*Note: This used to be Chapter 2.2, in case anyone was confused.
Chapter 3.2: The Stars Shuddered Pt. 2
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“Trista… Trista!” Someone knocked hurriedly on the door. “Trista, it's time to change out of your nightgown—Moon Dance is in one hour!”
Trista hated the persistent sound of her mother’s voice calling out to her, like she was still a little girl who couldn't care for herself “Trista, do you hear me?”
“I’m coming, Mum.” Sleepily, Trista rolled out of her bed and stepped indelicately onto the worn floorboards. She’d slept the morning away, then taken a walk in the woods, and spent the late afternoon reading from a box of old fairy tales she’d heard when she was younger. All in all a restful way to spend the holiday.
“Put your dress on and make your way to the washroom so I can fix your hair. NOW.”
A blossomy, pinkish dress hung grandly in the corner, taunting her like the school boys did when she was little. It was marvelous, the tailor’s finest, framed with little golden specks and made of the finest material--and only to be worn once per year at Moon Dance. Yet looking at her gown gave Trista a sickening feeling at the thought of putting it on. The boys and men only needed to don an acceptable pair of trousers and a collared shirt— why should the women need wear such formal and uncomfortable dresses?
Rolling her eyes, Trista took the dress in her hands and placed it on her sagging bed, then undressed and pulled the gown over her head. It squeezed her skull like a snake as she slid the knit fabric onto her roughened body, which resisted the clenching pull of the tight satin.
“Trista, I haven’t got all day!” her mother called impatiently from the washroom.
With reluctance, she tied a white bow tautly round her waist—it nearly came up short. She’d have to tell her mother she’d need a new dress for the next summer.
Yawning, Trista opened the door. Her two younger sisters playfully darted around their little living space, chasing each other with their mother’s brushes and combs. An eager hand pulled Trista quickly to the washroom. She met her mother’s stern, piercing green eyes. “You’ve slept the day away, haven’t you?” she snapped, repulsed at her daughter's unkempt appearance and retying the bow around her waist in a perfectly delicate knot.
Briskly, she pulled a black brush through her knotty hair. A clump of reddish-brown locks lay rejected on the floor beside her, growing larger with each stroke.
“Now Trista,” began her mother, pulling recklessly on the remaining strands of hair hanging from her head. “This year’s Moon Dance is an important one.” Trista had seen this dreaded conversation coming since last summer, when the girls a year older than her had spent their Moon Dance trying to woo the boys from the capital city who came because there weren't enough rich girls to marry all of them.
“There will be young men from the capital city in the Upper State at the celebration. There are few of them, and many young girls to join them when they return home next month.” She began to vigorously pull at sections of Trista’s hair, braiding it into a tidy pattern atop her head.
“Be kind, be graceful, be prudent, be polite, and most of all…” She stole a glance at Trista’s necklace, the one Malachi had given her at the last Moon Dance celebration. “Don’t be yourself.” With a final tug at her braids, she spun Trista’s chair round and shooed her off.
Trista paced back to her bedroom. The sun was setting and the dance would soon begin. But for once, she didn’t want to go. If what her mother had said was true… and if she were to disobey her mother’s suggestion… a much worse fate could await her than marrying a rich city boy.
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Purple liquid bubbled grossly on the ground beside Hawthorn’s limp, defeated corpse. A great knot began to tie itself up in Malachi’s stomach—folding, pulling, wrenching, shaking. He felt like he might vomit. The wells in his eyes teemed with tears, but beneath his sadness he wanted nothing more than to punish Hawthorn for the crime he'd committed. Suicide was taboo in Vagor, the most dishonorable death one could die. The only man he’d ever trusted, dead by his own doing. Tomorrow there would be newspapers delivered all over Vagor reading: LOWER VAGOR PROTECTOR HAWTHORN, FOUND DEAD ON 302nd MOON DANCE. The public would talk and gossip--some would even rejoice. Very few men and women, the old ones who’d grown up in the 3rd Age, would quietly mourn the news in their homes, then die off themselves in a few years, leaving Hawthorn’s legacy to be forgotten. The others would laugh, spitting on his vacant tower, burning it to the ground. The city folk wouldn’t care—but atop their highest towers, capital officials would find themselves in secret distress. For they knew of the power Hawthorn took to the grave and the threat his death imposed.
Malachi grimaced at the rotting body on the ground. The deepest part of him hungered for justice, and within him rose a monster, who suddenly hated the man who lay before him.
“Coward!” he yelled, his call echoing yonder. “You bloody old coward!” A tear crept sluggishly from his reddening eyes and joined the pool of purple liquid on the ground. With a heaving yell, he thrust his foot mercilessly into his teacher’s side, then again, again, and again, til a trail of poison and blood streaked the floor. Malachi knelt and wept before him. Hawthorn’s mouth hung open like a cave, his eyes shut in solemn loss.
When Malachi thought of having a father, he thought of Hawthorn. His entire life was centered around his wise teaching, his elegant ways. What had he done to deserve this?
He curled a shaking fist, breathing heavily, tears falling generously onto the ground, and thrashed at Hawthorn’s throat like the madman he’d suddenly become, all the while screaming in painful sadness. Hawthorn's skin ripped open at Malachi's violent touch and poured out a river of stagnant blood, staining the floor.
“I trusted you, Hawthorn,” he muttered. “I TRUSTED YOU!” He knocked out his dead teacher’s long, finger-like teeth and fell backwards, his fist carved with the marks of Hawthorn’s jaw.
He shifted away from the body like it had suddenly come alive, redeeming his consciousness and sanity, realizing what he’d done. “I’m mad,” he said through tired breaths. “I’m mad or I’m in some god-awful nightmare.” His fingers were tinted crimson like the floor he knelt on.
Malachi froze. Someone had opened the downstairs door.