“It used to be so docile, just Red, Mayo, and I.”
He entered the room with his normal red bomber, his regular red beanie, and jeans ripped like always. And yet when he laid eyes on his younger brother, he looked different in the eyes of the beholder. Something about him seemed different. Because they had lived with each other, fed off of each other, and thrived together, it wasn’t hard to spot the smallest freckle or scratch mark on the other.
“Red, where have you been?”
The middle brother had been busy putting the toddler to sleep in the corner, as always. Red was always out and about, leaving him to take care of the youngest of them. They were great caretakers nonetheless, and each cared for the other. They were the perfect, ideal group of brothers.
Red smiled and approached the little thirteen-year-old, slipping off the green beret and ruffling soft brown hair. “Hey, little guy. How’s Mayo been?”
“Well, I got him to sleep at least.”
“Did he drink his milk?”
Red raised a brow and crossed his arms. “Chair, you know it’s important for him to have some nutrition. He’s only four.”
Chair sighed. “I know, I know. But, he didn’t want to, and he was so tired.” The hausfrau hung his head in shame. “I can’t be a mother. It’s too bad Mom died.”
The eldest brother, who was far into his prime, smirked. “Perhaps you won’t need to soon,” he said, leaving the other hanging. “Let me see Mayo.”
Chair nodded and guided him to the far corner. Buried deep into covers of a crudely made children’s bed was their blonde baby brother, sighing softly in his sleep. Tufts of light blonde angel hair poked out of the stained sheets and chubby, untrained cheeks dusted over with rose clicked and slurped, submersed by his dream.
“This cheeky cherub,” Red commented, sliding a rough, calloused hand over a soft cheek. “He doesn’t yet know of this cruel world we live in. I hope he never loses such innocence.”
“Me too, Red.”
The eldest brother turned and smiled toward Chair. “Will you always protect him?”
“That’s what I’ve always been doing.”
“But even when we get older,” Red said sadly. “And somehow, we split up. Will you protect Mayo’s innocence with your life?”
This question seemed absurd to the youth. “Of course I will!” he answered, completely sure of his answer. “He’s my baby brother…”
The adult smiled and ruffled his hair again, setting a pair of glasses askew. “Good boy. Oh, sport, I have to tell you something.”
Red flushed. “Let’s sit down for this. I need to confess.”
“What Red said that day completely changed my view of him.”
The two brothers walked over to a small sitting area at the other side of the safe haven. “Sit.” Chair sat without thinking, being obedient like always. Red paced in front of him, trying to think of a way to explain what he did. “You see, even though I didn’t come back with food, aid, or the like, I have come with something special.”
“What is it?” Chair said, almost robotically.
Red smirked in response. “I realized that I was not an Alchemist, like you.” Chair was about to ask what he was talking about, but he was cut off. “Now hold on, let me speak. I met someone out there who gave me the power of a Mage.”
“What’s a Mage, Brother?”
“A Mage is a person much more powerful than an Alchemist, Chair,” Red explained, vigorously pacing now, speaking with his hands. “Mages don’t need to use a Philosopher’s Stone to create something out of the blue.”
“But that would destroy the balance of the universe!” Chair said worriedly, standing up. He was only as tall as his brother’s shoulders. “If there’s no equivalent exchange, there is no order! Chaos will strike, I just know it!”
“Calm down, Chair!” Red commanded, placing a hand on his little brother’s shoulder. “It’s okay. With this new power of mine that the stranger granted me, I will only use it for good.”
“How do you know it’s a good power if it was from a stranger?”
“The boy who gave it to me was only about eight.”
“And then the moment she came into our lives…”
Chair inspected the book he was given before Red headed out on the hunt, to hone his new powers. Philosophy and Religion was the title, and he could only assume that it explained exactly that. With different parts came different topics that stood on the edge of controversy and blasphemy. It was hardly a book that a normal thirteen-year-old could understand, but Chair was extremely intelligent for his age. His brother had always complimented him on that.
He flipped through the pages, looking at the ink pictures and other footnotes. “Red sure went out of his way,” he said to himself in awe. “This even has information on occult rituals, the Philosopher’s Stone… And even how to make different body parts out of the elements. It's like Cornelius Agrippa's works. It’s everything an Alchemist like me needs to know.”
Chair was violently ripped out of his reverie when a high pitched squeal tore through the silence. “Mayo!” he scolded, shutting his book and putting it on the table. “I tried feeding you before but you weren’t hungry.”
The little four-year-old rubbed his deer brown eyes as he sobbed to himself, sitting up in his mattress. In moments, he was picked up and swept into Chair’s arms. “B-brother!” he cried.
Chair held his brother to his chest and tucked him under his neck, bouncing him up and down. “There there, little one,” he shushed. “The dreams again? I told you they weren’t real.”
This made Mayo cry harder, getting the green sweater vest wet with hot tears. “So real!” he said with his limited vocabulary. “So real!”
“Want something to eat?”
Chair sighed. Mayo almost never ate anything. He continued to hold the toddler to his chest as he sauntered to the ice box that held most of the food. “It’ll make dreams go away,” he lied. Though, in truth, eating would help anyone’s mood.
“Don’t want it!”
The younger brother’s cries slowly died down the more Chair held him and rocked him like a mother. He cried himself to sleep sooner or later, laying lax on slim, wet shoulders. It was when Chair decided to settle down with Mayo on his chest that the door swung open.
“Red, where have you—“
His eyes flashed over a woman he had never seen before. Blonde hair chopped up and partially hidden by a blue knit beanie, she stared back at him with emotionless crystal eyes. Her tight blue blazer made her average chest pop out and her tan pleated skirt hid everything above her knees. She looked slightly older than Red, perhaps more mature. But she couldn’t be older than 25.
Chair took a step away from her. “W-who are you?” He cradles Mayo closer to his chest with eyes wide, trembling in fear. He was terrible at alchemy at the moment, and couldn’t fight for Mayo well. That’s why he never left the annex.
The woman took a step toward him.
“Stay back!” Chair commanded, squeezing Mayo to his chest and causing the younger to wake up. “Stay away. Identify yourself!”
She frowned deeply at the toddler, and said in a voice mature and dignified, “You’ll hurt him.” The woman came forward without hesitation and whisked Mayo out of Chair’s arms.
Rocking the baby brother back to sleep, using a true motherly charm, she smiled. “There. You would have woken him up. As to be expected from a man.”
Everyone looked to the door where a flustered Red stood. He was panting, as if he had run a long distance, but even so, he still seemed somewhat relaxed and poised.
“Bluey, I told you to wait.”
Chair looked out from behind the woman to his big brother. “Who’s Bluey?”
“Your new big sister,” Red smiled, walking over. “I decided that having a big sister to cook and clean while taking care of Mayo would help you a lot. After all, you’ve had to take care of him ever since he was practically born. Maybe now I can teach you to fight.”
The youth looked up at the blonde woman. “So… she’s here to help?”
“In a nutshell, yes. You’ll be able to have feminine influence now, just like you should. And having a maid isn’t a bad thing, you know.”
“But things got worse and worse. I loved Bluey as a sister. She helped me when I got hurt during my long and tedious training. But as I saw Red less and less and started going out on my own, I noticed rifts forming between the two. They no longer regarded each other as siblings like they once did. They were enemies, and I could see their hatred in each other’s eyes. While Bluey stayed at home to take care of Mayo and I was out trying to gather whatever food and drink I could find, I lost Red. He told me not to follow him. I never did. I shouldn’t have listened. Perhaps if I did…”
“This is the eighth time!” Bluey screeched, pulling at her chopped hair. Those two were fighting once again while they thought Chair was sleeping. It had been happening for countless nights, Chair had stopped counting. It would always be about something else, but that would never stop his worry that they would eventually kill each other.
“Screw you!” Red yelled from the doorframe, a light sheen of a blush glazing his cheeks. He was drunk, that was obvious. “I can drink whatever I want. You don’t own me!”
“I beg to differ!” Bluey slammed her fist on the table. “Every night, you’ve snuck out and went drinking God-knows-where and I’m sick and tired of it! You always turn into a fucking monster when you come back. We have two children in the house. Have you no shame?!”
“Stop talking like we’re a fucking married couple!” Red snapped. “I made you! You should be obeying me! I can take your life just as easily as I brought you here!”
Chair caught his breath. He was staring wide eyed at the wall, trickles of tears streaming down one side of his face as he lay still on the mattress. Trembling, he didn’t dare to turn and look at them, even though they were so submerged into fighting. “Please… Just stop…”
“You have a problem!” Bluey pressed, taking a step forward. “Just admit it and we can stop it. Think about Chair and Mayo!”
“They won’t be affected.” The man had just about had it. “It’s you who I can’t stand.”
“Fuck off!” Red stepped out of the room, grabbing the door handle. “It’s my life and I’m not going to let my little brothers hold me down! If you want to play the mother game, then fine! Don’t let me ruin it for you, bitch! I’m going to the Barrels!”
Running toward the only man she knew, her master, her creator, she paused. He was already gone. Bluey felt tears starting to form at her eyes and she turned with a trembling lip, closing the door. Just as the first drop fell, she laid eyes for the first time that night on Chair’s big emerald ones, filled with despair.
“Bluey…” Chair said, biting his lip and slowly getting up so as not to disturb Mayo’s peaceful slumber. “… Is Red…?”
The ashamed big sister nodded wither her face turning red, tears now gushing from her eyes. She ran to Chair and pulled him into a hug, wetting his shoulder like a child. “C-C-chair! Ah-hah… H-he’s g-g-gone! He’s g-gone!”
“I think our final farewell was even more tearful than the night my brother left.”
“I need to go,” Bluey said, packing her things. Chair watched her sadly from the couch, sitting upright with a plastic expression while Mayo was doodling a picture in the corner. The amount of tears shed in the past three days was leaving him dehydrated, and he felt he could shed no more. “Be a good boy. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t trust strangers. If you run into one, run. Take care of your brother with your life. Don’t leave him alone for a second. I left some cooked pig meat in the ice box and the laudanum is in the cabinet, fully stocked. Don’t drink more than four laudanum a day, otherwise you’ll get dizzy, and be sure to eat as much as you want. You’re a growing boy hitting puberty one of these days, so you’re going to get hungry. Brush your teeth and keep your clothes clean, as well as the sheets. Be assertive if Mayo doesn’t eat, you know he needs to. I should be back in three days, maybe more…”
Chair nodded to all of these conditions he was willing to carry out, as long as he got to see his sister in three days or more.
Bluey filled her pockets to the brim with oil and sanity potions. When she finished, she turned to Chair with a sad smile. “I guess this is goodbye for now…” She pulled him into a hug, not ever wanting to go. “You are not Chair anymore. You are Mr. Chair. I grant you charge of the family in my absence.”
“Bwewy!” Mayo called, getting up and waddling over to the two with his picture. “Hewe.” He handed Bluey his doodle, a small, crude drawing of four people, each represented by a different color. The color blue was one of the tallest and had a small smile drawn in the general face area. Red was also equally as tall but had a saddened… or angered expression. The color green had a smile and was of middle height. Finally, the shortest was yellow and housed the largest smile of them all. All four figures were holding hands innocently as if they hadn’t a worry in the world. “Take it!”
Bluey’s heart shattered as her hand trembled to hold the picture to her chest, holding back tears. “T-thank you… Mayo…” She pulled him into a hug, her voice cracking harshly.
When she pulled away, she wiped her eyes. “I’ll be back in four days… no more.” Mr. Chair nodded as she turned to leave, face hot with sadness and humility, adorned with salty, flowing rivers.
“Bluey wasn’t back in four days, nor was she back in time for the food not to run out. I couldn’t leave Mayo alone, I just couldn’t. So I needed to take him with me. I would never forget that first day I took him with me. It was also my last.”
A long, happy tune was hummed through smiling cheeks, puffed with excitement. It was Mayo’s first day outside the annex, and he was soaking up everything his large brown eyes could suck. Mr. Chair smiled at his brother’s innocence, pushing up his glasses and walking next to him.
“Be careful, Mayo. Don’t fall down, the ground will hurt you,” he said lightly. Mayo didn’t listen, but he supposed he didn’t need to. They would be approaching a muddy area soon, where the dead pigs were kept.
It wasn’t too late to hear the rumble of something heavy rolling across a ramp and inevitably crashing where the two brothers once stood, now to the side and holding one another for dear life.
“Whoa!” Mr. Chair exclaimed, holding Mayo protectively. “That was close!”
As their eyes filled with shock couldn’t be taken from their almost-assassins, it was hard not to notice the piece of paper that was almost completely crushed by one of the boulders. Mr. Chair went to grab it, and thank goodness it wasn’t ripped in half as he pulled, because he couldn’t believe his eyes. His mind went blank the moment he scanned it, then scanned it again with a growing look of horror.
“What is it?” Mayo asked innocently.
Mr. Chair gulped, clenching his fists and slightly rumpling the page. “I-I don’t think…” he started. “… That Bluey is coming back.” He then showed Mayo the picture. It was the same picture he had given Bluey the day she left.
But the baby brother didn’t understand. “Let’s go,” he said abruptly, wrenching Mr. Chair from his reverie. He wasn’t hungry, but he knew that Mr. Chair needed food.
“R-right,” Mr. Chair answered, rolling up the page and placing it in his pocket. He wasn’t going to throw away something as dear as that. The two kept walking until the two were nearly at the lair of the dead pigs, but something was off. “Stop, Mayo,” Mr. Chair commanded, and the little blonde tot stopped. They stood in deafening silence, waiting until they heard the sound of heavy, unsteady footsteps. “… It’s a Grunt…” he said, gritting his teeth. Just what he needed. He was slowly getting better at alchemy, but was still limited in the ways. And he needed to protect Mayo… “Hide behind the boulders! Now!”
The authority in his voice was foreign, and yet, Mayo understood the gravity in such words. He ran all the way behind the large rocks and waited for his brother.
The Grunt made its presence known with a groan, and smiled with its eyes at the headstrong Mr. Chair, who stood at the ready while putting on his Alchemist gloves. Raising its spiked arm, ready to bring it down on the beautiful face, the human was able to dodge and attack back. He couldn’t be afraid, for Mayo’s sake… and Bluey’s.
It took only one rock the size of a tennis ball, or so he thought, to knock him off balance. “Oof!” Mr. Chair exclaimed as he hit the ground roughly, his glasses being knocked over completely. “M-my glasses!” Large tipped claws came down and gouged at his cheek, causing him to flip over and scream from the force and pain.
“Go away, fucker!”
A loud crack of two gunshots simultaneously pierced the Grunt’s small brain from different directions, and the monster fell to the ground with a loud thud next to the youth, spilling warm blood everywhere.
Mr. Chair held his cheek in shock, sprawled around the mud in a mess. His glasses weren’t anywhere within his reach, and he was starting to worry. “Mayo…” he whimpered to himself. It hurt to talk, to move his mouth.
“I guess it wasn’t a complete loss. I mean, I met someone very special that day.”
“… Are you okay?” someone asked off to the side.
The poor Mr. Chair blinked and tried to make out the other person in the room. It wasn’t his brother’s voice. This voice was smooth and suave, interlaced with a permanent smirk. It was definitely a male, perhaps a couple years older than himself, despite the many shades of pink he saw in a blur. Mr. Chair got on his hands and knees, looking up to the crouched form. “C-can you help me? M… my glasses.”
The other person looked around, walking around him. “I don’t see… ah! Here they are.” He picked up the mud covered spectacles and wiped them off with his brown, sleeveless hoodie before handing them back to Mr. Chair. “I need water to clean them properly. Sorry.”
Mr. Chair blinked as the world came into focus. He laid eyes on his newfound friend, taking in the dead pink hair and lifeless grey eyes, accompanied by two pig ears twitching slightly on top of his head. “Who are you? Where did my little brother go?”
“Hold on, sexy little thing,” the boy said. He was probably about fifteen. “Let’s get to a brighter area. Then we talk.”
Mr. Chair nodded in agreement and stood, gagging at his clothes that were now covered in the heavy brown mud. “I’m so filthy!”
The boy smirked as he led Mr. Chair down a corridor. “I don’t mind if you want to walk around naked,” he said with a wink.
The brunette gasped. “Just who do you think you are?!”
“I’ve gone by many names in my family. Jennifer usually just calls me Piggeh.”
“Piggeh and I traveled for a while until we met Stephano and Skully later on,” Mr. Chair said, tapping his fingers together in anxiety. “I never saw Jennifer, nor had I seen Sammy Sue or Mayo, or even Red or Bluey. I want to see them again. I suppose the real reason I’m in the Bro Army is because I can travel in safety, and that increases my chances of meeting them again. I just…” He held his head and sniffled, his face turning red. “I miss them. It has been over five years and I’m scared…”
Everyone was left in deadly silence as Mr. Chair started to cry, huddled into himself, not showing his face to everyone. Piggeh had the guts to slide next to him and wrap a comforting arm around his lithe shoulders while Stephano stared into the fire with a somber expression. Felix was completely shocked at what he just listened to. Sure, it was long and tedious, but it was so sad at the same time, he felt himself start to feel gloomy too.
“Well…” he started. “What happened to Skully? I don’t see him around.”
“He left,” Stephano said without emotion. “He broke the rules.”
Felix perked and looked to him. “There are rules?”
The tension in the room started to ease as a new conversation was picked up. “They’re mostly to keep Piggeh from raping anyone at night.”
“Hey! I have standards!” the pig chimed.
“The rules apply to everyone in the Bro Army in this awful place,” Stephano went on. “If they break any of them, then they can be tried before the rest of us like a jury. If they are found guilty, they are kicked out. We try not to do this often, as the Barrels also have the power to take souls and personify them, as if they are making bodies.”
Felix thought. “I think there’s a gap here,” he said. “What’s the difference between having a body with a soul and just having a soul if we can still interact with each other?”
“It’s a very slight difference, not one I can explain,” Stephano admitted. “Mr. Chair, if you’re feeling okay, can you unleash Jesus?”
Mr. Chair nodded and wiped his eyes, reaching to his belt and unlatching the small cage, opening it. From inside came a small wisp of white light, which flew over to Felix. As the light slowly subsided, a small body with only a piece of cloth around the waist was visible.
“Jesus?” Felix asked. The wingless pixie nodded.
“I was the first experimental body that Mr. Chair made,” Jesus explained. “I am small and travel sized. Where Martin and Agrippa are all the way over to the annex, I can come with you and help you with my knowledge.”
“Whoa, that’s cool,” Felix admitted. “So what element are you?”
“I am the element of Air, a Mage,” Jesus said. “As to be expected from the son of God. Though I am too small to cast major spells, as I always was, but I can help with cuts and bruises, as well as share my wisdom.”
“Okay, so what’s the difference between having a body and not having a body?”
“Having a body allows the person a wider range of vision as well as strength and power. It allows a stronghold to let magic manifest for greater, well, everything. It enhances the soul and allows people with bodies to see them. You, Martin, and I are different. Our bodies were not made by magic. They were made from Mr. Chair’s alchemy. Everyone else has perfect bodies where we have flaws. We do not act as strongholds for magic. Instead, we can simply be seen and nothing else.” Jesus paused to let Felix soak the information in.
The gamer was lost. “Just… in English? Or Swedish if you can.”
Jesus’ eyebrow twitched. “Our bodies were made out of alchemy, so we can’t become faster, stronger, or more powerful like the others.”
Felix slowly nodded.
“The bodies made by the unknown magical surge—Stephano’s, Piggeh’s, Mr. Chair’s, Agrippa’s—can.”
“Goddamn it,” Felix said, scratching his head. “I want to be that badass.”
“Well, it seems you understand the gist of it,” Jesus said, resting on his shoulder gently. “Any other questions?”
“Yeah. How can I become badass like these fuckers?”
Stephano cleared his throat. “Relay the rules for him, please.”
“No problem,” Jesus said, cracking his tiny knuckles and rolling his head, his brown wavy locks getting whipped. “First off, no having sex with other members of the Bro Army.”
“Why would I want to do that?!” Felix asked, stricken with shock.
“Because we’re sexy,” Piggeh intervened with a lick to his lips.
“It’s to keep him from raping everyone,” Jesus said, jutting his chin toward the swine. “Number two, no severe violence with other members. Roughhousing is part of a Swordsman’s and Gunner’s nature, so it’s normal to get into fights every so often. Severe violence is when they take out their weapons and start killing each other. That was why Skully was kicked out; he attacked Stephano and tried to kill him.”
“Wow,” Felix said, thinking it over. “Sounds like I’m the cause of all of this.”
“It’s not your fault, Pewdie,” Stephano said. “You didn’t know this would happen, of course. Skully was a spineless bastard with a hard head. We were all glad he was kicked out.”
Jesus sighed. “Number three, we are not allowed to have any sort of contact with anyone from the Barrels, Teleporting Naked Guys, Untrusted Statues, or anyone affiliated with them. Fighting and killing them is alright, but willfully being friendly with them or having sex with them is completely against the rules. If one breaks any of these rules, they are subject to immediate trial in the Bro Army unofficial court to be found guilty or not guilty and are responsible for whatever their sentence may be.”
Felix nodded. “I think I get it,” he said, letting out a short yawn.
“We should sleep,” Stephano chipped, passing a glance at the half-sleeping Mr. Chair. “We’ll regain our strength and look for food when we wake up.”
“I’m in,” Piggeh said, stretching his arms and laying down, curling up on the hard floor next to his beloved comrade. “I’ve had enough of this share-and-tell time. Unless someone wants to—“
“Fine,” Piggeh said as everyone else settled down, the fire slowly dying in the middle. “Fine.”