The Soldier

The sound of explosions and the shouts of battle reverberated around him as Ward charged across the snowy fields, sword in hand. The aetherforged barrelled into an enemy, knocking them to the ground before they went lifeless as Ward’s blade met a vital organ. Around the soldier, cracks of lightning and the detonation of fireballs sounded, and hails of arrows flew overhead. He wondered what it would be like to die.

Would he experience anything? Grave came for the souls of the mortal races, that much everyone knew, but what about him? What about his people? Did a soul dwell within his metal casing? He liked to think so. Maybe things would just go black. Could he even really die? The artificers could repair most fallen aetherforged.

Maybe that meant he didn’t have a soul.

A sword scraped against his polished back, finding no purchase. Ward turned and regarded his assailant, raising his sword ready to strike. He faltered, seeing the young man before him. He was little more than a boy, by Ward’s estimation. The facial structure was too soft, the skin too smooth. He was perhaps sixteen summers at most, clad in ill fitting chainmail and holding a longsword too heavy for him to wield properly. The boy’s eyes widened in fear as the Gladiator towered over him, unaffected by his attack. The din of battle around them faded into the background, and time seemed to slow for the pair.

Instinctively, Ward moved to lower the blade, but his limbs did not obey. The boy didn’t pose a threat, it was plain to see. Ward wondered what had transpired for him to be here. What sort of person he was. Whether he had a mother. A father. A family. What had brought him here, to this spot, with Ward? Where might he go after this? Perhaps he would be a merchant, or a smith, or a cobbler. A painter, a musician, or a writer. A teacher. Perhaps he would fall in love, or start a family. Perhaps he wouldn’t. In that moment, Ward realized he needed to choose the value of that future. He decided if it lived or died.

It did have value, he thought.

Then the programming took over, and Ward lifted the boy from the ground and put him to the sword in one swift motion, powerless to interfere. The boy’s torso slid to meet the sword’s crossguard, then slumped off the blade and onto the cold ground as the blade lowered. The snow around the corpse slowly grew red, like ink spilled on parchment, and blood laced his weapon. Inside his steel cranium, Ward screamed.

Maybe he did have a soul.

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