Endings and Beginnings

by David

Fire. The flames leaped everywhere, consuming buildings, furniture... bodies" I gagged as I ran through the choking smoke. Pain woke me up in the middle of the blaze when my hair caught fire, my scalp now burned to an angry red color. At least, the brief glimpse in the mirror showed me that. The image that I saw there was that of a golden-eyed boy, with scars now raising themselves up already in place of hair.

The smoke, more dangerous in the long run than the fire, left me no time to waste. I ran frantically in search of the door. Luckily, the fire had weakened the wood, and I broke it down easily. The fresh air invigorated me as I stumbled out of the house. I inhaled deeply, and then broke down into a coughing fit. My lungs felt as though vicious monsters fought a fierce battle inside of them.

I choked, and looked around. All the houses were burning. The ground was trampled with heavy footprints and hoof prints. Soldiers had done this to my village. One of the lords must have declared war on our own lord to expand their territory. If the soldiers had been careless, the fire could have spread to all of the plains. But there was no one else around, and I couldn't put up a blaze of this size myself. Why wasn't anyone else escaping the buildings? I shook my head and made my way out of the village, arm up to shield myself from the smoke and heat of the burning structures.

As I watched the village burn down, my thoughts turned to everyone in the village that hadn't made it out. I'd seen bodies as I was escaping the house I was in. If the soldiers were killing instead of taking prisoners, I was, most likely, the only survivor of the village. My master, the village healer, had taught me how to survive on my own. Had he seen this coming somehow?

The key to survival, he once told me, is to "detach your thinking self from your animal self'. This, he claimed, was vital if you have no prior experience with surviving on your own but you know what to do. It allows you to not think about what you have to do and just do it. I closed my eyes, and concentrated. Detachment" loss of self" something he'd made me practice before.

The boy opened his eyes and stood up. The village was a mere smoking ruin by the time he'd successfully detached himself. The first thing he would need to do was get some sort of weapon. As he recalled, there was a cache of bows and arrows for hunting stashed nearby; they didn't want them hidden in the village for fear that a child would find them and hurt themselves with the arrows.

He walked amongst the grasses of the plains, looking down all the while for any signs of a hidden room. He found them underneath a tree planted nearby, hidden underneath a clever trapdoor. He took only ten arrows and one bow. If he was to make it to another village without dying, he needed to travel light. The boy cast his eyes across the horizon, locking them onto a speck in the distance. There was his destination.

The boy set outwards, walking with calm, even steps. Rushing would only tire him out and deplete his energy, and if he moved slowly, he would be able to find game when hunger neared. Fortunately, the tall grasses of the plains hid him well from sight. The boy's bare feet pressed against the ground softly, and the thick vegetation made it harder to move. His feet ached already against the harsh grasses.

He then realized his first goal. Often, one could find debris scattered amongst the plains. Usually you could only find toys, but sometimes useful things like tools and sandals were lost out here. He'd heard too many of his friends in the village complain that they lost theirs while gathering grain in the fields. The first thing to do was to enact a search pattern amongst the farming fields.

Once there, the boy began moving in a grid-like pattern, searching the rows of wheat near him in squares. It was almost evening by the time he found wooden sandals, and his feet, he noted with a calm interest, now had several blisters and a slick coating of blood on their soles. The boy tore off strips of cloth from his shirt and bound his feet, slipping on the sandals afterwards. It was lucky that he had been trained as a healer in the village. Either way, he now had to be more careful in his journey.

The boy went to bed hungry that night, lying in a bed of flattened grass. The starry sky seemed too peaceful for the events that had happened that morning, and the smoke plume had already cleared from the air. He sighed for a moment, almost losing his detachment in a moment of near-emotion, and slowly drifted off to sleep.

I woke up in the morning to the sunlight shining in my eyes. I yawned softly, standing up. My bed had been particularly hard last night. Why was I surrounded by grass? Then my memories rushed in on me, and I sat down and cried. Through my tears, I shook my head. I had to toughen up. I had to get back into my state of detachment. No emotions were allowed to slow me.

The boy heard noises nearby, that of a grazing animal. It sounded like a hoypa, one of the speediest animals of the plains. The boy reached for his bow, stringing one arrow to it and drawing the bowstring back with a creak as he peered over the grass, spotting the hoypa grazing. The hoypa heard the creaking of the wood and bounded off in a flash, leaving only a trail of waving grasses to show it had ever been there.

The boy lowered his bow and moved on, walking amongst the grasses once more. His new sandals thumped against the ground rather noisily, but it was better than wearing his feet into bleeding masses of blisters like had happened yesterday. The boy parted the grasses as he moved, trying to keep a steady pace against the thick vegetation.

If he could have trusted the roads, he'd have taken them, but the soldiers that destroyed his village might be watching them. A battle that left no survivors was one of the best strategic maneuvers in a territory war, because it would mean there'd be no advance warning of them in any other villages. He hoped he wasn't too late. The neighboring village he was headed for had often traded with the boy's village, meaning he'd be welcomed there.

With all these thoughts in the mind of the thinking self, and the boy only focusing on moving forwards, he plodded on. He journeyed in this manner for several days and nights, pausing only to hunt, sleep, and eat. The plains, if you dig deep enough, have water underneath. While it isn't fit to drink in large amounts, in small quantities it will keep you alive. The boy dug up the water and drank carefully whenever he was in need of it. Eventually, his journey came to an end. The boy saw a pillar of smoke fill almost the entire sky in front of him.

My eyes widened in fear, and I began to run, the detachment completely lost in a rush of emotion. Thwack! Grasses kept hitting me in the face, the thin blades whipping across my body. I burst through to the cleared patch of ground that surrounds all villages of the plains.

The soldiers had arrived before me. Everything was burning, and from the bodies, there weren't meant to be any survivors here either. I moaned out loud, dropping to my knees. I had failed this village as well as my own. But I had survived, and a few buildings weren't on fire. They probably held supplies I could use to find another village, though I didn't know where to head next. Then I heard the scream.

I burst through the door on the house the scream had come from. I could see nothing but the blaze. In desperation, I ran through the flames, my own fear forgotten in the heat of the moment. In the corner was a strange girl, curled up in fear. She had on the armor of a knight, but it seemed to be a bit loose on her, as if it wasn't hers. She didn't have armor on her arms, though, and her right arm was gone from the elbow down.

Instead of a forearm, she had some sort of metal limb, reflecting the light of the fire. It looked like a sword blade had been attached to her elbow. I pulled her to her feet, and she looked at me with a gasp. "We've got to get out of here!" I said over the crackling roar of the flames. And without saying anything else, I pulled her with me into the flames.

After some terror-filled moments, we reached the outside again. We both lay on the ground, breathing deeply of the fresh air. I was reminded of my own first few breaths of air after I escaped from the fire, and I looked over to her. She had long brown hair, and the remaining flesh of her right arm was covered in burn scars. However, these were old burn scars, and not caused by this fire. I smiled at her, out of breath.

"My name is Enamon. And yours?" She looked at me startled, disbelieving that anyone could act like this surrounded by burning buildings. Then a flash of understanding crossed her face. "My name is Serras." She answered back, smiling at me. We may have both been deprived of everyone we knew, but at least we could avoid being alone.

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