Chapter 18: Tragic

She lay on a bier of white marble, hands crossed on top of her chest, looking almost as if she was asleep. There hadn't been a single mark on her. Nothing to show she'd stopped breathing. Surrounded by an ever growing pile of roses, Ella lay in state in the middle of the vampire headquarters' main hall as mourners filed past to pay their respects. Beside her lay Eclipse, the cat lying as still as she did, for he hadn't woken or even moved since collapsing. As if to underscore the tragedy of it all, the colourful clothes Ella had worn out to the search had turned as black as her hair.

It had been Collan, the one councillor who hadn't gotten along with Ella, who'd taken charge of everything while the others remained paralyzed by grief. He'd set up the viewing and continued the troop preparations since the war was not about to stop simply because they were in mourning.

Currently Jalex stood beside Ella, childlike face lined with sadness as he watched the mourners pass slowly by. She hadn't been left alone since being brought back here, always one of her closest friends stood watch over her, as if in hope she might wake up.

A sudden commotion at the front door drew the attention of everybody present. Shoving past those who didn't immediately move out of his way, a tall young man made his way into the building, glaring at anyone who got close. His wavy brown hair was in disarray as if he'd spent a lot of time clutching his head recently. His blue eyes, bright with anger, swept the room, swiftly zeroing in on the bier where Ella lay. He gasped and paled before running across the room, scattering mourners like ducks before a dog. He knelt beside her, staring unbelieving at her body. Two tears, one from each eye, made their way down his cheeks to his chin before he angrily swiped them away as he got back to his feet.

"Who's in charge here?" he yelled, glaring at the assemblage. Whispers sprang up, as those who'd come to mourn wondered who this strange man was.

A side door opened and Ilana and Theron walked out, drawn by the noise. Seeing who it was that was who was creating such a disturbance, Ilana leaned into Theron's chest. The were-lion tightened the arm he had around his shoulders as they both took a moment to ready themselves for what promised to be a most uncomfortable conversation.

They were spared that conversation when another door opened and Alex emerged. The vampire could barely be called that anymore. He looked dead rather than undead. His eyes had gone lifeless with not even the tiniest spark of interest in anything remaining. Though he wore the same clothes he'd worn the day of the search, now they seemed to hang off him, instead of fitting perfectly as they had but two days ago.

Catching sight of him, the angry young man strode across the room and grabbed the front of his shirt, dragging him forward until their faces were close. "Was it you? Was it you who got my sister killed? What did you have her doing that she died anyway? What happened?" Nick Davies demanded; punctuating each question with a shake, as tears began to fall from his eyes again.

Alex met Nick's blazing blue eyes with his dead ones. "We went looking for the box. We didn't know what it did. We should have waited, gotten more information but instead…And now…now she's…Ella's…" The vampire didn't seem capable of finishing the sentence as his body sagged.

Ella's brother released his hold on him and Alex dropped to the floor. Theron and Ilana hurried over, helping Alex to his feet when all he did was stare blankly forward. Ilana had begun crying again but continued to help the vampire to his feet. She'd gotten used to tears. The dryad looked at Nick. "This wasn't supposed to happen. Ever."

"We understand," A soft woman's voice whispered, breaking a little at the end.

While Nick had been shouting at Alex, his and Ella's parents, Sharon and Philip Davies had come up behind them. The pair had their arms tightly entwined as they stood there, faces aged ten years since the last time Alex and the others had seen them. "You're…you were her friends. You'd never…"

Alex looked at them, face crumpling. "I'm sorry. I…I can't tell you how truly sorry I am. She…I never…she shouldn't be dead."

An enraged voice screamed, so loudly that the lights seemed to dim "For the last time I'm not dead!"

The whole hall turned to look at where Ella sat upright panting as she glared at Alex. Simultaneously, everyone's jaws dropped.

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Ella was not happy. Not happy in the least. As the darkness had wrapped itself about her, she'd felt it trickle into her skin, little by little, a gentle coolness filling her. Unfortunately it had seemingly robbed her of her ability to move. And so when everyone had started saying how she had stopped breathing, something Ella herself hadn't noticed, she tried to point out to them that she wasn't dead. Which hadn't worked given she couldn't move. Ella had given herself a headache while trying to tell the others she wasn't actually dead. But none of them could hear her. Not even Alex. Not even the psychics. And so she'd been forced to just lie there as her friends cried and people mourned her.

Then Alex had had the gall to call in her family. Hearing him apologize to them, telling them she was dead had set her off into another fury and she'd tried to shriek, as she had so many times before, that she wasn't dead. This time however, she succeeded. Glaring at Alex, she watched as his jaw, as well as the jaws of those surrounding him, sagged. The sight of Alex, Nick, Ilana, Theron and her parents all just standing there open-mouthed staring at her, as if someone had just bopped them all on the head, made Ella unable to resist a bit of gallows' humour. "What's the matter? You guys look like you've just seen a ghost."

"El…la?" Alex said hesitantly, staring at her.

"Yes?"

The vampire threw himself across the room, leapt onto the bier beside her and yanked her into a crushing embrace. "Never again," he told her over and over again in a soft voice. "Never letting you out of my sight again. Never ever again."

The sound of running footsteps announced the arrival of Ilana, Theron, Ella's parents and her brother. Soon Ella was in the midst of a huge babbling crowd, as people all reached out to touch her, to verify that she was in fact alive, that they weren't suffering from a mass hallucination. All the while, Alex refused to relinquish his hold on her, arms wrapped around her, his face pressed against her shoulder and neck as he breathed in her scent over and over again, as if to erase the memories of the last two days.

It was nearly a half hour before the crowd calmed down enough that Ella was able to do more than sit and take the fussing. Into the sudden quiet that sprang up now that everyone had been satisfied that Ella was alive, Nick asked the question the crowd was thinking. "What happened?"

Yawning and stretching as he sat up, Eclipse looked up at the assemblage and meowed I can answer that.