XIX : Arden

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Arden stood in the middle of the cobbled road. Heavy tears of the clouds fell to the ground, showering his skin with cold kisses, caressing his cheeks with frozen palms. The rain gave a melancholic hue to the unfamiliar trees, the carriage that was rushing away from him, the rusty gates that laid before him. 

The rain calmed some, but not him. Each drop was another thought in his pounding head, another worry, another memory that strived to hurt him. But he was numb now. That was why he had found the courage to come to the cemetery. 

His boots fell to the ground with wet thumps. Every step felt heavier than before, as if his common sense was holding them back from leading him somewhere he would regret. Yet he pushed his limbs forward, and the soil squeaked and protested. He had to go there. At least once, and then never again. It was a burden that had been haunting him since his teens. A burden that had to be relieved, or he would collapse under the weight of his guilt.

It hadn't been difficult to get there. The carriage didn't take much from him; perhaps because he seemed so dull. Six silver pieces and a threatening tap on his pocket was enough to get him to the outskirts of Karahi, miles away from Pupara. The weapons would have to wait. Now was the only moment when nobody would question his absence.

The lake was hardly visible even from the mountain. Silence stuffed Arden's ears, a constant ring that drilled into his mind. His footsteps sounded like climactic drums of war as he marched over to the fence and pushed it open. With a deep sigh, he walked inside.

A thick layer of mist obscured Arden's vision, shielding the graves from the mournful glances of the guests. Yet the only visitors that roamed the cemetery as the boy let his feet tread across the muddy soil were grieving shadows, phantoms. Gnarled trees dripping cool droplets hunched over most of the expanse, soaking the rest in darkness. The place echoed with painful sorrow and the emptiness of heartfelt loss.

Arden let his hood drop to his shoulders. The drizzle washed over his skin, his hair, drenching his clothes in rejuvenating chillness. It attempted to take away the dark feeling weighing his heart down, the slight quiver of his hands as he examined each name carved on the tombstones. Some were bizarre and long; Halal di Madar, one read. Some others were single names. The days upon days of contemplation and guilt had benumbed him. He was not in pain anymore.

But even if you plunge a knife in a numb man's chest, he will still feel it dip into his flesh. He will still endure the horror of watching his body slowly expire, with no pain to distract him.

His heart had picked up from the moment he stepped his boot on the muck of the graveyard, but it nearly exploded when familiar names started appearing on the stones. Shoele, Dahil, Sedem. All names he once spoke. All people he once knew. The countless hours of training and talking and laughing were burnt into his memory, pulsing with heat and nostalgia as he moved along the ground his former classmates were buried under. 

His galloping pulse suddenly halted as his eyes fell on another gravestone, somehow murkier than the rest.

Miran Taikus.

Arden thought he was incapable of feeling pain anymore. Yet a wave of cold sweat rushed over his body, dropping him into a frozen void of darkness. At first he felt nothing. Then, a sliver of pain was born. It grew and grew until it bloomed into agony, sorrow, guilt. His hand dashed to his chest, clutching the fabric of his drenched shirt between tight fingers. The pain had no mercy. Vines of anguish slithered around his heart, depriving it of the warmth he had fought for all those years. 

Then the pain reached his head. His eyes blurred and his vision faltered, a feeling of dizziness he couldn't shake off. The memories played in his head again and again like a broken record, each repetition another needle in his skin, another skipped beat of his heart. His mind made sure not to leave anything out; the day he saw her, the day he kissed her. The day erased her from his life.

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