An ashy, blackened wasteland stretches in front of the barefoot girl. Her tangled hair tugs across her face as a breeze rakes the ground, stirring up eddies of white, papery ash. She takes a tentative step forward, bare arms clasped tightly about herself, positioned for defense in a world clearly already dead.
“Hello,” she calls, her voice swallowed by the empty land, but reverberating over and over in her head. She swallows and tries to pretend she isn’t desperate. Two more steps towards nothing before she remembers that there’s no one to pretend for. She can stop walking and suffocate in ash and loneliness.
With wonder written in her tear-filled eyes, she lifts up a smudged hand to catch a delicate fragment of ash on the tips of her fingers. It leaves a pale smear on her hand, a pure white contrast to her filthy body.
Hazy, half-there memories flood through her mind, as painful and unsatisfying as dry heaves. It hurts, it hurts so badly. She might not remember this world that burned, but she knows more certainly than anything else that there was a world here and it was beautiful. Now it is gone. Its only remains are on her fingers, falling about her, coating the world.
She sucks a deep, ragged breath into her lungs, wondering if it hurt so much to breathe when the world was whole. Tears track down her face, making clean lines. She reaches trembling fingers up to feel where the dirt used to be and reflects sadly that it costs such suffering to be clean.
It might hurt, but at least she has proof now that cleanness exists. It’s possible to be clean. She knows now and the knowing causes more tears to drip down her face. A deep, desperate, burning desire ignites in her stomach. In the dampness of her tears, she wipes her ashy fingers across her cheeks, leaving white streaks. Now she’s a warrior.
The ash of a once beautiful world is the only thing that she knows is real, and now she’s protected by it. She’s laughing and running across the blackened ground. She isn’t afraid now, and she realizes she had been afraid before because she had been dead too. Now she’s alive.
She falls to the ground in the midst of the ash, happy just to be touching it, happy just to be alive. There, curling up between the black dirt and white ash, is a tiny whisper of green. A breath of air too hot or a gust of wind too sharp could dislodge and whither it, but for the moment, it lives. This little plant is coming alive with her. She stares down at it, laughing, crying, painfully grateful for the opportunity to see it.
She’s a warrior now and she’ll do everything she can to protect that little promise of hope. The world is dead, but it can come to life again.