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The Lost Children

F.M. Caelestis
(for Arietta and Eren)

I was looking for my children. The arid landscape stung my feet as I walked barefoot into an
abandoned town. The houses were made of clay, empty; or so I thought. Tiny footprints lined the dirt
underneath the sand that swiftly swept past. The eerie noise of the wind combined with silence made me
uneasy, but I had tracked the children here, though doubt filled my mind. I had to find them, to meet them at
least once, to know they were safe. They were mine to take care of, and because of me they were lost in this
wasteland, no home, no one to call their family. Despite the heat of the blurred sun, it was cold in the town, and
my feet ached as I walked further in. Evening was falling, and soon it would be dark. I slowly headed towards
one of the chalets to have cover for the night.
The houses were a maze of clay staircases and doorways. All the windows and doorways were open, so
you could see right into the homes. There was no distinction between one house and the next, just a cascade of
clay formed in the shape of homes. I was lost, I knew this for sure. There was no way of knowing whether the
children were here, or even if I saw them if I would recognize them. They were so small when we were separated,
it was as if we had never met.
Doubt and despair were a constant on my mind, as hope slipped away day by day. I had started on this
journey with one purpose, and it could all be in vain. I had endured much to get to this town, and now that I
was here, all I wanted to do was rest and give up hope. I set down my satchel and leaned my head back against
one of the walls, exhausted.
Suddenly I heard a noise, a soft slapping sound that came in spurts. The sound of feet against the hard,
sand covered floor. I looked around and caught glimpses of one, and then another child, peeking around
corners to see me. I only saw them for a moment, but I believe I will never forget their eyes, as their innocent
curiosity and fear was so very prevalent. I stood very still for a good long while, not out of uncertainty, but
hoping they would gain the courage to peek around the corner and look at me again.
When I figured there was no point in waiting any longer, I turned around, and there before me stood a
boy with a crutch, staring fiercely straight at me, as if warning me that I should be afraid. The first thing I
noticed was the nasty scar that ran across his neck. He was young, pre-adolescent age, but his eyes told me he
was much older in mind than he looked on the outside. I looked around me as I heard more and more small
footsteps approaching. We stayed like that for a good while, his eyes locked on me, strong and unrelenting, as I
searched and wondered who this boy was. The rest of the children around him appeared younger than he, and
he stood out as the leader of this band of misfits. I say misfits because as I looked around, I saw something
unique about each one. Outcasts covered in ash, some deformed, others blind, one pacing back and forth as if
he could not hold still. Each one of these children had an abnormality that made them stand out from the next,
and it made me wonder just what I had walked into.
A sudden noise came, deep and foreboding, and the boy with the crutch tapped his crutch twice on the
ground. All the children scattered into hiding, vanishing back into the maze of houses. I heard footsteps, larger
this time, louder, as militant boots smacked against the ground. The boy with the crutch beckoned me to hide
in safety, and we watched as what appeared to be soldiers wearing vented masks over their faces pass by, their
bodies covered in suits of black and white armor, alert and searching.
We waited as they moved past, then the boy with the crutch tugged on my arm, motioning to his
forehead, making a sort of cross symbol with his thumb. I assumed he was asking if I was a friend, and I was
prepared to do the same, but then he pointed towards my chest with a wondering look in his eye. He was
pointing at a birthmark in the shape of a diamond that sat on the top of my sternum. As if he had seen the
symbol before, he ran his finger across it just like he had on his own forehead, then nodded at me and looked
around. He tapped twice again with his crutch, and the children came rushing back, peeking through windows
and doorways to get a glimpse of me.
The boy with the crutch beckoned to me as he stood and hobbled his way out of the house we were
hidden in and back out toward the street. He tugged on my shirt and pointed toward the direction the soldiers
came from, and I saw what I had not seen before when I entered the town. Past the dusty sky was a bridge, long
and narrow, made of concrete, stretching across what looked like a river. Beyond it was a great wall, also
concrete, stretching high to the sky so you could barely see the skyscrapers above it. The dust cloud in the air
almost completely obscured this skyline view, but now that I knew it was there I thought I must have been blind
not to have seen it before.
Before I knew it, we were walking towards the bridge, the boy and I. He moved very quickly with his
crutch, and walked much faster than I had expected. I had no idea why I was following this boy, but his
determination led me to the bridge. The boy with the crutch looked around, as we reached the bridge, and then
beckoned for me to look over. I hesitated, as the boy’s eyes indicated to me fear and sorrow mixed with anger. I
suddenly became afraid to look over this looming bridge, but the boy pointed again, and what I saw next will
remain burned in my memory forever.
On both sides of the bridge were heaps of ash so high the river that once ran there could not run
through it, creating a dam that the flow of water could not even break through. But the ash was not what
horrified me. Mixed in with the piles of ash were bodies of children, crippled and lying dead in the heap. It
became apparent to me with the stench that the rest of this ash was not merely burnt objects, but people. Why I
could not yet fathom. I turned away, and the boy reached out his arm to me, as if to console me, but then I saw
a strange object in his hand. Glistening blue and crystal-like in form, the object was familiar to me, for I had seen
one before, but hardly thought I would ever see one again. This was no ordinary stone. It was the very mystery
that had led me here, that had separated me from the children. I did not know what sort of magic this stone
held, but I felt connected to it, as if whatever substance this object was composed of also flowed through my
veins.
The boy looked around, then earnestly nodded to me and placed the crystal stone in my satchel,
pointing across the bridge for me to go. He then looked up with eyes so intense and pleading I could not say no.
I had to cross that bridge. I nodded to the boy, and I saw hope in his eyes. Such a desperate hope. He hobbled
into hiding, and I turned to cross the bridge.
The bridge seemed even longer and more daunting as I began to walk across it. My fear was that this
bridge only existed as a vehicle for this city to dispose of its decay, as the wall which grew larger before me
seemed clean and maintained compared to the cruel, dust covered exteriors that tried in vain to survive on this
side of it. Everything was dead or dying around me, and it occurred to me that the dust in the air may indeed
have been grains of death itself, only separated from the ash by looming in the air instead of buried helplessly on
the ground.
Suddenly, I heard a cry from across the bridge. I squinted my eyes to see, for I was only perhaps a
quarter of the way across. I saw a boy sprinting with all that he had, one leg dragging behind the other, fighting
pain as he closed the gap between us. Before I knew what was happening, he was snatched up by a man wearing
black who chased him down from behind, his vented mask covering his face. He picked the boy up by the
collar, and brought him towards the side of the bridge. My feet were running across that bridge as fast as I could,
and I yelled out for the man to stop, but it was too late. He shocked the boy with a taser-like pistol, then threw
him off the bridge to the ashes below. I could not help but cry out, yet still I stopped as the man saw me. What
was this monstrosity? The man in the black mask moved towards me, and I looked back for the boy with the
crutch, but he was gone from sight, the dust blinding my view.
“You there!” the man in the black mask yelled, “What are you doing out here?”
He trained his weapon on me, and I instinctively held up my hands.
“Dust or Ashes?” He asked as he armed the pistol, the whir of electricity pulsing. These words meant
nothing to me, but clearly they meant something specific. As I glanced down at the ashes below, I assumed he
meant it as a matter of life or death, so I quickly replied “Dust” to appease him. He scoffed.
“We'll see about that.”
He put his pistol away and grabbed me by the arm, leading me across the bridge towards the city. I
clung tightly to my satchel, and looked back once more for the boy with the crutch, and by some miracle
through the dust I saw him, standing tall and nodding towards me, as if there was a plan in motion I did not yet
know.
We approached a large gate that opened before us into the wall that separated the city from the outside
world. Waiting for us were soldiers, all with weapons trained on civilians that were sitting against the wall. There
was a man with white hair and another middle aged man and a gray haired woman who bookended at least a
dozen children. The man in the black mask ripped my satchel away from me, but as he did I grabbed the crystal
and shoved it firmly into my pocket.
“Found this one wandering outside the wall, says he's clean.”
The soldiers all chuckled at this comment, as the man in the black gas mask brought me over to a
woman wearing a white smock.
“Get him tested. If he's clean, check him against the city directory. If he's not, he'll burn with the rest.”
The man in the black gas mask shoved me with firm control over to the woman in the white smock.
She sat me down and injected a needle into my arm. I winced as she drew the blood, and I felt the throb of just
how hard and fast my heart was beating. She finished drawing the sample, and I sat down, leaning back against
the cold cement wall. From what I could gather, these soldiers took great pride in the control and strength of
their city, so much so that they called those who did not fit their mold “Ashes”. Each of the soldiers was nearly
indistinguishable from the others underneath their armor and vented masks, the picture of strength and health.
Wholeness and prosperity was the mantra here.
I looked back at the civilians that lines the floor against the wall. Clearly they had committed some
crime to be here, but what I did not know. Could it be that it was merely they did not pass the city's test to
determine whether or not they were fit to live? They all looked at me with that same determination that the boy
with the crutch had, but with much more fear. Their lives were about to be ashes, burned in a heap and tossed
out with the rest.
“He's clean,” the woman in white said as she pulled the needle from my arm, “but he's not in the
directory.”
The man in the black mask hesitated as he looked at me.
“Toss him in with the others.”
I was thrown up against the wall next to the man with white hair. The man was in a lot of discomfort,
sitting in a way that indicated one of his legs was broken. Despite this, he helped me gather myself and then
smiled at me.
“You must be the one.”
He spoke in a deep, soothing voice, so much that I wanted to believe him just because he spoke.
“I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.”
He pointed to my birthmark and then quietly uttered:
“Kairos.”
Immediately as he said the name, a memory was struck in my mind. I traced my birthmark with my
fingers, making the cross symbol the boy with the crutch had. Kairos. The familiarity of the name was
something that felt buried deep inside me, but I could not grasp its meaning.
“The girl knew you would come for them.”
That's when I saw them, climbing up into the arms of the gray haired woman. It was as if I had known
them all along, and just needed to see them to know. Just like that name, Kairos, the memory came flooding
back. The children. My children. They were toddlers now, the girl holding the boy's hand and leading him. The
little boy was clearly blind, but his charisma and strength was evident from one glance. The children were
fearless, innocent. They had no reason to believe otherwise.
“They are the whole reason we're here. We hid the boy and the girl as long as we could after they came
from the sky, but they were bound to find them. It seems like it's every day now children who go from Dust to
Ashes are trying to cross that bridge. Some make it, some don't.”
I looked over at the dozen children next to him, and the man with white hair sighed.
“Exodus. Our one chance to get the boy and the girl out and giving these kids the best chance at life.
They were all Ashes anyway.”
My mind was spinning at what I had stumbled into. The children were there, right in front of me, but I
couldn’t go to them, be with them, or speak to them. How was I supposed to save them? How was I supposed
to help these children get to safety? They would be burned to ashes, and I along with them.
Then I remembered the crystal in my pocket. I grabbed it and held it in my hand, and instantly I felt
something surge through my body, making it tingle so much that I almost dropped it. I could suddenly feel the
significance of this object, just as the one I had seen before. It was a life source, signified by a giant tree that grew
up from this crystal seed. It was the very power of their civilization. How it had fallen into the hands of the boy
with the crutch I know not, but as I looked at the children, I knew it had become a life for them.
The man with the white hair saw the stone, and his eyes widened. This was the life blood and the roots
of this city, and I held it in my hands. The man with the white hair nodded to me, his eyes still wide, and I knew
what I had to do. I stood up in the middle of the room holding the crystal above my head. It glistened and lit up
the room, as if there was a source of light within it. Every head in the room turned towards me, and all the
soldiers trained their weapons on the crystal. No one was quite sure of the full magnitude of the power of this
object, but it was a river of life and immortality, so they dare not take their chances.
“Caesar's tree…” the man in the black mask said under his breath.
I stared at the man in the black mask, and with that same determination the boy with the crutch had, I
stepped forward, unafraid. The men, the woman, and the children all stood, as they sensed the fear in the
soldiers. Slowly, they surrounded them as I moved to the middle of the room.
“Let them go.”
There was a power in those words that I had never felt. My assertion was undefyable, and the man in
the black mask immediately beckoned for the gate to be open so the civilians could leave, and they ran out the
gate towards the bridge. For a moment, time stopped as I watched them leave. My eyes met the little girl's eyes.
My little girl's eyes. I will never forget those beautiful blue eyes. She was okay. She would be okay, and that was
all that mattered. It was as if in that moment, a sweet arietta played, and in the next, she was gone, and the gates
were closed.
The soldiers quickly moved in on me and subdued me as I gave up. I was not fully certain of the weight
of my threat, or the consequences of the future that would come of me surrendering this stone, but it had saved
the children.
“We found it, bring it to Caesar.”
The crystal was taken slowly from me as I let it go from my fingers. I wondered whether there was a
greater good I had abandoned by letting that life slip from my hands, just as I had hidden the other crystal away
where no one could find it. Their mystery still haunted me.
I gazed out upon the ashes one final time as I was taken away. They brought me to a dark room, where
I assumed I was to join the ash heap, as they ceremoniously would send me from the dust. But the soldiers who
brought me there left the room, and I was alone in the dark. I sat in silence now, awaiting my fate. Moments or
hours went by, I could not tell, for I had fell into a swell of hope, fear, and deep contemplation in my mind.
Slowly, the door opened, a faint light entering in, with a dark figure casting his silhouette in the doorway. He
was immediately familiar to me, and as he stood, I recognized his fearsome presence. He was the very reason the
girl and the boy who was blind would never know their mother, and were left in my care. He was the darkness
that had separated me from my love.
“Kairos.”
That was all he had to say. The power of that one word spoke of his conflicted nature, his weakness,
and his fear, not of death, but of life. I stood and faced him, a tear rolling down my cheek in grief for what he
had taken from me, the love in my heart that contrasted the lack in his. Then I went with him into the darkness,
for I knew I would give my life ten times over for my children to live.
Perhaps now they are in a better place, for they now see what I have given my whole life to see, saved
not from death, but from life in this wretched world, pure in the eyes of Heaven. For the glory of the Dust will
fade, in the Ashes we will see no flaw, and the lost children will find their home.

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