Chapter 8: Reise / Journey


Gilbert gasped, and then his eyes blinked open.

The first thing he noticed was the sound of a running engine, just thrumming beneath his head. Ja, beneath his head. He was lying down. His legs were propped up over something soft. There was the sound of papers sliding over each other, and something else. Something crunchy.

"Fuck," He rasped, throat exceptionally dry. He cleared it violently, before blinking again. "...Is someone eating chips?"

The car shuddered over a bump on the road.

"Yes, I am," Came the reply, in an accent Gilbert vaguely recognised as Hassan's. He sounded quite miserable. "Please take your legs off my lap. I fear for my blood circulation."

So that's what his legs were on. He grunted his assent. Counting to three in his head, he proceeded to push himself upright, all while groaning like an arthritic old man. His legs finally touched the floor, and he slid the seatbelt over his body, letting it click in place. They were in Helena's car, of course, and Gilbert blinked at the scenery as it swept past them.

"Oh good, you're awake," Helena herself groaned from the driver's seat, eyes still glued to the road.

The landscape outside didn't tell much about where they were. Just miles and miles of empty fields, stretching to beyond the reach of his eyes.

"We're on the turnpike already?" He rubbed his eyes. "How long was I out?"

"Thirty minutes, at least." There was a flash of green in the rearview mirror — Helena's eyes flicking to her watch. "But we only left ten minutes ago."

Brendan did manage to nab himself Shotgun. From the little sliver of the boy Gilbert could see, he seemed to be poring over several sets of paper. A pencil scritched over the surface of one of them, followed by a frustrated grunt.

"Homework," Helena explained. "History essays."

"I could have said that myself," Brendan bit out. Gilbert heard the lead snap against the paper, followed by a forceful exhale. "...Damned pencils."

"Pro-tip," Gilbert snorted. "Don't do homework in a moving car."

"I don't have a choice. It's due Friday." Brendan scowled. He set the pencil down. "Ah. Well, technically, it isn't. My history teacher said I had an... excuse. But I still want to do it."

"Wait a minute," he grumbled. "Just noticed, it's a Wednesday. You've got school. Whatcha doing here?"

Brendan didn't respond for a whole while.

"...Like I said, I have an excuse."

Hassan mouthed something that looked suspiciously like Dietrich.

"That's perfectly fine," Helena reassured. "I'm sure your teacher will be proud."

The car lapsed back into silence, save for the engine and Hassan's chips. Gilbert leaned into the window, staring at the road beneath them. He imagined cracks splaying across the asphalt, the ground giving way beneath them. They'd slip away into nothing, and that dumb fucking Eyebrows Guy would probably still be glaring.

He wrinkled his nose. "Hey, Helena."

Her head inclined, ever so slightly. "...Yes?"

Hassan popped another chip into his mouth. It was distracting him. They looked too good. Damn it.

"Does any one of your bad guys happen to be a British man with massive eyebrows?"

Helena seemed to consider this for a while. "Absolutely not."


Gilbert slumped into the glass. So it was just a crazy dream then. He had no idea why, but his heart seemed to sink even further. Maybe some part of him had truly believed this whole thing was real — That they weren't just going to end up in Harrisburg and realise that the meeting was just some sort of regular function.

Helena cleared her throat.

Gilbert looked up. She was staring at him from the rearview mirror. "What is it, woman."

"Why did you ask me that question? " Helena hummed. "There are known threats who happen to be British, however. And massive eyebrows are a trait of any nation who descended from Britannia. Living nations, that is."

That claim didn't seem very credible, but neither did anything else. Gilbert figured his common sense could afford to take more hits.

"I had a dream where I met this crazy British guy," Gilbert explained. He saw that he'd attracted Brendan's attention. Progress on his homework had stopped entirely, and he was craning his neck back to look now. "He thinks I did something with Spain— the person, Spain— so I said I had no clue what he was going on about, because he was all cryptic and shit, you know? I told him about the whole dead nations thing, then he got pissed and said I was lying about my name."

"Spain?" Hassan repeated, eyebrows furrowing. "Oh, no."

"I don't know, ask him. He's going to be in Harrisburg, too, apparently." Gilbert shrugged, eyeing the bag of chips. Helena had gone silent, and he decided that this was his chance. "What flavour are those?"

Hassan blinked. "Barbeque."

He reached over to grab one, but Hassan snatched the bag away so fast Gilbert was almost impressed. The guy was looking at him like he were crazy.

"Hey." Gilbert shook his head in mock disapproval. "Sharing is caring, comrade."

The number of creases on Hassan's face seemed to multiply at that. Gilbert took the opportunity to make a second lunge at the chips.

Helena sighed. "For goodness' sakes, can we please get back on topic. I think I know what might have happened to Spain—"

Hassan shook his head, still trying to dodge Gilbert's attempts at stealing his precious chips. "Wait, wait, I know, Ms Karpusi! But this is my last bag—"

"What if he's a living nation? The man Gilbert met, I mean," Brendan blurted out, very suddenly. He looked scared, almost.

Gilbert froze. So did Hassan. The chips were momentarily forgotten. Living nations. There it was again. Gilbert didn't know why the concept was so hard to wrap his head around, but something was just too... surreal about it.

Helena heaved an even deeper sigh. "It's possible. How did he look like?"

Gilbert slid back into his own seat. "Uh. He was blond. He had green eyes. Massive eyebrows. That's all I know."

"And you're certain the accent is British? The Queen's English?"

"I am, yeah."

"Wait!" Hassan gasped. "I think that description probably matches the, the er— I will pull up the registry. But the laptop is in the boot. I mean, the trunk."

Helena nodded quickly. "I'll pull over."

By 'pull over', Helena meant screeching across several lanes, all while slamming wildly on the horn over and over again. The sudden swerve was enough to throw a shower of crumbs out of the chip bag, and Gilbert was pretty sure Brendan's whole pencil case had slipped off his seat at some point.

"Holy crap, woman!" Gilbert shrieked.

There was no response, only deranged screaming in surround sound.

A cacophony of honks trailed them all the way to the side of the road. And finally, Helena braked.

There was a silence.

Brendan slowly stretched his hand out, shoving his finger at the tiny red triangle on the dashboard. The hazard lights flashed on.

"Ah..." Helena began. "Thank you, Brendan, but I don't think the hazard lights should be on."

"They do," Brendan groaned.

"Ya," Hassan agreed, sweeping the crumbs off the seat.

"They should be on all the damn time with you at the wheel," Gilbert griped, aiding Hassan in his noble cause. His heart was still going way too fast.

Helena only sighed. "Everyone out."


They had to remove every single piece of luggage from the trunk in search of the stupid laptop.

Gilbert, being the fittest and most awesome, ended up having to drag the majority of them out. Hassan and Helena tasked themselves with squatting on the asphalt, unzipping the bags and digging through piles of clothes. The laptop turned out to be buried deep under a stack of old history books.

They marched off the road and onto the long stretch of overgrown grass beside it. A thicket of dead trees lined the area, spindly branches stretching towards the clouds above. Beyond that was a vast sea of farmland, several clumps of greyish houses dotting the fields.

"It's going to rain," Brendan noticed. He had already sat himself down onto the grass, sheets of crumpled foolscap paper in hand. The rumble of distant thunder confirmed his guess, the clouds above starting to resemble great swathes of old gauzy veils. What a specific comparison. Gilbert shook his head.

"We'll go back in when it does," Helena replied, moving to lower herself down next to Brendan. "We'll bother about the bags later."

They were all still strewn about the road and grass, clothes and books all over, and Gilbert suspected that he was going to have to be the one doing most of the stuffing back into the trunk as soon as the first raindrop hit the ground. "—Think I'll start packing first, you bunch of lazy shits."

So Gilbert stumbled back down to where the bags were, beginning to lift clothes from the dusty strip of road around the car.

Little did they know, he had a second objective in offering to pack the things. Damn, he was impressed by how sneaky he was being.

His spot was the perfect vantage point for peering into the laptop screen from behind Hassan.

As it turned out, the registry they were referring to was just a document on some sort of word processor. He scrunched his nose up and squinted. Hassan was scrolling pretty quickly, but the headers were in a font large enough for him to read.

There was a section labelled 'Holy Roman Empire', followed by a multitude of differently-sized images — Old paintings, maps, ink manuscripts. Then came the vast walls of text. At one point, 'BRANDENBURG/ PRUSSIA: ARE THEY THE SAME PERSON?' (font size at least ten times that of anything else on the page) scrolled by.

The more he looked, the more Gilbert was really starting to question the possible legitimacy of this society. Again. He doubted this was about to stop anytime soon.

More and more massive font started to fill the pages, underlined and italicised and bolded and run through WordArt, garish colours making every word pop.

The tackiness proceeded to reach its peak with the next section, where every damned sentence occupied one entire page.



No... I don't think so? And I did think you were supposed to be banned from editing the document. Please stop adding all of these. We have sections for discussion.

-B/ AG.





Please, I beg of you. Stop.

-B/ AG.





Gaul, please stop with the all caps. We understand you are very excited, but it is distracting.

-B/ AG.







"That's Lotte."

Gilbert blinked, head turning. The screen and its awful lettering left yellow spots in his vision. He came face to face with Helena, who was now squinting at the screen from next to Gilbert. When the hell did she get here?

He glanced back at the screen. "You mean the all-caps person?"

Helena nodded, reaching down to pick up several shirts. "She's a Dutch lady who joined us... four? No, five years ago. She used to be Gaul."

"Gaul? Like Asterix and shit?" Gilbert snorted. He crammed a stack of clothing back into the bag. "I like her style."

"Yes. Er... She's known for contributing quite a lot of information to our registry. It's very hard to judge when a nation — or rather the, ah, the person representing it — begins or ends. We tend to have a lot of debates. She's at the centre of plenty."

Gilbert watched as Hassan moved the cursor to the word 'click', and the link led itself to another document, clearly titled 'The Heptarchy'. They seemed to be getting somewhere, at least.

"So. About the living nations. I'm guessing there's... uh. One for every country."

He glanced at Helena. She offered him a tentative nod.

"—And they're immortal." Gilbert continued, trying his hardest to keep the scepticism from his tone.

There came a second nod, slightly more enthusiastic this time. "As far as we know... yes. They are. We were once too."

"Does the government know? Are they just hiding this—" Gilbert spread his arms. "—From all of us? What, are aliens a thing too?"

Helena's body seemed to wilt. He arched her back, staring into the grey skies above like some sort of world-weary grandma.

"We don't know," She admitted. "But we think the presence of these nations is known to the governments. We do have some proof, if you're wondering. Photos. Documents. Official documents, actually. We have a website, and sometimes people submit things." Helena cocked her head, narrowing her eyes in the general direction of the computer. "...They're not very useful most of the time. A lot of our material comes from the work of actual conspiracy theorists."

"So if we're not actual conspiracy theorists, what are we then?" Gilbert crossed his arms. "Bootleg conspiracy theorists?"

"We're not conspiracy theorists. Because we have something they don't have—the dreams." Helena glared at him, too pointedly. "Which you've also had, may I add. I still cannot understand why you're still acting like this."

"Okay. Fine! No need to get defensive." Gilbert held up his hands. At this rate, he probably wouldn't be able to get anything out of her without breaking out in another stupid argument. "So you people talk with the actual conspiracy theorists?"

"Not really. We simply go on their websites and check. They don't know about the dead nations." Helena made a face. "And the main website we use seems to be more religious cult than history interest group, but they do have a lot of... evidence. Disturbing amounts, in fact. Gaul retrieved the photo from their website."

"What photo? The one with her... her fucking son in it?"

Helena shook her head. "Not Lotte's actual son. Gaul's son. They found it on some poor girl's blog. She went and wrote out her entire mysterious experience with someone who called himself France, and she had pictures. The pictures matched up with some old paintings. The theorists were convinced, and so was Lotte."

That wasn't creepy at all, trawling social media for shit like this, but Gilbert decided not to comment. It sounded pretty dumb, to him, at least. If he were some top secret immortal country guy, he wouldn't go around declaring he was East Germany and let someone take his pictures, and so that picture won't end up in the hands of his dead mother

"Hold up. France? Person-France? France is Gaul's son." Gilbert groaned. "So Nations can have children?"

Helena grimaced. "...Apparently?"

"Who's the dad?"

"There's no need for dads. Or mothers, even. Nations just…" She rolled her hand. "...happen."

"Oh Mein Gott. So you're telling me they're... They just— They divide. Like amoebas." He clamped his hand around his mouth. He could feel a chuckle just waiting to erupt. "Nein. Nein, wait. We're nations. So we're basically amoebas, and we divided into new nations. That's how we died—"

"We." She blinked. "...We're not amoebas. We—"

"We're aliens," Gilbert deduced. He wasn't even sure if he was joking anymore, but the more he thought about it, the more it started to make sense. If this was a conspiracy, he knew where it was going. "That's what you're going to tell me. So I'm going to draw the line right-fucking-there—"

"Gilbert." Helena's hands went up, almost like a shield. "We are not aliens. I can guarantee that."

He exhaled. "Good."

He hated how his voice was getting all cracky again, and the strange, pitying look Helena was directing at him. Like he was some lost puppy who happened to be particularly fucked in the head. So he forced himself to tear his eyes away and pick up more clothes. They bunched together in his hands in a messy pile, which did nothing to alleviate his mood. Ach, well, at least there weren't any aliens in the narrative.

"...Though," Helena mused, arms falling to her side. "Have you ever watched any videos about the Hetalia conspiracy? Because plenty of the theorists link the idea of national personifications with extraterrestrials, including that website with all the evidence."

"I have no clue what the Hetalia conspiracy is. So, nein," Gilbert muttered, kneeling to stack the clothes back inside. "Sounds dumb."

"That's the official name of the conspiracy we're all involved in. Some Japanese hackers uncovered a stack of old letters a while back, addressed to one 'Japan'. They were all in Japanese, and they were mostly about someone named 'Italy' being ah... exceedingly useless." Helena shrugged. "Some thought they were written in code. Some thought the parties in question were the countries themselves. And such was the birth of the Hetalia, or rather, the, er, Hetare Italia, conspiracy, which in turn led to plenty of evidence being found about the existence of the Nations."

"Lemme guess. The letters were all from W—Germany," Gilbert snorted. "Typical."

There was a long silence after.

Glancing back at Helena revealed that she was smiling at him. It was freaky. "...What?"

"You're not wrong. They were." Her lips twitched. "Funny how you should guess that, considering how I barely told you anything about the letters."

She nodded at him, like a proud mother might at her child. Gilbert was officially very disturbed now. He cast her a grimace, and then he looked away.

Brendan was lying sprawled out on the grass, twirling a brilliant blue flower in his hand. Gilbert took a little too long remembering where that had come from.

"Anyway," He continued, as quickly as he could. "How're you so sure aliens aren't involved? I just had a telepathic dream conversation with Mr Eyebrows. Kinda surprised you didn't just jump right to that conclusion." He whistled. "No, I'm actually impressed. You've got solid lore there."

"Well! I'm glad you've asked!" She clapped her hands together. "I'm impressed too, with how you're finally coming around to the idea—"

"Don't push it."

"—That personifications exist! But it's like this. some believe that the Nations are higher powers, to some extent. Each is sent to watch over and guide the course of a respective human civilisation. For example, it is believed that the extraterrestrial sent to guide the Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, and likewise for the Stonehenge, and Teotihuacán."

"Oh mein Gott."

She raised a finger. "But! The theory has one massive hole, and it is that the personification of a collapsed nation should return to the mothership to... ah, report its findings about humanity. Except we are what happened to the dead nations, and they do not know that."

"So case closed, right?" He rolled his eyes. "We aren't aliens."

"But the other theorists are operating on the belief that the nations are. Hence, we don't talk with them... much." Helena coughed. "Khemet does not remember helping with the pyramids, and none of us came from motherships of any sort." Helena shook her head, smile still etched on her face. "...But that isn't important, I am just so very glad you've started to believe us."

Gilbert went silent. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Helena was right. He was starting to believe them. Whether or not this was a good or bad thing was still up in the air. Very high up. He was pretty sure this should be raising more alarm bells than it currently was. Convincing him they weren't aliens shouldn't do that much for their case.

He glared at the road, and forced himself to focus.

"Right. But you still haven't told me anything about what you think has happened to Spain. Or the bad guys." He raised an eyebrow at her. "You'd think that's pretty important. And I'm still damn sure we're going to show up and find zero nations there. You've been trying for a long fucking while, haven't you?"

"Fine. You have a point," Helena muttered. "If it does help, I will admit I didn't expect anything to come out of this trip either. Hassan was right. We've had too many false alarms, efficient as Khemet is."

"Oh, great," Gilbert groaned.

"But." It was Helena's turn to hold out a hand. "Your dream made me reconsider. I am now extraordinarily concerned about this whole... situation."

"Situation?" He echoed. "Like with Spain-the-person?"

She averted her gaze. "Perhaps. And with Dietrich, as well."


The name still tasted strange on his tongue. He could barely recall the boy's face, other than the edge of a familiar smirk. What the name did bring back, however, was the flood of foreign rage rushing into his system. Memories too far from his grasp.

It wasn't a good feeling.

Helena finally shut the bag, zipping it closed. "I... er. I am going to tell you something about him, and you must promise you won't panic." She raised both eyebrows. "...Again."

Gilbert folded his arms, pursing his lips at her. When had he gained a reputation for freaking out at things like this? But it wasn't as if he could argue otherwise. He'd done it twice. "Is it bad?"

Helena hesitated. "...Yes. And you mustn't tell Brendan any of this."

"Awesome." After his terrible bunch of dreams, he'd be able to take more, no problem. Sure. This conversation wasn't spiralling far from his zone of comfort, not at all. He nodded at Helena. "Bring it on."

Helena exhaled. "It wasn't an accident, his death."



"Mein Gott." Gilbert bit his lip, looking up into the overcast sky. "I'm not freaking out. Promise. But what the fuck. You can't just hit me with that—"

Helena's eyes widened, and both hands went up a little too defensively. "Oh dear, no. Just breathe, alright? Don't panic, Gilbert. The situation is under control."

"I said I'm not freaking out. Jesus! You're just making it sound so Goddamn— Gah!" He threw his hands into the air, and Helena backed into the grass.


"You're not some shady drug ring or anything, so why the fuck—" said Gilbert, voice a little too high for comfort. He shook his head. The last thing he wanted to do is to end up stuck in a bunch of half-formed memories again, except in public this time. Not awesome. So he cleared his throat, and forced his voice down an octave. "'Aight. Not an accident, how? You saying he got murdered? What, tha— that people ran him over on purpose?"

"Yes," Helena sighed. "Brendan thinks so, at least. He thinks it was Hassan who did it."

"The library," Gilbert realised. "Which was why he didn't want Hassan in the room." He sucked in a breath. "...He said you didn't trust him."

"—Did someone call me?"

Gilbert turned so fast he nearly knocked himself off-balance. Hassan was looking at them. So was Brendan, but he was pretty sure the kid had been staring at them for quite a while.

"No." She waved him off. "I'm informing Gilbert about the... situation."

Hassan blinked at them for several more seconds, jaw working as his eyes widened. The words never reached his lips. He tilted his head and looked back at the screen.

"Ja," Gilbert muttered, lowly. "You don't trust him."

She pursed her lips, glancing at Hassan. "We were being too loud."

"He killed the boy, didn't he. He killed someone."

Gilbert didn't enjoy the way his heart was pounding. His fingers had gone all tingly. It was like he could feel the sweat beading out of his skin. It could be, Gilbert knew. That answer could be a yes. Yes, that guy right over there killed a teenager. Yes, he was probably going to lose his Goddamn mind.

Helena's eyes widened. "No. No, no you have the wrong idea. Hassan didn't kill him. I trust him. But Brendan doesn't, and Dietrich didn't either. It was... for good reason."

Gilbert exhaled. His arms still felt like TV static in the worst way, but fuck. Fuck. He was not taking any of this well. He shut his eyes. No dreams. Great.

"Good reason." He prompted, an eyebrow raising. Helena was even doing the whole staring off into the distance bit. Bunch of fucking drama queens.

"Which will be explained in a while," Helena continued. "Else you get overloaded. Again. You cannot have your memories come back now."

"Touche." Gilbert frowned at the ground before him. "Fine. Let's say this really happened, and there are bad guys, and he got murdered. Why Dietrich? He happen to piss anyone off? Because I can really see that happening."

Helena exhaled. The bag was mostly repacked now. She moved to pinch the bridge of her nose. "First of all, we are not calling them the bad guys. It is juvenile and you are defiling our cause."

Gilbert snorted. "Then what're we supposed to call them? The-morally-grey-but-just-kinda-misunderstood-guys? Because that's not gonna work out, especially if they— they killed a boy and kidnapped some poor man!"

"No." Helena shut her eyes. "We call them the blacklisted nations."

It took Gilbert all of five seconds to drag that out of his memory, along with most of that afternoon. Oh boy, there they went.

"You mentioned them before."

"Yes," Helena muttered. She moved three books back and forth around the grass, shuffling and reshuffling them listlessly. "Do you... remember what they are?"

"Uh." He remembered the whole conversation pretty damn well, actually. Mostly because it was so strange. "When you don't look reincarnations up because their memories will turn them insane, or something."

"That's... not what I said. It's just that they're volatile. We've all looked a successor in the eye and realised it was time for us to go. But what if you weren't ready? What if they were a young upstart who took your strength, your power, your people from you? Maybe you were wronged. You don't want to die. You'd go down kicking and screaming."

"Oh-kay. Stop. I get it."

"Not yet, you don't," Helena declared. "...and then you'd return to existence, a new being, untainted by the horrors of nationhood. But what if those memories come creeping back? Your dying scream for vengeance, now fresh in your mind and you cannot stop yourself from hating and stewing in your own bitterness, voluntary or not. You won't be able to spend a moment without your past life assaulting you, your nation wanting to claw their way back into existence only because your memories are too fragmented to—"

"Enough!" Gilbert grumbled, stomach twisting. That whole description was getting strangely unsettling. "What about them?"

"There's a reason why they ended up blacklisted, and it's so their next incarnation can be saved. But until then, until they do pass on, decades and decades later, they're still around," Helena continued, still staring into the pile of assorted books. "And some... Some want their place in the world back."

That sentence was far more terrifying than it needed to be, that was for sure.

"So they all become bad guys? Kill teenagers? What?" Gilbert snorted. "That makes no sense."

Helena winced. "No... er... Not all of them, first of all. This is what we do when we determine a nation should be blacklisted: We cut them off. Without exposure to material, to people that might exacerbate their dreams, they should recover, by right."

"And let me guess—" He swallowed. It was hard, not to picture himself in that position. Trapped in his own mind, probably. Nothing but ghosts from a past life to cling to. "—They didn't."

Helena pressed her lips together. Gilbert could almost see the gears grinding away in her head.

"Ms Karpusi!" yelped Hassan, from too far away.

Helena did not look.

"Our mistake, I think, is that we never did try to monitor the active ones. We never bothered to check if they were meeting up, or planning things. Like a hare-brained vengeance plan, perhaps." She shrugged. "By the time Khemet realised something was up, they were already looking for more potentially blacklisted nations. To recruit."

"Like Prussia," he blurted out, for absolutely no reason.

"They're targeting Prussia now, yes," She muttered. "We're trying to stop them from doing anything drastic. If they got to the living nations first..."

A wisp of wind blew past them, and he glanced up. The clouds hung lower now, and darker. Even the sky was going all dramatic on them now. Geez. He shuddered.

"And what part of that plan involved killing Dietrich, for fuck's sake?" he pressed.

"No, no! You stop there! Mr Beilschmidt, Gilbert, please listen, the child—"

"Could you just let me hear this!" he snapped.

Hassan went silent, eyes ablaze. Gilbert stared back at Helena. She had bitten her lip, and she was quiet. Judging.

"Our theory is that it was meant to locate Prussia. The easiest way to push Prussia to action, Gilbert, would be to kill someone close to him. And I mean this in the most objective manner possible." Her eyes narrowed. "He would want vengeance, and it's easy for them to turn it against us."

"So Dietrich is close to our Prussia guy." Gilbert stuck his tongue out. "And he's dead, because of that."

Which had to mean Prussia lived in their town.

"Well, er. No. We don't know who Prussia is, but we suspect they think Prussia is also Brandenburg... or, er... Hildebrand Meyer." She paused. "Brendan, as you would know him."

Gilbert blinked. "What?"

So Brendan was Brandenburg. Real creative there (was that a fucking nickname?). Brandenburg was this whole state around Berlin, he knew as much, and Berlin itself was Prussia's capital. Prussia was Brandenburg-Prussia before it became Prussia-Prussia, which explained why the murderers could've made that mistake.

Because it was a mistake. Brendan wasn't Prussia. That too, he knew. It was weird, why was he so sure—

There was someone standing right behind.

It was Brendan himself, homework in hand, standing two damned steps away from them. Of course it was him, creeping up on them like the bastard he was. Gilbert did not jump. At all. He already did get the feeling their conversation had more ears than it should.

"You're saying that it's... my fault?"

His eyes looked like glass. Those horrible long bangs were whipping all over his face, and he was the definition of absolutely fucking crushed.

"I did try," Hassan mumbled, from the spot he was sitting. "To warn both of you."

"Whoops," Gilbert mouthed.

Helena only winced. Cornered again. Gilbert was starting to think Germans in general scared her. "...How long have you been listening?"

"Long enough," Brendan uttered, quietly. He met Gilbert's eyes for a split second. "I never heard about the vengeance. I never heard they thought I was Prussia."

Helena was biting her lip and looking all thoughtful again. At him. Like she knew something and thought Gilbert might know it too. Awesome as he may be, he didn't. He waited for a few more seconds, and oh come on. Why wasn't she saying anything? She was supposed to be the motherly one.

Except, he decided, she was shit at that. Truth be told, her sickly, half-hearted attempts at mothering irked him. A bunch.

But it looked like she was well and truly trying to convey something to him by staring at him like that, cryptically and all.

Her gaze jerked to Brendan.

It had to be terrible, losing a brother. Not that Gilbert would know how that felt, either. Because he didn't have a brother. But that was a kid there, and no one was doing anything. If they were all going to wait for him to do something, it looked like he was.

Which was exactly why he sighed and took the two steps to Brendan. His cornflower blue eyes crept their way up to Gilbert's. He looked like he was ready to bolt.

"Look, kid," he began. He glanced at Helena. She nodded slowly.

"...If there's someone you gotta blame for Dietrich, it's Prussia and the blacklisted bunch. Not Hassan. Not Helena." Gilbert prodded him in the chest. Brendan was scrawny enough to sway backwards from the impact. "—And definitely not yourself."

"Ah." Brendan swallowed.

"Dietrich wouldn't want you to beat yourself up over it. But he definitely would want you to beat them up for doing that to him." He shot him his best grin. "We're going to do just that, y'know, when we get our hands on those—"

"Though, that isn't the point, of course," Helena cut in.

"Of course," Gilbert agreed. "Because vengeance is never the answer. But neither is blaming anyone. It's going to rip us apart. And we're so not going to get ripped apart before we get to prove this conspiracy is real. Am I right, soldiers?"

Brendan blinked, as if his teenage and also German brain were short-circuiting from all the positivity.

"Yes." Helena beamed. "You are, Gilbert."

"The fuck," he mock-snarled. "—Is that pansy-ass shit. It's yes sir or nothing."

The smile dimmed. "Then nothing it is."

"Mein Gott, you guys suck."

Gilbert wasn't in the mood for joking, but it looked like that was where this was headed. But anything was better than having to think about all that shit he'd just heard.

"We do," she chirped. "I'm glad you've realised."

He rolled his eyes at her.

"Alright, unawesome Greek lady aside, chin up, Meyer. Was I right or was I right?"

"You're right," Brendan groaned. On the plus side, he'd lost the crushedness from his face. "I'm better now. Please stop. You're not my Onkel."

"That's you're not my Onkel, sir, to you," Gilbert corrected. That earned him another frown. Ungrateful kid. "And now, Hassan, buddy."

"Yes," Hassan hummed. "...Sir," he added.

He still wasn't sure what to think about this guy. Complete pushover one moment, accused of killing teenagers the next. It was inspirational pep talk time, and he had nothing.

He raised an eyebrow, regardless. "You'd better not be the one behind the hit and run."

Hassan held up a hand. He could see it was all scratched-up.

"I will say this now. I am on your side, all of you. I will always be. The blacklisted have gone too far. And if they reached Mr Spain... we cannot let them reach the rest." He bit his lip, gazing right at Brendan. You may not trust me. I know I am blacklisted too. But I no longer stand for what they are doing."

Brendan licked his lips. He'd lapsed back to unreadable some time ago.

"We understand," Helena murmured. "You're far more trustworthy than that..." She grimaced. "...Barbarian. At least."

"Ah, ya, thank you," Hassan said, very flatly. "I am flattered."

"What barbarian?" Brendan piped up.

Gilbert was glad to see he wasn't the only one confused now.

"Treacherous mercenary." Helena waved him off. "The last person they recruited before moving on to Prussia."

"He switched sides, er, three times," Hassan added. "The rest of his branch moved to Rome after that. Very long story."

"Oh," said Brendan. "Speaking of Prussia—"

"Sounds like they didn't do a very good job recruiting him," Gilbert snorted. "They're going to do an even shittier job with Prussia, just you wait."

"Before we go even further off-track," Helena cut in. "There's the laptop. You were supposed to be looking up the document?"

The whole party turned their heads to stare at Hassan. He was still huddled on the grass, laptop falling limply to his side. One sheepish grin later, he was back to staring at the screen.

"Speaking of Prussia," Brendan repeated, louder and slightly growlier now.

"Right." He crossed his arms. "Ja?"

Helena inclined her head.

"I went up to tell you guys earlier, before I ended up overhearing those stuff, but—" Brendan sucked in a breath. "I think I know who he is."

There was a very pregnant pause — like, third-trimester sort of pregnant — which they all spent staring at each other. Eh, well, not exactly. They were both staring at him, Brendan with more intensity than Helena. His skin was crawling.

"Small world, huh," Gilbert grumbled. "Four German nations in one town in PA."

Brendan knew who Prussia was. Why was his stomach in knots? Maybe it was because Prussia could be someone he knew. Maybe it's because Brendan seemed so sure. He was lost along with the others just yesterday, but he changed.

Something must have happened, after. Yeah. After him sitting in the parking lot, the flower, the grey skies above. Maybe there was only ever one answer Gilbert needed to hear.

"Perhaps," Helena mused. "There's always been something about you Germans and reunification."

That was some bullshit right there. Brandenburg had never been with him on unification, because Brandenburg didn't want to die. No great power should be bound to some weakening other-half. But lo and behold — Reiner Beilschmidt, resident stubborn bastard. It was a fucking disgrace, for Brandenburg to cling on to life when he had no other purpose to serve. Prussia was meant for better things, and his brother-in-name didn't ever accept that.

So he found him at the base of the tallest oak in Sanssouci one morning, cane lost somewhere in the grass. Gilbert nodded to him and Reiner nodded back, and that was the last time they ever saw each other.

It didn't matter, anyway. He was climbing up to the attic again. He could see the steps as his boots cracked against them.

Some nations were just meant for more.

And then Helena cleared her throat. Gilbert promptly lost his entire thought train. Did she just say something? Or was it Brendan? Huh. It was probably just some kind of question.

"Maybe," he answered, professional as ever.

Helena frowned. "Yes or no, Gilbert. Don't maybe us."

"He zoned out," Brendan groaned.

"Ja, ja. Just ask your question again."

Helena wasted another five seconds nodding and biting her lip. He was starting to feel she did that a lot. Everything always so slow with her.

"Did you ever wonder why you decided to move here, Gilbert?"

He blinked.

"Wha—" Gilbert spluttered. "I just wanted a break from the family business. If I'm going to be stuck all my life being a carpenter, or… or renovating shit, I figured I'd wait till I was thirty."

There was actually the whole thing about his Vati getting him to go on a bootleg Journeymen Walz, but he wasn't about to launch into that whole other tangent.

"And so you move to a tiny little town in PA," she folded her arms. "Why here?"

"Because PA's the heart of our awesome country." He shrugged. "I don't know. It felt right."

"It's Prussia's heart in this nation," Brendan muttered. "That's why she came here."

His blood turned to ice. "What—"

"See! It's all connected. We're meant to be here. We all are. And you may not have been part of that plan, but your getting drawn to our town must be a good sign." Helena directed her smile at Gilbert.

Oh, so that was why Helena was here? Looking for Prussia? It made sense, but something got him to file this away for later. The weight settling in his belly, for example. Or the fact that there was that massive elephant in the room he hadn't yet let Brendan touch. Or! Maybe the elephant was the thing in his stomach all along, whatever the fuck that meant.

"Sounds fishy." He wrinkled his nose. This was it. "But, uh—"

He coughed. It wasn't any fault of his lungs. He just couldn't breathe all of a sudden.

"—Who's Prussia? Do we know him?"

Then he forced himself to hold Brendan's gaze. A second passed. Two. It was as if he were making some monumental decision within, but he didn't have to. Because Gilbert could form the words from his mouth before they came. Nein, he wanted them to be this… something. Oh, for Gott's sake, he didn't even know who he wanted Prussia to be, it was just some sick something he couldn't name. But there he was, practically begging Brendan by the time the fourth passed; screaming bloody murder with his silence.

Those eyes of Brendan's grew guarded at last second, like a switch flicked.

"He's our history teacher," Brendan declared, lifting his foolscap papers and not quite looking at either of them. "Mr Adler."

"Oh yes," Helena breathed. Her lip twitched. "Yes, he was on our radar. He could be. I don't know him, but if you— Brandenburg, I mean thinks he is Prussia… then... My God. He must be. How did we miss something like this?"

A dam broke in Gilbert's chest, like all his tension were escaping him at once. This wasn't the Something he expected, but this was better. Somehow. It was weird as all hell, but Gilbert almost felt he might lose everything that made him him, if Prussia really turned out to be...

"Hold the fuck on!" Gilbert screeched. "Did you just say Mr Adler? Like, middle-aged guy, glasses, cane? Creepy-ass eyes? Horrible taste in furniture?"

"I…" Brendan frowned. "...You know Gerald Adler?"

"I forgot his first name," Gilbert admitted. "Oh hell. I think he said he was a teacher too."

This couldn't be happening. Mr Adler and his calm and beer and general normalness couldn't be one of them. He couldn't have all the bad guys after him. And come on, how the fuck was Gilbert the only one who got such a shitty former country? Jesus Christ.

"If your Mr Adler happens to have an ex-wife, then they're one and the same." He shrugged. "Probably."

It hit him like a truck.

"Mein Gott, he's my landlord!" he gasped. "Prussia's my fucking landlord!"

And yet it seemed to fit. Somewhere, buried under all that modern stuff, he did kinda… seem old. No, not like that. Familiar.

"More connections. Fascinating." Helena's hands were shaking. "And what made you think he might be Prussia?"

"He… felt Prussian," Brendan muttered, a little awkwardly. It summed up everything

Gilbert was thinking. "And he likes History. He likes… um. Me. As a student. This might mean something, because surely Prussia must have cared for Brandenburg even when he was no longer useful to him?"

Was it just him, or was he staring at Gilbert again? There was venom there. He just wasn't sure if it was for him.

"Very well." Helena's hand shifted over her mouth. Her voice came in all muffled. "Then we must act before the blacklisted get to him, whether or not he's actually Prussia. Khemet said they've found him." She gasped. "Oh no. What if Harrisburg was a trap? They could be there. Now. When we're gone."

Brendan reached into his jacket pocket and fumbled for his phone. "...I'll call Mr Adler. If I have his number."

"Here!" Gilbert tossed his over, and there was even more fumbling to catch it. "His contact's Awesome Landlord."

"Ugh." Brendan made a face. "I don't think there's cell signal here even."

"They can block calls, you know or communication in general," Helena warned. She blanched. "Heavens, when was the last time Khemet contacted us? If there were any updates, movements towards the town, she … she would've said something…"

Gilbert felt his eye twitch. "How the fuck do they do that?"

"Since when could they?" Brendan growled. "You never told me they could. I never knew they were this dangerous. You made them out… to us, to Diet, you said they weren't a threat."

He seemed to stoop lower, panic seeming back into his eyes, his frame. Maybe it had always been there. Gilbert just never managed to get rid of it.

Helena shook her head. "Because they weren't. Not until Spain, at least. Back when that nation was with us, he could only block calls on one line at a time. He said he learned it. It's... magic, or something." She threw her hands in the air. "...I don't know."

Brendan said nothing, but he was gripping Gilbert's phone so tightly his knuckles had gone white. He was starting to doubt the integrity of this poor fucking screen.

"Magic or not," Gilbert cut in. "We're still gonna try calling him. If not here, then at the hotel or some shit. Is he picking up?"

"No," Brendan whispered. "I can't even hear the dial tone."

"Please, just send someone back!" Hassan yelped. "He could check to see if something is wrong."

"You were listening?" Brendan recoiled, ear still pressed to Gilbert's phone.

"You were very close, and very angry," Hassan shrugged. "And I did find my document."

"No, no. No one is going back." Helena scowled. "It can't be safe. Any of us might die or be taken, if they're going the way they're going now. I'm important to our society. Hassan is a defector. Brendan has ties to Prussia. And Gilbert..." Helena sighed. "He's the only one who the living nations would recognise. We all look far too different now, reincarnations and all."

"Then fine," Gilbert snapped. "How about we meet the nations, say we're in trouble, then go back to the town with the nations and rescue Mr Adler? If the Nations exist. If not, we do the same thing, but we spend the whole trip back yelling at Helena for wasting our time." He raised a finger. "Oh, and if we see Eyebrows, I'm punching his stupid face in, ja?"

"Ja." Brendan said, darkly. "I don't see any problems with the first part."

"I certainly do," Helena huffed. "In both parts."

"Do not do that," said Hassan, promptly foiling his awesome plan. He angled his laptop up slightly. The document he'd spent about half-an-hour looking for flashed into view. "That is Britain. Can we not punch Britain?"

"We're not punching what?" Gilbert crouched down.

Hassan looked to still be on the Heptarchy document. Unless this was just another one with the exact same name. He lunged forward and forced the document up to its first page.

Helena and Brendan looked over from their position, before scrambling over to crowd behind the screen, thereby completely obscuring Gilbert's view. Damn. He sighed, re-squeezing himself by the side. But whatever the screen was displaying was large enough for everyone to see.

It was this spidery, red flow chart — clearly labelled Britannia [Deceased, Missing] on top, and it went down several branches. The majority of them coalesced under the equally large label, England [Alive, Missing].

Several stray branches led to Scotland, Ireland, Wales (all classified under [Alive, Missing]), which he guessed meant they were all living nations. Cornwall and Brittany were marked with ominous looking [Alive, Threat]s.

But the most interesting parts were lines that ended with large black crosses, and BLACKLISTED in block letters. They swallowed the portion of the flowchart above England, which made — Gilbert squinted — the Northumbria brothers and Mercia, [Deceased, Threats], blacklisted. Beneath its cross, Wessex glowed an angry, orange [Status Unknown].

"What happened here?" Brendan leaned forward. "It... looks bad."

"The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, everyone!" Helena laughed, weakly. "There were seven of them, so they called them the Heptarchy. They kept fighting each other for dominance, but the Vikings invaded and they weren't very happy about that, then they eventually united under Wessex, I think, into England." She shrugged. "I've completely butchered their history," she admitted. "But that's the gist of it."

"Well, I'm glad they got their shit together," Gilbert noticed. "But it doesn't explain the crosses."

"Er, the three or four surviving kingdoms weakened, and turned mortal, and ended up killing each other in a terrible bloodbath," Hassan added. "That was the end of their personifications."

"Oh," said Brendan.

"...Which we have no proof of, except for Mercia's words," Helena continued, quickly. "But considering how they're like, it's ah..." She winced. "It's likely."

"That's just fucking depressing," Gilbert surmised. "And they just left England to fend for itself? I don't know about you guys, but those are some jerkass older brothers."

"She never said they were brothers," Brendan pointed out.

"Shush," went Gilbert.

"I don't know if they were brothers or not, but well, yes, there were more Viking raids, not to forget the Normans later on. Excellent childhood, he had." Helena wrinkled her nose. "...Who added 'threat' to Brittany and Cornwall?"

"Not me," Hassan said. "I do not even know who they are."

Helena shook her head. "Never mind. So, yes, the crosses are some of the blacklisted we're to look out for. But what's more exciting is Gilbert sharing a dream with Britain! Hassan, what made you think that?"

"Oh, ya!" He pointed at the screen. "Click England."

Helena did just that. It linked to somewhere further down the document, to a photo. A photo of another old black-and-white photo, at least. It was a bit worn at the edges, but the subjects of it were still visible — around ten soldiers, crowded in front of an old-fashioned biplane. Some were smiling wryly, but the general consensus seemed to be looking smart in their uniforms and bulky helmets, hands in their pockets and all. There was the caption Group photo of men from 6th Airborne Division, 5 June 1944 scrawled at the base.

Gilbert squinted. "What exactly are we supposed to be looking… Oh."

There he was. At the side, scowling away with his arms folded. Those massive fucking eyebrows he'd know anywhere.

He leaned closer. "Mein Gott."

There was no way this guy would look exactly the same 70 years later. The man in the picture could always be Eyebrows' grandpa or something, but Gilbert doubted it. He shut his eyes and forced himself to stare again. He was the splitting image of the man in his dreams, rendered in grainy black and white.

It was real. Immortals were real. Nations were real.

He didn't even notice he was slowly listing backwards until he hit the grass. His tailbone got the brunt of it, but hell, that was the least of his concerns. They had to be faking this. But no, what was he thinking? He was being stupid. Ja, he admitted it. Stupid. He'd never even seen Mr Eyebrows before his dream. They'd never seen Mr Eyebrows at all. They couldn't fake something like this.

"Gilbert?" Helena said, gently. "You're hyperventilating."

And this meant they weren't insane. This was actual confirmation. He knew he'd been slowly getting sucked into their conspiracy over the last hour or so, and now he'd just blasted himself right past the event horizon. He was so going right to the nearest asylum with the rest of them.

It was real.

He looked up, away from the screen. There was nothing but grey skies above, the rolling of storm winds and thunder. He was practically daring it to rain at this point.

"Scheiße," he croaked. His voice cracked partway through that. "You're going to make me die of a heart attack one day, you know. You hit me with, like, fricking—" He counted to himself. "I don't know, five shocks in half-an-hour. That's got to be some kind of record."

"You'll do fine," said Helena, vaguely. She also looked like she was going to faint. "And so this is Britain. Look at him! Such a, er, fierce man."

"Like a lion. He is very majestic," Hassan agreed. "I could not tear my eyes off his eyebr— eyes, the first time I saw this image."

"I'm having a crisis here, and you're swooning over his eyebrows?" Gilbert complained. "He looks like a rat that had two smaller rats die on his face, come on!"

"That is true," Hassan admitted.

Brendan set his hand down, scrolling past the image. A whole wall of text came after. Gilbert could see his glassy eyes flick across the page, and he felt his heart sink. He wasn't ready for more shocks.

"...You don't know if this is England, or Britain, or the United Kingdom?" Brendan asked.

Helena grimaced. "Well, for all we know, they could be completely different personifications. I personally don't think so, but there's been some arguing. Because that puts into question — are Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland separate personifications? More importantly, are they dead?"

"Northern Ireland?" Gilbert repeated. "There's a Southern Ireland?"

"That is just Ireland," said Hassan, the fucking smartass.

"I thought Great Britain and the United Kingdom were the same thing," Brendan muttered, "They… aren't? I never clarified."

"Finally! Someone else who doesn't give a shit about Geography. Never pegged you as the type, though, Mr Doing History Homework on the Car."

Brendan scowled. "...We never learnt this at school."

"They're not, but it's alright," Helena confirmed. "If you have any doubts, sound them out. We're all doomed if we walk in and act like an entire lot of clueless Americans."

A cold drop of something made its mark on his cheek. He brushed it off, squinting at the sky. Just their luck.

And come on, he wasn't even American in the first place! That German blood had to mean something, and he'd rather associate himself with Germany-but-a-person — they were real, he couldn't believe it — instead of some fuck in a cowboy hat, screaming about freedom and decked out in 'Murica-themed merchandise, because he knew exactly what a personification of the US of A would be like.

But eagles were awesome, he'd give Alfred that.

"Mein Gott, I just realised—" He sat up. It felt like a chore at this point, questions carved from the absolute dredges of his wit. "Is America going to be one guy or, like, fifty guys?"

"One guy," Helena replied, flatly. "And we'll stick to Britain first. I'll just…" She sighed. "I'll try to explain the British Isles. And all of Europe, now that we're at it."

"I will do Asia," Hassan offered. "But, erm, is it just me, or is it starting to rain?"

Their eyes trailed back to the recently repacked piles of luggage, just chilling on the grass like a set of depressed building blocks. The next few drops of accursed rain rolled off the surface of his bag. And his arms. And damn, it was pouring now.

He didn't get up when Hassan yelped and scuttled towards the bags, or when Helena murmured to herself and disappeared from his side. The laptop was still there. So was Britain, scowling away in grayscale. He did not give a shit if he were England, or the United Kingdom, or just a man in his dreams, but suddenly it was so much harder to just look at him. Something about the water dotting the screen, because, really, Mr Eyebrows just belonged under rainfall.

The laptop slammed shut, lifting itself off the grass in the grip of pale fingers. When he looked up, Brendan was staring down at him, scene-kid haircut really amping up the emo there.

"Brandenburg." It came naturally enough to him, and he wasn't even fighting it this time. "Nice to see you again."

He watched as the boy's lips twitched. Glass eyes, like he were in a trance.

"Likewise." And then he shook his head, and some clarity seemed to return to them. "...We should go with the others."

So maybe there was a long, impromptu Geography lesson to sit through, and bags to haul, and Nations to track. But it didn't fucking matter. When he closed his eyes, Mr Eyebrows burned himself into his mind, and if he reached beyond, a boy in blond, swathes of gauzy veils. And somewhere above, he just knew his king was watching over them.

It was all real.

"Ja." Against all odds, he managed a laugh. Maybe he just knew this was what's meant to be. "I guess we should."


Journeymen Walz — After completing their apprenticeship as a craftsman, it's a tradition for French or German craftsmen to travel without settling down for three years and one day in traditional garb, with other craftsmen. I can't do this tradition justice, so please search it up if you're interested! Gilbert is not on such a journey, he may or may not have had a quarter-life crisis and decided to just set off on his own for a bit.

Hildebrand — Brendan's real name. He and Dietrich are named after characters in Germanic legend.

Reiner Beilschmidt — Brandenburg's original name.

I'll be back in November, I said. 9 Months later... Oh boy. XD I'm not sure if anyone's still here after such a massive hiatus, but yeah! I'm not dead guys! Sorry for the wait!

This monstrosity of an exposition chapter took about 6 rewrites and horrible amounts of agonising over a way to deliver the exposition required. 9 months. 9000+ words. Whew. It honestly feels like a weight off my chest now that the road trip is done!

Anyway, yeah, I honestly can't remember the questions/ stuff I was going to elaborate on I was going to mention in the Author's note, but do approach me if anything is too confusing. To be honest, the exposition was super heavy. But yes, the bad guys, the appearance of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and conspiracies! Ohh man.

Special thanks to Queendom of Crows, who did some awesome fanart for this story! I'm not sure how to link it, but do ask if you do want to see it, I'll link their amazing tumblr :D Thank you for offering to read and reading my draft! I appreciate you so much!

Special thanks to Emma too. Thanks for offering so much support throughout the entire duration of my not being able to produce this chapter! Love you!

And Syntax-N, who's offered exciting theories for the past chapters! I loved reading them!

Hopefully, the next chapter won't take another few months to produce. Wonder what's up with Mr Adler ;) See you guys then!