Short Story: Collapse of the General Eternal
I wrote this short story for the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. Everyone who participated in the challenge received a prompt for their flash fiction(under 1,000 word) story, and we could choose to receive a song or an image. I love music, so that’s what I chose.
My prompt: Ghost of a King by Grey Havens.
It was my first time hearing the song. It’s achingly beautiful. You can listen to it here.
The imagery is so poignant I had to change my original plans for how I was going to write my story. I kept seeing this in my head. I would like to present…
Collapse of the General Eternal
Souls burned on his hands. Two armies…one survivor.
Damir stood atop a hill, his bones scorched to stillness by the view of ten thousand lost lives—a graveyard of his making. His legs could not support him. He fell to his knees.
The weight of taken souls would not let him rise. Not this time.
A ghost stood in front of him. The enemy’s king—a crown lay bent on his brow. It was fragmented. Jagged edges pierced his skin as if searching for proof of life.
“Aren’t I haunted enough?” Damir’s throat ached, as if desperate to believe this king had survived.
“Enough to feel the burn of their souls.” The ghost knelt in front of him.
It was not right for a king to bend knee, not even in death. His hand settled over Damir’s chest. There was no sensation of contact. Damir only felt stone beating within his chest, each pulse scraping furrows in his bones.
“I thought it was a gift—” Damir looked at his hands. “—But when the battles end I always stand here alone.” His gaze drifted through the fallen king, to those no longer breathing.
“You are not standing now,” the ghost said.
Damir tried to hear past the beat…beat…beating in his chest. His knees were pressed into the earth. Not standing, fallen.
He felt the fire wither his bones until they cracked. “…I killed you.” Damir’s hands remembered the collision of sword on crown. “Have you returned to haunt me?”
The fallen king rose to his feet. “Nothing of this world can save or fill you.”
…The wars hadn’t filled him. Neither had the victories. Now the fire of taken souls hollowed his flesh, smelting his bones to iron.
“But I believe men can change,” the ghost said, “and I always offer second chance. But to take it you must go where life holds death’s hand.”
Damir had heard how this king had always shown reckless mercy—even unto the distaste of his people. Something bubbled caustic in Damir’s throat. It couldn’t be mercy the fallen king offered. It must be vengeance guised as hope.
Because Damir had slayed his people. “You returned from your grave to walk me into mine.”
The ghost drifted away.
Damir spat in the dust where he had stood.
…But the stone in his legs groaned. Carried him after that ghost of a king.
The mind dropped tricks in merciless rays. Ghosts could not be of reality. Still, the fallen king did not vanish from his sight. Damir stumbled after him, through the carnage brought by his sword, despite the searing flame on his hands and the beat…beat…beating that pressed against his lungs.
Only wilderness lay before them. A destination did not seem to exist.
…Yet he couldn’t give up on following this ghost of a king.
His torn weathered feet moved to the beat…beat… The ghost stopped.
From empty horizon had sprung a thing of wonder. They stood in the shadow of an island held by air. Bits of dirt fell silently, as if slowed on a breath, to dust the ground. Orbiting blue encased its perimeter. It broke the sun into flutters of light, a section of it leaving the rest behind to greet the earth in a foaming rain.
The ghost of a king was silent. Too silent.
But the fire of lost lives still burned.
Damir heard that beat, beat, beating. His heart. It shoved against the embrace of his ribs. Made sweat rise on his skin. A thing of stone couldn’t do such a thing.
He glanced at the fallen king’s splintered crown. For a moment it seemed to have reformed itself. Then Damir was moving forward. Stumbling. Gasping.
His hands felt it. Sword stroke after sword stroke. Hundreds and thousands. Added up like raindrops to a storm cloud. Each one guided by his hand.
…Damir the General Eternal sobbed.
He fell under the cascade of an impossible ocean-in-the-sky. This could not exist. Just as a ghost could not exist. Not in the world of man.
Water thundered over Damir’s shoulders, driving his knees to the earth and expelling the breath from his lungs.
His bones were too scorched to survive. Damir pulled water into his mouth. Swallow after swallow. He felt the flames ease. Dissipate. He wept. And kept pulling the water in. When his stomach filled it ran into his lungs. His body tried to refuse, but he kept dragging it into his chest. It burned a new kind of fire. His vision darkened.
Damir looked out at the transparent king who had done the impossible in rising from his grave. A hallucination in death…or a wonder of life.