The Magicians arrived under the veil of darkness in the west corner of the Magic Academy courtyard. For Doran, the exhaustion and disorientation was familiar, but for the others, the new experience had them rattled. Rhazgul lay on the cobblestone platform holding his head. “It’s as if I stared into Six Suns after a full pint of Bloomy Ale!” He exclaimed,
Aria slowly came to her feet unsteadily. “All okay?” She asked with concern.
“I enjoyed that! Can we do it again?” said a smaller voice.
Aria spun to see Tobee sitting atop Doran’s chest. The small mechanical man gripped his feet in his clasped hands and looked at her eagerly.
She had no time to respond before being distracted by an ominous rasping cry. Above them there soared a black bird of prey with gleaming claws. A nearly human face nestled amidst a mane of razor-thin feathers that shone the darkest of blue hues in the moonlight.
As Aria watched, it circled them once and then perched its heavy body atop a domed rooftop. Her eyes wandered toward the Magic Academy, or what was once the Magic Academy. The walls had begun to crumble, and vines from the deep soil had reached upward and grabbed hold of them, strangling each spire and pillar. The windows were all dark, and the wind coursed through the empty vestibules, whispering and whistling as if it were alive. The fountains, once sprinkling with beautiful water, had gone dry, and the statues surrounding them had been chipped away and disfigured.
Aria’s hand covered her face, and she found her breath caught within her chest as Xarian stood to join her. Rhazgul surveyed the unrecognizable remains and his face fell. “We’re too late.” He managed. He looked up toward Xarian, whose eyes seemed fixed straight ahead, and said again, “We’re too late.”
“Stay near me, Tobee.” Doran instructed as he set the small robot on the cobblestones and rose to his feet.
“What happened to them?” Aria asked brokenly, although she truly did not want to know what fate befell the faculty and students of the Academy.
Doran placed his hand on her shoulder, “We’ve been gone a long time… perhaps too-”
A whirring disrupted them, “You have been gone 10 years, 9 hours, 2 minutes and 31 seconds, or a half a reach toward the Rings.” Tobee informed, straining his neck to look up at Doran, who towered above him.
Xarian did not face them, and spoke with his low, darkly elegant voice. “The Academy has fallen.”
Aria recoiled, “Fallen to whom?” She said louder than she intended. “This is our home!” Her eyes darted to each of their faces.
And then a voice, almost a forced, airy whisper, hissed from the lofty rooftops. “This issss our home, Mortal.”
Without warning, the creature let out a call and launched itself into the air. Its wings spanned half the length of the courtyard, and each flap was like the tides of a cruel sea crashing against a rocky shore. The beast gained speed, circled once around the starless sky, gliding with startling grace, then swooped down before them. Dust billowed out from beneath its thick talons as it came to a rest. “You are tressssspasssing,” it said, a scowl on its wrinkled face.
Doran took a step toward Xarian, who had his eyes locked on the immense creature before them. “What is this?”
Xarian did not answer, but Aria did. “A Skavyn. It’s a Magical creature from the Drethea Mountains at the corner of the world. None of have come this far. I’ve never seen one before.” She shook her head. “Most who do… they never live to tell.”
Xarian moved toward it, unafraid. “Where are our people, Skavyn? Impart your knowledge.”
The Skavyn seemed unfazed by his audacity, for it could crush such an Elarran in less time than it took for lightning to bridge soil and sky. “All dead. Sssssso sssorry.” It scratched behind its webbed ear with one talon.
Tobee’s feet and legs whirred as he made his way to the edge of the platform. “That is not a fact, in fact.” He crossed his tiny arms, unable to comprehend Mortal danger. “My databases are synched with all life forces. I can tell you of nearly 8 million creatures marked extinct. Elarrans are not among them. There are more than these,” he said, gesturing toward the Magicians. His defiance complete, the small robot sat down on the stone, legs swinging. “My Mother said to always tell the truth.”
The air around them fell completely still. Xarian spoke again. “Where are our people, Skavyn?” He growled, narrowing his eyes.
The Skavyn turned to face him, its large feet thumping on the cold cobbles, its sharp claws grinding into the stone. “It mattersssss not if they expired yessssssterday or perissssh tomorrow, Magician.” The Skavyn bent his head and came down upon one knee, as though in reverence, before continuing. “They are dead.” Unexpectedly, it swung forth one great wing with unimaginable force, knocking Xarian to the far side of the courtyard. His body slammed into the tower wall and slumped to the ground lifelessly. “And ssssso are you.”
Aria, Rhazgul and Doran began to run from the platform, but the cobblestone trembled and buckled. Stones loosened themselves, dirt heaved, and wild, slithering vines erupted from beneath the stone, lashing at their feet. The violent tendrils rose and twined, manipulating the Magicians like marionettes. Soon, all four were encased and immobilized, Doran was held firmly against the central fountain. Rhazgul was dangling from the mammoth gargoyle head anchored to the third story bartizan. Aria was pinned to the iron gates of the courtyard. As they struggled to free themselves, the suffocating squeeze of the vines only grew tighter.
The Skavyn raised its head and released a deafening shriek that pierced the nighttime sky. The penetrating pitch rose to a crescendo, upon which the remaining windows of the Academy shattered in unison. For a moment, the sky was a kaleidoscope. Then the stained glass shards fell down upon the courtyard like a rain of knives. The Magicians all closed their eyes and twitched within their verdant cocoons, which tightened around them. They were almost glad of their protection: the vines suffered thousands of slices and punctures, and the cold air grew thick with the hothouse smell of chlorophyll. Glittering dust drifted down, a dire snow. The Skavyn’s voice faded.
Another sound arose. A great wooshing, as of a hundred sails tormented by the Southern Winds. The sky was marred by soaring shadows in the dark. More Skavyns, smaller but still fierce. They battered each other in flight, pushing each other out of the way, wings striking wings and talons pushing off from faces. One, shoved off course, struggled to regain control but crashed into the belltower, knocking it apart. Beast and blocks and bells tumbled from the rooftop with a deafening clamor before smashing into the fountain in the center of the courtyard, all narrowly missing the vine-wrapped Doran.
The hideous creatures came to rest on the walls and peaks of the rooftops surrounding the courtyard. All stared down, hissing and chortling, shoving and jostling, as if giving audience to some grand event.
The first Skavyn unfurled his mighty wings in an elaborate gesture. “My Nesssst Brothersssss… We have foreign visssssitors in our territory.” He shook his wings rapidly, and great waves of wind pumped across the courtyard.
Observing the ongoings, though upside down, Rhazgul yelled, “You Mokkits, you’ll all die when the Gray gets here. You mark my words on Grimthane, you won’t be spared!”
The Skavyn looked up at him. “The Gray hassssss been and gone from this place. It left us untouched. Like a raging storm, it left this area in its eye. Thissss is the only sssafe haven upon Myssssstica. And it belongssss to Ssssskavyn.”
“The Skavyn is correct. It has been and gone,” a voice quipped nonchalantly, punctuated by clicks and whirs. “The Gray does not want to consume the magic here. This is the home of the Elarran Last Portal, of course. If there we no Magic we couldn’t have arrived here.” Waddling over vines and rubble and shattered glass, Tobee made his way toward the shattered fountain. “It’s broken. I don’t have my glue. I didn’t bring my glue. If I had my glue I could fix this for you.” He looked up at the Skavyn.
Despite his heavy restraints, his exhaustion, and his horror, Doran felt a burst of energy as he saw Tobee approach the beast. His eyes widened. “Tobee! No!” His struggles were as fruitless as ever..
The Skavyn spun and brought the tiny robot into his gaze. It extended its wattled neck from the greasy mane of feathers and gave the machine a closer look, a dreadful smirk on its bare face.
“I will help you clean,” Tobee offered. “I am very tidy.”
Lunging, the Skavyn picked him up in one talon. The audience crowed and hissed.
And the Skavyn slammed Tobee to the ground, crushing him beneath the whole of his weight.
To Be Continued
March 5, 2015