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.