Dust of Whispers

Kota needed supplies. There wasn’t a question about it when it came to surviving. Either you ran out and died, or you clawed and crafted to give yourself that little bit of edge above the next individual.
A shameful, but necessary tactic. One sometimes taught by an experienced person, sometimes learned easily by observing, counting, hiding, and looking out for selfish gains. And, occasionally, Kota’s case would be born.
Through fighting, scavenging, understanding, and never succumbing to the scraps of the battlefields.
There would always be more. War was never-ending so there would always be supplies to raid. Weapons, flasks, bullets, dressings, a treasure of great value once in a while–but the real prize would remain no matter how much time passed. It was Kota’s trade, his way to continue going, so he picked one that wouldn’t run dry.
It’d been a few weeks since he needed the right supplies. The smaller skirmishes gave him access to painkillers, antibiotics from the medics, and most importantly, water. Food, if he raided anytime before meals.
Scraps of cloth were easy. Fresh metal that could be smithed into stronger materials and weapons stayed mainly to the armory fights, ones further away from bases. While the grander machines and ruptured chassis and engines provided chains and working parts, every time Kota thought he was nearing a pocket of fuel in the discarded mechs, the search proved useless. Every pilot tended to run their tanks empty in the last ditch efforts.
Ships circling the sky, far above the planet, pelted the grounds around any moving machines, but they’d always miss the bugs.
Like Kota.
The middle of the night was the perfect time. Cover was ample, the sounds of clashing metal dwindled to minor groups, and the skies turned red from the rising blood, signalling that no others would dare step towards the empty fields.
Kota dared. Because it was necessary.
Scrambling over another blown suit, a burst tank, Kota slid down into a deep crater. It was blasted from a falling shell. Some of the edges grew with glass due to the sweltering heat, great for knives, and the deepest parts gave way to minerals that Kota could use for his custom forge.
He’d stack these materials in a large satchel, hung around his upper body so he could move unhindered. By placing sheets of fabric, he could avoid tears or breaks.
But, even when he shook the beefy pack, Kota knew immediately what he was missing.
Kota didn’t need to rummage through his bag. He kept a mental track of each and every piece. If for some reason he couldn’t evade capture, there were no guesses or mysteries. The catalog for instant materials or creations remained in the best place of all. Deep in his soul since it was survival.
It became instinctual.
Kota scrambled through a quick stop next to a pile of jagged rubble.
A body.
At first, he hesitated out of the drive to survive and fight if need be. Only a second passed before Kota realized that the body was still there, not spread into ash or crimson dust like all the others.
This–the most valuable resource–
Kota needed it.
There was no doubt that the man was dead. Without his machines, without the tubes meant for life support, and without a steady air supply, there was no surviving. The skin suit split along the joints and curled away like broken celery. The eyes of the corpse were sunken like he’d gotten the very life sucked out from behind his head. Arms and legs were twisted loose. And, the chest was blown open as if his heart had escaped and jumped away.
Kota approached quickly. When the discovery was confirmed, he had to act faster than usual. Timing was the most important element.
If he was too late, he wouldn’t be able to harvest what he needed. But, if he was too early, he’d have to wait, which in a battlefield would place him in a severe disadvantage.
The closer he examined the body, the sooner he realized that the timing was perfect.
Kota scanned a hand over the face and only touched when he reached the right side of the chest. He could identify the species just by looking. The trick was that the heart was on the opposite side.
A faint golden glow snaked from Kota’s shoulder, down his arm, and intertwined with his fingers until it fed into the chest cavity.
The process happened suddenly. And, almost, instantly. The body broke down into pieces like a figure made of red dust. The heaviest pieces fell to the ground first, in heaps, before the rest burst in a swift pop of mist.
Kota raised his hand, now holding an amber piece. It swirled with a slight golden hue.
Screaming in pain. Then, sighing in relief.
Kota allowed it to float into the sky until it expended and burst like a bubble, leaving only a whisper.
Kota backed up a couple of steps and brandished his sharpest knife conjured from obsidian glass.
The wet ash left behind stirred together with the remaining red droplets. As fast as Kota could pull his weapon, a beast formed from the remnants.
A bipedal lion. Talons, teeth, muscles, size, and ferocity that far outweighed the domestic beast normally presented in stellar zoos.
Kota gently placed his satchel aside and conjured a second longer blade from below his waist belt.
The corpse–once a living man–had died with regrets.
The least Kota could do was to put those regrets to rest. It was an honor and a necessity.

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