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Chapter 4 – Identities

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Identities

‘Rank, magi classification and name please,’ a voice bellowed from within the cave.

‘Rank D Utility Medic type. Name is Babacla, Tom.’

‘Ah! Tom! Long time no see.’

A bald man emerged from the cave, carrying either a set of clothes or boxes full of rations in each of his four arms. He placed them on the counter, counting each item to make sure he got it all correct.

‘Sorry, didn’t realise it was you at first,’ the man apologised. ‘You look lighter from when I last saw you. Your voice is a lot deeper than usual too.’

‘Work’s been draining me. My throat’s also a bit hoarse,’ Tom replied, rubbing his neck.

‘The AAA really does have its hands full, doesn’t it?’

‘At my expense, yeah.’

‘Ha! You know how much us Africans need you medics.’

Tom sighed. ‘I wish this three-way war would just end already. Oh, I need to collect the rations for Yanus Temply.’

‘It’s become more of a two-way war now,’ the man corrected as he entered the cave again. ‘The Americas haven’t made a peep for a while. It’s just the Eurasians and the Afro-Australian Alliance battling it out.’

‘Probably a good thing. If the other two continents followed TA’s lead, then we’d have world peace.’

‘It’s never that easy, Tom. Have you ever thought about what happens after this war? We have the MBP for the sole reason of breeding mages for warfare. What happens to it if we stop fighting? No one ever thinks about these things,’ the man theorised, bringing out more food. ‘Anyway, forget about my little drivel. Yanus is your roommate, right?’

‘Yeah,’ Tom confirmed, scratching his ginger afro, taking what the man said beforehand into account.

‘He was always a lazy one, huh?’

‘Tell me about it,’ Tom agreed, collecting the items.

‘Well tell him I said hi,’ the man waved.

‘Will do,’ Tom waved back.

Tom climbed a series of spiral staircases that led to the surface. The barren land felt peaceful, yet he couldn’t help but think that it needed some shrubbery. Instead, the dried soil and cloudless skies made it impossible for anything to grow.

‘At least the stars are pretty,’ he muttered to himself, admiring the blackened sky.

He walked along a vague path made from the continuous footsteps of mages that came for rations. It led to a village marred by numerous holes on the surface. They allowed both light and those above to peer into the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Making sure he didn’t drop anything into these holes, Tom arrived at his destination. He stomped on the floor below him; three quick ones followed by three slows ones. A passageway opened in front of him, revealing stairs to the village.

Stone buildings riddled the village, spanning several kilometres in each direction. In fact, almost everything that could be made from stone was made with stone. The homes? Stone. The facilities? Stone. The barracks? Stone. The African underground lifestyle sure is different from the Eurasian way of living in trees, Tom compared.

Tom reached his own home, situated in one corner of the village. He didn’t mind its location. It suited him due to the lack of people around the area. Though he found the lock and key mechanism tedious, when the other homes had sliding doors, the real problem with the place was the person living with him.

Tom fumbled in his pockets for his keys, only to tut when he couldn’t find it. He knocked on the door, hoping for his roommate to open the door. He received no answer. He knocked once more. Again nothing.

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‘Oi, Yanus, open up! It’s me, Tom,’ he shouted but to no avail. ‘Can’t believe this. Esper! Just wake up already!’

Still, no one opened the door. Was he out? No. He isn’t the type, Tom thought. Knowing he had one option left, he took a deep breath.

‘I brought food.’

The door opened, and a man appeared at the doorstep, all dreary-eyed. A sheer look of boredom swept across his face. His blonde hair was a mess, his limbs and back drooped and his usual pale skin looked even paler from dwelling in the darkness for too long. Tom could tell his roommate didn’t want to get up with the thought of food being his sole motivation to move.

‘Oh hey, Jack! What’s up, man? Heard someone got food,’ he said.

‘Yanus…’ Tom mumbled with a hint of hostility.

‘Hmm? Who’s Yanus?’

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‘Have you forgotten already, Esper? You are not to say my real name outside the house.’

‘Man, you are so annoying, you know that Jack? Why are you calling me by my name anyway? Why don’t I get a cool name?’

‘Because you aren’t responding to the name you are meant to be called: Yanus.’

‘Ooooooohhh, I get ya. Yanus, right? That’s why you have been calling me that lately, Jack. Oops, my bad. I’m not meant to call you Jack either, am I? Tom. Tom. Tom. Tom. Tom. Got it.’

‘Please tell me you’ve at least done the thing I asked you to do,’ the irritated Jack pleaded.

‘What thing?’ Esper responded.

‘Why do I have to be paired up with such an imbecile?!’

‘Whoa, chill man. I got you covered.’

‘If you ruin everything…’

‘I said chill! No need to worry about silly little things, let’s just go inside.’

Jack handed over the bag of supplies to Esper and entered the house. Darkness filled the home as he shut the door behind him. He could feel his patience running thin.

‘You can’t even light a torch?’ Jack scolded.

‘I was sleeping, man,’ Esper protested.

‘Why am I not surprised? Ugh. Just prepare dinner while I light up the house. You can do that at the very least, right?’

‘Yes, boss-man!’

Jack borrowed a torch from outside. He worked from the ground floor up, proceeding up the stairs to the first floor. He poured oil, made from a fire elemental’s flammable sweat, into cups stuck to the walls. Using the torch, he lit them up, illuminating the house as he went.

However, as he climbed the stairs to the second floor, a pungent smell filled his nostrils. It got stronger the closer he was to the second floor, which contained a single room.

As Jack pushed the door, it thudded against a squishy object. He squeezed through the gap, the vomit-inducing smell reaching its peak. Jack held the torch against the darkness, he found the cause.

In front of him laid a corpse. Electrical burns tessellated on the body, making the cause of death obvious. Hairs on its ginger afro flaked off, falling onto the floor in a heap. The corpse’s dark skin decayed, releasing the foul odour, forcing Jack to cover his nose.

‘Esper!’ Jack called out.

Knowing his roommate would take his time, Jack created more torches and placed them around the room. He then shifted the body to the centre of the room, away from the windows and any potential prying eyes.

‘Yo, Jack. What’s up?’

Jack turned and frowned at his roommate. ‘You didn’t get rid of the evidence like I told you to.’

‘Ah, sorry, I just forgot,’ Esper replied, putting on a wry smile.

‘Just forgot?! Do you realise how important our mission is? If any of the patrollers come by and find the real body of Tom Babacla, lying dead in front of us, we will be executed or even worse enslaved by the Africans.’

‘Alright, alright. I’ll do it now. Then there won’t be any problem, right?’

‘It took us a fortnight to kill him in the first place. Burning his body shouldn’t have taken a day. All you do is eat sleep and take my rations while having me do all the hard work! Why am I always paired up with the Xernim1XernimA parasitical entity that sometimes benefits its hosts?’ Jack answered furiously.

‘Man. Jack. That’s low. I am not a Parasite. Well, at least not on the level of a Xernim. Actually, now that I think about it –’

‘Just shut up and get rid of him. The smell is unbearable.’

‘Woah, chill. See, I’m doing stuff,’ Esper defended himself, pouring oil on top of the body, ‘I’m not completely useless.’

Esper kneeled on the floor, next to the body, and placed his hand just above it. A small spark of electricity, emitted from Esper’s hand, hit the oil-laden body, causing it to catch on fire. As the body burned, both Esper and Jack gazed upon the flames. The evidence of murder melted away.

Jack gave a sigh of relief. He wanted to go back to Eurasia; back to squadron W. His inability to kill let him down, otherwise a solo mission would have sufficed, but he wasn’t letting an electricity elemental ruin the mission.

‘By the way, you said you needed time to change your appearance to look like this guy,’ Esper argued, trying to be the innocent party. ‘That’s why I left him for you. Don’t pin all the blame on me.’

‘It literally takes me a day to do that. Burning him would take you a second, yet you left him to almost starve to death. You’re lucky he was just a medic, or he could have escaped.’

‘Whatever. It’s done now. I’ll go cook food now with your oil. I used mine to burn this body.’

‘Go ahead. It’s none of my business. Just leave me alone for the rest of the day. Apparently, Tom was darker than I currently am. I need to rectify that.’

‘Man, for someone who can turn invisible in seconds, you like to take your time when changing appearances.’

‘Unconscious trait changes and conscious stealth are two separate things. Now shut up and let me do my job.’

‘Sure thing,’ Esper surrendered.

‘Oh, make sure to look into the next person whose identity I’ll steal. Right height, right build, right role to get us closer to our assassination target. For once we get lucky. I’ve also given a plan to subdue him. You will read it. I need both of us to be prepared, you hear me?’

‘Will do.’

‘Today,’ Jack sent a piercing stare.

‘Alright already. I get it. Sheesh,’ Esper rolled his eyes.

The pair split up, with Esper going to the kitchen while Jack went to his room on the first floor, away from the stench. Jack sat down in a meditative stance. He focused, gaining consciousness of his entire body. He pinpointed and changed the pigment of each cell on his skin one at a time. Starting from his head, his skin darkened. He had completed stage one of the mission. Soon he’d be ready for stage two. All for the sake of Eurasia. For squadron W.

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