007 Those Who Watch the Sky - 07


07 – Children Cursed by the Sky 4

“Elliot, I’ll take the front.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea Link. We don’t know how efficient Squawk’s spell was and the last thing you need is for your leg to give out fighting a machine sentry.”

“Even on a bum leg I’m still more agile than you are so if it is hostile I’m the better choice for getting its attention.”

“Will you two lovebirds stop arguing and just deal with it already.”

“But Squawk–”

“You heard him Elliot so here goes!”

Taking advantage of Elliot growing distracted by Squawk, who was shaking Link’s scabbard as he chased after the two of them through the burning woods, Link accelerated ahead deeper into the forest. Noticing his folly, Elliot pulled his left hand free of his scabbard just long enough to run it down his face as he sighed. With his exasperation expressed he veered out from behind Link to cut a different path through the woods to flank whatever it was that awaited the three of them ahead.

What awaited Link, Elliot, and Squawk was indeed none other than what they called a machine sentry. Standing near two meters tall the skeletal, mechanical approximation of a human being stood with its mouth wide open revealing an orange gem. The gem was giving off a harsh glow that was growing more intense by the second. Then, without warning the light was discharged as a searing beam of light that cut through trees like a hot knife through butter igniting the felled vegetation. Watching the beam so easily cut through the sturdy trees made Link swallow nervously but she did not withdraw from her course. Her movement did not go unnoticed by the machine sentry however and the robot turned its glowing orange eyes on her.

Organic target identified. Engaging combat protocols.

“Eep?”

Link made a meek sound as the machine sentry raised an arm and aimed it at her. An instant later a bolt of light struck Link in the stomach and stopped her dead in her tracks.

“LINK!”

With eyes widening in terror Elliot changed direction to get to Link but she suddenly started moving again and took cover behind a tree clutching at her stomach and gasping for breath. Elliot was not sure if she was injured or not and did not know what course of action to take next. The machine sentry lacked any such indecisiveness and announced its next course of action.

Verifying target’s shielding efficiency… Engaging main cannon…

“Link! Get out of there! NOW!”

“Well at least we know it’s hostile!”

Though Link laughed as she spoke she took Elliot’s warning to heart and bolted out from where she had taken cover making sure to keep her eyes on the machine sentry. Her dedication to her opponent awarded her with a clear view of the orange gem hidden in its mouth returning to view and taking on the same harsh glow as before. An instant later the beam fired with the robot turning its head in a sweeping motion to direct the beam along Link’s path.  Barely having the time to act Link hurled her body into the air and twisted in a tight spin. Her twisting allowed her to alter her course and as she landed she was facing the sentry directly and bolted forward to face it.

Target mobility classification: High… Preparing to intercept… Laying down suppression fire…

Lifting both arms and leveling them at Link the machine sentry revealed the small orange gems that lined the back of its hands. Not wanting to get caught in its line of fire Link change direction and cut behind a burning tree. The tree proved invaluable cover as the machine sentry opened fire and laid down a hail of bolts of light. As good of cover as the tree provided, engulfed in flames as it was it lacked the integrity to withstand much more of the assault it shielded Link from.

“Enough!”

Distracted by its focus on Link the machine sentry failed to defend itself from Elliot who appeared from its flank and brought his sword down hard against its arms. Unfortunately for Elliot he quickly discovered that, as he had suggested some time back, he could not cut through the machine sentry’s metal body with his sword and bounced back exposing himself to a counterattack. Fortunately for him it just turned out to be a backhand, though the blow caught him square in the face and hurled him across the small clearing the machine sentry had made for itself. Taking the time to attack Elliot however resulted in it ceasing its fire and Link charged out from behind her cover to try her hand at striking it.

“Keep your hands off of my friends you pile of scrap!”

It did not take the machine sentry long to open fire at Link from the arm it still had loosely pointed in her direction but she had been expecting it and dropped to slide between the sentry’s legs. As she slid by she tried striking at its legs but had as much luck as Elliot, though her slide took her outside of any immediate danger and she flipped back to her feet once she was clear. At such close range however the machine sentry could not counter attack with its mouth beam or hand mounted artillery. It did have the advantage of reach however and a direct blow would be devastating. Still, Link persisted in her wild dance about her metal foe putting her sword to desperate work in search of a weak point her sword could leverage.

“Link…”

Supporting himself with his sword Elliot struggled to get to his feet, his vision blurred and fresh blood ran down the side of his head. He failed to gain his balance however and stumbled only to be caught by Squawk.

“It seems you were right Elliot, and what a shame it is. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me though.”

“Squawk… Do you think you can manage another healing spell? Link won’t be able to beat that thing on her own…”

“Unless your intention is to run away it’d be a waste to try seeing how useless you two are against that thing.”

“Then what do suggest Squawk? We can’t defend ourselves from it if we run now.”

“Well my protection spell might be able to help us put some distance between us. It did seem to keep Link mostly unharmed when she took a direct shot.”

“If that’s our best bet then please Squawk, patch me up even just temporarily so we can run.”

“I’m not making any guarantees Elliot. Even I got lucky to get away from the last one. If you two hadn’t crushed it by sheer luck it probably would have cooked me alive.”

“Squawk, that’s it!”

“What now?!”

“If we can just crush it it’ll be over. I may not be able to cut through it with my sword, but these burning trees I just might be able to.”

“I think that blow to your head has done more harm than I thought. But whatever, I’ll try to at least get you on your feet again…”

Engaged in a lethal dance of death with the machine sentry, Link was not privy to Elliot’s plan and was trying to come up with one of her own as she struck with sword and kick both.

[This isn’t working at all. It doesn’t have any weaknesses that I can take advantage of. My sword can’t cut steel and kicking this thing is less effective than kicking a cliff. Makes me wish Cliff or mother were here. I bet either of them have techniques that can cut through something like this. That, or maybe if I could cast magic I could do something. I doubt that Squawk has anything up his sleeve either– wait a second, what was that that he was saying about too much Nectar than a vessel could handle causing it to explode? That would work, but can I even get Squawk to try it?]

With a plan in mind Link tried to balance keeping one step ahead of the machine sentry and pinpointing where Squawk was. It was a trying endeavor and she could feel exhaustion settling into her bones. Gritting her teeth she put in the extra effort needed and managed to spot Squawk tending to Elliot, the sight of which both killed her plans and left her finding renewed strength in growing rage.

“You damn machine! Father didn’t maintenance you so you could hurt the people of Cross. You’re supposed to be protecting us!”

With an angry scream Link brought her sword hard against the metal body of the machine sentry and bounced off just as violently. She was too angry to be stunned however and easily tumbled acrobatically out of the way of the counter attack aimed at her.

[If only I could open my Ambrosial Gate then I could do something about it. But I don’t know what mine feels likes or even how to open it. I only know what the artificial one of the Plant feels like and– ]

A wide-eyed look of sudden realization came onto Link’s face and she looked at the attacking machine sentry anew.

[Of course, that would have to be how it works. An autonomous machine like this would have to be being fed Nectar from the plant because it’s way too small to hold an Artificial Gate Generator to power it. Then that means I should be able to recognize it and if I can draw Nectar from it if it feels anything like Sqauwk’s spells…]

“Alright you heap of scrap, you’re mine now!”

A massive smile spread across Link’s face and she suddenly bolted past the machine sentry and out of range of its hand mounted artillery. The machine sentry simply found this an invitation to fire its main cannon and its mouth opened revealing the orange gem hidden within.

Target retreating… Engaging Main Cannon…

“That’s right, show me what you’re made of you piece of scrap.”

“Link! NO!”

Hearing the declaration from the machine sentry, Elliot stepped away from Squawk as the nāti’s spell took effect and watched in helpless horror as Link did not even try to throw off the robot’s aim. Then with a flash the beam fired.

“That idiot!”

Squawk shouted in disbelief that Link would be so careless but she was being even more reckless than he imagined. A split second before the beam fired she spun around mid-step to face the sentry with a broad smile on her face. Had things went as she planned the beam would just graze her and hopefully Squawk’s protection spell would mitigate most of the damage. Things did not go as planned though as a white shadow rushed out of the burning woods behind her and took her clear out of harm’s way.

“Li~nk! ~I don’t know what you’re thinking, but whatever it is I don’t know if standing in the way of that is a good thing ~

“Eh?!”

Link tried to get a look at what had grabbed her and spoken in so cheerful a voice as though to be singing but was suddenly dropped in front of Elliot and Squawk. Scrambling to her feet she easily ignored the stunned looks on her companions’ faces and tried to spot the white shadow again. She did not have to look any further than the machine sentry that was trying to kill the lot of them to find the white shadow again but it was the black clawed bird talon large enough to crush a man’s head that fully caught her eye. Emerging from the white shadow the terrifying claw descended from above the machine sentry and did not grab it, but instead tore straight threw it, rending metal and the rubber and plastic internal components both. As the talon reached the ground and the white shadow landed and shrunk in size tremendously, the machine sentry fell in two and crashed, sparking, harmlessly to the ground.



Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater

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