*Note: The prologue is now Chapter 1, bumping up every chapter by one number. Sorry for any confusion.
Chapter 3.3 (The Stars Shuddered, Pt. 3)
Who else would be at Hawthorn’s tower at this time of night?
“Hello?” said a small, girlish voice. “Are you there, Hawthorn?” Malachi recognized the child’s voice immediately but had trouble identifying her by name. Her sound echoed and pulsed through the silent chamber. Malachi slid into the shadows, silently, his eyes bulging with unease.
“Hawthorn? It’s Fiona. I’m from the village,” her voice was airy, discontent.
Malachi drew a heavy breath in, but couldn’t seem to let go of it. He remembered her. He’d seen her just hours ago, playing games with the other children at the Moon Dance.
“The power’s all gone out. At the dance, I mean. Everyone was wondering where you were… so you could, you know, make it right...” She paused. “Hawthorn?” She was pacing now, looking into each of the rooms.
Fiona was the very least of the villagers, from the poorest of poor families. She came out of her little wooden home every day, hands still filthy with the marks of the past day’s work, and be sent out to harvest crops in a place Malachi had only heard of, but never seen: the plains of Vagor. They’d sent her deep into the wood like a pig to slaughter, knowing it wouldn’t matter if she never found her way home in the dark of the wood.
“Hawthorn?” Fiona called again.
She was different than the rest of the workers, whose pale reflections shone brilliantly in the sunlight while they worked. Instead, her skin was golden brown since birth—the old women sometimes joked that she’d had her own personal sun with her in the womb.
“Where are you?”
The shadow of Fiona’s short, skinny body grew larger as she approached the doorway. She wore a lacey white dress and a blue bow in her sunkissed hair. Malachi glanced over, his mouth full of unsatisfied air, resisting the urge to expel his oxygen and draw attention to himself. Fiona stood vacantly in the darkness until the moonlight finally caught Hawthorn’s beaten face.
Fiona’s eyes glowed with surprise. She scurried to his side with a gasp and fell to her knees, speechless. Her mouth opened up like a cave, and a tear rolled silently down her cheek. Wind began to beat violently against the fragile windows like persisten demons as she wept. “Who’s done this to you?” she said softly, her voice shaky. “What monster did this?”
Malachi felt the pocket of air pressing urgently against his pursed lips. His lungs were reaching up to his throat, burning, hissing. He couldn’t let go now.
Fiona wept delicately, combing her shaking fingers through Hawthorn’s greasy, bloodied hair. She leaned against his body in mourning and kissed his wrinkled face, her tears uniting with the spattered blood dotting his chin.
As Malachi’s eyes bulged in suffocation, Fiona began to sing, like a mother to her child, the Moon Dance hymn.
Aida ma venti
Quis vox lu-
Like a breaking dam on a raging river, a rush of air burst from Malachi’s tight lips. He heaved and gasped for breath, unable to contain himself, suddenly feeling very small and very vulnerable.
Fiona screamed. In the scarce moonlight, all Malachi could see was her crumpled face, shrieking in pain, longing, mourning, wet with her own tears.
“Please be quiet—” Malachi insisted weakly. She screeched louder. He covered her mouth with his palm, but she ferociously lifted his hand away and yelled painfully into the night, so even the stars shuddered at the sound.
Fiona's cry penetrated the still, steady air like a double edged sword. The people would hear her—Malachi knew it. His life was over. He gazed anxiously out the window, wondering if a herd of men were on their way now, seeking out the girl’s cry. Malachi crouched on the ground against the stone wall, shielding his eyes with filthy, blood-ridden fingers. Fiona’s shriek grew weaker, but was still pulsing. She screamed as long as it took for the starlit sky outside to grow just the slightest shade lighter, closer to the cosmic aura of the constellations.
She fell, her cry drowning out at last. Fiona’s arms lay limply on the floor, her little face quivering, her eyes finally closed.
Malachi ran, stradling over the two bodies strewn across the floor. Thrusting the door open and leaping down the steps, Malachi ran to the forest, the shadow of Hawthorn's tower dancing on the ground he ran on. The forest was black, misty and dangerous; he didn't care. Malachi ran on.