This week has been an exercise in patience and tempers are running high. We’ve been camped out in a secluded forest cottage about fifty miles out from the Dunaire capitol. It’s a small space compared to the manor, with only three bedrooms and an equal number of bathrooms. With eight people about, it always felt like everyone was stepping on everyone else's tails. No one seemed to know whose house we'd commandeered except Lillian, who was being extremely tight-lipped about it, saying only, “An ally contributed it to the cause.”
Other than those repeated words and barely a handful of others, she has said almost nothing since the skirmish at the border. Same with Flint. They seem to have retreated to a distant place of grief and shame, both believing that they should have been able to save the Earth Elemental, Fawn. In some ways, I feel like an intruder in their sufferings, an outsider to their pain. None of us knew her like they had. In fact, most of us had only just met her a few days before she died. But none of us were strangers to grief, and each of us greeted it like an old friend. We comforted the two grievers as best we could, but we all knew that nothing we could do or say would fill the new hole in their hearts.
We buried her the night we arrived, using only shovels and our own strength to dig. It provided a fair bit of closure, being so close to the earth made us feel like she was all around us. Flint carried her body out of the house alone, still wrapped in a simple white sheet. Her body looked so small, enveloped by the cool canvas of white. Everyone had found a small bundle of flowers to lay beside her. Once Flint had laid her body on the lowered ground, each of us took their turn to place their flowers at her side. We were silent as we gathered around the humble little grave, paying our last respects to the fallen Earth Elemental.
We’re so lucky that Fawn was the only one who died tonight. No one put our thoughts into words, but we were all thinking it. If someone had asked me how I expected the night to go, I would have told them I was bracing myself for heavy casualties and the chance of failure. It was virtually impossible that all of us would be able to survive a showdown against a fully armed station of Shadow Sworn. That all but one of us survived with minimal injuries was nothing short of a miracle.
Miracles don’t happen, no one gets that lucky, least of all us. That left me with three possible scenarios. Number one, someone was able to come in and dispatch several Shadows before we arrived. Not unlikely, Ivy and Charlie had departed from the manor well before us, they might have had time to alert other Dragons or even do it themselves. Number two, the Shadows stationed at this area of the border were rookies. The least likely scenario, but still a possibility for sure. Number three, we had a mysterious benefactor with enough authority to alter the defensive border. This one seemed the most likely, especially coupled with the fact that we were currently residing in a house that was a gift from “an ally.”
But now wasn’t the time for calculations and theories, despite the supposed good fortune bestowed upon us, we still had a companion to grieve. As Shadows, we were trained to deal with loss, but this was a struggle. She was just a child, only sixteen years old. She had had her entire life stretched out before her. We had all seen the way she had looked at the young Lord Agreste and the way he looked back at her. All of it was snatched away from her in a fraction of a second, unjustly stolen from her before her time. But nothing we could do would change that, no amount of tears or screams would bring her back. So like the other Shadows, I schooled my features to remain impassive.
We stood there for only a few minutes, taking our cues from Flint, who stood with his head bowed over the grave. When he raised his head, so did we and under Lillian’s ministrations, the soil we had dug up sought it’s way back to the hole where it had been misplaced. We watched as grass slowly grew over the mound of raised dirt and flowers began to bloom around it. After another moment spent staring at the silent grave, we broke off in ones and twos, returning to the house. Lillian and Flint stayed out there all night, silently guarding Fawn’s last resting place.
Grief changed them. Guilt too. Strong emotions like that always leave their mark, but not in the same way person to person. Flint became a walking bomb, ready to go off at a moment’s notice, making him irritable and reckless. He spends his days sparing with Luke, but his movements are always wild and reckless. He never wins. He refuses to talk to anyone, taking refuge in the forest for hours on end, coming home with blood leaking from his knuckles. Ivy heals these wounds and she confides in me that sometimes she found herself picking long splinters from the cuts and suspects him of punching trees. I followed him on one of these excursions, watching him take unnecessary risks and it’s almost as if he’s constantly courting death. We found a winding river that runs through a steep canyon and Flint often ventures there to race up and down the cliff face, braving the hundred foot drop with no fear. He thinks he has nothing to lose, doesn’t realize what he still has. There is always something to lose. That’s what Shadows learn, but he was never one. Sometimes at night, he would talk in his sleep. It was always the same thing; apologizing to an invisible Fawn for not preventing her demise, begging for another chance to save her. Charlie understood loss better than most of us and he was often the one who sat beside Flint at these times to just comfort him with his presence.
Lillian battled her grief and guilt differently, it barely seemed to affect her in fact. The only physical signs of her emotions was the new, slightly blank look in her eyes and the way her lips settled into a line now instead of her signature smirk. She was quieter now too, fading into the background of a room and becoming a scarce presence. I walked in on her sometimes in rare moments of weakness when she would stand alone in a room, staring with unfocused eyes at nothing. I could tell that she was replaying the battle in her mind again and again, memorizing every moment of the skirmish, every minute, every second; torturing herself for not doing better. When this happens, I guide her away, finding a place for us to sit but saying nothing.
As far as I know, she and Flint have been steadfastly ignoring and avoiding each other like the plague. They haven’t been in each other’s presence for longer than a few seconds since their vigil at Fawn’s grave. No one comments on this, but we all notice and we leave it be.
The shields around the capitol were all taken down in stages less than an hour ago; the emperor was unable to halt trade for longer than a week without protest from the citizens of Dunaire. He’s trying to regain what little control he had had before the Soaring Dragon rose, and he couldn’t risk losing any more support. We would be using the sudden influx of people to teleport in groups back to specified areas within or around the capitol tonight. Nainika, Charlie, and Katniss will be teleporting to a place just outside the Dunaire gates as soon as they finish gathering what little equipment they had, continuing the rest of the journey by foot. Lillian and Luke will follow them exactly an hour and a half after that to a safehouse three blocks away from the manor. I will be teleporting directly to the manor’s front step with Ivy and Flint just before dawn. If everything goes to plan, we all should be back at the manor in the next six hours. Almost all of us, I correct myself with a final, sad glance at Fawn’s humble little grave. What state we would return in, was yet to be determined. The only certain thing was that everyone has been changed by this experience.