ANN - Chapter 7 - Beginning Our Journey
A swarm of brown, gray, and green circled above—Night People casting a shadow beneath the late evening sun. There were small shrieks of communication from the cloud of bats; but mostly there was silence from them. The wind had picked up again and pushed the thunderous tide. Steelface the Immortal glared at me—silent and unmoving—with his dead, lens eyes. Somehow, I felt his rage through them. I felt Romalla climb up my back—onto my shoulder. She glared at the Immortal with blood-thirsty eyes and an open mouth that revealed her white, razor teeth.
It was everything I had feared since waking up.
The Immortal would tear me to shreds, and then the Night People above, and then … Romalla. As soon as this thought passed through my head, my stomach began to churn. Not the type of nervous churning that I was familiar with, but a quick series of physical rotations. Something like a door opened into my hollow torso. I glanced down and saw that the empty insides of my body were padded—except for a barred safety harness.
“You cowardly idiot,” Steelface said, making me jump even more. He stepped forward with his fists clenched. “Instead of taking care of business, you've put all your vermin at risk. I have never seen such a worthless Educator in all my life!”
Knowing I couldn’t fight him, I turned toward the other Night People and shouted, “Stay back, all of you! The Immortal-”
Steelface roared with the sound of a revving engine; black smoke bellowed from its shoulder pipes. He charged at me with surprising speed.
In a fit of panic, I grabbed Romalla off my shoulder and pushed her into my torso chamber. The safety harness lowered automatically to fasten around her. The doors sealed back into place right as a vicious punched landed where my lower ribs should have been. The blow threw me off my feet; I was rolling in the sand … over and over.
Finally sliding to a stop, after the brutal blow, I tried to stand. But I stumbled as the world felt like it was spinning around me. Inside my torso, I vaguely hear screeching and scratching at my metal innards. I felt nauseous and, even more than that, terrified.
Already, Steelface was steeping toward me fast for another attack. Though I tried to I swing a blade at his shoulder, he effortlessly side-stepped the strike. He growled and shouted, “Are you even trying! I'm trying to destroy you and everything you care about. Where's your defiance? Where is your protective instinct, Educator!” His words sounded equal parts furious and—somehow—disappointed.
“I don't know what you're talking about!” I screamed, stumbling back a step. I barely managed to keep the ground beneath me. Again, I turned and shouted to the swarming Night People who hadn’t yet retreated, “Go away! All of you, fly to the Wall!”
Before I knew what had hit me, my face met sand with a terrifying impact. Steelface had used his shoulder to send me crashing face-first into the sand. I could only barely hear him shout, “Fight me!”
I tried to rise onto my knees but ended up falling back over. I only barely managed to get back up, and finally stand, on my second attempt.
“Last chance, Bassello,” Steelface said, his tone now eerily quiet. “Fight or get in the boat.”
I shook my head, terrified. I couldn’t fight him, and I couldn’t defend the Night People. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of, which was to plead. “Promise me that you'll leave them alone and I'll come with you.”
Steelface just looked at me silently for a moment. Then, with utmost contempt, he said, “I don't need a coward like you. You would never be able to make it to the Triumvirate. I need a real Educator, one who knows how to do what is necessary to protect their charges.”
I couldn’t respond, feeling frozen as waves of terror and shame took their turns at me.
Steelface reached down and picked up a handful of stones. He pulled the rocks back behind his head and aimed at the Night People flying above. Then he stopped and looked at me. Somehow, I knew he would do it. Even if he was just manipulating me, he would do it if I didn’t stop him. This was not a game to him, not even close.
There was nothing left to think about … and nothing to do but to stop thinking altogether. I screamed as loudly as I could, sprinted, and threw my elbow and entire weight into his heavy torso. It was enough to send both of us tumbling in the sand. I jumped to my feet—as did he—and pointed my two machete blades at him. My arms trembled wildly.
Steelface stepped in, pulled his right arm back, and then threw a vicious hook at my head. I frantically jumped out of his reach, narrowly avoiding the hit.
I jerked my arm and sliced where his ribs should have been. Sparks erupted from metal striking metal. I followed up my attack up with a left hook into the center of his torso. The tip of my blade barely punctured the thick metal.
Steelface dove at me, both arms wide.
I jumped back and brought and elbow down on his head so that he crashed face-first into the sand. Without any sort of awareness, I found myself stomping on his torso repeatedly. I didn’t stop … couldn’t stop until my foot was suddenly unable to move.
Steelface’s metallic hand had clamped around my ankle. He then grabbed my knee with his other hand. He was pulling himself back up, using me like a ladder.
As he rose, I hit his back repeatedly with my blades. But for all the sparks and shredding metal, my attacks did nothing but nick his armor and create more smoke.
Finally, Steelface stood straight and towered over me. He reached one hand around my neck and began to apply pressure. Then, with all previous rage and disappointment in his tone replaced with a chipper satisfaction, he said, “Glad to see you actually have some fight in you after all. Don't worry about what’s about to happen to your head. We'll put you back together, good as ever, when we get to our destination.”
Full-blown panic took over. I slashed uselessly at his thickly plated arms; but I was helpless now that he had me. I felt a squeezing pressure around my throat.
Suddenly, a brown body collided with Steelface’s mask—making him give pause for just a moment. I looked down at the sand where a Night Person had crashed and saw that it was Krogallo! He let out a war-cry. As if on cue, twenty smaller bodies joined into the attack—flying, reversing their bodies in the air, and then kicking viciously. The assault sounded like meaty hands striking a metal drum.
Though none of their attacks could have done much on their own, their combined efforts caused Steelface to stumble backward and loosen his grip under the barrage. Then, he began to fall. The children fled the tumbling giant.
Krogallo, however, was still on the ground—in the shadow of the falling Golem!
I heard myself screamed before something else took over. In an instant, I became utterly calm. A sharp blue sensation like cool air overtook me, coursing through my body. It turned every worry off and made everything … simple.
Almost on its own, my left arm shot down to my hip. A silver ring the size of my hand popped into my grip with magnetic force. There was a blue light on the ring that shone like a pointer for my fist. I pointed my fist at the Golem and put everything I could into it. I felt my body’s energy sucked out of me in concentrated force.
A blue flash like dull lighting shot from the end of the ring and crashed into Steelface’s torso. It struck with enough force to divert his trajectory away from utterly crushing the bat beneath him. But his metallic heel still caught flesh.
Both Krogallo and Steelface rolled along the sand and then came to a stop. A larger puff of smoke escaped from the Golem's mechanized torso before settling to the steady stream it had been before the fight.
Krogallo, however, did not move.
The wave of blue left me; and I frantically dropped the ring. I ran to Krogallo and knelt by him. His wings were absolutely mangled. Even worse, his ribs looked deflated and collapsed. Even as his body tried to suck in breath, they refused to fill much.
Another compartment on my right hip opened, and a dozen medical supplies spilled out. But I had no clue what how any of it could possibly help. “Krogallo, wake up.” I whispered, my eyes uncomfortably and … inhumanly … dry.
To my surprise, Krogallo’s eyes did open. His back muscles twitched like he was trying to move his wings, but they did not respond.
“I'm so sorry,” I said, my voice hardly above a whisper. “I'm sorry.”
“Camolla, Romalla,” Krogallo said, his voice ragged.
Romalla! Upon remembering where she was, the chassis in my torso opened—spilling her to the sand. She looked around, disoriented for a moment, before she saw Krogallo. She crawled to him and cradled his barely breathing body.
From among the Night People above us, Camolla landed near us. She crawled close to Krogallo and opened her mouth; blood poured from her mouth to his. He drank a little, but the rest pooled to the side of his mouth and into the sand.
Krogallo let out a pained cough and I was sure that a bit of his own blood had joined in with that what he tried to drink. He then put a claw on my rubber-coated finger and said, “The Sleeping God came … and defeated the Golems.”
“No!” I gasped. Emotions buzzed mercilessly within my body. “This is my fault—I should have left.”
Krogallo shook his head, never removing his claw from my hand. “You are our protector. I can sleep knowing that I fought alongside a god who struggled to find its courage like I did, not one for whom it came cheaply.”
I didn’t know what to say as my mind buzzed in a dizzying flurry.
Krogallo made a pained look, and I could see moisture wet the disheveled fur around his eyes. It looked and sounded like he wanted to say more, but he choked on the words with another fit of coughing. Then he was still.
“Krogallo!” I shouted.
Krogallo did not respond. His eyes and body were unmoving, and I didn't know what to do other than stare.
After a moment, I turned my head back to where I had left Steelface. He had already boarded his boat out in the surf. He turned back to me and shouted. “I accept your deal. Find a communications panel to contact me once you infiltrate the Triumvirate.” He then started the engine of his boat and left.
I watched him go … speechless.
One by one, the Night People landed in the sand all around us. Most let out low and mournful screeches. Camolla and Romalla were some of the few that did not join in on the wailing. Camolla folded his wings around him, as if he were asleep. Romalla merely watched, her expression vacant.
I … I didn’t know what to do.
“Bassello,” Camolla said, her voice ragged and raw, though she remained calm and in control of herself. “Would you do Krogallo a great honor? Something he would have never asked for himself.”
Though I didn’t know what she wanted—only that I seemed to be floating, as if in a bad dream—I gave a hollow nod.
“Take him to the top of the Wall,” Camolla said. “He would have wanted to be close to the gods.”
I didn't answer; I couldn’t. I suppose I should have gathered the courage and strength to say yes. In fact, I should have stood and said something about Krogallo or assured the Night People that everything would be alright. But I didn’t know if anything would be alright ever again. All I could do was sit there—staring at him.
More of the Night People focused their attention upon me. I couldn’t imagine what they thought or expected. I imagined how much some of them must have hated me for failing them, letting their beloved elder die. Not even able to speak now that he was gone.
Before I knew it, I was on my feet … running.
The sun had fully set. There were no songs tonight, no clicks of echolocation, no brief screeches of words while in flight. I sat in my secluded spot under the trees and did not move. Before now, I hadn’t considered how much I could want … I could need to cry. Sadness felt like a hunger, a thirst, a cold. And tears were the food, the water, and the warmth that I craved. Yet, they were denied me by my own body. My emotions remained imprisoned inside—like a poison eating away at me.
I didn't look out at the peninsula of the Servants for fear that I would see the terrifying form of the Immortal Golem. Neither did I look at anything that was happening on the Island, for fear of making eyes contact with any one of the Night People. Whether they felt disappointment, pity, betrayal, worship, I dreaded the thought of finding out. I just wanted them not to think about me at all.
However, my self-imposed isolation could only last so long. I saw Camolla as she fluttered to my side. She hopped closer and then perched on my leg.
I turned my face to the right, trying to hide it from her gaze. Though there weren’t any tears, I knew that there would be some undignified expression on my face. I was also afraid that Camolla would somehow look right into my soul and see something that would make her see how horrible I really was. More than anything, I couldn’t look at her because of my shame—at what I had let happen to Krogallo—at having run off after. I couldn’t face her or anyone else.
“Are you … crying?” Camolla asked, her tone both surprised and gentle.
“I can’t,” I whispered … and the words only made my face tingle a bit.
I was disgusting.
Camolla climbed up the side of my arm with her sharply hooked claws and perched upside-down from the top of my head. Then, hanging in my face, she opened her wings widely so that she was all I could see.
“Why can't I cry …” I whispered, feeling as deeply ashamed for not being able to do this one thing for him after all I had let happen.
“I fear that maybe Krogallo …” Camolla began and then became quiet. But she didn't need to finish her statement for me to know what she had to be thinking.
Krogallo had been wrong about me. I was clearly no sort of god or guardian.
After a moment, Camolla continued, “I think that maybe we both have asked too much of you, Bassello. You have been awake for less time than it takes the moon to complete its cycle. And with not even memories before that … Even so, you gave him what he needed to pass on in peace.”
I tried to take a breath—to do anything to keep from lashing out at myself while Camolla was so close to my face—for fear of scaring her. But as with crying and everything else, there wasn’t a way for me to vent or control my emotions. I couldn’t hold it in. “I didn’t defeat the Golem! It’s going to come back; it needs me to get over the Wall. And it will let the other Golems keep hurting all of you if I don't.”
Camolla seemed to pause at this outburst only for a few seconds. Then she pressed her flat, pointed nose against my glass face so that I could feel the warmth of it. “Bassello, I know you fear for us. Compared to a Golem or to you, our bodies are fragile. But we have lived on this earth for a long time and faced countless tragedies. That will never change. Nobody expects you to save us from all harm that will befall us in this life.”
I slumped my shoulders and my head, no longer even feeling the energy to argue. “Krogallo thought that I was some sort of protector. Even the Golem said that it was what I was supposed to be.”
Camolla was quiet for a moment and then gave a soft sigh. “Krogallo was the wisest person I've ever known, but he didn't know all things. If you stay or even if you leave forever, we will survive as we always have.”
Unfortunately, I did not share Camolla's faith. Especially now that Steelface had a reason to pay attention to the bats, they were in more danger than ever before. With a heavy feeling of defeat, I said, “I have to go over the Wall—to get what the Golems needs, or to get help from the people who live there.”
“Then …” Camolla said, wrinkling her features before she spoke. “Please take Romalla with you. You protected her when the Golem came. And she is more engaged in life with you than I've ever seen her before. Your presence challenges her, and … I think you need her as well.”
“But … what if it's dangerous and I'm not able to keep her safe?”
“Bassello,” Camolla replied with a soft shake of her head. “I don't like the idea of what the two of you will face over the Gods’ Wall. I know both of you—and I know that both of you will do everything you possibly can to protect each other. What you must remember is that we can’t ever protect the people around us fully, no matter how much we love them. Your best is enough.”
After that, I didn’t know what to say. So I just sat there quietly while Camolla stayed with me.
Hours later, Camolla gave me one last meaningful look and then hopped away, toward her cave. I found myself alone again. Could I really force myself to climb the Wall? And would I really take Romalla with me into the unknown? I jumped between those two questions obsessively, switching to one whenever the other became too intimidating to handle. I did not stop until the sun began to rise.
About then, I saw Romalla flying toward me. She landed and was quiet for just a moment. “Bassello? The Night People have all said goodbye to Krogallo. Are … you going to bring him to the top of the Wall?”
I tried to swallow before I replied in a weak tone. “Yeah.” I realized only after that this haphazard and lifeless reply was the answer to all my questions. It was what I had to do; I’d just deal with the misery from it later.
Romalla nodded and said, “I think … we should get going while the other Night People are sleeping. It will be easier if they wake, and we're gone. I don't think they will be able to handle another goodbye.”
It made sense, of course. I could imagine protests, volunteers to join us, questions, tears, and a lot more than either of us wanted to deal with.
The Wall genuinely still scared me—as much as what I might find on the other side of it. And the suddenness of this proposal to go ahead and climb it only made things worse. However, my fight was gone. And between facing my fears and facing the Night People after all that had happened, I was ready to default to the Wall.
So, I managed to nod and followed her silently as we walked along the Wall to where Camolla was waiting for us. When we reached her, Camolla hopped closed, hesitated, and then wrapped her wings briefly around her daughter. Romalla looked unsure of how to respond to this, opting to just remain still until it was over. After a tearful last look at each of us, Camolla took flight toward the cavern where I’d first woken.
Romalla led me further along the Wall until we came to stop at what seemed to be a makeshift shrine. Wrapped in his own broken wings, Krogallo rested against the Wall in a sitting position. There was a circle of blood upon a ring of leaves that surrounded him. Flowers, shells, and shiny stones were scattered all around him inside the circle. Outside of the blood-ring were a few dead beetles and small fish.
I willed open the same compartment of my chest that I had used to protect Romalla. When it (by some stupid miracle) opened, I filled the chassis with a few of the leaves, rocks, shells, and flowers from the shrine. I then lifted Krogallo's body and then gently rested him upon them. At another time, having a dead body inside of might have been unnerving. More than likely, what I was doing was psychological trauma in the making. But I decided that a few unpleasant feelings were the least I could suffer for him.
Without a word, I looked up at the Wall and felt the spikes in my fingers and toes extract yet again. I gazed up in silence, except for my fingers making clattering sounds as my body trembled. I pressed my claws into the rock like before, looked directly ahead into the concrete, and began to climb.
The only reason I knew that Romalla remained with me was the crunching sound of her hooked claws at my side. Neither of us volunteer any words. We just kept climbing.
ANN - Chapter 11 - Hello Nurse, Goodbye Divinity
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