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Lolai. There was a small, hidden gem of a coffee shop Lola used to frequent.
Every thursday morning at 8:35 she would stand in line for her coffee. Medium hazelnut latte, no sugars.
An imaginative girl with a sharp wit, and a delicate tongue.
Her silky, short chestnut hair was often covering her hazel gaze.
Her colourful pieces of layered clothing decorated her petite frame as she strolled in and out of shop’s with bells that rung to the sound of movement.
Lola made her way to the coffee shop as she had for years, with a slight spring to her step.
She was feeling particularly inspired today, and it showed to the trained eye.
ii. Two people were in front of her deciding on their order. She looked forward a touch, and noticed the most beautiful girl she had ever seen being trained on her first day, standing at the counter.
Lola couldn’t help but stare intently as she watched her subtle movements, and nuances; they looked like a deconstructed masterpiece made for her eyes only.
They lay in the dark with the moon as their accomplice.
They moan and groan, and scratch and bite.
They push each other off, and then hold one another tight.
Their bodies bathing in the light of a billion dying stars.
Their nails and teeth carving deliciously odd scars.
He holds her down, and pushes into her, deep.
She howls into the night and arches her feet.
© Rocio Belinda Mendez
Kantara and Zahhak's Vessel
It was a stormy day out. Heinrich, Sagiv, Behrukh and Alsie sat in Heinrich’s basement. Sagiv and Alsie played on their phones, Heinrich played his Kantara game, and Behrukh watched curiously.“Boom! Headshot!” Heinrich shouted, jumping up. Behrukh clapped her hands, seeing that Heinrich had just beaten the level.“Good job, Heinrich!” Behrukh cheered. Heinrich grinned, proud of himself, but then a sorrowful look crossed his face and he sat back down.“What’s the matter?” Alsie asked, gazing at him. He forced a faint smile.“I miss Kantara,” Heinrich replied sadly. Alsie cocked an eyebrow.“You miss her? What?” She asked, confused. Sagiv smiled.“Yeah, they were cool, weren’t they?” Sagiv agreed. Heinrich nodded, and Sagiv put a hand on his shoulder. Alsie and Behrukh exchanged confused glances.Suddenly, there was a loud bang. The four jumped high in the air, frightened, and when they came back down, there was a large vortex in front of them, coming out of the TV. Alsie and Behrukh stared in fear, grabbing onto each other, but a large smile spread over Heinrich’s face.“No way! It’s back! It’s back!” Heinrich set his controller down and jumped up and down excitedly. Behrukh and Alsie gave him confused, unsettled looks, and Heinrich grabbed Sagiv’s shoulders and shook him. “Sagiv, Sagiv, it’s back, it’s back!”“I can see,” Sagiv responded, not as enthusiastic as his best friend. Heinrich turned and bounced over to the vortex, sticking his hand in and giggling.“Feels funny!” Heinrich beamed, pulling it back out. He looked at his friends. “Last one in is rotten sauerkraut!” With that, he jumped into the vortex, vanishing.“Heinrich!” Behrukh shrieked, and the two girls jumped forward, their arms out in fear.“Don’t worry, he’s fine,” Sagiv reassured, walking to the vortex. “It’s only a portal.”“Only a portal?! Are you nuts?!” Alsie hissed.“Where does it lead?” Behrukh queried, holding onto Alsie tightly.“Why don’t you hop inside and find out?” Sagiv gave them a smile, and he stepped inside the portal, vanishing. Alsie and Behrukh exchanged frightened glances.“Well, I’m not a scaredy-cat!” Alsie started, letting go of Behrukh. “I’m following the boys!”“But Alsie!” Behrukh wailed, her grip on Alsie’s shirt tightening. “What if it leads to someplace dangerous?”“Heinrich may not be the smartest but I trust Sagiv knows what he’s doing! So, if he’s fine with going, so am I!” Alsie explained. She gave Behrukh a soft look. “Now are you coming with me or not?”Behrukh nodded, gulping, and the two stepped in the portal. They felt their bodies being sucked forward, and the two girls let out shrieks of terror as their bodies spun. That moment, they felt themselves fall. They soon hit the ground, groaning.“My head hurts...” Behrukh whined, sitting up and rubbing her head.“Behrukh! You okay?” Alsie asked, sitting up and putting a hand on Behrukh’s shoulder. Behrukh nodded, whimpering, and the two girls looks around. They were in grass, with tall pines surrounding them. “Where are we?” Alsie asked.“Who are they?” A voice came. The two girls looked over to see Heinrich and Sagiv standing with two girls and... a Nāga? Behrukh and Alsie quickly got to their feet and swiftly walked over.“Alsie! Behrukh! You two decided to come!” Heinrich beamed happily.“Are these two of your friends?” One of the new girls asked. Alsie and Behrukh peered at her. She, the other girl and the Nāga looked very familiar. Could it be? No way...“You guys don’t happen to be Kantara, Mariola and Prahela from Heinrich’s game?” Alsie asked, her eyes wide with shock.“You guessed correctly!” Mariola laughed. She walked forward and held out her hand. “I’m- well, you know me! I’m Mariola! You two are?”“I’m Behrukh, and this is Alsie,” Behrukh introduced herself and Alsie. Kantara and Prahela shook their hands as well, and Mariola’s eyes scanned the crowd.“Hey! Is Oscar here?” She asked. Sagiv looked at her, shaking his head.“No, he isn’t,” Sagiv replied. Mariola’s smile faded.“Well, glad to have you four here,” Kantara gave a small smile.“It’s been so long, hasn’t it, boys?” Prahela said to them.“Too long!” Heinrich responded, and Prahela laughed.“Right you are!” Prahela held out her hand, and Heinrich gave it a high five.Kantara turned and headed the opposite direction. “I’m glad I have a car big enough to fit all six of us in.” She said.“Who isn’t riding?” Behrukh asked. Prahela slapped her back, and Behrukh winced.“Me, silly!” Prahela laughed. “You think a 20 foot long Nāga can fit in a Jeep?”“Oh,” Behrukh giggled.The six climbed in the jeep, and Kantara turned on the engine. Heinrich waved goodbye to Prahela, and Kantara took off, dust flaring up behind them. They traveled on a dirt road, and Sagiv leaned forward.“So where exactly are we?” Sagiv asked Kantara. She kept her eyes on the road.“About an hour outside of Ankara,” Kantara responded. Sagiv gave a nod and his eyes grew wide.“Oh, so Turkey!” He grinned. Heinrich clapped his hands together excitedly.“Oooh, Sagiv and I have been to Turkey!” Heinrich shouted, the paused. “Well, in our dimension.”“And definitely not the capital,” Sagiv added, chuckling.Behrukh and Alsie exchanged excited glances and looked outside the jeep as it reached a paved road. It was heavily wooded, but very dry, and the sun beat down on them. Thankfully, Kantara had the air conditioning going.“What were you doing all the way out here?” Behrukh questioned curiously. Kantara shot her a glance in the rearview mirror, but quickly averted her eyes back to the road.“We were searching for an ancient Persian artifact, a vessel,” Kantara replied. “It’s said to hold the power of an evil king.” Her grip tightened on the wheel and she furrowed her eyebrows. “But a man by the name of Augustin is after it as well. However, he only wants it for the power.”“So, we can’t let him get it, can we?” Alsie asked. Kantara shook her head and kept driving.About an hour passed. Up ahead, they could see a big city. Their eyes grew wide- it was Ankara, the capital of Turkey! The car headed into the city, and it was bustling with people. Music played in the streets, and marketplaces were busy. A large building with a rounded top and pillars on the sides stood in the center. Sagiv stared at it.“Is that the Kocatepe Mosque?” Sagiv asked, gazing at a large, beautiful mosque. Kantara smiled.“Smart boy,” Kantara replied. Heinrich gave Sagiv a high five, and Behrukh and Alsie marveled at the site of the beautiful mosque.Kantara parked the jeep in front of a building, and Kantara got out. The others crawled out as well, and Kantara locked the car. Mariola opened the doors up for them, and they thanked her as they stepped inside.Kantara approached a woman at the counter, and the woman gave them keys to their rooms. Kantara had purchased another room for the new four.They headed to their rooms, and Sagiv unlocked the room for him and his friends. They stepped inside, and Kantara stopped by. “We’ll give you a few minutes to rest, but we’ve got to get moving after that. There’s someone we’ll need you to meet.” Kantara said before dipping out of the room.Alsie sat on one of the beds, taking a deep breath. Her eyes were wide as she took in everything that had happened. Behrukh crawled up next to her, smiling at her warmly.“Wow…” Alsie’s voice trailed off, and Behrukh nodded her head. “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Sagiv asked, looking at the girls. They sighed and nodded their heads.Heinrich was staring at the now closed door where Kantara was standing moments earlier. A large smile was present on his face, and Alsie couldn’t help but laugh.“Now I know what you meant earlier when you said you missed her.” Alsie told him. Heinrich looked at her, his body shaking.“Wow! I can’t believe I’m here with my hero again!” Heinrich grinned, jumping up and down. He danced around the room, rambling to himself about how cool Kantara was and how happy he was to be with her again.Behrukh smiled at Sagiv, curiosity flashing in her eyes. “So this is your second time with Kantara? What happened during the first?” She asked him. Sagiv chuckled.“It was last year, and she was in Laos. We had to fight off some undead monster.” Sagiv replied. Behrukh nodded, thinking hard. This was a completely new experience for her, she never thought would be possible. Heinrich was still dancing around the room until Alsie grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, stopping him. “Okay Heinrich, Kantara said we need to rest!” She told him. He gazed at her in indignation.“But how can I rest when I’m with Kantara?” He asked. Sagiv laughed and shook his head.After about a half hour of the four sitting and chatting in the hotel room, a knock came on the door. Heinrich immediately jumped to his feet and threw open the door. Kantara stood there, unsurprised by Heinrich’s bubbling enthusiasm.“Come on, you four. We’re gonna have you meet someone, and we need to discuss the plan to get this vessel.” Kantara ordered. Heinrich raced out of the room, and the other three followed suit, albeit slower than Heinrich. Kantara shut the door behind them, and they met up with Mariola and headed to a restaurant.“Hope you all like Turkish food,” Kantara said as they entered the restaurant. Alsie took a deep breath in through her nose.“Yum! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving!” Alsie grinned, rubbing her belly. Sagiv pulled out some money.“Think they’ll take American money? I don’t have any Lira.” Sagiv laughed. Kantara shot him a grin.“I’ve got you covered,” Kantara told him. He smiled thankfully, and she brought them to a table. There, a woman sat, clad in a headscarf. She smiled upon seeing them.“Salaam!” The woman greeted. “I’m Muna Yazdan.” They greeted her and introduced themselves; Muna shook hands with the women and softly bowed for the two men. They then took their seats. “Muna will be working with us; she has extensive knowledge in Persian history and culture.” Kantara told them. Muna dipped her head and smiled warmly.“It’s nice to meet you!” Behrukh grinned. Muna grinned at her.“Nice to meet you too!” Muna responded. She then pulled out some documents and set them on the table. “Now, what do you all know about Persia?”“That Greece totally kicked their asses in the Greco-Persian Wars!” Alsie drove her fist in the air, her Greek accent evident. Muna sighed heavily, a bit of an irritated look on her face.“Well, besides that.” Muna replied bitterly. Heinrich elbowed Sagiv in the ribs, and Sagiv opened his mouth to speak.“It was centered in Iran, it was founded by Cyrus the Great and it only lasted for around 200 years.” Sagiv explained. Muna smiled at him, nodding her head in respect.“Right you are! And what religion did they follow?” Muna asked him. Sagiv thought for a moment.“...Zoroastrianism, I believe?” Sagiv said. Muna snapped her fingers.“Bingo! And that’s what we’ll be looking at today.” Muna grinned, shuffling through her documents. “We’re on the hunt for an ancient Persian vessel, rumored to be here in Turkey.” Her eyes clouded. “It’s said to hold the power of the ancient evil king Zahhak, a figure in Persian mythology and Zoroastrianism.”Muna explained to them the story of Zahhak. He ruled as a ruthless king, and had two snakes coming from his shoulders. These snakes were venomous and hungry, and to keep them from eating him, Zahhak fed his subjects to these snakes. Zahhak waged a war against Jamshid, the ruler of the world, eventually killing Jamshid and becoming ruler of the world. He took Jamshid’s daughters as slaves.Eventually, after years of terror under Zahhak’s rule, a man named Feraydun was able to rise up against Zahhak, killing him and setting the kingdom free from Zahhak’s oppressive rule.“However, Zahhak’s power still remains and lies dormant inside this vessel.” Muna told them. “Feraydun sealed his power away inside the vessel, hiding it so no one could find it and gain Zahhak’s evil power.” “But this Augustin guy, he’s trying to get it?” Heinrich asked. “Why?”“He’s always been hungry for power. And he’s entitled.” Kantara grimaced. Her tone seemed annoyed. She pulled out a picture from her pocket and showed the table. “This is him. Know his face.”A waiter came by and took their order, bringing out Döner kebap and Pilaf along with water. They ate their food, discussing their plan of action. “We’ll head back to my place,” Muna started, taking a sip of her water. “I have a giant map, and I’ll calculate where I believe the vessel is located according to my documents. There, we’ll go grab it, and fight of any of Augustin’s men if we run into them.” “F-fight?” Behrukh stuttered, her eyes growing wide. Kantara gazed at her and gave a nod, her eyes dark.“Yes, they know we’re after the vessel as well. There’s no doubt Augustin will have men that’ll try to kill us if they see us.” Kantara explained to her. Behrukh gulped and sank back into her seat, and Heinrich slammed his fists on the table, knocking everyone’s waters over. They glared at him, but he paid no mind.“Hell yeah! It’s not a Kantara adventure if there’s no danger involved!” Heinrich shouted in excitement. “Well, eat up! You need your energy for our adventure.” Muna ordered, dabbing the napkins on her lap where the water Heinrich knocked over trickled down. The others obeyed and quickly ate, famished. Once they were done, Kantara and Muna paid, and they went on their way.The seven headed to a house not far outside Ankara, up on a small hill surrounded by Turkish pine. It was a small house, cozy and tucked away from the busy life of Ankara.They parked the car and got out, and Muna unlocked the house and they stepped inside. It was nice and cool, and Muna gestured the rest to come inside.“I wonder if I have service in this dimension?” Alsie questioned, holding her phone up. Behrukh stood by her and looked at her phone, and Alsie grimaced. “Darn! I don’t.”Sagiv looked at all the items Muna had in her living room. There were paintings of important Zoroastrian figures and photos of her and her family.“Muna, is your family back in Tehran?” Sagiv asked. Muna looked over at him from the table.“Yes! I get to visit them regularly, though.” She responded, returning her attention to the books and documents.Heinrich joined them, watching them as they sorted through the documents. Muna and Kantara looked at a map of Turkey. Muna thought hard as Kantara read the documents.“Ahah! I got it!” Muna shouted. Everyone looked over at her. “After gathering together my studies, I know where the vessel is! It’s right here!” She circled an area on the map.“That’s not far from Ankara,” Sagiv noted. Muna grinned at him.“Nope! Only a few hours out.” She replied, rolling up the map. “Well, Kantara, shall we get going?”“Definitely,” Kantara said. She looked at the others. “Come on, you all.” After a few hours, they arrived at their destination, and Prahela was waiting for them. It was what looked to be just a small hill, dotted with trees. However, Muna was certain this was the spot.“There should be an entrance around here,” Muna said, and she began to walk around the hill. The others followed her, and eventually, Muna found an entrance. It looked like a small tunnel, barely big enough to fit in, carved into the hill over the centuries. “In there?” Alsie asked, unsure. Muna nodded and turned on the flashlight on her phone. “Yes, it’s not gonna be conspicuous,” Muna replied. She shone the light into the tunnel and began to crawl inside, being careful not to disturb any of the foundation. Heinrich chuckled and elbowed Sagiv in the ribs. “Look at this hole! It was made for me!” Heinrich laughed. Sagiv smiled softly, rolling his eyes. The others followed Muna inside, except Prahela, who was too big to fit inside. They crawled down the tunnel, deeper inside the cave, trying to fight their claustrophobia. Soon enough, the cave widened up, and Muna shone her light around the room.“It’s... not here?” Muna whimpered, desperately searching the room for the vessel. “How can it not be here? I don’t understand! I thought I was accurate in my location!”As Muna looked, Kantara noticed something on the ground. She walked up to it, inspecting it. She kneeled down and stared at the object, realizing what it was.“Someone’s been here,” Kantara muttered. Muna’s distressed gaze flickered over to Kantara.“Come again?” She asked, confused. Kantara put on some gloves and grabbed the object, showing it to them.“A cigarette butt?” Sagiv questioned, tilting his head to the side. Kantara gave a nod.“Augustin doesn’t smoke.” Kantara said. “Unless one of his men does, someone else got it.”“W-what?” Muna asked, puzzled.“This cigarette butt is fresh. They were just here.” Kantara replied. She then took off out of the cavern. “Come on, we’ve got to get them!”The others ran after her, and they headed in the opposite direction of the car. There, they saw a man, lighting a cigarette, muttering something under his breath. He heard their footsteps and swiveled his head to look at them, but it was too late for him to run. Kantara leapt at him, hooking her fingers into his shirt.“W-what? Who on earth are you?!” The man spat, bewildered. He tried to kick at her, but she stepped on his toes and he wailed.“Where is it?!” She hissed.“Are you mad?! What are you talking about?!” The man replied, feigning confusion. He wasn’t a good actor.“The vessel!” Kantara spat.“What vessel?” He lied again.“Don’t play stupid with us,” Muna growled. The man grimaced at her.“Who the hell are you guys?” He asked, glaring at them. “And what business do you have with the vessel?”“It belongs in a museum,” Kantara snarled angrily. “Not in the hands of an idiot.”The man tried to get away, but Kantara was strong enough to hold him tight. He groaned in annoyance. Heinrich and Muna stood to the sides of him, poised to catch him if he did somehow escape.“Ha, yeah,” he chuckled bitterly. “It’s far away now, you’ll never get it.”“Where is it?!” Muna snapped. The man didn’t budge.“Why would I tell you?” He replied, cocking an eyebrow at her. She bared her teeth angrily.“We have ways of making you talk,” Kantara told him. He rolled his eyes.“Yeah, sure, like I’m gonna buckle under some-“ he started, but Kantara snapped her fingers, and the snapping of twigs could be heard. He narrowed his eyes, not expecting much, but then the bushes parted and in slithered Prahela. The man’s eyes grew wide and he tried taking off, but Kantara kept her grip on him. “What the hell is that?!” He shrieked.Prahela approached him, and he shook with fear. She towered above him, baring her sharp fangs. “I am venomous,” she smirked. The man tried to scream, but the sound caught in his throat.“Now, tell us where the vessel is,” Kantara growled.“O-okay, okay! I’ll tell you! Just don’t send that thing after me!” He whined. “We’re taking it to a place a couple of hours from here! We’re planning on selling it on the black market to the highest bidder!” He explained, giving them the address as Prahela inched closer.“What’s the place?!” Kantara snapped. The man quickly gave them an address, and Muna quickly wrote it down. The man was near tears.“Please let me go! Please, for the love of God!” The man wailed. Kantara sighed.“We’ll let you go, you’re of no use to us.” Kantara let go of him and the man wasted no time in scurrying away, kicking up dust and he fled. Prahela shook her head, chuckling.“Humans are ridiculous.” She laughed.Kantara dusted off her hands and turned to the others. “Alright, we’ve gotta head to-”Muna quickly interrupted her. “Uh oh, bad news, Kantara.” She started, furrowing her eyebrows in worry. “I’ve heard of this place before, you need special permission to get in. Plus, you have to dress nice.”“That’s never stopped Kantara!” Heinrich gave Muna a wink, and Kantara nodded.“Heinrich’s right. We’ll find a way in.” Kantara agreed. Heinrich beamed at hearing Kantara validate him, and Kantara and her friends headed to their car, taking off back toward Ankara.Night time came. The stars were barely visible due to light pollution from the city, but the hills were dark. A building stood, nestled in the hills, its lights shining as fancy cars parked around it.Kantara parked their car outside and everyone got out, dressed fancy. Alsie looked back at the car, cocking an eyebrow. “Heh, a little out of place, huh?”Heinrich couldn’t help but stare at Kantara in her dress. It was a darker colored one, with straps, and it hugged her figure perfectly. She looked over at him, and he quickly looked away, blushing. “I have never worn something so nice before!” Behrukh looked down at herself. Her dress was more flowy, with sleeves, and she wore a fancy head scarf.“You look great, Behrukh!” Alsie beamed. She wore a black tuxedo. “Thank you! So do you!” The Wakhi girl replied, smiling sweetly. The two girls stared in each other’s eyes, before Muna broke their concentration.“Well, it was great the museum director was able to pay for these fancy clothes so fast, and we got these earpieces.” Muna stated, dressed similar to Behrukh. Concern was on her face. “But how are we gonna get inside?”Kantara gestured to Mariola, who was wearing her hair in an updo and a strapless dress. “We’ve got a little secret weapon here.” Kantara told Muna. Mariola gave a heavy sigh and nodded her head.“Alright,” Mariola replied, running her hands down her body as she headed up to the entrance. A large bodyguard stood, and Mariola walked up to him.“ID please?” The man asked, his muscles rippling under his clothes. Mariola smiled and approached him, and the man quickly stepped in front of the door. “Woah there, lady! You can’t get in unless you’re on the list.”“So you’re just going to leave a young lady out all by herself at night?” She whined, hugging her figure. “But it’s so cold…” She pretended to start to cry, and the man frowned, looking sympathetic.“Look, lady, I can’t go against the owner’s orders,” he responded, pleading with her. Mariola turned away, whimpering, and the man couldn’t help but stare at her curves and how the dressed hugged her body. “Oh… you’re right… you can’t…” Her voice trailed off sadly, but she then turned her head and peaked over her shoulder at the man. “I was going to give you something really special too.”The man’s eyes shot up and met hers. What she said seemed to pique his curiosity, and the blood pumped through his veins. She ran her hand down her hips and waist, and he bit his lip.“A-and what might that special something be, ma’am?” He asked her silently. She smiled and turned back to him, swaying her hips as she approached him. Mariola got close to him, planting a hand on his bulky chest and gently hooking her fingers into his tie.“If you come with me behind the building, you’ll find out…” she whispered seductively. He stared down at her; being much taller, he could get a view down her dress. “A-alright…” he responded, grinning. She grabbed his tie and led him behind the building. A few moments passed, and eventually, Mariola reappeared, alone, fixing her hair.“Horny bastard,” she growled. The entrance was now unguarded after Mariola took out the bodyguard. The group could freely enter, so they did just that. The lights were low, and classical music played. They reached a large room, where people danced.“Alright,” Kantara started, standing close to her friends. “I’ll go look for the vessel with Heinrich. The rest of you, don’t get yourselves into trouble.”Heinrich beamed, his heart pumping in excitement, and he followed Kantara toward the back. Muna sighed and went to make sure they made it okay. “I’m gonna get some punch!” Alsie smiled. “Come with me, Behrukh!” Alsie then took off toward the punch bar, and Behrukh happily followed. That left Mariola and Sagiv alone. “Mariola... you’ve been awfully quiet.” Sagiv said, looking down at her. “Are you okay?” He asked. She looked away sadly, tears forming in her eyes.“I...” She started, then looked back up at him. “How’s Oscar doing?”Sagiv blinked in surprise at the question. “Oh, uh, he’s great. He’s got a girlfriend.”“A girlfriend?” Mariola asked, shocked. “What’s her name? What does she look like?”“Her name is Connor Levick. She’s got short brown hair, she’s really nice.” Sagiv explained. Mariola bit her lip.“Oh... that’s good for him.” She replied sadly. He gazed at her.“Is that... what’s bugging you?” He asked. She nodded, fighting the tears in her eyes.“Yes....” she murmured. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’ve been with lots of men, but Oscar... he was different! He was so nice and sweet... I wish I could still be with him.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But that’s okay... as long as he’s happy, I’m happy.” She took a deep breath and regained her posture, looking up at Sagiv.“I’m sorry, I had no idea you felt that way.” Sagiv responded. She let out a sad laugh.“It’s whatever... if he’s moved on, I should too.” She said. She forced a smile. “Well... want to dance?”Sagiv laughed and held out his hand, and Mariola took it into her own, and the two started to dance. The two moved around the dance floor, smiling and laughing.A new piece started to play. Sagiv’s eyes lit up and he grinned. “Oh, I love this piece! It’s Por Una Cabeza.”“You must know your classical music!” Mariola laughed joyfully, starting to feel better.Kantara and Heinrich slipped into the back, and Kantara turned to face Heinrich. “Alright, I’m going to get a feel for where the vessel is.” She kept her eyes on him. “I need you to stay here and keep watch. Can you do that, Heinrich?”“Of course! Anything for you, Kantara!” He saluted her, and Kantara nodded her head and walked away.Heinrich waited anxiously for his hero to return. She seemed to be gone forever, and fear rose up in him. What if she was being attacked and she needed help? Anxiety getting the better of him, he started to advance toward where Kantara vanished.“Kantara?...” He said, looking behind him and walking backwards. Heinrich felt himself run into someone, and he whipped around, getting into a karate position. He then gasped at who he saw.“Augustin?” He asked. Augustin stared down at him.“Oh, if it isn’t Kantara’s little friend?” He snickered. Heinrich glared at Augustin and opened his mouth to say something, but Kantara appeared behind him.“Augustin!” Kantara hissed. Augustin glowered at her.“Kantara!” He snapped, leaving Heinrich and getting close to Kantara. She glared daggers at him, and he laughed. “My, you look just as beautiful as you did back in college.”“I’m sorry... what?” Heinrich asked. They ignored him.“How does it feel, Kantara? Knowing you broke my heart?” Augustin growled. Kantara gritted her teeth angrily.“You broke his heart?” Heinrich questioned.“You knew I loved you! You helped me out in history class- and when I asked you out, you said no!” Augustin told her. Kantara balled her fists.“Are you delusional? I wasn’t required to date you!” Kantara snapped. Augustin narrowed his eyes.“You led me on!” He retorted.“I was helping you out in history! How on earth is that leading you on?!” Kantara snarled. Augustin grabbed her arm angrily, and she tried to pull away. “Let go of me, you creep!”“Get him, Kantara! Punch him in the face!” Heinrich shouted, running at them. However, Augustin pulled her out the door- onto the dance floor. Heinrich gasped, and the door closed behind them.Augustin put his hands around her waist, and she was fuming, but looking around, she realized she couldn’t make a scene. Instead, she sighed and put her arms around his neck. They danced around, and Kantara avoided eye contact.Mariola and Sagiv looked over, their eyes growing wide at seeing Kantara and Augustin. They exchanged glances, then swiftly made their way off the dance floor, grabbing Behrukh and Alsie and pulling them away too.“What? What is it?” Alsie asked. “I was having fun downing all the punch!”“I think it was spiked,” Behrukh whined, rubbing her temples.“Something happened. Kantara is dancing with Augustin,” Mariola told them. They gasped, and Mariola talked through the earpiece.“Muna! Meet us in the back. We have a situation.” Mariola ordered silently.“I’ll be right there.” Muna responded through the earpiece.They snuck towards the back, slipping past the doors and standing in the dimly lit hallway. Muna appeared there as well, frowning. They met up with Heinrich there too.“Muna, did you see?” Mariola asked her. She nodded, her eyes wide.“Yes, this is bad,” she responded. Heinrich shook his head.“Augustin... tried asking her out in college?” Heinrich asked, shocked. Mariola looked at him and nodded.“Yes, he flirted with her all the time, but you know her, she turned him down.” Mariola answered.They heard footsteps coming down the hallway. They tensed up, and up ahead, they could see some guards. Their eyes landed on the group, and the guards ran at them.“Can you guys fight?!” Mariola asked.“No!” Sagiv and Behrukh wailed.The guards reached them, and they laughed when they saw the group’s fighting poses. “Oh man, four little girls in dresses and two scrawny little boys. You think you can beat us?” The lead guard mocked.“Scrawny?!” Heinrich hissed, flexing his muscles under his tuxedo.“I wouldn’t underestimate us,” Mariola smirked.“Bring it on, little girl!” The guard hissed. They ran at each other, and the guard threw a punch at Mariola. She dodged it and dropped to her hands, swinging her legs and hitting his with them, knocking him to the ground.One guard ran at Alsie, grabbing one of her arms, suspecting her as an easy target. She, however, punched him upwards, hitting his nose and cracking the bones. He let out a screech, grabbing his nose, and she took the chance to kick him in the knee, knocking him to the ground.“Wow, Alsie, you can fight?!” Behrukh asked her. Alsie took deep breaths and smiled at her.“Yes! My father made me take self-defense classes!” Alsie responded. Behtukh’s eyes shined.“Ooh! Teach me!” Behrukh beamed.“I will!” Alsie grinned.A guard ran at Muna and Heinrich. He tried to punch them, but Muna blocked it with her forearm. She kicked up her leg and kicked him in the nose, and he stepped back, stunned. Heinrich then jumped forward and punched him in the face, and he fell onto his back, his head snapping against the hard floor.The guards ran away, bleeding and in pain. Mariola, Heinrich, Muna and Alsie high fived each other, and Sagiv and Behrukh cheered for them. They then made their way to the back room, where the artifacts where being kept. Two guards were guarding the room, and they glared at the six as they approached them.“What are you doing here?” One guard snapped.“We want in that back room,” Heinrich said, pointing at the door behind them. They grimaced.“Yeah, tough luck, kid!” The other guard growled. Mariola took a step forward.“Well, you see, there’s something in there that doesn’t belong to you.” Mariola told them. They narrowed their eyes.“And what makes it belong to you?” One of them hissed. Mariola laughed.“Well, you see, it belongs in a museum. And that’s what we’re here to do- put it in a museum, where it won’t be damaged.” Mariola replied. They laughed loudly.“How funny! The only way to get whatever you want is to bid on it, and win.” One of the guards responded. Mariola giggled.“Well, it’s two against six!” She said. They laughed even harder.“Two trained guards against some little girls and irrelevant boys, gotcha,” one of the guards mocked. Alsie grimaced.“What’s with these guards putting down women?” She growled.The guards went to attack the group, and one threw a punch at Mariola, but she blocked it with her forearm. The guard then kicked her hard in the stomach, and she gasped for air, stumbling back. The guard laughed, and Mariola glared at him, cursing under her breath.Muna then jumped forward and landed a punch in his face. The other guard came around and grabbed her, throwing her on the ground. Alsie jumped and kicked the second guard in the back of the knees, knocking him to the ground.Heinrich ran at the first guard and tried to punch him, but the guard grabbed his arm, twisting it to the side. “Ow, ow, ow!” Heinrich wailed, falling to his knees.Sagiv and Behrukh exchanged glances, then ran at the two guards. The second guard got to his feet, glaring heavily at the group. Fear pumped through Sagiv and Behrukh’s veins- Neither had ever been in a fight before. However, they weren’t going to let the guards hurt their friends any more.Sagiv kicked a guard hard in the groin, and the guard let out a shriek, falling to the ground. Sagiv then punched the guard square in the nose, and the guard grabbed his nose. Mariola stood back up and gave a roundhouse kick to the guard’s face, knocking him unconscious.The other guard grimaced and tried to hit Behrukh, but she dodged it. She then stepped on his foot, shifting her weight so it was on his toes, and he groaned. Muna and Alsie ran at the second guard, and Muna jumped up and kicked him in the face, and Alsie punched upwards, hitting his chin and knocking him unconscious.The six stepped back, their chests heaving as they took deep breaths. Mariola bent down and grabbed a set of keys from one of the guard’s pockets, and Heinrich and Sagiv took the unconscious bodies and hid them.Mariola unlocked the door and stepped inside, her eyes scanning the room. There were plenty of artifacts to be found, but she was focused on finding only one. It was the vessel! It was big and covered in Avestan text.“Hey, Heinrich, you’ve got muscle, come help me lift this!” Mariola grinned. Heinrich ran over and they approached the vessel. They bent down and hooked their fingers underneath it, lifting it up.“Wow, this thing is ancient,” Heinrich noted. Mariola let out a strained laugh, and the two carried it out of the room.Sagiv looked over his shoulder and gasped when a couple of men approached them. They tightened their fists, and one pointed at them.“Look! They’re stealing the vessel!” One of them shouted.“That’s Augustin’s!” Another hissed. Mariola grumbled something under her breath.“Heinrich, you take it,” she said, letting go. Heinrich stumbled.“What?! Mariola!” He shouted, gaining his balance. Mariola ignored him and raced at the men, and they got into fighting positions, laughing.Augustin and Kantara danced on the dance floor, the music speeding up. “You’re light on your feet. Dance much?” He whispered in her ear, pressing his body against hers. She was seething.“I have to be in order to fight criminals like you,” she replied angrily, resisting the urge to attack him. Augustin laughed, his grip on her tightening. “Your body looks fabulous in that dress…” he breathed, his hand traveling down her curves. Kantara grew even angrier. “I’d like to see that dress on the floor, next to our bed...”“You’re a damn fool if you think I’ll sleep with someone like you.” Kantara muttered through gritted teeth. Augustin’s smile grew wider.“I have ways of making you…” He said to her, and as the music reached its climax, he twirled her around.Mariola grabbed one of the men by his shirt and stepped on his foot, jamming her head up into his chin. The man’s tongue was caught between his two rows of teeth, and the force from the head butt jutted his bottom jaw up, slicing the tip of his tongue off. Blood spurted from the man’s mouth, and he let out a shriek of agony and fell to the ground. Heinrich set the vessel down and raced up to the other man, wanting to help. This man held something the other didn’t- a knife. Noticing the glimmer of light on it, Heinrich knew he had to be extra careful.The man swung the dagger at Heinrich, and Heinrich jumped out of the way. The man continued to swing his dagger, and Heinrich was just barely able to jump out of the way- but not without the dagger slicing the side of his clothes open and grazing his side.“Mother fu-!” Heinrich hissed, his hands racing to his side to stop the bleeding. Sagiv looked over, and his eyes grew wide with fear.“Heinrich!” He shouted. Heinrich’s friends gasped, and anger surged up in them. Heinrich dropped to his knees, and Sagiv raced up to him.The girls attacked the man, pummeling him to the ground and giving him hell. Mariola ripped the knife from his hand, and he was afraid she was going to stab him, but Mariola wasn’t that brutal. Instead, they beat him unconscious.The music stopped, and Augustin dipped Kantara back and planted his lips on hers, kissing her passionately. Kantara’s eyes widened, and his tongue licked her lips as pure fury coursed through her veins.It was now Kantara’s time to escape before the next song started. The second Augustin let go of her, she took off toward the back, wiping her lips on her hand in sheer disgust.She threw open the back door and ran down the hallway, reaching the group. Two unconscious men lay around them, and her friends were surrounding Heinrich. Their hands were on his side, and blood soaked his clothes.“What the hell happened?!” Kantara asked. Mariola looked up at her best friend.“We could ask you the same thing!” Mariola responded desperately.“You were dancing with Augustin!” Muna worried. Kantara shook her head.“That doesn’t matter.” Kantara quickly approached them, kneeling in front of Heinrich. “What happened, Heinrich? Are you okay?”Heinrich stared into her eyes and he gave a soft smile. “Y-yes, I’m okay,” he responded, trying to surpress his groaning. “One of those assholes just nicked me, that’s all.”Behrukh and Alsie got to their feet, running over to secure the vessel, terrified for their friend. Sagiv was silently weeping, his eyes and face wet. Muna and Mariola moved their bloodied hands to reveal Heinrich’s wound.Kantara grimaced, feeling even angrier than before. “We need to stop the bleeding.” She ordered. “Heinrich, we’ll need to take off your dinner jacket and press it against your wound. I can’t assess it here, but I’ll do that as soon as it’s safe.”Heinrich tried to move his arms to take off his jacket, but he winced and groaned in pain. Kantara shook her head and she and Sagiv helped him out of the jacket. His white shirt underneath was soaked with blood. Kantara took the jacket and pressed it against his wound, and he gritted his teeth in agony.“Let’s get out of here!” Muna said. She and Mariola ran over to the vessel, picking it up. Behrukh and Alsie lead the way out, making sure no bad guys were in the way. Sagiv and Kantara helped Heinrich to his feet and supported him as they headed out, Kantara holding pressure on Heinrich’s knife wound.The way out was easy. They were able to get the vessel to the car without any enemies interfering. Muna decided to drive so Kantara could keep applying pressure.The ride home seemed to last forever. Everyone was bruised and exhausted. They reached Muna’s place first, where they dropped off the vessel.“We’ll meet up in the morning. I need to take care of Heinrich first.” Kantara told Muna. She nodded.“Of course.” Muna replied. She and Mariola got the vessel inside, then Mariola drove them back to the hotel.It was late enough no one would see them enter, which was good, because seeing a group of bloodied and hurt people would raise a lot of questions. They hurried inside and to Heinrich and his friends’ room. Kantara laid him on the bed, and she helped him out of his shirt to examine his wound. Mariola grabbed their first aid kit from her and Kantara’s room, handing it to Kantara. The wound was still trickling blood, but not nearly as much as earlier. His clothes were still stained.“D-do we need to take him to a hospital?” Sagiv murmured sadly. Kantara inspected the wound, then shook her head.“No, he’ll be fine,” she responded. “It didn’t cut him too deep.” She grabbed some disinfectant and applied it to the wound, and Heinrich winced and gritted his teeth.“Bastards…” Alsie hissed under her breath, gazing sadly at her friend as he writhed in pain. Kantara cleaned the wound, and Heinrich continued to squirm, muttering profanities in German. “Try to relax,” she murmured, and he nodded his head, growing slightly dizzy from the pain. After the wound was clean, she dressed it properly. Mariola grabbed some medicine from the first aid kit, handing them to Heinrich. “Here are some antibiotics and pain meds.” She said. She then fetched him a glass of water and had him take some of the medicine.“Thanks guys,” he told them, his voice hoarse. He looked down at his now dressed wound.Kantara got to her feet. “Try go get some sleep, Heinrich.” She looked at his friends. “And you three. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”“Yes ma’am!” Behrukh smiled. “Come grab us if you need anything. We’re right next door.” Mariola gave them a wink, and she and Kantara turned and left the room, wishing them a good night.Sagiv sighed heavily. “I’m so glad it wasn’t worse,” Sagiv murmured, wiping his wet eyes on his sleeve.Alsie sat on the bed, itching to get out of her fancy clothes. “What an intense night!” She grinned, grabbing her street clothes she changed out of earlier. “I’m gonna head to the bathroom to change out of this tux.” With that, she headed to the restroom. Behrukh sat next to Heinrich. “I’m glad you’re okay! That must’ve really hurt.” “It wasn’t too bad!” Heinrich responded. Sagiv stared at him.“You don’t have to lie.” Sagiv replied. Heinrich glared at him, and Alsie came out of the bathroom, changed. She threw herself onto the bed.“I’m gonna sleep so well tonight…” she murmured, already drifting off to sleep.Behrukh went to change, and as Alsie slept, Sagiv changed and helped Heinrich change. His pants were soaked with blood, and Sagiv grimaced.After they were all changed, they all climbed in bed. Heinrich was irritated he couldn’t lie on his side, but he was exhausted, and he quickly fell asleep.Only a few hours had passed when Kantara received a phone call. In her sleepy daze, she thought it was Heinrich calling her- but then she realized he didn’t have service here. Picking up the phone, she checked the caller ID.Muna.Kantara sat up straight and answered. “Hello?” She said groggily.“Kantara!” Muna shouted through the phone. It sounded as if she was crying. “Oh Kantara, it was awful, my place, it’s destroyed-““Calm down, Muna!” Kantara told her. At hearing this through her sleep, Mariola quickly sat up, fumbling to put in her glasses. Kantara stayed calm. “Muna, tell me what happened, slowly.”Between sobs, Muna started recalling what happened: “I was sleeping, and the vessel was in my room. I heard some banging, so I woke up, and men were in my room! They stole the vessel and ransacked my house!”Kantara cursed under her breath. “Alright, Muna. Just stay calm. We’ll be on our way.” “My house is destroyed!” Muna wept as Kantara hung up.“What happened?” Mariola asked, getting up out of her bed and getting dressed.“They stole the vessel from Muna’s house.” Kantara responded, getting dressed as well. “Come on, we got to get the others.”“Including Heinrich?” Mariola asked, grabbing the door.“Including Heinrich. He’ll be fine, I promise.” She told Mariola as they raced next door.A loud bang came on the door. The four quickly woke up, and Behrukh went to the door to grab it. She opened it up, and Kantara and Mariola stood.“It’s still dark out…” Behrukh frowned.“This is an emergency.” Kantara hissed. “We’re heading to Muna’s.”They reached Muna’s. She ran outside upon heading the Jeep pull up, and her eyes were red and puffy. The Jeep stopped, and Kantara demanded Muna to get inside. She did, and they were on their way.“Tell us where they went!” Kantara hissed. Muna was in hysterics.“I-I don’t know!” She cried. “Are you hurt at all?” Mariola asked, gazing sadly at her. Muna shook her head, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.“We had a bit of a scuffle as they tried to take the vessel, but that’s mostly it.” Muna responded. “It’s mostly just my house! My livelihood, it’s destroyed!”Kantara zipped down the hill leading from Muna’s house. As she paid attention to the road, she thought hard. Where would Augustin have gone? Where would he have taken the vessel?“Explain the car to me.” Kantara growled. Muna took deep breaths and nodded her head, explaining the car to them. Kantara took note, and she took off toward Ankara.Kantara was pushing close to 70 miles per hour. They needed to catch Augustin, and fast. As the sun slowly rose above the horizon, in the distance, Kantara could make out a car… one that matched Muna’s description.“That’s it! That’s it!” Muna shouted, pointing.“Give them hell!” Heinrich yelled, the exhilaration of the chase getting the best of him.Kantara pushed the pedal to the metal and drove alongside the car. The men inside looked over, and their faces turned angry once they saw who it was.“Pull over!” Kantara demanded. The driver flipped her off and drove even faster, leaving them in dust. They coughed and swatted the dust away in the air.“Rude!” Alsie hissed. Kantara sped up behind the car, and she looked at Mariola. The girl in glasses nodded, and she unbuckled her seatbelt.“What are you doing, Mariola?!” Sagiv wailed, fear coursing through his veins as Mariola crawled over the windshield and onto the hood.“Trust me on this!” Mariola responded. Kantara drove closer to the car in front of them, praying they didn’t slam on their breaks, and Mariola climbed onto the car.Behrukh squealed in fear and covered her eyes, and Alsie watched in terror. Mariola disappeared inside the car, and Kantara backed off. Eventually, the car came to a stop, and so did the Jeep.Mariola threw open the back doors of the car, and she held the vessel. The unconscious bodies of the men in the car lay about. “Woohoo! Nice, Mariola! You’re a badass!” Heinrich shouted. Muna got out of the Jeep and helped get the vessel in. Once it was settled in, they took off.“Where to now? Obviously my house isn’t safe.” Muna asked despondently. Kantara grimaced and gripped the steering wheel tightly.“We need to get it to our museum in Rome as fast as we can.” Kantara responded bitterly. “Only there will it be safe.”“As long as Augustin is out on the streets, it’s in danger.” Mariola added. Muna nodded, still upset about her house. Behrukh put a hand on Muna’s shoulder to try to comfort her.They reached Ankara, their eyes peeled for any suspicious cars. They had to get through Ankara to get to Rome, and it would be a long drive. They knew that Augustin would be on their heels, so they had to be prepared.As they drove, a black van appeared behind them. Kantara looked out her rearview mirror at the car, and it slowly made its way beside them. The man in the car glared daggers at them, and he started to turn the wheel toward them.“Holy shi-“ Alsie started, and the car rammed into their Jeep. Kantara lost control of the car, and it crashed into a light pole. Thankfully everyone was wearing their seatbelts.They quickly got out of the car, and Mariola gave a nod to Muna, who quickly dashed off. None of the enemies noticed her as she raced away.“Give us that damn vessel!” The lead man snapped. Kantara’s eyes darted around for a getaway, since her Jeep was too damaged to drive, and her gaze landed on something- three motorcycles with sidecars! “Guys, come on!” She pointed toward the motorcycles and started to race toward them. The others followed her, right past the men.Kantara and Mariola climbed in one, Heinrich in Alsie in one, and Sagiv and Behrukh in another, along with the vessel wrapped up in the sidecar. The man who was in charge of the motorcycles glared at them and spat a string of curses at them, but Mariola quickly paid him before they took off.Augustin’s men quickly climbed back into their slightly damaged car, and a few more black cars pulled up, full of more of Augustin’s men. They began to chase Kantara’s small group.Kantara sped up her motorcycle and zipped around a corner, her friends following her. People watched as the chase went on, and people jumped out of the way as they zoomed down the busy streets.A man leaned out of the car and held a hand gun, and he pulled the trigger and began to shoot. The bullets whizzed past them. Behrukh let out a shriek of terror, and Kantara knew the situation was more serious than she expected. Good thing the man had terrible aim.Kantara swerved her motorcycle down a street, her friends following her as they tried to lose the men. However, then men followed suit. Grimacing, Kantara pulled the gun out of her holster and handed it to Mariola beside her.Mariola turned and aimed the gun at the men, pulling the trigger. The bullets pierced the car, shattering glass. The men screamed, some jumping out of the moving cars to avoid getting struck by bullets. However, the chase pursued.Kantara pulled out her phone and quickly called Muna. “Muna! Where are you?”“I’m with Prahela! Outside the city. What in Allah’s name is happening?” Muna responded, growing concerned at the loud noises coming through the phone.“No time to explain! Just tell us exactly where you are! We’ll lose them eventually!” Kantara shouted. Muna looked at Prahela, the two girls nodding at each other, and Muna began to lead the group toward her.Kantara listened closely while still paying attention to the road. Mariola reloaded her gun and shot more rounds at the men, cracking their windshield and hitting some of them. Heinrich threw an arm in the air and let out a cry of excitement. “Woohoo! Now this is what I’m talking about! A group of epic adventurers, including a handsome German, pursued down the busy Ankara streets-“Alsie glared at him and slapped his shoulder as hard as she could. Heinrich wailed and clutched his shoulder, and she pointed toward the road. “Pay attention to the goddamn road, you idiot!” She snapped. Heinrich grumbled curses under his breath and focused back on the road.Behrukh and Sagiv were full of anxiety and fear, as they were the closest to the enemies. Behrukh was crying, crouched over with her hands covering her head, vessel between her legs, and Sagiv was trying to keep his fear from controlling him as he followed the others as best he could. Bullets flew past them, coming too close for comfort.Sagiv glanced down at his friend. “I-it’s okay, Behrukh! I promise you’ll be okay! We’ll make it out alive!” Sagiv tried to reassure her, but he wasn’t sure of it himself.Kantara listened to Muna give them directions, and she took a sharp right turn. Her friends followed her, and one of Augustin’s men’s cars slammed into a building. Kantara chuckled, but when she looked ahead, her stomach dropped. They were going straight through a busy bazaar!“What the hell, Muna?!” Kantara shrieked in fury. Muna tried to apologize, but Kantara continued to scream at her through the phone.People in the bazaar looked at the incoming motorcycles and cars, and they screamed, dodging them. Kantara shouted at everyone to get out of the way, and they did just that.Amidst the chaos, a frightened little girl became separated from her parents. She sobbed, standing in the middle of the now cleared road, and she watched as the motorcycles barreled toward her. She didn’t move, petrified with terror.Kantara saw this little girl, and she shouted Mariola’s name. Mariola looked at her, then at the road, and her green eyes landed on the girl. Knowing exactly what to do, Kantara swerved out of the way of the girl, and with catlike reflexes, Mariola leaned out of the sidecar and snatched the little girl up, pulling her into the sidecar and shielding her from the slew of incoming bullets.They exited the bazaar, and they were back on the busy streets. Another challenge faced them- dodging cars. Kantara tried her best to maneuver in between cars, hoping to lose the men behind her group. Heinrich and Sagiv followed. They were almost out of Ankara.Augustin’s men inched closer and closer to Behrukh and Sagiv, until eventually, they cut them off, forcing the two into an alleyway. Behrukh had the vessel in her sidecar, and their hearts pounded in their chest at knowing that Augustin now had the vessel. The men cornered them against a wall, and Sagiv and Behrukh knew they had nowhere to escape.They crawled out of the motorcycle and sidecar, and Behrukh held the vessel, her arms shaking with how heavy it was. One of the men got out of his car and ripped the vessel from her hands, setting it in the car. “Get them.” The man ordered, and Sagiv and Behrukh exchanged terrified glances as the men grabbed them and pulled them into their car.Two men in a motorcycle chased after Kantara and the others while the rest of Augustin’s men went after the vessel. They reached the outside of the city where Prahela and Muna waited for them. The men jumped off the motorcycle and ran straight at Kantara, holding knives, but once their eyes landed on Prahela, they let out shrieks of terror and turned to run.Heinrich and Alsie took off after them, jumping and knocking the men to the ground. They screamed in terror, trying to drag themselves away, but Heinrich and Alsie held them down. Prahela crossed her arms in annoyance.“I’m not that ugly, am I?” She hissed. “A giant snake… thing!” One of the men shrieked.“It’s gonna kill us!” The other wailed. Prahela grew angrier, slithering up to them.“Excuse me, I am not an ‘it’! I am a lady!” She snapped.“Yeah, whatever, just please don’t hurt us!” The first main wailed. Prahela rolled her eyes, and Kantara looked at Muna, narrowing her eyes. Muna chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of her head.“Anne!” The little girl cried in Turkish. “Anne! Baba!”“Oh, you poor thing,” Mariola whimpered. She looked at Muna. “I need you to tell her we’ll get her to her mother and father as soon as we can.”Muna sighed, confused, but walked up to the little girl, who was sobbing. Muna got down on her knees and gazed into the little girl’s soft brown eyes. “Adınız nedir?” Muna asked. The little girl continued to cry.“N-Nazik…” the little girl blubbered. Muna smiled and put her hand on Nazik’s shoulder.“Nazik… Üzülme! Anneni ve babanı çok yakında göreceksin.” Muna told Nazik in Turkish. Nazik smiled softly and sniffled, and Muna got back to her feet. Nazik reached up and wrapped her small hand around one of Muna’s fingers, and Muna smiled down at her sweetly.Kantara looked around, shaking her head. “Shit. Augustin has the vessel now.” She hissed. She then looked over at the two men, who were on the ground. “Tell us where he is, or we’ll send the snake after you.”The two men began to blabber out a location. Kantara took note, and Heinrich and Alsie got off the men, and they took off. Mariola frowned and crossed her arms.“I hope it’s the right place they gave us!” She said, concern on her face.“If it is, Augustin has some idiot men working for him.” Prahela grumbled. Muna continued to soothe the little girl in Turkish, telling her a story. Nazik let out a soft giggle, growing calmer and more relaxed. Kantara and Mariola exchanged glances.“We’d better find her parents,” Kantara sighed heavily. The others nodded, and Mariola went to the motorbikes, getting on one and revving the engine. “Come on, let’s head into town. We can take her to the police.” Mariola said. They all climbed into the motorbikes, Muna and Nazik into the one the men left behind. “Meet us back here, Prahela. Then we can go after the vessel and our friends.” Kantara told the Naga. Prahela saluted her, and the six took off back into the city.Augustin’s men parked their cars, and Behrukh and Sagiv, their hands tied behind their backs, tried to look out the black windows to see where they were. Anxiety rushed through their veins. They were unsure of what Augustin had in store for them.The men pulled Behrukh and Sagiv out of the car, throwing them to the ground. Lifting their heads, they saw Augustin staring down at them, his fists balled.“Why’d you bring these two? Where the hell is the vessel?!” Augustin snapped. The men brought out the vessel and set it on the ground. Augustin chuckled menacingly and picked it up, carrying it over and placing it on a rock. Behrukh and Sagiv trembled with fear.Augustin stared at the vessel, running his fingers down it, feeling the Avestan carvings. He laughed, but then paused.“...do any of you speak Avestan?” He asked, gazing at his group. His henchmen shook their heads, and Augustin snapped his fingers. “Shit! Well, taking over the world will have to be delayed by a few minutes while I figure out how to work this thing.” Augustin said.The men chatted among themselves, and Behrukh hung her head in defeat. Sagiv sighed heavily, praying that their friends would soon come to their rescue.“I cannot believe I ended up like this,” Behrukh frowned, tears forming in her eyes. “I did not even get to tell Alsie how I feel about her.”Sagiv snapped his head around to look at her. “Wait, what?” He asked, surprised. “How you really feel?”Behrukh blushed deeply. “O-oh! Did I say that out loud?” She giggles nervously. Sagiv cocked an eyebrow.“Behrukh... do you... have a crush on Alsie?” Sagiv asked. Behrukh’s face turned a deep red.“N-no, of course not! I do not have a crush-“ she stammered, but Sagiv cut her off.“Behrukh, you can tell me!” Sagiv urged her. She looked over at him and sighed heavily.“Fine! Yes, I do have a crush on Alsie.” She admitted. Her eyes glistened in the light from the lamp. “But, she probably does not like me back...”“Are you kidding?!” Sagiv beamed. “Alsie totally likes you!”“No, you are just saying that to be nice,” Behrukh responded sadly.“No, I’m not.” Sagiv replied happily. “Have you seen how she acts around you?”“W-well-““She’s completely in love with you! There’s no mistaking it.” Sagiv told her. She smiled softly, blushing happily.“Well, I hope you are right.” She said.“Why don’t you ask her out?” Sagiv asked her. She looked at him, shocked.“I-I could not do that! What if she says no?” Behrukh responded fearfully. Sagiv laughed.“I thought the same thing before I asked out Jade, but now look at us!” Sagiv told her. Her eyes lit up and a determined look crossed her face.“You are right, Sagiv!” She beamed. “I should definitely ask her out! What have I got to lose?”“That’s the spirit!” Sagiv agreed. They had smiles on their faces, but then the smiles disappeared once they remembered their situation.“If we get out of here,” Behrukh muttered sadly. Sagiv sighed heavily.The six headed back into town. Nazik held onto Muna tightly, the wind blowing in her hair. Kantara kept her eyes peeled for a police station, and eventually, she found one.The six stopped at the police station, parking their motorcycles and walking inside. Police men stood, talking to a couple. The man was talking sternly, and the woman was sobbing. The policemen tried their best to console the couple.Nazik perked up. “Anne?” She called out. The couple turned around, their eyes growing wide.“N-Nazik!” The woman cried. Nazik let go of Muna and raced up to the couple, and they got to their knees, hugging her tightly, crying,“What a coincidence,” Alsie chuckled.The man stood up and walked up to the group. “Thank you for returning our daughter to us!” The man thanked. “May Allah bless you!”“Of course,” Muna responded, dipping her head. Nazik looked back at Muna, giggling and waving. Muna smiled and waved back, and Kantara turned to leave the police station before the police questioned them.“Now that we’ve got that sorted out, we’ve got no time to lose!” Kantara hissed. Her friends nodded in determination, and they got on their motorbikes and rode back to where Prahela was.Prahela was waiting for them. Kantara put her hands on her hips. “Alright. We’ve got to rescue Behrukh and Sagiv, and then stop Augustin from releasing the power of Zahhak.” “I hope Behrukh is okay!” Alsie whined. “The portal opened up for a reason,” Kantara said, looking at Heinrich. “It sent you here because I needed your help. I needed you, Heinrich.” She smiled at him, and tears welled in his eyes. She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t cry.”“O-okay!” Heinrich replied, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.“Well, are we just gonna stand around?! We need to save Behrukh and Sagiv!” Alsie hissed. Kantara and Heinrich looked over at her, and Kantara gave a nod.“Let’s go!” Kantara demanded. They took off toward where Behrukh and Sagiv were being held, ready to save them, and the world.Sagiv and Behrukh sat on the dusty floor, and Augustin came out, along with his henchmen. Sagiv and Behrukh avoided looking at him, and they felt fear race through their hearts. “The vessel is mine!” Augustin let out an evil laugh, staring at the vessel and running his fingers along the engravings. Sagiv narrowed his eyes and Behrukh stared in concern.“Kantara will come and stop you!” Sagiv hissed. Augustin looked at him and laughed.“What’s she gonna do? I’m so close to gaining Zahhak’s power!” Augustin shouted. Sagiv grimaced, and Behrukh’s eyes grew wide in fear.Suddenly, in raced Kantara and her gang. Augustin glared at them, but then his smile returned and he placed his hands on the vessel.“You’re too late, Kantara!” Augustin laughed. Kantara pulled a pocket knife out of her pocket and ran forward, cutting the rope and setting Behrukh and Sagiv free. They quickly got to their feet, shaking.Behrukh sobbed, her green eyes big and watery. She leapt at Alsie, wrapping her arms around her tightly. “Oh Alsie, I am so glad you are here to save me! I love you so much, more than a friend!”Alsie hugged her back too, weeping, patting Behrukh’s back as she cried. “Oh Behrukh, I love you more than a friend too!” Alsie responded.“What?!” The others yelled, their eyes wide with shock.“Not the way I told her to go about it, but that works!” Sagiv laughed.Augustin and their men stared in confusion, but Kantara returned her attention to him. “You unhand that vessel now!” She snapped. Augustin chuckled.“You think I’m going to let you have it?” He asked. Muna took a step forward.“Please, Augustin, you don’t know what you’re doing!” Muna begged, her tone desperate. Augustin’s eyes landed on her and he grinned.“I know exactly what I’m doing!” Augustin smirked, balling his fists. “The world will soon belong to me!”“Here it comes! The big boss fight!” Heinrich beamed in excitement. It was the moment he was waiting for- the conclusion to their adventure!Augustin shouted some words in Avestan, and a light shot from the vessel. It consumed Augustin, and he let out a shriek.“No!” Kantara shouted.Augustin started to hover above the ground, and a sadistic grin crossed his face, his eyes glistening wildly. Two large vipers burst from the vessel, staring at the floating Augustin, opening their mouths and revealing their sharp fangs. They hissed menacingly.“Zahhak has come back!” Augustin shouted, his voice sounding demonic. The snakes looked at the others, flickering their forked tongues. Augustin laughed, raising his arms. “I will soon rule the world!” He narrowed his eyes. “But first, my snakes need to eat.”The vipers hissed, diving forward. They swallowed people whole, and Augustin’s men screamed and took off. The vipers chased men around, and Kantara looked at her friends.“How do we stop him?!” Heinrich asked. Kantara ran to him.“We need to get him back into the vessel!” Kantara shouted back. “How?!” Behrukh wailed. Muna narrowed her eyes.“We need to get to him, and we need to shout these words!” Muna yelled, and she told them what they needed to say. They nodded and braced themselves for a hard fight. While some of Augustin’s henchmen ran, most of them stayed to fight. They glared daggers at Kantara’s group, and they raced toward the group. Kantara pulled out her knife, and she ran back at them.A man swung a knife at Kantara, but Kantara dodger the knife, dropping to her hands and kicking her legs out from underneath her. Her legs smashed against the man’s ankles, and he shouted and collapsed. Kantara then jumped back to her feet and slammed her foot down on his face, breaking his nose.Another man ran from behind her, but he was clumsy, and Kantara could hear his footsteps as they disturbed the gravel. When he was right behind her, arms outstretched, poised to grab her, she launched herself into the air, doing a backflip. She grabbed him by the wrists as she flew over him, and she slammed him down against the uneven ground. The man groaned in pain, and she kicked him while he was down.Behrukh and Alsie hugged each other tightly, passion coursing through their veins. Two men raced to grab them, Alsie stood in front of Behrukh, ready to defend her.“What you got to do is predict your opponent’s move-“ Alsie started. A man swung his arm at her. “-and counteract it!” She hissed, blocking the man’s fist with her forearm. She then stepped on his foot, shifting all her weight so she was crushing his toes, and then jutted her head up, smashing it against his chin. Blood spurt from the man’s mouth, and he fell onto his back, groaning in pain.Behrukh nodded her head, tightening her fists, and she ran at a man, letting out a battle cry. The man threw a punch, and she jumped out of the way, laughing. The man grit his teeth in fury, and he tried to land another punch, but Behrukh ducked and punched him hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of the man. “You got it, girl!” Alsie shouted. Behrukh beamed, and a man ran up with a crowbar behind her. Alsie’s stomach dropped, and she raced up to Behrukh, shoving the girl out of the way.The man swung the crowbar, and Alsie caught it in her hands, pushing back against her assailant. The man was strong, his muscles bulging as he pushed, but what he lacked that Alsie had was wit.Alsie let go of the crowbar, dodge rolling out of the way. The man, having put all his force into pushing against Alsie, stumbled, and Alsie spun around, kicking the back of his knees so he fell face first into the rocky floor of the cavern.Prahela was long and slender, but full of muscle. She whacked men who tried to attack her with her long tail, sending them flying. Most men were too afraid to approach her, but those who did held melee weapons that they could use to hurt her. She hit a man with her tail, then punched another man in the face with her fist. Around her, Augustin’s giant snakes slithered around, gulping men up. One came for her, it’s mouth wide open, but Prahela, thinking fast, lifted her tail and slammed it down hard on the snake’s nose. The snake let out a hiss of pain, and Augustin, still floating, tightened his fists in anger.His eyes scanned the cavern as his men were being eaten and attacked. That didn’t bother him, his men were of little use to him now. They mostly served to bide him some time for his snakes to get to Kantara and her gang.Mariola and Muna worked together to defeat the men. They stood back to back, delivering punches and kicks to each attacker. When a horde of men came at them, Mariola and Muna shot grins at each other, and Muna stood back, holding her arms out. Mariola ran at her, jumping up, and Muna gave her a boost. Mariola did a back flip, twisting in the air and landing on a group of men, knocking them to the ground.A man ran up behind Muna, and she did a twist kick, hitting him in the jaw. Blood spurted from his mouth and he collapsed, and she punched him in the chest, knocking him back.Adrenaline pumped through Sagiv’s veins. Two men ran at him, and panicking, he threw a punch at one. The man grabbed his fist, grinning, and punched Sagiv square in the face. Sagiv groaned in pain, falling back, and as the men ran at him, they were knocked to the side as Kantara flew at them, kicking them. Heinrich ran after her.Kantara grabber Sagiv’s hand and pulled him to his feet. “We got you!” Kantara shouted. Sagiv nodded, his head throbbing. A man ran at the three, swinging a knife. Heinrich and Kantara grit their teeth, and the man lunged at Kantara. She dodged him, and he stumbled, and Heinrich kicked him in the back of the knee, knocking him to the ground, dropping his knife. Sagiv then kicked him in the face.Augustin watched as his men were beaten left and right. Anger surged through him, but his eyes follows his snakes. If his henchmen weren’t going to beat Kantara, his snakes would.“Eat, snakes! Eat!” He shouted. The snakes’ eyes locked on Kantara and her group, as most of his henchmen had either fled, or had been knocked unconscious. They hissed menacingly, their fangs bared.The snakes dove forward, mouths open, ready to engulf Kantara’s group. Kantara tightened her fists, and as one went to strike her, she rolled out of the way and ran, her mind set on getting closer to Augustin.The others raced toward Augustin as well, dodging the snakes as they tried to swallow them. As they ran, Heinrich tripped and fell. Pain radiated through his body as the fall irritated his shallow knife wound from earlier. He groaned, and a snake flicked its tongue, its eyes on Heinrich.Heinrich looked back, shaking his hands, trying to get to his feet, but in too much pain. “No! Don’t eat me! I taste disgusting!” Heinrich begged.Kantara’s eyes shot back and she noticed Heinrich on the ground, and one of the large snakes opening its mouth behind him. Adrenaline coursing through her veins, Kantara jumped back and grabbed Heinrich’s hand.“Come on!” Kantara shouted, pulling him to his feet. Heinrich grinned at her, and she yanked him away just as the snake lunged at him, its head crashing into the cavern floor.They got closer and closer to Augustin. The snakes tried to eat them, but they were too fast. Augustin started to shout profanities at the snakes, furious, and they reached him.“Now!” Muna hollered. The group jumped in the air and opened their mouths.“Zahhak!” They all shrieked. “Ramanti! θβā rāmaiiemi!”Augustin’s eyes grew wide with fear as she felt a force overtake him. He could feel the power leaving his body, and he started to scream.“No! No! My powers!” He snapped, and a bright light flashes in the cavern. Kantara’s group shielded their eyes, and all they could hear was Augustin’s screaming.The snakes hissed loudly as they were sucked back into the vessel, and Augustin collapsed on the ground, his powers stripped from him. He took deep breaths, tears streaming down his face. Kantara approached him, glaring at him, and he looked up at her.“H-how?” He stuttered, trying to get up, but his legs were too weak and shaky. He cried more. “How did you do it? You stripped me of my power!”“We couldn’t let you get away with it,” Kantara responded, anger in her eyes. “Who knows what havoc you’d wreak on the world?”“Kantara…” his voice trailed off, and he looked away, weeping. He got to his feet, his legs shaking, and he held out his arms. She stared at him, confused, and he dipped his head. “Y-you were right. I was foolish… I’m so sorry.” His entire body shook with each labored breath he took. “Take me to jail. It’s what I deserve.”Kantara rolled her eyes. “If you’re just trying to suck up to me, it’s not working.” She growled. He let out a soft chuckle.“I assumed you’d think that,” he responded. Kantara beckoned Mariola, and she headed over, turning him around and grabbing his hands, pulling them behind his back. She put on makeshift handcuffs. They weren’t much, but they were enough to keep him from getting away until they got him to the police.Kantara looked at her friends. They were tired and beaten, covered in bruises and bleeding wounds. However, they had smiles on their faces, and she couldn’t help but smile back at them.Suddenly, there was a crash, a flash of light, and then a vortex appeared in front of them. They gazed at it softly, knowing exactly what it meant. Kantara and Mariola, along with Augustin, walked over to the group.Kantara held out her hand to Heinrich, but he hugged her instead. Her eyes grew wide, and the others watched in shock, and realizing this, Heinrich quickly drew back, blushing. “Eh, sorry,” he said softly. She just gave a chuckle.“I guess it’s time for you to go,” Kantara stated. Heinrich gave a sad nod.“Yeah,” he responded plaintively. He gazed over at Sagiv, Behrukh and Alsie. Sagiv had a dark black eye, and Behrukh and Alsie were covered in wounds, but were holding hands. They dipped their heads.“It was nice seeing you two again! And nice meeting you girls!” Prahela told them. Heinrich wiped the tears from his eyes.“Y-yeah,” he replied.“Don’t cry, Heinrich! I’m sure you’ll be back before you know it!” Mariola tried to reassure him. He nodded, trying to stop his weeping.“Thank you for all your help!” Muna smiled, giving a wave of her hand. “I hope we can meet again!”“Me too!” Alsie grinned, and Behrukh nuzzled her happily.Sagiv, Behrukh and Alsie headed toward the portal, but Sagiv turned his head to look at Heinrich. “You coming, Heinrich?”Heinrich looked back at him and nodded, his eyes wet. His body shook and he tightened his fists, but then took a deep breath and relaxed. “Yes, I am,” he said, and he walked toward them. Sagiv got in the portal first, vanishing. The Behrukh and Alsie, exchanging happy glances, jumped in after him. It was now Heinrich’s turn. He stared into the portal, hesitating. Heinrich looked back at the group, and they waved at him. He waved back, then got in.The four found themselves in Heinrich’s basement. The Kantara title screen was on the TV. Their wounds were still present, evident that where they were was real. Alsie rubbed her forehead and looked at her hand. Her fingers were caked in blood.“How am I gonna explain this to my parents?” She asked. Behrukh looked at her and giggled.“You don’t think telling them that you fought two giant snakes would work?” She asked. Alsie looked at her, and the two started laughing.Sagiv touched his sensitive black eye. “Yeah, I don’t know how I’ll explain this black eye at work,” he agreed. He looked at Heinrich, who was staring at the screen, a depressed look on his face. Sagiv put a hand on Heinrich’s shoulder and gave a soft smile. Heinrich looked at him.“I miss them,” he said quietly. Alsie and Behrukh looked over as well, and Behrukh gave him a hug.“You’ll see them again someday! I just know it!” Behrukh tried to reassure him. The other two hugged him as well, and he smiled.“Yeah, I guess I will, won’t I?” He replied. The three continued to hug him, and it continued to rain outside. However, Heinrich felt confident he would see his hero again.
Sharrot Belledary: Chapter 1In the middle of a darkness, you can see a light growing and approaching, and at that moment, we heard some voices during the pregnancy: "Ah! Ah! Ah!""It's being born! The baby will be born!" "Ah! Ah...!!!"At the end of delivery, you can see the baby being born without showing a single drop of crying, due to its high level of maturity and psychology, etc. at the moment, some voices were heard:"Look, he's a boy! But how can he have eyelashes and girly looks...? Does he have the same looks as his mother...?"The mother answers:"I'm so delighted to have such a wonderful child like this... But, I wonder... What could the life of this little love of mine be...?"During this, her husband appears, and he is 2.25 tall and well pumped:"I'm so glad this happened, Aurora..."He is Arnold Belledary, and his wife is called Aurora Jensen, but after their marriage, she was renamed Aurora Belledary:"I know what I'm going to name him, dear. And he's going to be called...Sharrot."21 years later...During a thunderstorm night on the second day of the year, General Arnold Belledary and Dietfried Bougainvillea talk about the true origin of Violet Evergarden, and Dietfried asks:"So General, what do you tell me about this?"The General looks at the photo and asks:"Asta? Is she in army clothes...?"And Dietfried asks:"Asta? Is that Violet's name?"And the General answers:"I don't know, man. Besides, I don't remember Asta joining a Leidenschaftlich army and taking part in the Great War. The first time I met Asta, she was 10 years old, and she was accompanied by her older sister, Hella Bergland, and Androe Jensen, the their guardian and my brother-in-law. He let both sisters live in my house. And my son Sharrot show a strong relationship of love for Asta. The two end up falling in love, as did my first son, Jenlliot, along with Hella. When Asta was 14 years old and Sharrot was 16, they end up saying goodbye very happy, because Asta went to her home country to learn more about there, and Sharrot participated in the Great War at the request of my younger brother, General Jake Belledary. Sharrot became the world's biggest winner of that war, and he became very well known in the world because of this. But he never demonstrates importance of it because of him having a high level of lucidity and detachment, and he does not have no ambition and obsession.""Really? That made me curious. Because the first time I met Violet was when she was on a desert island, and she had killed my mates, and then I took her to my house and I handed her over to my little brother, Gilbert. And that was around the time when Violet was about 10, and when she was about 14, she and Gilbert had split up at the end of the war, until they met last year. But I wonder, does that mean Asta and Violet are two different people...?" Dietfried question."Who knows, buddy. But it's not clear whether they're related or not. We'd better investigate about that." replied Arnold.Three weeks later, one beautiful morning, Dietfred Bongeinvalea and his men arrive on a desert island and discover a mysterious dark energy, and one of the men tries to touch the energy, but none of them can touch it intangibly and nothing happens, and Dietfred tries to touch the energy in order to analyze this matter, and finally he got infected, and ends up teleporting into the darkness, and then, a mysterious voice comes up and says:"Welcome, Dietfried Bongainvillea. I've been waiting for you after many years...""Wait...that voice...it's the same one I heard when I was young..." Dietfried replied.After that, Dietfried ends up having a flashback since he was young and being mistreated by his father, and then a voice comes up and says:"Do you wish your father dead?""Who's there!?" exclaimed Dietfried."I understand that he is not a good father to you, as he has a low psychology and mentality, but that would be a matter of habit." replied the voice."So, does that mean…?" asked Dietfried."Well, let's get down to business. Tell me, do you want your father dead or not?" asked the voice."I don't know who you are...but I accept. Go ahead! Finish him!" Dietfried replied.After that, the voice explains that the reason Dietfred was infected by black energy would be due to the fact that he has very negative emotional complexity, high levels of complete antipathy and pessimism, low and weak levels of development and human psychology, high levels of immorality , and others."Really...? I never thought of that..."And then the mysterious voice shows a vision and explains the whole truth about Violet's true origin:"Violet Evergarden is a clone of a beautiful little Norwegian girl of high emotional simplicity named Asta Bergland, who is currently alive along with her older sister named Hella Bergland, and her parents had already passed away back when Asta was still a baby, and before they died, they sent a letter to an old friend to take the girls out of their city and raise them in the United States, due to the fact that they learned that a terrorist attack will terrorize the city, and it was raised by a man named Androe Jenseno the same man who is friends with the girls' parents, and who took them both out of town, and he is Aurora Jensen's older brother, and Sharrot Belledary's maternal uncle, and while Asta was sleeping at dawn , Androe went to her bed slowly without making a sound, and cut only a strand of Asta's hair with a pair of scissors to create a clone of herself, making mental modifications, expanding her physical abilities and strategies of fight, nullifying his normal behavior, just like he did with Asta and Hella, but the only difference is that Androe didn't implant the Lighttror genetics in Violet, and the reason is that he wanted to leave Violet compared to an ordinary human, and to finish, and put a pill in her mouth that makes her sleep for 24 hours, and the reason Androe created this clone is that he got a message from one of the inhabitants of an island who needs a perfect bodyguard, and Androe managed to fulfill the agreement. Androe flies a plane towards the island, and drops the sleeping clone along with an open parachute before being thrown.By the time the clone wakes up, she had no personality and no behavior at that time due to the reductions in mental modifications, and when she is walking around the island, a mysterious dark energy appears in front of her and totally nullifies her memory and her human behavior. , which motivates Violet to have killed many people on this island and your old companions after finding her, perfecting your excessive optimism, and even nullified your ability to speak and understand words, completely reduced your memory and used a type of genetic manipulation to manipulate the clone and make her have full respect for a man named Dietfred Bongeinvalea, which is you, in which the energy showed a vision of who this Dietfred guy is, and this energy also ordered the clone to she would kill every inhabitant of this island except you.And the rest you already know. A while later, you and your buddies arrive on the island and their boat runs aground, finds the female clone, who kills Dietfred's buddies, and after a while, Dietfred takes her home and gives her to Gilbert, and then, Gilbert calls the female clone "Violet"."After this revelation, Dietfred says the following:"What...? A clone of... Asta Bergland...? The Violet I had always known since I found her on that desert island and had given her to Gilbert, was a clone of a girl of Asta, created by Androe Jensen all the time...? How could it!? Her life all this time was a complete lie!? It can't be!"And then, Dietfred is completely calm and cold, and replies:"Now it all makes sense. So you were the one who manipulated this girl into turning into a monster and killing all my companions and showing total respect for me, huh? How dare you, you monster!? How dare you!? Huh! Huh! ? YOU BASTARD!! YOU DARN!! TELL ME!!"The mysterious voice answers:"I see you're completely furious that I was responsible for everything in the beginning. But answer me one thing, Dietfred. How were you born so poorly developed and highly immoral?"The irises and pupils of Dietfred's eyes got so small and diminished in size from so much that he was shocked and scared, and he said:"WHAT!?"The mysterious voice answered again:"I understand your positive points and reasons for empathizing with others, helping Violet in certain situations and other things, but answer me one thing. In the beginning, you were a normal kid. But how did you have this dislike so great and complete in the course of your life? Hmm? Don't you know? Too bad. No matter how many times you get along and have a happy ending with others, you're still going to remain the total negative person of emotional complexity all along, and the rest of me I've already explained to you. But do you think that shooting Gilbert and putting it in front of Violet would be a sign of love for you? Well, you're wrong. That kind of thing you would do wouldn't be real love, but cruelty and real immorality. But if it were in difficult, extreme, and complicated times, it can make it even worse for you, due to your low levels of development and human psychology, and high immorality. And the reason you have these things is not because From difficult moments and situations that you went through since your childhood until now, and yes because you were born that way. And the answer to that is quite simple, not everyone goes crazy, and not everyone who has childhoods and difficult lives becomes envious and selfish people, because all of us, living beings of everything in life, have our own psychologies. And as you can imagine, everything in life is different. Since you acquired this high dislike, you still have empathy for your brother, even if that empathy is very weak. That explains why you never pay much attention to him and others."Dietfred is completely shocked just hearing all this and said:"I see. I was never worthy of a true human being. And even though I love my brother very much and worry a lot about him, I never give him much attention due to my low level of empathy. I never had morals and neither character. But you're right by everything about me. I'm a totally immoral person. I'm a real human garbage. But you intend to offer me the chance for me to accept your power so I can overcome her, huh? Whatever. Go ahead! Use me! I accept!"And the mysterious voice is impressed by this and responds:"Excellent. Now that you've finally shown your real persona, I'm going to show you my real face."And Dietfred said:"So that's your form, huh? You look terrifying."And the mysterious voice answers:"Heh, heh, heh. Surprised by my demonic appearance? I know. That's why I'm always used to acknowledging the question of any living being. My name is Makkapitew. I'm one of the great subordinates of the almighty god Azavolos. Although I am fully aware of the his presence, it would be customary for everyone to recognize what is really one's own. So, Dietfred, let's get down to business?"And Dietfred replied:"Yes let's go."And then the mysterious voice is impressed by this, enters from within Dietfred, and has made all the dark energy manifest from within his body, which amplifies his physical supernaturalness, having invulnerability, and other powers. And this evil power has infected Dietfred's physical functions and characteristics, and then the mysterious voice responds:"Hey, Dietfred. I want to tell you something. As my evil power has already infected all of your physical functions and characteristics, did you know that if you were freed from that power, you would also disappear and die with it? would be how 100% negative you really are."And Dietfred answers:“Really? I see. Now you can see how much worse a human being I really am from everything you say. But that doesn't matter anymore. I don't have an iota of importance in my life because I have great disinterest in everything. And so, let's get started."And finally, the mysterious voice answers:"Very good. That's how I like it."Back to Earth, at the place where he found the dark energy, Dietfred's men are frightened by the dark energy that is between his body and ask what happened to him, and Dietfred replies:"It's a long story. But I'll explain the consequences later. Let's go."After that, Dietfred takes advantage of spreading throughout the Leidenschaftlich and ends up killing all the members of the Bongeinvalea family, using his supernatural powers to present everyone who has his family's lineage, and using his teleporter. After Dietfred kills all the Bongeinvaleas except Gilbert, Violet appears:"Mr. Dietfred! What's going on? What's this massacre going on?"And Dietfred says:"You'll know by now, you insolent little one."Violet is shocked to hear it, and Dietfred grabs her and throws her to the ground, and steps on her stomach:"What are you doing, Mr. Dietfred!? Why are you… attacking me?"And Dietfred answers:"Never ask such stupid questions, monster. Just die."And Gilbert arrives and says:"Violet!!!"Violet says:"Major!"And Dietfred answers:"Ah, Gilbert. My little brother. Just in time."And Gilbert asks angrily:"What are you doing with Violet, brother!? Are you crazy!?"And Dietfred answers:"Crazy, me? Hmm. That's a pretty obvious question to answer. Watch this vision."And Dietfred shows various visions in Makkapitew's voice, just to everyone Violet knows about everything that happened, about Violet's real origin, the moment she encountered the dark energy and met Makkapitew, to the point where Dietfred killed all members of the Bongeinvalea family, and then showed and talked about Asta Bergland and Sharrot Belledary. Then Violet said:"No... It can't be... Is this my true origin?... I'm a clone... of a girl... named... Asta... Bergland? And I was raised by one man named...Androe Jensen?"And Dietfred answers:"Yes, that's right, Violet. You were a clone all along. And your life was a lie. And even if I am freed from this evil power, I will still disappear and die along with that power, because I have emotional complexity very negative, high levels of complete antipathy and pessimism, low and low levels of human development and psychology, high levels of immorality, and other things. And Makkapitew told me the whole truth about myself and made me demonstrate my true persona."And Gilbert says:"Brother, you weren't being manipulated by Makkapitew, you're the one who accepted this just to get rid of Violet, isn't it!? How dare you!? I trusted you! I believed you! How dare you!?"Dietfred answers:"As I don't care, I don't have any interest in you two. But it looks like our love is finally gone forever. Goodbye!"Dietfred kicks Violet in front of Gilbert, almost touching him, and walks away.After that, Dietfred invaded many military dictatorships and conquered several of them, becoming a very terrible world dictator, and he brought monstrosities, consequences of immorality, antipathy, and many things around the world, and he became known around the world for everything that.A week later, in a deserted place, Dietfried was completely empty and said:"So Makkapittew, tell me. Why did you ask me to come here...?""Have you forgotten, Dietfried? I'm only doing this for your own good. Remember everything I've told you. The circumstances, circumstances and other things that can happen to you if you don't accept my agreement." said the Makkapitew."Yes, I remember... I remember everything you told me... But I was the one who should have died before mistreating Violet and Gilbert... so I shouldn't have accepted your agreement... Why? Why did you force me to do this...?" replied Dietfried empty and depressed."It's what anyone would think..." said the Makkapitew.At that moment, someone was lying down and relaxing in a tree, and jumped to the ground. Dietfried heard the noise of the floors, and saw who he was and replied:"Uh...!? Who...!? Who are you...?""I see that Master Makkapitew's plan has finally worked, after so many years..." said the man."Plan...? Does that mean...?" asked Dietfried."Before I say, let me introduce myself. My name is Ethan Graymont. Since my ancient times, I have suffered through difficult, extreme and complicated moments. For the reason I became this way would not be because of these moments, and yes because I was born that way, and that would be because I have high emotional complexity to full levels, and even though I have the right motivations due to my history, I also have extremely wrong motivations, great emotional imbalance and persistence, high level dislike tall, high immorality, and even though I like others, i never has high levels of empathy to pay attention to others. And the reason Master Makkapitew manipulated Violet into taking orders and showing total respect for you and your family is because he is taking orders from master Azavolos." replied Ethan."Well, that kind of makes sense... But speaking of which, what are we going to do now?" asked Dietfried."Let us go to the realm of Azavolos, and then serve him forever, as a way to start a new life." said Ethan."Yes, that's how I like it. I never want to go back and live in this world again. Let's go." Dietfried replied.Upon arrival in the realm of Azavolos, Dietfried and Ethan arrive at the master's throne, and the mighty god and his underlings appear among them:"Welcome to our absolute alliance, Dietfried of the Bongainvillea family. Thank you for bringing him here, Ethan Graymont." Azavolos responds."So you're Azavolos, huh? His appearance is pretty terrifying." said Dietfried.As the Makkapitew explains everything about Azavolos, Dietfried is impressed and begins to serve this god forever.Two months have passed, and thousands of newspapers from all over the world explain about the news that Dietfried Bongainvillea had disappeared all over the world, and this destroyed Violet Evergarden's personality.As Violet and her friends were in President Hodgins' office, Violet said, very sad and full of tears:"I can't believe this... I'm a mere clone of a girl named Asta... The reason I always kept taking orders and having full respect for the Bongainvillea was all Makkapitew's plan because he took orders from Azavolos... The reason I have all this personality and behavior, except this behavior of taking orders, was all inherited from Asta... Everyone in the whole world hates Captain Dietfried and they want to wait for him to die... And now, what do I to do?""Calm down, Violet. I also don't know what I do to save and my brother. I'm sorry..." said Gilbert.However, a soldier from the Leidenschaftlich cavalry shows up at the office and tells him that an army fighter from another country, led by Captain Zane Ackerman, a former colleague of Sharrot's from the time of the law academy, will arrive here to send a message to everyone about the great world incident, as the marina and Leidenschaftlich's superiors no longer want to accept Dietfried as captain or hero, for all he has done in the world. And when they arrive at the place where Zane Ackerman is going to arrive, that's when he finally arrives, a young man with straight dark gray hair and purple eyes, who said:"Greetings, people of Leidenschaftlich. I heard about the situation going on in the world. So ex-Navy Captain Dietfried Bongainvillea showed his real face, didn't he? Well, it won't be as difficult as we'd expect. Because the only one who will end his existence is the great world winner of the Great War, and my former colleague at the law academy, Sharrot Belledary.After Zane gives this message and leaves, Violet gets scared and says:"Sharrot... Belledary? Same childhood friend... and lover of Asta Bergland? It can't be..."As he arrives in General Arnold's country, President Hodgins and Zane are talking to him, and Hodgins said:"Well, that's the story it all happened, General...""I know. Not to mention that I mistook this Violet for Asta without showing an ounce of credulity. And the reason for that is because my omniscience was automatically disabled so I could improve my physical normalcy so I could deal with rejection, loneliness, maladjustments, etc. That's because we Lightrrors have a central focus on these things much more than strength itself." said Arnold."You're... what? A Lightrror!? But what the hell is that!?" asked Hodgins in amazement."You'll already know. Because my omniscience and all the Lightrrors have been activated for about three days, and we've seen everything about Dietfried, since he was infected by the dark energy, accepted Makkapitew's agreement to the point that he allied himself to Azavolos and abandoned our world forever." replied Arnold.At this very moment, about three guys arrive, and they reveal themselves to be: Sharrot Belledary with a gas mask, Bradley Alphin and Wilfred Cowman, an old man with a very well made and pointed mechanical arm. Bradley Alphin was Sharrot's great mentor and father figure, as Gilbert was to Violet, because Bradley has much more empathy and realism than Gilbert, he lets Sharrot take care of his family without even hurting their feelings, due to his high level of disbelief and sense of everything."Hello General Arnold! It's been 6 years since we've seen each other, hasn't it?" said Bradley very excited."Yes, it's been a long time, buddy. That one in the middle is Sharrot, right? It's been a long time, my son. You grew up, and I loved your new outfit. But by the way, why are you wearing a mask, huh?" answered and asked Arnold."I'm so happy to see you again, Dad. I just heard about Uncle Androe's visions, who explained and showed about Violet Evergarden, an Asta clone created by Uncle Androe, and even about her acquaintances, including Claudia Hodgins. And by the way, I'm wearing this mask because I want to surprise him, just to show him my strong resemblance between me and Uncle Androe." replied the Sharrot.Then, Sharrot took off his mask and showed it to Hodgins:,"He... has the same eyes as his uncle...! But why does he have feminine eyelashes in his eyes...!?" asked Hodgins shocked by the Sharrot's appearance."It's because he inherited it from his mother, Aurora, my younger sister." said Androe Jensen, creator of Violet Evergarden, who appears out of nowhere and grabs Hodgins by the shoulders, feeling a great admiration for him."Huh!? You're... Androe Jensen! Violet's creator!" said Hodgins, surprised by Androe's presence."Well, I have to admit. Nothing more wonderful than a reunion between old friends and family. But what could go wrong...?" said Sharrot with his great enthusiasm.The chapter ends with everyone laughing, except Hodgins, who is scared without knowing why, and Sharrot showing his big smile to show his great pride.
-Request- Haunted A dark-skinned woman weaved in and out through the walkway of a marketplace, leading a small group of three individuals with her. The distinct smell of salt stung her nose as she inhaled a breath, catching traces of freshly-caught fish and seafood.
Her brown eyes squinted from the bright sun reflecting off the shoreline belonging to the port they stopped at, but she was determined to find something, scanning her surroundings around herself, everything else forgotten for the moment. She couldn’t of gone that far in this short of time.
She heard a small little huff behind her and she rolled her eyes, already knowing the source. “Mikaela, have you found her yet?” A shrill voice came from the little group of three that was tagging alongside her. Mikaela sighed in annoyance as they made their way out of the marketplace, “No, Victoria. I have not. Please be patient. None of us aren’t able to leave th
-Request- Lydrun Foamy waves rushed by while passing through, causing the boat to creak and moan in response. The red-haired Hylian gripped the ropes tighter to keep him steady as he swayed side to side from the waves.
Today granted good wind to Mikos, filling his sails--and his spirit--with more assurance that he will hopefully reach his destination by the end of the day. He was starting to get sick and tired of seeing endless ocean with no end in sight these last two days since starting this journey, causing him to start doubting his navigation skills. Hopefully, his mind will be put to rest.
Yes, must be today, otherwise all is lost.
The events of two days ago replayed again in his mind.
He dutifully trained in Hyrule Castle's training grounds for up-and-coming knights, blocking a sword, the weight of the metal heavier than he realized.
Since entering Hyrule and accepte
Alea Ludo Chapter 35I heard someone shout my name when I dashed out of the lobby room. But, I didn't look back. I didn't bother to try and recognize the voice either. What did it matter? What would it change?
Another one of us died.
Darius Wells put everything on the line and failed. Everything he dreamed about, everything he wanted to accomplish, all of it came to a fiery end. Even though I knew he was dead, his screams and theirs continued to echo in my head endlessly.
The comfort of my room wasn't enough to quell the agonizing screams. I tried several methods to silence them. Nothing worked. All I could do was sit in my bed and wait. How long did I sit in the darkness? Thirty minutes? An hour? Three hours? I had no clue. I kept my eyes closed the entire time. I had to focus on shouting out the racket.
Was I going mad? They were dead. Long dead. But, I could still hear them.
No one else could. The others couldn't handle the volume of the screams, the weight of the guilt that I felt. It was my punishment
Spreading our WingsThe sights and sounds that greet us
Shape us in how we grow
The knowledge that we built up
Are the seeds of thought we sow
Our childhood may define us
As beginnings always count
But change can be instigated
If we overcome our doubts
To leave the past behind
Is a far from easy thing
But we must move on somehow
In order to spread our wings
Sharrot BelledaryHi guys! Imagine if we ask for a new series that would be a canonical sequel to the series "Violet Evergarden", where the beautiful and cute stories would become secondary, and the realistic, complex, impressive, extremely interactive stories (which have high levels of physical interactions inspired by films, cartoons, comics, books from the fictional North American universes, including interactive games, such as Brain Dead 13, Until Dawn, Dragon's Lair, etc.), with the development and improvement of the great empathy and lack of antipathy of the characters and lack of interest in their own lives and just protecting them for great needs, extreme and absolute competence of the main and secondary characters, lack of excessive thoughts (even because exaggerating too much for their own thoughts can impair their interactive abilities and cause people to disorganize things, and the characters in this series can only be thoughtful for great needs), there is a lack of confidence by force (even because exaggerating too much by the confidence of force can cause the person to let their guard down and be caught off guard, due to exaggerated thoughts), and other things would be the main focus. If Kana Akatsuki has great successors in her place to work and write these stories, and help a lot in their development, she can only write only the beautiful and cute stories in this series. This new series will be called "Sharrot Belledary", and it is a much less heavy series than the "Violet Evergarden" series. And this new series will have a lot of humor, but not with Japanese and exaggerated humor, not least because sexism (the kind that touches the body of women), bullying, disrespect and antipathy would be total crime and rape in many countries, and these things will never will appear in the series. The series will have humor based on films, series, animations, comics and media in the fictional North American universe, and even on Mexican series like "El Chavo del Ocho" and "El Chapulín Colorado". However, this humor is nothing related to stupidity, incompetence, disadvantage of other things. And yes the series will have humor only for reasons of high competence, great luck, and others. And the anime in this series will have exaggerations in facial expressions, as well as in many action and fighting animes, but those exaggerations can only appear in the first season, and then they will not appear again. However, these exaggerations are not connected at all by the mouths or the faces of the characters, and these things will never appear in the series, but only in the eyes, that is, due to the diminishing size of the irises and pupils, just like in the anime "Naruto". But the only exception is Sharrot, because in all his life moments in the series, including in the light novel and anime, he never reduced the size of the irises and pupils of his eyes due to his lack of unreality. And the features of the anime will be the same as those of the anime "Violet Evergarden", but with proportions of features and colors of the characters very similar to those of the anime "Fullmetal Alchemist" and "Naruto", a way to further improve the differences between "Violet Evergarden" and "Sharrot Belledary". As "Violet Evergarden" has an audience that likes beautiful and cute stories, "Sharrot Belledary" will have an audience that likes realistic (but not heavy and violent) stories, extremely interactive, very well developed and psychological, and with a lot of action and fight in rare moments. Just like "Violet Evergarden", "Sharrot Belledary" will also show moments from Sharrot's past, just as it was with Violet, only in a much more impressive and fantastic way due to his story, showing engaging and remarkable moments of his life, and that origin starts from the beginning until the end of the first season. And just like in "Violet Evergarden", this series will also not have slaps and punches in the face, and it does not have to be anything terrible, and it is also a very beautiful and cute series just like the previous series. Focusing on the true origin of Violet Evergarden, who is a clone of a beautiful little Norwegian girl with high emotional simplicity called Asta Bergland (currently living together with her older sister called Hella Bergland, and her parents had already passed away by the time the Asta was still a baby, and before they died, they sent a letter to an old friend to take the girls out of their city and raise them in the United States, due to the fact that they learned that a terrorist attack will terrorize the city) , and was raised by a man named Androe Jensen (the same man who is friends with the girls' parents, and who drove them both out of town), Aurora Jensen's older brother, and Sharrot Belledary's maternal uncle, and while Asta was asleep at dawn, Androe went to her bed slowly without making a sound, and cut only a strand of Asta's hair with scissors to create a clone of herself, making mental modifications, expanding her physical abilities. cas and fighting strategies, nullifying his normal behavior (just like he did with Asta and Hella, but the only difference is that Androe didn't implant the Lighttror genetics in Violet, and the reason is that he wanted to leave Violet compared to a human), and finally, he put a pill in her mouth that makes her sleep for 24 hours, and the reason Androe created this clone is that he received a message from one of the inhabitants of an island who needs a guard. perfect back, and Androe managed to keep the deal. Androe flies a plane towards the island, and drops the sleeping clone along with an open parachute before being thrown. The moment the clone wakes up, she had no personality and no behavior at that time due to the reduction in mental modifications, and when she walks around the island, a mysterious black energy appears in front of her and completely nullifies her memory and human behavior(which motivates Violet to have killed many people on this island and Dietfred's old companions after meeting her), perfecting her excessive optimism, and even nullifying her ability to speak and understand words, completely reduced her memory and used a type of genetic manipulation to manipulate the clone and make her have total respect for a man called Dietfred Bongeinvalea, in which the energy showed a vision of who this Dietfred is, and that energy also ordered the clone to kill everyone on this island except Dietfred. And the rest you already know. A while later, Dietfred Bongeinvalea and his companions arrive on the island and their boat is stranded, finds the female clone, which kills Dietfred's companions, and after a while, Dietfred takes her home and delivers it to Gilbert, and then , Gilbert calls the female clone "Violet". If you are passionate about eternal animes like Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, One Punch Man, Attack On Titan, My Hero Academia, and many others, let's hope for the good of our hearts that the series "Sharrot Belledary" is one from them. Just to make things easier, while the relationship between Violet and Gilbert represents true love, the relationship between Sharrot and Dietfred represents hate. Whenever Dietfred tries to show total antipathy towards Sharrot, Sharrot takes all that antipathy and returns it back to Dietfred, in a much stronger way, as a way of questioning and neglecting Dietfred's negative points and characteristics in terms of absolute logic. For you to be curious, just go to the Anime Planet website and see the profile of Dietfred Bongeinvalea to see the number of likes and dislikes for this character, as he has more than 200 likes and more than 100 dislikes on this site, but imagine with over the months and years, he has more than 300 likes and more than 200 dislikes, and in the years to come, he may have more than 1200 likes and more than 1100 dislikes, just so you have the idea of thinking about how overrated he is. And I calculated that. And the real reason for this will be explained in the next paragraph that I will pass on to you. I understand that he hates Violet because she killed his companions, but deep down, it wasn't because she wanted to, but because she was being forced and ordered by someone. No matter how many times Dietfred gets along and has a happy ending with others, he will still remain a totally negative person of emotional complexity as usual, complete high levels of dislike and pessimism, low and weak levels of development and human psychology, high levels of immorality, and others. But do you think that if Dietfred fired a shotgun at Gilbert and put it in front of Violet it would be a sign of love for Dietfred himself? Because you are mistaken. That kind of attitude he would do would not be real love, but real cruelty and immorality. But if it were in difficult, extreme and complicated times, it could get even worse for him, due to his low levels of development and human psychology, and high immorality. And the reason he has these things is not because of the difficult moments and situations that he went through since his childhood until now, but because he was born that way. And the answer to that is quite simple, not everyone goes crazy, and not everyone who has their childhoods and difficult lives become envious and selfish people, because all of us, living beings of everything in life, have our own psychologies. And as you can imagine, everything in life is different. Since Dietfred acquired this high antipathy, he has continued to empathize with his brother, even if that empathy is very weak. This explains why Dietfred never pays much attention to him and others." And speaking of Asta Bergland, she also has the same personality and behavior as Violet (since after Androe Jensen adopted the two sisters, he experimented on the two sisters, nullifying and eliminating the emotional complexity, and made them have high emotional simplicity in complete levels, extreme and great lack of obsession, ambition, optimism, pessimism, credulity, credulity, opportunism, antipathy, intolerance, low self-esteem; and she has absolute levels of understanding, empathy, realism, absolute psychology, lucidity, detachment, absolute levels of moralism, morals, lack of wrong motivations, etc.), but she is not overly optimistic and does not have total respect for Dietfred, and even though they have never met in life, Asta saw him in the newspapers and does not like much of him due to his monstrosities and immoralities that he had done in the world, although she was neither pessimistic nor optimistic to wish him harm, due to his high level of and realism and empathy, and she also has a total and absolute lack of antipathy for everything in life, and she also has high levels of sympathy and enthusiasm, psychology and maturity of complete levels, high complete levels of lucidity and detachment, and she is never right and not wrong for everything in life, but just logic of everything (just like Sharrot himself), due to the effects of the Lighttrors' genetics that Androe implanted in her before creating Violet Evergarden.Examples of her images:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I just want to remember that everything I'm saying in two posts of "Sharrot Belledary" is nothing official, but just giving a suggestion and idea for us to ask for a new series. If this idea is officially approved in the years to come, let's hope this series becomes a success. And to finish, I'm going to put the two images of Sharrot Belledary below, so you can have an idea of who this character is, and he has red eyes and an orange citrine brooch very similar to Violet's emerald brooch, only much bigger, and he received this pin from his mother:,,,So do you disagree with this suggestion of Violet being a clone and stuff? Leave in the comments what new ideas you want for the series "Shallot Belledary".If Japanese producers and writers want to produce this series, they will have to ask for my help to follow the development and evolution of the characters in this new series.And if you want me to do a backstory for Sharrot Belledary, leave in the comments what kind of fantastic stories you want for this character.There is post I created on Reddit, and is a text at the suggestion of Sharrot Belledary. The link are in the description:https://www.reddit.com/r/VioletEvergarden/comments/m0nme3/sharrot_belledary/ Until next time, guys! Goodbye!
Strategies to Improve Social MediaWe live in divided times, but one point of common agreement is that social media has not been beneficial to society. Even as we use these platforms and services ourselves, we realize that something is wrong, that these trends and forces are not moving humanity in the right direction. We notice the effect its usage has on people, and we feel it ourselves. We see what it has done to politics, public discourse, and societal tensions. We see the role it plays in incentivizing bad behavior, and in rewarding and amplifying the most extreme voices, and in democratizing truth. We see the worrisome concentration of power in the hands of a few tech companies.In this essay, I will be exploring strategies to improve social media, broken down into three main categories: things the government can do through public policy, things the social media companies can do with changes to their platforms or business models, and things that we can do as individuals through our choices and behaviors. Identifying the ProblemsIt will be useful to first list the major problems with social media in order to provide more clarity in orienting strategies for improvement.Negative mental health affects of social media use.Increasing political polarization and tribalism.Deepening societal divides and hatred.Public shaming, online mobs, and cancel culture.Accelerating the death of journalism.Post-truth, misinformation, fake news, and conspiracism.Incitement and glorification of violence.Distorting and misrepresenting various views or movements as being more well-subscribed or influential than they are.Bias from the platforms themselves, and selective or unfair enforcement of terms of service.Privacy concerns and invasive data-mining.Too much power concentrated in the hands of a few tech companies.These are not the only problems, but they are among the biggest, and will serve as a good foundation from which to begin.Public Policy StrategiesHold tech companies liable for criminal content on their platforms. If platforms have rules barring illegal content, along with reasonable policies in place to remove such content promptly if it arises, and ban users who post it, then they would be protected from liability. If they fail to do this, they should be held liable for this content and subject to legal penalty. This would make tech companies more responsive in removing criminal content. The downside to this strategy is that tech companies may, in an effort to be extra safe and take no chances, make their content moderation policies a dragnet that over-polices anything even remotely close to the legal line.Break up tech monopolies. If any one company comes to control, through growth and expansion, and/or acquisitions, an inordinate percentage of the digital landscape, they should be made to divest portions of their companies to prevent monopoly. It is in the public's interest for there to be a degree of market competition, which, at present, there isn't enough of.A Data Dividend. All users must be allowed the option to opt out of having their data collected, tracked, stored, and sold. This includes not just future data, but past data as well. The right not to be harvested like a commodity must also include the right to be forgotten. If users agree to have their data collected and used, they should be paid a portion of the profits generated. The time has come for a Data Bill of Rights.Algorithm regulation. The algorithms that social media companies use to gamify their platforms, addicting, manipulating, and exploiting users, should be subject to regulation. Given that virtually everything is subject to some form of regulation, from food, to business, to vehicles, to children's toys, and household products, it seems absurd that these algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves, and which make playthings of us to enrich the few at the expense of society have flown for so long under the radar.Guarantee free speech platforms. The government should guarantee the presence of at least one platform in the social media landscape with very minimal terms of service (TOS) that police only criminal content and have no rules pertaining to bigotry, "hate speech", misinformation, conspiracy theories, unpopular opinions, or anything else. If privately owned platforms want to create strict TOS, banning content that, while legal, is deemed reprehensible or undesirable, that is their right, and must remain so. But there must be some place, out in the open where all can see, where anyone can say anything, so long as it breaks no laws. If such a platform finds all of the ancillary services it requires to exist denied it by all available tech companies (e.g. hosting services), they should be able to apply through the government to be randomly assigned to companies who would then be legally required to honor it (similar to "assigned risk" in insurance). If it gets to the point where no such companies exist at all, the government should create one of its own, a sort of social media "public option," as it were.Strategies for Social Media CompaniesPaid subscriptions. Most social media platforms make their money through a combination of advertising and data-mining — two mechanisms where the more time users spend engaged on the platform, the more money is made. This creates a whole slew of incentives to keep users on social media as much as possible. One alternative to this would be paid subscriptions. This could take the form of users opting to pay for a premium version of the service which contains no ads and where the subtle mind-games designed to hook your attention and maximize engagement are turned off, along with a suite of perks.Alternately, a platform might decide to go fully subscription-based, doing away with ads and attention-hooks altogether. This would have the side benefit of dramatically reducing toxicity, specifically trolls, bots, and sock-puppet accounts, as many would be unwilling to pay just in order to do that. One downside would be that these proverbial riffraff would simply flock to the other free platforms and make them more toxic — so toxicity may be redistributed more than reduced in absolute terms. Another downside of going fully subscription-based is that it would also create an exclusionary class dynamic, with poor people unable to afford the service. Even so, the pros may outweigh the cons. You get what you pay for, and when you're paying nothing at all, then the product is you.Invest in more intelligent content moderation algorithms. Platforms offload much of their content moderation to algorithms as a cost-saving measure rather than paying large numbers of humans to do the work. But as any social media user knows, these algorithms are often much dumber than human moderators, and have trouble making judgement calls. One example would be YouTube algorithms struggling to differentiate between penalizing content that violates the TOS, with content that criticizes those disallowed behaviors. Because the algorithms aren't sophisticated enough, they cannot make these and many other common sense distinctions, which makes it difficult to properly enforce rules without penalizing the innocent. Tech companies should either invest in better algorithms, and/or hire more human moderators. Yes, this would be an additional cost to them, but the improvement in user experience and engagement would pay for itself.Limit comment sections. Comment sections are probably the single worst aspect of social media, and rank highly on the list of worst aspects of the internet in general. Outside of criminal content, most of the cancer on the internet is found in comment sections. They are addictive, pointless time-sinks, with a magnetic-like quality of drawing you in almost every time you see one, against your better judgement. Social media companies should expand the options available to users to restrict or limit comments to their posts. In addition, news sites, online magazines, and all manner of websites that currently have comment sections should consider closing them, limiting them, or putting them behind paywalls if their platform is partially subscription-based. There is a constructive purpose, even a need, for comment sections to exist — I am not suggesting we do away with all comment sections. But the internet is overrun with them, and it would improve social media, mental health, and society in general, if they were scaled back somewhat.Open verification to all. Many social media platforms allow certain users to verify and authenticate their identity in order to become "verified", usually denoted by a checkmark next to their name or on their profile. For the most part, this has served as a way of establishing a digital caste system, where people who are famous, powerful, or well-connected attain the honorific of verification, and the lowly plebs do not. And the content posted by verified users carries more weight because of their verified status. This obnoxious arrangement should end immediately by opening up verification to anyone willing to verify and authenticate their identity, gaining the checkmark and the legitimacy it brings. This would help not only with making social media less stratified, but with incentivizing more users to voluntarily abandon their rando anonymity status to join the beautiful people. Anonymity must always exist as an option for users, as one's life circumstances may preclude them the ability to express themselves freely under their real identity. But it must be recognized that at scale, anonymity has functioned as a shield for bad behavior by insulating people from all of the social mechanisms that restrain our worst impulses in real-life interactions. On a platform with truly open verification, you would not have to wonder whether someone was a bot, troll account, sock-puppet, etc. By opening verification to all, we can improve two very important problems in a single stroke.Hide follower counts. Another way in which social media is stratified is by follower count, with high-following accounts being treated more seriously than low-following ones, as though one's online popularity correlates with their worth as a human, or what they have to offer to the public conversation. The number of followers one has is no more a measure of their human value than their bank balance is. By hiding follower counts, users are more likely to be judged by the content of their posts, rather than prejudged by their number of followers.Getting rid of "likes." On social media, likes function as little dopamine doggie treats that sculpt the human mind into doing more of what produced that reward. It also influences the way others react to a post, taking it more seriously if they see a bazillion likes, even if the content of the post is actually quite idiotic. The original idea behind the like button was to make social media more fun, but with the benefit of hindsight, it just turns people into even bigger approval-seeking conformists than they already are. We don't need further encouragement in this department. Likes are also one of the metrics platforms use to data-mine you and learn about what you like so they can hack your brain.More precision and clarity in terms of service. Social media platforms' TOS are intentionally left so vague and broad that, technically speaking, they could probably justifiably ban half their users if they wanted to. Of course, no platform would ever do that, for reasons of pure self-interest, but the fact that the TOS are made so vague and broad allow the companies greater flexibility to selectively enforce their rules when, where, and to the degree they want. This leads inevitably to bias and abuse. The best way to make social media TOS and its enforcement less biased and more fair is to sharpen it up. The language should be revised to provide a greater degree of precision and clarity, leaving less to interpretation and discretion, and the new-and-improved TOS should be enforced across the board. A good indicator of a better TOS would be one where a platform could not technically ban more than say 5-10% of their users at most, even with the strictest possible enforcement. By sharpening up the TOS, it narrows the scope of possible bias and selectivity from the platforms.Anti-racism as a universalist principle, not a woke religion. Across most of social media, there is a two-tiered system when it comes to the enforcement of TOS violations relating to racism or bigotry. Users are routinely penalized or banned for saying things about non-white or LGBTQ people that would occasion no similar action — and may even be lauded, in certain circles — if said about white and/or non-LGBTQ people. There has been a cultural shift in the past decade among educated, affluent left of center people, away from MLK-style universalist anti-racism that sees people as individuals, and toward woke critical-race style anti-racism that defines, essentializes, and morally ranks people by group category. And big tech, like many other sectors of society, has been captured by this emerging ideology. Critical-race style anti-racism has been one of the driving forces of societal division in recent years, and social media has put it on steroids. Should a platform choose to restrict racist or bigoted content in their TOS, they should enforce it across the board, no matter who the subject is. A return to a more universalist zero-tolerance-no-matter-who policy of anti-bigotry would go a long way toward improving the cultural and ideological health of these platforms — and by extension, of society as a whole.Penalize repeated false reporting. Social media platforms allow users to report content that violate the TOS, which then gets reviewed or flagged. Some users have taken to wielding the report button as a cudgel to punish others over personal disputes, political partisanship, or differences of opinion, sometimes inviting others to mass-report them. First and foremost, this is an abuse of the platforms' functions. It also makes the platforms more toxic, ends up wrongfully penalizing some users who did nothing wrong, and wastes time and resources of the tech companies that could be spent reviewing actual TOS violations. Users who repeatedly report others for things that were not, upon evaluation, legitimate TOS violations, should themselves be penalized for such behavior.If it ain't broke don't fix it. I have focused in this essay on the many things wrong with social media, but there are also many things not wrong with it. It is in the nature of business that companies always feel pressure to grow, expand, and improve, and this sometimes leads them to make unnecessary changes that end up introducing new problems. Tech companies should think twice before overhauling their sites, or altering/removing features if they were functioning perfectly well in the first place.Strategies For OurselvesCommit to spend less time on social media. At the end of the day, the single most impactful thing you can do as an individual is to contribute less to the problems of social media, and to be affected by them less, by simply spending less time on it. Turn off email and push notifications for all of your social media accounts. Consider deleting the apps off of your phone and only using the desktop versions on your computer. If you find that you really aren't getting much value out of some of your accounts, delete them. This is an attention economy. It needs attention to run. Starve the beast.Don't use WhatsApp. This is one of the the most straightforward things you can do. WhatsApp is a messaging app owned by Facebook. Given that Facebook is the single biggest offender of the problems outlined in this essay, plus the fact that there are many other messaging apps that do the same thing as WhatsApp (and do it just as well), we should all help diversify the social media landscape by switching to alternative services.Protect your privacy. Use browsers (I prefer Brave), add-ons (such as ad blockers), search engines (like DuckDuckGo), and other tools to increase your privacy. Avoid things owned by the tech giants to diversify the landscape. Until such time when there we have substantive data rights, making smart browsing and search choices will help limit the degree to which you feed this exploitative system and are exploited yourself.Live by the code. When on social media, there is a loose code you ought to live by. Call it the seven commandments:Kindness — Remember the person on the other end is a human being too, with their own struggles and suffering.Charity — Assume good faith from the outset, and try to understand other people's points of view without taking the very least flattering interpretation of their statements and going into attack mode.Grace — We are all humans. None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes. Build bridges to redemption, not pyres for burning heretics.Less is more — 99% of internet arguments or debates lead nowhere worthwhile. Learn to walk away.Agree to disagree — There are people in the world who do not believe as you do. That's okay. You can't convince or destroy them all, and you do more harm than you know in pushing too hard in this direction. Accept that diversity of opinion exists, and be a good representative of your own views.No dog-piling — Do not initiate or contribute to online lynch mobs. Please do not feed this toxic culture. Be better than that.Don't be a psycho — Don't doxx, don't threaten people, don't track them down, don't contact their employer or try to get them fired, or try to ruin their lives. This is psychotic behavior. It doesn't matter who it is, or what cause you think you're fighting for. If you are convinced that someone is so dangerous that they must be stopped or brought to justice, then go to the authorities. If the person in question has in fact broken no laws, and is not "dangerous" in any legally actionable way, you should consider the possibility that you are overreacting, and take some time off social media for self care.Whether you know it or not — whether you like it or not — you are taking part in a sort of social engineering in every interaction you have. Move the dial in the right direction. Kindness begets kindness. Humanity begets humanity. Don't underestimate your power to influence other people, even with simple acts. Be the change you wish to see.,The above strategies are best understood as a suite of measures to be pursued simultaneously. Any one of them has the potential to bear fruit on its own, but it is in synergy that they can be most effective, as many individual strategies reinforce others. I also want to acknowledge that these strategies do not address all of the problems listed at the outset. Indeed some of the problems, such as social media's bad influence on journalism, are difficult to address from the social media end of things, and are better tackled from the journalism side itself. Given the highly technological aspect of this subject, I may periodically revisit, add to, and revise this piece moving forward.Thanks to @2112yyz2112 for reading a draft of this essay and offering feedback.
2020 - My Year in BooksEvery year I set myself a reading challenge on GoodReads, which I've found to be a great motivating tool to read more. In 2020 I set a goal of 40 books, and ended up with 44. Likewise I write a recap every year of my reading. You can see my whole year in books here. And now, here is my year in books (organized by category).Eastern PhilosophyI went on a huge Eastern philosophy kick early in the year, shortly after I got back into meditation."One Blade Of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir" (2019) by Henry Shukman.This wonderfully written memoir captures in prose, more articulately than anything I have yet come across, some of the most profound and otherwise ineffable insights into existence, consciousness, and life that experienced nondual practitioners report. Absorbing and immersing as the story of a man and the journey of a seeker, fascinating as an exploration of Eastern philosophy, and truly beautifully written. 5/5 (Best in category)"The Best Guide to Eastern Philosophy and Religion" (2001) by Diane Morgan.Written very much in the "For Dummies" style, this guide provides an excellent, concise, broad-stroke overview of Eastern philosophy and religion. The manner in which the content is divided, categorized, and laid out is particularly helpful from the Western perspective, as many Eastern traditions can sometimes seem to be all over the place by our lights. This book covers Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, Tantra, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Shinto. A super useful and interesting primer. 4.5/5"The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" (1966) by Alan Watts."The Book" lays out a kind of Wattsian worldview, which draws from the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, Taosim, and Zen Buddhism. Though the book is short, Watts spends almost all of it focused on two main points: the first being the nondual illusion of the ego/self, and the second being that the way we view the world/universe as a collection of separate things and events is a matter of perspective, and a mistaken one. Watts argues that everything is part of the same thing, inseparable and interdependent, and that there are no boundaries to anything. He expounds on these two points at length, and explains why he believes these are important, and what the implications of the illusion of self and the illusion of separateness are for life and society. I found it a fascinating read — it really is mind-expanding to be introduced to a different way of seeing things. Everything that matters in life originates from or filters through the mind, which makes everything a matter of perspective. For most readers, Watts will be introducing a new and enriching perspective, even if you don't agree with every facet of it (I didn't). 4.5/5"The Dhammapada" (1st century BCE) by Anonymous.A collection of the Buddha's sayings in verse, the Dhammapada is brief, insightful, and strikingly different than most Western religious texts. An important read both for its philosophical and historical significance. 4/5"Siddhartha's Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment" (2016) by James Kingsland.A retelling of Siddhartha Gautama's life story, intercut with discussions of neuroscience, neurology, psychology, evolutionary biology, history, and personal anecdotes from the author. More time is spent on the neuroscience of meditation than on any other facet, but overall, this book provided a more varied and interdisciplinary exploration than is found in other "The Science of Buddhism" type books. 4/5"Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body" (2017) by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson.Altered Traits does a good job of relaying what the most recent science (as of 2017) has to say about the effects of meditation on the mind and body — what it does, what it doesn't, and what we just don't have enough data on to say one way or the other. There is a particular focus on neuroscience studies of the brains of meditators, the results of which are fascinating. There is a little bit of autobiographical fluff in the first few chapters that really isn't essential, but the book as a whole is well done. 4/5"The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness" (2007) by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.This edited collection of lectures blends one part anecdote, one part psychology and neuroscience, one part theory of Buddhist philosophy, and one part practical meditation instruction. "The Joy of Living" was easy, almost light reading, and yet many of the insights are quite deep and profound. A good book as an introduction to meditation, or as inspiration for existing meditators. 4/5"Being Peace" (1987) by Thích Nhất Hạnh.A neat little treatise on how to integrate meditation practice and Buddhist philosophy into everyday life. There's Buddhist philosophy, and then there's Buddhism the religion, and parts of "Being Peace" were too much "Buddhism the religion" for my liking. Still, I enjoyed it overall. 3.5/5PoetryDecided to branch out of my uncultured swinish ways."Leaves of Grass" (1855) by Walt Whitman.This was the first book of poetry I've ever read. I was recommended to Whitman from reading historian Will Durant's "The Greatest Minds of Ideas of All Time", where he praised Whitman as an unpretentious everyman's poet who best captured the spirit of America. This characterization suggested that his work may be ideal for someone as an entry point to poetry.As it took me seven months to complete, Leaves of Grass was a bit of a slog. I read Whitman's definitive "Deathbed" version authorized by the poet just before his death, which is the longest of all the editions. And yes, it was quite long. Many individual poems, especially in the first third of the book, seemed longer than was needed to convey what Whitman seemed to be going for.As I got deeper into it, however, the praise Leaves of Grass has garnered over the decades, and the influence it has had became evident. Whitman was pushing boundaries. A swath of his poems read like bisexual erotica (which I could have done without personally). But I agree that Whitman's work does indeed evoke that spirit of 19th century Americana — the thrill of a brisk wind in your hair, of new horizons, of being a trailblazer and going your own way, but also of getting your hands dirty, and glorying in the toil of the average Joe. He hits almost every note in that respect. Perhaps he helped define them.While I found parts of Leaves of Grass laborious to get through, the work in its totality bestows a cumulative effect on the reader that no individual poem or even cluster of poems could. If you'd have checked in with me during the reading, I'd have been regretting getting myself into this. But now that it's finished, I strangely find that my Remembering Self seems to have enjoyed and gotten more out of it in retrospect than my Experiencing Self did during the actual reading. How often life is like that. 3.5/5"The Bell and the Blackbird" (2018) by David Whyte.This poetry collection from draws from life and the human condition, nature, travel, Zen, the religious experience, and from (what I assume to be) Irish folklore. I took my time with this book, and enjoyed it. I'm still very much a poetry novice, but it's growing on me. 5/5Non-Fiction"A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" (2008) by William B. Irvine.Generally considered the best introduction to Stoicism out there, "A Guide to the Good Life" lives up to its praise. A well-structured and marvelously practical work, Irvine doesn't merely recite history or explore and analyze ideas, he does what modern philosophy has forgotten how to do: he tells you how to use these ideas to make your life better. And we could all use a lot more Stoicism in our lives. 5/5 (Best in category)"The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" (2002) by Steven Pinker."The Blank Slate" is Pinker's exhaustive refutation of three central concepts that have influenced academia, politics, the arts, education, Western culture, and social norms. The first of these concepts is the "Blank Slate", the notion that there is very little in the way of any innate human nature — that everything we are is the product of parenting, education, and socialization. The second is the "Noble Savage," the doctrine that people are fundamentally good, the myth that pre-modern civilizations (past and present) are peaceful and harmonious, and the implication that whatever is natural is therefore good (and all of the ideas that branch in every direction from that). The final concept is the "Ghost in the Machine", the belief that everyone is endowed with a soul, spirit, and/or free will which gives them full agency to decide what they do and who they will be, a concept that is symbiotic with the Blank Slate.In dismantling these concepts and illustrating both their falsity and harmfulness, Pinker goes to great lengths to unfold the delicate nuances, carefully navigating the many explosive minefields and trip-wires, and imparts to the reader the cruciality of understanding the world as it truly is. 5/5"The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses" (2019) by Dan Carlin.In his work, Dan Carlin — who's the first to tell you he's not a professional historian — consistently achieves what few historians manage: putting you not only in the shoes of peoples from different places and different times, but inside their heads, insofar as it's possible. "The End is Always Near" is an excellent series of historical vignettes of catastrophe — military, environmental, and economic; as well as the figures, trends, and forces behind them. Carlin never stops trying to see things from alien points of view, never ceases trying to walk a mile in other people's moccasins, never stops asking troubling questions that expose our modern perspectives as inconsistent, or catch human nature in paradoxes. There is something psychological and philosophical about Carlin's explorations of history that I find endlessly fascinating. 5/5"The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice" (2020) by Fredrik deBoer. A much welcome breath of fresh air, "The Cult of Smart" tackles one of today's most (needlessly) controversial topics — natural talent, hereditary intelligence, and behavioral genetics — from a scientifically rigorous yet leftist perspective. deBoer does not flinch away from the hard truths that much of today's educated left embarrassingly deny — rather, he embraces them, and casts them in a new perspective. He argues that the fact of innate inequalities of natural talent (including intelligence) are all the more reason to reject meritocracy in favor of bold progressive policies that raise the floor and create a more just and humane society.The "Cult of Smart" is written with a progressive audience in mind, and deBoer writes very much as a leftist himself, prone to occasionally bursts of Marxist rhetoric which were not strictly necessary to advance his thesis. The final chapter reads like a Jacobin article whose subtext is the promotion of Bernie Sanders for president.deBoer writes well, and his prose flies by. While he may not convince many readers to adopt some flavor of Marxism, the case he makes against our current education system, meritocracy, and the hypocritical, self-serving "Cult of Smart", is a damn good one indeed. 4.5/5"Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another" (2019) By Matt Taibbi.Taibbi digresses here and there to ride a few hobby horses, but the brunt of "Hate Inc." absolutely shreds today's media to ribbons with an aerial bombardment of truth bombs. H.L. Mencken and Christopher Hitchens couldn't have taken anybody to task more scathingly or with more wit than Matt Taibbi does here. There is something in this book that just about every reader will disagree with, too — which is always an endearing trait in my eyes. 4.5/5"Black Rednecks and White Liberals" (2005) by Thomas Sowell.A loosely connected series of essays, each of which challenges conventional readings of history, culture, and modern society. The subjects cover black vs white culture in the US, Jewish success and "middleman minority" groups, slavery from a global perspective, Germans and history, black education in the US, and a final essay about the different ways people approach history.On nearly every page, Sowell introduces new and fascinating historical information likely to be unknown to most readers. On those grounds alone, I'd recommend this work. Small sections of the book here and there deal somewhat in policy discussion, in which Sowell unfailingly recommends conservative or libertarian prescriptions. I mean, this is Thomas Sowell after all, so it is what it is.The true value of "Black Rednecks" is that it offers a different perspective and a different context which, when combined with the version of events most educated people have probably been taught, provides a more complete picture of society and history. 4.5/5"Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race" (2019) by Thomas Chatterton Williams.Personal memoir and political polemic in one, "Self-Portrait" is one of the most thoughtful meditations on race I've ever read. The way in which Williams has come to think and write about race, informed not only by his own experience, family history, and reflections, but also of his commitment to ethical integrity and intellectual honesty, is one that we should all strive to emulate. 4.5/5"The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God" (2006) by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.A collection of lectures Sagan gave in the 1980's, plus some Q-and-A's that were held afterward, exploring issues of spirituality, religion, god, extraterrestrial life, humanity, and our place in the universe. Carl Sagan rarely disappoints. 4/5"How to Survive a Pandemic" (2020) by Michael Greger.An exhaustive deep dive into pandemics, this is more of a history book, industry expose, and crash course on avian influenza than it is a practical how-to guide for pandemic survival and preparedness. To be sure, there is a section of the book that covers what you as an individual can do to prepare for and survive pandemics, but unlike Greger's previous couple books, this one seems aimed more toward people in positions of institutional, industrial, and governmental power than the average citizen and consumer.There should be an abridged edition for the general public, containing all the sections with practical advice, and a hundred or so pages of history and public health content. It's hard to imagine most everyday readers getting through this all. That said, this book is a meticulously well-researched wealth of information, and a useful resource. 4/5"Status Anxiety" (2004) by Alain de Botton.An interdisciplinary exploration of the human craving for and anxiety about social status. There's a particular focus on 17th-20th century Western history, which occupies a large portion. I learned a lot of neat factoids, but I don't feel that this book taught me anything new and profound in a way I was hoping for. Still, it wasn't bad. 3.5/5"The Communist Manifesto" (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.A quick read, "The Communist Manifesto" is important both as a historical document and as insight into aspects of communist ideology. 3/5Fiction"Crisis: 2038: A Novel" (2018) by Gerald Huff."Crisis: 2038" is ostensibly science-fiction, though it may very well turn out to be a visionary forecast of how current political, economic, and technological trends will play themselves out in the near future. Huff brilliantly captures the despair of displaced workers with nowhere to turn, the inhumanity of a system that renders tens of millions obsolete, the rage of those few who seek to burn it all down, the authoritarian overreach of the law, the partisan gridlock of politics, the intellectual bankruptcy of the press, the hope of activists, the bubbles and moral dilemmas of technologists, and the deep hunger people have for a new way forward."Crisis" has a wonderful cast of diverse and interesting characters from every walk of life, interwoven into a fast-paced story that is as political as it is science-fiction. Just as a work of fiction, it was hugely enjoyable, but it is as warning and prescription that the full value of this book manifests itself. 5/5"Chance" (2014) by Kem Nunn.A fascinating story about a forensic neuropsychologist who finds himself drawn into struggle to rescue a deeply troubled patient from her psychotic ex-husband. The cast of characters was fantastic to the last one, the writing was captivating, and the style sharply smart. The words practically flew off the page, definitely a page-turner. 5/5"The Hive" (The Second Formic War, book 2) (2019) by Orson Scott Card.This is the second book of the second prequel trilogy to Card's flagship science fiction novel "Ender's Game" (confused yet?). Trying to keep track of all the books in the "Enderverse" — the sequels, prequels, spinoffs, etc., is enough to intimidate any reader from embarking. It's worth it though. Start with Ender's Game (1985), and work forward in publication order (avoid the film until you've read the novel)."The Hive" is the first of the Enderverse prequels where the events begin to tie together to set the stage for "Ender's Game." Wonderful writing, and gripping, character-driven story-lines with an interesting ensemble cast. I can think of only a very few fictional universes whose many books are as consistently good as the Enderverse. 5/5The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington "The Shadow of What Was Lost" (2014) 5/5 "An Echo of Things to Come" (2017) 4/5 "The Light of All That Falls" (2019) 3.5/5(My review of book one only) Islington draws on a number of epic fantasy archetypes, but makes them his own, taking his story in directions that will grip any fan of the genre. The writing is reminiscent of Robert Jordan, and to a lesser degree Brandon Sanderson, and at points you almost forget you're not reading a novel from either of the aforementioned. "Shadow" delivers just about everything one might look for in a good first installment of an epic fantasy trilogy: an interesting story, good characters you want to root for, genuine twists and turns, and glimpses of a broader world, deeper histories, and secrets yet to be revealed. The books got slightly weaker as the trilogy progressed. The series has no major flaws, it just doesn't blow you away. Overall, I'd rate the trilogy 4/5."Skyward" (2018) and "Starsight" (2019) by Brandon Sanderson. (Books 1-2 of the Skyward trilogy)I don't normally go in for young adult fiction (science fiction, in this case), but I'd read Portuguese assembly instructions for an Ikea futon if Brandon Sanderson wrote it. I enjoyed both, the first more so than the second (third volume forthcoming). Don't have much more to say here. 4/5ClassicsI always try to make sure I read a few classics every year."Crime and Punishment" (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky.I have never read anything that so thoroughly transported me inside the psyche of a character, that evoked in me nearly every emotion and psychological state a character went through. Gripping, affecting, insightful, and thought-provoking. I avoided Dostoevsky's work for years because of the kind of pompous windbags who tend to invoke him in conversation. A silly reason to avoid something, but we draw associations like this more often than you think. Learn from my mistake! 5/5 (best in category)"The Descent of Man" (1871) by Charles Darwin.While Darwin gets a few things wrong, and exhibits some of the biased sensibilities of his day, "The Descent of Man" remains one of the most important scientific works ever produced. Given the total poverty in 1871, by today's standards, of technology, computation, communication, transportation, institutional structure, standardized methodologies, peer review, replication, and funding — the depth and breadth of what Darwin achieved with "Descent" and his prior "Origin of Species" is truly magnificent. To do so much with so little speaks to powers of curiosity, dedication, insight, deduction, and heterodoxy that cannot be praised enough. There were parts of the book that felt somewhat tedious and repetitive from a modern perspective, though understandable given the then-groundbreaking nature of the content. A long, but interesting read. 4.5/5"Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1864) by Jules Verne.A fun adventure tale, "Journey" could have been longer (something one rarely says about classics), and would have benefited from an additional character or two, but I have no major complaints. 4/5"Heart of Darkness" (1899) by Joseph Conrad.It was almost as though this book was written intentionally as a gift to literature teachers as fodder to abuse their students with. Nearly every sentence is ripe for endless pontification, analysis, and symbolism-hunting. Readable, but distastefully pretentious by my lights. 3/5"The Metamorphosis" (1915) by Franz Kafka."The Metamorphosis" is one of those works that demands interpretation, and can be interpreted in a hundred different ways. Perhaps the interpretation module in my brain took a powder on me while reading this, or perhaps Kafka's writing just didn't connect with me, but I found myself reading this little book literally, even though I knew it's not that sort of story. Sometimes you read a page and realize you didn't really absorb it. I felt like I read this entire book that way. I'll revisit it at some point.RereadsI usually give short shrift to rereads in my reviews, but why? If a book is good enough that I want to read it multiple times, that seems like relevant information! (I'll keep it brief since this is running very long.)"The Way of Kings" (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1) (2010) by Brandon Sanderson.This was my fourth read. This remains my single favorite work of fiction in any medium or of any genre. 5/5"Words of Radiance" (The Stormlight Archive, Book 2) (2014) by Brandon Sanderson.Third read. An excellent cast, a fascinating world, and a story as intricate, multi-faceted, and epic as any tale that was ever told. Unbelievably good. 5/5"Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" (2014) by Sam Harris.Second read. Very few can speak from such understanding on both neuroscience, Western philosophy, and Eastern practice as Sam Harris. This rare confluence of complementary interdisciplinary knowledge gives Harris a unique and useful perspective on spirituality shorn from superstition, faith, and mumbo-jumbo. 5/5"Illegal Alien" (1997) by Robert J. Sawyer.Second read. A "whodunit" courtroom drama set in a contemporary sci-fi first contact scenario. Just as good as the first read. 4/5UnderwhelmingIn the final section, some books that I thought left something to be desired."The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?" (2020) by Michael Sandel.A somewhat mediocre handling of an important subject matter, Sandel's critique on meritocracy is effective and insightful in parts, but this book suffers from early chapters padded with considerable filler, and later chapters that fail to address solutions or alternatives to meritocracy in a satisfying way. Sandel, typical with most in the Boomer cohort, is both enamored of the "dignity of work" ethos, and mostly oblivious to technology's major role in job displacement. His prescriptions reflect a mistrust of money and discount the role that money can play in creating meaningful opportunity and contribution, instead vaguely advocating for policies that aim to somehow change the public's perception of the prestige of certain jobs. That he thinks this is possible through public policy, or that it is a better alternative to wealth redistribution, seems idiotic to me. This book tried hard to seem current, but the philosophical core of its thesis could have been written 20 or even 30 years ago. For a much better treatment of this subject matter, see "The Cult of Smart" (reviewed above.) 3/5"Exit Strategy" (Murderbot, book 4) (2018) and "Network Effect" (Murderbot, book 5) (2020) by Martha Wells.The Murderbot series is told from the first person perspective of a fully conscious (and socially anxious) security robot. Sounds fun, right? But the books are weighed down by uninteresting, needlessly convoluted plots of corporate espionage and sabotage not worth the mental effort of keeping close track of. Great characters can often redeem otherwise mediocre stories, but Murderbot isn't that great, and the stories really are quite mediocre. 2.5/5"A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles" (1986) by Thomas Sowell.Sowell sets out to explain why it is that the political Left and Right disagree, almost down the line, on all sorts of seemingly unrelated issues. The concept through which he frames his thesis is that of "visions", not of morality or values, but views of causation, reality, human nature, and human potential.What he calls the "Constrained Vision" basically represents the political Right — conservative, cautious of change, interested in processes more than outcomes, inclined to laissez-faire, essentialism, and pessimistic about human nature and humanity's capacity for change. Opposite this worldview is that of the "Unconstrained Vision", which represents the political Left — progressive, unafraid of big change, constructivist, inclined to economic planning, concerned with justice to a larger degree, and with a more optimistic view of human nature and humanity's capacity for change.The issue with Sowell's thesis is that he appears not to be revealing anything insightful, but rather merely redefining terms. Few readers will pick this book up who are not already aware of the ways in which the political Left and Right disagree, and so in simply rehashing these disagreements and giving the Left and Right new names — the "Unconstrained" and "Constrained" visions — Sowell is not actually uncovering any new insight to the educated reader. "Conflict" was also far from a page-turner. The near-constant reference Sowell makes to the writings of Enlightenment-era thinkers and theorists to hammer his points home gives his prose the dry feel of a textbook. In addition, Sowell's own conservative bias was in many places not even thinly veiled, which I found both disappointing and unbecoming of one purported to be a serious thinker and not merely a polemicist. If you find the premise of this book intriguing — that political differences stem from foundational ideas underlying politics itself — I would recommend you skip this book, and instead read Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind", which is not only better written, but offers much more in the way of genuine insight. 2.5/5"Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (2004) by Susanna Clarke.In the nearly year-long time span between my beginning and completion of this novel, I repeatedly put it down for months at a time, twice resolving to abandon it altogether. Eventually I saw it through. A blend of English historical fiction, alternate history, and fantasy, "Strange and Norrell" reads like an artfully-written but glacial, meandering, endlessly elongated tale. Clarke provides a slow drip of plot and character development portioned and spaced out just barely enough to sustain the reader's partial will to continue. It was like the literary equivalent of Chinese water torture.I am given to understand that long, painfully slow stories about almost nothing are the norm for the genre of historical fiction, the fans of which actually seem to appreciate these attributes. I made the mistake of going into this book as a fantasy reader, but this novel is better understood as being essentially historical fiction with a hint of fantasy. Strange and Norrell could have been shortened by 200 pages without any impact on the story, characters, or general feel. Indeed, in my view, it should have been. 2.5/5"Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction" (2007) by Ken Binmore.I've long been intrigued by game theory but didn't know much about it. "Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction" provided me with a bit of the history behind the field, and a few bits of jargon and additional concepts, but as to the actual mechanics of game theory, I found my mind mostly glaze and attention wander every time Binmore attempted to explain it. I don't know if this is a failing of mine as a reader, his as a writer, or perhaps if game theory simply isn't as interesting to me as I'd hoped it'd be. 2.5/52019 - My Year in Books2018 - My Year in Books2017 - My Year in Books2016 - My Year in Books2015 - My Year in Books2014 - My Year in Books,
Strategies to Reduce Homelessness,The homeless are an ever-present but largely overlooked segment of society. They occasionally appear in the news, though not noticeably more — and probably less — than many other groups. Their presence depresses property values and business traffic, but not enough to incentivize serious action. The homeless do not constitute a voting bloc, and therefore seldom factor in to politicians' agendas. The homeless are viewed as a minor inconvenience, a cosmetic stain on society that doesn't really affect us and isn't worth addressing. Indeed, we even tend to ignore the homeless in person, looking past them as though they weren't there, like browser extensions blocking sidebar-ads.Above everything is the crushing sense of futility that bears down on the issue of homelessness. A dollar given to a panhandler, fifty dollars given to a soup kitchen, an afternoon spent volunteering — these can feel very satisfying in the moment, but in the larger view, it seems like throwing a deck chair off the sinking Titanic. It doesn't seem that our efforts do much to fix the problem at its heart, and so we become discouraged into brushing the whole thing under the rug. And the ideas — few and far between — that have been proposed to truly eradicate homelessness often entail costs that we have evidently been unwilling to pay. Whatever platitudes we might espouse to ourselves, we do put a price on human lives, and if that price is too high, we won't pay it. But perhaps we can circumvent or hack this shortcoming of human nature. The following is an exploration of strategies to reduce homelessness.Gauging the scope of the problemIn the United States, more than 550,000 people are homeless on a given night. Worldwide, this figure is estimated to exceed 150 million. These are staggering numbers, far dwarfing many other issues which garner more attention. It is beyond my level of knowledge and understanding, and therefore beyond the scope of this essay, to focus on homelessness on a global level. Those looking to make a positive impact on global homelessness should research and seek out effective charities and aid organizations. Bound by the current confines of my limited knowledge, this essay will principally concern the US, though parts may be generalizable to the developed world more broadly.Estimates of the prevalence of mental illness among the homeless range from 13-26%. The umbrella of what is considered a mental illness or disorder has expanded in recent years, and many authorities now view drug and alcohol addiction under this rubric. If those are included, the prevalence jumps above 50%. Substance abuse, however we classify it, is another major factor among the homeless, with as many as 35% having been impacted by it. The flip side of these numbers is equally important: about half of all homeless people do not have serious mental health or addiction problems. In the US, over 9% of the homeless are veterans of the armed forces. Quantifying these factors is essential for developing strategies proportionate to the realities of the issue.Preventing Homelessness in the First PlaceHousingIn the US, the cost of rent has increased over time, but has not kept pace with the stagnating average income and diminishing spending power. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has recommended families not spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs, in order to remain financially solvent. 38% of renters in the US are now spending more than this on their rent, with 17% spending more than 50% of their monthly income on rent alone (see previous link). Wider application of rent controls can be a game-changer in housing affordability. In areas with high property taxes, property tax cuts may be useful for offsetting the lost revenue of landlords, and as a political tool for selling these measures.Reform zoning laws. Low-cost housing in many areas is impeded by NIMBYism ("Not In My BackYard") from residents putting pressure on local and state politicians to make it difficult for these complexes to be built. Low-cost housing would be an invaluable resource for many homeless people, or for those at risk of homelessness, and relaxing these zoning ordinances would help, specifically in urban and metro areas.Encourage the construction of micro-apartment complexes in crowded cities with tax incentives. Many homeless people live in cities, and this would be a good way to squeeze in low-cost housing in places where there is not a ton of space. And given the rise of hipsters and the minimalism movement, plus young people short on funds but eager to move out on their own, you'd get more than just homeless and poor people moving in.EmploymentThe converse of the problem of housing costs is income. Wages have stagnated relative to inflation and the cost of living. People need more money. One option is to raise the minimum wage, and index it to keep pace with inflation. Some conservative objections are not wholly without merit (it depends on the amount), but the current minimum wage is preposterously low, and raising it would be one of the easiest net-positive ways to get money into people's hands, though imperfect. The best way to get money into people's hands is literally get money into their hands. More on this later.Another useful tool is public works projects, along with some training programs for those without any skills. This can kill two birds with one stone by offering work to the unemployed or underemployed while also repairing the nation's now infamously crumbling infrastructure.A leading cause of homelessness among women is domestic abuse. Many stay in abusive relationships out of economic insecurity, and many who escape have a difficult time getting on their feet financially, often without support structures to lean on, and their situation can spiral down from there. We should ensure that public jobs programs also create jobs other than construction or manual labor. Some who need and cannot find work are not physically suited for demanding manual labor, and they too must be able to benefit from such programs in capacities where they can contribute, and there is no shortage of work of all kinds to be done.Mental HealthUniversal health care. Healthcare has become an enormous expense, and a common cause of economic hardship. The financial strain of large medical bills has been shown to increase the likelihood of declaring bankruptcy for years after. Any policies that increase healthcare access and lower or eliminate cost would be a huge burden lifted from the shoulders of most households. Universal healthcare would also help people struggling with mental health issues get the care they need.Schools should provide free mental heath screenings for all students during every year of grade school. Any mental healthcare that may be needed should also be free. This will help address children and young people who might otherwise go undiagnosed and untreated, or who might not have sufficient access to healthcare at home. Identifying and treating conditions earlier can help manage them, so their impact on one's life and ability to function within society do not snowball out of control over time.Make mental health evaluations a standard part of getting a physical. Since many are required to get physicals at various points in their lives (certain jobs, schools, programs, competitions, events, etc.), this will help ensure that fewer people with mental health problems go undiagnosed.We need more (and better) psychiatric facilities. Since the 1950's, there has been a 95% decline in psychiatric institutions in the US. It is not sufficient merely to bring these back, however. We need to reinvest, reimagine, and overhaul the standards by which they operate: the quality of care, the freedom, liberty, and dignity of the patients, the living conditions, treatments, and so forth. The grungy, dungeon-like horror story insane asylums of yesteryear must be left in the past, where they belong. We need facilities with positive, clean, open atmospheres, places that feel more like hotels than they do hospitals, with highly qualified staffs subject to strict oversight. People should not be held against their will unless they are demonstrably a danger to the public, and even in such cases, the goal must be to rehabilitate them, not to imprison them indefinitely. These facilities are needed to help people with severe mental health issues who have nowhere else to go, but must never again be allowed to become de facto prisons for those guilty of the crime of being an undesirable.AddictionThe time to decriminalize drugs — all drugs — is long overdue. Drug addiction is a debilitating enough affliction on one's life. Having a criminal record, not to mention the trauma of prison life, in addition, only worsens an individual's prospects for turning their lives around upon release. End the failed and immoral War on Drugs. People need rehab, counseling, and support structures, not prison cells.The rehab industry is sorely in need of oversight and regulation. We need to set concrete standards, hold ineffective facilities accountable, and shut down or prosecute fraudulent ones. Price caps should also be imposed on how much patients can be charged by day or week.VeteransUse the military more judiciously and sparingly. The less we place our soldiers into potentially psychologically destabilizing situations, the less psychologically destabilized veterans at risk for homelessness we will have. Our foreign policy has implications here at home, too.Expand the Department of Veteran Affairs' (VA) ability to provide veterans with mental health problems or limited resources the support necessary to land on their feet once they return from service, and similarly expand the VA's capacity to help veterans who fall on hard times later on. The military lives by the motto "no man left behind" on the battlefield. But all of life is a battlefield, and it's time we extended this sentiment beyond one's active service. Every veteran begging for spare change on a street corner is a soldier we have left behind. Indeed, every homeless person is someone we as a society have left behind, and it's time we started taking that personally.Reverse boot camp. Upon ending their military service, a reverse boot camp would reacclimate soldiers to civilian life, teach some practical skills, catch them up to speed on changes in society, make them aware of available social and health programs, and help them land on their feet.Universal Basic IncomeUniversal basic income is one of the most impactful policies to prevent people from becoming homeless to begin with. Poverty is a social disease. The cure is money. By establishing an economic floor that no one can fall below, we can make sure that worse comes to worst, people will be able to cover the bare necessities. UBI would also be transformative for the recently homeless, and the many homeless people who are without a home and yet not living on the streets. Those homeless who have been living on the streets for years, or who have serious mental health or addiction issues, may not be able to immediately benefit from a UBI, as they may not have the means to collect it, or the wherewithal to manage it, and other social services would be needed to first get them to a place where they could then take advantage of UBI. Thanks to the efforts of advocates like Scott Santens and Andrew Yang, the Overton window has been massively shifted over the past couple years with regard to universal basic income. What seemed politically impossible just a few years ago is now entering the realm of serious consideration. It's time to secure the bag.The above strategies are best understood as a suite of avenues to be pursued in tandem. Any one of them has the potential to enact positive change on its own, but it is in synergy that they can be most effective, as many individual strategies reinforce others. It is here, in closing, that I want to address the role of charity in reducing homelessness. Individuals have enormous power which, if properly wielded, can be a tremendous force for good. Much of my content is devoted to empowering the individual to do just that. These "strategies" essays, however, primarily focus on the macro-level policy-based approaches. There are limits to what individuals can realistically be expected to accomplish without any governmental, systemic, or institutional support. Even so, there are many problems we face that could nevertheless be solved solely with a groundswell of civic-minded, grassroots effort. Homelessness is assuredly not one such; there are too many factors and variables, and the costs are too great. Grassroots activism can help raise awareness and sway public opinion, which is crucial, and many charities do fine work, but in industrialized nations, there has to be a governmental approach to bring everything together.The problem is, most charities aimed at homelessness in the developed world are either relief agencies that treat the symptoms but aren't working to reduce homelessness, or think-tanks that work to produce policy proposals but take no action themselves, not unlike this essay. And in researching this subject, I have read many such reports and proposals and "action plans," and to a disconcertingly large degree, they are underwhelming, phoned-in fluff pieces. The obvious lack of time and effort spent seriously thinking about solving homelessness only belies the morass of apathy we are collectively stuck in on this issue. In short, we need more charities that are trying to reduce homelessness itself. In the developing world, however, it's a different story. The cost to lift a poor person out of poverty in much of the developing world is orders of magnitude less than it is here, and there are many more such charities working to do this. I would recommend that individuals looking to support charities to end homelessness find effective organizations serving the developing world, where each dollar goes a much farther way toward helping people. Two good resources, also linked earlier in this essay, are GiveWell.org and TheLifeYouCanSave.org.The words I have written here are all well and good, but without the will to seriously address homelessness, they remain no more than peculiar patterns of pixels. Everything that does not violate the laws of nature is possible, given sufficient knowledge, as physicist David Deutsch has observed. Homelessness is solvable. It would require no miracles. Only that we, as a society, give a shit. Giving a shit is not a violation of the laws of physics, and so given sufficient knowledge, we will come to give a shit. Perhaps the catalyst for solving homelessness — and myriad other problems — therefore lies in discovering what knowledge will affect this change of heart, and disseminating it as widely as possible.
Oskar's Automata - Chapter 4Oskar spent a few weeks getting material. He made deals with other apprentices and smiths, running errands for them in exchange for material or a bit of labor if it was needed. He did this alongside his chores and errands for Claus. He was happy to not borrow anything.
He worked nearly nonstop, during his shop time and after. Nearly every day he was up until the early morning hours until he had made fifteen dancers. Satisfied with the efforts, Claus set two outside to display and instructed Oskar to hawk the product.
Oskar entered the shop at the end of the day. He held the cash box that contained the coin from his sales. Claus was tidying the display area, saw Oskar, and greeted him with an outstretched hand. He gripped the box firmly as Oskar placed it.
“How did you do?” Claus opened the box, not waiting for an answer, and looked inside to mentally tally.
“Not too badly, I suppose.”
Claus’s eyebrows raised slightly as he appreciated what he saw in the bo
Oskar's Automata - Chapters 1 - 3The shop with its walls displaying clocks, music boxes (with and without dancers), and other gearwork contraptions among its shelves, was quiet. An older man leaned against the frame of an open doorway into another room behind the shop. Customers could if they tried, glimpse into the interior if the door was open when they were present. Usually all that would be visible is a back wall, lined with shelves, except for a window at the top of the room. The wall opposite the tool and equipment laden shelves contained a workbench, behind which currently sat a dark-haired teen. Shelves and trays of small pieces requiring a magnifying lens to see stacked on either side of the middle of the workbench. The teen bent intently over the instrument in his hand. He checked its parts, ensuring everything was in its place and working. Satisfied, he handed it to the wiry man who had been watching him.
The man was older and more experienced, having just slightly more years on him to be the teen’s f
The Draw of Normal - Chapter 3 - Donuts The eight-by-ten light-grey room, bathed in a constant, warm soft light, was one of the station’s nicer interrogation rooms. The fact the metal table had a honey oak veneer top and lacked any bars to attach handcuffs pointed to this interrogation room being tailored more for witnesses and family members than for criminals. What really sold Connor that this room was not for criminals were the chairs. The room had three identical well maintained metal framed chairs. They struck the right balance of solid and inviting with their light metal color and not full navy blue seat cushion. Smirking to himself, Connor thought placing cushioned chairs, even these very thinly padded ones were equivalent to rolling out the red carpet for the police. He tested how stable his chair’s footing was. The chair had all four feet and was level. Aside from it being metal, Connor's chair could have looked at home in a dining room. Well maybe even with it being metal. Damn,
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