The place we went as we balanced the line between life and death was not a place easily escaped.
To do so, one would have to navigate a maze unlike any other.
Entering it on the other hand, was easy. Pass through a single door; follow the call for violence.
And we had followed, obediently.
We’d followed until it took us to a part of our minds that burned with hot hate. Where the inside walls of our heads were scorched with the will to do one thing alone; destroy those that threatened our home.
And so we had.
That charred desire to slay was what pumped the energy into our arms and legs to push those invaders back. It was the flame that inspired our minds to chase them.
Then end them.
As the remnants of that old enemy were herded and surrounded, we’d laid them to waste with a merriment that only pulled us further away from that balance. And in that new place, malevolent hands were all too happy to hold us down.
Like a candle left by a window though, eventually they were stifled.
And with them, so was our need to fight.
But still, we were stuck.
We walked in shock as a different kind of ghost to the ones we’d labeled enemies. The shutters of nearby and empty buildings slammed and rattled in the growing wind as if to applaud our victory, but among the mountains of dead, we did not feel as though we could claim any right of that sort.
Still, we could not climb out of that place.
A pained silence had taken to us all, interrupted only by the low moaning of the injured.
Healers rushed from those who were dead to those who were dying, and some were saved while most were not.
Eventually the instruction came to gather our dead, but it was unneeded. Until the natural darkness of night fell, we’d separated our fallen from those who had taken them from us. They lined the grass with a peacefulness that did not even hint at the cruelty that had led them there hand in hand.
The living fought off exhaustion until they could no more, and yielded finally to rest.
Though there were a few healers that still ran to and fro as the blackness hid from us a crimson ground. Everyone stayed ready to be called again, but somehow I knew no more of the enemy would attack that night.
Then came the mourning.
There were cries of confusion, and rage. Of incredulity and sorrow. They pushed from us our lingering silence, instead filling the night with heartache.
When I could stand no more, I found a place on the rise that overlooked a lake. The water was a solid sheet of ink, and although I could not see it, I knew red leaked from the beaches.
At first I sat in silence, alone. Before long though, at least a hundred others joined me, all to stare out over the calm waters. Some suppressed sobs, but for the most part, we were wrapped in the quiet of closure.
That was until a man pressed something into my hands.
“Use it,” he said.
I looked to the case he pushed between my bloody palms. An instrument that did not deserve to be held between fingers like mine. I suddenly hated myself for even touching it.
“No,” I answered.
The man leaned close until his face was only inches from mine. His voice shuttered with rage, the anger that had fuelled his fighting not yet far gone.
“They need this. Let them forget the world as it is for a moment and just give us some peace.”
Beside me, a woman squeezed my arm from where she sat. In her eyes I saw a hope that broke my heart.
Once I had thought my home the safest of them all, but I could see now it was a lie. We were no better off than any other of this world. A world where if one dug even just below the surface, they would find darkness.
A song came to mind then. One of my childhood I had forgotten until that very moment. It was the tune from soldiers of old, before their marches into the same silence that rested in those lining the shore below. It had been sung throughout the walls of old and new town alike as the dead were bid their final farewells.
I looked again to the musical instrument I cradled. My symbol for joy and everything good in the world. From it, I had brought happiness to places that had forgotten its very meaning. Smiles from faces almost permanently etched with the expressions of worry and fear.
A wolf howled somewhere, and others answered its call.
I opened the case.
‘Give us some peace,’ he had said.
So I tried.
The sun faded, the night drew near;
Tomorrow we’d march, tomorrow we’d fear
That I her love, and she my own,
Would meet only again at death’s throne.
For the King had called, and so I went
Into the horizon, to lands misspent;
War he wanted, so war we fought
Until claimed again as death sought,
To take what would be his before its time,
To take from me what was mine;
What I would spend with her alone
Until time itself atoned,
For the crime of parting us tomorrow,
For the crime of being time itself;
So, as she feared, and I lay quiet,
I turned to her with a smile.
I knew what needed to be said --
Words that spilled forth as if I bled;
And with those words she began to cry
As to her I sang - A Darker Lullaby.
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