The girl on the hill watches, quiet and still, as a storm leaves gaping cracks in the darkening sky.
Ash-colored clouds writhe across the horizon, tortured and wild as they spread their poisonous darkness, increasing the pace of their dizzying dance with every passing minute. A thunderous clap of untamed fury resonates through the crackling air, echoing deep into the hills and vibrating beneath the girl’s skin. She braces her legs against the sharpness of the angry wind, glaring into the face of the storm.
She’s nothing but a child, small beneath the vast sky, a motionless figure upon the rolling emptiness of the hills. She’s hardly visible amidst the golden ocean of wild grasses that sway around her shoulders, bending in the wind. Her skin is a shade of light copper, bright and beautiful in the strange light of the storm, which illuminates the world in shades of whispering danger. The breeze twists her white dress around her ankles as the hem of the gown brushes against her bare feet. She closes her eyes, tasting the electric hum in the air as the wind tosses her silver curls.
The softest smile plays on her lips as she lifts her face bravely to the darkening sky.
Slowly, she begins to sing.
It is a song of life and courage and hope, a song that trembles with the knowledge of the terrible truth, that the end waits above her like an ever-darkening serpent in that churning sky. She sings with her whole heart, arms outstretched to the open air, and the echoes of her own voice answer her until they fade into the sounds of the storm. She is smiling as she sings, almost laughing in the face of horrible danger, knowing that she will fall, yes, but it will be a fall as beautiful and graceful as the bending flower stems at her feet.
Her voice is swallowed by an angry roar from the clouds. Lightning strikes the ground in the distance like the sharpest warning, and she can smell the bitter smoke in the air as fire leaps to life in the dry grass. She remains motionless, waiting, listening, knowing what will come.
And there it is—her song. Gentle and low, whispered by hundreds of weary voices. She turns her back to the storm to greet her soldiers, the saddest smile tracing her features as they appear, row after shining row, at the crest of the hill. There are several hundred of them in total, a limping army of battle-worn men and women, their shoulders aching with the effort of lifting their eyes to the storm. Their armor is bruised and dented, taken from the bodies of their fallen brothers, stained with the colors of a thousand painful deaths. Their faces soften as they see her slight figure, terribly small yet impossibly bright against the power of the storm. Their lips move to the words of her song as a fragile hope comes alive in the corners of their eyes. At the sight of the fierce-faced child, they remember what they are fighting for, what they have lost their sons and daughters for, what they face even now as the storm laughs, low and horribly cruel, at the sight of the ragged army rising to face impossibility for the final time.
The man who led the army over the hill drops painfully to his knees before the girl, pressing his forehead against hers with an expression of quiet weariness on his scarred face. She kisses her father’s cheek, gentle and certain, before taking his hands and helping him to his feet. He returns her soft smile with a brokenhearted gaze in his eyes, the very core of his being aching to protect her, knowing that he’s hoping for something impossible.
The sound of a hundred swords being drawn in unison rings sharply through the air. The girl and her father whirl to face the storm, and the girl’s song twists into an anguished battle cry at the sight of what the clouds have become. The shout is echoed by her army as they band tightly together at the crest of the hill, swords gleaming against the sky, shields drawn close to their chests. They look to the child, to the way her eyes flash in the light of the rapidly spreading wildfire. They wait, counting the seconds, trusting her.
She closes her eyes and nods, sorrowful and gentle, pressing her hand into her father’s for a moment before letting him go for the last time.
She lifts her voice in a final song, haunting and painful, drowned in ragged hope.