Chapter Thirty-Eight

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I've been here for hours.

Possibly days.

Standing over a corpse I cannot seem to bury.

The council hall is strewed with candles. No flowers. No choir. No mourners. On most of the tapers, the wax has burnt down the wicks. With no one to occupy this ancient building, as every vampire on the planet is now being summoned to a new location of power, there is no reason for electricity.

I am content in the darkness... I am still able to see her in it.

Last I was conscious to anything in my surroundings was when Erika was sealed into a tomb, a ceremony watched by only those closest to her. Laid with Camari, I found some contentment in the fact that what was left of her wasn't going to be alone. While my first instinct was to burn them, finding a burial so confining, some relentless part of my mind thought of the lack of finality in death. So, we laid them to rest, in the case of a miracle.

Because when I leave this place, it will be my last exit. I shall never return. None of us will.

These halls that once held power and mystical wonder, a palace of the night creatures, will pass to a human sentimentalist, who has already spread their hands out throughout the globe, burying the evidence of the moroi's existence. A great fight awaits. A war unbeknownst to me. Many will withdraw, many will battle. The citrine in my palm ensures my power to smite those who wish to remain, which is no doubt why Cassandra left it to me—to do the task Jehovah cannot do himself.

Rid the world of vampires.

To do what his desires will split me to the bone.

My mind is already weary. My heart is already shattered. All that remains is this physical form I've been bestowed, now barely sustaining. To stand on my legs is a chore. To think about the coming days, a hell-song. To stare down at this woman and wait for her to wake, a desperate delusion.

I spent hours cleaning her wounds before we were meant to bury her. I submersed myself into the task, even after she'd gone stiff and begun to rot. Damien and Paris tore her from my arms, concealing her from me until she was prepared for burial. They covered her pale deathliness, and clothed her in a rich blue but I could not be fooled. Her body bares the marks of her death, the brutality she never should have faced. Although her abdomen is covered, I can practically see the hole left in her, feel the remnants of the devil that took her life.

I reach out my arm, laying my hand over hers, which have been positioned atop her belly.

The ruby of my mother's ring digs into my palm, a piece of myself that will go away with this form of her forever. It existed on Cassandra's finger long before we were married but it was always meant to be there. It was always meant for her. My own reminder of the marriage vows we took a few months ago in a deserted chapel is a dark contrast to my flesh, an unmoving mark of devotion that will remain on my finger long after this person is gone. When my flesh is gone and there is nothing of worth left of me, at least this ring will remain.

The echo of time will remember our love, for it is embedded in earthly things.

The frozen study of cement belonging to a cabin in remote Russia.

The dewy hedges of St. Clare castle, now raided and emptied.

The sand dunes of the Sahara, where we were happiest.

So much of the world is ours. It will be ours, even if we are not here to share it.

I bow my head onto her, blindly grasping for sanity. It slips from me, I know it. In my clutches, I disrupt her placement. I gather her close. The fact that she decomposes in my arms means naught to me.

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