If not this year, then the next.

If not that year, then the next.

I will go. I will compete.

I want to compete.

I need to compete.

...But which is better?—want, or need?

I want it, I want it so badly; that cannot be denied; I wish to be there, the Guard member holding the rifle still and proud—others may shrug, shrug and call it easy, but we know better—we saw the blood, smeared black over our skins.

It stung.

I watch, I can only watch, now, for I cannot look away—without a glance downward I see the blood dripping through my fingers, soiled black on my joint; see the tears that ran down, so that I tasted the salt with sweat; a cold, hot flavor.

What is this sense of longing?—tugging at my veins?—freezing my blood, to ice?

I should be there. I shouldn't be there.

Harder, harder; practice harder; we have no ease here, no rest, for the sun bobs above our heads, golden hot; the blood, the sweat, the tears—they stain the mountain we rush about, to the sky, to the sun we go; bodily fluids, hot and sweet, soak the earth beneath our drilled feet, beneath our clambering hands—we slip, we slip, we catch ourselves and push on.

Don't wait for me, those who are above; go on, for I know you would never leave me behind, as my heart bursts with a scream, protesting—I wanted it, I wanted it as much as you, if not more, but I don't deserve—I want, I don't deserve—

Pain, pain, a burning in the eyes; I watch you, comrades, teammates, partners in crime; I long to be with you, on the journey to conquer that sun, that great gassy orb hanging in the blue; don't wait for me, go on, I will catch up, I will go with you, this year or the next; hope, the cruel, beautiful thing that is set into our minds; two years more, please, please, reach it, as hope scratches at the door, poking its mask through the window.

I'm crying, I'm crying again, look away, do not see these tears of want, they will soon be tears of joy, after the blood has spattered over the marble floors, glowing; the hall of mirrors, in all its sunlit glory, is white with cold. You have given more; I have given less. Do not wait for me, as I pursue you; I will catch up; I will join you—oh please, please accept me, when the time comes, when I have given enough, when this body barren of strength finds the spirit for the last inch, the last mile, whatever is there—then I shall join you, and we will go to the top together, marching and singing, of how the sun dangles above—then, shall I find the bliss of fire. Blue fire, red fire—yes, red fire, red as the meager cords bound about our shoulders.

I want, I want, I want, I want—I want—

No, no, go. I want—I will have—see my blood?—see it smearing black, over this rifle in my hand?—see the tip, pressed against my arm, metal sucking at my flesh, looking for that strength, that effort—

You are so far!—don't go—come back—no, go, go, go—go, no...go, and when you rest, I will see your spoils, what those hands of yours have wrought; oh, I envy you, how I envy you! Will I do more than cry, and practice, and watch blankly as the cracks in my skin leak the ruby crimson, ruby crimson, red, scarlet—blood red—of blood?

Oh, my rifle; how heavy it is in my hand—no, it has not fallen, for I am climbing, struggling; just a little longer, a day, a week, a month, a year more! Do you see the eyes of the enemy, my enemy, your enemy, our enemy?—they stare, eyes and dead as ours, for those are the ashes concealing the embers, white ashes...with what passion they burn!

They compete with you, and I watch; I watch, and I walk, walk towards you; I almost cannot see you. How far must I run? The rifle is warm as blood in my hands, warm as the earth beneath our feet. Competition awaits; compete, I must, if I work harder; for I must work harder, I must compete, I want, I need, or I shall go mad with thirst!

One competition a year; four years. I must hurry.

We are young, we are strong, our competition is with each other, on our way to the sun, or at least that is what we want, for I know not of the enemy's desire; do not wait, my friends; stand together, and do not scatter, and I know you will not, as I march towards you, hands cracked and bleeding, red and pink. If not this year, then the next, for I will reach you, and I will do whatever, for you are there, above me, and I want, I need, to fight with you—what does it matter, in want or need?—I wish to be there, with you, and I crave it, the heat of the sun.

I will be there. I will bleed more, more, and someday, some year, I will lie down with the rest with you, beneath the blood-warm sun, watching the scars with bliss, bold and beautiful.