Write to Rank: We're in this together

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The sound of the door creaking open startled Tsen awake. He rubbed at bleary eyes, then rolled over on the thin mattress to see his brother shoving things into a large carrybag.

The sight was enough to send a jolt of alarm through Tsen and he sat up straight. "What's going on?"

He watched as Efra crossed their shack in five strides and shoved open the lopsided tin-on-hinges contraption that passed as their bathroom door. It squealed as if in pain. Tsen winced, waiting with his habitual patience even though his concern grew by the second.

A moment later, Efra came out of the bathroom, a heavy pistol in his hands. To say Tsen was surprised would be a lie - Efra was known to carry at least four different weapons on his person at any one time, and he had others hidden all over the place. The man liked to be prepared.

"You need to leave," Efra said calmly.

Stunned, Tsen could only stare. "What?"

"They've probably tracked me here," Efra ignored Tsen's confusion. He stuffed the pistol into the deep pocket of his mud-green coat. "This place isn't safe anymore. I can draw them away, but you need to get out of here."

Tsen got to his feet, a nervous flutter of anxiety in his belly. "Efra, what are you talking about?"

For the first time, a flicker of tension crossed Efra's normally stoic face. His gray eyes gazed across the room, refusing to meet Tsen's, his jaw rigid as if struggling to figure out what to say. Then he sighed, something giving way in his mind, a decision made.

"The techmages," he said in a low tone. "They're coming for me."

Just like that, Tsen's stomach dropped. A sickening sense of dread drained the blood from his face, freezing the breath in his lungs. In the back of his mind, hidden beneath a fog of fear, a dozen questions scampered about like frightened grachis. In the end, he was only able to voice one.

"When?"

"An hour." Efra turned to the carrybag, grabbed the strap, and heaved it up over a shoulder with a grunt. "Maybe less. I ran into some Enforcers. They recognized me, so it got a bit ugly. I heard them put in a call for the techmages."

Tsen shook his head, having trouble processing any of this. He knew as well as anyone that a mere tangle with the State's Enforcers came with its consequences, but it usually meant being fined heavily and detained for a week. Techmages rarely got involved in such cases. "Why would they even - no. Oh Efra, what did you do?"

The look his brother gave him made Tsen go cold inside. Not a single word passed Efra's lips, yet that look conveyed everything he needed to know. In that instant, Tsen realized that Efra had done something terrible, something that he'd been hinting at for days, weeks, even months, yet Tsen had turned a blind eye because he didn't want to believe it could happen.

"Oh," Tsen said, very softly. "You killed him. Major Osir."

Efra's entire being seemed to sag, yet there was a fierce pride in those gray eyes of his. "Yes."

There was nothing more Tsen could say to that. So he turned, went to the corner of their shack where he kept his own threadbare bag, where he kept everything he had valuable, and picked it up with shaking hands. He looked to his brother, the only person in this entire world that he cared about.

He nodded once. "All right. Let's go."

"No," Efra immediately refused. "You can't. This has nothing to do with you. Let me go first, draw their attention, and you can slip out the back. Get away from here. Stay safe. And -"

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