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ANN - Chapter 9 - Our Terrifying Descent

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The sun took on a reddish-orange tint as it descended behind the sea—majestic, though I dared not look at it directly for fear of seeing the ground below. The air quickly grew quite cold … and the wind picked up loud enough to be heard on both sides of us. However, there was a general silence that hung heavily between us as we walked. Though I would have felt too terrified to look up, for fear of falling, I could see a plethora of stars and the lights of the cosmos all around us. Well … most of the time I could … when not walking through the fog of clouds drifting just over the Wall.


With all this extra time and silence, I began to get a sense of how long the Wall was. I noticed that we had not made any noticeable amount of progress toward the tall snow-capped mountains since we’d begun walking at noon. And the jungle below remained consistently dense—no matter how far we travelled. However, the height and the fruitlessness of our travels were not my only concerns.


Every time Romalla paused to take a break or look around, I fretted that she might say something. That she would verbalize her realization that her faith in me had been tragically misplaced. I began to wonder if exhaustion was what had kept her from thinking too much about my stupid excuse for not climbing down. When she began to slow … panting and shivering … I realized that her condition was much more serious than even that.


“Do you want to sleep in the … cave thing?” I asked, pointing to my chassis. My thought was that it was warm and would give her a break. I only realized after I offered that this was a bad idea. It was where I had carried Krogallo … and where she had been trapped during the fight with Steelface that had killed him.


Romalla shook her head solemnly, as I knew she would. She eventually sighed and said, “If it were not for the wind I could fly or sit on your shoulder.” Her teeth chattered as she spoke.


I nodded glumly. Unless I were to hold her in a vice-like grip, the wind would surely catch her wings and send her flying out of control. Watching Romalla, it also occurred to me that she needed food. Stubborn and resilient as she was, I had little doubt that she would push herself past her limits if she thought it was necessary.


I thought about digging around for insects. But then I remembered that we had seen no sign of them in the dusty ground when we had been digging before. Since the rest of the Wall looked pretty similar, I was certain enough that I wouldn’t have better luck anywhere else. It would just be stalling again … to keep from doing what I knew I had to.


No … I was going to have to climb. Down the stupid … horrible … egregious … sucky … ugly … Wall. I forced my legs to stop walking and barely managed to keep from whimpering. After a moment, I turned to face the ledge. From there, I didn’t know what to do.


I tried to think of a way to work up my courage. I tried to feel the grief that had numbed me enough for the initial climb. However, it wasn’t enough anymore.


I looked up at the Sky City … and thought that I could mentally recategorize the Wall in my mind as the shorter descent. You know, comparatively … to the Sky City … that I would inevitably have to climb to … and then also descend from. Nope. My attempts at self-reassurance had not worked in the least. Whoever I'd been in my previous life, they clearly hadn’t been good at being a reassuring kind of person.


Still, I had to do something unless I wanted to kill Romalla via exposure and hunger. But if I couldn’t do this with courage, or brain tricks, of sadness, then what else was there other than force? Force … coercion. Suddenly, the answer became clear. I had to corner myself … and force myself to do this.


Without giving myself time to think and change my mind, I blurted out, “We have to go down!” Just saying the words made me feel sick.


I realized that Romalla had hopped to my side. She looked up and gave a resolute nod. Then, in looking at me for a moment, she wrinkled her brow and said, “You don't look happy about it.”


“How could you tell?” My question was rhetorical and mildly sarcastic, though I should have known by then that it wouldn't be taken that way.


“That crescent moon you make with your mouth when you are happy, it is upside-down when you seem to be displeased,” Romalla said, bending the sides of her face in a dramatic exaggeration of a frown. “Do you fear that climbing down may not be the wisest course of action? I know that you tend to worry for us Night People, but I assure you that I can continue on for as long as we need. You do not need to alter your perfect plan for my sake.”


I ignored her and took a step forward. Immediately, I had to look directly down at my feet to stop from feeling nauseous. Oh god, why could robots feel nauseous? Dizzy also! Who was the cruel Golem-faced bloodbag that designed robots to be able to feel dizzy? I lowered down to my hands and knees and focused on the dirt.


“Is there something wrong with the Wall?” Romalla asked.


“Ugh … no.” I muttered, shaking my head.


“Then the gods don't want us to-”


“No… no … no.” I mumbled, struggling to stay upright.


Romalla paused and, for a blessed moment, I thought that she would stop. Then, with a moment’s hesitation, she opened her mouth again. “You … know of a spiritual strength that can only be gained from our ... position close to the heavens?”


“I don't like heights!” I shouted, able to take no more. I crawled quickly back to the center of the Wall. Though I had no wings, I felt like even a slight gust of air would send me flying over the edge. Or else gravity would shift for a moment, and I would be sent plummeting to the ground. My body trembled and I began to question ever choice I had made up until now—particularly that of ever leaving my sleeping pod.


Romalla over so that she was standing over my head. She stared at me in silence for a moment … and, in shame, I found myself scared at what she would say about me. To my surprise, she looked at her wings with an expression of disgust and said, “I’m sorry, Bassello. I swear that I will never fly again, so long as I live! It would not be worth it to dishonor the gods … going into the heights that so offend them.”


I let out the most pitiful groan I’d ever heard anyone make. “That's not what I meant.” I whispered weakly.


My words were lost on Romalla, however, who still seemed to still be trying to piece together the intricacies of my ‘divine’ message. She scratched between toes thoughtfully and wrinkled her forehead. “Then you … find being on the Wall beneath your status?”


“I'm afraid of heights!” I said, finally more sick of dodging the question than I felt embarrassed.


Romalla stared at me in silence for a moment. Then, with tone and eyes filled to the brim with a nauseating amount of sympathy, she asked, “Is that why you came down from Heaven, Bassello? You were scared because it was so high up?”


“No!” I said, letting my face collapse into the dirt. At any other time, I might have reflected on how that was a pretty decent twist on a cliched pickup like. It might have even worked on me. However, I could only lay there. It took me a good few minutes before I could finally look up a little bit and answer her. “I've just never liked heights, okay? I don't remember why, I just started climbing and … I figured out that they make me feel uncomfortable.”


“But you climbed all the way up the Wall,” Romalla said, gesturing toward the direction we had come from.


“That was different. We were going up, and I could see what I was grabbing onto. And … I was thinking about Krogallo.”


Romalla's bafflement did not vanish entirely at my explanation. However, it was joined by a new—and rather wrinkled—calculating expression. “Do … you want me to make you sad again?”


Oh no, I realized that she was trying to think of solutions!


Romalla continued, “I could remind you that you're a god who's afraid of heights … or … that you are all alone. That you are the only god who came to us. The downward crescent moon on your face when you are alone on the beach always makes me so sad to see. Think of that!”


“Thanks,” I mumbled and barely managed to keep from burying my face in the dirt again. Glad to know that I wasn’t the only one aware that I was an embarrassment to gods and robots everywhere. I tried to close my eyes so that I could retreat into my own mind but then realized that I didn't have any eyes to close. The round images on my face were just digital representations of eyes. Good. Wonderful. Fantastic. Great and grand.


I turned to stare out at the sea, where I could see the moon reflected by the water, and rested my head on the dirt, where it belonged.


“Are you frozen in fear, Bassello?” Romalla asked, seeming more curious than disappointed.


“No,” I replied, without any more energy to fight or protest. “I'm probably just stalling again, thinking about stupid things so I … don’t have to do this.”


We sat there for a few minutes in what felt like a very awkward silence. After a moment, Romalla hopped around to face me. Her eyes had brightened. In a slightly cheerier tone, she said, “Well, as a prophet to the gods, I now have an even better idea than my first.”


“I thought you were an apprentice,” I muttered, managing to squeeze out an unexpected last drop of sour from the mangled lemon that was my soul.


But Romalla was not paying attention to my nonsense. She crawled up my arm and then perched herself upside-down on my face. She spread her wings to cover my entire field of view, bared her teeth in a smile, and then said, “Now, all you have to do is look at me. I'll watch what's happening beneath you so that you don't have to see downward.”


I thought about this for a moment. The plan seemed reasonable enough—to my surprise. Maybe … maybe it would work.


Slowly, I nodded, got up onto my hands and knees, and then crawled toward the edge of the Wall. Once I could hear the wind rising off it, I blindly felt for the ledge.


“You're just about to touch the ledge, maybe five fingers away,” Romalla said, her head turned to look ahead of me so that I found myself getting far too close a look into her ear.

I nodded and slowly reached a shaky hand out. However, I felt nothing there but empty air and wind blowing into my palm. My imagination was filled with visions of tumbling and then plummeting to a very prolonged and terror-filled death. I let out something between a groan and a whimper before I realized the problem. “You meant your fingers, didn't you?” I whispered.


“Of course,” Romalla said, clearly failing to see the problem.


I wanted to ask her to start using inches or centimeters. Unfortunately, I didn't know how big a centimeter was. As for inches … it was probably best not to bring back the imperial system for the Night People—talk about ruining their culture.


“Bassello, are you stalling again?” Romalla asked. She tapped her claws on my glass face.

I realized that I had not moved in nearly a minute. “Yes, sorry.”


I reached again, this time brushing my hand along the ground until only the tips of my clawed fingers were over the ledge. I then paused, trying to think of the best way to do this, and then turned my body so that my toes were dangling over instead.


Trembling, I lowered a leg just a bit and then kicked my sharpened toes into the concrete so that I had a firm foothold. I gave another high-pitched moan. I had to wait another moment before I had worked up enough courage to stretch my other leg down … and let the rest of my body slide … off the safety of the ledge.


I forced myself to mindlessly repeat the process again to descend lower. Then again … and again. My footholds became handholds and I just tried to keep my actions as mechanical as possible.


On I went, for a good twenty feet until a question popped into my brain for which I didn't really want an answer … about Romalla’s particular aptitude for her self-assigned task of being my eyes. I tried not to ask, but the question haunted me more and more with each step down. Until I felt I would be better off with a bad response to my question than with none. I whispered, “There was a saying with my people. 'Blind as a … Night Person.’ That was just an ignorant joke that was completely untrue, right?”


“Of course!” Romalla said, baring her teeth in a friendly smile. It made me wonder how terrifying it might have been to someone unfamiliar with the Night People … or to someone who was not dealing with the much more horrific terror of climbing down a monolithic wall.


“Good,” I said, so relieved that I managed to smile the slightest bit.


Romalla nodded. “My ears see exceptionally well … as long as the spirit realm does not interfere.”


Ears?


“What about your eyes?” I asked, slowing my pace just a bit for a moment.


“Well, they're useful for seeing your facial expressions … but how would one see in the sky with their eyes?” Romalla asked, clearly confused.


A shudder went through my body, and I decided that I should have trusted my instinct not to say anything. I breathlessly whispered, “Good point,” and embraced the numbing aspect of my fear as I continued to climb in silence.


The hours felt both eternal and instantaneous, somehow, as I forced my body to stay in a rhythm while my mind screamed for me to stop. So, it came as a surprise when the sun rose, and light became a little more visible through Romalla's wings.


At that point, I couldn't help but ask, “Are we getting close to the ground?”


Romalla cocked her head, having already been looking down. “I'd say … we are three full dive-bombs up from the ground.”


“Uh …”


“About the height of two very large trees?” Romalla said, trying again.


“How large is 'very large'?” I asked, wondering if she was talking about a large tree from her island or some hypothetically enormous tree from another island.


“Do you want to look down and judge for yourself?” Romalla asked, tilting her head up. Or … down. Whatever direction 'toward the sky' would be when one is hanging upside-down. Perhaps tilting was the wrong verb altogether.


“No … sorry … just getting antsy,” I said, telling myself that it was definitely a small tree. Yes … definitely.


As I continued down, I found myself with thinking about how I could have possibly done this had I not awakened in a robot body. My fleshy palms would have been sweaty right now … had my body not given out entirely long ago. I imagined how it would feel to have a sweaty hand … apart from potentially slipping and falling to my death.


I couldn’t help but stop and give another shudder.


“You seem to be freezing again,” Romalla said. “What are you thinking about right now?”


“Um … slipping and falling to my death,” I replied. “The falling more than the dying.”


“Perhaps it would be good to distract you with conversation. So … What makes you happier?” Romalla asked.


I thought about this for a moment, but it was difficult to think of anything not related to how far up I was. So, I found myself just kind of babbling my reply. “I … don't know. When I was stuck in the pod and not able to wake up, I remember feeling a lot happier when I could watch the Night People. It made me forget my nightmares.”


“You were imprisoned in that tiny cave and having nightmares?” Romalla asked, opening her mouth and wrinkling her face in a clearly horrified expression.


I kind of nodded. I was sort of the truth … though I had technically been imprisoned by sleep. I didn’t think that the pod had ever possessed power to keep me imprisoned, in and of itself. Of course, this was a lot to process and explain in my current predicament and mental state.


“Wow,” Romalla said. “I would have thought that being trapped in there for so long would make you appreciate heights.”


“Not helping,” I said, having nearly gotten my altitude out of the forefront of my thoughts. I paused again, and it took me another moment to get going. When I finally did, I gave a sigh and asked, “What makes you happier, Romalla?”


“Other than heights?”


“And being annoying,” I muttered. “Yes, other than those two things.”


Romalla paused to think, completely unphased by my jab. After a moment, she said, “Well … I'm happy to be climbing the Wall with my friend.” There was a moment of silence where she looked awkward.


I briefly felt bad for having called her annoying (as true as it might have been). My tone a little quieter, I replied, “Well, I like traveling with you too … minus the heights.”


And I realized as I said it … how true it was. I couldn’t remember my own past, but the ghosts of forgotten friendships were not something that seemed familiar to me. And though I had the impression that I had some kind of family in my life before, and a few people I cared deeply for, there was no feeling that I had ever had a close friendship. That spot in my unconscious memories just seemed … particularly blank.


Now, I had Romalla. And as much as I missed Krogallo and his wisdom, or Camolla and her ability to make me feel like everything was going to be alright, Romalla was the closest thing to a friend that I could remember having. I was glad that it was her who was the one who had come with me from the island.


We both smiled at one another, awkwardly.


Then Romalla looked down toward the ground. When she did, she opened her mouth widely and shouted, “Bassello!”


It startled me so much that one of my hands grabbed the wall too strongly and caused it to crumble to dust. I rapidly punched another hole, pressed my face into the rock, and then finally whispered, “What?”


Romalla leaped off my face and then began to glide circles around my head. “Look down!”

I shuddered one last time and then looked down. Brown earth covered with moss was only three feet beneath me. The unexpected closeness of it made me feel the most pleasant sensation of disorientation that I could remember ever having felt.


It seemed that Romalla had not, in fact, nearly just killed me. Unless, of course, robots could die of heart attacks after falling three feet into soft-looking dirt and moss.


I released the concrete and dropped … landing with an overly heavy thud. I was down! I could hardly resist the impulse to try and kiss the spongy earth with my lipless face. (I also did not want to start a new religious trend for Romalla to spread among her people. I could already see that image in my head and would not be held responsible for it.)


“We made it,” I said, still not quite believing that my ordeal was over. My legs felt wobbly. I stood there for a moment, just looking at the Wall in a euphoric daze.


However, this was interrupted when Romalla's stomach gave a rumble.


Right, food! I shook myself awake and turned around to face the jungle. Before us was a towering line of massive trees and vines. Much of this vegetation was darker green in coloration than anything on the Island. Even the bark on the trees was largely green—with only shadows and a few flowers to break up the monotony of color.


And shadows there certainly were. Though it was now morning, I could already see that it still looked like night inside the treeline. This … was going to be difficult. The only area that seemed thin enough to traverse with any amount of ease was directly next to the Wall—where little sun reached, and only small tangles of vines seemed happy. I took a moment to bemoan my inability to activate my blades—as they would have been helpful to cut a trail.


But I had already wasted enough time stalling on top of the Wall and dreading the difficulty of the task ahead. We needed to find Romalla some food.


I took a few steps forward and passed the first towering tree. The moment I stepped into the shadows of the jungle, something caught my eye for the briefest instant. I thought I saw a dull yellow glow. Before I could really tell, however, it was gone.


“Did you see that?” I asked.


Romalla landed on my shoulder, looked at where I was indicating, and then asked, “See what, Bassello? The trees? The many delicious-looking bugs and frogs and lizards? The strange muddy soil?” I realized that she was already glaring hungrily at the dark jungle around us, even letting out a couple sharp clicking noises.


“Uh … no,” I said, only seeing one of the aforementioned lizards. It seemed to be her echolocation at work.


“Then what did you see?” Romalla asked, sounding distracted for obvious reasons as her stomach gave another gurgle.


“Just something … yellow,” I said, looking for any sign of it. Had I really seen something?

On the one hand, anyone could have seen the two of us descend the Wall and followed us here. On the other, there could have easily been a pair of fluorescent insects like fireflies or something. And if Romalla could see so many bugs and lizards camouflaged in this dense, dark jungle—using her echolocation—surely she would have seen anything bigger.


So I shook my head. “I … I don’t know. Probably nothing.”


“Are you sure?” Romalla asked, just about dancing with antsiness by this point.


As if to answer, the blades on my arms sprang out, reminding me of some cliché about being careful what I wished for. I shuddered and noted that I could feel an unusual amount of hatred for that particular cliché. Still … neither of us saw anything. And wasn’t it personally reasonable that my nerves would be triggering the blades after all the stress and danger I’d endured? Maybe I was even getting better at summoning them!


Still, I couldn’t help but feel spooked. Real danger or not, however, I decided that I had might as well used my blades to clear a path. If we were to continue our journey, we had no choice but to move forward.

This is my first-released novel. It is YA/Fantasy/Adventure. This is the semi-final version, before publication. Kindly-spoken constructive criticism is invited--especially when it comes to errors. Otherwise, please enjoy!

New uploads will come out every Friday. Feel free to add me on FB if you would like to be notified when new works are uploaded to DA and other platforms. 

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