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40 Part V

 "Mama why are they putting Bertha in the ground?"

During the funeral, a four-year-old girl had a ton of questions to ask concerning Bertha.

"How will she play dress up with me in a big hole like that? Mother, tell them to stop! They should stop covering her up! How will she get out?"

Little Eliza understood nothing, and her mother thought it was best to not tell her directly that Bertha wasn't coming back.

Three bodies were buried that day, two identified, and the third was unknown. It wasn't certain how they died, but Artemis assumed it had to do with the Beastman that was looking for Anna.

Ma Lari and Artemis hid the truth about the cause of the deaths. They ended up telling everyone in the village that it was the storm and only the storm.

In spite of everything that was stated, Anna felt like she had something to do with it, but Artemis persuaded her to think otherwise.

As for the foxman that attacked both Rowan and his mother. His body was burnt to ashes, and Artemis buried his remains. She hoped a search party wouldn't come looking for him later on. The races of the village had to remain a secret no matter what.

Bertha's mother explained from her own understanding of the tragic event, what exactly happened.

The theatre was closed because of the storm, and they found out late.

She had something to do in the next village, that's why she stayed back, and she suggested they do the same, but her husband thought he could make it back home on time.

She didn't know who the second man was, but from assumptions, it seemed like they wanted to give him a lift. And sadly, he got caught up in the demise.

With all that said, she left the village. There was no stopping her. After all that had occurred, she was bound to leave the place full of both good and bad memories. However, she would not forget them, regardless of how far she goes.

***

After three days, the grieving continued. The grey skies mirrored the mood of the town that had lost friendly people. Things were not the same, and might not go back to the way it was without Bertha, especially to Rowan, who'd lost his closest friend.

Artemis placed two chairs close to an ample fireplace. In the silence, Ma Lari sat in her high grey arm-chair, and she looked at Artemis whose eyes settled on the pure red fire licking the logs.

The flickering glow illuminated their features, and it also sent its warmth far out into the room. Though the air wasn't smoky, they could smell the wood as it burned, just a faint fragrance to reassure their senses that there will be little comfort in the long bitter winter.

"What now?"

Artemis's voice wobbled as she spoke, questioning what Ma Lari had to say to her.

"I just wanted to tell you not to delay your task because of everything that's going on."

Ma Lari was emotionally strong. She had to be for her friends, brighten their day with a smile as sincere as she can muster. For her family, she'd always love them and put their needs above her own. That was her role, and she did it every day. Everyone only sees her smile on the outside, and so little of them knew what she was passing through in her mind and body. Her cheerful expressions never reflected the grief on her insides.

The sixty-seven-year-old woman could tell Artemis was planning to stay back a little until everything was safe. Ma Lari would not approve of that. She'd gathered enough money, and she got a magnificent sword for a good price.

Nothing was supposed to stall the next segment of her journey. So, she should carry on, and leave the community for her and the other elders to handle.

"You don't have to stay back for us. I along with my sons can handle everything when you're gone. Don't worry about us too much."

Artemis didn't want to have negative thoughts about going to Sol. Whenever it crossed her mind, she'd shiver. Her stomach would tighten, and her legs would tap the ground frantically.

"Don't be scared. We have faith in you."

She smiled at the old lady after her uplifting words, but a few seconds later, her lips quivered, and a frown appeared on her face.

"I don't think I can do it alone. Why can't the other spell casters join me to fight? I know they handed me so much money, but it's only me in this fight. I don't see myself surviving this."

Artemis' heart sank in the wake of admitting what she'd been trying to hide from everyone because of their support and care. What she feared the most was letting them all down. She'd disappointed humanity, and a part of her was certain she might do so again.

"When I came out as contestant 99, I expected everyone to hate me, but you all welcomed me instead. I'm hated everywhere, but you all defied the odds, and accepted me because of the faith you have in me despite my countless fails. I really don't deserve it."

Ma Lari understood how everything was weighing down on her shoulders, but she wasn't going to talk until Artemis was done pouring out her emotions.

Artemis took in a deep breath. With the advancement of her strength and powers, she could stay sad for a while without facing the effects of excessive heating. Nevertheless, she had to stop before it would turn to a habit.

She went silent as the last of her tears trickled down her face.

"This is about Bertha, isn't that so?" Artemis nodded.

The old lady heaved a deep sigh "I keep telling you, It's not your fault. You tried your best."

It wasn't just Bertha that bothered Artemis. So many were like thorns tangling her mind. She was hurting. Words couldn't define the agony of doubts she stored in her body.

Ma Lari wanted to say something, but it would lead to her revealing the truth behind the money she gathered, and the real attitude most of the spell casters possessed.

Artemis got up, "I'm sorry for my attitude. I need to sort things out by myself. I'm making you worry unnecessarily. I think I have this awful habit of feeling bad, and anxious at the wrong time. But like it's too late to think twice now," A slight smile spread across her face as she walked away. She stopped at the door and waved, "Goodnight Ma Lari."

The door closed afterwards, and the old lady turned her gaze to the furnace. She was disappointed in herself for not being able to advise Artemis or motivate her whenever she was down. The old lady just couldn't bring herself to reveal the truth behind the money.

If she told Artemis she traded the remaining forty years of her life, and most of her jewelries, it would break her. The spell casters made no donations. What Anna told Artemis was nothing but a lie, and they both didn't know.

When Ma Lari told the few she was acquainted with about a 'boy' that wants to save earth, some didn't believe, and some couldn't have cared less. They were nice enough to tell her how to make some quick gold. They introduced her to a spell caster that traded life span for gold. Ma Lari had a few weeks left, and she wanted to celebrate her last moments with a happy village, and not a grieving one.

*

The darm sky clung to Artemis's body as she laid in bed. Soon, She'll have to face the portal gate to a world full of vipers. The question she'd always asked herself was if she was ready.