Go read Box: Detach instead!
My mouth had a mind of its own, twisting into an unsavoury sneer even though I was hiding behind a fence with no one to see me. I didn't really want to look in the mirror in case I got frightened by myself, not because of my smile, but because I felt strangely calm amidst this all.
On any other day, in the middle of the night, I would have enjoyed the tranquillity that came with standing so still even a silver coloured butterfly decided to sit on top of my shoulder. That I found the same serenity now with a silenced pistol in my hand made me question things about myself that I hadn't considered before. Was this how Samantha would feel once she had to point a gun at someone? Has she already killed an Aerilosac by now? Wouldn't I be quaking in my shoes at the mere thought of going up against the great eradicators?
And the sickness Roya and I shared. Why was it that neither of us seemed to be plagued by it now?
I glanced over at Roya, 'struggling' to push his backpack full of the wares over the towering wooden fence I was standing next to. He was putting up a decent performance, but if the Aerilosacs don't come soon, we'd find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Of course, we don't have a real pressing need to initiate the ambush here, but since a rare butterfly had made my shoulder its home, I didn't really want to move and possibly risk it leaving me. The last time any animal or living being perched itself on me was a long time ago, when a parakeet had nipped my left ear. Fun times.
My breathing slowed to a halt when a man in a trench coat appeared from around a corner and began walking towards Roya from my right inconspicuously. He must be trying to kill him silently without making a big fuss about it. Since I was quite a distance away from Roya, the Aerilosac walked by me without noticing me.
I stayed in cover until I saw his hands reach into his pockets, and quickly estimated how far away he was from Roya, still trying to push his backpack over the fence. About ten meters. Was that the range of his ability, then?
After confirming quickly that there was no other Aerilosac nearby - Losar had told us that they would likely come for us in small groups and in light armour, due to their mentality of us Raixiens - I slid across the pavement until I stood behind the Aerilosac directly.
I trained my pistol onto his head, and didn't hesitate in pulling the trigger.
The single silenced shot barely registered in my ears as the Aerilosac fell down, his demon mask providing no protection for the back of his head. Roya immediately dropped the bag and dashed to catch the Aerilosacs falling body so it didn't make a heavy sound just in case, and the two of us worked together to position his body until his feet faced the fence. He wasn't really that heavy, and I swiped his loose mask off his face settling him down gently on the pavement.
I had thought I would be a lot more disturbed by killing. Guess not.
I tucked in his mask into Roya's backpack, then threw the bag over to Roya. He fumbled with the straps as he tried to catch it, and both of us coughed simultaneously. There it was, the weakness finally catching up to us.
He gave me a silent nod, then took off running down the lonely streets with the backpack jumping up and down from the movement. I quickly turned, pried a hole into the shabby fence, and shot a single bullet in it before tossing it over onto the other side, where it plopped into a bush silently. Then, I leapt over the fence and clambered my way up the side of the industrial building by the fire escape stairway.
It wasn't long before four more Aerilosacs, all in heavy trench coats and demon masks, ran down the street to study the dead body. One of them knelt to confirm that the Aerilosac was indeed dead, and I spotted one of the Aerilosacs shaking his fists by his side.
He was visibly shaken by the death, and the others glanced over at him as if he was going to break down emotionally.
I remembered which one he was, and tried to listen in on their conversation. They were speaking in rough English, but English nonetheless. That I could work with. I should've planned this out better, though. Being on the first floor fire escape was safe, but I couldn't hear a single thing up here. Damnit.
One of them was wearing a helmet, while the others all wore simple demon masks. Still terribly bad at disguising themselves.
The one who knelt down pointed at the hole in the fence I had just made, and the four Aerilosacs immediately leapt over the same fence to begin running down the alleyway between the industrial buildings. Just where I wanted to be. I made a mental note that the one with shaky fists was the one at the back of the group, then started trailing after them through the adjacent fire escapes, my feet scraping the metal as soundlessly as possible. I wouldn't want them to see me up here.
After about ten seconds of following after them, Roya appeared in the far end of the alleyway just for a brief moment. The Aerilosacs all caught onto him, and began sprinting full speed at him with their hands in their pockets. Was there a real purpose for that, or was it just for the cool factor?
Once the group got to where I wanted them to be, I heard the classic whirring and ping of the explosives from the walls. No matter what race, the design was the same. I suppose if there was one thing Raixiens had in common with the Aerilosac, it was that the technology functioned practically the same. The four insurgents barely even had enough time to react to their own flashbang as it went off, and they all stumbled around like drunkards.
I had already dropped down from the ladder opening the moment I heard the ping, and had dashed over to the fourth Aerilosac in the back. He along with the leading Aerilosac were in the process of forming crystal barriers to protect the middle two, but I grabbed him by his neck before he could do that, and without any worries for his safety, dragged him into an open door leading into the industrial building while the rest of his companions were still trying to recover from the flashbang.
The Aerilosac who neck I held onto tightly started to thrash and swipe at me with his crystals, but I stabbed a knife halfway into where his eye socket should be to end him quickly, but not too quickly. He should still be alive now due to their endurance, so I stared down at him with my demon mask and activated my Parallel Eyes.
He recognized the purple underneath the mask, and despite me still clawing at his neck, tried to speak out.
"You will die here," he rasped, the words coming out as no more than whispers.
"You will die here," I repeated, getting used to the flow of his words. "You will die here," I said again, when my voice didn't sound as gravelly as his.
The Aerilosac might've raised a brow underneath his mask. "What are you doing?"
I chuckled softly and pushed the rest of the knife into his face, then let him down onto the floor of the building.
"What are you doing?" I whispered to myself, then dashed out of the door to see the three remaining Aerilosacs still bumbling about.
Then I raised my pistol and bore another hole into the back of the leading Aerilosac's head, and watched as the last two frantically raise up two squares of protective crystals all over their body. True enough, they had heard the silenced shot even though they were still under the effects of the flashbang and had conjured up their crystal defences. If I had tried to shoot them then, they would've felt the bullet pinging off their shields and would instantly kill me.
I waited until the two Aerilosacs began to recover from the flashbang, then placed a hand over my mask and removed my earplugs right before the remaining two dropped their shields while whirling around in full alertness. I started to pant just to make myself seem more convincing as one of them, and I ran forward to kneel down at the Aerilosac I had just shot. The two turned to look at me, and I made a show of shaking my fists again to them.
"What are they doing?" I said with a gritty and hoarse voice, similar to the one I had dragged off and stabbed. "They killed another."
"Come, Lherug. We cannot waste any more time catching them." This was a female voice, coming from the third Aerilosac in the back. She placed a gloved hand on my shoulder, and the gesture made me smile.
They're smart, but they're also dumb.
It didn't seem like it, because they followed me as I took the lead down the alley, turning a different corner from where they had seen Roya disappeared to. The buildings slowly towered over us as we journeyed deeper and deeper into the dark, and I was just about to question whether I was the one getting tricked when the same female spoke again.
"Where did he go?"
"I do not think he entered this path," the second Aerilosac said, and I shook my head from behind, making sure my stature remained just the same as the one I had replaced. High and tense shoulders, with a penchant for keeping my hands out of my pockets. Maybe that's where they hid their crystals from me.
"He's here. I can feel it," I replied in the same voice just as two firecrackers went off from both sides inside the buildings. I grimaced underneath my mask at the flunked attempt to distract them. Roya wasn't supposed to detonate them so early, but he must be lurking around somewhere - likely above - and sensed that I might be discovered. We only had the two firecrackers from Losar's hideout, and we had already used it so early on.
Adapt with it.
"A distraction," I spat, the two Aerilosacs behind me frantically looking left and right for any sneak attacks. "Stay on guard and move forward."
They nodded their heads and followed my impromptu lead. I wasn't sure if Lherug was the kind of Aerilosac to charge, but it definitely seemed like it.
I counted the seconds passed as we approached another turn around a building, and once I stood at the corner where I would normally turn, a bright yellow light shone onto all three of us from a little cut-out hole in a vertical cardboard box. Everyone including me winced, and I wasn't even acting at this point. The light was just that blinding and sharp that I was caught off guard by it. Both Aerilosacs besides me drew up their frontal shields against the box, but it was a futile move.
A single pistol shot rang out in the air, and the crystal-piercing round from Roya's gun broke through the shield of the female Aerilosac and straight into her forehead. Before the second Aerilosac even had any time to register what just happened, I flicked my wrists to slide out the pistol handle from my sleeves, snapped the barrel on, and fired into his temples, this shot muffled by the silencer.
Their shields dropped before their bodies did, and I started the countdown once again. Thirty seconds was all we could allow ourselves to get everything ready. The rest of the pursuers definitely heard the crystal-piercing round and would converge on our location very soon. As Roya threw off the cardboard box over his head and started to ruffle for the mines in his backpack, I inadvertently made eye contact with him. We both doubled over and gargled out another bloody mass from our mouths, our dinner of bread exiting our stomachs.
Dizziness started washing over me again, but I slapped Roya in the face. He slapped me back, which shook my out of it.
Make up for lost time, move it!
Roya held in his coughing fits as he fished out two golden cylinders from the bag, working to stick them inside the trench coats of the dead Aerilosac. I struggled to remove the helmet of the female Aerilosac as he did that, hearing light footsteps close enough for me to dread and worry.
I looked over at Roya, and he tossed me a wire cutter with insulating gloves from his pocket. I quickly stashed them away and yanked the helmet off of the female, ignoring her emotionless face staring back up at me as Roya disappeared into the night. Along with his retreat, so did the sickness for a short moment. My head felt suddenly lighter, but when I tried to skid away from the two bodies after dragging them halfway around the corner, I tripped and fell forward.
Don't die yet.
I managed to get back up and move away just as six draping figures appeared on the far end of the alleyway. Six? That meant there were more Aerilosacs after us than we had thought.
My mouth twisted into another unnatural smile of detest again. It just never goes our way.
I heard one of them saying something while I hid in the fortunately empty dumpster next to the corner, placing the spartan-like helmet I had yanked off of the female Aerilosac next to me in the closed dark, and waited until they all seemed to be about to turn the corner. The dumpster was not fully sealed, so when the moonlight seeping in seemed to be blocked by a shadow or two, I closed my eyes and braced my body for what was to come.
Roya detonated the two incendiary bombs we had placed on the dead bodies, and the fire raged against the dumpster I was hiding. The air inside suddenly got a whole lot warmer, and I snickered at my dumb split second decision to hide in here. I was cooking myself alive while the Aerilosacs were hopefully getting burned or, even better, killed by the bombs.
I leapt out of the dumpster after punching the cover open and scanned the situation at the corner. There was one single Aerilosac who was covered from head to toe in golden flames, screaming in horrific agony, while the others seemed to have backed away from the corner and are trying to pat their comrade down with blunt crystals. It looked pretty damn hilarious from my perspective, and I raised my silenced pistol to lightly ping the chest-piece of the burning Aerilosac, causing him to tip over to the floor.
At the same time, Roya fired another shot in the air unsilenced, and all five Aerilosacs still healthy immediately appeared and dashed towards the opposite corner where they heard the shot. Before they had left the slowly recovering Aerilosac on the floor still burning, one of the Aerilosacs dropped a long syringe-like object by his feet. Was that supposed to be his adrenaline boost or something of the sort?
As the five chased down Roya on the other side of the T-junction, I revealed myself from behind the dumpster with my pistol in hand, kicking away the syringe from the Aerilosac before he could reach for it. The flames over his armour was dying out, but it still must hurt to have suffered the brunt of the fire for his teammates. He looked up at me with his demon mask burnt off, and I flinched at his gruesomely scalded face before I could pull the trigger. His head thudded on the ground soundly, but I shot him once more just in case he lived and used the syringe, whatever it was.
I picked it up and stuffed it into my pocket, then grabbed the helmet of the female Aerilosac with my free hand. The five Aerilosacs shouldn't have just left him here to pat out his flames by himself. He would probably have lived if I wasn't hiding next to him.
Alright. Five more.
I turned around and continued heading down the street, then turned a right where I should be running in directly parallel to Roya. Once I ran a certain length, I stopped and faced towards where Roya should be running to. Around here should be an electric box - there, to my left. I pulled open the lid and held my phone against the interlocking wires, praying that my physics knowledge will save me here.
Roya should be here in another half a minute with five Aerilosacs closely behind him.
I studied the tangled wires while trying to keep my cool, combing through most of them until I got the wires that seemed to be able to extend the most.
The live wire should be brown, and the neutral should be blue. I was taking a very heavy bet that my insulating gloves would protect me if I got a current sent through my body, and my hands trembled as I clamped down on the brown wire, a bead of sweat running down my cheeks beneath my mask. At least the night vision function was doing its job. I tore the live wire out as far as I could without breaking it, set it onto the floor, then quickly worked on the neutral wire.
Don't let the panic settle in. That's what mom always told us.
Once I snipped the neutral wire in half, I removed the plastic around it cautiously, then picked up the live wire on the ground before hiding behind the steel beams next to the electrical box. I was sure I would laugh at myself if there was a mirror in front of me, but now wasn't the time for that, because Roya just zipped past me without any acknowledgement, his backpack jumping up and down from the sheer speed that he was running at.
Since my Parallel Eyes don't work under the mask for whatever reason, I had to resort to counting once again to correctly time myself.
I cowered back a little when the first Aerilosac thundered past me, then the second and the third. The last two trailed behind a little further back, so that was when I darted out like a viper to thrust the two copper wire's tips against the closest one. I withdrew away from him the moment I let go of the wires, and there was a brilliant crack coming from the Aerilosac touching the wires. His entire body lit up for a brief second, and everyone who was staring at him - including me - instantly jumped from the noise.
At the same time, Roya tossed amidst the group another flashbang grenade, the ping barely noticeable as my ears tried to recover from the jump-scare. Since I had expected the flash, I turned around and covered my ears, which ultimately did next to nothing. Light sneaked under my eyelids, and I blindly fired my pistol behind me at the Aerilosacs.
I didn't know if I was hitting any of them, or if I even accidentally hit Roya. I couldn't hear any of the bullets bouncing off their crystal defences nor their shouts, but that was probably for the better. I stumbled towards the outer wall of the building, feeling something sharp scraping across the glove of my palm, tearing it open with a sharp blade of pain.
I gritted my teeth and dropped into a prone position even though my eyes were still a blinding white, then rolled over until my entire body was hugging the wall. I waited patiently without writhing around in agony, and soon enough, both my eyes and ears returned to me. I was lying on the ground with my pistol in my hand, completely out of ammo, and the five Aerilosacs were wildly lashing out at their surroundings with their crystal tendrils, each strike making a long gash in the floor and walls. Did they not worry about hitting their own teammates?
... Wait. Five?
Discounting the one smoking Aerilosac on the floor that I had electrocuted, there was still five Aerilosacs standing in a clump. I noticed the one at the farthest back of the group that wasn't attacking or defending himself with crystals, and immediately motioned for him to run. He saw me and shook his head before tossing the helmet of the female Aerilosac I had left over to me. I caught it before it could make a sound, then scowled at Roya. Run!
But I couldn't even scream the words out loud, because the Aerilosac stopped lashing with their crystals suddenly. I was forced to back away while the Aerilosac tried to gather themselves.
They were all dipped in their combat stances, the crystals orbiting around their bodies in three to five rings each. I made a tsk sound, knowing that normal bullets won't hurt them anymore with that sort of defence. It wasn't even about the defence itself. The fact that they were now on hyper alert mode was the most dangerous part. I can't beat them in a fight.
I have to use it right here, right now.
I threw my gun up in the air to distract them while I yanked up my own crystal-piercing gun, aiming it at the closest Aerilosac to me. We were all still recovering from the flash, and despite my unsteady aim, I fired. The orbiting rings of crystals on the Aerilosac moved automatically as if to block the round, but it shattered right through and went into his chest. He screamed and fell, but I could only wince. Was that a killing shot? Will he be able to recover from that?
He convulsed on the floor for a second before his movements ceased completely.
Roya cursed loudly and fired his normal bullets from the back end of the group, and everyone whirled to face the new attacker. They were so disoriented that they hadn't even noticed that they had one extra Aerilosac with them, and I saw a single bullet slip past an Aerilosac's defence and entered into his stomach. Another bullet entered into his shoulder, but neither of those seemed to be fatal.
The middlemost Aerilosac immediately screamed and supported the shot Aerilosac with his arms before pulling up a transparent crystal shield around the both of them. The third and last Aerilosac whipped his hand at me, and a whip-like thread of crystals came flying at me from above.
I ripped off my mask and activated my Parallel Eyes, seeing the greyish outline of the crystal whip fly into my face. I stepped to the side as it grazed past my cheeks and slammed into the ground, then shoot back up at me after rebounding.
One second was as far as I could see.
I leaned back from the second strike and ignored the Aerilosac, continuing my agitated run down the street. What was Roya doing now?
The only thing I could do now was run and wait for Roya to come to my aid. We needed to meet up somewhere to kill these last three. One of the healthy ones was busy trying to support the injured one, so I can expect him to be out of the fight for a while. So if we manage to kill the one sending shards of crystals after me again and again...
The dwindling embers of hope flared up a little bit. We can do this.
I lost count of how long I was running. Calling it 'running' was giving it too much credit. It was like playing tag against ten opponents at the same time, and if any of them touched me even once, I'd be sliced up into tiny pieces. I had to turn around every second just to utilize my one second Parallel Eyes to avoid the crystal shards, and I almost slipped as I ducked into another cramped alleyway. I would enter the Aerilosac's range soon.
And just as I was internally screaming for Roya to come help me, my legs buckled, and so did my head. I braced myself against the fall and pushed off as an octopus-like tentacle stabbed into the ground where I was. The headache was back, and it decided to give me the maximum pain treatment. My lungs struggled to suck in a single breath of air, and I knew if I kept on running, I would die.
I was about to fall again when I looked down and saw that I was still clutching the helmet of the female soldier in my bleeding hands. Had I held onto it unconsciously all this time?
"Enough," the Aerilosac man said resolutely from behind me, and I heard a sharp whistle coursing through the air. I turned and gave him a toothy grin before falling onto my back. The crystal spear that would've impaled me flew past my head, and I heard gunshots coming from the back. The Aerilosac grunted and immediately drew up his orbiting rings of crystal to defend himself while Roya stepped past me, emptying every last bullet in his Uzi.
I got up and stood behind Roya, wondering how I could help him without any spare ammo on me. All I had was a scrappy knife tucked in my pocket, the helmet, and the syringe that might work as some sort of medicine for the Aerilosac. How do I help?
Roya stopped firing all of a sudden and broke into another coughing fit. The Aerilosac's orbiting crystals stopped spinning, and they lowered just enough for me to see a livid face behind the cracked demon mask.
The Aerilosac punched at the air, and the crystals hovering around him spiked at us almost at bullet speed. If it weren't for our Parallel Eyes, both of us would have been instantly made into a golden porcupine. We dodged and weaved through the hailstorm of crystals, and I scoffed inside my spinning mind.
This was just like the church. Nothing changed.
Roya groaned and fell over as a large shard pierced through his heart, and my eyes shot over to him in panic. I couldn't even find the time to scream at him before I was forced to back up further into the cul-de-sac, my breathing laboured and uneven. All the while, the Aerilosac advanced towards me, even stepping past the unmoving Roya on the ground with a bored expression on his face.
That ticked me off.
Just as my back was about to touch the stone wall behind me, Roya sat up with the shard still stuck in his chest and fired his Uzi. The Aerilosac grunted, whirled and pulled up his orbital crystals again to deflect the bullets. My hands tightened on the knife in my pocket. This was the only chance I had left.
I reared the knife back like a baseball, then sent it flying in a straight line towards the Aerilosac's neck. He was solely paying attention to blocking the bullets that he didn't sense the knife coming in time, and it entered into his nape. There was no words and no sound at all when he died, crumpling to the floor dramatically. I didn't wait until he finished his long and drawn out death, sprinting to Roya even though every step closer to him caused my heart to lurch.
He pushed me away when I tried to help him sit back on the wall, still holding onto his pride. I chuckled wistfully at his defiance, but I felt horrible nevertheless. Seeing my identical twin slump against the wall with that damn crystal in his chest stirred up emotions that I had never felt before, so strongly that it didn't even compare to how shitty I felt when Sister died.
His eyes were flickering open and close as if he were struggling to stay awake, and we both knew that was the case.
Even though I had prepared myself for one of our deaths, I hadn't... really thought it would be so quick.
To that, I didn't know how I should react.
Should I smile?
Should I cry?
Why was it that I felt so barren and void within?
"Because we're-" Roya started before placing a hand over his mouth to muffle his coughs. "I was going to start talking, but my head feels like pudding. Do you feel the same?"
You know I do.
"Nice." We high-fived each other, though it was without the same vigour from before. When my palm touched his, he immediately turned to the side and vomited, but we still completed the high-five regardless. "I thought it would hurt a lot more."
What, the pillar in your chest isn't enough?
"Not particularly. I think it's still better than burdening the weight of having caused a person's death."
Please don't blame yourself.
Roya didn't respond to me, and his eyes were faraway, staring off next to me like someone else was standing right next to me. I turned to see what he was looking at, but he snapped his fingers to catch my attention.
"For some reason, I'm still holding on. Not sure-" The coughing ensued. "-why, but there's something I'd been keeping from you since we first met."
What is it?
"I don't remember."
"I asked mom - no, Sister. I asked Sister to tell you my story because I don't remember."
... What does that mean?
"It means what it means. I don't remember anything before last year, really. I remember the stealing, but that's about it. I think when I die, no one will remember me but you," he laughed, his voice growing fainter by every word.
This time, I was the one who kept quiet.
I probably would have given Roya a scolding for keeping things from me. We were twins, after all. We can't hide things from each other.
But he was dying now, and honestly, I couldn't really find the heart to care about any of what he just said right now.
What I want is to give him the best possible passing I can offer to him.
So, I smiled.
"Do you want to pray?" I asked, pulling out Roya's silenced pistol from his left pocket for myself. "I'm not a church guy myself, by the way."
Roya laughed. "I can tell. Yes, can you turn around to give me some time? I'll be quick."
I obeyed and stood up, forcefully tearing my eyes away from him.
"In your embrace, O' Harbinger above,"
"We humble vessels hath run our course."
"We entrust our souls in thy exalted name,"
"To abide in the garden of everlasting joy."
"I pray for the soul of my mother that you take care of her on her way to your garden,"
"For the good she has done, for the time she has passed."
"Win for me, okay?"
A tear rolled down my cheek.
So I still was capable of feeling emotions.
I didn't need to turn my head down to see what had become of Roya. I could feel it in my bones. There was nothing going on. There wasn't a shift in the matrix of the world, not a soul that rose up from his body, nor even a single gust of wind that caressed my skin. The pain and sickness that had become the plight of my living was gone, and though I felt as healthy as a new-born baby, it was like I was solidifying into a statue. And in that state of silence and tranquillity, I noticed that there was something that was moving, ever so slowly that I almost missed it.
And an out-of-breath Aerilosac who had just appeared fifteen meters from me, his mask ripped off and eyes glaring at me. They were full of malice, and as if the shiny gold colour wasn't indication enough, he had his crystals stuck behind his back as two tendrils, each as long as his entire body.
"You killed him," he growled, his face twisting into one of disgust. There were also tears in the corner of his eyes, which is when I realized he probably meant the one Roya had landed his stomach and shoulder shots on. So he had died.
"Yeah. And I also did to your friend here. And her." I tossed the empty helmet I still held in my hand before his feet, and watched solemnly as his expression darkened. It wasn't that I enjoyed talking in such a disparaging way, but I'd say he should at least know what happened to his team.
When he started to pant like a rabid dog, I tilted my head towards my right.
"You also killed my twin. My brother. I guess we're even, then."
That was the final straw, and he charged at me.
He didn't make it very far as a crystal blade decapitated him from behind, and he fell. There, behind him, was a middle-aged man wearing two pairs of yellow shades on his face, hair gelled back in such a horrendous fashion that I immediately recognized who he was. The kind driver who drove Samantha and I to the motel two days ago. Ah, no. Three days ago. It should be well over midnight by now.
"You are one of the two loyalists of Losar, right?" I said.
"Yes. You did well holding out, kid, but it's not over yet," he said, and I noted how he barely looked at Roya as he approached me.
I frowned and turned to my right.
Roya's body was gone.
"Not over yet?"
The Aerilosac driver grimaced. "Yes. Follow me. We need to get back to the warehouse now."
He dragged me by my arm, and I glanced back at where Roya's body was.
Where did it go?