A lone woman sat at a table in a pub that had gotten respectively busy within the past few hours. She seemed perfectly intent on just listening to the people around her while she blended into her environment. She sipped tenderly on a cup of coffee that didn’t have an ounce of sugar or cream mixed in, and a soft smile crossed her face.
On her right, the bartender watched her with piqued interest. He thought it was a rather strange drink choice given the fact that it was only an hour away from midnight. People who arrived at this time of night usually drank so they could forget the day, not drink something that would keep them awake for the rest of it. Normally, he wouldn’t have even bothered to make a fresh pot for the night. It would waste time that he simply didn’t have for a Friday night. But the woman had asked so politely and with such an earnest expression that he made one pot just for her without any fuss. Even though the bartender hated to admit it, or at least in front of his wife, the woman’s beauty might have twisted his arm slightly.
It would have been a disservice to the woman if he simply said she was beautiful. Beautiful was simply a word that provided a vague description of what was truly captivating about her. She had long, dark-brunette hair that cascaded down her shoulders to dip just below her shoulder blades. The hair produced a shine that seemed nearly impossible in such a dimly lit bar. It was as if the light danced to her, to announce to the entire world where she sat – and its magic worked perfectly.
Her eyes were those of a forested vale that men flocked into only to get lost within and never resurface. Her smile beckoned these poor men toward her eyes, as it held a touch of innocence that most people around these parts had long forgotten.
The last thing he took notice of the woman, one that only the bartender discovered, was the fact that such a beautiful woman sat by herself in his bar. His bar was busier this night compared to most nights, yet not a single bachelor dared to encroach on either of the two empty stools beside her.
The bartender liked to believe that if he wasn’t working tonight, he’d be the one who dared a chance, but deep down he knew it was only an excuse. He knew he was just like the other timid sheep who didn’t dare wander too close to the wolf.
“Are you certain we are going to find someone here tonight, Kara?” asked Lucas, who grew more impatient by the moment. “We’ve been sitting here for hours, and I’m sick of smelling flat beer and the deep-rooted depression that lingers on these small-city folks.”
Kara took another sip of her coffee, which was better than she expected for a hovel like this. The coffee wasn’t watered down in the slightest, and the bitter taste of it lingered nicely on her tongue. Kara placed her cup on the table and muttered a response, hardly moving her lips so as to not bring attention to herself, “It’ll happen soon enough. Just relax and enjoy yourself.”
The voice scoffed defiantly and spoke with an irritation that grew with each passing word, “I hate it when you’re vague like that. Can’t you just give me a time already? I’ll take anything you can give me. You know, like a minute from now, five minutes, or hell, I’d even take an hour. It’s boring to just sit here like this when we all know what’s about to happen.”
“Will you shut up already, Lucas?” said a voice filled with resentment. “When has Kara ever been wrong? It’s not like you have some place you absolutely have to be.”
“Catherine…Lucas…” said Kara, trailing her finger around the rim of the cup. Kara spoke in her normal tone that wasn’t aggravated in the slightest, but simply a patient one that had grown long accustomed to their bickering. “I’m not omnipotent. I can’t say exactly when it’s going to happen, nor do I know if it’s going to happen at all. Let’s just sit back, listen to the music, and get lost in our moment of peace.”
Both voices quieted, and a faint smile appeared on Kara’s face. She closed her eyes for a moment to shut out everything that surrounded her. The voices that fluttered about the bar dimmed as she did so, and for that single moment, the voices within her disappeared as well. The only thing that remained was the music. It was a moment of peace that captured her, as the rough sound of the piano rocking her soul and the angelic vocals lulled her to a state of peace she hadn’t felt in years.
It almost pained her as the music that blazed across the bar speakers quieted, bringing her back to the real world. However, it wasn’t only the music that quieted, but the entire bar had hushed in eager anticipation. The bar was so quiet Kara could hear the knocking of stiletto heels tapping across the wood floors. It pronounced the owner’s very existence to the bar – one that demanded their attention. The knocking crept closer to Kara until it appeared at her side, unveiling the sight of a young girl.
The newcomer’s steps held more weight than they should have for someone of her age. Her face was hardened by the troubles of life, and her long, blonde bangs almost trailed over her eyes, as if they were shielding her from the horrors that still waited for her. Despite this, the young girl stood tall and straight as she walked forward without any falter in her step.
Her feet carried her up the steps leading to a stage that took residence at the back end of the bar. She took a seat on a small stool placed silently next to a single microphone. It wasn’t until then that Kara noticed the polished black guitar case the girl carried. When the young musician took out the instrument, Kara immediately saw the countless scratches and scrapes that littered the acoustic guitar. Each mark told a tale of the time and dedication the musician had sunk into the instrument, as if she’d engraved the entirety of her soul within it. The markings held more flash and style than a new guitar could ever have.
The musician leaned forward so her untarnished cherry lips nearly touched the microphone, and even though she spoke softly, the microphone carried it so the entire bar could hear, “My name is Lyra Jones, and this is ‘Empathy.’”
Lyra strummed a single chord on her guitar that immediately grabbed at Kara’s heart. The second seized it from her chest, then the following chords gently cradled it back and forth in nearly a motherly manner. It wasn’t until Lyra sang that the warmth and love that only the truly kind could provide enveloped Kara. It felt like a warm wind on a chilly spring day that danced around Kara, only to remind her that summer would soon arrive.
The once rowdy bar stayed silent, their eyes fixated on Lyra, whose piercing voice captivated them. However, Lyra’s eyes didn’t meet theirs. Lyra’s eyes were only meant for her guitar. Eyes that carefully watched and counted each tug her fingers made against the strings of their hearts. Her breath exhaling and inhaling with each pluck. Lyra’s playing was rough, and it hardly resembled the perfection that currently infected the radio.
Lyra’s music reflected the troubles and hardships that all humans faced. It called out to them to simply let them know they weren’t alone. Her voice resonated with anyone that bothered to listen, and once they opened their ears to her, they couldn’t help but listen. Lyra didn’t need to meet their eyes to tell them this, nor did she need to talk to them directly. She simply needed to leave her heart bare as she sang.
When Lyra finally finished, and her sky-blue eyes that harnessed the stage lights met the audience, Kara exhaled deeply, as if she had forgotten to breathe all this time. The silence that began after the first song only lingered for a moment, then all at once, people erupted in thunderous applause. Lyra let loose a wide grin for their acceptance, and with a single movement of her hand to the guitar, the entire crowd silenced themselves once again. Their full attention was stolen by the slight movement of her hand, as if it was a command for their silence.
“My goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve heard something like this,” said Catherine as she hummed along to the tune currently floating about them. It was a more cheerful one that was absolutely perfect for dancing.
“Yes, it was nearly worth all the waiting,” agreed Lucas. “But we simply didn’t come here to listen to a few good songs.”
Catherine hissed at Lucas, “A few good songs? This is magnificent! You can hear the dedication and the hours she poured her very being into her art. How can you belittle it like that?”
Although Kara couldn’t see Lucas, she felt like his next words were followed by a shrug, “Overreacting much? It’s not like I said she was bad. I merely stated the fact that we still haven’t done our job yet.”
Kara chuckled. “That’s where you are wrong, Lucas. Who said we didn’t come here for this exact reason?”
There was a silence that stayed between the three of them. It stayed for a good long moment until Catherine broke it. “No, she’s far too young.”
“Age has nothing to do with it,” said Lucas grimly. “You should know that better than anyone.”
Kara nodded in agreement. “Lucas is right. There is nothing we can do about it. Our job is only to collect when it’s all over. And remember, Catherine, we don’t know what will truly pass when it’s all said and done.”
“You say that, but you’ve never been wrong in all the years I’ve known you,” said Catherine. Her voice held a resemblance of defeat, as if she had no doubt that her words were true.
Lyra continued her performance throughout the night. There wasn’t a single person who left the bar during her set. Perhaps it was Lyra’s testament as a musician, but they were also the best sort of audience. The crowd danced to the songs that commanded them to do so, and on the songs that told a story, they sat on their chairs with bated breath, waiting to hear how it would end. When the story finally ended, and Lyra slowly moved to put her guitar back into her case, the crowd stood with their applause, some even whistling their approval.
Lyra didn’t bow to them, nor did she call out to them.
She gripped her case with both hands and clutched it close to her chest, nearly shaking. Lyra once again smiled, almost beaming at them, and mouthed words no one could hear.
Lyra then simply left the stage and exited the bar without a fuss. She left an emptiness with each soul her music touched that night. Some just stood for a moment and looked at each other, not knowing what to do with themselves, as if they had lost something that could never be found.
“What do you think she said?” asked Catherine.
Kara took out her wallet and left a generous tip for the bartender. For a single cup of coffee, it was more than kind. Kara stared at the stage that still held the shadow of the young girl who still stood on the stage looking at her crowd. Her smile still ever present, although she had long since left.
“She said please listen again,” said Kara as she turned her back to the stage.
The crowd, for the most part, still stayed where Lyra had abandoned them.
Kara left the bar. It was now a couple of hours past midnight, and the streets were eerily bare.
Catherine felt the need to ask where they were going, but she already knew the answer.
Kara took a different path than had previously brought them to the bar. This path led them down dark alleys that the street lights didn’t touch, and ones most residents knew not to take.
Lucas, who was eager to get their job over and done with, now missed the sound of the bar. He thought the silence between them was maddening. He opened his mouth only to close it. Lucas knew it wasn’t the time for idle banter.
It was the time to mourn the dead.
In the corner of a building flickered a light that both hid and revealed the horror that now laid next to Kara’s feet. Lyra’s dead body lay silently on the street. Her guitar case was still at her side, and even after death, her left hand still gripped the handle, refusing to let go. Lyra’s once long bangs that shielded her from the horrors of the world were now swept aside. Her eyes eternally open, without the ability to close on their own.
Catherine was the first to speak. She didn’t bother to hide the disappointment in her voice. “See, I told you so, you’re never wrong, Kara.”
“Shut your mouth, Catherine!” spat Lucas.
Kara knelt toward Lyra. She placed her hand right above Lyra’s chest, as if she was praying, then muttered words that were nearly a whisper. Afterward, Kara leaned forward, and using her fingers, closed Lyra’s eyes for the last time.
Kara stood from Lyra’s body then looked back down the alleyway, almost as if she was expecting something, when the clattering of heels echoed throughout the alleyway. The same heels that once walked down the wooden floor of the bar and announced their arrival. The noise increased in volume with each passing second until Lyra appeared around the corner. However, it wasn’t Lyra, for Lyra had already passed from this world. It was almost as if it was Lyra’s shadow; but unlike a shadow, Kara could see the flowing blonde hair of Lyra fluttering about and she could see every emotion on her face.
It was pure horror mixed with a dash of desperation.
“I hate this part,” said Catherine as she watched the scene play out before them.
Lyra scrambled against the walls, trying to find some hidden exit, while they constantly looked past her shoulder – looking for something that would most certainly come.
A second pair of feet floated somberly into the alleyway that were hidden politely by a trench coat that trailed along the ground. The man had a hat whose rim was brought well below his eyes to hide them and most of his face. His hands were deep into his pockets, but Kara could see the trace outline of something that reeked of death from the right. Lyra backed up against the wall, hoping to make herself as little as possible to somehow avoid the man’s gaze. However, there was nothing that could hide her from this man. This man came here to do one thing – and he wouldn’t be denied.
The man trailed over toward Lyra without saying a word, and he did so without any hesitation in his steps.
Lyra shook her head vigorously, as if denying a truth that was too painful to hear. Her once lovely voice was now wracked with fear, and she screamed out as if he wasn’t only a few feet from her, “No! You have to give me more time! I promise I’ll get your money!”
Lyra’s pleas didn’t stop the man. He just simply continued toward Lyra, who continued to shake her head. Tears now formed beneath her eyes.
“There has to be something I can do. If you kill me, you’ll never get any of it back!” Lyra shouted at him as if she hoped her words could stop him.
The man would not be stopped.
“Stay back!” Lyra held her free hand in front of her in one last desperate attempt to protect herself. “Why is this happening? It’s too soon. Please, I’m begging you! I’m so close!”
Her voice trailed as the man lifted his right hand from his pocket. In his hand he held a single pistol, and before Lyra could even try to continue to beg for her life, a single flash of light illuminated the alleyway. The light shot through Lyra and left with her life. Then came the thunderous sound of the gun that Lyra didn’t even hear as the bullet found her heart, which killed her instantly. Lyra fell to the ground with a nearly silent thud, and her killer simply turned away without saying a word or taking a moment to enjoy his work.
Kara’s eyes stayed on the man as he disappeared. Kara knew he was already long gone, and most likely he had already returned home. He slept with dreams void of nightmares from his victims – a satisfaction that only came from a job well done.
Kara knew it wasn’t her place to seek vengeance for the dead. She knew it wasn’t even her duty to bring this man to justice.
Kara knew all these truths, but she still couldn’t help herself for hating the man. A man who found it all too easy to take the life of another, to end an entire existence, to steal all their possibilities, only because it was his job.
Kara took one deep breath, then turned her eyes back to Lyra, who stood patiently waiting for her. And much to Kara’s surprise, it was Lyra who spoke first. “I remember you. You watched my show.”
Kara nodded at these words.
“Did you enjoy it?” Lyra asked innocently.
Kara nodded once again, but this time she smiled at Lyra. She placed one hand on her hip and waved the other in the air, then spoke with a voice that held no lies. “It was the best I’ve heard in years. You should be proud of yourself.”
Lyra looked on the verge of tears with these words, but she quickly raised her own hand to wipe them away.
“Will you tell me something?” asked Lyra, who seemed to regain her composure.
“If I can,” said Kara.
Lyra placed her hands behind her back and placed her head slightly to the side. “Who were you talking to during my set? I noticed it a couple of times while I was playing.”
Kara chuckled. “And here I thought you were in your own world the entire time.”
Lyra shook her head. “I’ve been told that, but my eyes always wander to my audience. I love to see the faces of my fans as I play my music. You listened with unwavering attentiveness, but I thought your eyes looked sad during my entire set, so I noticed you more than the others. It was slight, but I saw your lips moving, talking to someone I couldn’t see.”
“Fair enough,” said Kara plainly. She then looked into herself and spoke out, “Do you two want to come out to introduce yourselves?”
Lyra looked toward the corner of the alley, expecting someone to appear, but much to her surprise a single, nearly transparent foot stepped out from Kara’s body. The foot leaned forward as if it was steadying itself, and soon a young woman with cherry hair emerged from Kara.
Catherine smiled gently toward Lyra and waved merrily at her. “Hi, there! Your music really resonated with me. It’s like it –”
Before Catherine could finish her sentence, a second person jumped out of Kara, as if he’d jumped from a cliff.
“Will you stop with the brown-nosing already? The girl can sing, it doesn’t mean you should worship the very ground she stands on like a complete ass,” said Lucas venomously.
Kara, seeing the look of bewilderment on Lyra’s face, motioned to each of them. “These two are like you. People who have lost their lives far too early for anyone’s liking.”
Lyra took a step from Kara. “Is that why you are here? To collect me? Are you an angel or something?”
Lucas snickered more loudly than he should have, and Catherine shot him a look of pure contempt.
Kara crossed her arms and thought for a moment. She spoke with an exasperated voice that only came from a person who had long grown tired of explaining something. “I wouldn’t say I’m an angel, but that hasn’t stopped people from calling me that in the past. I’m a remnant from a time the mortal world has long forgotten.”
Kara paused, then looked questioningly at Lyra. “Tell me, have you’ve heard of a Valkyrie before?”
Lyra shook her head.
Kara raised her arms above her head, then let loose a small chuckle. “I knew it! However, just because I’m something forgotten doesn’t make me not true. You’ll have to believe that I am what I say I am. My name is Kara. I’m from a long line of Valkyrie charged with the task of gathering strong souls, like yourself.”
Lyra pointed to herself. “Strong? Me?”
“Is there any doubt?” exclaimed Kara. “You have the gift to bring joy to others with your music. You can touch them in ways that simple words could never hope to accomplish. For the few seconds you play, you take away all their sorrow and bring them into the world that makes them forget their own. If that isn’t strength, then what would you call it?”
The tears returned to Lyra’s eyes almost instantly. Her voice cracked as her next words quaked from her lips. “Do you really think I’m that good?”
Kara gave Lyra a smile that tugged at Lyra’s heart. “I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”
With one single motion, Kara lifted her hand out toward Lyra. Her hand was outstretched, beckoning Lyra to reach out to accept its warmth. Lyra’s hand moved instinctively toward Kara, and it grabbed Kara’s hand without any hint of faltering.
Lyra’s soul let loose a bright light that trailed throughout the alleyway, and when it faded, Lyra had disappeared.
“The sweet talker as always,” muttered Lucas.
“It worked on you, didn’t it?” Kara raised her eyebrow toward him and gave him a sly smile. “Now come on, the both of you. We have other souls we have to save.”
It was so quick that Kara barely noticed, but Catherine quickly reached out to grab Lucas’s hand, then dragged him back into the Valkyrie who’d collected both their souls.
Kara felt a certain anxiety from Lyra as she tumbled about nervously within her. Kara placed her hand onto her heart and whispered to Lyra, “Rest now. Gods know you’ve earned it. When you’re ready, I’ll explain everything to you.”
Lyra fell silent with Kara’s words, and any doubt within Lyra’s soul disappeared.
Kara let loose a small sigh and stretched her arms toward the stars. She heard the beckoning of many souls calling her own. Souls that were in pain and needed to be guided to their rightful place; but more importantly, ones that needed her help.
A small yawn escaped Kara’s mouth, and she gently rubbed her eyes. Although Kara had a duty, she thought it wouldn’t hurt to get some sleep first, and if Kara was lucky, maybe she’d get Lyra to sing her a sweet lullaby.
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