The two men were very different, and yet they were so alike. From they was they stood, they appeared to be tentative allies that were as likely to fight each other as to fight together – and yet they stood side by side as if they would fight alone against the whole world to protect the other. Indeed, they almost already had.

They stood on the height of the city – or the remains thereof at least. They stood together as conquerers, and yet they looked around them as if they belonged here and had returned to find their homes and families broken down and burnt away.

Looking around, one wondered if they knew this place. One wondered if the ash coating their clothes was from searching for remnants of aught familiar, or if it was from pulling all around them down into dust. One wondered if the scars and sorrow they bore was bequeathed by the ache of all they had lost, or if by some wearying battle that took nearly as much from the victors as it had the losers.

They were tired. Their eyes and gait belied their youthful visage, and the sorrow with which they looked around was old and experienced. They had seen too much, and yet too little – and sometimes they felt so old. Far from being innocent bystanders, shocked by what they had found, they were well aware of what they had done.

Their hands were no longer clean, nor their hearts youthfully light. They laughed and cried at different things now then they had before – found it both easier and harder to forgive. They had done and seen too much – the ash and death here would be but a small addition to their nightmares in the end. The fire and ice that haunted them would almost be inconsequential in the end.

And yet, they were at peace. War had taken its toll of them in blood and tears – a terrible tyrant – but still they could smile and laugh. They could still lie down at night and sleep, they could rest from the demons hunting them. The tear tracks through the ash upon their face was as much from sorrow as relief; and in the end, they were content with their actions. They could live with their past.

It was done. For good or ill, all was finished. Whether the ground was made barren by darkness and disease and was sown with salt to finish the job, or whether it was left to possibly heal from the atrocities it had borne; the land was wrecked and deserted. And yet it was quiet. The blood that had long soaked the cloaks and hands of its inhabitants was finally at rest: justice was served.

The darker man's smile was bitterly free – tinged more with satisfaction than triumph. This task was completed, but for him the war was hardly over. The memories and consequences this place had wreaked upon him would hardly fall away with the giver's destruction – some scares were simply too deep for that. And yet, he still smiled as he looked around him. Not vindictively – but peacefully. There was no beauty to see now – not in the present – but there was safety. No more would the monsters here haunt his steps save as ghosts – things without power. He was free.

The younger man beside him was much lighter, and yet he had grown older as well. The destruction around him weighed more heavily upon his heart than it did the elder, but he knew that it was necessary. His task was here completed, and yet it had just begun. He worried for the future, for what waited still – but he was at peace. He wept for the ashes and death around him, and yet he laughed with the new freedom it signified for all.

Both knew this would hardly last. New mistakes and failures awaited them, new sorrows would scar them – but that was yet in the future. What was done in the past was rectified, and the dangers endured justified. This war had been won, but both knew that the next morn would bring another.

The ashes around them spoke of death. They signified tears, and anger, and betrayal, and the end of all things bright and good. They were the remnants of what might have been – of bright futures shattered without thought. And yet, the dark blot upon the ground also stood for life and future. Where had been disease, it was burnt out now, leaving room for new lives and futures. Where had been anger and sorrow now allowed for joy and forgiveness.

The past could not be forgotten in a moment, all too often it weighed heavier than one could imagine. But sometimes, the past could be covered up and pushed away until it no longer mattered – until there was enough time between it and the present that the sting was gone. Sometimes, like the rain washing away the ash until all was renewed, life could continue without the burdens of the past.