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it's the end of the world as we know it

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For a moment she’s not sure if Runaan is even dead. Is this a true zombie sort of thing—does she have to strike the brain? Is she going to have to go through this nightmare again? The panic creeps back in, gnawing at the icy calm that led her hand before. But then there is relief: he sways a bit on the spot and finally falls back, somehow still graceful and definitely very dead.

There’s a dead man in their kitchen.

She killed a man.

She killed Runaan.

She stares at him for a while, oddly blank, eyes absurdly fixated on the handle sticking out of his chest. Her traitorous mind conjures the image of him rising, the picture of health as he yanks the knife out and congratulates her on a job well done.

He isn’t going to be doing that. He isn’t going to be doing much of anything, Rayla, because you fucking killed him.

The panic returns full force. She staggers back, clutching the table for support. She wants nothing more than to get the hell out of here, but leaving the kitchen would mean she has to step over Runaan’s corpse. She’s not ready for that yet.

So she retreats, going as far away from him as space allows, and lets herself unravel. Her parents. Ethari. Runaan. When will it ever stop? What more does she have to lose?

Yourself. You can still lose yourself.

It honestly doesn’t sound too bad. She hasn’t truly felt like herself in a long time, stuck in a foreign country with too few friends and too much anger. She’s already been fading. It wouldn’t be that hard to just...let it continue. Still, some deep-buried instinct in her--the survivor, she supposes--revolts against the thought. You didn’t just pike your de-facto father to give up now.

She’ll live. She’ll go home. Leave behind this lonely city and return to Shab, to their tidy farm blanketed by reaching trees. She’ll eat moonberries again and smell air spiced with pine. She’ll make her family proper graves, even if they’ll be empty. Maybe someday she’ll even be able to forget all of this ever happened.

It’s a childish dream, but something to aim for nonetheless. She can work with that.

She feels a bit shaky when she finally gets up, but her vision is clear. At the heels of her receding panic comes the inkling of organization. First order of business: deal with Runaan. Wincing at the crassness of the thought, she forces herself to look at him, to take in his empty stare and try to think objectively. She’s a badass spy; she can do this.

She should bury him. It’s the right thing to do—it’s what he deserves—but logistically she has some reservations. Runaan has (had, it’s had now) just shy of a foot and four stone on her. Under the best of circumstances, he’d be difficult to move. Under current circumstances, he’ll be near impossible. Two months of eating ration portions have sapped her strength; not to mention, he fell on the side of the table farthest from the yard door. To get him to it, she’d have to somehow lift his body over the table or negotiate it through the narrow space between the table and wall.

You’re in no condition to be digging graves, either. The soil out there is hard as rock. The effort could cost her days, nevermind the risk of that much exposure to a dead body. A proper burial just isn’t in the cards.

I’m sorry, Runaan. Funny how even in death she lets him down.

Enough of that. She still has a lot to do. Sucking in a breath, she steps over him, nearly coming undone again when her foot brushes his bare arm and she is violently reminded of how cold, how gone he is. Enough of that. You need to focus, you fool.

Swords, she needs her swords. Clothes. Food. Shoving all feeling away, she sets about raiding the house for supplies with a precision that would make even Runaan proud. Into two backpacks she crams a few changes of clothes and her thick winter jacket, a blanket and bottled water, a shallow pot, cans of beans and jars of peanut butter, trail mix, antiseptic and a thick roll of bandages, a neat little blade, and a lighter. Using a length of rope, she ties the inner straps of the bags together. This way, she’ll be able to wear both bags as if they were one, with the outer strap on each on her shoulders. Her back twinges at the thought of their weight. At very least, they won’t bounce as much as they would if kept separate.

On her final pass through the storage room, her eyes catch on the jug of gasoline in the corner. That’s the ticket. With grim triumph she grabs it and as much paper as she can find.

When she finally steps out from the front door, she is greeted by an overcast sky and empty streets. She hasn’t actually been outside in weeks and feels inexplicably altered for it. Breathing in once, twice, she closes the door on the hot blast of air from behind her. Turns around. Looks at the house.

She’s hated it ever since they got here. Looking at it now, though, she can’t deny that it’s guarded her well for the past few months. He’s guarded her well. She only hopes that the fire consumes him before the rain comes. He would not appreciate having his body set upon by scavengers.

The air’s getting a bit thicker now. Time to go.

A part of her considers staying. It would be so easy to curl up next to Runaan, to hold Ethari’s picture, to let her sadness and soul rise with the smoke.

This family will not end with you. Get moving.

She’s not sure who the voice belongs to, but the survivor in her sings with it all the same. So she takes one step, then another, walking down the silent street away from the sun. Towards home.