Day Twenty-Three

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HER SHOULDER FLARED WITH pain as she shifted to look at her friend, craning her neck back as far as she could. Arleigh's good eye stared at the sky, at where the moon used to be. Sightless. Gone.

A strangled sound came out of Raina's mouth. "No," she whispered. "No."

The world stopped spinning. It tilted, like gravity had shifted, like a void had opened up and sucked the sparkle out of the stars. She gasped for breath. Her mind spun, circled the drain until it settled on one thought: she had to bury Arleigh.

Her fingers closed around a small stone at her side. Gritting teeth as she twisted her arm until the pain pierced her grief, her hand closed on a rock. She threw it as hard as she could, watched it sail through the air and land pitifully close to her. Her temper flared.

A storm of emotions took over her as tears slid through the grime on her face. She screamed. She wiggled and she flailed and she screamed until she ran out of breath, bleeding all her sadness into the air.

She could not let herself die. She had to bury Arleigh. She wriggled some more, twisted as far as her body would let her, the pain so blaring and intense she thought she would pass out. She pushed, worked her way within the rocks, trying everything she had already done. Nothing worked. She let out a grunt and kept pushing, trying, exhausting herself until she turned her head to vomit onto the stones beside her, worn through. 

Arleigh's words rang in her ears and she tried, she tried and pushed and fought but the rocks did not even deign to fight back, absorbing what little strength she had without a sound. The sun began to rise over behind her, casting a golden glow over the mountain that had punished her dearly for a crime she did not commit. But maybe her sole crime was being alive. Like her ancestors, she had refused to die after nearly killing the earth. And the earth wanted revenge.

Footsteps walked toward her, limping and strained, and a single blue eye fixed on her as the figure knelt down beside her. 

"I understand," Raina choked out. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry we never fixed it while we still could, I'm sorry we put ourselves first even after we killed you. I'm sorry. I thought we'd changed, but we're the same, we're the same." She shook her head, grating it against the rocks. "I'm the same."

Arleigh smiled sadly.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Raina asked. "How we were always supposed to die? How we deserve to lose? We lose, and we cheat our way out of it and pretend we win after everything we love is gone."

Arleigh reached over and lifted a stone off Raina's hip, rolling it over and to its side. Raina gasped at the relief and shut her eyes, inhaling deeply. "Thank you," she whispered. But when she turned back to Arleigh, there was no one there. The rock was still there, pinning her down.

But it had been dislodged. 

She reached out and clasped it. She grunted, and then screamed in pain as her arm pushed it beyond any strength she had, pushed it and pushed it and--

It rolled once, onto the stones beside her.

She took this newfound strength and let it consume her, working her way free like a machine, two words cycling endlessly through her head as the rest of the world fell away. Bury Arleigh. 

She stopped only to let her stomach heave. The sun kept rising, the sky to the west turning from black to purple to dark blue before vanishing beneath rain clouds. Droplets began to fall and she opened her mouth and tilted her face to the sky, every taste giving her back a piece of herself.  She grunted with each stone she pushed off until she pried her other arm free, and then relieved her chest, then her stomach. 

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