XIV.

The sky was blushing pink and orange; the clouds, however, did not share the fluster and remained stubbornly bluish white.

They arranged to meet upon the roof of the northern wing of the palace, and his wait was shortened by the colorful view. Eventually, Jiube chirped in excited alarm.

“Why do you like her so much, you stupid fluff?” The little owl pecked at his teasing finger in protest before he sent it off to scout for eavesdropping ears.

Lyra greeted them, “Apologies for the delay…”

“No worries…are you ready?”

She looked too grey to be ready for flight, and his senses were right, “I…I can’t leave this palace.”

“What? What of Horatio?” Well, suppose that he could just go on his own…but…

“Well, the problem is…” a loud, crackling explosion split their ear drums and the horizon.

“What was that?!” He wasn’t sure which one of them asked the question.

Then he felt it, the distinctive high screech of wanton spirits. Yet, it was a much higher concentration than when Eridani did the forbidden. How…where…this all reminded him of the worst of times…

The shielding spells gave way to darkness, which swallowed without discrimination: fledglings and old, fathers and mothers. He was but a fledgling enjoying the schoolless hours, then, cleaning and sorting vegetables to the liking of his mother’s increasingly peculiar tastes: after all, father always said, “This was for your sister-to-be.”

So when the darkness fell he didn’t think before he rushed to find his mother, who was yet heavy so didn’t find the need to sit idly as her friends and relatives prescribed. Where could she be? “I have more children than the one and a bit more here,” she always said with a slight smile as she rested a hand upon her abdomen and the other ruffling his hair. There are ones whose wings were clipped by fortune, and Aldebaran knew that she carried the weight of the flightless people each step of the way even when she, too, is temporarily crippled by her fertility in her deprivation of sorcery in fear the movement of spirits might kill the fragile life within her.

The old tree, then. She must be there.

He leapt from one branch to another, half-glided, half-crashed his way to the center of the village. Already the floor was caked in fallen leaves and feathers and family, fearsome clashes boomed about him. “Mother!” The commotion drowned him. “Mother!” His relatively small stature kept him safe and delivered him to his destination. All around him the shrieks of the dead deafened his senses, yet he continued on. “Mother!” He hopped over tangled roots framing infinite puddles and ponds, rounding about the trunk to find tragedy.

He remembered every detail, every haggard rasp from his father, every enraged screech from his mother, every sickening grin from the man standing over his family with the pen that he used to author Aldebaran’s woe. “Love?” He didn’t register the pathetic gasp through suppressed tears to be his mother’s, her hands grasping at gashes and holes that marred her beloved, whose wings continued to shield her stubbornly until the end. “Love?”

The intensity of her sorrows made her disregard life and her assailant. Aldebaran didn’t know what foolishness drove him, but he found a wayward sword from a fallen clanswoman in proximity and pounced at the man. The multitude swarmed, the boy cowered, and he was ruthlessly knocked out of his trajectory and crushed against the old tree.

His ears rang, his whole body ached, and his eyes swerved and sought beyond the branches.

Was the sky also orange and pink when this screech overran his happiness?

He snapped about to face Lyra, only to find her nearly equally perturbed. From a corner of his eyes he saw a flash of movement, a malevolent blade. He parried it, pierced its wielder, whose dark cloaks made them but minions of shadows. Obviously, there were more than one assassin: all around them armed darkness sprung up and threatened to swallow them whole.

Lyra fought hard, drawing blood and life all around; but she fought too desperately for her to see the tendril of a being creeping up behind her. But, he saw the form crisp against the orange sky, and instinctively he pushed back the assassins that attempted to bury him with their ungodly spells. The sly soldier raised his sword, silver glittering in the sun; it crashed down and made contact in a sickening sound. She cried out, a ruthless push sent her falling, her feet grasping no roof but air. He darted forward and spread his wings.

“Lyra!”

He dove after her, compressing himself to hasten his own fall just enough for him to sweep in under her, catch her, and pull the two of them off the ground.

She winced, her brows tangled in pain.

By the time they were a height that allowed a survey of the entire palace, he observed the status of the sudden invasion while attempting to ignore the steady scarlet dying his hands and arms. Her delicate features blanched, her eyes struggled to stay opened and her aches burnt the runes into his neck.

He’s failing his contract.

As they moved past the silhouettes of towers and domes and into the forested fields, the world grew dimmer with each beat of his wings; the bluish white of the clouds had completely triumphed over the pleasant pink and orange. He squinted to study the landscape; she squirmed and sighed.

“Almost there…” He muttered more to himself than her, as they swept past the black reach of waving trees obscuring any hint of a resting place

Jiube, he bothered his trusted scout. Did you find anything?

The bird returned an affirmative. Aldebaran saw through its eyes its findings: a cave veiled by drooping branches and a promise for Lyra’s safety.

Very well. So he beat on, wings against the air under the sickening, dying blush of the sky.

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