The nightmares had returned.
This is only a dream, Tika told herself.
But it all felt too real. In her vivid dream, Tika’s eyes scanned the desolation of what once had been a vast landscape of greens and golds. They were once open fields full of buzzing life and thriving plants.
She could feel the dust and ashes under her feet. But they weren't her feet. She looked down and saw she instead had talons, which dug into the scorched earth.
It was as if she were at the scene of the aftermath of a terrible battle. Somehow, she felt responsible for it. And as bad as things looked, it seemed she was on the winning side.
But if this is what victory in war really looked like, Tika wanted no part of it. If her own allies had been the "good guys," what good people sensibly could launch an assault like this? She couldn't help but feel overwhelming remorse for the life that had been so swiftly and violently snuffed out!
Tika had something else about her strange dream body. She felt her powerful wings fluttering in the intense, dusty breeze. They felt like both a blessing and a curse.
In previous nightmares, those very wings had delivered powerful downbursts which cause major devastation on other battlefields. Those downbursts were combined with firestorms her allies provided for her to spread with those graceful wings of silver, gold, and bronze.
Usually, Tika's feathers would shimmer in both daylight and sunlight. But the sky was so full of the smoke and soot from the scorching of the assault. Those same feathers looked drab as the dust and other dark particles coated them as she walked through the desolate fields.
This was the ugliest scene yet. And she had no idea what these battles even meant or how they came about.
Suddenly, a friendly soldier came up beside her, but he showed only half of his face to her. “This is the greatest victory the Enlightened will ever know,” he said.
Enlightened? Who could be Enlightened and unleash such intense and inhumane fury? And how could she play such a grand role in it?
Tika stopped and cocked her head to see the other side of his face. The flesh had been melted away, revealing bone and charred muscle. Still, this soldier smiled an ugly, half-melted smile. The shock of the sight made her turn away almost instantly.
In shock, she tried to run through the fields. But she lost her footing, as the ground was so soft from the scorching. She tried to take off into the air with a running start, but her wings felt so stiff and sore from the labor from the assault. She dove head-first into the dust instead of the sky. It didn’t help that her wings were so coated with dust and ash, either.
As she lay there, helpless, shadows began to envelop her as she began to be surrounded by ghastly figures. She managed to look up and her gaze happened to catch one of them in the eye. Their eyes were cold and dead. They were all mostly skeletal, with some still having beating hearts visible to the eye. Flesh covered only parts of their bodies.
Even stranger, some of these creatures clearly once had full fur coats. But now they had skins of patchy burnt fur and charred hide. Others were missing limbs and still were crawling towards her at an alarming pace.
Some of them were shrieking. Others cried out in agony. Some made terrible noises, and some had bones that clattered as they moved. It was as a heart-wrenching scene to hear as to see. As soon as a bunch of them went to touch her and try to start pulling her apart, she awoke.
And Tika was relieved. The nightmare was over. At least, for now,
She felt her shoulders where those wings had once been. All she felt was her soft black hair and bony shoulders.
Good, Tika told herself, I'm just a girl again.
But with these recurring dreams, Tika almost wished that an army of skeletal remains truly had in fact pulled her apart. She felt such powerful sadness and regret. She wished that she had been left to die on that field. Her sanity had already died there.
It was so more than just a dream. Why did she keep assuming such a strange form?
The desolation stuck with Tika as she tried to "rise and shine" and get on with her day. The smell of burnt flesh and ashes remained in her nose as she slowly got dressed. She was so exhausted even after a full night's sleep.
She looked in the mirror. Her hazel eyes looked so tired. Her usually copper-toned skin looked pale. She felt ill looking at herself, even though she was a pretty girl.
Tika didn't feel pretty at all. Not after all she had been seeing, night after night. The nightmares had left for about a week. Now, these horrible scenes were realer than ever.
It suddenly dawned on her that in every one of these nightmares, she had helped commit great atrocities against living things. Somehow, every night she was capable of even greater violence. Those damned wings, once things of beauty, had been turned into a deadly weapon.
Were these actually things of fact? Was she recalling a past life on a world a galaxy away, long since turned to dust?
She hoped not.
But whatever the case, Tika needed help.
It was Saturday, fortunately. At least she didn't have to get ready for anything special.
But she felt so cold, even though it was a fair spring day outside. The sun was bright outside. Still, she dressed herself rather warmly. For a time, she laid back on her bed, pondering. She was safe and warm in her own home. But she didn't feel so safe.
Strange thoughts were now going through her head. They would get revenge, all of those poor souls. They kept haunting her.
Fortunately, her brother would be back soon from his night shift. Both of her parents were gone. She lived with her aunt, along with her brother. Her aunt worked the night shift, too, and Saturday was a double shift.
So, at least, she would know someone was around. Tika really didn't want to be alone right now.
She alighted to the to the first floor and went out the front door of her simple, but pleasant looking home in the town of Petro. It was awfully quiet. It was the weekend, but she knew by where the sun was in the sky that it was at least ten o'clock.
By this time, kids would be playing, at least. But everything was silent in her part of the neighborhood. She walked along, wanting to see for herself just how quiet things actually were.
Then, she thought about taking flight. But, of course, she had no wings.
It wasn’t until she reached the nearby town square that she realized that something was truly wrong.
It seemed the whole town was gathered around the fountain. They were almost dead silent. They seemed to be in mourning for something.
Tika rushed in, yelling, “Coming through!” Many of her neighbors recognized her voice and parted a way to the fountain. At the fountain, there was a post. Years back, when the Country had been involved in the Holy Wars of the Back East, there would be a list of names of local folks who had been killed in action or missing in action.
But those wars had been long over. And no one she knew was in any war right now.
Yet, there was a list. People were looking at it, and sobbing.
When she got to look at it, people looked at her sadly. They looked sorry.
Tika looked at the list quizzically for a moment, without actually reading the names, as if its very presence there was an oddity to her.
“What is this list?” Tika asked one of her neighbors. "What happened?
"You didn't hear?" the neighbor responded. He sniffled. “You may want to look at the top names. I'm so sorry, Tika.” He then walked away, looking down at the ground in mourning.
Tika now read over the names. A lot of them looked very familiar to her. Many of them that she had gone to camp with in her youth. Some of them had fought in the wars, but all had returned. But she didn’t believe the top names. She read the list over three times completely before it finally sunk in what had happened.
Tears began to well out of her eyes and she collapsed to the ground.
"Someone BOMBED the Hospital?" Tika fell to the ground sobbing.
Several of the townsfolk walked over to comfort her. But as they did, she collapsed.
But in her mind, she spread her wings and shot into the air with such force that the posted paper flew off the post. Much of the water in the fountain splashed a great many of those around it.
In her dazed daydream, Tika circled the town in the air several times before finally landing in a great tree on the outskirts of the village. She buried her head in her chest, her beak sealed tight.
The once proud Native girl now had not only lost her sanity after the horrible campaign that she had helped to complete. Now she had lost her brother and her aunt, her only remaining family, as well.
Now, an even worse nightmare had become reality.
And it was worse than she'd ever imagined.