011 Those Who Watch the Sky - 11
11 – Children Left Under the Sky 2
Perhaps Cliff wanted to focus on the journey at hand or did not believe the tale of his and Clover’s escape bore much reason to be told as he remained silent as he led the now group of six across the crags born of the Foreigner city’s unusual descent. Melody having perched upon the saddle Cliff had donned upon his equine half drew forth jealousy and discontent out of Link and Squawk though Link tried to tough it out as Elliot uttered not one complaint about staying awake. In fact, staying awake seemed inconsequential as rest was plentiful to be had upon the journey they set out upon.
Though some five hundred years past the devastation left by the Foreigners and the insistence of the Cardinal Church that mankind not forge nations assured that it would be days long past before the group would again find civilization. In this time Clover demonstrated the ability to summon water through magic allowing the group to not fear thirst as well as cleanse themselves of the horrors that had befell them and resulted in their current course. Food on the other hand was a greater challenge as the freshly formed crags gave way to the desolate wastes that was typical of the space between human habitations. Fortunately Cliff’s experience and Melody’s instincts mitigated the worst fears of starvation and Link and Elliot were quick to learn putting their sword to use to fill their bellies.
The journey itself though was not enough to keep the younger members of the group sated however as the question of what happened to their home still haunted them. Clover though with all of her patience and might tried to keep their needs for answers at bay as Cliff insisted it was for the best. Playing at her role as an educator Clover attempted to keep them distracted with academics and it was soon revealed that Melody had perhaps more literally learned the contexts of the books that Link snuck out to her than any other in the group. All that saved Link, Elliot, and Squawk from humility was Melody’s preference for keeping things simple. Still it was not enough and the children yearned for answers.
One morning many days from where the town of Cross once graced the face of Icarus, Link’s patience grew thin and she took up step beside Cliff fidgeting with her hair with her free hand, her other holding the strap of her scabbard so that the weapon within stayed against her shoulder.
“Hey Cliff? Don’t you think it’s been more than enough days since we asked?”
“Asked what little lady?”
Cliff did not look at Link as he asked the question and considering she barely stood too above the shoulders of the centaur’s forelegs it seemed as though he was deliberately avoiding the question. Pouting Link upped her pace and spun around to walk backwards in front of the Centaur.
“The whole deal with the machine sentries. I know father never would have repaired them if he knew they were going to attack the people of Cross.”
A heavy sighed blew forth just before Cliff turned his eyes to the sky and the distant Foreigner city that drifted with the clouds. Looking away did not save him from Link’s fussy gaze however and he knew he would have to address her. The prospect did not please him however and he sighed again before clicking his tongue.
“Tell me little lady, your memory has always been spectacular, has it not?”
“Well, I’d say so. There really isn’t anything I can’t remember if I put my mind to it.”
“Hmm, is that so?”
“Perfectly, like I remember the question I just asked you.”
“Not particularly impressive.”
“No, but relevant.”
“Is it now…?”
“You might as well give up Link. Cliff has been steadfast in his silence for some time.”
Elliot offered Link a smile from further back and though she turned her pout onto him it did not last as there was little doubt that he was not well. He had grown pale over the last few days and the dark circles under his eyes spoke of an exhaustion that did not match the group’s efforts to cross the face of Icarus. For all of Link’s efforts he did not speak of what it was that ailed him and complained not in the slightest. He instead pushed on without a complaint doing his part as best he could. Still, Link did not feel right leaving him alone and made sure to keep a constant eye on him save when she slept. Watching him suffer with a smile on his face though left a pit in her stomach that she could not ignore and as concern found its way into her features his smile simply became softer and kinder. Not wanting to face that smile any longer Link spun around and resumed walking forward as she tried to put on a haughty air.
“I’ll try if I want to Elliot. I’m not one to give up after all.”
“No Link, you’re not and I don’t expect you start.”
Spying a glance back in Elliot’s direction Link could not hide her concern and the smile he offered told her he saw her checking on him. Turning her eyes back forward and trying to stop herself fretting and to avoid appearing as such she placed her hands on the back of her head as she walked.
“You heard that right Cliff? I’m not giving up.”
Again Cliff sighed though this time he was the one to look back at Elliot. His expression was more annoyed than anything Link’s pout had hinted at yet Elliot offered him just as kind of a smile. With another sigh Elliot again put his eyes forward.
“Then tell me a story young lady.”
Link turned a curious gaze onto Cliff but the old centaur kept his eyes forward. Watching him Link waited for his answer which took longer to come than she liked.
“Hmm… A story.”
“What a kind of story?”
“All things considered, how about a walk down memory lane? How about that fateful day ten years past now…?”
“That fateful day…”
Memories drifting to the fore of her thoughts Link took her eyes off of Cliff and looked up to the sky. It was blue as any other day and no different from that day the old centaur spoke of. The gentle bobbing of each step had near rocked her to sleep as she clung to her mother’s back riding piggyback. The wind rustling through the trees was soothing and bird song rang out as celebration of the sanctity of the wood. That sanctity however was marred by the massive wall and the segment that served as its gate. It did not belong yet her father was unsurprised by it and had spoken with a man beyond through use of the call box that stood a short distance from it. They spoke at end for a while and when at last they stopped they waited in silence until Cliff arrived with five-year-old Elliot upon his back.
Her mind taken by the nostalgia a smile pulled at Link’s lips.
“I remember it pretty well Cliff. The wonder of seeing a new town populated with people I had never met before and the way they fawned over my father’s skills as an engineer and all around genius craftsman. It didn’t take long for him to become a valued member of the community, but he preferred his isolation and built our house out by an exposed part of the plant. Of course he made sure it was fully functional as soon as our new home was ready to move into and continued to prove his worth to the townsfolk. The hours I spent in the plant with him learning and training day in and day out. Sister was an angel sent by the Goddesses and Icarus, then Elliot and Melody…”
Link trailed off as her smile trembled and tears began to form in her eyes. Cliff looked down at her as she grew quiet and grew contemplative himself. Reaching to the packs between his human and equine halves he gently massaged a particular sack and closed his eyes for a moment. Pulling his hand away he turned his own attention to the sky.
“We expected you to become every bit as valued as your father little lady. Perhaps even more so… but perhaps not nearly as much as we desired you to value us and abandon your dreams of returning to the road from whence you came…”
“It’s kind of too late for that now isn’t though?”
“Young Link! You mustn’t speak ill of the dead!”
“Oops! Sorry Sister, and everyone…”
As she apologized to Clover and then the departed townsfolk of Cross, Link again took the strap of her scabbard in hand and held her free hand up in one handed prayer before her face with a bow. Lowering her hand she looked up with a sad smile of her own at the distant Foreigner city that had taken her home of the last decade away.
“I bet they never imagined that they would be wiped out by the Foreigners while they sat down for dinner…”
“At the very least I know I didn’t. Though it was even more unsettling being attacked by those idiotic machines! We should have never activated the blasted things.”
“That wasn’t your decision to make Squawk. It was Mayor Cross, Clover, and mine to make and we did. When we bought them from that salvager though we never imagined they would one day finish us off. However…”
The question again drew Link’s attention to Cliff and there was obvious guilt in his eyes that he tried to hide by looking away.
“Mayor Cross knew, and in turn so did I.”
With the mention of his father’s involvement in the aggression of the machine sentries Elliot found himself no longer able to withhold his questions.
“Father knew? I don’t understand… If he knew then why?”
Taking a deep breath Cliff sighed again, the melancholy of the motion weighing heavily on him.
“Elliot, my dear boy… Have you ever asked the little lady why her family headed by so skilled a man as Hazel was wandering the wilderness? Have you never asked her why they were alone? Did it never occur to you that there is a reason outsiders are normally treated with such care? Have you ever wondered why your father ordered you to become her friend?”
Tightening his grip on the head of his scabbard Elliot hung his head and forced himself to keep smiling.
“It wasn’t my place Cliff… and I needed a friend so desperately as my brothers made my life a living hell until Link arrived that it didn’t matter. She gave me purpose and to this day still does.”
“It’s dangerous to only live for another Elliot.”
“Link is my everything Cliff.”
“My word you idiot! This isn’t the time for your mushy nonsense! We were well on our way to finding out why we were attacked by those machine sentries.”
“It was because of father…”
The whole group was forced to stop as Link did as she uttered those words. Her emotional shift was obvious and impossible not to notice as her shoulders slumped and her head hung with a dreadful weight. The group’s sudden stop further caught the attention of Melody who descended from the sky and immediately noticed Link’s despondent posture.
“Link? Is something wrong? Does your stomach hurt?”
“No Melody, it’s my heart that aches.”
“Huh⁈ That’s not good. Um, what do we do?”
“That’s not what she means Melody.”
There was no comfort in Elliot’s words as he addressed the anxiously dancing harpy and she froze. Watching him seeking answers Melody received none as Elliot placed a hand on Link’s shoulder.
“Do you want to talk about it Link?”
“… Father warned him. He told him if he took us in that our presence could bring disaster…”
“Well it most certainly did!”
“Silence young Squawk. She does not speak of the Foreigner city.”
“Then what is she talking about Sister⁈”
“And what is Link’s family name supposed to tell me⁈”
Once again Cliff sighed, but here was a hint of pity and sympathy this time. Turning his eyes onto the nāti he clenched and unclenched his fists.
“Hazel Sycamore is one of the Sowers of Chaos. He stood with the Lady Quartzmote and her companions against the fall of Lucir. He is a hunted man no matter where he goes for any knowledge he has on the whereabouts of Quartzmote and her companions. Should he be found, nothing but hell would await those who sheltered him.”
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater