The earth wept tears of blood. It ached and cried for the fallen, yearning for the life that slowly drained. Soil did not pick sides in times of war--all are buried in the same earth regardless of belief.
Gang Tae-Su could not help but wonder if the earth was wiser than the life that wandered upon its surface. Or perhaps it simply had the privilege of being unaffected by who ruled its lands.
As the long and brutal battle drew to an end, Tae-Su fell to his knees. The blood-soaked soil dampened his dark trousers, chilled after life no longer warmed it. His sword lay discarded by his side, the flat, steel blade stained crimson.
He gazed across the battlefield--across the piled bodies, torn flesh, and weeping men clinging to lost friends. Amidst the carnage was a child's boot, heel buried in the soil. Blood speckled its leather hide, and its laces were singed at the ends.
Who had it belonged to? Tae-Su wondered. Perhaps it was lost long before the battle. Perhaps the child had been swept in the wreckage, their body joining the rest.
Light glimmered against Tae-Su's eyelids and he blinked, tilting his chin up. The first rays of sunlight peeked over bodies, timid.
Morning had come.
Tae-Su let his head fall back as the light creeped over scarlet land. It scattered the shadows, illuminating the dead in full. His eyes fell closed as the warm rays caressed his face, burning his eyelids red.
He could almost pretend he was home. He could smell the bubbling stew, fragrant spices trailing from the narrow windows and onto the street. He could hear the laughter of his friends as they tossed a worn, torn ball. His mother scolded: "Tae-Su! Come inside and clean up!"
But he was not home. Instead, he smelled sewer, blood, and death. Instead, he heard weeping as the earth mourned. Instead, he saw corpses, their eyes wide and accusatory.
Tae-Su turned back to the half-buried boot. He staggered up on tired feet, palming his sword. It hung loosely in his grip, ready to clatter to the earth at the slightest of breezes. He took the few, stumbled steps before crouching, pulling the boot up from the soil. It hardly spanned the length of his palm.
His crimson-stained fingers tightened on the worn sole. He stared at its dimensions, at the miniscule shape. How could something so small fit on any human foot?
Tae-Su looked up across the field, his vision blurring as his focus fazed. He tucked the tiny boot in his pocket before putting his back to the sun. His own boots crunched as he made his way down the battlefield, navigating the maze of dead.
"We have claimed victory after long and brutal days!" General Wang roared over the crowd of living men. He raised his fist in triumph and was met with booming cheers. The sentiment of victory spread like a wildfire, reaching even the most melancholic of soldiers. Tae-Su joined in the uproar, pounding his fist to his hollow chest and hollering up at the blue sky. The noise--the jubilation--began to fill the silence in his mind.
"Each of you men have aided King Ryeon in his rise to retake this country and put an end to Kuuson's tyrannical ruler. You are all heroes to this land! Centuries from now, the story of what happened here will be told from continent to continent. Your children and your children's children will grown under the light of the legacy you created today!"
Tae-Su shouted, jostling the shoulders of his comrades. They were all infected--reminded--by the victory they originally sought.
"Remember the fallen!" General Wang screamed above the clamor. "Tell their story to lineages to come! Do not forget them or what they died for! Men, who are we!"
"Saviors and soldiers of Kuuson!" the men shouted, their voices merging as one.
"Why do we fight?"
"To free Kuuson!" The mob had become cohesive. Tae-Su was among the many that voluntarily gave their lives so others could live. The dead had made their choice as well, and he would be shamed if he mourned any longer.
"And what will we do?"
The men pounded fists and stomped feet. "We will be remembered!"
Chung-Ho's head rose up from where it had been resting upon the stiff, cold chest of his enemy. The muted roar of the rebels' celebration echoed over the battlefield, an eerie choir to serenade the dead. He clamped his eyes shut, fighting back tears. His gut bore a long gash, giving clear sight to the intestines within, yet he felt no pain.
Faces flashed before his closed eyelids. The weathered skin of his mother. The rosy cheeks of his little sister. The proud smile of his father.
He was their eldest and only son, his service to King Hwan demanded in times of war. He had promised them he would live. he had promised them victory. He had promised...
But it was the enemy that tole his triumph.
A tear leaked onto Chung-Ho's cheeks as his body fell limp. It clung there after his eyes lost their vision, glassy like a porcelain doll.
His blood joined the earth as it wept.