I am weary to my core.
I walk through the crowded streets of Caspia, carrying both the weight of my pack and the weight of the dead. So very many dead… I had hoped I could escape their gravity by coming here, back to my family, but I cannot. Death, it seems, has gone before me.
I dodged it in the field of battle, but the bullet meant for me flew on, a thousand miles, all the way here to take yet another life instead. The pain should be sharp but I have been cut too many times. The blade of suffering is now dull. Only a distance ache.
I feel wrong.
I hear a child’s cry. I search for it. A boy of no more than three stands at the edge of the street, looking around aimlessly, sobbing. I crouch down, remove my helmet and pull the flower from my jacket.
“Oy, lad, where’s your mummy and daddy?” I ask. My voice feels raw. I have not spoken in days.
“Lost,” the boy whimpers. I put the flower into his little hand. The boy stares at it.
“Lost? Well hows about we find them! I’ll put you up on my shoulders, so you can see over everybody, how’s that?” I ask.
He looks into my eyes with a piercing gaze; it opens my soul, but there is nothing there to see. I am empty.
I hoist him onto my shoulders. He points over the crowd.
“There!” he says.
“Off we go to fetch them!” I say, pushing through the crowd in the direction he pointed. “Silly of them to get lost like that, eh?” He is quiet. I find his mother and father. She cries out in relief. I lift him off of my shoulders and she clutches him tightly.
“This little lad says you wandered off,” I say and wink. The father has tears in his eyes. He shakes my hand. My arm feels wooden.
“Thank you! Thank you! We…” the father trails off. I shrug and smile.
“No bother. I, uh… have a little girl his age,” I say.
The lie feels too real. Perhaps if I believe it, she will return.
“Don’t let them escape this time, alright lad?” I say, ruffling his hair and smiling my vacant smile once more. “Or I’ll have to rescue them again!” He giggles and buries his face in his mother’s arm. I fade into the crowd.
I go to her grave with no flower.