XXV.

How long had it been? When she came about she wondered why she always seemed to be waking from faints or injuries nowadays. Her bed was the earth and her blanket a warm cloak the color she stared at falling asleep. There was a fire for which a tiny owl toiled, wrestling twigs of its proud findings and fanned occasionally with little wings.

As she looked across the blaze and grey smokes she found him, seated on a convenient fallen tree and dozing with his cheek in his hand, the other hand perched upon the hilt of his sword.

Perhaps she should remain silent, let the crackling wood speak her guilt and sudden concerns for Athlem and Horatio now that consciousness deprived her of groggy ignorance. Jiube turned about to find her melancholy, then gave a shrill cry to bid its greeting.

Aldebaran muttered something in his native tongue, a low plea just above the murmurs of the flame that made the owl cock its head before it scuttled back to its master on the other side of the fire.

Are you feeling alright? She thought the beckoning warmth of the fire inquired, but knew the voice too well for it to be a mere fire.

I am…fine, thank you, She felt the broken skin and the swells where the rope dug channels about her wrists and ankles. Is speaking aloud normally too much of a bother for you?

No…there are just certain things that I didn’t want Jiube to hear…though you ought to know —

— I am sorry, Aldebaran, she turned her back to him. I…everything that happened…I am more or less responsible, and yet…She thought about the mercenary, wondered why his memories resurfaced.

You have to understand, Lyra, a Nokshan is born with a purpose given designated by the Creator. And…most are unaware of their full purpose until later in life.

She wasn’t sure why but she thought, as she turned to lie on her back to stare at the explosion of constellations above them, an egret could be traced out in the dark canvas.

My father was…different: he knew the entirety of his purpose, each step in his life as the Creator drew out, yet…an incident took him from it. For the first time we were made known to a power great enough to contradict the Creator’s purposes…after his death it was as though…the Creator fell silent to us.

She swallowed hard, thoughts racing back to the darkest corner of her mind, the voices, all screaming in silence: her father’s greatest inheritance.

That day when my father died…It was the day when the noises…the collection of…of…

…Of voices? Of utterances so low and unthinkable that the very notion of each word wield the absolute authority of fear? I…the night sky clouded, and her mind finally accepted her earlier realizations of the bridge that fell between her memory of the mercenary and the Nokshan village and her, an epitome of sins.

It’s not just you, Lyra.

What?

I hear my own…legion of thoughts that twist the blood I’ve spilled to be water for earth in my blind eyes…It was more than the one bastard that decided to kill my people for the simple golden rocks…

It was beyond such. It was beyond her…father. The thoughts crossed her before, but this was the most concrete the sentiment had ever been. So…could it be? Was the fallen a mere manifestation of her own fears and doubts? There was no actual form of an entity tempting mankind? Does this not mean that she was the only one to blame?

I’ve…lost Eridani because of my selfishness, my need to seek revenge…He thought to himself that it was to fill the steps intended for his father, seeing in the orange flames a stroll by a pond a long time ago. Had he forgotten the purpose of his power? It’s to protect…He sought to kill off the reasons that authored those late nights, early mornings when he would wake from the requiem of that sickening sound, image of his father’s head rolling by his lifeless body, still warm; when he would find his mother taking to her sword in her own sleepless years, banishing herself to a clearing in the woods to perfect her flawless techniques, splitting the air where senseless remorse hung. Her hands would tremble even after a perfect strike: the breathing wasn’t even enough. He merely wanted to tear apart the veil that made mother avert his eyes, his dark eyes mirroring too many things…his uncanny resemblance to his father, the long eternity without her beloved, and…and…those dark eyes and their tears were the very mirror in which she saw the sword cut through his throat as she tried to block him from the scene.

Nothing was enough to kill the nightmare.

The night sky was blooming. And, Lyra wanted to find her lucky star among the carnival but realized that the effort would be pointless. Aldebaran studied the flashes of her profile in between each flicker of the fire, a landscape settled in profundity.

Then…also from the night sky a fluttering messenger of hope burst the silence. A raven, Lyra could tell from the fact that she could only see movements since its plumage blended into the darkness as it attempted to invade the fallen tree where Aldebaran sat. A…raven…she jumped from her blankets as she saw the hint of white at the bird’s feet. The raven. Certainty is a thing with wings, and as she rushed to take the note from the bird and see the flawless script she knew only a physician could write she almost wept. A location, hope, she exclaimed the possibilities, her partner welcomed the distraction from his brooding.

The trees about them murmured, discussing the unspoken conversation, drifting, as the excitement calmed into planning, to swift repose.

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