Atop city hall’s split staircase and below the narrower second flight of steps, a campfire roars into the night, set up in the landing space that divides the troubled group in half. Only the fire to warm them, the union sits separately, huddled beneath their own coats, and their company shared with themselves. “Are we really gonna spend the night not talking to each other?” Angela mumbles, most fire-lit faces turning in her direction, whilst hers remains cemented upon the building’s depths.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Alicia replies, sat near the bottom of the right-most staircase, wrapped in a thin blanket, “it’s just another night.” Her eyes pressing shut, Angela presses her lips together as the mug in her hand is guided toward a lower step. “Pretending we haven’t been thrown a curveball yet isn’t going to make it true” Angela replies, pressing the small of her back against the lowest, left-most, marble stair, “it won’t make us feel better, either.”
“Are you suggesting we go around the room and voice our concerns?” Jess wonders aloud, her back pressed against a carved-out bannister a few steps above Angela, no fleeting emotion to offer. “I’m suggesting we acknowledge the offer on the table” Angela corrects, earning a muffled laugh from the opposite step. “You were one of the people invited” Nessie replies, sat upon the highest of the right-most staircase, a jean jacket over her shoulders, “it’s easy for you to talk about.”
“Splitting up into teams isn’t going to solve anything either” Emilio interjects, nipping the division he can sense brewing in the bud, “if nothing else, it’ll just drive a wedge between us.” Standing against the marble wall between both sets of parting stairs, Emilio’s eyes drift from one side of the camp to the other, watching the attention fall upon him.
“I don’t like the idea, and I’m not in favour of splitting up” Angela clarifies, using the calming air to justify herself, “but we should put aside what is asked of us to obtain it, and recognise it for what it is.” Understanding his position, Emilio turns his head toward Angela, offering her the floor with a nod, one the woman comprehends immediately.
“If Nova Scotia is exactly as Jade makes it sound like, this is the chance we’ve spent years begging for” Angela explains, panning her eyes over each member of the group, “it’s the first step in getting our old lives back.”
“After everything we’ve seen, is going back to the way things were a good thing?” Salem replies, resting her rifle’s stock on the floor, and letting it sway from one hand to the other. “If Nova Scotia is as Jade makes it sound- yes” Angela replies, tucking her hands into the pockets of her jacket, “we’ve all faced our own hells, but none of those make falling asleep without the fear of being chomped on or robbed any less worthwhile.”
“Can we not pretend like this is an automatic ticket to Nova Scotia?” Katie inquires, laid on her back at the highest point of the left-most staircase, her hands folded on her stomach, “it’s another Sheol with the possibility of turning into a Sun City- just better.”
“It’s also been the ‘M.O’ since I met you” Angela replies, watching Katie’s head roll toward the side, looking down on her from above. “The minute I met you, the whole plan was ‘North Dumpling Island, live there until we die’. That was the whole point!” Angela continues, her voice slightly louder than before, “we had no boat, no food, no plan, no shelter- nothing! But the end goal was always the same- find a place to settle down and make a new life in.”
“It didn’t work out well, did it?” Franklin interjects, sat one stair above Alicia, and one stair below Salem on the right-most steps. “In fairness, we had no food and didn’t know our adversaries as well as we thought” Lauren replies, sitting a few steps above Angela on the right-most stair, “but I do see your point.”
“We all see both points” Emilio corrects, hearing Jack’s footsteps grow closer as he returns from the building’s lowest level, “we know what we stand to gain, and we know what we stand to lose.” The bottoms of his boots tapping along the marble floors, Jack ascends the lower staircase with the shattered remains of a wooden chair, its legs, arms, and fabric-covered seat thrown from his hands and into the central fire.
“I’m heading out for a couple of hours” Jack announces, quickly turning his gaze upon Lauren, “come with me?” Not needing a moment to think, Lauren stands from her seat and follows Jack down the stairs, his departure coming without another word. “Speaking of which, the city should be in enough of a condition for deer to be wandering” Salem cuts in, standing out of her seat with her rifle in tow, “I might be able to come back with some breakfast.”
Her rifle laid on the floor to her side, Katie stares toward the ceiling, quietly engaging in her inner thoughts. “I’ll go with you” the improved sniper suddenly mutters, taking a hold of her rifle as she sits up, patting Emilio on the arm as she hurries to catch up to the departing woman.
Standing from his seat, Franklin climbs down a step and extends his hand to Alicia, not saying a word as he bobs his head toward the building’s exit. Looking up, Alicia looks at the man’s hand for a moment before taking it, giving Emilio a nod before walking away without a word, leaving behind those that remain. Letting out a deep exhale, Angela stares around the room, realising all that remains are the group’s crumbs, some of whom on the cusp of new life, the rest forced to venture elsewhere.
“And then there were five” Angela remarks, turning her body on the step to extend her legs outward, letting her back rest against a wall. “Then there were five” Emilio repeats beneath his breath, falling back to his lean against the back wall, both hands held behind himself
= Rise is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 from the start of Season 3 onwards =
“You’d think there’d more than just a few stragglers here, wouldn’t you?” Katie wonders aloud, crushing tall grass beneath the weight of every step. “I don’t know what to expect from the dead anymore” Salem replies, leading the quest toward the Providence River. “If I’m being honest, I don’t think of the dead as the threat at all anymore- they’re just minor inconveniences” Salem confesses, beginning to step upon broken glass hidden within the overgrowth, “it’s the people I look out for.”
Climbing through the shattered windows of what now lies as a once office centre now shielded by the husk of a skyscraper, Katie and Salem advance upon the rear stairwell. “What’s your spin on the offer-situation?” Katie inquires, following her mentor up the concrete-encased stairwell. “I think it’s a waste of time to talk about” Salem replies, each step sending a metallic ring through the slim, tall enclosed box, “some will go, some won’t. What more is there to talk about?”
“There’s plenty to talk about, it’s just a matter of whether we want to talk about them” Katie replies, following the woman out of the concrete column and onto a higher floor. “Like what?” Salem replies, unsheathing a knife from her hip before ploughing it into the crown of a straggling corpse’s skull, “what’s the ‘plenty’ we have to talk about?”
Her own knife in hand, Katie continues the conversation whilst surveying the level. “A good start would be talking about which camp you fall into” Katie replies, panning a flashlight into dark rooms and the cracks of partially-opened doors. “I don’t care to think about it” Salem replies, cautiously approaching the river-facing side of the complex.
“I went with Alicia and Franklin to Concord reluctantly, and I went to New York out of necessity” Salem explains, picking a window to kneel beside, “I’ve gotten more attached to this group than I wanted to. Since some are going to leave and others will stay, I don’t particularly like either option.”
“Then why not choose the more favourable of the choices?” Katie replies, pushing random office doors open with her elbow. “Because I don’t think this is a group if it’s fractured in two- it’s just what’s left” Salem replies, slowly rolling the glass panel outward, “it’s like two broken homes, why bother choosing one when it’s no different from sleeping out in the backyard?”
Confident in her inspection, Katie pulls back toward Salem, watching the woman prepare her rifle along the windowsill. “Because eventually, it’s gonna start to rain” Katie replies, pressing her shoulder against the concrete wall separating each window from the other, “and, while not completely optimal, at least a broken home will put a roof over your head.”
Peering out at the other side of the river, Salem presses her eye against the scope as she waits for the world to turn in her favour. “What if the reason that home is broken is because there’s no roof?” Salem replies, gently pressing her left eye shut, “then all I’ll have left is a box that slowly fills with water until I drown.”
Letting her eyes fall, Katie begins to strap gloves over her cold hands, allowing Salem to pursue an answer. “I’m still waiting” Salem remarks, only judging the silence for what it appears to her as. “Then you keep yourself afloat until you reach the top” Katie replies, keeping a smile at bay as she takes her eyes toward the pleasant view of the streets below, “ride the surface until it takes you over the edge.”
Taking a few seconds to form her rebuttal, Salem watches a white-tailed deer prance out from a thick set of bushes, the distance between the hunter and the hunted covered by a small, civilian bridge. “Then the rain will continue to pour” Salem replies, steadying her aim on the unassuming creature, waiting for it to stop for her shot to present itself, “and before you know it, the rest of the world is starting to fill.”
Staring off at the larger body of water close by, the deer begins to lower its head, picking at the vegetation surrounding him. Her breath steady, Salem slowly guides her finger to the trigger, pausing her shot until Katie’s response concludes. “Then the water will never stop and nothing matters” the woman’s shadow replies, watching the woman prepare for her shot, “the world will just fill until you drown anyway, so there’s no point in any of it.”
Her eye falling away from the scope, Salem allows Katie’s response to sit with her, digesting as her crosshair slowly pulls upward, steadying on the farther treeline. Still silent, Salem glances back toward her scope, finding the absence in her line of sight for a few seconds before the deer’s head suddenly pops back up, its left eye directly in the centre of her crosshair.
“Take the shot” Katie whispers, watching Salem turn toward her, visibly rattled by the woman’s earlier claim. “It’s yours to take” Katie reiterates, her head nodding toward the deer, “take it.” Her lips pressing together, Salem lets a breath leave her lungs as she stares back into the sight, the deer’s head still in line, perfectly offering her the chance to squeeze the trigger.
“I’ve got him” Lauren remarks, walking ahead of Jack with a sharpened walking stick in her possession. Attracted to the woman’s voice, a corpse pulls away from the diner it had ventured toward, taking notice of Lauren’s presence. With little issue, Lauren drives her weapon through the corpse’s eye socket and guides it to the ground, a smile worn on her face as she does so.
“You’re a natural at that” Jack quips, triggering the shopkeeper’s bell as he strolls through the diner’s entry. “I’ve had my moments” Lauren jokes back, following the man into a spacious, yet eerily silent dining room, barely illuminated by the flashlights in their grasp. “Sorry, are you closed!?” Jack bellows aloud, sarcastically up-in-arms over the lack of a response, “this is some terrible customer service, and I demand to see a manager!”
“I don’t think we came here for breakfast, hun’” Lauren replies, patting the man on the back as she turns toward the booths, a sudden question popping into her head, “wait, why did we come here?” Laughing with a gust of air through his nose, Jack unsheathes a solar powered lantern from his belt loop and leaves it to rest upon the closest booth.
“Sit with me?” Jack asks, sliding down the length of his seat as Lauren takes him up on the offer, joining beside him. “I seriously doubt anyone’s coming to take our order” Lauren again jokes, comforted by Jack’s ubiety. “Yeah, we didn’t come here to eat” Jack replies, folding his hands atop the table as he looks into Lauren’s eyes, the loving look Lauren’s accustomed to receiving in these moments replaced with something unfamiliarly genuine, even from Jack’s perspective
Pained as much as he is relieved, Jack tries to present the woman with a smile, but his struggle to do so only shows something less than happiness. The puzzle pieces beginning to fit, Lauren’s curious smile begins to fade, replaced by a look of disappointed awareness. Folding her hands atop the table beside Jack, Lauren fights to part her lips, keeping her sadness at bay as she tries to find the strength to speak.
“You want me to take the offer” Lauren whispers, only able to muster a whimper-like voice as she looks into Jack’s eyes, “don’t you?” Slowing his breathing, Jack guides his coupled hands over Lauren’s, his girlfriend’s grasp flipping to take his palms into her own. “I can’t be the reason you throw this away” Jack replies, unabashedly allowing the tears to fall from his eyes as he responds.
“Everyone in this group, even if we don’t want to admit it- everyone knows how important this is” Jack admits, squeezing Lauren’s hands harder, “we all just hate the circumstances involved with it.” Her head shaking, Lauren struggles to find the words to refuse, a struggle Jack pushes aside by recapturing her attention. “This is a chance to go back to the way things were- to have a life you were screwed out of getting the chance to live” Jack explains, “this is your ticket back.”
Continuing to shake her head, Lauren pulls her eyes back toward Jack’s, attempting to speak through broken breaths. “I don’t think I want that life anymore” Lauren replies, trying to calm the emotions she feels built within her, “-you weren’t in it.” Bobbing his head, Jack fights to push his own emotions aside, riddled with an agony he’s gone years without.
“I know. I want to go with you so badly but I can’t” Jack replies, standing firm in his decision, “and as much as this hurts me, I know I’ll never have to be afraid for you anymore. You’ll be safe.” Her head again shaking, Lauren continues to fight a battle she’s aware she stands no chance of winning. “I’m safe here. I’m safe now” Lauren replies, watching Jack take his turn to shake his head.
“But you’ll never get to truly be alive, and that’s the point” Jack replies, no less adamant than when he entered the diner, “they can offer you that in a way I’ll never be able to.” Almost masochistically, Lauren continues to argue her point, no more ground gained than what she’d walked in with. “I don’t need anything they can offer me” Lauren replies, “and if they can’t offer me you, none of their offers are worth anything.”
Arguing for Lauren’s acceptance, Jack persists. “Do you remember what Angela said yesterday?” Jack wonders, finally forcing a painful smile over his face, “she said ‘being alive was the most important thing’ and Jade argued that being alive wasn’t worth anything without safety, and care, and a home, and the rest!”
Their coupled hands falling into the space on the booth between them, Jack finishes his point. “Jade was right- you can’t honestly have one without the other” the man explains, a tear falling upon his knuckles as it runs from his cheek, “I can try to offer you everything, but you’d never get the chance to fully be alive.”
“I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for you” Lauren replies, unashamed to acknowledge her greatest lows, “if we’re judging the most important factors for me, nothing’s higher on that list than you.” Bowing his head, Jack holds down the grief he feels kicking up. “Then take the offer I made it possible for you to get the chance to have” the man replies, doing what he feels is right on the back of Lauren’s claims, “this is what we’ve waited for… The chance is here for you to take.”
Caught by surprise at the sense of something small being dropped into her palm, Lauren slides her hand out from within Jack’s, where a ring rests just below her thumb. “The world ended to bring us together” Jack whispers, reclaiming the ring as he slides it over her finger, retaking her hand as their eyes lock again, “when the time comes, it’ll bring us together again.”
Handcuffed to the door of a car and heavily devoured, a trapped zombie earns the remorse of an aggravated Alicia, who drives her handcrafted spear through its eye socket. “You want me to go?” Alicia aggravatedly remarks, watching the sky begin to lighten as a new morning dawns. “I think you should, yeah” Franklin replies, calmly following the woman through the once-busy streets of downtown Providence.
Her head shaking, almost as if she can’t believe what’s asked of her, Alicia walks away, angrily storming over tall grass with no destination in mind. “I don’t like it either, but I can’t deny what you’d be missing out on” Franklin replies, continuing to watch the woman march on, “this is the only real shot we’ve ever had at ‘getting back to normal’, even if not all of us can get there.”
“What makes you think I want things to go back to normal!?” Alicia turns back, her words bouncing through the narrow streets as she shouts in a fit of anger. “Because you do, just like we all do” Franklin replies, slightly raising his voice closer to a yell, “and if we were all given the chance, we’d already be in Jade’s truck.”
“Exactly! That’s the point!” Alicia shouts, her frustrations only continuing to simmer, “we weren’t all given a chance, so what’s the point in taking it!?” Falling silent, Franklin strolls up to the corpse-chained car and sits upon its hood, patting the spot beside him for Alicia to occupy. Her anger brushed aside, Alicia turns back, taking the spot beside the man.
“Even if we don’t all get the invitation, some of us do” Franklin replies, resting his hand on the woman’s thigh, “if you all decline, we all lose out. But if you all go, at least some of us will get to win. Even if we aren’t happy about missing out, it’d be selfish not to want you all to win.”
“Even if I win this, I lose you” Alicia replies, tracing the veins in the man’s thigh-rested hand with her finger, “and if I lose you- I just lose.” Letting out a laugh, Franklin places his second hand over Alicia’s own, shaking his head with a charming grin. “No, you don’t. You win for the both of us” Franklin replies, pressing his lips against Alicia’s own for a quick kiss.
As their lips part, Alicia loses herself looking into Franklin’s face, fixated by a sudden sense of comfort amidst fearful times. Pressing her lips back against Franklin, Alicia keeps the kiss going, returning her lips to the man’s own each time a new kiss breaks.
“Very clean shot” Katie remarks, the rifle draped over her back as she follows Salem over the grass where her dead deer rests. “I’ve got a lot of those” Salem replies, wrapping twine around the deceased animal’s rear legs as Katie watches, her hands tucked into her pockets. The air silent, Salem wraps the restraints around the animal while Katie stands by, waiting for the next set of words to leave Salem’s lips.
“How’d you do it?” Salem inquires, her teeth grating against the twine until it snaps, allowing her to tie off the loose ends. “You’ve always been the first person to listen to reason for as long as I’ve known you” Katie answers, her head hanging closer to the ground as Salem begins on the front legs, “I just needed you to listen to reason again.”
Struggling to find the words to respond, Salem remains quiet, again using her teeth to split the rope. “I’m not good with this kind of thing” Salem mutters beneath her breath, just loud enough for Katie’s ears to catch. “I’ve never liked goodbyes, either” Katie responds, watching as Salem hoists the buck over her shoulders, her fingers wrapping around both legs as their faces take to each other’s.
“If I’m being honest with myself, part of the reason I came out here was to avoid saying goodbye to the others” Katie explains, slowly removing the rubber gloves from her hands. “I don’t care who does, or doesn’t, go. I just wish the best for everyone involved” Katie explains, her gloves tucked into her back pocket as she looks back to her mentor, forced to squint as the sun begins to rise over Salem’s back, “give them my best, will you?”
A gut wrenching feeling of sadness rupturing deep within her core, Salem silently nods to Katie, who flashes the woman a grin. Emotional without needing to shed tears, Katie’s eyes wander toward the distance, avoiding eye contact. “I’m not John’s ‘right-hand’ anymore, and I’m not Troy’s sister anymore” Katie comes to the acceptance of whilst letting a sigh leave her lungs, “I think- maybe- it’s time I find out.”
Nodding as she presses her tongue to the corner of her lip, Salem remains quiet, settling for the first thing that comes to mind. “I didn’t expect this to be a ‘goodbye’ from both of us” Salem remarks, watching the younger woman look at her with a smile of her own. “It’s not a goodbye” Katie replies, beginning to walk backward from the way she and Salem had arrived, “it's ‘good luck’ and ‘see you again someday’.”
Turning her body in the direction she walks, Katie proceeds to stroll away, her mentor watching her depart until her figure is no longer visible.
“I got it” Angela remarks, stepping through city hall’s entrance as Emilio strolls through the front door, carrying a large car seat up toward the fire pit as Angela drives her knife into the side of an undead skull. “Why would she just walk off?’” Clint queries, watching Salem skin her catch in preparation for dinner. “I didn’t bother to question her” Salem replies, dropping a chunk of bloody fur onto the floor, “she wanted to leave, and I wasn’t going to make her stay.”
“And then there were four” Nessie murmurs, watching Alicia and Franklin step through the building’s front doors. “Well, maybe five” Clint jokes, alluding to the shirt Alicia now wears inside out, “are condoms and birth control an easy thing to come by nowadays?” Her eyes rolling, Alicia walks up to Clint and flicks her finger against the man’s forehead.
Watching the car seat burn in a sea of flames, Alicia gives her answer. “If none of us go, we all lose- but if some of us go, we all win” Alicia remarks, turning her sights on the man with the curly hair and rough beard she looks to as the leader, “I’m going.”
Quiet, Emilio gives the woman a nod before turning away, climbing the left-most staircase without a word. “If the two of you are going, then I am too” Angela replies, climbing the stairs to rejoin the group beside the fire. “Then I wish the three of you luck” Nessie replies, slouching back against the marble stair, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Allowing the conversation to unfold without him, Emilio begins to journey through the dark confines of the building, feeling a sense of loneliness despite the ongoing conversation behind him. The menacing interior poorly lit, only darkness faces him, a lightless, blank void with nothing to say for itself. “They need you” Jess’ voice remarks, the woman’s frame hiding within the shadows as if she were speaking on their behalf.
Turning to where the voice sounds to be coming from, Emilio follows it to the source. “They don’t need me” Emilio replies, carefully stepping forward, one foot placed before the other, “they need each other more than they need me.”
“And look how that’s working out” Jess replies, her voice staying low to the ground, “they’re dropping like flies without needing to die. That’s not what leaving is- that’s abandonment.” Pressing his hand against a smooth, glossy wall, Emilio presses his back against it and slides to the ground, occupying the seat beside Jess, who claims residency over the floor, cold and alone.
“They’re choosing to live” Jess replies, her voice sad in nature, but empty when presented up close, a withered husk of someone that used to feel life as it was intended. “You keep saying you’re not the leader, but that doesn’t explain why you’re so hush to the topic” Jess confides, turning her head toward Emilio’s, “why aren’t you choosing to live?”
Her breath colliding with the side of his face, Emilio turns to look toward the woman, his chest heavy as if weighed by burden. “Why aren’t you choosing to live?” Emilio counters, unable to watch the woman’s face turn away, no expression in her expression, “you were given the same questions. Even if you didn’t know what you were answering for, you were the only one that threw their choice away.”
Enough breath being blown through her nose to be mistaken for a laugh, Jess presses the back of her head against the wall. “A man walked into our lives, murdered my husband, and murdered my child” Jess replies, returning her face toward Emilio’s, “and, in doing that, he murdered me.”
Waiting for a response, Jess turns away, staring off into the darkness once more. “I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child” Emilio replies, pressing his own head against the wall, “but I do know what it’s like to lose a husband.” Taking a strong dislike to the conversation she anticipates being started, Jess closes her mouth and lets Emilio speak anyway.
“I’m not the same man I was before Bill died, and I’ll never claim to be. But I’m stronger than I was, and I don’t know if that would have been possible if he were still here” Emilio explains, unsure of Jess’ reaction, “and, in time, you will be too.”
Remaining silent, Jess lets the conversation die there, keeping quiet until Emilio gets up to leave. “You should go with them” Jess suddenly remarks, waiting for Emilio to walk a few steps away before doing so, “choose life.” Staring in Jess’ direction for a few seconds, Emilio turns away in silence, leaving the void to return to the campfire.
“Do you think they’re coming?” Archie wonders, standing beside the driver’s door as Isaac occupies the backseat. “This is one of the rare times where I honestly don’t know” Jade replies, turning her head toward Oliver with a smile, “it’s exciting.”
As the sun begins to lower over the nearest set of towers, a fleet of people emerge from the street below, their minimal belongings carried in tow. “I won’t bother calling out names, you already know who you are” Jade remarks, releasing the tailgate from its restraints, “everyone coming along climb aboard, those that chooses not to- don’t dirty the truckbed.”
Maintaining her distance, Nessie folds her arms and keeps to the rear of the group, watching the rest of the survivors interact accordingly.
“We’ll find each other again” Jack whispers, placing his hands to each side of Lauren’s head as they share a kiss, “I promise.” Pulling each other into an embrace, Jack parts his arms to keep himself from changing his mind, allowing Lauren to deviate from the pack. “I’m gonna miss you” Alicia whispers, pulling out of her embrace with Franklin. “I’m gonna miss you, too” the man replies, watching Alicia board the back of the pickup.
“I call shotgun!” Salem exclaims, strolling around the side of the vehicle as Angela climbs into the back, not a further scene made. “Well, I’m certainly not gonna argue with her over that” Jade replies through humour and a slight fear, only one answer left to hear. “Is that all we’re taking?” the woman exclaims, loud enough for the entire group to hear, though her eyes take to only one man in particular.
His hands tucked into his pockets, Emilio looks up at Jade, the woman’s hands coupled at her lap as her bold eyes anxiously await his answer. Taking a glance in Jess’ direction, Emilio tilts his head to the side, as if to ask the woman for her blessing. With a shrug, Jess gestures the decision back to him, satisfied with the argument she’s made.
Letting out a sigh, Emilio gives the group a nod before turning to the truck and climbing aboard, the choice putting a slight smile over Jade’s face. “And then- there were five” Jade replies, reaching down to shut the tailgate before settling into the truck bed, letting the day die in preparation for a new one. As her brothers enter the vehicle, Jade turns her face toward the group, a pleased look worn on her face with pride.
“You all made a very good decision” Jade remarks, feeling the vehicle jolt forward as it begins the long drive back home, “welcome to Cumberland.” With that, Jade goes silent, staring off at the fine work nature’s done to the city while her passengers watch their group grow farther away. Keeping his head forward, Emilio looks down the road they’ve yet to cover when something catches his eye.
Standing out from his seat, Emilio unsheathes an axe from his belt as he presses his foot against the truck’s side, watching a single corpse stumble toward the vehicle. “You don’t need to worry about those anymore” Jade comments, watching the man look her in the eyes with doubt. Without a word, Emilio winds his arm back and slices through the corpse’s skull, spilling fragments of decomposed matter over the dead grass before settling back down in silence.
== Rise ==