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|A short story! Shocker! I usually can't write short stories because I have a million other ideas and I want to write more. That was originally the plan for Ashes and Dust. I still have tons of ideas, like writing about Dust's past, but I really like the way it is now. I don't want to add anything else. I love it to bits!|
This actually came to me when I thought about the biblical thing 'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, evil to darkness. Amen.' It was in one of the Diabolo mangas. :P It got me to thinking, and this is what came out of it. I also wanted to write something that DOESN'T end well, for once! I made my mom cry! I hope you like it!
I'm putting a language and violence warning. It's still relatively tame by today's standards, but if you're sensitive to death and such, don't read. You have been warned.
I hardly know what’s going on anymore. There’s so much noise, too much darkness and too much light; it flickers uncertainly, flashes unexpectedly. I can hardly see two feet in front of my face, much less across the street to where the main focus is. Everyone is yelling, screaming, crying.
Ashes is crouched behind me, his bulk extremely reassuring. He has always been so grounded; even in all this chaos, he is calm and level-headed, barking orders at the others even though he is not the boss of any of them. Some do as he says, desperate enough to save their own miserable hides that they are willing to degrade themselves by following his orders. Most of them ignore him completely, as they have always done. Fools. They’re the first ones to die.
From where I stand, Ashes is the boss. I will do whatever he says, at least until we get out of this situation alive. Chances are I’ll obey him afterward too, but let’s be realistic for now. Focus on surviving till morning. Worry about tomorrow when it comes.
Everyone is dead by now. Ashes made a few bad calls, but most of it was the best strategy imaginable, and the others had been too foolhardy and had paid no heed to his warnings as they decided to charge the enemy. No one charges the army and survives. Ashes and I are the only Ringleaders left alive. What was once the strongest street gang in the Fifth District is nothing more than ashes and dust. Ashes and Dust.
We’re kneeling side by side now, leaning on the low wall that’s our only cover. It’s all over. We won’t survive this. We can stay crouched behind this way until it’s blasted away or the soldiers come and get us. Or…
I glance at Ashes. He looks back at me with that same look he had worn the very first time I ever laid eyes on him, the look that said: “This is what my whole life has been leading up to. This is my destiny.” We both know we’re going to die, and we accept it. We’ve each led a good life. Perhaps not a lawful one, but we had a blast along the way.
A strange kind of peace falls over me. I’m not afraid to die. I never have been, really. Back then—before I met Ashes that is—I just didn’t care. Life or death, it was all the same thing to me. I wasn’t even alive back then. I didn’t live, I existed, I survived. I was like a corpse, a soulless puppet controlled by the Ringleaders. Ashes taught me how to smile, how to laugh and even how to cry. He cut my strings and gave me life.
For that, if for nothing else, I will follow him to Hell and back if that’s where he leads me.
The army is getting impatient. They’ve lost a lot of men, but they still outnumber us a hundred to one. I don’t think they’re too pleased that a handful of untrained and undisciplined street-scum mongrels—as they like to call us—with inferior weapons could even put a dent in their uber-ordered army. Ha. Point for the underdogs.
Our companions lie dead at my feet. Damn government keeps coming up with new hyper-sensitive and ultra-destructive weapons. They probably want to be sure that anyone who dies at their hands stays dead. The Ringleaders are—or should I say were—notoriously resistant and dangerous, but this is overkill! One of them—he taught me how to throw a knife, but I can’t for the life of me remember his name—lies dead with a twelve inch smoking hole in his gut. Another—who used to pick on me because of my girlish looks before Ashes knocked out half his teeth—is missing his left shoulder and half of his head. Our guns only shoot bullets. Damn government.
I pick up someone’s pistol—they won’t be needing it anymore—check the cartridge and jam it into the waistband of my jeans at the small of my back. Quickly and efficiently—courtesy of many, many, many, many hours of training with the toughest taskmaster in history, Ashes—I reload both of my M11A1-Ingram Uzi guns. Ashes is doing the same with his H&K MP5Ks. As an afterthought, I’ve decided to strip this grenade belt off a corpse. I’m glad I can’t see his face, or I’d feel like I was betraying a friend. It doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’m desecrating his corpse, though.
We’re going to die, but we’re planning to go with a bang—literally. Those army bastards aren’t going to get us without a fight, and we’re both determined to bring as many of them to Hell with us as we can.
There’s never any lull in the pattering of silver bullets against our stone cover. Apparently they’re only using the guns that blast holes in you as reserves for when they have a visible target. Either that or they’re all out, but I doubt it. It’s army training that has the soldiers firing in waves so that one group reloads while another fires. That way, we are in constant danger of being shot.
A bullet whizzes by my ear very suddenly. I instantly swear like a sailor and swing away from the spot. Those bastards finally battered a hole in the wall. A stream of dark red sliding down from my shoulder makes my heart stop for a moment and I feel panic surfacing—I’ve been hit! But when I stick my hand in it, trying to find the wound and stem the flow lest I bleed to death, I recognize that it’s only my hair. I never should have listened to the others: “You should dye the lower half of your hair in this red, Dusty. It’ll look cool, like your head is bleeding!” I guess I won’t have to worry about that kind of bad advice anymore.
I’m ready now. Looking back at Ashes, I see he’s ready too. I smile grimly and hold out my hand. “Ashes to ashes,” I murmur so that it is barely audible above the gunfire. But he knows what I mean.
The look Ashes returns to me is half a grimace and half a smirk. “Dust to dust,” he replies solemnly, gripping my forearm firmly with his hand. I imitate his grip and we share our last companionable handshake. I didn't even hear his voice.
We’ve been closer than brothers in the short time we’ve known each other. Three years is far too short a time to know Ashes. There is still so much more for me to learn from him. I wish we had more time.
It’s now or never.
We can stay hidden behind this wall forever, or we can stand and fight. Either way, we’re going to die. The least we can do is die with honour.
With a superhuman effort—it’s one thing to know you’re going to die, but it’s quite another to willingly throw yourself in the path of a hundred bullets—we spring to our feet and throw ourselves around the wall, guns blazing.
It looks like we caught the soldiers by surprise because they’re still firing single-mindedly and determinedly at the wall. Some soldiers fall dead from our bullets. Ashes has terrible hand-eye coordination, but he’s the best sniper the Ringleaders have ever seen. I’m a fair shot myself, and it’s almost impossible to miss with such a large target. It’s a blast from one of my grenades that wakes the soldiers up.
Almost instantly, scores of silver bullets shoot through my body, tearing into my skin and burning me to the core. It’s not like in the movies where a hundred bad guys are shooing at one person, and not a single one hits the hero until he is two steps in front of them. At that point, he either dies, or he performs a miracle and kills all the bad guys single-handedly.
I didn’t see Ashes fall. I can’t bear to watch. If I don’t see him die, maybe he’ll live forever. I don’t even know if he’s been shot. It’s almost certain that he’s mortally wounded, if he hasn’t already kicked the bucket. Blood is choking my lungs now, and the silver is poisoning my veins. I can hardly breathe, and I can’t move. I see a face lean over me, pointing a rifle at my face. If I wasn’t dead before, I’m dead now.
He almost looks like he’s sleeping. The only time I’ve ever seen him look calm and carefree is when he’s asleep. The constant pucker between his eyebrows when he frowns is smooth, his face peaceful. If only there wasn’t blood on his lips and splattered all over his body. If only he wasn’t riddled with bullets. If only he were still alive.
I killed him.
Twelve days ago, I went to the District commander and told him that I was a Ringleader, and that I could get him the heads of the leaders. I had had enough of those bastards telling me what to do, treating me like I was worthless, despite all the loot I bring in. I was tired of being looked down on. All I wanted was to get away with Dust. He was the only one who treated me right, the way I treated him. Both of us knew what it was like to be despised.
He wasn’t supposed to die. The District commander gave me thirty-nine davvs, worth twenty Uzi guns, in exchange for the location of the Ringleader hideout. They swore by blood that they wouldn’t kill me along with the gang members. They were supposed to wait two weeks before attacking, so that I could get Dust out without seeming suspicious. They came two days early.
They wouldn’t stop firing! When it was just me and Dust, I wanted to signal for them to stop, but I didn’t want him to know what I had done. He wouldn’t have left me, either, so I couldn’t have told him to hide or to escape. There was nothing I could do. He had to die.
I didn’t want it to be this way. I’m glad his eyes are closed. I couldn’t stand it if he were staring at me, blaming me, cursing me, hating me. Haunting me. The sight of him lying there will haunt me for the rest of my life, I know.
I want to see his smile again. It took years for him to smile, despite my best efforts, but it was worth every second to finally see it. I want to see it again. But now I never will.
How could I have sold him out like this? He trusted me implicitly. He would have done anything for me; even kill himself, if that’s what I had wanted. I could have gotten him away. I should have gotten him away! Why had I waited? Damn the army! Damn them for betraying me, and damn them for not killing me afterward!
I can’t live like this, knowing that I killed him. Dust, my compatriot, my friend, my brother. I sold him out for money. For money! For something I neither like nor need. The Ringleaders had been rich, for thieves. I felt no loyalty toward them, but Dust…
At least he’ll never know what I’ve done. He died fighting by my side, just like he always said he wanted to. He’ll never know that his beloved Ashes was nothing more than a traitor. Even the soldiers are disgusted with me for betraying my own people.
I’m disgusted with myself. I can’t live like this. I won’t live like this.
Dust’s gun, which I picked up when no one was paying attention, feels heart-wrenchingly familiar in my hand. I gave it to him the very first day we became friends. I was surprised that he recognized it as one of the guns Neo uses in the lobby scene of the first Matrix movie. He teased me for using the same kind of gun as Agent Smith.
I’ll never hear him laugh ever again.
I didn’t want him to die. I would have done things differently, but Dust was one of the army’s main targets, he was that high up in the Ringleaders’ hierarchy, though he didn’t know it. I’ll never forgive myself. I won’t live like this.
I’m a coward. I know I am. I sold the others out, didn’t I? I’m too cowardly to live with my guilt. I bet Dust could. He doesn’t… didn’t know how strong he really is. Was. After all, he took on the entire army—the soldiers from all nine districts—practically single-handedly. No other werewolf, no matter how notorious and brave, could boast that.
If I pretend I can’t see the blood, he really does look like he’s sleeping. He’s always been pale, but never quite so deathly white. He looks like a ghost. If I don’t end it now, he’ll come back to haunt me, I know it.
They have him in one of those giant freezer bags or whatever they are, waiting to take him to the morgue or the lab. How often do they get their hands on a perfect werewolf specimen? The zipper is closing so slowly that I’m almost convinced that time has slowed down. I’ve never felt so old in my life, and I’m over two hundred years old.
My fist clenches on Dust’s gun. All I can see is his face. I can’t see the blood anymore. He’s not dead. He’s just asleep. He’s pretending to be dead. In a second, he’ll rip open the bag and tear everyone apart with his claws and fangs that never really disappear, even in his human form. Only he could make a massacre look like an intricate dance. He used to dance for princes and kings, he had told me many times. Now, he dances for me. I press the cool metal against my temple, hoping to ease the throbbing pain I feel deep inside my brain.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
Evil to darkness.
|Mage: The Awakening; chapter 6||Apocalypse|
|Witness of the World||Mage II: A Higher Power; chapter 7|
|Apocalypse: chapter 3||Mage II: A Higher Power; chapter 3|