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“I don't fear death so much as I fear its prologues: loneliness, decrepitude, pain, debilitation, depression, senility.” – Mary Roach

 


 

Dongju swiftly escaped the grasp of his friend, Sicheng, who later tugged on his right arm quickly.

“Not today, Sicheng.” Dongju chuckled lightly while pulling his arm away from the Chinese boy’s clutch. “I have a shift today at the convenience store – you know how much I need the money.”

Dongju smoothed out the wrinkles of his stained school sweater and straightened his tie. His dark brown hair fluttered in the wind as the winter breeze brushed up against him. They continued to walk down the hushed neighbourhood while the sun began to set.

A small cloud formed as Dongju deeply exhaled in the cold air. He glanced back at his friend, who had his arms crossed while pouting.

An idea erupted in Sicheng’s mind; his eyes shifted and his pout turned into a mischievous smile. “Or I could just tag along with you and help you finish what you need to do, then we can go to the arcade after.” He finally took a breath.

“No.” Dongju firmly responded. “Never again. Remember when I let you come to work with me last time?”

“W–when did that happen?” The black haired boy stammered.

“Sicheng, you told the customer’s kid that if they don’t stop crying you were going to – in an intimidating and non-friendly tone might I add, hack into their Fortnite account and take all their V-Bucks. Let me remind you, he was nine.”

“I don’t recall such a time.” The fake innocence in Sicheng’s voice made Dongju clench his jaw and mimic a gagging motion.

“In conclusion, you can’t come.” Dongju said with a grin on his face, the smaller boy picked up his pace and deserted Sicheng in the lustreless neighbourhood. He turned around brightly and called out, “I promise I’ll join you next time!”

With a wave, Dongju continued on his way to the convenience store for his shift while shuddering and constantly blowing warm air onto his gloved hands.

---

“Make sure to stay safe on your way home... and please don’t forget your coat, you’ll freeze half to death.” Dongju’s coworker called out after him. The bells chimed as he opened the door. Stepping out onto the streets, the evening air rejuvenated his lifeless demeanour.

Dongju walked aimlessly towards his house, both hands occupied with plastic bags full of expired food. The door creaked as he opened it cautiously, trying not to create noise.

“I’m home.” He called out wearily while he emptied his bags.

Dongju heard a grunt from his father’s room. Stacks of alcohol bottles which were left unattended laid upon each other on the dining room table. He sighed in reply to the mess that had been left for him to clean up.

“Huh? You got something to say to me?” His father’s words slurred as he stumbled out of his room.

Dongju staggered back in fear as the strong scent of alcohol intoxicated the air. The sleazy man wiped the drool off of his mouth as he unsteadily approached Dongju whilst ruffling his hair in a careless manner. Dongju’s eyes wavered as he looked into the direction of his father. Making eye contact would’ve been an irreversible mistake, so he opted to glue his eyes on the floor.

“Look at me.” A firm voice barked towards Dongju.

Anxiety cowered the young boy, his head lowered into his chest and his arms trembled while covering his head. He took a deep breath, keeping his eyes tightly shut to cultivate the fear lurking within him, subtly rocking back and forth on the floor of their one bedroom shack. The drunken man vigorously raised his hand towards his son’s face –

“Mr. Son? Open up.” A booming voice projected all throughout the unsightly shelter. Mr. Son frantically jerked his head up, grazing Dongju’s cheek.

Dongju staggered into the bathroom in a panic, tripping onto the wooden floor. He hurriedly shut the door, leaning on it wide–eyed terrified.

Four men, wearing all black, entered the house. The man who appeared to be in charge had a large build; which was accentuated by a tight fitting shirt. His left arm was covered with a sleeve tattoo of a green Chinese dragon.

Murmurs from outside could be heard from beyond the bathroom door. “Where’s the money? We’ve tolerated you for two years already.”

Dongju’s father’s previous brutal voice quickly became small. “I– I’m sorry.. I know you’ve been really lenient with me, I just need more ti–”

The buff man rubbed his face. “We don’t have time for this, Mr. Son. In order for our negotiations to continue, you need to uphold your side of the agreement.”

“And I will! Just give me more time… I promise you.” Dongju’s father pleaded while dropping to his knees and rubbing his hands together, begging for mercy.

He crawled towards the man’s feet, eyes full of desperation. The scrawny man was met with a polished shoe striking his face. He collapsed onto the floor, blood gushing out of his nose.

Dongju flinched at the sound of the thud, his jaw dropped simultaneously. The embodiment of horror was rapidly painted across his face.

“Are you going to kill him? We’re on the Moonraider’s territory – I don’t think it’s a wise decision to murder someone here.” A soft voice to the side queried.

The man dismissed what the other had said and gave a signal to one of the other men on the side, then continued. “I recall you having a kid… let’s just end your misery here, shall we, Mr. Son?”

Screams of agony and pure pain pierced Dongju’s sensitive ears. His breathing fastened as his face turned pale – the painful sounds were silenced with a gunshot.

---

“You see that, newbies? That’s an example of what happens when our clients can’t meet our expectations.” A husky voice spoke up nonchalantly.

Two heads nodded in response as they listened and learnt from the commanding man.

“Harin, Yonghoon is calling you.” The same boy from before informed him.

“Thank you, Dongmyeong.” Harin replied as he grabbed his phone from the brunette boy’s hand.

“Hello? Yes, we’ve taken care of him. He has a son who can pay back his loan. Get his son?” Harin turned around, facing the three other men. “Search the house.” He ordered.

Dongju’s eyes trembled in fear as he bit his bottom lip anxiously. He could hear the creaking of the floorboards getting closer and closer; slowly creeping towards him – until it came to a halt. Dongju slowly raised his hand to his mouth aiming to calm his breathing.

“We know you’re there.” The previous soft spoken voice turned into an aggressive tone, sending chills down Dongju’s spine.

Dongju began to pant and gasp for air, as if he was suffocating from the powerful aura surrounding him. The bathroom door abruptly burst open, promptly making Dongju collapse as if he was a house of cards being blown off of a table. He groaned as his hands instinctively covered his head. The men dragged Dongju to the living room by his legs, causing his hair to collect dust while his head repeatedly thumped on the wooden floor. They carelessly threw Dongju in front of the headman, who was wiping down his gun with a blue handkerchief. Beside the injured boy laid his dead father. Fresh blood was splattered everywhere, causing the room to smell like iron. He felt palpitations as his eyes shook with terror.

“Harin, we found him. He hid in the bathroom while we dealt with his father.” A smaller boy with a slender figure and blonde dyed hair reported to his colleague.

“Hm. Hyungu, wait outside with Dongmyeong and Giwook.”

Hyungu and Dongmyeong slammed the door as they exited, followed by a younger boy with red hair and softer features.

A menacing glare engulfed the boy lying on the floor. His head hesitantly glanced upwards to catch a glimpse of the person overlooking him, then quickly snapped back down. Harin crouched down and gently lifted Dongju’s head with a slender, pale finger. Dongju shrunk in fear as they made eye–contact.

“Name?” Upon closer inspection, Dongju noticed the older man’s eyes lacked life. They were empty, dark and hollow.

“D–Dongju.” The boy managed to stutter, quivering under the gaze of the one in front of him.

“You know your sole reason now, yeah?”

Dongju shook his head with uncertainty. The man proceeded to aggressively grab Dongju by his collar and whispered into his ear.

“Paying every cent, every dollar, every bit of money your old man spent, or you say bye-bye to the rest of your life.”

He let go of Dongju’s collar, making him fall to the floor with a thud. The bruised boy held onto his throat, catching his breath. “You’re a teenager, right? I would assume you’d love to live your life to the fullest.”

Harin stood up, scrutinizing him up and down, as if he was lower than discarded prey. “We’ll give you two days to fulfill our little agreement.”

At this point, warm tears had started to roll down Dongju’s plump cheeks. Just as Harin finished his sentence, the red haired boy unexpectedly burst through the door.

“Goddamnit, Giwook. Can you be any fucking louder? I’m trying to have a civilised conversation with this boy, and you–”

“Harin, we don’t have the time, Dongmyeong spotted Moonraiders coming this way.” Giwook was visibly paranoid. He sounded worried, frantic almost.

“It’s alright, let them come. We aren’t looking for trouble are we?” Harin snidely remarked. An abundance of arrogance had fallen upon his face.

“We’re doing business in their territory; it goes against the peace agreement. Yonghoon specifically told us to avoid Moonraiders at all costs, and we shouldn’t start any altercations.” He looked out the door once more, on alert.

Harin scoffed and stood up abruptly, grinning as he turned his head to the boy who laid on the ground, face distraught.

“Two days. That’s all you get.” He said as he tried to exit.

Tried.

Sounds of guttural and thunderous roars of motorbikes and other vehicles filled the streets of the slums, men in black emerged from said vehicles.

The once cocky and arrogant Harin, now had colour drained from his face. He clenched his fists and dug his nails into his palms, his face bountiful with frustration.

“EVERYONE, GET IN THE CAR. NOW!”

In the moment, all noise from outside had drowned out, leaving complete silence. A black void filled Dongju’s world as he fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

“The five stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 


 

“Hey, hey! Wake up! Are you okay?”

As Dongju regained his consciousness, an unclear picture of a boy with sharp features, wearing a leather jacket was illustrated in his mind – although he was uncertain if it was a hallucination or reality.

“Please help me, I need your help. They’re gonna kill me. They’re gonna kill me…” Dongju reiterated while reaching out.

The voices had become faint as Dongju finally slipped into a black void. A state of mind where he wasn’t present in the real world. A limbo.

A man with a lip piercing had stepped out from the shadows. He analysed the situation carefully. “Keonhee, what should we do? We can’t leave him or the dead body here, the police are gonna find it in our territory we’ll get the blame.”

After moments of examining, Keonhee finally spoke up. “We’re gonna have to get the new guys to remove the deceased body and somehow make things work. Let’s hope this man is just a nobody in this world.”

“What about this guy?” The pierced man questioned whilst pointing to Dongju. “Do you think he’s apart of Sundawn and was abandoned by the others?” He asked in curiosity as he cocked a brow slightly, unwrapping a lollipop and placing it in his mouth.

“I don’t think he was, Seoho – didn’t you see his face? It was white as a ghost.” Keonhee replied sympathetically. “He also kept repeating the same phrase. He’s most likely just a kid that got caught in the middle of it, probably scarred for life.”

Seoho nodded as he processed what his peer said. “Should we just take him to our base and ask Geonhak what to do with him?”

“That seems like the best option right now, I guess.” Keonhee exhaled while he rubbed his temples. “Call Youngjo and tell him what’s happening.”

---

Seoho entered the compound while carrying Dongju in his arms; Keonhee following closely behind. They laid him on one of the many vacant beds in the infirmary. As they left, the two boys gave a casual nod to an older man who was standing in the doorway. He had cat like features with brown hair. The man walked towards the bed where Dongju was laid upon and settled down on the next bed over.

“I wonder what your story is.” The man remarked under his breath as he stared up at the ceiling. With a sigh, he finally sprung up from the dusty bed.

“Hey, buddy, wake up, hello?” He lightly slapped Dongju’s face multiple times, in an attempt to awaken Dongju from his deep slumber.

The drowsy boy felt the warmth of someone’s hand which lightly nudged his face to the right. A streak of light blinded his eyes as he attempted to adapt to the brightness.

“You’re finally awake, it’s about time.”

“Where am I? Who are you…?” Dongju prompted hastily, pulling his legs close to his chest while pulling the duvet covers along with him.

“Calm down, if I wanted to kill you I would’ve sliced your throat by now.”

“S-sorry.” Dongju said stiffly.

“It’s fine. To answer your question, my name’s Youngjo, but I’m afraid I can’t disclose any further information.” Youngjo replied before quickly changing the topic. “What happened to you?”

He’s not trustworthy.

Cold sweat trickled down Dongju’s forehead.

He hasn’t hurt me yet. He won’t be like the other people, right?

Voices littered the boy’s mind. He visibly got more and more nervous every second, gulping every so often.

“Th-those people came and then they, they-” Dongju took a moment to recollect his thoughts.

A stream of images cast themselves into his mind, all the brutality and blood reminded him of his reality. Youngjo sat to the right of Dongju, a clear depiction of worry painted on his face.

“Alright. Don’t exert yourself.” The older man sighed as he gradually stood up. “Can you stand?”

The boy relaxed his arms and nodded, doing as the man asked of him.

“Follow me.” Youngjo gestured towards the direction of the door.

Dongju weakly followed behind as they walked out of the infirmary. The sounds of their footsteps echoed against the hallway’s walls.

“Where are we going?” Dongju swallowed his fear, hoping that this situation wouldn’t end up like the last one.

“You’re an open book aren’t you?” Youngjo smirked, ruffling Dongju’s hair; the smaller boy surprised at his remark and the sudden act of affection. “Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen, I just need you to meet someone.”

Dongju proceeded to quietly follow the taller man, analysing his physique. Tall, with a medium build. He noticed a small symbol peeking out from underneath Youngjo’s sleeve on his left wrist. A small moon, no bigger than a coin.

---

“Geonhak, remember when I told you about Sundawn violating the peace treaty a while back? Well, they’ve killed a man on our territory, leaving us to deal with the police and clean up their mess.” Seoho informed another man, whose broad back was facing rows of bookcases.

Geonhak kicked his chair in vexation. “Those assholes.”

“Not to make matters worse for you but-”

“Fucking hell, what now?”

Seoho took a step back as he apprised the agitated man. “We brought a boy back with us-”

“You did what? Take him out of the compound right now. We already have Sundawn causing problems, I can’t deal with this bullshit.” A low male voice rebuked.

“Just let me speak! Trust me, he doesn’t seem to be one of them.”

Geonhak paced back and forth, indecisive of what to do.

“Just because he doesn’t look like one of them doesn’t mean we can trust him.”

“You have to listen to me, we saw it in him; the desperation, the desire, the determination. Doesn’t that remind you of someone?”

“Shut the fuck up. I don’t remember asking you to bring up that matter. That isn’t who I am now.”

“But that was who you were. Give him a chance.” Seoho made direct eye contact with him, trying not to shrink under the intense glare of the important figure.

---

Deeply lost amongst his thoughts, Dongju stumbled as Youngjo came to a halt. The taller man gently nudged Dongju towards a black wooden door with a silver door knob, the door itself emitting an ominous feeling.

“I assure you, he’s not bad, he’s just under a lot of pressure.”

The younger boy stared at the Youngjo with a look of uncertainty. Completely ignoring the look in his eyes, Youngjo opened the door and forcefully pushed him inside the room with a playful smile.

“I SAID TO SHUT THE FUCK-” A resonant voice roared.

Click.

Geonhak and Seoho’s attention turned towards the sound of the door and the shaking boy to their left.

Dongju’s palms started to sweat profusely, trying to not shake under the fiery stare of the two other men in the room.

Did I just walk into an intense fight? What’s happening?

The two men who were previously fighting looked at the boy who was shaking his head and contemplating his decisions, mumbling about whether or not he should speak.

Seoho, not able to hold it in, started to burst into laughter, Geonhak keeping his anger in check. Dongju, surprised at the sudden outburst of laughter, looked up and realised what he had just done.

“I’m sorry, I just...”

“Seoho, get out. You, come here.” The older man gestured for Dongju to walk towards him.

As Seonho walked past Dongju, he gently placed his hand on the smaller’s shoulder, leaned over to his ear and whispered, “good luck.”

In unison with the door being closed, Dongju gulped and robotic-ally walked towards the short tempered man. He had a smaller face with full lips, his physique slender and tall. His black hair was cut short, and had both ears pierced.

“You’re the kid Seoho and Keonhee brought in?” Geonhak did not tear his eyes away from Dongju. The latter did the complete opposite, he looked any other way to avoid his stare at any cost.

“What’s your relationship with Sundawn?” His sonorous voice dropped a few octaves, the vibrations of it scattered through the room.

“Do you mean those guys from earlier? If you do, th-then they’re loan sharks who were after my father...” Dongju played with his fingers, trying to distract himself from the aura surrounding him.

“DON’T YOU DARE LIE TO ME!” A booming voice shook their surroundings as Geonhak slammed his hand onto his desk.

Geonhak moved towards Dongju, faster than lightning seemingly. “You may think you’ve gotten everyone fooled, but I’m not as sympathetic as they are. Fess it up. Tell me your real circumstances.”

---

“I think it’s going well in there, Youngjo.” Seoho sniggered at the yelling from inside the room as he walked down the long hallway with Youngjo beside him.

“You think? It feels like Satan just resurrected.” Youngjo scratched his head, concerned for the kid.

“Well, let’s see if Geonhak will accept him. He’s a splitting image of the man himself –  his past self anyway.” Seoho said as he looked back at the charcoal door.

---

Dongju caught a glimpse of the same moon tattoo on Geonhak’s wrist he saw earlier, before the other man repositioned himself across the room while he uttered, “I told you to speak, so do as I say.”

“I’m telling the truth! I really don’t have any connections with those guys…” A small voice muttered.

“What did you say? Speak up.”

“I said, I don’t have any connections with them. My father was murdered at the hands of them while I was in the next room over completely helpless, and you have the audacity to tell me that I’m associated with them?” With every word, Dongju’s voice gradually got louder and louder, ending with him screaming his thoughts in frustration.

Geonhak saw his past self in the boy’s eyes; the flame that he once possessed when he was stripped of his innocence. Dongju rubbed his eyes dry as tears flowed down his face.

“S-sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’m just so confused, and…” Dongju crumbled to the ground apologetically, his heart heavy with sorrow.

---

A clearly shorter man with blonde hair parted in the middle stood outside the office’s door. Silver jewelry laid on his neck, jingling with his every movement. Upon hearing Dongju fall to the ground, he burst into the room preventing the situation from escalating further.

Geonhak’s head snapped towards the door. “Hwanwoong? What are you doing?” He asked demandingly.

“Well, when you’re in a place with ten people who are all capable of killing, anyone’s dead body can drop to the ground effortlessly. I was just making sure that you didn’t start strangling him. After all, who knows what you would’ve done with fists like yours.” Hwanwoong orated while he threw his arms up in the air, shrugging.

Dongju glanced towards the smaller man who walked in, his eyes swollen.

Hwanwoong gave a soft smile to the boy. “Could you wait down in the hallway, please? I need to have a word with this guy.”

Dongju obediently complied to Hwanwoong’s request and exited the room with heavy steps, head hung low.

As soon as the door slammed shut, Hwanwoong’s eyes leered at Geonhak in disbelief. “You really had to yell at him like that? I could hear you from my bedroom.”

“It’s not like he’s one of us. He could be a spy.”

“What if he’s not? He could just be an innocent boy that you’re accusing. Has that ever occurred to you?”

Geonhak swallowed his guilt as his eyes drifted away, not meeting Hwanwoong’s stare.

“Besides, can’t we use him to our advantage? I mean, I don’t know the full story, but judging from my eavesdropping, it sounds like Sundawn wants money from him.” Hwanwoong continued to express his views eloquently. “We won’t let them get what they want, right? So, why don’t we keep him here for now?”

“What?” Geonhak furrowed his eyebrows in disbelief of what he just heard.

“Think about it.”

“This goes against the contract we signed with RBW. If they find out, everything we’ve built up until this point is over.”

“I’m aware of that, but aren’t you tired of Sundawn by now? They’ve been doing extortion business on our territory for years now, and you know how much they hate even a cent drop from their fingertips.”

Geonhak held his hands behind his head as he walked in a circle contemplating Hwanwoong’s words for what seemed like hours, but was just a few minutes.

“Fine. I’ll let him stay in the compound for a bit until you figure something out. If he tries any funny shit, he’s out immediately. I’m leaving him as your responsibility. Do not let the higher ups find out about him.”

Without giving the other a chance to speak, Geonhak shoved Hwanwoong out of his office, slamming the door in his face. Dongju watched as the blonde haired boy stumbled into the corridor, almost losing his balance.

“He has an anger management issue, don’t worry about it.” Hwanwoong reassured the startled boy as he rubbed his shoulder.

The smaller boy straightened out his black denim jacket, untangling the chains which once laid on his neck untouched. “Follow me, we should get you cleaned up.”

“W-wait, what’s your name? I’m Son Dongju...” He faltered as they walked through a door, heading upstairs.

“Oh, right, you don’t know our names yet. My name’s Hwanwoong, nice to meet you.” The blonde grabbed Dongju’s hand and shook it. “That guy back there is Geonhak; he’s the leader of this organisation.” Hwanwoong cheekily smiled as the word ‘organisation’ left his lips.

“We’re called the Moonraiders .”