Chapter 28

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LILY showed up to the funeral with red-rimmed eyes and a red nose.

She wore a modest dark gown like all the others, matching the colorless sky above. The Arrian people were a mass of black, all murmuring and teary-eyed.

She saw the twins, Ada and Iressa huddled together and joined them quickly. Vena met her eyes, but neither said a word.

Colonel Ulima and Arlo stepped up in front of them, and the group quieted. Lily stepped onto her toes to look in the front.

They were in a graveyard, white-blossomed trees raining petals down on them like snow. There were fresh graves in front. Quite a few of them. They'd already been filled.

"Here," Ada whispered, handing Lily a an unlit candle and a white flower.

A lily.

"What's this for?" Lily asked, keeping her voice low.

"You'll see," Ada said before turning back to the front.

Lily clutched her namesake flower tight, her fingers nearly crushing its stem.

"Thank you all, for joining me here," Arlo said, looking somber. He clasped his hands behind his back. "These soldiers died to protect us. They are the reason all of us are still standing here today. We owe them eternal gratitude."

Colonel Ulima continued. "It is a debt that we can never repay. But we will not dishonor their deaths with regret. To die for another is the most noble act in life."

Arlo cleared his throat, stepping forward. "And while they are not hear any longer, they will always be with us. Death is merely the next journey. We must continue living for them."

"Place your flowers," Colonel Ulima said.

Lily followed Vena to a grave. She knew none of the people that had died, but set her lily down on one of the graves. She straightened and looked around, watching others do the same, most of them with tear-streaked faces.

"Come," Vena whispered. She walked with them to the far side of the grove, beyond the graves.

Colonel Ulima said, "Please light your candles."

Vena gave Lily a meaningful look, and she followed them to one of the braziers filled with orange flames. Lily leaned in, letting warmth burn over her skin as she lit the tip of her candle.

They retreated, waiting for everyone else to finish. Lily caught Iressa's eye. The other woman gave her a nod.

"Please place your candles," the Colonel said.

Lily watched as the Arrian people placed their candles in a single, horizontal line in front of the graves. She set hers down as well, gazing at the long line. The bright light burned her eyes and she blinked, looking away.

"These candles will remain until the wind blows them out, like the lives which were extinguished yesterday," Arlo said, addressing all of them. "It was their destiny. But one day, we will all meet again."

He walked away, joining Arianna on the other side of the group, lacing his fingers through hers. Lily looked at her friends.

"Do you want to stay?" Venix asked, his face grim.

Lily looked around to see the people dispersing, some heading away from the grove and others settling down around the graves. The family and friends of the dead.

Ada shook her head. "I didn't know any of them personally."

"Then let's leave," Venix said heavily.

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