The Sav-Mart Express on the corner of Van Buren and Jefferson was like every other Sav-Mart Express: an overpriced drugstore designed to drive Walgreens out of the overpriced by convenient stand-alone pharmacy business, a niche the full-size Sav-Marts were ill-equipped to fill. And a big part of that gouging was tantalizing people with glistening bottles of caramel-colored liquid toothrot at checkout with vast coolers filled with every variety of soda pop known to man.

The Sani-Cola delivery man arrived one day with a pallet of fresh-bottled Sani-Cola, Diet Sani-Cola, Sani-Cola Classic (with chlorophyll!), only to find that another bottle truck had pulled up to the other side of the Sav-Mart Express, which lacked a loading dock.

“Well, well, well,” said the the AtlantiCola driver, his yellow shirt a keen contrast from the Sani-Cola driver’s green. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

“Still pushing your knockoff sugar water on people who think that drinks taste better when you’re skydiving?” sneered Mr. Sani-Cola.

“Only if you’re still hawking that ancient patent medicine snake oil that you call a drink,” Mr. AtlantiCola responded.

They regarded each other over the two competing soft drink pallets gumming up the aisle. “So what are we going to do about this, huh?” said Sani-Cola.

“I think we both know the answer to that,” drawled AtlantiCola.

Sani-Cola seized a pair of glass Commemorative Edition bottles, smashed each, and assumed the Creeping Soda Lotus ready position. The raw chi of his Classic Cola Combo fighting style made the spilled liquid orbit him like a protective shield as he held up a jagged bottle in either hand.

AtlantiCola countered by grabbing a six-pack of AtlantiCola Xtreme held together by fish-trapping plastic rings. A few quick snaps and it was a long, weighted chain of bottles, ready to be grappled with extreme, deadly accuracy. The chi of nearby dead fish surrounded him, summoned by the Ten Thousand Broken Jade Fish Rings fighting style.

The Sav-Mart counter jockey sighed, and sank beneath their counter.

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The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that the skills available to a person are directly impacted by the contents of their day to day world. In the old days, the natural life energy that flows forth from the Divine Source might have graced a lucky Greek warrior with strength or high-invulnerability. The Chinese occasionally found their entreaties for ten thousand years of life at least partially granted, and magicians were able to call on at least some of the cantrips that are now associated with them in legend.

But today? Living in a consumer society with disposable income? The gifts that flow from the Divine Source reflect that environment. Gifts like miraculous extra mileage in an SUV, the occasional 500-calorie chocolate bar that registers as zero, and an intrinsic field that causes iPhones to lose their charge.

And then there’s Alethia Bussel’s gift: sodamancy.

She could manipulate any carbonated beverage, with the degree of control varying by how carbonated it was. Full bottles of soda pop could be levitated and manipulated, while flat Coke could only be coaxed to dance a little bit. She could also cause soda to instantly release all its carbon dioxide, shattering its container, or instantly cause painful gastrointestinal swelling (or monstrous belching) in anyone who’d recently imbibed the stuff.

Her favorite trick, though, was to take control of the stream that issued forth when you dropped a Mentos into soda. Soda dancing was perhaps the only joy Alethia got from her otherwise bothersome gift.

Then again, that was before the Agnates launched their secret campaign against everyone with a gift from the Divine Source…

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The Great Southeast Bottling Company eventually became known simply as GSBC. It was still a Moxi-Cola franchisee, but in the 1990’s it had aggressively tried to expand its own range of soft drinks to keep more profit in-house instead of frittering away to Kentucky.

GSBC had started with a discount cola, AtlantiCola, distributed primarily to big-box retailers on the coast. It had sold well enough that an entire line of flavored AtlantiColas had been built up, with the fruit-flavored varieties becoming popular in large cities like Atlanta and outselling even the Moxi-Cola GSBC distributed. That lasted until rumors–some believed spread by competitors–that AtlantiCola was competitively priced because it caused impotence. The rumors initially spread by word of mouth in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, and by the time GSBC execs were aware of the problem, sales had plummeted 98%. The entire AtlantiCola line was pulled not long after.

Under its new Cola Coast imprint, GSBC tried to rebound. They produced a clear cola at the tail end of the craze, followed by an unpopular strawberry drink. Their vanilla-flavored Cola Coast Fountain line was popular only with competitors’ executives, and was swamped in the vanilla cola wave of the early 2000’s. By the time Gerard signed on, GSBC was living from paycheck to paycheck on distributed Moxi-Cola and a potpourri of their own brands with less than $2 million in annual sales.