The formidable talons of the Skavyn dug in. The heavy feet ground the little metal body against the sundered stone. The crunching, screeching sound of wounded metal was unmistakable. Aria turned her face and wept aloud, and Doran closed his eyes so tightly it hurt. Rhazgul could do little but stare. The Skavyns perched high above the courtyard fell quiet, almost rapt, as they observed the scene with morbid fascination. The Skavyn lifted his talon once more and gave the sorry pile of metal one last crush in his grip. Wires, screws, and delicate little gears rained down. “Sssso ssssorry,” he said with a mocking sympathy, letting the crumpled heap fall to the ground.
The Skavyn raised raised his hideous face to the sky and howled triumphantly. “We are Sssskavyn!” Cheers and grunts of approval filled the courtyard. He raised his foot again for another blow. “Death to Mortalssss and Machi-” He stopped cold, head cocked. A webbed ear twitched. He slowly turned toward the source of the faint sound, somewhere in the shadows of the vestibule. All fell silent, and the small sounds seemed to ring out through the entire Academy.
A whirr. A clank.
And a glowing red oval shone in the darkness.
“I have found the kitchen. I can make us some nice dewberry tea!” Tobee punctuated his sentence with a delighted little beep.
The eyes of the Skavyn widened, but before he could comprehend what had happened, he felt a great pressure against his foot — and a sudden burning sensation. As he drew back his foot in agony, he was suddenly thrust across the yard by a powerful blast of fire that singed his wings and blackened his face. He spun toward the columns of the stairs leading to the Great Hall, and the impact came with such force it cracked the column in half and brought part of the intricately carved archway crumbling down upon him. Despite this, he tried to rise from the wreckage, patch-bald and smoldering wings pushing aside massive chunks of rubble.
Panting, the creature watched as the heaps of crushed metal began to liquefy and flow together to form a gleaming, silvery pool. Burbling and rising upward, the liquid metal slowly formed the rough figure of a man. As it coalesced, the shape taking on more and more definition, its gleams and glints in the moonlight caught the attention of every Skavyn around the courtyard. For a moment, all could see a solid silver statue in fantastic detail – and, in a flash, it transformed into a hooded figure whose deep red cloak flapped in the breeze. The man lifted his hand and drew back the hood. Moonlight gleamed on the gaunt, pale face of a man – and on the Myrridian ore mask that that covered its left side.
He took one step forward and whispered a single spell: “Disolvisa.” A ring of encircled his foot, then raced outward across the courtyard, setting the vines ablaze. Flailing, they released their grip on his fellow Magicians, who felt the flame as nothing but a warm summer wind.
Aria clambered up the iron gates of the courtyard and ran along its wall, then scampered up the drainpipe toward the rooftop. Rhazgul clung tight to the hanging mouth of his gargoyle and swung his stout body back and forth. With a surprisingly dextrous flip, he landed atop it, dashed along the broken roof, and scrambled down one of the parts that had caved in, finding himself in a third-floor classroom. Doran rose to unsteady feet and chased the fire across the courtyard, using it as cover. Dodging the spasms of the wilting, blackening vines, the professor scooped Tobee into his arms and charged into the building, shutting the door hard behind him.
Back in the courtyard, the sky was filled with glowing embers and with the affronted caws of the surrounding Skavyn, and the tortured remains of the vines sank back under the ground. Staggered, the Skavyn tried to take flight, and barely escaped the flames.
Xarian took another step forward. “I have seen you, Skavyn,” he intoned. “Now I can become you.” He held out his arms, and they splintered with razor sharp feathers. Soon they unfurled into magnificent black wings. His legs narrowed, bent backwards, and became great black claws. His head upraised to the night, Xarian grew larger, and his mask broke and fell away from his face. Soon he towered over his enemy. And as he lowered his great bald head, which still bore his own face, all could see what once was hidden: a tangle of scars, a gleam of bone, and a mouth slit open from the commissure of his lips to his cheek. As the transformation finished, it was apparent now that one of his eyes was milky white, in sharp contrast to the black Skavyn eye he had reproduced. He hissed, “Sssso sssssorry.”
The Skavyn forced an insidious grin. “Imposssster.” He glanced upward at the others around him. “You are a Mortal sssstill. You are one. We are many.” He raised his winged hand, and there was a flurry of sound and wind. Xarian lurched forward as another Skavyn descended upon him with a scream, tearing flesh and feathers from his back. His enemy hovered and grasped him within powerful claws, then spun and hurled Xarian once more into the far wall.
They were now a proper swarm, diving toward him, picking him up and throwing him. He tumbled toward the remains of the fountain and landed prone on his back. Xarian stared as several Skayven hurtled down at terrifying speed. Quickly, he uttered “Ensephous,” and a net of braided fire manifested above the courtyard. The Skavyns cawed and tried to pull up, but they fell screaming into the burning ropes.
Holding Tobee tightly under his arm, Doran charged down a hallway and up a curved flight of stairs to the second story. “Who is the caretaker of this place? Do you live here?” Tobee questioned curiously. Doran shushed him and frantically moved down the corridor of the East Wing. A Skavyn erupted through a broken window and smashed into the opposite wall directly in front of them. Doran slid to a halt, a sharp gasp jumping from his throat, but the beast shook off the impact and darted out again to battle. Wiping sweat from his brow, Doran continued to the end of the hall, around the corner, and up to a door, which he kicked open and smashed shut behind himself. Dust fell from the grimy brass, revealing the name Consul Fe’Lora Featherfoot.
One floor up, Rhazgul had assembled a bow from the elastic twine of the drapes and a part of the circular window frame. Shards of the broken glass were his missiles, and he cheered emphatically with each strike he made – and jeered at the creatures as they swooped past..
Above, Aria scaled the drainpipe, its slick metal often sending her sliding. Elarrans were not at all natural climbers, yet, although her fingers bled and her arms burned, she pushed forward, hoping desperately to remain unnoticed until she reached the top. As long as there was ruckus below, Skravyns would keep fighting – if only amongst themselves. But she knew somehow that Xarian was still alive and fighting. With all her might, she grabbed the lip of the gutter and pulled herself up onto the roof.
Crouching – in part to keep her balance in the stiff wind, in part to hopefully stay unseen – she clambered over the loose shingles of the roof and moved toward the chimney. Clinging to it, she looked inside and gathered a handful of leaves from the filter, along with a clawtip full of ash. She stacked the leaves together, and drew on the top one a small, ashen symbol. Standing strong against the wind, Aria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Folding the leaves between her hands, she spoke the word “Yasara” and gently blew between her thumbs. When she opened her hands, the leaves leapt to life, flitting around her like butterflies. One leaf remained on her palm, and she gently moved her finger along its serrated edge. A fine, deep cut slit her skin, and she winced, jolted her finger away, and smiled. She waved her hand around in a circle, and the living leaves swirled to follow. Whipping her hand down to point at the great Skavyn, she hissed a word of command, and the leaves funneled down at speed. She quickly scooped out another handful of leaves.
Doran scrambled around Fe’Lora’s office, looking through drawers and cabinets and shelves. “I know there must be something here,” he said aloud.
Tobee stood on the desk. “What do you seek? I can help you.”
“There must be something here, something she would have left,” he babbled to himself. “Something that tells me where…” He said as he opened a drawer and examined some papers.
Tobee sat down upon a pile of books. “This I do not know,” he said sadly, “But I do know the recipe for Mangravian Cake. Have you ever had Mangravian Cake?”
Doran slammed the drawer with frustration. He moved toward a wardrobe and began sifting through its contents. “Tell me, Fe’Lora….”
“I can tell you there are now only twelve Skavyn left outside,” Tobee offered, then paused. “Eleven.”
Doran moved to Felora’s desk and began sorting through her papers, which sat undisturbed for ages. Dust lay thick in her small, stained tea bowl.
“But there are one thousand and twenty four Skavyns just south of here, in a place called Sandsore. We should avoid going south.” Tobee nodded his head.
“Thank you, Tobee,” Doran said through gritted teeth. “I will not take us south.”
“Good!” Tobee beeped, and waited for Doran to offer anything else, but instead there was an awkward silence. Tobee filled and deepened it at the same time. “My Mother said I’m very smart.”
Doran kicked the leg of the desk chair and collapsed in it, then hung his head. “Yes. You are very smart, Tobee,” he muttered.
Tobee stood again and his legs whirred as he came closer to Doran. “My databases are synched with all life forces. I can tell you of nearly 8 million creatures marked extinct.”
“That’s nice, Tobee.” Doran said dismissively. And then realization washed over him. He slowly lifted his head from his arms, then looked up at the tiny robot before him.
“…What can you tell me of the last Thissling Fairy?”
>The battle outside continued, and Xarian was losing strength. He had taken a significant beating as he took to the air and dodged the oncoming Skavyn, but he was heartened by the stream of swears that Rhazgul was directing at the beasts, and by the vicious swirl of Razorfeen leaves that sliced the claws and faces of the Skavyn. High atop the roof, Aria had released the last of her leaves and was scurrying for shelter, but as she slipped and yelped, it drew the eye of the great Skavyn. The beast launched itself toward her at unthinkable speed. She attempted to roll away, but as it extended its gleaming talons, something else emerged: a thick shard of stained glass, stabbing through the chest of the beast. It squealed, its body twisting, and crashed into the roof, rending a tremendous hole. With a last desperate lunge, Aria darted away, barely escaping the collapse – and then barely preventing herself from falling off the roof. But from within the hole, a last lash of the beast’s tail swept Aria’s feet from under her. Thinking fast, she clung to it, hissing as the razor-sharp fingers sliced her hands but holding tight as the beast fell into the Academy.
All the Skavyn were all gone now, and the stillness seemed eerie. Xarian moved to the center of the courtyard, his illusion giving way to his Elarran form once again. He picked up his mask from the ground and stared at it a moment, then tapped it hard against his thigh to shake off all the dust. Carefully, he once again positioned it over the left side of his face, then cleared his throat and pulled up his hood once more. His expression was unseen beneath its shadow.
“Are you alive, Ugly?” Rhazgul shouted from the window.
“I am,” he growled. “As are you, I see.” And he moved inside the Academy.
Aria woke in pain. She assessed her condition and felt nothing broken – and realized that the great bulk of the Skavyn had cushioned her fall, though its feathers had dealt her many cuts. perhaps just a few scratches and bruises. Still, the impact had left her disoriented, and she glanced around, almost not recognizing what she saw: the rubble, the torn tapestries, the overturned chairs, the collapsed roof. It was familiar, and yet so surely not. Her mouth hung open in wordless shock when she recognized it, and when she realized that the terror that crowded her mind had been no dream. This truly was the Great Hall. The place where students once attended assemblies, where speakers of great regard gave lectures, where commencements took place and the noble were honored. At the far end of the room sat three empty seats on an elevated platform, the seats that honored the founders worth honoring. But the mural behind it had changed. It had been defiled by some sort of unrecognizable scrawling. She pushed herself off the body of the beast and stumbled onto the cracked marble floor. Rising slowly, she swayed and lurched toward the mural, looking upon its symbol with a deep and unspeakable dread.
The doors behind her burst open. She screamed and turned, then sagged with relief at the sight of Doran and Tobee. “I know where they’ve gone!” he exclaimed, the excitement evident in his tone.
Rhazgul and Xarian appeared at his side, neither speaking, neither able to speak, as their eyes fell upon the symbol.