The Eternity War
Three sisters: hatred from two, love from the last.
A gunshot started it all...
She was skipping school again. Adrian looked worriedly at her face, but she was carefree, problem-free.
"Heroin," he said, softly. "They're going to call your parents. You haven't been to school at all for the last month, and..."
"And what?" Her dull voice made Adrian's protest wilt. She sounded dead, so misplaced, and had he been a stranger, Adrian would have thought she'd lost something dear to her recently. But he was her cousin, had known her forever, so he knew that she'd always been this way.
"And..." You're failing. Everyone will look down on you – your classmates, your teachers, your family... "Nothing."
Heroin smiled suddenly. "Let's go somewhere."
Her sudden enthusiasm startled Adrian. There were not, after all, many places to go in the city of Marisol, and the few worthwhile landmarks were overrun with gangs.
Not gangs, he reminded himself. The de Luca and Ching families were worse than the common mobster.
"Where to?" he asked. Adrian had never been able to refuse her.
"Somewhere, Adry, anywhere."
Her intense stare said otherwise. He relented easily.
"Where do you want to go?"
"The compounds!" How predictable of her.
"Alright." But Adrian hated the compounds. "Which one?"
"De Luca." Because it was farther away.
"You spend a lot of time there." He'd noticed weeks ago, but he'd been too cowardly to mention it.
"Yes, well..." She looked thoughtful, not affronted. "It's...interesting there."
His tone turned dry. "Unlike school."
Heroin laughed and voiced her agreement, and then the pair fell into a musing silence.
The de Luca compound was across the city, but Heroin insisted on walking. Driving was noticeable, conspicuous, but Adrian thought they'd look suspicious anyway.
The route they took required them to pass through an insignificant alleyway in Ching territory. De Luca and Ching were rival families, Adrian knew, but that was the extent to his knowledge. Heroin knew more, and she'd always been interested in the two families. He recalled, vaguely, that the history of de Luca and Ching were intertwined with the past of their own family, the Avaratts. How so, Heroin had never gotten the chance to explain. His parents had pulled Adrian away before she could explain.
Every child in Marisol knew the feud between de Luca and Ching. They knew that, when schools closed for a week straight because rapid gunfire echoed off of the gray buildings, when that loud explosion shook the air in their lungs, it was because of the war between the two richest families in the city. The police force was competent, yes, but their limited budget and spy-riddled ranks could only achieve so much. Adrian's biggest fear was Heroin and the fact that, one day, he might have to listen to an officer say that she'd ventured too close to the warring clans...
"We're here, Adry," she said delicately, undisturbed as if they weren't standing outside the barrier between safety and death, as if they weren't about to trespass into the forbidden lair of the de Lucas. "There's a hole in the fence here, behind the bush. Can you squeeze in?"
He complied, though it was a tight fit. Adrian imagined that he was shrinking, smaller and smaller until he could crawl through the fence with ease, like Heroin could. When he emerged on the other side, hand and knees caked with dirt, he saw that the compound didn't look radically different from the city outside. Both had the same eerie silence hounding the atmosphere, like someone was watching him even though he knew no one was there.
"What if we get caught?" Adrian had to ask.
Heroin looked at him with a slight smile, reassuring and amused. "It'll be okay, Adry."
He wasn't completely sure, but he trusted her. Even if they bungled their trip, he trusted her enough to believe she would get them out alive.
What a messed up trust.
The thought entered his mind and made him trip over his feet, surprised. It was a quote from his mother on a topic that he couldn't recall, and it was surprising how fitting it was. Adrian shook his head and followed after Heroin. He trusted her as a cousin and as a friend. Anything more than that would be disturbing.
"Did you know," began his cousin, "that the granddaughter of the de Luca head lives right over there?" She gestured vaguely to a bunch of buildings against the wall with her hand. "Strange she'd live so far away from the others, by herself, and she's still young."
"What if she sees us?" Adrian inquired, suddenly paranoid. He visualized a woman peering out the window, panicking, calling her muscled bodyguards to seize the nameless intruders and—
"Carlotta de Luca's no threat to us," said Heroin airily. "It's not like she's in any position of power. She doesn't even have any real friends. Her uncle, the heir, gets most of the attention. You know, her mother was the real heir, but they say she's crazy and her husband's dead, so the uncle gets everything."
Adrian didn't know anything about uncles and heirs, so he feigned interest and nodded. "That's really sad," he said because everything about the de Lucas and the Chings could be described by 'sad.'
"Isn't it?" Her expression betrayed her words, the uninterested dull of her gray eyes, the unmarred slate of her brow. Adrian watched his cousin pick apart the compound with her mind, the pads of her fingertips tapping against each landmark as they passed. Heroin brushed against the wall of an uninhabited house, against the rough truck of a nearby tree, against several leaves of the bush they snuck through.
"It's empty," Adrian remarked, hiding his relief. He knew that Heroin wouldn't agree.
"No, it's not." She pointed to a house farther away. "That one there's got lights on. It's the only one."
And she was right.
One window shone a yellow hue, greatly contrasting the tinted shades of its neighbors. It belonged to a room on the first floor; a sitting room, Heroin determined, peering inside. She should not have been surprised when a face looked up to stare back at her.
The glass slid open. Adrian jumped backwards, ready to pull his cousin along with him, when a light voice called out, "Hello, little girl, what's your name?"
Giving out your name to strangers was the number two hazard out on the streets, second to accepting candy from them. Before Adrian could recite this warning, Heroin had already introduced herself. "And this is my cousin, Adry," she finished.
"Heroin?" the man asked. "Like the drug?"
"Like the drug," confirmed Heroin.
"That's unique," said the man, not missing a beat. He closed the book he'd evidently been reading before they'd disturbed him. "Nice to meet you, Heroin, Adry. My name is Karl."
"Where's everyone else?"
Suspicious, rang Adrian's internal radar. Suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.
Karl raised an eyebrow. "Why do you want to know? You two don't belong here, do you? You aren't de Lucas?"
"We aren't. We're just visiting, but the compound's all empty."
"You two aren't Chings either?"
Adrian blinked. "No! No, we aren't. We're just outsiders."
"What Adry said. No ulterior motive, whatsoever." Heroin smiled in a way she must have deemed mistrustful.
Karl seemed to think so. "They're all out fighting the Chings. I suppose if you were with the Chings, you'd have known already."
"We're not out to kill you," said Heroin, as if it would console him.
"I doubt you could," Karl replied, looking the both of them up and down.
Adrian looked away, out into the distance where the sun was setting, its golden rays outlining the top of the compound walls and glancing off the rooftops. Heroin remained focused. "If you have even an ounce of fighting ability, why aren't you out with the others?"
Karl gestured at his book with his eyes. "I am technically not de Luca by blood. My parents have friends within the de Luca ranks."
Heroin cocked her head. "I've studied the de Luca and Ching traditions for a long time. I think, had you been anyone else, you'd still be fighting. Why are you so different?"
The man in the window smiled grimly. He set the book on the windowsill.
"Unlike my kin and my friends, I don't agree with the war. I don't harbor any ill feelings towards anyone, Chings or no. Not yet, anyways." He closed his eyes briefly. "But I've stayed with the de Lucas for this long... I still don't have the heart to move away, so I've no doubt that I will somehow, someway be dragged into this mess."
"Still," Adrian offered as the atmosphere sagged, "you would prefer to sit on the sidelines, reading a book?"
Karl ran his fingers over the fine cover of his book. "Mythology," he said, "is an interest of mine. More so than risking my life and dying for nothing at all."
"We're more similar than I thought," mused Adrian, almost to himself.
"Thank you," said Karl.
Heroin held up a hand to silence them, and they waited as a squadron of de Luca men ran past. They were set ablaze, not by fire, but by the diminishing sunlight, and Adrian watched their shadowed backs as they marched out to war. Their figures appeared to be chasing something, chasing a monster, that they simply could never catch.
The silence after the soldiers' departure sang a sad, unforgettable song.
"Do you think it'll end tonight?" Heroin asked.
"I don't think it'll ever end," said Karl. "Not tonight, not tomorrow, not any other day to come. It'll just...begin again. It'll start over every night...with the first bullet."
"The first bullet," repeated Adrian. It was almost like the lyrics to a song or a poem, like the first star, the first hero, the first scream, the first casualty...
And the first bullet.
Ta-da. Review button below.
Disclaimer: All characters are used with their creator's permission.