Stanhope's gone.

He doesn't look shaken, but he told me to live. No, that's wrong, he told me I'll live. We both know through, that it's probably the last … doesn't matter. Pipe now. That later.

I can hear Raleigh talking, but it's nothing more than a buzz, probably talking about how much fun this will be, how we'll get medals, how we'll live.

I can't scare him.

It's silly really, that I won't tell him what's going to happen, I'll just watch. In eight minutes I'll watch as he releases the truth.

Right now I have to play my part, and show no fear. Ignore my shaking hands and burning eyes and pounding heart, and just let the words out. I tell him how he's going to die and smile as I do so, I'm sending a boy to his death, the least I can do is smile, just like I did for the others.

It's funny, after all this time I'm still scared. After a life time of this I still feel it. It's the only emotion I have left.

I'm hollow. A disgusting humanoid animal who kills while wearing a smiling mask yet here I am, scared to die.

They say you see your life in that moment, but it's not true. My life is already dead, I'm just a corpse pretending. Pretending to care. Pretending to smile. Pretending that I remember what it's like to be alive.

But now is not the time. Now is the time to smile, because there's no war – if only someone would tell Raleigh. Even if he's caught on now, it's too late. But I'll stand here anyway, filling our minds with trees that aren't dead and smiles which aren't fake and I future which isn't real with a past long forgotten. I tell him about the road, a road from one of greatest civilisations with a brutal history which was destroyed by war, it's fitting, to talk about beginning of a circle which we're finishing.

One day we'll release the truth of behind our actions and have the consequences forced upon us like we force them upon others.

All because of a ring, a ring that is and isn't mine.

And the mask slips but it's too late now and we have to go and I have to lead but bless the boy for being innocent and not seeing the whole truth.

I meant what I said to him. If it was someone else here … I don't know what I'd do. He's so young, he makes me think of my sons. One day, will they be like him? Boys too young to be fighting being killed by old uncles who they trusted because they didn't know any better because they're so dam young.

It's not them. It's me and him, and we play our roles and I try to shut out the voice telling me to run and scream and cry and begging me to live and he tries to forget that he'll die, and I'll die, and they'll die.

I tell myself I'm already dead but it's not true because I'm human and I want to live.

And it's too late.

My body's moving up the steps, my heart has calmed, my mind turns off, but my hands still shake.