How Death comes is on silent feet.
So they all say, every one of the soldiers. You don't see Death until it's right above you, glowing green scythe raised in preparation for that final strike.
I don't know how they know this - no one who knows from experience has lived. You don't live after meeting Death. Everyone knows, though. The newer ones, the cockier ones, they say they'll beat Death.
None have returned.
I've been here awhile, and I've seen the hotshots come and go. I've never met up with Death, else I would not be here. I've seen the others, and lived to tell about it, amazingly enough.
But not Death.
I know my luck can't hold out forever. I climb into my Leo with trepidation - maybe this time, it will be the last. Maybe this battle cry, this shout that the enemy is coming - maybe this time, it will be Death.
We don't see anything at first - 'maybe it's a drill', comments one. He's new. He doesn't know yet, doesn't know that when you don't see anyone coming, that means Death's here.
I look up at the picture, the little one stuck to the corner of the cockpit. My only allowance of the advantages of my rank. My heart pounds, nearly stuck in my throat, until I remember that my daughters aren't here. They are with their grandmother; Death can't get them.
We head farther out. Still no sign of enemies. Hope raises false flames in my chest - maybe it is a drill. Maybe the newbie is right. What is his name? Oh well, it's no matter.
Death comes for us all, soon enough.
Transmissions coming over - they've spotted something. An enemy? It has to be, none of ours are out that far yet. I should know. I'm in charge.
My tongue feels thick in my mouth, and in my blood I can feel the pounding of the rhythms of my people. The old people, the ancients who lived long before this war. Grandmother of my grandmother's grandmother...
*So sayth Death, the worlde is mine...*
Blood of the ancients runs in my veins, blood that shall be spilled on this here ground, the ground foreign to those I have heard of only in stories passed down through the ages...
A shape rises up before us, the weapon coming to bear. What was once a human tool, now made monstrously big and fitted to hands that are no flesh and bone... It snuck up on us without a sound, in the dead of night...
Death comes on silent feet.
We should have never seen it coming.
It wanted us to know. It wanted to face us in this fight, this battle. Death won't take soldiers in their sleep.
My brain fogs and I feel in a daze. Fear should have long since paralyzed my body, but I cannot sense it. This must be what it is like to know you are going to die.
Dimly, I hear the cries - so suddenly silenced - of my men around me. I fight as though an automation, but my blood burns hot as it courses through my veins.
My eyes turn, fixing on those smiling faces, dark eyed, dark haired. Just like I... So alone, now. They will be alone.
My Leo is hit. I go down, having been the last one standing. I hit the back of my seat hard and I feel blood began to trickle down my head, mixing with my hair. The picture flutters down - where it goes, I do not know.
The cockpit glass has shattered and my harness has broken away. The cool night breeze rustles across me and I see overhead Death coming.
Not knowing where or what I do, I force myself to sit up, knowing my face is wet with my blood. I cannot escape, there is no way, but I want to see my children one more time...
The picture is lying there and I pick it up, my hands shaking. Their sweet faces break my heart and I know I cannot leave them.
Desperately, knowing, sensing it will do little good, I turn to Death, throwing up one hand - scratched and stained as it is, the delicate fingers that once delighted in music now instruments of killing.
"Please!" I cry hoarsely, a beaten woman, my face stained with my blood and tears. I am begging Death for something no woman should ever have the courage to ask, but I can't stop now. "Please, you took their father! Spare their mother and she swears never to battle again!"
Wind rips the picture from my hands even as I hold it up in vain, and I watch it flutter across the night sky, lost somewhere in the moon-kissed trees.
My breath comes harsh and hard; I know it is lost. The scythe is above me, surely in any moment it will come down, taking away one more soul.
I close my eyes, hunching my shoulders as I sob. I cannot bear to look, to see Death's face and know that it has all been for nothing.
The night has stilled. No birds sound and only the seemingly distant sounds of fires from the downed suits reaches my ears. There is no attack.
Slowly, I look up, facing Death and staring it in the eye. A chill runs down me as I realize it has frozen - has Death heard me?
Time stops and for an eternity, all that exists is Death and I. My heartbeat seems to slow as though I am staring right into another's soul - although how can that be, for Death has none?
Then it moves, and time has returned to its normal passage. The scythe moves away, lowering from where it was poised to strike. Death backs up, the impassive metal seeming afraid. I watch numbly as Death leaves - as always on silent feet - near collapse as I realized I was spared.
My promise rings in my ears, and I know I will never battle for OZ again - but for once, it is not because Death has come, but because Death has shown mercy.
It's amazing how you can forget.
After Death disappeared into the woods that night, upon sparing my poor soul, I ran. No thought to it, my hair sweeping out behind me like a flag, I ran through the trees, feeling as though something pushed my feet onwards and lent me the strength to escape.
It was silly, but I feared that if I stayed, I would not be able to keep my promise to Death. I fear that Death is not one who takes those things lightly, and having bought my life once, I was not interested in trying the trick again.
Tired and footsore, I made my way back to my mother's house, using nothing more than the two legs I had been given upon birth. They'd gotten word that I died; I guess that when OZ could find no body and only my ruined Leo, they assumed that I was dead. That was fine with me.
There were tears and hugs and explanations - a more detailed one for my mother, a simple one for the children. Five and three is too young to understand the real monsters that lurk in shadows, preying on those who would fight for peace.
And then time went by... and I slowly forgot. I forgot my life of battle, I forgot the fear that gripped my heart that night when I had faced down Death itself and won. My world became the simple joy of motherhood, playing with my children and sitting with them at their grandmother's feet, listening to long-forgotten tales of heroes long since dead. Sorceresses and magicians, priestesses and kings, enchanted swords - relics of a day long before our world was ruled by this crude technology.
It was in this manner that I forgot, left that world behind me. I cared naught for the war that had taken my husband, the father of my children, and nearly taken me. They could fight their bloody battles and I would watch it on the news that was broadcast all over the world, but it would not concern me because I would not let it. These were tales, tales that seemed far less real than the whimsical myths spun by the firelight.
Through the news, I learned that the colonies rejected the Gundams and joined forces with OZ. I learned that the Gundams themselves fled to space - better there than here, and pray that they took their Death with them. Mother Earth had seen too much blood of Her children spilt upon Her soil; if they needed to fight, they could take it out into space where the vast blackness of the stars' playground could deal with it.
But then one day, my disinterested bliss took a fatal blow.
I was watching the news with the same amount of fascination one might turn to a mildly entertaining cartoon that the children might be watching - keeping one eye on it, and one ear, but ignoring most of what was said.
Then I saw it. My heart arrested in my throat and I leapt from my seat with a cry, pulling away from the screen and staring at it in horror. My blood ran cold and I all I could see was the scythe above my head, all I could feel was the rhythm beating in my veins, all I could hear was the crackling of the fires and the cries…
The words of the broadcast were lost on me, even if I could have distinguished them from the roaring of the blood in my ears. My mother stared at me as I gripped the chair tight enough to whiten my knuckles, thankful only that the children were outside playing and could not see their mother reacting to the image on the news.
Slowly my sanity returned and I blinked my huge, dark eyes, trying to calm the beating of my heart. I licked my lips, forcing myself to view the image - the actual image, the image on the screen, not the image that beat in my mind with the fires...
Death lay there, still and cold. Broken machinery trailing from one arm, or where one arm had been. Broken, lifeless - how fitting for Death. I felt triumph - triumph that Death could kill no more, but yet...
No, that was not Death. This pile of technology so badly ruined was not the Death that had haunted the mobile pilots in the night, stalked their dreams like a vengeful demon. This was nothing more than a broken husk, a shattered nightmare.
Death was something more. Death was the being that I had locked gazes with, impossibly, that night so many lifetimes ago. There was another line to this couplet - the machine was the facade, but Death itself...
Or had Death claimed itself? My lips twisted in a mockery of a smile - aye, but wouldn't that be justice.
I watched the screen with hawk eyes, willing them to show me my fear. Willing them to show the beast that controlled Death, the mind behind the body. I wanted to face it, challenge it, laugh Death in the face and let it know that it had been defeated by the people it slaughtered.
My emotions were warring within me and I drove crescents into the chair with my fingernails as I felt some animal overtake me. I was watching the screen with the mannerisms of a beast on the hunt - I could even hear my breath panting in my throat. How foolish we humans are to think we are removed from the creatures we claim to have tamed.
The droning of the newscaster buzzed in my ears as they slowly moved to the door that was opening. Feet first, the booted feet of OZ soldiers; booted feet that could have been mine, lifetimes ago. Between them, another figure - Death, it had to be. The camera moved upwards and I noted that Death was dressed in black. As it should be, rightly. Ever so slowly - Were they trying to torture me, or was my mind playing tricks on the essence of time? - the view meandered upward, playing over the limp arms, the backwards collar...
No anger settled in my chest at the thought of Death wearing the clothes of a Catholic - my family has never followed any Christian path, despite what the mandate of the world is.
And then the face, head lolling with unconsciousness, rounded chin touching a black-shrouded breastbone. Eyes closed, but innocence streaking the countenance, long chestnut hair nearly covering the closed eyelids and rippling down Death's back in a braid.
My grip slacked and I stared, certain that they had to be lying. This could not be Death; this could not be the horrid creature that had stalked me in my sleep! This was naught but a babe, younger than most of the children I had led to fight and die. This was a pure heart, purer than those belonging to the ones I used to serve.
My loyalties felt ripped from me and I sank to my knees, my fingers trailing down the smooth polished wood of the chair I had been clutching but moments earlier.
"Aye, but Death comes in the guise of babes..." I whispered hoarsely, staring at the screen. Still I could not hear what was said, but I did not want to. Surely, it was to speak of the evils this one had committed - and surely he had, for I had witnessed it. How could Death be so young, be so untouched by the many evils of our world? I am sure that many would not agree, and I cannot say how I know, but there is a presence about him, even all this distance away, and seeing him, I know.
It rocks me deeply to realize that I want to comfort and protect the one that has killed friends and loved ones. A shock to realize that there is a slightest chance that I may not be on the correct side.
War seldom plays fair, however, as I know all too well, and I must distance myself from this one, this guise of Death, for I know that should the babe's patron leave, He will take a soul with Him. I have no doubt that they mean to kill Death, for all the good it will do.
I know that you cannot cheat Death. He will come back to haunt you. You cannot destroy that shadow and expect to keep the light, because they are essential to each other. And you cannot hide from Death, for He will always find you. You can run for awhile, and you can trick your way into living for a few more hours, or days, or weeks, but in the end, there is nowhere to hide.
How Death comes is on silent feet.