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after dark

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Jongin got his mask on a dry September night, Sehun pacing by his side. When he asked from whom did he got this, the latter only shook his head. It was a fox; it was always a fox, sharp eye holes and a menacing snout, red bravely streaking down the cheeks. Sehun's was a little different, though. It was slimmer, with a smaller snout and droopy eyes.

“Are you sure?”

To which Sehun replied with a grimace, and Jongin could not pry.


Kyungsoo was in the game last year.

Jongin remembered clearly his eager, wide-eyed stare as he showed his mask, past midnight in his room the day just before the game. He had said things about winning. About beating Byun Baekhyun and proving that otokoyo was merely child's play, a legend, a myth; and that he'd come back, alive and well, right where Jongin was waiting.

Jongin touched Kyungsoo's mask and didn't say anything. Their goodbye wasn't even there because Kyungsoo had promised that he'd come back, because a game is only a game, and it won't take more than a few hours.

It won't, he reassured himself, waiting at the eleventh hour since Kyungsoo went away.

Eleven hours became twenty-one and soon enough thirty-one after Kyungsoo's family filed a missing child report to the police; Jongin wasn't crying, he wasn't crying, he was doing anything but crying.

It's a company of seven boys and they had all gone missing after a game out after dark; Jongin wasn't crying at all.


By the time the voices were heard, he was ready.

“Ready or nooot... Here I comeee!”

Run, he signaled to Sehun, zipping through the first gate of the old city and made a sharp turn at the narrow alleyways. Sehun was a step behind him, very easily running at Jongin's mark and following him closely from behind.

The city was almost in ruins, but it seemed like it was always lit up in tiny specks of light, from which its source was unknown. It was beautiful, in a way. They made a long thin line of yellow and gold in Jongin's periphery, accompanying his thudding, thrumming footsteps which echo in his ears.

When he almost stopped to catch a breath, thinking they were far enough from the starting point, he turned around and saw Sehun, eyes wide. A pair of footsteps were heard running far behind them.

Something followed suit.


Byun Baekhyun had challenged the whole neighborhood last year, Jongin recalled. He was a total prick. Walked in steps of pride and arrogance, behind him his tall henchman Chanyeol tailing.

I won the game last year, he had boasted, it was nothing like you losers thought. I beat six boys and outran them through the old city. You guys won't even go near it for money!

Jongin didn't remember how, but when Baekhyun asked for a re-game, Kyungsoo's name was suddenly there. It was such a talk, how they said Baekhyun was bluffing, how otokoyo could really take lives and no one could get out alive—but then they said things about the scars on Baekhyun's back, and how he got it from the demons when he won the round. At least that's what Baekhyun said when he took off his shirt every time they play soccer.

It was only after the kids went missing that Baekhyun's drunk father acted out, lashed on to the police station, and broke down on his knees, confessing how he beat the sunlight out of his son nearly every night.




“Jongin... Jongin-ah, run!”

Sehun had volunteered in a heartbeat when Jongin stepped up to the challenge. He was there when Jongin stayed up all night last year, waiting for Kyungsoo's return. So it wouldn't be hard to figure out that he, too, will stand by Jongin when nobody else in the neighbourhood wanted to. Jongin couldn't say that he was thrilled—Sehun had no reason to join the game, no friends lost, no vengeance seek. He was simply there because Jongin joined and that's that.

So it would explain why the moment Sehun was a couple steps behind, snatched by one of the great lion-headed demons, desperately screaming for Jongin to go ahead and escape, Jongin's legs woudn't budge. Sehun would lose, and he'd lose for Jongin's sake. He'd be captured and taken; and Jongin wouldn't know what happened to him unless he lost, too.

They knew from the start there would only be one winner. He told Sehun this, and Sehun understood.

I'm not doing it for you, Sehun had replied grimly, in case you lost, I'll find Kyungsoo in your place.

He'll find Kyungsoo and bring him home. Then he'll join again next year to find Sehun, and then bring him home, too.


And Jongin did.


It's only a game. Relax, will you?

Remembering Kyungsoo's words in mind, Jongin planted a mantra along its side: it's only a game, only a game, a game.

It's only a game, as he found the northernmost temple and entered. It's only a game, after he dragged his limp right leg after getting clawed at by another demon earlier, over the gates. It's only a game, after realizing he was the only kid left in their company of seven, in this vast temple yard, surrounded by nothing but lights.

It's only a game. The lights all came out from the center of someone's chest. They were arranged in a neat row covering the temple, interconnected with tubes and cables. He'd recognized the faces albeit having masks draped over them. A tall, lanky body that belonged to Chanyeol. A smaller, thinner one, with the scars of Baekhyun. A lithe body, with a droopy-eyed mask, of Sehun.

And facing the altar, there was a boy with a demon mask, a familiar slouching shoulder, and small frame.

“I always knew you'd beat them all,” a voice he'd missed so terribly. He longed for hearing it again aside from in his dreams. “But to go as far as coming for me, I'm so grateful, Jongin-ah.”

Now he understood how the city in ruins still had electricity running. Why all the elders say the old city was a very dangerous—bright, but dangerous—place. Why otokoyo was forbidden to play, and the kids went missing after dark.

From the center of Kyungsoo's chest shone a bright light. Jongin could not move. He stood in place as Kyungsoo moved closer, reached out a hand to take off Jongin's mask. He took his own mask off after, and shot Jongin a warm, old smile that felt like eternity. And in one brief moment, before it all went dark, Jongin could see Kyungsoo's face: the same Kyungsoo before the game, the same as ever. He didn't see Kyungsoo's hand, holding the demon mask towards him. He didn't see the light starting to burst out his own chest.

“Congratulations on winning the game.”

He only saw Kyungsoo, speaking loud and clear.

“Now you're it.”