I'm glad you like it, Feathersun! Welcome aboard!!! And I'm so glad you finally picked at last and saw the light, ponies, and lizards.
whew! After many forced
rewrites, here is chapter 6!
No one froze the tower’s momentum; though it seemed to slow, it did not stop. It landed with an almighty crash, altogether too loud to know whether there were human screams mixed in the din. The fog coiled angrily around the hole the tower had made, quickly beginning to close around the Keep again. Just before the fog blanket was made whole again, a single golden orb pierced its defenses, somehow sneaking in through the hole the tower had made.
The orb was so insignificant, for a moment it seemed like nothing had happened. The tendrils still attacked, the fog still seemed solid and impenetrable. Then Arje abruptly dropped several feet and coasted forward, apparently keenly interested in something. I didn’t pull him back, and as I looked, I could see the fog was contracting around where the orb had entered, looking like it was retreating within itself…
The battle continued, but it looked as though the smoky stuff was being rapidly pulled toward that single point. The tendrils all around the castle were shrinking and disappearing, lost within the central mass of the fog. The fog itself was still quickly being drawn into a sort of whirlpool; the dark spell seemed to be breaking. Shards of gold light pierced the remaining wisps of smoke, and with one brilliant flash of light, the castle was visible once more.
There was no cheering at the reappearance of the keep – no shouts, no celebration. Just silence. The fog above us dissipated more slowly than the spell around the castle, but in a few moments it too was gone. Arje looked up at the starry sky for several moments before hesitantly beginning to coast downwards. He hovered as the magi made way for us to land – or so I assumed. Even when Arje was safely on the ground, the magi continued to back away slowly, surprisingly hostile looks on many of their faces. Many were running about, most to the Keep, some to the fallen tower, but a small number stayed grouped around us. I shrank back against Arje – what had I done? I’d never been very well liked within the Keep, but I didn’t think I’d been hated. But the looks of the mages around me clearly said otherwise.
I was about to tell Arje to take off again and get away, but my eyes were drawn to a disturbance within the crowd. The watching magi were pushed aside, giving way to Master Belmos. But he was not the stately and stern professor I’d come to know; his short gray hair was singed and wild, and there was a long and nasty-looking scrape along his jaw, still oozing blood. The fact that he had not healed it yet - exceedingly easy for one of his power - bothered me more than the cut. He ran forward to me and roughly grabbed my arm in an iron hold. “How do you still have this gryphon?” He hissed at me, his eyes wild. “How is he still alive??”
Terrified, I shook my head mutely, unable to find my voice, forcing myself not to think of the implications of his words.
“Answer me!” He commanded, looking vicious… as though I was an enemy. This couldn’t still be about the wall! He didn’t honestly think that I was responsible for this mess, did he?? How could he?
“I…I was coming back…” I could not force the words out past the terror. Everything was so mixed up and wrong… I could not gather myself together to answer.
“We were coming back from Remy’s, Master,” Sorras said from behind me, causing me to jump. His voice strained but steady. “We came back early because we heard the noise of the battle – it was not hard to miss the fact that something was wrong. We wanted to help, but there was little we could do --” He broke off then, and I wondered if he was going to admit that he had been the one responsible for the tower falling. After a few moments, he took a deep breath and continued, “We stayed high because it seemed odd that there were no creatures fighting alongside you. Ricansea had no part in this spell, and neither did I.”
There was no way I could match Sorras’s calm tone, so I kept quiet. I outright refused to think about the consequences of the battle until I was forced to, so I instead focused my thoughts on Sorras. I didn’t understand how he was able to talk, much less put together an articulate speech as he just had. I knew he could hold his drink, but this was surprising from a man who looked close to fainting from overindulgence less than an hour ago. I wondered whether the same fear that threatened to incapacitate me had steadied him.
Master Belmos brought me out of my harmless questions of logic and back into painful reality. “I see,” He finally said, releasing me at last. He waved his hand at Arje, and at Talon perched upon his head. “I did not truly think you were responsible, but to see this…” He sighed and covered his face with his hands, seemingly not noticing when they came back bloodstained. “It was a question that had to be asked.”
He looked like he was about to say more, but he abruptly turned away from us, looking towards the milling magi. There were many less than before – now that I was listening, I could hear screams and even sobs echoing from the Keep, filling me at once with pity and a cold dread. Master Belmos ran from us, his hand raised high above his head. “Stay back!” He shouted, but the words were not directed at us. A concussive wave flew from his form, kicking up dust and spreading quickly. It hit a small knot of magi gathered around the crumpled roof of the fallen tower, knocking them away. The wave passed harmlessly through the walls of the Keep, but when it hit us it nearly knocked Arje off his feet.
Arje didn’t like that very much. With an enraged roar he took to the air; but before he did, I felt something move behind me. Glancing back, I saw that Sorras was no longer there – he’d apparently jumped as soon as Arje had spread his wings. I watched as his black-cloaked figure sprinted towards the broken doors of the castle, disappearing inside – it was clear his need to check his creatures could not wait any longer. I could not blame him, but I wished he hadn’t left.
I sighed and clutched Talvi closer as Arje gained altitude, coasting towards the fallen tower. The magi there were grouped around Master Belmos now. He had something large clutched in his hands, attacking it with so much golden magic that at first I thought the thing was glowing. Arje landed and strode forward – he was so tall that I could clearly see over their heads. I could see a few upturned heads glaring at me, but I was now able to ignore it, knowing why they stared at me so. It would all be set right later – I’d make it known somehow that I had no part in the spell. I put them out of my mind and looked towards Master Belmos.
It seemed as though he was holding a stone, its pale surface just visible underneath the flickering golden strands of magic. I didn’t know what he was trying to do, but it clearly wasn’t working - his hands began to shake. As I watched, a blonde magi stepped forward and added his own magic. The pale yellow strands were a far cry from the rich gold of the Master’s, but they were enough. With a loud cracking sound disproportionate to its size, the rock split in two. The moment the golden light of the magic faded, he let the pieces drop to the ground.
He raised his eyes from the broken fragments of rock and gazed at us. “I suppose you are looking for an explanation,” He said slowly. “I’m sure you wish to know what evil has spirited away all of your beloved creatures. I now know who attacked us… and I will tell you. But know first that you will gain no solace with the knowledge. It will bring nothing but grief to those of you who understand next what I say.”
Grief or no grief, I wanted to know what we were up against. What ‘knowledge’ could be worse than knowing all of our creatures were taken from us?
Most of the magi around me seemed to agree. Though two magi slowly detached from the group and walked away, hurrying towards the castle door, the rest of us stayed. Master Belmos sighed heavily. “Very well, I will tell you. This stone is a mark of their own twisted brand of magic, most certainly their crowning achievement.” His voice was bitter. He picked up one broken half of the stone at his feet, showing it to us. “Do you see the markings along this cursed piece of rock? I’m sure you can see what this stone was made to resemble.”
I was too far away to see it clearly; it just looked whitish with some grey smudges on it. One of the magis spoke out, “A kamar rabbit egg!” but he was quickly elbowed into silence by his brethren. But then the same blonde-haired magi spoke quietly, “It looks like the moon.”
“The moon,” Master Belmos echoed. “And therein lays your answer. I do not know what foul name they call themselves, but we know them as the ravagers, the thieves of light…” His voice broke. I looked down at the other magi to see that they looked just as confused as I was – only the blonde magi had a different expression… he looked horrified.
Master Belmos looked as though he was about to continue when there was an enormous crash was heard from inside the castle. Without a second glance at us, he ran to the source of the noise. He was the most skilled professor within the Keep – it was up to him to return things to some semblance of normalcy, and he wasn’t getting that done by talking to us.
Arje took off abruptly, startling me. I clutched the feathers around his neck to stay on as he sped around the castle towards the oaken doors that marked my home. Apparently he’d had enough of waiting, too. Truth be told, I was terrified of what I would find in there… but I knew I’d waited long enough. We needed to see what the ‘ravagers’ had done to my home.