What is Hope? It is a question asked often enough in a land where the sun rises red and the sky is the brown of the dirt. It is a question asked often enough in a land where the grass is always yellow and the people are the color of the rocks. A land where the swirling storm clouds are permanent residents in that brown expanse. A land where the gray citizens are ravaged by wars they cannot win and diseases they cannot cure. A land where all, even the plants, have lost the strength to hope for brighter days. Where all bend to the will of the World. Where the scapegoats of Man-kind make their berth. Where the only hope is the hope for Oblivion, the Eternal Sleep, but even that is waning.

But the World does not care, and the World does not sympathize. For the World is a cruel place, where blame for deeds done wrong would not rest upon the shoulders of the deserver, but on those of the weak, to frail and scared to resist as the pressure and the guilt and the hurt was made their burden.

It is, therefore, a curious thing. How could one hope? What is Hope in essence? An ethereal Goddess astride the Heavens? A ideal to give one the strength to carry on? A word? A meaningless, worthless word? It does not matter to the gray-people, for they already had much to deal with.

A Seeker, it is said, will find the truth in all matters of conflict. That is their duty. To deal out punishment to the bad, and reward to the good. But it is not so. A Seeker will find the Gray guilty of all, and forcing the memories of the events into their conscience, do the wrong-doer may live in peace.

In this City of the Gray, as it is called by all who know of it, there is an old man who lives down the street from a small shop selling flour and corn. He was a merry man is his youth, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed. But, he now lives with the memories of killing his sister, though he has none; raping the young girl next door, though there is but another male Gray next door, much like himself; stealing the hard-earned savings of the poor farmer and his family from down the street, though there is nothing to farm in this place; beating his son, whom he never had; and kidnapping a Princess who lives halfway across the earth. But the World could find not but contempt for this old man. It does not even care to recall his name. He knows himself to simply be L.

L has no family that he is able to recall, as the years stole his memory. L is not, and cannot, be in any romantic relationship, for it has indeed been long since he has been able to feel anything besides despair and utter hopelessness. There it is again! That strange word that L has been contemplating since he last heard a traveler speak it on the road. We must hold fast to hope, the Traveler had said. How else can we expect to live through such dark times as these? L, like all of his fellow Gray, knows nothing of the lands beyond the City of the Gray. It is best kept that way, the Seekers have said, in the unlikely case of a rebellion. L knows, however, that, with each creak of his bones, he is steadily declining in health and growing weaker, all the closer to Oblivion, the End and cannot possibly consider a rebellion. He knows that soon he shall embark upon the quest that so many hundreds of thousands before him have completed. To the peaceful, guilt-free Beyond, where he wonders if he shall be allowed a nap on a cloud and an elixir made of starlight and moonlight.

He wonders if that is Hope. If that is what will pull him through this wretched life.

If Hope will be his savior.

If the World will look down its nose at him and his people and take them in its arms, cradling them and showering them with livelihood.

But, he knows, that is too big a wish for a Gray scapegoat like him...