Chapter 27

The funeral was held by the river that ran through our tribe's home. It was mostly our own locals, but there were a few members of other tribes who also knew our friend.

Hork-Bajir funerals share commonalities with the Human equivalent. Those who knew Relk best gave their heart-felt words in front of the solemn crowd as her burial place was decorated with a collection of fine barks. Flowers weren't common at this time of the year.

I kept mine. I didn't want to part with them.

In fact, I refrained from speaking at her funeral. I stayed at the back of the crowd and gazed on with an unfocused stare, my ears picking up the words but my mind refusing the process them. Pluk and Ruga tried to get some words out of me, but they eventually gave up and nearly stood around as a silent comfort. However, as soon as the funeral was over and their attention was distracted, I escaped to the trees and took myself to a secluded location a mile away. There, I found a perch high up the canopies where nobody would find me, and sat with my flowers.

I wept freely for some time. Guilt was slung around my neck like a thick wintery scarf, and the grief I felt for a friend that was getting so close was the cold that ravaged my skin. The real cold, the freezing temperature of the park in the most frozen time of the year, meant nothing in that moment of sorrow.

Relk was gone, and that was the terrible thought that constantly oscillated in my mind, and I couldn't bear to make excuses for my own responsibility. My mistake was in not verifying that the Humans were trustworthy. In my time among Human society, I had learnt so many lessons. Most important of these was not to trust a Human like one would trust a Hork-Bajir. Humans can be very dangerous, and I knew that perfectly well.

So why did I trust them? Why did I leave my admittedly gullible friends to fulfil my own selfish pleasures? I was an idiot, and had I not been, Relk would still be alive.

Her death was my fault, and the fault of the terrible Humans who were so evil as to take an innocent life.

And I tried to suss their reasons. Surely, the Humans had a motive to attack Relk. Maybe she came across as threatening, or she took them by surprise and spooked them.

But those reasons made no sense. I had seen what happened, and neither seemed plausible.

One thing was for certain though: The Humans weren't looking to make their own excuses. After returning Relk's corpse to her family, Pluk, Ruga and I ran back to the scene to search for anything that would lead to the Humans' identification, but everything had vanished. The tents, the mats, and everything else. In the time it took for us to return, the Humans had made their way back and removed any evidence. They even managed to find their gun and remove it for the deep snow.

It was then when I felt utterly defeated. Justice could not be done, and there would be no relief for my sorrow.

I held the flowers in my hand and inspected the petals. They were still so perfect and bright, and I intended to keep them that way.

I realised that I had stopped weeping, my focus now sat upon the flowers. I held them close and bowed my head, but when I heard shuffling from the next tree over I pulled myself close to the trunk. It was my alone time, and there were few people that I wanted to see at that time.

Least of all, Toby. Her face appeared behind the closest branch and spotted me with her terrible stony glare. I looked away, a clear sign that I didn't require her presence. It irritated me greatly that, somehow, she was able to find me in my secluded location, almost as if she could sense my presence through the air and the trees.

"Taku." She spoke, crawling closer.

I turned further away and mumbled, "Go away. I want to be alone."

I never expected that to stop her, and indeed it didn't. Toby was never one to give up that easily, and she sat herself down on the thick branch directly in front of me. Sensing that she was in a comforting mood today, I decided against running and leant my head against the tree trunk while still avoiding eye contact.

"And I want to talk to you." She countered.

"How did you find me?" I asked with a frustrated sigh. "I deliberately made sure nobody was following."

"Then you didn't check hard enough," She suggested. "I followed you out here."

"To watch me cry to myself like a hurt kawatnoj? Why?"

She shook her head and finally expressed a concerned look. "Every one of us grieves, Taku. There's no shame in that."

With her emotions now becoming visible, I dropped my own defence and made eye contact with my fellow seer. "How did you find out about all this? How did you know I would do this?"

"News spreads very quickly," She mentioned. "As soon as I heard that one of our people was killed by Humans, I followed the story back here. I'm sorry to hear that the victim was Relk, a close friend of yours."

I huffed. "Nothing is beyond your investigative ability, is it?"

"Don't be like that, Taku," Toby responded, her voice still calm and subdued. "I only want to help. Please, let me."

Despite my disapproval of the situation, I would not stop her. Even though we had been going through a very rough period, we were still very close, and I trusted her wholly, much more so that the Humans had betrayed me. "Okay."

My invitation instantly accepted, and she took my hand in hers, scooching closer and providing me with some extra warmth against the cold winter air. I was reluctant beforehand, but as soon as that warming sensation arrived, I embraced instinctively and wholly.