Lyra's dark chocolate irises observed me with something resembling pity. She hadn't been the most supportive in the factory; she always yelled at me when I sewed a sequin the wrong way, or when I insisted on taking the night shifts when I clearly couldn't keep my eyes open. Yet despite having put me through everything one could imagine, her crooked nose and bulky arms were the first thing I sought when I needed guidance. I didn't want to hear this from her.

With a taste of dread, realization settled in my turbulent mind. It wasn't my father who was as good as dead, nor Hai. It was me.

I was fired.

My pulse galloped tantivy in my ears, in my throat, all over my quivering fingers as I held my fragile head. The air had left my lungs, leaving me gasping for another breath, another palpitation. I felt as if I would collapse in that dirty Metsuvan tavern and never stand back up. Some sick part of me wished that was the case. It would make things so much simpler.

The shop, the paycheck, the boarding house. My head drowned in my palms. Everything is gone.

Lyra puckered her lips as she watched my trembling frame. "What do you have to say?" she asked.

A sob burbled in my neck as my eyes met hers. Her glance was somber, almost sad. "What am I supposed to send to Kasa? How will I afford the room?"

"There are institutes, Yumi. For—"

"Homeless beggars? They die over there!"

She tilted her head "I don't believe you have the luxury to be picky right now."

"Can't you talk to the manager?" I demanded, my voice yielding to desperation. The tingle overwhelming my nose forecasted tears I was not ready to shed. "Surely there's something you can do! For my family, Lyra."

Lyra chewed on her lip. Her silence was not a pondering one; her jaw was set and the obstinance in her gaze burned every inch of me. She would never change her mind. "I'm sorry, Yumi. I really am." She reached into her pocket, letting a brown pouch drop on the table with a sad jingle. "Go home. Leave this wretched town. You always looked too soft for this place."

Within a lyric of the bard's sonnet, Lyra had vanished.

My bones had turned into steel — no, copper. Cheap, corroded copper that could bent at any moment, leaving me crumpled in Ist Madjara for the rest of my miserable life. My muscles were rubber and my lungs clouded. I could not move or breathe or even blink, and momentarily I forgot I still lived on; a comforting lethe that my frozen limbs fought hard to retain. If I remained still long enough, maybe the world would forget about me, too. Death is much easier when there are no mourners.

Yet the sack before me tempted the oblivion I so desperately craved. The cheap fabric, the terrible color of musty book pages — it was Lyra's wage. A few quellins, but quellins still. The boat to Sehira came twice a season. The captain wouldn't have the heart to charge a jobless peasant much.

Maybe I was silly to blow out a breath and slowly drag the pouch toward me. I knew my father would accept me with open arms and give me any scanty savings he had stashed under his bed. Yet his smile would be bittersweet and his eyes would droop with disappointment, and my heart would never forgive the sight.

The sun had already risen when I walked out of the tavern. Its golden rays washed Metsuva in vibrant colors; peach and magenta, amber and rose, warm hues that soaked into the meager houses and the ragged stone-paved paths. The sunrise had always been rejuvenating to me; it took away the worries of the night, the nightmares and the horrible thoughts, replacing them with the promise of another day, another chance in life.

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