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3/10/2019 2:24:17 PM

The Lords of Ambros (Chapter 10, Part 1 (continued(2)))

Table of Contents: [b]Chapter 10, Part 1 (continued(2))[/b] Following the murder, the refugees drifted outward to the crater’s furthest reaches, as if upon a wave. Each was carried, it seemed, by the pull of a common instinct, and driven in turn from the camp’s center. Once at the basin’s fringe, it was there that they would remain, as surely as if they were stranded. In a way, they were. About them was a sea, of sorts. This sea was not a violent one, however-was not plagued by any discernible tempest. It was, indeed, quite calm. No more waves broke its surface, and nothing could be seen within its waters. Truthfully, nothing could be sensed of the sea at all…for it was a sea of fear, characterized by silence, and by still. It was a sea upon which none, standing now upon the serene shores of their scattered islands, dared for another moment venture, knowing that a terrible fate soon awaited any who should be caught within its bounds. Yet still, one lingered. This lone mariner, rather than sail for safe harbor as his fellows, had, in fact, set his anchor. Though he wished no more than any other to remain at sea, he refused to break from his moorings, electing instead to circle about his anchor, occasionally attempting to drag it along with him. This may seem a foolish course, but, you see, his anchor-however lifeless-was once his closest friend. ________________________________________ Noticing Locke’s strain, which-despite his refusing to look even in the corpse’s general direction-was indeed quite audible, Hardy mustered the will to stand, and sullenly approached the scene of his crime. He would, the boy resolved, aid in the burial of his slain foe, though he assured himself that his purpose for doing so was simply to be rid of the body. Yet, had his motives been so void of virtue as he supposed, Hardy would not have reacted as he did (or, rather, [i]would[/i] have reacted-as he did not) to the welcome that he received upon his arrival. Spotting his approach, Locke had set upon him with a number of blows, each thrown amid a barrage of curses and tears. Hardy, for his part, simply stood, his eyes downcast, and took the beating. It was not until the smaller boy threw himself into his adversary, delivering both to the rock-strewn ground, that the latter so much as spoke. “I’m here to help…” Hardy mumbled, more in practice of honesty than in his own defense, as he fully expected to suffer further abuse. For a while longer, his predictions proved valid-but, driven more so by the onset of fatigue than by any sense of mercy, the torrent of hate grew slow; slower; stopped altogether. At this time, rather than offer his own motives, which were plainly apparent, Locke collapsed at his enemy’s side. For some time, both lay in silence: Locke overcome by a myriad of emotions, and Hardy-though to some degree captured by his own thoughts-simply waiting for the other to rise, knowing that he should be the later to do so. Once Locke forced himself to his feet, intent upon returning to his hopeless toil, Hardy arose at his side and, silently, took up the corpse by its arms. Locke, having only one hand, did his best to further lighten the load, and said nothing. The two made for the crater’s edge. Reaching the slope that surrounded them, and-eventually-scaling it, the bearers of the corpse forged onward, stumbling some ways across the plain beyond before halting and loosing themselves from their burden. Now, they looked about at their surroundings. There was little vegetation at all. Shrubs were few, and trees fewer. There was little, then, with which to mark a grave-save a scattering of unremarkable gray stones. Of course, there was no need at all to mark a grave that they hadn’t the means to dig. It was only now that the boys recalled, almost simultaneously, as they stared dully at the body before them, that they were without a shovel. In fact, there wasn’t a single shovel to be had in the entirety of their camp, nor any other instrument of sufficient resemblance. So, the two set to gathering stones. This, too, was done in silence. Once they felt their store adequate, they began to pile the stones about the corpse. It gazed up at them in eternal indifference, Locke having to this point neglected to close its eyelids. Before the stones were set that should cover it, he reached down and did this. Prior to rising, Locke reached into his pocket, his fingers numb for a variety of reasons (of which cold was the least), and produced an all-too familiar object: the knife. He held it with as few fingers as were necessary, and at arm’s length. What had, some short hours ago, once been among his most prized possessions, was now a thing of filth. It was coated from end to end with the smear of blood. He let it slip to the grave without hesitation. Shortly thereafter, and still before the final stones had been placed, Locke slipped off his cloak-as marked as the dagger-and deposited it with all else that was to be left there. Hardy, though by no means spared the touch of blood, hadn’t any clothes but those which he wore, and so remained as he was: the image of a killer. For the Hardy that had been that dawn, it was a fitting look. For the Hardy that now was, it seemed decidedly out of place. Then the grave was sealed, and its architects glanced shortly at one another upon the placing of its capstone, with a shared look of somber satisfaction. Locke nodded. At this, they turned their eyes again to the west, and made their way, together, back to camp. Still, they did not speak. ________________________________________

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