XIII.

It was the beginning of another circle. Lyra knew from his blatant ignorance of her in the palace corridors that the new Priest, a young man hardly her senior, was but yet another disaster. Of course, the Princess and pretend-Emperor is not allowed to name the new Grand Priest.

At least Horatio is back…most of him…at least.

She intruded upon his chambers when she returned — for she begged Aldebaran to take Horatio back first — and Athlem in her usual disguise barred the door with her frame.

“…Is he okay?” The odd-colored eyes used to frighten her when she was younger, but age taught her how to read them: their contrasting shades spoke peace and relief today, so she knew the favorable answer without utterance and she knew that she knew, too.

“One thing, though,” Her mind met a grinding halt on its skip to unrealistic happiness at the tone of her voice. “He’s…well, it’s not exactly life threatening.”

“What?”

“His right arm…he seemed to have blocked the attack with it…and it became necessary for us to relieve him of it.” Athlem added when she blanched. “You know him. He would…just brush it off as a minor inconveniences.”

But…because he pushed me out of the way…despite Athlem’s encouragement, self-blame was already crawling up her throat.

“Let’s hope that this would be enough to stop the spread of the corruption.”

Lyra forced out a smile, thanked her for her assistance before taking off for her hideout on the far eastern wing’s watchtower, which had been abandoned since the last reconstruction of the palace since it now found itself in the middle of the lesser courts instead.

As she dangled her feet over a potentially crushing fall from the window of the tower, Lyra wondered why she was casted as a liability and what it would take for her to break such a role. More power? The multitude began to call her, to remind her of their confusing existence.

Take us, we said. Just like your father…

No, begone, she bellowed. I don’t need you.

Oh, little Lyra is upset…Is it…because of your dearest Uncle Horatio…?

Stop that.

…I am sure he will be fine: he’s always been able to single-handedly managed the Empire anyway…oops, you don’t find it clever?

Shut it, She saw the smug form the Fallen adopted in her mind knowing that its previous host was this girl’s greatest fears. Well, Lyra was eager to prove them wrong: she disbanded the personification with sheer will, and just like in her own sweetest dreams she killed him again and again. Everytime he should return she would cut him down, paint her mind with his blood, behead him, push him off unknown towers of her isolation to see him be flattened against imaginary earth the same way he killed her mother. But, she would turn around and find herself facing him again.

Give up, child.

No. She cut him down.

Come to us.

No! She fell to her knees in exhaustion, her blade slipped out of her bloody hands and clattered in a pool of scarlet.

At last he didn’t respawn to offer her a hand out of mockery. But, she heard a gasp instead.

Lyra…save me…

Every hair on her stood, and she repeated the motion she had done hours before, half-crawled, half-ran to the source of the agonized moan. It wasn’t the previous Emperor, but his trusted advisor, dying because of her. She wanted to scream, to run…then the corpse sprang up and clamped a hand about her throat. She was crushed against the bloody floor, the hand continuing to choke out life. Horatio…She cried. I am sorry…

You’ve crippled me, the grasp tightened. Her world dimmed. You useless, stubborn thing.

I…am sorry…uncle…

“Is this a bad time?” She snapped her eyes opened and found herself still miraculously seated as though she merely dozed. She looked up: the winged outline pressed against the sun called out to her from the pointed roof. “Sorry for intruding: may I have a word?”

“Yes?”

“Horatio…he can’t survive for long…”

“What?!” She was in shock at the cruel jest.

“Human spirits are not capable of sustaining such a large amount of malevolent spirits…getting rid of most of it through his arm buys some time, but some of it still remains…May I come in?” She forgot her manners: curtly she answered in the affirmative and got off her perch on the window to make way for him.

So, the Nokshan entered her tower of solitude.

He began to tell her about a medicine made from an ancient plant root that his people always used to cure spiritual infections. However, just like any precious things, it is rare and only grows in a field at the edge of the Nokshan’s realm.

“We must go if we plan on saving”–

— “Hoo hoo?”

Her distress had blinded her to the little ball of feathers with enormous eyes proudly perched upon Aldebaran’s shoulder, and now that she’s saw it in all of its glory, she arched an eyebrow in question.

“Ah…this is Jiube, my familiar,” It certainly detracted from Aldebaran’s magnificence with its jerky movements, untidy head, and the adorably large, beady, amber eyes.

Jiube turned its head in inspection of this new being. After a while it leaned forward, Lyra offered a new perch, and it hopped over, scuttling down her arm to snuggle at the crook of her neck, hooting in satisfaction at its new home.

“Oh…and it abandons me. Anyway,” He beheld the way her bright eyes narrowed into crescents when she chuckled, tickled by that stupid bird. “We can save him.”

Stroking the softest thing she’s ever felt in her life, Lyra knew that she still doubted his intentions, but when she read his slight smile and mind was devoid of ill intentions, “We will save him.”

Perhaps…she could just…trust.

Jiube asked who.

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