XII.

Instead of addressing the enraged Nokshan’s inquiry, Claud turned to Lyra, “I do applaud you in moving that stubborn crow…it turned out the little blue jay is a lot more susceptible to reason once…some pressure was applied.”

The idea and the nonchalance was more than enough to provoke Aldebaran, who clenched the hilt of his sword and made trails of scarlet slipping through his fingers. But, before he could draw and begin what his hatred thought to do, Eridani snapped her eyes open, the previous glimmer of teary recognition painted over by unnatural resolutions.

The girl shoved herself out of the shelter under her brother’s wings, the demands that tortured her shrieked for blood.

“Eri?”

She raised a hand, and Aldebaran watched with horror as the basic laws of their people crumbled to dust under the tyranny of the screaming: the young Nokshan held a void, spiritual, draining the life out of their forested backdrop. Time leapt, leaves dove, critters stopped and birds fell.

Kill, kill, kill, the screams chanted, the Priest smiled.

As she released the void, spirits weeping for a return to their earthly vessels lashed at human flesh. Blood and the contract propelled Aldebaran to action; he parted the lethal cloud with a broad slash. Still, wisps of it escaped him and headed for the vulnerable human vessels.

Lyra could only shield herself with the strongest spell she remembers. She didn’t know how the gush of dark dusts dissolved her attempt as she was knocked off of her feet and into the undergrowth of the trees flanking the path. She pushed up against bruised elbows and saw.

“…H…” She forgot how to speak: in her place, he groveled at the weight of his mind boiled by ruptured spirits. “…rati…”

Did he catch her though? All Horatio knew before the grey world dwindled from his eyes was that he still didn’t do what Athlem prescribed, never assured her that even when she falls…he will…did he catch her though?

Lyra scrambled to his side, struggling to grapple with his weight in her arms and the weight of an unfathomable nightmare.

Her voice returned, “Horatio?”

Pained cries that he thought was his sister’s tore through Aldebaran’s mind and gave him false hope: the girl and her abductor were out of sight after the outburst, though Aldebaran had no time to search as he turned and saw and connected the lament to its rightful creator. Though the Princess’s visage was calmer than the emerald blue of the seas, her steely, piercing eyes dried by determination glared without understanding the lifeless that she cradled, called, and cherished.

Her quivering lips cracked her disguise, “…Save him.”

“What…?”

“Save him,” She repeated the impossible. “Please…”

There was no remedy that doesn’t require him to cross the mandates of his kind. He studied the fading spirit of the imperial advisor, and a vague memory egged him. “It would be a waste if you die here,” said a calm baritone from blurred memory.

Aldebaran stooped, a hesitant hand hovered above Horatio’s heart.

Why hasn’t Lyra manipulated him with the contract the same way Claud puppeteered his sister? He studied her, and she finally looked up. Wrath and anguish were far beneath the surface of her sea-depth eyes, and all he could see was but his own reflection and her silent plea like constant waves crashing against inexplicable remorse.

“Would it be easier if I force you to do it, so you don’t have to carry it upon your conscious that you’ve broken your commandments?”

It’s not surprising to find that she knew his mind by the nature of the contract, but her desperation…a pang stung his mind, unearthing memories from the abyss of repression: but he assumed the place of his mother in this deja vu, and Lyra’s distress his past. The laws are older than time, she said. There are no exceptions. He remembered then, the torture of watching his own father’s blood watering the earth knowing full well he held the power to stop it.

But, he is not his mother.

He sought out the hostile spirits, reminded them, “Go home, you’ve done enough harm already.

“…There is no home…nothing…nothing!”

Horatio winced, and Lyra found encouragement in the fact that pain is an attribute only for the living, tugging him closer. With a measured turn of his outstretched hand, Aldebaran reached within the ocean of collective souls, the suspended yarns of history in repetitive, ceaseless waves. He felt for their warmth, their impulse, their songs; combing through them with his fingers until only one was stubborn enough to cling on. He saw that it was good, so he led that strand astray, while the rest of the wave retreated to the vast seas as though it was the Creator’s gasp at the unlawful intrusion.

Lyra wasn’t sure what to believe. The Nokshan drew a line of energy that split the reality and blinded her briefly. The next thing she knew, the dim sun had abandoned its post in the sky and joined them on earth, concentrated in a sphere that would fit in her palm. They were probably in a different realm, a space completely dark save for the spherical sun. She saw that Aldebaran looked at her, then she realized that she, too, was but a drop of heaven.

But, in all honesty, Horatio thought heaven would be prettier. At least…less abstract…Or was he only allowed the luxury of purgatory? He was rather glad that the answer to such is to be procrastinated upon. When he resurfaced and his eyes blurred into focus he found himself greeted by the only angel he needed.

“…Horatio?” He struggled to respond, or move at all, really, but gave the hand that grasped his a slight squeeze.

Relief corroded her resolve, and she burst into tears choking him in a tight embrace. He scoffed inwardly as he attempted to comfort, for this was the only heaven he needed.

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