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~Suzette~

༻Chapter 33༺

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"I can’t believe it…” Hikaru says as he sits hunched over his map. “We’re almost to Néis—it’s the last large city before Florêvêr; well, comparatively so.”

“Indeed…” I mutter, mesmerized at the map before us. “This journey, this life we have lived for numerous months, it is quite nearing its end…”

“That just means our new life is about to start,” he smiles, and pulls me close to his side.

“Indeed! Perhaps…” I begin, yet I do not finish.

“Perhaps?”

“I thought perhaps, since this is the last notable town we shall come near to before we reach your house, we should have dinner to celebrate—yet, I know you are not fond of crowds, or—”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” he laughs gently, “You can always at least ask. And to be honest, I would love that.”

“Truthfully?”

“It’ll be our first time going out in the world as— genuinely as husband and wife…”

“It certainly shall,” I grin, and lean even further into him. “The beginning of the life we were always meant to have…”

“It’s taken a while,” he quietly laughs, turning his face so close to mine our noses nearly touch. “Almost thirty years…”

“Thirty, or three hundred—it would be quite worth the wait either way.”

“Absolutely,” he says, just before leaning in for a long, warm kiss under the setting summer Sun.

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Some days pass, until in the distance of this land generally so barren of civilization, we at last come upon more human society—the small “city” of Néis. It is not a dreadfully tiny town, yet in the south it would merely be considered an average size at the very most. I do not mind at all—it is quite quaint enough that, luckily, I believe Hikaru should have little issue here.

He and I enter the town very near to dusk, reflected in the relative emptiness of the cracked, worn streets. The houses are of a bit of a curious type, many quite a bit simpler than what one finds in the south. It would have a strangely comforting aura, if not for the stares given to us by the few people who are out. Of course, such an occurrence is not particularly rare for us; few people look like Hikaru and I…still, it would be untruthful to say it is not mildly unsettling.

After some minutes, however, we happen upon what appears to be the more wealthy area—and, more importantly, we happen upon an elegant looking inn that does not seem to be too extravagant nor too crowded for us.

“Damn it,” Hikaru mutters as we grow close.

“Is all well?” I gaze up to him, concern welling within me.

“Forgot about this,” he whispers, grasping his necklace and hiding it in his robe. “From my memories of this area, and what Oskar told us—”

“I thought we agreed to not worry so terribly…”

“I wouldn’t call basic caution worrying.”

“I suppose not,” I sigh as the two of us walk into the inn.

In spite of dimming day, the lamps at each and every table along with the light colored walls give this place a bright atmosphere even in the evening. I grin widely, holding Hikaru’s hand tighter as we find a small table in the corner to sit at, the chairs quite soft and comfortable even for myself. To my surprise, on the table sits two true menus; ah, so this must truly be for the upper classes after all…

And, once I see the prices, I know it is certainly so.

“Can we afford this?” I ask him softly, and he merely chuckles.

“We nearly have as much money as when we left. I know we’ll be fine.”

“If you do say,” I smile, and then look down at the menu. Immediately, it feels as though I am starving…

Soup and bread, pasta and pierogies, cooked vegetables and meat—to think, once such things were merely a simple, unnoticeable aspect of life! And now, even after the time we spent at Florence’s, such a thing still appears incredibly special. How the world has shifted…

Yet, for this journey we have had—yes, it is but a small price to pay.

Soon a waiter dressed in a simple, yet cleanly pressed suit comes to take our order; mushroom and onion soup with bread for Hikaru, crêpes with berries and cream for myself. Perhaps a tad inappropriate for dinner, yet…

And, to top it all off, he adds on a somewhat expensive sparkling rosé wine.

“My, you truly do wish to celebrate!” I chuckle once the waiter leaves, and there are simply the two of us in this small, cozy corner of the inn.

“Well,” he smiles slightly, and gazes away from myself, “I know it’s probably underwhelming, but—I guess you could say this is our wedding dinner, after all.”

“I suppose it is indeed,” I reply, my face growing quite hot. “It is truly perfect…”

“You think so?” he looks up to me, a tad perplexed, “I know you’re not, well—what someone usually expects of a noblewoman, but still…”

“This is much more than I was anticipating, regardless. And, I would much prefer to spend my feast with my beloved, and not putting on a show for all the world to see,” I add, reaching out to grasp his palm from across the table, softly rubbing it with my thumb. Perhaps it is a tad embarrassing how overly affectionate I am being; but…

Why must one contain such joy? Even with our fears—why must we succumb to them?

I sit there for a moment, gazing into his shining ruby eye, before my gaze shifts to the rest of the inn. I cannot help but notice the other couples, and hope they feel such joy as us—yet after a moment, I notice a bit of an odd group…

A few noblemen sit around a table, numerous bottles of alcohol surrounding them. Not a particularly odd sight in itself, certainly, yet something about their manner just strikes me as incredibly strange. They are all huddled nearby one another, each with a sour look on his face; yet the unsettling thing is they appear to be staring at us, and one man even meets his eyes with mine as I look that way. I swiftly shift dart away my gaze, surely a slightly startled look upon my face. And, when I slyly gaze up again, a different man’s eyes meet mine. I shudder at the attention…

“Are you feeling all right, Suzette?”

“Those men, in the group back there…” I whisper, “They continue to glare at us with quite unfriendly looks…”

At this, Hikaru takes a very deep breath.

“It’s all right,” he says, “I’m here—I’ll make sure we’re all right,” he adds with a smile.

And yet, his manner, as always, reveals all.

Soon, however, the waiter returns with our wine, gently pouring two glasses; and not a moment too soon, the group of men leaves the inn.

“Was that them?” Hikaru asks as the waiter and the men leave.

“Indeed.”

“See, nothing to worry about after all,” he smiles once more with a grin that appears genuine, and I follow suit.

“I suppose so!” I say, lifting my glass to his, clinking the two together before we begin sipping our wine, he a tad faster than myself.

He and I enjoy our drinks, and gently relish in one another’s company, until our delicious dinner arrives. Everything is peaceful and jovial, and almost feels like something out of a dream…although to be truthful, our entire life feels as such. Going on a magnificent journey, encountering so many magical things, and revealing our love along the way—

My, to think, a woman such as myself may live her own faerie tale…

After finishing our dinner and paying our fee, Hikaru and I exit the now quiet inn, into the even quieter, cold evening.

“I cannot believe how chilly it is,” I say, “When in the days it can still become so hot…”

“A sign summer really is nearing its end,” Hikaru says as we continue down the dark, empty streets.

“Y-Yes…” I shiver slightly, not taking particularly well to this new weather.

“Stay close,” he whispers, putting his arm around me and bringing me nearer to his side, warm air soon enveloping us both.

“Mâzjêr né, Hikaru!”

“Of course,” he smiles sweetly, like the gentle moonlight above.

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As we continue onwards, I cannot help but gaze up to the bright Sky, the full Moon shining down upon us. Now that she is not so hostile towards us, I cannot help but just feel…safe, blessed. Whether it be fate or luck, I care not—

I truly believe in the bright future ahead; far brighter than the moonlight, far brighter than the Sun.

He and I reach the edge of the small town, and then proceed onwards into the dark woods ahead. In spite of the pervasive chill in the air, it is peaceful, comforting scene.

That is—until the next thing I realize—

Pain, searing, agonizing, unbearable pain—my shoulder, gashed open and bloody; my back burning and scratched from the ground below.

“Aaahhh!” I shriek, more shrill and piercing than I believed even possible—I breathe swifter, swifter, each becoming more shallow and labored—

All around me my vision fades, and the scene becomes a nightmarish cacophony of screaming, maddening laughter that I can scarcely make out. Only one voice can I make out—

“Suzette!” Hikaru screams, his voice hoarse, sounding just as strained as my own.

“Hi-Hikaru…” I mumble, attempting to sit myself up—but before I can do so, a man lunges himself atop of me, his arms and legs pinning down my own.

I cease to breathe as I can recognize the face, green eyes that disgustingly remind me of my own—one of the men I saw drinking in the inn.

“I know you ain’t much of a looker,” he sneers, “But that’s not worth insulting our Lady for now, is it?”

“Get the fuck off of me!” I attempt to flail and push him away, but it is utterly useless. At this, he takes one arm off of my own…and puts a bloodied knife against my neck.

“Now, now, would you rather be gentle, or rough about this?”

I inhale so swiftly, it feels as though my chest may indeed burst, my heartbeat beating wildly in my ears—the throbbing all across my body, the panic, the worry—the worry—

Is Hikaru all right?!

I almost entirely pass out—yet not before a dirty boot comes and completely caves in the side of the man’s face. He launches away, crashing with a horrific thud into the ground beside me, specks of his blood dappling my clothing and skin.

I gaze up, horror and relief filling me in equal amounts.

It is Hikaru, his face scowling, his robes torn and bloody—and he too holds a dripping red dagger within his hand.

Before I can say a word, he goes around me. I notice now that the previous noise is all but quieted—aside from one last, terrific crunch coming from the direction of where the man landed.

Now I notice it, the steaming hot tears rolling down my face. I begin to shiver—

This is not real, none of this is real! It is a nightmare, it is simply a nightmare—!

Hikaru comes back, and kneels beside me, frowning more deeply than I have ever seen him.

“Hikaru…” I whimper pathetically, the tears only increasing in volume. “I…I—”

“Shh,” he hushes, and sets one of his hands directly upon the gash in my shoulder.

“Gah! W-What—p-please st—"

“…Stay calm, Suzette,” he whispers, and inhales incredibly deeply. “It’ll stop hurting soon.”

I continue breathing heavily, before I feel it…a strange, cool, numbing sensation surrounding the wound. Soon he lifts his hand up, shining red with my blood—and yet, the pain that once shot through my body is now entirely gone. I look over, and notice it…though my clothing is still ripped, the skin is entirely smooth, as though nothing at all had happened. Although my limbs and back are still terribly sore, the stab wound is entirely nowhere to be found.

And then, I hear Hikaru heaving; once I gaze over, I see it—blood pouring from his mouth at an alarming rate.

“Hikaru, what did you just do?!” I sit up, and grab onto him in a frenzy.

“I…I healed you,” he leans over, gargling a bit.

“D-Did that do this to you? You cannot harm yourself for my sake!” I yell, furious at him—

Yes, of course I appreciate it—yet you are not allowed to sacrifice yourself for me, Hikaru—!

I place my hands upon his back, embracing him as he entirely slumps over me, hoping perhaps I can replicate this healing magic, return whatever it is he has done for me—

“You…can’t,” he mumbles, appearing to read my thoughts precisely. “You don’t know…but you shouldn’t…” his words break off for a moment, “For me…anyways…”

“Damn it, Hikaru!” I shriek, and begin frantically looking about ourselves, although the tears in my eyes make everything blurry and unreal. They are hard to make out, but I can just barely see them…the bodies of bloodied and mangled men surrounding us.

I almost posit a question, yet—even more than I do not believe he cannot answer at the moment, or if I truly desire the answer—I believe I already know.

My shaking and breathing grow violent as Hikaru’s body grows heavier and weaker, to the point I am solely holding him up myself.

Now I entirely devolve into sobs, as I am at a loss for what to do; yet I notice it, the soft moonlight above—

“…Maiden Moon!” I shout as I hold Hikaru closer, more tightly, “Please! I—please, if you care for us—care for him at all, please, please just—please do something, Maiden Moon…!”

I lean into him, closing my eyes and crying hard…darkness and despair surrounds me, the cold night air stings my skin like even more daggers. Yet, soon…the environment changes.

Suddenly, there is no more chill night air.

I open my eyes, and no longer are we in the forest, but rather a warm, musty room. Sunlight filters through a torn, translucent curtain, dying the room a faded purplish hue. The room itself is in complete disarray…spiderwebs weaved between the canvases scattered everywhere, some half-finished and others empty, with a few finished works adorning the faded, dilapidated walls. By the windowsill stands a moldy easel, and a table covered with broken pots of paint, amongst the remains of other tools.

“T-This is…”

"The bed—take him to the bed."

I glance over to the wooden bed, somehow still standing well enough. Slowly, through my fatigue and sorrow, I lift Hikaru and carry him upon my back once more, just like that day we met so many years ago. I set him down as softly as I can muster, although the bed releases a horrendous creak. Now in the sunlight, I can see the full extent of the horror—blood, both his own and others, covers him in splotches like paint; in particular, the gashes at his side continue to bleed, and blood continues seeping from his mouth.

“No, no, no, no—” I mutter under my breath, as I proceed to undress him, separating his wounds from the soon to be crusty fabric. I take off his bag and proceed to rummage through it, looking for anything at all I may use as a bandage—and too my great relief, I soon come upon a roll of them within the endless bag.

I bite my lip, and begin my work; taking my flask and a rag to clean off the wounds, and then wrapping the bandage all around his body. Although I am sure it is terribly haphazard, it is the best I know how to do…it is all I know how to do.

As I wrap him up, Hikaru moans slightly; and once I finish, he begins speaking in a quiet, raspy voice.

“Where…are…”

“…We are safe,” I whisper gently, “We are safe now, Hikaru.”

He keeps his eye closed, and winces a bit.

“Nn…”

“Do not move…just rest,” I say, unable to cease the shaking of my voice.

He nods slightly, and gives a hollow sigh.

I step around to the other side of the bed, each step feeling as though stones are tied to my legs. Still…I make it to the other side, and lay upon the bed as gently as I can, attempting not to disturb him.

I look to him from the other side of the bed, his hair pulled back, revealing the scar…and his face, still crumpled in pain. In spite of how pathetic it must be, I find myself whimpering even more with my tears…

What…what has happened?!

Please let this merely be a dream…please let this nightmare end…

This is not how I wanted anything to go.

But there is no fade to black. No gentle voice calling upon my name to wake me up. That brightly shining future, far brighter than the moonlight, far brighter than the Sun…is not reality at all, is it?

I close my eyes, and let the sobs flow freely, stinging my eyes horribly. After a moment, I feel something…a cold, bony hand grasping my own tightly.

“It’ll…” Hikaru says with a faded voice, “It’ll be…all right, Suzette…I’m here.”

“Hikaru…”

“Lêm…L-Lêm sâ tsiâ né, Suzette…”

“…Lêm mo sâ tsiâ né, Hikaru.”

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{We sit together entwined in the dark bedroom, the entire world still in the night—well, almost entirely still.

“It’s okay, Hikaru; please there’s no need to cry…” I whisper, holding the thin man in my arms; but his tears won’t stop.

“I’ve failed you; just like everyone else I’ve ever known, I…I’ve failed you too, Alex…!” he mutters in that deep, soft voice of his.

“You haven’t failed me at all.”

“How can you possibly say that?”

“How have you failed me?”

“I’m—I’m trying so hard Alex, to be happy here…”

I take a long sigh.

“I know Hikaru…I know.”

He truly has done his best—he comes out with me, so much so he hardly leaves my side now. To me, it’s been wonderful—showing him around the golden city, taking him to parties and balls—

But now, I can’t be dense enough not to notice any longer. No matter how much we both try to convince ourselves otherwise…he’s truly not made for a life like this.

“Sâ pšyku vrémond,” I whisper to him, into the darkness that surrounds us.

“For…?”

“This is all my fault,” I sigh, “I knew you didn’t like it here from the beginning, I was just…incredibly selfish.”

“You’ve never been—”

“Don’t make excuses for me, love,” I cut him off. “I was…I ignored you for my own desires, my own greed.”

“Don’t say you’re greedy!”

“You’re lying—you’ve noticed it, I know you must have.”

“I wouldn’t call it greed,” he mutters, “Just—”

“I put my desire for sparkling things and luxury over you; what would you call that?”

He grows quiet.

“You…you don’t think I’m a failure?” he whispers.

“The failure isn’t you, it’s me. Which is why…” I begin with a long sigh, the words momentarily becoming caught at my lips, “Which is why, once I finish my icon of Lady Sun…we’re leaving here.”

“Truly? Are you sure?”

“As serious as I can be!” I chuckle. “I’ve decided, once and for all…you’re more important to me than this city could ever be.”

At this, he holds me even more tightly.

“Mâzjêr né, Alex…!”

“I’m looking at going up north,” I say, “Near the base of Hory Norsh; they say it’s quite peaceful and beautiful up there.”

“Will that be too far away for you?”

“It shouldn’t be, Beaulieu stayed connected with those he needed to.”

“Pšêkse is still closer to Solzédniê than—”

“But it sounds like you quite liked the sound of being so far north.”

He grows silent for a moment, before speaking again.

“You don’t have to—you shouldn’t give up your dreams for me.”

“My dream was to be a painter,” I reply softly, “And I am one, and will remain so. And my other dream…do you know what that is?”

“I didn’t know there was another one…”

“My other dream was to make you happy,” I kiss his head. “For us to have a beautiful, happy life together. I know that won’t happen here, but—do you think it could happen there?”

“…Why are you being so kind to me? Why…why have you always been so kind to me of all people?”

“Do you not believe me when I say I love you?”

“I suppose,” he sighs, “I don’t understand why you do that either, when I’m so…broken.”

“You’re not broken, Hikaru.”

“I can’t fit into society, I’m so weak, I—”

“Have a beautiful, kind heart that has always loved me, even in spite of what I’ve done to you.”

“Alex…”

“I am done with the nonsense,” I say quietly. “From now on…I simply want us to have a happy life together. You and me, in a town that I’m sure will still be beautiful—but hopefully something we can both enjoy.”

“Just us…”

“That’s right.”

Suddenly, with little warning, he comes atop of me, kissing me warmly in the darkness.

“Someday, Alex—someday I’ll repay you for this…for everything.”

“There’s nothing to repay me for!” I laugh, “Just being here is more than enough.”

“No,” he whispers, “I’ll—I’ll make sure you will have the most wonderful life imaginable, we will…I promise I’ll make this worth it for you, Alex.”

I chuckle once more, and pull him close to me, our two bodies feeling like one.

You need not worry about that, Hikaru…with you here, I know our future will be bright. I’m sure of it.}

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