The dark and foreboding tower rose up against the twinkling sky, an ominous shape against the shower of stars above. Its twisted shape drew shadows towards it, welcoming them in its embrace. It shared its darkness with the land around it, casting shadows over the surrounding landscape. As if the land felt the wickedness of the tower, the trees snarled upon themselves, their rotting bark and shriveled leaves clinging to their empty lives.
The wind howled as it blew past, catching in the hollowed arches of trees and rocks. Stray debris was carried with it, drifting ever closer to the menacing tower.
Against the darkness, the tower sparkled. The sole light on top of the tower flashed briefly before disappearing into the darkness around it. Every few minutes it would reappear, acting as a beacon to those who searched the dark tower out.
Beneath the tower, the land was still with the coming of night. No living creature ventured close to the monolith by choice. The animals that once called this land their home long since vanished. The only creatures foolish enough to remain were the ones who desolated the land in the first place.
From high up on the tower, the moonlight caught on a bit of silver before it passed beneath a cloud. There was a loud clink as a small ventilation shaft on the side of the tower burst open. The cover tumbled down, crashing to the ground below it.
The figure paused, daring to catch his breath. The chains on his ankles and wrists clinked with every little movement. Even high above the ground, and no guards in sight, every little sound worried him. It would just be a matter of time before they found him.
After a moment, he continued forward. He used the twisted spikes jutting out of the tower as footholds as he pulled himself along. Even though he knew it was useless, he couldn't stand to be inside that tower any longer. Even be it to his death, he needed to escape.
As predicted, the alarmed shouts rose up behind him. Their voices carried with the wind, spreading to the other parts of the tower. He could hear newcomers joining in all around him. Still, he pressed on. He would never go back inside.
He suddenly heard a voice behind him. Panicking, he jumped, skipping some of the spikes as he surged around the tower. Luck was with him this time though. He landed hard on a small overhang jutting out for one of the lower levels. He caught himself with the spikes he had tumbled down from and slowly pulled himself back up.
He wasn't sure what compelled him to climb to the top of the tower. He knew it was the only way to get free though. Something inside him told him it was the truth. Like the voice of a temptress, it whispered to him, luring him higher into the sky.
He pulled himself higher, resuming his climb upward. Faster, higher. He climbed and climbed. His arms and legs were sore and stiff, but he forced himself to continue on. If he took a break, it would all be over. He could rest when he was finally freed from this tormented prison.
"Allo-ox!" one of the guards screamed up at him. Like he would listen. He wouldn't stop. He wouldn't climb back down. Higher and higher, that's all he would do. Closer to the spiny point of the tower.
"Immen jung na!" another guard shouted. Oh, he was starting to worry them. So what if he fell? It didn't matter to him. Either way, he would be freed, be it with his life or without it. He would stand no longer for being locked up in that awful place.
He swung his feet up onto a spike, pulling himself up onto it. Higher, higher. He must climb higher! He struggled to his feet before moving on, continue his dangerous trek up the tower.
Slowly, he covered the distance. The land beneath him vanished into the shadows. He felt like he could reach out and touch the distant stars. There was no time to enjoy the scenery though. He was in a hurry. He still needed to get higher.
He continued his ascent, delicately scooting around the tower as he moved higher. The voices behind him were getting closer. Unlike him, they had equipment and tools to climb further than faster than he could ever hope to on his own. They were quickly gaining on him.
He hurried, pushing himself as fast as he could without tumbling to his death. He wasn't ready to give in yet, not when he was so close. The light of the tower continued to beacon to him, blinking on and off. In a few more feet, he'd be upon it.
As he neared it though, the guards chasing after him finally caught up. He felt one of their hands enclose around his ankle, just below the shackle. He tried to kick the man away, but each movement was only loosening his own grip on the spike he was clinging to.
Reality came crashing back around him. His flight was over. No matter what he tried, they would catch him and drag him back. He glanced down, glaring at his assailant. He would never let that happen.
Even if his life ended, he had no intention of returning to that prison. Somehow he knew this is what it would come to. Still, the instinct inside of him drove him to flee. He couldn't explain it, but he had been ready to leave this place even before it drove him out onto the tower.
He took a deep breath, preparing himself. He gathered all the strength he could muster into his free foot, and finally, he was able to kick the guard free.
Before the guard had a chance to catch him again, he sprung high, barely catching onto the spike above him. He twisted up onto it, slinking over towards the edge of it.
He could hear the frightened cries below him. So what if he fell? He expected nothing less. But, rather than fall, he'd like to make his own choice.
He scooted closer to the edge, peering down into the darkness. The thick shadows that surrounded the wicked tower blocked out anything he could hope to see below it. It didn't matter though. There was no way he was surviving this.
He took a moment to let out his breath, slowly closing his eyes. That's right. This was the only option left to him. If it meant returning to that prison...he'd rather greet death with open arms.
Without turning back, he could hear and feel the guards approaching behind him. There was no more time left. He took one step forward as he opened his eyes. He was ready.
Without any hesitation, he leapt forward, jumping from the spike. The alarmed cries of the guards rose up behind him, but they quickly faded. As he fell, the wind rushed past him. He stared straight forward, wondering if he would be able to see the ground before he crashed into it.
As he fell though, his mind was spinning. He strained to stay conscious, but he knew it was only a matter of time before the darkness took him. At least, that way, his last moments wouldn't be pained. It would be the first time in his life that he was free from pain.
He squinted forward, the world slowly growing blurry around him. He could feel the darkness closing in on him, and he let his eye lids drop. Right before the darkness took him, he could swear he saw a sliver of blue.
As he fell, the guards up above on the tower watched in horror. How could they have let this happen!? He was one of their most important specimens, after all. There was sure to be hell to pay.
They rushed down, foolishly believing there was still some way to save them him. They all stopped in their foolish scurrying when there was a bright flash of light. A glance over showed them that both the light, and the boy, had vanished.
The warm ocean breeze drifted over the land, bringing with it the sounds and smells of the ocean off its shore. The birds squawked happily as they lazily glided through the air, looking for their next meal or just a place to rest. They swooped low, chasing after shadows in the water and clinging to the few boats that were headed towards their home on the shore.
The sandy beach spread out along the ocean, circling around it to form a cove. The old, yet still sturdy docks that stuck out into the water jutted out from a small town set back hundreds of feet from the shore. Just beyond the shore and the town rose a jagged line of cliffs, rising into mountains and trapping the shoreline, and the town, from the world beyond it.
The small ocean-side town was built into the cliff, climbing steeply upwards into the rocky mountain. The sandstone houses and stores stuck out awkwardly from the side of the cliff. Jagged paths and crooked stairs climbed with them, allowing for the citizens to make their way upward from the shore. Bright colored streams and flags decorated the town, strung along from building to building, accenting the tan colored town.
Pale wooden railings lined the stairs and paths where they neared too close to the edge, acting as a weak protector to the citizens. Every now and then, a string of multi-colored flags dangled down from the railing, trailing down towards the shore.
The murmur of the city and the sounds of the ocean were blotted out by a loud horn as one of the boats moved into the harbor. The brave explorers were finally returning home.
The instant the horn sounded, she was moving down the stairs, racing towards the shore. Her long golden hair whipped behind her, straining against the small tie that held it in place at her neck. She nearly tripped on her skirt as she flew downward, ignoring her own safety as she hurried towards the docks.
People outside of their village were sure to think of her and her people as "strange." On top of her head, just above slightly pointed ears, were two small wings. As her people aged, they grew longer. For a young girl like her, still a child, they were barely noticeable. Though they served no use now, her people liked to think they symbolized the power of the person.
On her forearms and lower legs were small, light golden feathers. Her boots rose to just below her knees, hiding the feathers on her legs, save for a few stragglers that had managed to peek out near the top. Her long sleeves were rolled back, revealing her arms up to her elbows. Her feathers and skin were coated in a thin layer of dust, proof of the hard days she spent at work tidying up for their return. She hadn't even bothered to remove the apron before rushing down to meet them.
She was winded, gasping for breath, by the time she arrived. There were several others already there as well, mulling around the dock. The boat slowly dropped its anchor, bringing a small splash of water with it. The boat itself was small and rustic, hand-made by its people many years ago. It was still sturdy though and had weathered many storms. It was the favorite vessel to use for exploring, and its owner was always the adventurer.
She squeezed in through the crowd, pushing her way to the front for a better view. Ah, she could see him now. The vessel's captain was just as rustic and sturdy as his ship. His massive body contrasted the long wings that sprouted from his graying hair. His facial hair had long ago turned gray, and it was thick around his mouth and face, trailing down past his chin.
She smiled at the sight of him. Though they looked nothing alike, they were blood related. After losing her parents at a young age, it had been he who took care of her. Though he was her grandfather, she often thought of him rather as her father. He was the only parent she ever really knew, after all.
"Minme!" he grinned down at her, waving at the sight of her. She quickly waved back and broke through the crowd.
"Grandfather! I'm so glad to see you're finally back!" she moved forward, opening her arms for a hug.
"We're glad to be home," he chuckled, bending down to catch his granddaughter in an embrace. However, something behind him caught her attention, and she rapidly changed courses.
"Altier!" she squealed, instead throwing herself at her dear friend as he tried to embark the ship.
He caught her awkwardly, nearly falling back into the water, taking her with him. He quickly recovered, straightening up and gently patting her on the head, "Minme, please be careful!"
She grinned up at him. Although some frowned upon Altier living in their village, she was quite fond of him, despite his differences. A dull, teal cloth was tied awkwardly through his dusty colored hair, covering his ears and where his wings would be, trailing down behind him. A small strand of beads was tangled up in it, dangling down across his forehead. He always wore long pants and tall boots that covered his legs, and gloves and gauntlets that covered his arms. Despite his awkwardness amongst Minme's clan, he had lived amongst them for many years, and Minme and her grandfather had accepted him into their family. No matter what anyone tried to say, he was one of them now.
He finally managed to free himself from her grasp, making his way the rest of the way off of the ship. The other men still aboard chuckled a bit, but he paid them no heed. He was used to Minme's overly zealous shows of affection. She was still a child, and he held no malice towards her, despite the constant embarrassment.
She followed after Altier, only to be stopped by her grandfather. He gently tapped her on the head, shaking his head, "Silly girl!"
She quickly turned her attention back on her grandfather, "Oh, did you find anything interesting?"
"Interesting, hm," he folded his arms across his chest, "Well, depends on what you consider interesting. For us, just traveling to a new island is interesting enough."
She pouted slightly, "You know what I mean!"
Altier paused, turning back towards them, "Gingak, we should probably make our report to the Elders."
The old man gave Minme a gentle shove, "He's right, we've got to go. I'll tell you all about it when we return later."
She continued to pout, watching the two leave. The other men were only moments behind, save for the couple that stayed behind to unload the ship.
Gingak quickly caught up with Altier, smacking the boy in the back of the head. He was always so cold to Minme in public, but in the privacy of their own home, he spoiled the young girl. Gingak couldn't help but think he behaved that way for the girl's protection. Though the townspeople no longer tried to force Altier out, there were still many who were less than happy with him living amongst them. Regardless of who he was now, he started out an outsider. With the cliff keeping them isolated from the rest of the continent, it was no wonder so many of their people became so obstinate about outsiders. Altier had more than proven himself though, and it was the elders that decided to let him continue to live amongst them.
"At least call me Captain," he chided the boy, trying to suppress the grin crossing his face. As far as he was concerned, Altier was as much as family as Minme.
Altier glared back at him, but there was a playful look in his eyes, "Would you rather me call you grandfather?"
"Like hell!" Gingak snorted. The words didn't sound right coming from Altier.
They made their way through the town, ascending the steep steps towards the upper part of the town that housed the Elders. Their town's government was tricky, relying on an ancient ritual to chose who would rule them. Though they called them "Elders" some of them were far younger than Gingak. To put it simply, it was magic that chose them.
At current, there were three Elders. Throughout history, their people had only known three or four Elders at one time. Though the final decisions for the town depending on them alone, they always saw to it to hold public meetings, hearing out what the citizens would say before making any of these decisions. It had worked for the many thousands of years this town and its people had been in existence, even long before the town was formally recognized as such.
Altier sighed. He could never understand it, but he had accepted it. He felt that Gingak would make a far better leader than the others, but he had no say. He never dared to voice his opinion aloud to anyone save for Gingak and Minme though, knowing full well what the repercussions would be.
It wasn't like he wasn't grateful to them, anyways. It was the three currently in charge that allowed him to live here. He had been stranded on an island just off the shore, struggling to survive. He had nearly drowned before making it to that island, his first memory being drifting alone in the crashing waves around him. It was Gingak and his boat that found him and carried him to their home.
Regardless of how much he looked or acted like them though, he would always be an outsider. There were always differences he could never hope to overcome. He saw the suspicions in the eyes of the people when he was first brought in, struggling to keep conscious. Gingak and his granddaughter that could barely speak for her youth nursed him back to health.
When he was better, he did try to leave. Minme had foolishly followed him though and ended up stumbling into a trap by their enemies. He couldn't just leave her alone, and he risked his life to save her. He returned, with the little crying girl in tow, covered in scrapes and bruises, but still alive. It was then that the Elders announced he would continue to live amongst them.
For the ten long years since then, he did all he could to keep the townspeople happy with him. He worked hard, accepting small, trivial tasks that often times no one else would take. He was no stranger to danger, and he even had gone as far as acting as a bodyguard, or retrieving items that were stolen by the other clans around them. Each scar that covered his body had its own story to tell.
He didn't really mind it though. It kept him busy, and it allowed him a place to live. Even though there were still some who had their doubts about him, in the open, they all treated him politely. A few others had even offered him their daughter's hands in marriage, but he always refused. It was funny how quickly people could change their minds.
"We're here," came a hoarse whisper from just in front of him. Altier quickly returned to the world around him, stopping himself just in time before he crashed into Gingak. He heard snickering behind him, and he risked a glare back at the other men behind him to silence them.
He followed Gingak around to the back of the building, careful of his steps on the rickety porch that wrapped around it. He knew it had held for hundreds of years and would hold for hundreds more, but he could never help but be nervous about walking onto it. The rest of the crew was fine, but he assumed that if he had grown up in a town that climbed towards the sky, things like heights would not bother him at all, either.
Gingak rapped on the door of the small, oval shape door. The building itself was awkwardly large compared to its door which barely allowed some of the people with larger wings to make their way in. This door was reserved for private meetings with the Elders though.
On the other side of the building, facing the shoreline and the rest of the town was a much larger set of double-doors, used to enter the main meeting hall nestled just inside. The rest of the building was set to house the Elders, as well as a small divining room and a larger meeting hall for the private meetings. Though there was a passageway that connected the main meeting hall to the rest of the building, it was understood that unless invited in through the door in the back, no one could enter any other room.
The door slowly slid open, and a raspy voice uttered, "Enter, Sir Gingak, Sir Altier."
Altier paused. Usually, he waited outside for Gingak just like the others. It was obvious that he was Gingak's right-hand man anymore, however he still held no power, nor did he want any. He was satisfied to stay in the shadows, helping out without recognition. Though he wanted to stay in the favor of the townspeople, he also didn't want to over stay his welcome.
"Come on," Gingak grabbed him roughly by the arm. The old man pulled him through the door, letting it click behind them. Altier glanced back, even more nervous now that he was inside. He had been in here before, when he was a child, but that had been only a few months after his arrival to this town. Since then, he had acted like any normal citizen.
Gingak let Altier go as he made his way over to the small dip in the floor. He knelt down, folding his legs beneath him before he sat. He kept his back straight, and his hands folded in his lap. A moment later, Altier joined him, following his example.
The dark shadows in the room gave it the effect of being circular. The lighting was dim all around, only a few candles giving any light to it. The walls seemed to sparkle beneath the shadows, as if representing the night sky. The wooden floor dipped near the middle, allowing visitors to be seated within it, but the Elders still to be above them. At the end of the room, two deep blue curtains were tied partially back, revealing the three figures Altier knew to be the Elders.
Even though he could not see them clearly in this light, he knew who they were. On the far left sat Elder Rachio, the oldest of the three Elders and possibly, the oldest surviving member of their clan period. His long wings were shaggy near the ends, proof of his age. His long gray hair was loosely tied back as it trailed onto the floor. His moustache and beard followed in its example, the moustache flowing down into the beard, and the beard folded into his lap as he sat. In the center sat Elder Juliantia, the only female amongst them. Her wings were not as long as Elder Rachio's, but they still easily touched the ground as she stood. Strands of her reddish hair draped around her face, while the rest was pulled back tightly into a braid that ran down her back and ended at her knees. She had started to wrinkle with her age, but she was still a rather handsome woman and she had many admirers amongst the community. The feathers on her arms and legs matched her hair.
Last, but not least, was Elder Emerian, the one Altier liked and hated the most. He was the youngest of the three. He looked to be not much older than Altier, although Altier knew better than that. This clan was full of longevity and graceful aging. Still, he was much younger than the other two. Also, unlike the other two, he had no family, insisting that he need not marry or have children. He enjoyed his solitude at home, and when he sought out company, there were plenty of the women, and even some of the men, who would easily give him a night without expectations.
Altier hated to admit it, but even he could see Elder Emerian's charm. His good looks and enigmatic personality were quite alluring. His pale hair with its greenish tint hung loose around his face and down his back. He kept it shorter than the others, allowing it to cut off at his lower back. His wings were only a few inches shorter than Elder Jualiantia's. He was pale all over, and he tended to dress himself in light fabrics as well, almost giving him the appearance of an apparition at times.
"Thank you for coming," Elder Rachio spoke, his raspy voice filling the room, "Let us apologize for the hasty invitation of the young Sir Altier, however, his presence is most necessary at this time."
Altier remained silent, glancing over at Gingak. Altier had a sharp tongue, and was quick to say things that could be deemed as disrespectful. It was better to leave the conversing to the older man, especially when authority figures were involved. He was certain that if he spoke, his discontentment with being called in would show through.
Gingak bowed his head slightly, "It is an honor to speak with you. Altier's invitation does come as a surprise, however we do not question your wisdom."
"You must have many things to tell us," Elder Rachio continued, "Please tell us of your ventures first."
Gingak straightened up, "I wish there was more to tell you, however we learned little on our excursion. The island we set foot upon appeared to have once been inhabited, but there is no sign of life now. It's as if they were wiped out entirely, without a trace.
"The few ruined remains we did fine showed signs of damage from the Fenrir, but I highly doubt they are capable of entirely eradicating an island so simply."
Elder Juliantia frowned, "Indeed, so it was as we expected. Although we never made contact with those neighbors, we saw their vessels frequently in the distance. With their disappearance, that makes the third island to fall prey to the same fate."
"This is no longer a simple issue," Elder Rachio agreed, "I fear it is only a matter of time before this evil reaches our island. Pray tell, did your search party find any clues as to what was the cause?"
Gingak shook his head slightly, "No, my humblest apologies. There was nothing there that I could understand, however, Altier may be able to offer you more insight..."
Gingak elbowed Altier in the side. He jolted up, barely staying sitting from the sudden pain. He glared over at the older man, but the look Gingak gave him quickly kept his mouth shut.
Altier glanced back to the Elders. He could see the glimmer of their eyes as they stared at him, anxiously awaiting what he would have to say. Altier didn't even know where to begin though. He had no solid facts. Everything he had told Gingak during the investigation of the island was pure conjecture. He felt it foolish to voice those opinions aloud to people as important as the Elders.
The silence quickly filled the room. Altier knew they expected him to speak now, but he struggled to find the right words. Why did Gingak have to go and call him out? He rather remain a spectator in matters like this.
"It's fine, please speak your mind, as you would to Sir Gingak," the dreamy voice floated out across the room as Elder Emerian spoke. The shadows couldn't hide the small smile that played across his lips.
Altier narrowed his eyes. There was no escaping it now. He took a deep breath as he gathered his thoughts, "I really don't know anymore than Gingak. I can only speculate on what happened."
He paused, weighing his options. Just like Elder Emerian, there were many secrets that Altier kept as well. Admittedly, his memories of his life before he came here were vague and fuzzy at best, but there were things he knew he couldn't tell anyone, not even Gingak and Minme. Not even the Elders.
After a moment, he continued, "Like Gingak said, everyone on the island vanished. Even the buildings and their belongings were mostly gone. The ones that remained look like ruins from a people lost many hundreds of years ago.
"Although we found traces of damage from the Fenrir, it looked far more recent, and I suspect they were investigating it as we were. Chance are, they weren't even the first ones to do so. In any case, it's pretty safe to assume that they came back with nothing, like we did."
"But you have a theory, correct?" Elder Emerian coaxed him on.
"Yes," Altier was hesitant as he spoke, "The power to annihilate a people in this manner is not something native to this area. None of the known clans are capable of that, as you full well know.
"You also, know, too, that it was a similar incident that led Gingak and the others to finding me, all those years ago. The entire island was bare of life save for myself. I may have been barely conscious most of the time, but I assure you there was no one there by the time I managed to get to shore. However, I think it must have been within hours of the incident, since I can remember that eerie feeling in the air."
Gingak grunted slightly, "It wasn't as strong, but Altier said he could feel it there, too."
"Young Altier is sensitive to magic, at least since we found him," Elder Emerian chuckled softly. Without knowing what the energy really was, Elder Emerian had long ago nicknamed the power "magic." The term was accepted by most of the ordinary citizens, but the other Elders, and even Gingak, did not condone his use of the word. Magic was supposed to be something kind and wise, not a dark power that could destroy lives so easily.
However, Elder Emerian was right. Call it what they would, Altier was strangely acute to the energy in the air. Be it used for evil or good, the young man could feel it in the air. Where this ability came from, no one knew, and not even Altier himself wished to guess. He had no intention of ever recovering whatever memories it was he had lost. Either way, his ability to notice active magic was both a blessing and a curse.
Elder Rachio nodded his head, "Yes, it would be foolish to dismiss Sir Altier's intuition. We will research into this and see if we cannot find a more solid lead. Perhaps we can even discuss this with the more friendly clans and try to do something as a group effort."
"However, that also brings us to why we requested Altier's presence, too," Elder Juliantia added, barely taking pause to rest, "A divination has decided a task that only he is up to."
Altier frowned slightly. There was only one thing he could do better than the others, "I am to leave, then?"
Elder Emerian chuckled softly, "Don't sound so somber. It is not that simple. Although it is true that you are the only one who can easily leave this place."
"Do not worry," Elder Rachio added, "it is because we trust you that we ask this of you."
Altier still couldn't help but feel he was being pushed out, but he knew there was nothing to argue. Despite his many years amongst this clan, he was an outsider to begin with. What tied the others to this area had little meaning to him. It was for the convenience and security of this village that he remained. His life here was far from stable though, and it was easy to assume this day would eventually come.
Gingak placed a hand on his shoulder, reassuring the younger man with a quiet murmur, "Hear them out first before you get up in arms."
Altier sighed, he knew he was jumping to conclusions far too quickly, but the Elders had already confirmed his suspicions. Regardless of the reason, he would be leaving his home for nearly a decade.
Elder Rachio nodded his head slightly, "Yes, please do not take it to heart. You have earned your place amongst us. We will never revoke that privilege. However, there are things beyond our power. We must request your assistance this time."
"Our divination always proves true," Elder Juliantia continued, "and thus we must be prepared for it to become a reality. Our last vision showed you in a far away land, standing before a dark spire as it collapsed."
Altier's eyebrow twitched slightly. A dark spire? There was something ominous about it, even in just the vision he built up in his mind. There was nothing like that anywhere near here. He hadn't even glimpsed such a monstrosity during his travels with Gingak.
"We do not know where or when this will happen, however as it was divined while searching out information on the trouble in the area, we have no doubt that this tower is involved on some level. As we saw you clearly in the vision, we must ask that you undertake the task of finding this spire and bringing it to ruin," Elder Juliantia didn't falter for even a moment as she spoke. Any fear or misgivings she had, she held within her heart and refused to let any sign of weakness show across her face.
All Altier could do is nod. It wasn't like he had a choice, after all. Whenever the Elders spoke, they spoke the truth. Even if he tried to deny them his assistance, in the end, he would eventually leave and end up where they had envisioned, anyways. There was no way he could escape it.
"We wish that you depart by the end of the week," Elder Rachio took over, "We will continue our investigations here, and we ask that you undertake your own and try to find this dark spire."
Altier slowly rose, bowing his head slightly, "I will do my best."
Without giving the Elders a chance to say anymore, or even waiting for Gingak, he hurriedly made his way from the building and out into the warming light.