XXVII.

They managed to start a fire. Warmth and aromas of foods roused the woman to her consciousness. The name was “Ting,” like the drumming of rain on metals.

She was honest enough to not make up an excuse for her acts of self-harm, beginning to unfurl a tale as a modest payment for her salvation. So the story was as follows.

“A few months ago I was married to my friend since childhood,” At this she paused, sighed. “He was…such a man, great-humored, well-loved for his jovial merits. I became with child through him, and I thought us on the peak of happiness…we even had a new house, finer rooms for our children…” Lyra could almost guess the end to the tragedy. “One night, only a fortnight since I’ve been made aware of my child, I was struck with a fever of sorts. ‘Tis late, and I was forgetful to draw water earlier that day. So, he set out to the well, though he never returned…They found his body a few days later…in this very same river…bloated beyond recognition besides our wedding band…” At this she swallowed a sob. “I was devastated, drowned in guilt and shock…and senseless sorrows killed my unborn child…” This sob escaped her. “The village…they thought I was desperate enough to purposely kill my own child. A faithful friend of mine enlightened me of the town’s intentions of hanging me, thus allowing my escape…”
The savagery of human assumptions deemed Lyra dumbstruck even though the concept was not completely foreign, but was not yet familiar enough to her for her to be completely numbed, “I…I am sorry.”

“That should be my line, really, for me to attack you even though you were saving me,” Ting beheld her hand as though she was in disbelief of its work. “Thank you.”

There’s a pleasant burden called life that most would not find so welcoming ‘lest they had walked the tightrope of mortality.

They drifted to the shallows of conversation before Lyra saw that the woman dozed and struggled to maintain conversation and urged her to rest. Ting thanked her once again before taking to innocent repose while Lyra reached out to her companion’s mind.

Alde?

Jiube told me a little of the incident…are you hurt?

While I did almost drown while your fluffy friend is too afraid to help, I am perfectly fine. Still not sure if I did such a stupid thing…

…Last time I checked, Jiube’s perfectly fine with a little swim.

Well, during the whole affair, your familiar kind of just screeched and paced by the shores.

What is the woman’s name, again?

Ting. Ting from the Yellow Mountains Village? What’s wrong?

I suspect something is foul, thus she is the object of Jiube’s fears for he is not afraid of a simple body of water.

That’s certainly very assuring. I will be on the watch as though I wasn’t so before. Can you affirm her story, then?

Already on the way.

Sympathy is monstrous, at best, and she found herself almost ready to trust all over again. She watched the peaceful mask of sleep that nearly erased the tear stains of a nightmare retold upon Ting’s facade. Should mankind live in constant jeopardy of each other’s opinions? She killed the imagination that began to move stories to fill the loopholes of Ting’s tale. In her deep state of contemplation she found her gaze falling back upon the subtle splashes of water lapping at sandy banks, resuming her previous fixation with the reflections of the sun.

It was intoxicating, the scales of lights bobbing up and down the waters.

She never remembered ever being so interested in nature. Tracing her gaze down the streams she found herself strolling, her feet joining her mind in aimless meandering. The sky was blue, the stream was blue and so was her mind.

The icy skirts of the stream lapped by her feet and she woke up. “What…” Where had she gone? The stream was the same, the woods unchanged, though she had clearly wandered in a trance unrecognized to the edge of the treacherous river.

She attempted to retrace her own tracks from the pebbles she disturbed, following the thought that went as wayward as her path. Still, she only recently qualified as a beginner at tracking — having only been Aldebaran’s pupil of late — and soon enough, once she escaped the soft, impressionable cushions of sand and found dried earth she could hardly make out her way.

How did she wander so far? The shadows and their casters were unfamiliar, while she evaluated the risks of calling aloud for Jiube or Ting walking down a natural path.

Then she saw it, a figure wrapped in blue. Idiotic relief was the harbinger to sudden panic as she approached it, realizing that she was within its plain sight and, as distance closed, the figure was not walking, but zooming into focus with a silent glide. Instincts turned her around and urged her to run, taking to the route to the river instead.

Yet, there was no river. The paths sloped to an incline that, once she sprinted up the hill, a dot of brilliant blue zoomed towards her all the same. She gasped, turning instead into the entanglement of dense overgrowth, branches and leaves giving potential shelters.

Shelters, she realized, for both her and…it.

Alde, where are you?!

The silence was a deafening clang about her, and each clang made her deaf to her lungs’ cry for air and the cold breath trailing down her back. She found a covering and stopped to catch her breath. The trees swerved, danced, and she hated them as they shifted out of the way for that blue figure to be immediately before her again.

She screamed and shoved at it, sprinting once again until arms locked her down, forcing her onto her back in the dense wilderness, face to face with the blue figure.

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