042 Those Who Watch the Sky - 42


42 – Children Seeking Their Own Sky 9

Bird and the bishop’s game had no noticeable effect to Link, Elliot, and Melody save for the presence of Balgun who served as a mediator, friend, and teacher to all of them. Despite this, Melody continued to hunt monsters and bandit’s with Boulder while Elliot continued to undergo the curriculum assigned to make him a Sa·B·er of the Cardinal Church. Only Link truly experienced a major difference as no church researchers attempted to enter the operating room since Balgun arrived. With Balgun keeping his word to teach her magic Link grew more relaxed as she focused on her lessons and the flaming darkness that she hid within slowly receded. While this would eventually change Link’s status quo it was Elliot who experienced the first major change in their current situations.

Midsummer had come and was marked by the Eyes of Icarus being fully opened. That particular midsummer morning Elliot stood in his room, which was little more than a monastic cell, looking at the wall mirror above the desk as he fiddled with the buttons of his white shirt. Morning light spilled in from the bay window to his right and a young man’s sinister voice rose up from the window box seat which also served as the cell’s bed.

“You realize this is a ploy of course, don’t you Elliot? You’ve seen those two Sa·B·ers about and know they’ve been spying on you ever since that sorcerer arrived. They were even there when you were called in to see the Bishop last night.”

“It’s not like you to be worried about me Feast.”

Peering out of the corner of his eyes, Elliot spied a momentary glance in the direction of the window seat and bed. Laying on it with his legs propped up on the windowsill and his hands behind his head was a young man dressed similarly to Elliot in a short-sleeved button-up shirt with black trousers and steel capped leather shoes. His similarities did not end with just his attire either as he possessed a similar build and features, though harsher and more angular than Elliot’s. The most noticeable differences between the two young men was the paler skin, longer and harsher hair of a more ashen hue of blonde, and the sinister, blood red eyes possessed by the one named Feast. He offered Elliot a snide smile as he noticed the softer young man spying at him.

“I’m always worried about you Elliot. You just don’t recognize it because you don’t like the way I express it.”

“You’ve tried to kill me on more than one occasion Feast.”

“Now you’re purposely misconstruing my actions. Beside’s–”

Leaping up from the window box Feast placed a hand on Elliot’s shoulder and leaned over the opposite one.

“–how could I possibly kill the Knight Prince. I just know how much you love that title and seeing you squirm every time someone addresses you is too adorable.”

“I take it you intend to antagonize me all morning then?”

“Elliot, don’t be such a fool. I’m trying to get you to open up your eyes and pay attention before something irreversible happens. One wrong move on any of our parts and those two Sa·B·ers will likely end a life. Of course, alternatively I could always end them for you Elliot. It wouldn’t even take more than a drop or two of effort.”

“That won’t be necessary Feast.”

Brushing Feast aside, Elliot spun about and grabbed his long coat off the wall hook opposite the desk. Throwing it on he focused on the bulky metal cuff clasps as he made his way to the cell door.

“Link, Melody, and I still intend to go adventuring together and the skills and privileges I can earn here will only be a boon to us. Being as shortsighted as you insist would only make us all outlaws.”

“You’d enjoy it though. I can tell. The feeling of release from letting all the anger go you’ve been bottling up since finding out what they did to her–”

“That’s enough Feast.”

Elliot looked back from the door and leveled Feast with an agitated look. Feast simply smiled in return and shoved his hands into his pockets. Sighing Elliot turned around and opened the cell door.

“I have an assignment to get to this morning anyway.”

“An assignment my boy? I don’t recall you mentioning having any today.”

“Ah–! Master Balgun. I wasn’t expecting to see you this early but I’m glad you’re here.”

“And what about your guest Silverlance?”

Elliot didn’t know how he didn’t notice him until Bird revealed himself but knowing that he was there he closed the heavy wooden cell door behind him. Offering Balgun and Bird both a strained smile he proceeded to change the subject.

“I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s just a bit of unwelcome trouble this morning and I’d rather focus on today’s assignment.”

“And there’s that word again my boy. Perhaps you could elaborate on this assignment and explain why you are glad to see me when it is brought up.”

“Gladly Master Balgun. Let us be on our way though as I need to get to be at Dolmen hanger in about an hour.”

Stepping away from the door to his room, Elliot zipped up the snug fitting jacket part of his long coat completing the cassock inspired look that made him look like a member of the clergy. If not for the heavy and bulky clasps at the cuff and neck, the latter of which he fussed about securing, with the tri-cross etched into them he would have likely been mistaken. Or he could have been if not for his sword hanging from his hip which he gladly rested his left hand on the head of the scabbard as he finished with his clasp. Looking down at Balgun who matched his stride Elliot continued.

“You see, my curriculum is advancing rather quickly, and His Excellency the Lord Bishop has approved me to sortie for live exercises. There will be multiple sorties today as well, stretching out from about an hour from now to well into the night. As a result, I won’t be able to request a leave to join Melody for the midsummer festival. Since you’re here Master Balgun so early I’m presuming that you haven’t visited with Melody yet today and could pass on my absence and apologies.”

“I certainly can my boy, but ever the curious one that I am I must know what type of exercises you will be doing today that would take up the entire day. It seems frankly unbecoming of the church to deny its students a chance to partake in a public festival. Especially one so raucous as the one held for midsummer. Mind, your dedication to your training is commendable but I cannot restrain my curiosity.”

“It’s fine Master Balgun. I’m rather excited to talk about it as well as I never believed that the opportunity would present itself to me again, no less so soon. I’m actually looking forward to live exercises in a Dolmen instead of training simulations and fighting for my life.”

“Wait!”

At Bird’s insistence Elliot and Balgun came to halt and looked back to see Bird looking rather confused. His confusion was shared by the students who wandered the dorm halls, though where they were confused by him, he was confused by Elliot’s declaration.

“What’s this about you sortieing in a Dolmen? I haven’t heard anything of the sort and I’m the Choir agent assigned to Foothold so I should have heard about it. Where exactly did you get these sortie orders of yours Silver Lance?”


“I should have known.”

“Is something the matter Bird?”

There was a smugness in the bishop’s smile as he addressed Bird clearly aggravating the Choir agent. Elliot and Balgun didn’t notice as they both were spending too much time taking in the Dolmen hanger. It was an impressive sight as the underground hanger stretched on like a long corridor with dozens of alcoves formed by towering wire fences and cat walks that allowed access to the cockpits of the Dolmen. Despite the number of available bays for the Dolmens, there were only about six present that morning with one of them being a familiar bronze hued version of the potbellied model employed by the church in Foothold. There was one difference however that overjoyed Elliot.

“I can’t believe it! They managed to restore the head too! Ah–!”

Realizing he let his enthusiasm spill over Elliot began to redden in the face and turned sheepishly towards the bishop. The bishop merely smiled while it was Bird who wore a look of extreme agitation. Regardless, it was the bishop that Elliot apologized to as he grew rigid and formal.

“Forgive me for my outburst Your Excellency Lord Bishop.”

“It is quite alright Knight Prince. That you should hold such enthusiasm is comforting after the experiences you have had when this machine is involved with you. Even without those experiences most new pilots I’ve seen approach a Dolmen do so with a great weariness about them.”

“It just shows that they lack the willingness to learn unlike Elliot here.”

“Or they weren’t ready Balgun. And regardless of the kid’s experience what exactly is he doing here Verdant?”

“You don’t know Bird? I would have thought an agent of Choir would have already been informed. Perhaps I overstepped my bounds by contacting Choir High Command personally to seek authorization for the Knight Prince.”

“You what

Nearly gnashing his teeth as he questioned the bishop, Bird forced most of his seething rage into his pocketed hands. Directing his anger so was almost too much as he nearly dug his fingertips through his trouser pockets and into the flesh of his thighs. His anger only seemed to further amuse the bishop however who simply smiled as though victory was his.

“Oh, they were quite intrigued by my report and desire to test the full abilities of the man visited by Her Eminence, Lady Cardinal herself. Like myself they can’t help but wonder if she has chosen a new heir for the light of hope. Unlike me however they fear that her appearance could very well mean the return of Lucifalz, the dark god of the Foreigners, is imminent.”

“Hmph! A fate the church would have themselves brought on us all.”

Crossing his arms, Balgun interrupted with a heavy harrumph. Offering the bishop and Bird both a disapproving sideways look he killed the gloating atmosphere around the bishop.

“It always bothers me the hearsay that spills out of your mouth Master Sorcerer.”

“It’s far from hearsay you blind zealot. Unlike you who’s been playing at building his meaningless towers of secrets and lies here in Mergaol I’ve traversed Athecia and seen the fear that the people possess. The fall of Lucir and the appearance of the Light of Hope has harmed the people and shaken their faith in the church.”

“Then perhaps the Knight Prince is Her Eminence’s chosen champion who will restore the people’s faith and face down the dark god of the Foreigners.”

“Wait! Excuse my interruption Your Excellency Lord Bishop, but I’m not quite certain I know what it is that you and Master Balgun are debating.”

“It’s best you don’t concern yourself with it my boy. If you devote yourself to your studies you will learn of it in time. If you are so impatient however I will gladly educate you another time, though I warn you that my experiences with these fools paints my words with a most foul bias. For now though it is best that you not delay. You have a sortie to attend, isn’t that right bishop.”

“Of course Master Sorcerer.”

“By your leave then Your Excellency Lord Bishop.”

Even acknowledging his permission to depart Elliot lingered for a moment looking over Balgun, Bird, and the bishop. There was a pressure in the air between them and Elliot felt like he had to fight just to hold his ground. It was not a battle he had to fight however and he quickly withdrew deeper into the hanger. He continued to look back occasionally at the group as they continued their heated discourse, even after he reached the Dolmen bay with the bronze Dolmen he was to pilot and rode the open lift to the catwalk above and boarded the machine. As soon as the Dolmen was activated he again glanced in the direction of the three below and saw them still bickering as the interior of the Dolmen filled with a panoramic view of its surroundings. He would have continued to watch them with curiosity and concern until receiving further orders had a cutout image not appeared in the external view to his left. Looking at the cutaway image Elliot was greeted by Feast’s smiling face.

“It just breaks your heart to see all of that petty fighting doesn’t it?”

“Is this really the time Feast?”

“I don’t see why not; we have a few moments until we get the sortie order. Besides, seeing the bishop like that should tell you he’s not the good man he would like you to believe. I personally find it refreshing to see the old man drawing out his more truthful feeling bitter side. You can’t tell me that you don’t feel some relief either Elliot.”

“My feelings on the matter don’t matter Feast.”

“Of course they do. Just imagine if he really is ousted. If his crimes are severe enough to warrant an execution you could personally bring all of your anger to bear against him in the most satisfying way for what he has done to you.”

“I would have to be a member of Choir to receive that assignment and I don’t know enough about them to seek such a position.”

“But you’re still dying to know. And even if not, you could always save Choir the trouble and–”

“Feast–!”

- Silverlance! -

“Sir!”

A new cutaway image appeared before Elliot as he was suddenly addressed by the mission commander. Shocked as Elliot was by the interruption, he was simultaneously grateful for the distraction from Feast and his voice sounded like he was questioning as well as sighing in relief as he responded. The mission commander seemed unconcerned about Elliot’s unusual tone of voice and continued unabated upon hearing Elliot’s acknowledgement of their presence.

- Launch clearance has been authorized. Begin final launch preparations and standby to sortie -

“Yessir!”

Elliot barked the affirmative and the image of the commander disappeared before him. In the Dolmen hanger beyond klaxons blared to life announcing the beginning of the launch sequence. The entire hanger became bathed in flashing amber light but none of the commotion beyond the cockpit meant anything to Elliot. He was too busy running the final checks on the internal holographic screens and the attached command pads to make sure that the Dolmen was fully connected to the launch rail supports. While he worked Feast smiled at him from the cutaway image to his left and attempted to interrupt him.

“Looks like we’re finally going. I’ve been waiting what feels like forever to actually see you in action piloting a Dolmen. The thought of seeing just how much destruction you can bring with this machine is thrilling.”

“There won’t be any destruction today Feast. We’re just heading out for live exercises.”

Though he corrected Feast, Elliot still smiled broadly as he took the command sticks in hand and braced for launch. What he said next caused Feast to smile in return in a less sinister way than he typical had throughout the day. The smile he bore was almost identical to Elliot’s as he shared in the excitement Elliot was feeling.

“Though I do agree with you; heading out in the Dolmen has me thrilled!”

A moment the wall behind the Dolmen opened up and the mach slid back into the launch corridor. As the rail mounts rotated and connected the Dolmen to the vertical rails of the tunnel arcs of electricity ran up their length to the waiting blue sky above. Then, in an instant, the Dolmen was dragged up the rail and launched high above Foothold. The morning sunlight reflected off of the machine and those who watched the sky witnessed it as a twinkling star rising up from the cathedral of the Cardinal Church. All except Melody, who poked her head out of the window of some library’s tower and recognized the Dolmen she, Link, and Elliot had claimed as their own. Watching it she let fall a word from her lips.

“Elliot…”

~ Sa·B·ers.
Pawns of the Cardinal Church.
Only those who turn their back on the Cardinal Church know true freedom.
But being a pawn does not mean that you have nothing.
Being a pawn you can still control the board.
Being a pawn does not mean that you have to be a sacrifice.
Persist and survive and a pawn can become a queen.
I will become a queen and attain the freedom I seek.
All without ever leaving the light of Her Eminence, the Lady Cardinal.
For I am a Sa·B·er who fears not being a pawn. ~



Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater

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