XXXV.

In the days that followed they’ve agreed to forget that moment in Arkmend. Lyra was somewhat relieved by the wordless acquiescence, for being weak is not her strong suit.

They set out for Etzion since her declaration is but empty words. They traveled by flight when they can or hid under heavy disguise when they couldn’t. It was with one of those latter times that this curious coincidence concurred.

‘Tis a time in the afternoons when the sun slipped lazily and simple townspeople gravitate towards the warmth of homely hearths and family. Lyra was distracted for she was only human: the fatigue a stark contrast to her palace life and the smell of cook fires painful reminders of the delicacies her palate has slowly forget but rapidly yearn. So, she wasn’t aware of the little girl running full speed with a pile of papers loosely bounded into a notebook clutched against her chest until she rammed herself into Lyra. In a flutter of pages both were confused, Jiube sent airborne on an unexpected trajectory from his original perch upon the princess’s shoulder, Aldebaran a step ahead of gravity and caught her mid fall. The girl, on the other hand, landed backward.

“Are you alright?” There’s nothing better to distract herself from the embarrassment of unexpected intimacy than to direct attention to another: she went to help the girl up while Alde collected pages.

The girl muttered apologies, a hint of bewilderment escaped as she studied the young woman, “Are you from the Capitol?”

“A town close to it, yes,” She’s rehearsed the lies enough.

“What are you writing?” Aldebaran interjected, studying the characters on a page Jiube snatched before it floated into the sewers.

“Nothing worthy of your attention,” the girl snapped, tore the leaf out of his hands and haphazardly piled the mess together before apologizing again, sprinted away.

“Strange,” Lyra stared at the fading shadow, then she turned to her companion to find his brows wrinkled. “What?”

“Does your language’s writing always move like that?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s nothing, I probably saw wrong. You are alright though?”

“Yes.”

So they continued into the night, nearing the edge of this town. Hulouz, it was called, with buildings disagreeing in most, if not all sense of fashion. A faraway tavern sang in all its drunkenness, a wanderer or two cared little for two travelers and an owl. They passed by one of the shops, a clinique, distinguished by a dim light and a simple sign.

Aldebaran lagged behind, thought aloud, “I wonder what they are arguing about.”

“Aren’t you strange for this past hour, seeing moving letters and hearing nothing out of–”

“–kill her one day with myself if you go there tomorrow!”

The roar precedented a clash directly behind the locked doors of the clinique, footsteps, murmurs. The two exchanged a look, thought the speech too morbid to be ignored. So, they edged towards a cracked window.

“–don’t be like that, they might hear,” A woman aged by her husband’s persistent ignorance pleaded.

“You don’t care for how I feel. You are just here for my money, you vampire, you unsympathetic moron,” The roaring man-child was relentless. “Stop going there, or I will–”

“I will resign tomorrow. Stop making a scene,” anything, the woman would say anything to stop the man.

“You always treat me like you are better, that I know nothing.”

Lyra was ready to leave, for the matters were too personal though the same reason bounded her there.

“It is late, our daughters and guests will hear you–”

“–To hell with those things!”

A flurry of footsteps drumming against stairs introduced another voice, “What do you mean by ‘things,’ is that all we are to you?” One of the daughter, followed by the other, finally could not stay in the safety of their room any longer.

The woman paled, the nightmare refused to end, “Please go back to bed.”

The taller of the two girls find that request almost just as unreasonable as her father, choosing to face the evil, “Why do you always just blame us without thinking about your own faults?”

The father was an abominable mixture of cowardice and childishness, shallow enough to imagine that after all these years he still had a face to uphold to his children; this assumption of ignorance could’ve been one of his greater offenses against his own family.

But the mind slips, seething rage only cool so fast, “Now you are all going against me…and it’s all my fault, huh?”

“And you just proved my point,” The girl stood her ground.

“Please stop–”

“–None of you understand–”

“–you don’t understand–”

Amongst the mess Lyra found the silent girl, leaving the trifecta of conflict and into the moonlight that settled upon a dining table. The face was familiar, the same as the girl running in the dark had it not be marred by swollen eyes and a strange grin stretched across her face. She turned to the monster, smiled.

Lyra was thoroughly disturbed, darted a look at Alde and Jiube to see that they saw the same thing.

“Would you leave now?” She whispered, Alde did not have time to answer before a voice entered the chaos.

“What type of doctor argues in the middle of the night while housing patients?”

It was an accent of the Capitol, but more importantly, as Lyra shoved Alde aside from the window to see, a voice with its tendency to hide insecurities and concerns with sharp reprimands that she knew too well.

In the darkness she saw the familiar frame, recently descending the flight of stairs with hair and spirits disheveled. She was right.

The man retreated to his shell of manners and blamed his unruly daughters.

The guest smiled, “Strange, I only heard a crying boy. Good night, anyway.”

Lyra fought the urge to call her name, watched as the family also returned upstairs, the women protected by their patriarch’s shame before the next storm strikes again.

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