(set: $score to 0)3:45am I take a cigarette break, still not sure whether it’s time for another cup of coffee to pull an all-nighter for work or tuck myself into bed and call it a night. My body is aching all over, but I’m on a roll, work is getting done. I’m still in the middle of a fantasy where my report writes itself during my sleep when the loud buzz of my phone vibrating repeatedly on the table drags me back into reality. Mom. I pick up. Her words are making the whole world very real and crude, everything around me suddenly looks sharp and hostile, as if I was becoming ethereal and about to fade into my own flat. My home, minus me. Everything makes painful sense but I need to keep it up, her own brave attempts to hide her sobs say enough about the support she needs. I breathe life into my lungs, unfair life, arbitrary air that I get to enjoy because I am young and fine, and I hate myself for a second for hogging it all. I’m not even thinking about the comforting words I’m saying. We’re playing the part of mother and child facing personal drama. And there are no polite sentences that can transcribe the internal screaming we are both experiencing until the end of that phone call. I slowly put down my phone on the cold kitchen counter. Nobody’s home, but I’m surrounded by haunting words. Grandma. Hospital. Cancer. Dementia. Pain. A year at best. A year at worst? The cigarette butt is cold between my fingers and the last bit of ash falls outside the ashtray as if trying to have a go at being something else than combusted leaves. I’m visiting Grandma tomorrow after work. This is definitely going to be a downward spiral, but there are some rotten rabbit holes you have no choice but to [[jump in|First Verse]].The bus took way longer than I thought. The people riding it were all wearing that look of carefully crafted neutral mask behind which they were hiding the reason they were going to the hospital. Treatment for themselves, visiting an ailing friend, checking up on something potentially bad enough to require frequent visits. The only person breaking that masquerade of normalcy was an angry teenager on the phone, visibly upset, talking loud and cursing. Something about “him needing urgent support” and “not a time to hold grudges”. We all did our best not to listen, looking out the windows, fiddling with our phones, hoping very hard for the bus to arrive. And then it did. The first gust of fresh air is quickly followed by the alienating whiteness of the hospital walls. From the acceptable social lie of pretending we were fine to the feeling of being lost specks of color in a pristine space ship, the profound weirdness of the moment is uncomfortable and we part ways, each to the lonely gravity of their own life. After a fair bit of asking around, my steps lead me to an uncomfortable bumbling of wails and sobs. I can barely see grandma’s room door behind the sheer numbers of relatives and distant friends who came as soon as they heard the news. Court games were never the Duchy’s main appeal, and hearing the racket in the banquet room as I went down the stairs from my tower, I start fearing the worst. The Darkness had us under attack for a single day, surely we didn’t already breach our defenses and lose to it? The sight of the room absolutely cramped with grief-stricken citizens is only marginally more reassuring. Everyone is there. Absolutely everyone that ever mattered at one point or another had heeded the call and is sharing food and thoughts in a disorderly fashion. Three minstrels are singing different heart-wrenching eulogies for the soon-to-be-gone Duchy at the same time, forming a dissonant background to the panic and sadness. I was never supposed to wear the crown, that was my older brother’s destiny. But at that exact moment, all eyes are on me, and the distress is strong enough in the air to drag me in. I start to talk with the makeshift courtiers when the chancellor and her advisors start hovering around the room, visibly annoyed by the mess. This is where they usually discussed politics, and right now it is just noise and unhelpful feelings. * I make good use of the modicum of political sway that I seem to hold over the crowd to urge them to [[finish their plates and go as soon as they can|Choice 1A]], since important matters are at hand. * I ask for a bit of sympathy from the chancellor, [[politics will have to wait until the people pour their hearts out|Choice 1B]]. What good is a fief saved if its subjects are not allowed to care about it?(set: $score to $score + 1)I understand the need to express sympathy and be there, but this is just wrong, the doctors can’t even access their own equipments and they’re trying to tell us that they need space and Grandma needs some quiet. We simply cannot stay. I take it upon myself to get their message across and hop from group to group to tell the crowd to arrange other times to visit. A lot of people are upset and leave in a huff, but I can’t bring myself to care about aggravating some foul-weather friends that Grandma never mentioned even once. Once even those who leave graciously are gone, I get a smile and a nod from the staff and find myself alone in Grandma’s room. She just got sedated and is now fast asleep. I wish she was here. Not lying down, just her the way she was, next to me when the going got tough and cracking jokes at the inescapable horror. No doubt she would make fun of herself. But I can’t. And everybody else is gone for today, her state is mine alone to face. A tear is shed, in the unbearable intimacy of this room. It is a lot to take in. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_1.png" width=600 alt="Walls are white"> [[Carry on|Second Verse]].(set: $score to $score - 1)The doctor wedges herself in my conversation. "You’re interfering with our work. I’m sorry about the news, but unless you want to actually have a loss to deal with, I am going to have to ask you to leave." I am teary-eyed from the sharing of grief, and I have no patience for her tone. "Look, Doctor, it’s not going to be like this every day, but you can see she is loved and people actually took some time to come and pay their respects. Let that one slide and be happy that for once this is a place of sharing and bonding, alright?" She almost fires back at me, when she realizes she is vastly outnumbered by puffy-eyed friends and angry relatives. She finds something else to do. The rest of the day is spent in tight huddling between near strangers. We take turns, somehow, to have a few words with Grandma, but most of all we try to put on a show of unity and joy for her, while mainly offering each other support in the corridor. We reminisce and listen to each other, and we all cry a lot. It feels strange to empathize with people you barely know, but the pressure needs to come down, and sharing gives us all the resolve to carry on and make the best of the time Grandma has left. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_1.png" width=600 alt="Walls are white"> [[Carry on|Second Verse]].Days pass, the shock of the news vanishes. And with it, the steady flow of visitors. The well-intentioned people get back to their lives after coming to the depressing hospital once or twice. The distant relatives, the old friends, the neighbors simply stop coming. Then it’s the closer siblings, those who live further away, who gradually stop visiting. Grandma assures everyone it’s alright, she doesn’t want them to stop living for her. “Plus, I still have month to go! Come on, darling, you can’t put your life on hold so long!” I live closeby, it’s no trouble to visit after work. “You can’t live like that. I know you’re busy!” Coming after work means no late meeting, no drinks with colleagues, no going out with friends. It means running to catch the bus every evening. It means spending my evenings in those four white walls. It means chatting with the nurses, asking the doctors the hard questions, then explaining the answers to all those who aren’t there. It means watching the bouts of dementia when the pain gets too much. It means holding a hand that was once strong and noticing the marks age left all over it. “See, you should be at home. You’re young, what are you doing watching an old decaying woman like me?” It means noticing the twitches and the fear in Grandma’s eyes. She doesn’t want to be alone, but she tells me every day I should be out. Even my parents don’t visit her so often. Her sons are busy, or too far away. My father has to work long hours to maintain his small business afloat. My uncle lives more than a five hours drive away. Every counselor utters the same painful words. The Darkness is inescapable, the invasion won’t be without heavy loss and not everyone will show their loyalty in such difficult time. The fight is going to be slow, deadly and extremely hard to handle. A sense of betrayal puts a bitter taste on my tongue. Messengers come back, with refusal to help, well meaning excuses but no solution. Court members leave, run away to safer places. The few who stay can’t offer more than temporary relief. The Steward tries to come as often as they can, to counsel me and offer support. The Count sends a few messengers to distract my mind from the frightful ordeal every so often. They’re too far, too busy with other responsibilities. The weight of the falling Duchy is heavy on my shoulders. The fight is already taking its toll. The castle is grim, empty from its usual laughter and music. A feeling of helplessness grips me. The fear, the repeated betrayals and stressful rumors make me despair. I am not the heir to the crown, this shouldn’t be my responsibility, yet I feel like nobody else can help the Duchy resist the Darkness. * It is not a time to worry about inheritance, or hierarchy. The Duchy needs me, I have to make a stand! [[I will endeavor to hold my head high in the face of fear and despair|Choice 2A]]. I shall stay and make sure this is a fight the Darkness will remember. * This fight isn’t only up to me, and I have my own duties to attend to. I shall offer my best support to the Duchy, but I can’t risk losing everything. [[I must protect my own interests|Choice 2B]] and make sure the Darkness won’t conquer everything.(if: $score > 0)[ (set: $score to $score + 1) ](else:)[ (set: $score to $score - 1) ] I do my best to visit whenever it is possible, using all the days off I have accumulated to keep Grandma company through her tests. The depressing results make everything too real. The fear of losing Grandma makes me squeeze her hand harder. She looks so frail, the white sheets making her paleness even more noticeable. Her words lose their cutting edge, her eyes lose a bit of light at every new result. Chemotherapy is too hard on her body. She refuses to even attempt is, saying it’s not worth it for just a few months more. Softer treatments mean more pain, and less time. Maybe 6 months, 7 at best. The finality of it is hard to stomach, my life becomes an endless run of work, worry, and hospital. I try to stay strong, to distract Grandma, to make the pain a bit more bearable. We talk and talk, an endless stream of memories shared or told, tales imagined to escape the room a bit. I can only hope the treatment is enough for the pain to recede. [[Carry on|Third Verse]].(if: $score < 0)[ (set: $score to $score + 1) ](else:)[ (set: $score to $score - 1) ] Grandma is right, as usual. I need to take a break. I can’t risk my job now, and I can’t isolate myself from my friends and family like this. She’ll feel guilty and the doctors insist that a positive mindset can help her fight the sickness better. I go to the hospital often, but limit my visits at three times a week at best. Grandma seems lonely, but my visits bring her joy and distract her. I tell her about my days, about the silly things that happen to me. She’s lonely, I can tell. I feel guilty imagining what it’s like to be alone in this bed, facing sickness and death on her own. When the guilt is too much, I focus on work, I read books. A nurse tells me Grandma refused to try chemotherapy. We fight, I think she deserves as many months as she can get, but she steadily refuses to endure more agony than she has to. This is her decision, and though I feel robbed of my time with her, I reckon I can’t offer her enough support to complain. [[Carry on|Third Verse]].It’s late, I’ve been so busy with work today, I couldn’t come earlier. There is only half an hour left until the end of visit hours, but I couldn’t leave Grandma alone for the whole day, I had to show her she isn’t alone. As I step into the corridor leading to her room, I notice an unusual flurry of activities. The rooms seem crowded, I see a few nurses I remember from past visits running around. I enter Grandma’s room, and immediately the noises of the busy corridor are dimmed. She’s so pale on the bed sheets. She looks so fragile, for a second I worry she’s... But no, she turns around and looks at me. "Finally you’re here. I was worried you had forgotten about good old me." "Don’t be stupid", I say, "As if I could ever forget you." She sighs, a heavy sign of bone deep exhaustion. I move the chair near her bed. As I do so, my sleeve shows my tattoo. "You still have it..." "It’s a tattoo, Grandma, of course I still have it." "‘Memento Mori’. It means ‘remember you’ll die’. Funny, I remember teaching you about this." "You did, I got it tattooed on my arm when to celebrate your 80th birthday." "It’s beautiful. Just like you." "That’s what you said the first time too." The air around the room feels wrong, like time itself was halting. I long from the noises that usually fill the castle, the servants' steps and the children's laughs. The Duchess seems lost in thoughts. I come closer to her, hoping she’ll confide in me. "It feels like the Darkness is closing in on us. Everyday is worse than the last. I never thought such a day would come. I taught you to expect the worse. To remember Darkness is never far, but facing it now, I feel helpless." "Are you scared, Your Highness?" "No, I am not scared of the Darkness. I do not fear anymore. I do not feel anymore. Resistance is vain, I wish the end was already here..." Without the Duchess’ support, the Duchy is condemned. What shall I do in these times of sadness? * The Darkness is dimming her light, it is only normal to forfeit hope in such times. Her light might return on its own, it is but a matter of time. [[I should leave the Duchess alone to meditate|Choice 3A]]. * Memento Mori isn’t a matter of losing hope in face of the Darkness, but a matter of believing in the time we have! [[I shall assure the Duchess that hope isn’t lost|Choice 3B]], that this fight isn’t vain.(set: $score to $score + 1)It’s normal that Grandma feels that way. The sickness, the heavy treatment and the pain medecine must weigh a lot on her mood. I try to talk to rationalize her speech, but she barely listens to me. The atmosphere in the room becomes suffocating. Grandma tonelessly talks about her treatment and her chances of surviving the next five to six months. She noticed her own slip about the tattoo, the toll the sickness is taking on her memory. She’s getting increasly tired as she forces herself to maintain an empty conversation. I leave her with a muted goodbye, and she nods, already turning her head towards the windows. The only time I’ve seen her so sad and desperate was after Grandpa’s death. He wasn’t even 70 when his heart stopped. Stroke. Instant death. Grandma used to say: "He went like he lived: with a bang, and without pain." I wonder if this is what she hoped for herself. To go quickly, without suffering... As I get back into the corridor, I face the sudden flurry of activities. A nurse approaches me, saying visiting hours are nearly over. I barely resist running away from the hospital, heart heavy with sadness and guilt. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_2.png" width=600 alt="Castles aren't impregnable"> [[Carry on|Fourth Verse]].(set: $score to $score - 1)Her eyes seem so empty at this moment, I long for a glimpse of Grandma’s usual daredevil persona. I stand up, open the windows, open the door. She looks at me with dull eyes, a dead stare. "Memento Mori, isn’t about fearing death or giving up life. You taught me it meant we should always thrive to make the most of our time. You’re the one who always said ‘We all die some day, so while I wait for my crappy end, I will do whatever I want’. That’s what you told Mom when she was upset you bought this old piece of crap you call a motorcycle." "Hey! Betsy isn’t a piece of crap, you little brat!" "It’s true you’ve turned it into a real racing bike, but I’m sorry, Grandma, it //was// a piece of rubbish when you bought it!" We laugh and recount how badly Mom had reacted the first time Grandma let me borrow her trusted Betsy. I broke my arm that day and was grounded for a month. A nurse comes in mid-story, and tells us about her own crazy bike accident when she was a student. As I leave the hospital, exhausted but still laughing at Grandma’s antics, I noticed I stayed later that the normal visiting hours should have permitted. I feel lighter: when I got out of her room, Grandma was smiling and being her usual crazy and talkative self. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_2.png" width=600 alt="Castles aren't impregnable"> [[Carry on|Fourth Verse]].I blink awake, startled to see my living room ceiling. The TV is on, its sound turned down to an annoying background noise. Did I fall asleep? I remember leaving it on as I started to work on an urgent project for work, a project I had put aside for too long, prioritizing my visits to the hospital... And then weird dreams, restless nightmares... I almost long for Grandma’s clear room, the whiteness of it would probably help me clear my mind. I should visit her tomorrow. Wait, it’s tomorrow already. Sunlight is spreading through the curtains. I slept too much. This is unusual, I am an early riser. I overslept, but feel exhausted still. My cat jumps on my belly, asking for food. Its meowing is probably the reason I’m awake. Even its purring and insistence barely provoke a smile. I feel like all joyful thoughts have been sucked out of me, I feel hollow. And so tired. I try to wake myself some more, I go to the bathroom, and am greeted by my tired reflection the mirror. I look like I had a fight, the bags under my eyes are like giant bruises. I go through my morning routine on autopilot. Splash water on face. Make coffee. Drink coffee. I check my computer, and notice five urgent emails from my boss. I was supposed to send very important updates today... Three hours ago. At the very latest. My phone shows me I missed three calls. Same reason. I go pale, reading the parchments. My own responsibilities are becoming a real issue. The Darkness isn’t the only threat to me, I have to answer to Royal orders, and to other allies' requests. The Duchy might be under siege, I am not the one supposed to shoulder this burden, therefore everyone expects me to carry on my duties normally. But all these negotiations and war councils are taking a physical toll. My mind can’t get any peace, even in slumber. Always churning and fuming with strategies, possibilities, and endless tossing and turning. This misstep might be seen as a show of weakness to anyone outside the Duchy, I have to find a solution swiftly. * It may not have been my responsibility originally, but the Duchy needs all the help available. [[I will send an official apology to the throne and my allies|Choice 4A]], explaining the situation at hand and beg for a delay. * I can’t afford losing my reputation now, I am a respected leader and must act as one. I will send a honest apology to the throne, and offer assurances that I will not fail my allies again. [[I may have to leave the Duchy to its own devices for a while|Choice 4B]], and focus my vigor on my personal duties.(if: $score > 0)[ (set: $score to $score + 1) ](else:)[ (set: $score to $score - 1) ] My boss is angry, but my earnest apology softens the blow, and once I explain the situation, he agrees to give me a small delay. But he warns me: that deadline was very important, and he needs to be able to trust me. If I miss another one, I’ll get into serious trouble. I am relieved that he understands, but worried. He advises me not to let Grandma’s health take too much room in my own life. I may have agreed, if it was anyone else. But I can’t leave Grandma alone to fight. I must plan my work better to accomodate my visits. And ask for a lighter workload for a while, even if it costs me later on for my career, I’ll regret it too much if I miss Grandma’s last moments. [[Carry on|Fifth Verse]].(if: $score < 0)[ (set: $score to $score + 1) ](else:)[ (set: $score to $score - 1) ] My boss is angry, but accepts my apology, along with my assurances that it won’t happen again. He’s willing to trust me, since this is the first mistake I have made so far. As a show of confidence, he asks me to take care of another important project. I call the hospital, and tell Grandma about this, it’s a big opportunity for me, and it might mean a lot for my career. She’s thrilled for me, and urges me to accept the project. Even if I visit her less often, I know she’s happy to see me thriving in the job I chose. She knows I love my work, and she has always encouraged me. [[Carry on|Fifth Verse]].I was told a silent ambulance was a bad sign. It means that whoever they were driving for is actually not in that much of a hurry. If the problem went away, so do the ambulances. If they carry on driving outside of the perimeter of a medical facility, it’s usually because they have a body to remove. Such is the weight of silence. A siren is annoying, but it conveys the idea that something is left to be saved. Silence is just silence, echoing on itself and in-between every sound, forever. Inside hospitals, worry works pretty much the same way. Everyone is worried about something, for themselves or others. Groups are the worst, since their shared worry makes the air electric and heavy, it radiates like an unpleasant fog, it clouds you as you pass them by. As I make my way to Grandma’s room, in the corridor just after I get out of the elevator, I see a group of people, and something is off. I recognize some of them, they came often to visit an ailing auntie, I think. We never spoke, but we could read each other’s frown clearly enough. Today, all of them look sad and serene. That lack of worry in the way they interact drives a thousand needles into my heart. I know it is inevitable, but I don’t want that to be real. Not for me, not until I absolutely need to face it. It takes a single overheard sentence to push me over the tipping point. “It’s what she wanted, euthanasia was not easy to arrange, but she wanted to die with dignity.” I usually pay no attention to court chatter. Gossip and petty feuds are a luxury I never felt like buying into. But when the word “surrender” is uttered, the devil is out of the box. Murmurs become serious in tone and rivalries are set aside as if the very idea was enough to stop playing. I pretend I heard nothing. I carry on with my highborn gait, the confident smile of someone who knows what they’re doing painted on my face like a war mask. And my inner world is blown away by the storm. I close the door to my quarters and lay a shaking hand on a tumbler of water. I drink slow, long sips, and find no comfort there. Surrender. Cutting our losses. And accepting responsibility for it. (if: $score is 0)[ * I don’t want to be the one to settle this, but I tend to think [[surrender would be wiser|Choice 5A]]. * I don’t want to be the one to settle this, but I tend to think [[fighting it out would be wiser|Choice 5B]]. * I don’t want to be the one to settle this, I reach the stables in a black cloak and [[leave with my fastest horse|Game Over]]. ](else:)[ (if: $score > 0)[ * I must know more about this. The Duchy deserves to be treated with respect, even when it’s lost. [[And if it is the best solution, by all means it must be done|Choice 5AP]]. * This unpleasant solution is probably the least terrible of them all, but I pity the sad person who will have to carry it out. [[I shall approve, from afar|Choice 5BP]]. ] (else:)[ * Judging by the bitter taste in my mouth, I can only imagine what I must have cost the people, who suffer more than I do from the conflict, to talk about bending their knee. [[I believe it is unacceptable, but entirely understandable|Choice 5AN]]. * Yes, surrender exists. As a concept. As a possibility, for others. But the mere fact that some people start considering it bolsters my will to fight it out. [[We are not going down without a fight|Choice 5BN]]. ] ](set: $score to $score + 1)In the next few days, I dig into the proper terminology of euthanasia. Right to live in dignity. That one Swiss company that provides support through it. Legislations. Specific cases of people who got in trouble. It’s scary, but it looks like a fair way out. This newfound strength in what the situation still has to give is showing, and Grandma herself asks me about it, sometimes. I told her about the other lady in her floor, and she seems satisfied that she found a way to end the pain. Envy flashes in her eye and I find comfort in the words she simply cannot say right now, in her encouragement. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VersePos]].(set: $score to $score - 1)In the next few days, I try to find blog posts, articles, experiences of people who lost a relative to euthanasia. It’s all very hard, and some things are painful to read. The suicide part of the deal weighs heavily on everybody’s hearts. But everyone seems to have absolute certainty that the dearly departed deserved to have their pain stop. I find myself coming back to Grandma with a renewed tenderness, knowing that there are solutions, and sending her all the good vibrations I can until this can happen, somehow. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VersePos]].I don’t even know what I am doing here. I drank too much, I forgot my scarf at the bar and the midnight sandwich I had to soak in the booze is threatening to come right back by the way it came in. I sit on the sidewalk and take deep breaths to help my stomach settle. I am only halfway home and I am already shivering to my bones. My eyes try to find a point of focus while I massage my temples, but the off-white building in front of me gives my sight little to nothing to cling onto. The red cross sign catches my eye as I reminisce the evening. The air in the bar was stuffy and moist. A neighboring table of loud twenty-somethings was visibly having a wonderful time. The rest of the customers were trying to block their noise and mostly failing. Loud music filled in the blanks where human beings were trying to relate to one another. This was your standard-issue Thursday evening beer between coworkers, and I had been missing a lot of those in the last weeks, my mind being entirely somewhere else. I don’t know how Angie knew about my grandma, but once I was cornered with sympathy and “It’ll be nice to relax, give it a whirl”, there was no escaping this time. But it felt wrong. I felt wrong. The noise, the lack of sleep, the worry, it all got mixed with the fake relaxation of a social event designed to be fun while still being peripheral to work. My ribcage began shrinking on my heart and lungs. Anxiety receded with a well-timed pint of beer. And another. And another. The mead is going to my head and the lights are dimmed by the thick cloud of smoke that looks hanged on the ceiling like an unnatural lampshade. My cheeks are warm and when I slam my empty cup on the large wooden table, I let out a laugh. I immediately notice there is no joy in it. "So. Bertrand, was it? Are you even serious?" "I would say I am dead serious, but with the Darkness looming around, it seems unsafe to speak of the devil." He gives me a wildly inappropriate smirk to go with his wildly inappropriate bon mot. I know he thinks the mead and his flashy outlander attire gives him full rights to be offensive. It doesn’t. He carries on. "This battle is already lost, but I know a few diplomats who can teach a thing or two regarding how they dealt with these situations in the past. Surrender can be painless. Surrender can be quick. But it will never be accepted by the people." He lowers his voice to a whisper, and gets closer to me "You realize that I could get in trouble just telling you this, right?" * "You realize I am of ducal blood, and I should be the one to know the proper techniques to save my land an unnecessary bloodshed, right? [[Tell me more, and tell me in detail who should help me in what part of the endeavor|Choice 6AP]]. You are not getting in trouble, because you are not going to be bearing this burden alone." * "Keep it down, my friend. You are to tell me how these things work, not because we are going this way, but because knowing your options is the proper way to choose the best ones. [[Tell me just what I need to know so I can find out more by myself and not get in as much trouble as you seem to be|Choice 6BP]]."(set: $score to $score + 1)Knowing what I don’t want for Grandma is important. The thought of her killing herself is unbearable to me, enough to elicit a bit of distance-taking, but I am now sure I am going to stay there and soldier on. I care, and I should let her know more. Grandma got the news about the lady on her floor by someone else. I didn’t want to tell her, but I guess word gets around. She only ever hinted at the fact, but she always made clear that she was grateful to have what she did, and that we would have to make it last. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VerseNeg]].(set: $score to $score - 1)I cannot judge other people’s lives, but the sheer revulsion of losing prematurely someone who doesn’t have much time left is painful to me. I am thrown with full force the opposite direction and break down in tears in Grandma’s arms as soon as I get in her room. Her bony fingers on my hair, I realize that once again she is the one protecting me, even feeble as she is. This is what I need to share. This is all I need to soak in, for as long as I have the chance. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VerseNeg]].I don’t even know what I am doing here. I drank too much, I forgot my scarf at the bar and the midnight sandwich I had to soak in the booze is threatening to come right back by the way it came in. I sit on the sidewalk and take deep breaths to help my stomach settle. I am only halfway home and I am already shivering to my bones. My eyes try to find a point of focus while I massage my temples, but the large black windowpanes of the offices in front of me gives my sight little to nothing to cling onto. The massive neon sign of my company catches my eye as I reminisce the evening. The air in the bar was stuffy and moist. A neighboring table of loud twenty-somethings was visibly having a wonderful time. The rest of the customers were trying to block their noise and mostly failing. Loud music filled in the blanks where human beings were trying to relate to one another. This was your standard-issue Thursday evening beer between coworkers, and I had been missing a lot of those in the last weeks, my mind being entirely somewhere else. I don’t know how Angie knew about my grandma, but once I was cornered with sympathy and “It’ll be nice to relax, give it a whirl”, there was no escaping this time. But it felt wrong. I felt wrong. The noise, the lack of sleep, the worry, it all got mixed with the fake relaxation of a social event designed to be fun while still being peripheral to work. My ribcage began shrinking on my heart and lungs. Anxiety receded with a well-timed pint of beer. And another. And another. The mead is going to my head and the tavern lights are dimmed by the thick cloud of smoke that looks hanged on the ceiling like an unnatural lampshade. My cheeks are warm and when I slam my empty cup on the large wooden table, I repress an alcohol-enabled sob. "Excuse me, Bertrand, was it? Where were you?" "I was just saying that I know what the Duchy is going through. I lost all of my father’s side of the family to the Darkness and..." He starts welling up, my own spirits are clouded by the noise and drink. I stutter for a moment before he clears his voice and speaks again. "It is a matter of pride, but in these battles, pride is the only thing you have left. Fight for the castle. If there is even a little strength in you all, stay strong and defend it with all you’ve got. Dirty your hands if you have to. There is not that much of a difference between nobility and commoners in war. I am more than ready to help you ease into a social situation unfit for your rank, though it might cost you face." * "I see your pain, and your words are wise. But for me to take direct part in this war would risk losing yet another asset for both the people and the nobility. [[We shall fight, but I think I would rather take part from a distance|Choice 6AN]], where I will be most needed." * "You are right. This is not something I can delegate. [[I need to step down from my 'noblesse oblige' nonsense and get down to business in person|Choice 6BN]]. We need to stand for what we believe in, and the Darkness will remember the way we fight!"(set: $score to $score + 1)This Bertrand guy was so weird. Never seen him at work. Must have been a friend of a friend or something. But he was friendly nonetheless. He left me a phone number, an adress and a name, “nurse sharon truglioni”. The pavement is damp and the air isn’t getting any warmer. I’ve got work in the morning, but judging from how the others went home, I’m not going to be the only one coming late or hungover. But I needed that, I think. I needed to wrap my head around coming back for Nurse Truglioni. The clinic she works in was on the way home. This is real. This can happen. I can help Grandma get what she wants. I get back up, fill my chest with agressively cold air and start walking home again. My steps are far less steady than my resolve. [[Carry on|Seventh VersePos]].(set: $score to $score - 1)Why am I even here? Yes, that weirdo graciously gave me the directions for a nurse who dealt in “soft euthanasia” for a price, but now I feel I have a loaded gun in my hand. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel better. I feel more dangerous, if anything. The very idea of being able to help Grandma in some way, to stop the pain, is a bit of a relief, though. A few deep breaths chase the confusion away. A few more clear my mind. This is scary and unsettling, but if I keep my distance, it can be safe for everyone. This has to work. It must. I try to smile at the clinic in front of me, but nothing sincere comes out. The way home is uneventful, but I feel somewhat supported in the lingering memory of a shady stranger with ties to illegal activities. Are those the people I want to make me feel good? [[Carry on|Seventh VersePos]].Recent visits have been hell. Grandma has been out of her mind, snapping, yelling at anything and anyone. Screaming her pain and fear to any person who was unlucky enough to be there when her meds are running out. I don’t know how the nurses and doctors handle this. And they have to deal with multiple patients. It’s heartbreaking. They call it dementia. A product of old age, brought on by the treatment and the pain. I call it agony. I walk slowly down the hospital corridor, reluctant to enter her room. What if today was worse? What if she screamed at me again? Last time was horrible. She gets lost in memories, last week she was fifty-two years in the past, in another hospital. After she gave birth to my father. Dad was here, she yelled at him, saying his birth was the reason she was here, stuck in a painful memory of the complications that resulted from his birth. Dad refused to come back this week. Even Uncle Trent has stopped calling her. He wanted to visit next month, but told me it might be too hard for him. Too painful. As I step into her room, though, I am greeted by peaceful silence. Grandma turns to me and smiles softly, welcoming me tiredly. “Hello, dear. Are you Dr Cerezo? I was supposed to see a Dr Cerezo today..." "No, Grandma, it’s me! Your grandchild, the one you gave your cat and favorite bike helmet to, because-" "Because life is better if you have a friend and protection! I’m sorry, dear, the medication is making me lose my head... Of course I know who you are, I even remember when you drew that horrible monster on my bathroom wall!" "It was a dinosaur, Grandma!" "Nonsense, it had four eyes, and it spat fire!" "I was five!" "And definitely not an expert in dinosaurs…" The castle is calm. I enter the banquet room, the place looks eerie. After the madness of the past days, it is a welcome change. Soft sunlight fills the room, reminding me of better days, before the Darkness. The banquet room is empty, the Duchy is calm. Everybody is tending to something else, things repeated crisis have put on hold. I waltz in the room, grateful for the respite. I recall all the times I’ve danced here, at banquets. I remember older celebrations, bathed in music and laughter. When the banquet room held feasts and negotiations, not emergency counsels for war strategies. It’s nice and peaceful, even though it’s empty. I guess the recent fight with the Darkness has taken a greater toll on the Duchy than I thought. Is this what is going to happen? We fight the Darkness until the whole Duchy is empty? Until no one is left to feast, laugh and dance? Haven’t we fought enough? Surrendering would bring a lasting peace to our subjects. The Duchy would be under the Darkness’ ruling, but they would finally be free of the war. It feels like the whole Duchy is holding its breath, waiting for the next deadly attack. Now feels like a good time to make a decision. * Let’s avoid more useless death. We must save whatever is left of the Duchy. Enough of the fear and fights. [[I will advise for a swift and earnest surrender to the Darkness|Choice 7AP]]. As bad as it sounds, this solution seems better than having the entire Duchy set aflame. I’d rather be ruled by the Darkness than burning into ashes. * This is the melancholy talking. The past days have been fraught with fear and nerves. There is a lull in the fights, but the exhaustion is still there. [[I shall not make any drastic decision|Choice 7BP]] while I am still reeling from the whole ordeal.(set: $score to $score + 1)Offering to get in a word to management on my behalf was really nice on Bertrand’s part, but this could get me in a lot of trouble. Missing social meetings is one thing, but stepping away from work? No, I need to keep that strength in mind and let it drive me to spending as much time as I can with Grandma without ever losing track of work. Work is what will let me breathe something else, and these last few weeks were alienating enough. There is no glory in a salary, but I feel somewhat thankful right now. I start walking home, feeling a bit refreshed, but mostly knowing I am on steadier ground, supported ever so slightly by Bertrand’s kindness. This is invaluable. [[Carry on|Seventh VerseNeg]].(set: $score to $score - 1)This was everything I needed to hear. There will be time for work. There will be a need to dive into fast-paced activity. But now what I need is to stay by Grandma’s side. Bertrand’s offer to vouch for me so I can take some pressure off from work is going to let me do just that. I fully realize the financial and professional hardships I will have to endure for it, but I just have to do this. I get back up on the sidewalk and bow theatrically to the building I am going to give a lot less of my waking hours for the next weeks. I go home drunk but relieved from the burden of needing to be there first thing tomorrow. I am going to sleep in, visit Grandma, and only then clock in some hours. Like I should. [[Carry on|Seventh VerseNeg]].Recent visits have been hell. Grandma has been out of her mind, snapping, yelling at anything and anyone. Screaming her pain and fear to any person who was unlucky enough to be there when her meds are running out. I don’t know how the nurses and doctors handle this. And they have to deal with multiple patients. It’s heartbreaking. They call it dementia. A product of old age, brought on by the treatment and the pain. I call it agony. I walk slowly down the hospital corridor, reluctant to enter her room. What if today was worse? What if she screamed at me again? Last time was horrible. She gets lost in memories, last week she was fifty-two years in the past, in another hospital. After she gave birth to my father. Dad was here, she yelled at him, saying his birth was the reason she was here, stuck in a painful memory of the complications that resulted from his birth. Dad refused to come back this week. Even Uncle Trent has stopped calling her. He wanted to visit next month, but told me it might be too hard for him. Too painful. As I step into her room, though, I am greeted by peaceful silence. Grandma turns to me and smiles softly, welcoming me tiredly. "Hello, dear. Are you Dr Cerezo? I was supposed to see a Dr Cerezo today..." "No, Grandma, it’s me! Your grandchild, the one you gave your cat and favorite bike helmet to, because-" "Because life is better if you have a friend and protection! I’m sorry, dear, the medication is making me lose my head... Of course I know who you are, I even remember when you drew that horrible monster on my bathroom wall!" "It was a dinosaur, Grandma!" "Nonsense, it had four eyes, and it spat fire!" "I was five!" "And definitely not an expert in dinosaurs…" The castle is calm. I enter the banquet room, the place looks eerie. After the madness of the past days, it is a welcome change. Soft sunlight fills the room, reminding me of better days, before the Darkness. The banquet room is empty, the Duchy is calm. Everybody is tending to something else, things repeated crisis have put on hold. I waltz in the room, grateful for the respite. I recall all the times I’ve danced here, at banquets. I remember older celebrations, bathed in music and laughter. When the banquet room held feasts and negotiations, not emergency counsels for war strategies. It’s nice and peaceful, even though it’s empty. I guess the recent fight with the Darkness has taken a greater toll on the Duchy than I thought. I refuse to let go of the Duchy like this. Remembering how much has happened between the walls of this castle, the good and bad, I know I should stay here. The Duchy needs my help, now more than ever. The incoming fights might be even worse than the ones we’ve faced yet. Uglier, deadlier. It will require better strategies, finer plans, rigorous preparations. The Darkness won’t recede, but we can prepare ourselves better. * [[I do not know if my will alone can carry me further|Choice 7AN]]. I can barely stand the fear anymore, and I am faltering in my steps. My bravour is crumbling under the exhaustion, I doubt I can withstand such a responsibility. * [[I can deal with this task|Choice 7BN]]. I won’t be paralyzed by fear, I won’t falter. I shall advise, strategize and distribute reassurances as much as I am required to. For I will see this war through to its end, the Darkness can’t scare me away.(set: $score to $score + 1)Grandma smiles. She trusts me to make sure she goes in the best conditions possible, on her own terms. Our shared relief hangs in the air as we actually talk about it openly. Euthanasia, a way for her to choose her own ending. I am glad to hear her own wishes and to be able to help. This is a precious moment, her being back to herself, planning a last bout of mischief, like she calls it. We reminisce a bit more, I fill in the blanks in her memory. Yes, Dad’s birthday is in May. No, Uncle Trent broke his arm, not his ankle, when he was four. Yes, Betsy was red when she bought it, but she turned it blue later on... All details, bits of her story the sickness and meds are slowly erasing. I understand her will to go peacefully before she loses all this. And this time, I can do something, I can grant her that last wish. [[Carry on|Eighth VersePos]].(set: $score to $score - 1)The meds are making Grandma’s speech falter, her memory is becoming spotty... I can fill her in, correct the bits she gets wrong. No, Dad’s birthday is in may. No, Uncle Trent doesn’t like mint-flavoured ice-cream. No, Mom didn’t like Betsy’s original color, that’s why you changed it for this beautiful blue... I am tired, but relieved there is no new crisis. I squeeze her hand tightly, noticing how much thinner she is, how fragile she looks. She is tired, I can see it. And she says as much. She wants it to end. But I can’t take Grandma’s words entirely seriously. How can I know if this isn’t the meds talking? She might seem sane again, but she’s still not fully herself. Her last crisis is too present, the fear and stress to overwhelming for me to think clearly right now. I want her to be able to go while there’s as much of her left, but I can’t hurry the process. I only wish I could know how much of her is left. I hope she’ll find relief soon. [[Carry on|Eighth VersePos]].(set: $score to $score + 1)Grandma hugs me tightly as I cry. I cry for her, who shouldn’t have to go through this. I cry for me, unable to keep her at my side forever. I cry for my father, her son whose birthday she can’t even remember anymore. I cry for all the memories she’s lost already, all the moments we shared that will get erased to be replaced by agony. I cry at the unfairness of it all. She shushes me, tells me little stories of her own childhood, lets me calm down and grip her worn out body as tightly as I dare. I wish I was able to reassure her for a change but even now, she’s the one taking care of me. She is strong like that. Like no one else I know. She is stronger than me, stronger than I could ever be. I almost wish she’d get mad at me. Her acceptance is another shard of guilt in my heart. I wish I was as strong as her, to support her like she’s always supported me. Her love is tinged with my own disappointment. [[Carry on|Eighth VerseNeg]].(set: $score to $score - 1)Grandma is glad, she secretly admit dying alone is a constant fear. I reassure her, I have no intentions of leaving her alone. Dementia is nothing compared to the ability of supporting her. She has always been a strong role model, I can’t let her down now that she needs me. We chat happily, and even though I have to fill in the blanks the meds have drilled in her memory, it feels like she’s back. We even turn it into a game. When is Dad’s birthday? Yes, it’s in May, one point for the little lady in the bed! What color was Betsy when you bought it? Nope, you painted it blue later on, it was originally red. One point for me! Ha, I am afraid you’re wrong again, Uncle Trent broke his arm, not his ankle, when he was four. That’s another point for me! I fear the next crisis, but I am now confident in my ability to stay with her through it. Whatever comes next, at least I’ll be with her. [[Carry on|Eighth VerseNeg]].The low drone of the coffee machine sets an eerie silence in the middle of our conversation. As I pick up my drink, dad pushes the button to get his, the drone buzzes again and we keep silent until we all have our beverages in hand, scalding our skin through the cheap plastic cup. The sunset is bathing the hospital waiting room in an orange glow. The corridors are empty save for tired nurses pushing trolleys. "We need to talk about what is going on." Mom’s usual gentle manners were making way for a more firm voice. She seems to be holding back a frown for the sake of a proper, if hard, talk. She carries on. "Phillip told me about what you were planning. I am not standing for this." (Wow, thanks Dad, I feel really safe knowing I can’t tell you these things.) Uncle Trent takes a loud, conspicuous sip from his cup of tea. "Well isn’t Mother Teresa just fine and dandy with her principles? Maybe we should celebrate? Open a bottle of sparkling wine for mom’s agony? Cheers, Gina, that’s a brilliant idea." "I can see how unpleasant that is to us all, and how terrible it is for her, but this is not over! Now what, we just kill off anyone in pain? This isn’t right and you know it." By now she’s just trying to make a fuss, which is throwing Uncle Trent into an even more provocative stance, and both of them are just hurling veiled insults at each other. Dad looks lost and barely dares speak up. Losing a war outside the walls was bad enough, now we must have one in the council room as well. I knew surrender wasn’t the popular choice to make, that was never in question. But for close advisors and relatives higher in succession to speak up drives a knife to my chest. The white walls that used to be the pride and honor of our family are now gray with dissent, tainted with the disapproval of those who would rather see it lost in pain and slow rot. The unaligned advisors seem to slowly side with the anti-surrender feel. * "Enough! You can turn a blind eye to the suffering and losses as long as you like, this is not what makes us noble! [[We are who we are because in times of need we know how to take hard decisions|Choice 8AP]]. Surrender is not pleasant, but this isn’t about us. It’s about the Duchy as a whole. It is a pride I am not letting waste away." * "You are good men and women. You want to fight for what you deem right. And I respect that. Let it be known that if there were the slightest chance of a fair fight we could win, I would be the first to lead it. But this is not it. [[This is a surrender in shame, and I am not happy to take part in it|Choice 8BP]]."(set: $score to $score + 1)Mom is taken aback by my sting. Surely she expected me to bow my head down to her authority, but this is not the person who I am anymore. Dad scoots up by her side and holds her hand. She is shaking in anger, and she manages to hold the tears back and utter with impossible gravity "Let’s go, Phillip. We are not welcome." before they both get up and hurry to the elevator without another form of goodbye. The creaking of the nurse’s trolleys fills in the heavy silence and I start tearing up as well. Uncle Trent’s long, thin, somewhat cold hand rests awkwardly on my shoulder. He was never big on displays of affection, but this is him trying to show support and I appreciate it. He vaguely tries a "Hey, kid, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine" before leaving words out altogether. I am not alone. [[Carry on|Ninth VersePos]].(set: $score to $score - 1)Uncle Trent throws me a glare worth a thousand insults. I know this is not the wording I used with him when we made the arrangement, but mom and dad’s pain are just as comprehensible, and not exactly easy to avoid face to face. I’m not letting go either, it’s just... Not a good time for me to take hard stances. Not a good time for any of us to drift apart, actually. We are losing Grandma, the least we could do is at least not lose each other. Uncle Trent gets up in an overly dramatic gesture, kisses me on the forehead and manages a half-hearted smile as he mutters something about seeing me later. My parents give me a ride to their place, where they fix dinner, and everything is comfortable and warm. The hospital seems so very far from this. I am protected and fine. Of course, nothing is actually fine, but just for a few moments, I can breathe. [[Carry on|Ninth VersePos]].Grandma is unwell. It’s not even dementia anymore, all her vitals are low. She wouldn’t even have enough energy for her usual bouts of madness. Her body is holding up, but barely. She can’t even handle sitting up anymore. She’s already far away, I should let her go. I called Nurse Truglioni a few days ago, she is ready to intervene whenever I ask her. She was understanding and compassionate, pushing me to take my time to consider all my options. Euthanasia. The word is heavy in the air around me. I feel like it is written on my face, I feel like everyone at the hospital can tell and is glaring at me as I get to Grandma’s room. As I walk down the corridor, the rhythm of my steps against the white linoleum floor of the hospital is only broken by the sound of a door closing with an ominous creak. Doctor Cerezo leaves her hand on the handle of the door, as if to keep me from entering Grandma’s room. I didn’t come here for nothing, I try nonetheless. "May I...?" Doctor Cerezo’s face is locked in bitter disapproval. She must have heard of what Nurse Truglioni agreed to do. "My liege, rank is not everything. The surrender these savages offer is peaceful by no standard. The Duchy will be worse-off, and whoever strikes that god-forsaken deal shall bear a pain that was never theirs to carry, the end of our beloved but declining land. Not only I personally oppose such a deal, I must also warn you of the foolishness of trying to get there in your own, clumsy terms." Those are brave words in the mouth of a simple emissary of the crown, but they ring true. At 31 years old, she has personally dealt with more Darkness attacks than most even hear about in their lives. Her tired expression shows that I am not the first person she finds wanting to see how those sieges can find closure in a way that sounds more satisfactory to the Duchy itself. And the royal sash she fiddles with while waiting for my answer makes it very clear that her voice bears authority. Torches flicker in the early evening, bathing my face in a hesitant light, reflecting my doubts. * "Milady, with all due respect to the crown, this decision was never yours to make. I value your advice and respect your wanting to clear your name from any course of action you deem unsuitable. [[But I will not be bullied, nor will the rest of my kin|Choice 9AP]]." * "No decision has been taken yet. Thank you for your honesty. You are right, losing a war is not a kinder process when you lose it on purpose. [[We shall think about our options some more|Choice 9BP]]."(set: $score to $score + 1)Doctor Cerezo’s permanent scowl shifts to an expression somewhere between condescension and disgust. She looks at me from head to toe as if to gauge exactly how much of an idiot I am to dare oppose the voice of a professional. The smell of hospital hygiene burns my nose and the silence of the corridor weighs on my shoulder, I am sick of this, sick of seeing Grandma suffer just to gain a few more ticks of a clock she can’t even read anymore! I am not backing off, I return her stare with slight defiance. The flickering neon tick-tocks away the seconds of this quiet duel. She is the one who gives in. "Look, I am a Doctor, my priority is to save my patients, as desperate as the situation seems. I understand this is hard for you, but your grandmother is too tired. You should leave. After that, do whatever you want." I’m not seeing Grandma today, but this day was not lost. Doctor Cerezo won’t get in the way of our decision. (if: $score >= 5)[ [[Stop|Ending A]]. ](else:)[ [[Stop|Ending B]]. ](set: $score to $score - 1)My answer seems to throw Doctor Cerezo off-guard, and her defensive mask breaks for just a moment. She puts her hand on my shoulder, opens her mouth, and pauses to choose her words carefully. "I’m sorry. I know this is hard for you, and I can’t save your grandmother. But trust me, as easy as some possibilities sound, they never really are. Be wise, don’t let your feelings color your reason." I close my eyes and take a deep breath of whatever horrendous bleach they use to make hospitals smell the way they do. I am tired of this. Tired of fighting for just a few more ticks of a clock that’s doomed to stop anytime now. I waver a bit, but the thought of leaving Grandma to suffer more than she has to is too painful. I nod as Doctor Cerezo tells me Grandma has not been doing great at all today, but she was better when she got to sleep, so I should come back tomorrow and leave her to her rest. Beneath the shell of pragmatism that is necessary for her job, Doctor Cerezo is a sweet person who cares about her patients. (if: $score >= 5)[ [[Stop|Ending A]]. ](else:)[ [[Stop|Ending B]]. ]Today is the day. This is the end. Grandma is ready. She asked to wear her favourite dress, a colorful little thing that is now way too big for her. I helped her adjust it with pins when I arrived. Doctor Cerezo saw me come in, she probably knows what is going to happen. She only looked at me sadly, shook her head and turned back to her work. I know she disapproves, but she obviously decided not to intervene. Nurse Truglioni is waiting outside the room. She’ll come in later, and modify Grandma’s IV so it’ll give her more morphine. Grandma will literally go to sleep, she’ll just never wake up. I look at her and my heart feels heavy. My eyes are full of unshed tears, and I can’t bring myself to say anything. I look around, at this room I’ve spent so much time in lately. At the little decorations the family brought to try and counter the impersonal atmosphere of it. Uncle Trent came yesterday, him and Dad had a long conversation with Grandma. They decided not to be here right now, afraid to break down and stop the process. Mom is waiting for me in the corridor, if I listen attentively I can hear her soft sobs. Other cousins came in during the week, the ones we decided should know about our decision. It didn’t go without some fights, but they mostly accepted our decision. Mostly because Grandma herself had made her wish known. I am doubting myself, the panic rises in me in waves. I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t. I feel like bursting. Grandma puts her hand on mine. The panic stops. I look into her eyes, and take a deep breath. "This isn’t a sad day. I know many of you may think I'm crazy for saying this, but this really isn’t a sad day." I gaze into the eyes of all the counsellors here. Everyone is gathered in the banquet room, like before. Before the war, before the Darkness. "This isn’t a day of sadness, for we must not be sad to be alive. Kingdoms come and go, but the people who make them stay. No King nor Queen can govern without subjects. However the Darkness might be in our future, at least now our subjects are well. We lost fights, we lost brave soldiers, we are losing our privileges, but we haven’t lost our will to live. We are all gathered, ready to enter a new age for the Duchy. Nobody knows what to expect from the Darkness, nobody here can predict what will happen next. History may remember leaders, wars, and fights, but the ones who weave History are the ones living it." Grandma blinks and smiles at me. "I am sad to see you go, I am heartbroken at not having you by my side anymore. But I know your faith in me and your love will always accompany me. You’ll always be there when it matters, when I need strength, when I need solace." I signal to Nurse Turglioni to come in. She fiddles with the machines and the IV, tiptoeing around us. I hug Grandma. Out of words. Nothing I can say would mean enough, nothing I can think of feels like a good enough closure. Grandma knows. Grandma understands. She isn’t afraid. I breathe. "I don’t know what death is made of, but I know that if it’s like sleep, your dreams will be the most beautiful universes a mind can conjure up. If it’s a new adventure, I know you’ll have the best death ever, because you have always been my hero. If it’s a blank nothingness your soul has to travel forever, I know you’ll find a way to bring colors and shapes in there somehow." "You bet I will, dear." Her voice is a soft whisper, but her smirk is the one I have always known. The beeps of the machines around her slow. Her eyes close. I kiss her cheeks, tears streaming down my face. This is how I will always remember her, peacefully sleeping, trademark smirk in place. The Duchy is over, but so is the war. I gaze upon the lands before me with a new eye. Darkness may come, this isn’t the end of History. The world won’t end because the Duchy isn’t anymore. I get out of the banquet room slowly, without even noticing the ruckus inside. I get into the corridor, the Marquise following me silently, like a reassuring shadow. As I walk away from the banquet room, the soft sunlight hits my face, and with it, a sudden sense of feeling overcomes me. I stumble, caught only by the Marquise. I get into the sun, embracing this sudden lightness in my heart. The war is over. No more fights, no more strategies, no more war councils. We are now free to stay and endure the new life after the Darkness has taken control of the Duchy, or to leave and start anew somewhere else. Dad visited me after the funeral, holding a cardboard box. "She wanted you to have this." I know what’s inside already, I was there when Grandma wrote her will. She left me keys to Betsy, her beloved motorcycle. She left me her favourite fantasy books. She left me memories and a strength I didn’t know I had in me. She left me, but she made sure I wouldn’t be alone in life. The cat she gave me is purring as it jumps into the box, her favourite helmet tucked safely with Betsy until I go on a for a ride. I have much to do at work to get back to my previous position, I put a lot on hold to support Grandma. But I feel confident, relieved of the weight that was on my shoulders all this time. I will mourn her, but the sadness will be over soon enough, leaving me only with the good memories and hope for the future. I made a choice, and I am glad I did. Yet, no rabbit hole is safer than another, no choice is easier than another. There are no "good ways" to overcome the loss of a loved one. [[Only your way matters|Close]]. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_4.png" width=600 alt="Life is a series of choices"> Today is the day. This is the end. Grandma is ready. She asked to wear her favourite dress, a colorful little thing that is now way too big for her. I helped her adjust it with pins when I arrived. Doctor Cerezo saw me come in and go out, she probably knows what is going to happen. She only looked at me sadly, shook her head and turned back to her work. I know she disapproves, but she’s obviously decided not to intervene. My eyes are full of unshed tears, and I can’t bring myself to say anything. Mom and Dad are here, with me. We’ve said our goodbye. I have no doubts, Grandma herself had made her wish known. She asked us to let her go peacefully, to face death alone. She’s still the strong woman who taught me how to stand up in the face of sadness and despair. She asked for her favorite record to lull her to sleep. The soft jazz music will forever haunt me like a neverending goodbye to her. I am heartbroken. She is leaving me, leaving us all. I gaze upon the lands of the Duchy one last time. The news of our surrender will soon spread. I try to shake off the feeling of helplessness that holds my heart in a deadly vise. But the sun burns my skin like an unwanted truth. I can’t do anything for the Duchy anymore. There is no Darkness to fight anymore, just a new regime to bow to. If I wish to do so. I can stay, I can leave the castle and never turn back. The Steward and the Marquise are standing next to me, watching the sun set on the drawn out war. Soon, we may go into the banquet room and observe the court reunited one last time before our reign is over. The slow music of our bards can be heard from here, accompanying the usual chatter of servants and counselors. I stand at the top of a castle full of subjects without King nor Queen. We are going to the Darkness, with our eyes wide open in the hope of catching a light to guide us towards a new future. Grandma let go of my hand with a smirk. She told me goodbye in a soft voice. "Goodbye for now my Dear, remember to live your life like you’re meant to, not like others expect you to. Love colors, love people, love objects with the strength I put into my love for my children and you." I hugged Grandma. Out of words. Nothing I could say would have meant enough, nothing I could think of felt good enough for an end. Grandma breathed with me. "Live for me, dear. You don’t have to die with me today." I cried. I cried a long time, held by Mom. I cried with Dad, Uncle Trent with him on the phone, trying to sooth us all. I cried my sadness, my regrets, my guilt. I cried until I ran out of tears. Then when I was sure I couldn’t breath, Nurse Truglioni came to us, and with a soft smile, she said: "It’s over, she is dead." Hearing that was like hearing my insides breaking. Yet as I gasped, I inhaled fresh air. For the first time in months, it felt like I was breathing. Death can be a cruel relief. Dad visited me after the funeral, holding a cardboard box. "She wanted you to have this." I know what’s inside already, I was there when Grandma wrote her will. She left me keys to Betsy, her beloved motorcycle. She left me her favourite fantasy books. She left me memories and a strength I wish I could have shown her. But then again, she probably knew. She often trusted me more than I thought I deserved. Her selfless love and compassion are a model for me. I keep the cat she gave me from jumping in the box. I take her beloved helmet and the keys. The air whips my face. It feels like a new birth. It feels like hope. Grandma left me to face my own choices. Now I know, no rabbit hole is safer than another, no choice is easier than another. There are no "good ways" to overcome the loss of a loved one. [[Only your way matters|Close]]. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_4.png" width=600 alt="Life is a series of choices">The low drone of the coffee machine sets an eerie silence in the middle of our conversation. As I pick up my drink, dad pushes the button to get his, the drone buzzes again and we keep silent until we all have our beverages in hand, scalding our skin through the cheap plastic cup. The sunset is bathing the hospital waiting room in an orange glow. The corridors are empty save for tired nurses pushing trolleys. "We need to talk about what is going on." Uncle Trent’s smirk reflects in everything he says, but this one sentence coated in a pretense of seriousness feels sharp as a needle. His words are carefully chosen to hit hard. "So, Phil tells me you’re all fine with mom being alienated to the bones and brains by the pain. That you’re not even considering helping her go graciously." (Wow, thanks Dad, I feel really safe knowing I can’t tell you these things.) Mom puts down her cup of hot chocolate and sits straight up. Her hands unconsciously fold an invisible piece of cloth on her lap, and her lips narrow in an instant. "Trent, we are not killing anybody. It’s not fitting for family to abandon hope. She still has her moments of lucidity and happiness, and we intend to share those to the very last one." "Sure, between the meds and the pain-induced dementia, I’m sure you’re all spending quality time with her. I know I have. She’s mistaken me for dad twice just last week, maybe we should set up a 'mom’s dying fun times' bingo and compare scores when she croaks. How memorable!" He’s really trying to push mom off-balance, and the tone of voice she uses to answer makes me think that he’s succeeding. Without a single shout, this is clearly an argument, a cold, unpleasant argument in which dad seems too lost in contrary emotions to take part in. We have all lost people we knew to the battle against the Darkness. We know the pain, we know the grief. And we must face the consequences of sending our own to die in waves, we must face the looks on those who are still standing with looks of disgust on their faces. This last stand was an easier decision to take back when there were more of us, but now that it is an open wound on our side, it seems like some would strongly consider a surrender. It is out of the question, of course, but what can I do to remind the ones who are about to die that it is going to be worth it? Even those who seemed to hover above the whole discussion now look like they are more comfortable with a swift end to it all. * "[[I can blame none of the ones who believe a surrender would be prefferable|Choice 8AN]]. And I require none of the pride that I once thought would be our common banner. I just hope that those is favor of surrendering understand that battle is our sacrifice too, and that they can join us on their own terms. We would better stand undivided." * "[[This is a total lack of respect for those who are already gone|Choice 8BN]]. We have taken this position and sacrificed already too much to go back. Everything is lost? So be it. This is not anything new and if you believe our honor bears watering down in the will of the easily deterred, I don’t think you belong in our ranks. You can all go."(set: $score to $score + 1)Mom lays her hands flat on her lap, then slowly reaches for her cup of chocolate. She is visibly mad at me. The long talks I had with her, the calls just to check up on each other after visits, she seems to be holding it all against me as I acknowledge Uncle Trent and dad’s need for closure. I close my eyes for a second and silently ask for her forgiveness. It’s not a full change of heart, I just don’t feel like facing all of this on my own. We need to stay closely knit. The argument falls flat, and we all sit there for a moment, finding little comfort in our cups, until a nurse tells us matter-of-factly that we need to go. We do, after brief goodbyes. Nothing can fully erase the harsh words, but in the next few days, we do spend some time together. We know what we are losing, but we are doing our best not to lose sight of what is left. [[Carry on|Ninth VerseNeg]].(set: $score to $score - 1)Uncle Trent feigns spitting is tea right back. He is used to having people snap back at him, but wasn’t expecting this to come from me. He is hurt, but he hides it behind his signature wise guy grin. He talks to dad but doesn’t take his eyes off of me. "Phil, I think your child is taking after me!", his gaze switches to mom "Poor influences, though." He takes his coat and goes, gesturing a tip of the hat. Dad has a few seconds of utter panic before he runs after his brother, probably to try to talk him out of being too mad at us. Mom takes a deep breath and tell me not to dwell on the negative, that we have enough of that to deal with as it is. We try to lighten the mood by joking about the boring TV shows we watch when we go and visit Grandma. We make fun of ourselves, we make fun of her. We would do anything to help us stay together and strong on to the very end of this. Dad doesn’t come home that night, and when he does, he seems shut down and pained. Making it last is costing him too much to bear. At least mom and I have each other. [[Carry on|Ninth VerseNeg]].She does her best to stay with me when I visit. Her whole family tries to come more often, and she seems happier every time someone walks in her room. The pain is a bit lesser when she has visitors. The nurses tell me how much better she was doing after my parents came. I am so glad to be able to spend that time with her. As I walk down the corridor, the rhythm of my steps against the white linoleum floor of the hospital is only broken by the sound of a door closing with an ominous creak. Doctor Cerezo leaves her hand on the handle of the door, as if to keep me from entering Grandma’s room. I am surprised. "May I...?" Doctor Cerezo’s face is locked in bitter disapproval. "My liege, fighting is not everything. Your strategies are leaving your subjects exhausted and thinning our ranks. The Duchy is burning, and you are sending your soldiers to death. Continue as you were, and you will have to carry a pain that was never meant for you: the end of our beloved but declining land. Not only I personally oppose your repeated assaults on the Darkness, I must also warn you of the foolishness of thinking this is a fight we can win." Those are brave words in the mouth of a simple emissary of the crown, but they ring true. At 31 years old, she has personally dealt with more Darkness attacks than most even hear about in their lives. Her tired expression shows that I am not the first person she finds struggling to accept defeat in a siege. And the royal sash she fiddles with while waiting for my answer makes it very clear that her voice bears authority. Torches flicker in the early evening, bathing my face in a hesitant light, reflecting my doubts. * "Milady, with all due respect to the crown, this decision was never yours to make. I value your advice and respect your wanting to clear your name from any course of action you deem unsuitable. [[But I will not be bullied, nor will the rest of my kin|Choice 9BN]]." * "No decision has been taken yet. Thank you for your honesty. You are right, losing a war is not a kinder process when you lose it through the destruction of your whole land. [[We shall think about our options some more|Choice 9AN]]."(set: $score to $score + 1)My answer seems to throw Doctor Cerezo off-guard, and her defensive mask breaks for just a moment. She puts her hand on my shoulder, opens her mouth, and pauses to choose her words carefully. "I’m sorry. I know this is hard for you, and I can’t save your grandmother. But trust me, if you want to keep her with you longer, you need to let her body recuperate a bit." I close my eyes and take a deep breath of whatever horrendous bleach they use to make hospitals smell the way they do. I am tired of this. Being in this hospital makes me feel helpless and small. I don’t want to leave Grandma’s side, but it’s selfish of me to ask so much of her while she fights so hard to stay with me already. I nod as Doctor Cerezo tells me Grandma has not been doing great at all today, but she was better when she got to sleep, so I should come back tomorrow and leave her to her rest. Beneath the shell of pragmatism that is necessary for her job, Doctor Cerezo is a sweet person who cares about her patients. (if: $score > -5)[ [[Stop|Ending C]]. ](else:)[ [[Stop|Ending D]]. ](set: $score to $score - 1)Doctor Cerezo’s permanent scowl shifts to an expression somewhere between condescension and disgust. She looks at me from head to toe as if to gauge exactly how much of an idiot I am to dare oppose the voice of a professional. The smell of hospital hygiene burns my nose and the silence of the corridor weighs on my shoulder, isolating me from the rest of the world. It’s no wonder Grandma is so happy to see me, the hospital would make anyone feel this crippling loneliness seep into their bones. I am not backing off, I return her stare with slight defiance. The flickering neon tick-tocks away the seconds of this quiet duel. She is the one who gives in. "Look, I am a Doctor, and my priority is to take care of my patients. I understand you want to help, but your grandmother is tired. Don’t disturb her more than you should." I get into Grandma’s room, and hold her hand while she sleeps. Doctor Cerezo means well, but I can’t leave her alone. (if: $score > -5)[ [[Stop|Ending C]]. ](else:)[ [[Stop|Ending D]]. ]The clock ticks for every second. It’s sixty ticks for a minute. Three thousand six hundred ticks for one hour. Eighty-six thousand four hundred ticks for a day. Two millions five hundred ninety two thousand for a month. Thirty one millions five hundred thirty six thousands for a year. Grandma has been diagnosed twenty three millions three hundred twenty eight thousand and a few hundred ticks ago. I work, I try to see her as much as I can. I can’t be there everyday and tickling clock reminds me of my guilt on every tick I spend away from her side. Today, Grandma’s clock stopped. Today I learned that twenty three millions three hundred twenty eight thousand and a few hundred ticks weren’t enough to prepare myself. Billions of ticks wouldn’t have made this easier. Doctor Cerezo called. My heart feels heavy. Tears are streaming down my face, and I can’t bring myself to say anything. I walk slowly, mechanically to the hospital. I look around this room I’ve spent so much time. I look at the flowers, the pictures... All the decorations family brought to make her feel at home. It never really felt like a home to her, but she said she liked how the last rays of dawn reflected on the white walls. Grandma is lying on the bed. She looks like she’s sleeping. I falter, I feel like I am going to shatter if I take one more step. The last month was hell for her. The pain was worse each day, the madness making itself at home in her mind. Crisis over crisis, until her strength left her, her body betraying her will to live. Until even breathing became to much. Until her own heart finally refused to beat the measure of her time. She went kicking and screaming, fighting the impending end she was doomed to meet. The last fight was the worst. We have lost. As predicted, the Duchy was defeated. Outnumbered, killed, conquered. This is the final moment of the Duchy as I knew it. Starting today, the Darkness will reign over these lands. Sadness grips my heart as I study the situation from afar. When all hope was lost, I turned to my other responsibilities. I answered the calls of the throne, I made sure the treaties with my allies held strong. I had to make sure I could salvage some things from the Darkness. the Duchy was condemned, but not everything was lost for me. I remember the banquet room, the castle and its endless agitation with bitterness. The memories are tainted with the last war councils, the worry in the eyes of the Steward, the pain in the eyes of the Count... The endless discussions about inexistent solutions. The Darkness took everything. I cried. I cried a long time, held by Mom. I cried with Dad, Uncle with him on the phone, trying to sooth us all. I cried my sadness, my regrets, my guilt. I cried until I ran out of tears. And when I couldn’t cry anymore, I focuses on just breathing. The tattoo on my arm burned. Memento Mori. Everyone dies someday. Dad visited me after the funeral, holding a cardboard box. "She wanted you to have this." We cry together a bit, our grief like a shared wound. Once he’s gone, I open the box. She left me keys to Betsy, her beloved motorcycle. She left me her favourite fantasy books. She left me memories and a strength I wish I could have shown her. But then again, she probably knew. She often trusted me more than I thought I deserved. Her selfless love and compassion are a model for me. I keep the cat she gave me from jumping in the box. I take her beloved helmet and the keys. The air whips my face. It feels like a new birth. It feels like hope. Grandma left me to face my own choices. Now I know, no rabbit hole is safer than another, no choice is easier than another. There are no “good ways” to overcome the loss of a loved one. [[Only your way matters|Close]]. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_4.png" width=600 alt="Life is a series of choices">The clock ticks for every second. It’s sixty ticks for a minute. Three thousand six hundred ticks for one hour. Eighty-six thousand four hundred ticks for a day. Two millions five hundred ninety two thousand for a month. Thirty one millions five hundred thirty six thousands for a year. Grandma has been diagnosed twenty three millions three hundred twenty eight thousand and a few hundred ticks ago. Each tick has been a battle. Each tock a second to prepare ourselves to the inescapable end. Each tick I could spend with Grandma felt like a victory. Each tock far from her felt like despair. Today, Grandma’s clock stopped. Today I learned that twenty three millions three hundred twenty eight thousand and a few hundred ticks weren’t enough to prepare myself. Billions of ticks wouldn’t have made this easier. Doctor Cerezo welcomes me a the hospital, she’s the one who called. I look at her and my heart feels heavy. My eyes are full of unshed tears, and I can’t bring myself to say anything. She silently guides me to Grandma’s room. I look around this room I’ve spent so much time. I look at the flowers, the pictures... All the decorations the family brought to make her feel at home. It never really felt like a home to her, but she said she liked how the last rays of dawn reflected on the white walls. Grandma is lying on the bed. She looks like she’s sleeping. When I heard the news, I felt like shattering. But now, as I look upon her peaceful face, I don’t feel broken. The last month was hell for her. The pain was worse each day, the madness making itself at home in her mind. Crisis over crisis, until her strength left her, her body betraying her will to live. Until even breathing became to much. Until her own heart finally refused to beat the measure of her time. This is the end of our time. I gaze around the banquet room. This place held so much meaning to the court, before. Before the war, before the Darkness. Now it’s empty. Devoid of life. We have lost. As predicted, we were defeated. Outnumbered, killed, conquered. This is the final moment of the Duchy as we know it. Starting today, the Darkness will reign over our lands. The sadness is heavy on my heart. Yet, as the torches burn bright, I do not feel any bitterness. There is no regret to dwell on, the Duchy fought until its last soldier died, until its last sword shattered. Even I fought, alongside my companions. History will remember the Duchy’s fall as an example of bravery. I will make sure of this. For I won’t go, like others who ran from the lands. I will stay here and make sure there is something to sing about. Bards will sing our fights to the people through lands and years. Until our tales become myth. I breathe. I don’t know what the future is made of, but I won’t forget her. The tattoo on my arm burns. Memento Mori. Everyone dies someday. Dad visited me after the funeral, holding a cardboard box. "She wanted you to have this." We cried together a bit, our grief like a shared wound. Once he was gone, I open the box. She left me keys to Betsy, her beloved motorcycle. She left me her favourite fantasy books. She left me memories, good and bad. She left me, but she made sure I wouldn’t have any regrets. I was with her until the end She knew she wasn’t alone. As the cat she gave me sniffs the box curiously, I realise she made sure I wouldn’t be alone either. I have much to do at work to get back to my previous position, I put everything on hold to support Grandma. But I feel confident, relieved of the weight that was on my shoulders all this time. I will mourn her, but the sadness will leave someday. I made a choice, and I am glad I did. Everyone dies someday, no rabbit hole is safer than another, no choice is easier than another. There are no “good ways” to overcome the loss of a loved one. [[Only your way matters|Close]]. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_4.png" width=600 alt="Life is a series of choices">The clock ticks, seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours, hours into days, weeks, month. Work, sleep, worry. Rinse, repeat. I'm paralyzed, torn between the wish to visit, to help, to support, and the pain, the guilt, the overwhelming sadness of seeing my very own hero disappear little by little. Fragment of memory vanishing into endless pain. It’s too much. I run. I run to my tasks, I run out of the castle. I run headfirst into every single excuse I meet. Every responsibility to take my mind away from the Darkness. Messengers come to me, bearing little words of the Duchy. I'm busy with other problems, away in another castle. It’s understandable, the Duchy was never my responsibility, and I have other concerns. Empathy can only get me so far before it destroys my soul, engulf me in Darkness too. The day the messengers stop coming, I realize it’s too late. Dad comes to visit me, two days after the funeral. He’s holding a cardboard box. "She wanted you to have this." His eyes shine softly, he’s not upset at me. He seems... Relieved. "You know, whatever she left you, I think in the end she held no anger towards you. I think... I think she was glad. She wouldn’t want you to only remember her as an agonizing woman. I’d rather you remember her as the strong person she was. She was a good mother to me and my brothers, and she was an awesome grandmother to you. I wish..." Dad cries. I wish I could tell her how much of a role model she had always been. I feel guilty for letting her down, but Dad hugs me tightly when I start to cry with him. She left me the keys to Betsy, her beloved motorcycle. She left me her favourite fantasy books. She left me memories and a strength I wish I had when she needed me the most. Yet, no rabbit hole is safer than another, no choice is easier than another. There are no “good ways” to overcome the loss of a loved one. [[Only your way matters|Close]] . <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_4.png" width=600 alt="Life is a series of choices">(set: $score to $score + 1)“Euthanasia”... Shivers go down my spine, as if reality pushed aside my back to make way for something new that needed to exist right now. And to my great surprise, I find it makes sense. I don’t know what to make of it, but it seems entirely reasonable to delve into the possibility. <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VersePos]].(set: $score to $score - 1)“Euthanasia”... Shivers go down my spine, and a bitter discontentment makes camp in my throat. This notion was strong and distasteful enough to shake me into action. But this is only the beginning of the road. I now need to carry on, and be there for her. It’s all about what you make of the time you have left… <IMG class="displayed" src="http://myu-chan.com/WAG_3.png" width=600 alt="Our choices paint the walls with light and darkness"> [[Carry on|Sixth VerseNeg]].This story deals with hard themes such as old age, sickness, dementia, death and euthanasia. At no point in the conception of this game did we believe we were holding definite truths about how to deal with the withering of ailing relatives. This was just a set of stories we wanted to tell, and we hope the different paths they branch into will help us get across the idea that this is a game with no winners, only different ways to lose. Different ways to lose a person. And hopefully, different ways not to lose oneself. We hope you like it! MissMyu & elnikow [[Proceed to the game|Start]]There are other endings, if you want to run through the game again, click [[here|Start]]. This game was made for the Write A Game challenge 2015. The theme was "Down the rabbit hole". We are a team of two frenchies actually tinkering with Twine for the first time. Thank you for playing White Walls! And don't forget to tell your loved ones that you love them.