XXXVI.

She wasted no breath to explain, rounding the shack and cut to the backyard without much difficulty, for the fence was just as hollow as the man claiming responsibility of mending them. Anyhow, she went to the center of the yard and looked up to the crooked windows, three squares of light succumbed to darkness.So, which of the three?

She debated between each one, then thought it only wise to confer with her little friend.

“Jiube,” She whispered, and the little owl needed no further prompting.

A hop, a scuttle, a subdued flurry of movement: the little fluff easily mounted the cracked sills and shuffled from one opening to another, poking its head in, its eyes wide and amber enough to be mistaken for a materialization of dreams or a messenger from the Creator. At its first target it hooted adamantly, hopped and made a trusting descent into the outstretched hands of Lyra.

Aldebaran might have grumbled something about his familiar’s utter domestication, but it didn’t matter. The disturbed room’s inhabitants lighted the recently killed candles and looked after the critter’s strange visitation.

In the sheer veil of moonlight and the pathetic attempt by candlelight Lyra made out the head looking out from the neglected windows, the muttered annoyance, then in a glint of bright reflections from the dancing flame from her light, the differing depth in thoughtful search. In that same spark she saw her, nearly dropped the torch before her senses stopped her from simply screaming her name.

Lyra’s senses stopped her not, “Athlem!”

Of course she was shushed, gestured to wait at the front of the shack. She obliged, Alde followed and they retraced their short journey back to the dim street, waited noiselessly.

The loneliness of the form that emerged from the creaking door only disappointed Lyra by a small degree. As she approached in measured steps, she could not measure her joy and cut her short of her passage to strangle her in an embrace that thankfully only killed etiquette.

“Oh my, Lyra –”

“Is Horatio with you? Is he alright?”

“Of course, he’s merely fatigued. All thanks to you and your” — at this a word-search for a title for the Nokshan, who was clueless of the attention spared for him as his familiar found a hole in a dying tree to lose both itself and its master’s patience in, commenced and ended — “Anyhow, the heart was the Creator’s saving grace, and I am forever indebted and grateful.”

Lyra elbowed her companion to elicit a stumbled acknowledgement before the latter resumed the difficult task of negotiating enough beetles for snacks to tempt the little owl off its new favorite branch.

“What are the odds, how are you here of all places…how have you been? You seem…weathered.”

“Ah, and to think I miss even your brutal honesty: that is no way to speak with your elder,” She scoffed, and Athlem continued. “Please, I was only stabbed, convicted of treason, may or may not have doomed the woman who raised me. Life is wonderful,” The physician brushed the sarcasm-coated bitterness aside. “Enough of me, what of you? How negligent was the Creator to you?”

Jiube finally left the tree, pecking contently at its master’s head to drill in the promise of food. Alde swatted.

“Well, me? It’s…” A hand shot to her gut and vaguely traced a scarring wound, a flood of woe dotted by sparks of hope from the blush of sun setting upon her brief captivity, the young boy in her nightmarish vision, the bright blue of the water nymph, her declaration in her father’s visage. “I…” She drew a shuddered breath, her aunt drew her into her arms.

“You’ve came so far.”

Lyra did not understand, for how had she grown if she still bawled like a child? The pretense was too much, the mask of indifference too heavy with the infinite injuries by sword or words or isolation or negligence; then there are the moments of false belief, false hope for power only to give her the false impression of freedom, only then realized that all was accomplished under her connections to her loathsome father: a predicament as cyclical and redundant as the words of this sentence.

Athlem understood, knew the inevitable failure of words and only gave silent companionship.

Amongst the subsiding sobs she choked out, “Thank you.”

“Huh?” Athlem sniffled.

“For…gah…” loving me, she meant. For being here.

Aldebaran attempted not to remember what he missed, a blue jay too far, their mother further, their father…the bright moon compared not to the snowy egret wings beyond the clouds now.

He turned away.

It was a moment to be treasured, silent and hushed as the night breeze, immeasurable except by the finest poets or bards. The moment too perfect to be, so was soon intruded by a loud bang from the shack.

Athlem sprang to attention, again clouded by fear as she imagined baseless scenarios of tragedy. Lyra followed her sprint though Alde beat them to it, his inhuman instincts and flight carried him to the porch first, pushed the door free from its pathetic hinge. A tangle of movement stirred within.

Lyra called a light, and behind the kitchen table a form of infinite darkness continued to maul its victim. Athlem saw the familiar cloak of dark blue beneath the form, was seized by anguish and Lyra as the latter wrestled her from losing her rationality and disguised voice, “Horatio!” At that call, the face of the beast turned to them, a face of menace. Athlem whimpered, Lyra flinched, and Alde rested a hand upon the hilt of his sword, uttering a simple command, “Zhow.”

Seized by the light of such a word it screeched, rushed at the three in a storm of ill intentions as Lyra enacted a shield just in time, the face collided with her sheer energy and dispersed into the night. And Athlem shrugged herself free and ran to the body.

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