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~Suzette~

༻Chapter 19༺

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     {Outside, the snow falls harshly, so much so all that can be seen is a blinding white. I wonder if this is what Heaven looks like, a radiating light…but I would imagine that’s supposed to be beautiful. But this isn’t “beautiful.” Nothing, nothing about this is beautiful. In my chest too, water falls and falls…

     “I c-can’t believe it…it was j-just this morning, this morning, this…!”

     “I know, Hikaru,” I whisper, holding him close.

     “Even though she hasn’t been gone very long, I-I miss her so much…how dumb…”

     “How is that dumb? It’s…your mother…”

     He becomes quiet, but slowly grips me tighter and tighter.

     “She was one of the only people…the only one I had aside from you…”

     “…I know,” I sigh.

     “What a horrible way to die,” he whispers. “Falling down the stairs…completely meaningless, completely avoidable, completely…”

     “But it was probably quick…so she didn’t have to suffer.”

     “I guess…you’re right…”

     I try to stay composed for him. But…I can’t help but let the tears fall, only quietly, as he falls apart in my arms.

     I didn’t know his mother well, but she always seemed so kind when I was over. Even I can barely believe she’s gone…so I can only imagine how he feels.

     As mean as it is…I’m happy I can’t relate yet. I don’t ever want to experience so much sorrow…it’ll have to happen eventually, but I’m happy it’s not yet.

     …But that means it’s even harder to know how to cheer him up. I have no idea what to do. But maybe being here is all I can do…

     “Alex…” he says after a while, “What am I going to do? I know it’s selfish to worry about myself, but…”

     “What do you mean?”

     “I…can’t afford our rent by myself. I…” He pulls away from me, and stares off into nowhere.

     “I…don’t have anywhere. I don’t belong anywhere…maybe I can stay at the temple, just in the back…” he sighs, putting his head in his hands.

     “You’ll find a real house, I’m sure,” I say reassuringly. But honestly, even I know that’s a lie. He’s only fourteen as it is, and with his white hair, and being from Asàshí…even if he could somehow afford an apartment on his own, not many people would accept him. From what he’s said, the temple here would accept him…but they really would force him in the back. I doubt most of the worshippers would be very accepting of him.

     He doesn’t say anything, merely staying in place. Meanwhile, my mind goes wild…as I imagine his is as well. Until I get an idea.

     “How would you feel about living with me?”

     “W…What?”

     He looks up at me with a look of great surprise.

     “I can ask my mother if you can stay here. If you keep working, you can use that as rent here.”

     “Alex I-I can’t do that…”

     “If you don’t want to live with me that’s fine, but—”

     “It’s not that, I just, uh…I can’t, Alex…” I sigh.

     “Is it the other day?”

     He doesn’t say anything.

     “I don’t mind, Hikaru. It’s okay.”

     “…Is it?”

     Although he tries to hide it, his eye lights up. Only a faint glimmer, but it’s definitely something.

     “If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t offer it. So would you like me to ask her?”

     “Mâzjêr né, Alex!”

     He buries his face in my chest, and holds me tight.

     “I’ll be right back,” I say, pulling away, and he nods his head excitedly.

     Even in spite of how he feels about me…I truly don’t mind. I know he wouldn’t do anything bad to me. And, I wonder… Maybe us living together will help me understand my feelings better. I mean, that’s what spouses do, right? And if it’s not for me, we’ll get older, and it won’t be a big deal. And if it is…

     Then it might be rather nice. Actually…I imagine it will be regardless. He is my best friend, after all.

     I suppose sometimes something good can come out of something horrible…at least, I hope.}

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     I wake up slowly, still not feeling particularly well rested. What a wretched, wretched memory…

     Suddenly, I notice something else as well. Throughout the night, he and I drifted closer and closer…his head lies below mine, one arm around my body. Slowly, I begin stroking his hair…until after a moment, he speaks.

     “Suzette…” he mumbles, voice hoarse. I look down at him, and see a red, tear-stained face… So it appears our dreams are still linked after all.

     “It…seemed like you had a rough dream last night.”

     “Yeah,” he whispers. “Is…is it okay if I stay here a moment?”

     “I do not mind,” I reply, pulling him closer.

     For a little while, we stay in place. Although I feel terribly bad for him, I cannot help but smile…it was not long ago before something such as this would cause him to quickly rush away, embarrassed and worried—as would I be, truthfully. It appears last night’s discussion may truly have loosened everything between us.

     After a while he finally gets up, and so do I. We gather our things, and once more I hand him my napkin.

     “Are you ready?” he asks, and I nod yes.

     Once more, the two of us go into the city.

     Today, however, it appears he did not need my napkin. There is a distinct lack of people wherever we go, aside from a few wandering souls like us. After a while, Hikaru pulls the folded napkin down around his neck.

     “This is a tad eerie…” I mutter. “Should we be out right now?”

     “Do you know what today is?”

     “A few days past the Solstice? If you mean weekday, I ceased keeping track of those long ago…”

     “That must be it,” he says, “Everyone is at the temples right now, or staying at home as there’s little else to do.”

     “Ah,” I sigh with relief. “I think I may prefer it this way…that surely sounds cruel to say.”

     “Well so do I; so, maybe we’re both just cruel,” he replies, and the two of us laugh, one of the few sounds in the empty streets.

     Until after a while, we hear another sound.

     “Do you here that? The music, it sounds like…” I trail off, attempting to listen more closely. “This is a strange question, yet—may we go find it?”

     “I suppose so,” Hikaru replies, looking at me a tad puzzled; yet nearly as soon as he ceases speaking I take his hand, and begin leading him, the two of us following the heavenly sound.

     Around the corner of the building, I find it…an old wrinkled man with short gray hair sitting upon a bench, pushing the bellows back and forth.

     “An accordion…” I whisper breathless, “For so long I have wished to hear one again, yet it appears it is only particularly popular here…”

     “That new instrument?” Hikaru comments, before immediately retracting it. “Well, I guess it’s not too new now, is it?”

     As for me, I am too enthralled to pay him too much attention.

     The last I had heard this too was here, in Solzédniê; my parents dismissed it as a beggars’ instrument. Yet, its unique and rich sound enticed me…

     Abruptly, however, the old man stops, and looks up.

     “Enjoying the show?”

     “Y-Yes…” I reply, “Is that all right?”

     “Of course!” he grins widely with an uneven smile. “It ain’t often somebody hears me play.”

     “Do you only play when everyone’s at the temple?” Hikaru asks this time.

     “Yeah, I don’t want to annoy anyone with my racket,” he says.

     “Well, I think it is lovely…” I reply.

     “Mâzj né!” he thanks with an almost exaggerated bow. “So, you two traveling around here? My memory’s bad, but I think I would remember you.”

     “Oh, ah—yes, we are going north.”

     “Hmm…” the old man puts his hand to his chin, thinking for a moment. “You there in the purple…you some kind of bard? I know there ain’t much of them around these days, but you have this aura about you,” he says, flaring out his hands for emphasis. I gaze at Hikaru, and he looks a tad perplexed that the old man would speak to him at all.

     “Not exactly, but…” he looks away crossing his arms. “I’m a wanderer, and I have a hurdy gurdy, so…”

     “No,” the old man says with a sudden gravity. “Do you really, now?”

     Hikaru pulls his bag over, and quickly rummages through it, bringing the instrument slightly out of the bag.

     “Well I’ll be…been a long time since I seen them around; a long, long time. Used to sell them at my store when I first started, but even then nobody wanted them,” he sighs. “I always found them nice, but never got around to learning myself. Only when these came around did I ever bother to actually learn anything,” he says, patting his accordion.

     “That’s how I found this one,” Hikaru replies. “I liked it beforehand, but also—it was affordable because no one wanted it, and the road gets lonely…although much less so now.”

     Suddenly, my face grows a tad warm…

     “Can I hear it, young man?” he asks, looking intently. Subtly, but still noticeably, Hikaru smiles, and sits down at the other end of the bench.

     “Do you think it will be too loud?”

     “Oh no, services ain’t going to stop for hours, we’s more than fine; or at least, you’re not the only one making a racket,” he replies.

     And so Hikaru nods, looking a tad perplexed, yet happy. He begins playing a familiar tune, the one which he sung for me that one day. I cannot help but smile, and sing along in a whisper…somehow, I still remember every line. Looking at the man, he closes his eyes and sits back smiling even more widely than I.

     Once Hikaru finishes, the old man sits back up, and looks towards him.

     “Thank you so very much for that, sir…and a fine choice of song as well.”

     “What would they sound like together?” I say, and the two men look up towards me. “It appears you both know this song, I am curious how it would sound…”

     “I don’t think I’ve ever played with anyone,” Hikaru says.

     The old man, meanwhile, merely readies his accordion.

     Hikaru begins slowly, and the old man begins going along…and it is not long before they make a beautiful harmony.

     Scarcely without thought, I begin singing the song along with them, hoping they do not hear. Eventually, the song comes to a stop once more. Hikaru looks up at me, wide eyed.

     “You truly have a lovely voice, Suzette.”

     “I thought it was too quiet to hear—!”

     “I don’t mind it,” Hikaru says quietly.

     The man, meanwhile, simply laughs.

     “Well, thank you both for amusing an old geezer like me! But…” he looks down, gripping the accordion, “I suppose I really should go back to the shop and set everything back up. These things don’t sell themselves, unfortunately.”

     As he says this, a thought appears within my mind…

     “Hikaru,” I say, leaning over the back of the bench to face him, “Would you like to go to his shop?”

     Hikaru looks up at me, clearly surprised.

     “I don’t mind.”

     Meanwhile, the old man laughs once more.

     “You’re too kind, but you really don’t have to keep amusing me!”

     “Well…” I look away, “I have wanted an accordion for quite a long time, so perhaps—”

     “We can play together,” Hikaru smiles, finishing my sentence.

     I cannot help but grin in return…

     “Well then!” the old man exclaims while springing up with a surprising energy, “I’ll take you there, then!”

     And so Hikaru and I walk through the still rather empty cobblestone streets, talking to the man whom we learn is named Piotr. Hikaru and I stay close, to be sure nothing ill happens…although truthfully, it would be quite difficult for him to do much against us. And indeed, it is not long before we arrive at the small shop, the sign eschewing words and instead decorated with notes and simple illustrations of instruments.

     “And here she is!” he says as he unlocks to door, and as we walk in…my eyes glow at just how large this place is, far more than the small windows betrayed.

     Along the walls are shelves and shelves full of nearly any kind of instrument one could imagine; of course the accordions, yet also violins and violas, lutes and flutes, even a piano at the very edge of the shop.

     “Do you make all of these yourself?” I ask Piotr, and he merely laughs.

     “Oh gods, no,” he replies, “I just go around and find as many used ones as I can and sell them. You’d be amazed how quickly rich folk will throw a perfectly fine instrument out if it ain’t the fanciest anymore. They just don’t appreciate things like we do!” he laughs once more.

     “Yes,” I chuckle lightly, although in truth feeling a tad uncomfortable. Considering I was rather wealthy and abandoned it all, perhaps that could be interpreted as “not appreciating” it; yet, I suppose one could say I simply appreciate my happiness more.

     I gaze around, yet quickly become lost at which to choose; there are so many accordions, yet few which I may afford…

     “Suzette,” Hikaru says, nudging my shoulder, “What about this one? I don’t know why, but it seems like something you might like.”

     He points me to an accordion with simple etchings of flowers along the silver colored edges. Compared to the flowers and stripes and other details upon his hurdy gurdy, it is almost plain; although, the flowers do remind me of those on his instrument. Yet, for myself…it is perfect. A small paper to the side says the price: five or.

     I believe I have more than this, certainly that is not too much—

     Our journey has continued for so long now, I entirely forgot how much money I carried. It appears I only brought enough to sustain myself; which I suppose is wise, how was I to know Hikaru would have a bottomless bag on his person? Yet even this relatively reasonably priced instrument is still too expensive to purchase. Ah, I think this stop was entirely ill planned out…

     “Do you not have enough?” Hikaru asks quietly, apparently noting my disappointment. I merely nod in reply. “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough either—but if we combine it, perhaps—”

     “No, no,” I reply, “We should keep our money for food and supplies, should we need them…this can wait for another day. Please forgive me for bringing you here…”

     “So you don’t got enough, hmm?” Piotr says, coming back around towards us. “I think we can arrange something—that is, if you’re willing.”

     “How so?” I ask, glancing at him, unsure of what to think.

     “That bag of yours,” he begins, turning towards Hikaru, “You do that yourself?”

     “I don’t know what you mean—”

     “My father was a priest,” he says. “Often let me run around, help him in the temples. I know a sigil when I see one.”

     What little color Hikaru has drains completely.

     “What’s that one do?”

     “I…” Hikaru begins quietly, “I can’t give this away. It holds all I own.”

     In return Piotr just laughs, as he always seems to do.

     “Well of course I ain’t going to take your bag! But,” he becomes more serious for a moment, “Could you put a sigil like that on anything, and give it that same power?”

     “Yes,” he says, thinking for a moment. “I could make whatever kind you might need. But, I don’t know why you’d want…” he grows quiet again. “You can…probably tell who it comes from, can’t you?”

     “Of course, you don’t hide it very well, son,” he says. “But I don’t rightly care who you deal with, how you even managed to find her. You can probably tell I don’t got loyalty to any of them—but still, I’ve seen what those things can do. Protecting temples from vandals, chests that go on forever and ever; you can’t quite just ask any old priest to make one for you. But clearly you aren’t any old priest, are you?”

     “I wouldn’t say so,” Hikaru answers nervously.

     “Then,” he puts his hand up to his chin, “You willing to make one of them for me for that instrument there?”

     “I don’t see why not,” he says, but then…he looks out, past Piotr. Although it is only for a terribly short moment, his gaze shifts away, and he gives a small nod seemingly to nothing, to no one. Yet just as suddenly smiles and returns his gaze towards Piotr. “So, what would you like me to do?”

     “Hmm…at least once or twice a year robbers come through here, always taking a bunch of my wares with them. Think you can put a sigil above the doorway to stop that?”

     “It wouldn’t be hard at all,” Hikaru says, “But—I’m going to have to carve it. Even if you have paint somewhere, if it wears too much your building won’t be protected anymore.

     “Above the doorway would probably work well,” he adds.

     Piotr pauses, and shrugs.

     “Well, if you say so. I’ll go get a chair for you so you can reach—although you barely need it!” he adds with a laugh.

     “You do not have to do all of this for me…” I say softly, walking up towards Hikaru. “I do not wish to cause you trouble. You always do so much…”

     “It’s no problem at all; if you were causing me trouble, I wouldn’t do any of this,” he says, “And besides, it should only take a few minutes. You can repay me with the beautiful music you’re going to make.”

     “Well, I can do so,” I reply with a small smile.

     Piotr returns with a chair, and simultaneously Hikaru takes off his bag, rummaging through it and finding the dagger he had given to me not terribly long ago…although it is difficult to believe that was perhaps scarcely a week ago. I suppose much has changed since then…

     I gaze up and watch Hikaru as he carefully scratches the strange symbol, so small that it is quite unlikely any would notice it. Although, perhaps this is the idea, after all. Soon Hikaru descends down once more.

     “So,” Piotr says, “How am I supposed to know if it works?”

     “Stand back,” Hikaru replies.

     “All right, but I don’t—”

     Suddenly Hikaru holds back the dagger, facing the blade to the door—!

     “Hikaru!” I exclaim, “What are you—?!”

     Swiftly he stabs at it, making a large crash all the while. But, instead of the dagger becoming fully wedged within the wood, it merely bounced off entirely, not leaving even a scratch behind. Hikaru, meanwhile, stumbles backwards, clearly putting all his force into the blow.

     “That’s what will happen if anybody tries to get in here through violent means,” he huffs, while straightening himself out. “The same goes for the windows; nobody can get in here any way aside from walking through the door. If it’s locked, then it won’t budge.”

     I look over to Piotr, who for a moment merely stares at the door with his mouth agape; yet soon, it turns into a large smile.

     “Absolutely magnificent!” he laughs, patting Hikaru on the back. Hikaru appears a bit startled by this gesture, yet still smiles gently all the same. “You two can have whatever you like, the money I’ll save and peace of mind I’ll have more than makes up for it.”

     In spite of myself I immediately lighten up, rushing towards the instrument. Tenderly I grasp it, lifting it to myself and chuckle quietly.

     If my family saw this, they would surely mock me for my ridiculousness, for fawning over a beggar’s instrument; yet now, I am free to learn whatever I wish, do whatever I wish…

     “Thank you for your generosity,” I look up and say to him, yet he waves me off.

     “Even if I could pay a priest to do this, I’d hate to see the price—I’m making off far better than you two out of this.”

     “Either way,” Hikaru interjects, “…Mâzjêr. We’re certainly going to enjoy this.”

     We shall enjoy this…

     My heart cannot help but flutter at least slightly.

     “Well you two have a good day now!” he says cheerfully, although that soon fades. “Has your trip been well so far?”

     “I believe so,” I reply, looking towards Hikaru, “Would you say so as well?”

     “Yes, for the most part.”

     “That’s good,” Piotr nods, “But…just be careful out there. I know it can be rough for people like you.”

     “Mâzjêr,” Hikaru says with a sad smile, and then turns to me. “Would you like me to put that in my bag for now?”

     “Yes,” I reply softly, thinking of his words…

     And with that, we all say our final goodbyes and leave the shop. Luckily for Hikaru and I, the streets, while slightly more lively than before, are still surprisingly sparse. And now, out of the shop…I cannot help but let my excitement flow over.

     “Oh, mâzjêr vrémond né, Hikaru!” I exclaim, giving him a large hug. “I have always wished for an accordion, and yet…!”

     He gently pats my head in return, as I gaze up to smile at him.

     “It’s no problem,” he says as kindly as always. “I think I may have gotten something too,” he adds, as he and I begin walking down the street.

     “Did you? I did not see you get anything…”

     “No, nothing physical,” he replies so softly I can scarcely hear him. “That man—even though he knows the tales of the gods, that his father was a priest himself—even so, he still treated me kindly…”

     “It appears most we have met have been kind,” I say, thinking to the man who ran the inn.

     “Yeah, you’re right,” Hikaru replies, “Although he did know me once before. It…feels odd having a stranger treat me so kindly, view what I do as valuable…” he trails off.

     I look upon him, lightly holding his arm all the while.

     “The whole world truly is not so cruel, even if you…” I suddenly trail off, abruptly remembering something odd Piotr had said.

     I know I should remain silent, yet by now it appears an inevitability that I must satiate my curiosity…

     “Hikaru,” I begin, “Did you…discover Maiden Moon, like he had said? You do not truly need to know her to work with her magic, yes?”

     As I say this, however, while it is clear he is attempting to keep his composure, Hikaru noticeably winces, just as he did when I touched him as he became overwhelmed by the city streets. Yet, it is not terribly crowded at the moment, and I have seen him deal with worse than this…

     “That’s…just—that’s just what he thinks,” he mumbles. “Usually with Lady Sun’s priests, they do know her if they wish to work her magic, but Maiden Moon—Maiden Moon is different.”

     Though he keeps his gaze forward, I stare at him with wide eyes. He is…lying. I have never seen him lie so blatantly, although it almost seems as if it physically pains him to do so. Or maybe…is it the truth that physically pains him?

     “I see,” I mutter, looking forward myself, mind swirling.

     What an odd reaction, what a terribly odd reaction…

     Is this…his other secret? With yesterday evening, I assumed he opened up seemingly everything to me; his dealings with the faeries, his relationship with Alex—yet could that truly be the very last secret? I suppose that would indeed explain why it appears that when we speak of her is when he becomes most distant…

     I once found such things little more than nonsense, yet with all that has happened over this journey, I am much more open to any manner of strange possibilities.

     Could he truly know a goddess…?

     I cannot say why, yet for some reason a deep sense of dread fills me at the thought. I assume she must not be quite so terrible as the devotees of Lady Sun shall say, for I know quite certainly Hikaru is wonderful, and he does not appear to me the type to deal with others’ unpleasantness for long.

     Yet I still cannot discard this feeling that if she truly is real—I would rather nothing to do with her. Just seeing him wince now…I am not sure if I could trust her, even if she is a goddess…

     I only hope Hikaru shall be well regardless…that he and I shall both be well. Perhaps it is only my own ignorance which causes me concern…perhaps there is nothing to this at all.

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