The Sorrow of Obligation
The Brass Automaton Saga Part XIX
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|| Rennoc Woods grew more oppressive with each step. The tall tree’s thick canopy absorbed more and more sunlight as they traveled further along Pelyse’s invisible path. Even the once thick bramble had given way to bare, hard packed ground that jolted them with every step. Sky had only ever known being a soldier and her woodcraft skills were second to none amongst the Sisters, she had tracked Tenyks through every terrain Oossah had to offer, and was almost always tagged to be an advanced scout. So she found the ease with which the Dwarves simply disappeared, even when there was naught but tree trunks for cover, deeply disconcerting.
The only exception was Poedy who hadn’t left her side since they had entered the wood, although he did seem to enjoy Cloud Dancer’s companionship more than hers. He walked with the horse’s leads in hand, and would gently reach up to pat its neck every now then. Cloud Dancer had taken years to bond to her, and was usually frightful to everyone else who encountered him, but he had even started to nudge Poedy affectionately after mere hours of marching.
Then Poedy stopped, pulling Cloud Dancer still with him. In a moment before the other dwarves appeared, each alerted. Sky didn’t know what was going on, and wasn’t about to wait. In a smooth motion she dismounted with both swords out and was scanning the treeline, near and far, for whatever the Dwarves were reacting to.
“You’ll not be needing those yet,” Odc gimly said to her. “Our fight isn’t yet at hand.”
“I must go,” Poedy said, surprising her. She had never heard him speak before.
“I know,” Odc said, as a tear was lost into the tangles of his beard.
As Poedy turned and looked at Sky, she was suddenly glad she had already had her swords out. She had never seen Poedy’s face show more than simple joy and earnestness. He had never seemed to fully understand the gravity of their situation, nor the consequences of their quest. Now there was no longer any simpleness to his face. Nor joy. Cloud Dancer shook his head in a whiny and pawed at the ground as though he battle approached.
“Poedy?” she said softly, sheathing her swords and kneeling in the harsh, scrabble dirt.
“I will miss you,” he said with a voice tinged with the kind of sadness that runs too deep for tears.
“He’ll be needing your horse, Sky,” Odc said, breaking the moment.
“I don’t understand any of this!” she spat in frustration. “What is this? What!?”
“Hush woman,” hissed Prymgu, “you’ll wake the Trees themselves!”
Before Sky could answer, Poedy took her hands in his, “I am called elsewhere. It is my obligation. My duty; my time. It is far, and time is short.
“It’s a safe journey for him,” Poedy added, nodding towards Cloud Dancer.
“Pypha?” Sky heard Odc call, “How lays the land?”
“The horse cannot go much further,” Pypha reported from his scouting. “It turns to swamp in a mile. Lung Flies, too.”
Sky nodded her assent. On impulse she kissed Poedy on the forehead, and was surprised at how cold he was. His countenance didn’t change, but he squeezed her hands before releasing them and deftly mounting Cloud Dancer despite his stature. Sky grabbed her pack from her horse, patted his neck and bade him well. He replied with a gentle nuzzle and a soft wicker before letting Poedy lead him back out of the woods.
“His fate lies elsewhere,” Odc said in response to her unasked question, “when we are through this I promise I will explain. For now though, I fear we must hurry.”
“Very well, King Odc, though you still owe me more of an explanation for Prymgu’s words about my duty.”
“I told you all I can. The less you know, the less hesitation there will be. Trust me. Trust Snow.”
Odc grunted and the party continued.
“Lung flies?” Sky asked, returning her attention to the journey.
“There,” Pypha said, his usual grin gone as he pointed towards a nasty cloud of white specks, lit by the afternoon’s slanting sunlight. “We’ll need to wrap our heads from here on in. They get in your lungs and lay eggs. They won’t kill their host, but they don’t give a care if they hurt them.
“Take special your nose, mouth, and ears are tightly covered.”
“Why do I need to cover my ears if they’re ‘lung flies?'”
“They may not care as much for the distinction as you,” he answered matter of factly.
Sky nodded, tightly wrapping her head too and descended towards the swamp with the remaining six.
Poedy patted Cloud Dancer’s neck in gratitude. He would have to go the rest of the way on foot anyways. Time was short, it always was, even in its infinite expanse. But, Cloud Dancer deserved more than merely a sendoff. Poedy gave him a bit of sugar, removed his tackle, and gave him a quick, but thorough, rub down.
“Find Sky, my friend,” Poedy whispered to the beast. He watched the horse walking back towards Rennoc Woods, nibbling at the grass as he went. With a wry smile, Poedy doffed his cap to Cloud Dancer’s slowly retreating haunches and returned his attention to the canyon in front of him. He could see it was a canyon, could see the sharp slopes on either side and the sparse thickets of trees lining the worn, winding path through its narrow fissure, but only if he didn’t directly look at it.
Although Nature’s creatures could see the valley, he alone of the intelligent forms was immune to the Magick camoflouging its mouth. Even then the Magick was powerful enough to block him when looked at it directly. He walked up to its edge and ran his hand across the illusion, feeling the rough stone, cool in the shadows, and warm in the retreating sunlight. Then he closed his eyes and pushed, turning the stone’s solidity into that of air. He walked forward, eyes closed in determination until he felt the coarse lines of ancient bark. He snapped his eyes open, inside the valley at last.
Our story continues with Chapter XX, The Art of Bookkeeping
D. Paul Angel