The sounds of shouting were far behind them now, and the only thing left was for them to make it to the woods and disappear. Declan and Liam had already made it past the tree line with Orla and Brody not far behind them. Niall was lagging behind carrying the bundle of supplies they had lifted from the caravan and Conner behind him to watch his back. “Oi lad we’re home free I can’t believe we pulled this off.” The young Dunn grinned brightly at his best friend as the sounds of his heart pumping in his chest started to drown out everything around them.
There was a brief moment before his reply that Niall thought to himself that it was too easy–a split second where the colors of the world seemed more vibrant, and then almost thunderously the silence was shattered with a grunt of pain. The look of wide eyed shock on Conner’s face as he fell forward burned itself permanently into Niall’s brain. The bright red fletching of the arrow sticking out of his back a stark contrast to his yellow tunic. Niall froze in place watching his best friend crawl up to his knees, his muscles tensed as he prepared to move towards his friend.
Before he took a step Conner’s voice boomed out across the field, “Niall MacCraig don’t you dare stop running!” The archer that had shot him from the watchtower was lining up another shot if he acted quickly he could get them both out of there. “Get home Niall. Don’t let them get the both of us mate.”
He wanted to argue, he wanted to rush forward and shield his friend from further harm, he wanted to make sure he would have to tell Conner’s parents that their son wasn’t coming home. His body had other ideas however and his legs were pumping carrying him towards the forest as if commanded by Conner’s order. He couldn’t even bring himself to look back as his friend’s final pitiful cry echoed in the empty field.
Niall woke up with a start clutching his chest. He’d had this dream every night since the events of Night Lord’s Feast. Watching his best friend die every night was starting to wear on his state of wellbeing. The sun was starting to raise over the horizon and rather than attempting to go back to sleep Niall carefully crawled out of bed as to not wake up Fiona. Moving around the house quietly as he could Niall got dressed and left for the necropolis. He found himself there more and more lately; well there or the nearest tavern drinking more ale than he probably should.
He found himself on standing amongst the very familiar gravestones in the cemetery and headed to his favorite spot among them. It was nestled in a rarely traversed part of the cemetery and had a small circle of trees nearby to sit under and get lost in his thoughts before the tavern opened so he could start drinking.
Setting up under his favorite tree Niall gave a deep sigh watching his breath frost in the cold winter air, “Gods I’m fucking pathetic…” he muttered to himself for what felt like the six hundredth time this week. He couldn’t help but think of what Conner could would say if he saw him now wallowing in depression. He could almost hear the sarcastic voice of his fallen friend.
“I didn’t die so you could sit around feeling sorry for yourself MacCraig. Now get yourself together and go be the man I know you can be. The hero I know you can be.”
A small smile broke onto Niall’s face, even if it was in his own head hearing Conner’s voice was a small comfort to him. He wanted to make his friend proud—to keep his death from being in vain. Clutching the Lionem that Conner had forged for him for his birthday many years ago Niall made a promise to himself. He would claw out of this hole he was in and forge a legend for himself that would be spoken of for years, and he’d be sure to tell the tale of the man that sacrificed himself so that Niall could become a man worthy of the title hero.
He wasn’t ready to forgive himself just yet, and the Malefic that cornered him had been right he would never outrun his guilt. But if he kept doing well, if he kept using his strength to save people and protect his friends maybe that would start to outweighing the heaviness in his soul. This was something that he was going to be living with for a long time to come, but like Father Heinrich had told him he had done a lot of good since the follies of his youth.
“One day I’m going to show the world what you saw in me Conner.” Niall muttered closing his eyes and picturing his friend in his minds eyes, “I just need to see it in myself first.”