30 Nights and Tomorrow On

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I said it was love, and I did it for life; did it for you (Cage The Elephant – Trouble)

“The police let me meet one of the perpetrators who is still on his sentence. He was caught not long after they found Vasquez’ body and apparently for the cause of being betrayed by the other two. The rest of the gang fled and were never found. Rumors said they’re still on the run, but this guy believed they’re probably dead.”

Roderich closed the report, half-eyeing the restless Gilbert and the shining, vivacious Tae Hee from the corner of those thick glasses.

“When I went to the other two’s family addresses, the wives explained they admitted covering for their husbands’ act when officers came and interrogated. They both gave me a similar report on how a certain young woman dressed in formal suit came to offer a shelter for both escapees. A place so safe not even the government knew. Both men were too in pinch to rethink their decision, so they quickly agreed and hopped into the woman’s plan, leaving their families behind while ordering to shut their mouths until the end. They didn’t hear of them since.”

“So they both disappeared? Into the same place?” Tae Hee asked, eyes gleaming like an excited puppy.

“Supposedly so. No one really knew where they went. Exactly as that woman said.” Roderich sighed, leaning back to the cafe couch behind. The smell of coffee floated through the table, bringing Gilbert to another yawn as he rubbed the yellowish bruises. “How about you, Mr. Kim? Did you find anything valuable?”

“Yes, sir! I found out the chronologies on your previous superiors’ mysterious transfer! I asked around the seniors and collected the information in this notes, which I dearly kept as a matter of my journey and manual—”

“They were in the middle of investigating the crime scene when the transfer happened,” Gilbert cut, sipping his coffee. Tae Hee glared at him with red eyes and disappointment. “The last time the people around headquarter officially saw them was before they went off to the crime scene and there wasn’t any record that stated their return from said place. Practically, they disappeared along the way.”

Roderich frowned, putting his crossed arms on the table. “And the transfer? The report about the transfer? Isn’t it real?”

“The next day, people on the headquarter witnessed the appearance of a grey-haired woman who came to make a report that four of this district reapers were transferred legally and secretly under the command of Azrael to her place. She excused herself for being so abrupt and secretive about it, but she assured all of them were fine and willing. No one has really questioned Azrael about it, because they thought it’s confidential information and they must not let Azrael know that they know.”

“It can be possible that the woman was the one who wrote the transfer report at the archives room!”

“Could be.” Roderich tackled a yawn. “So once again, a mysterious woman covering up everything. Your report, Gilbert. You might as well explain where you got those bruises from.”

“Ah, this.” Gilbert tapped on them softly, minds traveled back to Elizabeth’s promise of applying her ointment on him. “I met Vasquez’ family yesterday. As you can see, things didn’t go well.”

“What kind of information did you get?”

“That Mr. Vasquez was abusive all along to his wife and kids? Damn hell, he’s not even trying to pay for her ransom and completely hid the real deal from his daughter. I’m surprised he has yet to be haunted by her.”

“That’s a wicked thought, Gilbert.”

“I really thought we could use him as a bait, knowing how dick he is.” Gilbert dragged his stares away from Roderich, the sight of cars passing by and lights turned to red, yellow, green were more calming than having his moral ethics be corrected. He just wanted this case to end as quickly as possible and sealed the deal between him and Roderich.

“It’s their house problems. Don’t bother fixing it.” Roderich knocked his finger on the table, making rhythmic sound. “Or he could be next in line if I’m correct.”

“Next in line? As if Vasquez has been haunting people before?” Tae Hee jerked his head on the new idea.

“Possibly, Mr. Kim. A stray ghost is a stray, no matter what their motives are. The reason why they’re still here is to get revenge on their deaths. Assuming two of his perpetrators were gone, plus the mysterious transfer of my previous superiors in charge directly to investigate her case, she certainly has the upper card now.”

“So you do think it’s all her work, then?” Gilbert drew his eyes back, slightly narrowing it to Roderich’s morning espresso. “The woman. It’s her? Vasquez?”

“I need one more thing to confirm. Let’s gather the dates of their disappearance together and see if we can figure out a pattern. Vasquez died in July. A week later was the first disappearance of the four reapers. The investigation got postponed, and since Vasquez didn’t make any commotion, her case wasn’t written in top stray priority to catch. I only opened it recently after investigating it by myself and met a dead end.

“A month after her death, one of the torturers was caught by the police. The wives said their husbands left for the shelter around the midst of August. The town which was said to be haunted by her ghost was emptied in September. The headquarter did send another team of investigators to the town and it was stated the ghost of the hiker, Marcus, suggested they shouldn’t visit the crime scene and the conversation went pretty much the same like ours. From September onward, they regularly met Marcus to ask for an update to which not much was going on. The investigation has again to be dropped in early December.

“The next report filled in was from us.”

“In other words, September was her last news.” Tae Hee cupped his face and groaned, looking like he’s about to have an aneurysm.

“Or, that’s just how she played us to believe.”

“Okay, you’re right. This is getting more jumbled by each discovery.”

A waitress came to take some of their empty cups. Gilbert sighed and threw his face to the window while Roderich rested his head on the table, trying so hard not to vomit. A while later, they heard Tae Hee thanking the waitress in a joyful voice before asking her to fetch the bills.

“I ain’t paying, kid,” Gilbert blurted out when he felt Tae Hee tugging on his sleeves. “That guy will.”

“No, I mean—!” He pointed out at the waitress. It was the first time Gilbert saw her and he felt… nothing. Pretty much. A pretty young girl with long hair and fairly white skin, wearing a maid dress, fetching their bills. “She, well, uh, can I whisper something? Get closer, sir.”

“Don’t tell me you fall for another stranger again? Cut that crap, brat. No one got time for that now!”

“No, it’s—”

The waitress was back with a sheet of paper. Handing it to the half-sleeping Roderich, he absently put his credit card on top of it, fingers brushing slightly and cracked up.

“Miss, are you new in this area?” he asked, tired eyes slapped open. “Never see you around just before.”

“Uh?”

“Right, you two are hopeless romantics.” Gilbert sighed, gesturing to the waitress to go. “We’re in a hurry. Please ignore this guy and proceed with the bills.”

“O-Okay.”

The young girl strode behind the cash machine and immediately created ruckus in between. She didn’t seem to know how to swipe a credit card right to the device and probably reran it more than it should be. Roderich would be crying after checking his debt later. So in conclusion, she might be a newbie worker at the cafe.

They walked out, all silent and doomed. Gilbert couldn’t take it anymore and dragged them to the nearest alley, slamming both of them to the walls and planned to cut a slack to both men until he saw how pale their faces were.

“S-Sir, you didn’t notice, right?”

“Notice what?! You two falling hard for her? Interrupting our investigation with your bullcrap.”

Tae Hee shook his head. “The waitress’ stares are so empty.”

Gilbert backed down. “So what?”

“And she was pale,” Roderich added, piercing Gilbert with his deadlock. “Too pale for an alive human being.”

“It’s probably powder, Roderich. Girls love that.”

“I made contact with her hand. It was cold. Felt senseless and… detached.”

Gilbert gulped. The alley grew chilly and the traffic noise felt so distant even though it’s just right around the corner. He stepped back, nervously laughing to the supposed jokes. “She’s not?”

“One more thing!” Tae Hee jerked up. “I was going to tell you about this but you just didn’t want to listen! She—” He pulled Gilbert and Roderich together until he could reach both ears “—was floating. Her feet didn’t touch the ground.”

They, including Tae Hee, choked back a scream.

***

Ghosts, as it believed to be true, were vengeful souls. The more ambitious their desires to avenge themselves, the stronger they became and the scarier they’d look. One of the most common powers they possessed was to shift their shapes into an actual living being as they wished. Or they could just reveal their true self to a group of people which that alone was enough to scare them. It fueled them: fear and terror. The more advanced things they’re able to do was to touch and move things. That meant, they could lay their hands on human beings and murder them. When Gilbert said some reapers died during exorcism, he didn’t lie even one thing.

What he forgot to tell Tae Hee was how to identify whether a being was a ghost masquerade or real.

He dropped Tae Hee at his room even when it’s barely afternoon and work was loaded full beyond schedules just because he couldn’t stop expressing how terrorized he was after such an encounter. The three of them went back to the cafe exactly after Tae Hee’s last statement only to find the girl was gone and the cafe was empty. Since then, it’s been a hell of a day thinking about what could happen during their talk.

“Leave him out for now. We’ll pick up the rest,” said Gilbert over the phone call. The bus went so slow that Gilbert swore he could get off any moment to push the entire vehicle by himself, and it would still be faster. “I’m going back to the headquarter to look for Marcus’ information. You have to agree with me that he’s too suspicious to be good.”

“Right. I’m also going back to the prison to talk with that one guy left. I’ve been meaning to ask him whether he felt haunted by Vasquez or not after her death. It seemed like he’s cooperative enough for now.”

Roderich still sounded pale across the line. Gilbert wanted to hit himself for worrying him.

“We should revisit Marcus tomorrow. Probably shade him or something. I feel like he knows.”

“Noted.”

“Also.” Gilbert leaned half of his weight to the windowsill of the bus. “Don’t bother too much with that girl from the cafe. I will also search for her when I get into the headquarter. We’ll definitely catch her next time.”

“Thanks. You know me.” Roderich smiled, maybe, from wherever he was now. “You’re not that bad as I thought you’d be, Gilbert.”

“You’re the one assuming I’m bad.” Gilbert sneered. “And I still think of you as a bad person. Don’t forget our deal.”

Gilbert dropped himself at the side of the street, aiming the headquarter building from afar before turning his feet to the left, down to the inside of a convenience store. He’s thinking of buying Tae Hee a frozen pizza to cheer him up once he stepped home later tonight. Ah, that boy. He didn’t realize since when he grew fonder over him. Perhaps Elizabeth was right. He’s going softer these days.

“It’s a good day to smile by yourself, sir?”

Gilbert jolted out of his daydreaming when he noticed he’s been walking himself to the cashier. Handing out the frozen pizza, he pulled out his wallet and sighed in relief to see some money there. “How much is this?”

“Four bucks.”

Come to think it, the voice sounded familiar. Gilbert raised his gaze and saw a girl scanning his face the way he did right now. Looked like they both recognized each other in no time.

“You’re the girl from yesterday.” Gilbert unconsciously reached out his bruises. “Beatrice?”

She nodded, pulling out four bucks from Gilbert’s wallet. “Right. You’re the con from yesterday. Mr. Gilbert, am I right?”

“Ah, look. I’m not a con, okay? That’s my obligation to conceal my real job and I need to do that sometimes to get things done. By ‘get things done’, I mean serving for society and make sure to keep the balance of this world on its track.”

“Yeah, yeah. I heard you.” Beatrice shoved the pizza down to a plastic bag and handed it back to Gilbert with the receipt clipped. “I’m very sorry for what my dad did to you. As you can see, he’s not a very stable person. My apology if you’re having a hard time serving this society.”

That tugged a grin in Gilbert. “It’s fine now. You know what’s up now? We’ve been moving onto the case and things get really complicated. Your family is, well, one of the roots.”

Beatrice blinked at Gilbert several times. The queue behind Gilbert was nowhere to be seen and the store was barely crowded as there were only the two of them, an older man that was probably her boss, and a group of teenagers stalling at the hangout seats while updating their instagram with the recently taken photos of cheap pudding. Taking off her working apron, she hurriedly excused herself for a good ten minutes to her boss and dragged Gilbert out the building into the swirl of city traffic.

She took him to a game center across the street and locked themselves in a sound-proof karaoke booth. Soon the noise from outside was cut, leaving only Gilbert’s panting and the operator’s sweet voice welcoming them.

“Okay, girl. What the hell?”

Beatrice was as paranoid as him, pushing Gilbert to the seat as she selected a slow song and set the volume to moderate. It’s loud enough here to convince people outside they were really having a duet party, but quiet enough for them to speak with inside voices and be heard.

At least this girl had a good taste of music.

“I need you to tell me the whole story. About my mom. Everything.” She turned around and pinned Gilbert with her determined eyes. “You’re a grim reaper, right? What are people like you doing around a dead person? Or perhaps she’s not dead yet? Which is it?”

“She’s dead.” Gilbert carefully set his voice. “Died tortured by several hungry men in need of money. As you heard yesterday, your father couldn’t afford to pay the ransom.”

“She’s not dead by... a car accident?”

“No.”

There’s a pool forming in her eyes. Before a crystal could break and flow down her cheeks, she inhaled and wiped everything away. “That’s it about her. What about you? What are you trying to do?”

“Her soul escaped before a reaper could send her off. She has become a ghost for over six months now.” Beatrice’s jaw clenched as she bit her lower lips. Gilbert sometimes wondered if getting her involved was the rightest choice all along. “She... haunted the town where she died and deprived the people who did this to her.”

“Is my dad next?”

“That’s what I want to know the last time I visited your house.” Gilbert’s head twitched. The quick massage around his temples did relieve his throbbing a little. “He could be. We’re thinking if we can track down those who were involved with her life before, we have the chance to meet her, and hopefully exorcise her right away. That’s okay, right?

“Y-Yes, of course it is. I’m sorry that my mom causes troubles. Please do save her.”

What a relief. Gilbert breathed out and stood up, remembering he still had to visit the headquarter. It seemed like he could leave the little girl for a while, especially knowing nothing supernatural happened to her family. The part time work she did would also keep her safe somehow; or whatever thing that could keep her out of that house and the danger it evoked. It should be okay for now. Should be.

“There’s actually one more thing.”

Gilbert halted just after he pushed the door. Drawing it back, he slipped to the seat and watched as Beatrice pulled out her phone, fingers scrolling quick through the screen.

“It’s probably unimportant to you, but since you know the whole story of them, I’ll tell you in case it comes handy.” She stopped at an almost blank note with only a series of numbers (phone number?) typed there. “I think my dad is having an affair.”

“Great.” Gilbert swore he’d slap himself in exchange for his dinner after this. Well, worse after the worst. “Even more a reason for your mother to be targeting him.”

“They’ve been talking through calls every night since two months ago. At first, I thought she’s just his usual customer. Then I overheard him saying ‘dear’ or ‘honey’ in a low voice. I spent the rest of the months stalking my dad and searching for a way to get his affair phone number. When I got it, however, I didn’t know what to do with it. Because, well, I know it’s up to my dad if he ever thinks of marrying again. The only reason why I called it affair just because I know nothing of this woman’s background.”

“You ever heard her voice?”

She shook her head. “But one thing for sure, both of them have never met each other.”

Gilbert frowned. “Why so?”

“Every time Dad tried to propose a meet-up, his beaming face always turned upside down even though he said it’s okay if she’s not ready yet. He then put down the phone and started throwing a tantrum. That’s when I knew it’s not going well.”

He shrugged, pulling out his phone and searched for a notebook icon. “What can I say? He is weird. I’m taking the number, though I can’t see what to do with it either. Can I have yours too? In case things happened.”

They ended up exchanging phone numbers and talked about the pain of having weird parents that Beatrice had to get a job to avoid his dad and still blaming herself for being unable to take her younger brother with her. Gilbert wasn’t sure how much time passed since he unconsciously agreed to listen to her rambling, but deep inside he was considering being nice and kind albeit saying nothing but nodding his head to everything she said.

The phone in his hold vibrated; Roderich called him.

“Hold on, I need to take this—What again? Did you start a fire?”

Roderich sounded breathless from the other side. “Gilbert, bad news.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been dealing since morning—”

“He was choked. In his own cell. By literally nothing.”

He could hear his sanity screaming in pain. “Wait, you mean the last perpetrator alive you’re about to visit?!”

“Nope.” Roderich took a deep breath. “Not alive anymore, Gilbert.”

***

At this point, the three of them collectively (and wordlessly) agreed to assume that the woman who wrote the record of those four superiors’ transfer and the woman who offered a safe shelter for the murderers were the same person, who was none other than Vasquez herself. To where those people were brought… Gilbert wished he’s prepared for the worst.

And if that thought alone wasn’t wild enough, Gilbert could add a few more.

They saw a ghost working in a cafe this morning.

Beatrice’s dad had been knitting new love with an unknown woman.

The last man who perhaps knew the whole story was dead, choked by some bored air molecules that went into a certain length and grew two hands apparently, wrapping them neatly and lovingly around the man’s neck when he’s asleep.

CCTV didn’t catch anything other than the man struggling to get himself out of nothing.

“Definitely Vasquez. She’s on the move.” Roderich ended the call hastily before Gilbert could make any more wicked retort.

Vasquez. Still young and kicking, he mumbled.

There’s one more thing to add to the long list; Gilbert came home to find his room all clean and tidy.

“You’re back early!”

And the girl who lately had been stirring in and out his gut welcomed him home in the aisle as if they had just married two days ago. And if they were really husband and wife, then Tae Hee would be their son.

“Sir! How’s the investigation?”

“First of all—” Gilbert rubbed the back of his skull “—why are you here and WHAT HAPPENED TO MY ROOM?!”

Elizabeth smiled, stepping aside so Gilbert could view the whole state of what remained. “Tadaa! The ‘nowhere to sit’ room is now replaced with a five-star penthouse. Made up by unpaid, five-star housekeepers, we ensure the hygiene and aesthetic of every corner of your room!”

“Aesthetic my ass!” Gilbert squinted hard. It felt like he stepped into the wrong room. Random papers that used to scatter all over the floor were gone, revealing the real surface of his wooden tiles. A pack of empty cup noodles on the table was replaced with a basket of fruit and a box of tissue. Dirty plates from three days ago on the sink? All shiny and stored nicely in the cupboard. Couch and bed full of unwashed clothes? Did she just go and laundry the fuck out of them— “You moved my shits!”

“You don’t deny the hygiene part, though.” Elizabeth pouted, nose crunched tightly. “Doesn’t it look nicer? Tae Hee and I spent the evening trying to turn this shipwreck into the Garden of Eden so at least it becomes a sight for your sore eyes when you get home. That’s why, we don’t accept any kind of attitude other than gratitude!”

Tae Hee posed a peace sign in the background. Gilbert dropped his hands, resting them on his hips. “First of all, no one asked you! Stop trying to… taking initiatives on wrong things, Liz. You got better things to do!”

“Well, duh, I am—” she paused, pressing her lips together into a thin line before continuing in a lower tone “—I only want to help, okay? No need to be so hostile.”

“You touched my things and moved it! Just because you got permission from Tae Hee, who happened to live here by the government’s order doesn’t mean you now become a part of it! Are we that much of a best friend where one can barge into the other’s private bubble? Do you really think we’re that close?”

“We don’t?” Elizabeth stared at him wide, the easy smiles dropped into something flatter. She took a step back to the place she put her bag and took it. “Yes, maybe you don’t think so. I must be out of my mind to be actually worrying about something so trivial. Sorry, it’s all on me. Don’t blame Tae Hee for this.”

“Yeah, you better be—”

Shaking. She was shaking. Gilbert stopped himself before no one else in the room could. He had to be damn tired to misread her face. It wasn’t just flat and empty and guiltless. It was fear upon the rapid blink of her eyes and twitch of her brows, sullen lips of regret, tangled hair of distress, trembling shoulders of helplessness, and Gilbert should know better than repeating the cause of his constant aching heart.

“Miss Elizabeth didn’t mean any harm, sir!” Tae Hee jumped from the bed, shielding Elizabeth from his gaze. “She came here to give you fruits and I was the one proposing the idea. We only tried to find a way to help you.” He bowed down, and once again Gilbert could see Elizabeth staring into her feet, certainly avoiding him. “I’m really sorry, sir! I’ll be responsible if one or two things you own are gone because of us! Please don’t scold Miss Elizabeth for this!”

Gilbert ran his eyes all over the surrounding. Was he really that mad? Well, not like he hid any condoms or porn magazines somewhere in this room, and they practically did a great job tidying up his shits. They did touch and move his things, therefore he had the right to be angry. But,no need to be so hostile, huh?

“It’s… fine. I’m sorry, too. I should be thanking you two.”

Tae Hee lifted his head, the color red washed his cheeks. “R-Really? Do you really forgive me?”

“No, I don’t. Do you know how long it will take until I’m back accustomed to navigating this place?! I appreciate cleaning my room, but not at emergency times like this!”

“Ah! But you have me as your assistance! If you need anything, just call me and I’ll fetch you in a second.”

“Speaking like a true gentleman, aren’t you, kid? You think you’re that professional?”

They continued to blab until Gilbert remembered how sore his throat was and how badly he needed to have a drink, then it took him another second that there was Elizabeth waiting behind Tae Hee, still looking down and clutching her bag tight to her chest. He shoved Tae Hee in the middle of his speech and grabbed her wrist loose, expecting to be yanked, but instead she let herself be pulled to the aisle where Gilbert finally released her.

Elizabeth raised her chin, red eyes meeting Gilbert’s widened ones.

“You could just call and let me know first,” Gilbert said, never knowing he could pull off a voice this tender. “Look, I didn’t mean to yell at you. Don’t get discouraged, hm? It’s not that I’m mad and all, I was just really… tired. You being here, seeing the worst of me, is the least thing I hope. I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” she replied, blinking away her tears. “I didn’t expect to be so emotional today. I don’t know why, but what doesn’t usually affect me hurt me this time. Maybe I need to get enough sleep, too.” She laughed, and it came out choked. “Hope everything goes well with the case, Gilbert. See you around.”

“About the friends thing—” Elizabeth went to get her boots in the rack and looked back when she felt another loose grip catch her wrist. Gilbert slurred, surprised himself that he did it out of thoughts. They gazed at each other like they were the only thing in the room; Gilbert’s mind went blank and all the train of words waiting to be said were devoured by the drumming heartbeats in his ears. He cleared his throat after a while, preparing to regain his usual taunting demeanor. “W-We are as close as frenemies, you know? We don’t just get along or be lovey dovey like normal friends do, and that makes our relationship different. But it’s okay since it is special that way.”

Her mouth flapped open. Glow blossomed on her cheeks and the flowers grew to unfurl her lips. There she was. Elizabeth’s killer smile that was too good to be just innocent. “So we’re really close, but not close enough for me to clean your room?”

“Frenemies don’t clean each other’s room! We’re friends but we’re rivals and always on each other’s throats! That’s what makes the true nature of us!”

“You’re just embarrassed to say we’re close!”

“How about we’re close enough for me to tell you it’s getting darker and therefore you should go back?”

Elizabeth huffed. “Only because I caused enough ruckus today, I should probably listen to you once.” Her feet slid nicely to her boots heel, she’s almost Gilbert’s ears now. “Left my ointment on your table. See you around, Gilbert.”

The door closed. The aisle returned dim and quiet, except for a faint noise of someone chewing behind his back. Tae Hee smiled a stupid; half-peeled banana on his hand. “Looking good, sir.”

“Have you ever been a punching bag?!”

Tae Hee stepped back, letting Gilbert have his way back to the room. His eyes lingered on the ointment on his desk, its jar was shining and glittering from the clash with lamps above. Gilbert caressed it with his fingers, the sting on both his cheeks felt not that bad afterward.

***

Gilbert woke up to the annoying sound of Tae Hee’s alarm again. He pushed his own weight to a sitting position, barely opened his eyes as his hands palpated a metal block he believed as the source of that loudest wake up call ever. His whole body felt like an ice block, freezing and stiff. And the headache from yesterday hadn’t fully gone. He spared a second to think how would he cope with whatever bullshit he’s damned to deal today.

The metal block didn’t vibrate anymore after he randomly clicked all the buttons. But the sound just wouldn’t go away.

Gilbert forced open his eyes when he realized it was his phone’s ringtone call.

“Yo, Roderich.” He yawned, stretching his other arm and legs across the floor. The cold tiles tingled his bare feet, triggering Gilbert to pull his legs again and fold them on the couch. “What kind of angel are you, waking me up in this ungodly hour?”

“Aren’t we agreed to meet Marcus today?”

“Yes? Why?”

“Hurry up. We’ll meet at that town.”

“And what reason does it have to be this fucking early—Roderich? B-Bastard—” Gilbert stared down at his phone. He got called off abruptly by a bastard who freaked out over a dead body yesterday. And he still called himself a reaper. Great. The standard was going lower and lower these days.

Five minutes showering, he dried his hair only by rubbing it three times with a wet towel and threw it to the couch. Ah, there it was. He was wondering why his couch was empty with unwashed clothes until the recent incident with Elizabeth came knocking his short term memory box. The guilt pooled hot in his belly; Gilbert swallowed down a frustrated scream and conversed it somehow to shout at Tae Hee’s ears until he’s kicked by his own dream and sent jolted out of the bed, eyes widened in horror.

“Kid, good morning.” Gilbert grimaced, tugging the jacket he threw at the bedpost yesterday. “We’re going ghost-hunting again today.”

***

They stopped by the nearest fast food restaurant to grab a quick breakfast, sitting by the window where direct morning light shot both of their faces in the eyes. Gilbert’s been whining about the younger man’s choice of seat though he knew that’s the only seat left. If it wasn’t because they’re hurrying to the town in Roderich’s order, he would suggest a take out rather than eating with a lot of imbecile, ignorant humans.

“I didn’t get to ask you yesterday, but did you find anything at the headquarter?” Tae Hee took a huge bite of his double egg, double cheese, double meat, double bacon burger; and the extra ketchup smeared all over his mouth. The next thing he said became inaudible in between his furious chewing and Gilbert was still too tired to smack him for it.

“No,” he cut him off. “Or rather, there’s no lead. We have a lot of strays to catch while the clues are almost little to nothing to help narrow it down. Let’s leave the cafe girl alone for now.”

Tae Hee forced to swallow. A big chunk of burger bulged down his throat. “How about the old man on the second floor who died from hiking?”

“That’s…” Gilbert’s eyes twitched. “He’s fine. I only need to talk with him once to figure out the rest.”

“Woah, sir. You just sounded like a true detective.”

“And you still sounded like a kid.”

Gilbert pushed down his empty tray, fried chicken already rested in his stomach. He’s full now, and still feeling like a shit. His own body betrayed him and weighed him down, he felt like dragging it the next time he went for a long walk. A huge air whirling inside his head (as if he’s not an airhead enough), half of his lungs decided to shut down in harmony, making it hard to breathe sometimes. One moment of misstep, he’d collapse on top of Tae Hee’s small body for sure.

“Are you okay, sir? Your face is as white as your hair.”

“You mean, pale?” Gilbert forced himself to click on his tongue, only because he thought that’s what his normal reaction was. “Say, brat. Don’t you feel sick? Or anything bad?”

Tae Hee slurped down the shared discount beer and raised his head high. “I’m definitely better than yesterday! It was shocking and possibly traumatic to know you’ve been served by a ghost, but I assured myself that it’s nothing compared to the real vengeful one. Today I’m on fire to catch our client for sure! No need to worry, sir!”

So it’s just a physiological shock, maybe. Gilbert sighed. What the hell did he do yesterday until he ended up miserable like this. Well, it started on that mysterious cafe where he ordered fish and chips with coke. Everything went downhill afterward.

He stared at the shared discount soda and wondered if it was tampered again, like how it was yesterday.

Or was it—really?

“Sir?”

Gilbert stood up, pulling out his vibrating phone that showed ‘Beatrice’ on the screen. “Sorry, I need to take this.” He rushed outside the restaurant, a chilly breeze crashed into his fever. Striding to a quieter spot, Gilbert sat on a bench street and picked up the call, wishing the girl could hear his sick voice over the rush of traffic before him.

Beatrice cut his greeting. “Mr. Gilbert. I have updates.” She took a deep breath and rapped the shit of the ‘updates’. “My dad will meet his affair for real today. I don’t know what the hell happened, but he just said ’see you soon, hon’ on the phone and hurried to dress up. He’s on his way now and guess what? He wrote down the address the woman mentioned and when he’s in the shower, I took a photo of it. I’ll send you quick. Hang on.”

“Wait, you don’t have to—”

Again, Gilbert wasn’t sure what to do with this additional, seemingly useless information of Mr. Vasquez’s affair with a new woman who had until recently refused to meet face to face, and why Beatrice was that stubborn to push it to him. He went along with it anyway, remembering how pained her face was when she told him all the suffering living in the same roof with her dad. He hung up, switching to the new message Beatrice just sent him.

A photo of a messily ripped paper, plus a sloppy handwriting of an address.

His eyes squinted as he activated the battery in his brain to translate the handwriting:

County Street, 10017, Forx, apartment 02 seventh floor…

“How long since he’s gone?” he asked, trying his best to drown the panic in his voice.

“About ten minutes ago? Mr. Gilbert, did you know anything?”

“Perhaps. Kid, just stay at home,” Gilbert replied, as he grabbed his jacket and ran as fast as he could, owing Tae Hee a whole ass explanation for his sudden leave. His mind flew into one particular place where everything started. The address, the very specific detail, the forbidden floor. It all came together. The set up of those torturers, the other disappearances, the mysterious affair—she’s been preparing this much for the last couple months.

Run, run, run. Gilbert screamed internally as the bus drove away from the stop, ignoring the frantic waves of his hands. His stinging eyes skimmed through the next schedule, glaring at the ‘ten minutes remaining for the next bus’ sign. His body still hurt like hell when he decided to throw his ass to the bench and gave up those precious minutes. He scrolled on his phone, searching for Tae Hee’s contact. The boy had messaged Gilbert several short texts, asking to spare little details. Gilbert ordered him to call for backup and explained the situation before besieging that building. “Tell them this Vasquez woman is dangerous. Like terrifyingly dangerous. That’s more than adequate of what I can tell now.”

He closed his phone and looked up to his new companion, a gentle breeze caressing the side of his face as a little girl sat down next to him. Blonde, short, wearing a thin gown for such weather. It wasn’t until their eyes met together that Gilbert dared himself to look at her dangling feet, he had to suppress another scream.

“We didn’t get to talk yesterday,” she said. Cold. Flat. Fearless. Her eyes pierced through the visible tremble on Gilbert’s. “You should have figured everything out by now. A rare one among the smartest ones. Why are you still low-ranked?”

“You’re the ghost from the cafe.” Gilbert didn’t believe he spilled it out. Realization hit him alive, the curtain went wider and wider to reveal blinding, deadly light behind—the truth Gilbert didn’t want to believe either. His stomach twisted, forcing some up to the throat. Cold sweat rolling down his body, all his energy went to waste to hold up a vomit. “You—You poisoned me.”

“Of course. I was scared.” The girl smiled. Gilbert saw nothing but flame and knives. “You are dangerously close to bust me. No way I’ll let you ruin everything I have planned. I should just get rid of you the moment you went to that house.”

“I’m flattered, Mrs. Vasquez.”

Vasquez bared her teeth. They were bloody. “I would like to play more with you. Sadly I have no time. I have two lovely guests in my cobweb now, waiting for my attention. Well, we’ll meet later there so I guess… see you again?”

“Two? Your husband and—” Gilbert’s fists clenched underneath his jacket, his face hardened. “Roderich?”

“The guy speaking with you this morning, asking you to hurry there. By the time you received that call, he passed out on my favorite chair.”

“You were the one speaking to me?!”

“Amazing, right? I, too, was amazed with my power and the creature I have become. Sometimes playing with reapers is more entertaining than completing the quest itself. I wonder why.” The more she smiled, the more she laughed, the more Gilbert stared into the madness shrinking on those lifeless eyes, the more he could see the resemblance of Vasquez’ real face. That, or perhaps she had slowly returned to herself—the woman he and Elizabeth once thought was pretty. That colorless spread of lips sparked the embodiment of the devil itself. “Pretty boy, I have one more gift for you. Make sure to arrive on time, m’ kay?”

“YOU BITC—”

Just before Gilbert could reach her head and exorcise her in the very short of space, Vasquez was gone in a blink of eyes. Not even wind could tell her whereabouts. The bitter taste of his own vomit reached the back of his tongue. Air was forced out of his lungs as he threw up at the side of the street, what was once a fried chicken looked more disgusting in the form of liquid. He could feel the weight of annoyed eyes on his back. No one even dared to approach him and asked if he’s okay.

Gilbert wiped the puke left on his mouth with the last tissue he had in the pocket upon waiting for the next bus to stop. He pushed himself to the feet, mind was racing for a strategy.

Vasquez was a poor woman. She didn’t deserve to wander any longer in this useless world. Therefore, Gilbert had to find a quick way to send her off even when she didn’t wish for that.

***

The hollow path. Dead trees. Broken glasses. Empty, yet unnerving buildings of nobody. Gilbert dipped his first step in, darkness washed over the remaining sunlight. Day felt like night, night felt like void. He closed his eyes as his feet brought him close to the stairs. One. He could feel only one.

Empty. The second floor was anything but abandoned tables and chairs. Gilbert turned on a flashlight, scanning the surrounding. A trail of red leading him to the next staircase up. It’s not just a mere trail. Drags of bloody palms printed on the wall; the image itself was enough to make up the scream those people put their lives into. He wondered if he left one soon.

Third floor. Fourth floor. Fifth floor. Same, empty kind of routine. Another drag, another black room, another nothing. Sixth floor, however, an unpleasant smell strangled him. Rapid, frantic taps hitting the floors above him as if someone’s been struggling. The alarm in his head went crazy upon encountering a new zone. One. He still only felt one. And it’s getting stronger.

“Mr. Reaper? Hello?”

Marcus was behind him when he turned the flashlight around. He covered his eyes with his hands, slightly chuckling when complaining how Gilbert should’ve been careful with those flaring lights. Gilbert smiled warm, in contrast with his boiling blood touching his nerves.

“Marcus. Hello, too.”

“Never thought it’ll be this soon to have you here again,” he said, ruffling his hair nervously. “Still no information. Sorry, perhaps I need to go out and help you guys rather than waiting here until I die the second time.”

“Ah, so that’s how it is. People do die twice, though.”

“Huh?”

“The first time they left their bodies. The second time when a reaper told them it’s time.”

Marcus blinked at him, the ruffle on his hair came to stop. His eyes darted away, looking past Gilbert’s shoulder. “True that. Are you here to send me off? Since I can’t prove myself that I’m on your side.”

“There’s no need to prove yourself. Like I said, it’s time. When due, the outcome will always be the same.” Gilbert watched as the man before him drowned in his aura. It’s getting stronger, closer, hotter, blacker, until Gilbert swore he couldn’t recognize him anymore. But halfway through, it’s not that bad. He managed to crack her open, after all. “You died on July, 13th at 11:02 PM for the cause of trauma and blood loss. You have lived a good life. You may relish everything and move to the next stage of life—only if you wished to be sent off kindly and with dignity, Mrs. Vasquez.”

Marcus—no—Vasquez. He blinked and the man before had turned into a different person; the one Gilbert saw in the photos. A woman. Long, dark hair. Red lips and slight wrinkles around her nose. Pretty and a whole. Her deep blue eyes smiled at Gilbert as she let out a laugh.

“I was planning to let this one be a shocking gift for you. Oh, well. How did you know?”

“It was a simple detail I collected through our meet. From the way you forbid us to see the crime scene. And your reaction upon being accused of covering for Vasquez. And then your alibi.”

Vasquez tilted her head and let her hair fall to the side, revealing more pale skin tracing the line of her jaw. “Oh? How could that give me away?”

“You, as Marcus, said you just came right here after the town was empty, thanks for your presence, which was supposed to happen in September. But the early reapers had the name ‘Marcus’ written already on their July report, meaning you lied about your arrival. That sealed my suspicion. Vasquez herself or not, you were definitely her accomplice.”

“I could be someone else, though? Perhaps Vasquez really did have an accomplice?”

“You ARE Vasquez. And so was Marcus, the woman who barged into the archives room to write the false report, and the kind woman who offered a shelter for your killer. You have no reason to team up with other ghosts. Because you’re selfish. You want to feel their blood by yourself.”

She laughed. A maniac. Echoing through the room like a roar of thunder. The more he listened to it, the colder it became. The next time he blinked, Vasquez’ appearance changed again. This time, he saw her. The true her. Long hair getting longer until it touched the ground. White dress dripped in red. Cuts smearing her visible skins, as if they weren’t pale enough like a canvas. Color drained from her lips, leaving nothing but chapped and slightly cut mouth. Her eyes fell in white and open flesh darkened across her face. She raised her right hand. The pinkie and ring finger were chopped off.

“Quick-witted pretty boy. Been waiting for you.” Her voice was light, blown by the wind and tasted like a saw but dressed as a spoon. The maniac laugh didn’t stop echoing and went louder, hurting Gilbert’s ears every second it passed. “Let’s play, darling.”

She’s gone in a blink.

Gilbert bit his lower lips, trying to focus on himself to find her aura. The next time he opened his eyes, wide mouth with bloody teeth filled his sight. A direct hit against his rib cage where his heart throbbed loudly sent him flying across the room. The weight crashed the wall and he fell to the ground, the sound itself was muffled by Gilbert’s groan.

“You only want to play with me?! That’s why you used Roderich and your husband to lure me here!” Gilbert couldn’t stop coughing. When he looked down, all he saw was blood. His blood. “If that’s your aim, then you should be releasing both of them now that I’m here! I know they’re on the seventh floor!”

A bodiless voice answered. “I was only planning to use your reaper friend against you. You just happened to know my husband’s here too. Uh oh, they both were alright. I’m withholding them for evening toys.”

“Am I also going to be your evening toy?”

“No.” A sheer breeze cut through the air. Another blow to the gut silenced Gilbert. “I want to play you now.”

Hereupon, Gilbert became closer and closer to his death door. Punch after punch, thrown and crashed, kicked and crushed. Every moment sent his senses duller. Even so, Gilbert still forced himself to get up, trying to predict her moves and hoped he could track her before she could shatter him again and another of his bones fractured. He didn’t want to think about dying here. He didn’t want to see his lifeless body as he waited for a reaper to send him off. He didn’t want to imagine what kind of face Elizabeth would make upon knowing he went first than her. He opened his eyes to see his own blood dripping from his lashes and proceeded to ignore his body flaring alarm. All he needed to think now was how to spot her in time and lay his hand on her head, chanted the chant and obliterate the dead creature as well as annihilating her whole existence out this world—

Bold for him to assume it was that easy.

Not even a limb he could move. His innards were spilled over, thrust by the last uppercut. Lying there, awaiting for the next one, a gentle yet cold hand dragged him across the red floor to the stairs. Soft lullaby filled the silence, but it sounded so fragile that it could turn into a dagger, ready to slit his throat anytime he made her uncomfortable. Gilbert didn’t want to die. He had gone cold, but he refused to surrender.

“You’re smart with no actual skills,” she said before pulling him against the staircase. “How can you be down after a few blows? Fight with calculation, darling. You gotta aim for my head.”

Gilbert spitted out a choke.

“Rest assured. Did you ask to meet my husband and your friend? Soon you’ll get to see them. Just don’t be shocked. As I said before, it’s not for the eyes of children.”

“Why—why are you—nghnhdoing this?”

The pull stopped. Gilbert could feel his back being slammed to the sharp edges of the stairs. “My purpose was to remove anyone who got in my way. That included you and those reapers. If you’re asking what was my way, I planned to kill all of them. My killers. My husband. Those who were involved with my death. I wanted to see them suffer exactly how I suffered.”

I want to release you to peace so you don’t need to suffer anymore, Gilbert thought and it didn’t get into his tongue.

“It was here finally. I’ve been waiting to kill my husband my whole life. You visited my house before, you knew what it’s like. I’ll make sure he dies knowing he’d be stuck with me even in hell. Certainly.” The pull continued, up to the next floor. Between his solemn eyelids, Gilbert felt light and smelled foul. “I won’t kill you, son. You’re too precious to just end in ash. But your friend, Roderich, isn’t he? He has to go. I’m sorry, I just decided it’ll be that way.”

Gilbert’s eyes snapped open, his whole dead body struggling to get loose. All he heard, however, was a mocking laugh.

“Why? Why aren’t you happy?! I’m trying to make you happy! Don’t you hate him?! Him! Him, who ruined your life and hurt your loved ones! Him, whom you tried so much to surpass just because he has everything you ever wanted to have! If he dies, then you’ll be the best! So why are you protesting?!”

Sure. Gilbert hated him. Roderich was sure an asshole. After all the things he made Elizabeth go through, the spite would always be there. The younger him would have wanted him to suffer on every breath until the last day he took it. He swore he’d ruin him himself someday, with or without Elizabeth’s permission.

Again, Roderich was an asshole. That definition alone required another asshole to lay a hand on him. And Gilbert happily volunteered to be the one.

But today… Today wasn’t it. He was neither the boy from that church school who whined for a play time, nor the teen who resented his crush’s crush out of jealousy anymore. Today he was an adult. With full-blown responsibility. And a life-or-death matter in his hand. Roderich wasn’t just someone annoying from his past anymore. Roderich was a comrade.

(At least for today.)

The last struggle got him loosened up as Vasquez purposely dropped him to the ground. Eyes blacked out, all he smelled was rust all over the ground. An old rusty iron hardened beneath him; some were still freshly wet, the others smelled like a mix of decomposing human flesh. Gilbert’s blind fingers trifled with something mushy and rolled it before him so he could see.

It was a human’s limb.

Not just one. It’s all over the room. Fingers. Arms. Legs. Heads. Not just belong to one person. It was… a lot. Too many lots that it could form a sea of mutilated bodies.

The worst part was Gilbert somehow recognized them. Those poor reapers who indeed had never accepted any orders to be transferred. Those killers who never saw the shelter they were promised. They were all here, piled up together, as if both groups were the same nature. The drag of blood from earlier throughout the stairs indicated that Vasquez had killed them somewhere far from the room. Otherwise, it would be easier for the reapers in charge of collecting the souls to get suspicious and start to link things.

Damn it. If only Gilbert had deducted it as quickly as now, perhaps he could have saved both Roderich and Mr. Vasquez for the least.

“GILBERT! YOU’RE ALIVE!”

He looked up and thought he saw a mirror. No. The facial structure was slightly different. That guy, though as bloody as him, was more handsome.

“Ro-Rode-Ri—”

Blood blossomed from his throat. He could hear the tied Roderich struggle to get close to him, but all he heard was another slam across the room.

There was another familiar cry from the other corner, supposedly belonged to Mr. Vasquez. He begged for forgiveness in between his incoherent sobbing, knees gave up on him a long time ago as he writhed on the floor. That pitiful doing was enough to catch Vasquez’ attention. Walking to him, she bent one knee and tilted her ex-husband’s chin, flashing those gazes to the watering ones.

“Husband of mine, why are you so sad…?”

“PLEASE LET ME GO! LET ME GO LET ME GO LET ME GO! LET ME GO HOME! I SHOULD HAVE WORKED HARD TO PAY YOU, I’M SORRY I NEVER GOT THE CHANCE! I AM NOW SO PLEASE LET ME AVENGE YOU. PLEASE LET ME GO!”

“Go home, you say…?” A smile curled. “What are you saying, dear? We’re already home.”

“NO, I AIN’T FOLLOWING YOU! YOU CAN GO THERE AND LEAVE ME HERE MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS!”

“But you vowed to follow me into the dark after death do us apart, didn’t you?”

Mr. Vasquez went wide, his chin clenched in bitterness. “I didn’t say that.”

“You said that. I just know you never meant it.”

“I DIDN’T SAY THAT—”

“ENOUGH!” She went to choke him, nails digging his skins. A forced groan escaped him and his wife disgustingly took pleasure out of it. “In the Name of God, I, Vincent, will take you, Bertha, to be my wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for BETTER only, for RICHER only, in HEALTH only, to love and to cherish, till death do us apart. This one is my REAL, SOLEMN VOW. WAS THAT WHAT YOU MEANT THAT DAY? YOU EVEN CRIED RECITING IT!”

“I DIDN’T—”

Gilbert was too far good to save him. He clicked his eyes shut, not wanting to see a fresh head rolling to his side. Mr. Vasquez’ stifled cough stopped and Gilbert immediately thought of his death wish. A hard pound to the ground, then someone’s desperately gasping for air. Gilbert once again opened his eyes to see Mr. Vasquez lying before him, shoulders rising up and down. His wife, however, turned to the opposite direction, to where the stairs were, as if someone else had arrived.

A loud echo of footsteps marched to the stairs. Slow, a little doubtful, scared, but determined. They could hear them. They’re not tropes of backup Tae Hee promised Gilbert earlier. They came from one person, one little girl. Solemn furrow, clenched lips, a stare that could shatter the monster before them.

The monster recognized her. How could she not. How could a mother, even a dead mother, forget her daughter.

If only Gilbert could open his mouth without throwing up blood, he’d let out all the swears that were thundering in his chest. Everything was none like he planned. If the backup tropes had come as soon as possible, this would not happen. Things would get resolved quickly. They would overpower Vasquez in a second, exorcising her to the other dimension, hopefully casting her forever in hell. It was all along their assignment.

Certainly, Beatrice would not want that. She wouldn’t let go the closest clue she had into waste.

Vasquez could still go to hell afterward. Their confrontation might not change anything at all. Vasquez could ditch her faultless daughter and remained evil. Vasquez could still be exorcised together with her hatred, spite, and curse. Beatrice would be traumatized, seeing her loving mother in that form, and would always be for the rest of her life because nothing was ever resolved. Whatever the outcome was, they were already tied down to a bad ending.

Or it could go the other way.

“Mom…?”

She froze. The word traveled thin, yet heavy.

Beatrice stepped closer, her legs were shaking. “Is that really you…?”

“Don’t come closer!”

She stopped when her feet touched what it said to be a pool. Beatrice bit her lips as she glanced at both sides; to the sight of her mother’s handiwork. She gulped hard, swallowing the hard pills all by herself. Her eyes landed last on her sprawling father, muffling between his cries something no one could comprehend. The girl pulled away, back to her mother. “Why are you doing this?”

Another rush of steps from the stairs. Elizabeth stumbled her way to the seventh floor, panting and shouting at Beatrice to wait for her, only to gasp and be on her knees when she saw the deteriorating fleshes on the ground blooming tall between her feet. Gilbert shut his eyes, the sharp pain in his head came alive after realizing how bad Tae Hee messed up at the ‘calling for backups’ part.

“It’s—It’s not like what you see, Beatrice! Stop coming closer!” Vasquez said, caught in her hesitation.

She only did stop a few steps away from the horrified Vasquez. Even the cold-blooded woman who once dripped in a pond of vengeance had a nightmare. Because every mother’s greatest fear was to let their children see that they were never the kindest person to look up to.

“It’s not too late.” Beatrice wrapped her hands to Vasquez’ cold ones as a whole, squeezing her fright away. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t always there when you needed me the most… I just— I’m sorry… Please stop this, Mom.”

Vasquez yanked them away. “I’M NOT YOUR MOM ANYMORE! HOW CAN YOU CALL ME THAT AFTER ALL YOU SEE?! GET LOST, OR I’LL HURT YOU TOO!”

Beatrice tightened her gut and went to wrap them again on Vasquez, but all she got was another pull away and a fist on her collar before she got thrown down. Elizabeth ran to catch Beatrice, causing both of them to crash together on the back wall. Gilbert swallowed a yell once he noticed the change of aura in Vasquez. She looked troubled as more and more of her presence faded away into something faint to nothing.

“RODERICH, GET YOUR ASS TOGETHER. SHE TRIED TO RUN AWAY!”

Roderich looked up through the blur of blood on his eyes. Both of them reached out in sync to the sight of Vasquez disappearing, playing push and pull with her aura. Whatever came next, even if Gilbert had to sacrifice himself again, he would draw Vasquez back to her fullest state and exorcised her as a whole. He’d make sure everything ended here. All together.

But just the two of them holding Vasquez were not enough. Let alone Roderich’s worsened state, Gilbert’s arm had threatened him to give up. The energy to tug the rebel back was too much, it’s almost scary to think how far Vasquez would compel herself when scared.

“DO YOU THINK I’M THAT WEAK?!”

One tap to the ground, Gilbert and Roderich were both easily thrown out from the force. Impaled to the wall by the heavy stream of pressure, even one effort to reach out was nothing worth unless they’re willing to crack a limb. Running his thoughts miles, Gilbert thought he could find a way to free himself. Maybe a little distraction like before would shake Vasquez down. But not even Beatrice could fight from her place. It was basically a dead end. The longer Gilbert stalled, the easier Vasquez to slip away. And it’s about time she fled anyway.

The stream stopped abruptly. The next thing they heard was a groan from Vasquez and a helpless plea to let her go. Gilbert opened her eyes to see invisible wires tied both her legs and arms from each direction, locking her sprawling in the air. It was one of a reaper’s abilities, and Gilbert flinched at Roderich for still having the strength to do such heavy moves.

Turned out he’s as useless as him, gawking at such sights.

Elizabeth was the first one to notice the addition of reinforcements. “They’re still here!” She pointed to a group of men holding the force of the wires behind Vasquez. They were not just a normal group of reapers, however. Gilbert tugged a smirk. That was neat.

“Captain?” Roderich yelled from his feet. “Everyone! I thought you guys are sent off already!”

“Sent off is a child play!” One of the men who’s holding the strongest wire replied. Gilbert recognized him from those personal bios of the missing reapers Tae Hee made him read through. He looked aside to see the same person’s head on the floor, except that it’s literally rolling around the room and completely detached from the body. “Strays can only be taken down by fellow strays, apparently. We’re just waiting for a time to strike!”

“You are reapers too, aren’t you?!” The other guy shouted at Gilbert. “Quick! Before the wire busted!”

Roderich gave Gilbert a nod before they both sprang to Vasquez, who’s been screeching in agony due to being suppressed. The rush of adrenaline did them good as they forgot all the sting and pain over their nerves. It was perfect for the first couple seconds after they both placed their hands on Vasquez’ head, chanting the word for exorcism.

These two really thought they could do it by themselves, huh?

One of the wires snapped, followed by the other two. Before they could know it, thin and cold fingers crept their ways to Roderich’s neck, bringing him down to the corner behind. The next time Gilbert blinked, he didn’t see Vasquez screaming with all her limbs tied anymore. He saw Vasquez, passed through him, reaching out those dripping blades of nails to the unresponsive Roderich—still unaware of death lurking after him.

And there was Elizabeth. Gilbert didn’t know why would Tae Hee called her here, if only to make Gilbert’s heart dropped every movement she made. Sometimes he wished she would stay floored for the rest of their battle, being scared of dead bodies around her rather than being a fallen angel before his eyes. Gilbert could picture everything inside his head when she decided to run from her place to the very place Roderich was lying down, her head was all nothing but dinner and perhaps being a human shield amidst. She’d probably call it down and laugh when Gilbert scolded her afterward, saying, ‘I don’t know it’ll be twenty days earlier than scheduled! Oops!’ or something shittier along those lines.

She would vanish forever then, not knowing what it’s left in Gilbert.

He’s too far away to prevent all of those imaginations from happening. He’s too close to looking at the void forming in front of him. If only there was still time to kneel, then he would, without fail, pray for a dirty miracle.

.

.

.

A hiss, followed by similar cries. Gilbert opened his eyes; was prepared to see the void when all he got was a dirty miracle.


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