Written and illustrated by Jesaya Tunggal

 

Flames; flames were everywhere. Fire crept up the wooden walls of the village residences, engulfing everything in its path. Buildings collapsed as their internal structures were eaten up by the monstrous, combusting energy. Great mounds of smoke rose into the air, enveloping the night sky in artificial, voluminous black clouds.

The crackle of embers spittled and popped through the air as the orange light of the fire highlighted plumes of dark mist rising from the burning town. And in this destruction, a single man walked the main road.

“Dear Goddess..! What happened here?”

The lone figure, clad in a heavy cloak and a traveler’s bandanna, had traveled to the little community on his trip to meet an old friend. He showed no sign of surprise at the carnage which surrounded him. Perhaps the scars he bore were too fresh, the wounds too deep, to elicit any reaction. The catastrophes of war were once more etched into his mind as he surveyed the damage.

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Charred corpses were strewn about over cobblestone, and the sickly sweet odour of burning flesh hung heavily in the air. Delicately, the man strode over the bodies of a family, mother frozen with infant, father clinging to daughter.

“Poor bastards,” he remarked, a sense of great sadness and disgust welling up at the back of his voice.

The little trading village had fallen victim to the raiding tribes which regularly made excursions into Westdale’s territory. At least, that is what it may have seemed like, but the stranger could not help but feel this estimation was misplaced.

He continued to walk the cobbled road. There were traces of gunpowder in the air, making its distinctive smell. The gored remains of the townsfolk spoke of bullets and gunfire. Unusual, for the technologically inept tribals.

Piles of bodies greeted the figure as he made his way through the town. Many had clearly been dragged from their homes and murdered in cold blood. Yet, their clothes and possessions remained untouched, as if the assailants only wished to steal their lives. A tepid, guttural feeling began to crawl at the back of the man’s throat as he passed the carnage.

He made his way towards the town center, flames framing his hulking silhouette against the huts. He ducked under a fallen stone archway, noting the burn marks on the stone which told of a heat greater than fire.

The horror continued to unravel. More victims, killed in the streets, lay ahead of the man. As he approached the town square, their numbers increased. Blood covered the stones, pooling in great puddles in the gutters.

The figure rounded the bend, making it to the top of the village’s little hill. The familiarity of the climb broke his heart. Flames went ahead of him, approaching what seemed to be a hastily constructed barricade. They licked at the feet of a dead woman, her slain husband beside her lying in front of the defenses. The smell of death, all too familiar, simmered in the air.

Slowly, he climbed over the ramshackle barrier, facing the village center.

“Dear Goddess…”

Tears welled up in the old man’s eyes, as he remembered the town square.

It had not been a good day for either of them.