“What the absolute fuck are you doing, Hikaru?!? I told you, I TOLD you, you can’t tell her shit! What about that do you not understand?! What, has every single ounce of intelligence in you gone to—”
On and on, she berates me horrendously as we walk. My head is throbbing…and because Suzette is still here, I have no recourse.
“Hikaru…Hikaru,” Suzette repeats softly, gently shaking me, “Perhaps we should go towards a more empty alleyway…you do not seem to be doing well.”
“I’d like that,” I reply quietly, as her and I turn off into some empty corner of the city.
“I need a moment alone,” I breathe, exasperated.
“We cannot,” she says, tugging my sleeve. “After what happened when we first came here…please, I do not want to split up again.”
She looks up at me, her eyes, her face clearly full of concern…I sigh. I hate being like this, yet…
“Remember when we split up in the forest?”
“Is this…for a similar purpose?”
“Yes—here,” I reach into my bag, bringing out the dagger again.
She only frowns even further at this, but reluctantly grabs the knife anyways.
“Please do not be long like last time, Hikaru…”
“I won’t, I promise,” I smile, and it seems to comfort her a little bit. So I turn around, and walk further down the alley and turn, to where I know I’m both out of sight and earshot.
Without even needing to say a word, Maiden Moon manifests in front of me, arms crossed. Although her eyes are a deep violet, right now they resemble a raging fire…
“I can’t believe you,” she says much more quietly than I was anticipating. “I should smite you right now.”
“I didn’t tell her,” I state softly but firmly.
“No, but I bet that damned man gave it away because he’s not so dense as she is; well, assuming she’s not so dense to understand it.”
“Watch your words, Moon,” I growl, digging my fingers into my skin. Regardless of how our conversation goes, this is ending.
“Oh, I suppose I am undeserving of my full title now?” she spits back. “Remember you’re speaking with a goddess. You’re the one who better watch what you say.”
“I don’t care if you were the Void itself, I’m not going to deal with anyone speaking of my loved ones that way.”
“So I’m not a loved one now either—”
“Are you trying to misconstrue everything I say?!” I nearly shout, quickly losing my grip, “Obviously you are, or else I would have thrown away this damned necklace ages ago! Lately all you can do is act like a jealous child—what, is this how you treated Maia too? Expecting her to just bow to your will, because you’re a goddess?”
Now shining tears fall from her eyes that refuse to break contact with mine. In spite of myself, guilt quickly washes over me.
“…That was unnecessary, Hikaru,” she croaks.
“P…Pshyku,” I sigh. “But, Maiden Moon—”
“You’re all I have,” she whispers too me. “I don’t have the luxury of socializing with whoever I wish, falling in love with whoever I wish—it’s just you.”
“You know, we could share the necklace around, so you can meet people,” I suggest. “Perhaps even Suzette—”
“I want nothing to do with her,” she declares. “And I don’t want the necklace passed around either. There’s too much risk if people realize what it does. Hiding it away so I will always be alone, or even destroying it; you know this.”
“But I don’t know anything else to help you.”
“Stay with me alone, and I will be satisfied.”
“…You know I can’t guarantee that. I’ll stay, but not…”
She sighs and turns away from me slightly.
“Hikaru,” she begins gently, “I wanted to be kind and not tell you this, but…do you truly believe she’ll ever return your affections?”
I say nothing…which surely says everything. She turns towards me once more, arms still crossed, face in a frown.
“People like her do not fall in love with people like you,” she whispers. “Yes, she abandoned that noble life, but the hearts of nobility still care about status to some extent; even if she is your friend, someone that has had only the barest ties to society for decades…”
“But…she really doesn’t appear to be like that at all.”
“Let us say she is special and is not, yet,” Maiden Moon comes close, and begins stroking my face. Instinctively I almost flinch away; yet for some reason, I stand as firmly in place as a tree. “Perhaps you can’t notice it, or perhaps you try not to…but you truly are older than you realize. Though you can’t see them, the years still clearly wear on your face.”
“Men far older than I still marry women younger than her—”
“And they are all wealthy and powerful, are they not? Do you believe that is truly ‘love?’ No, they are overtaken by their lust, and have the means in which they pursue their desires.”
I can almost physically feel what little hopes I had shrivel up and wither away, one by one.
“Someone like her can’t understand people like us, anyways. Not truly. She’s never been shunned and damned for things beyond her control, for such trivial matters like the sex of her lover, the color of her hair…she can’t understand the kind of troubles you go though.
“Even if she says she does not mind, do you truly believe someone like her would want to be with someone who has touched a man as well? Someone who so often goes against everything a man ‘should’ be? Perhaps she doesn’t mind because you’re her friend…but once you go deeper, go to their standards for a spouse—you realize just how much like everyone else they truly are. Only someone sufficiently similar to you can understand your struggles, Hikaru. But she…you and her are continents apart.”
I step away from her, putting my hand to my swarming head, biting my lip.
“I…” I mumble, “…I can’t quite argue with anything you’ve said. I want to believe she’s different—”
“And that’s what they do, before they shatter your soul.”
I put my hand down and look away, to nowhere in particular. Whatever energy or happiness I had left…it seems all of it has drained away.
“And…do you wish to abandon that love of yours with Alex, just for some young woman who appears pretty enough and kind?”
My heart stops. My breathing stops. It appears as though the whole world around me stops.
“My, there’s no need to cry, Hikaru.” I quickly look up to her, confused.
“What?” But she simply comes and wipes the tear which I only just now realized was there away, and pulls me into an embrace. I…don’t have the energy to either reciprocate or resist.
“Someday, my dear,” she whispers in my ear, “This will all be a distant memory, and you will look back with joy that you didn’t go down this path. That you were able to avoid feeling such heartache once more.”
“…Hikaru?” A new voice appears from behind, and my heart nearly stops. “It has been a while, is all well?”
I don’t respond. Maiden Moon, meanwhile, steps away from me bearing an uncharacteristically gentle smile.
“Someday you will find someone more suitable for you…or, perhaps you will at last realize who has always loved you most. A divine love which does not spit in the face of what you had before…for it is not merely from some human wishing to tear your past apart. One which Alex would surely understand. It’s all right, I am patient…I can never die after all. I’m always here when you need me.”
I gaze upon her, but still remain silent. I…don’t know what to say.
“Well, have a good day, Hikaru.” And with this, she dissipates with a slight burst of light. And this time…sometimes, although I can’t see her, her presence can still be felt, even if faintly. But now it’s nowhere to be found. It seems I’ve truly been left alone.
I stand there for a little while, head empty of almost all thoughts, lost in emotions I barely understand how to describe. Eventually Suzette strokes my arm, and I can’t help but jump a little.
“What…happened?” she whispers, looking upon my face, “You look as though you have seen a phantom.” I chuckle a little, as I suppose that’s not entirely wrong.
“It’s nothing, truly.”
“Well,” she sighs, “I think you may want this,” she says as she hands me her already folded over napkin. Somehow, I didn’t notice at all she wasn’t wearing it, although otherwise she always is.
“Have the temples let out now?”
“I presume so, the streets have grown increasingly crowded. It is a bit amusing,” she chuckles, “More and more seem to not care about such matters, yet they still visit the temples regardless. Why is that?”
“I guess even if they barely put stock in it they still want to seem righteous…just a large show.”
“I suppose so,” she replies as I take off my hat and cover my ears, and return it to its place.
Softly, she clasps my hand, preparing for the journey once more…and in spite of myself, I can’t help but hold it a little bit tighter. I never want to let go, I wish we could hold them forever through these warm summer days always; but, I know everything must end eventually. I know I have never, nor will I ever, truly hold it regardless.
At that thought, I blankly stare ahead as we begin walking again.
I know someday all of this will become a faded memory…although it’s hard to believe that will ever bring me joy.
For a long time Suzette and I casually stroll through the city streets; it appears even she realizes what a state I’m in, going even more slowly and gently than usual. Even as the day goes on, although there are more people out, it is still far from a ridiculous amount; I could probably do without the napkin well enough. However, the relative silence is somewhat soothing. At least, when I focus on it instead of these myriad of thoughts. Hmm, maybe just succumbing to the noise, even if it gets to be painful, might be better after all…
Eventually we finally make it, the large stone wall of perhaps fifteen feet or more. I glance over towards Suzette to see her reaction, and her eyes only grow wider and wider.
The inner districts, the Solzédniê that she surely must remember.
I pull the napkin down around my neck, and turn towards her.
“Are you ready to see it?”
“Yes!” she beams, “Although…ah, I suppose I cannot enjoy it in the same way I did all those years ago.”
“Maybe someday you can return here, and have that be the case.”
“Ah, perhaps so,” she replies softly.
She and I circle the wall, until at last we come towards an opening, a tunnel filled with lamplight even during the day, and a guard stationed at either edge.
As we walk up to it we are greeted by an older, stocky man wearing the bright gold and white uniforms of the royal guard. As we walk up, he extends a large spear over the entrance, blocking it.
“Halt!” he resounds sternly, “Show your seal.”
“We do not have any…” Suzette mutters.
“Then what business do you have here?”
“Oh,” she begins, “We are just passing through—”
“For? You can easily go around the wall.”
“But would we not have to get a ferry?”
“That isn’t our problem.”
I look down, and glare at the guard—what is his issue? Yes, at night they become wary about who is in the inner districts, but it will still be daytime for numerous hours…have they begun shutting out anyone they see as inferior in general?
I grit my teeth, but I say nothing.
“Please, is there any way we shall come through?” Suzette replies exasperated, “We do not wish any harm, and would even like to see everything again…” At this, the guard laughs.
“See everything again? Just who do you think you are, anyways? State your names, and I’ll think about it.”
“I am Suzette Lebrun,” she says quietly, and for a moment the guard looks over her.
“Hmm…those clothes of yours seem to tell a different story, but that face—tell me, who is your family?”
“My parents are Armand and Analise Lebrun, my elder siblings are Elise Loup and Florence Lebrun; my father owns much land in the province of Justêre. Elise is the wife of Edward Loup, the governor of Justêre. She is thin and tall, with long, curled red hair and green eyes like mine—"
“All right, all right, I believe you are who you say you are,” the guard says. “And you?” he asks, looking towards me.
“…I’m Hikaru Wakahisa,” I mutter. “I used to live here.”
“You lived here?” he scoffs, “What could you have been doing, then?”
I try to hold eye contact, for I know if you look away many interpret that as lying—and it seems he is already looking for any excuse not to let me through.
“I was a servant of Alexander Boucher, the painter who lived here for a short while. It was many years ago.” The guard stares at me, stroking his chin.
“Hmm…yes, I think I recall watching someone like you long ago. What did you do, while here?”
“Well…I’d often only come out at the later hours, when nobody was about. I might leave the inner districts, and visited an inn within the outer part of the city.”
“Yep, sounds right,” the guard comments, “I guess time hasn’t made you any less of a queer sort… But, it seems you both do have reason to be here.” Quickly he lifts up his spear, letting us through.
“Go in before I change my mind, I’m feeling generous today.”
“Mâzjêr né,” Suzette and I both utter, and begin walking through the tunnel.
“I do not remember the guards being so…rude,” Suzette whispers, “Although I suppose my family and I did have royal seals…”
“I don’t remember the guards blocking who even came in during the middle of the damn day,” I moan, not even caring who may hear. “I guess everything truly is different, now.”
“Sâ pshyku, Hikaru…”
“It’s not your fault. I’m just…glad I got out of here.”
Her and I make it to the edge of the tunnel—and to my surprise, I find a change that is actually pleasant. In various spots lies boxes holding trees and flowers and grass. I suppose the people here finally realized how horrid a place with so little nature really is.
Otherwise, everything looks more or less how I remember. Ornate, elegant buildings, street lamps everywhere, every road paved with fine brick, with none left dusty like in the rest of the city.
And all around, I notice them; men in fine suits and gilded canes, often with a women in large frilled dresses hanging upon his arm. Some are followed by maids in dresses resembling washed-out and more ornate versions of Suzette’s clothes. And scattered about are a few people of even lower standing than ourselves, doing such things such as tending the flowers, or cleaning the streets. It is surprisingly quiet and peaceful—if it weren’t for all the glares given our way.
Suzette and I…yes, in just about every respect, we do not fit in at all. But we continue onwards, attempting to ignore it.
“I have never felt so unwelcome here, or anywhere like this…” Suzette sighs. “I used to feel rather comfortable here, but now…”
“I understand,” I answer. “I’m sorry you have to feel that way too.”
“I am the one who made this decision, and even with this I cannot say I regret it,” she replies with a smile, bringing me ease in return.
After a short while of walking, suddenly memories begin flooding back to me…although my time here was generally very unpleasant—it’s hard not to have at least small pangs of nostalgia remembering the days with Alex.
“Hey Suzette,” I say, “Do you want to see where Alex and I always went? If it’s still there, at least…”
“Of course!” she chirps, more excitedly than I expected. And so I lead her down the paths, through the increasingly winding buildings…and at last, we arrive; a fairly small circle, with a fountain running in the middle. Now there are trees all around in front of the buildings, making everything more peaceful than I remember.
“Ah, this is…” Suzette trails off for a moment.
“I know, it’s not much—”
“No, it is lovely,” she says with a soft grin. “Would you like to rest hear, for a moment?”
I nod, and her and I go to sit along the edge.
“Ah,” I mumble, closing my eye, “You can actually hear the birds here.”
“Yes, it is much more peaceful here than elsewhere in the city,” she replies softly. “You know, Hikaru, I think you truly have rubbed off on me.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, now looking at her gazing upon the trees seemingly absentmindedly.
“My dream, ever since I was young, was to live within Solzédniê, start my bakery here…but while it is not without its pleasant points, I do not wish for that anymore.”
“Then where do you want to go?”
“I have not the slightest clue…but I believe somewhere small and peaceful, on the edge of the forests and valleys. I understand now why you enjoy such things so much.”
“I’m glad I could help you…I think,” I reply. But soon, I myself become distracted…
This whole time, scattered people have come and gone throughout this circle, and of course I have tried not to pay mind to them. But one person has watched us nearly this entire time…
A woman perhaps around my age, wearing a bright blue and white gown, with more frills than should probably be legal. Though her hair is tied up under a small hat with a veil, long, curly red strands fall down. Her face is dark, and she stares at me with bright green eyes, and a look of both disdain and amusement…
Wait, haven’t I heard a description like this before?
“My, my, look who has arrived!” Before I can finish speaking, her sharp voice pierces through the circle.
“Elise—?!” Suzette swiftly turns around in a panic.
“My, my, you are alive after all!” Elise walks over, laughing. “Although, perhaps ‘alive’ is not quite accurate, you look positively wretched. What in the heavens have you done to your beautiful hair? And those clothes—before, at least your manner offset that pudginess of yours, but now it seems that is the only thing noticeable left about you. How embarrassing.”
“I…” Suzette mumbles, and just looks down, shrinking further than I have seen her do in the presence of anybody.
“Who do you think you are?” I snap at her.
“Hmph, I should be asking that of you,” she says, suddenly pulling a fan to her face. “I am her dear sister, and I presume you are her kidnapper, yes?”
“I was not kidnapped…” Suzette whispers, before suddenly facing her and speaking louder. “I left of my own accord.”
“Hmm,” Elise huffs again, before staring me down. “Wait a moment…are you that one tramp whom she always was so eager to convince everyone was ‘just a friend?’” Now she holds her hand back, and gives a somehow both loud and controlled laughter.
“My,” Elise chuckles, “This is truly hilarious! And here we thought something ill may have happened to you, but it was only you being an imbecile like always! Whoring around on your dear husband, with someone who has nothing—”
“We are not together!” Suzette exclaims. “I was always faithful to Marc, even when I begged him for a divorce and he did not give it, I never—”
“And that only proves how much of a fool you are, Suzette,” Elise replies. “That man is an absolute saint for not throwing you out himself. If Lady Sun truly is real, he surely deserves a spot in her heaven.”
“He always controlled me, scarcely let me have friends, scarcely let me eat, scarcely…”
“Well of course he did, obviously you cannot be trusted to make your own decisions,” she sighs with a feigned sadness.
Meanwhile, I dig my fingers deep into my arms to the point of pain. My patience has already been worn more thin today than it has in a very long time…it feels like all I can do to not instantly punch her right in the face. But obviously, that won’t help anything…so I sit quietly, seething.
“Why,” I mutter, trying to control myself, “Why do you insist on coming over here and torturing her so? What the fuck did she do to you?”
“I was hoping to perhaps bring her back from this nonsense, if she even has an ounce of a brain left with her,” she spits, and then turns towards Suzette. “Hmm, did you find a way to make that go to your breasts as well, to seduce men even more ignorant than yourself? Although you could not even snag someone worth having…my, what a farce this truly is.”
I gaze over to Suzette, who is looking upon Elise with a face of utmost seriousness. But, I still see it…small, glistening tears at the edges of her eyes, like rain piling on a leaf.
“Suzette…” I whisper, putting my hand on her shoulder. I decide to focus on comforting her, instead of doing something we’ll likely both regret.
“I-I am well,” she whispers. But the truth is obvious.
“It truly is a shame,” Elise says, “To think, we did our best to shutter Florence’s letters away, keep away all influence, so perhaps you may turn out to be a fine woman…and yet somehow, you still became just like him. My, how is it possible that only one child inherit all the intelligence? Our poor family…”
“…What?” Suzette asks, eyes growing wide. “Florence…never sent any letters.”
“My,” Elise rolls her eyes, “You truly are that idiotic. With as much as he doted on you while he was around, you truly believed he would send you nothing?”
Suddenly Suzette shoots up towards her sister with a ferocity I didn’t even know she had in her; even though she is much shorter than Elise, Elise still backs up regardless.
“So for over a decade I have lived in loneliness, without the one relative who actually gave a whit about me, all because YOU WANTED TO CONTROL ME?!?” Suzette screams, and my all my breathing—and, it seems, time itself—stops.
Before I realize it she has Elise by the collar, pulled towards herself. I remember what kind of strength Suzette can muster when she is determined enough, like when she found me in the woods—
“S-Suzette,” I stumble, panicked, “Maybe we should, or I should—”
“I can handle this, Hikaru,” she whispers.
“L-L-Listen to him, S-Suzette! It seems his brain—”
“Tell me,” Suzette whispers.
“Tell me where Florence is, he would not have sent letters without saying where they came from, even on the envelope.”
“The last letter he sent was years ago, he may not—”
“Tell. Me,” she seethe right in her face. “And do not lie.”
“Y…You…you are t-terrifying,” Elise’s voice shakes and trembles horribly. I look around, and to my horror, a few people are indeed watching us.
“Suzette, I think the guards might—”
“Tell me right now Elise!” Suzette shouts.
“T-The last we heard he was in Bydlin! I-it is a small town n-north of here.”
“Hikaru,” Suzette turns to me, “Have you heard of this town?”
“It is in Mârsêl!” Elise exclaims. I think for a moment, trying to remember.
“I think I’ve passed by there before, yes,” I reply quietly.
“If he is not there, ask the locals, they should know where he has gone, surely,” Elise breathes, gaining a bit more composure.
With that Suzette throws her down, and she unceremoniously crashes to the ground.
“Suzette…” Elise moans while on the ground, “You…are a monster.”
“Says the woman who kept a child from the only person who loved her for half of her life, who barely even put on airs of caring for her. You are positively disgusting.
“…Let us go, Hikaru,” Suzette says calmly, turning to me. But I, meanwhile, stand up rapidly.
“I…think we have more pressing things to deal with.”
Suzette looks in the same direction as I, and sees them—at least half a dozen guards or more, surrounding half the circle, and a few frantic people pointing our way.
“Halt, don’t move!”
“Hikaru—!!!” Suzette swiftly turns towards me once more, nearly crying again—now for entirely different reasons than before.
“Come!” I grab her hand swiftly, pulling her close.
“We said don’t move—!” A guard yells as they rush towards us, spears in hand.
“Vodyu—!” I shout thrusting my arm out, not having time to finish the full incantation; but luckily, they understand my intention immediately, as water suddenly rushes out from the fountain and surrounds each and every guard, instantly hardening into solid, thick ice.
Now, I pull Suzette with me, and we begin rushing through the streets at a full sprint, as fast as either of us can possibly muster.
“W-What was that?!” Suzette heaves between breathes.
“Do you have to ask?!”
Her and I continue running, and running, and running; bumping into people left and right, looping, trying our damnedest to escape this city…but still, we are in the inner districts after all.
We…might have no choice other than to be arrested.
But just as the pain in my shoes becomes like stabbing knives, suddenly Suzette and I both trip and fall—rolling and rolling, over…rocks and grass.
At last, I land on my back, and look up at the sky…it’s clear and dark, full of thousands of stars. There’s…no buildings here. No people here.
It’s not day anymore. We’re no longer in Solzédniê.
Soon, a familiar, angry pale face of a softly glowing figure comes over me.
“Do you know how incredibly difficult that is for me to do in this state, Hikaru?!” she barks, but I stare up at her blankly.
Every part of my body hurts terribly. I can barely move, barely speak. Everything’s spinning.
“I knew she was trouble, look what she almost did to you! You would have gone to prison, lost your freedom, lost me, lost everything!”
“Mâ…zjêr,” I mumble hoarsely.
She stares down at me…and to my surprise, tears well up in her eyes. More than I have ever seen from her.
Gently, so much so that it doesn’t seem to be her…gently she lifts me up, and pulls me into an embrace.
“Please…” she says softly, “Don’t scare me like that again.”
“I’ll…try…” I whisper.
Softly she sets me back down on the ground, and sighs.
“Even in spite of this you still love her, don’t you?”
I say nothing.
“Well…” she says, “I am patient. But…be forewarned, once tomorrow comes, every day from then on I will tell you exactly what you can expect, what you shall be abandoning. This is only a small taste. I don’t think I can watch you do this anymore.”
I attempt to nod as the words wash over me, although I am unsure if she can see it.
“I shall be resting for a while, that used up much more out of me than you can realize,” she says. “Nykhte bon, Hikaru.” Good night.
“…Tsiâ mo,” I mumble.
And the night becomes black once more.
For a long while, I lay there quietly, attempting to piece together everything that happened.
Eventually I hear Suzette moan and shuffle, and I lift myself up as well.
Did I somehow bring her with me, or did Maiden Moon deliberately transport her here as well, in spite of everything…?
Perhaps I’ll never know.
“Hikaru…” she whispers, “Where are we?”
“We’re outside the city now. We’re safe.”
“Are they…going to come find us?”
“I doubt it,” I reply. “You didn’t even truly assault her, I’m sure they have real criminals to busy themselves with instead.”
“If…you say so,” she says, voice steadily shaking more and more.
“Sâ…Sâ pshyku…” she mutters, slowly turning my way. “I do not know what came over me, I…I have never been that way in my entire life, I…”
“You have much to be upset about. I understand.”
She looks up towards me; in spite of the darkness, it seems her eyes glisten like jewels…it would be so beautiful, if in this moment they weren’t filled with such sorrow.
“Hikaru…” she says before falling into me, holding her hands into my chest, her loud sobs filling the night air. They are so much, and so deep, occasionally she heaves deeply, hardly able to breath.
I try to remain quiet, as to not add onto her sorrow…but still, I cry with her while slowly stroking her back. Slowly but surely, she falls deeper and deeper into me…
“Twelve years,” she croaks barely audibly, “It was twelve years ago when he left…half a lifetime ago. Half a lifetime…I did not have to be so lonely…that I could have had family…that I…”
“…Sâ pshyku…I’m so, so sorry, Suzette,” I whisper. Although the meaning is genuine, the words feel so empty. I can’t truly express anything to assuage her sorrow. There are no words for it.
“Hikaru, can we…”
“Of course,” I reply before she even finishes her sentence. “This journey is for you, after all. We’ll find him again.”
Slowly she squeezes me ever tighter, and now her sobbing subsides to silent tears. Without thinking, I begin rocking, and she leans so far into me…it almost feels as though we’re one.
“…Mâzjêr vrémond né, Hikaru.”
“It’s truly no problem, Suzette.”
For a time I continue rocking, and after a while, I almost believe I hear her mumble something.
“What was that?”
“It was nothing,” she replies a bit more clearly. “I am just a bit tired, is all…” As I continue holding her, my mind begins wandering…
It almost sounded as though she said… “Lêm sâ tsiâ né, Hikaru.”
But, perhaps I am merely mishearing things…it has been an awfully long day.
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