Chapter 000

"A red sky…" Atticus said when he looked up and saw pure crimson instead of what was supposed to be a starless, black night. Burning land could be seen in the distance as he stared out onto the lifeless battlefield. Bodies were scattered everywhere and were starting to stink from all the heat from the fire around them. Pools of blood stained the ground and turned it as red as the sky above. He staggered over to where a lone tree was left standing and slid down its trunk. It was bare as if it was going through a harsh winter even though there never was a winter here. However, the trunk was cool for a night so ripe with torridity, and it felt numbingly relieving as he laid his head back onto its soft white skin. He ran his hands through his sleek black hair, now covered in dirt, and ignored the warm blood streaming down his young, angular face. His eyes stared blankly into the distance as if mesmerized by the dancing flames, but they suddenly jolted back to life as they landed on an all too familiar piece of shattered armor. He quickly closed them and turned away as the painful memory of what happened flooded his mind like acid. He sighed despairingly as he replayed the scene that caused all this chaos before him. Black knights came out of nowhere and attacked him and his troops while they were coming from a mission. They were new weapons- sudden, vicious, and destructive. He told his soldiers to stand their ground as they always did with waves of attack. However, he underestimated the enemy. Waves of blood flew before his eyes only seconds after they engaged as the Knights tore through his soldiers like a flood. He could only watch as the knights' maces decimated any attempts to defend with their darkness infused blades. He remembered that he barely managed to stay alive when he battled them, even though he killed them all, in the end. However, he knew their aim wasn't him. It was his soldiers. They knew that the life of his people means more to him than his own. They knew it all too well.

"Only 62 and getting old already?" he said with a smirk, hopelessly trying to push back the pain. Atticus then proceeded to stand up, but fell when his legs suddenly gave out from under him. He breathed heavily as his body fatigued under the searing strain of his injuries and the heavy red and black armor weighing down his chest. Agony and frustration crept over him once more and he shouted with hopelessness.

"Damn it!" he cried out in agonizing rage and punched the ground with his scarred hands. "Why can't I be stronger!" His head fell as his voice was absorbed by the dark, glowing night.

Then, he remembered it.

It could end this once and for all. I could save my people. They wouldn't have to deal with this anymore, he thought. But he hesitated. He knew if the operation failed, he would be killed. He would be abandoning his people and all they fought for in this war. Countless times he has had this argument with himself. Starting today, he had enough.

I know, but this is the only way... I have decided.

He shifted his weight slowly and fell down on his side. He flinched and cried out as he felt his broken left arm retaliating against the sudden crash, sending a wave of pain as if a stick had been driven in it. However, he continued to turn over and started to crawl. His hands and legs shook while they dragged the heavy armor that was tightly strapped around him, slowly advancing him towards a black piece of shattered armor. Suddenly, his left hand lost it's strength and slipped out from under him. Another wave of pain coursed through his arms but he took no notice this time and continued with only his right arm. He didn't even notice when it went numb and was limping at his side. All he could think about was his goal. When he reached the armor, he looked inside and saw the dark crimson hue of blood stained inside it. He collapsed on the ground as the liberating feeling of relief came over him and he smiled weakly.

Finally, I made it...

With his right arm, he reached out towards the armor. He grabbed it but his hands were too unsteady, letting it drop again and again. Eventually, with the last of his will, he forced his hands to stop shaking and stuffed the piece of armor into his pocket before his strength ran out.

Can't turn back now. He rolled over on his back and sighed a sigh of relief. Only fate can decide what happens now...

His hand passed over his chest-plate, touching the golden crest of his country, now chipped and covered with dirt and blood. Fatigue finally caught up with his body and he closed his eyes, allowing relaxation to flow through him. A memory of his wife shining the crest before he set out appeared before his mind. Her hands passed over it gingerly, trying to remember the feel before what may be the last time they do so. Her beautiful ruby eyes, dulled from its past sparkle by the stress of war, looked at it with such loving sadness. A tear couldn't help but escape down his cheek before the image was finally absorbed into the depths of the slumber that came upon him.

Natalia... it's for the best...