Kingdoms of War: A Trial by Fire

Lieutenant Jim Harkness has found himself face-to-face with demons.... And now he must confront his own.

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1. Pain

He felt Hell's flames lick at him. They danced over his back and down his legs and he screamed as his skin began to blister. He squeezed his eyes shut as the fire seemed to sweep around him... and then darkness claimed him.

****

Whispered voices felt like bursts of colour rather than noise. They also felt like nails being hammered into his skull. Gradually, he became aware of a constant and irritating beeping sound, as conscious thought slowly returned.

"Still no ID on him?" A woman's voice asked, in an unfamiliar accent.

"No sir." Replied a man's voice. "No DNA records and nothing from retinal records either. He could be from one of the more obscure colonies - getting those records will take more time."

"Make the request anyway. We need answers. Let me know the second​ he wakes." The woman's voice carried an air of firm authority. He heard footsteps and then the clunk of something metallic closing.

Dimly he became aware of being covered by something soft, perhaps a blanket, and he felt it ruffle as someone moved it. He wanted to open his eyes, but hesitated, unsure if he should let it be known he was awake. He didn't feel that he was in any immediate danger, but he didn't want to take any chances.

Pieces of his memories were drifting back to him. The barrels were catching fire in the bowels of an Antyan warship, and... a creature, a demon, had been trying to put the fires out. He'd fought it, it had tried to escape, and then everything had been consumed by fire...

His heart raced as memories of intense, searing pain gripped him. The beeping sound picked up, and he heard soft footsteps and new, different beeps and also clicking sounds.

Then, there was a feeling of euphoria. It was as though pleasure itself was stabbing his brain, and he gasped. It was an involuntary gesture, but his eyes opened as he did. 

He noticed two things as he did. Firstly, he saw what he could only regard as an angel. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun and it looked so clean, almost like it was glowing. Magnificent blue eyes looked down at him and skin kissed gently by the sun seemed to shine. 

The second thing he noticed was that he couldn't open his left eye. He attempted to raise his left hand to investigate - and when he couldn't do that either, looked, and saw nothing but a bandaged stump, all the way up to just below his shoulder.

Whatever had triggered his blissful state was no match for the sudden shock. 

"What... where am I, what's going on....?" His voice was raspy, and his throat felt sore. He tried to sit up, only to discover metal clamps around his left leg and right arm. He struggled, pushing against them... and that was when he got his third shock.

His right leg was gone, nearly all the way up to his hip.

"What are you doing to me?!" He tried to shout, thrashing against the restraints.

"Easy, easy, calm down, you're safe..." The sweet voice of the angel woman spoke soothingly. A hand reached for a tube that was... going into his left leg? What magic was this? The hand pressed a button on the tube, and suddenly he felt very drowsy... the world started to spin away from him... 

****

Another voice, a voice both familiar and also foreign, pierced his dreams of a feverish ocean, churning with the bodies of Eshurg sailors whilst Antyan warships bored down on Eshurg herself. Bodies of Eshurg men and women, even children, floated face down in the cold waters, and the cities burned.

His eyes flickered open, and fresh memories flooded back to him - the voices, the angel, and his injuries.

He did not feel quite so inclined to panic this time. The tube in his leg remained, and the clamps were still in place to restrain him, but he had no desire to. He felt tired, and it was a fight to avoid slipping back to sleep.

As his one good eye began to scan the room, he noticed first of all that it was incredibly clean. White walls, punctuated only by what appeared to be glass patches (with flashing imagery on them) looked well-maintained. The room was quite large, and either side of him were beds, fitted with some sort of... mirror(?) above the pillows. To his left was a door that led into a room sealed off only by glass, and within that room, was a woman, sitting at a white desk, jabbing a stick at a small pad of some sort.

He recognised her - she had the blonde locks he had seen before, the face gently touched by the sun, and she wore a long white coat. She was deep in concentration, and he wondered how long it would take her to notice him.

Was she an angel? Was this Heaven? If it was Heaven, why did he ache so much? And why was he missing an eye, leg and arm?

To his right, was another door - but he could not see what was beyond the grey construct or white walls. 

The woman looked up, still deep in thought for a moment - but then she noticed him. 

Her coat billowed behind her as she almost sprinted from her office. The door slid open, parting for her (a most unusual means of opening a door - was she a sorceress?) and she slowed to a walk, encroaching upon him.

"Good evening. How are you feeling?" Her voice was so warm, and friendly, and it put him at ease, despite himself.

"I..." He didn't know quite where to begin. "I appear to be missing a few things." 

The angel woman smiled. "Unfortunately so. When we found you, you were badly hurt. What's your name?"

"Jim. Jim Harkness."

Another smile. "My name is Doctor Elizabeth Hanson. Can you tell me where you are? Where you are from?"

"Well, at first I thought I was in Heaven - the sight of one as lovely as you gave me strong reason to believe this - but upon greater thought, I do not believe God would leave me armless, legless and eyeless. I come from Eshurg, a land I would wish to return to, if I can."

Though she tried to hide it, Harkness noticed the quick crease of confusion and concern that furrowed her features, before smoothing out to the friendly face of before. "Well, I'm afraid you're not in Heaven. I haven't heard of Eshurg. What quadrant is it in?"

How could she not have heard of Eshurg? The Three Islands? Located toward the Eastern Rim?" Doctor Hanson shook her head softly. Harkness began to grow worried. "Where am I, exactly?"

"You're on board the Freedom's Light. We're heading for our sector command station. We're about four light-years away, so not too far."

Light-years? "I am... not familiar with that term of measurement."

Now she looked completely perplexed. "Well, that's the standard measurement for distance around here - easier than saying four hundred million miles!"

Harkness felt his chest tighten. Surely she did not mean to imply such huge distances were being crossed? "Surely you jest?"

"I think... you should speak to the captain. She'll be better able to explain this to you."

Harkness went silent, and could only nod. He suddenly felt very, very, sick.

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