I can’t feel my fingers. Chilled to the bone is an understatement. I’ve heard stories of people freezing to death; I didn’t think this would be my fate. I look to my left – she’s lifeless; been rotting for three hours now. It’s somehow getting darker. The snow is picking up and the silent air is replaced by howling wolves. Wolves are the least of my problems.
There are more heinous creatures that lurk in the night. Blood is dripping slowly down my forearm, making a warm puddle on the ground, contrasting the white snow beneath me. I stare aimlessly in the distance. Now that it’s done, I don’t know where to go or where I belong. It’s a mystery to me what I should do.
I was only 15 years old when I left home, or what I called home at least. Àeriken! That was its name. I can barely recall my time there. I wouldn’t tell people I was from Àeriken, not because I was ashamed, but because I wanted to forget. I am grateful, however, since that small town taught me that the only important lesson in life is this: survive. Disappointed by rural destitution, I left for several years to make a living on my own. I couldn’t budge my past, though. There was always something pulling me back.
I’m six years elder to my sister. She wasn’t the smartest of her age, but what she lacked in intelligence, she made up in charisma. She loved to play “games” which people would interpret as mischief, but to no avail; she was harmless. Of the few associations we had, they loved her and took care of her when they could. However, even our isolation from the world couldn’t protect us from the effects of it. One by one, those we knew fell prey to the destruction of war. Fields of crops turned into fields of carnage, laden with blood and corpses. It took our friends. It took our home. It even took our parents.
No one even remembers what we’re fighting over anymore. It’s our great-great-grandfathers’ war, and we’re still fighting it for some reason. It’s funny, dying for a cause you know nothing about nor would ever live to see come to fruition. It all seems rather insignificant when you’re facing death. Waiting for the inevitable – just waiting. I would shudder at the thought, but now, looking at my fate in the eye, I realize it’s my turn. The question is what will take me first: the cold, the wolves, perhaps a quillbear? So consumed with the pictures of my imminent demise in the jaws of some starved beast, I barely registered the snow building upon my lap. I almost laughed when I noticed it with my eyes, for surely I feel nothing in my legs. My thoughts dash to earlier, just that day, and how I came to lie in what would surely be my cold tomb.
It was upon hearing the news of my parents’ deaths that I returned home to look after my sister. But nothing could have prevented what happened next. It was nighttime. My sister had fallen asleep several hours before; I too had laid my head to rest. Even if I had been awake, I wouldn’t have been able to stop them. I was awoken by an explosion from the eastern side of our house. I quickly ran to my sister’s room to ensure her safety. When I opened my door, there was a blaze of fire already in the hallway. I called out to her, “Règaelta! Règaelta!” After several attempts to call her, another explosion erupted to my left and I fell to the floor.
When I could muster enough strength, I tried to hoist my body up using my arms. My left arm gave out sooner than I thought and, as I looked at it, I discovered that a shard of our window had lodged itself into my forearm. Despite this, I was able to return to my feet, calling out to my sister with more vigor. “Règaelta! Règaelta!” I had to have been screaming her name at that point. I finally saw her burst from her bedroom and shuffle to my side. Running back to my room, I quickly grabbed a blanket to wrap around her shoulders. I returned to her side and gestured in the direction of the southern door.
As we moved toward the door, we heard several more explosions within the house and banter outside, as if a group of people were out on the eastern lawn. Before escaping, I grabbed what I could. Unfortunately, the only thing I could get my hands on was a scarf and my belt with a small dagger attached to it. I bolted out of the door with my sister, leaving behind all our possessions. Our struggle had not ended though.
As we stepped out, I discreetly peered to my right where a contingent of Elvkin soldiers were hurling fireballs at our home. Some simply watched while another gave orders to destroy the neighbours’ home as well. Our only crime was we weren’t them. I had never wanted anything to do with the war.
Frantically, I turned toward the forest in hopes that we wouldn’t be seen as we took our leave. By the grace of Sareth, we escaped without notice. We watched from afar as our house crumbled to a pile of wood and flame. Why us? Why us? Where would we go? With our friends – they were gone. With family – they were dead.
Perplexed by our current reality, I turned and faced the frigid forest; guiding us was a lane of lights burning from not only our home, but the others. It’s ironic that the consequences of destruction were our only hope for safety. I wrapped my arms around my sister, “Come, we must continue going south. Yes… south will lead to refuge,” I reassured her, but there was a hint of doubt in my voice. We walked barefoot, first in dirt, then mud and then snow as we pressed deeper into the forest. Unrelenting, we pressed onward until the dark was thick around us and the crunch of snow was numb to our ears and our toes.
“Brother, I must – I must…” Règaelta sputtered as she collapsed to the ground.
“Règaelta! Rest, please, oh gods, rest!” I whimpered through tears. I sat on the frozen ground next to her as she lay there. I looked at her and as I did, I saw a stain of blood on the blanket wrapped around her. I hurried to her and revealed under the blanket was a large gash in her abdomen. “Règaelta, you are bleeding! Let me tend to you.” I pressed my hands to her wound, desperate to stem the tide of red.
At this point, my own wound began to cause me severe pain. My injury oozed with blood, just as hers did. Life was seeping from her faster than me, and I could do nothing to stop it. I continued pressing my hands to her wound regardless. I watched her eyes as they slowly closed.
“Please, stay with me. Stay with me!” I screamed in a panic. Her breathing became shallow and then in an instant, it ceased. “Please… Stay. Stay! Stay…” I was there, putting pressure on her corpse for too long. I became dizzy and released her, stumbling as I sat next to her.
She was gone. So I sat.
And I sat.
And I sat until the silence returned.
Reflecting on the past, I cast my mind to a time when life was happier. Though rarely truly happy, things weren’t always so bleak. I remember my sister’s pranks, her incessant antics. At the time, they were an annoyance to me; but now, I would give anything for her to just say something, anything! How I wish she were still here. How I wish it didn’t have to end this way.
Time passed; how long, I do not know. I look to my left again, to my sister. Her eyes are closed and her face is soft, as if only asleep. I gently touch her cheek; it’s cold, but I know it’s more than the weather’s doing. She’s dead. Gone. And I’m left all alone.
If only our “people” hadn’t involved themselves with the Elvkin. If only I had come sooner to her rescue, we could have escaped in safety. Everyone would still be here if it weren’t for the folly of war. I hate them. I hate what they’ve done to us, to me, to her. I hate the Elvkin. But I may just hate humans just as much. I feel helpless. I couldn’t save her, I couldn’t save our parents, how am I to save myself?
I don’t have an answer, so I sit there, for I know that soon time will pass me by. Waiting. Waiting in silence. Just waiting.