The Kang’s Residence, Daejeon, South Korea
Sang-hee saw no reason to leave her family of two behind other than the fact that she would’ve put their life in danger just by being near them. She inhales deeply before releasing it, allowing the cool night’s air to brush against her mask-covered face. Abnormally large puffs of vapor squeezed through the mask’s filtration system, disappearing into the night. The fact that she had to put her family through utter hell by faking her death two years ago pained her greatly, but she knew it was for the best if it was to keep them safe. Ever since the death of her father, Kang Kyung-soo, on his failed mission to assassinate Gyon Songu, a dominant leader of an inconspicuous thug clan called ‘Iron Heart’ two years ago, nothing remained the same after that matter. Her father was the commander and founder of the country’s secret organization group, the South Korean Enigma Agency or more commonly known as the S.K.E.A, 20 years ago; he was looked up to, well-respected, loved, however, his death shook the hearts of millions across the country. If the all-powerful Kang Kyung-soo was unable to assassinate Iron Heart’s nefarious leader, then all hope was lost, and many innocent lives will continue to perish. Money became severely scarce for the Kang family; the deadly plague grew stronger by each year and the war that took place here in Daejeon destroyed the buildings into rubble. Most of them at least. Daejeon became a city of poverty after that. Her mother Kim Hae-won, left them shortly after the death of her husband, unable to withstand the pain of the back-breaking weight that fell upon her shoulders. However, Sang-hee knew it wasn’t the pain that caused her beloved mother to flee from the city. Unfortunately, it’s been two years and her question still remain unanswered.
The girl leapt from building to building on the unstable roofs, drawing closer to her old home like a malevolent shadow in the night. Her aching heart pounded at she thought of her family that she left behind. She remembered the day when she failed to do what she trained her whole life to be: a commander for her father’s secret organization group. She’s spent almost all her life preparing, training, studying to be what she wanted to do for her country but despite all of the hard work that she put in, she still failed. Failed to enter into the agency and failed her father. She believed she was ready for the exam and they allowed her to take the test earlier than she was supposed to, but she learned she wasn’t ready at all. All she desired was to make her father proud and be closer with him, but even that she was unable to do. The disappointed and angry expression from her father when he opened the letter of her exam results resurfaced in her mind like it has done every day since the unfortunate incident. However, ‘unfortunate’ may just be an understatement. She also remembers the look of trepidation that fell upon her father’s face before the anger was etched into his facial features. Why was fear an emotion from the exam results? It was as if he knew something that she didn’t. Tears, shouting, slaps filled her spiraling mind and then silence, like the silence he had given her whenever she tried to speak to him after that matter. To her vivid knowledge, she was taken away, driven off in a large government truck with the other students that seemed to have failed the exam as well. They came and hauled her away the same day her father left on his mission to assassinate Gyon Songu once and for all. It’s hard for her to recall what exactly happened when they arrived at their destination. Petrifying images flashed across her retinas: lasers, medical equipment, a syringe filled with green liquid, golden rings and the numbers 5833. Those images meant nothing to her since she didn’t have a clue of what they meant or their significance to her. Death and her broken family were the only things that remained in her disarranged mind.
After a few blocks, she managed to reach the crumbling mansion of the Kangs, her home, staying above ground as she peered into the grimy, shattered window. The house wasn’t like it used to be when she lived in it; the exuberant ambience of the squalid home was long gone, replaced by a gloomy, desolate atmosphere. Nearly all windows were blocked from the outside by tattered curtains. A tall, feminine figure came into view, her back turned towards Sang-hee as she began to heat up a bowl of soup at the shabby stove. Mi-cha… she thought to herself, tilting her head as a smile plastered across her face from underneath the filtration mask that lay over her mouth. She must’ve been preparing dinner for the youngest before they head to bed.
Sang-hee was afraid that her two younger sisters, Kang Mi-cha and Soo-mi, would fail to live properly after her ‘death,’ her father’s passing and their coward of a mother’s sudden disappearance. She was also afraid that they’d be infected by the unknown disease that twisted through the broken rubble of the city like a venomous serpent prowling for its next victim. In spite of that, it hasn’t been a problem since she’s stolen a few masks from the rich citizens of Seoul. During rare occasions in the dead of the night, she’d anonymously drop helpful items down the chimney of the mansion where it would be easily seen, before vanishing into the shadow. Her sister, Mi-cha, who was a year younger than Sang-hee, held a back-breaking job as a waitress since she was 16 years old; hauling heavy bags of ingredients back and forth into the kitchen, carrying scalding plates of food. She made little with the work that she put in however, she made do with what she had to provide for her and the youngest.
Sang-hee was pulled out of her thoughts as a small pebble was thrown at her. She felt a sharp pain against her shoulder before turning, peering down below from the roof of the building. A slender, feminine silhouette waved their hands up frantically, as if indicating to her that there was trouble closing in nearby. She squinted, trying her best to see clearly in the darkness and recognized the figure as her best friend who she guessed followed her despite being told to stay at the base with everyone else in case anything happened while she was gone. “Mi-na?” Sang-hee whispered, a male voice spoke from her voice modifier’s speaker. It was used to mask her gender when she is out and about in the night, being a lone thief to help those who are in need, especially her family and her friends. Hiding her identity from the mistrusted was no easy task however, after years of living out on the streets, Sang-hee managed it just fine. “What is it? I specifically told you to stay back with the others.” She pulled her hood over her head, making sure that the short, black wig she wore was fastened in place before dropping a thin wad of money down the chimney and disappearing into the dark crevices of the rubble. A few moments passed before the sound of the creaking, double doors of the mansion opened and padded footsteps echoed as Mi-cha exited the home, scrutinizing her surroundings for the unknown individual that had left a gift for them once again.
Fingers wrapped around Sang-hee’s wrist and pulled her deeper into the dusty rubble. Mi-na’s filtration mask was pulled off of her mouth and her bright, brown eyes had pools of fear swimming around in her pupils. She brushed her jet-black, shoulder length hair out of her face before nodding towards the north, where it seems a dozen orbs of yellow light danced about in the unfathomable darkness. Flashlights. “As your best friend, it’s my job to protect you and make sure nothing bad happens to you, dummy. And when did I ever listen to your orders about staying back?” Mi-na crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow as she watched the older girl smirk at her and nod in agreement before continuing on, “Soldiers are coming in near. And they’re carrying those compelling weapons that they created last year. Someone must’ve said something to the government or the agents and tipped them off about your presence in Daejeon. We need to leave before they spot us. Specifically you, Sang-hee. You know full well that you are one of Korea’s most wanted criminal, coming in close to Songu Gyon. They’ll throw you in prison and hold you in a torturing facility before your execution is carried out. If they ever manage to get their hands on you, that is. They’ll most likely do experiments on you as well. Hiding your true powers is one of the most important factors,” Mi-na explained in a grave tone, peering at Sang-hee through her dark, brown eyes.
A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed through between them, the sounds of deafening shouts and heavy footsteps echoed in the unfathomable darkness before Sang-hee had enough. She gritted her teeth from annoyance and balled up her fists from the frustration that began to boil up quickly inside of her. She was right. Without saying a word to her best friend, she reached down and grabbed her hand before pulling her in the direction of a dark alley to avoid being spotted. “For once, just once!” she exclaimed in a hushed tone, letting go of her and quietly pushing a couple of large crates off the cap of a large sewage system, the smell hitting them like a slap across the face. “I would really appreciate the time to look over my younger siblings without being interrupted every ten seconds by these damn soldiers! When I find out who had the audacity to-!”
Mi-na rolled her eyes and placed a finger over the older individual’s lips, hushing her gently, “You’re angry, your irises are glowing red again, Sang-hee. I understand that you are upset at the moment, but you need to control your anger. I know how stealthy you are so don’t pretend you’re a rookie right now. You need to keep you voice down and leave your irises a normal color. Your anger is burning right through your colored contacts,” she observed, tilting her head as she examined her red eyes that shone through the cheap, brown contacts that she’s stolen the night before. “We need to move quickly before they find us. You didn’t leave any traces behind did you? I beg you, please double-check before it’s too late for the Black Lotus,” the worry was written all over her face as the soft moonlight danced along her attractive facial features.
Sang-hee gave her friend a smirk, wondering if she was just teasing her or actually being serious about having to double-check. Whatever, she doesn’t ever need to. She knows herself. “Tch, don’t make me laugh, Mi-na. I thought you said I was stealthy? Don’t believe me anymore, I see? They won’t know a thing and they won’t find a thing. Our group is safe in the underground hideout, you don’t need to worry so much,” she scoffed and took the filtration mask from the girl’s hands, strapping it back over her mouth and nose with careful fingers, “And don’t ever take the filtration mask off when we are on these grounds, idiot. You know that this damned plague is crawling all over the place here, I don’t need another person to worry about. Or anyone coughing up blood on the hardwood floors and making a mess for me to clean.”
Mi-na pouted cutely and lightly smacked the other girl’s clothed arm, “Ahh! Sang-hee, you’re so cold to me. I thought I was your friend!” she exclaimed loudly before slapping her hands over her mask with fright as her voice bounced off the walls of the alley. The sound of heavy footsteps began to head in their direction. “I-I’m sorr-!”
“D-Damn it… Mi-na, go!” Sang-hee shouted in a hushed tone, cutting the Korean Vietnamese off from her apology. She shuffled forward and roughly pushed her friend into the sewage hole, watching her climb down the ladder before closing the cap, ignoring the protests. She then retreats backwards, pulling the mask over her nose and mouth, slipping her dark hood over her head. The hood only exposed the midnight strands of the male wig and her dark-brown eyes. A few moments passed until it finally occurred to Sang-hee that she was cornered in the alley, her only escape route being the sewer. “That would only lead them to follow me and find the Black Lotus base. I can’t possibly take that route,” she mentally cursed herself, scrutinizing her surroundings in hope that she’d be able to find another way out. She didn’t. “I can’t expose my group for my sake. That will never be an option.”
“So, the rumors are true!”
Sang-hee shifted her narrowed gaze at the dozen secret agents that formed a human wall in front of her, leaving no room for her to dash past them in any way. So, it wasn’t the government soldiers after all, rather her father’s old colleagues that were after her. The South Korean Enigma Agency or more commonly known as the S.K.E.A. Why was she not surprised by this? Everyone connected to the government were after her. If it wasn’t for her criminal records, she would’ve revealed herself right now and made them all shudder with guilt and fear. She was supposed to be the commander of the agency after all. One soldier in particular caught her attention. “Sung Yoon-gi,” she stated in monotone, allowing her speaker to mask her feminine voice. Assuming by his position and posture in the center of the mad-made wall, he was the commander of the agency.
The tall, burly man furrowed his thick eyebrows and responded with a cocky grin, showing off his pearly white teeth, “So the mere criminal knows my name? Hah, who doesn’t?” he shouted with a laugh, slipping his left hand into his expensive, white trousers, moving his fingers a bit. His dominant hand. Sang-hee eyed the action carefully. “Are we connected in anyway, Lotus?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
Sang-hee, of course, refused to reveal anything truthful about herself, only explaining that she only knew him from the gossip on the streets of Seoul rather than being her deceased father’s colleague. She was trained to notice the little details in someone’s tone and body language to figure out what their purpose was. In this situation, Yoon-gi’s purpose was to gather information in hope that it would give them a lead. “I would also like to say that it isn’t safe nor smart to be wearing white during this late hour as a secret government agent like yourself, Mr. Sung,” she chuckled softly and clicked her tongue a few times before tossing a small knife at the hand that still sits inside his left pocket, smiling in amusement as it embedded itself in the back of his hand, “Your organization must be growing weak if you’ll just be using typical old sound recorders to record speech. Whatever happened to the rings? Did you change all the rules since your promotion as the new commander two years ago?” she hissed with anger. Sang-hee’s thoughts were running through her head at full speed, wondering what else this man changed in the organization. She’d hate to ask, knowing the more she spoke, the more time for them to think of a plan to capture her.
Yoon-gi hissed in pain and grabbed onto the hilt of the blade, ripping it out with anger. The sound recorder fell out of the hole in his pants, shattering into little plastic pieces from the impact. “You sure know quite a bit about the agency from just being a pathetic, little street rat,” he growled before handing the small knife over to one of the agents. Sang-hee rolled her eyes with annoyance as she watched him drop the weapon into a transparent, evidence bag, knowing that they’d find absolutely nothing on that blade except for the blood from the commander. “You’re an enigmatic one, that’s why we are so eager to capture you,” Yoon-gi explained, breaking the short silence that fell between the two. “I’m curious. How do you know so-?”
“I would love to stay and chat with you, Mr. Sung but unfortunately, I’m on a tight schedule and will need to take my leave immediately,” Sang-hee cut in, her patience began to run thin with all of this small talk. A fire burned in her eyes as she narrowed her eyes at this man; the man that replaced her father, the man that took the job that she was originally supposed to possess, the man that changed the way things were organized in the agency, the man that took control of what her father built. She hated him.
Suddenly, her hands began to feel hot and she glanced down without moving her head, noticing that her gloves were slightly melting from the heat that emitted from her hands. Before the agents could notice, she slipped them behind her back, controlling her anger as best she could.
A snap was heard, and the wall of Enigma soldiers pulled out their vaporizing weapons, pointing the nose at her with hardened stares behind their helmets. “Well,” Yoon-gi began with a malevolent glint shining in his eyes as he cocked his own rifle, tilting his head to the side, “I would need you to clear your schedule then because we have a lot to do with you.”
“Too late,” Sang-hee replied darkly and lit a flashbang before tossing it at the agents, dashing through the smoke as it went off. Clamorous shouts filled the night as the agents tried their best to blow away the smoke, their senses completely disoriented. Sang-hee took the opportunity to shove her way through the distracted agents, down the alley and into the demolished city. The shouts of the men faded behind her.
“Find that damn street rat!” she heard someone shout as the agents scattered from the alley.
A smirk formed on her face as she leapt onto a wall of a shattered skyscraper, scaling it with ease and without difficulty. Sang-hee pulled herself to the roof and looked on to the disrupted city, allowing the icy wind to brush onto her exposed, dirt-streaked face. “When will this nightmare end, father? What exactly happened in that terrible, unpleasant predicament two years ago?” she asked, looking up to the stars as if they would have the answer to the questions that has been burning in her mind for some time now. “Why did mother leave? Why did our family break apart? What really happened when they took me away from home?” she continued on, remembering the amnesia that blocked her from remembering anything from the time she was hauled into that hospital room to the moment she crawled out of the river, drenched in polluted river water and confused.
She heard a noise from behind her and out of reflex, she whirled herself around and held a hidden blade that switched out from her leather glove against the intruder’s throat.
“Mi-na?” she exclaimed in shock, retracting the blade and stepping backwards with guilt, “I could’ve killed you!” she hissed with irritation, brushing the fake hair from her eyes. “I told you to go back to the base! Don’t sneak up on me like that again.”
Mi-na giggled a bit, unfazed by Sanghee’s exasperation towards her. “Oh please, you don’t kill people, Sanghee. The most you do is hurt them in exchange for time. I know you’re not like that. Although you held the blade to my neck, you’d just give me a nip just to pang fear into my heart.”
Sang-hee shook her head, chuckling a bit. “You know me well, Mi-na. Why did you come back?” she asked, sprinting forward before leaping to the roof of the neighboring building, rolling to a stop. Yes, she was a bit angry with Mi-na for disobeying her yet again, but she was glad that she wasn’t alone.
The question was long forgotten when Mi-na noticed the scorched gloves that were wrapped around her hands, grabbing ahold of them quickly after she reached the next building. “You didn’t suppress your anger or powers?” she reprimanded, peeling the gloves off her hands, examining them closely, “You almost lost control! You know that you’ll be dead if the agents or the government finds out about your powers and strange abilities, Sang-hee! If they capture you, they’ll experiment on you!” Mi-na’s hands shook with anger, her eyebrows furrowed together as her eyes shot sharp daggers into her friend.
Sang-hee pulled her hands away from the girl and took the gloves away from her, slipping them into her pockets. “Don’t worry about it, Mi-na. I hid my hands before they could notice the smoke or the gloves. Calm yourself and please keep your voice down. We can’t have the agents finding us again,” she warned, leaping to the next building.
Mi-na followed closely behind, “You may be our leader, Sang-hee, but I’m the leader as well. And your best friend. We are in this together. I’m not good with observation like you but I can see when someone is cornered. You were cornered in that alley and I had to make sure you didn’t get captured by those tiresome Enigma agents. I’m not underestimating your skills or anything but it’s better to be sure than to lose everything that I… love.”
A few moments passed before the older girl embraced Mi-na tightly, putting her nose in the crook of her neck, “I’m glad to call you my best friend, Mi-na. Now, let’s go home.”
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