Part 4 – focusing on the present

I’ve tried calling you all night. I wanted to tell you in person, but I haven’t been able to reach you. I’m minutes away from flying to the mainland to start a new job.

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Van deflates onto an old, wooden bench just outside the resort. He had been so focused on the blackjack table, that he missed several calls, voice mails, and texts from Benita. She had been trying to reach him for hours. Her last message was a voice mail recorded about an hour ago,

Van, you are my dearest and closest friend. You know me better than anybody. That may explain why this hurts so much. I pray that you will understand. I have been blessed with an employment opportunity I simply cannot refuse. I will be away from the island frequently and for extended periods of time. This means I won’t be able to give our relationship the attention it requires or give you the time you deserve.

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Van is not an emotional sim, but he feels the uncomfortable pain of tears stinging his tired eyes and the empty feeling of loss encroaching upon his belly.

This opportunity can provide the future we’ve prayed about. However, we need to be apart for awhile… maybe a long while. I need to focus on the present without becoming too distracted with our future. I know this is a terrible way to handle this, and I’m sorry.

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Just like that, she’s gone. No different than those bastards Mitch and Wade, searching for their non-existent El Dorado. One of life’s little cruel jokes, it seems.  Van lifts his head to regard the ocean; the only constant he’d ever known.  It has been more than a day since the last time he slept. But his exhaustion seems irrelevant right now. The bigger problem seems rather obvious. He has no job, no money, and no way to resolve the debts that aren’t even his to begin with. He inherited them simply because he wanted a place to finally call home. Now it’s only a matter of time before he loses that as well.

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He sits for a long time like this before realizing he is not alone.  Removing the tears from his face with the back of his hand, he sits back on the bench. Skyler had run away from the resort with him. Van assumed she had gone home. Clearly she had not, because he finds her nearby in the pre-dawn light, sitting on the ground and sobbing. Setting aside his own problems momentarily, he quietly approaches her. Without looking at him, she apologizes profusely, adding that she really knows how to *expletive* things up. Van sits next to her in the sand, reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault. This was all Omar.

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Still working to avoid eye contact with Van, Skyler shakes her head, explaining how Omar set the whole thing up. Skyler is relatively new to Isla Paradiso. She’s only been here a few months and has only been an adult slightly longer than that. Her parents kicked her out of their house back in Pleasantview shortly after turning nineteen. Skyler stops to gather herself before continuing. She doesn’t blame them, really. There is no denying that she is a total *expletive*. Both a liar AND a thief – two awesome qualities that make for a super-happy life. She’s fallen into a lot of trouble since becoming an adult and thought she could move away from her troubles. She wanted to leave the “bad” Skyler Gilscarbo in Pleasantview. She knew better. But she literally had nothing to lose.

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She had seen a lot of hype about Isla Paradiso on the internet. So she stole the money she needed to fly here. Not exactly a great start to a new life. Her outgoing personality and “hot body” got her the job as a hostess at the casino. Then, as the opportunity presented itself, she did a great job of *expletive* everything up again. Easy access to money and a little bit of trust seemed like the perfect formula. And it was… for getting *expletive*. Omar found out about it and threatened legal action unless she returned the money. He agreed to take half her salary until she paid it off. Then tonight happened.

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Van remains silent as she continues. For whatever reason, Omar picked today to snap. He threatened to file charges against her unless she found a way to persuade Van to cheat in the casino. It seemed like a really weird request, but she was afraid of what would happen if she didn’t cooperate. So she agreed. Having spoken to Van all this time without facing him, Skyler finally regards him with angry and defiant eyes.

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She’s only been on Isla Paradiso for a couple of months, and already she is in more trouble than she can handle.  Omar had evidently called her landlord as soon as they were kicked out of the resort. It’s  the middle of the *expletive* night. The little *expletive* spilled everything about what she had done at the casino. The landlord didn’t even have the courtesy of calling to see what had happened. All she got was a text message notifying her about the eviction,

You’re out. Don’t come back here.

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Van invites Skyler to stay at his place long enough to find another apartment. He explains that he’s most likely going to be looking for somewhere else to live as well. The debt collectors have already started threatening repossession. And now that he has no job, there is no way he’ll be able to keep what little he has. They arrive at the house just before sunrise. Van is fast asleep in his bed a few seconds afterward.

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He wakes with Skyler sleeping in his bed next to him. The pile of clothes at the foot of the bed suggests that she is not wearing anything at all. Van does his best to quickly make a quiet escape, but she stirs just as he throws back the covers. She asks what kind of dude would pass up the opportunity to *expletive* a smoking-hot girl laying naked in bed next to him. Van shrugs. Doing his best to avoid what could turn into a real messy situation, he chuckles and says he’s not good for much of anything before his morning coffee. He stands and is about to ask her to get dressed when she throws off the covers then poses suggestively on the bed for him.

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She wasn’t kidding when she said smoking-hot. Van swallows a gulp of air, then compliments her. He quickly pulls on a pair of pants, then somberly explains what had transpired between him and Benita last night. He’s’ just not in any frame of mind to jump into another romantic relationship. Skyler quickly redirects him, clarifying that she only wants to *expletive* him, not marry him.

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Skyler’s foul mouth has already begun to wear on Van. He smiles, taking in eyefuls of her beauty, then asks her politely if she could try to tone her language down a little bit. He agrees that any warm-blooded guy would have leaped at the chance. He’s probably insane for not doing so himself. But it just doesn’t feel right. Not yet, anyway. She nods while bearing a disappointed smile. She doesn’t understand him, but she will respect his space.

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Van breathes a relieved sigh. He’s happy to have her hang out here with him until the bank kicks him out for not paying the mortgage. Unfortunately, that may be a lot sooner than either of them are ready for. Van rubs his eyes, then the back of his neck, and adds that his offer has only one condition…

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Please go put some clothes on.

Part 3 – no debt too small

Van lays sleepless in bed staring intently at the pile of unpaid bills cluttering his dresser, determined to somehow think them out of existence by way of pure tenacity and willpower.

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His confrontation with Omar a few weeks ago had resulted in less work at the resort and fewer simoleons going into his pocket. The reduction in hours is a clear retaliation for some perceived slight on Van’s part toward the petty and histrionic manager. Van’s replacement has already struggled with the high number of rescues and nearly had to be rescued himself after becoming fatigued. If Omar was attempting to make a statement, he was doing so at the risk of his guests’ safety.

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Reduced income from his lifeguard job translates to fewer dives and less money from his salvage work. Scuba tanks and gear rentals are expensive. On a good dive, he can typically cover his cost plus a nice bonus for himself. The dive shop has given him a few discounts since his demotion. But he stopped short of actually going into debt to continue his salvage work. In all likelihood, Omar’s power play will end with Van losing the property Mitch and Wade abandoned when they left Isla Paradiso.

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Finding a new place to live is not a problem. He can think of half a dozen different families on the island who would gladly take him in. His primary concern is one of self-sufficiency. Any future with Benita depends solely upon his ability to find steady work. Van’s willingness is certainly not lacking. He would pick fruit fifteen hours a day if it meant he and Benita could be together sooner. But there just isn’t any work. Benita has fared much better than he has in terms of employment. She works nights at the tiki-bar mixing drinks and serving food, then cosmetology and massage therapy at the spa during the day. She’s already started building a base of wealthy clients who ask for her by name.

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Unfortunately, the more she works, the less time Van has to spend with her. And now that he has more time on his hands than ever, he finds himself becoming very restless. Catching and selling fresh seafood is one of the few remaining opportunities available to locals. Van finds himself having to compete with friends and neighbors by way of selling his daily catch – the one thing he resolved he’d ever do.

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Van finds only a few hours sleep before his instinct tells him that dawn is approaching. Fortunately, his own backyard offers as good a fishing spot as any on the island. Facing his friends at the fishmonger is awkward enough without having to spend hours on the same beach competing for fish. Van makes his way slowly to the shallows before regarding the ocean and its ponderous expanse. He baits the hook, then casts his line into the water, desperate to find a better way.

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Weekends are the most challenging and difficult shifts for Isla Paradiso lifeguards. The volume of guests doubles over the weekend, as does the number of adult beverages consumed. The combination never amounts to any good. Van has told resort management as much.  Their response was to promptly open a second bar so guests would not have to wait as long for beachside service. In addition to having his lifeguarding hours cut, Omar has obstinately scheduled him for long shifts both Saturday and Sunday. Van had specifically asked for Sunday mornings off to attend church with Benita. Since the confrontation, however, those two days have been his only scheduled shifts – including Sunday morning.

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The result is a physically and emotionally exhausting schedule. He works from sunrise to sunset with a long enough break in between to sleep. The income generated by the new schedule is barely sufficient to keep the utilities running. Although Van has attempted to fix whatever he had done wrong, his efforts have gone unnoticed. Evidently, this is about more than just showing up late for work a couple of times.

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Van is very popular at the resort. Both guests and employees alike often greet him by name. News of the rift between Van and Omar spread through the grapevine quickly. Isla Paradiso is a rather small island, so most of his acquaintances are also quite familiar with Benita and the details of Van’s relationship with her. It’s not unusual for him to stop and talk with near strangers. Most of the time they simply want to offer their encouragement. When a resort hostess named Skyler Gilscarbo calls him over to the commons area after his shift late Sunday, Van doesn’t think to wonder why.

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Exhausted from many hours of heat and physical exertion, Van considers avoiding her. But she seems fairly intent upon talking with him. After a bit of small talk, Skyler’s mood changes abruptly. She moves closer to Van, making no effort to prevent chest from pressing firmly into his side, then whispers so that nobody else can her. Van listens to her somewhat suspicious proposition. She (and just about everybody else) knows all about Van’s feud with Omar. She hates that he’s treating Van so unfairly, and she wants to help him. She works tonight at the blackjack table and is willing to play a few bad hands in Van’s favor. He could make up all the simoleons from lost work, plus some.

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Van nearly dismisses the idea without giving the matter any thought. Skyler manages to inveigle her way past his better judgment, however. Her rakish, outgoing manner and warm, sympathetic smile provide the opening. Although it hadn’t come from Benita, the gesture is not entirely unwelcome. It has more than a week since Van last spent time with  Benita. Their most recent conversation was by phone, and it ended in frustration over Van’s Sunday morning schedule. He smiles in return and agrees to meet her in the casino.

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Now running purely on herb-infused, caffeine energy drinks, Van finds Skyler’s unoccupied blackjack table. It’s already a slow night thanks to a big horse race at the track and a match between the home team and a hated rival at the stadium.

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Casino slot machines have always been a much bigger draw for low stakes players than the card tables. Van sits, barely acknowledging Skyler, then sets his chips on the table. He knows absolutely nothing about gambling, past the basics he’d learned from watching visitors lose small fortunes in the casino. He hesitates for a moment and considers how the pitiful pile of chips represents his last remaining monetary assets.

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Van and Skyler say very little to each other as the small pile begins to grow. They’ve established a pattern where the house would win the smaller bets, but she would draw too many cards and bust on the larger bets. It is very early in the morning when Van reaches the agreed upon winnings.

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In what would be the last hand, Skyler’s hands begin to shake nervously. An odd sensation of being watched washes over Van a few seconds later. Then he senses the unmistakable stirring of air that precedes a sim invading his personal space. Skyler’s hand, which is still trembling, drops the card she had been holding – a Queen.

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Omar’s quivering, effeminate cadence sends a shiver down Van’s spine and  causes him to startle out of reflex. He congratulates Van on his winnings while sliding into an empty seat across the table from the young lifeguard. Using his best, practiced pleasantry, Omar instructs Skyler to deal another hand. He produces a stack of chips five times the size of Van’s pile, then places them on the table. Van takes a deep and nervous breath. His flight instinct kicks in and he hurriedly rakes the chips into his cupped hand, excusing himself to get some much-needed sleep.

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Omar snarls angrily, instructing Van to sit back down. After the demonstration of authority fails to achieve its desired motivation, Omar continues with a disturbing edge of charming cruelty. He asks whether Van would consider staying long enough to watch Skyler being removed from the premises by security for cheating, then delivered to local authorities for theft. Van stops cold amid a fearful squeal and sob from Skyler. He turns coolly toward the sneering resort manager, realizing there is no good outcome to this situation.

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The best he can do now is minimize the damage while denying Omar the satisfaction of humiliating him publically. Van digs in his pocket and roughly counts out his winnings, then deposits them on the table in front of Omar. Despite his rage, Van remains calm and concedes that even if he were fully awake, he’s no match for Omar at the card table.  At least this way, he’s saving himself the trouble of losing at cards when he could be asleep in his bed. Omar clicks his tongue and agrees with the assessment, but stops short of allowing Van the easy way out. His next words are delivered with a bitter coldness unlike anything Van had heard.

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I want all of it …every, last, chip…

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Van’s eyes narrow at Omar’s smug and indignant grin. When Van fails to comply, he adds that he not yet reviewed the security video of the conversation between Van and Skyler earlier this evening. But he’s sure the authorities would find what they needed to implicate them both for theft and gambling fraud. Van glances at Skyler who is now breathing in gulps and wearing an expression that conveys equal measures of confusion, fear, and panic.

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Stone-faced, Van reaches into his pocket and deposits the remaining chips, every simoleon of his net worth, onto the table in front of Omar.

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Flashing a wicked smile, Omar dismisses the young and embattled sims. Then he begins laughing. It’s not a maniacal or particularly despotic laugh. It’s more the punch-line-of-a-good-joke kind of laugh. Still, it is entirely unsettling given the seriousness of the situation. Then, after they’ve covered enough distance so that his voice must carry across the entire room to reach them, he half-laughing and half-shouts after them,

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You’re fired! You’re BOTH fired! You have sixty seconds to get off my resort before I call the cops!

In Other Words – Scene 1

When I write a Sims story, I tend to think in terms of vague ideas and generalities rather than specifics of conversational dialog. Not only does this directly mimic the Sims gameplay, but also I think it suits my style of story-telling and fits well with my preferred format of captioning screenshots. From time to time, however, I do wonder what my sims are actually saying to each other.
Depending upon how comfortable become with this new writing style, “In Other Words” may turn into a feature of the Stacpoole Legacy. In this way, I get the chance to reverse the experience for readers. I take away the pictures but get very specific with the dialog and setting. Please let me know what you think!

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~ Scene 1 ~

“Do you hear that?”

“What?” Benita Gonçalves breathed an annoyed sigh as the comfortable gauze of sleep slowly unraveled from around her dark and pretty face. She had happily succumbed to a nap on her beach towel, as she had done countless times before. Her dearest and closest friend, Van Stacpoole, had again awoken her just as he had done countless times before. Van was her boyfriend in every sense of the word with the exception of intimacy, which she had staunchly withheld. Van did not entirely understand the rationale but accepted it nonetheless.

As a result, a sort of banter had evolved between them. It was an unspoken set of rules to which they both mutually abide when the anxiety from temptation became uncomfortable. He would find subtle ways to express his need to be distracted and redirected, or she would abruptly suggest a workout or a swim; just anything to change the dynamic. The times they both were weak proved especially difficult and would usually find them spending their time together with her family.

Benita smiled knowingly, playing along to ease his agitation, “Is it the fish this time, or the stone crabs?” she responded sleepily. The thick dialect particular to the locals of the region colored her words.

Van chuckled, “No, it’s definitely the gulls this time.”, he waited for her feigned exasperation, then continued, mocking the scavenger birds circling overhead, “MARRRY…HIMMM… MARRRRY…HIMMMM!

“Oh, meu lindo…”, she sighed empathetically. Something in his voice was different today. They had only discussed marriage once or twice before. Most other times he was just testing the waters to determine whether she’d retreated away from her prohibition of  intimacy. “You know what Papa says…” Benita stood, in turn helping Van to his feet so they could walk. “He likes you! He really does… and even if he didn’t…”, she paused to achieve the desired effect. “But I agree with him for this once. We are still very young and ill-prepared for marriage and family. We have no money and nowhere to live…”, her voice trailed off, as though to punctuate the reality of their dilemma.

“You are too sensible.” he quipped.

“You are too eager.” she shot back, playfully.

She ran into the waves and dove into the crystalline water, emerging a few moments later, smiling. Van followed her lead, and dove gracefully into the waves, piercing the under-stuff as though he were a porpoise. The ease with which he swam, coupled with his part-time position as beach-patrol at the resort, had earned him the moniker “fin” among locals. He emerged behind her, wrapping his arms firmly around her midsection as she stood in the calm, chest-deep water.

“I love you, Benita Gonçalves. I promise you a beautiful house on the largest piece of beachfront land money can buy. Our children and our children’s children will become the Landgraabs of Isla Paridoso!”

Benita struggled slightly against his considerable arm strength, but gave up and relented to her trust in his self-restraint, “And I love you, meu lindo. But please, please be strong for me. I beg your patience until we can stand on our own two feet…”

“Four feet, technically…” he interrupted.

“UHG! YOU!” she fumed lightheartedly. Benita Abruptly shifted her balance and lifted her legs and support from the ocean floor, catching Van off-guard, and plunging them both into the water. She emerged again, laughing at him as she moved toward the shore. Van remained in the shallows, watching her as though she were a goddess emerging from the heavens.

“It is getting late,” she conceded. “I have to be to work very soon.”

“You don’t have to work two jobs, Benita. We barely see each other already.”

“I am sorry, namorado. We are blessed to have this opportunity. There are many on the island who cannot find even one job.”

Arguing this point would have led nowhere. Modernizing Isla Paridoso had been both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that it brought cell phones and broadband communications to the island. But it was a curse in many other ways. Local farmers who had previously worked their own land to subsist had all been bought out by resort owners and entertainment conglomerates. After locals demanded better wages for performing menial jobs, companies simply reduced their workforce. Other industries soon followed the trend, as businesses either eliminated or automated jobs or replaced workers with cheaper, imported labor.

“When is your next day off?”, he half-shouted toward her.

“I will see you soon… but not soon enough, meu amado!” She ran backward waving goodbye, “No wrestling with os tubarões tomorrow!”

Van smiled as he watched her disappear over the rise, leading to the beach, “Don’t forget about Sunday!” he heard her shout from a distance. Van breathed a very heavy sigh before making his way to shore. One recent turn of events had seen Van attending church services with Benita at her request. At first, it was simply to remain in good graces with the Gonçalves family, who were very religious.

Reconciling this with his upbringing remained a work in progress. Actively recognizing that she would not be the same Benita without her faith had helped him tremendously. Conviction to her faith and all that comes with it had been the single most compelling characteristic setting her apart from other women. Likewise, much of what her pastor had said about love, forgiveness, and salvation did not seem nearly as crazy as the endless slough of haughty face-twit posts would have liked him to believe.

Oddly enough, he had begun to experience a quieting sense of hopeful calm while examining his own conscience over those past few weeks. Understanding had not come immediately, and frankly, may never come. What chance, with social media, blaring music, and the endless drone from television and internet commandments, does inner dialog have to surface above such overpowering noise?

Regardless, it is instances like these, where there little else but him and the wilderness of the sea that provides enough opportunity for Van to truly hear.

Part 2 – celebration and thanksgiving

Residents native to Isla Paradiso have never shied away from a day’s work. But work has become scarce. Those fortunate enough to have found steady employment, often labor in menial and thankless jobs each day just to make ends meet.

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Despite the challenges they have faced as a result of an overly swift modernization of their rustic home, the local populace continues to thrive and adapt. As a collective people, they are hard-working and uncommonly dependable. But life is hard for them. There is no debate in that regard. It was easier before; when hard work was rewarded and consequences were immediately realized.

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They have learned from difficult and unfortunate interactions with the slick talkers and business savvy predators who have descended upon their home over the past decade. With no real legal documents proving land ownership, some locals were stripped of ancestral farmlands which have since been repurposed. They are now forbidden to step foot on them. Trades and crafts that were once vital have been rendered obsolete. Skills which may have once supported an extended family have become unnecessary, if not completely antiquated.

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To make matters worse, the murky repugnance of moral decay has encroached upon their culture. It brings with it an absurdist mindset valuing irreverent hedonism over any form or manner of restraint. The architects responsible for manufacturing this canon of misguided ideas broadcast their manifesto throughout a friendly new media; where it is cleverly packaged then sold as progress by its charismatic proponents. It has impacted, by design, the youth of the island more-so than any other age group. Old timers talk about the recent past as if it were eons ago. In reality, it has been within Van’s own lifetime these changes have taken place.

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Van associates the arrival of Mitch and Wade on Isla Paradiso with the onset of its troubles. His perception of the situation may lead him to draw a conclusion that their presence was a cause rather than an effect. The reality of it, however, does not concur. It may be more accurate to say they were drawn here. Unfortunately, Van will not discover this for himself until some time later.

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As our narrative resumes, we find that it is early Sunday morning. It was mentioned previously that many residents work diligently every day. In retrospect, the statement may be somewhat inaccurate. What we find instead is that whenever possible, Sunday is reserved for celebration and thanksgiving.

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Van has been waking up early to meet Benita at her church, Santuário Basílica de Santo António, over the past several weeks. Van is captivated by the way it comes alive with singing, laughing, reverence, and fellowship. There is typically no seat remaining when the pastor speaks. Van gladly stands with the others who also give up their seats or arrive late.

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Van always listens when the pastor preaches. He hears the words and sometimes thinks the pastor could be talking directly to him. Van is not sure why the words fail to connect with him the same way they seem to connect with everybody else in the building. Is fear holding him back? Is he afraid of becoming one of the monsters Mitch and Wade criticized so openly during his childhood? Much had been said to him about the church, and specifically church-goers. Neither Mitch nor Wade was particularly kind in their assessment of a subculture they generally referred to as being populated by crazies and bigots.

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Van was too young to understand the ugly rhetoric infused into their comments and actions. Now that he is older, he sees the metaphorical scorched earth caused by ideological warfare irresponsibly provoked against a segment of society who promote love at the very core of their beliefs. Albeit, it is love coupled with obedience to a higher authority. As the others in the church pray in earnest, Van ponders in the silence of his own contemplation. What extremes are the instigators of this pretentious social conflict willing to justify in order to claim their victory?

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Benita sings in the choir and always looks for Van after emerging from the dressing room before the service begins. He’s made a bit of a game out of standing somewhere different each time. When she does finally find him, he is rewarded with a heartwarming smile that somehow evokes a sense of peace through to his core. After the service ends, Benita finds Van, and hey walk together talking about the sermon. She always manages to somehow harvest thoughtful insights into the homily and how it fits into her life. Today is no different. She leaves every opportunity for Van to share his own reflections. But he finds nothing to share. He sees that Benita is saddened by this, and he assures her that he is not holding anything back from her. He just doesn’t feel anything.

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They walk together toward the beach, which is a short distance from the church. After traveling only about half the distance, Benita stops and breathes a heavy sigh, then regards Van. The pastor of the church, Padre Nuno, had approached her this morning asking about him. Though somewhat surprised, Van casually asks what it was in reference to. Benita smirks while enjoying a light-hearted laugh with Van after sharing that the padre was simply reminding her of the times he would be available for sacramental Penance if circumstances required. Amused, she reassured the aged and overprotective pastor that she was still in good standing.

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Immediately afterward, and with no visible reaction to her response, Padre Nuno spoke at length about an anonymous young man who, during his youth, had nearly starved to death. This young man would come to the dinner table and engage the family in delightful conversation and charming wit. But the oddest thing would happen as serving dishes were passed around the table. The young man would pass each dish to the person seated next to him without taking any for himself. When supper was finished, he would walk away from the table unfed and still starving.

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Having nothing more to say on the matter, Benita and Van continue silently on toward the beach, each lost in their own thoughts, contemplating the plight of Padre Nuno’s starving young man.

Part 1 – a surefire business venture

The equatorial, mid-morning sun shines through small windows opposite Van’s bed, waking him from a deep sleep.

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His alarm had already gone off a number of times in a fruitless effort to wake him in time for work. After each snooze delay, he had resolved to get out of bed the next time it sounded. It was a good strategy in terms of indulging himself with a few extra hours of unconsciousness. Where it failed, however, was about to become abundantly clear.

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When his phone rings, he ponders the quirky notion that it seems to be a rather angry ring. There is no questioning the identity of the caller. It is Omar, the resort manager. Van groans, then sits upright in bed. Still half asleep, he regards the phone then the alarm. After a time, a slow realization begins to take form. He’s an hour late for lifeguard duty.

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He had stayed out too late diving last night, looking for trinkets to unload on tourists. As it has been with most outings, lately, he’ll barely cover the cost of tanks and gear. Honestly, he’d be lucky to break even. The resort’s gift shop always takes what he can’t push on visitors. Unfortunately, their set buying price isn’t worth his effort.

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Tired, hungry, and feeling slightly stressed-out despite the extra sleep, Van calls his favorite taxi driver, asking her to meet him at the main road. Natalia is a popular, local woman possessing a bit of a wild side. Her driving, while technically incident free, is wildly reckless and far too erratic for visitors and tourists. Her unusually salty vernacular doesn’t help much in that regard, either. As a result, she typically finds herself relegated to driving locals around the island’s treacherous back roads.

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Van thanks Natalia for the swift ride to work, while silently thanking himself for not eating breakfast beforehand. A few angry beachgoers grumble at his arrival while he exchanges the red “do not swim” flag for the green one, signaling “all-clear” and safe to swim. Safe, of course, is a relative term.

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“They did NOT cover this in Lifeguard training!”

More and more, Van has been called upon to pull inebriated resort guests out the ocean. What’s worse, are the opportunists who play-act the need for rescue in some creepy attempt to make his acquaintance.

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Thirty minutes after the belated start of his shift, Van spots the resort manager, half marching, half prancing his way through the sun-scorched sand toward his guard station. Van never cared much for the shrewd and duplicitous sim. He’d known Omar for since before the resort when he’d been acquainted with Van’s “parents”.

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Van cringes every time he thinks about that word. From his earliest childhood memories, he had been raised by two men, Mitch, and Wade. Van has no memory his mother, and neither had ever volunteered information about which, if either, was his true, biological parent. In retrospect, the pair had always treated Van with a disinterested, mild indifference. Sure, they would dust him off and show him around like a trophy every once in a while. Most of the time, Van felt like he was just an unwelcome nuisance.  What irks him most about the situation is, given Omar’s former association with Mitch and Wade, it is quite possible that he knows more about Van’s pedigree than Van knows about himself.

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Van greets Omar with a chipper Good Morning, doing his best to delay the inevitable unpleasantness. Omar’s perfectly practiced smile is convincing but clearly forced. The resort manager’s effeminate falsetto, which seems a pitch higher than usual, asks if Van is aware of the time “his” beach opens to swimmers in the morning. Van nods, then responds by reciting the weekly schedule, which is posted in plain sight on a board just a few steps away from them. Omar sets his jaw and shifts his weight dramatically. His response is a jeering threat to terminate Van’s employment if he is late to work a second time.

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After an uncomfortably long wait for Van’s reply, which does not come, a pert but indignant smile crosses Omar’s face. He asks Van how he’s managing to get along with his parent’s unpaid debts. Van’s facade remains un-flinched, but the taunting barb hits home. He retains his controlled composure, despite wanting to punch the little creep in the mouth. Oddly, the word “parents” unnerves Van much more than Omar’s clumsy attempt at emotional broadsides, and it allows old, unresolved conflicts to surface.

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Just before his teen birthday, Van was again uprooted and brought to Isla Paradiso, where Mitch and Wade felt destiny had called them to make their fortune on a surefire business venture. The venture involved a modest capital investment toward establishing a new luxury resort. Alas, the luxury aspect of their plan was fundamentally flawed, not to mention their commitment to seeing the business through.

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With a few meager earnings in their pocket, they’d purchased a plot of land on which they were going to build a magnificent postmodern mansion. Here, they would host extravagant a-list parties and rub elbows with the rich and powerful. It was probably around that time that they either became bored or discouraged (or both) or ran out of money. The mansion had not worked out quite as they had hoped. To make matters worse, word had spread back on the mainland about the tiny, rustic island and its raw, untapped potential.

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Landgraab moved in quickly. Mitch and Wade moved out just as quickly. Somehow, the pair had caught wind of priceless artifacts, free for the taking, located in far-away lands. Initially, they were gone only for days at a time. They’d return empty handed, but absolutely certain that their next excursion would be the one that made them rich. Eventually, they spent more time away than at home. When the time came for Van to age into an adult, they had been gone for almost an entire year with no word from either of them.

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Looking away from Omar, Van mimics the same pretentious smile with which the manager had first approached him. He then states, simply and coolly, that he has work to do. He turns his back dismissively and attempts to block out the fact Omar, and the buried emotion his presence evokes exists at all.

Van – Paradise with Thunderstorms

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Paradise with thunderstorms…

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The endearing moniker can sometimes be heard uttered with equal parts affection and enmity from the lips of our protagonist, Van Stacpoole. The subject of this backhanded compliment is his adoptive home, Isla Paradiso.

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Of course, it isn’t difficult to imagine that sitting for eight hours in the rain would do much to rally anybody’s dampened spirits. Nevertheless, any measure of dissatisfaction he may feel is most likely fleeting, as Van and his profession are a perfect fit. The fact of the matter is that any gainful employment opportunity found on the quaint archipelago is reason enough to celebrate. In his mind, he truly has found paradise, and the occasional thunderstorm is a relatively small price to pay for his good fortune.

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Coincidentally, the same figure of speech he uses to describe his home is also a fairly accurate description Van’s of childhood. His parents, or the rough equivalent thereof, were restless transients with lofty dreams. He had only ever referred to them by name, Mitch, and Wade. Both suffered from the same terrible case of wanderlust. As far back as Van can remember, they were constantly on the move; always taking new jobs and chasing after the next get-rich-quick idea. As a result, they lived in poverty for the majority of his childhood. Still, they were inexplicably carefree. Carefree, that is, until Van reached the cusp of his teenage years. It was around that time he had been dragged to Isla Paradiso, where the duo had envisioned building a resort empire.

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A few years and a failed business venture later, it was time to move on to the next big thing. Van, however, had had enough moving. He wanted a place he could finally call his home. With little more than the property Mitch and Wade left behind, Van decided to cut his losses and remain on the island alone while they traveled the world without him.  His decision was not completely without outside influence, however…

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Her name is Benita Gonçalves, a local girl with whom he had become quick friends soon after his arrival on Isla Paradiso.

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As he and Benita matured, so too did their relationship. When the time came, Van was quick to ask for her hand in marriage. Her gentle rebuff was not an outright refusal. It was more of an appeal for his patience while they saved money to buy their own home and start a family. With the financial status of his home in a state of flux, he was doing everything within his power to earn enough money to keep the debt collectors at bay. Benita was absolutely right. What sense was there in building the foundation of their future family on shifting sands?

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This is where we find Van as his story begins. He works everywhere and anywhere he can, mostly relying on his athleticism and physical conditioning to do what most others are only able to imagine.

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Sometimes the work is dangerous.

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Most often, it is rewarding.

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Occasionally, it can be irresistibly tempting.

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But Benita and her family are always there to support and ground him with their rich traditions, customs, and beliefs. Because of the vast gulf between her upbringing and the manner in which he was raised, there are times when Van struggles with a lack of context and understanding. Regardless, he has already become a vital part of their family in every way except the most formal and intimate.

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The gravity of all these issues combined into a collective whole has weighed heavily on Van. He’s young, attractive, and smart. Leaving Isla Paradiso behind to make his imprint on the world may seem like the only sensible thing to do. In his mind, however, it would make him just like them.  Van has no intention of becoming the thing he despised so much as a child. He intends to create his legacy right here, in his paradise with thunderstorms.

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Seeing his vision bloom to fruition, however, will not be easy. The recent arrival of the Landgraabs and their luxury resort has changed the character of the island. What was once a pristine, untouched oasis; now boasts unlimited broadband connectivity and an all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet. Glamorous shops from the mainland have replaced local merchants. Cheap, imported produce and prepackaged, processed foodstuffs pushed inside the Landgraab commissary have priced local growers out of business. As Isla Paradiso prospers, it also suffers.

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Easy or not, Van’s dream is to make a home with Benita so that their children will know happiness. The dream seems simple enough. The question now becomes, does Van possess the resolve and fortitude needed to make it a reality?

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Van Stacpoole (Athletic, Loves the Outdoors, Frugal, Irresistible, Loves to Swim)
Lifetime Wish – Grand Explorer

Chapter 9.21 – Sunset

Moira wakes from her nap, then breathes in a deep dose of invigorating, springtime air being offered to her by the French countryside villa she now calls home.
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Gerard had taken Louis fishing, and left little Emilie behind, leveraging the pretense of mother and daughter enjoying a nap together. She smiles knowing what her boys really wanted, was time for fishing without an excitable, little toddler scaring away the day’s catch.
 chap9-21b
She stands and looks down over the slightly convex field to the lake, where she spots them, just in time to see Louis reel in and hold up his prize and receive proud praise from his approving father.
 chap9-21c
Moira smiles again and quietly admires her own perfect catch.
 chap9-21f
Life has changed for Moira since becoming madame Moira du Pont. It has been a blessing in more ways than she can count. After having suffered the loss of everything she had ever known, and gaining the unenviable understanding that most of it had been an elaborate deception, there is no telling what she may have done without the overt kindness Gerard had shown her.
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At the time of their meeting, the only thing she had remaining was her vulnerable and susceptible state of mind. Malachi was dead. And poor Finn, a sim who had seen too much suffering, had gone to rest in his rocking chair during her absence. And as difficult as it was for her to lose those two, it was the affront of learning she had been manipulated and deceived for much of her life, that had left her questioning even the most basic truths. She had left Finn that day in search of answers. But by the end of it, all she had to show for her efforts was a broken heart and a brand new burning question. Why was she still alone?
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Hendrake, the creature responsible for all of this, had toiled for eons in an effort to learn the secrets of the algorithm. He’d slaughtered an entire race of beings like herself to learn it. But the beast had nothing to show for the scourge of merciless killing, corruption, and deceit it had perpetrated over the span of its vile existence. Then, under the bloated shadow of so much suffering, it had nearly managed to trick a silly girl into handing it over to him freely. The diary where she inscribed her insights, was the prize Hendrake had hoped to secure. Ironically, it was also a critical component responsible for bringing Adam and Kacey together.
 chap9-21n
Logic would seem to dictate that any deviation from the formula that had led to Adam and Kacey finally meeting, would create a scenario wherein that meeting would never occur. Clearly, this is not the case. The same diary that had played such a pivotal role in bringing them together will never be found by David Barimen in the library. Realizing the danger it posed, Moira had burned it to ashes. And the ashes, she had burned to dust. By destroying it, she also destroyed the only recorded reference of the algorithm. And likewise, by uprooting her little contraption and using it to slay Hendrake, she had also changed the course of history in a way she is incapable of comprehending.
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Though it may seem impossible, both Kacey and Adam were brought into this reality as a result of the actions of sims, who, by her estimation, will never be born. Yet, she is here and she exists. But why?
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A tugging at her skirt brings her back into the present. And she revels in the feeling of pure joy that accompanies nurturing the children she bore; and loving, with indescribable intensity, the man who fathered them.
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After hugging Emilie then setting her down to play, Moira’s mind wonders back to the morning when she had first seen her amour de sa vie. Having dispatched Hendrake, she fled the cavern to find Finn, and tell him about Malachi. That’s when Gerard literally appeared from out of thin air, landing in a heap at her feet.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
 chap9-21t
She instantly sensed an inexplicable connection with him. He was there for her when she found Finn’s lifeless body. He consoled her through the aftermath and helped her move past the pain of witnessing the manner of Malachi’s tragic ending. Without hesitation, Gerard worked with her to bury the two sims that had functionally served as her stewards in the absence of having her natural mother and father.
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Gerard’s vocation as clergyman came as a surprise to Moira. She’d learned of this when he held an impromptu funeral service for Finn and Malachi. And though it was somewhat unexpected, it provided a great deal of context into Gerard’s outpouring of generosity and empathy.
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Moira and Gerard became acquainted very quickly. It came as no surprise that, after the matter of just a few weeks, they had formed a nearly insuperable bond. It was during the course of this magical and beautiful courtship that he confided in her, his innermost personal thoughts.
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He and a friend, whom he had referred to only as “Doc”, had been coerced into helping Kacey fix something she had broken. Gerard became separated from them shortly after stepping into a maelstrom; a tempest so fantastic, that it defied description. Being a simple man of the cloth, he did not understand any of it. Kacey, however, did seem to possess some keen understanding and insight into the situation.
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The evening before the maelstrom, Kacey had revealed her true nature to him. The motivation for doing so, she claimed, was to thank him for helping her find her faith; simply by living his. Through this awesome display of trust, she was able to surface the lustful desire for intimate relations with other men he had fought to resist his entire life. And by experiencing the light of perfect love, those salacious cravings no longer seemed insurmountable. She stayed with him that night as he wept, both with joy and with pain, for the new source of strength she had uncovered inside him.
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Moira smiles, remembering how she revealed her own angelic nature to him the night Louis was conceived.
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So much has happened since then. Most importantly, she fell in love with Gerard. Shortly after moving here from Sunset Valley, he became Pastor for the small church nestled into their countryside village. The Sunday services are always full and Gerard’s message never dulls. She has come to accept the reality that she may never fully understand what happened to Kacey and Adam. The artifact that Gerard brought with him was the last link to them. But it too is gone, having turned to dust during the journey to France.
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Moira waves and Emilie squeals excitedly as Gerard and Louis walk together up the path from the river to the villa. She laughs with Gerard, listening to Emilie scolding Louis for going off to fish while she was napping. Moira uses the distraction to gently kiss her husband. She finds his dark eyes with her own brilliant, blue gaze then whispers musically into his ear, Je suis enceinte, mon amour.
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His smile is warm, happy, and genuine. He hugs her ferociously, then kisses her with the same sentiment. Then, after collecting the children, the du Pont family retreats into their villa, just as evening begins its watch over the French countryside.
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Standing by the window, Moira welcomes a kiss from the sun’s last rays on her cheeks, before it disappears behind the rolling hills. She smiles before drawing the curtains. There is no more perfect place for her to be, and there is no more perfect man for her to be with.
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Just as the sun’s setting foreshadows the start of a new day; this, by no means, is the end of her story. She prefers to think of it as the interlude before a new dawn. And what could possibly be a sweeter and more lovely way of honoring a new dawn, than by dressing it with these proud words,
 chap9-21i
“The du Pont Legacy”
 chap9-21j
…they have a rather fetching sound to them, wouldn’t you agree?
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chap5rule
 chap9-21l
Some butterflies will dismiss it as ludicrous and irrational. But the ones that trust in faith and make the journey, become a part of something wondrous and beautiful. – Gerard du Pont (Chapter 6.12 – Butterflies)

Chapter 9.20 – Gold

Moira sprints away from the small cabin as her head swirls with confused images and conflicting emotions.
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The flashes of her mother, pregnant and heavy with an unborn child (her brother), and of her father returning home from work, have become indelibly etched onto her mind’s eye. Why had these things been repressed, while other things came to her so clearly? The answer, she believes, lies within the cave where Malachi has spent too many years of his life speculating (unsuccessfully) for precious metals.
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She approaches the cave entrance cautiously, weary of the complete silence within its dark interior. It occurs to her, that this is the same place where David had nearly been killed by Reid, and where Kacey had been hidden as an infant. Immediately upon crossing the wooden frame marking the cave’s entrance, she is met by an onslaught of hatred, jealousy, greed, lust, and wantonness. Like weapons, they are wielded against her with merciless force.
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Hendrake approaches a stunned Moira; his naked, marvelous, and statuesque form beckoning her to release herself to him. No words are necessary for her to understand his invitation. She will know pleasure unlike any other has ever known pleasure, and she will indulge like no other being has ever indulged. No limits, no rules, no inhibitions. Just simple, unrestrained, and eternal hedonism. He reaches out his hand, but says nothing. It is an invitation to end the hunt and join with him.
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Hendrake’s beguile is masterful. Moira, however, is no simple, silly, little girl to be easily swayed by flesh and bones. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a shadow cast on a nearby wall. The shadow belongs to a man hanging by his neck inside an adjoining cavern. His lifeless corpse is swaying silently before the light shed by a bright, unseen candle. Though she can see only a silhouette,  she knows immediately that it is Malachi.
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Moira digs deep to resist the arousal Hendrake has attempted to provoke, and manages to douse the lustful desires aching to be acted upon. She sets her jaw and looks squarely into Hendrake’s sinister eyes. Having broken his grip on her, she now sees Hendrake’s true form. He is not an impressive monster, nor is he a statuesque demigod. He is nothing more than a snake; sleek and vile, and dripping noxious venom from its vicious maw.
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She is not afraid, nor does she feels any grief for Malachi. He had been tormented (likely for many years) and nearly driven mad, by Hendrake’s evil influence. She prays for Malachi, asking that he be reunited with is lost family and be absolved of his missteps in life. She regards Hendrake with a quirky half-smile. Her confidence restored, she observes that Hendrake has not only failed to tempt her with his wicked interpretation of paradise, but with Malachi’s death, he has also lost his primary foothold in this place and time. It is a place and time where he does not belong.  And as a result, he has left himself exposed and dangerously vulnerable.
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Hendrake, nearly hemorrhaging with fury, spits his defiance toward Moira. With boastful narcissism, the creature claims victory nonetheless, warning that her destruction is an eventuality. It will only be a matter of time before he builds influence and power. His twisted, taunting laugh causes her some hesitation, as he announces that his path to ascension has already been put into motion. And as his power grows, hers will wane.
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Moira’s mind races. In his arrogance, Hendrake had just given her the answer to everything. She shakes her head slowly in disbelief. The algorithm… and the repressed memories …the anxiety of wanting to know her parents. They’ve all been temptations coaxed out of her by the master of lies. But to what end? There has been plenty of opportunity; why hasn’t he just killed her?
It will only be a matter of time… his path to ascension has already been put into motion…
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Moira squeals with a burst of sudden excitement, having made the realization that her parents are safe. She affords herself a small measure of pride and hyperactively offers the serpent a portion of her understanding that pertains directly to it. Adam and Kacey HAD escaped that night. And they now reside in a time and place neither of them can reach… Nowhere. Hendrake needs Moria, or more specifically, the algorithm. Without Moira, Kacey and Adam are lost to him.
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Shielding her eyes from Malachi’s hanging corpse, Moira rushes out toward the deep cavern where she had let the little contraption begin it’s work solving the algorithm. Hendrake, desperate but powerless, commands her to stop. He attempts again to beguile her, suggesting that stopping the algorithm may seal off the only means between here and Nowhere. She may never meet her parents.
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The tiny ball, having completed only a minuscule fraction of the algorithm, halts obediently upon her approach. She smiles and picks it up from the floor. Immediately, the glowing symbols it has etched onto the floor disappear; erased from existence. If a snake where able to scream in rage, Hendrake would have done so.
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Holding the brightly glowing ball in the open palm of her hand, she watches as powerful, feathered wings unfold from it’s surface. A beaked head and tail feathers emerge from within it’s interior. Screeching victoriously, the bird of prey leaps away from Moira and deftly snatches Hendrake from the ground with its deadly talons. It flies off, screaming hungrily, then disappears into the blackness of the cavern’s bowels to feast on its catch.
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A soft, cool breeze and the sweet scent of lilac and periwinkles greets Gerard as he regains his lost wits. He opens his eyes for the first time after having squeezed them shut, when Kacey let go of him inside the maelstrom. Her amazing artifact, the strange, glowing hunk of wood she had taken from Khaliq, had fallen away with him. It lays beside him now, softly humming and pulsing a weak bluish-green.
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As his eyes focus, and his head and gut both adjust to solid ground, he is quite suddenly aware that he is not alone. At first, he is worried that something had happened to Kacey; and that Doc had also fallen into the chaos. But as his vision clears, it becomes quite obvious that his mysterious companion is most definitely not Doc. Rather, it is a young woman, well into her teens, who is now standing and regarding him curiously.
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He is immediately stricken by her astonishing, blue eyes and the most beautiful hair he had ever seen. It is shimmering and lustrous; nearly metallic, as though it had been spun from the purest gold…

Chapter 9.19 – Marshal

From the diary of Moira McAllister
I write this in the earliest hours of daylight, having woken up from another restless sleep.
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All I think about now is the algorithm, which stubbornly refuses to be silent in my head. At first, I assumed it had originated from deep within my own mind, and was attempting to emerge through my subconscious and into the forefront of my thoughts. But recently, I’ve come to suspect otherwise. Just as my parents were physical expressions of the intangible concept of Love; this algorithm …this equation… it may be alive. Do I possess some manner of latent empathy through which am being essayed? It is communicating with me, but I don’t understand what it wants. It is impossible to ignore. But how do I begin to solve the unsolvable?
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Employing skills I still do not fully understand, I have succeeded in assembling a wee, little contraption to assist me in this endeavor. I dare not claim any credit for creating such a thing. While necessary, my role in bringing about its existence was tiny. Like a farmer does for his crop, I provided the conditions necessary for the thing to thrive. More catalyst than creator; more paint than artist. It hardly matters now, as I have released the little wonder to do its work in solving the algorithm.
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For now, I feel good about the accomplishment. Yet, there is still some part of me that fears what consequences might occur, should some unwholesome character gain access to it. All I can do now is pray this was the right thing to do. In the meantime, I continue to also pray for insight into what happened to my parents. By revealing the secrets locked within the algorithm, I hope to finally learn the ending to their amazing love story.
chap5rule
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Moira closes her diary and breathes a depressed sigh. Like the many past and future circumstances into which she has had some uncanny, prophetic insight, Moira does not fully comprehend the meaning behind an intuitive notion suggesting she has just written its final entry.
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She stares out the window and watches the rhythmic motion of Finn’s old rocking chair. She remembers the days when she fit neatly in the crook of his arm; and when that same rocking motion would lull her to sleep. She was not an unhappy child, exactly. Nor was she overly delightful. It has been a rather subdued melancholy. Though at the same time, it colors every aspect of her persona, which Malachi often describes as “silly”, “aloof”, and “brooding”. Still, it is deeply rooted, and it emerges at the most unexpected times. Now, actually, is one such occasion.
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Neither Finn or Malachi has ever spoken a single word about Kacey or Adam. All these years, they have lied to her; telling her she is Malachi’s daughter by his late wife, Fiona. And all these years, she has lied to them, never once telling them what she knows about the two angelic beings Malachi had found – and her knowledge that she is, in fact, their child. But she is not a child any longer.
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Today, she decides, is the time to put an end to the lies. Finn regards her with the same warm smile with which he always greets her. But upon sensing Moira’s resolve, it takes only one moment for the expression to change.
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A range of emotions plays across his face. He struggles briefly to maintain the facade. But his animated expressions betray any attempted subtlety. Or, perhaps, he has just become weary of the deception. His rocking motion becomes a little bit quicker, as his lips purse into an unhappy frown. The sudden loss of color from Finn’s face, and the appearance of a gaunt expression, causes Moira’s heart to flutter. Hesitant to make eye contact with her, Finn quietly (and correctly) guesses that she has come to ask about her parents. She catches her breath, and manages to choke out the word, yes, despite her larynx threatening to close from anxiety.
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Finn’s eyes, which had hardly ever shown anything but happiness and joy, begin to cloud over with tears. Finn starts to speak in a low, expressionless drone, which evokes a sense of the old sim having practiced this dialog many times in his mind. The words have barely left his lips when Moira is assailed with agitated flashes of past events. Each one of the disconnected and surreal situations fights against her, battling to remain hidden. She struggles with each one, forcing her will, and working to pull out as much detail as she can before it breaks free of her grasp.
chap5rule
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Old Finn had found a nugget of gold worth thousands of coin; more than a year’s crop of potatoes would ever yield. Since then, Malachi has staked a mining claim to the entire hill and started working to find more. He’d worked together with Adam for hours, clearing rocks from the opening of a natural cave in the rocky hillside. Malachi shakes his head in wonderment, as he watches Adam continue to work under the blazing, hot sun. He has easily done the work of ten men today.
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Signaling Adam to stop working and collect his gear for the day, Malachi thinks back to the evening he had found the young man and his wife. The circumstances were very suspicious, if not bizarre. They’d been terribly mauled, and by all rights, should have already been dead. Malachi would have bet every coin he possessed that they would not survive through the night. But they did survive. And not only did they survive, but had they healed with no visible trace of the grievous wounds they’d suffered. Impossible? …Aye. But he has never worked up the disposition to ask what happened to them or where they came from. And they’ve never volunteered any information regarding their appearance. Perhaps old Finn was right about them, after all…
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Adam jogs easily beside Shena, as though he had just woken up from a fresh night’s sleep. This, after working non-stop for no fewer than twelve hours. Upon arriving back at the cabin, he greets his wife and baby Moria with warm embraces. Kacey, now very heavy with a second child, returns his affection. After a bit of small talk, Kacey speaks to the matter of a telegram that had been delivered earlier in the day. Malachi opens the message and reads it out loud.
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It had been sent by a distant friend of Finn’s from the Old Country, who now works for the federal government back east. Aside from a short greeting, the only other contents of the wire is a peculiar presage. A Federal Marshall, going by the name Hendrake, would be arriving in Sunset Valley by the end of the week to investigate Malachi’s mining claim. Although the text itself had contained nothing to suggest any malevolence,  just the simple presence of the letter seems to evoke a sense of dread.
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If this visit from a Federal Marshall was simply an investigation into his mineral extraction rights to the hill, then why send a provocative warning? Caught up in his own feelings of uneasiness,  Malachi fails to notice the stunned and fearful expressions washing across the faces of both Adam and Kacey. Finn, however, does notice; and the only words he can think of to describe their reaction, is nothing short of pure, terrified, panic. 
chap5rule
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The sound of Finn’s troubled voice eases her back into the lucid present. He is in the midst of verbalizing his recollection of sitting with Moira in the bedroom later that same evening, rocking her to sleep. She was, at the time, only just a baby. She had always been a fussy child, possessing a wail so shrill, that it may have been able to unsettle the dead. But she had taken a liking to old Finn, and seemed content in his company. And much to Kacey’s dismay, Moira would only sleep when Finn was rocking her in the bedroom.
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Finn’s old voice quivers from the strain of revisiting these unwelcome memories. His words, shallow and weak, leave Moira feeling sick to her stomach. He regards Moira with as deep a sorrow as she had seen befall any sim. They wanted to take her with them… But it was Kacey, wanting to protect her first-born, who decided that it would be safer to leave baby Moira with Finn until Hendrake had gone. The old man’s entire body shudders from a memory he refuses to speak. After a moment, his tired, sober eyes meet hers. The words that leave his lips cause Moira to cringe. She was right.
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The marshal arrived shortly after Adam and Kacey fled into the night that same evening. An unusually hot, dry wind had accompanied Hendrake’s arrival, which was a full week earlier than expected. Somehow, they had known…
 chap9-19v
Peeking at the Marshall through the bedroom’s keyhole, Finn understood what had provoked such terror. Marshall Hendrake was not human. Finn describes the sense of dread and bleakness he had felt from just being within close proximity to such a creature. That’s when everything fell into place for Finn. This creature had nearly killed Adam and Kacey, but they had somehow escaped. The beast, unwilling to lose its prey, had tracked them down. And it was eager to finish the job. Instinct alone (or perhaps it was his deeply rooted faith) had warned Finn to keep both himself and Moira silent. It would easily recognize the golden-haired, angelic child for what she truly was. And child or not, Moira was in grave danger.
 chap9-19w
Over the booming of his own heartbeat, Finn could hear muffled voices through the door. The creature had convinced Malachi that Adam and Kacey were criminals. The government was offering a permanent land trust within Sunset Valley as reward for capturing the “fugitives”. Malachi had not been able to see through the Marshall’s guise. So, in the pitch of night, Malachi led Hendrake and his contingent to the mine, where Adam and Kacey had taken refuge.
 chap9-19s
After a long quiet spell, Finn, now clearly exhausted, completes his telling with a hushed whisper. Malachi did not return until morning. And even then, he was too traumatized to speak about what he had witnessed at the cave. In his hand was the payment Hendrake had promised for his obedience; a deed administering full and permanent ownership rights to all land claims within Sunset Valley. As to the fate of both Kacey and Adam, Malachi has kept his account of what transpired that night, staunchly to himself.
 chap9-19n
 chap9-19o
Having unloaded his burden, and with nothing more to tell, Finn finds his usual rocking rhythm and begins to quietly hum the Irish lullaby he’d always hummed while rocking Moira to sleep. He had seen too much unhappiness over his lifetime, and Moira does her part to ease his broken heart. With tears still fresh in her eyes, she kisses the tired, old man lightly on his cheek, and expresses her gratitude and love. Then, filled with a surplus of nervous energy, Moira runs through the tall grass toward the cave …and Malachi. She looks back once, and understands that this is the last time she will see her dear, old Finn.
 chap9-19y
Afraid but determined, Moira continues on her path, unsure of how the day will end – but certain that it will end with her finally learning the truth.

Chapter 9.17 – Beginning

From the diary of Moira McAllister:
 chap9-17a
How is it that I am able to know events that both precede and follow me, as though I had been there myself?
 chap9-17b
I’ve come to care about, cry with, and mourn for the many souls who have resided (or have yet to) upon this small plot of earth and its multitude of facets and reflections. How is it so? Why is this place special? I suspect that I am neither privy nor entitled to know the mechanics of such things. Or, perhaps, the threshold of understanding simply lays outside the realm of my comprehension. But what I do know, is that it began with the two lovely creatures Malachi discovered, late one unseemly afternoon.
 chap9-17c
Despite the grim condition in which they’d been found, Papa decided to bring them home, fully expecting to bury them come morning. He’d told his Father-in-Law, Finn, about the circumstances in which they’d been discovered. Finn, being a cheerful and empathetic old soul, had never really endeared himself to a humorless and overly sensible son-in-law. And his odd reaction to the pair did nothing to improve that particular dynamic.
 chap9-17d
I imagine that Papa must have needed a full two days away from old Finn (fishing, most likely), to cool his temper after listening to him rant about the two strangers being angels; sent to them from Heaven by his daughter (and Papa’s late wife), Fiona. He’d chided the old man for being a foolish, old goat. He also remained silent in regards to his own terrible pain, seeing the striking resemblance this grievously injured woman bore to his dearly departed Fiona. I suspect that Finn must possess some uncommon intuition. Because as it turns out, he was more right than wrong.
 chap9-17e
I suspect that Malachi quietly conceded to Finn’s observation, and recognized how special these two were. Could it be that in the process of saving them, he had also saved himself?
 chap5rule
 chap9-17f
Alive. As impossible as it may seem, they are alive.
 chap9-17h
Adam remembers clinging to Kacey’s lifeless figure, just before losing consciousness himself. It was a thing of pure malice, and persisted for just a few moments after Hendrake finally found them. The wanton, murderous brutality was perpetrated without hesitation or thought. Adam’s last conscious thought was a desperate search for escape. He remembered the Algorithm, and the effort he and Luke had undertaken together to traverse it to it’s core. He had escaped then; transported to a young girl who had called him Lukey’boy (see chapter 8.17). He thought of that place again, just as a brilliant white light engulfed them. He assumed it was his own death. But then he woke up here. Alive.
 chap9-17j
The first thing that registers in Adam’s senses is the particular sound made by waves crashing below the bluff. They produce a unique acoustic quality, as echoes from the beating waves ebb and flow up the steep slope, just as the water ebbs and flows at the shoreline. There is a stillness he is not accustomed to, however; and the sound of the gentle sea breeze whispering through a dense population of conifers. Adam opens his eyes and quietly regards Kacey, who is lying next to him on an old, dilapidated bed.
 chap9-17g
Kacey had suffered the worst of Hendrake’s malignant hunger. It was violence for the sake of violence; something far worse than sadism. By all rights, the two of them should be long dead, having been splayed open like pigs at the slaughter; ripped from sternum to pelvis by Hendrake’s own, bare hands (if they can qualify as such). How is it possible to survive such a thing? Adam stands, tracing an unsteady line up from his waist to the tip of his unblemished throat. Nothing …no disfigurement …no scarring …nothing.
 chap9-17k
He quickly tends to Kacey as she begins to stir on the bed. Her breathing has accelerated, and she has begun to flail in her sleep. Adam gently hushes her, stroking her silvery hair. His eyes are the first thing she sees as she wakes form her terror. She quickly throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his chest; trembling, but calm. Finally, her muffled question rises quietly from the tiny spaces between them. Is it over?
 chap9-17l
Adam breathes in a deep, cleansing breath and holds Kacey even tighter. For all he can tell, this may never end. There will always be a Hendrake and his ilk. There will always dwell, those who seek to defy, dismiss, and disprove any notion of divine providence. And they will continue a relentless and tireless campaign to crush and silence those who resist. No, this isn’t over. It will continue as long as he and Kacey exist, representing the one, true, and perfect Love.
 chap9-17m
His lips brush softly against her ear, his gentle breath moving wisps of silvery hair, causing them to fall in uniform strands to her shoulder. Her response is an embrace that is executed with such intensity, that it feels as though she were attempting to draw him wholly within herself.
 chap9-17n
No, love. It is only just beginning…

Chapter 9.16 – Threads

From the diary of Moira McAllister~
I’ve never spoken to Papa regarding my intuition about the two angelic creatures who left me here (my parents, presumably). He’s never told me about them, but I know they exist. I can’t explain how. I just know.
 
My long melancholy spells are usually a result of wanting to know who they are, and who I am. Though I don’t remember them, their story is fresh in my mind. Their tenacity to exist despite the insolent crusade to crush them (and the ideals they represent) is pure inspiration. Was it breath from Heaven that filled their lungs when the poisonous stench of perdition sought to smother them out? I cannot begin to imagine what bravery, what fortitude, what faith, they must have drawn upon to survive their encounter with the legions of Hell. Every claw, hoof, and flaming maw was brought to bear against their bid to escape. But they escaped. And they survived. The question I ask, is how did they get here?
 
The answer, in part, must rest in the relationship between time and space. And of all places, I discovered this while shopping to mend my dress. It was a comparatively mild encounter with a rather nasty patch of thorn bushes that had ripped it. Papa had taken me to the trading post where the shop-keep (who was not keen about the visit) noticed my general state of disrepair. He’d mentioned not knowing that Papa had a family. After a few tense words exchanged between them, I kindly introduced myself in an effort to ease the obvious ongoing feud.
 
The shop-keep was clearly taken with me, and the unusual quality of my hair; which Papa often compares to threads of spun gold. Granted, it does posses a rather unusual shimmering, almost burnished quality. I am quite fond of it, actually (and admittedly a bit boastful at times). After speaking for a time with the shop-keep  Papa was surprised to receive three times the usual sum for his potato harvest. With the extra proceeds, we purchased a hank of wool thread and some sewing needles. It’s curious that something so simple as watching the shop-keep wind thread into a neat ball, would manage to spark a wealth of insight. I had been confounded by the means in which they were able to transfer themselves from that time and place, to this time and place. Then it occurred to me:
Time, like the sewing thread, is linear. But collectively, it is tightly wound into a ball. Only forward motion is allowed on the thread, but it may be possible to “slip” to an adjacent thread on the ball while still maintaining forward momentum. The calculations would be monumental. But still, I am intrigued by the possibility of uncovering the “algorithm” which makes this possible. Perhaps solving it will afford me the honor of someday finally meeting them…
 
 
Malachi McAllister clicks, whistles, and reigns in his spooked mount.
 
 
Normally docile and as steady as a sailor, Shena whinnies and snorts, and prances around in unsteady circles. Malachi fights to keep her on the trail toward home, but loses the contest. The moment he dismounts, she bolts into the woods neighing and snorting. Now completely infuriated, Malachi throws his hat to the dusty ground and pitches a loud, cursing rant. This continues for some time, but he finally regains his wits after hearing Shena squealing loudly in the woods. Breathing a heavy sigh, Malachi grabs his hat and ventures cautiously into the woods. His rifle, of course, is still with Shena.
 
He’d been returning from a trip to the trading post with a bushel full of nearly perfect potatoes to sell for a few coin. It’s no secret the Irish are not well-liked in these parts. And the shop-keep made pains to let this fact be plainly known the moment Malachi plowed through his front door hauling a giant, canvas sack of spuds. It is also no secret that the Irish have a hot-blooded streak that runs deep, and turns mean with little provocation. After verbally milling the old hoor, Malachi accepted half the coin he should have earned for such a fine crop.
 
He’d have carried the sack home again, if not for the promise he’d made to his late wife on her deathbed. He’d promised that he would look after her doddering, old father as an honor to her memory. Fiona’s passing had been tough on the old goat. Aye, and it’s been no easier on Malachi – especially so soon after losing their only son, an infant, to fever. The fact is, that both men have become lost since the tragic deaths. Tending potatoes seems to be the only thing keeping them from giving up and reuniting with their lost loved ones.
 
He had no idea what to expect upon reaching the spot where Shena had stopped running. Being a simple man of simple words, he finds he cannot express exactly what the peculiar sensation feels like. He is reminded of that same feeling of smallness he’d felt when trying to comprehend the night sky; or how it came to be.
 
It is not fear that Malachi feels. These days, fear is has nowhere to set up shop in Malachi’s gut. This hadn’t always been the case. He’d seen what suffering came with the famine, and the more suffering that came from weeks of living within the steerage of those great, floating, metal coffins; where the air was so foul that some prefer to simply stop breathing than continue sucking down the vile stuff. A man who lives through that, has little else left to fear.
 
Shena’s panicked agitation subsides as Malachi approaches. Honestly, he’d figured that she had spooked and ran *away* from something. This wasn’t the case. Sweet old Shena must have somehow sensed these two being attacked by …something. The pair had remarkably survived, but had lost consciousness, still huddled tightly together. The viscous bites and gaping claw marks on their bodies leads him to believe they’d been attacked by a bear; or more than one. But it’s the burns that cover each of them from nearly head to toe that has Malachi feeling skittish.
 
Malachi is no bleeding heart when it comes to charity, but leaving these two here to die would be nothing short of evil. Besides  there is something about them he finds compelling. It’s probably the strange quality to their hair, which shines like fine strands of metallic silver. Malachi quickly lays them both across Shena’s back and grabs Snenna’s reigns.
 
Ignoring the fact that no sign of struggle seems to have unsettled the woods where he’d found them, Malachi instructs her to follow by making a clicking noise. The complete absence of bear, wolf, any other kind of large animal tracks speaks to the suggestion that these two simply fell from the sky in this condition. What’s worse, Malachi ignores the overwhelming and eye-watering stench of brimstone that pervades, not from these two, but from the section of woods where they were found.
 
His anxiety does not subside until the tiny cabin he’d built for Fiona appears over the bluff. An odd smile tugs at the corners of his mouth upon seeing it. It’s a sentiment he’d never before felt living on this dreaded rock, but he welcomes it nonetheless.
 
I’m home.

Chapter 9.15 – Goodbye

Adam wakes to find brilliant, blue eyes searching for some kind of coherent awareness.
 
The smile he sees, is one he’d seen many times during his visit to distant memories. Is this just a memory now? The smell of smoke in his throat and nose say that he is not daydreaming. He last remembers being trapped under the collapsing estate, and thinking that he would surely be burned alive just as the Flaumel’s had. His blurry vision begins to focus and he sees Kacey. Only this time, she is  real and substantial.
 
He tries to say something but he can only stammer in confusion. His mind is still racing, trying to figure out what happened. He is badly disoriented and he struggles unsuccessfully to find his bearings. Finally, he manages to eke out that he had called to her for help. She smiles and softly hushes him, planting her finger on his parched lips.
 
That simple touch ignites a peculiar, though not entirely unpleasant sensation. She closes her eyes and breathes in sharply. At the same moment, a exhilarating sensation rushes throughout Adam’s body and limbs. Her touch is electric. Kacey opens her eyes and smiles again, still enjoying the shared experience. Then she nods and acknowledges shyly that she’d heard him.
 
While Adam was sleeping, Kacey had explored and found a small pool of bubbling spring water. She’d bathed and changed into clean clothes left behind by the ancient inhabitants who had once dwelt here. She’d also found a change of clothes for Adam. She helps him to stand and gently suggests that he use the pool himself. The smell from being nearly burnt alive (combined with stinky seaweed) is offensive to him. Adam can only imagine how bad it must be for Kacey.
 
 —
 
Adam bathes in the pool. And while doing so, he swims to the bottom of the deep spring and gathers a large number of ancient coins. This helps to clear his mind, and wash away the any trace of of the burnt estate. Finally, after what must have been an hour, he hops out, and dresses his injuries. Thankfully, the wardrobe Kacey had found for him is soft and gentle against his painful burns. He smiles at the thought of her name.
 
Suddenly very anxious to see her, Adam finishes dressing and finds Kacey sitting alone, meditating by an arrangement of candles. She attempts to hide her excitement as he approaches. Failing to do this, she asks with embarrassing giddiness, how he’s feeling. Adam’s burns are still very tender, and his insides feel as though they’d been taken to a blender. But considering the alternative, he’s purely ecstatic.
 
Adam sits down on the floor next to her and quietly enjoys her actual presence. Normally, Kacey would immediately work to establish a safe buffer zone from any sim encroaching on her personal space. But she feels no threat and no discomfort when Adam presses closer. They sit like this for a few minutes, just absorbing the encounter. Finally, Kacey is forced to speak, when she remembers the imminent threat Hendrake still poses.
 
She gently explains to Adam that Sunset Valley has likely been crushed under Hendrake’s legion. And by now, it is also very likely they have spread to outlying areas looking for them. And there are other …things, that have been attracted as well. Kacey sighs, trying hard not to fall back into the scared little-girl role. She shakes her head, lamenting that she knows they have to both leave. She’s just not sure how, or where.
 
Adam reflexively puts his arm around Kacey to comfort her. He’d held her like this a number of times in his memories. But he’d never imagined that the real thing could be so inexplicably perfect. Kacey surrenders any discomfort and allows herself to fully experience Adam’s adoring affection.
 
They had likewise kissed a few times during those visits to David’s memories. But when their lips finally meet together in the same reality, it is unlike anything either had ever expected. It is not the physical aspect, so much as it is the emotional release of having finally found each other, that seals the moment in their minds. Okay, the physical part of it is pretty good too.
 
The kiss naturally evolves into a pair of purely spontaneous smiles, pressed amorously together. They laugh, and then settle into a quiet, meaningful, and gently swaying embrace; which continues for a very long time.
 
 
Government disaster managenemt officials believe a nuclear device may have been detonated underground somewhere near Sunset Valley; possibly the result of a tragic mishap at the Fort Gnome military base. A seventy-five mile quarantine radius has been established around the site. Nobody is being allowed to enter or exit. Military personnel are quickly massing around the quarantine zone. But the effort has been clouded by confusion and chaos, as reports of fierce battles involving heavy weapons and grievously injured combat troops continue to surface…
 
Amber turns off the television, then stands in shock and dismay. She’d had difficulty sleeping after consuming too much nectar at a party tonight. She’s definitely not as young as she used to be. Amber smiles absently, thinking back to the first dinners she and Wendell had shared together, many years ago. She was just a teen then, and the poor guy nearly drowned himself in nectar because of her.
 
But the smile is very short lived, as reality sets in again. She had turned on the television to relax and hopefully find sleep. What she found, only made her feel worse. It was all over the news on every channel. Something has happened in Sunset Valley; something terrible. Only, Amber suspects that it was something more than a bomb …something worse.
 
Amber squeals in alarm when Kacey and Adam appear from out of thin air. She had seen pictures of Kacey during her years as a teen author. She also remembers wondering about Kacey’s appearance throughout the generations of Barimens (see chapter 8.4). Every one of the heirs who had protected Adam, were connected on some level with Kacey. Amber had been the first of the heirs to understand what was happening; what “the entity” was, and how important their role as guardians were.
 
A new understanding immediately forms in Amber’s head. Her instincts were correct. There was no nuclear bomb in Sunset Valley – and it is far worse. The hunters had finally found Adam and Kacey (See Chapter 7.25).
 
Amber fusses over Adam’s injuries while regarding Kacey with some fascination. Amber had suspected that Adam was with a young woman when he failed to return home tonight. But this is not at all what she’d had in mind. Amber studies the pair for a moment. Then, after quickly analyzing the situation, she comes to a very somber conclusion. She hugs Adam gently.
 
This is goodbye, isn’t it?
 
Adam nods and politely hugs Amber in return. She stands back, holding Adam at arm’s length. A knowing smile appears on her face. Smirking, she observes that he’d actually come here to say goodbye to somebody else. Adam shrugs his shoulders apologetically, and nods again. Amber winks at him and wistfully announces that she’ll go and wake up his mother.
 
A moment later, she emerges again into the living room with a sleepy Makayla. Adam cocks his head and smiles when he notices the manner in which she carries herself. He has two young sisters already, and he loves both of them dearly. Unfortunately he’ll never meet the twin girls Makayla now carries.
 
Adam hugs her very close. Then, addressing her as “mom”, Adam gently explains the situation to the best of his ability. He continues, rebuffing her sleepy protests, and reassuring her that staying here will only mean more death and destruction. He must leave with Kacey; not only so save their own lives, but to save the lives of his unborn sisters.
 
Adam takes a step backwards, holds Kacey’s hand and disappears into nothingness while his parting words hang potently in the air.
 
I will never forget you, Kay…
Author’s Note: So it has finally happened after eight generations. Kacey and Adam have been finally and formally brought together. The major plot line is finished now, but I still have a few posts remaining and a tenth generation heir to introduce. So, where do Kacey and Adam go from here? Some of you may have already figured it out (but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t).
This post does, however, bring the story of the human Barimen family to an end. I had prepared a short preview of a story I’d wanted to write using one of Makayla’s and Luke’s offspring. But I’m just not ready to commit to another story just yet, and I still have some plot problems to figure out. Luke and Makayla live out their lives happily together in South Sim Beach. They end up having three sets of twins – all girls. I do play them occasionally when I want to play “easy mode” (9 million simoleons takes care of that). Oddly, I find myself playing in Sunset Valley with the sims who were present after I removed the legacy family from the game (literally exported the family, then leveled the lot with the bulldozer). There are still many Nava offspring running about, as well as some Barimen from Amber’s brother, Peter. After running only one family for so long, I’m finding it fun  hopping into different households and meddling with their lives for awhile before moving on the next unsuspecting household…

Chapter 9.14 – Needle

The ground begins to rumble beneath Kacey’s feet, as though Sunset Valley itself were in upheaval over Hendrake’s assault.
 
Kacey has seen, firsthand, the vast network of underground caverns and tunnels beneath Sunset Valley. And she can sense now, that they are filled with the same monstrous creatures that visibly stream like molten lava, out of caves and crevices in the foothills. Hendrake will destroy this world looking for her and Adam; possibly this entire reality. That is, unless they find a way of removing themselves from it.
 
A sick, seaward wind hurls itself from the bay, as though clashing with the vile demons bleeding out from somewhere deep with in the earth. Panic begins to overtake Kacey’s judgement, and she runs back toward the beach where she had landed her boat. It does not occur to her that in her natural state, she could easily take wing and fly to her destination.
 
Unfortunately, she has never moved beyond the scared little-girl who was left alone in that cave while the only advocate she’d ever had on this world was burned to death. Her “mother” had done the right thing, of course. There is no arguing that. She had been protected from the then-living Corwin. But more importantly, the cavern sufficed as a  shield, protecting her from the being that now calls itself Hendrake. Her formative memories of childhood are not those cherished moments playing with swing-sets and baby-dolls. They are, instead, dominated by the sense of awaiting her own murder, as the unseen beast sniffed around her with terrifying proximity. Indeed, she had survived. But Kacey is left with the torture of remembering. (see Chapters 8.10, 1.12)
 
Her silvery hair is whipped wildly around in the unholy gale blowing in from the sea. The sea itself, it seems, has become a threat. Hendrake’s presence has provoked the attention of other …things. They are unspeakably evil and impossibly ancient, and have become drawn to Hendrake and his unusual display of power on this little speck of a world. If she weren’t so afraid, she’d cry for this place and it’s inhabitants. She can hear their dying screams, even now.
 
A figure is waiting for her by the boat. It is Adam’s brother, Noah; the one who calls himself Caine. He sneers at Kacey over the howling wind and demands to be told where she is hiding Adam. But Kacey does not acknowledge Noah. A black, oily mass of squirming, gigantic, trunk-like tentacles has emerged from the sea, expanding menacingly toward her. They instantly smother Noah, while also smothering his startled cries of terror.
 
Perhaps it is some fight-or-flight instinct that sparks a keen lucidity from within Kacey’s troubled psyche; or perhaps it is something else. Her fear parts like a veiled curtain, allowing her to finally embrace herself for what she is.
 
Neither Kacey nor Adam were conceived in the same manner as other sims. Noah was the biological fusion of his mother’s and father’s DNA knitted together through a physical reproductive process that, while mundane, is still worthy of awe. Kacey’s and Adam’s origins are not so simple. They are living beings whose physical forms are insubstantial and inconsequential; manifested from a primal concept and brought to life in a domain where such concepts are real and tangible. In essence, they are the manifestations of perfect love; an articulation of the perpetual, loving bond forged between a mother and a father under the auspices of that which begat the universe.
 
That is what Deirdre had been trying to tell her; but lacked the understanding necessary to effectively verbalize it. Julian had told her to remove the dagger from her side. The dagger, of course, represents the abuse she had suffered over her curiously long lifetime.
 
With love comes forgiveness; and the forgiveness frees her. Wings unfold with a grace and beauty that cannot be effectively described. She leaps into the sky and speeds toward Adam, toward her love, with a single-minded clarity she has never once in her life enjoyed. And oddly, she finds herself smiling.
 
The monstrous tangle of oily, black tentacles have retreated back into the sea, leaving no sign of Noah. Those same horrific appendages now assail the lighthouse, squirming up the sides of the building; hundreds of hellish constrictors crushing the landmark to rubble. She penetrates the mass with the ease of a hot needle through wax, and emerges from the other side with Adam in tow. There was no sign of Jopin, as he had likely fought to the end to protect his ward.
 
She does not look back as she soars high into the sky, and away from the doomed town. It will not take long for Hendrake to realize they have fled. And once Sunset Valley has been reduced to an uninhabitable wasteland, he will come looking for them. She and Adam must both leave this place. But first, she must rest.
 
 
Ancient ruins lay scattered about the world. They are the artifacts of an age where reverence had been never been in question. These hallowed, sacred places are where sims once came to give thanks and praise to that which created everything. They now sit unused and forgotten; much like the ideals that had seen them originally built.
 
Kacey is welcomed by the warm glow of lit candles and the soft voices of those who had once sung their praise to the almighty. They will be safe here. For a little while, at least. She lays Adam down in a primitive bed and covers him with simple linens she’d found nearby. No longer quaking from the pain of his injuries, Adam settles into a soft breathing rhythm. Kacey lays tentatively beside him and attempts to process what has happened. Before drifting off into her own slumber, she mumbles a small, but powerful prayer.
 
 —
 
Thank you.

Chapter 9.13 – Dagger

Kacey cringes while Jopin re-applies his concoction of gross-smelling seaweed to Adam’s badly burnt limbs, chest, and face.
 
Deep inside, Kacey recognizes there is little cause for concern. She had personally suffered cataclysmic trauma. The sims around her had literally been shredded to bits by an explosion she’d inadvertently triggered in a secret, underground lab (see chapter 3.7) . And yet, she had somehow healed with no trace of the event. The only requirement was time. Coincidentally, this is what worries her most. Time, it appears, has become a scarce resource.
 
She senses the event horizon of something terrible approaching. Not knowing what it is scares her more than anything. Both Reid and Jopin had alluded to it earlier. They’d both seemed to also sense the looming dread. And what of Jopin? Who is he? She finds his timely appearance at the lighthouse almost too fortuitous. Had he been placed in her path via some manner similar to the boat on the beach? He’d told her that she and Adam wouldn’t be able to stay here much longer. The question remains, What did he mean by “here”?
 
Kacey lands the boat on the same shore she had found it, then walks cautiously up the bluff toward the ruined estate. The stench from the gutted building hangs in the air as a thick, black fog. Her stinging eyes widen in horror as she crests the bluff. She is greeted by the sight of wildfires burning out of control through the recessed parts of Sunset Valley not visible from the lighthouse. She can hear Hendrake, bellowing brutally from some far-off point in the distance. There is a moment of terror when she comprehends that what she sees is no simple wildfire. It is a host; his army. Hendrake intends to destroy this place looking for her.
 
The horde has already made its presence known, and it burns with the brightness of an unnatural pyre. Kacey does not know whether Hendrake is able to sense her presence or not. Regardless, Jopin was correct about one thing. She needs to find whatever she is looking for and get back to Adam. And then what?
 
 —
 
Heat and flame from the smoldering ruins of the estate are repelled away from Kacey’s body by some unknown force. It lends the visual effect of her moving about the ruins inside a vortex of fire and smoke. She ignores this, and instead reflects upon her ponderous sadness. Before seeing Reid today, she thought had shed her last tears some time ago, after sadness had became the norm. So many memories lay buried here now; memories of David, Mark, Hope, Faith, Doc …Gerard. All of it is gone. As far as she knows, Adam is all that remains of the Barimen legacy.
 
She finds a place among the smoldering rubble that captures her attention. A chest has survived the blaze, seemingly unmolested. She cautiously approaches, then opens the box. Those tears she had thought were barren, easily spring from her eyes again. She begins breathing in sobs, attempting to control her emotional response to the box’s contents.
 
A ring …the ring.
 
And her artifact, or something like it. Her artifact was old and dying. But this …seed … like an unborn child, is pure and bursting with life and potential. Through her confused tears, she reads the note written to her by Luke (See Chapter 8.24). She laughs, then cries, then laughs again. Then, after a short time, she hears an old Irish lullaby and wonders if she’s finally gone mad. She works to dismiss this as a relic from her profoundly vivid visit with old memories. But soon, it becomes very evident that the song is no figment. Her mind reels as suppressed memories from her terrifying childhood surface.
 
A deep, smooth, and reassuring voice calms her deep anxiety. She looks up to see a vaguely familiar face. Their last meeting was not a pleasant one (see Chapter 2.19). But everything is different now. It is the same, self-assured, confident, and silken voice she remembers …Julian? Having appeared through through the smoke, the aged Barimen founder offers his fraternal sibling a warm smile (see Chapter 8.10). Kacey’s face contorts in confusion and uncertainty. The lullaby stops abruptly, and is replaced by a sweet, soothing, melodic voice from her distant past. It is a voice she had not heard since she was a baby; since before the cave…
 
Eva, love, you’re so beautiful! Look how you’ve grown!
 
Any remaining defense against the unwelcome flood of childhood memories fighting to reclaim their place in her mind, is immediately smashed to splinters. The past forcefully occupies its long-empty compartment, while Kacey …Eva, stands with slumped shoulders, weeping. Desiree and Julian both support her for a long time; saying nothing, but speaking volumes.
 
Finally, Desiree steps back and gently consoles the angelic being she had carried and birthed. She quietly hushes Kacey, encouraging her to let go of the burden. The things that have happened to her are no better than having a long dagger repeatedly plunged into her side. Choosing to to leave the dagger in place, and attempting to ignore the pain, is completely understandable. Removing it is a very scary proposition. But it has to be done; for herself …for Adam. Yes, there will be some blood shed; and tears too. But she will never heal unless she first removes the thing causing her wound.
 
Julian’s deep voice, as usual, provides context; It’s already done it’s harm. Why let it continue hurting you?
 
For Kacey …Eva, there had always been something missing; though could never quite grasp or comprehend what or why. Radiant blue eyes stare into those of the woman whom she’d always missed so terribly, and longed to be comforted by; the way she’d been comforted as an infant.
 
And though the words never actually emerge, as they are obscured by Kacey’s weakly quivering voice and sobbing breaths, Desiree smiles as though they had been perfectly spoken. Kacey had never in her life used these words before, not even for David. But what’s important now, is that she’d attempted to use them at all. Desiree comforts the young being she had carried and birthed, then musically returns the long-overdue sentiment.
 
I love you too, deary… I love you too.

Chapter 9.12 – Lighthouse

A blazing, golden beam of light breaks through the smoke and flames that greedily engulf the Barimen Estate.
 
Weak and incapacitated, Adam expends the last of his strength to escape the raging hell-fire surrounding him. He sails through the air in a lazy, ballistic trajectory. And he lands with an audible thud somewhere on the beach below the bluff.
 
Kacey had never really become comfortable using her innate abilities. It could be that in some way, the multiple instances of trauma she’d experienced as a result of her uniqueness has subconsciously suppressed them. She runs on foot down the bluff, and toward the beach where she begins to frantically search for some sign of Adam.
 
The new moon provides an inky darkness, through which only the eerie light provided by the burning estate seems to penetrate. A weak cough in the distance captures her attention. She focuses her eyes in the murky, smoke-filled air, and carefully scours the area. She finds him laying in a rough patch of singed beach grass. She immediately attends to Adam, gently hushing his incoherent mumbling; and squelching her urgent panic response. His condition is dire.
 
She has nothing to dress Adam’s burns, which require tending. Any thought of taking him  to the hospital is out of the question. She remembers her own captivity at the hospital while recovering from her own near-fatal wounds. By that time, a young and ambitious Jon Buford had already figured out her “gifts”. It was Buford who had her placed under constant surveillance under David’s nose. It has taken her decades to realize it, but Adam had saved her life the day she finally regained consciousness. The baritone choir that always accompanies his presence instructed her to flee Buford (see Chapter 3.?? – Voices).
 
Adam’s was the lone voice she had heard when she was contemplating suicide after David’s funeral (Chapter 4.12). And he had also helped a teen-aged Faith to clear the mountain of earth which had entombed her beneath Sunset Valley (Chapter 5.19). He has been the only constant relationship in her life. And as bizarre as it may seem, she’s really never actually met him.
 
Moving Adam, given his condition, seems counterproductive. But she heeds her intuition and it’s urgent warning to find cover away from the beach, and away from the estate. Reid had alluded to Hendrake’s return. After what she’d witnessed, she’s not sure how that’s even possible. But one thing is certain; something is going to happen here. And whatever it is, it isn’t going to be good.
 
Adam quakes from the pain of the burns that cover the majority of his body. He will heal. But it will not be easy. Kacey struggles under the encumbrance of Adam’s dead-weight  and only manages to get him onto his feet before the hair on the nape of her neck stands on end. She had hoped there would be more time…
 
Before she can complete the thought, a young man stumbles from out of the underbrush, then stands unsteadily before her. He bears some resemblance to Adam, but there is a toxic aspect of hatred hemorrhaging from his soulless, green eyes. He steadies himself in an effort to play off an almost drunken state. His hesitant laugh is enough to cause Kacey some uneasiness.
 
She had retrieved the weapon Reid used to slay the demonic beast. But with Adam’s full weight leaning against her, coupled with his sudden agitation, Kacey finds it nearly impossible to react. Then, in what must have been a colossal effort of self-discipline, Adam spits out a single, garbled word – Noah.
 
Noah frowns. Then through gritting teeth, he impatiently questions his brother as to why he insists on using the deprecated name. The name is Caine, and he promises to personally witness his brother speaking it using his last, dying breath. Another explosion inside the estate (this one being the largest yet) shakes the ground beneath their feet and deadens their eardrums for a moment. That was no simple fuel canister.
 
Debris from the blast plucks at the sand all around them. Distracted for a brief instant, Noah looks away to admire his handiwork. It is all the time Kacey needs. Adam crumbles to the beach immediately as she removes her support. She reaches nimbly backward and hefts the ancient weapon. The blade is still crusted with black gore.
 
Noah turns to see the evidence of his associate’s demise. He growls, pausing for a long time to think, then calls out the name Hendrake into the troubled air. He calls the name again, after there is no response – HENDRAKE! Noah’s murderous eyes narrow, and then he wisely takes a step backward. He curses under his breath while retreating quietly into a nearby shadow, then vanishes without a trace. Kacey breathes a very sobering, albeit anxious sigh.
 
She hobbles with Adam for a brief distance down the beach until she finds the object she had been looking for. Kacey had wanted to find a small boat that could be used to transport them to the relative safety of the lighthouse (a place where she had fled many times in the past). She has yet to fully comprehend exactly how her abilities work. Whether the boat had been here all along, she is unsure. Perhaps she created it herself out of sheer willpower, or summoned it here from another place and time. It could be any of these, or none of them. But what matters most, is that Adam be taken to safety.
 
Jopin is a rugged old-timer  hired to maintain the aging lighthouse and preserve it as a landmark. He had been watching the blaze from afar when he spotted Kacey in her boat. The weathered, old salt waited for Kacey at the shore of the small island where the lighthouse stands. Having felt no immediate apprehension about him, Kacey trusted her instincts and allowed him to help.
 
 
Surprisingly spry for his advanced age, Jopin had easily lifted Adam from the bottom of the boat and carried him up a long flight of stairs to the living quarters. He cursed a few foul oaths worthy of a sailor, when he saw Adam’s burns. Still, he did not hesitate in tending to them. Kacey wondered whether allowing Jopin to wrap a foul-smelling seaweed around Adam’s burns was a good idea. But it seemed to immediately sooth Adam’s quaking, and so she said nothing.
 
Afterwards, Kacey stands with Jopin on the lighthouse’s terrace, where they silently ponder the Barimen Estate’s destruction. If there was ever a time where the words “the silence was deafening” applied to a situation, that situation would be now. Eventually, Jopin’s harsh, gravelly voice marks the last of the flames dying out of view from their lighthouse perch. He points out that she and “her boy” won’t be able to stay here much longer. Kacey levels a measuring gaze toward the worn, old goat of a man. She knows, somehow, that Jopin is not referring to just the lighthouse.
 
Kacey squints suspiciously toward the old-timer when he speaks again. He recons that it would be best for her to go now and be back before morning, if she’s intent on finding whatever it is she’s yearning. Kacey again searches the man’s deep eyes, which give away nothing. He’s right, of course. When she first arrived, Kacey had sensed something very familiar near the estate. It was something that hadn’t been there before; something she had lost a long time ago. There’d really been no time to think about it or to investigate. But now she wonders what it might have been.
 
Kacey’s whisper is barely audible, and it’s tone conveys her anxious uncertainty when she asks Jopin how bad it’s going to get. Jopin breathes in a tired breath, then exhales very slowly. He regards her with ancient eyes that communicate more of a warning than a suggestion. He nods in the direction of the ruined estate, and mumbles thoughtfully.
 
As I said, you’ll want to be back before morning...