ANN - Chapter 8 - Stumbling Through My Fears
The hot noon hung over us as we continued our climb. It had been several hours since we began our ascent, and I was doing all I could to keep from thinking about that fact. I continued to look directly into the concrete, lifting myself one step at a time. This went on until the terrifying moment when I reached up only for my hand to catch empty air. Was I … at the top?
Shakily, I lowered my hand until I felt an edge. Then, I pulled myself up and over it. I scrambled on my belly until no part of me was hanging over the ledge. The top of the Wall was about ten feet thick, so I was able to position myself dead center—where I could see off neither side. Finally feeling a semblance of safety, I collapsed face-first into what felt like soil.
For a good several minutes, I did nothing but lie there. It was only when my panic finally subsided a bit that I hesitantly sat up.
I had made it … to the top of the Wall. Though the area directly around me was clear, I could see clouds floating nearby that I could have easily just stood up and walked through. The thought of it made me queasy.
After another minute, I forced myself to face the sea. There, I saw many islands in the expanse. From the ground, I had only seen a few of them, as well as the peninsula where the Servants lived. Now, I could now see hundreds more to the left and to the right—far into the distance. Most were small—like endless freckles upon the ocean. A few looked huge enough to contain cities.
Then there was a single chain of scattered islands that stretched into the horizon as far as I could see. I had to guess that these were a trail of mountain tops. How far did they go?
As I stared, I found myself imagining hundreds or thousands of other Night People tribes in those forested lands. I wondered how far they had migrated along the mountain chain. And what about the other mountain chains in the world? How many places like this were there? How many different peoples?
It was a lot to take in, but nothing compared to what I saw when I turned around. At a glance, I could tell I had been right about Wall being round. Not just round—but an enormous circle that could have contained several large human cities within. The only place I could see that seemed like it could be a man-made city, however, was elevated far above it.
An enormous pillar rose out of the center of the forested land; it was large as a mountain. It rose higher than the Wall and seemed anchored to it by wires secured at the top. The nearest one was only a few hundred yards from me—within walking distance. It had to be big around as a tree-trunk.
I passively wondered if it would be possible to climb, but I had no interest in doing so. I reasoned that my best bet was to get to the base of the pillar, where there had to be some kind of stairway or elevator. But what was at the top?
All I could see was a circular platform that seemed to be made of the same gray concrete as the Wall. From where I stood, there was no seeing what was on top of it … though I supposed that a city could have even been inside the platform for how large it was. All I could see was very distant movement rising in a line—nearly invisible unless you started closely. Almost like a trail of very distant insects, rising straight from the center of the platform.
So, this was the Sky City … floating like Olympus and even surrounded by clouds. Again, I had to ask myself if I was even on Earth anymore. If this was my world, what had become of it since I’d been trapped in that pod? How long had I been out?
And lastly … was I alone? The only robot walking around in a body that they were sure couldn’t be their own.
Steelface had indicated that there were others like me. Except, he had also made it very clear that they were not like me. He had called them the Triumvirate—an order of New Humans, Educators, and AI. They sounded far braver than me … but had allegedly been responsible for a horrific genocide. Of course, I wasn’t going to take Steelface at his word on all this. But if he was telling the truth, the Triumvirate was completely different from me as well—whether for good or for bad. Still, they were my only hoped of getting answers, along with some way to deal with the Immortals.
For now, I had to figure out how I was going to get to the base of the pillar. I had to … look down. It took a moment for my body to respond to my insistence that I needed to figure out what awaited be below. Slowly, forced myself to look down—to the landscape under the Sky City. It seemed to be a lot of jungle, split into sections by mountain areas. The peaks to the right of the Sky City were particularly enormous—with snow-capped peaks that looked vaguely familiar.
“It's … the City of the Gods,” Romalla whispered with reverence.
I jumped, having forgotten entirely that she had been with me the whole time. Placing a hand on my chest, I turned to face her.
Romalla’s jaw had dropped, and her pupils were more dilated than I'd ever seen them. Apart from her amazement, I now realized that her fur was a little wet with sweat, and that her body was trembling a bit.
I felt a pang of guilt—both for having forgotten her and for not having helped her up. I had just been … lost … and too numb.
“Krogallo would have given anything to see it … to hear it. I can hear them so clearly, now. The spirits are singing. It's beautiful,” Romalla said—her voice tired and her expression becoming more distant. Eventually, she tore her eyes away and stared at a spot in the soil beneath us. “Is this a good spot?”
I didn't know what she was talking about, at first. But then came the emotional weight of the night before as I remembered. I looked around; everything up here seemed about the same—dusty soil with the rare plant here or there. I slumped my shoulders and whispered, “Yeah.”
I knelt beside her and began to dig out a hole. It didn’t take long—a minute at most—before we reached concrete, only about a foot beneath the surface.
I willed open my chassis to get Krogallo. Trying to ignore the smell and the undignified cruelty of what nature was already doing, I lifted him out and then lowered him into the hole. After just a moment of pause, where I saw that the body was already losing all resemblance to the lively person he had been, I gently covered him.
Romalla used her mouth and claws to remove the stones, shells, flowers, and leaves from my chassis. Then she made a small circle around the burial place.
Then we were both still, silently watching the mound for several minutes.
“Now I have another voice to listen for when praying into the spirit realm. Perhaps he will be able to find me. Or … maybe not,” Romalla said and stared down at the loose soil. There was a long pause before she spoke again. “Where should we go now, Bassello?”
I pointed up at the giant platform in the sky and said, “The Golem told me that there are people like me up there. Maybe they can help us.”
Romalla scratched her toes for a moment, opening her mouth and then closing it. She seemed to be struggling to keep quiet; but the part of her that wanted to talk quickly won out. “But the Golem could have been lying! You can't trust devils. Especially the one that-”
Even though she stopped, I understood. The one who had caused this tragedy … and the reason we had to bring Krogallo here to begin with. Intentional or not, Steelface had caused all this by trying to force my hand—using the Night People as leverage.
“You don’t trust him, do you?” Romalla asked, having forced a façade of composure.
“No.” I replied and shook my head slowly. “But the Golem seemed … scared of the people like me. Maybe he is that good a liar, but he didn’t seem like someone who would want to seem weak. I’m … just not sure what to think.”
Romalla thought about this a moment and then nodded firmly. “I trust in your will. Also … I will admit to also thinking that the place out there, above us must be the City of the Gods. Regardless, we will discover the truth once we get there.” She hopped to the ledge that led down to the jungle and began to climb over.
“Woah, what are you doing?” I asked, the sight making me feel dizzy. Just watching her made me feel scared for her. Of course, I knew rationally she could fly. But that didn’t help the instinctive feeling that she was a foot away from a horrifying death by fall. And even if she didn’t fall … I would have to then follow her down. This secondary thought brought my terror back to me, full circle.
“I’m going to the City of the Gods,” Romalla replied. She climbed back up to the top and wrinkled her face as she looked at me “I did not think that you had the ability to fly … and even I would not be able to go that far—even without the strong winds that are sure to be up there.”
“I mean, no, but-” I said and looked at the edge of the Wall again. Unlike before, my discomfort with heights was now stronger than any feelings of grief or determination. I didn’t know if I could actually climb down, now. Without waiting to figure out why I was doing it, I quickly tried to think of any excuse. “I just meant that … we could probably walk along the Wall until we find a clear shot to the center. Walking in the jungle might be dangerous.”
Unlike what it probably seemed, it had in fact occurred to me that telling her the truth probably would have been better. It might have even helped me convince her of my non-divinity. However, the idea of telling her made me feel … somehow embarrassed and ashamed. So much so that I knew my cheeks had to be glowing pink again.
Fortunately, Romalla didn't think too much about it. She nodded and began to hop along the Wall—east, toward the snow-capped mountains.
I followed … with no idea as to what I was going to do if I ever wanted off this wretched Wall.
Fortunately, something in the corner of my vision distracted me from my hopeless plight. I almost missed it as it flew over my head and behind me. I turned to see what it had been, only to find that it was something … nearly invisible. Before I could study it at all, the thing had descended down the interior of the Wall.
For a moment, I thought that this would be all I saw of it. After all, I certainly wasn’t going to peer off a ledge just to see where a nearly-invisible, unknown flying-object had gone. But then I heard something—a grinding noise that seemed to be coming from directly underneath me.
Was it … digging into the Wall?
A sudden and horrific thought occurred to me. What if it was destroying the Wall? Maybe the Immortal was wrong about me being safe climbing over, or it had tricked me for some reason. Now, a detonation would suddenly cause the ground underneath me to crumble—sending me careening to my death so far below.
No. As little as I liked it, I had to make sure I wasn’t about to die in the most horrible way I could think of.
My hands violently shaking, I slowly reached out and grabbed the concrete edge of the Wall in a clawed death-grip. I took a moment to prepare myself … and then another as I tried to fight through my terror to gain control of my basic motor functions. Then, as quickly as I could, I peeked off the side. I saw a blur of gray and green, and then a set of silver shapes, before I rapidly threw myself back to safety.
My entire body trembled as I tried to make sense at what I had seen. The gray blur had been the Wall, of course, and the green had been the jungle below. However, there had also been something metal that had looked almost like a … cannon—pointing straight at me. Of course, such a cannon didn’t make sense—pointed directly up and without any obvious ability to pivot around.
Sure, I wasn’t absolutely sure about its maneuverability, given how briefly I had looked, but why would someone build a gun directly adjacent to a wall, instead of on a pivoting stand mounted on top? At best, the cannon-like thing I saw was mounted so close to the cement that it would have only been able to rotate from side to side. Maybe it was to shoot people climbing up the Wall, trying to escape? But then why face it up where rain could get into the barrel, instead of aiming it down? No, the cannon theory didn’t make sense.
This had to be something else. For now, however, my need to make sure we were not in danger was satisfied. Whatever it was, it had not blasted me into the air when my face had been directly in the potential line of fire. Also, it definitely didn’t seem to be a bomb. Meaning the flying thing I had seen, and now heard beneath me, likely had something to do with the device. Most importantly, it seemed to have no desire to make me fall off a ledge.
“Bassello?” Romalla said. She hopped closer until she was standing over me. “Is … everything alright?”
“I just … saw something,” I replied, still not quite sure what that thing could have possibly been.
“In the dirt?” she asked, lowering her ear to the ground.
I pointed to the ledge.
Romalla stood, hopped over, and peaked down like it was no big deal. “Interesting. There is a piece of rock that looks similar to your body. Surely, we are getting close to the City of the Gods!”
I groaned and then shakily got up onto my hands and knees.
I can neither confirm nor deny that I continued our journey crawling like that for the next several minutes … until I had the strength of mind to stand again.
ANN - Chapter 12 - Battle of the Bands
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