The Truth Behind the Flames. - *Movella of the Year 2016*

Before you judge me and tell me that it was all worth it in the end, ask yourself one question, one question only before you read on: what was it all for?

They say that we are judged by the choices we make. They are what define us and on June the 25th, 2414, I chose wrong.

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4. Into the Forest.

The forest enshrouded us as we walked further into its hold.

Letting my body shake with anger and fear, I made no effort to try and conceal my emotions from the boy who had saved my life. I didn’t care about what he thought because it didn’t matter; everything which had mattered to me had just been consumed by flames. I couldn’t stop the crushing feeling in my chest so I didn’t try to.

They were gone, now; simply ashes, lost in the wind. They were gone, simply now names on a list of the deceased. They were gone and now I was alone.

What felt like hours later, the boy’s voice cut through my thoughts as we drew to a halt beneath the cover of the trees.

“We should stop here for a bit,” the boy said with such certainty, I didn’t dare to protest. Simply nodding as an answer, I loosened my grip on him and slid down the bark of a tree, tucking my knees into my chest in an attempt to feel secure. We were far away from the flames but the burning inside of me only seemed to hurt more as the moments crept past.

Gazing despondently into the darkness, my tears eventually ran dry. Burying my head in my knees, I felt the wind gently brush over me – offering its condolences in the darkness of the night. Solely focusing on the breeze dancing on my skin, I drew myself back into the realm of reality. It took me a few more minutes to realise that I was shaking. The adrenaline had faded away, leaving me with the shock and the pain that that it had been blocking out.

And damn, it hurt.

Placing himself down next to me, the boy reached into a bag that I hadn’t noticed he’d been holding and pulled out a steel canister. With a soft smile gracing his lips, he held it out for me to take as I fought to keep myself from falling apart. I took it from his grasp without a word of acknowledgement.

As the soothing liquid trickled down the back of my throat, a small sense of normality and reassurance returned to my body. My vision began to clear as I sat back and let the silence wash over me.

After a few minutes, I finally found the energy to speak.

“Thank you,” I muttered – the words spilling out almost as a whisper. Not breaking the air of silence which surrounded us, he didn’t respond but yet I knew that he had heard me.

The absence of sound was comforting but yet the haunting crackle of flames loomed over me. Even though we were safely away from the fire, it was as if I could still see the flames. They were there, in the corners of my vision – burning away and looming closer and closer. When I looked, there was nothing but darkness but I could still feel the heat tickling at my skin.

Slowing my breath into a steady rhythm, I matched my movements with those of the boys. Chest rising and falling, I forced back the panic and focused in on the racing of my heart. The echo pulsed through my body as I sat and listened to the melody of wind and the remnants of fire.

I could still smell the smoke and feel the air strangling me but I kept myself from breaking – clinging onto the edge of the abyss.

Minutes passed although in my mind, it felt like hours. At some point, my eyes had slipped closed as the darkness greeted me like an old friend. It was quiet. It was deadly quiet as for the first time, I couldn’t hear the explosions. My ears were filled with ringing as silence reigned free over the land.

“So…” he finally began, “What’s your name?”

“Helena,” I muttered, “Helena Coleman…”  My words trailed off into nothing. I refused to let fear seep into my tone but yet it was still undeniably there; I was cracking, breaking apart at the seams but yet I refused to break. After everything that had just occurred, I had every right to be in the state that I was in. If anything, I was holding myself together better then I should have been.

“My name is Evan. Evan Daniels.” He told me, drawing out each word so I could understand. I had known him for barely an hour and in that time I had spoken two words. But yet I trusted him completely. He saved my life at risk of losing his own and to me, that made him worthy of my trust.

“What happened? Was there- Was there anyone else in there with you?” he asked, finally asking the question that I knew was inevitable. There was no way around it.

Evan deserved an answer.

 I couldn’t deny it anymore; I would never see my mother’s smile again or hear my father’s wild tales. Never again would I see them, touch or listen to the warmth in their voices telling me that I was loved and that I would never be alone. That was gone now; my life, my home and my everything were all gone, lost beneath the flames.

“Yes,” I manage to choke out, clenching my fists until they turned white. Taking a deep breath, I met his gaze before forcing myself to continue.

“My mother and my father…” I told him, trying to keeping my tone void of emotion and keeping the pain from bleeding into my words.

As soon as the words had escaped from my lips, Evan’s skin considerably paled. Even as he asked another question, we both knew what my response would be. He looked at me and he read it all.

“Are they-” he began but I interrupted, already knowing what he was going to say.

“Gone? Dead? Buried? Yes.” I snapped, my voice wavering under the strain of pretending that I was alright. Because I wasn’t and I would never be again. I was only fourteen years old and yet what I had seen today would stay with me for the rest of my life and it would scar me for as long as I lived. Flames entwined with seas of blood and the two people that I cared about the most brutally taken from me before my eyes.

Seeing the deflated look on the boy’s face, I could almost see the cogs spinning inside of his head. He looked remorseful but yet as if he was distanced from the situation. But also there was something else; regret and sorrow shone from the surface of his gaze. Wrapping his arm around my shoulders, he pulled me in close and held me as I broke down crying once again. It was as if a void had been torn in the centre of my life, leaving nothing but emptiness to remain.

“We need to find shelter,” Evan finally concluded a while after I had ceased my tears. I knew that he was right. The distinct chill in the air was only going to get worse. It dawned on me that Evan would have a home and a family waiting for him and that I was simply an intruder in his life.

I would have to find somewhere to stay.  I would have to find myself a job and a home until I was old enough to get away from this hell. I was not a soldier and I never wanted to be; I was an engineer, but more than that – I was a child and I was alone.

“W-What side do you support?”

I met Evan’s gaze – brushing away the tear tracks on my cheeks. Letting out a deep breath, my lips curled into a sad smile as I remembered the words spoken what felt like months ago.

“The right side.”

He paused for a moment.

“You know, it was their fault. It was the Rebels fault that your parents died. It was there doing and their mistake.”

Anger and pain welled up inside of me until I felt like I was going to burst. And then I did.

“I want them to suffer. I want them to suffer and pay for what they’ve done to me and my family. They’re not just victims. They can’t be.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want vengeance.” I choked up. “I want them to be alive.”

“Good. Hold on to that feeling – use it to fight.  I know a place; they can take you in and will look after you until you’re old enough to find a place within the ranks. They’ll help you recover and they’ll give you a purpose.”

“And this place, what is it?”

“A base.”

“Military?”

“True Military,” he corrected. “The right side.” I didn’t miss threatening edge to his voice but chose to ignore it as I began to cough. For a few moments, I felt as if I couldn’t breathe but then the oxygen came rushing back into my lungs.

“You need medical attention,” he muttered whilst gesturing to my injuries. “Come with me and let me help you.”

I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to be another nameless soldier but enough was enough; this war had taken everything from me and now I would end it once and for all.

No-one else deserved to suffer like I had. No-one else deserved to lose their lives for a meaningless fight that would ultimately end in discussion – not violence. In the end, someone would give in and then, finally, after years of senseless destruction, there would be peace.

With no other option and my mind still in shock, I just nodded – sealing my fate.

 At least I could do some good; I could avenge them in that way. If I brought the war to an end one day sooner then I would count it as a victory and a life well spent. I was sick and tired of standing at the side-lines, waiting for results and so now, it was my turn to play.

Evan had risked his life for me and for better or for worse, I trusted him. I trusted him to help me before I fell apart completely.

Lapsing into another round of coughs, I began to feel the cold racing up and down my spine. Evan seemed to notice as well.

Helping me to my feet, he slung my arm over his shoulder and began our journey into the depths of the forest – towards the beginning of my new life.

Pushing through the trees, together, we made our way through the forest. Bathed in the cold glow of moonlight, tears rolled down my cheeks. I loved them with all of my heart and I would never forget them but now I had to leave, I had to try and accept what had happened and move on.

But not yet; now was the time for mourning. Whatever the future would bring, I would be ready, because they were gone and I was not. They were dead and I wasn’t. Wiping away a final tear, I stood strong and refused to cry anymore.

Forcing my lips to form a brief smile, I looked up at Evan.

“Onwards?” I asked.

“Onwards.” He replied.

The forest enshrouded us as we walked further into its grasp but this time, I didn’t feel so alone.

Then maybe, just maybe, I could live up to my parent’s name.

And maybe, after this, I finally stood a chance of happiness. I let that thought swim around my mind before dismissing it and letting the darkness take its hold once again.

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