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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Nineteen༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

{Outside, the snow fall 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 still miss her…how dumb…”

“That’s not 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 have aside from you…”

“…I know,” I sigh.

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

“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 a few tears out.

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 from Asashi…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 to hide it, his eye lights up.

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

“Thank you, Alex!” He smiles wide, and I can’t but smile in return.

“I’ll be right back,” I say, 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.}

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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 widely…it was not long ago before something such as this would cause him to quickly rush away, embarrassed and worried. 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. And 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?”

“Suzette, 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. 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.

“That music…Hikaru, let us go find it!”

“Are you su—" but before he finishes I already grab 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, but 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 too him much attention.

The last I had heard this too was here, in the Capital…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. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all!” he smiles 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.

“Thank you very much!” says with an almost exaggerated bow. “So, you two traveling around here? My memory’s bad, but I think I would remember you two.”

“Yes, we are going north.”

“Hmm…” the old man puts has 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,” he smiles. I look 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 perhaps…”

“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 a little 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 nobody wanted them,” he sighs. “I always found them nice, but never got around to learning them 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. “It was cheap 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,” he replies.

And so Hikaru nods, and begins playing a familiar tune, the one which he sung for me that one day. I cannot help but smile, and sing along in my mind…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 smiles. 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.” The man 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 a long time, so perhaps…”

“We can play together,” Hikaru smiles, finishing my sentence. And I cannot help but grin in return…

“Of course.”

“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 city 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 does not at all appear he is up to ill. 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; of course the accordions, but 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, guess they really don’t appreciate nothing!” 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…although I suppose one could say I simply appreciate my happiness more.

I look around, but quickly become lost at which to choose; there are so many, and not many I can afford...

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

He points me to a small one, with simple etchings of flowers along the silver colored edges. Compared to all the detail on his instrument, it is almost plain. But, for myself…it is perfect. And a little paper to the side says the price: five l’or.

I think I brought more than that, certainly that is not too much—

Yet, once I look through my bag…we have been on this journey long enough now, I entirely forgot how much I brought with me. I suppose I only brought enough to sustain myself; which is wise, how was I to know Hikaru would have a nearly bottomless bag on his person? But of course, I suppose this stop was entirely ill planned out...

“Don’t have enough?” Hikaru says quietly, apparently noting my disappointment. I merely nod in reply. “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough either…”

“Well, I would not expect you to regardless,” I reply. “I suppose we shall have to do this another day.”

“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, whose eye grows wide, “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 starts, 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, or 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 with a slight smile.

“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, I noticed it, him staring out, and mouthing something. Yet in no time at all he 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.” 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 in the beautiful music you’re going to make.”

“Well, I can do so,” I reply with a 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 not so long ago. I suppose much has changed since then…

I look up and watch Hikaru as he carefully scratches the strange symbol, so small I can scarcely see it from here. Although, perhaps the is the idea after all. And 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.”

I look over at 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 and peace I’ll save more than makes up for it.”

In spite of myself I immediately light up, rushing towards the small accordion. Softly I grab it, lifting it to myself and chuckle lowly.

If my family saw this, they would surely mock me for my ridiculousness, being so lowly; 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, “…Thank you. We’re certainly going to enjoy this.”

We shall enjoy this…

My heart cannot help but flutter at least slightly.

“Well you too 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.”

“Thank you,” 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 a little more busy than before, are still surprisingly empty. And now, out of the shop…I cannot help but let my excitement flow over.

“Oh, thank you Hikaru!” I exclaim, giving him a large hug. “I have always wanted 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 says, “Although he did know me once before. It…feels strange having a stranger treat me so kindly, view what I do as valuable…” he trails off. I look up towards him, lightly holding his arm all the while.

“The whole world truly is not so cruel, even if you…” now I am the one who trails off, remembering something odd Piotr had said.

I know I should not say something, yet by now it appears an inevitability.

“Hikaru,” I begin, “Did you…find 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 noticeable winces, just as he did when I touched him as he became overwhelmed by the city streets. But, it is not terribly crowded at the moment, and I have seen him deal with worse than this…

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

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

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

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

I used to find such things little more than nonsense, but with everything else that has happened over this journey, I am much more open to all 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 people’s unpleasantness for long.

Yet I still cannot shake 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 am unsure if he should trust her…

I only hope Hikaru will be well regardless…that he and I shall both be well. Perhaps it is only my own ignorance which causes me concern.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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