The wood started to move.
Wooden gears creaked and groaned as they shifted for the first time. Bright blue sparks of energy radiated from the automation, casting shadows over the walls. Its fingers clenched and un-clenched jerkily, as if unsure of its own presence. Then the mechanical toy sat up and its eyes started to glimmer with energy.
Rena eagerly rushed over to the workbench where the toy lay, and stretched out her fingers to pick it – him – up. As she reached the worktop, something made her pause.
It was a silly thought, she knew that, but there was something in its manner, in its simple carved features, that looked so ethereal, yet so humble at the same time. It was the type of combination that left you in awe.
Rena ran her gaze over her creation one more time. She lingered on its – his – hand-carved features, delicate smile and brilliant blue glass eyes. She then lowered her eyes to follow the chunky lines of its body. He had a simple wooden box for a torso, and she had scavenged small chips of wood for his fingers and limbs. She could clearly see the love with which she had crafted him. The cogs and ropes that held him together were blindingly obvious, but maybe that was a good thing. She didn’t want him to look like the indestructible steel tools of war that she was all too familiar with.
She hadn’t given him a name yet, but who was she to decide? After all, she had only brought him into existence. He had the right to his own choices, even if he was only an automaton.
“Can you hear me?” she whispered into the gloom.
“Yes.” Its – his – eyes flickered with recognition. “Where am I?”
“You’re in my workshop,” Rena replied softly. As she gazed at her creation, the soft sound of footsteps reached her. She grasped for the lamp on her desk and hit the switch, throwing the pair into darkness.
“Why is it so dark?” the automaton started to intone, but Rena reached out behind his neck, her fingers groping for his ‘off’ switch. The sound of feet were growing louder, and the danger was growing with it. Of all times for her father to come home –
"Soldier!" a harsh voice barked. A greying, middle-aged man stumbled through the door, an empty beer bottle swinging from his hand.
"Sir!" Rena stood up quickly, covering the robot with her body. She turned and saluted her father, sighing inwardly.
"Where is the enemy?" he slurred. "I hear the gunshots... Can you see them, soldier? Can you see them? Can... you..."
"Sir, you are injured. Come with me, sir." Rena tugged at her father's hand.
"Unhand me, trooper! I have a war to fight!"
"Yes, sir, but you are hurt. Lay down, sir."
Too drunk to protest, the ex-general was dragged to his bedroom. Rena helped him to lay down, and sat on the end of his bed. She gazed pitifully at the shattered remains of her dad. Nobody had thought that the war would change him this much.
"Sleep it off, Father," she murmured softly as she stood and turned to leave. Behind her, the old man stirred in his intoxicated sleep, flinching away from the gunshots in his head.
Rena leaned heavily against the wooden workbench, massaging her temples. She would have to go out soon. Stocks in Naybrightly were running low, and food runs were dangerous for everyone. Ever since the curfew went up, there was a serious decrease in their hoard - the danger was growing for everyone, whether it was the runners, the fighters or people like herself. Their supply was bound to dry up soon, and then they were in trouble.
"Is the nasty grey man gone?" a monotone voice uttered. Rena turned in surprise to the small robot. She had almost forgotten about him.
Rena exhaled slowly. "Yeah, my father is gone."
"The grey man is your father?"
"Yeah. Why are you curious?"
"What is wrong with him?"
The question startled her. Was there anything wrong with him? Is it just the war that was affecting him? Or was it something else?
"I'm sorry. Did I upset you?" The robot's eyes dimmed, giving it a sympathetic look.
"No, just- I don't know. The war... changed him. That's all," she murmured, turning away from him.
The miniature machine seemed to get the hint, and the two newly acquainted companions sat together, peacefully enjoying each other's company.
Overhead, the shadows grew longer as the sun began to set. Orange lights were filtering through the shutters, hanging off their hinges. noticing this, Rena gently picked the robot up and put him on the cracked windowsill. His eyes glimmered as he took in the glorious sunset.
"By the way, I meant to ask you what your name was?" Rena said suddenly.
The automaton thought for a minute, his head tilted to one side.
"Scrappy," he replied, a note of decisiveness in his voice.
"I think that suits you," Rena responded kindly, brushing her short brown hair out of her face.
"I... I think so too."
They sat on the windowsill together and watched the sun sink below the horizon. It had been a long time since Rena had felt like this.
She finally, joyfully, had a friend.
Puffing. Panting. Running. Hiding.
He crouched behind the metal bin, breathing heavily. He cupped his hand around his ear in order to hear better. He could just make out the sound of heavy boots tramping past him. He watched a black beetle climb idly up the side of the bin. He would give anything to be that beetle. An endless supply of trash juice, nothing to worry about... Sadly, Haris had no intention of becoming a beetle any time soon, mainly because it was impossible.
Life as a street boy was hard.
Especially when you lived on the edge of a war zone.
Haris peeked around the edge of the bin. They were gone. Sighing in relief, he straightened his cap and got to his feet.
"Wildling." Startled, Haris whirled around to come face to face with Clay. His dirty blonde hair was even messier than normal, contrasting drastically with his baby face.
"What do you want?" Haris snarled. Clay cautiously eyed the dagger in Haris's hand.
"Only curious as to what you're thinking of doing with that knife." Clay shrugged.
"Yeah, right. You're always 'only curious'. If anyone's up to something, it'd be you."
"Says the wildling running from the law."
Haris shook his head scornfully and stood on his tiptoes to look over the brick wall behind him. He had always been short for his age, which deceived many of his associates. Looking younger can be an advantage; it gives you the element of surprise. In moments like this, however, it can be a real hindrance to his line of work.
Steadying his breath, his placed his fingers in the cracks in the cement and made short work of scaling the wall. Vaulting over the top, he had the time to get a quick glimpse of Clay's stunned face before he dropped down on the other side.
Planting his feet firmly on the pavement, he scanned the empty cobblestone street before him. The were no cops around, but there were no easy targets either. That meant that this was a worthless spot. He marked a nearby tree with an 'X' near the base and turned to walk away.