Funeral Cake Factory

1st Epilogue – Breaking a Broken Man

Lazreagues Riverbank, Prontera – April 20, 1905 I.C. [05:13AM]

A few weeks had passed after the Pronteran government erected a ten-foot high, five-kilometer long concrete wall along the border of the Lazreagues River and Swanhild District. The wall served two purposes. First, it was meant to strengthen the border security of the country against illegal aliens who blend in with the populace. The government, under the leadership of the newly appointed Chancellor, Satchel Kristiansen, practically understood the motivations of the people who desired to have a taste of Pronteran lifestyle, but it simply would not be allowed. The country's security should always be firm and steadfast, and even the slightest of encroachments would compromise the integrity of the Pronteran Intelligence Department if it were breached at any point.

The second purpose of the wall was to serve as a barrier against the thousands of impoverished Pronterans who lived on the other side of the riverbank. According to the recent reports from the government, it was estimated that only 2% of the population was experiencing poverty. But statistics alone would not be able to describe the conditions that the men, women, and children endure everyday just for the sake of survival. The area beyond the river was technically a severely underdeveloped patch of land. Trade took place mostly in the form of barter or through shady deals from brokers from the other side of the wall. Security was high, for there were Imperial Guards stationed at elevated guardhouses that served as sniping spots to pinpoint any unruly citizen of the slum below.

Among the inhabitants of the slum was a sixteen year-old boy whom everyone addressed as Gavril Rochester.

All that Gavril had was his old set of paintbrushes for making illustrations, and another was his cousin, Anois Dupont. Every waking day, Gavril and Anois set up shop near the edge of the riverbank where the local marketplace was located. They would sell the paintings that Gavril painstakingly drew for a few gold pieces, until they had enough to buy food for the day. Their families were the least of their concern, for they already ran away from their custody, located at the other side of the wall.

It came no surprise to the inhabitants of the slum that the two had developed an incestuous relationship. Anois was always willing to go where Gavril went, and publicly pledged her undying loyalty during a local festival organized by the marginalized people of the slum. No one objected to their way of life, for according to the local leaders, they never harmed anyone.

The cousin's typical day involved the buying of painting materials and selling of paintings. While the two of them had no problem with the selling of Gavril's artworks, their ability to procure the cheapest of pigments posed a problem to their business. They had to at least get a package of primary colorants from the merchants from beyond the wall that were permitted to visit the slum and do some scavenging of their own. Fortunately, several merchants became the slum's regular patrons, and the citizens managed to make the cash flow in a manner that was both manageable and flexible to the point that they had created their own exchange rate against that of the standard prices that exist outside.

To the inhabitants of the slum, the twentieth of every month was basically "Market Day" wherein the citizens trade with the outside merchants en masse. It was almost a festival in its own right, but the local guards never kept the security lax. They still had to scour the area for any thieves who would take advantage of the situation.

"I wouldn't mind getting a discount." Gavril said to one of the merchants that visited the slum. "It's my birthday today, anyway."

Seeing the wide grin on the boy's face, the merchant decided to fix the price at ten percent lower if he won a simple coin toss. Gavril had always betted on heads rather than tails, despite the fact that the chances remain fifty-fifty at any given time. As fate would have it, he won the bet. It was another jackpot for Gavril. He could go on painting for another month or so, and double his savings in the process. At the back of his mind, he wanted his good fortune to continue. Nothing felt better than getting what he always wanted.

But change was inevitable, and Gavril could not keep up with the pace of the world that revolved around him.

Aside from Anois, Gavril had another friend in the personality of a boy named Leif Moreau. He had the typical features of a Pronteran, with his nose slightly larger than the average person. His eyesight was relatively poor, so he had to wear bifocals most of the time. He was two years older than Gavril, and due to his constant meddling with the transactions in the slums, he somehow became an established middleman. His father also helped him out with the managing of transactions, and kept his ledger on hand whenever a new shipment came in.

After getting the painting supplies he needed, Gavril and Anois decided to find Leif in the huge crowd that gathered at the 'market'. Even though the sun had not risen at the horizon yet, the sheer number of attendees, plus the lights that were set up beforehand made the market brighter than it was during the afternoon.

It only took a few moments for the two to find Leif, who was sitting at the ledge of a nearby roof. He appeared to be calm and collected as he surveyed the area below. The feeling of being 'above' everyone, or simply watching them from afar made him feel relaxed despite the weight of the tasks he will have to undergo late in the day.

"Where's your dad?" Gavril immediately asked after noticing the absence of his friend's guardian.

Leif tilted his head towards the direction where he last saw his father, but didn't say a word. He was obviously not in the mood to talk. From this reaction, Gavril and Anois assumed that Leif had not eaten anything since the start of the day, so they decided to call him once more. Fortunately, Leif agreed to their offer and joined them to eat breakfast.

After eating a hearty meal, Gavril confronted Leif about the true nature of his silence. He told the young middleman that they were friends, and that no secrets should exist between them. Reluctant, Leif gave in once more, and revealed his true predicament.

"My father and I are leaving this place in a few weeks." Leif said as he gripped the edge of the wooden dining table. Tears flowed silently down his cheeks, perhaps in disappointment or regret of leaving his friends while he prospers on the other side alone.

Gavril patted Leif at the back, and assured him that everything will turn out for the better. "You can't back out now, can you? Just make sure that once you get out of this place, you must never look back or ever return here."

Anois nodded in agreement. "This place is terrible, so we try to live as much as we can. You have a good chance presented in front of you, Leif. Take it. Grab it. Devour it. Make use of it to live your life the way you want. Don't think about us. We'll get out of this place sooner or later."

The middleman's grip finally loosened from the table, satisfied from the assurance of his closest friends. He had to live and move forward for their sake as well.

"Stop crying, Leif." Gavril said, rubbing his friend's back. "You have a long way to go. Anois and I will stay here until we save enough money to buy the freedom we so desperately crave for. Afterwards, we're going to whack the heads of those stupid Imperials for 'imprisoning' us with debt, poverty, and destitution."

"We look forward to seeing you again… outside the walls." Anois followed up, holding Leif's tender hands.

Leif managed to calm himself down after downing a few glasses of water. He decided not to regret anything. After all, their friendship was entirely the only thing he could count on whether or not he survives outside the walls.

"I pray to the gods that your endeavors manage to get you out of this hellhole." Leif said, while pointing his fist towards Gavril. "I'll see you on the other side some other time."

"You can count on us, Leif. This place will never put us down." Gavril replied, and met Leif's fist with his own.

Anois cringed at the sight of the two young men in front of him consoling each other. "You both look so gay to me."

"Not another word from you, Anois." Gavril immediately retorted. "We need to uplift his spirits! Come on!"

Unfazed, Anois ignored her cousin's warning and asked Leif if he had any marketable skills except for being a middleman. The world on the other side of the wall was technically far more unforgiving than what was happening in the slums. The citizens living on the 'civilized' part of Prontera grew to loathe the existence of its poor as time passed, and ultimately developed a great sense of hate and prejudice against their own.

"I don't care if they hate me. If I need to live someplace else, then I'll go." Leif sternly replied. "If my hands can't do anything, then I'll find a way to use it. I have to. I managed to learn how to read and write during my stay here, anyway. If nothing works, then I'll just keep on writing. One day, you'll see my name emblazoned in the most prestigious halls of history, and no one… nothing can stop me from being me."