Chapter 6:

Brightstar Arc 2 (Chapter 1)

Brightstar: The Rising Superhero

A few days later.Bookmark here

“Why are we doing this again?” asked Jake.Bookmark here

“We are spying on my mom because I want to see what kind of man she picked.”Bookmark here

With Jake by my side, we peeked over a sign and watched my mom stroll down the sidewalk with a big smile on her face. I let out a sigh of relief knowing my mom was unaware of my presence.Bookmark here

All is according to plan.Bookmark here

I couldn’t believe mom wore her favourite white summer dress along with the sand-colored floppy hat. She went all out for her date. Even Jake was mesmerized by her elegance and bright appearance.Bookmark here

Whoever this guy is, he better complements the heck out of my mom, or I swear he won’t make it out alive after this date.Bookmark here

“Isn't this bad? Spying on your mom.”Bookmark here

“Said the guy with a fake bushy moustache. Why do you even have that thing?”Bookmark here

Jake huffed and puffed while proudly fixing the corner of his moustache. I shook my head and kept my gaze on my mom.Bookmark here

“Admit it. You want one, don’t you?” Jake took one out and beheld a magnificent fake moustache waiting for me to put it on.Bookmark here

I clicked my tongue then quickly snatched the moustache from his hand. Undoing the thin tape, I placed it on my upper lips. It wiggled around before comfortably making itself snug between my lips and nose. It wasn't bad at first, a bit itchy if I may say so, but I got used to it.Bookmark here

“Not bad, ha?” such smugness coming from a boy who is in my attack range.Bookmark here

“I can't deny it any more. It does feel awesome. I feel like a detective on a stakeout.”Bookmark here

“Now the mood is right, we should follow Miss Catty before we lose sight of her.”Bookmark here

“Elementary, my dear Jake.”Bookmark here

We continued on our stealth quest, hiding away behind signs, and sometimes made ourselves be part of the surrounding. Until my mom entered a bookstore, it was too small for us to enter without her noticing, so we waited outside by the ‘Unicornia’ ice cream stand. Through the glass pane, I saw my mom browsing the books on the shelf with a familiar smile.Bookmark here

One thing that remained the same was my mom's fascination with books.Bookmark here

“Your mom is really something else. This is the third bookstore she stopped by today. It’s like she has an obsession.”Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t call it an obsession. It’s more like a hobby for her. That she dabbles...a lot.”Bookmark here

Jake raised an eyebrow at me.Bookmark here

“Okay fine. It’s an obsession. Ha… I did try pointing it out at her, but she always ignored me whenever I brought it up.”Bookmark here

“You know what?” Jake nodded his head.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“You should ask your aunt. Maybe she got a few insides about your mom.”Bookmark here

“That’s actually a great idea. Maybe, I’ll ask her when I get home.”Bookmark here

The song ‘Baby One More Time by Britney Spear’ came out of nowhere. I turned my head to Jake’s left pants pocket. He took it out and answered it with one fell move. A look of concern appeared on his face. I waited for the call to end. When it did, I never got to ask him when he suddenly left my vicinity while waving his hand at me.Bookmark here

“I got to go!”Bookmark here

“Where are you going?!”Bookmark here

“Family emergency. See you tomorrow!”Bookmark here

I stood there with a dumbfounded look on my face as I casually waved back at him. The moment Jake turned around the corner, I lost sight of him.Bookmark here

That was out of nowhere, I hope everything is fine with Jake’s family. I’ll try asking him about it tomorrow. Alone and without my sidekick, make this quest slightly...boring. With a sigh, I turned to the bookstore and leaned against the stand as I waited for my mom to get out.Bookmark here

Finally, after thirty minutes, my mom exited the bookstore with a gleeful smile. She looked at her watch with widened eyes. Suddenly, she started running like a schoolgirl stricken with first love. I clicked my tongue and chased after her while still keeping my distance.Bookmark here

My mom stopped in front of a highly stylish café. She entered the café after looking at the sign.Bookmark here

From the dark alley I hid in, I could see her make her way to the back of the café. There’s a man there, he greeted her from where he sat. My mom waved at him with a blushed smile while pulling a lock of hair back behind her ear.Bookmark here

He had very gentlemen like apparel; a buttoned-up shirt with long sleeves and a nice grey trouser coupled with a leather belt. At least he looked nice, I couldn’t see his face from here. I couldn’t go near them, not because I was scared of my mom. If I did get close, I swear I can’t stop myself from going berserk in there.Bookmark here

So being out here is fine by me.Bookmark here

I let out a sigh as I sat on a crate. My mom had a smile I never saw before as she communicated with the man using a pen and a napkin. The man even tried to learn a few sign languages from my mom, judging from what they were doing. They were having so much fun.Bookmark here

Why am I so angry? Isn’t this good? My mom is happy. Shouldn’t I be happy for her? I don’t understand what I am feeling right now. It’s like I’m glad, but it's so painful, aching even. As if an ant is biting on my skin while I enjoy a sweet dessert. It felt wrong, but it isn’t wrong. What the hell is wrong with me?Bookmark here

With my hands raised, I slapped my cheeks together.Bookmark here

“You know what?”Bookmark here

“I should leave.”Bookmark here

“Yep. Maybe get ice cream on the way back.”Bookmark here

I donned my hood, covering my forehead, and proceeded to slide my hands into my pockets. I left the gloomy alley then entered the bustling street.Bookmark here

My chin was lowered the whole time, I didn’t even try to glance at the café. I should look away rather than watch them enjoying each other’s company.Bookmark here

After removing a couple of bucks from my wallet, I found myself with a cone of ‘Unicornia’ ice cream in my hand. This sweet treat does brighten my mood a bit. I remembered my aunt always brought some of this ice cream back home whenever she got back from a long journey. We would hang out on the roof with mom and just look at the stars with a glass of ice cream in our hands.Bookmark here

“Move!”Bookmark here

Bam!Bookmark here

There goes my ice cream as it flew across my face and plopped on the sidewalk.Bookmark here

“That’s a bad omen.”Bookmark here

I turned to the person who bumped into me. She sat on the concrete path, groaning her ache out. Another closer look, I realized that it was the same girl I met at the hospital.Bookmark here

Messy chocolate hair, sandy skin, deep purple flannel shirt with a bit of torn on its side complemented with a black undershirt and scratched denim hot pants with high black boots.Bookmark here

It couldn’t be the same girl.Bookmark here

"What are you looking at? You turd!"Bookmark here

Yep, it was the same girl.Bookmark here

She tried to lift herself but fell back down with a high pitch painful yelp. Her gaze went to her left ankle, a reddish hue began to appear.Bookmark here

"Are you okay?"Bookmark here

"Do I look like I'm okay? You turd."Bookmark here

"I-I was…"Bookmark here

"You, you, what!? Turd."Bookmark here

As a hero, I swear an oath that I will never abandon a helpless person. However, I also remember not taking any kind of oath whatsoever. There's a high chance that I might just walk away. Tempting. She can take care of herself, right? Right.Bookmark here

"I can see that you don't need my help so if you would excuse me."Bookmark here

I turned and a couple of rough-looking people, a man, and a woman headed toward us with a glare. A deadly one. They don’t look friendly at all. They look angry, furious even. The girl behind me did something, something awful.Bookmark here

Upon closer look, this duo wasn’t ordinary humans. The man's entire body was disfigured by some sort of burn marks. Still, his black short hair and eyebrows were still there, at least it had grown back.Bookmark here

The woman on the other hand, if I could call her a woman was beyond human-like. Her skin had a sand-color hue to it while being leathery, but it was laid with a humongous amount of short horns from top to bottom of her body. Her eyes were a pair of dark pearls. She reassembled a reptile, a lizard to be more precise.Bookmark here

I clicked my tongue then undressed my jacket and turned it inside out before wearing it again. With the yellow stripes bare open for everyone to see, I undo the yellow chequered scarf around my waist then wrapped it around the bottom of my face to hide my identity. Lastly, with a quick scoop into my pockets, a pair of gloves appeared, and with no time left to spare, I quickly wore it.Bookmark here

The duo stopped when they saw me standing between them and the rude girl.Bookmark here

“Get out of the way, brat!” The man ordered.Bookmark here

“Can I ask why first?” My fingers dug into my palm.Bookmark here

There’s no way I can fight these two. Heck, I don't want to fight at all, but I can try, yeah, try. Fail? Maybe. But, there’s nothing wrong with a good effort. Especially if it’s helping an injured girl from getting into trouble.Bookmark here

“Step away. This girl isn't your problem, kid,” said the woman.Bookmark here

The woman seems more level-headed than the man. “I simply can't do that. Besides, she’s hurt.”Bookmark here

“Last warning. Get out of the way, or my hotheaded friend will make you.”Bookmark here

There’s no way they are going to do anything to me, at least not in front of the surrounding passer-by. “Sure-go ahead.”Bookmark here

Though my hubris was supported by my logic, I failed to see that people sometimes are unpredictable. As if a truck had hit me, my chin raised as the man’s fist hit under my jaw. My body recoiled back and fell against the pavement. Unexpected; yes. I failed to see it coming. Everything had gone blurry. A massive headache plagued me along with a deep pounding sensation against my skull. I tasted copper on my lips.Bookmark here

“I warned you kid-being a hero will get you nowhere,” said the lizard woman.Bookmark here

I had a hard time breathing through my nose, something was clogging it up and making its way down my trachea. As I moved my gaze in front of me, the man was thrown back as if something had slammed itself against his stomach.Bookmark here

“You damn brat!” shouted the man.Bookmark here

“I told you to be careful. That kid got power.”Bookmark here

“She isn't the only one.”Bookmark here

The man's eyes glowed bright orange as he aimed his hands toward us. A ball of fire appeared in front of his open palms. The woman beside him widened her eyes in fear as she realized how stupid the man’s action was. However, she was too late. A trail of fire crawled toward us, ready to envelop us in its devastating heat.Bookmark here

I was incapable of doing anything due to my slow recovery, yet, somehow a metal bat appeared, rotating like a fan in front of us and blocking the fire. I glanced behind me, the foul mouth girl gritted her teeth as she extended her hand at the metal bat. At that moment, I realized that she was controlling the metal bat without even touching it.Bookmark here

Wiping my blood-stained lips, I lifted myself and rushed to the foul mouth girl. Against her wishes, I slid my hand underneath her and carried her away. I ran because I know that there’s no way I could even fight any of them. Clenching my teeth together, I couldn't believe that he took me down so easily.Bookmark here

“Damn it!”Bookmark here

Now, I need to focus on the more important goal: carrying her far away from the danger.Bookmark here

“Why did you run? We could have taken them down!” The girl scolded me.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, with your bruised ankle?”Bookmark here

She groaned and slammed her fist against my chest. It wasn't because she was angry at me. It was because she was frustrated with herself. I could tell by the way she clenched her fist. The metal bat caught up to us and when I glanced behind, the two duos remained where they were. They watched as we left, not even bothering to follow.Bookmark here

“Where are you taking me?”Bookmark here

“To the hospital.”Bookmark here

“No!” She tried to wiggle out. Which makes it even harder to carry her.Bookmark here

“Why not?”Bookmark here

“Because I can't.”Bookmark here

“But you need someone to take a look at your ankle.”Bookmark here

“Then find someone else!”Bookmark here

After a sudden stop, I glanced at the sky and let out a sigh. The foul mouth girl turned her gaze at me.Bookmark here

“Why did you stop?”Bookmark here

“I’m thinking.”Bookmark here

“Then think faster.”Bookmark here

“There’s someone I know, she can help you, or, at least, know someone who can.”Bookmark here

Our trip began again as I finalized my new destination. The stop was further than I anticipated. When I finally arrived, my legs were cramping up as I sweat furiously. The girl in my arms doesn't seem to even care for my tireless effort or my aching face. At least there's some relief in bringing her to safety.Bookmark here

“Where are we?”Bookmark here

“I’m not sure.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean ‘not sure’? You’re the one who brought us here.”Bookmark here

“This was supposed to be my aunt's place.”Bookmark here

“This barbershop?”Bookmark here

An actual old-fashioned barbershop built between two boutiques stood in front of me. I don't even know that my aunt had proficiency in cutting hair. She snapped her finger in front of my face causing me to look down.Bookmark here

“I think. It’s better you lower me down.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

“I wouldn't say it if I wasn't sure.”Bookmark here

“You could always lower the sass meter a few inches down,” I mumbled underneath my breath.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Nothing!”Bookmark here

I carefully lowered her down while making sure her healthy leg was the one that supports her instead of the other. She stood with my help of course. Slow and steady, we moved forward toward the door. With a push against the handle, the door opened causing a bell to chime.Bookmark here

The place was empty except for a scary looking dude sitting at the end of the room. He had the appearance of a barber so, despite my unwillingness to speak to the terrifying-looking man, I had too. I walked toward him with the foul mouth girl in tow.Bookmark here

“Excuse me?”Bookmark here

He turned at me with a death glare.Bookmark here

“I’m looking for - Kusagi Tashikawa.”Bookmark here

He grunted at first then nodded his head at the door beside him.Bookmark here

“Sorry to bother you. I’ll be moving along.”Bookmark here

I helped the girl toward the door, but the man stopped me. I looked at him, wondering what I did wrong. Surprisingly, he raised a jar full of lollipops at us.Bookmark here

“Is it for us?”Bookmark here

He grunted. I think it was yes.Bookmark here

“Thank you?” The girl and I took one for each of us and continued through the door.Bookmark here

On the other side of the room, I was greeted by the sight of a motor enthusiast’s heaven. Rusted motorcycle along with new one. Tools of different variety scattered on the workbench. A multitude of types of machinery I don't even know what its function was. Trying to find her in the garage seemed more difficult than I thought.Bookmark here

“Woah, is that 1973 Kawasaki Z2? And that is a modified BMW R1250GS, that motorcycle can go anywhere. But, it looked like it had been through hell.”Bookmark here

“Do you like bikes?”Bookmark here

“What kind of question is that? I live for them. One day. One day, I'm gonna afford them.”Bookmark here

“You're gonna love my aunt then. She probably owns most of the motorcycles here. Assuming if we could find her in here.”Bookmark here

Suddenly, a lullaby echoed from the open shutter. I followed the melodic hum until I found my aunt - she sat on a large tire. Out of nowhere, she huffed a short burst of smoke while unscrewing a nut on a motorcycle she’s working on.Bookmark here

Her gaze was something I never saw before, it was laced with some sort of mix between somber and melancholy and peace. My eyebrows furrowed but raised it back up as I knocked on the oil drum.Bookmark here

My aunt glanced around until she saw me with the girl. She immediately hid the cigarette and waved off the cloud of smoke around her.Bookmark here

“Kenn? What are you doing here, and who's that?”Bookmark here

“We need help.”Bookmark here

“Kenn, you’re bleeding. What’s going on? What happened?”Bookmark here

She rushed to me first. Upon a closer look, her pungent ashy scent lingered under my nose. I glanced away from the smell.Bookmark here

“You need to help her first. I think she dislocated her ankle, but I don't know.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

Aunt let out a sigh before helping the girl lay her butt on the homemade wooden stool. I let the girl go and proceeded to walk toward the door with the bathroom sign at the end of the room. I saw my aunt throw a few worried glances at me, but I had to walk away.Bookmark here

The bathroom was cleaned, albeit looking like it doesn't age well. My gaze pierced my reflection in the mirror as I ran the tap water. With a splash of water, the dried blood was washed down. There’s a small cut on my lip. I tried touching the rim of my nose, and it stings a little. It wasn't broken, but there’s a cut inside. I kept washing the running blood away until it stopped bleeding.Bookmark here

The more I washed, the more frustrated I got.Bookmark here

It wasn't the blood - the pain - or even the crappy bathroom. I can't even do anything back then. I thought that I had the high ground, my logic was sound, there's no way they could do anything with all the surrounding eyewitnesses...but, he punched me. He goddamn punched me. I go down like a sack. I should have been more careful.Bookmark here

Like a distant flash of memories, my head throbbed as I heard a faint gunshot noise from far away. I remembered how he went down. The blood.Bookmark here

When will I learn to be more careful?Bookmark here

That agent who gut-punched me out of nowhere was trying to tell me something.Bookmark here

Is this it?Bookmark here

Two knocks snapped me back to reality. I turned the tap water off and wiped my face dry. With a quick breath in, I gathered myself before opening the door. My aunt was waiting on the other side with a face that has a lot of angry wrinkles.Bookmark here

“What in the hell is going on? You’re hurt and dressed like one of those good-doers. Does Catty know about this? About what you are doing? Did you finally snap? Do you need help? Oh my god, Catty gonna snap when she found out.”Bookmark here

All those questions passed by me as I stared at the box of cigarettes in her pocket. I gritted my teeth and relaxed my jaw again.Bookmark here

“I didn't know you smoke.”Bookmark here

“What?” My aunt looked at the pack of cigarettes in her pocket.Bookmark here

As she tried to hide her pack of cigarettes, I walked past her. She took my hand forcefully. I glanced behind me, and her furrowed eyebrows were telling me to stay.Bookmark here

“Talk to me.”Bookmark here

I pulled my hand away.Bookmark here

“Why does mom love books?”Bookmark here

“What kind of question is that?”Bookmark here

“Just answer it please.”Bookmark here

It may be a simple question, but I could tell that it was much more than that. My Aunt's gaze wandered frantically, avoiding my question, or trying to find a fitting lie.Bookmark here

“Catty loves books because she likes them. There's nothing wrong with it.”Bookmark here

I gritted my teeth.Bookmark here

“Fine--and you smoke... Is she fine?”Bookmark here

With a painful turn, Aunt averted her gaze.Bookmark here

“She’s fine. A small dislocation, but I popped it back in. Kenn, I know there’s something wrong with you, but if you don't want to tell me about it then it’s.... your call, damn it. I respect that. I truly do.”Bookmark here

“I know. And I know you will always get my back. Can I ask you a favour?”Bookmark here

“Sure, anything.”Bookmark here

“Don’t tell mom.”Bookmark here

“The things I do for you. She won't like it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. She's gonna be furious either way.”Bookmark here

After grabbing a clean cloth beside me, I wiped my face as I made my way to the girl. Before I walked to her, I had to make sure the bottom of my face was covered by my yellow and black chequered scarf, so my identity was hidden. She turned her glaring sight at me and let out a small groan as she adjusted herself to face me.Bookmark here

“I think we met before, but I’m certain that you didn't remember.”Bookmark here

“You're that rude guy from the hospital. I remember. So what are you, a hero?”Bookmark here

“Pretty much. Call me, Brightstar. What’s your name?”Bookmark here

“Brightstar? Sound stupid to me. My name is Ria. Ria Rougham.”Bookmark here

“Ria?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, don't wear it out.”Bookmark here

A small laugh escaped me. It was infectious alright. It got Ria to let out a short faint chuckle.Bookmark here

“I like your name. It’s short, easy to say, and it’s cute. So care to tell me what was all of that about?”Bookmark here

She took her moment before answering my question.Bookmark here

“They were from a gang. Bad people hired to do bad things.”Bookmark here

“What kind of things?”Bookmark here

“They are kicking good people out of their home. Simply because they want the land to be developed into a shopping mall. My people have lived there since before we were even born. It’s not fair. And I will not let it be.”Bookmark here

Without hesitation, I extended my hand toward her.Bookmark here

“Let’s do something about it.”Bookmark here

Aunt grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around.Bookmark here

“Brightstar... am I saying it right? Yeah, I think I did. Brightstar, you need to be careful. Don't bite off more than you can chew.”Bookmark here

“I can do this, okay?”Bookmark here

Aunt's furrowed gaze wandered at the girl before making its way to me, she then leaned closer beside my ear.Bookmark here

“Be careful with her, there’s something else she ain’t telling you.”Bookmark here

“Oh, like you?”Bookmark here

Like a dagger through butter, she looked at me with widened eyes. I backed away from her and turned to face Ria. I extended my hand to her.Bookmark here

“Can you walk?”Bookmark here

Ria took my hand and I helped her to stand. Her grip was trembling, but strong as she rose from her seat.Bookmark here

“Sure, but I need a little help.”Bookmark here

“No problem. I’ll do the heavy lifting, you just show me the way.”Bookmark here

“Ha...okay.”Bookmark here

We exited my aunt's garage using the same way we entered, passing by the scary man in the barbershop. I didn't even say any goodbye, but as I was leaving, my aunt chased after me.Bookmark here

“Wait!”Bookmark here

I stopped right in front of the barber shop’s door and with a glance, I looked behind me. Aunt Kusagi was tightening her hands together and took a quick breath before speaking.Bookmark here

“You won't find my things back home. I moved out. I’ll be staying here starting today. I’m sorry that I had to tell you like this, but just know that it got nothing to do with you as to why I left. I love your mother, but we both are like oil and fire. Argument after argument, I think it’s better this way.”Bookmark here

With gritted teeth, I remained silent before starting to walk away.Bookmark here

“Come by anytime you want, okay?”Bookmark here

“Okay.”Bookmark here

I had to reply even if it’s short, I don't know why I was so angry, but I don't want it to end the conversation with anger. I hope it’s enough, a simple ‘Okay’. Yet, deep down, I know it’s not enough. Her painful look was something I didn't want to see, so that’s why I didn't turn. It’s not your fault. My brain just decided to be like this. I need time. So I hope she understood my intention. Please just understand what I was doing.Bookmark here

We continued walking for about an hour until we arrived at a street that I've never been to before. The building opening such as windows and doors was blocked with makeshift barricades. Numerous crowds stood in front of another crowd, blocking the street. One of the crowd was regular everyday folks holding up protest signs while the others were hard hats wearing construction workers.Bookmark here

“This our home, we won't leave!” They were chatting along the lines of those words at the top of their lungs.Bookmark here

A police cruiser parked at the corner of the street and judging by the occupants inside, they didn't give a dime about the protest.Bookmark here

Suddenly, a massive fight broke out, I never saw what caused it, but there’s a boy between the crowds.Bookmark here

“Tommy!” shouted Ria as she tried to break away from me.Bookmark here

“I’ll go save him. You stay back.”Bookmark here

I leaned Ria against the concrete wall and ran at high speed into the violent crowds. A flying brick barely missed my head, I had to lower my chin down while raising both arms beside me to protect myself. The boy was almost within my grasp when someone fell on top of me. I pushed the unconscious man off and turned to the kid.Bookmark here

A man holding a baton was charging into a woman, but the woman managed to get out of the way in the last second. Instead of the baton hitting the woman, he missed entirely and was headed toward the kid.Bookmark here

Wham!Bookmark here

The kid raised his gaze and met with mine. I showed him through my eyes and a smile that everything was safe. Snot and tears dripped down his face. With a trembling fist, I turned to the man and his widened eyes said it all; he was shocked to see me still standing. I took his baton away and threw it on the pavement. With a single raised hand, I enveloped the entire street with a bright light that stunned everybody near me.Bookmark here

As the light faded away, I found their gazes against me.Bookmark here

“Who are you?” asked the hardhat.Bookmark here

“They called me, Brightstar.”Bookmark here

“You don't know anything about what’s going here. You should leave.”Bookmark here

“Not after you leave this folk alone.”Bookmark here

A couple of glaring sirens rang as the police cruiser drove toward us.Bookmark here

“Alright people, please disperse.”Bookmark here

The hardhats let out a frustrated groan before ordering his men to walk away. As the construction workers left the vicinity, so did the crowds of normal folk. I turned to Ria, she nodded her head at me, but before I could join her, someone pulled on my jacket. I looked down and it was the kid.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Brightstar.”Bookmark here

“No problem.”Bookmark here

A woman rushed in and embraced the kid tightly.Bookmark here

“Thank you. I don't know how he got here. I thought I left you back at your aunt’s house.”Bookmark here

“He must have sneaked out. I will keep a close eye on him next time. Thank you again, Brightstar.”Bookmark here

“No problem. Stay out of trouble.”Bookmark here

I tousled the kid’s hair before joining Ria. I helped Ria to walk, and we headed toward a building complex.Bookmark here

Its height was a dozen floors of apartments and home shops. The architecture itself was structured like a square fortress with a pool and a small park in the middle of it. A single healthy tree grew in the park while its branches were decorated with a dozen string flags and string lights that were tied from the surrounding balcony.Bookmark here

The community here was incredible, they had built vegetable gardens and maintained the livelihood of this building. People here seem to be helping one another without hesitation. I can tell that it’s more than being a good neighbour to them. The entirety of the people who live here, know each other very closely, and treat each other like family.Bookmark here

“Here it is. The heart of our fight. There are only a few buildings left that they haven't taken yet. And we will be damn if we let them take this place from us.”Bookmark here

“Ria?”Bookmark here

“Ria!?”Bookmark here

“You’re okay! Everyone! Ria is here, and she’s okay!”Bookmark here

As the crowd gathered around us, they took Ria away from me and carried her like a saint toward the infirmary. It was surprising to find her being worshipped like a hero here. She must have done a lot for these people.Bookmark here

I looked around me. Despite the desperate situation they are in, this place wasn't as bleak as I thought it would be. Vibrant flags, lively green plants, and cheerful graffiti as if they are in their own ecosystem separate from the dreary city.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.