flASH fiction: Volume 5: No More (20)

No More
Jason Pere

Aaron Luckworth was once again locked away with his thoughts. During his days in captivity he had been offered and unprecedented volume of time to reflect. He found that the mild indifference that the dragoon had been treating him with was sitting ill at ease with his inner being. While he had never been taken prisoner before, he had heard plenty of first-hand accounts from other Rayward soldiers who had survived capture. Most of the former prisoners had recounted tales of torture and interrogation. Their time spent at the mercy of some powerful adversary was a matter of one new breed of pain after the next. Aaron grit his teeth as he felt rush of the one singular sort of pain that he had been enduring for the bulk of his stay within the Red Keep. His cuts and bruises had ceased to bother him and now the only sensation that offended him was a guilty conscience. While he knew that it was absurd to envy other men and women their beatings and tribulations, he would have liked something to take his mind off of his mind.

The Lance Commander paced up and down the length of his cell. He walked the seam that ran down the center of his own personal prison where one set of stones joined the next. Eleven paces up and eleven paces back. The ritualized walking was the only kind of rhythm that Aaron was able to manage within the black confines of the holding cell. The simple act of walking was the one minimal barrier that Aaron was able to place between himself and a mind full of tormented thoughts and memories.

Today Aaron found himself fighting to keep the images of faces out of his mind’s eye. He could feel himself being pulled down in to a grim theater of recollection as his memories desperately tried to bring fourth the countenance of the men and women that he had seen meet their end during the crusades. At this moment he was fiercely increasing the tempo of his back and forth track up and down his cell in an effort to keep from remembering a dreadful charge he had led into dragoon pikemen four ranks deep. He had nearly impaled himself on a shaft that was almost three times the lengthy of a man but his mount had cleared the tips of the enemy weapons and brought him into the thick of their number. The knights immediately at Aaron’s side on that day had not been so fortunate. He had watched from the corner of his eye as a man heeled his mount forward only to have a dragoon pike slip between the edge of his helm and the armored gorget covering his throat. Aaron could still recall the distinctive cracking snap the knight’s body made as the steel pike broke his neck and punched through the back of his beast plate. In a few moments Aaron would have the knight’s name on his lips.

While he was attacked by the faces and names of those he had led to their doom, Aaron found that his body was body was now moving slower. It was as though he was slowed by the weight of guilt pressing down upon his shoulders. He soon realized that his armor was causing him a noticeable measure of discomfort. He had grown used to the feel of his second metal skin but as he walked each step further exacerbated the alien feel of his armor. His breath started to come shallow in his chest and Aaron was panting before he knew it.

The Rayward Lance Commander unbound the stained cloak from his shoulders and stripped off his gauntlets. As the metal gloves clattered to the ground, Aaron felt like he was actually able to wrap his fingers around freedom itself. He started to strip off the rest of his armor. As a serpent would shed its skin, Aaron Luckworth entered into a sort of transformation of his own. In a frenzied flight from the trappings of a life that had left him with scars on his flesh and a heart that hung somber he doffed his armor down to the last stitch. After a wild few moments Aaron Luckworth stood in his cell wearing a simple arming coat and his leggings. As he looked about at the collection of armor that surrounded him, the Rayward man drew in a sweet breath of air. It was like breathing for the first time after coming up from a dive into a deep body of water. Aaron started to collect the sheered metallic garments and stuff them into a tight pile at the foot of his bed.

During his tidying after stripping off his armor, Aaron picked out the distinctive sound of footsteps in the hall outside of his cell. He finished stowing all the remaining bits of a life he no longer felt comfortable in as the footsteps approached. The last item that he had yet to account for was his white cloak that was stained red with blood. He took a partial step towards the pile of discarded military dress but halted himself. He wrapped the cloak back around his shoulders without thinking at any great measure about the gesture. He expected to feel the cloak irritate him as his breastplate and accompanying armor had similarly done but the bloody tattered cloth felt oddly at home clasped around his shoulders. The scarlet stained garb carried a penitent weight with it but Aaron found that he happily accepted the burden.

The door to Aaron’s cell clicked and popped as the lock was released. The thick planks of wood swung opened to reveal Donakis standing in the portal to the hallway. She wore a blank expression, even her dark eyes failed to offer up any signs of empathy or emotion. In her grip she clutched Aaron’s sword, still tucked in its scabbard. She wordlessly entered the room and lifted the blade slowly.

“So your mother had decided my fate. I am ready,” Aaron said with heat on his face and a nervous bite of his lip. Though he had faced the prospect of death many times before on the battlefield the idea of being ended with his own sword held a bitter irony about it. After feeling the thinnest threads of hope dangled in front of him only to have them severed by his personal arms cut Aaron’s spirit as his sword would cut his skin. He swallowed hard and knelt on the floor, accepting the world’s refusal to peruse harmonious coexistence and mankind’s comfort with hatred of things that were foreign and unfamiliar. “Please just be swift about it,” he said as he lowered his head and exposed the back of his neck to Donakis. He felt a numbness take over his body as he readied himself for death. He was prepared to feel a shape sting at the back of his neck but instead he felt the pommel of his sword tap him on the shoulder.

“Your fate is decided, yes, but it is not to die now. Great Mother only asked me to return your weapons to you. She said that you are no longer our prisoner. You will work towards building peace between human and dragoon,” Donakis said with an undeniably amused glint marking her stormy eyes.

Aaron Luckworth felt like he was weightless and his heart was made of sunlight. He looked to the formidable dragoon warrior and then his battle worn sword clutched in her hands. “Thank you and thanks to Sia of Red. I am honored by her faith in my hopes and privileged with the attempt to forge peace,” he said with a vibrant life filled gasp of relief. “My sword though, I do not need it anymore.”