XVII.

Morning came in a gentle breeze of sunlight, and had Aldebaran not been sleeping on the cold stone cell floors recently, he wouldn’t have found the cave so heavenly. Heavy grey clouds have retreated from his eyes, the last days of rains only leaving impressions in the form of pools in the dents of the earth. He glanced over the large fluffball of feathers that was his trusty familiar, too dedicated to his task of watching over the Princess. Thankfully, Lyra was recovering steadily as though her fever was not induced by her wounds but the gloom of the sky.

“Morning, Jiube,” Her dreamy utterance accompanied the steady rise of the sun, hollowed by the cave’s echoes; the named familiar refused to yield to consciousness, “Good morning to you, too, I suppose.”

“How are you feeling?”

A cloud passed over Lyra’s features as she looked to the cave floor, “…” She ruffled Jiube’s head, features knotted in thoughts. “Do you know where my dagger is?”

Quite a peculiar response…Aldebaran decided to blame her drowsiness and assume her innocence, “Here, catch.”

She looked up just in time to break the sheathed blade’s fall.

So…not so drowsy after all? Aldebaran watched her turn the weapon about her hand, studying and with a sharp motion drew it out of the sheath and pricked her finger. What of the poison? Aldebaran wasn’t sure if he was to interfere. As the ruby taint the white glint a click rung about the cave: a latch narrow enough to block the passage of a small finger, opened at the handle of the dagger. She extracted from there a crystal sphere that she balanced in her palm.

“A simple memento,” She explained. “Or a…mirror, if you would call it.”

With a line of spells the clearness took color, words formed and briefly, Aldebaran caught a whisper a scratch louder than the breeze of murmurs, a glint in the transparent display. Lyra’s brows loosened over time, colors returning to her cheeks in relief.

“He’s…alive.”

Part of Aldebaran somewhat sympathized, sharing inexplicable relief for the news about Horatio, “Shall we continue the task of finding the cure, then?”

The clouds about her features cleared, day broke with a smile and an affirmative.

So, with those things settled they were to take off, then it dawned upon Lyra the question of transportation, “Can you…fly in this form?” She petted Jiube. “If you can, why haven’t you done so already?” The question answered itself as she felt the stretch of skin smoothened by pain, lying just in a fold of a wing.

Jiube jerked awake and bristled. Lyra wasn’t sure why she didn’t leap back.

Aldebaran went to calm the thing with mutters of a musical tongue, “A storm,” he explained. “He was caught in a storm before I chose him as my familiar…limei denyi?”

Jiube got up, stretched his cumbersome wings before drawing them over himself. In a flourish of plumage Lyra thought the beast turned into thin air. But, in his place was the owl that could fit snugly in her palm. He twitched about, found his friends then, stooping before launching himself at Lyra, half-skid, half-flapped until he was snuggling against her neck, a content hoot.

Why would you take in something useless?

It keeps people warm.

Lyra scoffed, more at her own stupidity than anything.

“Shall we?”

For the second time today she gave an affirmative.

********

Lyra never imagined she could take to the sky, and her fight against giddy elation saved her from being engulfed in the embarrassment of physical intimacy with a Nokshan…man. Still, it was…amazing, greens slipping past her feet, winds parting to make way for them. She wanted to be a child, celebrate, but thought better.

The passage of woods slowed, and before her mind conceived any complaints she smelled the reason: a fire? Burnt…wood…no, more than just that. The smell was foul, and she looked down.

“What on earth?” was that scar of fires, glowering in the green earth? A village sacked, its bricked slants of homes broke ope by murderous avarice.

While the village was foreign, the scene was familiar with him. Twice, he had lived through such hell, first in childhood, second a more recent memory when he confronted Lord Francis (when he first learned that humans are more engulfed in burying than saving, seeing that some diggers threw in the breathing besides the still into their trenched graves).

Instinctively he swept lower, nearing the edge of Satan’s bonfire for their landing. Lyra was uneasy that there were no sight of the arsonists, “Are you sure that it’s a good idea to meddle?”

“What else can we do?” It shocked Lyra that the idea of flying away never occurred to him.

He set her upon earth and together they edged towards purgatory, greeted by cries of dying trees and souls eager to tear away from their broken earthly vessels. Lyra was incredulous as her contractee darted into the wobbling skeletons of a flaming cabin without a moment’s thought. Then he returned, a limp, seemingly lifeless body hanging from his arms.

Aldebaran was incredulous as to why the Princess was frozen with inaction, but remembered that it was only natural: after all, humans don’t have the voice of the Creator booming in their minds all the time.

To his surprise, however, was that the fires of determination in her eyes melted icy reservations, and soon she joined him, ragging, healing, watering cracked lips, shifting souls from the air back to the pains of being alive. Was this wholly justified and holy, to prolong suffering as such?

Her vague imitation of Athlem somehow worked? Her latest patient, a girl whose rags ashened, face marked, choked out a breath while Lyra drew a cold cloth over her small head. Eyes cracked opened, found humanity, then whispered.

“Thank…you…thanks…” sang the requiem of angels. Lyra knew that all was worth if she could curtail it.

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