AN: Sorry this is late. Please lower the Molotov cocktails. Here is your update.

Disclaimer: If I owned FMA, most FMA doujin would not exist. So that's what's behind Armor!Al's loincloth. Wait, what are you doing? RUN, ROY!

Cannot... unsee...

Revolution: Part 1

The cold wind whipped through the empty boxcar the moment the large door rumbled open along its track, the dim light of evening twilight illuminating the disturbed accumulated eddies of dust and grass scattered throughout the wooden floor of the interior. Black hair temporarily obscured her vision as she leaned out of the car to judge the trains position and speed. The tracks a mile or so ahead followed a very gentle curve northward, and by her estimates there was a ten minute window before the train would begin moving further away from Lior rather than closer- and speeding up.

Hawkeye turned back in with a hand remaining on the door and again considered her options while staring at her military surplus pack. Truth was, there were none. The train wasn't going to slow down too much more than this, and it was already holding steady at around thirty miles per hour. There was no way to land on her feet this time, and landing on her side at a roll- no matter which side- would hurt her healing arm. She had to drop the bag out first, then jump. She had already tightly bandaged the arm to prevent as much injury as possible. Better get it over with before she lost her nerve.

There were no train stations in Lior. From experience she knew that the military would have stopped the eastbound to Yous Well and disembarked off the tracks at the point closest to Lior. Setting up ramps and rolling the tanks and armored cars off the train cars was less of a hassle than shutting down an entire train station in some Podunk town to disembark.

The brakes hissed and squealed as the train began to drop its speed for the curve.

Hawkeye hooked her hand through a shoulder strap of the pack and leaned out of the doorway just enough to note that the front of the train was no longer visible: the train had entered the turn. She dumped the bag out the door into a clump of sage grass and swung herself onto the ladder beside the door. Once down the ladder steps, she stopped on the last rung with a foot hovering over the ballast rushing by below. No turning back now. Hawkeye took a deep breath, screwed her eyes shut, and pushed hard away from the ladder to fall into the darkening desert.

The military presence was everywhere in Amestris- except here. The interior of Lior appeared eerily void of any military activity whatsoever. The atmosphere directly opposed from the surrounding desert which teemed with armored cars, tents, patrolling soldiers and the silent yet threatening artillery lines that trained sights on the humble homes of hearth and cradle.

They were silent, for now.

As Hawkeye made her approach from the north, she easily avoided the military base stationed directly south. The mountain range had slowed her trek a full day, but the higher vantage point did allow her to see how the military had encamped itself around the city and allow her to plan accordingly.

She entered the city at night, but the shadows ended at the city border. To her wide-eyed amazement, the warring city was afire with festivities. The symbols of the sun god Leto were everywhere: on banners hanging from the roofs of homes and shops,and on the walls surrounding the temple. Torches, braziers, and numerous campfires lit up the city streets as bright as daylight.

Before she entered the town, Hawkeye stashed her pack amid the rubble of a bombed building and donned a traditional desert gown and hooded cloak in light brown and white over her traveling clothes.

A few groups of friends and family gathered in the main square around several campfires that licked up and sparked swirling columns of embers up into the night sky. The sound of violins, drums, tambourines, castanets, and guitars enlivened . But for a quick sidestep, the disguised woman would have found herself knocked over by a rowdy group of children running among the groups of adults ringing cowbells or banging blocks of wood together.

"What on earth...?" Hawkeye murmured under her breath.

Just ahead, she saw a woman approach the decorative fountain near the main square and dip a cup into the wide basin. She stopped herself mid sip to grab a handful of robe to yank a mischievous child from dipping his own cup into the fountain and shoo him away. The young boy ran away back to his friends, which as a group ran off laughing through the crowd.

Music grew in volume. A procession marched closer to the town square, led by a group of eager children clapping blocks of wood or banging cymbals.

These days a stranger, especially a fair-skinned stranger, would be less than welcome in Lior. Mindful of that fact, Hawkeye found a discrete place between two closed merchants stalls to watch from.

A team of two donkeys pulled a rig hauling a statue of Leto behind them. The statue was so large that no cart could hold it; a pole drag-like apparatus lashed to the stone cargo dragged along the ground, the statue's sandaled feet gouging two furrows through the street. Despite the excitement of the children leading the procession and the music that could only be described as triumphant accompanied by its arrival, half the gathering crowd seemed very unhappy about the parade. A few men spat in the sand, many murmured into the ears of others with outraged expressions, some women even covered their faces with light scarves and wept. The other half couldn't be happier and cheered and clapped as it passed by. Despite the opposing feelings and obvious tension, no one moved to stop them.

Two men dragging a short knotted stack of thorny acacia branches each walked behind the donkeys, erasing the gouges and leaving smooth, raked road behind them. Women dress in white gowns with long, trailing white scarves tossed more desert evergreens onto the path, like flower girls at a wedding. Behind that group came the main event. The reaction of the crowd appeared universally approving. Even the grumblers had perked up and leaned from side to side to see around the ones in front. More women in white walked along either side of a high, white canopy held by what Hawkeye imagined were priestesses. The ones holding the canopy poles and the single woman walking beneath it holding a very young infant in her arms wore white hooded robes. The city square cheered as the woman walked into the main plaza; Hawkeye heard the phrase "-the Blessed Holy Mother!" repeated often. Behind the canopy, men and women in the normal dress robes of this region carried heavy pots on their shoulders or even heads, bending and tipping the pots to pour red wine into cups and goblets the crowd held out. Much of the drink spilled onto the road or even the servers and served, but no one seemed to mind, even laughing about it. Hawkeye couldn't see what transpired in the square; it was too dangerous to be in such a public place.

"Amazing," she breathed. The symbolism of this winter solstice rite was more than an ancient tradition this year. The death of the sun and the old god bringing in the new worked to smooth over the hostilities between the two side of the civil war. The rites had been in place long before Letoism arrived in Lior, but now they took on a new as well as the ancient meaning. Leto's time was over, the sun had died. The new religion seemed to center around this Holy Mother and her baby. Some may hold on to Letoism, but at this moment it was not something anyone felt the need to fight over.

A familiar metallic sound brought Hawkeye back to the present and her mission. Her eyes snapped up, looking over the heads of those passing by to enter the square. The familiar helmet of Alphonse Elric rose head and shoulders above everyone else, standing out and almost shining with the flickering of firelight all around. He followed the Holy Mother, watching her.

Hawkeye waited until he had disappeared into the masses before turning away. She would find a way to follow the boy to speak with him alone.

Many took to the rooftops to watch the events in the square, but Hawkeye needed to avoid encounters with the locals as much as possible. Instead, she stayed one street back from the main show as the procession moved back through the streets. When the crowd thinned out and the celebratory whoops and hollers grew fewer, Hawkeye dared to slink between the buildings and get closer to the Holy Mother's entourage. Following them no more than two houses behind, she watched Al's back weave through the city streets and bring up the rear of the priestesses into a nondescript building. Before he ducked his head to enter through the low doorway, Hawkeye picked up the pace to a run. "Alphonse!

The armor froze, then in a single move ducked back out and spun to face her direction.

"Lieutenant Hawkeye!"

The woman slowed to a walk and pulled down her headdress, smiling.

The familiar sound of clanging metal at a run, heard so many times in the halls of Eastern and Central Headquarters, and the excitement in Alphone's voice brought both relief and a wave of nostalgia. Hawkeye stopped and smiled up to the boy's glowing red eyes.

"Alphonse. It's so good to see you," Hawkeye said with genuine feeling.

"Lieutenant Hawkeye! What happened to your hair?1 What are you doing here? I mean, not that I'm not glad to see you, but I saw the posters-"

"Shh," Hawkeye interrupted, patting her uninjured hand down in the air to signal him to keep it down. She cast furtive glances all around them. "Let's talk somewhere safe."

The young teen nodded, held out a chivalrous arm for her to grasp, and led her back into the doorway he had ducked out from.

The teapot looked as if it were from a child's playset in Alphonse's giant gauntlets, but with exquisite care and practiced delicacy, he poured the steaming liquid into two tiny teacups and set the pot aside on a hotpad with a telltale relieved sigh.

"You handle that very well," Hawkeye commented.

The boy rubbed the back of his helmet and chuckled, a bit sheepish as he sat down on a chair much too small for him. "You get used to it after a while. I broke so many of Granny's plates and cups, it's a good thing I'm an alchemist!"

"I can definitely see the benefits," she said after a sip, holding the teacup to warm her hands. "Was the trouble due to the size of your new body?"

"That was hard, but I couldn't feel anything," he said, lifting a thick gauntlet and flexing it into a fist in front of his face. "It took forever to figure out how to hold something delicately and how to throw a hard punch."

"Can you not even tell when you're holding something?"

His voice grew quieter. "Ehhh... I can feel resistance, but that's it."

Setting her cup down in her saucer with a soft clack, Hawkeye reached for his gauntlet with both hands and turned it palm out, then pressed her palm to his. "When we meet again, let's greet each other like this. This way we can both feel each other, and I can make a connection directly to you, your soul, despite your current body. You can do this with all your friends."

The boy stared at their hands pressed together, then at the Lieutenant. Once he found his voice, he said, "I never realized that's what Brother and I were doing. We bump fists sometimes, it's our way of hugging I guess." Almost reluctant, the boy lowered his hand back to the table. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll do that."

Hawkeye rested her folded arms on the table and leaned closer. "Just Riza, Al. No need to be formal, especially now that I'm no longer in the military."

The armor scraped as it leaned in closer as well, his voice lowering. "What happened, Lieu- er, Riza? Why are you on wanted posters everywhere?"

"Long story, but the short version is that the military is under the control of evil homunculi and I happened to discover that the Fuhrer is really a homunculus named Pride. I barely escaped with my life due to the quick action of another homunculus that is on our side."

"On our side? A homunculus?" he repeated, incredulous.

The former blonde nodded. "There are two on our side: Greed and Lust."

"Lust? But the Colonel killed Lust, we both saw it!"

"I know, but someone made a new one. Actually, he was made specifically to aid us in overthrowing this regime."

The helmet creaked, but the boy said nothing. Hawkeye schooled her reaction enough to hide her relief. Al was a sharp kid, he might have already guessed to the identity of Lust, but he was also wise enough to know when to let a question drop.

She took a sip of her tea to gather her thoughts. The next bit would be difficult. The cup set down in the saucer with a short clink and she encircled them with her arms, fingers intertwined. "How much do you know about how a homunculus is created?"

Again, more quiet. The armor creaked as the boy sat up straighter, staring at her with his unblinking gaze. They both knew how it was done. "Why are you asking this, Lieu- Riza?"

Hawkeye sighed through her nose. "What you and Edward created would not take human form without red stones, inferior Philosopher's Stones," she began in a soft tone. "You boys didn't have any, but someone else did. Someone who found your creation and fed her those stones... and then placed her in the military."

More quiet. Then, "The Fuhrer's aide."

She nodded. "So you've seen her. It's true. Her name is Sloth, and she is not like your mother. Not at all."

The helmet lowered, his gaze on the table. "We saw her, but... we thought it couldn't be possible."

"What you saw was not your mother, I know you know that."

The helmet shook side to side in the negative. "No. She would never leave us. Never."

"Homunculi have one weakness, and that's to the remains of the person they were created after. When they get near it, they freeze and become immobilized." Now for the hardest part. Wish a discrete swallow, she decided to plow on ahead. Alphonse was a strong boy. "We're planning to fight the homunculi very soon. Because they are stronger, faster, and skilled beyond human capabilities, we need to find their weaknesses. My job is to find the human remains of the homunculi to aid in our battle against them." Her fingers clenched tighter. "I need to bring a piece of your mother's remains back to Central. Without it, we may not succeed in overthrowing them."

Al shook his head again, sitting up straighter. "No. No, Riza. We can't let you do that." Hawkeye had time to blink in surprise before he continued. "We'll do it. This is our mess, we can't ask you to clean it up for us."

Hawkeye's mouth opened to verbalize an argument against this, but in the end it closed and she nodded. "You're both very capable alchemists. You know what you're about to face. But you can't leave just yet. I need your help here. Scar is making a transmutation circle in this town that will turn everyone into a true Philosopher's Stone. You have to stop him and erase the array as much as possible, slow him down. I'll take care of... the other part."

The boy first nodded, then squirmed in his seat, turning the teapot on the hotpad with both hands. "They said he was planning something with the people of Lior to protect them from the army. This is not what I expected..."

Hawkeye leaned closer, eyes locked into the dim light from within the helmet. "Al, our friends are stationed here. Whatever they're doing here will kill them. No, it's actually a fate worse than death. Please, I hate asking you to put yourself in danger, but please do whatever you can to prevent this from happening. I have faith in you boys. When the stakes are high and the lives of so many are on the line, I know that you two will do all you can. You always have in the past."

The helmet creaked a slow nod. Hawkeye did not relax much; there was little reason to feel relieved yet.

"Greed mentioned that you and Edward would know more about a young homunculus named Wrath. I don't know how old he is, but Lust called him a brat, so that would mean he's too old to be a scamp and too young to be an asshole. Do you know anything about him, or where his remains could be?"

"Ahh," Al sighed, leaning back into his chair. "Actually... he doesn't have any. He was made using his own human remains. His right arm and left leg belong to Brother, but I suppose his original limbs are lost on the other side of the Gate."

Hawkeye's brow creased. "Do you mean you know who created him?"

He nodded, laying his hands on his lap. "His mother was our teacher. She lost her baby in a stillbirth and used his body for the transmutation."

The boy had a mother. She leaned back in her chair and ran a hand through her dyed hair. "Not all homunculi are bad, Lust and Greed prove this. They can be rehabilitated." To some degree. For a while she dropped her gaze to the table and mulled over everything in silence. "It's not right for me to play god. Can you tell me how to contact your teacher and give her the choice of how to... well, deal with this? I don't have the right to decide his fate, but I can give her information that can help her decide."

"Sure," Al nodded. "Master Izumi is far from here, though. She lives in Dublith."

Hawkeye started, mouth almost gaping. "Dublith? I was just there!" She groaned and rubbed her eyes. Did she have to jump off a train again or could she arrange safe transport via chimera from the train to her next destination? Before she did that, she would have to ride back to Central City, then from the Eastern Line go to Resembool, then take the train back to Central for the Southern Line- even thinking about it made her feel more tired.

"Heh, sorry about that." He shrugged and rubbed the back of his helmet again.

Hawkeye offered a wan smile. "It can't be helped. I'll go to her after I collect-" She paused, but there was no way of making the topic easier. "-what you'll need from your mother's grave. I promise to be respectful. If it helps any, I already planned to leave a bouquet of flowers at her headstone."

The boy sat up straighter in his seat. "Tell her we'll make her proud, okay? We promise we'll make things right."

This time her smile was warm and genuine. "I'll tell her."

Vox Populi.

Voice of the people.

The fliers didn't start anything.

Political dissent and the puppet parliament election debates have existed as long as Amestris itself. Nothing that began and thrived on war alone could ever be peaceful and content for long. The population wanted peace and security, but without the cost of their freedoms.

The taxes were absurdly high to pay for the war effort, higher than any country around them. While the common people worked hard to scrape by, the Generals, high ranking officers, and the puppet government lived in luxury. With hostilities at almost every border, communication with other countries or even knowledge of what existed beyond those borders was limited. They were tired of the terrorist attacks, tired of losing their sons and daughters in endless conflicts, tired of peace and order enforced at the business end of rifles. Corruption was rampant, as until recent times experienced by the town of Yous Well.

The fliers reminded the population that the military no longer existed to protect and serve the people, but instead became the other way around. When a people find the heights of success can only be achieved by joining the military, that is an example of oppression. Only Central Command had a say in the government, not the millions that paid the high wartime taxes.

No, the fliers didn't start anything, but they became excellent tinder to fuel the flickering beginnings of an organized revolution.

The East became the safe haven for open politics overnight. General Grumman, acting on his own, proclaimed that town hall meetings did not pose a threat to civil order and allowed citizens to meet at the times and places the propaganda fliers listed. The dormant parliament awoke, and officials with long records in office found themselves ousted by impromptu public election. Central forces were prepared to march into the East and stop the "disorder", but the North arose with their own new public officials as well, followed not long after by the West. Central Command could not spread themselves so thin to stop the meetings, but it did issue an order to destroy all propaganda on sight and arrest anyone in possession of banned literature. The people of Armestris may have begun to instate a new Parliament, but the generals seated within Central Command didn't feel too concerned. Without the power of an organized military, the Parliament remained all bark and no bite. To ensure the loyalty of the military force, the Fuhrer raised their yearly salary and gave every service member a generous Christmas bonus to share with their families. In addition, any newly enlisted automatically received the equivalent of three month's pay- up front. There was little chance of anyone throwing that away for some democratic ideal.

The Fuhrer held exclusive power over the nation, and it would remain that way.

"Hey, big boy, I brought you an early Christmas present~!" Envy sang.

Would Dante fault him for getting in another scrap with the oldest and most obnoxious homonculus? Or would it be more suspicious if he never rose to the constant baiting? Lust closed the book in his hands with a regretful sigh and leaned to the side to see behind the leather armchair. There stood the green-haired twat as casual and arrogant as ever with a hand resting on his hip, but this time he was accompanied by two risque women in matching red and white festive clothing. A brow arched up Lust's forehead. The redhead with garish red lipstick blew a kiss; the brunette tittered at her friend's boldness and fluffed the white fur trim of her red and white winter coat that ended mere inches below her crotch. There didn't appear to be anything else on her body but matching red high heeled boots. "For me?" Lust jumped out of the chair and drew nearer, sliding his thumbs in his pants pockets. His sharp gaze moved from the women to flash a suspicious look to Envy. "And here I didn't get you anything."

"We don't expect a whole hell of a lot from you anyway. Well? Like what you see, Lust?" Envy asked, feigning innocence.

Lust stopped between the "presents", giving each woman one of his best seductive, suggestive smiles. The women were experts in this field of work and knew to put on the best show for men grasping at fading dreams this holiday season. They were hired as a present to another man, so they knew they had a job to lift his spirits. The ginger leaned in and caressed the soft leather of his sleeve down to his strong hands. Her lips pouted in appreciation. "Just who is a present for who?" she cooed up to him. True enough, this well-cut man was far above any hired female entertainment's expectations of the usual holiday fare of a scrawny or hefty fellow.

"How long do you have them on loan for?" he asked in a low, almost husky voice, eyes locked with hers.

"The Madame would only let them go for three nights for a new customer." Irritation replaced the smug expression. "Don't expect this too often, brat. I do not want to get the wrong sort of attention for being a repeat customer, even if I already am for your lazy ass."

"I can tell you paid top dollar." Lust smiled easily to Envy and reach both hands around the women to guide them to his bedroom. "And I definitely accept your peace offering."

But Envy wasn't done. Folding his arms, he added in a softer voice that made one strain to hear every word, "Would Riza mind your infidelity? Did you ever get a chance to tell her?"

By now his reactions were practiced and smooth. Without turning around, he led the ladies up the grand stair and lifted a hand to wave a dismissive farewell to his "brother". "She has to move on someday too, doesn't she?" he returned. Turning to the ginger that captured his attention, he purred with a smile close to her ear. "On to such better things."

That day began and ended like any other.

The bright July sun shone through cloudless skies to bake sidewalks and asphalt hot enough to create wavering mirages at their horizons. Morning marching drills on the parade grounds ended a half hour earlier than usual to prevent anyone from keeling over with heat exhaustion.

The coffee pot poured the same brand and recipe as every other day. A cup of dark brew rested on each desk, every mug the same bland white color as the next.

The office did not come equipped with curtains. "These glass panes are as good as magnifying glasses!" the Colonel announced, slapping his book closed with a single hand. "I'll be damned if I fry like a bug under them." Mustang moved his chair to share Lieutenant Havoc's desk out of the direct sunlight to read.

The heat slowed them all down, the entirety of Central Headquarters, so no work backed up in their office. Around 2 'o clock Mustang's team took to breathing only when one of the two circulating fans graced them with moving air. By 3 'o clock, half the office dozed in a semi-upright position, jackets hanging open. Hawkeye felt fairly sure she had discovered she could sleep with her eyes open while staring at request forms. The regular hum of the fans, the clicking sound they made when about to turn, the buzz and plink, plink of a fat fly bumping against a windowpane, and the lack of activity drew them all into an irresistible hypnotic lullaby.

Hawkeye remembered all this, the day of Colonel Mustang's murder, down to the warm, still air where the fans didn't reach.

In all other aspects the workday was unremarkable. Everyone came, went on with business as usual for a slow day, and parted ways with full expectation that the next day would be just as typical.

Hawkeye reminded Mustang of his last appointment for the day. They exchanged polite farewells and she turned away from him for the last time.

They did not say "I love you."

They didn't share so much as a brief embrace.

They counted on tomorrows.

She remembered and replayed it in her mind almost every single night. At first she did it to look for clues about his murderer, but now that she knew the truth, she did it to remember his last day alive.

Laid out on her bedroll under the stars, Riza Hawkeye drew her hand over her face, reminded herself to breathe, and pulled the blanket up to her chin. The smokeless fire at her side didn't do much to ward off the winter night air of the mountains north of Lior.

Some say to live each day as if it were your last. Nice in theory, but it made for miserable living. As soldiers they accepted the inevitability of death. If they lived every day as if they would not see another sunrise, each day would be spent in high anxiety, mentally crossing off lists until each day became a grim ritual. No, they all lived free without a thought to future regrets since a soldier's life does not lend itself to dwelling on the past. Remember, yes, but not dwell. They didn't live each day as if it would be their last. They simply lived.

Even if they had somehow known one of them would be dead by morning and shared more lingering and meaningful goodbyes, it wouldn't ease the sting of loss any less.

Regardless, not having done so carried its own brand of ache.

Surrounded by nothing but the vast expanse of desert and covered by the eternal sky above, Riza Hawkeye never felt so alone. Not a single human being for many miles in any direction; no life but the sparse and resilient insects, scrub, and occasional reptile. She had a long way to go to reach her destination, and a long journey after that. The thought of it made her tired, but she held no reservations about the tasks ahead. If that is your wish, I'll follow you even into hell.

Hawkeye turned to the small cooking fire and readjusted the wool blanket around her. The upcoming Christmas will be the first she'll be spending alone, and without Roy, since her Academy days. No matter how small, such as a simple dinner out together, she and Roy always managed to celebrate Christmas in their own way. That tradition started when he was still her father's apprentice and learned that Christmas hadn't been celebrated in the Hawkeye home for many, many years. On Christmas day that first year he lived with them, she opened her bedroom door to find a small pine branch broken from a tree, decorated with bright green ribbon edged with red and small clear glass balls, even a glittering gold star on top. Everything had been arranged with painstaking care, down to the rudimentary tree stand made with alchemy. The gift earned him a rare smile and a quietly murmured "Thank you", and she took extra pains in making his meals that day. The tree remained standing on her nightstand until most of the needles had fallen off and the invigorating scent of pine faded away into memory. She wore that ribbon years later for a Christmas party with the Hughes family. Roy had stared at her a long time when he saw it, with a smile on his face that suggested seeing her with it was the greatest gift he had ever been given.

This will be Lust's first Christmas as well, she knew, and he's stuck spending it with his "family". She thought of Lust smiling to her in his self-assured way, yearning for the day she could see it again. If they survived this little rebellion, she'd have to give him a proper Christmas next year. She'd even get him a "Baby's First Christmas" ornament. Imagining his face as she hung it on the tree made her snort back laughter and pull her head into the blanket to stifle the sound that seemed to offend the silence of the night. Yes, definitely an item on the "to-do" list.

Damn, how she missed those men. She closed her eyes and pretended she wasn't freezing alone in the desert, wrapped in a single scratchy military-issue wool blanket, but in a quiet home in the embrace of warm, strong, familiar arms. She fell asleep half believing it.

Far to the north of the blonde lieutenant, a spiky haired man reached his own destination after a difficult journey. He took in the small cottage, 'Little more than a shack', he thought, and the boulders that surrounded the yard stood out from its untamed mountainous surroundings, containing not grass but tiered flowers and stepping stones surrounded by moss. 'As if an old lady lived here, not a rotting old man,' he inwardly grumbled.

Greed ascended the wide stone stair and paused long enough to sigh in self-pity before lifting his hand to knock on the door. Brief, hard raps.

When enough time passed that it seemed no one was at home and he felt inclined to invite himself in, the door opened without any hurry. The blonde man's weary eyes and slumped shoulders met Greed with all the enthusiasm expected of a recluse hidden away in the mountains. He opened his mouth to speak, but Greed lifted his hand and cut in before Hohenheim could start.

"No, I'm not here for the usual beg and banter, old friend," Greed said, a sly twist of a smile at the corner of his mouth. He lowered his hand and leaned closer. "The old hag is about to go down. Care to join the revolution?"

AN: This chapter is hasn't been beta'd yet, but I wanted to get it out there ASAP. My most sincere apologies for going from posting a chapter a week to nothing for a few months; I'm dealing with progressively worsening health problems thanks to a small brain tumor in a very bad place. I decided to finally admit it since my faithful readers deserve an explanation for my long absence.

Now, I want to add that it's also difficult to write about a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning while freezing your niblets off in the dead of winter (yes, I've been working on this chapter a long time).

Hope you enjoyed the bit of culture in Lior. I spent hours upon hours researching the world's Winter Solstice celebrations, especially in the Middle East and ancient Greece, which is the basis for Arakawa's Lior culture. I felt satisfied with the results because I love symbolism.

I had to cut some parts a bit short since it was causing writer's block.

Side note, I'm toying with the idea of writing an original fiction for publication about a werewolf (vampires are way overdone). What do you think?