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         “Ah,” Ileana began, a rueful smile on her lips.  “Once upon a time…”
         There was a princess who lived in a dark, dusty castle full of rules, Chess thought to himself, and thoughts of Sariel floated back to his mind -- but he pushed them away for now.
         Abruptly, Ileana rose and went to the open doorway, and looked both ways down the hall.  She was shaking her head when she returned to the chair.  “Well, to make a long story short: I knew – or thought I knew – about all the terrible things that were happening to people that lived outside the cities.”  She shrugged.  “I belonged to this group back in civ… we used to get together twice a month and talk… and get angry… and write letters to our representatives…  But it seemed like we never did anything.  I mean, we never made a difference.  And then, online, I found Razor.  And he was so…”  She raised her eyes to the ceiling, and her voice became self-mocking.  “He talked about leaving civ and coming out here to do some good, and I bought all of it.  The group warned me not to go, but I thought…”  She straightened in the chair.  “I thought we ought to have the courage of our convictions.”
         “That was pretty brave,” Chess agreed, willing her to go on.
         “But I’m not sorry to be here,” she concluded.  “I will find a way to make a difference.”
         “So you wouldn’t leave here?” Chess asked quietly.
         “I wouldn’t leave Razor,” Ileana answered swiftly, as if the thought had already been pondered and discarded.  “I know things here are… ugly.  Not what I expected.  But Razor is --”  She blinked at him then, and appeared to change her mind on what she wanted to say.  “He believes in what he’s doing,” she said firmly.  “He could do good things.”
         Chess carefully kept his face expressionless and made no comment.
         “And he has the foresight to surround himself with people who can do what he needs done, like you, and also Tez,” Ileana said, referring to Razor’s second-in-command.  “For instance, the idea for this project of yours.  Razor didn’t come up with it, Tez did.”
         The news did not surprise Chess.  What did amaze him, however, was that Ileana knew so much about it.  “I’ve seen you sitting with Tez.  Do you work with him on the accounts and stuff?”
         Ileana shrugged noncommittally and abruptly changed the subject.  “I’ve talked a lot about myself.  What about you?  How did you end up here?”

         In the end, Chess pretty much told her everything that had happened on his way to Razor’s compound: the situation with his family, his experiences at the army camp, the dissidents, the village, and the girl and the fire in the woods.
         “What a terrible thing to witness,” Ileana said quietly.  “I’m so sorry.”
         “Don’t be,” Chess growled.  “I stood by while all of it happened.”  He shook his head, recalling the events of that day.  And then he remembered something that he had not thought about in a long time.
         “The girl, though… she said something weird about, uh, water wizards.”  At the words, Ileana looked at him sharply.  “Have you heard something about that?” Chess asked, surprised at her reaction.
         “Tez has mentioned them before,” Ileana answered, frowning.  “He thinks they have some kind of weapon.”  She added, more quietly, “I know he’s been asking around the villages about them.”
         “Crazy,” Chess breathed.  “The girl said they had a great weapon, too.”  He glanced worriedly at the open doorway.  It felt as though they were getting too involved in a dangerous conversation.
         Ileana did not seem to share his concern.  “Maybe it has something to do with the water in the village – maybe the wizards could purify polluted water?” she guessed.  “Clean drinking water would be enough incentive for the government -- or some big corporation -- to want to take over the village.”
         “Okay, but how is clean water a powerful weapon?” Chess asked, confused.
         Ileana shrugged, looking resigned.  “Our water is so contaminated now, with all these chemicals from gas drilling, fertilizers…  Whoever has a good supply of potable water probably holds the final victory.”  She smiled at Chess’ bewildered expression, explaining, “The end game is survival, right?”

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Conjuration (Creation) [Water]
Level: Clr 0, Drd 0, Pal 1
Components: V,S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: close (25 ft. + 5 ft. / 2 levels)
Effect: up to 2 gallons of water/level
Duration: instantaneous
-Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook (Core Rulebook I v. 3.5)

         Taking a break from mythologies for a short while!  As I mentioned before, sixth grade was the first time that I discovered Greek and Norse mythology (I started with D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths and read everything else that I could find in our limited school library.)
         Nearly as amazing as those stories, though, was my sixth grade teacher.  She was very young and full of new ideas.  Her classes marked the first time that I ever heard anyone talk about the importance of water conservation.  She also had us doing projects on the different sources of energy, from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  And this was all decades ago, during a time when few people were talking about this stuff, and we were only just hearing about acid rain and the growing hole in the ozone layer.
         Without exaggeration, I learned a lot in her class.  She encouraged self-motivation and independent learning at our own speed.  She also had us do things like play that cooperation game, where you confer with your partner, and sometimes with your entire team, and maybe agree to cooperate.  Then you each hold up a card that tells what you’ve decided to do.  If everyone holds up the agreed-upon card, then each player on the team gets a whole lot of points (everyone wins).  However, you might decide at the last minute to betray your teammates and thus score some points just for yourself, while the rest get no points at all.  I don’t remember what this game was called, but it was fairly profound to a bunch of sixth graders, and, honestly, I think everyone could benefit from spending a little time learning it.
         There was another teacher who greatly affected me, too, but she taught in high school and she never failed to terrify me, every day that I was in her class…



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