XI.

Eridani.

The name enchanted, echoed, and danced about his ears. Or…perhaps it was just his own muttering and the wind. He was closing in on the mountains, their ragged frames a crisp certainty in the Creator’s grey canvas and low clouds. He looked down, and the ants calvary surrounding their lord and princess crawled on, a little blot of movement devoid of color as though to sync with the tone of nature’s current composition.

He wished for a hint of colors. A corner of bold yellow, pink…or even a brighter jade in this never-ending stretch of brown and dull green.

Have you found her? He jolted a little, still unused to the mental connection between his contractee and him.

No…

Anything of Claud?

No…but something seems off.

Oh?

It’s awfully quiet.

Lyra assumed that Aldebaran meant for a different “quiet” then her usual understanding, for all around her the leaves rustled, whipped by the winds. She looked up, but the Nokshan was well hidden behind a cloud.

I think I found something, Aldebaran tested his steps upon the rocky outcropping. He heard it among the deathly silence of the environment, a pulse lurking beneath the brown rocks and weeds. He first attributed it to a gnome but realized that it was more than a pulse; it was an unnatural drumming that plagued the mountains.

No…not mountains, but boulders tarnished by hellish human hubris. Immediately, he leapt off his perch before another fit of violent shakings seized the entire ridge.

Alde.

He snapped around: that voice did not belong to Lyra, and the call was too far and too near to be a dream. He almost forgot about the mountain coming to life behind him.

Al…

Who was it that calls with such woe? The Creator did not allot enough time for Lyra to wonder as a horrible screech tore through the howling winds. She turned around to metallic clangs, a shadow dodging from a felled soldier to slay another. She was stupefied by the fantastic shower of colors, bright red accompanying flutters of sapphire. The sting was hidden in the vibrant waltz, sailing through another unsuspecting victim, and leapt at her.

“Lyra!”

She drew a spell to repel though her steed reared and neighed and threw her. She landed well enough as a blade crashed against her spell and shook the earth.

Before the dust settled she saw that she had offset her attacker enough. In the earth on a knee and hand, not in defeat but a stance ready to pounce and snap was but a girl, no more than thirteen…fourteen? Perhaps younger if judgement removes the wrathful flames in her midnight eyes. Her bright blue wings bristled and raised in alarm.

Eri…Aldebaran did not plan on repeating his clumsy mistakes. He flew into the grey sky and out of the stone golem’s deathly reach. Lyra, what is going on?

Ah, your sister has given Horatio and I quite a warm welcome. Mind coming here to share it?

Lyra’s quip was very much underappreciated as Aldebaran tore through the air to hurry back.

“Lord Claud,” Lyra started as the dust glued themselves to the ground in agitated apprehension of the confrontation above, revealing the second assailant standing behind the Nokshan girl. “Last time I saw you, you were much paler and obedient. What rekindled your insolence within these short hours?”

“Princess Lyra, I am sure that you’ve already been introduced to my…new ally.”

“Claud, my friend,” Horatio had yet to overcome his reconciliatory nature. “Treason is nothing to grin at, and while it seems out of place for me to say such, but repent at once and quit your useless revolt.”

“Treason can only be committed against the Emperor, not a mere impostor, Horatio.”

On cue, the winged girl darted forward, shattering the force field Lyra casted with brute force. However, the Princess merely scoffed.

“Eridani!”

The blur of movement were but amateur swings strengthened by anguish in his Nokshan eyes. Full of openings. Though merely disarming her would not be enough…his Eri was entrenched by the tricks of the devilish Priest, a moron and an oxymoron, and in the split second as he dove down he decided, reached out.

The ground rushed up to meet him, the ants no longer insects as he landed between the misguided Nokshan and his contractee.

With the boldness of an infant, he seized the piercing blade with his bare hand, clasped about it, slit a palm and wrenched the weapon from the fledgling’s grasp.

“That’s not how I taught you, now, Eri,” He met her eyes, wrath extinguished by shock and a flow of tears from which consciousness resurfaced.

When the first drop of crimson struck the earth something broke within Lyra’s disarmed assailant, and the girl choked out, “Ahya…” Bristled feathers settled and drew closer against her in search for comfort. Aldebaran tossed away the offensive blade, hiding his bleeding hand behind his back while the intact one brushed aside the last string of the Priest’s manipulative web upon the girl’s mind and pulled her into a tight embrace, tugging her under his wings. “Bro…ther…” She choked out a sob.

The panic from hours before  revisited Claud briefly while he attempted to talk over it,“I see that you’ve struck a deal of your own, Princess Lyra,” Claud pulled at his cape to shake off invisible specks. “Pity that your soft heart could only get you so far.”

With a twist of his hands, Eridani was seized by icy pain. Her eyes squeezed shut while her hands, now freed from the burdens of a sword that cut her beloved brother, shot up to her throat and clenched it, choosing death by strangulation than the agony. Aldebaran unclasped her fingers forcefully, revealing the line of runes marring her neck from under her grasp and disturbed collar.

“What have you done to her?” He growled, his rancor skinning the Priest alive.

Claud merely smiled.

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