Flowered Metal | 20

Drums filled the air along with smoke and the smell of burning flesh. They chased after the dying light. Its streams of orange and gold slipping over the eastern summits to escape the sorrowful howls that lingered underneath. Mothers buried their children; wives and husbands buried their loved ones; young children watched in confusion as their parents were sent to the “Great Forest beyond”, the concept of death eluding them.

“I should have tried harder,” Syfa whispered. Her voice was raspy from the sorrow. Her father was in that pyre. The only peace she found today was that he’d no longer be along, and he hunted in the sky with her mother. He had lived long, till he was gray and his bones began to ache. “If I had just invoked my right as the Hikari’s shaman to do it…”

The vixen sat outside her cave, the debris cleared as several Spider-drones lingered in the darkness of the village. They had come hours later to help with the destruction and to salvage Opal’s UAV.

“I do not see why you did not,” Opal’s sweet and tender was as low as hers. Syfa looked up to the white and black Battle-Drone that stood next to her. The metal staff that was colored as the rest of it was still in its hands, though, pointed off to the side. “If you believed your home was in danger, you should have moved it, or came to me for help. Per my father’s words, friends help friends.”

As the last vestiges of light died in the east, the moonless night moved in. Now, only the fire’s light flickered across the mountainside. Per the rites, those who had lost their loved ones began to fan the flames with wicker fans. The drums died away and sorrowful howls filled the air, chasing after the embers – the souls of the lost.

“There was a lot of I could have done different, but…” Syfa paused for a moment, digesting the last of Opal’s sentence. “Yeah… I should have. I shouldn’t have allowed them to stick to tradition. I knew how far the outside world had advanced. We’re just barely creating iron, but they’re already have enchanted plate armor. But… I… The last time I had disobeyed my father, I lost. I thought…”

I thought that if I listened this time, I would win. I wouldn’t suffer like I did out there. Syfa reflected. I thought that, if I listened this time… I would win. That if I followed my people’s ways this time, it wouldn’t turn out like before… 

And that had proven stupid as well. Syfa didn’t know what to do anymore. She was now the de facto leader of the tribe until Haiafe took up that mantle. He, however, was not the leader figure. There was no one here that didn’t know this. So, unless someone else felt they were ready to take it up, it was up to Syfa to lead.

“Following protocol is the correct course of action, however,” Opal looked down upon the woman. “Contextual input matters as well. Not all protocols can be applied to every situation. I am learning this, and I believe you should learn as well.”

Syfa nodded. She understood this too. In fact, that had been the reason she had run away when she was around Haiafe’s age. All she knew then was only what the traders who came by to trade for their pelts told her. Syfa had been bewitched by tales of handsome knights and pretty balls. That little girl had dreamt of being one of the high-born and wearing gowns of silk, though, she didn’t have much of an idea what gowns were. She did know of silk. The trader had let her feel a bolk of pink silk once.

That had been before their village had been attacked. When they lived closer to the western Kingdom, miles past Wilfred’s Holdfast.

When they had been chased from their old home and travel eastern until their closest allies took them in. She thought that her father had been a weak man for not fighting back. The irony wasn’t lost upon her that she would lose him because he wanted to dig his feet in. Syfa may have been their Shaman, but she wasn’t their shaman. She had magic and she had seen things those here never have.

Even now, they didn’t have her lead the funeral rituals. Instead, the oldest Hikari did so. She knew how to run them, but never had so before. She was not considered their spiritual leader. Her father had been. Now, some old woman – weak of voice and body – lead them through it. Her face dry in the searing heat of the fire.

“How does it feel to lose your father?” Opal asked after the conversation had fallen silent. Syfa glared up at the metal husk that Opal inhabited at the moment. The woman had figured out that Opal could inhabit any of her metal beasts at any time, and somehow, it felt a relief. However, as she had learned soon enough, Opal lacked tact and sensitivity towards the current atmosphere.

“What kind of question is that?” Syfa asked. “How the fuck do you think it feels? I just lost my father, and I can’t even be the one to send him off! Instead, I have to watch over the injured and the dying!” And she made her feel like the scum of the earth, and it made her wish she had died alongside him. Maybe then, Syfa would have been treated with love more than fear.

“I ask because I wish to know,” Opal responded. “My creator, Dr. Vizimer, called himself my father and that I am his daughter. Per the records I can access, he never referred to me by anything else than Opal or his daughter. He is dead. I wish to know how I am supposed to feel about him being that way.”

Syfa’s heart sank. She felt like a terrible person for snapping at her. The woman closed her eyes and bowed her head. Tears besieged her eyes, and she fought them back with all her will. Syfa took a few moments to compose herself before she gave Opal her answer. A true answer.

“Its supposed to hurt,” Syfa said. “It feels like there is a hole in the world, and nothing you do fills in. This is sadness. You’ll also feel regret that you didn’t spend more time with them. Wish you hadn’t fought so much and you cherished them like a dragon cherishes their treasures.” That was how she felt right now. The starry sky felt lonely without its moon, as did she feel without her father. It felt like the sun would never rise. The rivers would never flow.

Opal followed Syfa’s gaze. “I see.” Syfa’s eyes slid over to this strange being. They had known each other for less than a week. Yet, she felt a strange bond with her. Even with her odd abilities.

“How do you feel about your dad being gone?” Syfa asked.

“I do not know,” Opal answered. “Dr. Vizimer is gone, however, I feel a strong inclination to please him despite him being gone. I desire his presence. I have his remains, but they do not speak to me like he did when he was alive. It is unsatisfactory.” The strange metal husk that housed the spirit of Opal looked down upon Syfa. Despite just a single blue ring dimmed by that strange black glass, she felt more real than anything else right now.

Like Opal was the only one who understood what she felt. Though, Syfa knew how silly that was. There were many here that understood what she felt. Death was not foreign to them. At this point, it was the constant for the dying Beast-folk of the land. Humans were weak, yes, but they spawned like rabbits. Beast-folk, while physically hardier than humans on average, suffered from low fertility if not being baren.

Each loss was more than just losing a loved one. It was like a raging wildfire burning an entire valley in one night. The people they lost tonight couldn’t be replaced within a generation. It’d taken two generations and the merging of two allied clans. Nearly 200 hundred beastmen lived in the Hikari tribe. 100 had left to form another alliance with the rabbit-folk to the north, halving their numbers. They had lost close to 40 men today.

All that was left was half that were here were women between the ages of 1-50 and males between 5-30. Most of them under the age of 16 as of today now.

Yes. The villagers down there knew her pain.

“Hey, Opal,” Syfa’s mind had turned out a new idea. If the Hikari people were Opal’s friends or even just her, it could work. “Do you think we could move our village next to your home?”

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