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Absence, Longing, and Memory

The night air was cold in her lungs, a sharp contrast to the day now gone. Almost, she thought, looking around in the half-light, the moon sporadically obscured by the scattered clouds. Almost, in the dark, with the clouds still low after the storm… But no. These were not the mountains of her home, much as she wished them to be. They were too jagged, too tall. Her mountains were soft in comparison, comfortable with age, old already when these mountains had formed.

She inhaled again, already regretting the passing of the storm that had moved through too quickly. They were always gone too quickly. She missed the days-long rainstorms of home, the trees that towered overhead and blanketed the landscape; the great serpents of fog that floated above the rivers in the morning, and the massive fingers that caressed her mountains like a lover’s hand. She missed a lot of things. Not that this land was without its own beauty—the towering, snow-capped mountains and the red deserts that contrasted so brilliantly with the green scrub scattered through them. Under different circumstances, she might have found this land attractive. As it was…

In her mind she could still hear the screams, feel the fear and anger of that day. Still saw the death of her children every time she closed her eyes, could still hear the soldiers laughing as they dragged away her iron-bound wife, the mage, another conscript for the invading army. And for her, what came after…

She shuddered, pushing the memory away, and looked back to the dark mountains. Five years was a long time to be away from a land that was so much a part of her. After tonight, though, the hope that she would be able to go home again was so thick it almost choked her. This was their objective, after all—to put an end to this war that had ruined so much. They had worked hard to get here. Tomorrow would tell, one way or another.

She closed her eyes for a brief moment, inhaling deep one last time. The smell of rain was already only a memory. Maybe she would be home in time for autumn, when the trees turned the world into a riot of color, and the smell of the season’s change spun false memories of a time long gone. She allowed herself a smile for the remembrance as she stood quietly, hearing a familiar step behind her.

“How goes the watch?” her replacement asked.

She shrugged, a meaningless gesture in the dark. “Quiet. The storm has put off the few who might be out and about in the night.”

He laughed. “Besides us, you mean?” He sighed at her silence. “Well, get some rest while you can.” He didn’t mention tomorrow, their hopes or fears. He didn’t have to. They all knew it, were almost drunk with the knowledge. She turned to her bedroll, a hand brushing his arm in passing.

She did indeed need her rest.

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