Blood. Sweat. Mud. Steel. Fear.
So, so much fear.
Alekria ran through the battlefield, steel in hand and desperation in her eyes as she prepared to clash against the enemy forces.
Her heart thumped hard against her chest as she saw men and women from her side get killed, and vice versa.
She watched the foul-mouthed Rodrirak cut deep into the guts of a human only to get stabbed by his victim, his last moments being on a foreign land with a foreign spear lodged in his lungs.
She felt her magical core thrum with power as she forced her energy on her arms and legs and then extending it to her blade which she used to tear open a man’s neck. Bright red arterial blood sprayed everywhere, tainting her clean uniform.
The shrieking of metal as blades collided mixed with the terrified screams of young men and women, sent to die because some old men wanted a few more coins in their vaults, creating the unholy symphony to which the grim reaper gladly danced to.
She killed four men before reaching the enemy trench.
Blood and mud made up the floor of the hastily made shelter. The humans had been unprepared for the opening of the elven portals and were forced to muster a defense much faster than they would like to, something that her people’s leadership had successfully exploited.
Of course, while the generals and strategists patted themselves on the back, people like her were forced to actually do all the killing.
She walked unsteadily through the trench, her legs sluggish and her blade like lead. Using enhancing magic always took a toll on the body so she would be much weaker for the next few minutes and feel tired for a couple of hours.
Thankfully she would just be killing the wounded and weak. The thought did not comfort her.
She walked through the trench, sword stabbing into corpses to make sure that there was no one faking death as the sounds of battle slowly ended with her side no doubt victorious. The fact that she found no survivors was a relief, though she would not dare share that sentiment with whatever comrades she had left.
Her relief was not long-lived.
A middle-aged man, clothes dirty and hands stained with blood tightened a bandage over his comrade’s arm which bled much more than a normal wound should. No doubt the work of a bleeding enchantment. He had the human symbol of healing marked upon his steel helmet, the rust and scratches of which told the tale of one that had seen many battles. Five other men in different states of injury surrounded him while he worked his calloused fingers with the precision of a veteran, wrapping the wound and injecting a human tonic to his arm.
Official orders from The King during times of war were to not harm healers unless they actively fought back.
Unofficial orders from her superior were that if the healer was dead then who could say if they fought back or not?
She raised her blade.
The men looked to her with a mixture of fear, anger, and resignation. All except the healer.
“Komradea! Komradea!” He shouted the elven equivalent of “comrade” at her, not taking his eyes off his patient. Only once he finished tending to the wound did he lock his eyes with hers. Eyes filled not with anger or fear… but pity.
Her blade crashed down, cutting down the earth as she lacked the strength of both body and spirit to aim it towards the enemy.
She wished she could… she wanted… what?
Her heart beat like it was going to explode as she felt a surge of energy rush towards her.
Dwarven artifusion artillery.
She immediately forced her core to the very edge of its power, creating a thick shield of magic around her, hoping against hope that it would be enough to save her from the hell to come. The healer got up from his feet and rushed towards his bag, drinking and injecting himself with a dizzying cocktail of human tonics and potions.
And then he threw himself at her.
Her shield, made only to fight against heat, did nothing to stop the man from slamming into her and forcing her to the cold mud. She tried fighting back but found herself unable to do so as her energy was drained. Instead, the man dragged her across the mud and into a nearby crevice that was barely big enough for them both.
And then there was fire.
Blood. Sweat. Fire. Ash. Pain.
So, so much pain.
Alekria felt like she should be screaming and crying in absolute agony, yet her body refused to do so. Either because she had used too much magic or because she was too injured. Probably both.
And she was moving.
The dying rays of light from the setting sun were too blinding for her to truly see her surroundings but the feeling of being dragged was unmistakeable.
Had some ally survived? Was she being rescued? Was she going home?
Alekria felt what little hope she had left vanish. She had been captured by the healer and was going to get tortured and killed…. or get tortured and then left for the enemy soldiers. She was not sure which was worse.
She felt the man stop and kneel beside her and tried her best to prepare herself for whatever was coming next.
Which was… relief?
Alekria tried and failed to moan as some form of gel was applied to her skin, instantly dulling her burns where it touched. The man unapologetically flipped her over and spread whatever divine concoction that was throughout her raw legs and back, something that would have been most inappropriate in polite society. He flipped her back and gently but firmly opened her eyes, dripping some weird liquid that cleared her vision and made her eyes itch. Finally, he put a few small berries in a mortar, crushed them with a pestle, mixed them with a potion, ground everything thoroughly, put the resulting semi-solid in a full waterskin, shook it for a good minute, and then forced it down her throat.
The drink was bitter and left her mouth and throat tight and itchy. She would have spit it back if it weren’t for her weakness and the fact that the human was holding her throat and massaging it to both help her swallow and prevent her from resisting.
Once she finally drained the drink, she felt an uncomfortable warmth spread through her chest. She felt itchy, and feverish, but also much more alive than just a few minutes ago.
The human gave her a final look and tried to rise to his feet only to find her hand holding his arm.
She pointed at herself. “Alekria.”
His worn face with old scars split to form a tight smile. “Marco.”
The elf gave a weak nod and fell asleep.
The next two days were confusing and painful.
Marco had dragged her limp body using a thin but durable cloth, the kind humans made their tents with, which allowed her healing skin to feel every rock and rough surface that they passed through. She was dirty with the closest thing to a bath being when Marco decided to clean some of her rougher burns with another one of his potions and then threw some water on her when he was finished. It mostly just made her clothes wet but it was better than nothing.
Her savior coughed loudly, a wet and gurgling sound followed by him spitting a thick reddish black phlegm and then walking like nothing had happened.
She had heard of it but had never seen it before. Elves relied much more on magic than alchemical products, so they rarely got it. Humans on the other hand had much less magical potential while having a truly staggering resistance to poisons, alchemy, and even some natural resistance to magic.
She had at first wondered how the human had survived the explosion but now the answer was obvious: the man had probably injected himself with an enormous cocktail of potions which sent his body into superhuman levels of resistance and healing.
He coughed again, this time much deeper and staining the back of his hand with blood.
And now he’s dying.
She wanted to have a laugh. Whoever this man was, whatever reason he had for dragging a nobody soldier from an enemy nation across the wasteland back to her allies was, it would not change the fact that he was not going to leave this place alive.
It was not funny, this was, unequivocally, a tragedy.
She was just… too tired of crying. So, she laughed
The human stopped, looked back at her, and then laughed too.
The wasteland was silent except for the sound of the whispering wind and two very different soldiers sharing a moment of mutual bewilderment of the absurd.
“You good flesh?”
Alekria nodded and hid a small smile. “Better.”
Marco and her had both been speaking much more openly after their shared laughter and, due to a mixture of boredom and dread, they were sharing language lessons. Apparently, the man had a very very basic grasp of Granadian-Elvish and thus it was decided that she would expand his vocabulary instead of the other way around.
It had gone better than she expected but much worse than she hoped. She had become seriously concerned for her safety when he first asked the previous question and it took a good half hour for him to convey that he was asking about her physical health.
They had shared another laugh, this one much more genuine, once she explained this to him. It had become an inside joke among the two of them now.
The man smiled a thin smile that showed no teeth as to hide his blackening gums.
He knew it. She knew it. He knew that she knew it. She knew that he knew that she knew it.
Neither spoke about it. Marco pointed at rocks, drawings, and potions. Alekria diligently translated.
Marco walked and she was dragged ever closer to her destination which she had long identified as being the general location of an allied fort.
She did not ask why he did not go towards his people.
Soil. Water. Birds. Grass. Trees.
Alekria kept herself deathly still as Marco dragged her across the grass of the forest, barely able to stand and yet still trying to pull her after doing so for far longer and farther than any mortal had any right to. His eyes were crisscrossed by crimson lines and, much like his mouth and ears, leaked a black viscous liquid.
He was dying.
“Let us rest.” She said. He did not respond, instead dropping the rope and sitting next to a tree with all the grace of a falling log.
She crawled out from what she discovered was indeed a repurposed tent and moved next to him. She could not walk for long periods of time and her magic had been truly exhausted, she would take weeks to recover. Still, she could crawl a bit.
She knew, deep down, that he now getting back up. He knew too. None commented on it. They both sat under the canopy and watched the birds.
The burning question she had been wanting to ask for so long. Why do this? Why drag her across the remains? Why go to enemy territory in what was certain death? Alchemist’s disease was not some incurable illness, it could be treated and expelled. Surely someone as skilled as him and the only human survivor of the battle, thus the only one that could report it, would be given immediate treatment.
She could understand why he chose to save her instead of the other patients, she had placed a shield around her and still almost died, the others would have certainly perished. What she could not understand was why save anyone at all.
He looked at her and snorted, an ugly and wet sound due to all the liquid. “Duty healer.”
She frowned. “I enemy, so why?”
He stared at her and suddenly she saw not an enemy soldier, or a dutiful healer, or a martyr, or savior, but a man. A tired, weary man that, just by his gaze, she knew had seen too much.
He lowered his head. “Young, fool, soldier. But no enemy. Never was, too young. The young should not die. Or suffer.” He let his head rest against the tree. “Tired. Rest much?”
She shook her head with wet eyes. “’More’, not ‘much’.” She corrected.
He nodded. “More.”
He closed his eyes.
He did not open them again.
Alekria walked among the camp in a confident march with a gaze that only those few with the right mixture of skill and purpose could achieve. Guardians and healers gave her respectful glances, though none saluted.
She walked among the wounded, cataloging them and speaking with the managers of each of the camps to ensure all were ready.
They were moving soon. The war moved and so did they.
Her second-in-command, a crippled human alchemist, walked alongside her and gave his report on the state of their supplies and people. All was good for now though there was a fear that they would soon be overwhelmed by the deluge of people in need that the war was bringing.
They would deal with it in time. They had the resources.
She called for the moving of the camp and, a few hours later, a great caravan of healers moved, seeking more wounded and spearheaded by a single elf wielding a banner atop a horse.
The banner was a beautiful stylized drawing of two raceless and genderless figures. The first, bearing the universal symbol of healing on their breast, dragged the second using a tarp. The first was hunched as though exhausted and yet inexorably moving forward while the second laid on the tarp, clutching a wounded arm.
Proudly displayed on the bottom laid a simple phrase:
For the young should not die or suffer.
Republished with permission from the author, Reddit user u/Mercury_the_dealer. Image created with Stabl Diffusion.