Indrani stood in the middle of the training arena, her figure partially slouched as she held on to her scythe for support. The lower blade of the weapon sank into the soft sand from the woman’s weight. Her bare shoulder pressed into the dull side of the upper blade as she forced herself to stand upright, marking a thin line onto the exposed skin. She closed her eyes and breathed in slowly, letting the warm desert air fill her lungs. It flowed past her lips in a shaky exhale. And it hurt. Everything still hurt. The rest of her clan had grown tired of trying to force their leader into rest, resigning themselves to keep a close watch on her instead. She did a very good job of ignoring their watchful eyes and focusing on nothing other than her breathing.
It was the middle of the afternoon, the sun was burning high and while a soft breeze was starting to lift puffs of sand from the desert ground, it was in itself warm like the air from a furnace. She could feel a thin layer of sweat between the palms of her hands and the grip of her scythe, she could feel the shooting pain trying to make its way to the forefront of her mind.
Indrani drew another lengthy breath. The air once again caused her pain on its way in and out but, this time it escaped past her lips in one fluid stream. She tightened her hold on the scythe, her bare feet tracing a line in the warm sand as she parted them, falling into her usual fighting stance. She held the scythe horizontally, the curved blades on each end facing opposite directions, creating a circle around the young warrior’s form. Her movements were slow at first, her body spinning in place, slicing a circle in the air around her. It hurt. The weight of the weapon threw off her balance, and Indrani stumbled forward like a clumsy child.
She closed her eyes again, breathing slowly, trying to push away her thoughts; purge the memories. And everything hurt. Inside and out. Indrani wholeheartedly believed that Time was capable of healing all wounds, she just wasn’t willing to sit and wait for it to run its course. No. If she could stand, she would fight. She needed to fight. Because at this point fighting was all she had. Fighting was all she was. And outside of it, nothing else existed. Right now, she preferred it that way.
“Remember what dad always used to say? The Commander’s life is the clan’s sword and shield. It’ll be your sworn duty to kill and die for every single person in this camp without thought or question. Are you sure this is what you want? Are you ready?”
Dastan’s voice had barely time to scatter in the winds and Indrani had already answered. “It’s what I want. I’m ready.” People could say and think what they wanted of Dastan, but there was no denying he had learned rather quickly how to command respect. There was something in his eyes, something very subtle, that just bore into a person’s soul without warning and demanded it. Most people hardly even noticed it was there, but Indrani could always see that change in him; the moment he shifted from her silly older brother into the Crimson Shadows’ Leader. It was infinitely harder to argue with him that way and undeniably unwise to try and make him go back on his word. That was why Indrani found it important to assure his final say here would be the right one. For them and for the clan as well. “Jackson is loyal. He would make a fine commander, I have no doubt about it. And if you choose him over me entirely on his merits, I’ll support you, but… We both know that’s not why you want to choose him.”
“You are all I have left. My little sister. Can you fault me? I don’t want to have you be the one to die for me. It shouldn’t be that way.”
“Dastan, we are the only ones left. We’re here only because we survived; remember you told me that? Like it or not, want it or not… I am your sword. I am your shield. Me. I’m the one who stands with you. Because we’re in this together. Because you’re all I have too. And that’s not a decision that you get to make. It just is.”
Dastan let out an unamused chuckle, all that sternness in his eyes gradually melting away. “I can’t argue with that logic, can I? And I suppose I’d do well to choose a Commander who can knock sense into me, huh?”
Indrani opened her eyes. Her steps this time more confident, more steady. She spun in place, the scythe slicing the air in a circle around her as though it was simply an extension of her body, her every move agile and graceful like a dance. It still hurt, but it felt normal this time.
Vikram’s laughter echoed in her ears and it immediately brought a warm smile to her face. She was still so young when Tarek had died. Vik was the first leader she knew and he… He was no warrior. He could fight; he excelled at fighting in fact, but fighting to him was a necessary evil, nothing more. His blades were tools of defense and not an extension of his being. Still, he was the first person to take her seriously when she expressed a desire to fight. He was her first real teacher. He was the one to openly speak to her of the purpose behind fighting, the consequences of defeat. Of Death.
“Do you know why your father tries so hard to keep you away from the front lines, Little One?” he had asked her. “It’s because he’s lived in them his whole life. He knows them like he knows himself. He wants better for you.”
“Isn’t what I want better for me, Vik? Isn’t being who I am what’s best?”
“In theory, you could say that. Everyone starts their path with the decision they feel is best. But the truth is that not everyone likes where that path eventually leads; who it turns them into. The question shouldn’t be whether you can fight, or whether you are willing to fight, Indrani. The question should always be why. Why do you fight? Tarek asked our father once, he said he didn’t know. That he just felt something inside of him, like a demon wanting to come out. It wasn’t rage, it was something deeper; darker. And Tarek said he knew that feeling, that he felt it and feared it. It was that feeling that made him want to drive his sword through a fallen man’s chest instead of offering mercy. Something that whispered deep into his soul and said; ‘it’s not over until all of them are dead’. And feelings are powerful, little sister, sometimes beyond any measure of reason.”
“But… Tarek never did those things. He never hurt any helpless men or slaughtered people when he had a choice to spare them, right?”
“That’s correct. He never once did those things. Because he knew why he was fighting and he made sure to not let himself forget. Forgetting can be such a tempting thing to do… Especially when…”
The blood was rushing to her ears, the sound booming within her mind like a very persistent drumbeat; heavy thuds hammering down at consistent intervals, drowning out every thought, every sense of rationality, driving her body past the limit of what she had initially set out to do. The double bladed scythe now shredded the air with an increased sense of purpose. Or at least something that could be foolishly mistaken for purpose. Fury. Unbridled fury.
“He’ll be back,” Indrani argued.
“A year’s passed. We looked everywhere. There is no sign that he’s even still…”
Indrani’s fist connected with Jackson’s face before the man could utter his last word. “Dastan… is… alive!” she spat.
Jackson’s eyes were soft despite the forming bruise along his jaw, his voice calm and appeasing as he addressed the enraged girl. “Even so, he’s not here. We can’t be without a leader any longer. I know he would have wanted you…”
“He’ll come back, Jackson. I don’t know when, or how, but he’ll come back. No one is taking his place, do you understand? Not even me.”
Indrani felt the impact course through her body when one of her blades met the first training dummy. The solid wood crying out in agony under the sheer force of the Commander’s rage and splitting with an audible crack. It hurt, but this time she welcomed the pain, she wanted it, and in more ways than one, she needed it now.
The darkness that filled the sky that day was unnatural. It was something beyond a simple eclipse, it was a mantle of shadows so thick it was literally tangible. It enveloped every single one of them down to the core of their beings. And what it made her feel was helplessness and despair, unlike anything she had ever know. The thoughts going through Indrani’s mind were an endless repetition of what she needed to do in the order she needed to do it; a checklist of how to save them. And she used it as a means to drown out the painful screams echoing all around her in the dark. Because she knew them. She knew every voice in that camp, some of them she’d heard every day of her life for as long as she could remember, but the fear and agony they now conveyed was beyond anything she ever thought possible. She genuinely didn’t know human voices could make those sounds.
She couldn’t remember lighting the fireworks, but they were going off. Deafening explosions shedding colorful blasts of light into a gruesome scene. Blood stained the sand. Maimed and battered bodies were scattered as far as her sight could reach; some lifeless, others still agonizing… And in the center of it all, surrounded by the darkness and chaos, was her brother.
Dastan was on his hands and knees, his form shivering, frozen in place. He had never looked this small and frail to her before. The memory of fighting her way to him was also lost, or most likely buried, but she would never be able to forget; as hard as she tried, the look in his eyes when she reached him. The panic in his voice when he begged her to turn around. Indrani never really felt the blade stabbing clean through her body, the only pain she felt was the realization they were both fated to live that moment. That this darkness might never truly leave them.
The scythe flew out of Indrani’s grasp. It spun wild and uncontrollably across the arena, slashing clean through the neck of a straw dummy and embedding itself in the solid wooden barrier placed behind it. The Commander had fallen to her knees, her breaths leaving her in uncontrollable outbursts, whimpers escaping past her lips with every exhale. Her own voice sounded to her like an agonizing animal. A pathetic, broken, dying thing that needed to be put out of its misery. And she couldn’t will herself to stop. She couldn’t will herself to stop and breathe. She couldn’t stop herself from being stuck to the ground, frozen, reliving that empty feeling of death sinking into her lungs.
“Hey, Little One… Why are you crying?”
“I don’t want you to die, Vik.”
“I… Don’t want to die either, but then that’s not… It’s not my decision. Death isn’t something you can fight; not if it really wants to take you.”
“For crying like this. I should be stronger than that.”
“Crying like this… Isn’t your weakness, Little One… It’s your strength. Remember what I told you to never forget?”
“Why are you fighting?”
Indrani was fighting the concept of time. The very notion of healing. Because healing sometimes felt just as hopeless as dying. Just as painful. If not worse. It was a stupid thing to do and in many ways, in that moment, she was exactly like an agonizing animal. Any intelligent creature would recognize a battle this pointless. Well, knowing something is one thing… Accepting it was an entirely different type of hell.
Indrani didn’t turn towards the voice calling over her shoulder but answered her recruit’s call. “Yes, Andrew?”
“May I, please… Help… You?” The boy’s voice sounded beyond hesitant and for good reason.
“No, you may not,” Indrani responded. Her tone was calmer than she herself had felt since the eclipse took place. It was almost like someone else’s voice.
“But… You’re bleeding…” He argued.
Indrani looked down, a red stain forming against the white of her shirt where her stitches had opened. “Not yet.” She heaved a deep breath and let her body relax into the warm sand. “I think I need just a little more time.”
It’s been a while since I posted some actual writing here and, I rather like this piece of writing, random as it is. I was just trying to write a little piece of Indrani trying to retrain herself to fight (she’s recovering from a pretty serious stab wound right now in the RP) and she ended up having some sort of PTSD episode in the middle of it. I just… Ran with it. >.>
Indrani is a character I feel I’ve neglected in SOF. A lot. And I feel horrible about it because her character development is a thing of beauty. She’s such a headstrong little pile of insecurity. All she wants to do is protect her clan and she fails so spectacularly it’s heartbreaking. Sadly a lot of it got pushed offscreen because lots of people and lots of characters and too many plotlines to count… *sigh* -.-
When we rewrite this I’ll make it right, I promise. >.>