The SAWAT officers sat around the grand fireplace, relaxing in their comfortable chairs, with a mug of coffee in one hand. They had enjoyed an exquisite banquet in what was but a brief respite in their war against the Dark Army. Now, full and content, they reflected upon fond memories of life before the war; their towns, their friends, and most importantly, their families. Their thoughts gave them a warm feeling and a glimmer of hope that one day everything would return to normal.
As the stories were shared, one of the animals leaned slowly forward, sipping the warm coffee that was warding off sleep. His name was long forgotten and he was now known only as the Eagle. His eyesight was compared to that of his namesake, and he had a quick, calculating mind. He listened intently to the others’ stories, casting his mind back to his own past. It had become a blur; his thoughts had been on the present, of staying alive for so long, and he rarely had time to reflect. As the last animal finished his tale, Eagle began his confidently as he thought back many, many years...
He had grown up in a small farming community, away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, where pets didn’t take the time to appreciate the finer things in life, such as the color of the sky, or the gentle murmur of the insects. Eagle had a younger sister, Elena, whom he cared for dearly and would keep happy by inventing small games that they could play together. Their father was a tall animal, with broad shoulders and toned muscles developed from years of hard labor. His son aspired to be like him one day, and would follow the animal around, trying to help out with the daily work. Even though more often than not, the boy was a hindrance, the father was proud of his son and always took the time to teach him a new skill.
When Eagle was sixteen, he had become the main worker of the house. His father was tragically crippled by machinery a few years back, and his mother and sister went to the market each day to sell excess produce. The burden was weighing heavy upon the young pet’s shoulders and he had lost the enthusiasm over the years. A nearby town held a fair every year; tests of strength, speed and accuracy were held there for all to show off and Eagle was determined that this particular year he would enter. After a bountiful harvest, the family had money to spare and travelled in the evening to the town for the event.
The bright colors and lights of the fair were to Elena’s delight as she laughed and ran through the crowd, occasionally shouting out when she found something of interest. As usual, Eagle would follow her around, lifting her onto his shoulders for a better view at the many wonders; Jugglers, fire-breathers, the usual medley of monkey entertainers that inhabited every such event. It was the contests that were more to his interest though, and Eagle was not alone. A small group of pets, all roughly the same age, were standing nearby, each boasting about how they were the best and how their victory was ensured. Eagle didn’t care for their attitude. In his opinion, arrogance was a weakness that could be easily exploited.
There was one pet though, standing alone, away from the group. He was a thin, pale dog of roughly the same age as Eagle. He stood with his head slightly lowered and his eyes were unfocused as if deep in thought. Looking up, the pet noticed Eagle and gave him a nervous nod before averting his gaze and resuming his thoughts. Though he wasn’t completely confident, Eagle believed that he would pose a greater threat to his chances of winning than the rest. Then there was the sound of the bell to mark the beginning of the contests, and the participants made their way forward...
At this point, Eagle stopped his account amid the protests of his peers who were intrigued by his story. Looking into the fire, he began to recall more memories, those that he had tried to keep buried in the hope that the pain would not resurface. The terrible, terrible pain.... Yet Eagle continued, compelled to finish what he had begun...
Several years passed by after the contests, and Eagle’s life had been altered dramatically by it. The contest had ended a draw between himself and Erin, the main threat. What they had lacked in brute force, they had made up in their speed and agility. Erin’s father was a sergeant, always on the lookout for potential recruits and his son was destined for the Air Force, whether he liked it or not. As an onlooker, the aging sergeant had been impressed by Eagle’s performance, and afterwards had confronted him. Should he accept, he would receive a generous amount of money, with plenty of opportunities to prove himself, and to demonstrate his strength.
Naturally, Eagle had accepted and had moved to the barracks on the outskirts of the town, and received basic weapons training and skills training. His eyesight meant that he excelled especially in tracking his targets. He learnt more about Erin as well, who was amiable enough, though kept to himself the majority of the time. And all this while, the Olympics were taking place far away. The rivalry and tension grew until the fateful, final event... Accusations became arguments, which in turn became fights, death threats and eventually war. The news travelled quickly to the barracks and the soldiers were placed on high alert. The pets were warned that they could be bombed at any moment. But the bombs never came, and life in the town resumed almost as normal.
It had been eight years since the contest at the fair, and it was time for the annual fair. Despite the morbid stories of the war, this was to be a fun night, a chance for the families to relax and enjoy themselves. The soldiers were performing in a small parade along the cobbled streets, playing their brass instruments to the SAWAT anthem. The local people, including Eagle’s mother and sister, were following them, cheering and singing along to the tune. Eagle wished that his father could have made it there as well, but he had been taken by influenza almost two years ago. Though he was not around, Eagle was sure that his father would have been proud of his achievements.
The air was thick with merriment; the sounds of band music, the delight of the crowd, the laughter of the children as they ran, weaving through the legs of the adults. It seemed idyllic, a perfect paradise away from the troubles of the world. Yet the noise was to be their downfall. They townsfolk could not hear the low hum of the plane engines, nor the screech as the bombs fell through the sky, whipping up the air around them.
The first bomb hit a group of houses, sending shattered bricks hurtling through the air. More followed, bombarding the buildings, destroying hundreds of years of hard work. The people were scattered like sheep frightened by a wolf, unable to protect themselves. The miniguns came next, the rapid bullets fired along the town in straight lines, flinging the turf into the air where it hit and making light work of those unfortunate to get in their way.
The soldiers were the first to react to the immediate danger. They guided as many pets as possible to the shelters, hoping that the untested armor would protect those inside. Eagle was desperate though as he watched the pets pushing to get inside. There was no sign of his family. He split away from the group, running against the tide of pets, closely followed by Erin, not halting even when a small piece of shrapnel dug into his leg. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he sprinted down the streets, oblivious to the danger around him. And then they found Elena.
One of the houses near to the center of the town was particularly old, and therefore less stable than those surrounding it. Although it had not been struck by any of the bombs directly, the shockwaves produced had caused the front half of the house to collapse forward. There had been several pets there when it had collapsed, including the small, frail body of Eagle’s sister. The planes continued their aerial assault, but his mind had gone blank. He could not hear, he could not breathe, the numbness of the shock was setting in as he stared at the lifeless, outstretched hand. And then there was madness...
Eagle was a changed animal. Sitting alone, never speaking, he muttered to himself, rocking back and forth. He flinched when his name was mentioned and he could be heard in the night, screaming in his sleep. His face was that of a haunted pet, with bloodshot eyes and grey skin. Eagle’s normally sleek hair was ruffled and greasy and he went unshaven. His life had crashed down before him, and he could not cope. The first step to deal with death is acceptance, yet he found that he could not.
He could have remained that way for an eternity, but his friend brought news from headquarters. There was to be planned attacks on towns near the border that were believed to be hiding a large enemy force. A small covert force was to be sent in to the closest one to flush out the soldiers. There was no warmth in his eyes when he heard this, just a burning desire in his heart for revenge. His blade would spill the blood of his enemies, and they would suffer slowly.
It was during one such raid that Eagle killed for the first time. A slit across the throat; Eagle watched with almost in-animal delight as the soldier died. His desire was not diminished however and he slunk into the shadows, looking for more victims. Eagle’s behavior became erratic over the course of the raids, causing Erin to be deeply concerned about the mental state of his friend. Indeed, after touching down on the tarmac one afternoon, he could barely contain his disgust as Eagle toyed with his bloody knife.
Erin decided to try and talk with the crazed pet. He was never a very confident pet, but as he approached the insane soldier, he felt his confidence drop even lower. Eagle had stopped playing with the knife, but his eyes remained fixated upon it. “What’s wrong with you Eagle? You’re not yourself anymore. You must stop this; animals are getting hurt, including yourself. Elena’s death was tragic, yes, but you must move on soon, or you’ll be consumed by your grief...”
Eagle remained silent as he spoke, but he knew that there was truth in Erin’s words. He had to accept the consequences of war. Animals died, and it just so happened that Elena had been caught up in it all. The knife now repulsed him. How could he have found pleasure from killing? He had become what he hated most; evil. Eagle returned to his town which was slowly being rebuilt, though the pets were still living in tents. The cemetery was considerably larger as well. Elena’s grave was marked with a simple smooth stone, as white as snow; a stark contrast to the blackened earth. Kneeling down, he placed his knife across the fresh earth and vowed that the war would end.
The story had finished, and the room was silent, save from the crackle of the fire. Eagle’s story was not unique; they had all lost those close to them. They had all killed, had all done atrocious deeds which they regretted and would haunt them for as long as they live. But they strive to end the war, to stop the bloodshed, to save the world from destruction...
END OF PREQUEL, START OF THE Futile War....