The first thing I registered in my half-sentient state was the pain. Pure, utter pain running throughout my body as though lava had replaced my blood. The second was the smell. Fire, ashes, burnt wood, hair, and flesh. I figured the last two could have been attributed to my own pain.
After lying in the hot dirt, face down, for who knows how long, I finally willed my sticky eyelids apart.
I just as soon wished I had not.
The scene could have only been described as 'red and black'. Red flames, red sky transcending into black, red blood, some of it dried black, everywhere. The collapsed blackened frameworks of so many buildings--once homes, schools, restaurants, inns--resembled the ruins of the ancient; empty and dead.
How could this have happened? All I had been doing was helping my elder sister clear the dishes, before the ground had erupted from beneath us. My eldest brother had helped me out of the ruins of our home, and I had then carried him as far as I could, since he could not walk with his calf impaled by a steel pole. I remembered collapsing from exhaustion and inhaling all that smoke, and then I woke up here.
I started, and looked at the weight holding me down. My brother's face was black and charred, eyes closed, hair mostly gone. He wasn't breathing.
That was the last straw. I had lost my entire family, my mother and father, along with my many siblings. And now the only survivor of the initial blast, the one who had ensured I came out unscathed beyond a few cuts and bruises, was lying on top of me.
As a corpse.
I couldn't see through my tears or hear through my cries. All I could find myself doing was pushing him off of me and wandering away. I couldn't bear the sight any longer. I had to get away. There was nothing left for me in my destroyed hometown, Gotham. All I could do was stare at the flickering flames, listen to the distant popping of explosions, and take in the smokey air.
I had to look for survivors, I thought vaguely. After the loss of my entire family, and still crying, I had no idea how appealing not being alone would be. The world felt too dark, ruined, and distorted for anything to not be depressing. I was numb with despair.
But even after hours of finding only the bodies of the deceased, and no one alive, I kept searching. Perhaps only for the smallest flicker of hope, of life, amidst the destruction.
Finally, after what felt like years of emptiness, a small head of blonde hair, the ends a little burnt and blackened, caught my attention. The small boy, more than a few years younger than me, was unmoving under a collapsed wooden beam, which was probably what had knocked him out.
I made my way over to him, stumbling over bits and pieces of rubble, and knelt down in front of him. I hesitated to check his pulse, certain I would find none, just like on all the others, when I heard rasping.
I looked again at his face, ashen from blood loss, then his slightly open mouth. The rasping was coming from there.
He was breathing. He wasn't dead.
As soon as the realisation sunk in, I stumbled to my feet and scrambled to get a good grip on the heavy-looking beam. With my hands firmly underneath it, I pulled it upwards with all my might.
The charred wood was surprisingly light, and I ended up falling backwards with it and landing on my backside from using too much force. I muttered a few curses under my breath, but abruptly fell into silence when a weak giggle, barely louder than a whisper, reached my ears. I looked, and saw that the little boy was finally conscious, coughing weakly at the smoke in the air and his lungs.
Slowly, so as to not startle him, I leaned down and grasped his shoulder. His half-lidded, pale blue eyes--the colour of a sky I found difficult to remember--met mine.
"Are you alright? What's your name?" I asked gently, pulling his limp, but nevertheless alive, body up against mine. Now that I could see him entirely, I saw that no joints or bones were at odd angles or the wrong length, indicating that nothing was broken, and he only had minor burns on his legs and forearms. He otherwise appeared unharmed.
"It hurts..." he mumbled, allowing himself to rest against me. He then looked around at the destruction around us from his head resting on my shoulder. "Where're we...?"
"Gotham," I tried to reply simply, but realised I was still choking on my sobs. "Once our hometown."
He frowned pensively, and it was only then I noticed that some of the blackness around his head was not ash, but blood. I asked the first questioned that came to mind then, "Do you remember what happened?"
After a moment, he shook his head.
Perhaps his amnesia was mercy. If only I had been granted the same bliss.
It took him a few seconds, but eventually managed to say, "I'm Arthur... Arthur Charles."
"My name is Simon Yorke."
* * *
I had ripped strips of my clothing to cover his burns, lest they become infected, and shouldered most of his weight as we walked. Away from everything we had ever known.
* * *
As M.I.K.E. showed the glowing panel of red, all towns in the area marked with 'NO SURVIVORS', Arthur and I were both plunged into the memory of that day. The day of fear, loneliness, and despair.
"Dude! Is this some sick joke?! There... There's NO way we're letting that happen!"
"...And this is the best way?"
"Yes, Simon. No other method will yield better results. This is the correct choice."
How could the day we lost everything have been the consequence of the 'correct choice'?