I’m not sure how I slept so well that night with all the chatter around the lodge and brief nightmares of the old world. Perhaps it was the alcohol that helped, or maybe it was the fight that tired me out more than I realized. I was woken up by Angel with a smile on her face. I sat up in a bed covered in furs and assumed that Ragnvaldr, who slept next to me, had carried me up. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked up to my friend. She pushed her finger to her rosy lips as a sign to keep quiet as she held out her hand. I accepted her help up and found myself on my feet rather quickly.
The sky outside was still dark and I wondered what anyone could want to show me at this hour. I placed my hand over my mouth as I yawned and looked for a blanket to pull around my shoulders. Ragnvaldr slept beneath his and on my side? Well, it was his blanket too. My heart leaped and my face turned warm at the thought of sharing his blanket. It was the first time we had done so. I quickly forgot about my original plan and opted for my coat instead. Angel shook her head. Apparently my troubles were unnecessary and I laid it back across the post of the bed before following my norn friend. She led me down several flights of stairs until we hit the bottom floor. Angel gave me one last look before marching through the cave at the back of the lodge. I followed beside her, our shadows dancing on the stone walls in flickering light. Torches lined the passageway on wooden posts, their flames licking at the mild air and reaching for the top of the rocky passage. As we delved deeper into the cave, the temperature dropped and I began thinking about my blanket again. The pass opened up into a beautiful underground oasis filled with trees and hearths and icy walls. A few norn were stirring and beginning their days, and as the light filtered through the cracks in the stone and ice, it alerted me that the sun was beginning to rise.
Angel nodded her head to our right and I picked my feet back up and followed her. Rounding the rocky corner we came upon a rather grim sight. Why she had brought me to a graveyard, I was unsure. Shrines, cairns, and gravestones were all nestled into the oasis, hidden away from anyone who didn’t already know they were there. I gave her my best confused look that I could muster up this early in the morning. In fact, my tired demeanor probably helped.
“I wanted to show you something,” from the smile on her face it had to be something really important, but who normally smiled in a graveyard?
“This early?” I yawned and stretched my arms. “And I couldn’t have brought something to cover up with? It’s freezing.”
“I didn’t want you to dirty your coat. Besides, I couldn’t let the boys know what I was about to show you.” She walked towards the back of the area and stooped down before a pile of rocks. Angel motioned for me to join her. I walked to her and kneeled down before the pile. “This is my grave. I made this before I left on my own journey – after I came back from hell. Here I have buried the remains of my past self, things I would never want to take with me – things that would only slow me down. What I buried here is my will to unnecessarily kill, my old legends and stories, and the things I didn’t want to become that had become me.”
I stared at the pile of rocks and as she said this, they seemed to transform. It wasn’t just a pile of rocks anymore, it was a grave of someone who didn’t exist anymore, someone who had died a long time ago.
“Underneath these rocks I placed a piece of parchment with my last name. It’s a sacrifice I made in order to redeem myself. My last name cannot be linked to me anymore.”
I looked to Angel and saw how she stared at these rocks. Despair in her eyes covered by pride. Angel genuinely left behind who she didn’t want to be and became proud of the person she had become.
“I want you to bury your past self here,” She looked at me suddenly, those crystal eyes focused on mine. “It’s what she deserves.” Angel was right, as usual. My past self was no longer here, that Alucardalina Claire didn’t exist anymore, and she had never even received a proper burial. She had been an amazing person and a loyal friend to many; she had accomplished so much in her life and yet she had no grave to be remembered by.
“Since when have you been so wise,” I joked, “But you’re right.” I stood up and stared at her cairn. “I’ll need your help.” She smiled and nodded as she stood as well. We worked well into the morning dirtying our hands with earth as we carried stone after stone to an empty space beside Angel’s cairn. With each stone laid I felt more and more sentimental about mine and my past self’s relationship. She had braved the world in order for me to enter it. Another stone to the pile. She fought for her own survival and it paved the way for my life as it was now. She probably didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone. Another stone to the pile. I carried this name of this great person, the same body as them, but if I didn’t work hard, I would never be able to live up to that name. Another stone. I had to make her proud and I had to break this curse that the two of us shared. And on the last stone I cried. Even though I had come to the conclusion that I would never be the past me, it never hit me as much as it did at this moment. It wasn’t so much that I would never be past me, but that past me had ceased to be. She was once here, roaming Tyria just as I was now, but now she was gone and that bothered me the most. I stared at this granite cairn for her with my tear-stained face and mourned her. Angel kneeled down beside me and placed one final stone at the bottom. It read:
Tears turned to sobs as Angel embraced me. For once there was no bickering between the two of us, no ‘crybaby’ or leaving me alone. Angel stood there as my friend who was comforting me. Angel was comforting me in a way she must have wanted when she buried herself.
I dried my eyes after a few minutes, “Ragnvaldr should be here.” He had been worried as much as I had been about the past; he would be glad to know that it was buried.
“I’ll go get him.” Angel disappeared and I was left behind with the grave both of us had created. I kneeled down again and placed my hand on the engraved rock.
“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, but it was much more than sorry.
I could hear the birds chirping as bright sunlight crept into the cavern from above. Dust glittered in the rays that warmed me ever so slightly. Citizens were now awake and already in their morning routines, their soft and hard voices mingled together as they walked in and out of the area.
Ragnvaldr and Angel came back and I helped myself up to greet him. I put on my best smile but he took my hand in his and kneeled down until he was eye to eye with me. “This was a brave thing you did,” he spoke softy, but his eyes already spoke it all.
“You told him?” I asked Angel, not in disappointment. It wasn’t something I thought I could explain well enough so I planned on letting her tell him anyway.
“I told him last night; well, we both talked about it last night after you and Tobih were asleep… Speak of the undead,” She turned to face Tobih, who was rubbing his eyes and yawning with a blanket thrown over his small figure. “Ragnvaldr and I both thought it might be good for you. Turns out, if you get enough drink in him he’ll tell you pretty much anything.” He leered at her.
“What’s going on,” Tobih questioned. I looked to Angel in hopes that she would explain it. She managed to oblige me.
“Claire just buried her past self, the her she used to be but isn’t anymore.” I blushed out of the pride the two of them were showing in me for this. It didn’t feel like something they should be proud of; rather, I was saddened that I had lost something so precious. I’m sure Angel understood more than she let on, at least.
“Oh, well that sounds depressing. I’m sorry to hear that,” he offered with sincerity before yawning again. Angel growled and hit his shoulder.
“It’s a good thing; It means she can move on in her life.” Angel snapped.
“It’s still sad.” He knew exactly what I was feeling. Maybe it was just a human thing that those two didn’t see. I smiled to him and he returned it with a nod of his head.
Ragnvaldr gripped my hand a little tighter and regained my attention by doing so. As always, he could see right through me. “My father always said that we shouldn’t mourn the death of someone but instead celebrate their life,” he cleared his throat, “I live by that and I want you to celebrate her life the best way you can.”
I wanted to. In her name I wanted to travel the world and help map areas unknown. However, this was counterproductive to the life I wanted for myself and the life I wanted to share with Ragnvaldr. Perhaps I could compromise and do both after the journey finished. Somehow I would make this work.
“Will everyone at least pay their respects?” I asked quietly with a liberal smile.
“Of course,” Ragnvaldr responded. I took my place at his side as we all gave Alucardalina Claire a moment of silence.
Afterwards, we found our way to the breakfast table, where we shared a meal of bacon and griffon egg omelettes. Ragnvaldr, Angel, and Tobih chatted away as I just sat and listened. They talked about casual things; well, casual for norn. They boasted about accomplishments, many of Angel’s being far fetched and Ragnvaldr’s being small and believable. Tobih spoke of his comrades in Ventari’s Refugees and he revealed that he missed them the moment he left but felt they were strong enough together to make it to the Kodan ships to aid in any way they could. I envied their feats and bravery and found myself wishing that I was as strong as them.
We didn’t leave Hoelbrak that day. There seemed to be a mutual understanding of the state I was currently in. The day was passed cleaning our equipment, washing ourselves and our clothes, showing ourselves around the city. It was full of food and laughter. It was a day of enjoyment beyond that morning, a day of resting, of letting go and feeling free of responsibilities.
Several rounds of drink made their way through the table again later that night. Ragnvaldr and I barely drank a sip of it, but Tobih and Angel were at it as if it were a race. They were having fun; that’s all I needed to bring a smile back to my face. Tobih slurred every one of his sentences as he spoke, while Angel conversed with a clear tongue. It was obvious who the victor of their competition was. Well, it was obvious before it even began. I kept an eye on him, knowing he wasn’t well behind this façade of his.
But here we were, four of the best of friends spending our night drinking and eating at a table together. Our pasts didn’t matter now, only how we handled our present. If I could spend every night like this then I would never stop traveling. The smiles on their faces and the laughs that eased my mind were enough for me to be truly content.
As Angel put Tobih in his bed, I invited Ragnvaldr for a walk around Hoelbrak. He took me up on this offer and we stepped out into the freezing night. I thrust my hands into my pockets as we toured the rest of the city. The insides of the lodges were loud this time of night, but standing outside muffled them into near silence. A light breeze blew through the frosty air, with my curls caught and ruffled in it. It stung my cheeks and yet it felt so nice to just be there.
“It feels like it’s been years since we met here,” I thought out loud as I brushed my hair from my face.
“I knew that as soon as you came through that door that I would be in for the journey of my life,” He smiled and looked down at me, “You didn’t even want me to travel with you at first… Well, not until I bought you that coat.”
“You were only supposed to be following me to your sister’s place,” I teased.
“Well I couldn’t leave you in the state you were in,” he replied and put his hand on my shoulder.
“And I got attached to you.” I looked to the ground, “You treated me in a way no one had before. I guess that led to some different feelings.” At least if I was blushing I could blame it on the cold.
“I thought so but I didn’t know for sure for quite some time. My advances weren’t coming off the way I wanted them to at the time but something seems to have worked.” Ragnvaldr stopped and leaned over the railing of the arched bridge we were crossing. I leaned over and managed to catch sight of a view he had undoubtedly brought me to. Underneath us was a frozen stream leading to a frozen lake. Islands covered in snow and snow cherry blossom trees dotted the area and in the near distance was a statue of Jora standing tall and just.
“I worried so much that I would only hinder your life by choosing to be a part of it,” I confided, “For days I couldn’t tell you how I really felt.”
“When you talk to me about your worries we work things out.” He turned to face me and placed a hand on my cheek. It was just as callous as before and still as calming. “Because of that we came to be…” His face came close to mine until our noses touched. “With a kiss.” Our lips met in a familiar way. He pulled away gently but stayed close. He stared into my eyes and I stared into his. He sat down, his back against the bridge and so did I. With our hands intertwined, we stared into the cloudy sky.
“When I set out I never expected to find something more important to me than the truth of my life,” I admitted, the breath from my words freezing in front of me.
Ragnvaldr smiled and squeezed my hand, “That’s why adventures like these are important.” I leaned against him and he wrapped his arm around me.
“Together forever, right?” I asked with a yawn.