prelude

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As with most things in life, gentrification takes time. Slow and meticulous like the intricacies of a spider's artful web, it entangled the small town of Dronesk. Five generations ago, when the rest of the nation was undergoing robust industrialisation, Dronesk had been encapsulated in a time warp, seemingly untouched by man.

Situated on the outskirts of Rujga Province, Dronesk—a woodland area, cradled between two mountains—was uninhabited, save for a few hundred Brommian who saw the land as their home and could navigate its rough terrain.

The nation belonged to the Arash. The Brommian who lived in the Pirmian Valleys of Rujga Province were seen as settlers, or as one prominent Arash described it at the time: "Guests who had overstayed their welcome."

The Bikjaru were Arash of bourgeois lineage. They lived in the city of Rujga, and like most up-and-coming families of that time, they had grown influential because of their alliance with the opposition after the fall of the Tsar. One such Bikjaru was Konstantin Ru (later Konstantin Ru of Ljerumlup), whose father had made a small fortune in the chain of production fuelling the industrialisation.

Konstantin Ru, as a young man of twenty-six years, built a timber factory in Dronesk. With it, he attracted about six hundred young workers, most of them Brommian from the city—cheap labour with nothing to lose.

Half a year or so after the factory established itself, railway tracks were set in place to streamline the transportation of timber to and fro the city. More Bikjaru Arash were drawn to the bloom of business and moved their families out of the city to Dronesk. In the short span of three years, Dronesk became a small town with houses, shops, and a square. The Brommian name it had once borne was erased. In less than a decade, Dronesk was a recognisable place on the map; one equally tied to the Bikjaru as timber refinery.

However, trees weren't the only thing in decline after decades of deforestation, so too were the Brommian and their livelihoods. With more and more businesses settling in Dronesk, the native Brommian were pushed to the flatlands. Their land was bought up and turned into housing they could never afford. Their children were denied going to school with the Arash. They were stripped of their language and exiled to the fates of second-class citizens.

This was the case with wherever the Arash settled down in Rujga Province, and behind this brutal force was the notion that the Brommian were illegal settlers on Arash territory. They, therefore, had no claim, no rights, and no documentation to prove that they even existed.

This is the backdrop to which 'If We Exist' plays out. It takes place about a century after the first Bikjaru settlers, in the time period between social stability and violent ethnic clashes, as Ru Konstantin and Yuri Karamov grow up.

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