A song murmured up from the valley below. An old woman's voice, frail and dry. The dialect strange. With the setting sun and the evening fog, the melody felt ghostly. From another world entirely possibly.
The graveyard below was not haunted however; there were no bodies in this place of death. Only stones and figurines to remember those who were never found, and those who never came home. There were tombs as well, built with old bricks from the nearby crumbling castle wall--but these empty tombs seemed worse corpseless than if they had really contained the bodies of the dead. The little structures were built for the very things they did not have. There was a pointlessness to this that tortured the mind. A hollowed madness. It made the longing for lost loved ones even worse.
Asha Kha Stopall stepped carefully and quietly down the slope towards this place of empty death. The sets of stairs and ragged pathways–which were hard to make out in the coming darkness–leading down to the grave site were pieced together haggardly, and felt very unsafe. There was almost an excitement to this, however. One wrong step could be fatal. One wrong move and it could be all over. The dread of life dealt with, and no more torments to be endured.
She wondered what the world would be like if she were gone. What would happen to the crumbled castle, and those left inside? What would the future contain for those mindlessly trapped in this tired world of the living?
So many relied on her, and yet she felt so useless. So broken and used up.
But she had to keep going forward.
Had to set at least one thing right. She would not fail this time. She would not give in.
Asha attempted to smile, but couldn't.
As she continued walking down, she attempted the smile again. Nothing came out. Her soul felt mangled. Hear heart empty. She felt like a corpse. A dead one making her way home to her final resting place. To the grave meant for her. To where she belonged.
When was the last time I felt a peace, she thought.
Nothing came to mind. Her thoughts seemed as if they were covered in old, dusty blankets—and beneath those blankets ancient monsters moving awkwardly. Secretive creatures born from the darkest parts of her wounded sanity. Slithering, and plotting, and forever crawling. And not telling her why.
Why did she have to keep on going?
Why couldn't she just die?
Stop it, she told herself. This is making things worse. You know why.
She made it to the bottom of the final stairway. By this time night had fallen completely, the landscape snuffed out by shadows. The air down here felt strange. Warm but empty. The dark sky above felt almost too broad, and too far reaching. It felt as if it would devour her. Ahead, a multitude of candles flickered through the fog. They were like blurry stars fallen from the horizon, and scattered into an uneven pile in the distance.
She was getting closer now, and the scent ofincense lingered. A smell that made Asha that much more uneasy. That much more fearful. It meant that she was getting closer to her destination.
The only sound was still the old woman's voice in the distance. Getting closer. Clearer. More real. It was Asha's light to follow. The caretaker of the damned. The keeper of broken dreams. The witch that would set her free.
The first tomb Asha came upon in this place of empty death was short and wide–with long candles perched at the corners, and vast amounts of chalk covering the old bricks. On top of the chalk was what looked like thick lilac colored paint smeared on loosely in the shapes of flowers. It was more beautiful than Asha had anticipated. She stopped moving, and just stated at it. It made her breath short, and her heart hurt. She felt tears in her eyes. She circled around it, but the other side was very different. Dread sunk low into her stomach. The opening of the tomb was an ugly, craggy mouth with a crooked stairway covered in dirt leading downwards. Along the stairs were heaps of misshapen candles, broken figurines, and bowls of burning incense, the smoke rising in tangled wisps. The door at the bottom looked as if it had been torn apart. Whatever had been inside was either smashed or stolen. Reflections from the shattered debris glimmered up from the candlelight.