“I think we deserve a drink.” Bellamy decided, his face drawn with worry.
“Good idea.” Clarke chuckled, following him into the camp with heavy steps. They both felt the weight of their actions, the price weighing upon their heads. They moved slowly through the camp, watching parents embrace children, friends, reunions all over the place. It was a beautiful sight. Clarke downed her drink with a sigh, eyes closed.
“How are you doing?” Bellamy took her hand, drawing her gaze. “What’s going on in that head of yours.”
She swept the room, instead of seeing her people drinking and celebrating, she saw the men in the mountain gathering under flags, offering chocolate cake and playing ball with the children. Their burned out faces, the bodies piled in the mess hall. Red blisters and sores spreading across their skin so quickly, she blinked and the image left. “Nothing, just glad to have everyone home.” She sighed, sipping from her cup. The sound of laughter and cheering became the screams and moans of the dying.
“We did good Clarke. We got our people home. Without Lexa.” Bellamy smiled at her, “We did it Clarke.” He squeezed her hand and took another drink. He smiled and laughed with the rest of the crew, trading hugs and small talk with the ones rescued from the mountain. Clarke watched them, smiling and shaking hands as they all tried to thank her for saving them. Each time another gave thanks, she felt her stomach churn a little harder, the images stayed a little longer. By the end of the night she could barely hold her cup.
Bellamy stumbled off to bed, tipsy and happy, the smile on his face was a rare and welcome sight. It was worth it to oblige him one last time.
Clarke stood up, her legs steady as she walked out of the mess hall, sharing smiles as she passed her friends. Finally outside of the mess hall, Clarke looked up to the clear skies and locked on the cold moon watching her. A beacon of light, passive, watching all of their wars, their sins and their failures. Just like the Ark. Standing above it all and watching them die. “I’m done watching my people burn!” She shouted, letting out a scream of rage. Only the moon stood sentinel over her pain and declaration, watching her declare her promise to the sky.
“I’m done...” Clarke panted, hands shaking as she marched towards the gates.
With everyone inside celebrating or sleeping it off, she walked out of the camp without protest or witness. She walked. Soon enough the trace of alcohol in her blood went away, returning the chill of the night to her fingers and toes. An ache began in her feet as the sun dawned over the forest, light washing over the trees and setting fire to the morning. Clarke looked up, remembering the wonder, the ease of their first days on the ground, where all they had to worry about was the next meal, and how beautiful the next ridge could be. The trees passed her by, each one just as familiar as her own face, Clarke had the path to the dropship inscribed into her soul by a hundred expeditions.
Ash and bones littered the ground, shattered and broken reminders of more sins, more lives lost to protect her people. Clarke ran her hand over the faded chalk her mother left as a message for her, to save her. Clarke sighed, Abby left messages and notes and tried peace through healing, while Clarke left bodies and tried peace through guns and bombs. Superior weaponry. “So much loss.”
She fell to her knees covering herself in the remains of the fallen. She pulled the knife from her boot. “For Atom.” She dug the point into her arm until a bead of blood slid down her wrist. “For Wells.” Another mark, more blood. “For Charlotte.” She gasped, tears dripping down her cheeks, joining with the beads of blood dripping off her body. “For Caliban. And Anya, Maya, Dante.” The names kept coming, she ripped off her sleeves and kept marking. When she ran out of names, she sobbed her way through the marks for each grounder she killed to save her people at the dropship until there was too much blood to even see her own skin. “Blood demands blood, this is mine.”
She stood, hands shaking, dripping with the red that filled her soul with guilt and pain, dripping with regret. Clarke kept walking. She couldn’t feel the pain of her body but her heart cried out, her mind showed her the faces of the dead watching her in vigil. Judging her for her sins, watching like the moon overhead and waiting for her to do what is necessary.
Clarke walked until she made it to the river, she filled her stomach with water, staying close to the edge so that the monster within wouldn’t attack. She still had work to do, a mission to fulfill. Her arms were covered in a thin pink residue, hundreds of dots scattered on her arms, raised up with clotted blood.
Clarke watched the sun fall again on the world, covering them all in the darkness of night, the purest black. The trees swaying gently, their shadows moving with the world and calling out for all the darkest things to gather. Clarke fit right into it all, swaying with the shadows, disappearing into the darkness as she walked and the moon watched over.
Blisters formed over the bottom of her feet, just as they had when she first landed, her stomach ached with the lack of food. She welcomed the pure feeling, it kept her in the present, thinking of the needs of the moment.
Food and shelter, and a rest from the day’s labors. She slept where she fell, stumbling over her own leaden feet with needles of pine as her pillows. Clarke woke to the feeling of water dripping onto her face, the patter of droplets falling to the ground and the chills racking her bones. The others stood watch, their faces blistered or burned but passive.
She pushed herself to her feet with shaking arms, staggering through the woods, Clarke heard cracking beneath her feet. A red car. Where she hid with Finn and Wells from the acid fog. The tears came again, mixing with the rain as she remembered. Another failure. She lifted her blade once more, gripped it tightly in her hand. “For Finn.” She clenched her hand down on the blade and pressed it to her stomach, just to the right of her false rib. The same place she had stabbed him. She dragged the knife up splitting the skin. Clarke felt the liquid soak into her shirt, draining from her body. The pain was no more real to her than the ache in her feet or the burning of her blisters.
Her real agony stood watch over her suffering, all with Finn at the very front, all their eyes on her, bearing witness. “I’m not done yet.” She assured them, “Jus drein jus daun.” Clarke kept walking. Light faded before she found a cave to rest in, shivering from the cold and soaked to the bone.
She gathered together the wood for a fire, her fingers trembling around the bow as she worked the kindling into a flame. Smoke filled her eyes and brought tears back. Her nose warmed by the embers as they caught and rose up the wood. She raised her hand over the flames feeling the heat sear through her flesh, bringing back the feeling of warmth with violence.
“Did it feel like this to burn in the radiation?” She looked up to Maya and the other inhabitants of the mountain, “You blister and bleed… Did you feel the pain of the grounders you bled? Do they haunt you too?” The mountain men looked on silently. “I don’t see your demons with you.” Clarke sighed, pulling her hand back and examining the beginnings of the blisters in her palm without any hint of the pain that should be there. “Nothing.”
She curled up, pressing her body against the rough stone. Her only movement for the next few days was to put more wood upon the fire and stoke it. The sun never seemed to rise or fall under the rains. It only grew more or less grey as she waited for the storm to pass. Her clothes dried just in time for her to go get more wood.
Tripping over roots and branches. Damp branches and leaves that smoked more than they burned. The ground sagged beneath her weight, leaving deep footprints and broken branches. “I cannot even walk through the forest without leaving destruction.” Clarke looked to Anya, “That is what you said to me.”
When she received no response, she slowed her steps, being more careful to step on the harder ground, rocks, and spots without plants.
It didn’t make sense to her so much as it felt right to stop her reign of death with the forest that had sheltered and protected the hundred from so much. Perhaps someday she could apply that same care to the lives of other humans.
“I cannot apologize for the man who killed you, but I can stop killing your home.” When Clarke returned to her cave, rain soaked through her clothing once more, and her stomach snarled with hunger. The emptiness inside was more than just regret.
“If only you had taught me to hunt too.” She joked, looking to the others, “I’ll have to depend on Bellamy for that I suppose.” Clarke stoked the fire once more, drying her wood by its side. She took the longest branch she had found and began honing the edge. Cutting it away in strips piece by piece. The spear formed. When the rain cleared Clarke stood and set out from the cave. She stepped carefully, listening to the sounds of the forest, looking through the faces of her sins for signs of life.
Years could have passed in the woods, decades she spent walking through the forest. A deer in the distance, it nibbled at the branches. Clarke crouched low, moving even slower to avoid being seen. She moved forward and the needles crackled beneath her feet. The deer lifted its head, looking for the source. Clarke lifted the spear slowly. She took another step forward and the deer bolted. She lunged after it, throwing the weapon wide of her target. “Dammit!” She scooped up her weapon and followed the deer at a sprint.
She followed the sound of breaking branches and the crash of the deer trying to escape its hunter. Clarke followed after it, breathing heavily as she slowed.
Dogged determination in every step.
Stomach snarling with every step.
Her ghosts watched her every step.
The light came and she found the tracks more easily, tracing the path of the scared animal all over the woods. Up a cliff, across the ridge and through the forest on the other side. She slowed but never stopped, each step was towards survival, towards life. “I’m not finished yet.” She panted, “Not yet.” The light left, and she kept following.
Through trees, over hills, across rivers. The light came and left and she kept following.
Clarke came to the edge of the woods, her quarry trotting across a field of grass, its sides slathered with foam, head low. “I’m not finished yet.” Clarke snarled, aching muscles screaming in protest, her limbs fighting against the command to move faster.
Spear held high, screaming her rage at the beast.
The deer kicked up its pace for only a few moments before it collapsed. It landed in a heap, screaming in the pain of death. Clarke fell to her knees beside the beast, “Yu gonplei ste odon.”
She ran her weapon through its heart, falling onto the flailing creature’s side. “Thank you.” She panted.
This time, when the blood flowed over her hands and she felt the body grow cold it was with thanks, not regret, that she continued her work.
The fire took almost as long as cleaning the animal did, and soon her body was trembling with hunger. The pain of her twisting stomach finally registering, finally she felt her own body talking back. “It’s about damn time you showed up.” She muttered to her stomach, spearing the meat upon her blade and shoving it into the fire, just long enough for the edges to blacken and the blood to dry. She ate her fill of charred meat.
Vicious cramps clenched so tight that all Clarke couldn’t stop herself from forcing the meat back up in a smelly mess of bile and venison.
Clarke laughed breathlessly over the mess, “Stupid.”
She spent over an hour taking small bites of her next piece, rubbing her stomach slowly. She lifted her eyes to the sky, realizing the darkness had returned and her eyes could not adjust to it. Her fire drowning out the stars. “You will have to stop watching someday.” She chided the moon, pointing her knife at the glowing orb that watched her eat. “Someday you’ll have to do something about it all.”
The rest of the meat Clarke cut into strips and placed on the outside of the fire, letting it dry out as the darkness faded into light. She watched the flames dance within the wood, glowing with a light that was once forbidden to her, a light that now was so commonplace. Murderer, the most dangerous thing on the ark, it was now the only thing that brought life on the ground. “Maybe I just haven’t found the right place for me yet.” Clarke took the dried meat and wrapped it in her jacket. She tied it to her waist and kept walking.
The field ended, and the trees swallowed her again, surrounded her with her sins once more. The aches from her body, the pain in her feet, the clenching of her stomach, it all seemed to disappear under the stares of all the people she had killed. “Do you speak? Any of you?” She looked at them all, ran her fingers over the bumps of her healing scars.
The light came and went, every day passing without note or number. Clarke needed to keep count of all the faces.
Leaves littered the forest floor, twigs snapped underfoot, branches broke when she bumped them too hard. Clarke made it her goal to walk as silently as possible, moving like a ghost through the forest. Like the phantoms that haunted her steps, she walked in the steps of Anya, Finn, Maya and all the others as they stalked the forest floor. Clarke paused when she heard the clang of her boot on metal debris, looked down to see a smoking wreckage. The crater on the edge of Tondisi, no longer part of the village but a memorial to her choice.
More marks to be made.
Clarke dropped, ripped away her shirt and began the process again, she had heard the numbers and watched the bodies carried away. She knew how many to make, and she saw the faces that moved to the front of the crowd. 269 more marks, each one bringing another bead of blood to the surface, each one a reminder of what she had done.
“It is done.” She panted, looking to the crowd and she realized that the faces were gone, the burned and broken left her. “Jus drein, jus daun…” She looked around, “I will bleed for all of you.” Standing with the sheet of red covering her stomach and chest, “I am not done yet.” She pulled her shirt back on, and kept walking.
The mountain called to her.
She found it once more. At the door she fell again. She began with her shoulders now, all that she could reach, “One hundred and eighty-two men, one hundred and seventy-three women, and twenty six children.” Clarke sighed, her body covered in blood. She got to her feet and kept walking. The ghosts who walked with her now were faceless, leading them somewhere, led by Anya, and Finn. “Goodbye Maya, may we meet again.” She nodded to the girl, holding back tears, “May you forgive me someday.”
She followed the others away from the mountain, her footsteps long and silent. As she mimicked the ways of the others walking, she slowly became more and more like those ghosts. Quiet. The animals around her seemed startled to see her. The trees didn’t notice her passing. The woods did not follow her.
Clarke found herself far from the trees of home, the ocean of trees around her began to change, shift and turn to different leaves. There were fewer needles, and her fingers ached less from the cold. When her stomach began to churn, Clarke would rip away the meat from her stash and eat as she walked. When the air came dry through her throat and she gasped for moisture, she would fall into the next river, drink what she needed and leave.
She passed the trees, into the fields of grain, the land of the plains clan. She crossed the endless hills. Eat. Drink. Walk. She realized the reason for her journey. Smoke rose from broken tents, and the ground was black from fire.
“The flares…” Clarke ran for the village, past the rider clan going about their day, they didn’t recognize her as any clan, her skin dark with dirt and dried blood. Warriors grasped their blades, and mothers grabbed their children. Clarke shambled past them to the long dead pyre and dropped, “No…” There were no numbers, and there was no way to atone for those gathered around her.
She looked around, saw someone, a woman. Clarke grabbed her, “Who.. Hani died kom uh, skai faya?” She cursed her lacking knowledge of their language, she could barely speak a sentence and even then she didn’t know if it made sense.
How many died from the fires in the sky?
The woman looked frightened, but she answered, “Sison tu.” She frowned, cupping Clarke’s cheeks, “Chit gon yu kom her?”
Clarke shook her head and pulled out her knife, pushing it to the woman, “Sison tu cuts. No reachin.” She turned around and lifted her shirt, showing the woman her scars. When the woman hesitated, Clarke said it again. “Sison tu cuts. No reachin.” She looked over her shoulder with tears in her eyes, “Please.”
Sixty-two cuts. I can’t reach them.
The woman nodded, lifting the dagger, searching for an empty place among all the marks on Clarke’s back. She tried to look for the places that would hurt the least but there were so many. Eventually she settled on Clarke’s spine, knowing that it would hurt. She expected the child to flinch, but she didn’t. The strange girl with the odd accent didn’t even seem to register the pain, only cried her silent tears as the marks were made.
When they were done, the woman put her shaking bloody hand on the girl’s shoulder, “Kom glong yongon op hosa ai.”
Clarke looked over her shoulder and shook her head, “Ai don’t get em.”
I don’t understand.
“Come home with me child.” The woman said softly, pushing Clarke’s hair back, “I will give you rest.” Clarke shook her head, tried to pull away, but the woman tugged her arm, “Come rest.” It was clear to the woman that if she allowed this child to leave, there would be more death.
“I have to go, there are more. I need to atone.” She pleaded, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Please let me go.”
The woman shook her head, holding Clarke firmly, “I have no more children, let me attend to you instead.” She tugged Clarke along with her, the girl too tired to fight with anything but her tears. Into her tent, and down to the floor.
As soon as she hit the soft furs, she fell asleep, and the woman was left alone with the sleeping child.
The woman removed Clarke’s jacket and shirt to tend to her wounds and winced. There was no inch of her skin that was flat. Her biceps, stomach, shoulders, back, all the way up her chest there was nothing clear of markings. All of them in some stage of infection, red and brown lines spread from the marks, leaving a nest of bad blood.
Fever chills set the girl to shuddering through her slumber, had affected her steps as she stumbled through the village. “Chon gon yu yongon?”
Who are you child?
She grabbed a cloth and water and began to clean the red skin, removing the blood and dirt from the fresh wounds. Some looked to be nearly closed, while those on her spine were fresh and bleeding sluggishly.
Tenderly, the woman washed away the stains on the girl’s pale skin, being careful not to break the blisters that had formed on her injuries. Removed her boots, and tended to the raw blistered flesh, caked with blood and pus. A tear dripped down her cheek as she looked at the suffering hidden in such a small tired body. The thin childlike face that held no peace even in slumber.
All she saw was the hollow desperation of someone in agony staring through those eyes, pleading with her to place the blame for their dead on her body. She replaced Clarke’s clothes with some of her own, and tossed the bloodstained garments to burn while she waited for her guest to awake. Clarke tossed and turned in the night, through the day she continued to be haunted. She woke with a start, looking around her didn’t help. Inside the tent there was no room for her phantoms, the sentinels of her crimes. For the first time since the destruction of Tondisi, Clarke woke up alone. How does she suddenly know how long its been? She shivered, hugging herself tight, and felt foreign fabric. A bright teal woven shirt, pale leather pants that were too loose. The tent flap moved and she skittered backwards until her back was to one of the poles.
“Yu rid op longtiem fyucha. Choj op nau.” She gestured to a plate with meat and a flat bread on it. When Clarke didn’t move, the woman sat next to her and lifted the plate, “Eat fyucha, you sleep too long.”
Clarke nodded, taking the food and ate slowly. Her eyes closed and a hum escaped her lips. “Thank you.”
“Ai Asiya.” She placed her hand to her chest and looked at Clarke expectantly.
“I’m Clarke.” She rasped, offering her a smile, “I should be going.”
The woman tilted her head, “Hasta yu bleed gon emo?” She looked down, “Why do you bleed for them? They aren’t your people.”
Clarke looked down at the fur she was sitting on, “I killed them, I sent those flares that killed your people. I sent the skai faya.”
Asiya lifted Clarke’s chin, “Yu gon a fyucha. Yu nou frag emo op. You did not kill them.”
“I did.” She sniffed, feeling her eyes fill with tears. The phantoms may be gone but she could feel their stares, their eyes through the tent walls, reminding her that she was not done paying.
Asiya shook her head, and pulled Clarke into her arms, “Fyucha nou mourn stedaun. Kik raun, hit op, hon daun yu chilnes.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.” She sobbed, crying into Asiya’s arm. She could feel the concern radiating from Asiya, this stranger made her feel safe from the eyes of her demons. She felt strong arms around her, the sting of her back, the ache of her feet. She felt like she was home again.
“Stay.” Asiya ran her fingers through snarled hair, rubbing the back of this girl, so young and vulnerable. Burdened by so much. “It is safe here, rest before you leave.” She didn’t understand how the child wasn’t screaming in pain from her wounds, her infections. She couldn’t let this child die from guilt over whatever had happened.
Clarke nodded, “Okay.” She pressed her face into rough wool, “I’ll stay.” Her whole body ached with guilt and exhaustion. She was tired, beyond the need for sleep. She carried too much in the trees, it was time to lay down her burden. For a time. She needed to heal before she could continue. The eyes still followed her, the moon still watched. Clarke was not done paying.
Asiya was without a family, living alone in her tent but she was well connected to the rest of the tribe. Every morning she would set three vats of water to heat up over a fire, and Clarke would sit by the mouth of the tent and watch the older woman sprinkle various flowers and herbs into each one. Then she would set bundles of wool into each.
While the bundles soaked, Asiya sat next to Clarke with a wooden frame and weave beautiful patterns. Members of the tribe would come and speak to Asiya, it always seemed that as soon as one person left another two or even three would take their place.
It began to feel a bit like the food tables by the dropship, a place where everyone could gather and talk about anything and everything. Even children would come running over to watch Asiya make her blankets, gasping as pictures formed before her eyes.
Sometimes Asiya would tell Clarke to go and stir the vats and she would get to see the different colors of the day. Sometimes it would be all shades of one color, or they would be blues and greens and yellows that all seemed to clash until woven together. No matter what, they were always bright and vibrant, blinding in comparison to the dark cloth worn by most of the other tribes.
Between stirring the vats and trying to understand the conversations taking place beside her, Clarke had only one thing to watch. The warriors training in the pasture, practicing with bows and knives, mounting their horses at speed. Their movements formed moving patterns across the fields that made as little sense as the machine Asiya used to make her fabrics.
Clarke decided it would take a very long time to make sense of what the warriors were doing.