Updated: Dec 16, 2021
By Hannah Yi
White noise and screaming flooded Jade’s senses as she bolted up, disoriented. Reaching out to grasp her mother’s small hand, Jade glanced up, only to find nothing. She turned her head to the side, desperately trying to find any trace of her mother, but all she could see was thick smoke.
When she was thrust into the battle between her country, Crolentsercy and its enemy, Therniber, Jade didn’t know anything about war. What Jade did know was that everyone in her town had been lied to; the war wasn’t approaching, it had already started. In a week, Jade transformed from a normal girl to a “voluntary” Crolentsercy soldier. All she had now was her family.
“Mom?” she called out hopelessly. As the smoke cleared up, she walked hesitantly into the battlefield, each step of her dirtied boots crunching bullet shells and dried blood on the dusty ground. Her walk sped up into a run as the reality of the situation sunk in. I have to find her, she thought, her breathing growing heavier. She looked around frantically, but there was no sign of her mom anywhere, only unknown soldiers, both alive and dead. A flood of emotions hit her as she found herself thinking about the worst outcome—
“Jade!” A wave of relief washed over her body. Mom. Meeting her gaze, Jade began rushing over. Suddenly, her mother’s smile dropped and her eyes widened in panic. The poignant sound of a gunshot rang. Jade closed her eyes instinctively, and when she opened them, her mother was nowhere in sight. She froze in place. Mom didn’t get shot, she convinced herself. It can’t be.
Jade forced her eyes down onto the dirt. Her face twisted in horror when her gaze met a pair of familiar brown eyes. Her breath hitched, and she scoured for any sign of life in her mother’s eyes, but they were empty—unfeeling, unseeing. She didn’t do anything to stop her death.
“Jade, is that you? Dad and I were worried ‘cause you and Mom weren’t coming back!” her sister called, her hoarse voice increasing in proximity. “Did you see Mom?” Jade’s heart dropped.
Amber suddenly froze in her tracks, her eyes, brown like her mother’s, glossy. “Jade…” she whispered. “Is that…”
Jade didn’t know how to reply; it was too late. Their mother was dead in a puddle of blood before them.
“What did you do?” her sister’s voice rose. “How could you let this happen?” Jade opened her mouth to speak, but she remained speechless. “You promised to protect her. Now she’s dead! It’s your fault!” Amber screamed, tears cascading down her cheeks.
I know, Jade opened her mouth to say, but then saw a sliver of metal appear from the corner of her eye. “Amber,” she rasped, making one last effort to save her sister, but it was too late. Her sister hit the ground a few feet away, another life taken too soon. She felt helpless; she couldn’t do anything. Jade felt bile rise in her throat. Then, the world turned black.
“Jade? Are you there?”
Jade snapped out of her thoughts and forced a smile. “Yeah.” Her father looked at her, his stormy eyes clouded with worry. Even after two years, the memory of the war remained fresh. She looked towards the clean tiled floor, a stark contrast from the bloody soil she used to see.
“It wasn’t your fault, Jade,” her father said quietly as though he had read her mind. Sadness lingered in his voice.
“Dad, you don’t need to sugarcoat anything,” Jade replied. Even today, Amber’s last words echoed in her head. It’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault—
“Feeling guilty is… hard to cope with,” her father gripped her shoulder. “But Jade, there was nothing you could have done. Death in war is inevitable. Even if it wasn’t our family that suffered losses, other families would have, and did.”
“But—” Jade remembered her mother’s unseeing eyes, her sister’s bitter last words, “—it was our family.” Her tear-filled eyes met with her father’s.
Her father opened his mouth to say something, but closed it softly. He enclosed Jade in a warm embrace, one that all four of the family used to share that was now reduced to a measly two, while Jade sobbed quietly, grateful that her father was safe from the indestructible clutches of death.
At last, her father spoke, as if he understood how the other survivor felt.
“I know, Jade. I know.”