The Smell of Ash and Death

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm
A short story starring a soldier reflecting upon the endless cycle of war. Set in the fictional world of Thorcziah, Third Age, Year 210.

Submitted: August 28, 2016

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Submitted: August 28, 2016

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The smell of ash and death greeted me once I awoke from my slumber. It was quiet, only the sound of the wind reaching my ears. My comrade was already awake. Of course he was, with wounds like that he couldn’t possibly sleep. I slowly rose to a sitting position and gazed over the corpse-filled plains surrounding us. The sky was bright. The sun’s warmth hit my dry skin, but the ground was dark. No grass could grow there anymore. There was only blood and iron. How long had we fought? At what point would it end? Perhaps it never would. This battle was over, but many more would come.  This battle was not a deciding factor for victory. Only loss. My friend suddenly looked at me with pleading eyes.

 

-“I’ve gone cold.”

He shook his head gently. Eyes fixated on the ground. He probably wanted to cry, but he had no more tears to shed. We were both very well aware of what his statement meant. Yet, there was so much more we had to do. If only time had allowed us to. I nodded in response and looked him in the eyes.

-“Do you want me to end the pain?”, I asked.

-“No. I want to endure this to the very end.”, he said with a shaky voice.

I understood. If I were in his situation I would probably have chosen the same fate. We had been through much together, him and I. None of us could have ever imagined it would turn out this way. The war, the battles, none of it came with certainty. Soldiers like us gamble our lives on every fight. My comrade took a deep breath and sighed.

-“Could you- take my armor off”, he asked me.

This was probably his last wish of me, I understood that. Swallowing my grief, I stood up. His armor sat tight around his chest and I could feel he was shaking with his whole body. I didn’t comment on it, but simply removed his chest plate. Next I removed his gauntlets and greaves. He moaned uncomfortably. When the act was over I looked upon my broken blade lying half-embedded in the ground. I touched it with my fingertips and closed my eyes for a while. All this death for such a small cause. The soldiers who died only wished for the same end. For the war to be over. We all wanted peace. So why does in not end? My friend awoke me from my thoughts with a tug on my leg. I turned around and proceeded to sit down next to him again. We sat in silence for a while. Perhaps he was to tired, or perhaps he was just mustering up the courage to speak. However, after some time he asked if I ever missed my family. If I ever felt any regret coming here. He was about to continue when he cut himself off and turned silent. He turned his head towards me and said;

-“You don’t have to wait for me. There’s still much for you to accomplish.”

I only shook my head in response. I dared not to open my mouth for I feared tears would follow. He chuckled, followed by a loud coughing. He forced his hand onto my shoulder and said;

-”You made it this far. It's a rough path ahead, but nothing can stop you now. Seize the opportunity, and make it yours.”

His hand slipped off to the ground when he coughed again. Once more, he spoke;

-“Please. Don't waste your time on a lost cause. Leave me. All I ask is that you remember me, as I was in battle.”

How could I ever forget? We were friends. I was as loyal to him as my own mother. And he was as loyal to me as I to him. I wanted to say farewell, but I could not muster the courage to do so. I was so afraid. So afraid of the sorrow that might come with it. He knew this. I had not yet realized, but my lips had been shaking for some time. That’s why he wanted me to leave. That was, in his own way, his goodbye. The sun was about to set behind us. Our shadows began to crawl along the pale bodies, like the tide along the shoreline. I put my forehead against his and closed my eyes. His pale face was cold. Once I opened my eyes I saw his smiling face. I gave him a slight nod, one only he would have noticed. I rose up. As I turned, something bumped into my side. It was the hilt from a well recognizable sword. Not mine. It was his. I cleared my head of any thoughts and seized the sword by my hand. I pulled it out of the scabbard with a satisfying grind. I made it mine. And then, I took a step forward. I walked towards the setting sun without turning back. Without any last words. The reflection of the sun made the sea of blood-stained iron shine like mountains of gold. This glittering sea reminded me of what I once had. Hope. My goal was difficult but it was not unreachable. I had to traverse this wasteland between hope and death. There were no doubts in my mind, I was sure his words were right. I had made it this far and nothing could ever stand in my way now. I wouldn't allow it. And so I strode onwards.

-“Don’t break a leg now!”, a hoarse voice suddenly yelled from behind.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I could not stop it anymore. I felt the tears flow down like rivers on my cheeks. But I embraced them. I turned my head, towards the darkness. And I smiled.

 

 



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