The Maiden Replacement
By Susan Franceschina
Blasted fate and human legs. Mirlaina couldn’t reach the tunnels in time. Returning from the underlands just as two once-unified armies converged under the enchantment of hatred, her oldest brother ushered her up a primordial tree before barreling headfirst towards conflict with a virgin sword reflecting the sun.
Oh, angels of the sky! The forever immortals, she thought, where are you?
Profanely bright sun accentuated the sweat and blood of warring men as if to cast shame upon the thrashing hoards. Wives and daughters huddled in subterranean tunnels, though the weight of armies above threatened to collapse security. Mirlaina was terrified for her people, sorrowful that her brothers were lost in the sea of swords and arrows.
White flashed and flashed across the vast battlefield to attest violet clashing against yellow.
It was the direst hour in Shrendian. The direst hour, indeed. The descendents of the curious souls who had left the skies a millennia ago to experience mortality were engulfed in a brutal civil war. A division prompted by opposite mythical interpretation of the angels themselves and the ownership of Rifaloque River drove them to bloodshed.
The maiden clung to the thickest branch, completely horrified by the scenes below. She grieved for the fallen of both sides, though more for the violet armored men of Shrendian. Oh, for the goodness of men! Oh, for the evils of men!
The high noon sun was blinding, the sky delving to visor possessors of hardened hearts. And no dimness, not one single cloud, would obscure the actions of a single soldier on the forefront of Shrendian. Mirrors, reflections clashed brutally, and the shattered sides fell. Another twenty bodies, fallen, half them clothed in violet.
Death was multiplying. Hate was multiplying. And the both of them fed off one another like immortal, cannibalistic underland beasts. Mirlaina knew there would be no victor, even if one man stood by twilight, breathing with a sword in hand. Only victims, no victors.
Above the clashing bodies, the statue of Angel Yestrin crumbled upon the stone platform, another casualty of war. The maiden cried out, hopeless that the symbol lay shattered to rocks and dust. The statue’s purpose was to stand as a beacon when Shrendian lay threatened. The eternal lantern glowed ethereal yellow from amidst the statue’s remains, but it was no longer held high between angel hands.
Surely, those promised reinforcements of the sky would never arrive. The statue of Angel Yestrin was collapsed, and the lantern barely visible through debris and moving bodies. And Mirlaina knew without a doubt that surrender was a concept unfamiliar to the roaring men, the men blinded by disparity and ambition.
Slipping down the tree would surely be a death sentence, but the maiden abandoned her green fortress in favor of the bloodied soil, in favor of charging towards the remains of Angel Yestrin. Somehow, she made it to the platform untouched, crawling over dead bodies towards the eternal lantern. Though she was a standing target to the enemy, Mirlaina postured with the lantern high in her hands, reaching upwards the sky with the beacon of legends challenging the sun’s angry glare.
Arrows zipped through smoky air, men continued roaring like underland beasts, and metal clashed and clashed. The immortal, cannibalistic feast continued, raging under the punishing sun.
The maiden who had replaced the statue of Angel Yestrin held her ground, even as the enemy drew nearer. An arrow pierced her thigh, but through a measure of self discipline unbeknownst to her, she barely flinched.
Burning with roots burrowed near bone, the girl maintained her suffering with foreboding dignity, selflessly bearing the beacon.
A man clothed in fluid stained yellow, an enemy, marched towards Mirlaina with sinuously curled lips. Blood dripped from his reflective sword as he carved through dead bodies towards his next target – the maiden replacement.
She didn’t move, save for erratic breathing. Not even as he goaded her with heavy footsteps, pausing only to trail his sword along her neckline, a perverse taunt. Hot tears rolled fast down her cheeks when he positioned his sword at her breast, ready to plunge into her life force, despite her best efforts to maintain a stone cold stance, despite her best efforts to mimic a living statue – an honest replacement.
“The angels will come,” she whispered, tasting the salt of sorrow entering from the corners of her mouth.
The man laughed. “You’re a fool for believing in such myths.”
“The angels will come,” she said again, possessive of the last word even in the face of death.
He braced his arms, his eyes laughing with premature victory – filth! But the sword turned to ash, black dust through the air. The arrow in Mirlaina’s leg followed suit. The sun was shadows, fast moving darkness crossing over the shocked armies. Lasting ash floated towards the swooping shadows – the angels!
Mirlaina locked eyes with the man, meeting his disbelief with her satisfaction. The land below was ash and blood, standing bodies, fallen bodies. The sky above was ash and swooping winged essence of creation. A sight to mourn and behold.
The maiden lowered her arms, sanguinely placing the eternal lantern into the gloved hands of the ash covered enemy – erecting an unadulterated truce upon the crumbled statue.
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Susan lives in Western Maryland with her husband and trio of daughters. Her stories have appeared in Wanderings and WEIRDYEAR
Labels: Susan Franceschina