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The war has been brutal. The war has been bloody. The war has been long. He was just a boy when it began over one-hundred years ago, and even today, at three-hundred eighty-six, he is still just a child to his people.

 He watched as the trees and the flowers began to die, one-by-one, slowly at first but as the Tor invaded and killed and ran even more of his people out, they withered and crumbled and vanished with ever increasing speed. He felt the bruises, the cuts and can still see the scars from when the earth fell from the sky and crashed in place with the rest of the nations on the planet. Making it plain, making it flat, making it just as unremarkable as the rest. And he watched.  He watched. And he watched as the men with sharpened metal blades sliced and stabbed and tortured and murdered his friends, his family, his people.

 

“Take your brother,” his mother said to him. Tears were streaming from her eyes as she handed him the last baby ever born in his lands. Maybe the last ever to be born to his people. “Keep him safe.”

 She ran off with the other defenders hoping their courage could overcome the blades. But knowing it wouldn’t. Knowing it couldn’t.

He was ill-equipped to raise himself, alone and so young, how would he ever be able to care for a child as well?

He went by many names. Albion, Galvyn, Drem. They changed so often, out of necessity during the war, that he could never remember who he was supposed to be and rarely ever knew who he was.

“You are special,” they said. So it was important he kept himself secret.

Like the many droves before him, Drem fled. But unlike them he watched his home and his people die. The lands were once covered in greens and blues and reds and every other color imaginable, the waters were once clear and crystal, the animals were exotic, even to them. But the Tor ended all that. Everything living was killed. All that remained were the hollow remnants and the ghostly echoes that rolled across the scorched, gray earth.

Drem traveled north from his home, refusing to ever look back again for fear that he might want to return and fight. He had to struggle with that decision every minute of every day and still struggles with it today, but his life meant more to his people, and more to the future, than even he knew at the time.

 

Drem built his brother a home. It was safe. It could provide for him. And he promised he would check in from time to time. He felt guilty leaving a baby in the care of the wild, but the journey needed him more than the baby did. And he knew that someday his brother would understand.

He traveled north. The people were strange but clever. Ingenious even. They were talented and brilliant. They didn’t deserve this suffering, but they fought with pride.

 

He traveled north some more. The people were simple. They were caring. They cared about community. They were the most unable to defend themselves. And they were to quickest to fall.

He traveled south-west. These people were the most shocking by far. Their mere size should’ve given them the advantage to fend off the attacks, but nothing in their hearts told them to fight back. Drem felt for these people the most.

He boarded a ship, small, wooden and rickety, and sailed around the world to the south. The people here were separated from the rest of the world by any means other than the waters. They were cold. They were frozen. But only on the outside. Inside, their hearts were warm and they were welcoming. Their lands remained untouched by the invaders.

Eventually he landed in the far east. This is where it all began; the ascent of the Rhyes and the eventual war. His parents, he learned, started it all. His parents invaded the east and celebrated the Rhyes. They convinced the Rhyes. They, through their meddling with parts of the world they should’ve just let be, gave rise to the eventual monster that would conquer and kill this planet. That would subjugate its people. That would kill his home and scatter his people.

Drem studied the war and he studied the people, but he kept to the shadows and stayed out of sight. Many have been taken hostage. Even more have been tortured. But Drem, he would’ve been killed. Because the war was all about him and won’t end until he dies.

He, however, plans on living longer than anyone alive today could even hope for themselves. He plans on living forever. Maybe not in flesh and in blood, he’s unable to promise anyone that. But in spirit and in the minds of those who oppose him until his home is restored and his people returned.

The east is where it all began, but the east isn’t where it will end.

Drem had a plan. He hid the Rhyes and he wrote a book.

The Rhyes, he knew, would never be found. The actual balance of the earth shifted when he built their new home and he began to realize his power. But the people would adapt. They always do.

The book was a long shot. But he had faith in how simple and easy some people could be.

* * * * * * *

It isn’t snow, but you’d be forgiven for the mistake if it weren’t for the burning city. The ashes flutter to and blanket the ground. And where there were streets, is now inches of white ash. It could’ve been pretty, the way it peaks and valleys and the peaceful footsteps left behind in the night, if it weren’t for the devastation and carnage that surrounds it.

Drem’s hood is raised and he moves quick and quiet when he dares to step from the shadows. Caution, he feels, is his only friend.

He presses his body against the side of a house. His heavy book clutched tight to his chest. He stands in the apex of the shadows, his eyes focusing on everything around him, no detail goes unnoticed, as he listens to the voices. Dialect and tone can give anything away.

Drem closes his eyes and opens his ears a little wider. The men are Avran. And they’re friends. Or, at the very least, not enemies.

He traveled thousands of miles to get here. His brother, most likely crying, somewhere else in the world. If all goes well, they may meet up again someday. Drem has a plan, but bringing a baby was too dangerous. And Avra is the only place it’ll work. It took him a long time to get here. Too long.

There are only two men in the street tonight. At least that’s what he hopes. Drem can’t hear, see, feel, or sense anyone else around and his instincts are usually right.

He jumps from the shadow and pushes the book into one of the men’s arms. The light from the moon betraying the shade from his hood.

Drem can see it all in the man’s eyes. His face is young and not yet lined with the experience that comes with age. But his eyes, though bulging with fear, reveal a certain wisdom that one often only sees in the old.

Drem’s voice is deep and would’ve been powerful and commanded respect but tonight it only trembles, “Take this.”

The Avran grabs the heavy book before it falls into the ashes. Its leather is cracked with age and the rope on the binding is beginning to fray. The Avran holds it out in front of him trying to make out the embossing and embroidery on the cover. It’s from another time. Or, at least, Drem hoped it would give that impression.

The Avran looks back at Drem but he’s gone.

The human eye is a funny thing with the way light can play tricks on the mind. Drem stood still in his tracks, but seemingly out of view to his new friends. His tracks already hidden from the fresh fallen soot and the light summer’s breeze.

The Avran offers the book to his companion. They open it together.

The binding creaks and threatens to tear. Dust particles from the pages launch into the air and flutter back down with the brilliance of snow of a bright day. The language is outdated and crude and something of a time long before what they learn about in school.

The Avran looks at his friend, “What is it?”

His friend only replies with a shrug.

“It’s your future,” Drem says.. His voice as deep and prophetic as he could make it. The fear no longer there.

The words echo through the night, swallowing and surrounding the men.

And then he was gone. Forever.

The Ancient War

J.D. LaFrance