There are things you never forget. Like the sight of the life leaving a human body. A last breath or the whispering prayer, that are never finished. Friend or enemy, in that moment it doesn't matter.
The person you were before a war, will never be the same you are after, no matter how short the war is. The mourning for the ones you lost, the memories of lifes you took and the fear. The fear for the people you care for.
It is scary how your brain stops reacting to the metallic smell of blood, so you no longer feel like throwing up. In a bizarre way it is fascinating how the sound of guns, screams and cries of pain can end up as just background noises.
Not that you forget being on a battlefield, or that the next one to die can be someone you care about. Or even yourself. You never forget that the pain can hit you at any moment.
The physical pain.
It is so much easier to relate to than the psychological pain.
The physical pain I no longer register and the psychological I made an assiduously attempt to forget, if only for a short time.
The last death had been someone I cared about. He had been my my teacher, my mentor and the closest thing to a father for me. He had been my leader and in his death he had left the responsibility to me. Twenty-four years old and now the leader of a gang.
It wasn't a responsibility I had ever wanted or thought I would get. But the news had spread fast; the young Thomas had been chosen to follow the legendary Chark.
Some congratulated me, other paid their condolences and most of them talked about me behind my back.
Of course it was unlucky that we lost our leader only minutes after our second in command had been killed, so we was left with no one to lead the gang. But apparently Chark had made sure to tell several people that I was to be his new second in command, which turned out to be rather lucky.
I tried to get a overview, but everything was pure kaos and I wasn't part of the chain of command before. As a foot soldier I didn't even know why we were at war, beside that we were backing up our allied of course.
As the new leader I should know. I should know if it was even a war I wanted to fight.
I spotted Kattie in the crowd. She had a gun between her teeth, while she was braiding her hair. I was one of the few who knew her well enough to know it was a sign that she was stressed and tired. It was her way to find focus. As always the sight of her made me smile. She had recently dyed her hair black and I had to admit it made her look older. It fitted the maturity she possessed. Kattie had never been a child.
My gaze travelled and zoomed in on Zombie. No one had seen him for days and only through him could we end this war. He or Gerard had to die to make the opposite team win.
I should have told Gerard straight away, but when I spotted Ben it made me wait too long. He had seen Zombie too and of course he took it upon himself to handle it.
I held my breath as they both drew their guns. They both had a clear shot at the other and it was only a matter of who pulled the trigger first. They were both willing to die as long as they took the other with them. How could it be that easy to kill Your brother ?
What went through Ambers head I can't tell you, but it hardly took a second from the shots sounded, before her body hit the ground and everything went silent. Everyone was staring at the slim figure and the dark hair spread around her face. I hadn't even noticed she was that close. And even if I had seen her, she would be the last person I expected to do this. Amber had never done anything for anyone but herself.
Zombie and Ben dropped their guns at the same time and Ben let out a desperate scream, before he threw himself on the ground and desperately tried to bring her back to life.
My eyes found Kattie again. I saw the pain in her eyes and the tears threatening to fall. I had never seen Kattie cry before. Not when the boys had looked down on her for being a girl and they had kept her out of the group. Not even when she fell from the wall at the waterpark and I carried her home to Ben with a broken leg, she hadn't cried then. Or when Ben dug a bullet out from her arm without sedation.
Twenty-three years old and it was the second time she saw a friend get killed. Kattie was strong. But not that strong.
Kattie and I reached the commotion at the same time. A kind of noisy silence had spread across the place. Everyone had lowered their weapons. The war hadn't officially ended, but with Amber's death, the will to fight died. How had she ever become so important to so many people ?
Zombie was still staring at her body in Ben's arms. His mouth was a thin line and his eyes darker than ever before. He loved her, he had never tried to hide that. It was her he fought to win and now he had lost all possibility to ever get her back.
I didn't utter a word, but his gaze still fell on me. "I hear you have become the new leader". The pain in his voice turned to rage. "Life as a leader is dangerous". He said before calling his gang to him with a simple commando and they left the scene. Leaving the woman he loved in the arms of the man he hated most of all.
Everybody retreated now. The people made space for the leader group to collect themselves around us. Nobody dared look at Ben.
"Gerard is on his way". Zac said, clearly not knowing where to look.
It was Gerard's war the rest of us had supported and Zac knew that in the end it was The Stars fault that we had suffered the losses we had. As next in command of The Stars, Zac felt the guilt Gerard never gave a thought to.
"A little to late, wouldn't you say ?" Kattie angrily pointed out. The tears I had seen threatening was gone again. "Well don't you agree ?"
Zac met her glare without wavering. "If you have a problem with the way Gerard is handling things you need to take it up with him". He answered. "I am not Gerard".
"Like you are any better". Kattie hissed at him. I put an arm around her and like it was the most natural thing in the world she melted into my arms. As always I was surprised about how perfect she fitted there. How perfectly our bodies fitted together.
I found Gerard right as he folded Ambers hands on her chest and pushed a knife and a gun under them. Her dark hair had been combed and there was no trace of blood on her body.
"You are angry with me". He said, before turning to look at me.
"Not compared to some of the others". I answered cooly. "Someone says that you are a coward". It wasn't easy standing up to Gerard, who was a experienced leader and much older than me, and questioning his choices.
"I am a leader". He pointed out. "When you get older and more experienced, you will understand my choices".
"If being a leader means having others die in your name, while you stand back watching, then it isn't a title I want". I answered. "Which of them killed her ?"
"Tell me who uses which ammunition". Gerard answered and nodded towards the two bullets on the table. "The bullet on the right I have removed from her lung the one on the left I removed from her neck. The combination killed her".
There wasn't much difference between the two bullets, but there was a small one. Only because my gang The Eagles was the one selling them I was able to spot the difference.
Not that it told me much. It was the two most used type of bullets and they fit in the guns everyone uses. One of them hit a bit harder while the other was made to go a bit deeper. But the differences was minimal and it mostly depended what had been in the delivery at the time they bought them.
"They are going to blame each other forever". Gerard pointed out. "There will never be peace between them now".
"There wouldn't have been if she was alive either". I told him. "What the hell was she thinking ?" I sighed and straightened a lock of her hair.
Gerard was right about one thing. Ben and Zombie would never forgive each other or themselves that she had died in a showdown between them.
"She was Amber". He just said. "I have been asking myself that ever since she showed up here".