52: aurora, polar lights
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[50.7128 N, 76.1020 W]

A tall young man walks down a candlelit corridor. With the exception of candle holders and paintings hanging off the masonry walls, the entire span of the corridor is bare. The place is well-kept, however, and if not for the little dust particles visible by the wicks, the area hardly seems to be an underground refuge. No cobwebs, no dirty stains… very well maintained.

The man passes through three doors and knocks on the fourth. Soft knocks resound on heavy-duty metal, echoing in the sparseness of the hall. He carries a plate on one hand and the contents emit a rather foul smell throughout.

“Kwang,” he speaks out loud. “You need to eat.”

Shuffling can be heard inside before something hard collides onto the floor. The ground is of concrete and the noise reverberates loudly, some glass object shattering into different directions. Raspy breathing – the kind that is shrill and strained – before tentative footsteps make their way to the door.

The door is clicked unlocked, the deadbolt wrung apart, and there stands a malnourished teenager. Kwang has a long-running slit down his neck. The cut is messy and gory, done brutally. A glass shard is lodged near the notch of his jugular. Self-inflicted.

The young man widens his eyes and steps forward. The plate of food crashes onto the ground. Raw intestines and meat butchered off some mysterious anomaly. “Kwang—"

“Don’t touch me,” the teenager tells him sharply, holding a palm out to halt. “Hyun, the infection is spreading.”

Kwang’s breathing is ragged. When he speaks, his syllables come out dry and croaked. The teenager, no more than seventeen, is reduced to near sticks and bones. His cheeks are sunken and his eyebags are drooped down in neglect. His dark-brown irises, however, are piercingly clear.

When Kwang leans against the metal door, the glass shard digs deeper into his neck. Blood oozes down his white shirt, down his pants and onto the floor. The droplets are a strange mix of crimson and green, an unknown vertebrate bile. The biliverdin has turned Kwang’s skin an off-colored yellow.

“You came at the wrong time,” Kwang says. His sharpness doesn’t waver even when a minute away from death. “I don’t have morph symptoms, but I know I will die.”

“…Since when?” Hyun asks, standing a few steps away. “…It was the food you ate, wasn’t it? It worsened your infection.”

“I don’t know.” Kwang shakes his head. “It might have been, but it isn’t like we know. You’ve eaten radioactive food for years without showing adverse symptoms. I thought it would build certain antibodies, so I gave it a try. The result… well, you can tell for yourself? Blind experimenting is really not a great idea.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hyun sighs softly. “Some of us can ingest raw and radioactive foods properly. Some of us can also ingest certain cooked foods. For you…”

“Then I guess I am just unlucky,” Kwang replies. He thinks about it for a little and then chuckles. “No, I’m not unlucky. It is simply that you guys are beyond fortuitous. Ben survived a year, Eli survived six months, you’ve survived twelve years. I believe that, in my case, one week is already quite astonishing.”

“There is a pattern.” Hyun frowns. His eyepatch shifts downward in motion. “The ones who’ve survived longer are infected by mammal-like anomalies. Perhaps the human body cannot handle the more… unfamiliar DNA sequences and… as for some of us, we were regularly exposed to solar light before we were infected… And then there’s the food consumption… it should follow the carnivorous diet of the anomaly we were infected by. Sometimes, however, there are people lucky enough to not have any crave—”

“I’ll leave it you to figure out then.” Kwang laughs – he coughs out blood – and then sinks himself low onto the floor. He brushes back his hair, leans his head against the door and gives a soft smile. His dark-brown eyes are alight by candle wick. “Sorry, hyung.”

Hyun’s eyes are downcast. The patch on his left have sunk slightly down to his cheek. Revealed on his forehead is a strange, brown tuft of fur. It’s of a darker color than the chestnut of his hair, sticking up straight from his skin, peculiar in the way it angles spiked shadows down his face.

The young man’s lips thin in quivers. “Sorry, Kwang Ho.”

Kwang decisively etches the shard into his own neck. With all his strength, he drills the glass inside, cutting off his breathing, his blood circulation. The pain must be excruciating if he weren’t this numbed by the infection, the whites of his eyes growing whiter and ghastlier. Yet, there is still absolute resolve in his expression.

He purses his lips in furor, intending to end his life with his own hands – and there is so much anger in the eyes of the famished teenager, his dark-brown orbs constricting in utter wrath. “The world…we live…in,” he manages to let out through gritted teeth, the blood gushing out the orifices. “Fuck…it…”

Kwang lies dead on the ground soon enough, his body still convulsing post-mortem. The vertebrate blood pools on the concrete floor and Hyun watches with his lips aquiver.

It’s not until a while later that a beautiful woman calls out to him, snapping him out of his reverie.

“Chéri,” her singsong voice travels across the hallway. Allaire’s heels clack against the concrete, her steps light and relaxed. Her brunette hair flows as she makes her way forward. She’s about to call out to him again before she realizes the foul scent of the area. With a small frown, she heads to where Hyun is standing outside the room.

“Oh,” she says simply, sneaking one glance at Kwang’s corpse before sighing softly. “Kwang has died.”

“…Yeah,” Hyun manages to sound out, his voice abnormally choked. “There aren’t many of us left anymore, Allaire.”

Allaire lets out a soft hum. She wraps her hand on his wrist and says, “We should clean up before the blood spreads.”

“Alright,” Hyun replies, readjusting the strap of his eyepatch. “I’ll handle it, Allaire. You should stand as far back as possible. Don’t let any droplets get on you.”

“Will it be alright?” She interlaces their fingers together. “Kwang was a good friend, wasn’t he?”

“…It is the same,” Hyun says, though the rim of his eye is puffed pink. “I have lost many good friends. I have also lost many biological brothers and sisters—many of whom I can no longer recall.”

Allaire leans forward and pecks him on the lips. “I see,” she whispers with a soft smile. “Then don’t be too sad. You still have me, after all.”

“Allaire,” he matches her volume in a murmur, “the infection may spread if you keep kissing me so often.”

The young woman lets out a pleasant, airy laugh. “Then I should have been infected for the past five years. Or… if I keep kissing you, chéri, maybe I would build some kind of immunity?”

He tells her in resignation, “You are so strange.”


[current location: unchartered]

Fuck, little kitten, come and lend me a hand—no, lend me two hands,” Colonel Yang grunts out as he attempts to hoist a toppled vehicle upright.

The black pickup truck was dislodged by a tree. Yang Rong had spent ten minutes prying a ginormous evergreen off the windshield and the vehicle, completely ruptured, is now pathetically overturned to the side. At least he had gotten rid of the tree, though the destruction he caused to the black truck likely renders it immobile.

It took five mighty lifts for the evergreen to move and subsequently slap the windshield, causing even more reinforced glass to pelt out in radial motion. It is only fortunate that Noah had braced for damage, else his face would’ve been avalanched.

Now, the young man stands with a soft frown to the side, watching as Yang Rong displays his full power – muscles bulging out and all – trying to elevate the car. It was impressive in the beginning to watch him rip off the tree and actually haul it up his shoulders – a full-grown evergreen trunk, twice his size and probably thrice Noah’s. It is only unfortunate that, for all the colonel’s utter idiocy, he’d lost his balance to a pebble on the road, stumbled over, lost grip of the tree, sprained his shoulder, and probably almost got crushed.

“No need to worry, little kitten,” the man had said very heroically. “Your Rong-ge’s one remaining arm is enough to carry five times your weight.”

Noah had only worried that this particular man has the most baffling alpha pride, refusing any and all support – “stand back and watch,” he had said – and then even more aggravatingly had stepped on his physique – “it wouldn’t be very gentlemanly to have your scrawny body do work, hm?”

Yang Rong would learn later (now) that Noah is not particularly fond of being looked down on.

“Kitten,” the colonel grunts again, his face turning pinkish from exhaustion, “lend Rong-ge some help, hm?”

“I am standing back and watching, just as you told me to,” Noah replies petulantly. “So what am I watching for? And why have you taken off your jacket, Colonel Yang?”

The black military jacket is tossed onto Noah’s arms a second before Yang Rong got to work pushing the evergreen tree. The latter donned a too-tight shirt ransacked from the cottage, and if the stretched-out fabric didn’t showcase his brawn, then the way Yang Rong purposefully flexed certainly did. Nothing was left to the imagination when the colonel cuffed up the sleeves to midarm, his veins bulging for display.

Noah had stared in deadpan as Yang Rong unbuttoned the top of his black shirt – very slowly, like he was waiting for some kind of reaction. None was given and the man proceeded to show off his alpha strength against the tree. In hindsight, Colonel Yang may have gotten away with zero injuries whatsoever if only he maintained a proper form, refocused his strength and stopped focusing on Noah who’d given up on deciphering such strange, primal behavior.

Present time, as Yang Rong is handicapped with only one fully functioning arm, he seems to be in quite the predicament. “…Please?” he says to Noah in defeat. “I apologize for calling you scrawny. You are very strong, Noah. You’re perfect the way you are, hm?”

Noah only lets out a soft sigh and walks over to help, gripping onto the hood of the vehicle. He isn’t in prime shape and Noah never liked heavy lifting either, so it’s with all his strength that they manage to settle the truck upright. The wheels creak forebodingly once elevated and from the strange noises squeaked by the axle, they can already assume how brittle and outmoded the vehicle is.

Yang Rong goes to inspect the suspensions while Noah wrenches open the hood – quite easily, really, considering it’s already half-cracked.

As expected, the engine is crushed to an unfortunate state. Not entirely distorted and unrecognizable, thankfully, but it’d take heavy tweaking for it to function again. The matter of gasoline, too… Where would they find fresh gas right here, in the middle of nowhere?

He voices out, “Colonel Yang, the vehicle is old and not operatable. I cannot fathom why you went through such lengths to procure it when we have no gas nor proper repair equipment. Not to mention how there is no ignition key and—"

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Colonel Yang, already done with inspection, flashes him an aggravating smirk. “Let me tell you something. Your Rong-ge takes top spot for handyman. If there were a profession for these kinds of small things, I’d be employee of the century.”

Yang Rong moves to the front and starts poking at the gearbox, the spark plugs, the battery… He certainly sounds like he knows what he’s doing, but Noah is hesitant when the man opens his mouth to say, “If I can’t repair this vehicle, then I’ll change my last name to yours.”

“…” Noah watches as he fiddles with the engine parts. “Since when have I given you my last name?”

At that, Yang Rong pauses to think. “…That’s right, Noah. What is your last name?”

Noah steps back to allow Yang Rong more room. The time is half past six and the night sky is the brightest it’s ever been – dark navy with magenta swirls, dithers of green and rare red. The aurora consumes half of the atmosphere, gorgeous trajectories of light tracing from one end to the next. The design is parabolic and in between smooth arcs are pretty specks of white stars.

Such complexity can only be seen by the Arctic, though Noah thinks it won’t be long before the plasma is emitted all over the world.

“It is just Noah.”

Small clacks and clangs resound as Yang Rong busies himself with repair. There is white noise for a while longer before the man peeks out to look at him.

“I see,” Yang Rong says, his visage reflective of solar auroras. Then he gives a wide smile, brighter than any that Noah’s seen, and adds, “Well, if I repair this car, then you may gladly assume my last name.”