LV.

Unforgivable, he slammed a fist against an innocent tree trunk, the spirits around him reminded him. Your negligence…had you taken your power, she wouldn’t have…

Yet he knew, the Creator’s voice was a dull drum guiding his steps. It urged him against all odds to leave his home, to seek out the Emperor for what he thought was purely revenge but instead…he looked down, surprised by the bright eyes peering back up at him a few respectful steps away.

“Stop it,” He didn’t feel her closing their distance, didn’t feel her hand on his, a gentle breeze seared the skin of his knuckles broken by jagged bark. “You had no control over her. You can’t blame yourself.”

His thoughts meandered on: instead, the Creator led him to her, and she was no subject of his revenge, no, quite opposite, she was… The warmth of her soft hands temporarily blocked out the sting of his desperate stupidity, and he only muttered idiotically, “I didn’t know you are right behind me.”

“You silly, blind raven.”

Is that an improvement? Before he could retort, heat overcame his knuckles, and she chuckled in that musical way of hers.

“It worked,” She smiled at the result of her successful experiment, his healed hand. “This is just an attempt at a ‘thank you’ for earlier.”

“If you temper with the spirits like that you will exhaust yourself,” God, he nagged like his mother: all he was trying to do was to name his inexplicable reluctance in pulling his hand away before opting to mutter. “You are a fast learner, I will give you that.”

“I am so flattered, oh great Nokshan king,” She rolled her eyes. “You’ve healed gashes on my back without a problem, so I should be fine.”

“Perhaps you forget that I am not human?”

She didn’t forget that fact that stands like an abyss between them, but only forgot that she was still holding his hands until now, “You are welcome,” before she hiked ahead, only glanced back to stick her tongue out in childish victory.

He couldn’t help but smile, and before he could scold the idiotic grin away Jiube gave his head a hard peck, hoppping away with a triumphant hoot.

“Hey!”

How he hated that fragment of his own damned spirit.

No matter, the rot of the sea was lost in the damp forests, and he could already see the greyish green of the cursed temple. At the conclusion of Ophie’s tale, they arrived upon the same conclusion to help. If his sister and that priest resorted to such low means, who was he to stand aside?

Despite his apparent iron resolve to end the blue jay altogether, he was far from ready to execute such resolution. And each step towards the confrontation fragmented the nonexistent determination until all was left was dust and remorse when they were at the gates. Yet, the gentle drums of the Creator beat on: put an end to her cursed existence, it should have been so too long ago.

I know, he knew, he simply couldn’t…that was another reason he ran away from his power…from —

“ — Alde,” She pulled him back from the whirlwinds of thoughts yet again. “Stand watch here.”

“What? That’s ridiculous.”

“We may not have to resort to violence,” She was unconvinced herself, but determined to try. “Unlike you are ready to raise a hand against her, anyway.”

“I…”

“Just stay here.”

“No, I can…”

“It’s a command,” He jolted as the runes about his neck seared and warned him at his first disobedient step.

“I don’t need a collar,” He winced in disgust, but before he could see her pained look he took to the cover of trees and a disguising spell.

Lyra immediately regretted her decision when she followed the grandfather, her uncle and Athlem into the chilly shadows of the stone temple clearly losing its battle to time and lichens. But she had to, the Creator already subjected him to too many cruelties and she deemed it her duty to change that. Still, how she would have preferred to have the Nokshan by her side is a sentiment she dared not pronounced even when each eroded carving looked more than ready to collapse onto her with their uncanny shadows since she needed not her aunt’s teasing.

“Here,” the old man barked, setting his lantern upon an altar that she tried not to imagine covered with blood offerings as it was when it still used. “Now, we just have to wait for sunset.” He set himself upon the mat of tangled ivy weaving together the cracked stone floors, meditating.

Lyra thought better than to disturb the old man and went to join her aunt and uncle.

“I told you not to come here,” Horatio’s whisper to his beloved was largely ignored as the addressed merely wandered off to study a relatively preserved fresco.

“This entire affair stems from me, so I should at least have a hand in solving it,” She offered her reasoning, resting a hand on her still flat abdomen. “Don’t worry, love.”

Lyra instinctively tugged herself close to her aunt to silence any more nagging from Horatio, attempting to understand what fresco would be interesting enough to deserve attention at such a crucial time, “What do you make of that?”

Athlem dared to touch the fragile walls, “I was trying to see if I am insane, but could you hear that?”

Lyra attempted to quiet her racing heart but to no prevail, “What?”

“Is the earth rumbling, just the slightest?”

“Hrm…” Then she felt it, too, the solemn thuds of the earth beneath their feet in miniscule, dulled drums.

No, not exactly beneath their feet, but before them, burrowed deep behind the frescos a mountain’s length away. If she squint, she could almost see it, a strange apparition, no, apparitions drifting in immense chaos and disturbance, running away from —

The distinct clacks of steps against stone drew them away from their reverie.

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