26. Waited Too Long

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Back at the rebel farmyard, night fell for a second time. It shrouded the dead in darkness as if allowing them to finally rest. All was silent. Even the small creatures that were drawn in by the scent tread softly, as if afraid their newly-found feast would rise up and flee if they made a sound.

The night passed in eerie stillness. And when the sun rose several hours later, it spread its light far and wide, baring every garish detail to the world.

Even though the scavengers had scattered the corpses around during the night, many still remained. Stinking. Putrefying. A scene of utter horror to all who dared to look upon it.

One did dare.

He had waited nearly two full days, until he was sure everyone was gone and that no one would be returning. Now he couldn't wait any longer, or there'd be nothing left.

The stench brought tears to his eyes, so he'd removed his shirt and tied it around the lower half his face. It helped, but not much. Regardless, this was something he had to do. He couldn't leave, couldn't move on until he did.

It was the only thought in his mind. He held it there stubbornly, too afraid to think past it, to even try and understand why. Why did this happen?!

He needed to bury them.

Tarrod made for a small, miserable figure as he wandered blankly through the yard. Each step squished beneath his filthy shoes, even as he tried not to walk on any ... anyone. Eventually, he found a relatively clear spot and grabbed a shovel from one of the barns.

Then he began to dig.

He dug all morning. His back and shoulders burned and hurt, his arms shook with exhaustion, but he grit his teeth and didn't stop. Work gloves covered his hands, yet they couldn't protect his fingers from agonizing cramps. Eventually, the shovel slipped from his grasp, falling softly the ground.

Exhaling softly, he followed suit, collapsing onto his butt. He stared at the large hole he'd just dug, and as he gazed into its depths, his vision blurred.

His eyes burned. Water dripped from the tip of his nose, from his chin. But it wasn't raining. And it wasn't sweat - he'd wrapped his shirt around his forehead to keep the moisture from falling into his eyes.

His shoulders shook, and his mouth opened in a wordless cry. Everything hurt, but the physical hurt could never compare to the yawning emptiness inside. Why? Why did this happen?

Tarrod sat where he was for a long time, until his tears tried and he could no longer cry. He stared at the hole, the grave, in a numb haze. He might have sat there for the rest of the day if it weren't for the voice.

"Hey, kid."

Normally, when someone sat alone in a field full of scattered corpses and if a voice came from right behind them, there was an excellent chance they'd crap their pants. Either that, or faint dead away from the shock of it all. Tarrod, however, had already met his quota of being shocked silly for three lifetimes.

So in response to the sudden voice, he just grew deathly still. And waited, not entirely certain whether his ears decided to break and hallucinate sounds.

"Hey," the voice came again. This time, it was louder.

Tarrod stiffened. It was a man's voice, and though it sounded friendly enough, there was a great chance it was one of the Kairg returning to finish off the job. If that was the case, then there was nothing he could do.

Slowly, he turned and lifted his gaze upwards.

The man wasn't from the Kairg.

He wore a long gray coat, whose tattered and frayed ends stirred at the ankles of dusty black boots. A very out of place blue wool hood had been roughly sewn to the collar of the heavy coat, and currently was pulled way over the man's head. It shadowed everything but a smooth chin and lips that seemed like they were about to either sneer or smirk.

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