Prompt: A Girl and her familiar run a medicine shop in a WWII-like era. She returns after an air raid to find her family and familiar gone. She joins the military seeking vengeance.
Amelia stood in line, a miserable limp thing of defeated bodies and wills, and trudged forward only when someone bumped her back. She’d lost everything. No. She was still on her feet, so there had to be a little hope left. Everything was simply misplaced. She hadn’t even been the one to misplace them.
Somebody nudged her. She took a step. She couldn’t blame them. This wasn’t just the recruiting line; it was also the ration line. You could get an immediate meal and the promise of at least two more meals every day if you signed up. Those meals might consist of dry biscuits you’d be happy to find worm eggs in, for that extra protein, but it was better than anything you could dig out of the debris that was most of her country.
The year was 1943 and the nation of Dilutia was in the heart and heat of war, as it had been for five years. Amelia was only twelve when it all started, and the changes were invisible to her young sparkling eyes. She didn’t see the posters with their rolling metal gun-wagons. She didn’t feel the sting of rationing when dinner went from rabbit to soup made with rabbit stock.
The conflict had never even touched her until she was sixteen. That was the year she started work in her parents’ medicine ship. They had a lovely little building full of glass jars the size of rain barrels. They kept hay on the floor to absorb any of the possibly-toxic spills, and so some of the adorable local rabbits could nest there in the corners. They were considered good luck.
All the rabbits had scattered one day when a body was brought in, fresh from battle: a boy barely older than her in a uniform one and three-quarters sizes too big. He was a broken scarecrow of cheap green fabric and matted dried blood. There was no time to get him to a hospital; their shop would have to suffice.
Amelia watched from the corner, huddled with the rabbits, as her parents mixed what they hoped to be life-saving salves and drinks for the boy, but he never had the strength to take a sip. He died on the counter as they brought the first helping to his lips, pouring it down a rapidly cooling throat. Their medicine was strong. It addressed the spirit as well as the body.
Amelia and her family lived in the magical farmlands of Dilutia. They couldn’t conjure much themselves, but they knew which enchanted tubers were safe to use. They had the proximity to absorb some, as did their shop. The boy lived on, but only as a sliver of a spirit that attached to the nearest object. Even then, he needed another life force to sustain him. Amelia had volunteered, finally able to step away from the twitching noses of the corner.
The boy lost his name in the transition, but he had a horn with him. He was supposed to create the daring brass melodies of battle, to drive older soldiers forward. From then on, after his transference, they simply called him Trumpet. He moved from his body and into an ineffective piece of gauze stained with his blood.
It moved like a snake, away from its old vessel and over to the willing Amelia, wrapping around her arm, implying an injury that wasn’t there. Briefly, she felt his pain. After that they were always together, able to share thoughts whenever he was wrapped around her forearm, able to heal her as regular gauze would whenever she stumbled or sliced her finger on one of the ration cans that were so common now.
Someone bumped her. She took a step. She wasn’t there for the meal. That line was intolerable because it kept her from vengeance. She had gone out two days ago, her village still warm and safe, to gather the pink-throated blooms of the Aphrofighty plant. She’d seen a different bloom in the distance: orange, swollen, and coupled to a shock wave that nearly knocked her off her feet and took many petals from the flowers around her. An air raid. The metal hawks of the enemy had dropped bombs on her village. Why? Was medicine that much of a threat? Or was it that old taste of magic, like glowing wine in the back of the throat, that scared them so?
Amelia ran back. Trumpet was not on her arm. She’d left him coiled on her pillow so he could sleep. He was just cloth. What chance did he have against raging fire? What chance did her parents have? Her younger brother? She returned to a black and gray crater. Not a single building was intact. There were bodies everywhere, but none of them could be identified. If Trumpet was there he was simply ash.
She held out hope they had escaped. If so, the only life for them without the shop would be the military. Perhaps she could find them there. Someone bumped her. She made it to the front of the line and signed up as a field nurse. They trained her in everything anyway. They gave her a rifle and a metal hat. It wasn’t four days before she was marching onto a field of barbed wire and grass drowned in gray mud, marching against the enemy gun-wagons and the rusty golems that served as most of their soldiers.
She had a roll of gauze on her belt, but it was nearly gone. She’d saved a life or two, and failed to save three more. Her skin was nearly invisible thanks to the coat of mud. It helped her once, because the eyesight of the golems was poor and she was flat against the ground, sunk into the mud and viscera. She held her breath until they passed. Then the human soldiers came, controlling the golems ahead of them with metal gauntlets.
She couldn’t fight them. There was mud in her gun’s chamber and there was no way it would fire. One of them came closer. He was going to step on her even if he didn’t see her hair or boots. Enough of her left eye showed, the right one was swollen shut, that she could see him clearly. He didn’t look scared. That wasn’t fair. Fear had infected all of Dilutia; if he was going to walk there he should be forced to feel it.
She noticed gauze upon his arm. She noticed its weave, its specific pattern. It was from her land. They were using stolen medicine. Perhaps the blood of her family was his salve. He was upon her. She would have at least a taste of his blood. She jumped up and roared, striking with the butt of her rifle. He grabbed it with his gauntlet and shoved her back.
Yet her land, even in its death throes beneath her, had not given up. His gauze unraveled, slithered to his neck like a vicious asp, and strangled the man. He tore at it, face going purple as he dropped to his knees. Amelia rushed forward, ripping his gauntlet away and putting it on her own arm. A golem stopped in the distance. That would certainly help them escape the battlefield with their lives.
She put her new metal hand on their enemy’s shoulder. Trumpet released him once he was good and dead, slithering back to Amelia’s arm and wrapping tight around her skin. He flexed, pushing mud away until he could feel her pulse and share thoughts with her.
You’re alive, my beautiful little familiar, she thought. It’s so wonderful to see you.
Their life force was disgusting, the spirit of the boy told her. They taste like cinnamon and frog spit. We’re alive Amelia. All of us. Your family has been captured. I saw them held in cages while I hopped back and forth between minor injuries, unseen, to make it back to you. We must find them.
You know I’m not a rabbit in the corner Trumpet. We will find them. We will make their injuries less minor. The golem was there. She climbed to its shoulder and ordered it to take them deeper into enemy territory.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by KurokuZEN during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!