The camp was burning. Everything was burning. Smoke filled the air, and ash choked the ground. Sounds of gunfire and screams echoed eerily from every direction, and it was hard to figure out where he was going.
Tears smeared his dirty, blood-streaked face, the smoke making it hard to see. Was that one of the mess tents ahead? He couldn't tell.
Suddenly he was thrown to the ground by a shockwave that left his ears ringing. Dirt and debris rained down from the sky. The explosion had been close, but he couldn't make out any sounds of fighting, so as soon as it was clear, he got up and kept going. He had to find them. He would find them.
Where was he? Everything was turned inside-out and backwards. He coughed as ash scratched his throat, and tried to spit, but his mouth was as dry as a desert.
Then, he saw it. The weather-vane. It was on the ground, knocked off from its high post by a stray shot, but if it was here, then…
There. The safehouse. Surrounded by flames and ash. They were there. They had to be.
He kept walking, each step harder than the last.
Then he was looking down the stairs. The door was open already. Numbly, he went in.
Awaiting him at the bottom was a massacre.
Blood and bodies everywhere, ripped apart, burned, and broken. All… dead.
"No…" he whispered.
He stumbled forward, eyes scanning through the carnage for any sign of them. Niera… she'd been wearing a light blue shirt. And Sena…
He couldn't remember what she'd been wearing.
His search became more desperate. They had to be here. He refused to accept anything else.
He was nearly to the back of the room before he saw it. A scrap of blue.
There she was, completely buried under a pile of broken crates, except for her head, which faced upwards.
"Niera…" he rasped, scrambling forward and falling to his knees beside her. He cupped her face in his hands, stroking her cheek with his thumb.
"Niera, I'm here, baby. I'm here. You're safe. Daddy's here. I'm not leaving."
There was no response.
"You're gonna be okay. I've got you. We're going to go home. You wanted to go to the park for your birthday, remember? Remember, baby?" Her face was cold and still under his hands. "My big girl, six years old… such a big girl… my big girl…"
He kissed her forehead. "Please wake up, honey. Please wake up."
"Sir, there's nothing you can do for her. We have to go."
There was a hand on his shoulder, but he ignored it, staring into her unseeing eyes, searching for any sign of life.
"We have to leave now or we're gone!"
"I'm trying! He's not responding!"
"Drag him if you have to!"
He stroked her cheek again. "Niera… Niera…"
"Sorry about this, sir."
Arms began to drag him away. Desperately, he clutched at his daughter. "No. No! I'm not leaving. Niera!"
But he couldn't break away. He was dragged further and further from Niera, and he couldn't reach her, and…
She was dead.
"No, no, no, please no…" he grabbed at the arms. "Please. Help her."
"She's beyond help, sir."
Then they were up the stairs, and out of sight. He tried one last time to break away, but his captor was insistent.
Tears flowed freely down his cheeks now, and he could barely breathe for the sobs that wrenched past his lips.
They were gone. They were dead.
It was over.