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~Suzette~

༻Chapter 16༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

{Silently I walk up to the small house, shivering with every step. After what feels like far too long I make it to the entrance, but stop, letting snow flutter and pile up on me.

This is the second time I’ve been so nervous to come here, and somehow it’s even worse than the first…but I have to. Can’t leave everything like this.

So softly, I knock.

“Who’s there?”

My breathing stops. Everything stops.

“My mother’s working right now, if you want to see—”

“It’s me.”

Slowly the door creaks open, with one red eye peeping at me through the cracks.

“Why are you here?” he whispers.

“I think it’s obvious we need to talk.”

“I already know what you’re going to say. I don’t want to hear it,” he says with a slight quiver in his voice.

“I really don’t think you do…please, just let me come and talk to you.”

At first, nothing. Then the door opens up fully.

“Then I guess you can come in,” he replies softly while bearing a miserable look on his face, as both of us make our way to his small, worn sofa.

“Firstly…sâ pšyku vrémond,” I apologize with a sigh. “I shouldn’t have been so pushy, I just—”

“I know,” he replies quietly. “Is…that all?”

“No, the second thing is—you’re not a freak, Hikaru.”

“We both know that’s a lie, Alex,” he says, looking into my eyes. It sends a slight shiver through my back—he tends to avoid direct contact if he can help it. But right now he stares intently, without even the slightest movement.

“Why do you always say stuff like that?”

“Look at me, where I’m from, what I do, I’m—I—”

“You’re not, and if you think I’m here to get angry at you, I’m not.”

He remains silent, and both of us glance away from each other.

“Hikaru…I’ve never heard of a boy loving another boy like that before.”

“Yeah, because it’s a sin…”

“Who said so?”

“The gods made us to create, and especially to create more of us, like all life does—to deliberately spit in the face of that—”

“You know I’ve never much cared about religious stuff.”

“But I do!” He turns his face back towards me, now with tears streaming down.

“Any god that damns you for something as stupidly insignificant as that isn’t worth worshipping!” Although I don’t mean too, I find it hard not to raise my voice.

He merely looks at me in shock. I rarely get angry, but—

“I guess you were right, this…is different from how I imagined it…”

“Hikaru…” I say, putting my hand up to my forehead, “I—I need time to think over everything. Obviously, it never even occurred to me to view you like that, so…so I don’t know exactly how to feel yet.

“But, I do know one thing—you’re my best friend, and if you want to change that you’re going to have to try a lot harder than this.”

He blinks, and stares at me blankly.

“Can you…really mean that?”

“Yeah, of course…why would I hate you for liking me?”

“I…” he trails off, while looking away and shaking his head. “Mâzjêr né, Alex.”

“You don’t have to thank me; I haven’t done anything,” I reply. “Let’s just…try to go on as normal from here, okay?”

“Yeah…I’d like that.”}

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Gently, the first morning rays alight my face. Under normal circumstances, I sleep well through the dawn; and yet recently, ever since the Solstice, it is as though my body refuses to allow too much rest. New energy flows through my veins, of strange revelations I still do not know quite how to handle. It is exhilarating…yet slightly exhausting.

Now that I understand the truth of the matter, of past and present, all I wish to do is share it with him. Embrace him tightly, and share everything.

See, I truly did keep my promise to you. I love you so much. Everything is well, everything shall be well. Please, let us not part again…

Yet, how does one speak this? Where to even begin? Especially as I am certain it is not reciprocated…I do not doubt that he loves me, but to care for another and the desire to share your life, your very being with them—ah, these are certainly not quite the same.

It is a tad painful, accepting that such strong feelings shall always remain private, never shared with the one whom they concern. But alas, there is little to be done yet accept this just the same.

With such words swirling in my mind, I gaze into the distance. We are on the precipice of wilderness and civilization, where large fields of wheat and other crops continue for nearly as long as the eye can see, with small homes and hamlets nestled between them. However, far into the distance, nearly out of sight, it becomes visible—masses of buildings huddled together, that appear to meld into a single, immense mass.

Solzédniê.

For so many years I have wished to return, and even now I have considered starting my bakery there—to think, it is right here! Before my eyes, there it is…!

Although, truly seeing the city, I wonder how much it has changed in the decades since I last visited. I wonder how different it must look through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child…shall it have the same charm? Or did I merely enjoy it so much all children find such new experiences exciting? Or perhaps it was merely my brother’s presence, and his ability to make even the most mundane things appear enjoyable. I truly wonder; yet, I suppose I do not need to for long now. I shall soon discover the truth, and luckily even now I still have pleasant company.

I continue gazing upon the horizon, the Sky shifting from hues of warmth to the cool hue of the daytime. Eventually, I hear rustling behind me.

“Sâlêzj,” Hikaru mumbles, still clearly not entirely awake. “Are you ready?”

“Yes!” I reply excitedly.

He comes up and sits beside me, chuckling under his breath.

“Nice to see you’re more optimistic now,” he smiles. “I’m…happy one of us is.”

“Is all well?” I look towards him, who is now merely staring at the ground.

“I don’t do well in cities,” he mutters while rubbing his eye.

“I am sure it is not so horrid,” I attempt to reassure him, putting my hand on his arm. “There are so many people in Solzédniê, perhaps you will scarcely stand out at all.”

“Oh, that’s not what I’m worried about, although it doesn’t help,” he sighs.

“Then, what is it you are you referring to?”

“I hope you don’t have to find out.”

With this, he gets up, and extends his hand out to me.

“Would you like to get going now?”

“I suppose so,” I utter while grasping his hand.

I wonder what he means by this, yet…well, I hope there is no need to discover it.

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For some hours Hikaru and I continue forward amidst all the fields of wheat, corn, and even more crops that I scarcely pay mind to. After a time, everything seems the same as before, even if it is not—immense flat fields, clusters of houses between them…it is considerably more monotonous than the forests and valleys which we tend to call our road. While of course we have encountered numerous fields before, nowhere else are they so endless. Only the steadily creeping boundary of Solzédniê gives the sense that this expanse truly does have an end.

After a time, another issue arises as well.

“It is amusing,” I say, “While we are surrounded by crops, there is a surprising dearth of food…”

“Not surprising,” he replies with a sigh. “With as large as Solzédniê is, any wild land would be a waste. At least for them.”

“Yes—all this food, and none for us,” I say with a slight chuckle, attempting not to become down. Yet, the gnawing within me tells a different tale.

Anymore, all we eat are the wild plants and fruits we discover on our path; the last time either of us truly tasted anything cooked was when we visited the strange bakery, and I hardly remember how long ago that was now.

The thought of even mundane foods—breads, soups, meat—it makes the pain within me become nearly unbearable.

“Hikaru,” I begin, tugging upon his sleeve, “Perhaps we should attempt to find somewhere to eat soon…”

“Agreed,” he answers. “I’m sure we can find somewhere on the cusp of the city.”

I gaze forward, disheartened at how far the city still appears to be; and yet, looking around, there are as many fields and isolated houses as we passed many hours ago. I suppose there is no other choice than to resign to our fate, and so quietly I continue onwards.

As we walk, I proceed to act as he occasionally does: detach from our surroundings entirely, focusing all my energy upon each step. The hunger, the monotony, and all the swirling feelings within me still for a moment, and I am merely overcome with peace. As, perhaps this is why he is this way…

“Would you like to go there?” his voice breaks the silence, and I soon return to reality.

In the distance nearby, I see it, a large inn of multiple stories, the stables to the side seemingly nearly as large as the inn itself is. Over the entrance hangs a large sign, too large perhaps, that reads Sâr Ordin, The Gilded Edge—of course, in letter’s painted to appear as though they are gilded. The establishment does not seem quite as classy as the name attempts to imply.

“Yes, that shall be fine,” I reply to him.

As we come closer to the inn, my heartbeat grows faster as I see all the various people around; for a moment, I feel as though he has perhaps influenced me… Although in truth, I know it is because I have never been around so many people such as these.

Travelers, merchants, nearby farmers simply looking for something to drink, so many kinds of people that I have, in truth, scarcely interacted with before. And, I am not ignorant—all the tales of how the lower classes know their “rightful place,” would never be discontent with those above them—I am worldly enough to know that is utter nonsense. While by nearly all standards I have rescinded my status as an aristocrat, that does not necessarily mean I quite belong amongst “common” people; I still hardly understand what it is like, my present experience being quite unusual.

When Hikaru and I visited a town last, I did not quite think of this; we were only passing through, after all. But now, that we shall be sitting down and eating, presumable amongst so many people…

I gaze towards Hikaru to see if I can discern how he is feeling. He appears roughly as enthusiastic as always in these situations—that is, not terribly. Yet, he does not seem especially concerned at least, so I subdue my fears as we enter the inn.

Immediately, I am struck by the overwhelming sound of conversation and—music? At the far wall lays a stage, an upon it a man with a lute, playing and singing a song not unlike those Hikaru prefers to play.

“Is it common for inns to have music such as this?”

Hikaru looks down towards me, a clear look of perplexion on his face.

“Have you never been to an inn with music?”

“Sometimes there may be a music hall, but one must always pay to come in—must we pay?”

“To eat,” he replies with a slight laugh. “But I suppose you likely wouldn’t have gone to a normal inn before.”

Normal; to think, at one point not long ago I believed that word almost entirely applied to myself, that he was quite different from me because he is “bizarre,” while I am “normal;” even perhaps too much so. Ah, I suppose in truth, neither of us particularly belong anywhere…

We find a seat in the far corner of the inn, at a table that seems ill-fitting, a tad too short for him and a tad too narrow for me. Here only dim light reaches, and the swirl of conversation in the front of the room becomes absorbed by the music.

“This is much more peaceful,” I say with relief at not being amongst the swarm of people.

“That was the idea,” he smiles. “Hmm, you almost sound like me now.”

“I have just come to enjoy a little quietness, is all—!”

At this he laughs, before a voice soon interrupts us.

“What would you prefer to have today?” cheerily chirps a woman with long blonde hair, and a small dress that is…certainly unlike any I have seen. She is not particularly large at all, yet it seems far too tight for a lady…

Then suddenly, I begin to panic.

W-What sort of thing am I supposed to order?

But, luckily for myself Hikaru begins to order—some water and bread, and “meatless stew.” I merely order the same, and immediately put my face to the table once I am done.

“Ah…”

“Is everything all right, Suzette?”

“I believe you may have influenced me too much, Hikaru.”

“What do you mean?”

“Being here, surrounded by everyone—I have not the slightest clue what I am to do; it seems so simple and yet—”

“The lives of nobility are going to be different from someone like me—of course you’re out of your element.”

He looks upon me with a gentle expression of understanding, in spite of it being a rather embarrassing issue…

“I suppose by now…I anticipate for you to be knowledgeable of the woods and wild places, while I am entirely confused. I assumed I understood human society well, yet I struggle to simple order food within an inn…”

“It’s fairly easy, most of these places have the same sort of foods. That’s why there isn’t a menu.”

“I see…” I sigh.

My, it feels ridiculous having to be taught something so simple…

“I know you’ll get used to it, you’re better with people than I am anyhow.”

I chuckle; I know he is correct, but in this moment it does not feel that this is the case at all.

I look out into the room, at all the various people…two older women in mud-stained aprons huddled close, speaking in hushed tones. A young man yelling, clearly having too much to drink in spite of the early hour, and presumably two friends—one laughing along with him, the other clearly having nothing of it.

It would appear this is the Solzédniê I never witnessed as a child.

“What are you thinking about?”

“My mind is merely wandering, I suppose.”

“Then you’re in good company for that.”

“Perhaps so,” I reply absentmindedly.

Soon the waitress arrives once more, bringing both our drink and food.

Before this journey, I do not believe I would ever have partaken of something like this, but at this moment it nearly tastes better than anything I gave consumed. As I eat the stew however, something feels a bit missing…

“Hikaru, why did you get this without meat?”

He looks down at his food, avoiding me.

“I just don’t eat meat. At least, not in a long time.”

“Why not?”

“Well…” he sighs, “I never went hunting, before I began wandering. I attempted to afterwards, but I…

“The fae,” he whispers a bit closer to me, “The one we met on the day of the Solstice is a bit different from most. They don’t long for death, but they rarely mind if others eat their fruits, their leaves; they’re not like us. they don’t feel pain from it. I can’t—I can’t bring myself to kill anything like us, that feels pain like we do. And now I’ve gone so long without meat, I’m not sure if I can even handle it again. I understand how nature works, so it doesn’t bother me if others do it; but for me…”

“You say this as though it is shameful…”

“For a man to not hunt…”

“Truthfully, I would be extraordinarily surprised if you did hunt, by now,” I say. “It is not something I have ever considered or questioned.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” he replies. “I remember with Alex—”

Abruptly he ceases speaking. I cannot remember the last time he has spoken Alex’s name to me, perhaps when we first began this journey… Although it is the house he and Hikaru shared that we are traversing to, it is his paintings which we seek to collect…Hikaru never mentions him. Yet, I know why.

“That is the one whose paintings we are collecting, yes?” I attempt to feign ignorance, yet it feels so odd…every evening, nearly without fail, I am Alex. Hikaru believes I know nothing of him, yet I understand Alex better than anyone else could even begin to—including Hikaru.

“Yes, well…I remember when we spent time together, how often others would berate us for not hunting or similar things—”

“And I doubt they are the ones who became so successful in their lifetime, yes?” I add with a sly smile.

“If I am successful to you, you would certainly have much different idea of that than anyone else I’ve met.”

“You seem rather joyful to me, is that not success?” I gaze down a moment, and pause. “This is why I am on this journey…I had status and wealth before, but no freedom, almost no friends, and certainly no joy—do you not have all of this?”

“Well…” he smiles with a familiar melancholy, “I have nearly all the freedom in the world, and though I have friends I am far more often alone—and if I don’t stay some degree of joy, I will fall into despair.

“Although…I’m sure you have seen just how much I must stave it away. So even by that definition, my degree of success is debatable, I guess. I just do all that I can.”

“Then…I hope someday you can be more successful without so much struggle, Hikaru.”

“I appreciate your optimism, yet unless you change society—”

“That is not the issue; well, at least, not the only one.”

“What?”

He gazes upon me with an utterly baffled look, as though I spoke something vulgar.

“Society has gotten to you terribly, has it not?”

“…Elaborate,” he says.

“It appears you have imprinted upon your soul how society treats you…”

“It’s just a fact that I’m—”

“Yes I know, yet not all the world is so cruel, and…

“Sometimes, it almost seems as though you believe you deserve your treatment. You speak of it much, like a mantra—'Of course, of course I do not belong, why would I—'"

“Suzette…”

“I wish you would love yourself more, Hikaru. You…You do not deserve to feel so wretched, when there is nothing ill about you.”

He gazes at me, eye gaping wide, speaking nothing before he looks down once more.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard something like that…”

“Unfortunately it would seem you did not listen particularly well then.”

He pauses, before continuing to eat once more in silence.

“Regardless of what anyone shall think, including yourself…I quite enjoy you as you are.”

He pauses, and stare out into nowhere. Still saying nothing.

“You may do with this information what you may,” I add softly, and continue eating as well.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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