LIV.

“My name is Ophie of the Polonus. Our family had always been one of the most skilled fishers of the Southshores, our nets always so full that our village dubbed us the whisperers of the sea. Altogether, our village was prosperous, tradesmen from all over the world make their way here from the main city ports.”

“A few months ago…my father went out to sea, but he never returned. We thought we lost him…turned out it would have been better had he been buried at sea.”

“A few days later, we heard a knock at our door in the middle of the night. We were all sleepless from our anxiety and grief so my brother answered it like a bolt of lightning. There were no one except for a note and a ring — my father’s ring — the note said, ‘obey us and turn over your family’s secret or another part of your fisher will be returned to you.’ Then there were instructions for us to leave our family heirloom at a temple by a nearby jetty.”

“None of us knew what they were asking for: the only thing remotely like an heirloom is my great grandfather’s watch. We almost suspected our own townspeople, but we know they are far too wise to be jealous to this extent. We brushed it off, thought it a cruel trick. Then the next day, we found a bundle at our doorstep: it was a….severed hand, my father’s. A new note written by what we immediately recognized as my father’s writing told us in earnest to give the heirloom away. Meet them at the temple, they insisted. We had to.”

“So the next day, at the appointed time, we went and had some of our trusted neighbors hideout with whatever weapon we could find…When the sun sunk to about half a disk, two hooded figures came to my grandfather, who was representing us to meet with the strangers.”

“Grandfather presented them the pocket watch, and — I saw the two strange figures and thought that they must be a hunchback and a man — they took it, and the hunchback dashed it against the rocks and shattered it to pieces: the figure raised its voice, and it was a female’s, sharp and shrill.”

“ ‘Deception,’ I caught her saying with a strange accent. ‘You are trying to trick us for settling such a foolish trap.’”

“We didn’t know how they saw us, not one of us even batted our eyes during their meeting and we know the area like the ridges of our hands. Mother took the moment to attack the man, and others followed suit. We thought they didn’t stand a chance: we felled beasts of the sea at a smaller number often.”

“In a blur I just smelled blood…blood everywhere. Many of our kinsmen were hurt, sprawled on the ground. I couldn’t believe my eyes but the hunchback had lost her cloak during the struggle, and there revealed that the bump was no twisted back, but a pair of wings. They were not unlike yours, Lord Aldebaran but the hue is of a bright sky blue. I would never forget those wings with their ungodly blue.”

“She saw that most of my family were not unscathed and smiled. At any other time I would have found her ethereal, beautiful, but she was a murderer. Then the man threatened us to bring in our actual heirloom, or else all who we cared about would be killed. Grandfather pleaded that there were no such heirloom that they sought, but they left without another word. We patched and helped our wounded.”

“Since then many of our fellow villagers heard of the confrontation, of the menacing banshee. Their fear became so strong that they were willing to forsake their ancestors’ ways and moved from the shores. Despite our simplicity, our town provide a great amount of food sources for the rest of the kingdom, so the local magistrates soon noticed the change. They prohibited the sudden flight in fear of disturbing trade. That only made matters worse: people thought that the king had some plan of sabotage and snuck out of the area as though to escape a plague.”

“But we knew the truth, and the few that saw or believed or were brave enough stayed. We wanted to reclaim our proud town from this irrational fear. We had to. However, before we could plan to retake our town by hunting that strange banshee, something worse happened.”

“They must have realized that we are determined to ignore their demands as each note became more menacing. One day, we just got a nameless bundle. We all saw this day coming, but…You see, in our belief, the head symbolizes the seat of the soul. Once gone, the soul would then be trapped in a state of uncertain meandering for eternity.”

“So imagine…how we felt when our father…or son…or husband…”

“Even worse, within that same week, all these apparitions began to appear, killing whichever villager remained. By the charms of our ancestors, we have the curse to continue living. We were safe as long as we staid behind these doors barred and fortified. Grandfather only risked yielding the door for you when he saw that your companion is not unlike our tormentor, and that he was capable of dispersing the vile spirits.”

“Now, your Highness and honored guests, please help us. For we are desperate and lost, on the verge of death. The Polonus would forever be in your debt if you should be able to lift such a curse.”

The address was to the Etzion prince, thought the eyes were upon the Nokshan King, who buried his mind in blank inexpression only interpreted by the one that read his mind.

No, Lyra began.

I have to kill her, His resolve remained, while the rest of the world could only guess at the dull glint of rage in his otherwise immoveable facade of perfect impartiality.

LIII.

In perfect honesty, this was the third time that Aldebaran had seen the oceans. His homeland was amongst the crevices of mountains well hidden by plateaus, plains and ranges on all fronts, and he was but a child when his mother decreed for an absolute isolation from the human realm.

Still, he recollected the large bodies of water being a lot more vibrant than this greyish, infinite uncertainty stinking of ill omen. He begged Jiube to go survey the place.

“It’s awfully empty,” Lyra pointed out the obvious as they strolled down the main dirt road past abandoned houses, the hooves of their steeds became unbearably loud.

“There is no point of healing anyone if there is not a single soul here,” Athlem muttered. “Is the bet voided, then?”

“I doubt it would be that simple,” Horatio rejoined them after retreating from the third unanswered door. “There’s certainly something rotten in that General’s state of mind, he could have the villagers massacred to pin it on you…”

At least not all of them were killed, Aldebaran noted the shimmer of spirits hidden behind thick fog and fear and bolted doors. Jiube returned to his shoulder to report murky inconclusiveness.

“What on earth is that?” Lyra was rubbish at hiding panic, and when he followed the direction of her finger he could hardly blame her.

Forms materialized from the densest patch of fog into strange imitations of humanoids persistent against the breeze and common sense. They initially moved at a gentle float, yet in a blink they had made to enclose the group. Half a heartbeat later a claw of a fogform gutted the mare Athlem was perched upon, and amongst pained neigh and sharp tang of blood Aldebaran saw the diluted ill will that plagued the fog’s irregular forms. He drew the dark strands from its being and it dissipated with a hollow screech.

A yelp of pain accompanied by a sting distracted him; he turned to Lyra, who, having made a quick work of a few monsters found herself overwhelmed as she threw herself between the horde and her aunt and uncle; a blade of air caught her arm, she dispatched the offender, though another ran its claws through her back. She fell to her knees.

Lyra!

I…am fine.

He swept over to her, collected the dark strings in the way and turned them to dust, how are you fine, your back is split open. In a single motion he collected her into his arms, her protests proclaiming her ability to limp killed by a hiss. Already some remnants of the fog form regain their deathly edge; when he contemplated taking flight, a door snapped open, lending to a man and his hoarse cry.

“Ya fools, get in here!”

There were little space for arguments, and he stole into the cabin with Horatio and Athlem closely behind.

The villager slammed the door shut, barred the wooden slab with talismans and a cluster of furnitures before turning to them, his weathered face contorted by anger and fear, “Who on earth are you? What were you thinking?”

“We are…” even Horatio stuttered while Athlem and Aldebaran were too busy fussing after Lyra to pay their savior the attention he deserved. “…forever in your debt — ”

“ — No, I am not speaking to you, capital snob,” Horatio attempted to act unoffended; the old man turned to Aldebaran, seized him by the shoulder and tore his attention briefly away from Lyra. “You are one of those filthy banshees?”

“Banshees?” Aldebaran was puzzled, distracted from the inquiry as he scanned his surroundings for the first time to find the room filled with at least twenty watchful villagers, young and old; then he glanced back to Lyra again, she groaned, he panicked, muttering a spell and drew a line down the back that Athlem was now hurrying to patch, rendering the torn flesh flawless again.

“What did you just do?” Both the old man and Athlem exclaimed, though Athlem merely strangled the stirring Lyra with a tight embrace while the man drew a sword and launched himself at the Nokshan.

The watchful eyes widened, their owners screamed; Aldebaran guided the blade out of the old man’s hand, “I do not understand what grudge you hold against my people. I have never set foot upon this land until today, and only do so for your aid.”

“Who sent you?”

“Al-Alde…?” Lyra muttered, her mind still disoriented.

Another villager answered with a gasp, “You are Lord Aldebaran, the Nokshan who left the rebellion.”

Then the identity of the four foreigners fell to place, the Princess, the Imperial Commander and Etzion Prince alongside his companion…but that also meant —

“ — Forgive your servant for his foolishness,” The old man still revered his Kingdom and their gods. “Your servant is blind — ”

“ — It’s fine, sir, you saved us,” Horatio helped the poor old man up. “This ‘capital snob’ should have stated his identity.”

It was difficult to see, but the old man’s weathered face flushed red, a few voices chuckled, “Your Highness…”

A clap to the old man’s back, “Now, good man, would you and your — ”

“ — Family.”

“ — Your family would be so kind to assist us further? Would you perhaps enlighten us to what this ‘plague’ is? I am assuming what attacked us earlier was part of it.”

“It is…not something that could be so easily explained,” The hesitance of each syllable gave the old man an angle of gentle sorrow. “It’s…so much worse than a plague. It’s…”

“Could you start by explaining what you meant by ‘banshees’ earlier, sir?” Aldebaran’s calm was almost infectious, Lyra looked about to doze off drowning in a clean shirt one of the villagers kindly lend her to replace her torn and bloodied one with while Athlem kept her in a gentle cradle.

While the old man looked away, engulfed in a rush of emotions, a girl barely old enough to be a woman took his place, began the tale of the Southshore plague.

Traveling Note: NYC

A List of Things that Baffle Me about NYC

  1. Lack of regard for
    • Traffic lights
    • Fellow human beings
    • The concept of smiling
    • Traffic lights
    • Bathroom/trashcans
    • Other people
  2. All the awesome museums!!! (And the fact that I got to live out my inner 5-year-old at the Natural History Museum, go to MoMA for free and meet so much awesome art and Sanjana at the MET.)
  3. Dogs. All the puppers.
  4. Hella expensive everything (like Hobbit Hole apartment = 890000 like wtf)
  5. Its similarity to Taipei, especially…
    • The transit, though Taipei is newer
    • Number of people
    • Type of people (who dresses classily)
    • Weather/humidity
    • General traffic chaos
    • Obsession with Starbucks
    • Tourists
  6. Chinatown is full of white people (and good food, because oh my god that lamb cumin burger was awesome).
  7. The New Yorker stench rising from the sewers (both figuratively and literally)
  8. Biodiversity (a clusterfuck of seemingly unrelated things. Ex. Natural Museum Oceans exhibit, NYC, and seeing fireflies at Central Park)

LII.

Athlem recalled why she never acted upon impulses only seconds after she did: one such rash challenges rendered her here amidst the dark, wild forests where she provoked a dying campfire with a stick.

Days ago, she spoke without being prompted to, treating her life with the clinical objectivity no one expected from a new mother, “So be it.” Even Horatio could not stir her.

She had her reasons. She had just forced Lyra to stop employing the disguise after she caught her sneaking out of her room in the dead of the night for a breath from nightmares and “the voices.” Lyra already did so much, putting the Etzion King and the infinite whispers to their cowardly places; but as soon as “Emperor Luctus” quit Etzion, the general came back to with more of his devilish devices.

Twice, Jiube choked from poisons in her food — ever since her child was known to the world, the little thing became quite protective — and while toxins of the flesh were dodged, those of the mind and name were not. In some sick contortion of truths the general fabricated a tale of the night that Horatio still refused to speak to her about, but the fragment of words from nosy servants that assaulted her ears point to a version entirely opposite to the truth.

“Defiled her,” “innocent Rosamund,” They said. “Against her will,” “abusing power,” “her poor brother,” “devil in a prince’s disguise.”

Athlem broke the stick in her hand, casted into the pit of fire and proceeded to pick out the splinters she planted into her palm in the process. The fluffy owl sharing her log chair noticed her outburst, took that as a cue to scuttle away to find more sticks for her.

Horatio did not suffer in blind silence, of course, he appealed to his king brother for the removal of such a nuisance, but she judged from the way he slammed their chamber’s door that night the negotiations weren’t well, he was never prone to mistreat anything, doors included.

So, when the general came to them and issued the challenge, she took it.

“Solve the plague of the Southshores, oh great doctor,” the hellspawn taunted. “Should you succeed, I shall yield my title and let you deal with me as you please. Should you fail, the charges for witchcraft stands.”

“So be it,” She tested her unyielding defiance; Jiube was confused as to the comment pertaining to the dwarfish mountain of sticks it had accumulated by her feet or a symbolic character breakthrough.

She could only ruffle the tiny owl’s head affectionately, forgetting briefly about the demon of a general as she took another stick and probed the dancing flames and her thoughts until her beloved stuck his disheveled head out from their tent begging her for the fifth time that night to retreat from the biting cold of seasons and her meandering mind. This time she finally complied.

Unshackled by the concept of a nervous, concerned lover, Lyra had long left the circle of light casted by the humble campfire as it reminded her too much of a ruined village she and Alde strove to patch back together with care and lullabies and ladled soup. She eased herself into the harmonies of the darkness, having learned from the Nokshan how to tread lightly enough amongst nature’s congregation without interrupting the sweet hymns. These voices were better than the ones within her head, the gentle roars that increase the aches by each prolonged second she bore her father’s skin.

I am relying on him, she knew. A breath of night air did little to disperse that thought. The general was right, she had no business having knowledge or power. She stole them, just like Athlem, donned the appearance of a man so their voices would actually be heard. Now, they and those they love reaped the price of their theft, their pride, their desperation.

“But is that so wrong?” To be equal, to understand the desire to march out with civilizations, to help it march on.

The voices hinted at a different speech, she forced them to shush to a steady hum.

“So be it,” That voice from above was neither from nature nor her demons; its owner recycled a nugget of wise defiance his familiar had the privilege to witness.

“You startled me, dumb crow.”

“You are the one who randomly came by my perch and started mumbling aloud,” It was just the murmurs of the forests now, the tumults splitting her head died down.

She laughed, “Apologies, I didn’t see your nest there, dumb crow.”

“Ravens and crows are different.”

“And you are not disputing the ‘dumb’ part, then?” She dodged a chunk of bark. “Hey!”

He chuckled, stretched, “Go to sleep, Lyra, you have a campaign ahead of you.”

She sighed, perhaps one doesn’t need a lover to be fussed over, “You are right.” She muttered, her glance degenerated to a stare as she found his eyes peering down at her from his poise of perfect ease and elegance.

“Or would you rather share more of those ridiculous stories humans imprint upon the night skies?” She was tempted, but scoffed, “Then what of the whole ‘go to sleep’ ordeal? Also, it’s unlike Nokshan stories make any more sense than human ones.”

“Perhaps the essence is lost in translation,” A swoop of shadows, then he was beside her. “The stars are a lot more numerous than last time.” He was most persuasive, but her mouth contradicted herself.

“You just felt bad that you randomly quit me last time,” She shoved him aside jestingly, started picking her way back to camp. “Good night, dumb raven. Don’t fall out of your nest in your sleep.”

“As soon as you stop sleepwalking, sure,” He refuted, a little more bitter than usual. “Good night.”

She laughed to herself, found the fire but glowing embers and its keeper, the little owl, dozing. A scoff, some stirs, she fed the flames to sleep.

LI.

Lyra never understood the different merits of parting one’s hair in one way or the other, so when her third aunt preached on about the grand significance of such details the princess nodded more to sleep than in agreement. She was going to survey the throneroom with Aldebaran to prepare for her disguise when they had the misfortune of meeting her aunt at the main hallway; after a good hour of reprimanding Lyra for “wasting youthful potential,” the older woman turned to survey the Nokshan on the matter.

She took that chance to march into the throneroom, paid her respects to the King, then went on her way to number of entrances within the baroque space.

She was acknowledging the salute of a captain when one of the many doors gave way to a silhouette of composed madness, the latter quality betrayed only by the fact that the man single-handedly hauled in another by a fistful of blood-matted hair.

Horatio bowed with perfect posture, “Your Majesty, a report on a case of treason.”

Lyra knew better than to interfere when he wore such a forced smile; the captain beside her stiffened upon recognizing the mess of a man Horatio dragged in, “General Astaroth!”

The General had been tossed to the King’s feet, a groveling shadow clutching at his bloody stub of a hand.

“Oh brother, what have you done?” The King descended from his throne to help who he naively presumed to still be his brother-in-law. “What would Rosamund think?”

Lyra cringed, Horatio stiffened, a hand shot to his aching temple, “You are almost as good a jester as you are a King, brother. Now, where’s Athlem.”

“Horatio, you are under her control!”

Lyra marked the sorcerers and soldiers that poured into the throneroom. Amongst the mess, Aldebaran had escaped from the aunt and caught onto news dropped by passing maids.

Lyra, they’ve captured Athlem on charges of witchcraft.

As I thought, she slipped away, found an obscured passageway. Keep watch for me.

Already are.

She took a deep breath, muttered the deceptive spell and it engulfed her.

*******

Horatio knew the words at the tip of her tongue when the guards barged in, he read her affectionate hand at her abdomen, but he didn’t…Not now…he was going to…she is…, “Release her.”

“Horatio, come to your senses.”

“She is no witch, now release her.”

“You are under her influence — ”

“ — An attack upon an imperial officer is treason, indeed,” The cold voice echoed across the hushing hall. “My dear brother Horatio, how are you?”

The King lost his color at the new intruder, all fell to a grovel in uncanny unison, “Long Live the Emperor.”

Luctus’s eyes flitted over the bowing masses, “Horatio, what is this?”

Horatio shamed himself for having to rely on his niece, “Your Majesty, they pressed charges against your servant Athlem and planned to execute the doctor.”

“Your Majesty, I can explain — ”

“ — And were you asked to?” The King cowered, Luctus scoffed. “Bring out the doctor, please.”

Guards were dispatched, the King’s pleas now given ear, “Your Majesty, we cannot let a witch live, it’s –”

“– What made you think Athlem could be a witch?” Luctus found a convenient chair, still not bothering to let his subjects rise.

Having bounded his hand and arrogance, Astaroth dared, “My sister’s servants chanced upon the discovery of the doctor’s true sex; there were also herbs and instruments unknown to the best physicians of Etzion along with a vial of blood in the Doctor’s study, probably to curse –”

“Is your common sense where your fingers are?” Luctus cut off the presumptuous narrative. “So, just because my court doctor is a woman and is in possession of greater knowledge than your physicians, she is a witch? Intriguing.”

“She cannot be a witch,” A new voice joined the fray, the only standing figure protected from scrutiny by his midnight wings.

Lyra was briefly distracted by the flutter of movement at the door when the bounded doctor was escorted in, her neat braids undone and her cascade of grace and hair hiding her grievances.

“Aldebaran,” Lyra turned her attention back to the Nokshan. “Great of you to join us.”

He nodded, continued his point, “By your human laws and descriptions, a witch is infertile.”

Horatio bowed to the floor, Athlem glared at the General, Lyra buried her excitement under a smirk while Aldebaran finished his thought, “And that description, Doctor Denthea fails.”

The court died to quieter silence, the implications pried apart.

“Please,” The choked plea could hardly be registered as the same madman who threw the General of Etzion into the throneroom moments ago. “Just let her be.” The court was still.

Lyra snapped awake, “You fools, release the doctor this instant.”

A guard miraculously cut the ropes in a panicked fumble, and Athlem instinctively threw herself into her beloved’s awaiting arm.

“Conception outside of the union of marriage is a grave crime,” Blind rage made Rosamund foolishly brave, emerging from the wave of scandalized murmurs.

“Your Prince Horatio’s frugalness and humility thought an insignificant ceremony sufficed, and for the sake of preserving his beloved’s reputation and career kept the union secret. Is that wrong?” Lyra turned to the cursed woman, smiled to contradict the hellish fiery.

“There is no proof of it,” Rosamund screeched, Athlem’s hold upon her beloved tightened.

“I was present, woman,” Luctus rose in a clap of fury. “Do you question the authority of your Emperor?”

“No…your Majesty…I…”

Lyra chuckled, “Questioning your sovereign equivalates treason. Now, that is a grave sin, is it not, General Astaroth?”

Seeing that his sister had lost her chance, the General only nodded his agreement before bowing lower.

“Brother, how could you…” Guards shifted to seize her instead, and she puffed, bit her painted lips and was led forever out of glory.

Luctus turned to face his subjects, an innocent smile upon his flawless facade, “Now that’s all dealt with, shall we dine? I am famished.”

Aldebaran choked back a laugh.

L.

Why was she smiling? He didn’t understand why he deserved that bright smile, or even just her presence at all. He didn’t understand the soft, gentle caresses at his cheeks that wiped away sorrows he didn’t know escaped him.

For a second, he didn’t understand how to breathe.

“Horatio, love,” She whispered. “May I have…a word?”

A word? He would give her any star in the universe if she liked, of course he nodded.

She took his hand, led him to the privacy of her meager chambers that served as a painful reminder of his powerlessness: he couldn’t even provide her with what she deserved merely for the maintenance of his prestige and the thin thread he tread upon with his family.

What good did that do him, anyway?

As she shut the door he scoffed at himself inwardly, collapsed into the nearest chair and the void of his mind. When he saw through his fingers raking through his disheveled thoughts and hair the familiar pair of sandals immediately before him, he scrambled out of his seat and words bubbled forth in disarray.

“No,” She shushed him, and he was afraid again; then her hands found their rightful places cupping his cheeks. “I understand.”

“Ath…”

She pulled him into an embrace, an ear pressed against the thrums of his heart, “I am sorry that I even doubted you at all.”

He attempted to convince himself that the silken locks at the tip of his fingers were not a figment of his imagination, that her delicate frame molding into him in her doting embrace was not an illusion he somehow casted in his foolish despair.

“I thought you…” If she believed him, who was he to not believe in her forgiveness? He coaxed his eyes shut, rested his chin upon her head and for the what felt like a first in a century, dared to breathe again.

Instead of choking perfumes or smog of propriety, herbs and salts and flowers tainted with tears came up to meet him. What did he do in his previous life to deserve her, he desired nothing but to remain like this forever.

But eventually, she pulled away, her hands clasped about his as she begun, “Horatio, I need to tell you, I am with — ”

At that the doors burst open as though the force behind it was eavesdropping the entire time, a slew of guards and soldiers and sorcerers poured forth to choke the breath out of the small room.

Behind them, the cold voice of the General commanded, “Arrest the witch.”

Horatio pulled the accused behind him, eyes narrowed in dangerous defiance, “Astaroth, what is the meaning of this?”

“There are considerable evidence that the wench hiding behind you is a witch,” The General said flatly. “Now, do not oppose the King’s orders and yield, Your Highness.”

“My brother issued the capture?” Horatio’s mind raced at the possibilities of how Athlem’s disguise was compromised and who would be vile enough to lay such false accusations though he already knew the answer. “If I do recall, my authority as Emperor Luctus’s Commander place me only beneath his Majesty and Grand Priest Claud. What does the words of the King of a tribute nation have upon me?”

“Your Highness is absolutely correct, though imagine what rebellious spirits the news of the Lunzeldine Commander misusing his powers to shield a witch for more than a decade would instill upon the good people of the Empire.”

He could only glare in return, for the General was right. What is his “authority” in the face of a culture taught to loathe and fear women superior to men, labeling intelligence and studies as “witchcraft”?

In his distraction, he missed the subtle jerk of the General’s hand: the soldiers moved forth. The closest, poor bastard of a guard didn’t even see the strike that sent him sprawling upon the floor, his sword stolen from the sheath. All swords in the room left their scabbards in one treacherous breath to trap the couple in a circle of deathly edges while Horatio’s measuring glare skidded from one dull mind behind each blade to another.

The General sneered, “That is an unwise decision, Your Highness.”

They were surrounded, but somehow the idea of beating some sense into these insubordinate, greedy bastards was calming to Horatio as he studied the rubbish sword he just confiscated. He felt Athlem shift behind him, grasped a sleeve.

“I will go with them, it’s fine,” Her whisper was as expected as his refusal of such an insane notion.

She took a few steps forward, putting herself just far enough from her protector to tempt the General himself to grasp at her, though the outstretched fingers were met by a clean, downward cut. Astaroth crumbled to the floor with an inhuman howl, writhed while his men closed around him and the offender. Horatio raised a haughty chin to accommodate the menacing blades now pressed against his throat. The severed digits rolled away and Athlem would have retched again had she not been too concerned by her beloved’s predicament.

Seeing no easier alternative, her voice surprised herself, “I will go with you.”

“Athlem, no,” Horatio dared a step, and a sword broke a bead of scarlet just below the hill of his throat; for too many times in the past hours he had felt so hopelessly powerless, and he stretched a discreet hand to conjure a deathly illusion despite the metal digging into his skin.

Led by two guards to be ripped from his sight, Athelm turned just in time for a final utterance, “You will prove it, won’t you?” She smiled, the escorts forced her along, swept out of the doors and to the cold cells beneath.

And just like that, the only light in the dark room of his captivity vanished, swept off by false claims to be executed. And he? He was nearly strong enough to not hide weakness with brute force and wrath and bloodshed.

Nearly.

Fireworks

He didn’t use to like it, the forceful explosions of colorful flames were but yet another science phenomenon coinciding with human standards of beauty. What’s so exciting about polluting the world with smog and noise and litters of food wrappers and cans and frightened pets running astray?

But, this year is different.

As he found himself perched upon a blanket too colorful for his usual palette surrounded by a crowd too plentiful for his preference, he didn’t notice the two extremities, but a third: the head resting at his shoulder was too heavy, too casual, too smitten. And when he protested, the lazy voice merely pointed out that no one would see much in the dark before resuming the light nap as they continued to wait for the spectacle.

“We could’ve seen the fireworks perfectly fine from the window,” He wasn’t letting this go, the purpose of pointlessly subjecting themselves to the torment of impending traffic was beyond lost to him.

“But, you hardly go out besides for work,” A purr, a smile; he could not help but smile, too, despite his irritations. “The festive air is a nice change of pace.”

He wanted to point out the third red baseball hat he read today and his dislike for jingoes, but thought better and allowed himself to indulge in the weight that has now invaded a good half of him, found its usual place in his arm, “What’s the point of bringing cushions if you are just going to sit on me, anyway?”

The pretense of innocence that pouted at him made him chuckle, “I just thought you would feel less left out if I brought my cushion, too.”

As though attuned to a natural pause of their conversation, an announcement shushed then riled up the crowd, dimming the stadium lights as cheap speakers paid their patriotic dues in sacrificing their short lifespans in blasting one ‘Murica songs to another at a volume not meant to be so. Soon enough, the ink black skies above them erupted into blinding hues, and as the masses around them “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed he already picked out a set pattern and wished that there were more colors than flashes of blue, white, red, green or a rare treat of purple.

“I am bored,” Hair tickled his neck, someone had decided to lean back and deliver this shared message.

“It’s been less than five minutes,” He was merely being informative.

“Oh,” The pang of disappointment was too obvious despite a denial for an offer to go home. “We’ve waited for so long.”

So they watched, traced the thin lines of sparks before each dull bloom of sounds and fury and colors. The culmination was but a combination of the fireworks released in the past twenty minutes.

“They could’ve done that in the beginning,” A bubble of laughter at the babbling sky in its maelstrom of smog and dying sparks; he agree, all was too messy, too loud for his taste.

But still, despite his habitual cynicism the only extremity that he cared for was that his arm rested too naturally around that waist, and the lips curled by a smile more splendid than any exploding skies that came up to greet his was too perfect.