Mist rolled in gently through the well-clipped grass, swirling around the trees’ bases in a drugged, dazed fashion. The sun shone through a haze of clouds, bright at a direct glance but dimmed over the earth. People shuffled their feet solemnly as the preacher spoke quietly as if he was afraid to disturb the people resting underneath them.
There were blue roses perched on a stand with a painting of a beautiful woman, whose hair was almost a silver-white and tumbled down exotically around her shoulders. Her eyes, a piercing turquoise and oddly diamond-shaped, beautiful but strange, seemed to flash even in the painting, contrasting heavily with her gentle face and raw honey-skin tone. The rest of her face was smooth with no distinguishing features and pleasant with a childlike quality to it. Permanent innocence held its grip on the lines around her eyes and lips. They were schoolgirl lips, full, soft, and touchable. Around her seemed to be trees and plants but their forms were unfocused as if all that mattered was the woman. Mist also hung in the background, cloaking the woman in an air of unrealness. The painting was very pastel and airy, except for her eyes, which beckoned the onlookers to gaze into them. They portrayed an unusual mix of laughter, sadness, bitterness, and anger, almost daring the viewer to stare and come closer.
Everyone was quiet as the preacher talked. No one looked at each other. There were several couples of older age, holding hands. Two women leaned on their husbands. Their husbands wrapped their arms around their wives to comfort them. They all wore polite mourning grays and blacks. Around them were children varying from ages of five to nineteen. Tears streaked the children’s faces.
Standing in the middle by the painting was a young woman whose eyes matched that of the painting. Her hair though was black as the rest of the crowds and fell in waves over her shoulders. Unlike the rest of the group, she wore a bright blue dress, very similar to the color of the flowers. The woman stood proudly, though her eyes were red with tears.
Everyone was too intent on the earth to listen to the preacher or notice who was really there. On the far side of the group stood a man by himself. He was a very elderly man, yet still in great physical condition. If it was to be guessed by a stranger, the man would easily pass for seventy or eighty when in reality he was in his late nineties. His black hair was peppered, and his eyes looked weary. He rested half of his weight on a wooden cane and stared at the painting sighing.
“How did I know you would be here, Ruben,” he said flatly not even looking at the new man who had come up beside him.
The second man, Ruben was much larger than the first, though they were about the same age. He had the air of an extremely strong man who had gone to seed a little. His overall shape and muscle still held, but time had robbed him of his once-great physique. The hair that topped his head was gray and his eyes a casual green. The lines on his face and the scars on his body were testaments to his old tendencies.
“Psychic,” Ruben attempted weakly at a joke.
The first man stared at him with a hard, humorousless expression. Ruben sighed, running a hand through his hair. His eyes flickered from the ground to the first man to the people gathered near bye, but they staunchly avoided the hole in the ground and the painting’s watchful eyes.
“You beat me here, didn’t you?” the first man sighed, resigned to the answer. “How long have you been here?”
“Not too long,” Ruben said gently. “I just…I didn’t want to bother her family, so I stayed back. I didn’t know you would come, Kedar.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Kedar snapped. “I was her husband after all.”
His eyes hardened as he met Ruben’s gaze challenging him. Ruben, with a flash of his old temper, stiffened and held Kedar’s gaze.
“Keyword there is was,” Ruben said, his voice edged with temper. “Or don’t you remember how it ended?”
Deflating, Kedar looked away from Ruben, his eyes searching for and finding the painting. Even at a distance, he felt as if the woman’s gaze in the painting was judging him. She always made him feel judged and unworthy.
“I just couldn’t miss this,” Kedar finally admitted.
Shoulders slumping, Ruben nodded.
“I couldn’t either. I wouldn’t have…couldn’t have missed this for the world,” Ruben said softly.
His gaze still refused to fall upon the open ground or the painting. He knew that if he did, it would all become real. She would be gone and she couldn’t be. She couldn’t be gone. Not yet. Not without Ruben saying…
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world either,” chimed in a third voice.
“Or I,” a fourth.
Turning Kedar and Ruben nodded politely to the last man to show whose wrinkled skin almost hid the extensive tattoos that wrapped around his two eyes, the Eyes of Rah and Horus. The Egyptian god eyes were faded but still imprinted on the man’s skin. At first glance, the man looked like an elderly monk with his plain clothes, immaculately shaved head, and cool demeanor of knowledge and wisdom.
“Rah, Horus,” Kedar smiled faintly, though his grip on his cane tightened.
“Kedar,” the monk man said politely his face very relaxed.
The monk man blinked, and his face seemed to alter. It became sharper and more cat-like, smiling sadistically. Instinctively, Ruben positioned himself between the monk man’s gaze and the woman’s painting.
“Kedar,” the monk man repeated though his voice was completely different; it was raspier and coarser. “How have you been? I heard you have been hiding for a long time. I’m surprised you came out for this.”
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Anyways they have started to forget me for a while now. I doubt they even know what I look like anymore. But what about you, Horus, I’m surprised you appeared.”
“I couldn’t help myself when I heard,” Horus replied. “Besides you know how sentimental Rah is.”
Horus’s face became smooth and kind.
“Yes, I’m the sentimental one. Horus wanted to come just as much as I did. He just won’t admit he had a soft spot for the girl,” he spoke, his voice back to a gentle tone. Rah, Horus’s brother had taken control of the body again. “Ruben, I am less than surprised you are here though.”
Ruben smiled crookedly.
“Why do you say that?” Ruben chuckled.
“You were more attached than any of us.”
Ruben and Kedar simultaneously stiffened. Kedar’s mouth drew tight and Ruben clasped his hands behind his back. Horus smiled wickedly, knowing he had touched a nerve. He loved touching nerves. Finally, Ruben glanced back over his shoulder at the painting of the woman, although he could not bring himself to look down at the grave. And just as he knew he would, Ruben felt a wrenching pain. Her eyes stared him from the painting, a mix of stubborn, sweet, accepting, and resentful. How could one pair of eyes hold so much feeling?
“I wouldn’t say that…she was just special,” Ruben said, unable to tear away from the painting’s gaze.
“I’d also disagree. But she was very special,” Kedar agreed with a sharp nod. “I think it’s safe to say we were all suckers for those angel eyes of hers.”
“They did capture the soul,” Rah sighed. “Though I believe she was more of Horus’s girl than mine.”
“I just liked the fight in her,” Horus grunted, flushing a little.
“She did have that in her,” Ruben laughed, shaking his head as he massaged his right shoulder. “She could be a real bitch when she wanted. A dangerous little girl.”
“That’s what made her fun though,” Horus grinned caressing his side, which still ached at times.
“Yeah, her fight is what made her a worthy woman,” Kedar nodded looking down at his palms which had a large scar across them.
“It’s hard to imagine she is gone,” Ruben whispered.
They all looked at the painting and shook their heads somberly. Each felt an ache in their chest that they were unaccustomed to. That damn girl.
“I think we are the only ones here,” Kedar mused.
“The rest didn’t care about her the same, or they don’t know, or they are locked up or…” Ruben counted on his fingers.
“Or they are dead,” Rah tutted with his tongue.
“Are we really that old already?” Kedar groaned, feeling his bones twinge.
“Yeah, but I don’t know when it happened,” Ruben grumbled.
“About the time she came into our lives,” Horus smirked.
Ruben grinned bitterly, looking around at the unknown people that surrounded the grave. “Can you believe those are all her children?" he said, changing the subject.
Studying the group of people, Kedar and Horus said nothing for a while.
"They aren't all her biological children," Kedar finally said. "She took in a lot of kids after the war...her and Carthage..."
“I can see your son though, Kedar," Horus smirked, eying Ruben.
Nodding to a tall, handsome man with winter blue eyes,
"Zale," Kedar whispered as if his heart was breaking.
Horus enjoyed the pain that crossed both of their faces. The reason was undeniable. Zale was the spitting image of his uncle Akron.
“And that’s Romeo, Ramiro’s kid,” Horus continued, directing their attention to the man standing next to Zale.
That man, muscularly built, radiated suppressed anger, visible in the lines around his eyes. Such an angry child just like his father, but for very different reasons.
“I was there when he was born…”
Ruben and Kedar looked at Horus in shock but before they could speak someone cleared her throat near them. Looking up, the men found their gaze falling on the young woman with the same eyes as the painting. The men stopped breathing without even realizing it.
“Ma’am,” Kedar bowed out of compulsion.
The others followed suit, despite how it went against their nature. There was something about this woman that made their old hearts race. She smiled faintly nodding her head in acceptance of their politeness. A light breeze rustled her dress and, for a brief moment, all four looked up into the air as soft laughter teased their ears. Suddenly the men’s skin prickled, and their eyes snapped back to the woman. She smiled pleasantly as if nothing had happened.
“I’m Hasna,” the woman smiled gently, her eyes twinkling.
“A pleasure to meet you, Hasna,” Kedar stepped forward and took her hand to kiss it.
Her smile still in place, Hasna bowed her head and allowed him to kiss her hand.
“It is an honor for me as well, sir,” she responded, her voice so soft and silky. “I have waited a long time to meet you all.”
“You have?” Kedar looked confused.
Rah studied the woman with interest and Ruben merely stared in awe.
“Yes, she knew you would be here.”
“She did?” Ruben interjected, stepping forward. Realizing his mistake to his manhood, Ruben cleared his throat and added, “Ehh, she always thought she knew us so well.”
Sniffing, Ruben looked away, blushing. Kedar and Horus snorted. Hasna acted as if she hadn’t noticed.
“After all you went through can you blame her?”
“Uh…no…” Kedar said hesitantly.
“Follow me, gentlemen. There is something waiting for you.”
Curious, the men trailed behind the gentle swish of the blue dress. The men whispered among themselves as they followed. None of them had the slightest clue what was going on. Hasna led them to a temple.
Once inside Hasna motioned for the men to take a seat in the three available plush-looking chairs. They were high quality and expensive looking. All three were dark chocolate leather. A large coffee table sat in front of them as they each took a seat, Kedar in the middle, the others on either side of him. Hasna left the room momentarily and came back with a device in her hands. They looked at it quizzically.
“She wanted to talk to you one last time so…uh…here she is…”
Hasna pressed a small green button on the side of the machine as she placed it on the coffee table. There was a small clicking and then a sighing sound. A stream of light floated up from it that slowly coalesced into a person. Made from the streams of light was an older woman. She stretched and winked at the men, for they all knew a hologram recording when they saw one.
“Took you long enough,” she snorted, looking at the men.
“Eri,” Kedar whispered, staring at the old woman’s whose eyes still shone brightly.
She had aged a great deal since the painting that was being viewed at the funeral. Yet she was as beautiful to the men as she had been when they were all young.
“Kedar,” Eri smiled tenderly with echoes of past affection. “Rah…Horus… Ruben.”
She looked at each of them as if she knew where they each were, though her eyes lingered on Ruben for a fraction longer than the rest.
“I must look so old to you all,” her image said self-consciously as it stroked her braided hair and touched the corner of one eye. “One or two of you I haven’t seen in a very long time, at least I didn’t know if you were there. But you all always had a tendency of seeing me even if I didn’t see you.”
Her smile turned bitter. Then she started unraveling her long-braided hair. She said nothing as she worked, her eyes lost in some distant memory. Kedar and Ruben watched as memories of their own flooded back. Both remembered how soft her hair felt when they ran their hands over it. How she would look up at them when they would stroke her hair and give them scathing looks that nonetheless amused them. Realizing he was reaching forward without thinking, Ruben clenched his fist and pulled it firmly to his body, hoping Kedar, Rah, and Horus hadn’t noticed. Even after all these years, Ruben was still felt like he was just a soldier compared to Kedar.
Eri’s image unwove the last bit of the braid and then shook her long hair. The image rippled as if it were a water image. Slowly her image changed from the older woman to the young woman in the painting.
“I think that this is better,” she said smiling broadly. “Now then…”
The image of the young Eri glanced behind her where Hasna had taken a seat. Eri’s now young image smiled knowingly at Hasna before facing the three men. Deliberately, the now young Eri sat on the coffee table and crossed her legs in a lady-like fashion. She leaned on her hands, her elbows resting on her thighs.
“Now that you are here, you bastards, are going to listen to me.”
All three men blinked then they laughed cheerfully. It had been so long since they heard her harsh voice.
“Why should we?” Horus asked the image of young Eri.
“Because Horus,” Eri grinned venomously looking straight at him as if she were really there, “I had to live and listen to you all for most of my life. Now it’s your turn.
“Everyone thinks that the War of the Innocent started on October 11th, 2048. Yet we know different, don’t we, men? It started over a year earlier…Remember?”
“Your birthday,” Ruben mumbled, his eyes unable to look away from Eri.
“Yes…my birthday. My fifteenth birthday…A little cliché, boys, but that’s when you came and never left.”