XXXIX.

The roots were an angry congregation, zealous in their task of tripping whoever dared to cross their brotherhood. Lyra was the heathen, excommunicated from the church of nature by the sheltered life she led. Now that she walked amongst the aisles between each ancient trunk, she was amazed. The sheer number of life she trod under her feet, the harmonious pulses and impulses were different in that they were indifferent to the temporary being that was mankind.

Still, she was a tumbling fool: her attempt at poise only seemed to distance her from her winged companion more. She recalled why she subjected herself to such a pilgrimage.

Earlier that morning, she was prepared to leave with Horatio and Athlem, meeting Aldebaran at the edge of town. They left the widowed and her two daughters with gratitude in enough gold to straighten the three’s rundown place.

“I wonder,” Horatio mused as they took to the covered, forested paths. “Could they be free now?”

“Free?” Athlem thought the concept oddly idealistic and uncharacteristic of her beloved’s usual utterance, but thought it cruel to stub what must be his attempt at optimism. “Why, one day, perhaps.”

But Lyra wasn’t so susceptible to character change, and was more concerned with expressing the contents of a moving script that she vaguely remembered from a night of wandering, “It’s much easier to dispatch of a man than his shadow.”

Horatio resorted to silence after that.

They were greeted by Aldebaran — technically first ambushed by Jiube the furball that threw itself at Lyra in chirping joy since it was unconvinced that the Princess was coming back — and was going to continue for Etzion when Aldebaran suddenly snapped.

“How did the three of you combined not notice that you were being followed?”

From their connected mind Lyra realized a weight that sank her heart into blank terror. How could she not feel such an aura before? She looked up at Alde, his face frozen in an unblinking intensity glaring into the path from where she just came.

The intruder seemed to have heard her discovery and made a move, ruffling the dense bushes before revealing herself in harmlessness.

It was just a little girl, Lyra found herself stupid for being so frightened as she release the elbow of Alde’s sleeve that she did not remember grasping. It was the girl they ran into yesterday, the younger daughter of the dead man.

“Sorry to have startle you,” She bowed, the hood of her cloak nearly swallowed her head. “Good day to you.” And as random as she came, she left, the roughly-bounded book still clutched to her chest.

As soon as she left Aldebaran stated blankly, “We have to take the notebook from her.”

“‘We’?” Horatio was unamused. “I understand that knowledge is powerful, so how is it our business to rob a girl of that?”

“Please, it’s not that, the pages…” It was not the barrier of foreign language that made Aldebaran pause, for reality and typical understanding of normality has a gap words find it difficult to bridge.

Still, Lyra interpreted the feeling — the sinking, utter doom elicited by that simple girl, or rather, the book. So she was ready to rush to action, to which Horatio acquiescence with a sigh. That is how she faced the predicament described towards the earlier part of this chapter: trekking on, the fading aura of menace and Alde’s steps her only sense of direction. Then all the sudden the sensation doubled, screeching rage swallowed despair whole.

What on earth happened?

The trees thinned subtly at her inquiry, giving away to a clearing that answered. There was the girl, standing before a general splatter of pages in an almost ritualistic light that seeped past the overarching branches. To the four’s amazement, there was also the darkness, the beast, directly above the pages like an apparition. Lyra squinted and saw a man, taunted herself into thinking otherwise.

“Why did you do that?” The girl scold her monster. “You didn’t have to kill him.”

The beast cowered at the girl’s reproach, lowered its massive head.

What is that? Lyra thought better than to mumble and thought to Aldebaran instead.

I am…not sure…but clearly the girl — at that the beast turned about, its fiery eyes flared at them. There was a blood-curling roar as it charged at the latest offender of this sacred space. “Did it somehow hear me?” was a query Lyra postponed, quickly dodging out of the way as the immeasurable darkness crashed into where they stood. A scar into dense greenery, a collateral hiss of the millions of life Lyra was just marveling over a few heartbeats ago. After the ring of her deafened ears subsided she made out the girl’s screeched remonstrance.

“What are you doing? Leave them alone!” The fiery eyes and their formless darkness of a frame could not be persuaded.

It was so much more than words, so little to do with its original scripts at this point of the narrative the beast broke the chains of its creator’s self restraint: all fury, setting aflame all that could be blamed.

Horatio drew forth an utterance powerful enough to trap the beast, a shell of energy that it was readily snapping against in increasing fervor, “Destroy the pages!” Athlem observed.

The girl beat them to it and took up the first leaf and ripped. As the page screeched and bled, the ink was freed and tainted the earth. As she and the others grasped at the pages a roar from the beast signaled its newfound freedom, a gust of wind swept them out of reach, drew them into the void that is the creature. Lyra would’ve been concerned with her uncle’s increasing pallor had the darkness not shift as she blinked, took form, stood.

She drew a broken breath, he of all people waved at her. The man, curt smile and an outstretched hand.

“Lyra,” The beast’s voice was a quiet command. “Come here, my child”