World On Fire
Ashes, ashes, they all fall down…
He was on a small, nondescript aircraft that shuddered violently not with turbulence but with age. Propellers thrummed steadily, thought he'd not be surprised if the plane took a sudden nosedive that brought him and the other passengers to their demise. In fact, he'd not be surprised—he'd be elated to die. The young man had never understood when people said "Life is pointless" but at that exact moment, he did. He questioned the existence of anything and everything, shaken—literally and figuratively—by a particular event that happened four hours ago. The haunting smell of smoke filled the plane, but the smoke rose and lingered in the air from the smoldering ruins of London, miles behind them. The orange glow of the burning city was visible when one turned around and pressed his face to the thin glass window. Ah, but it was behind him now, as was history, and that he'd not be able to change. The young man would not ever return, not in the near future, at least. His prayed hard for death to a god he didn't believe in, a strangely paradoxical but desperate action. May his life be cut short by glorious, divine intervention.
The plane gave a sudden drop and jolted unsteadily from side to side, though the man was thoroughly unbothered by this—he'd sailed the Seven Seas, from the rancorous North Sea to the calm waters of the Caribbean during a sunny day.
Arthur Kirkland let out a heavy sigh. London was ablaze. It wasn't his fault. His heart was heavy and he felt ill, but he could not look back at the glow without feeling an overwhelming need to vomit. Snivels and sniffles came from various parts of the dark plane, with only twenty or so passengers fortunate enough to take the last plane to God knows where. Arthur's stiff upper lip was unyielding to such emotion. Of all of them, he was hurting the most. The emotions would all unravel soon enough, like a carpet. A tug of a string was destructive, having a similar effect to a bomb's. Arthur let his eyes fall closed and leaned against the threadbare seat. Days had passed since he had closed his eyes for more than twenty minutes. Where was he headed? He did not know. By the looks of it, France—they flew southeast. Paris, Arthur hoped, if Paris hadn't been wiped off the face of the earth yet. Arthur allowed his consciousness to falter, and in that medium between sleep and awareness, inane thoughts bloomed and withered—but he remained in that state, tortured by dreams so realistic that they existed even after he opened his eyes, nightmarish illusions. It dawned on him—he was on flat ground. Arthur peered out the window. Paris was in shambles, razed to the ground with a few buildings and houses surviving, and even fewer survivors. Paris was not a land of dust, but wreckage was all over the place like a broken jigsaw puzzle. Among those pieces survivors milled around. The Eiffel tower leaned like the tower of Pisa, casting a long shadow that split the city in half, courtesy of the moon.
Arthur disembarked the plane and isolated himself from his fellow Britons, stepping over fresh bodies and wreckage as he ambled to Francis' house, just ahead. He avoided the gazes of all survivors. Arthur was not here to count the dead, he was here to…Arthur swore under his breath as another existentialist question arose. Why was he here, in Paris, his nemesis' territory? Arthur's boot hit a puddle of blood that had a color strikingly similar to that of a wine. Arthur snorted as he realized this was very appropriate, considering the face he was in that wino's territory. He approached Francis' mansion, intact but shrouded with cinders.
Arthur kicked the front door open, unwilling to wait for the lazy Francis to mosey over and open the door, giving a lengthy, mocking interrogation before letting him in. Arthur was desperate for sleep and had no choice but to remain in filthy Paris until further notice.
"Oh, bonjour, Arthur." Francis greeted. He was sprawled on the lounge in his living room; bottle of luxurious wine in hand and fresh tears glimmering on his cheeks. His judgment was warped by alcohol, though Arthur was stricken by how mournful Francis looked. The kind of sadness that went well beyond the superficialities of tears and knitted eyebrows, the type of grief that opened up a new wound that would fester with time.
"Francis." Arthur greeted curtly. Francis watched him coolly and wiped a few tears away with the tie that was undone around his neck. Arthur wanted to sling it off of Francis' neck and tie a noose for himself. His eyes strayed to the ornate chandelier that hung above them precariously. Arthur, resourceful by nature, was highly capable of committing suicide.
"Why are you here?" Francis asked blankly. His blue eyes were glassy, rimmed with red. No mentions of French magic, wine, sex, or any attempts to further irk the irritable Arthur.
"London is dead." Arthur mumbled, letting his heavy body to fall onto a dusty couch that groaned under his weight. He ran a hand through his ash blond hair, feeling sicker than ever. Sick with rage, ill with incensement at his life, at the circumstances that rose like brick walls around him. At the feeling of asphyxiation. And London…beautiful London. A cultural center, a stronghold, reduced to ashes. Arthur composed himself before any tears even dared to spring up in his forest green eyes. Arthur subtly cleared his throat.
"So is Paris." Francis gave a dry chuckle and gestured vaguely to the ruins outside his cracked window. He took a long swig of a wine bottle and made a sound that was a cross between a chuckle and sob, though more of the latter. In a genuinely anguish tone, Francis added, "What are we but poor, suffering men?"
Arthur almost laughed, but his throat was too tight and dry. Francis' strong French accent and the words brought back memories of all the wars they'd fought.
"Humanity is a lie." Arthur spat, throat tightening. He shifted his gaze away from Francis' and looked out the window, blinking hurriedly. "It'd be better if we died."
"Soon enough, Arthur." Francis agreed.
Vash Zwingli was starving, exhausted. All of his limbs were screeching with pain, and his lungs were so full of dust and ash he could only take a few shallow breaths without succumbing to a coughing fit that became so violent he'd almost faint. A splitting pain erupted in his lungs each with each pitiful breath. Blisters on his hands seeped fluid generously from the burns he had sustained in pulling survivors from blazing rubble. In retrospect, that was a pointless act. They died soon after from choking on cinders. Vash had the sweat of the dead on his hands, he had their last breaths on his clothing, but no last words in mind. Vash sat on a chunk of cement next to Liese, pallid as the ashes that blanketed Zurich. Vash raised his aquiline eyes, a marvelous jade green, to the heavy sky and shifted his gaze to Liese. She surveyed the valley they were trapped in, the mass grave they'd soon be a part of. Liese had not once complained of hunger, pain, exhaustion. She was extremely hardy, and did not faint or shed a tear when they discovered a mass of bodies under a crucifix that had been the centerpiece of the church in that small town. Vash had been distinctly unsettled by that discovery, but he'd seen significantly worse.
Vash grabbed his adoptive sister's hand and pulled her up. She was weighed down by the backpack full of food, water, and other things they had salvaged before they were pounded into the ground by bombs. They had to escape before the smog choked them to death.
"We're leaving." Vash said. Why he had been sitting around in blazing Zurich, acrid smell of ash and burning stinging his eyes? Numbness, physical pain.
"Where are we going?" she asked, looking him straight in the eye. There was a sparkle of motivation in those deep teal irises.
"Austria." He replied, stifling a cough.
"Oh." She nodded. "Let's go. We've got mountains to get through, right? And…Are we walking?" Liese asked timidly, as if she was ashamed of her question. Vash shook his head. Three days of walking in their present condition was suicide, especially with the whereabouts of status of everyone else unknown, and condition of the air, thick with dust and ashes. Liese didn't look any less relieved by this. He found a car nearby, blasted the window to smithereens and clambered inside. He ordered Liese to wait outside while his skilled hands hotwired the car. Once the wire touched the battery cable, the engine started. He beckoned her in the two set out.
"We'll follow the highways." Vash said firmly, looking again at the heavy sky. Laced with the smell of ashes, smoke, and dust, he smelled rain. The food in the rucksack would last them a while, since neither had a large appetite, particularly in these circumstances. The scent of fire, blood, death clung to them, neutralizing any feelings of hunger that gnawed at them from within. In terms of health, Liese was faring better than Vash. Vash was far too accustomed to the clear, fresh Alpine air to be able to inhale filth.
The highways were devoid of any cars until they hit Germany. Wreckage blocked some of the lanes, and the air was heavy and hazy. There was a point where they could not proceed in a vehicle, as Stonehenge sized pieces of wreckage blocked the way. This wasn't a huge problem—Salzburg was but a day away on foot. One hour into the walk, Vash felt a raindrop fall on his cheek. Being caught in the rain was inevitable, but each drop that fell had the feeling of a needle's pinprick. They walked under it as sheets of rain pounded the umbrella, a deafening white noise, similar to the bombs that hit Zurich six hours ago. Who, and better question, why? Vash had a strong feeling he knew who did it, but that he'd keep to himself. Now out of the valley, the air was clearer, and Vash could breathe, but not without spurts of debilitating pain in his chest that erupted every so often. Liese had fallen into step with him. She held his hand, and Vash promised he'd not let go until they reached Salzburg. Involuntarily, he gave her hand a squeeze. Liese glanced up at him and smiled conservatively. They'd make it through, and that was a promised her eyes clearly communicated.
"Would you like something to drink?" Liese asked him.
Vash shook his head. He could not speak—his throat was raw and burning; to talk would be stupid action. Walking quickly and dutifully, the two continued. Stopping was brutal waste of time. Of course they were exhausted, but as nations they'd endured worse. Vash was impressed by Liese's stamina—many times she went ahead of him, though he made sure she was in eyeshot. Vash's nerves were on end with the possibility that looters were in the area. It was dubious, but a strong possibility nonetheless. Vash was weighed down with a rifle and sword, crossed on his back, and ammunition stuffed in every pocket of the jade green uniform he wore. Not that he'd need it—his aim was eerily accurate. He hadn't missed a shot in many, many years.
The new morning was clearer, now in Austria, but even on a day with no clouds a haze blocked out the sunlight. It was breezy, in the mountains, yet each zephyr simply stirred cinders out of Vash and Liese's clothing, a sickening reminder of what Zurich had become.
"We're in Salzburg." Liese said. "Now what?"
They were in Salzburg, yes. Salzburg was still an unblemished city , but the roads were empty, as the city was in mourning and hiding. Liese had posed a thought provoking question. She didn't dare inquire why Vash settled on Salzburg, and he himself wondered why he was in Austria, where that bastard Roderich lived. But that was exactly why Vash was there. He had a strong feeling that Vash was in Salzburg, and creating an informal alliance with him would be advantageous in this situation. Vash immediately found Austria's house, an old mansion surrounded by thick foliage. He rapped smartly on the door and waited patiently. Roderich was home. Vash heard the neat clicking of the heels of Roderich's boots against the floor. Roderich opened the door, and his perpetual scowl only deepened upon seeing Vash, dirty and pallid.
"Vash." Roderich greeted, dark eyebrow rising in a gesture of contempt.
"Roderich." Vash greeted stonily.
A long pause, followed by a sigh.
"Do you need something, Vash?" Roderich asked jadedly, running a hand through dark, shiny hair.
"Zurich is gone." Vash said tensely. Yes, Zurich was but a pile of ashes now. It was buried in that valley and would forever remain that way. The memory brought a bilious feeling to Vash, mixed with a stinging sensation in his eyes. Cinders, of course.
"I'm sorry to hear that." Roderich said coolly. "Vienna is also…ahem." Roderich adjusted his glasses with a delicately trembling hand.
"Do you know if other nations are alive?"
"Yes—I know of Ludwig, Gilbert, Feliks…" Roderich trailed off, last note of Feliks' name hanging in the still air. Roderich ticked the names off of his long, slender fingers.
"And Elizaveta?" Vash asked perfunctorily. It was only natural to inquire about the condition of one's spouse. Vash wasn't the least bit interested.
"Please, don't mention her!" Roderich implored, blanching. He waved a hand in a dismissive manner. Vash detected a note of hysteria in his smooth voice. Surely something hadn't gone wrong between the two? Vash didn't care. He shoved the thought out of his head and focused on the matter at hand.
"Sorry." Vash harrumphed, exchanging a suspicious look with Liese.
"Since you've been rid of a place to stay, enter." Roderich stepped out of the doorway and allowed Liese and Vash to cross the threshold. Vash did so reluctantly, and didn't even glance at the ostentatious decorations that littered Roderich's stately mansion. Liese greeted Roderich is a reserved, but cordial fashion. Liese had always liked Roderich, as Roderich treated her like a mature woman (she was—but Vash didn't want to even hear of it), and Elizaveta considered Liese her daughter of sorts.
"What's going on, Roderich?" Vash demanded.
"Nothing you can change." Roderich snapped.
Vash took that statement into consideration. Roderich was unusually bitter, and listening very closely, Vash noted that Roderich sounded close to tears. He was wringing his hands and looking all around, as if searching for something that was nestled under the floorboards, in the ceiling. The navy coat Roderich wore was wrinkled and dark circles stained the skin under his eyes as if a painter had stroked dark purple under them. Vash tensed. It was painfully obvious that Roderich was biting back something that Vash would not like to hear. In fact, the words seemed to be fluttering pathetically on Roderich's pallid lips. Vash, for once, was interested in what he had to say.
"Roderich, get a hold of yourself." Vash said brusquely, frowning. "Who bombed Europe?"
"That is unknown. Russia is carved out as well." Roderich said coldly. Vash almost sighed with relief— so he wasn't the only one that lived with that suspicion.
"Unless it was Ivan that did it himself to cover up the crime." Vash pointed out. Roderich gave a minimal, nearly undetectable nod, but Liese disagreed with them. Vash grimaced as he performed a five seconds evaluation of his life thus far and leaned against the ornate wall. He locked his knees to keep from sinking to the ground. And now, he imposed the same question Liese had asked him earlier— now what?
...I'm asking myself the same question. I fail so hard. Bawwww.
Liese is Liechtenstein. Because I like that name and Lily reminds me too much of Lily Potter.
...but I may continue.
What do you think?