Kira and Ivan
Friends like to use your home as their own.
I guess I should be used to it given that I leave the door unlocked for the few friends that I have, but it is still nothing less than a surprise when you walk out of your bedroom in the morning—dazed and groggy—and find someone camped out on the couch like Goldilocks. I wipe the sleep from my eyes, trying to blink the person away, but it seems that it only helps in making me look stupid.
Being that the person's back is to me, I can't see exactly who it is. I don't remember anyone saying that they were in this part of Caelum, but I can't help but feel that I should recognise them even from behind. None of this matters though, on the upside, because I quickly find out who it is when I knock an empty glass from the side table when I turn the fusion lamp on. From the sofa the person snorts awake, their sleep apparently light, and slows lets reality seep in.
"If you're a ghost or something can you please go haunt someone else," they murmur, and I can hear the smirk in their voice as they turn over, almost dropping off of the couch, "I'm too tired for this right now..."
A smile plays at my lips, and I blearily stretch before replying, "Sorry, Ivan. We will forever haunt you. We told you this after you bet your soul." Through my haze, I dodge the pillow that he throws in my direction—not that I needed to; it would have missed me anyway. I glance over at the clock, then back at him. "It's ten already, Ivan Farer. Get up before I make you."
There's a grunt followed by a thud after a minute, and I make my way around the sofa to find him sprawled out across my floor, reluctant to move about yet. I watch him for a while as he works his way into full consciousness, refusing to help simply because I want to go back to bed and forget that this has happened.
But once he finally stands up, I snap alert and realise something. He is still in his uniform.
My Mark twinges, sending shivers of panic up my spine—that's a long story in itself. I remember him telling me once that he was due to be released from the United Army of Caelum soon, but doesn't ever come to see me first. He doesn't have family, yes, but normally he goes to his home first to dump whatever he has bought back before meeting friends again.
"Hey, don't judge me, Kira Whitehart," Ivan points at me with a wry smirk, noting my expression, "Your flat is closer to the barracks than mine, and I wasn't going to spend a night in the hospital for falling asleep at the wheel, alright?"
"I'm not going to!" I defend myself lightly, turning away and flicking on the coffee machine, resting against the island as I place down a mug ready. I wring my hands, raising a brow at him. "I just didn't think that you would want to spend your first day back after four months on my sofa. A terrible sofa at that."
He runs his fingers through his dark blonde hair, hazel eyes avoiding my gaze, shrugging, "Well I guess we're all full of surprises then, aren't we?"
As much as I want to smile, I notice something different about him. As you grow up with someone like Ivan, you can't help but pick out certain mannerisms as you get older. For instance right now, I sense his anxiety spiking as he rubs the back of his neck, tugging on the bottom of his jacket more than usual. Before I can utter a word, the coffee machine blares a signal and I jump out of my skin, receiving a chuckle in response.
As I pour the warm goodness into my mug, I mumble, "How long are you released for?"
Thankfully I don't have to embarrass myself with repeating such small talk because he hears me. "Not long," he says. "A day or so maybe."
"That's stupid. They shouldn't do that," I blurt out before I can hold my tongue. "But I guess they can only have the soldiers out for only so long."
I turn around, taking a sip. "It is though, Ivan. You don't get any freedom—"
"—and I know that you have to protect Caelum, but you can't just—"
"Kira!" I almost drop my mug, startled by his audacity. I swallow thickly and I take a hesitant step forwards. There is no anger in his eyes, just a type of fear that I have never seen before; something that unsettles me. There's a beat of silence where he wets his lips, unsure what to say. "I can't stay for long because..."
Placing my coffee on the island, I cross over to him, forcing myself to meet his eyes as evenly as I can. "Ivan," I say quietly, unnerved. "What's happened? Why can't you stay?"
His eyes refuse to meet mine, but when I repeat the question firmer, his resolve wavers. "Kira," he almost whispers, watching me wearily. "I could barely get out, but I had to see you and everyone before it all starts."
"Before what starts, Ivan? You're starting to scare me."
He finally meets my gaze, "In less than a day, the General thinks that we are going to be invaded."
His words don't hit me straight away, leaving me staring at him for a long time. But as the words slowly start to sink in, I blink more rapidly, questions clouding my judgement as my legs feel weaker than I realise. The world muffles over, and I do feel Ivan guiding me over to the sofa that he slept on.
A goddamn invasion.
After all of these years of hiding, thinking that the superiors were going to be my first enemy, it was far from it.
I don't know how long it takes for my mind to refocus, but I know that it takes many times of Ivan using comforting words to do so. He holds me steady until I am finally able to sit upright on my own, and even then we both turn to face the wall and dig our bodies into the couch, my dark hair fanning out around me.
My Mark keeps spiking in pain, causing me to involuntarily hiss every few moments, shattering the pregnant silence between us. And after a few minutes of biting lip—trying to hold back the pain that I feel—Ivan turns on me, knowing what it means.
"Show me the Mark." I cast my gaze over to him for a second, brain still reeling from what his words before were, then sigh and turn away from him; tugging down the strap of my top and revealing the Mark to him. I feel his warm fingers brushing against it after a few moments, helping it calm down.
We all have a Mark here; caused by an effect of the vaccination given to each of us at birth so that we can survive the environment that the Sky has since our bodies are still not adapted to the altitude. These Marks symbolise what occupation—or Path—that each of us in out factions take. For example, Ivan's Mark represents a soldier, so he joined the Army at sixteen; the earliest that you can.
But my Mark is different—that's what dad told me ever since I could remember. It is unlike any other that I have seen before, and he knew that something bad would happen if the government were told what my Mark represents. Dad filed my Mark in as another, using his power to give mine an illusion to all, and so I have lived under this false identity until now without being detected. Even with dad gone, I have gone on alone. No one knows but me and Ivan; I don't know if I could ever trust anyone else.
And to this day, I was never told what the Mark represented.
Ivan places his palm over my Mark, and I can feel the power of his Mark pulsating into my own, calming down the raging pain that I feel. I can't help but sag my body in relief as the warmth floods into my back. Once his hand pulls away, I can hear the smile in his voice as he asks, "Better?" I hum yet say nothing, something lingering on my mind as I pull the strap back over my shoulder and bow my head. He catches on to this. "What's wrong?"
I know what he is going to say in response, but I say it anyway, "I don't want to hide, not for this one. I want to fight with you."
The silence that follows only lasts a second until he speaks up, "You can't. It's not your Path." He says simply, expecting me to say something. "You've hidden for so long, Ki, but you can't let it all go now. Too much is on the line." I spin around.
"What?" He realises that he has said something wrong, and in turn immediately avoids my gaze. "Ivan, what do you mean, too much is on the line?"
"Even if this was your Path, I wouldn't want you to be a part of this fight," he attempts to rectify, covering his stammer, "They... they don't think many of us will survive, victory or defeat. I can't let you be a part of those odds."
My eyes narrow. "Then why did you put yourself through the pain of coming back and telling me if you were going to leave within hours anyway?" I press, bitterness lacing my tone. Realising my harshness to his fear, I grab his hand tightly, catching his attention, "How am I going to forgive you if you die on me?"
He forces a smile, though doesn't say anything.
My eyes find the clock—ten twenty-two. "I have to go to work, but if you have to go tomorrow then... well, we'll just spend the night together, right?"
He smiles again, but this time it's genuine, giving me a mock salute as I rise to my feet. "Duly noted, ma'am. The cherry tree in the centre of the island?" I smirk down at him, the one place that we always go to not forgotten, then walk away.
But as soon as I shut the bedroom door behind me, I sink to the ground with my back to the door and think, why?
I stare up at my ceiling, my mind a storm of questions that I do not register, leaving me blank and devoid of thought. My eyes follow the subtle cracks in the paint where I haven't wanted to go over them, finding awkward metaphors for my life as I delve further into the small cobwebs of cracks that finger the corners.
But as the barrage of questions finally reach me, I force my body up and cross over my room so that I can tug open the window. Nudging a few old books out of the way, I rest my elbows against the windowsill and poke my head out into the city to try and clear my head. Being high up in the flat block, the wind hits me immediately, a flock of birds darting past me. Our faction island is vastly populated with citizens at this hour, all of them forging ahead so that they all make it to work in time.
The sky has already been highlighted with bright blues, washing away the darker hues of the sky as the clouds billow up from the low horizon. Our recycled power is clean and is able to keep every faction island in the sky infinitely. Up here, away from the land beneath that used to be our home, we are safer than ever before.
We were, at least.
Caelum—the only majorly populated island in the Sky—is split up into several islands that branch off from the main island. These isles are filled with each faction of citizens, every one special for a certain attribute of those people given by the Mark. So far there are twenty two isles. Our faction—Faction 018—is one of the newer islands yet is still rather crowded. This island in particular is known for its historical attributes that is not reflected in its architecture. The grey stone streets are littered with all types of vehicles, ranging from bikes to fusion-power cars.
Wide roads create bridge systems above the islands, connecting each faction together with the central island where Kana Caelus, our Imperial Leader, resides. Running up to midday, these motorways are busy and loud, but muffled by the thick winds. But the atmosphere created is something that I have gotten used to whilst in hiding, and I find myself a little relaxed every time that I stretch my head out of the window.
But all of it is going to fall in a day's time.
Wasting no more time, I pull myself back inside and change, my radio turning on and blaring out music, Ivan's warning echoing around my mind now that the outdoor life isn't loud enough to block it out. We have no clue when exactly they will attack, who these invaders actually are, or even if they will attack in the next twenty-four hours.
So we're left with no information to work off of, no way to warn anyone until Kana makes an official announcement, and nowhere to run to without finding yourself right in the firing line of the invaders. I have to carry on to work and complete my shift, knowing that I may not live to see the next day or Caelum will be destroyed. But Ivan will be gone too, fighting for this city along with every other person with the same Path.
Wide roads create bridge systems above the islands, connecting each faction together with the central island where Kana, our Imperial Leader, resides. Running up to midday, these motorways are busy and loud, but muffled by the thick winds. But the atmosphere created is something that I have gotten used to whilst in hiding, and I find myself a little relaxed every time that I stretch my head out of the window.
But all of it is going to fall in a day's time.
Why did I have the wrong Mark? Why couldn't I have followed the same path? Maybe then I could be fighting with him, and I wouldn't be hiding for my entire life under the noses of the superiors.
As I continue to inwardly curse, the radio switches frequency without my consent and I spin around, knowing the one reason why it would do that on its own. Kana's stern but silky voice booms around the room, greeting us all. Ivan knocks at the door lightly, slipping inside to listen as I join him at his side. His face pales a little, knowing exactly what is about to come, and he touches my slightly shaky fingers lightly.
"While I apologise greatly for the unannounced interruption," she atones, voice crackling over the radio. "I speak to you all with a valid reason. In the background, I have been tirelessly working to complete negotiations with a group of settlers that we have never come into contact with." I chew at my lip, toes curling up beneath me. Kana does not sigh, continuing onward nonetheless. "However, our peaceful welcomes have been overruled, and therefore I speak to you with grim news."
The tension is palpable. Not because I never trusted Ivan—I know when he jokes and when he is telling the truth—but because our leader is going to confirm what I don't want to be true. There is a long, near dramatic pause, Kana finally says, "These settlers now threaten to ruin our way of life, to test the strength of our fine country, and so every night before sundown, all factions will retreat to the underground bunkers, those of higher power doing the same."
There's a beat of silence, then, "There is no cause of alarm, fair followers, for we are protected and armed. We shall never submit to those who try to destroy our humble way of life, and we shall not back down from this fight! We are united, and we shall not fall in the faces of these monsters!"
And in those few words, the countdown begins ticking down.