The restless streets were crowded, with many moving with a purpose. My target was no different. The smog was thick today, scents of sewage and gas intermingle together. I rubbed my eyes to relieve the burn and to push my unruly hair from my view. I knew I should’ve worn my full mask today. His sandy brown hair peeked from under his tattered hat as he checked his surroundings.
He kept the same pace as he cut down a tight alley. I leaned against one of the many posters that littered the town, warning its citizens of the dangerous rebels that threaten their happy lives. I caught a glimpse of him disappearing into an abandoned building; I followed suit. The scuffle of trash and debris echoed throughout the room as my bag hit the floor. I leaped up to grab the cold bricks; my foot lugged my body over the side.
“Do you have any food to spare,” a weak whisper called out.
I strained to make out the dark silhouette crouch in the corner; a fragile guy with matted dark hair plastered to his forehead drenched in sweat. He stretched his bony hand out to me. I made my way over.
“Something better. If you can breathe, you will always have a chance,” I pulled out an extra gas mask and slid the straps over his head.
“Great, I can die from starvation instead,” he said as he laid back.
I clenched my jaw. She has her goons travel the last of the free lands to capture more of us. Most are sent down here to work for scraps, while others are never seen again. We will remove Her Highness’s foot from the neck of this clan soon enough.
“There’s a rumor that Shadow will be dropping food again soon,” I said.
He pressed his hands together, “Our only saving grace.”
I continued my path until I came across my target waiting on the balcony: Sweet Elijah, a loyal brother, a hard worker with inventive ideas.
“You’re late,” a gruff voice said.
“Well,” the man asked, crossing his arms.
His new cloak billowed with the motion, revealing his smooth black pants. Tucked in it, a crisp white shirt with a roaring lion printed down the right side.
A fucking thorn in my ass.
He cleared his throat, “I couldn’t get it. I’m sorry.”
“As am I,” Sebastian said, walking away.
“I can find out where the rebels are hiding,” Elijah said, snatching his arm.
Sebastian snapped his head back, narrowing his dark eyes. He straightened his body with his shoulders back. A sharp breath echoed through the doorway I’m compressed to. He glanced between Elijah and his ill-placed hand. Elijah’s grip popped back.
“Is it going through,” Elijah asked.
“With it in place, you can wipe them all out without getting your hands dirty,” he said.
“How will you get that information,” Sebastian said, stepping until their chests touched.
“I’m due for a promotion. With this one, I will be able to live in the free city.”
“If you can, then I will keep my word,” he jumped from the balcony.
Elijah slid to the ground and leaned against the wall. We both sit there enjoying the quiet oasis surrounded by despair. The breeze felt nice, but with it, it carried grey curtains.
He jumped to his feet, grabbing his heart. I gave a light laugh walking to the broken railing.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you that bad.”
“Why are you out here,” he said, standing next to me.
“I was making my rounds. What about you,” I said, looking out over the alley.
“My mother fucked a guy twice and left me to take care of her mistakes.”
“To take care of her greatest achievements. She created the most loyal man I know. How you are for your sister. There were no mistakes. You will always do what’s right even if it costs you your life.” I said, looking at him.
Deep lines tumbled under his coal-like eyes.
“How can you be so sure?”
“How do we know the sun will rise? I brought you this,” I said, holding up a vile.
His body stiffened, “Is that?”
“Yeah. It’s an extra dose from the doc. It’s experimental, but it’s been helping me. It’s the same as in the Upper Realm. I can get a lot more.”
He reached out to take it, but I pulled back. His lips form a tight line.
“What do you want,” he asked, reaching into his tattered red pack that smells of lavender.
“Not that,” I said, sliding my hand onto his, pushing the pouch back inside.
He remained silent for a while; his hands trembled slightly.
“Let me help you, Elijah.”
My heart raced.
“Then do it. If not,” he said, snatching his hand away.
His brows creased hard in the silence. Elijah shook his head and stormed off into the building.
Pressing the earpiece, “Vicky.”
“Yeah. Is it...?”
“Yes. He’s working with the Priestess’ advisor.” I said, kicking around the trash and debris.
“He was always so kind and honest,” she said.
“There’s more than one side to a person. I’ll find out what I can about this.” I said, checking my watch.
“Ok. I’ll see you later.” She said, cutting the call.
I took the vial and injected myself in the neck, hoping to prevent my condition from flaring up. The last thing I need now is to lose control.
The watchtower breaks the treeline as I approached my life’s work, a haven for those who have dedicated themselves to fighting for true freedom. I tugged the mask from my face and inhaled a deep glorious breath.
Hidden just beyond the slums in no man’s land lay our community. Here we use nature to power our needs and not rely on sources that destroy our land and air. Until us, no one dared to tread here. We tamed this land into submission and made it our own.
As I sprinted down the dirt road, there’re so many smiling faces and children playing. Not a mask insight, not a smog cloud to be seen. If this were the only thing I left behind, I would be proud. The sun begins to set, and a cascade of orange, pink, and purples take to the sky. My body started pulsating, causing intense pressure to radiate from me. It’s been worsening these last few months. I leaned against the wall to regain my composure. I could feel this pressure shrouding me, threatening to rip me apart if I failed to appease it. I slammed my fist against a wall hoping it will quell the battle happening in my body.
“Pandora,” a gentle tap on my shoulder broke my thoughts.
“Sorry, I was calling out to you, but you didn’t answer. Are you ok,” Vicky said, placing her soft hand on my forehead.
I pulled away, straightening myself up, “I’m fine.”
“Did you talk to him? Maybe he needs help,” she said.
“He doesn’t want to help himself. Remove Elijah from duty rotation.”
“Sure,” her eyes begin to water as she clenched some files close to her chest.
“I’ll try talking to him again.”
She let out a breath of relief, and her signature toothy grin came to life. Tied together with her short haircut made her look like a doll, a tall, petite beauty. Vicky’s heart could whole every living being in the world. She’s always the first person to help anyone in need and never judged.
She fiddled with her necklace that covered the scar that they gave her. When I caught the woman, all Vicky wanted was an apology and for her to change her ways. With some convincing and a watchful eye, I made sure she followed through.
“These next months will be our best chance to get the information on the caches,” I said.
The world began to spin out of control.
“We can’t be too hasty. Maybe we should lay low for a while,” she said, grabbing my arm.
“The people are starving and dying. We can’t wait, and we won’t,” I said, walking off before I fell over.
We’re too close to our goal. Even if I do this alone, I don’t care who or what the Priestess tosses in my way. I will bring her down.
I barely made it home. I climbed the stairs and reached my bedroom. The giant soft bed made a siren call to me that I was forced to ignore.
These pressure episodes have no name here in this clan, so the doctor did what she could for me. I injected myself roughly, but after a few minutes, I’m right as clean rain. I laid down on my bed and gazed at the nighttime sky. It’s the only place in the clan where you can see it without it blocked by clouds of smog. It’s a beautiful thing like everything here.