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All Glitter, No Gold

You must keep in mind that the following story is not set on Earth. No, this story is set in the world of Mynebato, purely a creation of fiction by the author, during the fortieth century after the destruction of an ancient, futuristic society which inhabited it. Technology and people slowly recovered from this destruction, and the world you read about is a product of that recovery. Below you will find the correct pronunciations for many of the invented places and people within the books covers. Pronunciation Guides: Mynebato (mai-neh-BAH-toe) Kana (KAH-nuh) Prissonne a'Tennebrousse (pree-SOH a ten-eh-BROO) Aro (EH-roe) Capo (KAY-poe) Pratai (pruh-TAI) Ceapaire (SEE-pehr) Steeig ag Spionaaiste (STEEG ahg spee-nahs-teh) Glasraii Beoir (glahs-rai byohr) Arbhar Iasc (ahr-vahr yahsk) Anraith Oinniuun Amh (ahn-RAYTH oy-noon) Alainna Bea (ai-LAH-nuh BEE) Eredina (eh-ruh-DEE-nuh) Bittoni (BIH-uh-nee) Kalos (KAUS) Les Cratrres (leh kyay-TEH) Kremange (KYEH-mahzh) Orc Nae Elsh (ORK nay ELSH) Altea (AHL-tee-uh) Mortet (moh-TAY)

Chapter One
Money is the kindest of evils. Society requires it; we need it to get by in our daily world. We use it to buy our food, to pay for our shelter, to pay for our care when we fall ill, to pay for our life's maintanence. But having money opens up a whole new world to the owner, an insidious world that can corrupt you from within without your knowledge. When I was growing up, we were very poor. My infancy was contemporary with the great industrial boom that came with the early fortieth century, and also with the erecting of towering monuments of the people's spirit throughout our city. My later childhood, on the other hand, was contemporary with the great bust that followed this era of construction and prosperity. People became very greedy and began to overestimate the strength of the Kanan economy. This caused them to become very careless, and they continued trying to live as lavishly and wastefully as they had in times before, if not more so. Soon, the stability of the stock market was hanging on a thin wire above a sea of destruction. When the markets and banks finally collapsed, the rich were the first to suffer. People who had the most lost the most, and soon the social order saw some major restructuring. Few wanted to help the whiny rich, who still thought themselves supreme in an economy where everyone had been reduced to the same, low equal. It has been almost thirty years since that great economic bust. The worst of those days is now over, though we haven't recovered fully as a nation. Shameful things such as the expansion of foreign trade markets in favor of businesses here on the homeland, the major budget reorginizations which favored the farmers and the governments instead of vital "organs" of the country (such as schools, prisons, and police offices), and the mass mandatory emigration laws which sent thousands from their homes to other nations weren't permanent or even practical solutions for the future. But it could not be argued against that these programs were keeping the country afloat for now.

The rich may have diminished after the bust, but they didn't stay gone for long. What started as a crisis for everyone sooned turned into a scheme for people to profit off of all the suffering. The right man in the right place at the right time was able to secure himself a secure foothold hanging over all of the despair, and use the piled up problems to raise himself further in society. He did not care about the consequences of his actions, nor the price of his luxury, much in the same manner as the wealthy generation thirty years prior to his day. People just do not learn that easily, it seems. In this post-bust economy, I work as a shipping executive for South Coast Incorporate, a shipping company that was one of the last great businesses of the homeland. My relationship with South Coast started about fifteen years ago, when the government began forcing companies to open up more positions, and forcing the unemployed to work in these new positions in an attempt to reduce poverty, and balance out the social order. I was given a slot working the docks, and quickly became one of the manager's favorites. The other men seemed to overlook the fact that they had been taken from the streets and given a chance to rise up again with this newfound employment. Rather, they looked at the golden moment with sheer pessimism, describing their job with such absurdities and ignorant mistruths as "the government ignoring their rights", "the revival of slave labor", and "a reflection of this horrible country." While I entirely disagree with everything that they stated while unhappily working at the docks, in an odd way I am glad they felt so about their job. I worked harder than everyone, and kept a good attitude and before long my effort paid off. Promotion after promotion came to me, the sole optimistic face in a sea of bad feelings. Now over fifteen years later, I've gone from being a lowly dock worker to being the man in the suit, in charge of all of the laborers on the dock from the comforts of my office. I was wealthy, rich, but I didn't group myself with the rest of the lot. Pardon me for sounding like an elitist with that last statement, but I assure you I do not mean it in that manner. I simply mean to imply that rather than blowing all of my hard earned profit on trivial things such as a fancyautomobileor a mansion, I hold on to it. I place half of my money in the banks to gather interest and I even invest small amounts in the stock markets, which despite its occasional unreliabilities can actually produce decent profit, but I do not get cocky. I know when to withdraw my figures from the markets, and I know that despite the appeal of interest, not all of my money should be stashed within the banks. I know this in the face of growing up poor, and maybe it is because grew up poor that I seem to appreciate the value of a dollar more than these worshippers of avidity. The only treasure that I needed in my life was my beloved Marie; she was more valuable to me than anything else in the world, with her golden locks of hair, her ruby red lips, and her eyes which sparkled more brightly than the world's most precious diamond. Marie and I had met back during the summer of fifty-eight, when I was on a business trip in Ristalamo Town. I travelled with a troupe of South Coast executives, who sought a night of town after grueling hours of sorting files and dealing with angry bosses in upper management. I was not normally one for vacations, but this was a particularly stressful week. How glad I was that I had come for otherwise I would not have found the greatest treasure of my life: the sweet angel that was Marie Rae Faraday, my darling Ray-Ray. She was the headliner at a dance theater, the first time I saw her she wore a bright green scarf which contrasted in a pleasing way with her blue cloche hat, which in turn brought out her beautiful blonde hair. She danced and sang a number called "Romance in the Night", taking the songs vocals while the women in the back danced and sang backup. She was the favorite of the crowd, and of myself. Her beautiful soprano voice entered my ears and the sweet resonance of the serenade travelled straight to my heart and touched my soul. She was accustomed to men trying to talk to her after the show, but apparently she sensed something different in me and was surprised that a man could show any meaningful emotion to a woman save for perverse arousal and lust. After the curtains had closed for the final time that evening, I departed from my group of hard-working men and decided to show her a little night on the town. We walked through the cold night, my coat covering and warming her, to a restaurant she had described to me located a few blocks down. I was bracing my wallet, preparing for the fancy venue she would undoubtedly choose. But a fancy venue she did not fancy, and we arrived at a small radio caf. The crowd was not one of aristocracy or nobility, but that didn't stop me from dining with an absolute princess. We talked about ourselves and each other to silently judge to ourselves whether this first date would also be the last, but both of us realized the promising outlook that we had with each other. Second, third, fouth, fifth, soon we had gone out on the town more times than we could count and our dates were no longer numbered. Like the bright lights, the celestial army of stars above our heads that came out at night to guard our dreams of each other, our love was infinite. Again and again this army advanced from the east and retreated to the west and before long I found myself in

the present day: December the sixth, Thirty-Nine Sixty-One. I had driven to the south side of the city, where the bright light of the Construction never shone on the land. Going over here I had slowly seen the drastic changes in scenery gradually develop in front of my eyes. The smooth roads of the city quickly grew into cracked piles of rock, and in some cases the road had weathered away completely leaving large rectangular patches of weeds and gravel. Buildings became shorter and more spread apart, and soon I would only see a small house every half mile or so, if you could call those dilapadated old things houses. Modern fashions and values seemed to disappear into this land of antiquity. I did not enjoy this part of the city at all, and I would never have come here if I were not on my way to pick up my brother, Gilbert. Now, I love family as much as the next guy, Gilbert was not excluded from this. Gilbert had been jailed five years ago for being caught in a gambling ring. He ran an illegal card ring in one of the old abandoned warehouses, not too far from the prison I was going to pick him up from actually, and he had gathered up a fortune almost equivalent to mine in numerical value, but it was worthless to me. He was worthless to me. The negative emotions I felt for Gilbert would not be described as hatred, but more accurately as fear. I was afraid of Gilbert. I was afraid of him hurting me, I knew that even though I had a weak brotherly bond with him that held back the most impulsive sayings of my mind, he did not really see me with the same respect. I was afraid of being associated with the crum. I was afraid of what he could do to my perfectly content little life, especially due to his devious lifestyle of carelessly spending his dirty money. I don't even really understand why I felt the need to go and pick him up, I just didn't have the heart to abandon him I guess. But I knew full well that prison had not changed him, it was just a minor setback to his pathetic lifestyle. He would not try to reform his life, only his skills of evasion. My beloved Marie sat in the front seat of the automobile with me, I had begged her not to come but she insisted on making the voyage alongside me. "Why don't you just give him a chance, dear? Maybe he's changed." She stopped for a while and made a pouty face, showing the scorn of my assumptions. I rolled my eyes and then fixed them back on the road. "I grew up with Gilbert. He's been the same man for the past thirty years, if he wanted to change he would've done it by now." "But you two are twins! You're practically the same person, no?" "We're fraternal twins Marie, you know that. Same birthday, different in every other way." Marie's face grew pouty once more, and then lit up with the sudden glow of an idea. "He could change with your help. I don't see how anyone could resist your kind.. and.. gentle ways." She began looking dreamily at me, and she then leaned her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes in bliss. I couldn't help but smile to myself, and I took one hand off the wheel and wrapped it around my girl. "Maybe you're right, Marie. Maybe you're right." This was why I loved the woman. She could take any stressful situation and remove everything stressful about it. She was a sweetheart, the pouty faces she gives are the closest she ever gets to anger. Our embrace was short lived though, as within the course of two minutes we had arrived at the prison. I could see the eerieness of this place even through the brick wall wearing its crown of thorns. A stoic man got up from his position leaning against the wall, and sauntered over to our automobile and motioned for us to roll down the window. "Here to pick up your brother, I suppose?" "Yes.. how did you know that?" He gave an emotionless chuckle. "We don't get many visitors 'round here. And he doesn't wanna shut his face about the great Brian Scott Winters; only made sense that it was you." He then walked back to his position, and slid a card into a machine which caused the great gates to open and expose the full eldritch prison to my eyes. "Be careful," were his final words to me as I moved the automobile further in.

The building's faade looked like something out of a moving picture, an almost castle-like structure that pierced a good ten stories into the sky. Gargoyles jutted out from the building on all sides, seeming to redirect the flow of negativity from the building towards me. Four towers stood guard over the terrifying structure, with machine guns aimed at the path of any would be runaway. I could only imagine how terrifying the interior could be, but I didn't want to imagine. A sign written in Altean caught my eye: "Prissonne a'Tennebrousse, est. 3809." This building had terrorized the landscape for nearly one-hundred and fifty years. My brother had been terrorized for five of those one-hundred and fifty years. I drove up further still, and saw three figures on the porch. Two were guards and one was my brother, my brother Gilbert. I saw Gilbert's face for the first time in five years. He did not look any different save for the small difference in hairstyle, or lack of style I should say. He seemed unfazed by his half a decade of concatenation, and weary expressions of the guards suggested to me that this was indeed the case. Gilbert was whispering something to one of the guards that apparently did not sit well, as the guard forcefully pushed my brother away. Gilbert then punched the guard in the nose, causing the other guard to panic and put him in a hold. I drove up just in time to hear clearly the last moments of this pleasant exchange. "You wouldn't wanna do that.. take me back... do you really wanna have to babysit me for another five years?" The second guard reluctantly released him, visibly holding back his rage, but also expressing relief at the prospect that more years with Gilbert were not in his future. The other guard held his nose, bloodied by Gilbert's brute fist. Gilbert's smirk grew into a full smile when he saw me. "Brian! Ah, my brother I thought you'd've forgotten about me years ago!" "Of course not Gilbert, welcome back. It's been too long." I gave a sincere hug to my brother; this was not a lie, I genuinely loved my brother and no matter how much he pissed me off, he was the only one I had, and the only one I would ever get because of my parents' passings. Gilbert was family. You just can't turn your back on family, even if they do stupid things like punch a guard in the face the moment you're released from prison. He pulled back and then he laid eyes upon my Rae Rae, giving a wolf whistle to show his approval. "Who is this fine woman we have here?" He stepped back, jumped, and slid over the hood of the automobile to take my girl by the hand and kiss it. "Have we met before?" Okay, family or not, he couldn't do this. But I didn't want to get in a brawl like the one earlier so I held back a bit, probably more than I should've. "Gilbert, this is my girlfriend Marie. We met about a year after you went to prison." I took care not to let any euphemisms replace my original thoughts, as I didn't want Marie warming up to this guy too much. Marie giggled, probably not picking up on my lead, and shook Gilbert's hand, "How do you do, Gilbert?" "Eh, I've been better. Breakfast at this prison is absolute s, you know that? They claim that prisons aren't so bad, but every day it was the same routine: get up at six and let the guards give you hell." The two guards that Gilbert had negotiated with earlier heard this, and I swear I saw the one with the bloody nose mutter a 'f you'. I didn't blame him. Gilbert climbed in the back seat of the automobile and quickly made himself comfortable, propping his feet up on the back of Marie's seat and lighting a cigarette. Wait, where had he gotten those from? "So, you two? A couple? I thought I'd never see my little brother with such a gorgeous woman as yourself." "Little brother? Please, Gilbert. You're older by three minutes at the most, you know that full well." "Oh c'mon Bri, take a joke! And hey, three minutes is a pretty long time. Let's count three minutes out a bit. One.. two.. three.. four.. see, this is taking forever. I'm already bored! By the time I reach uh.. how many seconds are in a minute, three-hundred?" "One-hundred and eighty." "Whatever, whatever. By the time I reach one-hundred and eighty, we'd've been sitting here a pretty damn long time. That's three minutes of life that I got to live, brother. Three minutes of life I lived! Bam! Do you know what I

could do in three minutes? I could uh.. I could.. uh.." "You could what, brother?" Inspiration struck him. "I could buy a pop!" I chuckled. "So, the only thing I'm missing out on is a glass of pop then, Gilbert?" "The best pop that one could imagine, my brother. I could have any flavor pop I want with my three extra minutes. Maybe it'd only be that extra pop I buy, those three minutes, that'd be the sweetest glass of pop in my life. The most enjoyable glass of life that ever graced my tongue with it's presence. You could have the same glass, and it'd only taste like a glass of regular old pop. That's because this is my extra three-minutes pop. You can never have that three minute pop." He then leaned back some more and breathed the smoke of his cigarette out, proud of winning this 'debate'. "Gilbert, that doesn't even make any sense." Marie's giggle had become a full on hearty laugh that told my brother and I that she didn't feel the same way. "Oh Brian.. Brian," she paused and laughed some more, "You never told me Gilbert was such a comedian!" She burst out laughing once more, and I still didn't understand what had been so funny about the nonsense. If anything, the fact that Giblert had just made my girl laugh harder than I had ever seen her laugh made it all the less funny to me. "Only part time, dollface. Only part time. And please, call me Bertie," he said through his grinning off-white teeth and puffs of tobacco smoke. Bertie? When the hell had he EVER wanted to be known by such a demeaning pet name? Maybe funny guy in the backseat had her attention for right now, but it was my shoulder she leaned on right now and it always would be my shoulder. Even if she weren't mine, there's no way that I could let such a beautiful thing fall into the clutches of the real and ugly world, into the clutches of my brother. I finally started the automobile and began the long uncomfortable journey homeward. As we drove away from the prison, I thought of something pecular. It was very odd, Gilbert had lived the past five years of his life in this place without learning a damned thing. But, that exchange in the parking lot would go on to affect me for at least the following year. I suppose I could even argue that it would subtly affect my entire life after this, because I had never known of my jealous side before. In a way I shared the avarice and greed of the wealthy, though guarding not my money but rather my precious Marie. I had experienced more change in the parking lot of Prissonne a'Tennebrousse than Gilbert had behind its cold iron bars.

Chapter Two
The transition between the southern, rural section of the city and its prosperous urban core was witnessed by all of us again, although this time the metamorphosis of scenery occured in reverse. Dying trees and dead grass became the lively urban bustle that I was accustomed to. Old shacks and shoddy walls became ornate and dainty little suburban homes, which in turn became the familiar skyscrapers of the inner city. Now, I've probably made the city sound like a pretty great place by this point. Well, let me correct that grave mistruth right now by stating that its beauty is only relative. Nothing is without its fair share of quirks and flaws, and the city definitely had more than its fair share of these things. Although the quality of life was indeed higher in this part of town than in the outskirts, the city wasn't exactly a beautiful place to look at. The streets and walkways were often very dusty, and just walking on the sidewalk could end with your shoes caked in mud and, on a windy day, that horrible feeling of gritty sand caught in between your teeth. Garbage could also pile up alongside the mud, dirt, and sand to quite the uncomfortable amount in some areas. Sixth street seemed to be the unofficial dumping grounds for much of the cities refuse, and that street's aroma made the zoo, with all its filthy creatures in dirty cages, seem like a fragrant flower garden in comparison. And it just seemed that

walls could not exist on their own, due to their seemingly symbiotic relationship with graffiti. Wherever a new sign was placed, graffiti quickly gathered. Wherever a new building may have gone up, graffiti went up there as well. And if they tried to clean it, it would be as fruitless an effort as trying to cut off the head of a hydra; it would come back in a greater amount than ever before. I know for a fact that the city was not always like this, and it would not always be like this. The nation was in a state of hardship, and right now the government was trying to juggle many a crisis. They were trying to give people around the country employment, that meant dealing with corporations. And, of course, 'dealing with corporations' was just a fancier and less accurate way of saying 'shelling out hefty sums to people who are already rich enough'. Taxes were not taken seriously anymore because nobody seemed capable of paying them, in this great state of poverty. Less tax revenue meant a restricted budget, and of course that meant the temporary elimination of many public upkeep programs. Sanitation workers and trash collectors were programs controlled by the government. When the government's wallet got cut, so did these important programs. Now of course the solution was simple, and that solution was to privatize many of these programs. Lots of things were privatized in this day and age: schools, banks, hospitals. In fact, Prissonne a'Tennebrousse was a fine example of a privatized prison. But unlike the great Prissonne a'Tennebrousse many of these privatized programs did not even attempt to meet the standards and quotas of times long gone. As we drove we passed the CleanCo office, the headquarters for what was supposed to be our cities group of sanitation managers. Trash boastfully and freely danced in the wind around the building, and profane graffiti on the faade covered their logo, which was a simple red smiley face. A sanitation office with tagging all over the building, and heaps of trash at the base. Such ironic and pathetic sights were just commonplace in the city after the bust. This was all you could expect from the privatized businesses because they were run by wealthy people who only cared about their own gain. However, all of these problems were nothing in comparison to the story of Old Man Jim. Old Man Jim was practically the symbol of the hard times we were all experiencing. He was our silent guardian that watched over us all and felt our pain with us. Old Man Jim was our pseudo-affectionate nickname for our city's most recognizable landmark: the large concrete tower in the city's center. You could see it from miles away; it was absolutely huge even by the standards of skyscrapers in this day and age. It had earned its nickname for an area in the now decaying walls near what would have been the tower's pinnacle which vaguely resembled the face of an old man, its expression weary from years of rain and storms. Old Man Jim, or the Freedom Tower as is it was officially designated, was designed to tower a good twothousand five-hundred feet above the rest of the city and feature forty foot long clock faces that could be seen from all areas of downtown. Back in the age of contstruction such bold claims and impressive feats of construction were commonplace and not even the most insignificant notion in the people's minds existed that the tower was all talk, that it couldn't stand. Unfortunately, real life is often a much different place than the wonderful imaginations of the people, and Old Man Jim was predestined to never emerge fully into the world of reality. The whole project was doomed before the first brick was even laid on the ground, before the first areas of foundation were set, before the site was even marked actually. It all started back in the early thirties, a few years before the bust struck our economy. The company that had chartered the construction on the tower, Lefton Inc., was dangerously close to bankruptcy already. They weren't very well known by the public and most of the big construction jobs had already been taken by larger corporations. They needed something big to save them, but they just shot too far into the darkness with the idea of the Freedom Tower. Maybe one of the larger companies could have taken the job and finished the megastructure, but this was not the case. Construction finally started, and everything at first seemed to be going according to plan, and everything that was expected on any given day was performed by the workers. The small, poor little company had finally made a name for itself. But this structure was huge, and finishing it could take years. And unfortunately, Lefton Inc. did not have years worth of money to spend. The absolute chaos that became the economy within the years following did not help their cause, and three years, fourteen weeks and one day after construction began, the company filed for bankruptcy. They just abandoned their project, a one-thousand and seven-hundred foot shell of concrete that was nowhere near completion. Thirty years later, the original scaffolding still stands around the incomplete building. In the suffering economy, nobody wanted to spend the money to renovate the building or continue the work. It would cost nearly as much to dismantle the great structure, so both plans of action remained an impossibilty for now, and it was allowed to sit and gather mold, rust, and basically decay in front of all of our eyes.

I drove past the base of the sad tower for what was probably the thousandth time, but still Marie and I gazed up upon it in wonder. It just seemed so unreal, even though we had spent our entire lives with the great stone guardian looking out over us. It didn't matter that the place was falling apart. It didn't matter that vegetation was beginning to reclaim it right here in the city. Nothing mattered, you couldn't help but look at the structure and feel anything but the purest of fascinations. Even Gilbert puffed on his ninth cigarette and let his eyes become mystified by Old Man Jim. "So uh, where are we going Bri? Givin' me a tour of my own hometown or something?" "We're going back to my apartment." His jaw dropped and his cigarette hung out of his mouth. "Brian, what are you doing with your life? I thought you of all people would've saved enough money to buy a place in Aro Hills by now! What've you been doing with your money?" "I have a decent sum saved up, I just don't want to be careless with my money and blow it." "Blow it? Well what do you think cash is for, brother? What else are we supposed to do with money, dance with it? Take it on a date? You tryin' to court the money? Money is meant to be spent, Brian. Why else would the mint print it? I bet you're bluffing; you'd always do that as a kid. How much do you even have saved?" "Enough." "What kind of answer is that but the answer of a LIAAARR." He flicked the back of my ear with the hand, the hand that wasn't holding his tenth cigarette. "How much do you really got? For real?" I knew this was just going to keep up if I didn't satisfy him with an answer, so I decided to amuse him to shut him up. "A hundred half-thousand in the banks, two-hundred grand in the house, and ten grand on the markets. Happy now?" "That's that's..." His brain struggled to count those three numbers together into one sum. "That's.. a.. two.. a lot of money, Brian! Get the hell out of this dump, what are you still doing here in a s apartment?! And now that I know how much money you have," he tapped on the door of the automobile, "what the hell are you doing driving this? That kind of money, that could buy you... a.. it could buy you.. a much nicer car, I'll tell you that!" "I don't wanna live like one of those snobs out in Aro Hills, Gilbert. I have an apartment with more than enough space than what I need to be comfortable, and this automobile has served me well for the past five years." Gilbert shook his head in disappointment, and began to laugh. "Tsk, tsk, tsk.. What point are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to show off? Oh.. Ohh... Is this some kind of bet you made? Live like a poor man for a while and win something? THAT'S the Winters family I wanna be a part of, I knew that was your plan!" "There's no bet. I just don't see the need for any of those things you're trying to sell to me. We're in the middle of hard times, our little country, our Kana. And people who think like you are the people that are keeping us down." Gilbert was no longer looking like the mischevious face in the backseat. He looked hurt by these words, and he was looking for ammo to hurt me back. "Well.. Maybe you don't need all these things... But, what about your lady friend here? That did it. I was about to open up my mouth and give this lazy piece of s a piece of my mind, I was going to take Marie's obvious thoughts and reactions from her and express them with my angry words, but I didn't need to. She did a perfectly good job at handling that herself. "Ber.. Mr. Gilbert! Don't you assume anything about me! Don't you dare misjudge me without having met me! I don't need to live a lavish lifestyle either, I'm perfectly content with my Brian, and I'm perfectly content in our little apartment, I'm HAPPY. If you're not content with the way we live, then I'm sure you won't mind casting away the kind invitation that my Brian here has offered you. Don't you be acting like some sort of aristocrat. You should be lucky that you'll be coming to live with us in our.. how did you describe it.. s apartment? It will be better than ANYTHING

that you've seen recently, you selfish ." Ouch! That last word hurt my ears! I had never seen Marie so angry, or any kind of angry at all actually. Maybe Gilbert would finally realize what kind of territory he was stepping into, and retreat. "So, your house is better than a prison, Marie!" He gave a slow clap. "I'm so proud of you guys! Wow! That's quite the acheivement!" He put his hand on my shoulders and began to laugh. "Good on you, Bri! Good on you both!" He turned next to Marie, who gave him a quick, powerful jab to the nose. "STOP RIGHT NOW," she yelled at the top of her lungs. I abruptly stopped the automobile at the traffic light intersecting Sixth and Main street. "I'll walk from here, Brian. I refuse to be driven with this man in the backseat." "But, Marie.." "I've added on a few pounds anyway, a bit of exercise would do me some good for my body and mind." She took her purse from the glovebox and walked over to my side of the automobile and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "I love you, honey. I'll see you at home." She walked off, and looked smuggly at Gilbert in the back seat. Gilbert sat dumbfounded in the back clutching his bloody nose, bloodied by his big mouth. "Quite a fiesty one you have there, Bri." "She really is something else." "What was her problem, anyway?" "Well you were being a bit of a pest.. but not enough to warrant that kind of reaction. I've never seen her like that before." My brother got out from the automobile and walked to take Marie's empty seat in the front. As he opened the door, I noticed that his smug look had been hit right off of his face, and a look of regret and disbelief took the niche. We continued our drive, passing through countless faceless shops and markets either unknown to the public or failing financially. At last we arrived in Capo Heights, the part of town that I called home. Capo Heights was a quaint little neighboorhood in the northeast of the city, located about five minutes from downtown, as the crow flies. It was a single street ending in a cul-de-sac, with two rows of apartment buildings that comfortably housed a good 10 families each. Gilbert sat up in his seat, observing his new surroundings. "I was wrong about this place.. It's a really nice looking neighboorhood." And indeed, we had all worked to ensure that this was a nice neighboorhood. Sanatation didn't pick up over here, as was the case with the larger part of the city. However, unlike the people living downtown, we worked hard to ensure that our streets were nice and clean. Each month a different resident from the street would be selected to carry our collected refuse every week to a designated dumping ground which lay about an hour's drive from the city. We had an old garbage truck parked in a garage, purchased at an auction by the people of Capo Heights collectively, that served as the ferry for the waste. I wasn't quite sure who was in charge of the trash this month, but last month it had been mine; that was the first time I had ever been selected to perform the task. It sounds like a hassle but the drive was only a weekly one, fuel was paid for collectively by the people of the neighboorhood, and of course it was only on four days of every other year or so that you really had to do anything at all, but because of the system you could enjoy the benefits of a world with trash collection year round. There would be no lazy dumping on Sixth street for us, and we

wouldn't have garbage piling up around us either. If only the slobs at CleanCo could think and work like us. "Yeah, we try to keep it like that, here in this dump." I emphasized that last word to remind Gilbert of his inaccuracies in critiquing my choice of living. "Hey, hey, I'm sorry, brother. I guess I hadn't realized that our city actually had some decent areas." "You probably won't find anything like it elsewhere in the city, we actually have people here that give a damn. This is my Aro Hills, Gilbert." "Which one of these buildings is yours?" "I live in that tall one over there, next to the maple tree." "The blue one?" "No, no, GODS no. The yellow one." "Haha, what do you have against blue, Bri?" "It's not the color of the house, its the people who live inside.. or, one of the people living inside I should say. Mr. Pascal. I don't much like Mr. Pascal. Very rude man, very self centered and by the gods I just can't stand being around him for some reason, though he seems to think me one of his friends. You know, he didn't even want to do trash collection?" I parked the automobile, killed the engine, and opened my door. Oh how good it felt to finally stretch my legs after hours of driving. "Trash collection? I thought there was none in the city." "Oh, I'll tell you all about that later. It's just something we do around here to make up for CleanCo's incompitence." "Ah, I see. So, is your friend over there the only problem with living here?" "Pretty much, everything else is amazing." Gilbert and I walked up the pathway to the apartment building door, past the verdant row of flowers that Marie and I had planted to beautify the lawn, and opened the door. The building was set up to where after opening the front door, one was met with a flight up stairs that went up for five floors. On each level, to the right and left of the stairs, were two doors leading to the two apartments that were situated on each floor. Gilbert and I ascended the first four flights of stairs and reached the fifth floor, where I had made my dwelling. "Which one of these apartments is yours?" "Both of 'em." Gilbert was once again taken back in the face of seeing his assumptions squashed by the truth. "You pay for both of these places?! I thought you said you live in AN apartment. My emphasis on 'an' being.. you know.. one?" I chuckled. I suppose I was a bit amused at this newfound respect from my brother, and I began to act a dramatic shade of humble, though I knew housing was very hard to come by in this era. Gods, what was this attention doing to me? "Eh, it's basically one apartment. Not too much money dropped for it either, just an eight-hundred dollar payment every month and we're set." Dropping that figure in there was no slip of the tongue; I was craving this brotherly respect, the awe of showing Gilbert that I had become the sucessful brother. "We just need some extra room to stretch, ya know? There's a door linking the two apartments together in the closet, I'll show you. " I unlocked the left door, which was the one we always used to get in for some reason.

"And here I had thought I was the one who was living life." I opened the door, and allowed Gilbert to step in first. My apartment may not have been the most expensive or lavish place in the world, but it was my home. It was comfortable. It was also a great comfort seeing Gilbert's reaction to the interior, as he walked around investigating the place. Each apartment had four rooms: a parlor, a bedroom, a dining room, and a bathroom. In the parlor Marie had dictated the look, a very blue room. Azure velvet curtains would dance in the wind of the fan with beautiful blue skies serving as a backdrop. Cerulean carpets covered the linoleum floor and its blue tiles. Even the wallpaper, though mostly white, was adorned with blue stripes that ran vertically from the ceiling down. Have you guessed by this point that Marie's favorite color is blue? Gilbert seemed to ignore all of the scenery for now, something specific had caught his eye: a daguerreotype hanging in a blue frame near the space leading into the diagram. It was an old family photo of the Winters clan, circa Thirty-Nine Forty-Two. It was funny, this photo has been hanging here since we first moved into the apartment years ago, but only now did I start to focus on it, the little details of the picture. It was as if my memory of that day had been a slow trickling creek blocked in the center by a large rock. Examining the details slowly pushed this mental rock of ignorance out of the way of the flowing waters, and my memory now flowed. It had been a cold and rainy December day, a little over twenty years ago. Gilbert and I were both aged a mere eleven years. Though we had no house to speak of, though my father's only occupation was begging on the street for us, though every adversity of the time had been cast upon our clan, we all looked happy, careless, at peace. Nothing seemed to be able to affect our indelible smiles. My father and mother had their arms around each other, as did my brother and I. When we were united, even the mightiest of crises could not strike us. I reached a silent resolution with myself that night. Gilbert had fallen to the bad side of the world because we had become separated, due to the deaths of our parents. But now, we were united once more. Nothing could touch us. I was going to reform my brother, no matter the cost or effort, because I loved him. He was all the family I had left in the world, and a family we would stay.

Chapter Three
Life has a funny way of completely switching around the way things are under the supervision of even the most watchful of eyes. With a relative and metaphorical blink, a completely new world could stand before you. Before I had 'blinked', Marie had pushed me to give my brother a chance. I had at first, rather selfishly I might add, wanted to spare myself the 'terrible inconvenience' of having him as company. With this new outlook on family, I began to realize that no such inconveniences should exist with familiar structure. It was just what you had to do and I felt glad and proud to be doing it. And now Marie had reversed her position. I don't know what set her off or caused her to react to Gilbert's teasing words with such vituperation, but now she had reversed her position. Now I was going to be the one fighting for Gilbert's right to be a part of our lives. I would have to eliminiate her perception of his 'terrible inconvenience'. Maybe we could all reach a compromise together; no sense in leaving Gilbert out of the peace talks that would decide his future. But, that was a problem for later; Marie was still not back from her walk. Right now the only problem I wanted to solve was my obsecrating stomach, and my brother probably shared my pain. "I don't wanna seem like a needy houseguest here, but.. do you have anything to eat around here?" "See if there's anything in the icebox, I think there should be some pasta or salad in there to hold you off. "Where's the icebox?"

"It's in the kitchen, built into the second door on the counter." "There's nothing except spoons and pans in here, what are you talking about?" "No, no, not that one; second from the right." "Oh, here, I found it! I fail to see the salad or pasta though. Actually.. this icebox is totally empty.." I could hear the sound of Gilbert's disappointment blended in with the shutting of the icebox door. "Wait a second.. Damn, I was supposed to go to the grocery store today. I completely forgot." "What are we supposed to eat then?" "Well, there's a really nice caf down the street but I think they close soon. Want to go try and eat there?" "Count me in." I lent Gilbert one of my old trenchcoats, and we began our walk to the caf. It could be reached after only a brief five minutes of walking down Capo Drive, the road that ran perpendicular to my apartment's cul-de-sac. Therefore, I didn't much feel like taking the automobile out and wasting precious money on fuel. We decided to use a less expensive mode of transportation, naturally bestowed upon us at birth. A few minutes of trudging through the storm softened mud later, we arrived at the Hybrin Caf. The restaurant was a quaint little Deark eatery that Marie and I frequented. Some of the best food we had ever laid our senses on had originated in that restaurant; it was better than any of those pricey gourmet establishments we had dined in even though the Hybrin Caf was a mere shack with no more than six tables to seat us. It never seemed to have any customers and, no offense at all to the proprieter, I had no idea how it was able to stay afloat and running. But I wasn't complaining, I was the furthest thing from complaning, mind you. The owner was a middle-aged man named Pratai, a Deark refugee who had arrived in the nation with his family about five years before the bust, to escape the great civil war that had been raging in their homeland. I knew Pratai pretty well, I would say; Marie and I were his two favorite customers and we were always on a first name basis with him and the waitstaff, whenever there was a waitstaff. He made the best ceapaires around: delicious, toasted meat and cheese sandwiches whose recipe originates back in Dearka. Pratai made them golden brown, not too burnt on the outside and not too raw on the inside. I opened the wooden door and allowed Gilbert to step in before me. It was only ten o'clock so the restaurant was still supposed to be open. The key word, of course, being 'supposed.' Everything looked completely empty and the room was occupied only by us, the air only with the echo of our footsteps. A waitress walked out from the kitchen and stood befuddled. "Who could be eating at the restaurant this late?" was probably one of the many thoughts in her head, judging from her bewildered look. I recognized her as Alainna Bea, a nice looking young Deark-Seran girl who had several times in the past cleaned our table, taken our plates and returned to engage in many a talk about fashion with Marie. "Hey, Bea, is Pratai here?" "Boss isn't here, I'm sorry. He'll be right back though, feel free to sit. Any drinks for ye?" "We'll both take waters, thank you." She spoke with an adorable Deark city accent, though not as adorable as the sweet sound of Marie's Eastern River dialect. Gilbert seemed very drawn to her. In fact, Gilbert seemed VERY drawn to her. I caught his wandering eye, tantalized by that miniskirt cloaked figure walking back to her post in the kitchen. "Eyes up here, Gil. You're old enough to be her father." "I don't mind if she were to call me Daddy.. hehehe." He laughed, continuing to gaze downwards. When she disappeared behind the doorway, he rapidly turned his face back towards me. "And wait, are you calling me old?! Might I remind you that you're the exact same age as me?"

"You're the one always claiming to be the older one, are you not?" He playfully took a shot at my arm. "Hey, it's only three minutes of difference!" "Yes, as you were so vexatiously pointing out earlier." "Vex-a-what-ingly?" I chuckled to myself. "Never mind, Gil. What are you going to order?" I sat down and read through the menu on my side of the table, perusing through all the choices I would not make; I always ordered the same thing, a ceapaire. I wondered if the ingredients to make 'Glasraii Beoir' or 'Arbhar Iasc' or 'Anraith Oinniuun Amh', whatever those things might be, were always stocked in the back. "I haven't even looked through the menu yet. Think they have steeig ag spionaaiste here?" I flipped through the menu, and 'Steeig ag Spionaaiste' caught my eye. "Yeah, it's right here. I've never heard of that though, what is that?" "Oh Brian you've got to try it, it's a vinegar marinated spinach, with little pieces of meat in it, and a little bit of sugar thrown in to sweeten it. Gods, it's delicious!" "I think I'll stick to the ceapaire, that sounds a bit much." "Yeah, it's not for everyone. You know Deark food, a lot of it is acquired taste. Ceapaires though, I never much cared for them. Last time I had them, they brought 'em out all burnt and the cheese was old and afterwards, ughh, I had the worst nausea." "That's not at all a problem here, that was just a bad cook, with bad ingredients. Pratai has the best ingredients, and boundless culinary talents." "Pratai? I knew a Pratai once... a long time ago... Is he the owner of this place?" "Yeah, and the head chef. He's a pretty good guy. Really kind to Marie and I." "Orangish-red hair, kind of a tall, skinny dude?" "Nah, his hair is black, and he's kind of a husky. You know what they say, never trust a skinny cook!" "That shmar who made the ceapaires last time was probably pretty skinny then." "Shmar? I don't think I'm familiar with that word." "It's Seran, it means like... idiot. But its a lot worse than that." "You speak Seran?" "Completely fluently. I can also understand Deark, but speaking it I must sound like a complete idiot. I can't get the R's right. Such a beautiful language though." Alainna Bea walked out from the kitchen with our waters. "Spoken by very beautiful people..."

"Thank you very much, Bea." "Yeah, thanks Bea." She looked at Gilbert, seeming a bit weirded out. Maybe she wasn't used to being called Bea by a stranger. I sipped the cold water, which adhered a temporary patch over my hunger. I heard a door in back open, and the frustrated sigh of a chef filled the air. "Business is slower than tha damned Kroi! Not one customer all day!" "There's customers in there right now, boss. Brian, and one of his friends." Pratai poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. "Brian! Ah, nice to see ye here, I hope ye brought an appetite with ye! Who's your fr..." He stopped dead in his tracks, and stared at Gilbert with a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia. "Gilbert?.. Is that ye, Gilbert?" I put down my water and stared at Pratai, then at Gilbert, waiting for something to happen. How did he know my brother? Gilbert looked up and laid his eyes on Pratai for the first time, what I thought was the first time. "Pratai? It IS you! I knew you were that Pratai!" "Haha! Do ye honestly think there are that many Pratai's this part o' tha globe? C'mere, old friend!" Gilbert and the old chef embraced, with a grip that made it clear that compared to Pratai I was a mere stranger, juxtaposed awkwardly within my own familial ranks. "Haha, it's been too long, Gilbert! Haven't seen ye since... what... Fifty-One? Ye were just a kid back then!" "At the soonest, old friend. What the hell happened to you, man?!" Pratai chuckled and punched my brother playfully. "Alas.. you remember the proud Deark red atop my head. It went pink! Some of us do with with age, when the white hairs start springing up with the red, so I just gave up and died it black. Ah ye know, other than my age, I been a'ight though. Got myself a little business running here, I've been able ta make ends meet. This restaurant ensures that you can't see my ribs anymore, I'll tell you that!" "Don't worry chap, it looks good. And wow, a business owner, that's good, that's very good! I'm still running this over in my head... Imagine me and you, meeting once again in Orthos City of all places! The chances involved, the probability!" "The gods have a funny way of working things, indeed." Pratai chuckled heartily and then turned to me. "So, how do you know this fine gentleman, Brian?" "Gilbert's my brother, Pratai. I've known him since my birth!" Pratai's face was the most astonished I'd ever seen in years. "YE? My favorite customer of all time, brothers with the man who saved my life in the war?!" Ah yes, have I mentioned that Gilbert and Pratai are both veterans of the same war? I had known this, and I don't know why it didn't occur to me that they might've known each other. They both fought during the silently controversial Eredinan Intervention, over a decade ago. Gilbert and I were aged twenty years at the time, and had chosen very separate paths in life. I was making my way up in South Coast management, but my brother took on what was known as an open gate job. An open gate job was not a job at all, but rather a way to cheat the

government system of mandatory employment. If you could bring in a little bit of money in to a business owner from other affairs: alcohol, drugs, or in my brother's case, gambling, you would be officially listed as employed by them and would therefore be able to exit the government's policies. However, even some of the laziest bums in the city couldn't resist the urge to go overseas and collect a monthly paycheck of eight-hundred dollars. When news of our involvement in the war broke out, my brother quit the job he didn't have and put on a uniform to join the ranks of nearly ten thousand other volunteers. The conflict at hand was contained within the small Bittoni Bay nation of Eredina, fought by two incompatible ethnic groups: the Bisoek and the Vadhti. Upon examination of the two groups, you would find only miniscule differences; both of the peoples had olive skin, coarse dark hair, large noses, nearly identical builds and heights. The only way you could tell them apart was by examining their teeth. Bisoek people had an extra pair of canine teeth in their lower jaw, the result of a minor genetic mutation thousands of years ago that was passed down over the generations. What drove the two groups to despise each other so greatly was not any physical difference. Physical differences were merely a way to tell each other apart, and mark you as either a friend or enemy to them. Differences arose because of jealousy, greed, and every shade of evil in between. Kalos, the Bisoek populated northern region of the country, was a land of prosperity, safety, and technological advancement. I wish I could've been able to see the beautiful city of Les Cratrres, with its beautiful architecture, verdant greenery, and technological wonders. The city boasted nearly three million people, a literacy rate of one-hundred percent, and a life expectancy of over ninety years. When Kremangeans, a race native to lands north of Kana, founded the colony over three hundred years ago during the Age of Imperalism, Kalos was not treated like other conquered lands. There existed no tyrannical mercantilist policies which opressed the natives and a large degree of autonomy was maintained. Free elections, modernized infrastructure and city structure, the establishment of churches and schools; Kalos became a little Kremange and not the primitive land it had been before. But, it remained a happy land, and the Bisoeks a happy people. It stood in stark contrast to the troubled land below. Orc Nae Elsh. That was the name given to the southern half of Eredina by the Alteans, the race responsible for the South's colonization. While Kalos was founded primarily out of good feelings and the urge to spread advancements in technology and society throughout the world, Orc Nae Elsh was founded out of Altean greed. After a massacre that left hundreds dead, Altea claimed the lands and immediately passed what are known today as the Tag Laws. Every citizen, or whatever the title for those unfortunate enough to inhibit Orc Nae Elsh, was assigned a necklace to be worn at all times. They were required to keep a certain quota with their Altean benefactors, exchanging all the fruits of their hard labor: crops, mined ores, jewels, for a small metal tag. These metal tags would be issued every month, to all who brought in their mandatory offerings to the Alteans. Any Vadhti caught without a tag would be executed on sight. This gross violation of humanity was able to continue for a good two hundred years more, before Altea and Kremange finally granted the two colonies independence uniting Eredina into one nation. However, the lands dividing walls did not fall with the colonial flags. The Bisoek remained highly concentrated in the north, while the Vadhti kept to themselves in the South. This remained the way of the land for decades: separation and silence. However, this remained hard to uphold when oil was discovered underneath Eredinan soil; not just a small well but some of the biggest deposits that the globe had to offer. Civil War broke out within a few years of this occurence. Neither side wanted to let the other have a share of the oil profits, and pledged to remove their foe from what both thought of as their rightful home. This is where Kana intervened. We wanted a share of this oil, and my did we get a share. After we allied with the Bisoek, pushing back the Vadhti was quite an easy task, a task that supplied Kana with a steady stream of cash from the four major oil pumping zones that we controlled. However, our 'kindness' to the Bisoek ended up being a flimsy faade that could be easily overturned. A year's time after the war, all troops were suddenly recalled from their posts and shipped back home, where they collected their last paychecks. A week after that, Vadhti swarmed in and assassinated Bisoek leaders in their classified locations: locations that only the Bisoek and the Kanans knew about. After that attack, the Vadhti completely destroyed the city of Les Cratrres, and slaughtered all of the people living within its walls. But, Kana didn't try to stop any of the horrible things happening, because we controlled not four, but six Eredinan oil stations now. All of these maddening events weren't

contained, the lives of millions weren't even thought of, for fear that we would lose six measly oil stations. It was as if our nation's starvation reflex had kicked in; we had been deprived, and now we savagely took what we wanted. We as a people knew that what had happened in Eredina was wrong. What else could we do though, ask to remain in constant poverty for the rest of our nation's history? We just had to stay silent, no matter how guilty it made us feel. Was it really worth it though? Were we actually to blame for the destruction of the Bisoek race, or were we applying too much blame where blame wasn't due? Could we even make a difference if we tried? That night, those were not the questions being asked of us. That night was a time for celebration. Gilbert and Pratai, close friends during hard times, had reunited after ten years. My brother was out of prison and ready to begin his life anew, and I was going to help him. All of our lives were beginning to go great. That night, we drank. Pratai had saved a bottle of Mortet in the back of the caf for an occasion of such magnitude: a delicious, red Au-Boire aged a good eight years. I could keep down a drink, but I wasn't too sure about the prospect of Mortet. "Mortet... I've never had Mortet. I've heard that stuff is pretty damned strong." "Well, don't we all feel strongly about what's happened today, Brian? I found yer brother! The man who saved my life!" "We all saved each other out there, Pratai. Don't reserve all the titles of heroism for me." "Sure, we all watched each other's backs out there, I ain't denyin' that. But what you did for me... Brian, ye've heard ALL of Gilbert's stories, I'm sure. Don't ye think yer brother's a hero?" Gilbert rolled his eyes, wearing that dramatic shade of humble beautifully. "It was no big deal, really," he said while rolling his eyes and attempting to look as suave as possible. My first few sips of Mortet went down and I was feeling like quite the rebellious soul. I was ready for anything except, of course, the Mortet itself. After three more glasses going down the old hatch, I wasn't feeling so great. Mortet isn't your average alcohol, it doesn't get you tipsy, and tipsier, and then finally drunk. Mortet accumulates in your system, making you feel a bit nauseous, and then proceeds to go straight to your head all at once. It was more akin to a drug, really, and I had just consumed enough of the damned stuff to kill the gods. When the Mortet struck would be up to your body's alcohol tolerance, and how much of it you drank. A drunk could probably go for about an hour before it kicked in, but I held no such title and would most likely fall within a few minutes. Gilbert had inherited even weaker genes than me apparently; he was slumped on the table laughing so hard that his face glowed a dark pink with all the blood that had rushed to his face. Pratai had fallen to the Mortet too. In my years of knowing him I had never seen cheerful Pratai so irate. His face was flushed nearly the same color as Gilbert's, though the reason for his blood rush did not originate with bliss. He stared at Gilbert and seemed completely and utterly annoyed, disgusted with the very thought out happiness though it had been his idea to celebrate in the first place. Mortet is said to bring out your real personality: all your deepest thoughts, all your most closeted fears, hell, even things you may not have known about yourself. All is projected for the world to say upon the Mortet hitting your brain. "Hahaha! Pratai... Pra... P... Pra... g...g... guess what?" "Spit it out ye drunk fool!" "...I forgot! Hahaha!" This scene pretty much repeated itself until Gilbert finally fell asleep on the table and Pratai had nothing more to be mad at. A sharp migraine suddenly seized me; whether it was from the Mortet or not, I did not know. Pratai startled the pain out of me by slamming his fist upon the table in an extremely angry fashion. "BEA!"

Bea poked her innocent little face out from the kitchen, completely unfazed by the boiling blood of her boss. Perhaps she was accustomed to such fits of rage. "Yeah, boss?" "Do ye hear that, Bea?" "No, boss, I don't hear nothing." "Exactly, damn it!" He pounded his fist on the table again. "Put on some music, for the sake of the gods!" Bea rolled her eyes and returned with a record from the back, and placed it on the phonograph. The room went from a dull and quiet bore to what I'm sure was one of the liveliest events in Kanan history. When that needle hit the record, the jazzy swing tunes of the Paradiddle Brothers, one of the greatest duos of the new swing jazz scene, filled the room and caused even my sleeping brother to get up and begin dancing. Pratai, the music having calmed him down, also got up and began to dance with Gilbert, mocking the flashy moves that the Paradiddle Brothers often used in their live performances. God, how I longed to attend one of their concerts. Music hadn't always been so exciting. Many of the upper class rich conservatives found this to be 'devil's music' and referred to it with countless misnomers of the sort. Well let me tell you, if this is the devil's music then send me to hell, baby! These were instruments that had been used for centuries: trumpets, trombones, saxophones, but only recently did the crazy notion dawn on mankind that perhaps using them exclusively in slow and droll pieces was a shameless insult to their very dignity. It took real talent to bring out the hidden natures of these instruments. The trumpet had always symbolized grace, serenity, the voices of the angels whispering to the people. In the right hands they could become a loud voice, shouting in aggrestion, letting it be known that they wanted to be heard! The trombone, a quiet background voice, was allowed to get on up there and dance a little in the spotlight too, right up there with the trumpet. The piano, the dignified weapon of choice for the arrogant and snooty, became the mellifluous blur of a party, running up and down scales with the greatest of euphonious ease. I walked to go over and join their dance, when a crippling headache nearly caused me to collapse to the floor. I shouted in agony, but only Bea heard my distress. She ran over and wordlessly walked me to a table, sitting me down by the window. "Ye didn't drink more than two glasses of that stuff... did ye?... Ye know what happens when you drink more than two glasses..." "No... No... Yes... I had three glasses! What's going to happen to me?!" She started laughing almost as hard as Gilbert did at those nonexistent jokes. Once the uproar had faded into a chuckle, she spoke again. "Aw, Brian, I'm just messing with ye! Ye're gonna be fine. Not much of a drinker, I'm assuming?" My racing heart and sweaty palms once more became the even tempo and dry hands of a calm man. Oh, Bea, you trickster you. "I'd say these are my first drops in a few years, yes." "Yeah, Mortet isn't too kind to those who don't drink it often. It's like trying to start an old car. It'll take a bunch of pain in the ass restarting, but it'll kick in, and all that'll clear up." She smiled, and then walked back to the kitchen. Ah, good old Bea. You had to love her. I looked out the window at the beautiful face of the moon peeking out at the night from behind the clouds, protecting the night with its comforting glow. The celestial army was hidden behind the thick nocturnal fog, marching on as always to slowly morph the night into day. "O gods, if you are there in the heavens above listening to me, please accept my prayer to you. I'm not much of a religious man, and I apologize for my ways over the past few years. Work has made it quite hard to attend church sometimes, but I assure you that I believe, I am obsequious to your ways. It must seem like I'm only calling you because I want something, my damned selfish self. This is not the case, no, not at all. It is my family needs you. My brother, he's the only family I've got left. I want for everything to be

alright, O gods, but I'm worried. Gilbert isn't exactly the most controlled of people; you should know, for it was you who made him. But please, help me help him to settle down. I want a better life for my brother, I know he has changed. Forgive him of his sins, as I have already forgiven him. Forgive me for not forgiving him sooner, O gods. Amen." One final headache devastated me, and then the Mortet began to flow through my body like a calming shower of delicate mist. My headache disappeared; it was suddenly like I didn't even have a head. I couldn't even feel my body. The only thing I was aware of was my mind, the endless world of wonder expanding for all those in The Mortet rush was a bit terrifying at first, as it took me falling through fiery hellish scenery, but eventually I learned how to control these dreams. The skies of demons and blood became a serene meadow, dampened by the recent passing of a rain shower. I saw a figure in the distance, a blonde woman clothed in all white, her figure a perfect hourglass. "Marie! Marie!" She didn't hear my call to her. "Marie!" I began to run as fast as my legs could carry me, but unfortunately that speed bore a very low measure. My legs weren't functioning properly; it was almost as if something were surrounding me, hindering my ability, but the air was as clear as the finest of crystal. Yet, what was this? I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. "Ma..." I could not even shout anymore. My voice had been plucked from me so suddenly and inexplicably. I could not call my beloved Marie, whose presence by my side would have been more than enough to fix whatever ailed me. A cloud of thunder smacked my eardrums, and I looked up to see the thunderclouds that weren't there only seconds ago. Lightning, the fury of the gods themselves, blinded me. When my vision began to fade back in I saw someone, something, sneaking up behind Marie. It's skin glowed a deathly shade of white. It looked bone thin, and its fingers projected from its hands like twigs on some grotesque dying tree. It had no mouth, or any other defineable facial features save for a pair of pupilless, red eyes that I could see even from this distance. It had the same stature as a person, but this was clearly no man. "Marie!" I managed to scream out, to warn her of the impending danger behind me. She finally turned around, she finally noticed me over here far behind her. She began to point and laugh. She took the silhouetted figures abominable hands and walked away with him, planting a small kiss on his cheek. They faded into blackness. Everything became blackness. The ground around me disappeared. And I was falling; falling into the void of my mind.

Chapter Four
Kat died.

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