Fiction

THE HANDS OF SALAMANDRE [PART 1]

“This story begins as many stories do: from the very start and from nowhere else in between.

It is a tale about what follows that distinct moment in every great man’s life, when he must choose a path between defending his beliefs or else accepting his ultimate demise. And in this world of choice, where power is not a given and respect is falsely offered, laws and rules do exist but only as things to be broken and unbroken in an endless journey toward truth.

It is here that we find our unfortunate soldier, named only Salamadre, a remarkable creature struggling to be a passerby yet always labeled a hero; determined to use his existence to contribute nothing of importance to others, all the while unaware that because he was born a great man, his own big moment—when he must fight or submit, live or die—is fast approaching. In fact, the moment has almost arrived and an epic conflict churns anew …

The sharp stench of trouble hangs heavy in the air now, but as they’ve done for hundreds of years, the time-ripened ghellyberry trees hold tight ‘round Brixbanx Village with a lush, unyielding embrace. New day’s sunlight leaps across wet ghelleyberry wood, cloaking tree trunks in a knowing sparkle that winks with ancient secrets soon to be revealed. As the sun climbs higher and hotter, nature’s tears dry up; so too does the shimmering border they created. Soon the flicker of amber light fades complete to dusky grey and silent shadow of night grip the land. Then against this quiet darkness, a battle cry begins, beckoning with an intoxicating, slow rhythm that sinks beneath the soil as it shouts, ‘It is time my son. It is time. Prepare yourself for war.’”

-Unknown

I

“When two courses of action are presented before you, always choose the third.”

-Salamandre, Address given at the Seventh Annual Brixie Lovers’ Brigade

In early morning, six men traveled barefoot toward the center of Brixbanx Village and began to prepare the tree. The night had not yet melted so they worked without much light save an occasional blink of lightening and in complete quiet but a few thunderclouds growling sleepily above.

Three of the men wrapped the tree in red velvet ribbon, two others twirled pieces of red lace around its trunk. The last man hung crimson slabs of velvet across each of the tree’s lower branches; he got the job done quickly enough, however hunched his shoulders or angry his bushy brows. None of the six really wanted to be decorating trees on such a wonderfully bleak morning as this, when the ground was draped with fog and the sky with threads of gray. After all, they were in the business of killing life and not preparing for it to spring anew. Still, an order was an order, especially when it came from the King, and this particular order was drawing a lot of attention. Best not to make a fuss. Everyone in Brixbanx Village had received the midnight notice: Today we meet the Prince.

While the men worked, a crowd gathered, rambling and small at first but with great force and number as the day marched on.

“Laslow, I’m really thinkin’ it’s gonna rain,” said one of the velvet-wrappers.

“Na, this’ll blow over before the birthing but hurry up and quit talking. Dangess and the King have a Brixie that needs tending to in Far North Corner Forest by noon.” This from the tallest, who smashed a large hingle bug on the side of his bearded face with a thwack. “Damn pests!”

The green guts of the dead hingle stained the curls on his hairy cheek. It would have been something to laugh at but the workers obeyed their leader and continued on without a word. After a few hours, the men were finished and faded into the midday bustle in shoeless silence. The tree was complete.

Though the public lauded the display as luscious, Queen Charlotte Frederique, staring at it now through her fog-glazed bedroom window, thought it looked just like the picture of death should, (which is really the only way for a birthing tree to look when a band of Brixie-killers carries out its design). To Charlotte, the tree appeared wounded and stuck, forced to stand in a pool of velvety blood that dripped down every limb without relief. Her husband, the Red King Malcolm Pleta, would no doubt declare the whole thing perfect.

Queen Charlotte laughed at the cruelty of her regal fate. Once she imagined this would be a happy day, maybe the happiest of her days, but now that it finally arrived, she felt only sadness and fear. Charlotte placed a hand on her belly, watching five fingers trail round its plumpness until they vanished into the underside of a deep curve. She saw the tree bend a little in her direction then—a nod to what was coming—and shuddered in response, terrified of the strange site where she would soon lie before a crowd of thousands to give birth to her first child.

If she hadn’t been a Brixie, Charlotte would’ve been allowed a peaceful day. But the chaos reminded her that she was not one of them, though she sat at their throne and tended to their sick and poor. For as long as her blood ran Brixie, her pain must put on a show.

In a twist of wicked fate, the chosen birthing tree had always been her favorite of all trees in Brixbanx Village; it was large enough to provide cool shade from harsh sun but small enough to be picked without much reach in early springtime when ghelleyberries were in their fullest and juiciest state. Since ghelleyberries grew best in low-lying branches, the smell of the fruit scented the air around all who sat beneath. Often when the day was still tender and scraps of sunlight barely brightened the land over which she was said to rule, the Queen would head for the tree and take cover until the new day sluiced over her, cleansing Charlotte’s sinful soul before disappearing into the fragrant shade of a tree in the know.

Perhaps because the panes of glass were shrouded in a coating of fog did that cheerful sight seem so ominous to her now. But when Queen Charlotte opened her window to reveal the ghelleyberry tree, branches scraping into the purple-bruised pink of a new sky above, it all still screamed of terror with a cry even the perfectly sunlit scene could not leave unheard.

A heavenly night descended as bodily water fell and she was soon sitting knees apart under the tree that had betrayed her, watching the throng of dancing men and women with more soberness of mind than they surely imparted onto her. She eyed the crowd beneath heavy lids, a moonlit group held together by frenzied chaos. Several men in striped hats were selling handmade nativity necklaces to commemorate what was already being heralded as a momentous evening. Others carried buckets of gold-plated fish heads—“only five a piece, get ‘em before someone else buys the whole lot!”—engraved with a less-than-flattering portrait of the Queen cradling a red question mark. Two women, matching flowers in their hair, clung tight to a red velvet-suited man who pushed them away and reached for a younger girl with a fraying pillow attached around her thin midsection.

All who stood before Queen Charlotte were shouting in festive whops, cheering to the revelry of the merry event and awaiting her next outburst of pain, greeted by each with a roar of laughter. Every shriek brought them closer to the finale, every scream carried with it absolute delight. The electrified crowd slurped in Charlotte’s agony as it hurtled them toward the grand spectacle of escape that the Queen was expected to perform for their amusement, or else.

Despite being a loathsome traitor, at least the tree kept quiet. For this welcomed hush, Charlotte could give it a small bit of thanks. But then came the sobs of pain, then came her ruination, and then she slipped in a daze from the tree’s trunk, falling flat on the sweat-dampened velvet laid around it, as she next slipped from her mind.

Somewhere the peal of bells. They were chiming with mellow rings a good distance off or maybe they were clacking loudly and very near to her. No matter the real sound, with this chorus of hollow ringing, the celebration had officially begun.

The last thing she could remember, against the clamor of the crowd, was the blood released from her own body mingling with the red of the velvet on which she lay; this decoration of a false kind fusing with the truth of a deed now done, of a spectacle now witnessed, of a life newly formed. So then did the tree shake her to wakeful remembrance, with laughter much stronger than a thousand voices … Ha! Come look at what I’ve done!

Cries of fresh life produced beneath the tree’s branches drifted through Queen Charlotte in newborn howls of two. As if by instruction, she kept the first howl a secret; this life was much more frail than the last and Charlotte, suddenly armed with a newfangled brand of motherly instinct, tucked the feebler son beneath her breast, buried and concealed there from them all.

Then the ghelleyberry tree laughed again, consoling the Queen with quaking bough. Through this hushed gift of the twin boys it had given her, amid the arboreal sight upon which she once gleaned the weakness of death, she would soon discover the strength to restore her shattered life and then achieve a spectacular escape of her very own.

“Thank you for your help,” she told the ghelleyberry tree. “I’ll find my way from here.”

“You must and you will,” the tree replied in a soft whisper made from wind and rustling leaves. “It won’t be long until you’re free.”

And though her hope lay dying, Charlotte knew ghelleyberry trees spoke only truth. Now if her sons could be as lucky, especially the one so small and weak. She would call him Salamandre, oh but what would become of him?

II

ch 2“Real beauty is found not in a man’s soap suds but in the dirt beneath his fingers and the grime upon his face.”

-Salamandre, Teachings for Boys of the Highest Greatness and Grandest Virtue

Salamandre always counted his fingers twice before he got out of bed. Once to make sure all ten had survived the night and again to keep his mind fresh. After finishing the second go-around he would whisper, “ten thank you,” to his mattress (he had neither pillows nor blankets else he might have told them the outcome of his calculations too), and sit up. Then he would lick the pads of his ten fingers and run them through his dark hair to smooth down the grizzled parts that got mussed while he was sleeping.

Most days—to Salamandre’s delight—the grease from his unwashed, knotted mane would rub off onto his hands so he could place his fingers at his chin and twist up the long strands growing there until they too looked adequate enough for public presentation, (if Salamandre felt a public presentation to be necessary, which on every morning, he did not).

Sometimes if the previous night was especially hot, little beads of perspiration accumulated on his leathery exterior, softening the crust behind his knees and imparting moisture to the crevices of his chest. This allowed Salamandre to remove both shirt cloth and shorts, letting his sweat-soaked body air in the warm morning breeze. It was the closest he came to a proper wash.

With skin dry, Salamandre would next inspect his thin arms and legs for scabs of hanging flesh that had formed overnight. On discovery of anything interesting, he followed his usual practice, carefully scraping off each bit using a small metal disc alway carried in left shirt pocket. Occasionally he would review his face, which never collected itself in front of a mirror and was known only by the wild swells of bedraggled brows or familiar bumps of somewhat matching nostrils beneath his hands. Ten fingers told him his nose was plenty larger and more roundabout than most and that it wobbled a course of crooks and bends down the middle of his face. Take away the nose and he imagined the rest of him looked fine enough, with eyes placed where they should be, curtained by piney eyelashes always jammed together from crud that didn’t taste too bad if hardened to a good crust.

His eyes were the bluest kind possible, and this he knew because of last winter when his roof had a hole in the center and rain brought thick puddles to his floor. He had leaned over one just enough to see the top of his face and at first mistook his eyes for circular patches of sky reflected from above. Yet the day’s sky was speckled grey with rainclouds and the patches blinked whenever he did, so that’s how he came to know just how blue his eyes could be. Apart from these blue eyes, he envisioned his face as nothing special, just a gathering of slight lips, pinched cheeks and scraggy chin. Well, so what? Nobody sees the thing anyway.

(As for the blue-eyes-revealing hole in his roof, it politely fixed itself up by morning, as all leaks and unwanted holes tended—for Salamandre—to do. It was a simple truth that most things gone wrong in the room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else were made right by morning and Salamandre never gave this peculiar characteristic of the room a second thought. He also never concerned himself with the reason why a new stack of books sat beside his bed once the old stack had been read through or why his writings were often marked up with suggestions and words of encouragement that he did not compose. “Beautifully constructed sentence, Salamandre!” and “Maybe elaborate on this point a bit more,” were the latest comments on his recent composition, “Regarding Bugs and Buglets of the Night.” There were other oddities about the room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else—how were the ghelleyberry bushes outside the door always so perfectly pruned or the bucket of fish by the window so freshly caught each day?—but none received any serious contemplation by Salamandre because in the one-person existence he knew to be his life, these strange occurrences made him feel as if he didn’t live it so very alone.)

Back to scab scraping duties: Often he would hum a song while doing this—just a few verses of diddly-doos—as he placed each newly removed chip of skin into the Extra Me Box near his mattress. If he felt satisfied with the load scratched off, he would afterwards grab the entire collection of skin—over a year’s worth at least—and mold it to a shape befitting of his mood that morning: a man with a large nose, a bunch of ghelleyberries in springtime, a shadow filled with night. These elaborate sculptures sometimes took hours to complete because Salamandre was very creative in that way.

At the conclusion of his skin scrubbing activities, as well as the scab artistry that accompanied them, Salmandre thought it appropriate to stand up and face the day, lest his legs did not agree, in which case he would fall back to his mattress with a wiggle and a thump, only to remain there until the following sunrise or three when he would repeat the entire mess over again.

But this day seemed well enough to Salamandre—in fact the wellest of any day he could remember—so he caught himself before the wiggle-thump occurred and stood up using the rusted brass bedpost attached to his mattress by twine. With second thoughts about to strike, Salamandre gazed at his sleeping area, admiring the wide halo of rotting fish bones from lunch, dinner and two unusual breakfasts that had accumulated around it. Right when a notion about flopping back onto his mattress began to caress his mind into compliance, the unfamiliar sound of something sliding across his wood-paneled floor swept the idea aside. He turned in the direction of the odd noise just as a little bundle of papers, secured by a stamped red seal, appeared under the threshold of his misshapen door.

(His “door” was not really a door at all but a wide crack in Salamandre’s crumbling wall, not more than five feet in height on the right and slanting dramatically downward from there to only sort of fit his body through on the left. Its inopportune shape was no matter to Salamandre. He never came nor went much, anyway.)

 

The papers let out a plink-plunk as they fluttered clumsily for a moment before settling atop a knot on one of his few remaining unbroken floorboards.

Salamandre blinked several times. He puffed out his cheeks. He patted the top of his head twice and then patted it again just to be sure he could. Finally, he held his breath, frozen in place, one five-fingered hand clutching the rickety mattress-post, the other swathed across his chest, concealing the shirt pocket that also contained his metal disc, which happened to be located on top of his violently beating heart.

To Salamandre, it was a complete shock and revelation rolled into one that he should get such a package on such a morning as this. He knew what mail was—those paper-ish things read about in his books, often left at doorsteps or inside large boxes―but in all his skin-chipping, finger-counting years, he had never before received a single piece of postage at the room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else. For the better part of an hour, he could do nothing but stare as ideas about mail misplacement and the many ways one could slump onto a mattress travelled in, out and some of the way around his head.

In one of his books, Salamandre recalled the story of a young man who lived in a small house with a red roof and red door. One day, the man received a piece of mysterious mail at his red door though the letter was meant to be delivered to a different house entirely, which also happened to have a red roof and red door painted almost an identical shade to his. In the other house, a woman was waiting—she had been waiting years and years—for the very important message to arrive. Though he knew the letter was meant for another, the boy kept the letter unopened beneath his pillow and Salamandre also remembered how this caused something very bad to happen, then that made something else quite ominous occur and a third terrible thing resulted from the two awful somethings that came before it … and so the woman died.

Is this my fate as well? To kill some unknown neighbor desperately in need of this letter?

No, Salamandre concluded. None of it is right. This is a false delivery that must be treated with a snub! Ignorance is best if knowledge cannot be found!

At last, when he decided the parcel should absolutely remain untouched, even if the decision meant death to someone he didn’t know, Salamandre bent down and picked it up, but only, he reasoned, with the intention of discovering to whom it really belonged.

It’s not my usual style but I’ll save a life yet!

Gently setting the papers on top of the Extra Me Box, he stuck a hand in his shirt pocket and took out his metal disc, sliding it underneath the red seal. The seal’s surface was marked by a charming collection of squiggly dents and twisty ridges though he wasn’t sure what significance—if any—the observation held.

With less than a minute of work, the seal popped off and the yellowish papers unfurled to reveal many more pages of written letter than expected by the size and thickness of the parcel. Salamandre’s all-too-blue eyes first traveled across the inky loops of letters and next grazed over the gracefully constructed words that filled each page from top to bottom corner. Though this was the only hand-scripted writing Salamandre had ever seen, he knew as well as he knew the grand total of his fingers that this was the most beautiful of any hand-scripted writing he would ever see again.

Returning his attention to the first page, he stopped mid-sentence at its opening line: “Dearest Salamandre …”

A letter written to him? Impossible! He was certain he hadn’t any friends to think of, and was even more certain that even if he did, they wouldn’t dare refer to him as “dearest.” Murkiest perhaps or foulest would be suitable, but never, never dearest. Surely this letter was meant for a different Salamandre altogether, and so he continued on …

Dearest Salamandre,

It may seem strange that I bestow such a loving description upon your noble name …

Noble name? Nevermind that! Onward …

… but it is with great pride and pleasure that I wish to address you in this way. Do not be alarmed by the open tenderness, as I will soon explain the source of my warmest affections. To begin, let’s not bore you with any unnecessaries like my name or title. The facts of my twenty-six-year-old life are of little importance save two and I promise with the shining jewels of one thousand Golden Brixies to reveal both in good time. I write you now in desperate plea to act against a series of circumstances that without your help will end in tragedy calamitous. Just by receiving this letter at your amusingly shaped door …

Amusingly shaped indeed! But how can a letter know? Forward march eyes, forward and steady march …

… terrible events have been put into motion that are centered on you. In fact, if you are reading this very line, it means you have not only received but also opened my letter, tying yourself to it all most definitely and without, I’m afraid to convey, any hope for escape. Remember my words well as I explain what must be done and understand that the only choice left to make is whether you will fight against the sinister times soon to befall or else give in to a dark reality I dare not put to word. Now, you must be perplexed, so please allow me to relate from the very beginning, which really is the finest place to start …

Salamandre put down the letter. He wasn’t one who dealt well with excitement, defined by him as anything that deviated even slightly from his normal, semi-daily routines. Because these routines were all held within his room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else, Salamandre wasn’t one who dealt well with change either. This made him a recluse to the outside world, presiding in his mattress-clad hermitage day after day amidst an aura of insensibility and spare décor. It wasn’t that Salamandre was cruel—he was far too apathetic to be unkind—he was actively shutting out whatever hummed beyond him. It would, however, be alright to call him selfish, because he was really only concerned with the cultivation of his self. Luckily for Salamandre, this cultivation required nothing outside his mattress and his own being, and wanted no part in a letter that promised danger and caused his seldom strained heart to pound hard against its ribcage.

I have a shelf that could help, he thoughtA shelf of cloth-covered jars, sealed with vine, containing the light blue juice of rotted ghelleyberries. The initial discovery of the blue juice was an instance of fortuitous misfortune for Salamandre. One morning many years ago, he found that if he placed in a jar the fallen ghelleyberries from the nearby tree that tapped greetings at his window on blustery days, by next nightfall these captured berries would turn into a pasty blue juice. The juice, he soon learned, when consumed in large enough quantities, made all moments thereafter fuzz into a cloud of sweet oblivion.

He didn’t care about the gummy ghelleyberries tasting like chewy clay and moldy fabric, or the bitter seeds getting wedged between his teeth as he drank. Or even the ghelleyberry prickles he never bothered to remove, stinging the inside of his lips and throat as they stabbed at the tender skin there, causing his mouth to swell and his breathing to slow. Salamandre only cared that blue ghelleyberry juice made him forget to feel anything other than a delicious numbness that would always be more satisfying to experience than the juice was horrible to drink.

Salamandre craved that numbness now, needed it to even contemplate reading the note again, and so finished off two and three-quarters jars at his second favorite spot in the room-containing-a-mattress—the first favorite was, of course, his mattress—a spot that was surprisingly not even in his room at all.

Just outside his crooked door sat a tiny slab of smooth wood, wide enough to fit his bony bottom and long enough so he could stretch across with relative ease. On most parts of the day, the perch provided a spectacular view of the land that surrounded the room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else; a view marred only by those times when the sun came up or voyaged down and strands of light jabbed through the spaces in the ghelleyberry wood so Salamandre couldn’t see anything but sunlight and trees. If the light was calm and un-jabby, he needed only to squint a little to look past the forest and into the land beyond, which somehow never appeared like it did the day before. Surprisingly, for someone so averse to change, this phenomenon amused Salamandre to no end. Whenever he decided to spend some time awake, he would always spend a good chunk of it outside on his perch, taking in the view that day.

Usually, there were little bumps of blue ghelleyberry hills to look down on, which surrounded The Circle of Water, a large bay of blue several shades deeper than the trees. The Circle of Water was in every scene unchanging, but the hills were never the same. The arrangement of these hills flipped and flopped, or else a hill or two might disappeared entirely, making way for a new surge of trees.

Because he spent so much time on the perch, Salamandre had gotten very good at noticing when a new ghelleyberry hill appeared and kept careful track where the hill came from and where it travelled to next in his Journal for Hilly Observations:

Today I note: A new hill, The Hill With A Red Ghelleyberry At Its Base as I will call it, now replaces The Hill With Four Large Trees On Top, which was a skinny excuse for a hill, so I’m glad it is gone. However, the common, round shape of The Hill With A Red Ghelleyberry At Its Base makes it endlessly uninteresting and so I shall write no more. 

Salamandre also kept close watch on The Circle of Water, which was at a just-right distance to make out every wave wrinkling its surface and the nervous foam crinkling its smooth shores. If it was windy, the water would churn up an angry white and if the sun was shining, light skipped across its top, puckering the blue-edged mirror with shimmering beads of gold. The water never enticed Salamandre enough to leave his perch; venturing to feel how it might slosh between his toes or across his ten fingers just wasn’t something he cared to know.

Today, as he looked out, he saw a different scene from the water-and-hills combination of times past. Maybe it was because he had come out at an unusual time, just minutes before the sun rose, when the moon was the only bright spot in a muted grey sky.  With the morning awash in wooly moonlight, Salamandre didn’t see the glistening water or the blue of ghelleyberry trees. Instead, endless hills and The Circle of Water gave way to a place unlike any other.

Instantly, his jars were nothing. His skin sculptures were nothing. His books were nothing. His mattress was nothing. The life he knew before this very second vanished into a dusty speck of nothing and then blew away in the windless, early morning air. Everything began with what he saw from his perch today.

Brixbanx Village.

Tall, bluish heaps of trees folded against each other as they made their way across the horizon. These were no hills; these were ghelleyberry mountains that radiated nature’s prowess with every dip and soar. Nature was boasting with these creations but Salamandre didn’t mind. He felt woozy with that world-is-mine kind of courage he thought only juice could create. In every bold peak topped ghelleyberry-tree blue, a foreign rhythm hummed an ageless tune, one he’d never heard before yet knew with the familiarity of the ten fingers on his hands. The mountains were made for me, he thought. And now, they sang to him only.

The moon will wilt

The sun will rise

And every day 

Through all disguise

You’ll hear the words

You’ll tell the lies

“Take care of this child

Before another one dies!

Salamandre’s heart was thrashing wildly against his ribcage for the second time in less than an hour. There was too much truth in this song for his taste, even if it wasn’t truth he could understand.

Sensing a terrible thought coming on, Salamandre instead looked at the mountains to see what other less terrifying things they held. On closer inspection, a long and twisty brown road slithered midway across them and hundreds of rectangular structures―just tiny stumps of brick in the distance―lined each side of the way. The road was unrelenting, a headless snake made from dirt that curled through the mountains in search of its long-lost tail.

Everything before him seemed only half-real, doused in moonlight and a strange … something else. The mountains, like the snake-trail laid upon them, were vibrant and alive with life; there were surely people in those brick buildings along the road, there was surely an existence―not so solitary―unlike the way his twenty six years had been lived. Against an ever-bluing sky, he watched the mountain road, noticing for the first time the movement of people―aha!―along the winding route. In groups of two or three, they walked from one building to the next; curling along the path as they travelled in between. Salamandre imagined they were all friends, gathering now for parties where they would discuss the nonsensicals of very important things. Were they laughing together over cups of ghelleyberry juice and slices of fish-flavored hingleberry pie? What was so funny? He might not get the joke, but he yearned to hear it anyway.

No.

As he thought the word, a sudden fog emerged, dousing the mountains in puffs of curdled cloud-milk. The fog was as thick as it was clumsy and covered the entire scape with uneven gobs. Before Salamandre could blink again, the mountains were no more and only whiteness remained.

With nothing left to see, Salamandre’s mind told him he should probably go inside and have another drink.

He then returned to his mattress, thinking not of friends or brick buildings or slices of fish-flavored hingleberry pie. Salamandre settled into the creases of tattered fabric only to discover the troublesome letter was back in one hand, a full jar of ghelleyberry juice in the other. After the last blue sip, Salamandre’s mind felt tired and his brain felt it shouldn’t care. With a haphazard toss, he threw the empty ghelleyberry jar into a nearby pile of fish bones and watched in delight as the jar smashed on the ground, splintering into blue drops of juice and shards of glass. In the morning, the whole mess would disappear and for the first time, the thought of a self-cleaning room made him laugh. Then he laughed some more―because why not?―and listened for at least ten minutes to the empty, echoing sounds of his voice ringing through the walls of his room-containing-a-mattress-and-little-else. Finally, Salamandre skipped to the last page of the letter who knew too much, because starting at the end of the disastrous note might be the very best place to begin all again:

You would be right to guess the story didn’t end here but telling the rest of this tale would require more paper than one seal alone could secure. Alas, I’ll halt at this spot, having provided enough of a narrative backdrop on which to place these next morsels of knowledge. 

Prepare yourself well to receive the two pieces of personal detail I vowed earlier would be revealed:

  1. As true as my own blood and the blood of our father, Malcolm Pleta, Red King of Brixbanx, and our mother, Queen Charlotte Frederique (lost but not forgotten wherever she may be), I am your two-minute younger twin brother. 

  2. By the time you read this letter, I Albert Nathaniele Frederique Pleta, Prince of Brixbanx, will be dead.

Salamandre’s big moment had finally arrived.

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