The Tale of the Paper Warrior
He didn’t remember the first scars, only that they’d been there when he’d woken up. Long, faint, like claws slightly scratching all around. He’d made them out in the tide pools, spent some mornings turning himself this way and that to get a better look. These meant something. Some backward tickle in his memory–brave, mark, danger, pride–but nothing more.
He had earned these. He would earn more.
But there was nothing for him to fight on the lonely stretch of beach. Nothing but the seabirds, nothing but the waves. All the cliffside caves were shallow and empty of any lurking horror, and the cliff paths were too steep for his gangling legs. Limbs. In those early days, he’d made them his enemies. Traitors, never doing exactly what he told them to. Charge the waves, he’d say, and then moments before the strike they’d go knock-kneed and turn him around again.
He would get them, one day.
They gave him the scars to follow–knocking against cliffsides, stumbling hard against the stony sand, bad landing on leaps and unsteady attempts at rearing. Sometimes his footing would go on the rocks; sometimes he’d swim too far and the current would dash him against something or other. New scars, all kinds of them. But they were still so light, he had trouble finding them in the tidewater. And he was all bright red too–the blood blended right in.
But he knew it in his bones–they were there, what they meant. He dashed at the surf again and again, the great, hungry maw of the sea–never surrender.
Maybe he’d have been content to stay that way, in that endless, pointless moment. Collecting his scars. Waging war against the tides. It required so little of him, and enough that he didn’t think about the why of all of it. Why he was there. Why he was driven. Why he couldn’t sleep until he’d worn himself half-dead.
He didn’t need to know. At least, he hadn’t. Then the girl showed up.