Initiation: Part One

Another short story I’m writing.  Should be between four and six parts.

Ever since we were children, Levi and I had wanted to join the Order of Self. They represented the highest standards for all aspiring knights. Masters of their martial skills, but also masters of their own bodies. Initiates had to pass rigorous tests to gain entrance, and adhere to a strict code of honor and ethics. Only a single legion of knights were members of the order at any one time, though they allowed twice that many initiates to join, to serve as squires to the knights. Being a knight was a distant dream, but the yearly Tournament of Self, only two days away, was much closer.

Already, the tents were set up outside of the capitol city, and the area resounded with the sounds of construction as the Order’s initiates finished the arena, which differed each year. It was big this year, towering over the tents and booths. Merchants hawked their wares, and hopefuls sparred in the lots that were still vacant, testing themselves against their opposition.

I dragged Levi through the crowd, weaving between warm bodies and cold armor. To keep myself in practice, I tapped each combatant I passed, finding weak spots in their armor. A prod under the arm here. A poke to the side there. An easy touch on the back of a warrior who clearly didn’t care for his armor like he should.

The most amusing part was the utter confusion of those I touched. By the time they seriously looked around for the source of the touch, I had already moved several persons away through the crowd.

“Myrah, must you bother people like that?”

My cheeks warmed briefly. I had almost forgotten that I was still dragging Levi, and that he didn’t exactly enjoy my way of training. With my most innocent grin, I gave his hand a squeeze. “Come on, I’ve gotta keep in practice. The tournament is in two days!”

“I know when it is. I also know that if you get into a fight with one of these men, you’re likely to end up unable to compete. A sprained ankle is all it would take to fail you.”

I huffed and pulled my hand away from him, going over to an empty area where several competitors were training. Annoying as he was, Levi was right. One injury before the tournament, and I’d have to wait another year to compete. I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“Come now, Myrah. We have a festival to enjoy.”

We turned to go back towards the tents, but a call stopped us, and I turned back towards the field. One of the boys (for I’d hardly call him a man, yet) was waving at us. “Oi! You two look like contenders! Wanna go a round, mates?”

There were several boys near him who either nursed bruises or merely sat slumped and out of breath. Before I could even open my mouth, I felt Levi’s hand on my arm.

“What did we just talk about?”

I slipped out of his grip easily and stuck out my tongue. “He’s not going to even touch me, don’t worry.”

His long-suffering sigh followed me as I crossed the field to the boy. The look of surprise on his face when I got close was amusing. “A girl? Wot you doin’ in a getup like that? Girls don’t join the Order.”

I rolled my eyes, grabbed his wrist, and rolled backwards, flinging him over my head. He let out a surprised yelp as he sailed through the air, and then a heavy grunt as he hit the ground behind me. I turned to face him, straightening and smirking. “The Chapter-master of Cunning is a woman, for your information. As is the Banner-master of Insight.”

He staggered to his feet, glaring at me. “A nice trick. But it’ll only work once.” He picked up a pair of wooden practice swords, tossing one to me and twirling one himself. “I’m gonna join the Chapter a’ Strength! A girl like you don’t stand a chance!”

His charge was painfully obvious. I took one step to the side, kicked at his shins, and brought the wooden sword down across his shoulders. He went down hard, sprawling across the grass, his sword bouncing away.

“I have more than one trick. A brute like you doesn’t stand a chance of getting into the Order at all, even if you’re strong enough to join the Chapter of Strength.” I dropped the sword on him and walked away with an entirely necessary hair flip.

Levi shook his head as I returned to him. “Was that entirely necessary?”

“Yes.” I nodded once, grinning, and took his hand again. “Come on, there was a really nice-looking candied apple stand I wanted to try.”


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Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

I’m sure you’ve all seen the commercials for Edge of Tomorrow.  If you haven’t, watch it right now.

When I saw trailers, I expected it to be fairly good, but I was skeptical that it would be done well.  As it turns out, my skepticism was unfounded.

I saw a pre-screening of Edge of Tomorrow, and it more than lived up to the trailers.  The exo-suits were awesome, the ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ theme was used expertly, both for comedic and dramatic purposes, and the acting was (surprisingly) very good.  Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt put on an excellent performance with well-written dialog, in a world full of amusing characters.

One big problems a lot of science-fiction has is over-explaining things.  No, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes listening to you explain the backstory of the aliens and how we’ve developed weapons to stop them.  Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t have that problem.  It drops you into the story and lets you figure things out alongside Tom Cruise’s character.

The movie has a few holes in it (though to be fair, what movie doesn’t?), but it manages to maintain the suspension of disbelief and immersion throughout.  I also avoids the sort of deus ex machina that these movies tend to end with.  It was close to two hours of non-stop entertainment, with action and comedy and sheer sci-fi awesomeness.

I would recommend everyone go see Edge of Tomorrow.  95/100

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Thoughts On the Middle East

I wasn’t going to post anything for 9/11.  Really, I wasn’t.  But I’ve seen this day of rememberance used to launch such a powerful torrent of anti-war sentiment in relation to the Syria situation, on every social media platform I use, that I felt the need to offer an opposing opinion.

Before I go into detail, I want to clarify something.  This is not a matter of hating someone for being a particular race, or blaming an entire group for the actions of a few radicals, or getting revenge for the deaths of Americans.  I don’t hate anyone, largely because they don’t matter to me enough to waste energy hating.  All of my opinions come from observations and logic, and are aimed at restoring America to the position of power she had post-WWII.

Now.  The Syria situation.  To strike, or not to strike?  Well, if we’re going to throw a couple of missiles at them, maybe some aircraft, I’d say don’t bother.  But there is another option.  War.  Total war.  Not an intervention to help one side of the civil war or the other, especially given that they hate us both equally.  War against both sides.

As a general rule, the United States has been a pro-war country. It takes us a while to get started, sure. But once we commit to a war, we commit hard. This country was born out of a war. We finally decided we’d had enough from Britain and told them to shove off. When they refused, we fought them. Everyone fought them. The country, not just the military, went to war.

The same thing happened in World War I.  We didn’t want to get involved.  It wasn’t our problem.  But, with the discovery of the Zimmerman telegram, the country, not the military, decided to go to war.  World War II was the same.  Only when we were directly struck did we make a move.  The entire country went to war, pulling itself out of a depression with wartime industry to make America the most powerful country in the world.

But what’s been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan is not a war.  It doesn’t fit in the same category as either World War, or the Revolutionary War.  War implies the possibility of defeat.  War implies a full mobilization of resources and a dedication of spirit.  The conflict in the Middle East is just that: conflict.  It doesn’t have public support.  It never really did.  It was always vague and surrounded by controversy.  Rather than thinking of it as a war, think of it as a catastrophe, much like the mishandling of the Vietnam conflict.

Syria, however.  Syria offers an opportunity for a real war.  Yes, they haven’t hit us.  Yet.  But who’s to say they won’t?  We didn’t think Kaiser Wilhelm would make a move on us during World War I.  We didn’t think the Axis would attack us in World War II.  But they did.  Waiting, in the middle of a depression, while a hostile nation violates the Geneva Protocols, is a mistake.  Nobody enjoys watching our people die in a war.  But is it any better to watch their people die while we wait for a war?  The world is stirred up over this.  Russia and China have flexed their metaphorical muscles, and the eyes of the world are on America.

We won the first World War.  We won the second.  If stopping Syria from slaughtering innocents with immoral and illegal weapons means starting a third World War, I say, bring it on.  If history is any indication, America will triumph once again over those who would do evil, and reclaim her place as the leader of the free world.

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A Comment on American Society

This isn’t an area I study, so I wouldn’t have come up with the details, but it’s something I’ve believed as a general rule and suspected for a while.  Then I saw a friend’s father post this on Facebook, and asked him if I could share it here.

What differentiates these old-school communist groups from (for lack of a better term) the neo-crypto-Marxists is that the oldsters missed the memo that the route to socialism is not through OVERT calls for revolution but rather through stealth and infiltration. The “new” (in the last three decades or so) technique is now to introduce socialism bit by bit to America, but deny that you are doing so.

Thus, the fundamental difference between these embarrassing and counter-productive protest groups and the much more common postmodern crypto-socialists is that the old-timers are not followers of Gramsci, the Italian communist philosopher who recommended a slow and surreptitious takeover of society’s institutions (education, media, etc.) rather than the blunt in-your-face violent revolution advocated by the Leninists and the Maoists.

The amazing thing about Gramscianism is that it functions as a virus such that most of the young people participating in the slow-motion socialist takeover of America have no idea that they are even doing so. Indoctrinated by the first wave of devilishly clever teachers, misinformed by devilishly clever media, and led astray by devilishly clever politicians, the young activists of today for the most part have no clue that the positions they advocate and the social or economic changes they push are actually part of an incremental communist revolution. All they “know” is that they’re hip and with the in-crowd, a misapprehension which their indoctrinators intentionally encourage.

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No Longer a Child; Part Four

Part One here. PG-13 warning for violence.

The first thug’s nailboard made an almost humorously gentle ‘swoosh’ sound as it passed over my head. I had already ducked and rolled forward, passing under his legs. At the perfect moment, I braced my hands on the rough ground and extended upward, like an inverted jack-in-the-box. My heavy boots collided with his groin, lifting him nearly a foot into the air and depositing him in an insentient heap.

I whirled, seeing the girl holding off the two thugs that had appeared behind us. The kitchen knife flashed in her hand as she waved it defensively. My attention was quickly taken, however, by the leader, who had picked up the fallen man’s nailboard in his off hand. He rushed me, stabbing high with his blade as he swept the board low. With no way to dodge and maintain my ground, I jumped back, finding myself already out of space in this narrow alley, my back quite literally up against the wall.

My opponent grinned and swung his nailboard again, aiming to bash my head between the spiked wood and the hard wall. I dropped into a crouch, then planted my hands against the ground, lifted my feet, and kicked out at his knees. A loud crack resounded in the narrow alley, and he cried out, dropping both the board and the blade as he fell backwards.

I pushed myself back to my feet, picking up his blade and sinking it into his chest in one smooth motion. As his movements ceased, I drew the blade out and looked back at the girl. She had slit the throat of one of the thugs, but as I watched, the second swung his pipe low, slamming into her lower leg from the side.

The thug left himself wide open as I raised the pipe for a finishing blow, and I sprang forward, running him through. His pipe clattered to the ground, released from nerveless fingers as his body slid off the blade. I wiped it on his body and stuck it into my belt, turning to the girl, who had dragged herself to a sitting position against one wall.

Her skin was pale, and she gnawed on her lip as she slowly touched her leg. It was clearly broken. I knelt beside her, and she looked up into my eyes. “Go on, then,” she hissed. “I can’t stop you.”

With a faint smile, I slipped one arm under her knees, careful of her broken leg, and the other arm around her torso, lifting her as I stood. She let out a squeak as the movement surprised her, then a hiss as her leg was jostled slightly. Her arm went around my neck, gripping me tightly. She looked up at me, those shining green eyes misty with pain and uncertainty.

“I can’t leave you just yet,” I murmured, carrying her down the alley. “You still have my ident card.”

She slowly relaxed, as much as she could, given the pain in her leg. Our new, slow pace and the delay of the fight caused us to arrive at the shuttle tower just in time to see the recruitment shuttle lift off, flying up towards the mansion. The absence of the shuttle, however, meant the picketers had dispersed, and no one challenged us as we approached the base of the tower.

The guard at the window gave us a bored look. “This isn’t a medical facility, and the recruitment shuttle left ten minutes ago.”

I looked down at the girl, and she fished my ident out of her blouse, pressing it flat against the window. I said, in the most noble voice that I could muster, “I am Alphonse Benedict Meridius the fourth, and I demand you open this tower and summon a shuttle to return me to my home.”

His eyes widened as he looked from the ident to me and back again, seeing past the dirt and grime to recognize me. “Master Meridius! Forgive me, I didn’t recognize you!” He pressed a button and the door slid open. I carried the girl through, listening to him chatter into a radio, calling for a shuttle. I ignored him and went directly to the elevator. The girl pushed the button to open it, and selected the launch pad as our destination once we were inside.

She looked up at me as the elevator ascended the tower. “You’re really taking me up.”

I chuckled softly and nodded. “I promised I would.”

“Mm.” She rested her head against my shoulder again, and we rode in silence to the launch pad. A small, powerful personal shuttle had already arrived, and the hatch opened as we approached. I stepped in and set her gently into one of the seats, sitting across from her. I did not address the pilot, and so he did not speak, despite the slew of questions I could read in his face. He simply did his duty. The shuttle door shut, and the engines flared. I was going home.


“She’s a surface-dweller!”

“She saved my life.”

For the first time in years, possibly the first time ever, I was having a conversation with my father.

He sat behind his desk, frail body quivering with rage, and I stood in front of him, still covered in the dirt of the surface and wearing my shirt with one sleeve. In contrast to my father’s fury, I stood calmly at attention, my hands clasped behind my back.

“I will not have a surface dweller sullying my family name!” he wheezed, pounding his fist on the desk.

“It’s my name as well, father. And it is my future. I am no longer a child, as you yourself said. I will lead this family when you are gone, and she will be part of it.”

He growled and ground his teeth, but could not seem to find a reply. Instead he angrily gestured for me to leave his office, which I did with pleasure. I returned to my quarters, tossing my worn and filthy clothes into the laundry chute, then stepped into the shower. The hot water rinsed away the grunge of the surface, and soothed the aches and scrapes I had acquired on the surface.

Though I kept it brief, by the time I finished my shower, the servants had already set out a clean set of clothes for me. I dressed, savoring the feel of the clean fabric against my skin. I headed out into the house, making my way to the balcony from which Edward had knocked me. To my surprise, it had been replaced by a large digital viewscreen, which showed the city below.

“Alphonse! Alphonse!”

I turned to see one of my friends running towards me, grinning. I braced myself and received his vigorous embrace, laughing. “I wasn’t even gone for a full day.”

“Oh, but we thought you were dead!” He pulled back, grinning, gripping my arms. “But you’re not. You’re back!” His face lit up again. “Oh! This should be yours, now.”

He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a lasersword controller. “It’s Edward’s. They charged him with attacking your sister and murdering you. I don’t think the fact that you’re alive will change anything.”

I grinned, taking it from him. It was the same model as mine, and had been wiped of Edward’s imprint. At my touch, a thumb scanner came up. I pressed my thumb to it, binding the weapong to me. As it beeped confirmation I looked up at my friend, grasping his arm. “Thank you. This means a lot.”

His reply, whatever it might have been, was interrupted when something over my shoulder caught his attention. A grin crept onto his face and he gave me a knowing wink. “Glad you like it. I just remembered I have… things that I need to go do. Somewhere else.” He slipped out of the room, leaving me to turn and see what it was that had him acting so-

Strange. It was the girl. Cleaned and healed and in fresh clothes, though in the same efficient style she’d worn on the surface. She smiled a bit when she saw me. “Good docs you have up here.” She did a little skip on her restored leg. “Good as new.”

“You clean up nicely,” I said, nodding. She laughed a bit, coming to join me by the viewscreen. For a long moment, neither of us spoke. Then finally, she broke the silence.


“I can almost see why you don’t care. From up here, it all looks pretty decent.” She

let out a soft sigh. “Too bad it’s all an illusion.” She reached out and flicked the screen, making it ripple, the pixels becoming apparent.

“That’s why you’re here.” I reached out and took her hand, standing with her. “So

we can change it.”

She nodded softly, squeezing my hand gently. “Together. The one true noble and the girl from the surface.”

I smiled and nodded. “Together.”

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No Longer a Child; Part Three

Part One here.

Though I was hesitant to let a surface-dweller anywhere near my injuries, let alone with sharp and pointed objects, I had no other options. My jacket hung on a clothesline hung across the middle of the room, the bloodstain more or less washed out of it. The girl had cut away the left sleeve of my shirt to get to the cut, as removing the shirt would have required movement in directions that I wasn’t sure I could manage.

She sat me in a chair next to a small table and gave me a small piece of wood. “Put this between your teeth.”

I look at her, raising one eyebrow. “Why would I-” She poured a small amount of liquid from a bottle over the wound, and I crammed the scrap of wood in my mouth and clamped down on it, shaking lightly. Whatever primitive disinfectant she used burned worse than the lasersword had, trickling past the burns, which probably didn’t need it, to the bottom of the wound where my fall had broken open the skin, which probably did.

As soon as I stopped shaking, she dabbed at it with a piece of linen, cleaning and drying it, before preparing a needle and thread. I kept biting down on the piece of wood, watching her closely. I’d seen surgical stitches before, and I wasn’t going to let her mess up my arm.

Much to my surprise, her touch was light and swift, her fingers moving the needle smoothly back and forth, closing the wound with as much dexterity and grace as any noble doctor. After she finished the stitches, she opened a small jar, using two fingers to scoop out a small dollop of salve. She spread it evenly along the wound, then gently rubbed it in, her fingers stronger than her slight build would suggest. She stepped back, wiping her hands on the rag tucked into her belt. “How does that feel?”

I slowly moved my shoulder, flexing it lightly, testing the range of motion. “Surprisingly good.” I used it to push up from the chair; I could feel that it was weaker than it should have been, but the salve reduced the pain to a dull ache and the stitches kept me from making it worse, so long as I didn’t push it. “It’s not my dominant hand, so it shouldn’t impair my fighting much.”

She stood still, watching me test her handiwork. When I held out my hand for my lasersword, she scowled lightly, perhaps realizing that this was the moment of truth. Once I had my lasersword, the balance of power shifted to me. Slowly, she pulled it from her pouch and laid it in my hand.

With an inward sigh of relief, I slipped it into its holster, feeling whole again. “There’s no time to waste.” I plucked my jacket off the clothesline, pulling it on despite the slight dampness. “You know where the nearest shuttle tower is, yes?” At her nod, I went to the door and pushed it open. “Let’s go, then.”

We walked to the end of the alley in silence, and down the next half-dozen streets. Eventually we stepped onto a wider, main street. I could see, directly ahead in the distance, the shuttle tower, rising above the faint shimmer of the suppression field. I took a step forward, ready to be out of the dingy, stinking place, but the girl gripped my arm with those deceptively delicate hands, holding me back.

“Look,” she said, pointing ahead. I lowered my gaze from the tower to the street, and saw a crowd gathering. Many carried crude signs or clubs.

“Is that a riot?” I frowned. I hadn’t heard of a riot on the surface in years.

“In a sense. More like a picket line. There are many down here who resent those who go to serve the nobles. There must be a recruitment shuttle coming in today.” She shook her head. “We can’t go that way. That crowd will tear you apart. You stand out.”

I looked down at her, thinking. With a shrug, I slipped my jacket off, bundling it up and tossing it into an already-overflowing rubbish bin. I crouched, ran my hand through the dirt, and rubbed my hands together, smearing the dirt up my arms, running my hands over my face to complete the look. I turned back to the girl.

She rolled her eyes lightly. “It’ll do. Come on. We still need to take back streets.”

We left the main road again, and she led me through a labyrinth of dirt and stone. I had known that the people on the surface lived poorly, but not how poorly. Far from the simple life I had envisioned, each family in a small apartment, with enough simple, nutritious foods to keep them well-fed, the living standards I saw could hardly be called ‘living’ at all. The girl glanced over her shoulder at me, a sad smile touching her lips as she saw the shock that must have been evident on my face. “Do you see now, Alphonse? We’re not just poor. The system kills families by starvation and exposure every day. It has to be changed.”

I shrugged uneasily. The system had run smoothly for many years. Surely, there were less drastic measure by which to change it.

Before I could suggest anything of such a nature to the girl, we turned onto a more isolated alley. The girl grew tense, pausing halfway down the alley. “We should go back. This is-”

“An ambush?” A big, burly man stepped out from one of the doorways, chuckling darkly, as a second man, wielding a wooden board with several nails driven through it, dropped down from the low rooftop. Behind us, two more thugs appeared, holding lengths of lead pipe. “You bet it is.” He grinned, eyeing the girl beside me. “And today’s your lucky day, fella. Just give us the girl, and you can walk.”

Her eyes went wide and fixed on me. The blood drained from her face, as, for the first time, she was afraid. I glanced down the alley, and realized I could just see the shuttle tower from here. I didn’t need her any longer.

“That’s a very generous offer,” I said to the burly leader. “But here’s my counter.” I pulled the lasersword from my belt. “Let us both pass, and I don’t kill the four of you.”

His men looked uneasy, but he laughed, flicking his wrist to extend a hidden blade, which he gripped, ready for combat. “Take your best shot, pretty-boy.”

I smirked, bringing the sword up into a combat stance. I pressed the central button to deploy it.

It fizzled briefly, then went dead. My heart dropped into my stomach as I realized it had been damaged when I fell.

The brutish leader laughed, a dark, menacing sound. “Get ‘em.”

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No Longer a Child; Part Two

Someone was going through my pockets.

I blinked several times, as though that could scrub away the black fog that seemed to have wrapped itself around my mind. Dimly, I could see the figures of two men kneeling over me, taking everything of value from my pockets. I let out a groan, remembering how many of the smaller gifts I’d stashed in my jacket; with a painful effort of will, I forced myself to a sitting position, shoving at one of the men.

Both of them panicked and fled. I very nearly fell back over, but I didn’t want to lose the progress I’d made in sitting up. Slowly, I reclaimed my grip on the world. The first thing I noticed was that I was sitting on top of a substantial pile of rubbish that seemed to have come from the mansions above. The second, that those mansions were high above me, and drifting away.

I slid off the pile and immediately fell to my knees, an involuntary hiss escaping me as every bone in my body protested the movement. The suppression field designed to keep ships from flying up and out of the city had also slowed my fall, but that field only began a hundred feet above the city. I glanced back at the rubbish, which, on inspection, seemed to be mostly fabric and organic materials. Any less welcoming of a landing site, and I probably would have died.

When I moved to push myself to my feet, a much sharper pain lanced through my arm. A sharp hiss escaped through my teeth, and I looked down at it, seeing the entire shoulder of my jacket soaked with blood. Slowly, I stood, fighting a wave of dizziness that could have come from the shock of the fall, the blood loss, or the unusual smells of this poor district.


I turned towards the sound, looking for the source. A young woman, perhaps my age or a bit younger, stood in a doorway, glancing down the alley in the direction my two assailants had fled. She looked back at me and beckoned, then ducked inside. I frowned softly. However, seeing no other real options, I followed her through the small wooden door.

It opened onto a small kitchen, with the girl standing at the far end of it holding a knife at arms’ length. The blade was marred by rust, but the point, which was leveled at my heart, looked very sharp. I held up my hands peaceably.

“You are Alphonse Benedict Meridius the fourth.” Her voice surprised me; far from the gravelly, slurred speech our storytellers used when acting as surface-dwellers, her voice was… normal. Clear, and… beautiful. But once I got past her voice, her words made me blink.


Her free hand reached into her blouse and pulled out his identification. “Nicked this from you when you landed. I knew scavengers would be all over you, and I didn’t have the time to drag you inside.”

My brow furrowed slightly. “And why, out of all my possessions, would you take my ident card?”

“Not just your ident, Alphonse.” A smirk crossed her lips as she returned the card to her blouse, then reached into one of her belt pouches and withdrew a smooth, black device.

I hissed slightly, my hand going to my holster. Of course it was gone. Yet somehow I needed to feel the emptiness of the leather hanging at my side before I could believe that this urchin had it. “Give me back my belongings.”

The girl laughed, a musical sound entirely out of place in the tense situation, in this dirty kitchen. “We’re not on one of your floating castles now, Alphonse. Power rules down here, and right now, I have the power.”

My jaw clenched as she taunted me. “Fine. What do you want?”

“Reparation.” She slipped my lasersword back into her belt pouch as she continued, “Your ident can get you back to your sky palace, but only if you can find your way to one of the shuttle towers without being mugged and killed for your pretty coat.”

“If I had my sword, I could make my way.”

“But you don’t,” she said with another faint smirk. “I do. And I’m not going to give them back unless you make me a promise.”

That took me by surprise. “What promise?”

She gestured around with her free hand. “Fix this. The system that has a handful of families living in paradise while the rest of the world rots here in hell. Your family is strong, Alphonse, and you are coming into power as its next patriarch. When your father hands the family over to you, I want you to fight for the cause of the people below.”

“Of course,” I lied easily. “Anything you want.” I took a step forward, holding out my hand for my belongings.

The girl struck my palm with the flat of her knife, glaring. “I don’t think so. You nobles don’t exactly have a track record for being trustworthy.”

I shook my hand lightly, trying to rid myself of the stinging sensation. “You asked for a promise, I gave you a promise!” I glared back at her. “What more do you want?”

“Take me with you.” My eyes widened in shock as she kept talking. “I want you to take me with you up to paradise. You adopt me as your sister, and I stay with you to make sure you keep your promise.”

“Take you?” I was dizzy again. I reached out and grabbed onto the wall with my uninjured arm. “I can’t take you. My family wouldn’t allow a surface-dweller to be adopted!”

“You are the sole son of the Meridius family. Your father is aging and will not maintain control for much longer. No one can question you, Alphonse.” She shifted her grip on the knife slightly. “What do you say? Will you help us? Or are you so prideful that you’d rather die alone on the surface than be seen above with me, helping those who need it?”

I ground my teeth, a bad habit mother had long ago broken me of. The surface was already corrupting me. In this moment of relative stillness, I attempted to recall my teachers’ lessons, to still my mind and think clearly. My body was battered, and my shoulder all but useless. I could feel that all of my pockets were empty, and even the gold buttons stripped from my coat. This girl whose name I didn’t even know was holding me at knife-point, demanding sweeping social reform in exchange for my life.

Slowly, I looked up at her. “Do you know how to treat a serious cut?”

She blinked, some of the certainty flickering from her eyes. “I… Yes. Everyone down here has to know basic medical skills. Why-”

“Fix up my shoulder, give me back my sword, and I’ll take you home with me.” I looked into her shining green eyes. “I promise.”

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