015 Those Who Watch the Sky - 15
15 – Children Left Under the Sky 6
The rushing of water over stones and cascading into a pool from a noticeable height joined birdsong and sunlight in stimulating Link’s senses. Consciousness returned to her and the differences between, memory, dream, and the waking world became obvious. Still, her mind lingered for a moment longer and a word came to her lips.
Opening her eyes Link saw the blue sky above and the harsh reminder of her home being long gone descended upon her. She did not escape the destruction of her hometown alone however and Melody suddenly looked down at her looking both elated and relieved preceded the harpy smiling explosively in joy.
“Li~nk! ~♪ You’re awake! ~♪ Thanks goodness! ~♪”
“Link, I’m glad to see it’s still you. It is still you isn’t it.”
Joining Melody, Elliot looked down at Link, his left hand on the head of his scabbard as always and a smile on his face. His smile faded though as he expressed concern that made little sense to Link as she lay there trying to wrap her head around the situation that faced her. Turning her head towards the sound of the water she was greeted by the sight of the waterfall and pool they had pitched camp near the night before.
“Was it just a dream…? –⁈”
Trying to clear the fog of sleep from her mind and make sense of the night before Link moved to sit up and was wracked by a sensation she could not describe. It was not pain, but it was painful and her vision blurred and a wave of fear washed over her as visions of flaming emerald eyes appeared before her and threatened to drown out her consciousness. So powerful was the sensation it drowned nearly everything out until a flash of true pain brought her back and laid her out on her back. Finding herself staring at the blue sky again she heard Elliot complaining and turned her head to see him clutching his forehead.
“… do you that⁈ Ugh, my head hurts…”
“So does mine Elliot. Did you just head butt me?”
“He had to Link! You didn’t hear us at all!”
“Don’t move Link. Just lay there a moment while I wait for this throbbing to stop and then I’ll explain everything.”
Stopped by Elliot cutting in Link refrained from moving to question Melody about what she meant. As she waited she turned her eyes onto the worried harpy and offered her a smile. Melody smiled in return but there was a massive amount of worry and anxiety in her smile and it left Link wanting to know what was going on more than ever.
“I’m starting to grow impatient Elliot. Maybe Melody could fetch Sister while you wait for your head to stop throbbing…”
“One thing at a time Melody. Link is going to need time to process everything and it’s better we start with the most important thing first.”
Elliot advised Melody against responding to Link’s request as she trailed off and left Link starting to feel agitated. Fortunately for her waning patience Elliot seemed to have recovered enough to return to Link’s side.
“Now Link, I’m going to sit you up. Whatever you do, don’t move. Let me do everything.”
“What is going on Elliot?”
“I’d rather not explain until I have you sitting up, but maybe it’d be better so you don’t freak out and make things worse…”
Looking towards Link’s feet as he spoke Elliot began to mumble as he spoke.
“I’m going to throw a fit if you don’t explain what’s going on.”
“Please don’t Link! I don’t want to see you losing yourself again!”
“Losing myself? What are you talking about Mel–⁈”
Realization dawning on her as she spoke, Link’s eyes slowly widened. Turning her trembling gaze onto Elliot she swallowed loudly before speaking again.
“It’s okay Link. We can get through this together.”
Taking Link’s hand in his Elliot offered her a reassuring smile. With a flick of his eyes back towards her feet he silently asked her if she was ready to face what she feared and she nodded very slightly and put on a strained smile. Slipping his free hand under Link’s head he motioned with his for Melody to give them space. As he gently lifted Link into a sitting position Melody danced back a few steps anxiously and could not hide how upset she was as she watched Link visibly pale and breakout into a cold sweat.
Looking down her body, the sight that met Link’s gaze left her heart in her throat and a pit in her stomach. While not necessarily as bad as she feared, it was still a sight that she could not cope with immediately. From the knee down her legs appeared bare, except that instead of her own flesh it was shadowy darkness that served as her skin flickering like flames where it met her leggings clad flesh. Staring at the unnatural sight Link squeezed Elliot’s hand in her hers tight enough to chase the blood out of both of their hands and swallowed loudly again.
Stepping close again Melody continued to dance nervously from one talon to the other unable to hide her worry.
“I don’t really know. We were circling trying to find Elliot and suddenly a sack appeared out of nowhere… or maybe it was from the camp… or… Anyway! It appeared out of nowhere and slammed into your legs and kind of threw me off course. I mean it was kind of a good thing as I was able to spot Elliot but then you started screaming and thrashing about and there was a weird jingling sound and we crashed. I was able to get us down on top of Elliot though…”
“You said there was a jingling sound Melody…?”
“And that it came from the camp…?”
“It was dark and kind of hard to tell, but I think it did…”
Surprising both Elliot and Melody, Link suddenly groaned exasperatedly and clutched at her left temple.
“I can’t believe Father left it with Cliff and that Cliff knew about it. How could you break our promise you jerk…?”
“Link, I’m afraid neither Melody nor I know what you’re talking about…”
“You wouldn’t Elliot. It was Father and mine’s secret.”
Relaxing and calming her breathing Link loosened her grip on Elliot’s hand but also clasped it with her other. She may have had an idea what was going on but she was still having difficulty processing it all and needed the support.
“I just never expected this…”
“I don’t think that helped much Link.”
“Where do I even start…?”
“Somewhere that makes sense please Link. You’re saying a lot but I’m not hearing anything that makes sense.”
“Somewhere that makes sense huh? Sorry Melody that might be a little hard.”
Offering Melody a smile as she apologized for the difficulty of explaining the situation did nothing to alleviate the worried harpy. She couldn’t even return Link’s smile for how confused she was and it was up to Elliot to get Link’s explanation going again, regardless of whether it made sense or not.
“Perhaps if you just start from the beginning Link we can piece it together?”
“Well, from the beginning would be that a few years ago I finished making myself a suit of chainmail. It fit perfectly too, but father pointed out that that was no good since I was both still growing and he wasn’t going to let me go adventuring anytime soon.”
“Three years ago? Isn’t that when we fought those bandits?”
“Sure was and I probably would have been more fearless if I had had my chainmail, but I had already turned it over to father. He had promised to make it so that way it’d grow with me, but I had to promise to never touch it until I was well into my adventures. But…”
“You didn’t think your father would combine it with a Foreigner…”
“I don’t get Link. Why would your father combine a suit of armor with a Foreigner? Isn’t armor supposed to protect you from bad things?”
“Well, in a way if I’m infected by a Foreigner that is a suit of armor…”
“But it doesn’t look like any kind of armor that you’ve ever shown me in any book Link…”
“I agree with Melody, Link.”
All three of them turned their attention to Link’s lower legs and the state that they were in. The shadows that had replaced her skin from the knees down and seemingly consumed her shoes and the lower end of her leggings assuredly resemble no armor any of them knew of.
“I also don’t see how you could connect this back to your father at all.”
“Because of Cliff. Almost anytime we brought up my father he would touch a sack he had on his back along with his other packs. When he did he also didn’t look happy. For a while there I was worried maybe he had a hand or something in there and was waiting for the right time to reveal to me that my father had died back there so I’m actually kind of relieved.”
“Don’t worry about it Melody. Elliot here has kept his infection at bay for well over a ten-day now and he’s doing okay. Right Elliot?”
There was a loss of confidence in Link’s voice as she looked at Elliot’s sleep deprived features. Still she smiled hopefully but the smile Elliot responded with was not reassuring.
“I can’t really say Link. I haven’t slept since town was still there and that isn’t a very human thing to do. Then there is the burning sensation under my skin and all through my body. It wasn’t so bad at first when I first felt it when we were following Melody but it’s gotten worse and worse and I can’t be sure that all of my thoughts are even my own anymore. And that was just from my blood mingling with the Foreigner blood I was already drenched in. There isn’t a living Foreigner infecting me and it’s till this bad. And then Link…”
“We can’t even say what father did to the Foreigner he somehow merged with my chainmail…”
Finishing Elliot’s sentence for him, Link also looked down as she understood the implications of Elliot’s concern. She was not ready to give up yet however and now had a firm guess as to what she was dealing with.
“But you know what Elliot? Father wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think I could handle it.”
“Maybe, Link, but I’m sure he also hoped you would never go adventuring and only completed it because of the promise he made you. I can’t believe that he would make something so dangerous so carelessly...”
“He didn’t make it carelessly Elliot. I’m the only one who ever worked with my chainmail in a state where it was anything resembling the suit of armor I was making for myself. That means if I cut myself or was sweating while working on it or even caught my hair in it I was as much a part of it as the alloys of the links. So that means this Foreigner was already attuned to me a long time ago. I don’t understand these shadows though but that shouldn’t matter. This Foreigner probably thinks I’m weak and easy prey and I’m just going to have to prove it wrong.”
“Can you really do that Link?”
“Just watch me Melody. Elliot, give me some space.”
Elliot looked at Link with concern but she offered him a confident smile. Elliot wanted to believe in her and smiled in return but it was a difficult thing to. He had but a few moments earlier watched her fail to even stay aware of her surrounding when interacting with the Foreigner that infected her. However, he was also aware that no matter what she was going to have to face it one way or the other and resigned himself to that fate with a nod.
Releasing Elliot’s hand, Link let him back away and then turned her attention to her feet. The darkness of the shadows almost stripped her bare feet of any discernible depth and it was unnerving to look at them. It was hard to steel herself for what was about to assault her senses looking at them but she had no intention of failing to do so. With a deep breath Link tried to wiggle her toes.
Both Elliot and Melody shouted in terror as Link suddenly screamed and scared the birds from their surroundings. She convulsed and arched her back in unnatural contortions, her eyes widening violently as her pupils dilated and her mouth twisted into a howl of indescribable suffering. The sight was more than enough to prompt Elliot and Melody to begin hurrying to her side but Link surprised them again.
Her voice was strained as she ordered them to stay back, but it was unquestionably her voice. Rolling over and bracing herself against her forearms as she clenched her fists and sweated profusely Link gritted her teeth and nigh screamed again as she gasped for air. Clenching her teeth she declared her refusal to give in.
“This is my fight and this thing only knows scraps of me from a long time ago‼ I’m not going to lose. I’m not going to lose to this thing‼”
With another scream she arched her back in defiance before convulsing uncontrollably. Despite her body’s loss of control she still managed to cup a hand to her mouth before she vomited violently coughing up blood as she did and collapsing into a writhing mess as her body discharged the contents of her bladder and bowels just as violently.
Watching Link convulse and soil herself so violently as her eyes watered and bulged to the point that they looked like they were going to burst terrified Elliot and Melody to the point that they could not move at all. Eventually Link’s convulsions came to an end and her expression softened to the point of total exhaustion. After a moment she started sobbing softly.
Taking a tentative step towards the broken girl on the ground before him Elliot called out gently to her. A wave of relief washed over him and Melody both as she replied even if she was obviously crying.
“I didn’t win… *hic* …but I didn’t lose either… I didn’t lose… *hic*”
“It’s alright Link.”
Kneeling down next to her Elliot brushed Link’s hair out of her face and cradled her flushed cheek. He offered her a smile and she looked back up at him with teary eyes that were full with as much embarrassment and shame at the mess she had made of herself as they were with pain.
“Like you said; you didn’t lose. That means you can try again after a short rest, and once you’ve won you can clean yourself up and Melody and I will put together as good of a feast for you as we can under these circumstances. Isn’t that right Melody?”
“Right! ~♪ I’ll even go hunt down some nice meat right now! ~♪”
Forcing herself to smile Melody turned to run off obviously bothered by the sight of Link so broken on the ground but froze. Turning around She looked down at Link with a desperate and pleading expression.
“And Link, you better still be here when I get back… okay?”
Managing a smile Link did her best to reassure Melody that she would be.
“… I didn’t lose Melody… and I’ll… …I’ll keep not losing until I win…”
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater