It was funny how nature could reclaim the corpse of a village faster than how the village was built. Perhaps the playwright Domran was right; humans, especially the things crafted by their hands, had little power over the world.

With a sigh, Nox Stigan followed the almost non-existent trail that wound its way past two crumbling stone cottages. He remembered the way, just as easily as he remembered that day, as if it had only happened a few hours ago.

He could hear the pained screams, feel the searing flames that burned flesh and bone, and the claws that ripped them once the skin had turned black as coals.

Farstead was generally warm in the summer, but Nox still shivered in broad delight. That tragic part of his life was over now; he had already moved on toward his new future, leaving everything he had known behind. So why was it still so vivid in his mind?

Because you couldn’t let go of the past, an answering thought came.

He grunted at that despite his lack of rebuttal. It wasn’t something he’d like to admit, but there was truth in that comment. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here, trudging through the grass of a dead village.

It took him some minutes, and soon he was standing in front of a stone cottage—what was left of it. A roof, one of the walls facing east, a patch of dirt overgrown with weeds and grass. The rest had long collapsed, including the small pen they used to keep the deer they captured and occasionally bred.

He stood for some time, his mind rebuilding the house in his head, tracking the movements of its deceased inhabitants. By the well, his sister helped their mother fetch water for the little garden they cultivate. To the left, Father carried a bucket of dried grass to feed the deer. And on the steps of the front door, Nox and Ria ate roasted corn on sticks.

His chest tightened, and he took a deep breath before walking away at last, heading toward the forest. The path was long gone, but he knew the landmarks; from the two fields that bordered the path, to the hunter’s lodge near the ruined gates, and the pine trees that stood like sentinels beyond the village’s decaying palisade.

It was not long before he heard the gurgling of a stream. He followed it for some minutes, angling east until he came upon the lake.

Stopping by the banks, Nox picked up a pebble and threw it. He watched it sail in the air, then it struck the water’s surface, creating ripples that spawned more ripples as it bounced off three times before finally sinking into the depths.

He smiled. Ria’s throw was always better than him, able to bounce a pebble six times. She always knew the right angle to flick her wrist and how much force she needed for the throw.

His eyes scanned the lake. They often came here to bathe when they were free or when they just wanted to be alone, sharing worries and dreams… and the warmth of each other’s body in a sudden burst of passion during a star-filled night.

The first for both of them, the last for Ria.

Would you like to stay longer?

Nox thought about it for a few heartbeats, then shook his head. There’s no use reminiscing about the past; all it would bring were painful memories he wanted to forget.

He stood up, gaze lingering on the still blue surface, before making his way back to the trail.

Kenneth Villa Creator

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