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A Storyteller's Game

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With stunned eyes he stared at two bodies covered with dark shrouds around which a stack of wood was laid; a torch was already burning nearby and the shrouds had been squirted with oily, strange-smelling substance. This sight made him weak and he didn’t know, if he was going to vomit or faint – he only knew that he couldn't wait for the ceremony to end. People were gathering from all sides and he heard whispers and felt compassionate looks. His head was spinning because of the smell of incense, his eyes were pinching, his stomach was tight and he went weak in the knees. If it hadn’t been for Zane’s strong grip, he would have fallen down on the stone floor and just lay here praying for the fire to consume him; surely it would have been less painful than what he was going through at the time.
He took a deep, shaky breath and wrapped his arms around the Zane's waist, burying his face in boy’s neck. He didn’t cry after their death, but he felt like he was about to explode.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t stand it.”

“You can. We are here with you. If it gets really bad, I’ll get you something to calm you down,” Zane said quietly.

Maybe it was a good thing they hadn't let him see the bodies, he thought at the time, even washed and powdered. It will be better for you, he was told. Only good memories will remain, you will not think of them as pale and cold as mannequins, like they're in a coma they'll never wake up from.

He wanted to scream and howl and cry. An hour ago he'd been lethargic, as if he couldn't wake up and stop the nightmare he'd been having for days, and now he was slowly becoming hysterical. His heart was pounding harder and harder, and his forehead was sweating. Yesterday he could be fooling himself, thinking, that everything would be all right, life would just go on the same way, but the sight of these bodies made him feel lost and small and he realized, he would never see his parents again.

He felt someone, probably Yusei, squeezing his arm as if he was trying to calm him down. Yusaku and Takeru were standing beside him, the rest of his friends were nearby. For a while he watched Alexis, who was putting the choir members in their places. He had been grateful when she had told him not to come to rehearsals if he did not feel up to it; recently he hadn’t felt up to it even to get out of bed. All of his friends supported him and everyone was so kind to him that he felt bad about ignoring them and locking himself in a room or bathroom.

The minutes passed slowly, but the sound of a bell came eventually, the organs groaned pitifully and the choir began a melancholy song. Jaden pulled away from Zane to stand upright. The priests – among them Yugi, who gave him a quick, comforting smile – gathered around the fire, and the smell of incense intensified. Jaden staggered and Zane quickly put his arm around his waist.

“Do you want some water?” he heard Yusaku whisper, but shook his head slightly. Takeru handed him a cotton handkerchief. He took it with trembling hands, only nodding, because he was afraid, that he would burst into tears if he opened his mouth. He rumpled the material in his hands, fidgeting uncomfortably, when the choir finished singing and Yugi came to the platform.

“My dear comrades,” he began in his melodious, but sad voice. “Today dark clouds have darkened the sky, for the day has come when we bid farewell to our dear friends and accompany them on their final journey to the land of eternity. Again, we are forced to witness the misfortune of another young man, who has lost two closest people before he entered adulthood. The forces we have been fighting with for centuries are still rearing their ugly heads – targeting the most tender and fragile of hearts, taking lives of the innocent. Today we say goodbye to two loving people, mother and father, sister and brother, daughter and son. Let us pray to our creators and guardians to open the gates of the afterlife for them so that they can live forever on the other side in happiness and joy.

He vaguely remembered the rest of the speech. A bothersome screech in his ears drowned out the sounds and his vision started to blur. A brief moment of realization came when suddenly a flaming torch appeared in his hands and the people around him were looking at him expectantly.

He didn't know when he stepped into the middle of the hall or who gave him the torch, but he knew he couldn't do what was wanted of him. His hands were shaking mercilessly and he was afraid he would drop the torch onto the floor. Whispering seemed to get louder with every second passing. Yugi was silent, clearly waiting for Jaden to make his move, tofulfill the tradition and set his parents' bodies on fire. Yugi looked him square in the eye and probably saw something utterly miserable, because he went down.

“Go back to your seat,” he ordered softly, reaching for a torch. Jaden quickly, not without relief, got rid of this disgusting thing and hurriedly went back to Zane and his welcoming arms. He hid his face in Zane's neck.

“Let this holy fire consume this temporal flesh and thus free the soul. Let us pray to our creators and ancestors. Forgive them misdeeds. Bless their souls,” Yugi chanted. Jaden didn’t see him, but heard fire hissing, when the priest raised the torch and dropped it.

Tears, which had been successfully held back all week, finally conceded. Jaden sobbed quietly into Zane’s collar, when the smell of smoke spread all over the place.
“I want to go home,” he murmured, before he realized, that he actually didn’t have a home to come back to. His parents were dead, their little house had been locked and he was only fifteen, so they wouldn’t let him live there alone.

Despair gripped his heart. He pulled away from Zane and quickly made his way to the door. No one stopped him, though he could see through tears, that some people were looking at him rather disapprovingly. He knew why. He showed weakness and burst into tears like a little child and they didn’t like it. If he wasn’t able to control his emotions, he shouldn’t be considered a fighter.

It was raining, but he didn’t care. He sat on the stairs and let the drops mix with tears.