Chapter 23 – Trauma Set In Stone
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After my talk with Eliza, I limped around the slums aimlessly.

With my guilt gone, I could feel the full force of my injuries once more.

My body ached but I continued forward in all manners of confusing directions.

If I could, I would walk on walls, through buildings, and even on air to lose my trackers.

I walked so much that the morning sunlight peeked from behind the eastern clouds, and like vampires, my last remaining trackers dipped into the shadows.

I could hear the sizzling from the sun gracing their fragile skins.

I knew that the more tenacious of my trackers would follow even after sunrise, but for some reason, I felt like they actually gave up today.

I had learned to trust my instincts, but paranoia was always a healthy habit to develop in the slums.

A couple more twists and turns and I was once more in the complex sewer systems below the streets.

The rest of the journey was a matter of muscle memory and instincts. My mantra guided me forward through the darkness as I slowly, but surely, made my way to the Bunker.

Tonight had been the longest night in my life. My body trembled imperceptively from all the excitement experienced.

The feeling was hard to describe, but I could compare it to that first fight you have after becoming a teenager.

The way your heart pounds, the way your mind only focuses on a single thing, and even hours after the fight was finished, someone would tap your shoulder and you'd still jump in fright – ready for the next brawl.

Killing someone was like experiencing that 'first fight' multiplied by a hundred, and the best part about the feeling was it lacked any worries.

Usually, you would have to worry about watching your back for an ambush, but the slums were different, it was every man for himself here.

Tonight, I was almost killed…

I killed someone…

I saw someone leave the slums…

I condemned someone to a hard life in the slums…

Most of all, I broke the heart of a dear friend.

How could I live with myself after doing all those things? Easy… I was very tired so I would forego the emotional breakdown until another day.

Then tomorrow, I would push it back another day, and then another day until the end of time. That's how you deal with killing someone else – you just don't deal with it.

Eventually, when you're about thirty-five years old, the devil will come to ask for his debt that had been eating away at your mind for all those years, and you'd hang yourself in a final act of defiance.

The story always ends the same.

I don't know how I know that, but I do. I felt like I had seen it a million times before. At least, my due date was far away so I didn't care about it much.

About an hour later, I was once again in front of that cold metallic wall with the flickering lights.

My tongue was swiftly pressed onto the hollow location of the wall. Coming so close to death made me realize what mattered – my sister.

However, despite my 'fine' outward appearance, my mind was currently in chaos.

With this sound of clanking metal gears, I fell through the floor and onto the twisty slide that guided me towards the bunker.

I made sure to place my fractured arms close to my stomach to avoid any irritation.

The twisting motion of the slide seemed even a bit funny now. My depression at the state of my living circumstances had all but evaporated from existence.

I guess I found the cure for depression. The cure was never suicide; it was attempted murder since you would appreciate life much more after experiencing it.

The swinging and swerving of the slide brushed against the wounds on my legs and further irritated them, but the pain was just another reminder that I was alive.

My mind swerved along with the curvatures of the slide, but any escape reality could offer me was much appreciated.

Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't even realize when the slide came to an end. All I felt was a rolling motion before a loud thud sent pain rippling through my body.

I had rolled directly from the slide into the living room, not forgetting to displace the sofa during my journey.

I laid sprawled out on the living room floor, not wanting to move a muscle.

My mind's eye wandered as it witnessed the many colors of the cosmos that had now become visible. Each color more beautiful than the last but something about the green just beckoned my mind.

I wanted to indulge in the feeling of drifting a little bit longer, but the ruffling of footsteps from upstairs cut my enjoyment short.

Not knowing where I got the strength, I was already up and darting towards the bathroom. The pain had become an afterthought.

Not long after the bathroom door closed, I heard small knocking outside.

"Big brother? Are you here?" Aurora asked, her voice a bit slurred from her untimely awakening.

"Yeah, I am gonna take a bath for a couple of minutes. Just stay in the kitchen if you don't want to go back to sleep," I replied in a cheerful voice.

My voice was genuinely cheerful because Aurora brought light to my darkness every single day.

"I am not sleepy anymore," She complained cutely "But I will wait in the kitchen since I'm hungry,"

With Aurora in the kitchen, I carefully reached into a hidden compartment in the bathroom counter.

It was reasonable to end up with scars when scavenging in the slums, so the 'Adults' provided a Quartz-infused bath salt that rapidly healed injuries.

The 'Adults' were not just a powerful organization for show, they controlled all the resources in the slums.

"Only half left huh?" I said, knowing that the severity of my injuries meant that I would have to use the entirety of whatever was left in the bottle.

Throwing the bottle in a bucket of water I filled, I picked a rag from the counter and began wiping my skin.

I made sure to wipe everything clean, especially locations of bruises and scars. My hands pained, but they were also becoming less irritated the longer I wiped.

Soon, scars had scabbed over and bruises had disappeared, only my hands still pained a little.

Quartz-infused bath salts were not miracle workers so they wouldn't work on bone, but they could at least offer temporary reprieve.

I soaked my hands in the water for a couple of minutes, then I soaked two rags in the water after. I used both rags to wrap around my arms respectively.

Finished with the bath, I threw my previous clothing down a nearby shaft that would lead it into the drifting sewer waters below.

I grabbed a change of clothing from below the counter and got dressed. I swaggered out the bathroom to witness a cute chubby girl dosing off on the kitchen counter.

She was obviously very sleepy but wanted to make sure that I was okay first. Even as naïve as she was, I couldn't always explain all the scars I would accumulate from my scavenging.

The more she grew, the more she would be able to fit pieces of the puzzles together. Still, the sight of her beauty made all the struggle worth it.

Aurora was the happiest part of my life. She was the only white-stone to the many black-stones that loitered my soul.

"Wh…"

The moment I opened my mouth to wake her up, I felt a nauseating feeling assaulting my gut. I felt a barf get stuck at my throat as I retched to get it unstuck.

It was the type of barf that felt like it would kill you. Like you were about to vomit your heart itself.

And in some way, I was going to vomit my heart, I just didn't know it yet.

My retching startled Aurora awake, but what happened next led to a cascading of events that would have better been avoided.

It was as if Fate was determined to screw me over for the final time tonight.

*Blarg*

*Blarg*

Vomit sprayed onto the floor, and for the briefest of moments, I felt relief at getting all the nasty stuff out. Still, the relief lasted but an instant as I witnessed the frightened face of Aurora.

I traced her eyes to see where she was looking, and I came to a startling discovery.

Faint traces of red could be seen in my vomit, which would have been easily explainable by blood from my internal injuries.

Yet, there was something else mixed into the red of blood, and green of candy… it was an ear, a human ear – Karl's ear I accidentally ingested during the heat of the battle.

Aurora was not naïve enough to not know what an ear looked like.

My heart pounded as if it would jump out of my chest, and my eyes shook like they would roll back into my skull.

I recalled that all it took to condemn my fate to the slums was that knife that pierced my father's heart as a child.

I slowly raised my head and stared into my sister's eyes… and there I saw it.

It was like looking at a mirror. The very same eyes I had when I saw dad die, was the exact same eyes my sister had when staring at the partially digested ear on the ground.

Just like that, the trauma was set in stone and my sister, Aurora, was now condemned to a life of scavenging like her useless brother.

But… I wouldn't let it end like that.

'We have to make it out!!!' I yelled inside my mind, a small hint of insanity flickering within my eyes.

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