Zilo: Hello everyone! (ducks thrown fruits and veggies) I know, I know, this is the record, and I am definitely sorry to leave you, especially on such a cliffhanger. There have been a lot of real life problems demanding my attention, a couple of which were my mom dealing with health problems and me having a falling out with my best friend and first beta. Also the computer broke. So it's been a bit of a hellacious few months. I'm back now, though, and ready to update. No responses this time, since I think I've made you wait long enough. Rest assured I read every review, and some of them actually made me cry. It was good to feel liked and supported, even though you guys didn't even know I was going through anything, and a lot of times I would read them simply as a mood-booster.

Anyway! I think it's time I stopped rambling and updated, because believe you me, we're not out of the woods yet. You'll see what I mean.


32: True Tears

Calendar Year 2007
Jacksonville, Florida

When I opened the e-mail, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that EdwardsWife77 was a crazy fangirl, but this seemed ridiculous. The chain letter promised to send me to whatever anime dimension I wanted.

I stared at it for a moment, lost in imagining. What if it worked, and I actually got to go? I would definitely go to Fullmetal Alchemist. I could actually meet Ed and Al, Roy and Riza, and all my favorite characters. It would be like walking onto the set of your favorite movie, only during one long, continuous take.

Then I shook my head. It was silly. It wouldn't work, it was just something dumb to pass the time. I hovered the mouse over the Delete button, feeling a twinge of guilt. I HAD promised EdwardsWife77 that I would use it. But how would she know otherwise? I could just lie, or maybe not even bring it up.

I hit Delete before I could change my mind.


"Aw, Risty, you're so nutty. You sound like you wish it really would have worked," Zoe said with a laugh, running a comb through her platinum blond hair.

"Well, I mean, it does sound like it would be fun," I pointed out, taking a bite out of my granola bar.

"Yeah, if it could really happen. Not saying it's impossible, but what would be the odds it would happen to you?" Zoe used two fingers to hold up the blue streak in her bangs so she could look at it in the mirror. "Ah, damn, I can see roots already."

"I guess not very high," I mumbled. I felt tears stinging and hid them by pretending to be engrossed in opening a new tab in the browser. Sometimes I wished that Zoe wouldn't discount my opinion so much. But I'd never say that to her, because usually she's an awesome best friend.

"Hey, where did your mom say she was going again?"

"Book club, I think." I typed in the address of the anime website I frequented. As soon as it loaded, I logged on, and immediately an IM box popped up.

EdwardsWife77: hey hey! so did u use the letter?

I grimaced, not looking forward to lying.

MistaMarista: yeah I did, lol. No fma except in my dreams that night.

Surprisingly, it took EdwardsWife77 a while to reply.

EdwardsWife77: really? u sure u used it right?

I blinked, feeling a wave of guilt. Was my lying somehow still obvious, even in toneless text?

MistaMarista: yeah, I followed the instructions just right. Come on don't be silly, as great as it would be we both know it wouldn't have done it for real
EdwardsWife77:
u dont know that
MistaMarista:
but something like that isn't real, it could never happen. It's not possible and it was silly in the first place
EdwardsWife77:
You don't know that, Risty.

I felt a plunge in my gut.

MistaMarista: how do you know my name?
EdwardsWife77:
I'm actually a little disappointed. You seemed like you could use a trip. I guess this means you fail. But that's all right.
MistaMarista:
what are you talking about?
EDWARDSWIFE77 HAS LOGGED OFF
MistaMarista:
come back! What do you mean?
EDWARDSWIFE77 IS LOGGED OFF. WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE?

I pushed the chair away from the desk, my stomach roiling. What had she meant? How had she known my name? And why had her writing style suddenly changed? Was she one of those predators that pretended to be teen girls to lure other teen girls?

A new window popped up, blank with a cursor blinking near the top. Zoe, who had seen me push my chair away, came over. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Um…nothing, I…"

The cursor started to move, words appearing behind it.

Please focus your attention on these words. They will assist in extracting all memories of our influence in your life. Focus on them and keep reading them until the process is complete. When you are through, you will continue on with your day as usual, and we will not trouble you again.

Focus…?

I blinked, confused. How long had I been sitting in front of the computer? I glanced at Zoe. "Hey, when did you get here?"

"I dunno, aren't I always here?" Zoe said with a shrug.

I giggled. "That's true." I turned back to the computer, wondering why I'd been staring at the browser's home page, and clicked it closed. "Isn't it spring break? Why don't we go do something fun?"

"That's what I'm talking about!" Zoe whooped, tossing a comb over her shoulder.


(...)


Calendar Year 2009
Hampton, Virginia

"Sakura! We'll be late! Mom said not to be laaate!"

"Okay, okay!" Sakura said with a giggle, letting her little sister pull her along by the hand. The fairgrounds were well populated, but there was still space to move around. It was nice and sunny, with a few wispy clouds in the sky.

Movement caught her eye, and she turned to see her brother weaving around a couple of people towards them, three already soft-looking cones balanced precariously in his hands. At the sight, her sister squealed and bounded forward.

Sakura took a moment to look around, feeling that nervous excitement in her gut. EdwardsWife77 had said she'd be here, and would have a sign. It was almost 2:00. Sakura hoped she'd be able to find a good excuse to split from the others and go to the parking lot, where the meeting was supposed to take place.

Two people went past her at a brisk pace. One had shoulder-length black hair pulled back in a low ponytail. The other had curly brown hair and a blue tam on her head. For a reason she couldn't figure, Sakura's eyes lingered on the blue tam's back. It almost seemed familiar to her in a way she couldn't place. She watched as the two sat down at a bench, their heads close together. She could sense a weird tension coming from them.

'Are they on a date?' she wondered, her eyes lingering on their backs as she and her siblings moved leisurely in the direction of where the parade would start.

"Oh no, I'm so sorry!" Her sister's slightly panicked voice drew Sakura's attention away. She turned to find her sister now trying to wipe ice cream of the face of a tiny toddler with cute reddish-brown curls, whose face was screwed up in an about-to-cry expression.

"No, don't use your hands," Sakura reprimanded, striding over. She nodded to her brother. "Get some napkins from that stand behind us."

"It's okay, sweetie-pie, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get you all sticky with ice cream," Sakura's sister cooed to the toddler, like she was the mother instead of roughly four years older than the target of her sudden affection.

By that point, her brother had returned with a wad of napkins, and he ignored his cone dripping all over his hand as he knelt to start wiping ice cream off the little girl's face.

"Cassie!" a voice exclaimed. Sakura looked up and saw a plump girl about her age with short red hair heading towards them, a worried look on her face. Behind her was a lanky girl with shoulder-length black hair and glasses.

"Holy shit, Cassie, don't take off like that!" the girl said to the toddler, kneeling down.

"I'm sowry," Cassie sniffled as Sakura's brother rubbed her hands clean.

"I'm so sorry, I spilled my cone all over her like a ditzy ditz," Sakura's sister said promptly.

The girl glanced up. "Don't worry about it, Cassie's been dirtier."

"Sorry if we caused any trouble," said the black-haired girl, though her voice made Sakura wonder if she was actually a boy. Sakura also realized that the gray eyes behind those glasses were focused on her. She'd never met someone else with gray eyes. "Say…you're Sakura, right? Sakura Shermi?"

"Yeah?" Sakura said, surprised.

The girl, or boy, flashed a knowing smile. "Yeah, it's been ages." Sakura was confused until the boy briefly flipped up a notepad and winked. The username she'd been seeking was written clearly on a page. "We should catch up, you know?"

A smile spread across Sakura's face. "Oh, totally."

"I'll catch up to you later, Joey," EdwardsWife77 said.

"Sure thing, weirdo. If you see my brother, tell him to call off the search dogs," the redheaded girl replied.


(...)


Calendar Year 1925
An empty field, Germany

She opened her eyes wide with a choking gasp. The sun was too bright. The air smelled too fresh. The grass felt too prickly. Everything made her hurt.

She felt even emptier than before.

Risty managed to roll onto her side, struggling to catch her breath. Even that hurt, but she had to breathe. She squeezed her eyes shut, ignored how the scratchy grass stung, and tried to make her brain work right. There were faint echoes of screams, and she was fairly certain that some of those were hers.

It had hurt.

Her chest felt the worst, like someone had heated the edge of a steel support beam and shoved it straight through. She hadn't realized it was possible to be in so much pain without physical injury.

Think…think! Think clearly!

There was one thing she was definitely sure of. Through all the pain, she could tell that her head was finally empty. No one else was in there.

No children. No Ed.

Risty clutched at her chest, as if she could pull the pain out, and focused on making herself breathe normally. She had to focus. She had to get up and see.

But it HURTS!

So she laid there, listening, feeling, gauging how deeply she could inhale before it stabbed.

And then she remembered.

She laid silently for a moment, digesting what she was seeing. Faces arose in her memory, faces that slowly regained names, personalities, and significance. Her mother. Her father. Zoe. Astrid. The chain letter, and the body switch. Everything after being taken into Amestris. She could remember it now.

She ran memories through her head, reliving them in amazement. There were so many things she'd forgotten. Some things were murky, and she had to focus hard on them to clear them up, but it looked like almost everything was back.

The impromptu stroll down Memory Lane was surprisingly calming to her. Her breathing became more even and less painful. Slowly, her limbs began to regain their strength, tingling with memories of their own. The pain was very slowly subsiding to the point where she could get a handle on it.

Remember…

That word echoed in her mind, like a final farewell from someone who was going away. She flexed her good arm, testing it, and when she realized she could handle the pain, she braced it under herself and pushed herself up into a sitting position.

The field stretched out in all directions. The soft light of a sunrise made it almost glow. Had the night actually come and gone? The thought was amazing, but the evidence was right there in the east.

She felt her head. Something crusty was caked to it, and she felt a sore bump on her scalp. Examining the crusty flakes that came away on her hand, she realized it was dried blood. Right, she'd had a head injury. And—she realized as she looked down—one side of her bangs was about half the length of the other. Splatters of dried blood spotted her shirt, and there were a few rips in the fabric. Her sling had broken open and was now draped pathetically over her bad arm, which felt so stiff that she could barely unbend it.

She absently touched her face and chin, as if checking to make sure she was really all there. With the huge, aching emptiness inside her, it was hard to tell. She'd never realized how much of what she thought was herself was really others, but now she definitely understood.

After making sure she could sit upright without falling over, she finally mustered up the courage to look around. To her left, a few feet away, lay Al, on his stomach, hands down at his sides. A bruise was starting to form on his throat. He looked…oddly peaceful, the kind of face one could make only if not possessed by monsters while unconscious. In front of her and to the right was nothing but the field.

She twisted around to look behind her.

Ed lay on his back, face turned away. There were so many cuts and gashes all over his body, and showing through tears in his clothes. They all seemed to have stopped bleeding, at least. His hand faced upward, her silver necklace resting in the palm.

She looked from one brother to the other, slowly, acknowledging but not wanting to think about what she saw.

Al's chest moved. Ed's didn't.

If she wanted any further proof that the bond between her and Ed was well and truly gone, she had it now. Otherwise she'd never be awake now. Tears filled her eyes, and she had the absurd thought that the Gate had made her cry before she'd given herself permission to do so.

"I'll cry for days. For weeks. For years. Forever. And then I never want to cry again."

Well how dumb am I? she thought as the tears finally overflowed. She'd never be able to cry enough. Slowly, painfully, she dragged herself across the ground towards Ed, laid her head on his motionless chest, and closed her eyes, squeezing out more tears.

I wish I'd never opened that letter.


"We've got a sighting."

Roy perked up when Ezekiel appeared in the doorway with those words. "Where?" he asked, straightening from where he'd been resting against the windowsill. Rita, who had dozed off at the table with her chin in her hand, instantly woke up.

"In a field a couple of miles outside of town," Ezekiel said. "Alphonse, Edward, and Risty."

"So they found him," Rita said.

"Where are they headed?" Roy asked.

"Nowhere."

Roy looked confused, until Ezekiel elaborated. "According to the one who spotted them, they were all lying unconscious in the field. It looked like there had been a serious fight."

"They…killed each other?" Rita said in surprise.

Ezekiel only shrugged slightly. "Unknown. He came back to report without checking them for signs of life."

"Then let's go," Roy said, heading for the door. "Get the doctor. Rita, with me."

"No backup?" Rita asked as she fell into step behind him, Ezekiel disappearing from the doorway to summon Dr. Cornello.

"No. I have a feeling it's over."


Al sucked in a breath and hissed, causing Risty to lift her head. She turned him and saw his face screwed up in pain, his arm clutching his stomach.

"Al?" Risty pushed herself up into a sitting position again, then, testing her legs, found she could stand now. She got up slowly, her legs still stiff and sore, and sort of hobbled over to Al's side, dropping back down on her knees when she reached him. "That's…really you, right?" she said, her hand reaching out hesitantly.

Al took a few breaths, seeming to try and get himself under control. Finally he cracked open his eyes and looked up at her. "…Risty?" he croaked.

She nodded, mustering up a smile. "How do you feel?"

"Like…someone beat me up."

"Well…we kinda did."

Al seemed to be having a hard time keeping his eyes open. He reached out and put his hand over hers. "Risty, I'm so sorry…what I did to everyone…"

"We'd never blame you. We know you wouldn't ever do such a thing," Risty assured him, squeezing his hand.

"But I still did…" Al's face screwed up again, this time in anguish. Risty swallowed down a lump in her throat and squeezed his hand a little harder. "Al, it's not your fault what the Gate did using your body. You can't blame yourself. I know for sure that you must have fought them as hard as you could."

Al took a deep breath, as if trying to inhale that explanation. He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them, he seemed to have resolved to work it out at a later date. "Brother?" he asked.

Risty glanced over her shoulder. "He's…asleep." She couldn't make her mouth form the words, even though it hurt to lie to Al.

"He must be tired. They tried to kill him so much." Al's eyes drifted closed. "I'm sorry…I feel so exhausted…"

"It's okay. Sleep—real sleep—will probably do you some good."

Al nodded faintly. "I wish…I could tell them…I'm sorry…"

Risty was confused, until she realized that Al might be talking about the people the Gate had killed with his body. "None of them would blame you either," she said softly. Well, Envy might, she thought.

She held his hand until his grip softened and his breaths evened, indicating he'd fallen asleep. Double-checking to ensure he was breathing properly, she let go of his hand, her smile vanishing. Al was alive and free—it was more than they could ask for. She'd known the price for him would be steep. She'd hoped that their "souls" would be enough to get them out the door.

Maybe the Gate had seen through the trick. She imagined that they would assess which of the two people offering the deal posed the biggest threat to them. Deciding on Ed, they must have…

She shuddered. She didn't want to think about it.

Instead, as she slowly rose from the ground and moved back to Ed, she tried to think about those last moments before the Gate had taken what was theirs contractually. She almost couldn't believe she'd been bold enough to confess to Ed. Maybe the impending threat of death had been enough to remove her reservations.

She dropped down on her knees next to Ed, then angled herself so she could sit facing Al, and lifted Ed's head into her lap. He only looked like he was asleep.

And then, imagine her surprise when Ed not only took it in stride, but returned it.

"I swore I would never lose another person I loved!"

"What about me, Ed?" she said. "I don't like losing people I love either."

You, Mom, Dad, Zoe, Astrid…why am I the one left standing? What's so great about me? Who decided I was strong enough to handle this?

She felt tears again, and this time she had no reservations about letting them spill over. A painful sob rose up in her throat, and she didn't try to stop that either. She bent over as if to shield Ed's head with her curled-up body, and decided to mourn everyone she'd lost.


Roy, who was leaning out of the passenger side of the car, was the first to spot the three in the field beneath the bright afternoon sun. His gut clenched at the signs of carnage: the ground was torn up in a wide area, and dried blood decorated the grass in spots that indicated more had seeped into the ground. Near the middle of the gruesome battlefield were Ed, Al, and Risty.

"Park here," Roy said, already climbing over the car door before Rita could even stop the car. He heard her park, with Ezekiel parking the car he drove behind hers, and the others got out as he jogged down the gentle slope into the field. Al lay on his stomach, unmoving; Ed lay with his head in Risty's lap, also unmoving; Risty appeared to be the only one conscious, curled around Ed's head and shoulders, but she wasn't really moving either. She didn't even hear Roy's footsteps as he approached.

Roy tried to be careful, gently laying a hand on her shoulder. She didn't flinch, just eventually raised her head to see what was up. Only his experience kept him from flinching at seeing the knot on her head and the dried blood stuck to her face, as well as her red-rimmed eyes and exhausted expression.

"So what happened?" he asked gently.

"We saved Al," she said dully, her voice raw.

Roy glanced over at Al again and saw that the boy appeared to be alive, just unconscious.

"Mr. Roy…" He turned back to her as she spoke. "Whatever you do, when he wakes up, please don't blame him for the murders. He…I don't think he could take it."

"We'll see," Roy said, already knowing there'd be trouble back at the warehouse when they brought Alphonse back.

Finally the others had made it. Dr. Cornello, instantly sizing up the situation, went to attend Al first. Ezekiel seemed to be trying to read the war zone to see what had happened. Ravi, who had insisted on coming along, came to Risty's side and knelt next to her. Rita stood next to Roy, looking regretful.

"Oh my," Ravi said, taking Risty's face in her hands, "you've been through quite a day."

"Yeah…" Risty agreed.

"Did Alphonse…is he…" Rita seemed to be looking for the right words.

"He's free now. We took care of it," Risty said.

Rita noticed how Risty's arm was draped almost defensively around Ed's head and shoulders, and didn't inquire as to what had happened to him. Instead, she turned to Roy. "If we brought them back to the warehouse, there could be trouble. Not everyone would be happy to see Alphonse," she said.

"Bring them to our house," Ezekiel said suddenly, coming over. Ravi glanced up, looking relieved.

Roy nodded in agreement. "All right, let's clear out of here before someone notices and starts asking questions. Ezekiel, see to Alphonse."

Ezekiel back and went over to where Dr. Cornello knelt over Al. Roy glanced down at Ed, and Risty's free fist clenched in response. Ravi, still holding Risty's face, got the younger girl's attention. "It's all right, Risty. We won't do anything sudden. You can let go."

Slowly, reluctantly, Risty released her hold on Ed. Roy crouched down and swung Ed up into his arms, and Risty's hands went after them, as if to tell him he was doing it wrong. Ravi let go of her face and pulled her into a hug. "It's all right," Ravi said again.

"No it's not," Risty said into Ravi's shoulder.


The ride was quiet. Risty—with temporary bandages wound around her head, ankle, and hands—and Ed rode with Roy and Rita, and Al with the others. Since they were driving all the way back to Ravi and Ezekiel's house in Scheden, it would have been a good time to discuss how they were going to handle things. But somehow it seemed inappropriate.

The sun had reached its peak and was thinking about heading down by the time they finally made it to the house. They all quietly got out, and Ravi held open the front door as Ezekiel and Roy made their way in, weighed down with Al and Ed respectively. Dr. Cornello followed, already pulling items out of his medkit, and Rita and Risty brought up the rear, with Rita automatically keeping an eye out for anyone suspicious.

Roy placed Ed on a couch in the front room, while Dr. Cornello directed Ezekiel to take Al to the bedroom. Risty sat down at the table in the kitchen. She remembered sitting at this very table with Simon, nervously pursuing a lead to finding Ed. That seemed like years ago. Rita sat down also, settling her hands on the table.

After a few moments, Ravi returned, arms full of supplies. "All right, Risty, let's patch you up," she said brightly, with an encouraging smile.

"So what are you going to do now?" Rita asked.

"I don't know. I guess I'll have to…ask Al, and we'll…figure it out together," Risty mumbled, wincing as Ravi unwound the bandage from her head.

"Well, if the two of you need somewhere to stay while you decide, you can always stay here," Ravi said.

"Okay. I, um…thank you."

Ravi smiled and selected a bottle and a cloth from her pile of supplies. She turned Risty's head to get at the bump, and Risty's eyes fell on Ed, deposited on the couch. Again, he only looked like he was asleep, except for the telltale lack of movement in his chest.

"What will you do…with…" Risty tried to be brave enough to say it, but she still couldn't.

Rita, however, caught on easily. "Whatever you want to do," she replied.

"Did Ed ever have any instructions?" Ravi asked.

"No, he…we never talked about anything like that," Risty protested.

Rita watched her for a moment. Ravi silently worked, wiping Risty's face and arms free of blood, removing the temporary bandages, replacing them with stronger and less bulky alternatives. "Let me see your arm," she finally said, indicating Risty's bad arm.

"Um…it might be stuck," Risty said. She'd pressed the arm against her side, holding it like it was still in its sling, which was the least painful position for it.

"If you don't want to remain stuck, you'll have to move it, even if it hurts," Ravi told her.

Risty nodded, then steeled herself and tried to pull her arm away from her body. A jolt of protesting pain shot all the way up to her shoulder, and she gritted her teeth, but didn't stop. Each tiny movement caused pain, but she finally found her arm in Ravi's hands.

"Hmmm," Ravi said, nodding. "It needs to get used to movement again."

"I can't really do anything with it. I can barely feel my fingers, and my elbow gets stiff a lot," Risty said.

"Well there are exercises that can give you back some mobility. I don't know what it would do about the numbness, but you don't want to give up on it," Ravi said.

Risty nodded a little.

"Now that we've worked on the health, what should we do about your hair?" Ravi asked.

"Oh—um…" Risty absently touched the butchered side. "I guess I can just cut it short again."

"Do you want me to do it for you?" Ravi asked.

"Yes, that would be nice, thanks."

Ravi nodded and offered a smile. Risty couldn't manage one in return.

Roy had been leaning against the wall that separated the front of the house from the back, quietly contemplating. He looked up when Dr. Cornello appeared around the wall, as did everyone in the kitchen.

"He's waking up," Dr. Cornello reported.

Risty instantly got up from the table. Her ankle complained, but not badly enough to stop her. "Is he gonna be okay?" she asked, already moving.

Dr. Cornello stepped aside to let her limp past, then followed. "He'll certainly have some bruises, but fortunately nothing's worse than a sprain or two. I have to say, considering what he looked like when I got there, the damage wasn't as bad as it seemed like it should have been."

Risty didn't answer that, but it came to her that Ed had probably pulled his punches a bit. His intention was to scare the Gate into thinking he'd rather kill Al then let them carry on with his brother's body. Well, he'd succeeded.

Dr. Cornello directed her to the right door, and Risty pushed it open. Inside, lying on one of two beds, was Alphonse, freshly bandaged up and changed into some of Ezekiel's clothes. He seemed to be returning to consciousness, and Risty hesitated at the doorway.

Al groggily cracked open his eyes. His face registered confusion as they took in the unfamiliar room, but then they landed on her and he relaxed a little. "Are you okay?" he asked, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position.

"I guess," Risty mumbled, absently touching her bad arm, which was once again pressed against her side. "What about you?"

"I feel a little better now," he said, checking himself. "What happened? Where are we?"

"At Ravi and Ezekiel's. Roy and everyone found us and brought us here," Risty said.

"Oh." Al touched his neck, where the bruises were, and winced.

"What about your head? Is that…clear?" Risty asked next.

Al paused for a moment, seeming to look inward, and a relieved smile spread across his face. "They're gone. I can't feel them anywhere."

"I'm glad," Risty said sincerely, even though she still couldn't smile.

Al looked up at her, and his own smile faded. "Risty, what is it?" He seemed to register something then—or more specifically, the absence of someone. A faint look of panic appeared in his eyes. "Where's Brother?"

Her chin trembled. She had really hoped he wouldn't ask, as selfish as that was. It was too much to look in his eyes, which were pleading for a positive answer, so she stared at the floor instead.

"No…" She heard the almost pitiful denial in his voice and could tell he was slowly shaking his head. "Please, don't tell me…"

There was a quiet click behind her, and Risty realized that someone—probably Dr. Cornello—had shut the door to give them privacy. She steeled herself and raised her eyes to Al's. Her silence had already given him the answer he didn't want, and his face was starting to crumple.

"I'm so sorry, Al," she managed.

Al's eyes lost focus, and he slowly looked down at his lap, though it didn't seem like he was really seeing it. "But…he couldn't…we promised we'd…" Tears filled his eyes and spilled over almost instantly.

Risty felt the overwhelming urge to cry. Instead, she made her way over to the bed and sat down on it, twisting around to face Al. She reached out her good arm and pulled him into a hug. Al's head collapsed on her shoulder, his hands clutched her arms, and he started to cry, real sobs that shook his entire body. Risty squeezed her eyes shut tight to hold back her own tears.

I already got my chance to cry. It's Al's turn. I'll be strong for Al.

So she focused on holding him and not crying, as he grieved for his brother.


"I swore I'd never lose another person I loved!"

Such a thing was an abomination to them. Even the concept made them shudder. They hated the stuff, simply because they could never fully understand it, and therefore never completely control it. Somehow it gave people the ability to be more than their usual shallow, selfish selves, which made them more unpredictable, less likely to bend to pressure.

And he was full of it.

If they hated him before, they utterly despised him now. He had every kind of the stuff in him now: the kind for both those related by blood and related only by experience. And he was naturally stubborn.

He was going to pay dearly for all of this.


Zilo: Hopefully I will have the next one up before the new year. Believe in me! I'll do my best!