Book 1: The Neanderthal Era; Prologue: The First Generation

Once upon a time, way back even before the Croods, there lived a dying community. Many Sims existed and lived together, but that was the problem. Overpopulation was a serious threat to the water and food supply. Anger led to violence, which led to death, and still the original danger persisted. Some Sims left in search of a better home.

One such group consisted of three young couples who desperately wanted a better environment in which to raise their children: Dan and Dami Allah, Oscar and Isa Nanu, and Yuga and Yenna Unki. The Allahs were fair-skinned and blond. The Unkis were dark-skinned with black hair. Oscar had a medium skin tone and red hair, while Isa was just a shade darker with brown hair.

“It will be an adventure,” Dan said, taking his young wife by the hand.

“This is not a game, Dan. We must succeed for our children,” Yuga said, rubbing his wife belly, where he hoped his future son or daughter already was.

“If we die, our fate will have been no different than if we’d stayed,” Oscar said.

“Will you boys stop being so dramatic?” Isa demanded, looping her arm through her husband’s.

“We’re not going to die,” Yenna said. “There’s too much at stake.” She believed that she was already pregnant, and she was determined that her unborn child would have a happy life.

“We should take some things with us,” Dami said, mostly ignoring the rest of the conversation as she packed as much of the village’s bland, bordering on spoiled, food as the six of them could carry.

The group traveled for weeks, marching at night and sleeping during the day. Even the most foolish Sim of that time knew that traveling during the day would probably kill them. The only landscape they knew was a desert terrain. The sun burned much too intensely for physical activity beneath it. They would all die of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or both before even coming close to finding a decent place to live.

Not that traveling at night was all that safe, either, though. They still practically burned through their food and water supplies.

Two weeks later, just as the group had run out of food, they stumbled upon gold. Well, not really. What they found was much, much more valuable than gold.

“Would you just look at the size of this water hole!” Dan exclaimed in triumph.

“Echo!” Isa called.

“Echo!” her echo replied.

The water hole was a true oasis, complete with green grass and shrubs. The land was harder and moister here than the ordinary, shifty sand of their former home, and countless caves dotted the landscape. The couples got to work fishing immediately, to satiate their hunger before their curiosity led them to explore the immediate vicinity.

They truly had found a wonderful place, as there were several smaller oases around the one large one. The group split up into pairs, each couple moving into caves that had a nearby personal water hole. They survived on fish while they planted seeds and hoped that the earth would provide just a little bit of life.

Their plants flourished beyond all expectations. The couples could have been content to raise their children on fish only, but they ended up with such a variety in their diet that they hardly knew what to do with all their new food.

Granted, farming was very hard work. The men did most of the work, as their wives were often bedridden with pregnancy sickness. However, the price was one happily paid.

A couple of years later found the couples thinking about and blessing their decision to leave their homes.

A very pregnant Dami sighed in contentment, leaning into her husband as they watched their firstborn baby, their son Danny, wave his chubby little hands around in glee. It was a bit difficult to see in the dark cave, but that was nothing the Sims weren’t used to. Bringing fire inside the caves would add to the risks of their overheating.

“You were right to have us leave home,” Dami mumbled.

“I don’t think of that place as home anymore,” Dan replied softly.

“True,” Dami agreed. “This home is better than anything we could have dreamed.”

A stone’s throw away, Oscar wrapped his arms around his wife’s extended belly. By the dim light shining through the cave entrance, the couple watched their firstborn, their son Ouran, sleep peacefully. His little chest rose and fell in a rhythm.

“I’m so glad we came here. This is paradise,” Isa whispered.

“Perhaps one day I ought to make a quick trip back and tell some of our other friends what a great place we found,” Oscar suggested quietly.

Isa frowned, mildly concerned. “Oscar, we don’t want this place to become overrun like things were there. Think of the environment we want our kids to have.”

On the other side of the Nanus from the Allahs, the Unkis were similarly watching their firstborn, their daughter Yinna. Despite her bulging stomach, Yenna hugged her daughter close while her husband caressed the cheeks of both his little girl and his wife.

“I want her to grow up to become a respectful young woman who also won’t take trash from anyone,” Yenna said.

“She was born first, so she will get all we own when we’re gone,” Yuga promised.

Where the couples had come from, patriarchy was much more common than matriarchy, but there were some families that were matrilineal in nature, occasionally even matriarchal. Yuga was so delighted with their new home and healthy baby that he decided to pass things on to his firstborn regardless of ordinary gender rules.

For years and years, the families lived in peace. Each couple produced six bouncing babies, and the Unkis even had a set of twins. Farming and fishing took their toll, burning everyone at some point or another, especially as the families began to outgrow their caves. Eventually, some of the children moved into their own caves, sometimes alone, sometimes with siblings, and sometimes with friends. The second generation had begun their independent lives.

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Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 16: The Monastery

Disclaimer: This authoress knows very little about Roman Catholic traditions, as she is a nondenominational Christian in real life. Please forgive historical inaccuracies and remember that this is only a game.

Grand Abbot lived alone in the monastery for some time, praying for greater tolerance and compassion. He was ashamed that he had gotten into a fight with a young woman in Rome, but eternally grateful that his God had seen fit to allow both parties to walk away relatively unharmed. He had also lost his temper with a couple of other Sims, leading him to a greater realization of his need for grace. He needed the Almighty to extend grace to him, and he needed to learn to extend grace to others.

Fortunately, after a long day of prayer, Grand Abbot believed that his request had been granted. He no longer felt as grouchy as he once had; his drive to live in harmony with others had increased threefold.

His belief was manifested as reality when a young woman slapped him in a fit of incomprehensible rage the next day. Instead of retaliating as he once would have, Grand Abbot stepped away, prayed for her sinful soul, returned, and offered the other cheek.

In the time he didn’t spend praying, Grand Abbot visited the Cathedral and chapels in case someone needed him, began growing his own food, and cooked and cleaned for himself. He performed a couple of marriage ceremonies for some Slaves, and he offered advice when it was requested.

His was a quiet and uneventful life, once he solved the problem of his temper.

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 15: The Nunnery

Disclaimer: This authoress knows very little about Roman Catholic traditions, as she is a nondenominational Christian in real life. Please forgive historical inaccuracies and remember that this is only a game.

“Welcome, my daughters,” Mother Serenity said to Elia and Ella Allah as they approached her in the sanctuary at the convent. “How may I help you?”

“Can we become nuns, too?” Elia asked.

“We hate boys!” Ella added.

Mother Serenity invited the girls into a private room to talk. “I would be delighted to call you my sisters, but foreswearing marriage in favor of sisterhood does not mean that ‘hating’ anyone is acceptable.”

“Ella was just being dramatic,” Elia said quickly. “We just have had some difficult times at home. But we believe in your God and your desire to serve the community. We want to dedicate our lives to prayer and helping others.”

Ella nodded vigorously, choosing not point out that she had meant her comment about men. Her brother Domino (all hail his high Emperorship) was probably the Devil incarnate, and she didn’t know that other men could possibly be any better.

“The sisterhood is not to be taken lightly, nor looked upon as merely community service,” Mother Serenity warned.

“We understand, and we long to learn more. This is the life we desire,” Elia promised, and Ella nodded her agreement.

“Then welcome, my sisters,” Mother Serenity said, smiling warmly and embracing the girls. “Change your outfits now. Modesty is a basic essential.”

Elia and Ella wore long Roman dresses, but apparently the darker nun outfits were a uniform not to be argued against. Elia wondered, though she didn’t ask, what Mother Serenity must have thought of the Sims’ Neanderthal garments.

Elia and Ella passed their days in bliss, helping Mother Serenity garden and cook and clean. They also found the time to play chess against each other and play the pianos in the sanctuary with visitors. Talking with visitors was also a large part of their days.

The sisters daily strove to mature to Mother Serenity’s level of compassion and wisdom.

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 14: The Romanized Alilays

Antonio Allay, upon coming of age, decided that his own small home was a more appealing option than staying in a large home with five siblings. So he changed his surname to Alilay to distinguish himself, and he moved out.

On the trek to the Plebeian area of Rome, he came across Orella Nanu, who felt the same way he did. He proposed that they start their new home together, and she agreed.

“Now the only thing left to do is figure out how we’re going to make a living,” Antonio said, once their new house was completed. It was rather small in total ground covered, but it rose three stories into the air.

“How about a career of entertainment?”

Antonio and Orella turned to see their Emperor Domino approaching them.

“Excuse me?” Antonio asked.

“I’ve learned about this,” Emperor Domino said. “In a society where there’s an upper class with a bunch of free time, they like to be entertained. In fact, they’ll pay a good amount for good entertainment. And what’s more fun to watch than an extremely active game?”

Readers might recognize Emperor Domino’s offer as a job in the athletic field.

“That makes sense,” Antonio said hesitantly. “All eyes would be on me?”

That sounded appealing. But would he really be able to support himself on it? Something so impractical was a little hard for his still-Neanderthal instincts towards survival to imagine.

“Antonio, you’re a smart kid; I like you,” Emperor Domino said. “I can lend you some books on games called football and baseball and basketball. If you can turn any of those games into one-man shows that my family and yours enjoy watching, I’ll set it up so you can get paid for it.”

“Thanks, Your Highness,” Antonio said, foregoing a bow in favor of a good old-fashioned handshake.

Emperor Domino looked a bit taken aback by the physical contact, but he didn’t say anything about it. He did, however, make a mental note to wash his hands well when he got back to his palace.

“Is there anything I can help with in the community, you think?” Orella asked.

Emperor Domino looked at her with barely concealed disgust. “Maybe. But first, you’re going to have to get smarter. An old woman like you might not make it to the right level of education before you become an adult and had better start popping out babies.”

“Excuse me!” Orella spluttered. She still had a few years before she was officially an adult. And more than her age, how dare he insult her intelligence? She was every bit as good as the two boys she was facing!

Also, Orella had never realized that a woman’s difficult job of bearing and raising kids could be made to sound so shallow. She actually had to remind herself that motherhood was a very important occupation; Sims would cease to exist if people stopped having kids.

“You’re excused,” Emperor Domino said as he turned to go. “Good luck; you’ll need it.”

“Well I never!” was all Orella could think to say after he had left.

Antonio stood awkwardly to the side before thinking of something to say. “If it makes a difference at all, I think he’s wrong about you.”

“You bet he’s wrong about me!”

“So you think you’ll be able to change his mind?”

“Absolutely!”

Once Orella had calmed down, though, she realized that maybe a job in the community wasn’t her cup of tea, after all. She didn’t believe that all she was good for was bearing kids, but she did come to realize that Antonio would probably be a better man if she supported him from the background.

All of Antonio’s time was eaten up in studying and working out. Someone needed to keep the house clean and cook meals.

Additionally, Orella realized that she could even further Antonio’s occupation advancement if she did some advertising for him. So she went out into the community and talked with people, dropping a good word for Antonio every so often.

Once, she succeeding in her self-appointed task with Emperor Domino’s mother, getting the esteemed lady interested in Antonio’s ambition. That very evening, Antonio returned home from the community with the news that the Emperor’s entire family was now supporting him in his efforts.

“You made that happen, didn’t you?” he asked, grinning widely.

She nodded, beaming back.

“You are fantastic!” Antonio cried, catching her around the waist and spinning her around in the air. “How can you be so good to me?”

Orella blushed as she was set back on her feet. “You’ll think it’s silly.”

Even though Antonio had set her down, he didn’t let her go. “Have I ever said or done anything to make you think I ever consider anything about you silly?”

“It will just strengthen the Emperor’s low opinion of me,” Orella amended her claim.

“Are you in love with him?”

“No!” Orella protested, horrified.

“Please tell me you’re in love with me,” Antonio whispered.

Orella blushed more deeply red. “Why?”

“Because I’m in love with you.”

“Really?”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“I’m in love with you, too.”

Antonio grinned, pulled her closer, and kissed her, which she returned enthusiastically.

Who cared what Emperor Domino thought! Antonio thought Orella was priceless and irreplaceable, and that was more than enough for her.

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 13: The Romanized Eunkis

Life started decently enough for the Eunki household, given their status as Slaves.

Elettra laughed as she watered the seeds Cosimo had just planted. “Am I the only one getting a sense of déjà vu?”

Cosimo grinned. “There are some differences between now and when we first started life alone in the desert. For one thing, I’m not as grumpy. I hope.”

“Oh, no, you’re as grumpy as ever. I’m just more tolerant,” Elettra teased.

Cosimo had stopped trying to deny his feelings; he was head over heels in love with Elettra. He could tell that she wasn’t at the same depth of feeling for him, but he didn’t let that bother him. Over the next couple of weeks, he spent time slowly wooing her, and she eventually came around.

Cosimo lightly brushed her chin with his thumb and gave her a kiss, which she returned without hesitation.

“When we’re old enough, I’m going to ask you to marry me,” Cosimo said.

“I’m older than you,” Elettra reminded him, again teasing. “How do you know I’ll wait for you?”

Cosimo grinned. “Don’t make me go back to being grumpy.”

The two teens looked at the world through rose-colored glasses for a few days. They knew, of course, that one of them might at some point be chosen in the Slave Lottery, but they hoped to have a decent amount of time together before that happened. And the lottery was only in the backs of their minds, anyways.

Unfortunately, one disaster came along that no one had expected: Yaza Unki.

Cosimo’s little sister, who lived with Elettra Allah and Cosimo Eunki and their little brother Carp Unki, became an ill-tempered teenager.

By the time she was a teen, Yaza had realized her rotten luck in life. She was a Slave, and the lowest of the low because of her association with the two outcasts of the Neanderthal Age. She could have so many opportunities even a single class up, if only she hadn’t been dragged into such a mess. If only she had gone with Carlo instead of Cosimo.

As the days passed, Yaza’s temper grew. She threw tantrums on a regular basis, and she got into arguments with Elettra, even though the two of them were good friends.

And then, one fateful day, she attacked Elettra.

And Yaza won.

And Elettra died.

Cosimo heard Elettra cry out in pain, and he rushed to his beloved just in time to see the tail end of the fight and Elettra collapse in agony.

“Elettra!” he yelled, throwing himself onto his knees at her side.

She was badly wounded.

But she looked up at Cosimo and smiled. “I would have waited for you,” she whispered.

And then her eyes went blank, and Death came to collect her soul.

Cosimo stood up in a rage and stormed over to his sister.

“What do you think you were doing?” he yelled. “You killed Elettra, you idiot! What did she ever do to you? She was only ever friendly and wonderful and perfect! Don’t you know that only agony ever comes from fights?”

“Oh, you’re one to talk!” Yaza screamed back at him. “Just look at your face, Cosimo! Who do you think it was that taught me how to fight?”

“We’re Slaves because I made the stupidest mistake of my life fighting! Haven’t you learned anything?”

“Shut up! You don’t know what I’m going through! And it’s all your fault, too! I bet Carla is laughing at us right now! She’s a Plebeian because she’s a winner! You’re a Slave because you’re a loser! And I’m a Slave because you dragged me down with you!”

“So get out of this house right now and marry some Pleb! No one’s making you stay!”

Carp, who had been watching quietly until now, burst into tears. “Yaza… Cosimo… Pl-pl-please…” he sobbed.

Cosimo and Yaza called a truce for their youngest brother’s sake, and a few days passed uneventfully. Cosimo let Elettra’s grave remain on his lot, too heartbroken to send away what was left of the girl with whom he’d fallen in love.

For a while, Yaza seemed to have calmed down. She played with her brothers like a normal sister. Cosimo even began to wonder if he could forgive her.

But Yaza proved to be just as unstable a week later as she had been before. With hardly a warning tantrum, Yaza attacked Cosimo.

In self-defense, Cosimo found himself in another fight with a sister. This time, he emerged victorious.

Unfortunately, it was at the cost of Yaza’s life.

Cosimo did mourn her death, but not as badly as he’d mourned Elettra’s. Justice had been served.

Carp was devastated at Yaza’s death. He cried every time he saw the two tombstones sitting side-by-side. Cosimo even worried that Carp might fall prey to whatever mindset had turned Yaza into such a nightmare.

With a heavy heart, Cosimo realized that moving the resting places of his beloved and his sister was for the best. He spoke with Grand Abbot and got permission to bury the girls at the Slaves’ chapel. He figured that Elettra was doubtless in a better place, and he hoped that even Yaza might have been forgiven her wrongdoings.

Life at the Eunki household was anything but normal now, but Cosimo and Carp had little choice but to try to carry on.

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 12: The Romanized Udkis

Dex Udki planted seeds in his new field alongside Tessa Nanu. They were the only two Sims in the new home, as Tonna, Tenna, and Demtrio had gone to work on the Nanu Plantation.

They worked in a comfortable silence until Mars showed up.

“Did we do something wrong?” Dex asked immediately.

Mars grinned and looked at Tessa. “Tessa Nanu, congratulations. You’ll be the first to die. In a week, I’ll be back to collect your life. Don’t bother trying to run away; I will find you.”

With that, he turned and left.

Absolutely horrified, Tessa turned to Dex in a panic but didn’t know what to say.

“No!” Dex shouted, at no loss for words himself. “No, you’re not going to die, Tessa! I’ve lost too many people I care about already! My son is a Slave on a plantation, and I can’t see Dar—his mother anymore. I will not lose my best friend, too.”

Tessa pretended not to notice Dex’s slip-of-the-tongue. Instead, she let herself be warmed by the realization that Dex cared about her.

And then she felt as if someone had splashed a bucket of freezing water over her head as she came to another realization. She had grown to care for Dex as more than a best friend.

“How can we stop it, though?” Tessa asked, wrapping her arms around her.

Dex paced. And paced. And then stopped. “Money.”

He looked over at Tessa. “Our new system is entirely built on money. Emperor Domino can’t get enough of it. He must be paying Mars. So we just need to pay Mars more to get him to overlook the fact that he chose you this lottery.”

“And where are we going to get this money on such short notice?” Tessa asked. She bowed her head and kicked at the dirt. “You know, maybe it’s for the best…”

Dex grabbed her wrist and yanked her behind their new hut, cutting her sentence off before she could continue. He dug at the dirt until a huge stockpile of pole beans was uncovered.

“We grew this back before the volcano exploded. I managed to bring it with us,” he said. “We’ll go to Mother Serenity or Grand Abbot and beg them to buy it from us. The Church is just as rich as the Emperor.”

Tessa took in a deep breath and released it slowly, wondering if Dex knew how much it meant to her that he was willing to do this. He probably didn’t, and it was probably best that way.

“Thank you,” she said, tears pricking her eyes.

Dex nodded gruffly.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough veggies to raise the amount of money Grand Abbot thought they would need.

“After all, you’re going to have to pay tithes on whatever you earn, too,” Grand Abbot said. “If it were up to me, I would give you more time on your tithes. But your Emperor isn’t so lenient. I’m sorry, Tessa.”

“It’s not over yet,” Dex insisted. “Come to our house and take everything from us except what we need most to survive.”

Tessa thought she might pass out. “Dex, you’re being too kind. Maybe it would be easier if I just let him—“

“Not a chance!” Dex said.

Tears once again started in Tessa’s eyes, this time spilling down her cheeks. “Thank you.”

Dex ignored her completely this time. He was starting to worry that he might actually be falling in love with a girl so much younger than him.

Once their home was reduced to a single tiny room and a grill, Grand Abbot said that they definitely had raised enough money. He took their tithe and went back to the monastery.

As promised, Mars showed up on time to get Tessa.

Dex stood in his way.

“Move aside, shrimp, before I kill you, too,” Mars said.

Dex waved half of their raised funds in front of Mars’ eyes. “What if I told you I would give you all of this, if you’ll forget that Tessa’s supposed to die?”

Mars hesitated. “I can’t be bought easily, kid. That’s not enough.”

Tessa stepped forward and displayed the rest of their funds. “What about this?”

Mars rubbed his chin slowly. “This won’t be permanent. I might draw her name again next time.”

“We’ll take that chance,” Dex said.

“Someone will still have to die this time around, too,” Mars added. “If Tessa doesn’t, someone else will.”

Tessa’s hand flew to her mouth.

Before she could back out of what they’d worked for the last few days, Dex shoved the money at Mars. “Get out of here. You’re not getting Tessa. Not this time.”

Mars grinned, pocketed the cash, and left.

Tessa started crying. “It’s not worth it, Dex. Who am I to live while someone else has to die?”

“Who are the Allahs to lounge in finery while we slave away in the mud?” Dex countered. “We have to look out for ourselves now if we have any hope of surviving. The Neanderthal mindset doesn’t work in this new world.”

“I know,” Tessa sobbed. “I just…”

Dex released a long, pent-up breath. “Tessa, even if the entire Roman population were to be wiped out because of what we did today, I would still have done it. There’s no way I could lose you.” He paused, then made himself say it. “I love you.”

There. He’d said it. He’d taken advantage of his brother’s wife and gained a wonderful son, but always despaired of finding a Sim he could actually potentially love as a wife and to whom he could devote his life. But even though he was middle-aged, and even though Tessa had only just become an adult, Dex somehow knew that Tessa was the one Sim he had been looking for his entire life.

Tessa looked up at Dex through her tears. “What?”

“I love you, Tessa,” Dex repeated. “I want you to marry me. But I love you enough that that I’ll back off if you ask me to. Your happiness is more important to me than anything else in the world.”

“Dex, I…” Tessa faltered.

Dex’s face fell.

Then Tessa reached up and caressed his face. “I love you, too. I didn’t realize it until I thought I was going to die. But I wasn’t afraid of dying so much as I was of having to leave you. But then I thought, maybe it would be better that way. With your son temporarily gone, you might have a shot at marrying some traveler if you didn’t live with a girl you weren’t related to. You might have a shot at happiness.”

Dex kissed her full on the mouth. “I’m already happy,” he said.

They visited their local chapel the very next day, and Grand Abbot married them.

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 11: The Romanized Ounkis

Yugi and Darla Ounki gained a roof over their heads thanks to the spirit of comradery that apparently had not completely vanished amongst the Sims in the transition from the egalitarian Neanderthal Age to the hierarchical Roman Era.

Yugi and his oldest two sons sickened with the flu right before the volcano erupted, and they barely managed to run to safety. Darla caught the flu soon after they arrived in their new homeland. The baby twins, fortunately, did not get sick.

Then Darla had another baby and instantly got pregnant again, not helping her health. Yugi and his two older boys tried to get some crops growing so that if they ever recovered from the flu, they wouldn’t die from starvation.

Eventually, the family did tackle the flu. And then they looked around well enough to realize what their lot had become.

“We’re Slaves, apparently, Darla,” Yugi said, partly wondering if he just had yet to wake from a bad dream.

“I don’t mind, as long as I’m with you,” Darla said, taking her husband’s hand. Somehow, despite the hardships, she was deliriously happy. Her mood never dropped anymore; she always had a smile on her face.

Her husband had forgiven her for her mistake, and she would never, ever leave him again.

Yugi intertwined their fingers and smiled sadly. “I hope we’ll have an entire lifetime together, sweetheart.”

“I love you, Yugi.”

“I love you, too, Darla.”

Book 2: Starting Over; Chapter 10: The Romanized Nainus

Azia and Oden Nainu looked at their tiny new home.

“Well, it’s not perfect,” Oden said.

“But it’s clean, dry, and insulated,” Azia said.

“We can live here,” their teenaged son Aozo said confidently. “We’ll survive.”

“The grass is cold on my feet,” Prisco, the youngest, complained.

“Well, I think it’s pretty,” their daughter Andromeda declared. “I don’t know why you guys don’t like it.”

Oden and Azia exchanged glances. How did they explain to their daughter about the Slave Lottery?

“We haven’t made enemies of Emperor Domino,” Oden whispered to his wife. “Hopefully we won’t be picked for the lottery, at least for a long time to come.”

Azia nodded, pressed a kiss to her Plant Sim husband’s cheek, and went inside to lay down.

For a while, all seemed quiet. Azia gave birth to another boy, and then almost instantly got pregnant again.

But then Mars showed up.

He came late in the evening, when everyone but Oden and Aozo were asleep.

“Aozo Nainu, congratulations,” Mars said, grinning. “You’re the first to die. Come with me now.”

Aozo threw a panicked look at his dad and hung back.

Mars glared at him. “Now, boy. I’ll drag you if I have to. Keep some dignity and walk.”

“Wait!” Oden said, stepping between Mars and Aozo.

“Out of the way, Pops,” Mars said. “The boy won. There’s no arguing with the Emperor’s laws. We’re already behind schedule because the Sim who originally won… Well, never mind that. The point is, someone needs to die. Now.”

Oden and Aozo exchanged glances, then Oden squared his shoulders and said, “Take me instead.”

Mars rolled his eyes. “What is with you Slaves and your desperation? It’s disgusting. But fine, if you come right now, you can die instead of Aozo.”

“No, Dad!” Aozo shouted.

“I love you, son. Tell your mother I love her, too,” Oden said, seeing truth in Mars’s eyes. If Oden didn’t leave immediately, Oden would lose his son.

“No!” Aozo shouted again, pulling on his dad’s arm. “I was chosen! It’s me that needs to die, not you! I won’t let you do this!”

Mars growled loudly and shoved Aozo away. “I’M KILLING YOUR FATHER; NOW GET OUT OF THE WAY!” he bellowed, clearly having lost all patience.

Azia heard the yelling and ran outside, but by the time she appeared, Mars had already dragged Oden out of sight. Aozo tearfully explained to his mother what happened, and Azia sank to her knees, sobbing.

She shouted curse after curse at Mars, even though he was long gone. Yami Ungi, who was patrolling nearby, heard her and came to see what was the matter.

Neither Azia nor Aozo got much sleep that night. And then the sun rose, exposing Andromeda and Prisco to the harsh reality that their father was gone. Paolo, at the Emperor’s Palace, would return home to find his father gone for good. Azia’s latest child Abaco and her yet-unborn child would grow up never knowing their father.