullets from getting through. He made a series of convoluted hand gestures at me as he reared the crystals to pierce me through and throughout, but I continued firing with my left, forcing him to use his crystals for defence.

He was waiting for me to reload, and none of the bullets broke through his vibrating shield, some of them even ricocheting off the barrier and slamming into the pallets around him. I heard him snicker softly to himself, and I laughed back.

It was stupid to do in hindsight, but I just couldn't help it. I tore out the second pistol handle from the inside of my cargo shorts, flipping it out and snapping the barrel in place. I aimed carefully with my shaky right, and fired once.

The kick was different from the ones I had been using, and I almost tumbled back from the shot. Though, before I did, the bullet pierced through the shield of crystals and tore through his shoulder. The Aerilosac howled and dropped to the floor behind the pillar, hurt, but not dead yet. I half-smiled at the gun I now held in my right, and aimed to finish him off with my normal pistol.

Crystal-piercing rounds. I had two more in my pockets, and I had to individually reload them every time I shot one, but it clearly did its job well. Since Losar had said it was supposedly hard to manufacture, he only had five of these bullets stored in the hideout. The other two was given to Rivin and Roya. He had called it a bullet that could even 'break his defences', though from the heaving metal and dust raining down from the second-floor, I doubted it could actually kill him.

It could, however, break through the barriers that this Aerilosac tried to make. He was certainly not expecting me to have such a bullet.

I scowled and moved away before I could take the finishing shot as the two other Aerilosacs jumped into my view, totally distracted by the power of the gun I had just used. They sent crystal spikes at me again and again, not giving me any chance to fire back. Even their crystals outlines were starting to darken in colour, and I knew giving them anymore time to learn how to purposefully defy my foresight would mean death.

I don't want to die just yet.

So, I took a trick out of Roya's books, waited for an opening where they had to recall some of their crystals, turned around, and booked it.

I saw a flight of stairs heading upstairs next to the back entrance and ran straight for there, the moonlight from the outside world flooding into the warehouse through the unhinged back entrance. I turned for the stairs just before I could seemingly leave through the entrance, then tapped the fire button on my wristwatch.

The Aerilosac behind the first screamed as the railgun shot exited through his chest, and I laughed again at the marvels of Aerilosac technology.

They really had such powerful weapons.

My laughter turned into groans when the fourth railgun shot missed the Aerilosac still chasing me with his crystals. I turned around then to suppress fire him down with my left pistol while I fumbled with trying to reload the crystal-piercing rounds with one hand, ascending up the metal flight of stairs. The Aerilosac growled and caught all the bullets. When it became clear that I couldn't possibly reload a gun with one hand, I tossed both weapons down the stairs, which clanged into his barrier.

The Aerilosac dropped his crystal shield in confusion right as I jumped back down and falcon punched in him the helmet. Expectedly, my hands exploded with pain at punching the metal with full force, but the impact was there nevertheless. Maybe he just hadn't expected me to get so close to him while barehanded. He raised and dropped his hands to whip at me with a lash of crystals, but I moved to the right and delivered a front kick to his hard stomach. It didn't do any damage and only pushed him up the stairs a bit, to which he tripped over the steps and fell onto his back.

The crystals that he sent at me was way off target due to his fall, and I used it as my opportunity to pick up one of the pistols I had thrown at him. I pointed at where the outline of his head was after five seconds, and pulled on the trigger.

Nothing happened. I had picked up the empty crystal-piercing gun.

The Aerilosac jumped back up with a leg-slicing crystal sweep, and I jumped up to avoid the life of being a paraplegic. I guess it wouldn't have mattered anyways, since he defied his movements in the end anyways.

I rushed forward again as he sent a crescent-moon blade of crystals at me again.

This was strangely reminiscent of what I had tried to do back at the church.

With my Parallel Eyes, I could only defend myself and dodge.

So that was what I did. I played ring around the rosy before the stairs with his blades of crystals, only narrowly avoiding each and every attack. I kept my hands close to my pockets, and the Aerilosac roared.

"Stop moving, and you will not have to suffer," he spat, and I chuckled softly, kicking at his armoured thighs to make him wilt a little bit. This was different from the Aerilosac at the church, because I was already so close to him. I had already closed the gap between us, and when I saw the outline of a horizontal blade aiming to decapitate me - dvu - I ducked down and snapped my pistol in place, pointed in between his ribs from the side.

He heard it, and I heard it.

The crystal-piercing round cut upwards diagonally through his torso, the bullet's outline flying out from his shoulder towards the ceiling. He stumbled down in shock, and I grabbed him by his arms and forcefully dragged him towards the back entrance while he tried to stop the bleeding.

I moved away when he tried to swipe at me with a weak claw of crystals, then tapped on my wristwatch one last time to annihilate the dying Aerilosac in front of me. His body flew out of the entrance and onto the streets outside. Hopefully, no one would walk past here and discover it before Losar would 'take care of it'.

Alright, that's all-

A crystal spear shot at me, completely devoid of any warning outlines, and I raised my hands up as a last attempt to protect myself. I closed my eyes to brace myself, but the pain and blood never came.

Quickly, I pulled my eyelids open and saw the tip of the crystal spear embedded in the palm of my right hand, the rest of the spear hanging loosely in the air. The Aerilosac whom I had first used the crystal-piercing round on dropped his jaw, and I wrenched the spear off of my palm to throw it outside into the street before he could pull it back to him.

It seemed that their control over the crystals are strongest at a certain vicinity. Some of them were even barely able to use them at all. Is that their weakness?

True enough, the spear I threw outside didn't fly back into me, and I grimaced. This was still bad. While I still had one more piercing round left, the Aerilosac's outlines were completely black. He'd figured out how to completely defy my predictions.

I started to quiver in my shoes. What do I do now? Only an Aerilosac can beat another Aerilosac in a one-on-one fight.

Time slowed as I reached into my pocket to load in my last round, and the Aerilosac fired twenty or so daggers of crystals at me, Magneto style.

I'm not fast enough.

I gritted my teeth and tried to move away, but they were going to hit me all the same.

A glowing figure teleported before me from behind, and in a whirlwind of jabs and jumps, every last dagger shot at me fell to the ground.

The Aerilosac froze in fear.

And then, before my eyes could even catch up to the glowing figure's movements, the Aerilosac who was standing in front of me fell to the ground with a knife through his throat. The person stood up once the kill was confirmed, and turned around to give me a smile that I had hoped I wouldn't ever see again.

Lyla threw herself into me, her smooth gloves rubbing off of my red arms.

"Why'd you get separated from Commanding Officer? You could've been killed!" she chastised me with a voice loud enough to scare away even birds from down the block. "What would I do if you died?"

"Live? And can you please get off me?"

I had to pry the girl away from me, which was when I saw what she was wearing. She had a casual denim jacket that was one size too small for her lithe frame, but underneath that, a striped glowing undershirt that seemed to radiate a wave of nausea on me. She was also sporting the matching trousers with zig-zag streams of yellow than ran down from her waist to her ankles, and I realized that I had seen her strange apparel before.

It was the wares that Roya had stolen. Had she taken it from my backpack before helping me?

"What was that? What did you do? How'd you beat the crystals out of the air?" I started to blabber mindlessly as she moved forward to pick up the scattered weapons on the floor.

"It's not me, it's the shirt!"

"Yeah, what does it do?"

Lyla giggled. "You'll see. We need to help Commanding Officer now!"

I hesitated.

So was this one of Losar's loyalist?

That was fast. Too fast for me to even catch what she did. If she were to suddenly turn on me, then I won't be able to anything

She began to head up stairs with her back faced to me, and it was like a voice was beckoning me to load in my last crystal-piercing round. Unconsciously, I reloaded and pointed the gun at the Aerilosac girl. She heard me snapping the barrel back in place and turned around with her hands in the air.

I was carefully controlling my breathing, and for whatever reason, my eyes zoomed out.

Kill her, the voice whispered. She is an Aerilosac.

Lyla smiled.

"If you don't have faith in us, then we'll never be able to move past what happened fifty years ago," she said softly.

How could we just move past it? Mom still cries at night thinking about it, so how could I-

"He's different. We're different. We want to make a change, but you need to have faith in us," she continued.

But mom... What would mom want me to do here?

It didn't matter whether I shot her here and now. For starters, she'd likely dodge out of the way. If I pulled the trigger, our unlikely alliance would be over. I still don't know what Losar - and this girl - wants to do.

Make the smart play.

That's what mom and Rivin would say. But there's more than that. Did I really want to trust them, even if it meant I could live longer?

My eyes latched onto the flash of red on my palm, the crystal stained by the blood that was now slowly leaking out from exerting too much pressure on the wound.

Live longer? They already saved my life. Twice.

I suppose I could at least repay that by helping them here.

I put away the gun and stuffed it into my pockets before joining Lyla, and together, we headed up towards the sounds of cracking metal and lashing thunder, the fury of the Commanding Officer sending shivers down my spine.



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