SKY – Chapter 15
They said Sota had yet to awaken. Hleis watched her from her bedside. Her face was expressionless. She didn’t look pained, nor did she look lively. She just looked like a body, one that has yet to decide whether it wants to continue on or not. The doctors said that the only reason she survived was because her native magical abilities are eating away at her total lifetime vitality in order to sustain her in the present. Who knows how much of her life that will remain when she finally emerges from her coma?
The nurse told Hleis there were fewer than ten survivors. Most of them were mages whose bodies have undergone the same process as Sota’s. The regular soldiers who survived can only be assumed to have been exceptionally lucky. He asked her why he was one of them, and why he was the only one in good health. She couldn’t answer. He wondered why he was the one that received such luck.
They couldn’t keep him in the hospital past a week. His body healed too fast, much to the surprise of the staff. Veindelio visited him throughout and urged him to take his time, but Hleis would not. His parents were relieved to see him in one piece. The news had been delivered beforehand, but the simple sight of their son before them brought tears of gratitude.
Hleis could tell that the community had experienced a loss like never before. They still remained safe and their lives were as comfortable as ever, but the sense of emptiness in their lives left West-Hail silent and motionless. People only left their homes for the crucial tasks, as the number of families who shut themselves indoors to grieve was massive. Friends comforted each other once Hleis returned, but it was difficult for him to go visit others, for his presence reminded them of those they had lost. The families of his closest friends welcomed him and were happy for his safety, but he could tell that as they spoke comforting words to him, they were wishing that it were their children who returned instead.
Vayling’s mother was glad to see him, genuinely glad. She had been without husband and son since the incident and would continue to be without them until the end. The excitement she exhibited when her child’s best friend came visit her made him realize that he was not the only one who felt alone or left behind. He could understand how difficult it was for her to lose Vayling and she could empathize back with him.
Before he left, he looked over and saw Vayling’s old hunting bow leaning against the wall in the back corner of the entrance hall. He remembered when Vayling was first given it by his father, and how clumsy he was when he was still learning how to use it. An image of his friend briefly appeared in front of the bow, reminding him of the familiar face that he still was unable to accept was gone. The stress must be getting to him he thought, as he bid Vayling’s mother farewell to return to his own family that night.
“I know it was hard to visit the other parents, but it’s good that you did. It reminds us that not everything was lost,” Hleis’ father said at the dinner table.
“It’s hard because I know it was just luck. Even Cruntiq was killed by mastigs. It was all luck that I survived and not someone else,” Hleis said.
“Don’t think of it that way, Hleis. Take some time and recover. Your body may be fine now, but your emotions will take longer to heal,” his mother said.
“Let’s go on trip in the next few days. Just us. As a family. What do you say?” his father asked.
“I’ll let you know after tomorrow. Right now, I think I just need some more time alone. I need to think about what I plan to be doing now that I am alone,” Hleis responded.
“We’re still with you Hleis,” his mother replied.
“I know. But I mean a different kind of loneliness. Even though some survived, I can’t help but feel our town has lost an entire generation,” he said.
“Have you thought about what you’ll be doing next? Ever consider taking on my ship building business?” his father asked.
“Not yet. First I need to decide whether or not I will continue to be a soldier and if I’ll ever return to the battlefield,” he said.
“Hleis, you’ve done more than enough for the kingdom. You can stop now,” his mother responded.
“Preserving the kingdom is not something that I can easily give up on. It’s too heavy of a burden, too cruel a task, to leave to others,” he said.
“I’m sorry Hleis, but look at what that burden has already done. You shouldn’t have to feel responsible for surviving such a tragedy,” she said.
“Son, I hope this is not a matter of revenge?” his father asked. “If you still want to continue to serve, then have you thought about becoming an instructor or teacher?”
“No. That’s not it. This is something I learned from Sota and the mages, but I alone can take on the burden of many. I can’t make multiple people risk their lives doing something that I can do alone,” he replied.
The nights were quite as he slept in his childhood bed. Scattered memories and visions danced in his mind as he navigated through tumultuous dreams. The mornings still had the familiar aches in the pits of his heart, but they were no longer crippling.
It was two weeks since he left the hospital and wasn’t so hard anymore for him to force himself through the morning routine. It always started with the basic tasks before he would go on his daily walk. He found them to be helpful. Doing something good for his body had positive effects on his mind. He would alternate from visiting their old training grounds to the hospital to check on Sota. His walks often ended with him staring at the skies for hours, just letting his head go blank.
It was the late afternoon when he returned from this walk. Outside his house was a messenger dressed in a white officer’s uniform arguing with his parents. This man was from the capital and Hleis could guess what he was here for.
“Hleis of the West-Hail army. I am here to inform you that you have been summoned by the lieutenant general overseeing your army.”
“Did he say why?” Hleis asked.
“Your skills are valuable and needed.”
“No! He’s already been through more than anyone should experience in a lifetime!” his mother said.
“His entire unit is gone, no more, how can you expect him to continue serving?” his father asked.
“This is a summon from high command Hleis.”
“I know. I’ll be there.”
“Hleis! Is this really what you want to continue doing in life?” his father asked.
“Mom, Dad. I’ve been living the war this entire time. That didn’t change when all my friends died. It just meant that I’m the only one who still has to continue. And I know that there’s so much more I could do. That I should do, since I’m lucky enough to still have the opportunity to.”
“This is ridiculous,” his father said.