It’s on days like today, when I have the money from my toil and sweat taken from me by force, get beaten up, and have my swollen face forced into a puddle by the side of the road.
On days like this I remember one girl, wearing a white one-piece.
She's standing in a sunflower field, her silvery-white hair fluttering, staring at me with equally silvery eyes as she speaks.
“Promise me you won't cry anymore."
“Even if you get lonely, don't do anything bad. Okay?”
I just nod obediently. The girl smiles like the sunflowers behind her, reaches out, and without even thinking about her pretty clothes getting dirty, embraces me. I don't know why, but I want to cry. But I'd just promised her not to cry anymore, so I hold it back. A pleasant warmth and smells drift from her, and feelings from deep within my soul, feelings I don't understand, like pain, grief, and misery, are wiped away.
I lift my head from the half-frozen water and wiped my face with my sleeve. A mixture of mud and blood smears onto the cloth. I touch my head; there are two big lumps.
A group of homeless Levahmian orphans had assaulted me. They'd mistaken me for an Amatsuvian and attacked me. Six of them. I didn’t stand a chance. All the money I'd earned from scrounging up iron scraps was stolen.
It wasn't the first time I'd been attacked by a group of orphans. Violence is a daily occurrence here in the Amadora slums of Rio de Este, and people pay as much attention to it as they do to the cries of the pigeons. But my mother was an Amatsuvian and my father was a Levahmian, so I end up being targeted by Levahmian orphan groups too, which is really frustrating. It's been a year since my mother was stabbed and killed by a drunk, and I've since remained unable to join either group. And as my parents had no friends, I've been stuck living here alone.
People like me, with mixed blood from both countries, are given that label and are reviled for it. In areas of conflict like San Martilia, where the two powers are constantly struggling with each other, bestados, who you’d think should fit in with society regardless of which power is in control, are considered untrustworthy and end up being shunned. Of course, the reality is that bestados can't fit in with either society, so there's no actual benefit. Instead, they are faced with endless hate and distrust. As a lone orphan, all I can do is carry this label to my grave.
Pressing a hand against my hurting head and wrapping the other arm around my empty stomach, I wander around the city looking for a place to sleep for the night as I shiver in the cold air. Every so often, I cough. It's a cough coming from the depths of my lungs, reeking of metal.
The narrow stoned alleyways are a mess of rotten vegetables and household garbage, horse dung and urine. People who'd not once taken a bath in their life and wear clothing they'd never washed hold a bottle of gin in one hand and shout insults at each other with mouths which had never been cleaned. Every now and then, black liquid falls down onto the rancid streets below. It’s the contents of buckets which are sometimes flung from the windows of houses above. If you're unlucky and get hit directly, even during the winter you end up needing to wash yourself in water. I try to avoid traveling next to buildings as I walk, looking up at the December sky.
The thin sliver of sky framed by buildings is gray.
I hadn't seen the light of the sun in a long time.
During winter, everyone fires up their charcoal stoves, so the whole city is covered in a light grey smog. Of course, this means the air is filled with ashen dust, too. My coughing is probably a result of constantly breathing it in.
I'd last eaten three days ago. I can feel the edges of my limbs starting to freeze. Tears begin to well up from the loneliness and sadness. But I hold them back. Because I'd promised not to cry anymore, to that wonderful girl.
But, even so… Even so, there's a limit to everything.
I stop moving forward.
Crumpling down at the edge of the road, I lay down to rest on the cold, dirty ground.
It's impossible to live alone as a bestado in this city. Amatsuvians and Levahmians would never become friendly with each other. That's why there’s no place for someone like me, of mixed blood, to go. The only haven for me lies not here on the ground, but beyond the clouds, above the sky.
I think I’ll sleep here.
I’ll close my eyes, and recall my memories of that girl. And then tomorrow morning I’ll be just the body of another frozen orphan by the wayside. A road cleaner will mutter in annoyance while he lifts my corpse, no longer coursing blood, and haul me off to a heap of trash, along with the bodies of dogs, cats, and crows. Eventually the whole pile will be incinerated somewhere outside of the city.
Living is so sad, so painful, it's just not worth it. I just want to become nothing.
But just as I'd made my determination, the sound of thunder from far away rattles my bones.
The low, heavy jarring of vibrating air reaches all the way to the pit my stomach.
Realizing that it didn’t sound right for thunder, I turn my head and look straight up at the cloudy sky. Like an ocean’s storm that had been pasted upside-down onto the heavens, the ashen clouds boil up, dinning, and groaning.
A sound like that of a giant bee's wings falls from beyond the clouds.
The thick smoggy layer that acted as a lid for the city is parted like cotton.
Sunlight pokes through the opening. It bundles up in many separate rays, cutting through the dark sky, and stains the dirty roads with a golden hue.
And then, pushing the clouds apart, an aerial warship with the shape of a woodlouse descends. It’s a giant airship around 100 meters in length, weighing more than 40,000 tons. At the bottom of its wide, curved body are six enormous dynamic lifting devices which make a chorus of raucous humming sounds as the sea of clouds is ripped apart. The ship carries itself with such magnificent presence, as if it were capable of ruling the sky. Several half-spherical fortifications can be seen on both sides of the ship, each fitted with a large cannon, keeping watch over the surrounding airspace.
“Ohhh!” People walking along the roads gasp in amazement. The Levahmians lift their voices in pride, while the Amatsuvian bite their lips in envy. Everyone stops moving as they look up at the aerial warship, as if they were gazing up at an angel from heaven.
I can’t help but feel wonder every time I see such a heavy heap of metal flying. It’s made possible by the incredible power generation of metal-hydride batteries. Even while half-dead and lying sideways on the ground, I feel entranced. It’s definitely not the worst backdrop I could ask for, for my last sight of the world.
The lifting devices groan as the ship turns its head eastward. Perhaps it’s flying to the border of Amatsu to issue a challenge. The Levahm imperial family has been letting its aerial might speak for itself, with the intention to grab more territory from the Amatsu. The frequency of these aerial shows of power has been increasing of late.
Leaving an incredible wake behind, forcing aside clouds as if it were floating through a frozen sea, the aerial warship passes over me. Most of the sky has been cleared, and the translucent December sunlight stains the alley with bright beams.
Several dozen propeller-powered "Iris" fighter planes fly alongside the warship. The sound of lifting devices drown out the noise of the propellers, but the brand-new machines gleam in the sunlight as they glide across the blue sky with their elegant, two-winged bodies.
Still lying sideways on the ground, with only my head facing up, I continue to stare at the majestic warship and fighter planes.
The sky is pretty.
For some reason that thought springs to mind.
All the people here spitting as they walk, the rotten smelling vegetable market, the gutters piling up on the side of streets, the cries of street peddlers, the disease-ridden wild dogs, the dirty, smelly beggars… None of that exists in the sky. The clear, endless sky.
I feel such envy at people who can fly freely in such a pretty place.
A single teardrop wells up and falls from my eyes.
I stretch out my hand, trying to grasp the sky. But it doesn’t reach. It can’t grasp anything. The fleet of Irises pay no heed to the hungry orphan on the verge of death, and calmly soar onward, eventually vanishing from the canopy.
I want to live in that pretty sky.
If only I could live like I was melting into that pure, spotless blue, instead of this dirty ground.
If I could live in that endless sky, with no class hierarchy, no poverty, no contempt, no scorn, I wouldn't need anything else in the world.
With the last of my strength, my one hand still stretched upwards, I let out a wordless scream. God had brought so much suffering upon me for so long. Would it hurt him to fulfill just that one wish?
At that moment—
I realize that someone had clasped my hand, the hand that could not reach anything, that could not grasp anything.
An aging man with a large beard encompassing his mouth gazes at me as if he were examining my soul, and smiles.
The black robes of an Aldista Church priest enters my vision.
"You don’t want to die, do you?” he asks in a soft voice, as though he were reading my very heart.
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