More of my writing, because dear Joe Cascetti asked me to put it somewhere he could read. Please don't gank it.
For thirty years, the city had been at war, a zone of military might and military law that had wiped the taste of freedom clean from the citizens' memories with a dirty, bloodstained rag. The eldest could remember a time before the heavy, crunching boots and the rolling roar of the tanks, but it was a vague and hazy image, like a dream that was too-vivid in sleeping but slips quickly from the mind with every waking moment. Most of those still alive in the city had never known anything but the strict rule of an occupying army.
No one knew why the war was being fought, not any longer. There was undoubtedly a reason at the beginning--maybe even a good reason, insofar as any reason for a war can be a good one--but now it was just about winning, about victory and defeat and not being on the latter side. The invaders lived in concrete boxes, behind razorwire and entrenchments, and made the daylight thunder with their heavy artillery. The resistance lived underground in tight warrens no one else could quite understand, and when the night screamed it was they who caused the screaming.
Verity was nineteen years old, and she had been born in the sewers of the undercity, in a chaotic middle of a mortar shelling. All of her life, she'd known the grueling guerrilla tactics that had kept her people alive; hit and run, smash and dash, whatever other catchy one and one phrases there were for the habit of surgical, tactical strikes that ended up being little more than random acts of spiteful vandalism. All her life, Vera had been a terrier in a pack of other small dogs, sniping at the heels of a dragon. Their teeth were sharp, and the dragon bled and bled, but never did it ever actually fall. It was a life of standstill and bloody compromise.
She wasn't very intimate with the sun, or the sky, or anything remotely related to the natural world; Vera's experience lay in mortar, stone, and ammunition. She was a crack shot and a demolitions expert, and she was standing, all five-foot-four of her, in the deep-buried headquarters for the Resistance, under flickering and uncertain lights that tended to go out every two or three hours, with her arms crossed over her chest. She was staring down the length of herself at where the only old man she'd ever known sat cross-legged at a short-stacked table, thick goggles fit over his eyes and a hand-held butane torch licking its flame around the arc of some dull metal thing he held in the other hand. He was only in his fifties, but considering the mortality rate of resistance fighters he was, to Vera, practically ancient. She knew him as Gandalf, and if she'd ever known that the name was not really his, the literature that it referred to had long been swallowed by smoke and blood, and she could not recall it any longer. He was, after all, their wizard.
They stayed like that for eons in the thick air of the underground, Vera watching with wide, large eyes as the torch curled around the metal, fused it together in slow, agonizing intricacy. When it was finally knitted together, it was a small near-sphere no bigger than the palm of her hand, a surface with all the jagged bits nearly smoothed over that Vera could wrap her fingers around, fit her hand against as if it had been made for her, if only because it had. She looked up to Gandalf as she held it, feeling its weight and its purpose run up her arm and jolt across her heart like an electric shock, and their eyes met in their dark ruin. They said nothing, but she smiled, and his face tightened around the edges in the fashion men's faces do, when avoiding tears, and Vera leaned down with the lump of metal still in her hand to kiss Gandalf's forehead farewell.
Then, she turned and tread heavily down the hallway that she couldn't see but knew in her memories better than her mother's face.
Access to the overground world was limited at best, but Vera knew where every point of it was, and with the prize Gandalf had gifted her tucked safely between her shirt and her breasts, she scuttled along the pipelines and the corridors to the frontmost of the manholes she could still wrench off with a teenage mechanic's arms. She was yards, only, from the front lines, and crouched low against the ground she was just a shadow that could dance the places where there was no illumnation until she found herself shoulder-to-shrapnel with barricades that were older than her, older than time, the very real, very tangible schism of humanity's power and its capacity for free thought and passion. Snaking her hand under her shirt, Vera felt the heavy metal she'd been given by the wizard, and she felt her pulse rabbiting against it. More than that, however, she could feel her resolve welling up like a chord against the inside of her skull, and it spasmed her hand into a clutching grip around the piece of metal.
In one swift, deft motion, she stood and lobbed the piece of metal over the barricade in a long, high arc towards the Other Side. In a second swift, deft motion, fourteen soldiers drew their weapons simultaneously and shot Verity to a ground in a blossom of red. The last thing she would ever see would be her weapon come to a curious hanging stop in the middle of the air, and she would die with a smile on her lips.
The grenade peeled like an orange in mid-air, hatching into spears of light that cut through the oilslick clouds of war, cut through the tanks and the barricades and the deep rolling thunder of artillery and straight into the eyes and minds of everyone gathered at the front lines, of everyone within miles around. It was a searing light, a painful light, and when they closed their eyelids against it they found it was still there, imprinted in their consciousness, bleeding out their ears, and they began to scream in pain, in liberation, the birth-screams of something that was much too long in coming.
And then the light faded, and Verity's body faded, because neither of them were needed any longer. They were both inscribed in the hearts of the city, a blinding white truth that had dissipated like hail through their thoughts. For the first time in longer than even the oldest could remember, the thunder that rose was the thunder of drums and laughter, the thunder of guns slipping from numb disgusted fingers and tanks rolling backwards into the mud. And in the fragile, rising strains of a fledging song of freedom, one side lifted its hands to help the other across the barricades to dance.