XXVI - Look At The Horizon

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The Wolf's Den
Whitetail Mountains
That Morning...

It was surreal, this setting. The once-thriving forestry, lush with green trees and the chirps and cries of the lingering wildlife was full of love and hope. Now, in the faint light of inbound sunrise, amidst the dying trees and dingy color of dirt and rock, the Whitetail Militia and the resistance supporters were gathered here, to bid farewell to Eli Palmer. Candles were in nearly every hand of the attendees present on the mountaintop. The inhabitants of the Wolf's Den gathered around a humble funeral pyre. Eli was placed upon a pile of wood and stone, his remains wrapped in a dark cloth.

"Each of us found the Whitetail in our own ways..." Tammy began, with a torch in hand, "but what brought us here was loss. Families. Friends. Eli gave us back a little piece of that..."

Though she couldn't see his face, it pained Diana—just as it hurt the others—to see their fearless leader put to rest. A little dizzy from the meds she took after their departure from the Fortress, she clung to the arm of her beloved Jacob. They stood in the back of the crowd, as not to disturb the eulogy. It was hard to disguise someone like Jacob, who towered above most of them. However, with Kim and Nick there to keep anyone from dismissing them from the service, all she could do was keep low and quiet, to let the memorial carry on.

"...He showed us the only thing we can rely on is each other. He was my friend, just as he was yours. But he was also our family... and I know that he will be missed."

Everyone reverently bowed their heads in a stretch of silence to honor him.

From there, Wheaty took over. He was granted the torch from Tammy, who had concluded her speech and waited for her to step away before his speech. "You know I thought Eden's Gate would just go away—that this was just some fucked up dream."

Diana frowned, feeling her husband shift slightly beside her. She could feel the eyes burning into them, drawing her own gaze to the ground.

"But it was real... we were at war... and the fight between Joseph Seed and Sheriff Whitehorse was endless. At what cost?" The men and women convened in this space wept, as the now-confident Wheaty continued. "Eli stood proud and courageously, not for us to give up now. We will put an end to this. We have to charge on. For Eli..."

"For Eli!" They said, in unison.

What should have fortified the appreciation for Eli, only made matters worse. Diana felt like she couldn't breathe. Everything Wheaty said felt like a knife stabbing further into her heart. The blame around their loss pressed down on her, until it was too much to bear.

A few others took their turns, cheering and laughing through some of the recollection of better days spent when Eli was still alive and well. It was what he would have wanted, they knew, to share their memories of happier times than to linger in sorrow.

But Diana couldn't stay. Because of her guilt and paranoia, she didn't have the wherewithal to bear the resentment these people must have held for her. They didn't have to say it aloud—she could feel it.

"Di, wait—" Jacob whispered, losing his grasp on her when she took off into the shadows.

Kim and Nick both turned around at the sound of retreating footsteps.

When Kim started to follow her, Nick stopped her. She looked at her husband, who was gently bouncing the sleeping baby in his arms. Kim's face flushed with surprise and worry, which only deepened when he shook his head.

"Just... give her some space." Nick whispered to her. He exchanged a quick glance with Jacob who'd nodded in agreement.

Diana needed an escape, somewhere private, to mourn. It was suffocating, being there. Though they were familiar faces, only a few of them were welcoming, and rightfully so. She understood the discomfort of her and Jacob being there, and it was a matter of walking on eggshells to keep the peace in this time of grief. There was as quiet enclosure of trees around the corner from the Den—one Diana knew of quite well. She'd hoped to center herself again, away from the crowd, away from the anguish and shame. So, she sought out that solitude to calm herself.

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