I touch the spot just above my right eyebrow and don’t have to look at my hand to know the warm liquid I feel is blood. There’s a dull throbbing at the back of my head, as if all the pain is locked in a chest at the edge of my brain, waiting to explode with the next impact.
My vision clears; I’m dizzy when I try to sit up, so I observe what I can from my position on the ground. The world seems to be enveloped in flame. It smells vaguely like the campfire we used to build every year when Dad took Jeremy and me to the campground. We were lucky we got to go so often. Most people my age have never seen a forest. Rows and rows of lush green trees are like an alien planet these days, so rare and beautiful it could drive grown men to tears.
I miss the woods right now.
Heat distorts my view of Lowell and the Everlaster he is fighting, however, it doesn’t look like he’s exactly winning. He stands with his left arm tucked in close to his chest. As far as the eye can see, skirmishes and countless battles are being fought between us and the half-humans. On the outside, they are beautiful, frozen and plastic. Their lives had been paused at the perfect moment, but not without a price.
I turn my attention back to Lowell. For a moment, he seems to be holding his own, even with a cut arm. Surprisingly, the injury doesn’t faze him too much; it almost seems like he’s thankful to have one less limb to get in the way. I wish I could help him, fight alongside him. I wish our society wasn’t divided, and I wish we could all come out of this unscathed.
But wishes don’t always come true.
One tiny slip by Lowell, that’s all it takes. The blond Everlaster’s blade swings downward, slicing effortlessly through much of Lowell’s right shoulder, revealing bone that’s impossibly white. His face twists in pain, eyes wide open, contorting into a mask that I’ve never seen on his face. A barely audible grunt escapes his lips, echoing with finality.
Something happens when you witness the person you love hurting. It’s white-hot and knocks you to the ground. The stench of raw flesh and hopelessness fills my nostrils, causing me to wretch. It leaves invisible, emotional scars. Sometimes, the worst pain is the pain that’s not yours.
I summon every last piece of hope in my body and stand. With difficulty, not to mention nausea, I half-walk, half-stumble to a nearby sword and pick it up. The Everlaster doesn’t see me coming, but I’m fully aware of her: slender limbs built for speed and at least double my strength. From behind, I still don’t have an advantage; her reflexes are comparable to those of a fox, but unlike her, I feel. I feel rage and hate and possess an internal fire hotter than the flames surrounding me. Above all, I have the ability to love, an emotion that’s been lost for decades. Lowell and I have found it, and I’m not about to let go. I need to be the one to make sure the Everlasters don’t live forever. And so I raise the sword above my head.