Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 55
Singing. He heard singing.
He was outside, cutting firewood for the pending cold season, something that hit the Waring Woods with a ferocity unmatched in the rest of the Whistlands, year after year.
He had braved these winters with Brisa and Elara’s help for nearly eleven years now. His work with the Remnant had slowed now that Emmet was gone. Brisa had gotten even worse, her tremors nearly constant, barely eating anything. She had lost so much weight.
As the axe split yet another log into two, he could hear it clearer. A song, and not just any song. His song. The song she had sung to him so many years ago. The song etched on his heart.
He closed his eyes, softened his breathing, trying to perk his ears to the sound. He heard the whistling wind dancing amongst the tree branches. He heard the soft cooing call of a songbird off in the Waring Woods just a few paces past his lumber pile. He heard her voice. It had been so long since he had heard it.
It was coming from inside the home.
Cyrus threw off his gloves and wiped at his sweat covered brow. He dropped the axe, letting it thud against the ground. He ran for the house, as fast as he had in a long time.
He burst through the door that led from the kitchen to the back of the house, through the sitting room, and stopped at the closed bedroom door. He could hear it clearer now. The song was strong. It lifted his heart. He stood there, listening, his heart pounding from his exertion. The heartbeat in his ears faded as he caught his breath.
His hand closed over the doorknob. He turned it slowly and pushed the door open just a few inches. The song grew louder. His heart leapt into this throat. Cyrus used his shoulder to open the door the rest of the way.
She was sitting up in bed, staring out of the window, singing to the woods.
He cleared his throat.
The song ended. Her head slowly turned, those large eyes taking him in the moment he was in view. She studied his sweaty bare chest, his filthy breeches, his wind-tousled hair, his unkempt beard.
“Hello,” she said, voice as sweet and soft as he remembered.
“Hi,” he said, grinning beside himself.
“You’ve grown a beard.”
“You’re awake,” he replied.
She placed a hand at the nape of her neck. “My necklace. I gave it to my mother the day we tried to escape. I guess it’s still with her.”
“I can get you another,” he said.
She tapped a knee. “And I can’t move my legs.”
He didn’t know what to say to that. “Sorry” seemed heartless. He just continued to smile at her. She smiled right back at him.
A dozen scenarios ran through his head in just a few seconds. Finally, he just moved to the side of the bed and wrapped his arms around her sallow shoulders.
They hugged for what felt to be an eternity. Every anxiety, every stress, every worry he had ever had on his shoulders melted away with her in his arms.
He pulled back, grinning like an idiot, face warming despite the chill in the air.
“How long has it been,” she asked, looking down at her very thin arms.
He sighed, not knowing whether to be honest or not.
“A while,” she stated. “I don’t remember having this many lines on my palms.”
“Eleven years,” he replied.
Her eyes widened. “That long? No wonder you look so...”
“Good...” she mumbled.
They looked at each other, stupid grins on their faces and then burst out laughing.
He leaned down and kissed her. They kissed again. And again. He couldn’t get enough. They kissed until both of their cheeks were flushed and they were panting for air. Again, he pulled away.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” she responded.
All was right.
And then everything was wrong.
Her smile slowly started to fade, replaced with worry. The beautiful, large eyes he had dreamed of staring into for years, alive and focusing on him, started darting left and right. Her mouth twitched.
“Brisa, what’s happening.”
“I don’t know,” she stuttered through the spasms attacking her face. She tried to bring her hands to her face but halfway there, they gave up and fell limp to the bed.
Cyrus leaned in. Her eyes were starting to close individually, her head rolled to the side, then front, then back.
“Cy,” she said, voice weak and pitched with confusion and concern. “Cy, help.”
He put his hands on his shoulders. “What’s going on?”
“My...my head..it...my head...”
Blood started to flow from her left nostril. He wiped at it with his hand. More came. He wiped again, more hurriedly, smearing blood across her pale cheek.
“No,” he said as more and more blood came. The trickle turned into a stream. “No,” he repeated.
Her eyes rolled back into her head, her head started rolling. Her body started shuddering. Tears were coming from the corners of her eyes.
“No,” he shouted. “No! I just got you back. No!”
She began grunting, her body shaking more and more violently. He tried to steady her but was at a loss. He took lives. He didn’t save them.
“No,” he growled. His eyes started to burn. His nose started to stuff up with mucous. His brow tightened. His chin quivered.
“No, no, no, no,” he chanted and blood started to run from her tear ducts. Her mouth opened but nothing came out but a sigh. Her head fell back. He tried to bring it back up, tried to close her mouth. They refused to stay as they should’ve been.
Tears were flowing freely down his face now, his chin scrunched up in agony, head starting to ache from the pressure. “Don’t leave me,” he said, flinging the spit and mucous that had collected on his lips all over dying face.
“Don’t leave me,” he repeated as she took one last long shudder and sighed her last breath. She lied still in his arms, blood still flowing from her nose, him sobbing into her bony chest. He rocked back and forth.
“No,” he shouted at the ceiling.
“No,” he shouted at the sky.
“No,” he shouted at the gods that weren’t there.
“No,” he shouted as he picked her up, her limp form hanging from his arms as if it were an oversized cloth doll.
He ran full speed across Gareth’s farm land and onto Elara’s. Cyrus had to use his foot to knock on the front door.
“Elara,” he yelled at the door.
Hearing the alarm in his voice, Elara rushed to the door and opened it. She took one look at Brisa and put her hand to her mouth.
“Heal her,” Cyrus sobbed, pushing past Elara and rushing to the former priest’s kitchen.
He set Brisa onto the large table there and moved chairs out of the way. Elara jogged over and began running her hands over the lifeless form. Her hands grew so bright that Cyrus had to look away. Blue light flooded the room.
“Can you heal her?”
“Cyrus,” Elara said softly.
“No,” Cyrus growled. “Don’t tell me.”
“She is no longer-”
“No,” he yelled at the top of his lungs, ripping at the back of his head. “No. She was just alive. Talking to me. Singing. No. She can’t be.”
Elara sighed and moved her hands to close the dead girl’s wide, unblinking eyes. “She is no longer with us on this plane.”
“No,” Cyrus sobbed, voice cracking. “She’s my...”
“I know you loved her,” Elara cooed, turning to rest a hand on his heaving chest. “Her song will live forever here.”
“She was my...”
Elara nodded. “I know, I know.” She softly shushed him. “She had a great care taker all these years.”
“Shh now, be still. Be calm. She is no longer in pain.”
She slapped him hard across the face. For a moment, she witnessed his childlike sobbing frown turn to a harsh face full of rage and malice. It was a side of Cyrus she had never seen, and hoped to never see again. But she remained firm.
“Never talk that way again. You have plenty of reason to live.”
Rubbing his cheek, he shook his head slowly in answer to her statement.
“You do. You must live for her. Thrive for her. Find meaning for her.”
“How,” he asked, voice eerily devoid of any color.
“Find a distraction. Something to focus on. You have your job right? Maybe you should focus on that.”
He shook his head and whispered, “I will not work for them again.”
She frowned. “Work on your thistle, then. Try to make it great, a flavor everyone craves.”
“I’m not going back there,” he said, meaning the house.
She caught him staring at the lifeless corpse of his love and blocked his vision, pointing him to a large cushioned loveseat in the adjacent room.
“Sit,” she said.
He obeyed in spite of his conflicted, hardening emotions. Once seated, she pulled a similarly cushioned tall-backed chair over and sat in front of him.
She stared hard at him, sighing, setting herself up.
“What,” he asked, averting his gaze from her strong stare. “I will not farm again. I can’t go back there.”
She ignored his blabbering, still staring at him, trying to make up her mind.
“I have no reason to stay here.”
Still, she didn’t respond. They sat in silence for a good while.
He finally brought his gaze back to hers. His eyes were hidden behind a red veil of mourning. “I know what I will do,” he said.
“Good,” she said, already anticipating his answer. Emmet had already coached her for this day.
“I will seek to avenge her,” Cyrus said. “I had a friend do the same thing. It was the only way he could find his peace.”
She nodded. “Emmet found his peace. Now it’s your turn.”
He arched a brow. “You know Emmet?”
She smiled. “Who do you think told him you were here in this small farming community.”
Cyrus sat up, leaning forward. “What?”
“Your work for the Remnant has been phenomenal, Cyrus Fehweard. I have watched you grow well these past eleven years. I think now’s the time you know the truth.”
He stood. “What are you playing at? What do you mean, ‘the truth’? Are you Remnant?”
Elara laughed. “Goodness, no. But I do work for them, and have since I encountered them shortly after you arrived with that priest and Brisa.”
Cyrus fell back down into the loveseat. “Then you have lied to me this entire time.”
She shrugged. “You never asked much of me, Cyrus, other than to watch Brisa while you worked. That was a chore I was happy to oblige. You see, I may be indirectly the cause of Brisa’s death.”
“You?!” he replied, some of his scary fire hidden in his tone.
She held up a hand. “I worked with the Rebellion long ago. I was there the day you and your fellows were attacked. I witnessed the Emperor’s death. I witnessed poor Brisa’s injury. Yours.”
“What?!” he shouted, standing. His fists were balled.
“I never expected Parton to take such measures. To kill you, Brisa, all of those nobles. That wasn’t what Jute had planned,” she said, looking down. He could see the back of her neck. A strong urge to snap it flashed through him but he ignored it. Answers were coming.
“Parton,” he said. “So he was not killed.”
She looked up and shook her head. “He leads the Machine. I’m surprised you haven’t heard that as you worked with Emmet.”
“I had no interest in the workings of the Chop.”
Elara sighed. “Yes. Parton is alive. He orchestrated the entire day your life changed. He was a long sleeper agent, specifically set to infiltrate and eventually rid us of the Emperor.”
Cyrus gritted his teeth. “Who else?”
They buried her near the lumber piles on Gareth’s property. Cyrus had insisted on a large stone being carved with the Imperial sigil to be placed on top of the grave. Elara had warned him of the boldness of the act but he had ignored her. He asserted that Brisa had been a true heir to the Empire and deserved to be honored with her family’s mark.
He knelt by the stone and rested a hand on it.
“Do you forgive me?” Elara asked from behind him.
“You did not profit from our misfortune,” he said. “Parton and the others did. They will pay for that transgression.”
He had shaved his beard and was donned in a wide brim hat set low over his eyes. The coat he wore had been a gift from Emmet upon his employment with the Remnant. It carried every tool and weapon he needed to find his peace.
“This will not be easy,” she told him.
“Perhaps it will be easier than farming,” he said.
She laughed and tapped his shoulder. “If you succeed...what then?”
“I’ll find out then,” he said.
“You don’t expect to come out of this living, do you?”
He shook his head. “I expect to fail. The targets are powerful. Well protected. The easiest will likely be the huntresses. I’ll start with them first.”
“That will be difficult,” he replied. “The Remnant were fond of taking out soft targets. These...” he trailed off, looking over the setting sun. Four days ago, he had heard her song again. Today, he heard nothing.
“I will pray for you,” she said.
He ignored her and started walking.
“Cyrus,” she called after him. He did not answer, walking steadily, head cocked slightly downward, down the path and out of her life.