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Worthy to Follow

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Slowly, with gentle turns, Eurich slid the cloth around the rim of the shot glass he held. Before him lay a homey, inviting room, which though filled with tables and chairs, platters and food, wines and glasses, seemed strangely void and still. Not one person graced the hard wood tables, not one hand clutched the pewter ware, not one raucous voice raised itself in jest, the regular tumult and clangor of dishes and song, jokes and cries was gone. Only Eurich remained, silently going about his work.
In a jangling crash of glass one of his front windows splintered and scattered to the ground. A small, rust-brown rock struck the pine board floor and bounced into the counter. Eurich sighed and reached for another shot glass. The shouts and screams, gunshots and tumult from outside rose and swelled about him. A tear ran down his cheek and splashed in the crystal glass.
The fools! They fought in the streets like dogs, staining the city with an ever-growing tide of blood and death. His once peaceful, joyful streets now cried out loud of the foul deeds which they had seen. The very air was saturated with the violence which took place within it. His city cried out for mercy, its families begged for the return of their loved ones, its men either turned blind eyes or helped foment the violence and took up arms against the police… or worse: there were those foolish few, who attempted vigilantism in the vain hope of stemming the bloodshed. Generally these men lasted only a short while in the war-zone that was New Verestricht. They touted their morals, and their pride was their undoing, whether they fell at the hands of the merciless, militaristic police force, or the rebels they persecuted.
A cry drifted in through the window: “Hold the line! For Arrad!”
Eurich spat. They cried out for their precious leader. They fought in his name. They bled in his name. They died in his name. Yet where was he when they stood and faced his enemies? Where was he when their youthful bodies fell to the dust in pools of red mud formed by waves of their own blood? Arrad was artificial, a superfluous counterfeit of the man whose shoes he filled. He still talked the talk and followed the teachings of his forerunner. But no comparison could be made between the cringing creature which hid in the backgrounds and plotted murder and the noble, inspiring leader who had raised New Verestricht’s lower class to its feet, drawn them from the filthy mire of despair and granted them the hope to face another day, enthused with the dream of a time when they could stand equal with those who now oppressed them.
Eurich knew this far better than most. He had been there at the first speech by Bealtra, Arrad’s forerunner. He had felt his blood stir and pulse with the vision of a new world, felt his mind race through a thousand years of his nation’s past as the indominatable spirit of the Verdai people was extolled from the pages of history, seen the rising sun of a new day blaze forth in glorious splendor and shine down on a world untainted by oppression and discrimination. He had seen the police break up the speech, watched the clubs fall and the guns blaze, seen the young men, faces still alight with hope and joy, crumple and writhe in each other’s gore.
What dream was worth such a price? Could any ideal excuse such mayhem and destruction? What drove these people to raise up arms against a foe better armed, trained, funded and overwhelming in numbers?
He had seen so many of them die. And yet more always rallied to the call. So many rushing to their deaths, what motivated them? How could they give so much for a dream that would never be realized?
A crash interrupted his dark musings, and Eurich glanced up to see a dark form fallen halfway through the glass of his window.
He walked forward and found a young verdai, his wings torn and bloodied, leaning face inwards over the window ledge, his hands clutching the, still glass covered, edge.
Eurich sighed in sorrow at the sight and swung open the door. The broken individual staggered through and fell into a chair. In pity, despite the red armband signifying a rebel, Eurich poured him a drink and handed it over.
The man before him was young, no older than twenty-four, with shockingly blonde hair and a soft complexion. His face would have been a picture of innocence were it not for the crimson tide which ran down his features and soaked into his shirt at the base of his neck.
He drained the drink and then sighed loudly and cursed. “We had them! We had them at the southern street! Just a moment more and we would have broken their line! Blast! We broke like water when they came up from behind! Where was Jade?”
Eurich shook his head. “Probably dead, like most of you… or scattered like the remnants.”
The stranger glanced up. “Hey! Those are my brethren out there! Show some respect!” A trickle of blood spilt from the corner of his mouth.
Eurich held up his hands. “Doesn’t change the fact that the police are now walking down those streets, hunting them like dogs.”
“And you would have us lie down like dogs and submit? You a loyalist?” His eyes began to flame.
Eurich shook his head. “No, I support life.”
“Life? Is that what you call submitting yourself to those fiends, placing the management of all that you produce into their hands so they can frit it away to pleasure their own? Survival perhaps . . . living? Not hardly.”
Eurich shrugged. “It’s a life, not the best… but longer than yours.”
The man before him leaned forward and gripped Eurich’s arm tightly. “It isn’t life! It’s bondage! It’s submitting yourself to a power that has no authority. It’s sacrificing your every waking moment to a group of men who have done nothing to deserve what they have. It’s slavery!!”
Eurich turned his head contemptuously. “And you think that it’s better to run through those war-swept streets, bleeding and dying day in and day out, working your every waking moment, risking your life in every breath for a man that has done nothing for you? Is any man worth the suffering of ten? How about a hundred? How about ten
thousand!? The blood that washes over these streets is on his head! Every cry of every boy that perishes should ring in his ears for the rest of his, no doubt, long and luxurious life. Every tear that falls from every girl who lies across their coffins with a broken heart should be frozen in his vision. Every face of every innocent caught in the crossfire!”
The stranger let down his gaze. “You think we do this for a man? You think we enslave ourselves to a cause?” He raised up his eyes and fixed Eurich in their hard gaze. “Open your eyes, man! There’s a world out there full of suffering and torment, cruelty and injustice! Death washed over these streets long before we came. Not in the bloody battles you see now, but in the starving beggar who went to sleep in that gutter and never woke up, the weeping orphan who was hauled away to a prison camp for stealing a loaf of bread, the widow who dwindled away to nothing, existing on only what she could garner from begging! We fight to stop the death, to raise up a new system, one where all men may choose what they do with their property, where responsibility rests with the individual to make or break his dream, rather than a pompous government intoxicated with its own lust for power! We fight for our rights, and for our families. Every boy you see fall in those streets before you would rather die there drawing that one last breath of free air than live to see a million more breaths drawn in the shackles of slavery! Look at me, my body is riddled with holes. I’m dying before your eyes. Do you see tragedy and sorrow? Or do you see hope that another shall rise and take my place? If you only knew the sheer exhilaration of breathing air not granted you by others for one moment! If you could just know what it feels like to produce something and call it your own!”
Eurich hurled down his bottle on the ground, and it exploded in a tinkling shower of sparkling shards. “You’re all going to die for nothing!”
“Not if you take my place. If you or any other stands up and replaces me, then there will still be an equal number of us out there willing to die for our cause. Then I will have died for everything. I’ll have died for life. Have you ever seen the stars, man? Ever gazed on high at the mighty heavens? You can see a million worlds waiting for you to explore, to touch, to feel, to see! Were you meant to be chained here as a slave to society?”
Eurich dropped down into his chair and rested his face in his hands. “what’s your name, son?”
The stranger looked up and grinned humorlessly. “Arrad… And I see their faces. Make no mistake about it! I hear their cries. Their tears beat down like a never ending rainstorm on my heart. There is no way you can even comprehend the emotion as a soldier falls with your name on his lips, holding your flag in his arms. But still I fight for the cause, because every man that dies dies with the hope of freedom… as I do.”
At that moment the door busted inwards with a shuddering slam, and a police officer stepped into the room. He fired once, and Eurich felt a spatter of warm, oily liquid on his face. He cursed as Arrad fell to the floor, still smiling dryly. “What did you do? He was unarmed!!”
The police officer swung his gaze from side to side nervously. “New protocol. Shoot on sight. Are there any more, sir?”
Eurich sputtered. “More! What the… you just shot a man in my tavern!”
The police officer swung his shaking gun on him and glared through a splintered riot mask. “I asked you a question! You answer me, or I’ll blow your brains out!”
“Eurich spat in front of him. “You can…”
The officer cut him of. “You a sympathizer? My brother just died out there! Shot by one of them! Now you answer my question!”
Eurich, who was now standing behind the counter, lowered his hands beneath the bar. The sharp crack of a pistol sounded, and Eurich slumped to the floor clutching his shoulder. The officer, still shaking in anger and fear, ran from the door and on down the street.
Several minutes later Eurich, clutching a bandaged shoulder, reverently slid the rose colored armband, now pattered with rusty bloodstains, from Arrad’s arm, and placed it on his own. And as he breathed his first breath of free air, he felt a sweetness and a glow of life he had never before known. As he walked out of his tavern that night and looked up at the sprawling sky, filled with the myriad stars which signaled limitless worlds of their own, he saw for the first time the infinite and free vastness of life itself.



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