Fallacy of the Last War
-The City of Smaena-
The warmth ushered in by winter's closing always tends to feel like a soothing and thawing of the soul, it was reminiscent of a familiar embrace from a friend you haven’t seen in far too long.
The warmth that came after the long winter almost didn't feel real; it felt as though it was an illusion, another last desperate attempt by the enemy to bait us into a feeling of comfort.
All we had known for the past decade was a bitter cold, a cold so true that it creeped into your heart and filled you with lingering doubts, hesitance, and thoughts of futility.
But now that was finally leaving.The nostalgic spring warmth began to finally take hold once again, but after this long winter nothing would ever feel entirely as it once did.
What remained were confused and scared masses left to survey the ruins of everything they once knew; a permanent state of shock seemed malignant in the air.
This winter was unlike any other.
The war that had accompanied it was equally unparalleled in the unforgivingly wide scope of our history.
I had caught myself lost in thought about the ramifications of the past decade many times, and in a strange way I think the desire to witness what exactly the world would look like after this had been one of the things keeping me holding on.
Curiosity for how people would pick back up after such a momentous and universal disruption, it seemed like whatever came next would feel altogether foreign after being birthed out of such chaos.
I forced myself to refocus, however, there wasn’t much time for attempts at stoic contemplation, even now that the fighting was supposedly done.
Well above the city in a now half ruined outpost tower along the south wall, an unintended window made from crumbled stone allowed me an impressive panorama of the sprawl below.
I rose from my creaking dry chair, it cried for me as I rose, aching under the strain of its leaving occupant.
I noticed I had sunken so far into that chair during my contemplative thought that my back was now being forced to realign and snap back into place.
Walking awkwardly as I stretched back into normalcy, I crept over to the heavy oaken door and out onto the ramparts, greeted with a silent and forlorn salute from my men guarding it and standing sentry.
Looking out over the battlements, the sprawl of the city became a much less appealing sight, trying to take a quick tally of just how many houses were left in ruin eventually left me overwhelmed.
Like a child trying to count every rotten apple in an orchard struck with blight, being happy seeing the occasional glimmering beacon of what had endured, but crushed by the realization of just how nearly total the destruction had been.
The people were out in the streets at least, a welcome change that finally began to break the sense of panic that had permeated the city for so long.
Keeping everyone who wasn't armed indoors, huddled around whatever meager fires they could muster placed a difficult strain on everyone's morale.
Like the deceptive beauty of the city's sprawl however, upon closer inspection it became impossible not to notice how thin the illusion of liveliness was.
Wounded civilians limped along, wearing despondent and defeated faces. Dirge rats scrunched on upturned decaying produce carts and the occasional lone forgotten corpse.
Not exactly the site you would picture when your mind first thought of “victory”.
My gaze drifted from face to face. I tried not to let myself sink into projection, but I couldn't help becoming transfixed on a few of them as they scurried around on the cobbles.
A man with a ragged and faintly colored coat crawled around on his hands, both of his legs seemingly entirely gone.
Although at this point he seemed to have grown so proficient at his new mode of mobility he outpaced several others around him.
He wore a thick black beard and long unwashed hair which bobbed and flowed as he swung around on his palms.
Even though he was some distance away though, I thought that even under all the unkempt mass on his head I recognized familiar features.
A heavy brow, a wide nose, a heavily wrinkled forehead—had he perhaps been Patrus Tanial? The old breadmaker from the Stavak district?
If he had been, I quickly lost all thought of it as his still shockingly rapid arm-walking had quickly carried him down the street and behind the view of a large outcrop of ruined estate houses, forcing my gaze to another.
It was far off in the distance, but I did spot the unmistakable dark purple cloaks denoting the household guard of the House of Callistar, and the trademark outline of flowing white hair and well kept goatee that adorned the lord of this city, Davin Callistar.
He was a brave man to be walking so freely amidst the crowds, but then I had always held the man in high regards for his courage.
Many highbord Houses of the Imperial Candexese had stayed locked within their keeps and estates, high above any of the carnage on the ground.
They had only felt the war's impact through the most inconsequential momentary disruptions to their opulence, the sounds of the terror outside of their walls interrupting their plays and bards melodies.
Not Davin though; Davin himself, his household guard, and his personal contingent had fought shoulder to shoulder with the Legionaries here in Smaena.
He had bled with us, he had drank with us, and he had mourned with us. The death of his own eldest son Dernon had ensured that mourning was not unearned.
He had gained the respect of the imperials serving in the city, myself included.It was respect he had bought with his own blood, and the blood of his kinsmen.
Like the legless baker, however, my view of Davin Callistar was brief as he and his guard slowly marched down Central Street, eventually becoming tiny purple specs melding into the cityscape.
My gaze now meandered downward, closer to my position, hoping to find a target which would have a more difficult time eluding me.
A mother walked only a half block from the wall. An obvious limp hampered her speed, although the wound itself was obfuscated by a low hanging tattered dress.
What was surely once beautiful golden hair now looked matted and stained and clumped from neglect, and any objects of vanity she had once been adorned with had long ago been sold off or stolen.
She held a baby in under one arm, her canvas blouse ripped exposing a breast to the open air. Perhaps in another time there may have been a few young men ogling such a sight, but now nobody around her paid her any mind as she trudged on.
The babe under her arm was quietly sobbing, it was faint to my ears but I could tell from the contorted grimace on the child's reddened face.
The mother herself wore not a grimace, but a look that reflected desperation that was rapidly fading into hopelessness. It was a common sight on these streets.
The child under her arm was surely not her only, but I worried it might be the last she had left.
Stifling such a thought, knowing I could never know the depth of suffering from the eyes of a passing mother, I began to break my focus and attempt to take a broader assessment of the scene unfolding in the city.
Friends and family began to seek each other out, hearts lifted or broken further still if they were able to reconnect with those they had thought they had lost, or if their worst fears had been realized.
My thoughts had strayed there myself from time to time— thoughts of my brothers stationed worlds away in the frontier provinces. I was the only one who had stayed in Smaena with Mother.
I had watched the cold take her, knowing none of my brothers had likely received word given how limited communications had been during the war.
Though I had tried to shake the image of the mother limping down the streets below from my mind, she crept back in, reminding me of my mother, of our mother.
She would likely be down in those streets all the same, frantically looking for me, for Redricos, for Jastor, for Torian.
Gods, how long had it been since I had thought of my own brothers?
It had taken me a few worrying ruminative moments to even recall their names—had it truly been that long?