"The fate you bear will be burned forever into your eyes!"
Vector's words rung clearly throughout Nasch's head as he slowly trudged out of the labyrinth, drained from the effects of the Shadow Game that Vector and he had participated in. He was met with bodies from both sides of the war strewn about the area, some charred, some riddled with arrows, some impaled by swords.
Nasch's blood ran cold as he saw an all-too-familiar lump of pink on the ground further ahead, and before he could even process exactly what it was he was looking at, his legs were already moving of their own volition, his voice leaving his throat in a strangled cry. "Iris? Iris!"
He reached her body quickly, falling to his knees as he reached down to pick up the body of the child before him. "I couldn't..." His eyes finally began to water as he used a thumb to brush her hair from her all-too-still face, and he found himself trembling, "...couldn't protect you from this...!"
"No.. that's not true..." He looked up from Iris then, as one rogue tear rolled down his face. "I stole it, stole it from all of you! The lives of my soldiers, my comrades, my friends!" The end of his sentence was punctuated with a sharp inhale, as he curled in on himself, the tears streaming down his face now. Nasch nearly choked on his cries, his body trembling as he felt a tumultuous wave of emotion roar inside of him. Gripping Iris's body tight, Nasch threw his head back violently, a pained cry ripping from his throat as he wailed into the open air, surrounded by a sea of bodies.
He never found Durbe's body. Nor Mach's. Just his soldiers' and Iris's.
Nasch held onto some semblance of hope that they were alive, but even then, wouldn't Durbe have come looking for him? For Iris? The only explanation was that he must have been a prisoner of war, that he and Mach had been captured by Vector's men, and had been unable to get away. He'd find them, get them back. He couldn't lose them too. But for now, he had other matters to attend to.
Nasch wished he could extend this courtesy onto all of his fallen men, every single one of them deserved better than rotting in a labyrinth, in an war zone. But there were too many bodies to count, too many people he would never speak to again, too many lives ripped from the earth far too soon, that Nasch didn't think he could emotionally and mentally handle burying every single one of them.
Just Iris would have to do.
Her body was wrapped in his cape, which he had detached from his back. He wasn't sure how long he'd been riding with her in his arms, he'd made no move to urge his horse at anything more than a walking pace. All he knew was that the sun was low and that it would be dark soon. He looked around, and realized his steed had brought him to his army's camp - or at least, where his army's camp should have been, had they'd not come for Nasch. Instead he was met with a bare, open area, filled with marks and indentations of various sorts - signs that there had once been people here, but no longer. Nasch swallowed harshly, looking to the lake that just last night he'd been sitting by, Iris having come to put flowers in his hair.
It was also the last time he'd seen Merag's spirit come before him, just before Iris had approached him. Tears gathering in his eyes all over again, he remembered some of what Merag's spirit had said to him: "Even when making decisions, you're always so kind... but you're always suffering."
And it was true; He'd attempted to spare the lives of his men, of Iris, of Durbe, and in the end, all he had done was doom them, and sentence himself to solitude.
Dismounting his horse and carefully setting Iris's covered body on the ground, Nasch looked to the lake, swallowing harshly. "Was this really what Destiny had planned for them, for us?" He asked aloud, looking out desperately to the open water for some sort of sign that Merag was listening. "I followed my heart, Merag, but at what cost?"
When he was met with silence, he lowered his head, blinking away the tears as he shook his head in refusal. "You lead me to this young girl," He continued, motioning behind him to Iris's body, "only for her to be taken away from me so horridly?!"
Again, there was no response. Nasch's hands curled into fists, tears threatening to fall all over again, and snapped his head back up to steady his gaze at the water yet again.
Nasch's hands rose to his head. Had there ever been Merag's spirit guiding him? Or had he led himself to believe that, as a way of stifling the blow of her too being gone from this world? Was he mad? Had Durbe and Iris and all the others really been the only thing keeping him sane throughout the war? Now that he was alone... had Vector truly won?
It wasn't until Nasch looked back at Iris's covered body that the tears finally fell, and he moved to kneel to the ground next to her, carefully peeling part of his cape away to expose her face. "I'm so, so sorry, Iris..." Nasch's voice was hushed as his tears stained his cape. "You deserved so much better than this." He made no effort to stop the tears that flowed, no effort to cease his cries. He hadn't cried this much since Merag's death, which felt both moments and yet eons ago.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed once he'd stopped crying - it could have been minutes, but it felt like hours - but once he did, he sat still as he tried to recollect himself and steady his breathing. The time for grieving was over, there was work to be done. With nothing but his bear hands, Nasch began to dig into the soil just a few feet away from Iris's body, tearing away at the terra firma beneath him. His breaths came shuddered and labored as he did so, as acknowledging just what he was doing brought up the urge to cry all over again, but he resisted, earth clodding beneath his fingernails and caking his hands.
The sun soon set itself low in the sky, just settling on the horizon, reflecting itself off the lake, when Nasch had finished digging. Carefully, he pulled himself out of the hole he'd carved into the earth, a simple task as the hole reached only up to his knees, and walked to the lake, washing his hands free of the dirt that sullied them. He then made his way back over to Iris, and carefully unwrapped her from his cape, delicately - like she would shatter if he handled her too carelessly. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Nasch gently picked her up and began to walk her to the hole he'd dug out, and slowly lowered her into it, placing her at the bottom. He looked over her once more, and leaned down to kiss her forehead and fold her arms, before tearing his gaze away, and climbing out of the hole.
He then began to bury her.
Each push of the soil back into the hole he'd dug was another stab at his heart, another pinch of salt rubbed into the wound that Vector had left on him. It didn't take long before he had most of her body covered, and all that remained was her head. He looked up to the evening sky in an attempt to fight the tears that threatened to gather, then closed his eyes, exhaling slowly through his nose. After a few seconds, he looked back down at her again, mournful.
The first clump of soil that covered her face stabbed at him the hardest. Not that the rest were any easier, but the first made everything that much more finite, that much more real, that this wasn't some bad dream, that he was truly burying this little girl, this child who'd been a beacon of hope for him and his men, men who too were gone. When the grave was fully covered, he stepped back, looking over his work. Iris deserved more than an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere, but what more could he do?
After a moment's thought, he made his way to some nearby trees, looking around before finding and grabbing two thick and sturdy sticks. He then made his way to his steed, and pulled some rope out of a pouch, tying the two sticks together. Once that was done, he returned to the head of Iris's grave and wedged the sticks in the earth there, forming an 'X' at the head of her grave. He then removed the necklace that bore the symbol of his kingdom from his neck, and placed it on the 'X', the symbol of the Kingdom of Poseidon dangling down above Iris's grave.
It wasn't much, Nasch knew, but it was the most he could do. He stood silently at her grave, motionless as the sun began to set below the horizon and the stars began to slowly peek out in the sky. With a final exhale, Nasch then turned away from the grave, picked his cape up from the ground, and made his way back to his horse, mounting it. With it beginning to grow dark, he needed to find some place to camp for the night, and camping here was no longer an option, not with Iris's body resting just yards away from him.
With that, Nasch began to ride into the darkness, intent on one thing, an one thing only: Finding, and stopping Vector.