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... It was never supposed to be easy.

Chapter 10

Samantha



"Wake up." The voice of god spoke to me, and I murmured with my eyes closed before I turned my back towards the source of the voice. I barely registered the sound of a click going behind me as a pillow hammered onto my temples. With a frustrated groan, I activated my Parallel Eyes in an instant to swipe at the empty air above me right as the pillow hit me again. "Wake up. Wake up. Wake up."

"You're annoying," I slurred and sat up on my stiff mattress.

"You're annoying." Roya mimicked my voice, and pointed at the sunlight pouring in from above. They were thin sunbeams that looked like pillars in my watery eyes, and I yawned at Rivin's twin. "Just get ready, it's already half-past six in the morning. We're going to start the plan."

Oh, fine. I rubbed my eyes and stood up, then headed over to the bathroom with my change of clothes for the day. Roya headed back over to Rivin, who had his back turned to me as he fiddled with something below his waist. They were both wearing matching blue and yellow t-shirts with black shorts, and I wondered if this was what they intended. To confuse the Aerilosac in case they ever get caught.

I quickly switched into my running track shorts and jersey with my name on it - which, regrettably, might not have been a wise choice if I wanted to conceal my name - and left the bathroom to stare at my brother. The lights in the crypt were on, and Sister sat close to the boys, happily chaining together one of those customizable bracelets you can buy everywhere nowadays.

My steps alerted them to my presence, and Rivin turned around first to face me.

I smirked. I knew exactly what I looked like. I still hadn't done my hair yet, and though I don't spend much time at all on makeup, I could still come off as passable if I just went to school right now. Benefits of normally having short and messy hair.

"You have a pal now, zombie." I ribbed Rivin and sat down next to them on the flimsy plastic chairs. I hadn't noticed it before, but Roya also sported the same heavy eye bags and depressed facial expression that they wore whenever they spent the night lingering around. And judging by how clumsily Rivin manipulated that packet of duct tape in his hands, it wasn't hard to realize they failed to sleep last night and had woken up extra early today. The only reason I could differentiate one from another was the way Rivin had his hair brushed off to the right. Roya had his spiking up from the back.

Though, it seemed like Sister also woke up early enough to go and buy the materials that we needed for the plan. I counted all the items sprawled out on Rivin's mattress, and felt relieved that Sister hadn't forgotten anything on the shopping list. That should mean that she had already booked the hotel room for us ahead of time.

Really, she was the main component in our plan working. She's not being looked for, and thus, had the freedom to do whatever she wanted until we reveal ourselves.

"Everything is set, right?" I asked the boys, and they nodded at me synchronously. It was creepy as all hell.

Roya turned his eyes over to Sister, who looked up just in time to see me sitting there, and brought over a loaf of bread atop a ceramic plate. I thanked her silently and wolfed down the slice of plain bread as Rivin continued to struggle with the duct tape. I didn't want to complain anymore about the hospitality of Sister. Plain bread was more than what we needed. I never even ate breakfast back in Oakwood.

"Who's going to be asking the questions?" Rivin finally asked.

"Who's the scariest of us all?" Roya mused.

Then, they both turned their fingers to me, and I gasped for dramatic effect before I gulped down the last piece of bread.

"Okay. But you two better not complain about how I do it, or the questions that I ask." I confirmed with them, and they nodded decisively again. Initially, when I had first suggested this plan, both of them had their own hesitations about the plan. Roya seemed to dislike the crudeness of the plan, and Rivin seemed to find the plan too risky for us to try. It was only after the rest of the plan was laid out and they spent the night thinking that they agreed now.

That was enough for me. I also had no idea if I would be able to do it, but I really could not think of a better plan in such little time. And we had to act first within these two days, because they would most certainly not let us live after that.

"You need to ask effective questions, though," Roya said.

"Ask them about their numbers. Total number and insurgent number, we need to know." Rivin elaborated.

"And the details. Name of the higher ups, name of their leader, what they are planning to do." Roya added. "Also, ask him about the crate that I stole. See if you can use it as a bargaining chip for us to escape."

I waved all their concerns away, and glanced over at the wooden box sitting ominously by our side, no longer covered by the tarp. It was much smaller than I had expected, maybe only large enough to fit myself into it. We knew what it was - the Aerilosac girl said it was clothes, and Rivin's conversation with the driver was the same - but not exactly what it does. It must be of some significance to the Aerilosacs if they were going to use it to incite an insurgency.

This box is our first and greatest weapon. Which is why we desperately needed to understand what was inside. Despite the Aerilosac insurgents telling Roya not to open the crate, it wasn't like we could, either; we had tried to pry it open last night with everything at our disposal, but the seemingly normal nails were nowhere near normal, and we didn't want to risk breaking it in case there was some sort of security system that activated whenever it did break.

See, we weren't dumb. That would be our second weapon. The insurgents and Aerilosacs would be underestimating us not just because of our apparent ages, but because of our numbers. We were a three-man team excluding Sister, and they numbered in the hundreds, maybe. They have the superior frontline force, so it'd be dumb to try and fight them head-to-head.

Contrary to what I said to Rivin and mom back in Oakwood. When it came down to it, I guess I really am afraid of straight-up confrontation.

"If we're all ready, then I'm going to do it." Roya stood up, but I stopped him before he could initiate the plan.

"Wait," I said, and turned towards Sister. "Are you going to just sit there for the entire day?"

She looked baffled. "If you don't want me here, I can go up to make you three early brunch."

Roya shot me a glare, but Sister trudged over to him before he noticed and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Don't worry, I believe in all of you. You can do this!" She blessed us all, and all of us managed to smile. She left without another word, disappearing upstairs back to the main church where she would be safe.

It was just us now.

Rivin snatched the button from Roya's hands. "Just press it, man."

"No. Actually, I want to go up to pray first-" Roya shot back and started to follow Sister up, but I dragged him by his weak arms to stop him from going. I nodded at my little brother for him to press on the little golden button, and so he did. Roya scowled at both of us exasperatedly, and then he stopped resisting me. "Fine. Get ready now."

Rivin and I headed upstairs with our tasers in hand, - graciously donated by Sister, who said it was from the church - and I grinned at Roya from the side.

"God can't help us now." I cackled.





"He's here. He's here. He's here." I repeated, and I could practically hear Roya scrambling to get everything prepared downstairs. I revelled in making my brother's twin panic, and returned to peek at the inconspicuous Aerilosac dressed in all black walk into the church. We have Sister 'evacuate' all the civilians away from the church before we pressed the button that would call the insurgent Aerilosacs over... and they had done exactly what we wanted them do. To send just one lone Aerilosac to meet Roya.

But the boy standing in front of the altar of candles was not Roya. He may look like him. He may talk and act like him. And if I paid very close attention to his face, I can clearly see the difference between the two of their expressions. Rivin always had that stupid nervous half-grin thing on his face. And he was smiling like a dumbass at the Aerilosac who just walked into the church.

The Aerilosac panned around from column to column in the church to survey his area before he reluctantly stalked towards Rivin. Both his hands were in his pockets, and I had no doubt he had a fistful of golden crystals in them. That was the Aerilosac's main weapon, after all. They had the ability to manipulate their golden crystals and use them, water-bending style. That was mostly what I imagine whenever mom talked about them, but I could also remember her telling me that they loved pushing the crystals in small shards like machine gun fire.

Hence, the mini-gun training back in Oakwood. Practice against the endless barrage of suppressive crystals that would rip and tear our flesh apart.

There was some other use for the crystals as well, but mom didn't talk about it so much. Maybe I'd ask this guy after Rivin takes him down.

Rivin was obviously scared, though. If his smile wasn't indicative enough, his fingers were sporadically tapping at his thighs, which meant he might completely derail and go off the plan. I prayed to God for him to maintain calm - I was in a house of God, so why not - and as if our minds were connected by an invisible thread across space, Rivin bared his teeth at the Aerilosac like a feral beast.

I snorted.

"What is the problem?" the Aerilosac spoke, a deep and smooth voice that took me by surprise. While I recoiled behind a stone column, Rivin replied to him. I couldn't see my little brother now, and I could only count the seconds until I heard electricity flowing in the air. "Why did you call for us? Are the wares secure?"

"Hell yeah," Rivin said enthusiastically.

I had to stifle in a laugh so as to not get discovered.

"Then why did you call for us?" the Aerilosac snapped, his demeanour completely broken within an instant. I took the opportunity as he passed by my column to switch sides with him, and as I snuck behind him, I scanned the windows high above the church for any hidden surprises.

It was not hard for Rivin and Roya to realize that the insurgents were scared. If they weren't scared of something, they would simply overpower the current leadership by force. They wouldn't go so far as to hire an outsider - much less a Raixien - to steal from their own warehouse and hide it for three days. So, there were two possible reasons for them to do it: One, they were small in numbers and could not possibly overthrow the current leadership. Two, they did not want to risk the possibility of getting discovered and culled by the current leader before the third day. Why the third day, it was not important.

Both reasons work out for us. If the insurgents were in low numbers and were unable to directly go against the leader, then that meant we had a very small chance of evading them until the three days are up. Hence, the hotel rooms were pre-booked in case we really needed to leave the church after our questioning. If we could successfully hide and make the insurgents lose our trail, then they would be forced to make a move and try to grab the stolen wares before the third day is up.

It would be tricky if this were the case, though. If they really were in low numbers, then the first plan to hide would rely on them and the current leadership not being able to find our new hiding location. Pressing the button to call the Aerilosac insurgent here was the riskiest part, since we wouldn't have any way of knowing whether he'd come with backup. He definitely told his insurgent buddies that we called for them, but our assumption was that this Aerilosac came here alone without any tracking device on him.

Because they were insurgents. If mom's stories about them were true in any sense, then the Aerilosacs followed their commanders and officers loyally and to the death, with absolutely no room for discussion. If they wanted to respond to our button, then they'd have to come in small and manageable numbers with their trackers disabled, otherwise their current leader would find it strange. They wouldn't want that. These were all assumptions, though, and that's why this was the riskiest part.

Which is why we're hoping for the alternative: That the insurgents were in high numbers but were simply unwilling to force a takeover, because that would mean they were scared of failing. And the only reason they would be scared of that would be because the current leader is a scary, scary man.

They wouldn't want casualties in their insurgency, and even though the current leader would likely fall if they all jumped on him, he would still kill a significant number of them before he went down. I didn't know the full story regarding the hierarchy within the Aerilosac, but it should be something along the lines of weak follow strong. The current leader must be someone strong for them to be scared of a confrontation.

And hopefully, after the questioning, we would find that to be the case. If they were scared of a fight, then that's exactly what we would do. We'd make a big ruckus with the insurgents by purposefully getting discovered, and if the current leader acts as quickly as he did the last time Roya was spotted in this church, then he would unfortunately find that his soldiers had betrayed him. Not all. He'd definitely have at least a few loyal soldiers surrounding him, and that'd be ideal.

They'd fight each other once the leader figures out they were insurgents, they'd get distracted, and we'd use the opportunity to get the hell away from Chicago and back home. Oakwood should be far away enough from here to escape them for a while.

After that, we would prepare. We would wait for mom to come back, tell her about everything, and then we would train. One day, we'd come back to Chicago and kill them all, just like they did to us.

It was a risky plan, but if everything fell into our laps neatly, then we wouldn't have to die here in this shitty church. Granted, this mental flow chart wasn't thought up by me. Roya and Rivin had explained it in detail so I could understand it, but even I couldn't fully understand why they seemed so confident in themselves.

It wasn't fake confidence. I could tell from how wicked Rivin's grin was as I snuck up behind the Aerilosac with my taser in hand. Maybe 'confidence' wasn't the best word for it. It was more like...

It could be something to do with how Rivin woke up yesterday while saying 'Aerilosac' even before I could mention it. He didn't want to talk about it, and I wasn't dumb enough to press him on it. There had to be a reason why, and since I'm pretty bad at understanding his logic, I didn't ask him about it, or Roya. If the two of them were feeling cool about this plan succeeding, then I'd trust them.

Maybe it'll all just work out. This was a plan made under four hours by three distressed kids on the run, in which two of us were deathly ill and would probably be next to useless in a fight. I couldn't count on them actually engaging in any sort of fight, but I had a feeling that it'll all work out.

I checked one last time with my Parallel Eyes to see that his outline was still white. I knew we would also succeed here, because the outline was lying on the ground, unmoving.

I counted to three, then I struck, darting forward like a snake, and stuck the zappy-end of the taser to the Aerilosac's neck. The electricity crackled and snapped in my hands, and both the Aerilosac and I convulsed despite only one of us getting shocked. Rivin laughed and grabbed the Aerilosac's head with both hands and pulled him onto the floor, where it slammed onto the wood with a slight bounce.

I dropped the taser and shook my hand, not having expected it to make such a terrifying sound.

"Oi, help me with him. We have to get him downstairs quickly," Rivin said, and I slapped my cheek to re-centre myself.

I kicked the taser underneath a bench, grabbed the Aerilosac by his legs - who wasn't very heavy - and we carried him leg first down into the basement. We stumbled and bumped into the altar of candles as we did, knocking some of the wax onto the floor. It felt like we were trying to dispose of a body, and frankly, we kinda were. Would this be our gateway into a life of crime?

No, focus, stop joking around.

We practically tripped our way downstairs, and nearly even dropped the unconscious Aerilosac. It would have been funny if he rolled down the stairs like a sack of potatoes, but -

Stop it.

Roya awaited us with a cheery smile on his face. The door locked itself automatically above us, and I knew we were now safe to do whatever we needed to do.

I turned away to go grab what I needed for the questioning from my mattress, while Roya and Rivin moved to secure the Aerilosac in the single wooden chair we had placed in the middle of the basement. I heard them silently whispering to themselves in the back, but I didn't prod. As I had said, my brother can keep his own secrets as long as it doesn't affect the plan.

I whirled back with a handful of toothpicks and a knife to go along with it, and saw the Aerilosac sleeping in his chair, wrapped from the neck below with black duct tape that he will definitely not be able to break out of. His head drooped down to touch his chest, and the boys were staring at me with their signature nervous grins.

"Did you check his pockets for any crystals?" I asked. It was a stupid question to ask them, since they probably spent more time planning than I did thinking about what questions to ask the Aerilosac. They nodded resolutely and held up a paper bag filled with the crystals. The one on the left - by this point, my heart beat so rapidly in my ears that I found it impossible to differentiate my brother from Roya - retreated to one corner of the room. The other boy moved behind me to flick off the light, and the basement darkened. I saw him move up the stairs to stash away the crystals as far as possible.

Only pillars of light from above remained, and it was the most theatrical thing I had seen in a long time. It felt like I was in a movie scene.

I took a deep, calming breath, and put on dark shades that would hide my eyes from the Aerilosac.

Purple seeped into my periphery.

Then, the boy that stayed downstairs moved and stood behind the unconscious Aerilosac, before dumping a bucket of ice-cold water onto the idiot. I scowled and stood back a bit when the water also splashed onto me, but I quickly regained my composure when the Aerilosac gasped, shocked into awakening. The boy retreated into the shadows again, until it was just the two of us.

None of us spoke for a second.

Because I was still thinking of what to say to him.

"Good morning," I said curtly.

The Aerilosac didn't reciprocate my greetings. He merely spat and shook his hair to get rid of the water soaking into his clothes. It must be freezing for him, and it didn't help that there was an ice-cube still sitting atop his hair. He'd just have to deal with the uncomfortableness.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked, making a point not to look over at the boy peeking behind at the conversation from the shadows. I wonder if the second boy was also hiding around here after stashing away the crystals.

No response yet again.

Hm.

While I may be the best interrogator within our three-alien group, that didn't really mean anything. The best of trash is still trash in the end. My knowledge of interrogation comes mostly from movies and television shows, and those weren't exactly good sources to learn from. In fact, I never thought the day would come where I would have to interrogate someone for information.

I guess all along, I had assumed if we do ever came across an Aerilosac on this planet, it would be mom who'd take up the duty.

A furtive voice rose up in my mind.

It whispered.

Now's as good a time as any to learn!

Then I smiled in the face of the Aerilosac, and ignored him thrashing about trying to break free from the hyper-tense duct tape. As long as he doesn't have access to the Orbsic crystals, he shouldn't be able to break free of his restrains. As children with a tendency to destroy a lot of things back at home, Rivin and I had learned the true power of duct tape and its ability to fix nearly everything, from fragmented toasters to a wide gash across my forearm. It also included fixing people to furniture, as demonstrated.

"You don't have to say anything, really," I said casually, and turned around to pull out a toothpick from the plastic bag it was sealed in. I twirled the tiny wooden stick in my fingers, hiding it from the Aerilosac's view, then flicked it backwards into where I thought the Aerilosac would be. It seemed like something I should do. That's what they do in the movies. Inflict pain and suffering until their will is broken.

It hit something with a silent tick.

But I also didn't want to kill him yet.

Oh shit. Did I actually kill him? Please don't be dead, we still need you.

I faced the Aerilosac again and saw a toothpick sticking out from his bare biceps. The toothpick had plugged the wound, so I kept it in there because I would much rather not see blood squirting out like a water hose. I wasn't sure if it really hurt, since it didn't exactly elicit the reaction I had wanted from the Aerilosac. In fact, the Aerilosac was now smiling back at me.

"Did you know all Aerilosacs undergo interrogation training from the young age of eight? That is when our healing factors begin to develop. Did you really think a toothpick would make me talk?" The Aerilosac sneered.

"No, not really."

"Pull it out and see for yourself." The Aerilosac taunted, and I scowled into his face. I let my curiosity get the better of me, and did as he said. The toothpick practically flew into my face the moment I tried to retract it, and I stumbled back with widened eyes.

There was no hole in his flesh. I had barely caught the Aerilosac healing after I yanked the toothpick out. There wasn't even a fresh scar from where the toothpick had entered.

"Do you see it now?" The Aerilosac laughed and tilted his head up to stare into the light columns. "You cannot hurt us anymore than our teachers hurt us. You can poke as many holes as you want into me, but they will heal in mere seconds. You can chop off my fingers, but I suspect it would only take a few days to fully regenerate. And time is the one thing the two of you do not have."

Two of us. So he doesn't know about the twin. Maybe the insurgents that let us escape yesterday hadn't properly informed his underlings that there were three of us that passed them, including Roya.

And he was also right. We didn't have the time to interrogate for as long as we want.

Damnit. They can heal like that?

All of a sudden, my tactics to use pain as a way to obtain information dropped into the abyss. What kind of sick culture do these Aerilosacs do? Interrogation training at eight?

"And before you think about it, no, pain will not convince me to speak." He said as if he were reading right into my mind.

"What's the most you'd endured?" I asked, not because I really didn't wanted to know. I didn't care about him. All we need is information, but he was making this more difficult than it needed to be. If I could get him to talk, maybe he'd slip something up. Like they always do in the movies.

"Hm. Speaking from personal experience, the worst pain I have felt was when my eyes were gouged out from their sockets. I suppose the vivisection on my stomach was also painful, but unless you can manage to do that, you will not get anything out of me." The Aerilosac continued, and my eyes twitched at the mention of gouging.

Well. Shit.

Could he be bluffing?

He certainly heals fast, but is his tolerance for pain really that high?

What else could I do to get what I want?

I'll need to improvise.

"You are confident that I won't kill you, right?" I said.

"Of course you won't. You need me for information, correct? If you killed me here and now, I doubt you would get what you want."

"You said so yourself already. You wouldn't talk no matter how much pain I inflict on you." I tossed the bag of toothpicks away but held onto the knife. "Truth was, I wasn't going to do that anyways. I had a feeling you wouldn't talk. How about I just keep you here forever?"

"At most, you can keep me here for another day. Then, they will come for me and kill the both of you. Nothing changes."

Nothing changes. So they were planning on killing Roya.

"Why do you guys want to kill us so bad?" I changed the topic of discussion. "We're pretty harmless to you, no? And we did you a favour, so you should just sit down and give us the thanks we deserve."

"Deserve? You are Raixiens; you don't deserve anything. You should be grateful we didn't report you to Larius, because he would personally tear you apart. We were going to grant you a quick and painless death, but you made the choice to keep me hostage."

I tried to contain in my anger, and the Aerilosac eyed the knife shaking in my hands. T

"Are you going to stab me? Will you slice my throat? Perhaps flay my skin off?" The Aerilosac continued to laugh. "It would be amusing to see you try. You seem new to all of this. I doubt you have the... stomach? Is that your word? I doubt you have the stomach to do so anyways."

"Maybe I should just try." I growled and raised the knife to his throat. The Aerilosac dropped his smile then and there, and I blinked.

Huh.

So he does fear death, contrary to how he seemed to act.

Then why was he taunting me in this way?

"You seem confident. What would happen if I were to kill you?" I lowered the knife and took a step back from him.

The Aerilosac glowered and thought for a moment. "Theoretically, if I were to die here, then nothing would change. The others would mourn my death, though it won't deter them from accomplishing their goals. They will continue on with plan, kill you and the boy, then retrieve the stolen wares right after Losar is dismissed as Commanding Officer."

"Losar is the name of your current leader, then."

"I see no harm in telling you."

I could tell Rivin - or Roya, one of the two - was busy jotting down notes from within the shadows. I may not be able to get the answers we had initially wanted, but at this point, anything will have to do.

We hadn't accounted for the Aerilosacs having a healing factor. That, coupled with his admission of them all having exceptionally high pain tolerance meant the plan was now all ruined. We needed to know whether the insurgents numbered in high or low in order to change our plan on the move. That was the minimum basis for our plan to succeed.

I studied the Aerilosac closely. He wasn't stupid. I had guessed as much. Even if he thinks they were going to win a hundred-percent, he won't just come and out all his secrets to me. If they were this arrogant, they wouldn't be the Wandering Conquest of the universe. Behind their confidence is power that they could display for everyone to see, and here, I was getting a front-seat demonstration of their strength.

This was unfair. Why were they given so much more than us?

What made them worthy?

Even if I threatened him with death, he wouldn't tell us what we needed to know. If it were Rivin or Roya doing the interrogation, then maybe they could find a way to spin it back into their control and get the answers we needed, but I couldn't move from my standing position. My legs just wouldn't budge.

Was there any other way I could have done this differently?

"Have you realized now that you cannot defeat us?" the Aerilosac said.

Of course I know.

Only an Aerilosac can beat another Aerilosac in a one-on-one fight. Unless you are Batman, always choose to run.

That's what mom said, and I had never taken it seriously.

What's the next move? What do I do now?

Maybe I should just hand this over to Rivin-

"A tip for you: When you interrogate someone of higher power than you, always make sure you are able to see clearly their every move. Even the slightest of movements can mean all the difference. That is why..." The Aerilosac sighed and drew both his hands up, and I flinched. "You should keep the lights on."

I heard a sharp whistle jolting through the air as he snapped a single finger to point at me.

A flash of gold from the left, refracting the light rays from heaven and into my sight.





It was just like what happened in the church.

Every encounter with the Aerilosac always started off the same. With my Parallel Eyes activated, crystals appearing in my vision, and time slowing down to a halt.

I had to wonder if it was just me imagining it as time slowing, or if there really was some otherworldly force assisting me, giving me the last boost I needed to avoid my imminent death. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

I twisted my torso violently until I ducked under the cleave of gold that would have decapitated me, and I charged forward at the Aerilosac still sitting assuredly on his chair, both hands raised to command his crystals.

A sharp blade of pain shot up my right hand, and I pulled back, screaming while cradling my palm where a crystal had pierced cleanly through my flesh. I accidentally dropped the knife and jumped back to distance myself from the Aerilosac, who was now calmly standing up with a hand clawing at the air.

Two figures darted out from the shadows behind the Aerilosac, both wielding knives and ready to kill. The Aerilosac frowned and snapped around to fire shards of golden crystals at the boys, who just barely dodged it all. Their dull purple eyes were the only thing I could see in the dark apart from the heavenly beams from the ceiling, and I retreated to the bathroom door.

Focus.

Where is he getting the crystals from?

As the Aerilosac struggled to track the dashing figures of my brother and Roya, I rapidly scanned the dark basement for where the crystals came from. I hadn't seen him pulling any crystals from anywhere because of the dim lighting, and the boys had stripped off every last weaponized crystal he had on his body. Could it be that he had some hidden somewhere that they didn't check?

No. The crescent-moon blades of golden blades that he was now swinging about was too much to hide on his body. If he managed to form blades of crystal there were bigger than his entire body, he would not have been able to hide it from us. That meant there was a source in this room.

Then my eyes locked onto a box sitting ominously in the corner. The nailed lid was pried open forcefully, leaving a tiny gap just enough for crystals to slither out from in small pieces. A single beam of light shone on it, almost like a mocking sign from God himself.

I snarled at nobody and flung my knife at the Aerilosac who had his back turned to me. He didn't even turn around when he whipped one hand back to knock the knife out of the air, and with one smooth motion, twirled around to send a diagonal wave of crystals at me. My Parallel Eyes had caught the dark-grey outlines before it came at me, so I managed to dodge it pre-emptively.

I picked up three knives from the assortment of bladed weapons we had Sister buy for us this morning, though they were all on my side of the basement. Where Rivin and Roya were, they each only had one knife on hand. They couldn't possibly throw them away and risk the Aerilosac breaking them.

Damnit. I should have brought my guns here.

Strategy. That's what we need. If all three of us can figure out a strategy, we can improvise and kill him.

The plan is over now. He wasn't even supposed to be able to get up from the chair. We'd just have to hope everything goes right and-

I winced and howled when the wound on my palm ripped itself apart. Thank god I couldn't see the wound itself, but I could feel my flesh being literally digested from within, and I was forced to drop the knife on my right to quickly glance at the pain coming from it. There, under the scarce light of day, I saw tiny diamond-shaped crystals sticking out from the edges of the hole, and they were tingling, cutting away at my flesh like leeches sucking on an open wound.

Remnants from that piercing attack. Did they get lodged in there?

But there was hardly any time for me to stay still and try to remove those individual shards away from me. I dodged and weaved around the outlines of the crystals, but it was no use. That was the extent of all I could do without a ranged weapon. Every time I tried to close the gap between us, the Aerilosac simply laughed and sent more crescent-moon blades towards me until I was forced to back up.

Just because I could see it coming didn't mean I could just phase through the attack. In that regards, Rivin and Roya were faring much worse than me. I could see their shadows jumping and dancing around each other as they tried to get as much use of their one second Parallel Eyes as possible.

We were unable to get close to him, and through all this, the Aerilosac hadn't moved a single step away from his chair. He didn't need to. All he needed to do was wave his hands in the air like a conductor commanding an invisible orchestra, and the crystals would move like stringed puppets.

Rivin cursed loudly - or Roya - on his end of the basement, and my heart stopped for a moment. Had one of them been caught on the crystals?

I roared at the Aerilosac and flicked two of my remaining knives at the grinning Aerilosac. He deflected it easily and counterattacked with two spears of crystals aimed at my heart. They shot forward, slicing at the air so sharply that I could hear a loud chink, and I twisted my body away from the spears. I landed on the rock-hard ground, and in that split second of downtime between me falling and me hitting the floor, I held in my breath and reached my left hand into the hole in my other hand.

Then, like plucking away the tickets by a ticket dispenser at an arcade, I tore all three of the biggest and sharpest pieces of the crystal from my wound. I quickly flicked them away from me as far as possible before they could fly back to me, then I pushed myself back up just as another blade stabbed into the ground where I was.

The wound wasn't completely free of the remnant crystal shards yet. I could still feel them digging around in my hand, but they were the smaller shards. I needed to turn my focus on the Aerilosac instead.

Shit. His outlines are completely black now.

He had completely adapted to our abilities by now, and was taking extreme measures to defy our predictions. I couldn't care about that, though.

I just wanted to scream at my brother to see if he was okay.

I couldn't find the breath or energy to do that, though. My mouth was running dry from constantly jumping around as the Aerilosac played us all like toys, and if I even stopped for one second to take a breath of fresh air, I would be killed.

The outlines were coming at us faster and faster, and with every blade came a horrible screeching noise as it scraped at the concrete floor below us. The blades were getting larger, too. He was still drawing the crystals from inside that crate. It won't be long until the end of the blades could touch both the ceiling and the floor at the same time, and when that happens, it'd be the end of us.

The boys were hardly even moving anymore. Their ragged breathing could be heard even from my position, and the only reason both of them were still moving was because the Aerilosac was looking at me. If he was focused on them, they would have been cut down long ago.

Are they all so powerful?

I made the wrong choice.

It was stupid.

Mom always told us to run. We could never beat them with just knives and bigger numbers.

He's going to die.

A thought that I hadn't had since nearly falling into a glacier in the European mountains re-emerged from the back of my head.

I'm going to die.

I should have told Rivin it was reckless to come to Chicago.

So what if I was angry at them? So what if I wanted to fight back?

Mom knew it and had warned us from coming.

Anger alone doesn't make me strong.

They were born with power. Overwhelming power.

The door back upstairs swung open and crashed into the brick walls, and footsteps began to descend down into the basement. A set of purple eyes on the other side of the basement flickered up to look at the stairs, and I heard one of them shouting.

I didn't hear what they were shouting about. My ears had completely shut down, and the only thing I could hear was the sound of my own heartbeat.

The Aerilosac stopped sending blades my way, and turned around momentarily to see what the fuss was about. My legs threatened to give way from under me, but I managed to gasp and suck in a greedy breath of air. This was my chance.

"Mom, get away from here!" One of the boys thundered. "What are you doing down here?"

I couldn't raise my eyes to see what was going on, still panting for air to refill into my head. With the last iota of strength, I clambered forward on the floor and picked up a fallen knife with my left hand. I can't afford to pay attention to anything else right now. What mattered the most right now was to kill the Aerilosac.

... Mom?

My world was a blur, and I tried to force my legs to run while my eyes drifted upwards. The Aerilosac turned around and casually flicked a hand forward to send another spear of crystal at the new arrival. From the faint silhouette, I could tell that the person who was impaled was a female, but not who. Everything was too dark, and the rays of light from above didn't shine that far into the basement.

The figure collapsed on the ground as the spear retracted itself from her chest. One of the boys in the dark leapt towards the fallen female, grasping at her hands desperately. Everyone froze in their tracks to look at the two, including the Aerilosac, who must be seeing this all as a game.

The boy had one hand on her shoulder, and the other rubbing at her hand. I think he was shouting something, but I couldn't make any comprehensible words out. All I could see were the slick pool of blood gathering beneath the fallen woman, and the tears flowing free from the boy's eyes. They no longer shone purple; in its place, crimson-red pupils that dilated and expanded every half a second, as if it were zooming in and out in utter disbelief.

I saw a smile from the woman as she imparted her final words onto the boy.

The boy kneeling over her cried and pushed his head into her chest, and the Aerilosac chuckled.

The pain in my right hand only continued to intensify. I looked down to see that the hole was still dripping with blood, and knew that if I didn't plug it up, I would bleed out in probably a minute or two. Less than that, even.

My vision darkened. Really darkened, for once.

The boy on the left, the one not kneeling over the fallen woman, charged at the Aerilosac with reckless abandon. In his hand, a flimsy knife that looked like it was about to shatter from the many deflects and last-minute blocks it had endured.

There was more shouting, there was more screaming, though I saw nothing.

There was another loud footstep. It was like someone was crunching on bones with every step he took.

Who was it?

I wouldn't know.

He's going to die.

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