...It was closer now, and he would welcome it.
In the beginning, every time he had been awakened, he'd sat up and stared frantically around at his fellow hunters, or any living thing, to see who had touched him, or whispered something incomprehensible. But it had never been them.
Over time, everything had become stronger. What started as a gentle brush had turned into a trace of fingers over his chest, or a pat on the back. Small inhales had become all-out sniffles. The murmuring went on for weeks before becoming recognizable. He had never been quite sure if they - the voices - were talking to him, amongst themselves, or to no one but the wind. And on the day when he suddenly recognized one voice, it made his heart freeze in his chest. His eyes sprung open and this time, he thought that he would for sure see the speaker. He thought that knowing what to look for would make the difference - he was looking for no living being. Nearly jumping to his feet, he saw...nothing. No one was there. He fell back to the ground; of course he couldn't see anything. Gavner was dead. He had only heard him through his imagination.
But the following night, when he had felt the hand - not Gavner's - it was a soft, caressing hand - laying on his stomach, it had felt so real. He had tried to trap it against him before opening his eyes, determined not to let Arra - no, not Arra, he had forced himself to remember, it was a figment of her all from his mind - slip away. But the moment he tried to touch the hand, the sensation was gone. His eyes had opened, and once again, there was no one there.
As time went on, these...phenomenons - he didn't know what else to call them - expanded from awakening him during the day to startling him at night. He never shared these sounds or feelings with Vancha, Harkat, or even Darren. They would laugh at him for hearing voices that weren't there and tell him he was probably bumping into branches or the like. Even if they didn't disregard it, something told him they wouldn't understand. And that realization began to help him form a theory. A theory of why he could feel Arra's hand in his, why he could hear her soft whispers in his ear, and why Gavner's sniffling and chuckling seemed to join him wherever he went. They weren't figments of his mind. They weren't illusions from his heart. They were ghosts.
It seemed like such a silly idea. Larten Crepsley didn't believe in ghosts. But what else could it be? And slowly the reason for their sudden appearance began to dawn on him. And that reason didn't scare him as much as he'd have thought it would.
As the months went on, Larten didn't dare open his eyes or look around anymore when he heard or felt something, fearing that it would make them go away. Over time everything was sounding more clear, and feeling more and more real. Sometimes it almost felt like he could speak with them, and it made him feel whole again to feel the presence of those he had loved. He wondered if it was all in his head, and wondered if that meant it wasn't real. He hoped not. In some ways he felt like it was the light at the end of a very long, very difficult tunnel.
And this particular day, he was awakened from his spot on the cold, hard ground with a tickle of fingertips across his chin and it suddenly seemed too real, and he knew that meant it couldn't be much longer now. Right now seemed like he was nearer to them than ever before, and he had to take the chance to see them. Leap, he remembered the axiom going, and the net will appear.
He opened his eyes...and felt his ancient heart jump a couple beats. There she was, lying beside him, smiling as she stroked along his jaw. She wasn't white, or shining, or transparent, as ghosts were always thought to be, but he could tell. She didn't look entirely like the Arra he used to know; she looked happier, more at peace. And he slowly wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye, so happy to see her but so afraid she would disappear at the same time. Behind her was Gavner, sitting on a fallen tree, his face as serene as Arra's. Larten took a shaking breath as he looked from Gavner's familiar smile into Arra's eyes; the storminess had turned to a lighter, brighter grey-tinged blue. He dared to reach out and rest a hand on the side of her face. His heart longed to touch her with his own two hands, but she gently shook her head and pulled it away.
"Soon," she said softly, her voice fading out into the day's cool breeze, and he could see Gavner nod sadly in the background.
Larten nodded, and though it made his tired old heart's thumping feel labored, it made him smile - he had known for a while. He let his eyes fall closed again, afraid that watching them for too long would make them vanish into thin air the same way Arra's whisper, that he would soon be with them again, had.
It was closer now, and he would welcome it.