Part 1

"We all knew the story. We'd been told about it at least once a year by this or that adult. They'd never let us forget it. I was born into a world with almost no electricity, no plumbing, and no communications. Candles became widely used again, and it felt like I lived in what my parents had described as 'the dark ages'. But there are no dragons or knights in shining armor here. Just the harsh reality: we are the survivors, what's left. Even now, with the population diminished dramatically, I am an outcast. I carry one of the only laptops left in the world, converted to solar power by my father before he was murdered. Oh yeah, there's that little factor. (Little?! What am I saying, it's major!) Okay, major factor. I've lost both of my parents, as have the only friends that stay with me. And there's my older brother, Carter. He makes sure I stay safe. I have no idea why though. And me? I'm Hope, just Hope. Nobody uses their last names anymore, because there's a slim chance that anybody related to you still exists. My having a sibling is very rare.

I never understood what hope was until I asked my mother one day. I was about five years old, and I can swear I'll never forget what she told me. 'Hope,' she had said, 'is the feeling inside you that keeps you going no matter what, even when you feel horrible and you believe that nothing else could go wrong. It's one of those essential emotions that makes us humans, that stands us out from other animals. Hope is one of the things that can't be taken away from you. Everybody needs a little hope to hold onto. As for me, you're my hope. I can trust you, as well as your brother, to lead the way to a new future for your children. That's why you're called Hope." Then she kissed me on the forehead and I went back to drawing in the sand. I guess I should explain, huh? I mean, I'm sure that by now you can tell that I don't live where you do. The truth is, I do live on Earth, just a different time. I don't even know who'll end up reading this, or if anybody ever will. Not many know how to use a laptop, or even what it is anymore. But this does help me pass the time, and I feel that someone has the right to know.

We're not certain what year it is, or the date. My father had said that the date on my laptop is wrong, and I know that because it reads 1995. I know that can't be right. Back on track. We only know about the seasons, and we can tell when they change. But even you, in your time can tell that. Well, when my grandparents were about my age, they lived in a world full of technology. All large industrious cities were linked together, and almost the entire world was linked one way or another. Scientists in some country (nobody remembers who it is anymore) built a one of a kind bomb. This thing was called the "Gaea Bomb" (Gaea was Mother Earth in Greek mythology) and it was designed to destroy all technology. This was a last resort bomb, and kept top secret under heavy guard after its completion. If word ever got out about it, whoever broke their silence was to be punished by death. So, nobody spoke. That is, until terrorists got a hold of one of the most involved men in the entire project.

After being tortured he told them where their facility was. He never mentioned the bomb, just where the building it was. He had hoped that the guards would be able to fight them off. But he was wrong. This organization was much more expansive than he had expected, than anyone had expected. They got their hands on the bomb and set it off. Entire cities were basically destroyed in seconds, and only six cities escaped. Luckily, the bomb wasn't designed (nor did it have enough power) to wipe out all of the technology. The scientists weren't that heartless. They were humans, too, after all. So, with these six cities, mankind is holding onto all of the precious technological secrets, striving to re-discover them before we are destroyed. Why? Because the terrorists still attack us. Now, you can expect a battle somewhere at least three times a week. They tell the survivors that they shouldn't resist, but instead join them and they'll live. Many do, choosing life over their own morality. Others, bent on revenge, join the United Army to fight against them. There is no age limit to meet, and the only requirement is that you join under your own free will. This Army is growing large, especially as of late because they've won some important battles and defended the cities from being destroyed.

The names of the six cities have been changed, and now their first names are unknown. What I know them as are Olympus, Asgard, Gladsheim, Valhalla, Athens, and Yaru. From what I've always been told these names come from Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythology. I've been to Yaru, the smallest, twice in my entire life. Most people have decided to live within the walls of the city, where the Army protects them. Unfortunately, they're the ones who get attacked the most, unlike those who chose to risk it and live spread out. My parents were of the latter, and we farmed for a living until we were attacked and our fields burned. My parents were murdered before my eyes, but I could do nothing. I was six, and my brother and I had been hiding in a trap door. Through a large crack I saw them both get shot. They didn't resist, though. They kissed each other and they kept their hands held the entire time. We buried them together, still holding hands.

I am now Fourteen years of age, my brother is eighteen. He looks after me, as well as my friends, Alicia and Zeke. Their parents lived close enough for us to hang out together, and they also lost their parents to the terrorists. I am sitting on a rock (Well, more like a boulder) and typing this. Carter is washing his hands and feet, Alicia is starting a fire, and Zeke is trying his luck at getting some fish (He's good at catching them. With his HANDS!) It's dark outside, but the moonlight's of decent quality and I can see what I write. Even if nobody sees this, I feel better. So, is this a strange reality or what?"

"Are you done yet?" Alicia wined. I could hear the fire crackling, and I saw its light dancing upon her face as I glanced over my shoulder.

"I guess. There's not much else to write for the time being," I replied, saving my journal and shutting down the old laptop.

"I don't see how you're so willing to tote around that antique," the girl told me, rubbing her hands together and holding them before the fire. It was late spring, but where we were it was cold at night in the middle of summer.

"What do you mean, 'antique'?! This baby's one of four still left that actually work, and mine's the only one that doesn't need to be plugged in, cuz I have solar power," I retorted with a cocky tone. I wasn't trying to be a show off or anything; I just wanted to establish how important my Father's laptop is. Unfortunately, she gave me that 'show off! Stop being right!' look. I laughed in my head, but only smiled on the outside. My brother returned from the river and sat down in front of me.

"Did I hear the word 'antique'? This isn't the laptop argument, is it?" Carter asked me. I put the prized machine in its case and then into my backpack. Then I faced him again.

"Sadly, big brother, yes. Alicia felt that she just had to bring it up. Like she does every week. And I tell her the same reply, every week. You'd think that it'd get old by now and she'd just give up already, cuz I'm not letting it go," said I, casually.

"Well, the laptop is an antique if you think about it. It has certainly been around for a while, and compared to what they have in Asgard, even Yaru, it is outdated. But out here, in the wilderness and the scattered farms, it's the most advanced thing for miles," he lectured. Alicia made an even sour face, and I looked up at the sky. It was clear, and you could see thousands of stars. Mother always told me that even though the city is protected, it's cold, and there are so many lights on at night that you can't see the stars shinning. I never looked when I was there, but I'd only been twice, the last time was when I was ten. My brother wanted me to get some new clothes, so we had to go in. That's when I got what I have on now: baggy, zip-off blue jeans, a red t-shirt and a black jacket that was a little short lengthwise. It looked like a guy's in a picture that's on the laptop. My father had said that his name's Squall, and he's from a video game. I still don't know what that is, but from what I hear many still exist in the cities. Mine's even lined with fur like his, and I like him a lot, even f it's just a picture.

Zeke emerged from the darkness with eight tiny fish; all strung on a line with many large safety pins that he wore around his waist like a belt. "Sorry I took so long. Since the fish were so tiny I figured that I should get two for everyone," he spoke, tossing the fish to Alicia. She took sticks from around us and stuck them through the fish. Then they were pushed into the ground right in front of the flames to cook. Carter and I climbed off the boulder to join Alicia and Zeke around the fire. Soon we were doing what we always did, making up stories and legends by bouncing ideas and sentences between the four of us. The only person who slightly objected to this was Alicia, who thought it silly and absurd for us to be acting lik that. But then she'd have a really good or funny idea and she'd go against herself and play along. In no time the fish was ready, and we ate every single bite. When we were all finished the blankets rolled out and the flame was extinguished. I was the only one who wasn't allowed to sleep for a while, because I had to stand guard. When Zeke's watch beeped, I was to wake him up for is turn. If nobody stood guard, we could be ambushed in our sleep, so this way we stood a better chance of escape if one of us stayed awake.

I thought more about our story that we were working on to keep myself awake. Our favorite character, Night Fox, was a spy for the United Army. He was in enemy territory, striving to hear plans on future attacks so he could warn the appropriate city. This time he had just heard of an all-out attack on Olympus, the largest city, which was being prepared for as the commanders spoke. How would he tell the United Army in time? This was for me to decide. I came up with some possible scenarios before the watch beeped, ending my turn. I woke up Zeke and lay down to have my sleep. In seconds I was out, dreaming about myself as Night Fox, and all of the adventures we'd made for him. My dreams were always like that.

I awoke before the Zeke and Alicia did, and bid good morning to my drowsy brother. He nodded and starred back off into the trees. He was sitting on the same boulder that I was last night. I was inclined to rekindle the fire, and once I had it going I sat cross-legged before it, gazing at Carter through the orange and yellow flames. He was just like me, my brother. Except for our age, height, and gender difference, we were like carbon copies, or so I had been told as a child. His hair and eyes were the same color as mine, that deep mahogany brown color that you could see on tree bark sometimes. It was much shorter than mine, but for a boy it was long, going down to the middle of his neck (even his bangs). My hair was long too, down to my hips. Now it was braided into a single "rope" (As my brother calls it) I shook my head and felt its weight, felt it hitting against my back. I smiled, content for the moment, and pulled at the bag my laptop was in, only a few feet away. I used the strap to get it over to me, and then placed it squarely in my lap. Zeke's watch beeped once more and I decided to have a little fun.

"If you don't wake up I'm leaving right now!" I shouted. I suddenly heard three people shout (Surprisingly at the same time), "No Hope! Don't go!" I laughed and shook my head and replied, "Then get up off your lazy butts! I want some breakfast, but I wouldn't think of taking my half-asleep brother into the woods with me! So it's time to join the living, if you know what I mean!" The three tired kids pulled themselves over to the fire, in the same positions that we'd had the night before.

"I do believe," Alicia mumbled, "that I will go with you to find some breakfast. If you go by the river first." I agreed, and we both pushed our tired selves off the ground and walked into the trees. Seconds later we reached a small stream that ran slowly over a few rocks, maintaining a slow trickling sound. Simultaneously Alicia and I kneeled on the grassy bank and placed our hands in the water. We cupped them and to lots of water in our palms, and without warning I flung the water at Alicia. She let out a shocked "Hey!" before splashing me in the face. We went back and forth a few times, getting each other's faces and shoulders completely drenched. Then we realized what our intentions had been and I got back up. She followed, and we wandered off a ways until we found an apple tree. I climbed up and picked a load, dropping them down to Alicia who caught them in my coat. Once we were finished the two of us walked back, apples in or arms.

Back at camp, Carter had gotten a handful of black berries for each of us. Zeke had retrieved bowls filled with water from the lake. We divided the apples and ate up, with only eight apples to spare. These were placed into my brother's bag, and we'd be using them for lunch while we traveled. The fire was extinguished, and we left our camp. Through some thick trees (lead by Carter) the four of us made our way to the river, which we followed. People were wading in it, panning it with all of their strength to find any signs of precious stones. Young children ran about, splashing in the water as they played tag. I would've smiled, but I had a bad memory that forbid it.

I shifted my backpack when I got an uneasy feeling. I always knew what it meant, but sometimes the terrorists would go right past this large encampment and leave us be. But that wasn't the case. Suddenly screams let out and everyone rushed downstream. The men were upon us, and anyone who wasn't fast enough to elude them was killed. Even the children, crying needlessly for their parents to save them were gutted at their throats. Normally, parenting instincts would make the parents do anything to save their child, but when this happened, everyone was on their own. We ran too, staying generally together while zigzagging to avoid capture and death. Without warning men dropped from the treetops above us and withdrew their swords. Zeke pulled me back, and Alicia slid to a stop behind us. Carter got right in front of me, and he took his dagger from its sheath on his belt.

"Zeke," he whispered. "Take Hope away from here. Don't let them get her, or I'll haunt you till you die as well." Zeke nodded and tried to pull me away, but I pushed against his arm.

"Don't die here, Carter! I love you, so don't die out on me!" I yelled. Tears fell from my eyes, and in my fear I became too weak to resist Zeke's insisting guidance. I was pulled away and lead through the forest, hitting Zeke's shoulder with my free fist, trying to break free. But I couldn't. Zeke pushed me down into a thicket, where Alicia was waiting. He came down after me, and I kept crying. He strived to silence me, to no avail. Only when I heard heavy footsteps did I cease, but only in sound. As far as I knew, the tears would never stop. Soldiers shouted back and forth to one another, asking if anyone was left alive. None could be seen they all replied, and we heard them march away singing battle songs. I glanced at Zeke and Alicia. His face was solemn, and displayed no emotion save perhaps cold hatred. Her face, on the other hand, was plain and open, easy for all to read. It was sour, showing her disgust at the whole thing. Alicia never did understand how people can kill and then walk away happy after committing the highest sin against God that you can.

Slowly Zeke rose and looked about. When he had affirmed that the coast was clear Alicia and I stood up too. He led us two back to the riverbed, and Alicia began to shiver at the sight. Even after all that we'd seen, all of the aftermaths with the slain just laying around us, the smell of death lingering in the air, she was still taken back I saw the look on her face, and I knew that she felt extremely queasy inside. But Zeke and I have hardened since the days that we lived with our families. We feel nothing anymore when we see things like this. Just emptiness. Sometimes, I wondered what it felt like. I wondered what she went through every time we walked through a field of murdered people. I don't remember anymore, and I wish I did. At times. I ran to where Carter had been, and my fear was now reality.

He laid there, still. He held his dagger in his right hand still, and I noticed a pouch in his left. I couldn't bare to touch him, so I used a branch to pull it from his grasp. It was thrust into my pocket as Alicia and Zeke joined me. She immediately turned away, crying harder than I did earlier. Zeke put his hand upon my shoulder, but said nothing as well. He bent down and took up the messenger bag that Carter had dropped. The apples were perfectly fine, and so were the wooden bowls that we'd also kept in there. Zeke searched Carter for anything else we might be able to use, and all he found was another pouch (bigger than mine was) that held seitra, money we could use in a city. He tossed it t me and I put it in my pack. He and I went through all of the others and discovered more money, as well as some food. We added the seitra to the pouch, and the food was split evenly between the three of us. Zeke decided he'd wear my brother's pack. I thought of it as a macho thing, he had to show to us (for some inexplicable reason) that he was a man and still stronger than us. (Whatever)

Alicia, meanwhile, was stomping on the ground near the tents searching for holes. Why? People do not waste wood to build homes, instead they construct them underground, and the openings are large holes (hence the name). We had just walked across the shallow river to meet her when her foot hit the ground once more. But instead of hitting earth, she had struck upon a camouflaged trap door that covered a hole. She hit it again and it swung down. Zeke (Again with the macho thing) went down the steps first, then Alicia, last me. The hole seemed vacant, but it had furnishings. There was a couch, a table, and four chairs. There were two doorways in the home, one near the table and one on the other side with the couch. Only a thick tapestry, one red and the other black covered the doorways. Zeke pointed at them and stated, "Crimson and ebony, the colors of Yaru."

"Must be a merchant. But why would they want to live out here?" Alicia pondered. She went closer to the black one and slowly drew back the cloth. It led to a pantry, but on the floor was a blanket, and sprawled out on it was a...

"Wolf!" cried Alicia. She backed away slowly, her eyes wide with terror. We had been told stores about wolves and how vicious they could be when we were little. Obviously she never forgot them.

"It's a dog," I argued. "Don't you remember the Siberian husky that Griffon owned?"

"They're not the same!" Alicia retorted, still scared senseless. The dog stirred and its eyes opened. Alicia screamed, and the dog sprang up. It immediately began to bark and growl at us, and even I became scared. All three of us backed away, but when we hit the wall there was nowhere to go. The dog pricked its ears up, and the hair on his back flattened. Its tail dropped between its legs and it went over to the red tapestry. It wined, and then went through the doorway. I was the only one who was brave enough to follow (very slowly) behind it. I tapped on the doorway, as I had been taught to do in any hole, and awaited the silent reply. The dog began to growl once more, but somebody silenced it. That person also told me to come in. I pulled the tapestry away and took a few steps into the room.

It was in fact a bedroom, and lying in the bed was a sick, dying teen. My stomach turned like Alicia's, and I couldn't keep from looking so depressed.

"It's okay," the boy said. "Courage here won't hurt you if I tell him not to. My name's Kyle."

"I'm Hope," replied, walking to his bedside. I was just glad I didn't start crying. I patted the dog a few times on the top of his head, and then I sat down next to him. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No, but I know you would if you could. Thanks for your consideration, though. I got an irreversible poison into my system somehow, and I'm gonna die soon."

"I'm so sorry." Courage wined and rubbed his head against his master's hand. Kyle smiled and scratched the dog's forehead with one of his fingers.

"Don't be. I have accepted what I must, and I look forward to seeing this place for an eternity."

"Don't you mean Heaven? Aren't you going to Heaven?"

"This place, this hole, the river, the surrounding woods, they'll all be in my Heaven. Oh, that's right... I guess you've never read that book."

"You have books?"

"Yeah, and there's a lot in Yaru. Mine are here, so when I die help yourself to them. Oh, and take Courage with you."

"Okay, no problem."

"Can you do just... one more thing for me?"


"Kiss me. On the lips. I've never... been kissed like that before and I wish to be before I go..." Hope smiled, and she leaned over to kiss the boy. When she leaned back again, she noticed that his pale face was slightly... red. She laughed, but just a little. He was grinning now, and his eyes were shining, like this was the first time he'd been happy in a long time. Courage shifted his head to my lap, and I gently stroked his head.

"Stay with me... till I..."

"Don't worry, I will. I'm Hope, the hope that you can hold onto even in death. Tell the angels I said hello. If you happen to see a boy who looks like me, but taller, tell him that he didn't follow orders, but Zeke's keeping his promise." Kyle nodded and then went limp. Courage wined some more, and I knew that he knew his master was dead. I got up and pulled the cover over his face. Then I looked around his room and saw the bookshelf. It was tiny, but the books were in good condition. I took them off (there were only six) and put them in my pack. I then left the room to rejoin Zeke and Alicia.

"What was in there?" Alicia questioned. I shook me head and she didn't ask any more questions.

"Help yourself to anything that's here. We have a new friend, too. Alicia, Zeke, meet Courage." The dog went and licked both of their hands. Alicia squirmed a little, but she didn't run.

"I guess he is a dog," she said.

"I told you so!" I shouted. Zeke laughed and we began to search the house.