After the Tilt: Book 2

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Chapter 38: When the Time Comes

4 months later

“That day… the day Fiori landed on the shore of Antarticum, why did you save him?”

“I didn’t save him. He saved himself.”

“You put your career, your life on the line for a stranger. Why did you do that?”

“His fighting instinct was that of an animal. What he had was something I had never encountered, never seen before. It was freedom. Freedom of choice, breaking away from destiny. And you can’t cage that kind of freedom. You can’t. That freedom either lives or dies.

I wanted to believe in him, to believe in the possibility of that freedom. So, I did what I could to protect that idea. You could say I saved him, but in reality, I saved myself. I saved him so I could be with him, so I could be like him. Besides, for an Aethereusian, I had already reached the top. There was nowhere else for me to go from there, but back down.

He has probably told you that he is not a good man. And he’s right. But good men don`t survive in the Land of the Gods. They don’t survive on the scorched continents either. There is no place left on Earth for good men, for good people. So, you’re either a bad person or a dead one.

I think that’s what he’s been trying to tell you, all this time. But he won’t say it like that. That’s the teacher in him. That’s what makes him a respectable leader. He’s waiting for you to figure it out on your own. He’s letting you make mistakes. He’s letting you learn from them. Until then, it’s my job to keep you alive. And what a job’s it’s been.”

“Still to think he could kill so many innocent people, so easily…”

“Innocent? Those people were not innocent. They were all bystanders cheering on a regime marginalizing people. They all had it in them to take a stand, to fight the oppression. But none did. They all turned a blind eye. They were just as guilty as the rest. Silence is violence.”

“But they must have been afraid of retaliation. Afraid for their friends and family.”

“Cowards. That’s what they were. Cowards. Being afraid is not an excuse. Are you not afraid?”

“I have nothing left to lose. Those people had loved ones, they had houses, family and friends. They had jobs; they had a future. It didn’t mean they agreed with the oppression.”

“Whether they agreed with it or not is irrelevant. They benefitted from the oppression and they refused to challenge the system. That makes them guilty. It’s regrettable. It really is. But I can only care about so many lives. You are either with us or against us. You are either with the system or against it. I don’t have time to listen to everyone’s sob story. I only have one life, and I need to make it count. I need to leave behind a legacy my descendants can be proud of.

Now, you need to ask yourself… what is it that you want? What kind of legacy do you want to be remembered for? Your father left behind a monstrous legacy. You were gifted by your siblings, at the cost of their lives, the freedom to change it. You have within you the possibility to rewrite the ending, to create a new legacy.”

“And what’s in it for you? Why are you doing all this… If it is not for love, what is it for? You have no legacy to rewrite. Who are you?”

“Nothing. It’s all for nothing.”

“I don’t believe you. There must be more to it. There must have been a reason you stepped in that day. Something for you to gain. Human’s are selfish. We are all selfish! This is what got us here! This is what doomed us from the start. So, tell me Yuki, what is it you are hoping to gain?”

“Another day Fenn. This is not the time, nor the place!”

Yuki and I were sitting in my parent’s living room. Evian’s body was on the ground at our feet, his breathing barely noticeable. All three of us, covered in filth. A mixture of blood, caked mud and ashes. I leaned over and checked his pulse. He didn’t have much time left.

“Are you going to do it?” asked Yuki.

I sank back on the sofa, right next to them. Around us, the walls were in ruin. What had once been a magnificent manor was now a shuffle of memories, stones and sooted luxuries. Yet, amid all the destruction, the piano stood, lonely, remaining untouched.

I brushed the dried blood off my forehead, scraping at the stubborn crust. I didn’t know what to do with my brother. So much had happened in the last few months since we had left Centrum Agricultio. I leaned my head back and looked up. The clouds, drifting slowly through the blue sky, had not a care in the world. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the tender kiss of the sun on my cheek. I quietly smiled.

The sky really is blue.

So blue, I thought.

The darkness was gone. The sun was now forever shining. Yet, the shadows that had grown deep into my heart, kept me from enjoying this new-found light.

I am not a good person, I thought. But neither are you, brother.

I got back up and made my way to the piano. I ran my fingers slowly along the ivory keys. They were cold to the touch. In the mid-day heat, it felt refreshing. My fingers were stiff, but I took a seat. I sat on the edge of the bench, I straightened my back, I arched my fingers over the keys and relaxed my arms and shoulders. I took a deep breath, gently letting the music fill the space. Sluggishly, at half time, my fingers played La Campanella.

Behind my back, Yuki kneeled next to my dying brother. They gently grabbed his wrist and kept watch on his heartbeat. Any doctor would have told you he was beyond saving. Yet, I had it in me to save him. I had the skills to save him. I could save him. Just as I could have saved my sister. But was it the right thing to do?

What is the right thing to do?

Who decides what’s right, what’s wrong?

Was he good or bad? Are good people, the only people worth saving? Am I worthy of choosing who gets to live and who dies?

What was I to do?

The song ended.

I wiped away the beads of sweat that were running down my face.

Fiori walked in.

“We found what we were looking for. It’s time to go,” he announced, holding a piece of paper between his fingers; the yellow bird peering at me from the page.

Yuki got up.

My brother’s arm fell back to the ground.

I watched it hit the floor in slow motion.

“Is he still alive?” Fiori asked. “The bastard is just like me; he can’t seem to die.”

Fiori chuckled apprehensively.

“Fenn, we have to go. We can’t leave him here. If you won’t kill him, I will.” Yuki said.

Yuki pulled a gun out and aimed it at my brother, awaiting my decision.

I didn’t answer.

Fiori slowly made his way toward Yuki. He put his hand on the gun and lowered it.

“Let him deal with it. Give him the time. He will do it,” he said in a reassuring voice.

But I couldn’t think. I couldn’t make my choice. And I certainly couldn’t kill him. If Yuki wanted to shoot him, I was fine with it! Or was I really? I had saved Eli on the brink of death before. Surely, I could save my brother.

My brother, I thought.

It had such a weird ring to it. After all this time, I still wasn’t used to it.

My little brother.

I looked up at Fiori, the sweat stinging my eyes.

The sky is so blue, I thought.

Why did the sky have to be so blue on a day like today?

A bird flew over my head. In the sunlight, it had a yellowish tint. I raised my arm and covered the sun with the palm of my hand, trying to get a better look. In the distance, it sang. Then suddenly, I knew just what to do.

I walked over to my brother. I kneeled beside him. I took a long deep breath and placed my hands over his chest.

Gently.

Fiori turned his back to us.

And under the blue sky, I watched my brother slowly drift away…

END OF BOOK 2

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