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He carefully lifted the girl from the debris and carried her back to the boat. Though her eyes were closed, she wore a noticeable grimace as if trapped in a bad dream. Luckily for Wake, her slight frame was easy to carry. Ash smeared her skin grey, and her dress was tattered and shredded at the edges. From what he could tell, there were no broken bones or burn wounds: she was fortunate to be alive.
"Make room," said Wake. "We've got company."
He laid her flat in the back of the boat, doing his best to position her comfortably.
Hunter cocked his head and inspected the newcomer. From a distance, Wake looked at her, the sole survivor.
The realization hit hard.
This girl, Hunter, and I are the only things left of this place.
With sullen eyes he gazed back at the forlorn island, scarred and destroyed.
How exactly did she survive?
Surely she would've died if we didn't find her.
Back to the task at hand, he returned his focus to the girl.
I'm not sure what to do, but we have to act quickly. If anything, we need food, water, and a place to stay. There's nothing left of the Island. We have to move on...but to where?
The wind picked up.
If we sail far enough East we'll hit the mountains. Hopefully there will be people who can help.
Rigging up the sail, he set course for the East, leaving the Island in the wake.
The moon peach hung like a scrumptious orb of goodness.
Sikhi licked his lips.
To reach or not to reach, that is the question.
Hidden in the leaves, he gingerly stepped forward, holding the upper branches for balance. If he fell or made too much noise he would surely be discovered, but the ripe moon peach was simply too enticing to pass up.
"It's not like they'll find me anyways," he reasoned.
Hide and go seek was an intense, competitive, almost ritualistic game between the children. All kinds of strategy and tactic went into choosing the best hiding spot. Likewise, the seekers learned to sense the smallest disturbances, detect the slightest movements. Sikhi was confident though; the tree was his secret spot. On the quiet side of the temple, people rarely passed by, but after multiple defeats, he learned to never underestimate his opponents.
"Don't do anything stupid to get caught," he told himself.
But, the moon peach was compromising his concentration.
Stretching out his arm, he barely brushed the fruit, but he could feel its fuzzy skin. Inching farther, he gritted his teeth and reached out again, except this time he went too far and accidentally knocked the fruit off the bough. His eyes widened at the fruit revolving innocently as gravity took it from its limb. It fell a solid thirty feet and splattered against the ground.
"Monkeyfeathers," he cursed under his breath.
Moments later, a group of children rounded the corner.
"I think I heard something over here!"
Sikhi held his breath as they surveyed the area, looking for him. Every time the seekers got close, he shut his eyes, effectively calming himself down, but his heart still beat rapidly, so loudly he thought they would hear it for sure. They zigzagged through the trees, checking behind the trunks but never up in the branches.
Eventually, after they exhausted all the hiding spots, one spoke up.
"Let's check the meditation pavilion!"
Nodding in agreement, they took off in the opposite direction, completely oblivious to the grinning boy hiding in a tree.
Letting out a sigh of relief, he turned around and jolted in surprise. A pair of large green eyes stared directly at him, only inches away from his face.
"You nearly scared me to death!" he exclaimed.
The winged lemur chattered a response and then took off into the forest. Moments later, it returned with a moon peach and held it out to Sikhi.
"Now that's what I'm talking about!"
He took the moon peach and scratched behind the lemur's ears. After enjoying the initial pleasure of a good scratch, the lemur ran up the tree trunk like a flash and perched on an upper branch.
Pointing a furry finger at the boy, it chittered something in a sassy tone.
"Fine, I owe you one fruit tart."
Satisfied with this deal, the lemur nodded and flew off into the canopy.
He took a big bite out of the moon peach. Sweet juices filled his mouth in an explosion of flavor; it was the best moon peach he had ever tasted.
"Wow, that crazy lemur sure knows his stuff!"
He munched on the fruit until he got to the core. Licking the last bits off the seed in the middle, he tossed it down to the ground.
"Someday that seed will turn into a tree, and maybe another kid like me will hide in it."
The thought rang through his mind.
With nobody around, he eventually grew bored and decided to climb higher. Branch by branch, he methodically scaled the tree. Truly a master of the art, he shifted from side to side, finding the best footing to boost himself up; it was as easy as walking. Sticky sap from the base of the branches rubbed off onto his hands. He stopped briefly to lick the sweet sugary substance from his fingers and smack his lips; then, he continued his expedition. A couple of branches and a few feet later, he reached the treetop.
From his post he could see far out over the mountains. The ever-present clouds rolled like a white sea, and only the highest peaks pierced through. From below, the clouds made it impossible to see the temple. Many people lived on the ground, oblivious to the temple's existence. "It's like the ultimate hiding place," he smirked. To his right and left, he could see the lower wings of the temple, conjoined only by stone bridges. Mosaic floors and elaborate statues adorned the mountainside. Large candlelit sanctuaries echoed group meditations. Thousands of people, women and children included, carried out daily routines, cooking food for later among other things. The city in the sky burst with all kinds of life and activity.
He slumped against a comfortable branch, content with watching the view, and he remained this way for a while, almost dozing off, only to snap awake in sudden fear of falling. He completely forgot about hide and seek, and dinner for that matter. The beginning of sunset painted the sky a tinge of pink. He scratched his head and crossed his arms. Monk Sidd is going to be pissed I wasn't in for dinner, not looking forward to that.
The disturbance started as a change in the air currents. The winds that blew across the temple began to fluctuate unexpectedly. Noticing this, Sikhi grabbed onto a safe branch and began lowering himself down, but something caught his eye:
A speck on the horizon.
Normally, he would dismiss something so inconsequential, but the speck quickly became two, three, and then four. Shortly, the specks grew in number and volume, moving like a black cloud.
"What in the world?"
The specks weren't motionless. They moved freely as a unit, like a flock of birds, but it wasn't a flock of birds at all. He squinted to get a better look. No, they were bigger than birds, bigger than any animal he'd ever seen before, and they flew with such grace and skill. When they reached their destination, they spread out of formation and landed in the mountains. They had six legs, horns, powerful tails, and arrows on their heads.
A shout rang out from the temple.
"The sky bison have returned!"
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