010 Those Who Watch the Sky - 10

 10 – Children Left Under the Sky 1

~ My earliest memories seem so simple.
My instincts and empty stomach were my only friends.
Then the concept of “human” entered my life.
Two children like me but so different.
They taught me so much but even they could not describe “human” to me.
They were called “icaran” but were still “human”.
Then there were “icaran” who were not “human”.
Then there were so many more who were or were not, even when they should have been the same.
The name given to those who were not though was always the same;
Sa·B·er ~

“Put me down! Put me down you idiot beast!”

Squawk’s demands of Melody to release him had become the norm that morning and she was glad that Link had taken her scabbard back lest she had been struck by it on more occasions than she cared to count. Agitated as Squawk was however being pulled aloft by Melody had been born of necessity as he could not scamper over the jagged earth like Link and Elliot could. Even they needed help on occasion though due to the treachery of the terrain that had separated them from the nun and Cliff. Eventually though they traversed it and the sun was nearing its highest point in the sky when at last they did. At that point Melody was more than glad to oblige Squawk’s incessant demands.

“O~ka~y ~

“Not like that you idiot!”

Too tired to even keep up the wordless song she had been singing since they descended the cliff from which she spotted the nun and Cliff, Melody released Squawk unceremoniously. Fortunately for him Melody did not have much forward moment as she had flown straight up over the edge that at last brought them before the old centaur and nun, but Squawk still fell and tumbled into a heap as he hit the ground of the grassy shelf. Relieved of her charge Melody also fell to the ground and skidded to a stop with her tail pointing straight up into the air while her check nuzzled the ground.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha… ~ I’m so tired even lying down feels comfortable…”

“Don’t you dare fall asleep now you idiot! You have to pay for that humiliation!”

“Oh shut up Squawk! You’ve been moaning all morning and none of us have slept yet.”

“And likely will not for some time yet little lady.”

Pulling herself up and over the edge of the shelf, Link found herself not facing the nāti whose complaints got under her skin but rather the shoed hooves of a grey coated horse. She knew immediately even without the voice that warned her that rest was yet to come that those hooves did not belong to a horse as she recognized her own craftsmanship instantly. Looking up from where she clung to the shelf Link could just make out the centaur’s weathered and aged face smiling down at her under the midday sun. That smile broke the last dam she had in place for her emotions however and she began bawling on the spot.

“Cliff! It’s really you isn’t it It’s really you!”

“My word child, how unseemly you are making such a racket. And look at you, all covered in dirt, soot, and the goddesses know what else. Still though, they and Icarus know I’ve never been so glad to know that you didn’t listen to me. If you had…”

Squatting down and extending a kind hand to Link was none other than the nun who had been the last person from Cross that Link gad seen before the town’s demise. The regret that tinged the nun’s voice however did not weaken the gladness of her smile and Link gladly took her hand. Only Elliot did not receive aid in climbing the shelf but he was more than fine with pulling himself up and taking a seat on the ledge to look back at the ominous clouds that marked where the town of Cross once stood and the woods that surrounded it.

“I wouldn’t worry yourself about it Sister. If anything you should thank that Sa·B·er in red for so piquing Link’s curiosity.”

Pulling out the key he wore around his neck as he spoke Elliot lifted his head wistfully watching the clouds to the north grow ever larger with smoke. The nun desired to give Elliot a frown but the embrace that Link had wrapped her up in while burying her face into her bosom made it a difficult expression to make. It was obvious that the children had gone through quite the ordeal and needed time to cope. All except Squawk it seemed who was more than glad to share his thoughts on the matter.

“The only Sa·B·er I’m looking to thank is the one who’s actually alive and likely to continue keeping me that way.”

“Ha, ha, ha~! Much as I’d like to take all of the credit I really can’t. First off you should know I wouldn’t have waited for you in these Foreigner infested crags if not for that bellowing voice of yours and word of a pet harpy…”

Trailing off as he shifted his attention from Squawk, Cliff leveled Melody with a curious stare. Finding herself to be the center of attention suddenly made the harpy nervous and she jumped to her feet in a blink and started hopping from one foot to the other as she looked about nervously. Link noticed Melody’s discomfort and broke away from the nun and hurried to her side. Skidding to a stop she spun around to face Cliff and the nun and started pulling at her hair as she tried to come up with a way to address the situation.

“Um… So um… This is Melody… and she’s not a pet. She’s mine and Elliot’s friend and has been for the last eight years.”

“Eight years How have you kept a harpy of all things hidden for eight years? I may be aged but I have little doubt I would have heard a harpy’s song clearly on any of my patrols.”

“Admittedly we don’t even know if she is a harpy Cliff. If you’ve noticed only her feet, wings, and tail are like a bird’s and she is otherwise nearly identical to any other icaran. We’ve only really let Squawk call her such to save energy arguing.”

Looking back towards the edge of the shelf to focus on Elliot’s words Cliff and the nun froze as they looked upon him with his blood caked face. The nun moved with a near panic as she ran to up to Elliot and crouched down beside him to examine him as she realized what it was that coated him and Link beyond dirt and soot.

“Master Elliot! –”

Elliot offered the nun a kind and knowing smile and silenced her in an instant.

“It’s fine Sister. Squawk as it turns out is a rather talented caster of healing magic. I’m for certain once I get cleaned up there won’t even be any evidence of where the machine sentry struck me.”

“You healed his wounds young Squawk?”

Rising back to her feet the nun turned her attention onto Squawk who puffed out his chest and scratched at his beak in a display of bashful pride.

“Well, I intended to live through the night and I needed the both of these idiots alive to do so–”

“I’m for certain you felt that way indeed young Squawk, but–“

“Let it go Clover.”

“But Master Cliff!”

The nun, Clover as Cliff called her, looked upon him imploringly but he merely shook his head before nodding at Elliot. His smile not breaking, though wearing a heavy shadow, Elliot nodded in return and drew forth a despondent expression from the nun. Link and Squawk exchanged a curious look but another point was nagging at Link and she put forth a question to have it addressed.

“Um… How come neither of you seem surprised that we fought a machine sentry?”

“Survived a second one you mean. Your pet harpy is the only reason we survived that encounter.”

“Melody is not a pet!”

“Children! This is not the time.”

Silence by Clover, Link and Squawk unintentionally allowed Cliff to speak.

“Clover is right, we’ve stayed here to long already and these crags are fresh with Foreigner parasites. It’d be unwise to stay here.”

“You expect me to walk even more

“Yes Squawk. Besides, little rest as you’ve had it would seem you had quite a bit of aid getting here.”

Slumping over and scratching at his beak Squawk conceded that point.

“Well... yes… I guess I did… But even then what about the two idiots and their bird?”

“It’s fine Squawk.”

Standing up Elliot rested his left hand on the head of his scabbard and strolled across the shelf so that he stood between Link, Melody, and Squawk and the nun and centaur. As he passed Cliff he eyed the two swords that hung from his sides as well as the saddle he wore.

“I have no problem with pressing on, and if need be Link can use Cliff’s saddle.”

“Hey, if you can keep going Elliot then so can I!”

“I’ll use it then! ~

Not wasting a moment at the invitation Melody leapt up into the air with a flap of her wings, a wordless song falling from her lips, only perch onto Cliff’s saddle a moment later without disturbing any of the packs he also wore on his back. The speed with which she moved astounded the entire group and they could only stare dumbstruck as she seemed to promptly fall asleep upon her perch. Eventually Elliot broke the silence with an honest laugh and ended up having to wipe a tear from his eye.

“I guess that’s settled then. Come now Cliff, please lead on and regale us with the tale of how you and Sister managed to survive the night.”

Cliff eyed Elliot wearily but he only had a kind smile for the aged centaur. Sighing quietly with resignation Cliff closed his eyes for a moment before turning his gaze to the Distant Foreigner city in the skies to the southwest.

“Yes, let’s be off.”

Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater


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