TWENTY ONE HOURS EARLIER
It would not be hard to dig the grave. Ruxpin had only a small shovel, but it didn't need to be very large. Bird had not been big, and the ground was hardly conducive to deep graves. The body lay on a linen sheet pulled from some compartment aboard the Airship, and Molly was examining the body, part autopsy, part funerary rite.
"I'm afraid there's not much I can tell you. It was very professional, very elegant, but I can't really tell you anything about who did it. All I know is, it was over quick."
"I would think... not."
"Christ." Ruxpin leaned against a tree, and slowly slid himself down. "Christ." he said again. Slowly, respectfully, Molly dipped a cloth into water, and then began to wash the body. She removed the dirt, the blood, the other blemishes. As she washed, she recited. Sometimes a dirge, sometimes a chant, sometimes in a soft song.
"Yitgaddal v'yitqaddash sh'meh rabba."
In a sudden movement, Ruxpin rose, grabbed the shovel, and began to dig.
"B'ʻal'ma di v'raʼ khiruteh
B'ʻal'ma d'hu ʻatid l'itchaddata.
The ground was moist, and every thunk of the shovel was accompanied by a muffled squelch of mud.
ulʼassaqa yathon l'chayyey ʻal'ma"
The work was unexpectedly hard. Ruxpin strained in the heavy mud, his fur sleek with sweat.
"Ulmivne qarta dirushlem
ulshakhlala hekhleh b'gavvah."
Faster now, fueled by some inner rage, Ruxpin dug harder, faster, deeper.
"Y'he sh'meh rabba m'varakh
l'ʻalam ulʻal'me ʻal'maya
Yitbarakh v'yishtabbach v'yitpaʼar v'yitromam
v'yitnasse v'yithaddar v'yitʻalle v'yithallal
sh'meh d'qudsha, b'rikh hu."
The dirge had become a keen, pitched and full of vitriol in the harsh tounge in which it was uttered. With deft fingers, she began to close the linen around the body.
"Di b'ʼatra haden v'di b'khol atar v'ʼatar
y'he l'hon ulkhon sh'lama rabba,
chinna v'chisda v'rachamey v'chayyey arikhey
umzoney r'vichey ufurqana
min qodam avuhon di vishmayya v'ʼarʻa
It was not a scream of rage. It was far more primordial- far more animal than that. It was a roar, some vestige of the family Ursidae present in the depths of Ruxpin's soul. Howling his grief, Ruxpin slammed the shovel into the mud and fell to his knees, panting. Unfazed, Molly reverentially completed her ritual.
"Amen." she said quietly.
"Amen." Ruxpin echoed hoarsely. He climbed up out of the grave, and carefully picked up the body. "So damn light" he muttered, before he lowered it into the ground. He began to fill the grave back in. Molly sat at the head of the grave, her knees up to her chest, her ankles crossed. Twilight filled the sky, and the night was upon them. "More."
"Song. Prayer. Whatever. Just sing." He continued to bury. Molly sat back in thought for a moment, her hands sinking into the wet dirt. This time, her voice was pure and clear. Her pitch was perfect, and as she sang, her voice quieted all around.
"Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet."
Her voice died away. Bird was buried. Breathing labored, Ruxpin sat down next to her in the moonlight. He pulled out a hip flask, took a swig and passed it to Molly.
"When I was very little," Molly began, taking a drink "I went to a funeral at the Zentralfriedhof. I was even smaller in those days, a minuscule slip of a thing. I walked among the crowd, looking at their faces. Some were sad, some were angry, some secretly amused, some merely bored. Unexpectedly, I came across the mute, earning his pay at the edge of mourners. We stared at each other for the longest time. His face was more than sad- it was grotesquely tragic, some fierce mockery of any happy thought, like some sculptor had constructed the anti-joy. It scared me. Scared me so much I ran and ran and ran, past tombstones and grave sites and iron and stone. I hid myself so well. It took over four hours for Rebbe Tzvi and Tante Possenreißer to find me."
"Where were you?" Ruxpin asked, after a time.
"I was singing Ave Maria and dancing barefoot behind Schubert's grave for an audience of squirrels. In hindsight, it was probably that that gave me away. We never did find my other shoe."
"We're the last now." Ruxpin said moodily, lighting up. "Last of the Fallen Angels. How many were we?"
"When?" Molly asked.
"When they marched us off to Shyguy. How many?"
"614, counting the chopper crews and my command staff. Oh, and my driver."
"Oh god, I'd forgotten we had choppers. Bloody RPGs." Hearing this, Molly giggled.
"Lost 'em in under a month. And it's not like they were any good. Ancient Sikorsky H-19's flown by hotshot fly boys right out of flight school. Hell, those birds were probably flown at Chosin Reservoir." She grinned.
"And they never did send that car, did they?"
"HA! No, no they never did. The poor boy followed me like a little lost puppy for three months straight, with no idea of what to do. Eventually, I think.. yes, Sonic's platoon managed to dig up an Edsel from god-knows-where. An Edsel! In Pescotao! He was so happy to be able to drive me around in that scuffed up old crate. We'd go to those meetings with General Yoshi- you know the ones where he'd just lie face down on the desk and cry?- we'd go to these meetings, and that kid would polish that car up like we were going to visit Emperor Franz Joseph on parade." She took the hip-flask back from Ruxpin and took a long drink. "You know, I can still recite, word perfect, every line and note from Der Ring des Nibelungen, but I can't remember that boy's name."
"What happened to him?"
"Bullet. Through the head. Right when we pulled out of the Daisy Palace. Brains got all over my best uniform. I would've been wearing my fatigues, but there's was about three regiments of Reds between me and my damn quarters. Stained the lanyard and braid permanently." A tad tipsy, she managed to pull herself up to stand. A sudden change came over her. She went completely rigid, legs straight and together, posture straight, and executed with perfect precision a military salute. After a moment, Ruxpin rose his bulk up and saluted the grave as well. After a time, Molly said, quietly "Company dismissed". She and Ruxpin both relaxed. "The last ones, you say?"
"Well, except for Bunny."
"Oh god is that little bugger still alive?"
"So," Molly said, walking towards the Airship "Where to next?"
"We go south, general. We go south."