He dreamed of great deathless armies, endlessly battling on a blood-soaked plane. He also dreamed of engineers devising new weapons that would rend flesh, new arrows that would burrow deeper with the movements of the wounded, machines that would crawl across the field and crush soldiers beneath their gore-clotted treads. He dreamed of doctors and nurses stitching limbs back onto fallen warriors so that they could return to the fight. He dreamed of scientists making gases that would blanket the battlefield with choking vapors.
But mostly he dreamed of two men, each strangling the other, rolling in puddles of freezing blood and fuel, ears bitten off, eyes gouged, teeth and noses broken from repeated head-butts. As they died their grips only grew stronger.
This was the stuff of War’s trade, more than any of the other trappings. Armor was fine, blades and projectiles served their purpose, but without hate they would rust away to nothing. Mercenaries may work for hire, but in the pitch of combat they hated the enemy as much as any partisan fighting for his home. The swordmaster might respect his opponent, admiring his technique and form, knowing the beauty of graceful bladework, but the final flurry of vessel-severing strokes were driven by fury – controlled and channeled to be sure, but fury nonetheless.
Generals and logistics officers might be passionless in their deliberations, calmly calculating quantities of ammunition and dried meat, plotting routes to the front, keeping tallies of how many coins remained in their war-chests, but this was all in service to the moment when a soldier pulled the trigger that killed a man in flash of powder and bloodlust. Coopers might joke at their work and return home to warm loaves at night, but when the barrels of boiling pitch broke on the ramparts the cries would not be those of joy.
No, hate was the ultimate substance of War.
Soon he awoke.