013 Those Who Watch the Sky 13
13 – Children Left Under the Sky 4
Turning his back on Link and taking his first step away Elliot’s smile fell from his lips. His head hung and his shoulders weighed heavily with the fate that awaited him. Behind him he could hear Link bawling and hoped that the shock of his departure would be enough to keep her from stopping him. Yet he could hear her get to her feet and start towards him. He did not look back though for fear that he would lose his nerve if he saw her now. Then to his surprise Cliff appeared before him and trotted to intercept Link. As he passed Elliot he offered him a solemn nod and Elliot offered him a pained smile in return.
“May the Light of Lady Cardinal save you…”
“Cliff⁈ What are you doing⁈ Get out of my way‼ I have to stop Elliot‼ I have to stop him…‼
Behind him Link’s cries rang out past the centaur but Elliot would not let them reach him. Instead he took solace in Cliff’s words even as his every step felt as though they were weighed down by the whole of the world.
“Let him go little lady. It’s the only way.”
“The only way to do what⁈ Kill him⁈”
“Don’t be so hysterical. He’s been infected by the Foreigners and he has to prove that he has the force of will to survive no matter what. Only then can he become a Sa·B·er and not a Foreigner born beast. I should know little lady; I went through what he’s going through as well decades ago and even today I still have to resist the parasite that infects me.”
Stepping backwards away from Cliff and into the clearing of the pool at the base of the waterfall Link’s head hung and her shoulders slumped as her arms dangled limply before her. Slowly her stance widened and Cliff’s eyes narrowed.
“Don’t try it little lady, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Try what? To save my oldest friend? I don’t think you get it Cliff… I don’t care about the rules of the world and what everyone else says is right when those rules hurt people… and right now they’re condemning someone to death who has had the will power to not turn into a monster and has proven his worth by helping us gather food and fend off any threats to us…”
“You don’t get to choose the rules little lady.”
“No… But I do get to choose whether I follow them or not…”
“Only criminals and bandits choose not to.”
“And Rogue Sa·B·ers…”
Lifting her head ever so slightly Link leveled Cliff with a glare that was at once wild and livid and cold and unrelenting. It sent a chill down the old centaur’s spine and he found himself having to resist stepping back from the child who faced him.
“I would never wish that fate onto anyone little lady.”
“Better death then…?”
“If so need be…”
“Then I choose death over abandoning my friends…”
Link surprised Cliff as she suddenly bolted. It was not that he was unprepared for her to bolt either but rather the direction she did. She did not pursue Elliot but headed off instead back towards where the others were still sleeping and she had left her sword.
“What are you thinking⁈”
Giving chase Cliff with his four legs should have easily outpacedLlink but the vegetative growth hampered his movements and as he reached the camp Link held her sword drawn in hand with her scabbard secured to her torso by its strap. Even delayed as he was though he still blocked her ability to pursue Elliot but the look in her eyes said that that could be a mistake. Placing his hands on the grips of the swords that hung from his waist Cliff carefully approached the desperate girl before him.
“Put that thing away little lady, it won’t do anyone any good.”
Seeming to believe differently Link again bolted and this time it was obvious she moved to cut off Elliot. Free of the thickest growth around the waterfall pool it was easy for him to get ahead of her which in turned opened a path to the vegetation. Anticipating it Link gambled that Cliff’s four legs and long stride would be to his detriment and cut back hard towards the pool. Cliff however was a Sa·B·er of many years and the same Foreigner parasite that still threatened to turn him into a monster also granted him physical abilities well beyond what anyone could naturally possess. As a result the limitations of his four legs was negligible compared to the difference between him and Link and he was before her again in a blink.
“Damnit‼ Get out of my way Cliff‼”
“Hmm? What’s with all the screaming? ~♪”
Stirred from her slumber on a rock she had perched upon for the night Melody groggily opened her eyes. Looking around the sight of Link facing off against Cliff with her sword drawn woke the harpy nigh instantly.
“Ah! Ah! Link, what’s going⁈”
“Melody… I could use a lift…”
“Stay out of this child!”
Not knowing what to do but also not desiring to anger Link, Melody spread her wings and let a wordless song fall from her lips. A gentle breeze stirred up around her and with a flap of her white feathered wings she lifted herself easily off of the ground. Hearing that wing beat Link turned and ran from Cliff directly for Melody. She knew she couldn’t outrun the centaur even if he wasn’t a Sa·B·er but trusted Melody to do what needed to be done and leapt into the air. She was not disappointed in the least by her harpy friend as the next flap of Melody’s wings cast forth a powerful gust of wind that both lifted Link higher into the sky and presented enough force to stop Cliff in his tracks much to his surprise. In the next instant Melody passed by overhead with Link clinging to her foot with her left hand and Melody clinging to her arm with her talon in turn.
“So um, what’s going on Link?”
“We have to stop Elliot so hurry, please!”
“Okay! ~♪ I don’t know what’s going on but if Elliot’s in trouble…! ~♪”
Looking down to check where Link was looking Melody adjusted her course to head off Elliot. From the ground Cliff felt helpless as he watched the two soar off. Behind him in the camp Clover and Squawk were in the process of trying to comprehend what had woken them from their sleep.
“Master Cliff, whatever is going on?”
Turning around to the bewildered looks of Clover and Squawk, Cliff clenched his fists and closed his eyes holding back anything he could say behind gritted teeth. With his eyes closed he could hear a familiar voice speaking to him from his memories.
~ “There isn’t time dammit‼But…
“…Cliff, I need you to take this…
“…I know exactly what it is Cliff, but…
“…Just take it, please. I made it to save a life as hard as that is to believe, so please Cliff, take it…” ~
“Clover… I’m going to do something that I will likely regret for the rest of my life. But I can’t stop her.”
“What are you talking about Cliff? And where are the two idiots and their harpy?”
“Please forgive me Squawk, but it would seem that our paths diverge this night. Prepare to depart immediately.”
There was no answer for Squawk’s question as Cliff pulled a sack from his back that jingled like a bag of coin and looked into the sky for Link and Melody. Spotting them circling as they tried to pinpoint Elliot below them Cliff reared up on his hind legs and hoisted the sack in his right hand as he prepared to throw it. Taking careful aim and judging Melody’s flight pattern he took a small hop back before spinning around slamming the hooves of his forelegs into the ground. His rear legs kicked up from the force and the ground cratered beneath him as he heaved the sack like a missile towards the distant Link. Behind him Squawk stared at him with open-beaked astonishment.
“What is going on⁈”
“I already told you to prepare to depart Squawk. We leave now!”
Not waiting to see the success of his throw Cliff turned towards the camp and walked away from Link, Elliot, and Melody.
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater