Dates

Friday the 13th, I don’t feel so cursed.

Though smog choked, midterms burned, the world perversed,

Him I will see. Those bright eyes ease me like hymns, hinted me to verse…

Oh, I rambled, to stresses I should tremble: boys are nothing but trouble, but should I be so terse?

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Paper Bag

ONE 

of them 

sat down 

next to me,

AGAIN.

They are forgetful of where my

eyes are, I tried to

remind them but they forgot my 

eyes so couldn’t see my

glare.

At least stop dropping your pen. Themore you reach across the floor and brushed my

legs, the further you

get from my regards. I contemplated

kicking. Contemplated.

Today is different. I am still here

early, yes, and one of them

picked the seat next to mine out of the

rows of empty seats and forgot I

can see, AGAIN. I took out a paper bag

I stole from the cafe.

No, though I am disgusted I love my gut

enough to not throw up and scald my tongue with acid.

I tore the mouth of the bag, you stopped looking below my eyes, noticed that I noticed, left.

The only puke this bag will

hold is my word vomit.

Again and again and again and again.

Metal Vultures

Am I a snowflake

for fearing those wings?

The batting, heavy, to make

mute of us little earthlings.

 

Metal vultures paced,

I clutched my mace.

 

The armed man marched,

shielded and weighed by

sticks and alarm, parched

senses under the sunny

California.

 

Am I snowflake

for being enraged?

For loving love and not hate,

for wanting a voice, a choice, some reasoning.

 

Metal vultures paced,

My heart races.

LXII.

She told herself that she was just flying. But no, no, death by disembodiment tangled in branches rushed at her, and at some point she stopped trying to convince herself until she heard him.

“Lyra!” The voice, the touch, the arm that wrenched her away from the fatal trajectory of gravity and drew her against him.

She opened her eyes again, though her world flashed white from agony and she clung onto him and dear life.

Her eloquence and self-awareness for hypocrisy, though, she did not hang onto as she commented, “You look horrible.”

And it was true, he was too pale and the angles of his cheeks protruded and she could feel the thick bandages encasing his torso, but he smiled and everything felt as though it would be fine, “I missed you, too.” He muttered as he frowned at her wounds, running a hand over them and mended despite her claims that she would be fine.

A powerful beat against the winds and they soared, “I am sorry,” she muttered.

“No, none of that now,” Perhaps his senses were still numbed by painkillers and medicines, perhaps he just couldn’t hear them over the beats of inexplicable irrationality, a “you saved me on multiple occasions as well,” would have sufficed but no, his free hand drew her to him by the cheek, and he was about to tell her, for he was sure, now, no contract could have muddled his feelings and she deserved to know, he wanted her to know, “Lyra, I…”

An arrow accompanied by a rain of its brethrens shattered any time for sentiments: he drew his wings together, spun aside. In hindsight, this was all very bad timing, he cursed his medicine-muddled brain.

Then from afar sounded a loud crash, a beast’s cry elicited a cacophony of pained wails: Jiube made a toy out of the archers with a swipe of bloodied claws.

For a second, she was trying to close her eyes again, pretend that the dark fabrics of his cloak was the night sky as she snuggled against him, hoping to forget. What was he going to say? She wanted to ask, but his grip tighten, “There are more of those puppets.”

They were five approaching shadows preluding their master whose plumes matched the too-blue sky.

“Leave me somewhere,” she invited no arguments. “You can’t even defend yourself holding me.”

“But…” in a fruitless search for a better reasoning he resigned, shifted as another arrow sailed by.

He dove for the ground, pulled up gently for her to find earth as he glided back into the skies, meeting their pursuers with a single spin and a deafening clang as he ended the smooth arch in a puppet’s shoulder. She was amazed by his agility before, but she was mesmerized by the way he brushed the strikes and the burdens of gravity aside, slipped out of a sword’s reach with a bat of his wings. She paused in her track, found herself gaping, but thought better and continued to run; clangs thundered above, a puppet cried out and plummeted following its head. She grimaced and attempted to maneuver her way out of the twisted woods. A clang, a crash, a flitting shadow. A hint of a paranoia made her look.

…But he was weaker than Eridani remembered, he didn’t already dispatch of her goons and she wanted to pretend that it was because she became stronger, but no, no he readjusted his grip upon his sword too often, bit his lips too much, his breaths broken like his frame.

He looked terrible. Her king was not supposed to look like a shadow of himself, and above all, her brother was not supposed to be capable of a look as vengeful as that glare he deigned to spare her.

“What have you done?” His eyes asked, she asked herself.

What have I done, he looked at me with the same disdain as the other Nokshans. As though to agree, yes, she was cursed after all.

“Why did you choose that human?” He hardly registered her question, darted back for a breath from her incessant pawns.

“Eridani, I cannot believe you,” His gentle voice was more harsh and hoarse than she remembered. “I had to.”

“She forced you through the contract?”

“No, none of that. She’s…she’s my fated one.”

“A mere human?” Of course, the Creator obstructing His subjects from becoming all-powerful. “But a human, a weakling like her? A filthy, simple –”

“I will not tolerate another word against her,” He was the king for a reason, Eridani did not even see the blur of shadow as a blade found its way against her neck, his voice was so commanding from behind her, so menacing. “Not even from you.”

“Are you so deeply bewitched by her?”

The drums of irrationality finally stopped because he knew its name, knew its concurrent race with his heartbeat, and his only duty pronouncing it, “Yes.”

“What? How could you so shamelessly say so –”

“ — She is the most determined, strong, and all in all the most admirable individual I have ever beheld,“ Why was his voice shaking? He knew he never said a thing he was more certain of. “I love her.”

“You…” This was no brother of hers. A puppet. A shell. No king of hers should be this…vulnerable. Animalistic anger overtook her senses, and she grabbed his blade, pulled, the pain didn’t register but her brother’s senses did as he instinctively sought to protect, released the hilt in fear of his resistance cutting his little sister.

Weakness, she cut those bonds so was free from those weaknesses. She saw his eyes then, widened with a splinter of horror, realizing her resolve as she turned his own blade on him, her bloodied hand clamped around the weight of her conscience, a sharper cut any blade can deliver, the weight of his and her decision. But, her hands carried through in a single stroke and bathed in guilty red.

LXI.

She wrenched her blade free, trying to ignore the fountains of red that pooled like wine in a Creator’s parable. Her heart thundered as the circle about her grew tighter, the skin of her palm was ready to break at each painful clash against sweat, leather, metal, hastily uttered spells.

She looked up, the bluejay was watching her every move from a higher slope. A misaimed spear distracted her, and she guided the thrust across the radius of the circle into an unsuspecting swordsman. She glanced up again, but the bright blue was gone. A wild guess prompted her to swing, spin, the sting of her raw palm proved her right.

“Did he teach you?” Eridani hissed, shoved and sent her stumbling backward and the soldiers scattering as they knew better than to interfere. “Why would he teach such a pathetic thing?”

“You are not your brother’s keeper. Aldebaran can do as he pleases,” She was uncertain if it was wise to provoke that Nokshan as blue feathers bristled, a hateful glare chilled her spine.

“You don’t deserve to utter our King’s name,” The Nokshan growled, launched herself into a fiery of slashes and haphazard jabs and, while Lyra saw through those and parried or avoided or suffered only minor scratches, the last kick landed square upon her stomach, crushed her against jagged barks of an ancient trunk.

She gasped, fell to her knees and looked up just in time to see Eridani’s blade burying into the tree where her neck had been. Her heartbeat roared oppressively accompanied by numbing agony; but still, her body moved on their own accords as her elbow struck the wrists, stole the half-lodged sword then blunted and stunned with the back of the hilt.

“Arrogant, misguided Nokshans do not deserve to serve the Creator if she cannot even grasp the concept of respect,” Lyra held the tip of a blade against the young Nokshan’s throat, pinning her to the earth.

“What are you going to do?” Narrowed eyes pierced her and Lyra almost forgot she was the one holding the sword. “Kill me? What would my brother think?”

“Don’t pretend that you care for him. You are the one who animated your own father’s corpse against him.”

“Do you not do the same? Parading your dead father’s face to gain power for yourself, threatening your kinsmen into submission?” She spat, “Who is worse, then, one who walk in the muck, or one who walks in the much and preaches as though she is untainted?”

Wrong, this Nokshan saw not the constant greyish tumult behind her forced smiles, the noises, the resolve that gathered her into a form. Wrong, this assumption saw not the narratives, the pain and scar she earn every time she donned the mask of her father, the selfless justifications.

“No.”

The air behind her split, she attempted to dodge, but she sidestepped too late and the blade caught her waist.

She snapped around, brought together her sword and the confiscate blade to block another heavy blow. There were two, those lifeless Nokshan puppets, who remembered their sword and spells but not their life and tales. Eridani had already regained her ground and armed herself with a passing soldier’s blade. Lyra glanced from one puppet to another, marked the remaining spirits trapped within, the gentlest breeze made her side sting and her abused back ache.

A puppet stepped forward, she dropped a sword and raised a hand between them. In a blink, she could feel the air pressure of the strike reaching her, but she connected with the disgruntled spirit first. The blade landed upon the shoulder of her outstretched hand, blood, she just saw the single strand of spirit within her hand.

Come, she asked and it left its shell behind. The sword cutting into her stopped its malicious track, fell limp as the sack of tortured flash fell forward. She stepped back, watched the lifeless form join dust.

“You…how…” Eridani’s shock was hardly noticed by Lyra as the latter took the chance to run, broke through the dented circle choking her with an explosive spell.

“Give chase, your idiots,” A shout from behind, she bit her lips and sprinted against jolting pain.

More than thrice she nearly twisted her ankle dashing full speed down the overgrown hill, the last occasion being that a blockade of soldiers had obscured the narrow mountain path where she came. She darted into the cover of forests, ducking a hurled spear while swallowing in attempt to quench the fire creeping up her throat from her lungs. Dense green shadows and panic made her a moth, drawn to lost directions and the first bright spot of light offered over the bough of a slanting, rotting tree. She ran towards it, skidded to a stop, swallowing the bitterness of impending doom.

Of course, she had to be trapped to a cliff, panting like an old horse while her world shifted in twisted visions of blood loss and agony. It was an abrupt outcropping of rock, the mocking stage for her pathetic demise either by falling off the crushing heights or rushing into the soldiers emerging from the shadows like hell’s minions.

“Give up, princess,” A captain stepped forward with a sword and declaration drawn. “Surrender now and the Grand Priest may even absolve you of your follies.”

“No,” She clutched stubbornly to her blade, to her crying wounds. “I don’t need a pest to absolve my sins.”

The general guffaw over her blasphemy was hushed by the Captain’s order to ready their attack as she grimaced, she neared the edge of the fall.

Lyra.

She jolted, Alde?

Jump.

What?

She barely summoned a shield to block the first shower of projectiles, and the last arrow undid her spell, grazed her chin as she tilted her head, her world spun. Where are you? I…

I will catch you, jump.

I…

“Surrender, princess.”

Lyra!

She gasped, killed logic and turned and leapt, squeezed her eyes shut to fall.

LX.

He fought his eyes open at a sound of a call.

Then he heard it, the screeches of the world, metallic clashes around him, within his head, wails of soldiers morphing into other ungodly shadows of fallen foes, the mere shadow of the egret that was the shadow of his past days that stretched into centuries of nightmares, scurrying, hired workers. He was but a speck, the world spun and whirled and complained in the same distressed noise that woke him in the first place.

Then he saw her, holding her sword in the way that he told her not to; she was panicking, they were too many, she thought her allies buried. There was also something else, the bright blue plumes at the corner of his eyes. He reached for her, through her, she couldn’t see him, couldn’t hear; he couldn’t call until his throat gave way, his eyes failed.

Then he fought his eyes open. The first blink sent himself into a chasm of spinning visions and a crushing weight upon his skull. He gasped, even breathing stung. He clearly felt the binding of thick bandages where they were crushed against scabbing gashes and oozed of blood, pus and the inadequacy of human medicine. That was more than a nightmare, more of a vision, and a foreboding one at that.
“You ought to not move so much,” He jumped a little when his dulled senses failed to detect the doctor, who slunk to his bedstead with a critical eye and a tray of medicine. “Still, you are quite something to be awake within a week. Your healing abilities are even more monstrous than what the books make your kind to be.”

“It’s unlike many had treated Nokshans in real life,” God, his voice sounded like a fly; still, he took the cup of water offered to him in wordless gratitude.

“Relax,” He would have done so since arguing costed too much effort and peaceful slumber seemed an unreachable, dreamy concept that his body was crying to welcome, but no, no the noises that woke him returned, jolted him to his senses.

Oi, dumb crow.

The voice was familiar, high and cold, Who are you? Where’s Lyra?

The girl is refusing my help and effectively getting herself killed by your sister, The voice pretended nonchalance. It’s quite frustrating to watch. It admitted.

He gritted his teeth, this short conversation was hurting his head, You pest, your host was her father. Stop torturing her with his image.

An unbothered chuckle was not the only answer he deserved, I had been with her father before her birth, I might as well be her father.

The more the reason to leave her alone, demon.

The Fallen was entertained, I suppose we may settle this debate later, especially when her life isn’t in danger.

“God,” When he finally mustered enough strength to swing his legs around the bed, all of his six senses screeched at him to stop, his world flashed ink black.

“You cannot protect anything in this condition,” The diagnosis was one he realized long ago, long enough that he already accepted his choice of ignoring it.

The Fallen chuckled in the background, How pathetic.

“Doesn’t matter, if I can’t help her then I would die from not fulfilling the contract, anyway.”

“By technicality, there is a good chance that she would get killed first,” Athlem questioned her stubborn patient’s logic, firmly shoving him to sit on the edge of the bed. “By that, she would be the one to fail her end of the contract and you would be free from the contract. Isn’t that what you would like?”

His mind was too muddled to conceal truths and distinguish words from thoughts, and so it tumbled forth, “No, that’s not a concern…”

Athlem raised a brow, “Then what is your true intention stubbornly staying by her side even when you are clobbered by death?”

“She’s…I…,”  He met those odd-colored eyes, saw their steely resolutions counterbalanced by the gentleness of love, almost motherly. “My…”

Brief senses returned and he turned away, and Athlem had the answer she needed so continued in cold amusement, “You can’t aid her by throwing away your life haphazardly.”

Aldebaran slipped out of her grasp to the other side of the bed, tested standing, searched for his sword and cloak and familiar.

She scoffed, a hand pulled an ancient drawer free, dug out the contents which he sought. With an unannounced snap of her wrist she hurled the sword and cloak at him, and his involuntary reflexes triumphed over agony and caught. Jiube announced his presence with a hoot.

“Go then,” She beheld him in grave solemnity, as though inspecting to see if he was worth breaking her promise for. “I shall join you shortly.”

He nodded his thanks, wasting very little time to take to the sky after brushing aside the weight of irrevocable disaster with each beat of his wings and heart.

Athlem didn’t simply stare at the fading dark spot of the messenger raven this time. Screw Horatio’s warnings to their sticking place.

Cladded in stubborn resolve and a deceptively plain cloak while armed with her ungodly concoctions and a vague plan of action, she bid the worrying villagers — Goddammit, she told Horatio to not let others know of their child, but these kind souls somehow found out regardless and had been peppering her with the finest abalone porridges and scallop soups and their most sincere care and worries thanks to their devotion to their benevolent prince — to stand aside, which only happened when she agreed to take Ophie on as a guide, as she saddled Horatio’s steed, hers having been consumed by the fog forms earlier.

So, she set forth as well, the anxious beats of hooves against the earth in a race against times, against the cruel turns of fate that so often rendered loved ones nothing beyond specks of dust that followed the fisherman’s daughter and the doctor’s hurried trail.

The Girl

She had a monster, and he agreed to tame it.

He heard the door ring and knew it was her and opened the door. His sister showered him in thanks, made promises of her child’s angelic qualities, hugged said child, hugged him, and was gone.

“So, it’s just the two of us,” Only several hours, but he grumbled to himself. “Stop staring and get your ass in here.”

The little girl blinked at the harsh tone of voice, glared at the language by narrowing her large almond eyes, a splitting image of the mother that just left. “A true gentleman invites his guest into his household.”

Ah, it’s been a while since he’s heard that tongue he hated; so he turned, left the door ajar and her with the decision to follow suit or not, “That was an invitation, enough,” He added. “And, I am no gentleman.”

She pouted.

****

She evolved. It only took a month.

“Uncle, uncle,” She would call in her sweet voice, musical like her father’s. “What are you doing?” Her small chin would then place itself upon the edge of his table, her small hands grabbing the sides to see.

“Work,” He grunted just beyond the patter of keyboard. “Go and finish destroying my living room, please.”

For a six years old, she was quick to catch on sarcasm, “I didn’t destroy it last time, it was just…furnishing.”

“Wow, ‘furnishing,’” He angled his laptop just enough to meet her demanding gaze. “Such a big word. Do you even know what it means?”

“Of course!”

“Well, the random paint splatters don’t seem to agree.”

“The walls were too boring!” She crossed her short arms. “Just like you.”

“Oh, too bad that this boring uncle was going to take you out for ice cream, but since you think it so boring — ”

“ — Yay, ice cream!” As she dashed out of the room, presumably to get her purple boots even though it was the middle of summer, he couldn’t help but smile.

But that simple exercise stung, smiling took too much and he just opted to press the knots in his back and hand.

****

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Why?”

He regretted his honesty, didn’t think that would call for even more questioning. “Don’t really have time for that kind of things?”

“Then what do you have time for?”

He opened his mouth to speak, the hand in his doesn’t seem so small all the sudden.

He wanted to snap, “Walking annoying children across the street to sight see,” but blurted instead, “You.”

It’s the same thing, same idea, he just didn’t want to waste that many words on her, that’s all. She smiled and pointed at another fluffy puppy.

****

Her condition made her older than her age. She knew she was special, that she was born with too much power, that her existence was unusual.

“Mommy said she named me after a bright star,” The girl was proud, musing in childish existentialism wrapped in blankets, staring at the stars hiding behind storm clouds and flashes of lightning. “If I die, I can be a supernova.”

“You won’t die,” His voice demanded no argument, though the words were nothing that he expected to pair with a cup of chocolate as he handed her her own mug. “I will make sure of it.”

She whispered a small thank you, snuggled with her blanket until that was insufficient and she went to him, stared at him a little before demanding a warm hug and fell asleep in his arms.

****

He knew all would come to an end, eventually. As he watched the girl levitating his living room’s sparse decor with the latest spell he taught her — also to be his latest regret — he caught himself beaming idiotically with stupid pride. He was grinning stupidly, and it was less painful now, he scoffed at himself, continued reading.

“Uncle, uncle!” She sounded far, probably strayed away to the dining room to steal some cookies on his unawares. “Uncle!”

The last call was too shrill to be playful, and he shot out of his seat to her in a panicked tumble, tripped on a dangerous chair and slipped on coloring pencils. God, his apartment was turning into a kindergarten, he forgot fear like this until now.

She curled into a little ball on the kitchen floor, a shattered jar of cookies next to her. She used her spell, he guessed, and that was the limit. So small, sobbing, he lulled her in his arms and convinced her that all was just a well-timed shadow, an imagined face she often pointed out within the tiles or towels and no ghosts plagued her mind.

“They said such horrible things,” The tears washed his shirt. “They were here.”

He knew this day would come, and that her visits were all for this day, anyway. Only a couple of months, a child take so little time to trust and attach. So, she, too, will forget. He, again, would live but be forgotten; but, he learned to smile and that was enough, “Forget, then, my sweet star. Sleep and dream, for the nightmares would be gone when you wake and see.”

And so she closed her bright, teary eyes, dreamed.

****

“So, you’ve done it?”

“Sealed her powers, and she should be fine as long as she doesn’t remember.”

“I cannot express my thanks.”

Nor can I, he watched the woman turning to her love, who carried the sleeping child in a careful cradle. They paid their respects, but he was simply paying his dues. They left just like the way they came, silent.

He was left, again, just like the way before, silent, though the corner of his mouth curled rebelliously.