Sporadic gunfire and explosions mark the soldiers’ slow, broad advance into the ruined city.

Four of them crouch behind a crumbling brick wall of a house, somehow still standing after artillery has taken most of the house away.

A grenade lands between them, the nearest springs up and boots it away before it has stopped rolling. It explodes two seconds later, harmless in the rubble. The soldier who kicked it away stood only for an instant; long enough for a sniper’s bullet to find its mark.

The lifeless body falls on top of one of the remaining three.  He pushes the body off and breaks off the fallen soldier’s identification tag.  A stranger like the two beside him.

He makes a sign of the cross and shoves the tag in his breast pocket, along with the other ones.


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