The sky became overcast, heavy grey clouds, at about the peak of the afternoon. He'd seen them gathering in the morning, but hadn't thought much of it.
His horse was starting to look tired, so he dismounted, and simply led it a bit behind him.
After this stretch of woods, they'd be at the Order, so he could rest her then.
The air... smelled strange.
In a way that picked at the edge of his memory.
He picked up his pace a bit, going down the narrow trail.
Was this... fog?
It was smoke.
His heart began to pound.
He let go of his horse's lead, jogging, not quite running.
A thousand things ran through his head.
Sharp, bitter disbelief.
Accusations of stupidity.
The Order hadn't been targeted before!
Could he still save anyone?
He was overwhelmed with a panic he hadn't felt since his return to this new iteration of his old world.
As the path widened before him, he could see it.
The smoke still rising from the ruins.
The whole thing overturned, with no sign of life.
His voice died in his throat when he tried to call out.
He hurriedly stepped over the ruins of the gate, tripping, nearly stumbling.
He wanted to call out.
Had it all been for nothing? Was everything destined to happen, the same way but different? Was this the material of the curse upon him? That he'd have to live through all that pain again? Losing everything? He couldn't live through that! Even if he had to, even if he had to...
He heard a low, mournful keen. Like an animal caught in a trap.
Had someone lived-?
He stumbled absently through the ruins, smoke obscuring his vision as it poured from unseen stills of dying flame.
The crying was coming from close to where Ornstein's hospice room had been.
Henry's heart twisted, ugly, as he went to its source.
Aislin, holding his grandfather's hand.
All that was left was his hand.
The room had collapsed on top of him.
Henry hadn't heard anyone make such an ugly, desperate cry before.
Had he cried like that when his mother died?
Aislin appeared to have heard him approaching. He slowly set down Ornstein's hand, and stood, like the world was heavy. Henry couldn't see his face for a moment.
" ...Henry?" his voice was quiet and cracked.
" Aislin," Henry called out to him.
When he looked up, his eyes looked hollow. Like something had been taken out of them.
He stumbled over the debris, arms outstretched.
" Henry," his voice was cracked no matter how loud he spoke. " Henry!"
Henry didn't expect to be embraced, and he was unsure of what to do. The world felt terribly unreal. Aislin closed his arms around him, tight like a vise, and was shaking.
" ...What... happened?" Henry asked slowly, still staring at the smoke, awkwardly holding Aislin back.
" Henry, Henry, Henry..."
" Aislin, get ahold of yourself," Henry said, unable to firm his voice. The shock was still hitting him like waves. " Aislin, what happened...?"
" I... I was in the library's basement..." His voice choked. " Looking for... a book on Yggdrasil... I... I heard everything... I... I heard everything..."
" Everything?" Henry asked.
" They burnt it all... They..."
Aislin gave in completely to his crying, collapsing in on himself. Henry kept him standing up, unsure of how to proceed.
... It began to rain.