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Blood Thickens the Water

We waited in the still night air, on a dusty knoll overlooking the devastated city. The stars mocked our patience, twinkling with untold mirth at the shadows of truth blackly knotted between them. I waited with my brothers in arms. We waited for our god. For the end of all things, and our just reward for a life of hard service; devout, we’d given our lives to furthering His kingdom. We were much reduced from the height of our pious glory – once a force ten thousand strong and now but three. And mortally wounded.

Jimri lay crooked in the withered old tree’s gnarled embrace, shuddering as he held together the gaping wounds in his gut. The gashes were half-webbed with the sticky tangle of our medicinal paste, which we had laughingly named our puncture repair kits. Alas, supplies were short. Though we’d slathered what we could from our drained tubes, we’d suffered too much, lost too many slivers of flesh in the fight and now had too little left to give. Slumped across Jimri’s knees lay Torschen, my oldest friend, the best man to bear a sword at your back. He too had taken blows mortal: two straight thrusts through his left lung which gave his breath a bubbling quality, that of one already loose in the deep sea of peace beyond. The puncture repair kit had closed the holes well enough and with a reed I’d reinflated his sagging lung, but we’d no further recourse to healing.

We were the last: our armies, healers, servitors, even cooks were gone. Massacred to a man, woman and child. And yet, we had won the day. The city of Ternforl was ours. Or at least it was no longer the ’forlers, for they now swam in the night ocean. Where too, we would join them. But as predators, not prey. Immortal sharks, safe from all else, with lesser souls to feed upon evermore. We’d dragged ourselves out of Ternforl, over the mountains of corpses, the scorched rubble, the breached earthworks and through the blood-muddled earth of the farmland that once lay green and fertile around the city. Blood meal would bring forth a lush harvest in time, but who might reap it was beyond our view. Shambling, we propped up one another, eyes shying away from the faces of comrades, friends and rivals we’d always sought to best – and now had, in a bleak sort of way. I jammed my iron helm tighter over my ears, snarling as it rubbed against the flap of scalp I’d pinned there. It had bled heavily despite its triviality, and in lieu of repair paste I’d simply screwed my helmet into the congealing blood glue. I couldn’t imagine I’d ever remove my helmet again, and I’d rather dive into that vast sea intact, a holy warrior to the last, than weak and naked.

Jimri faded away on an inhale, leaving the ghost breath to whisper out through lungs finally permitted to relax. Torschen died with a choking burble as his unpunctured lung frothed his leaking lifeblood till it foamed from his nose. Alone with the stars. I felt a tremendous lightness as the breeze made its way through the brain-deep gouges down the side of my head. It almost tickled, and I felt freer than I’d ever done before. My brothers were diving even now into that eternal sea, its salty embrace cleansing them of all injury and grief. I’d join them soon, but I just waited, just wanted to see our god. He comes to those who have dedicated their lives to him, they say. I have laid waste an empire, seen all I know fall in that quest. Now I wait for my reward, to take my Lord’s hand and be cast into the abyssal beyond. I’ve earned it.

I bleed. The sense that the night sky is more inside my head than out intensifies. I don’t think I see in colour any more. Like in the deeps, red no longer reaches me. My blood is just another aspect of the seas; we blend together, it and I. Dissolution. He’s not coming for me, is he. Maybe they never do. And into the ocean I slide.

The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean

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