Hello and welcome to another "What If?" Storyline.
This story is based on one of my favorite video games of all time: This War of Mine. With the studio who created the game releasing a 2nd game "Frostpunk" early next year, I've been thinking a lot about my playthrough.
In the game, you take control of a group of civilians who are under siege in the city of Pogoren Graznavia, during a war between the Grazni government forces and the Vyseni rebels. Your survivors have to find food, water, avoid looters and snipers, and live until the end of the war.
During my playthrough, things ended badly, with most of my crew of five dead until finally Pavle took the child Kallina and left. The game's ending credits (After rubbing all the choices I had made in my face) told me that they had found a refugee camp and had waited out the end of the war. And that was it.
So I thought, "What if Pavle and Kalinna had returned to the shelter once the war was over?" How would the choices I made and the actions I took affect them as people?
Also please give the soundtrack a listen while reading this, I did as I wrote it and it added extra emotion. (Plus the soundtrack is enough of a reason to buy the game!)
Pavle walked down the streets of Pogoren, shuddering instinctively in the cold air and again as a soldier walked by, a Granzi soldier. He eyed the soldier's gun as his leg muscles twitched and his hand squeezed the hand of his companion tighter.
"Pavle… it's okay." The young girl, now twelve years old, coaxed. She had black hair that ran down to her shoulders and dark brown eyes that were wise beyond their years. Eyes that had seen war, and eyes that were afraid as she looked up at him.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he let his legs relax as he kept walking. Pavle had been a former football player and athlete before the war, and during the war, he'd honed his skills running through the ruins of various buildings looking for supplies. Seeing soldiers like the ones who had shot at him and his friends still made him want to run.
"I know Kalina, I know." He whispered, staring down at the child he called his daughter and wondering why she was consoling him. She should be completely ignorant of the war and his feelings and be playing with other kids, but Grazniavia's civil war ripped that innocence away from her.
As they walked through the streets, Pavle's gaze traveled down various side streets, side streets he'd gone down in the dead of night to scrounge for supplies or trade what little they had for food or water. What was worse than going down the streets was waiting anxiously for someone else to, not knowing if they were alive, until the door opened and they returned.
Until finally he and Kalina made it to their destination.
It was a bombed out building near the center of Pogoren, and it was hard to get to in even the best circumstances. He, Bruno, and Katia had found it after the pitched battles ceased during the first days of the siege.
It's near inaccessibility from the ground made it a perfect place to camp out, and soon it became a place they called home. The shelter was a wreck, but they built and repaired with the supplies they had, and it soon became a joy to have somewhere to live.
Pavle led Kalina over some rubble as he stared at the shelter's still broken door. Guess the repair crews haven't fixed it yet, he thought to himself, which made it better actually because everything was just how it was the day he and Kalina left.
As he opened the door cautiously, he inhaled the smell of the old wood, the mildew infested furniture, even the smell of decaying rats, and smiled.
He closed the door behind them, again resisting the urge to check over his shoulder for sniper barrels or pursuing looters, and walked into what passed as the kitchen.
It was a simple stove and fridge, but those two objects had kept them alive for about forty days. Bruno was a cook before the war, and for some reason, he could take meat, vegetables, old canned food, and water to make a five-star meal.
Bruno had told him once that a part of him enjoyed the food shortage because it forced him to be creative. For once he didn't have to throw out food because it was rotten or unappetizing, that food was all they had. He could stretch his limits and not be bound by the traditional rules of cooking, and he loved it.
The chef would flush with pride as he moved about the kitchen, finding happiness in his work as he created new dishes. Most of the dishes involved meat from rats or other small animals, and maybe some vegetables and fruits that they'd either found or traded for, but occasionally Bruno got his hands on a canned food item.
Those were the days where they would eat well. Pavle could remember the first time he'd returned from scavenging and handed Bruno a can of pastry dough, and the chef had spent hours in the kitchen before feeding them dumplings stuffed with meat and chopped carrots and onions. He'd even managed to sprinkle sugar on some apple slices and bake them in the oven, giving them a rare dessert.
Pavle stared at the kitchen for quite some time, almost hearing Bruno mutter to himself about all the new recipes he would try out once the war ended and he could open his own restaurant.
Shaking his head sadly, he walked out of the kitchen and climbed down an old ladder, wincing as it creaked under his weight.
Kalina, meanwhile, had walked upstairs staring at several faded drawings on the wall.
Her "aunt" Katia had managed to find some crayons in one of the old buildings, and she'd begun drawing on the wall to entertain herself.
The artwork included a drawing of her and Katia, a drawing of Bruno's restaurant, a picture of a dog she'd wanted when she was young, and several other scribbles.
She could always remember dragging one of the grown-ups to see what she'd added that day, and they would stop being so sad for a while. Sometimes they would even draw with her, and she loved those moments.
She glanced up at the highest drawing on the wall, which was a small sun, and she smiled remembering how Katia had balanced her on her shoulders so she could reach the top and draw a sun looking over the land.
Katia was the type of woman she wished her mother could be like if she could remember her mother. During the war, Katia would try to explain things about what was happening, instead of telling her not to worry about it. "Being a reporter" Katia would often say "is all about explaining what's happening to people. Your questions help me do my job better."
Kalina turned away from the drawings and looked down at her feet, seeing the hopscotch cubes that she had drawn. Since she was often stuck inside all day, Katia told her to practice hopscotch so she could become rich as a professional hopscotcher.
Pavle would often train her during those long days, teaching her ways to control her muscles and move her body faster, and she would borrow Bruno's kitchen timer to see how fast she could jump to the end of the squares and back.
They'd even made her a swing down in the basement to help her use her leg muscles, so if she wasn't jumping she was swinging.
Kalina bit her lip as she hopped from one square to the next, wishing that Katia could be alive to see her now.
The winters of Pogoren were tough, but the winter of the war had been horrible beyond measure. Snow piled up and over the door and icy winds crept in through the walls, making the shelter freeze.
Katia had been sick for a long time and one cold night she just didn't wake up.
Pavle and Bruno buried her the next day, and Kalina spent the whole day praying for Katia to get into heaven and become the afterlife's first reporter because prayers were supposed to help. Then she prayed that she'd become the world's greatest hopscotcher ever, and she'd do it for her aunt.
Pavle's eyes had landed on the radio on the third floor of their building, and out of habit, he flicked it on, hearing music fill the room.
His heart lifted because, despite all the bad memories, this radio had been their salvation. Letting the music flow into their ears or hearing news reports stopped them from feeling so alone in the world, and it gave them something to look forward to.
Hourly government and rebel reports, weather, music and radio shows, and even stations that tuned into the outside world were all listened to with intensity. If listening to the radio was an addiction, they'd all indulged it daily.
He walked over to the workbench that was to the left of the radio, sitting down in the chair and exhaling slowly at the sight of the dusty tools and scrap metal. How many times had he cursed like a sailor on this very spot? He was the only one who knew anything useful about tools and fixing things, and he'd warred with the workbench just to scrape by half done repairs with the stuff they had. He'd built water filters, animal traps, even repaired their heater when it broke on this very spot with nothing more than spare parts and ingenuity. The second the war had ended, he'd gone to a hardware store and just marveled at how many tools and parts there were to do the jobs he had done with almost nothing.
Then his eyes turned towards the three beds that rested in the corner and he wished their occupants could be here now.
Katia had frozen to death, and he and Bruno had blamed themselves.
They could have scavenged harder, found more wood, cuddled with her! Done anything to make the shelter warmer so she'd still be alive!
It felt good to be angry over Katia's death because he could have prevented it… not like Bruno's or Arica's.
Arica was a former thief who'd been trapped in Pogoren during the war, and after finding it hard to compete with bands of looters on the streets, she'd come to their door and asked for a place to stay.
Kalina loved her stories of bravery and daring, and for the first time since Katia's death, he'd seen her smile. Soon Kalina was calling Arica her 'aunt' and they were inseparable.
Until a scavenging mission had gone wrong and looters had killed her during a city-wide crime wave. When she didn't return, Pavle and Kalina had waited by the radio for any news, until a man with a tinny voice read the names of those lost during the night.
Arica's name was one of the first they'd heard, and Kalina fell into a depression again. She barely ate, stopped drawing or playing, and spent most of her days huddled in a sobbing ball.
Not that her barely eating mattered, they were running low on food anyway.
Pavle had gotten sick a few nights ago, and with Bruno being the only healthy one, he was forced to brave the city to find anything he could.
Looters shot him in the back as he tried to flee an abandoned church, and he didn't even take anything.
Exhaling slowly and letting tears fall at the memories, Pavle shook his head angrily, sitting down on one of the beds and wishing the survivors he called his friends were still alive.
"Pavle? Are you okay?" Kalina asked, walking down the stairs and towards him slowly.
"I am honey." He answered, reaching over to hug her.
She rested her head on his chest with a sigh, listing to his heartbeat. "I miss my aunts and Bruno… It doesn't seem right that the war ended but they aren't here."
"I know" He whispered, holding her tightly.
After Bruno had died, Pavle had taken Kalina away from the shelter. There were too many bad memories and too little food for them to stay any longer. They'd waited out the rest of the war at an international refugee camp and that led them to now, visiting their shelter one last time.
The war had shaped them, molding and breaking them at will, making them different people and stronger people.
Standing, Pavle grabbed Kalina's hand and took one last look around. Like everything else damaged by the war, the building was going to be torn down and replaced with a newer model.
If only emotions and people could be fixed the same way.
It didn't matter now because they were going to Europe. Kalina was going to school and he was going to join a soccer team in whatever position they would have him in, then they'd try to get back to a normal life and forget the war.
He grabbed the radio before leaving, tucking it under his arm without a word as they left, taking with them the only object that provided any comfort during those troubling times.
That, and the memories of the people they'd lost in the war they could call their own.
Kalina took one last look back before turning away, praying that her aunts could see her from wherever they were.
Then they left, letting the soldiers escort them from Pogoren, away from Graznavia, and hopefully away from any more war.
I hope you enjoyed the story!
It is almost a certaintly that I will be doing a second playthrough soon, so please let me know if you want me to write the results of that one out.
As always please leave a review, feel free to check out my other works, and have a great day!