Above The Ashes: Part Two
Also by imogenweasley. Art by imogenweasley.
Tyrannia was not known for its pleasant weather. It was humid and disgustingly muggy, which, when mixed with the near year-round sunlight, made for an intoxicating climate that caused numerous cases of lightheadedness. Even now, as the sun was setting, it was still too warm. Only civilians with the most tolerant of body conditions were able to live here for extended periods of time.
“And I’m certainly not one of them,” the thief muttered to himself darkly from his perch on a hill. He scanned the village laid out before him, looking for his target. Admittedly, he was not completely sure it even existed. Yes, he had heard the rumors; that was what had brought him to this miserable place. He had chosen to believe in what some people called a myth, a legend. Now, the nagging doubt that had been slowly mounting in the back of his mind took hold. Surely it was just a rumor. A story cooked up to entertain.
But no, he thought. I’ve come too far. To back out now would just be foolish. This may be the one that finally achieves what I’ve been working towards for so long. I must keep moving.
With that, the Pteri swept forward, wings gliding lightly over the ridge, down towards the village. The sun had nearly vanished, leaving just enough light for him to see yet remain concealed. He crept softly along the paths, listening for any sound of his objective. Surely something as large as this would make noise constantly. But besides the distant sounds of the rock band at the concert hall, he heard nothing.
And then—all at once, timed nearly perfectly with the climax of the song, he heard a screech. It was awe-inspiring and frightening at the same time, and he was convinced beyond a doubt that the stories he had heard were real. It existed.
He shot off towards the sound, blazing a trail through the brush. It seemed like it had almost come from below, as if emanating from the earth itself. He paused, sure he would hear it again if he listened—yes, there it was. This time, the shriek was accompanied by a rumble, and he saw the building in front of him shudder slightly. It seemed to be coming from below the building. He approached the building cautiously, and crouched under the open window to listen for anyone inside.
“It’s unhappy tonight,” a male voice said from inside the building.
“Yeah. Most I’ve heard it move in a while,” another replied.
He slipped away from the window, a plan to draw the guards out quickly forming in his mind. He dug into his thoughts, pulling the same feeling of anger he had felt in the bank to the forefront of his mind. The image of the dying Gelert seared through his thoughts, and an explosion shook the earth, though not quite as loud as the ones from below. Before the anger had subsided he took off towards the building, crouching once more below the window. As soon as the guards had left the building to investigate, he scrambled through the window and looked around.
He was in a small room, with two doorways branching off in opposite directions. The only thing of interest in here was the small, square table in the center of the room. Two of the chairs surrounding it were lying on their backs, presumably knocked over when the guards had leapt up. He hurried into one of the rooms, which held two narrow mattresses on opposing walls from each other. There was certainly no way to descend into the basement from here. Frantically, he backtracked and entered the third room of the building. With a sigh of relief he found what he was looking for, resting on an armoire in the corner.
He snatched the rusty key that was identical to the one he had stolen earlier and glanced around for some way to enter the basement. With a flash of realization he rushed back into the bedroom, and promptly froze. As he had hurried through the building, he caught a glance of the guards: two Rukis, one green, one black. They had surely seen him as well.
With only a moment’s hesitation, he seized the nearest bed and shoved it to the side with as much strength as he could muster. He heard the guards shout angrily, but had already wrenched open the trapdoor underneath and disappeared into the darkness below.
Quickly he looked around, willing his eyes to adjust faster. The air in the dank chamber was shifting strangely, similar to a wind flowing one way and suddenly returning the way it came. He reached forward and felt metal. Grasping the twin keys, he found the two padlocks and unlocked them as hastily as he could. Pulling the enormous metal doors open took a considerable amount of force, which he knew was because they had been used only once, many years ago, to lock it in. And now he was undoing it; he was one step closer to fully realizing what he had only dreamed of.
The strange air flow stopped, as did the guard’s shouts from above. It surprised him a bit that they hadn’t jumped down after him, but then again, they too knew what was down here. Guards were no less afraid than anyone else. He pulled the door open and stepped inside. Something large shifted in front of him. Tears were in his eyes as he finally saw it.
It roared. Its scream shook every fiber of his being. He was overcome with emotion, but there would be time for that later. He refocused his thoughts and stepped forward slowly.
“I want you to come with me. Once I free you, we can work together. Sound okay?”
It didn’t roar, which he took to be a good sign. Carefully, he climbed onto its back, taking care to not hurt it in any way. He leaned into the ear, and whispered, “Go.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, it shot forward and up, blowing the ceiling to bits. He saw one of the guards shriek and leap out of the way as the building around him crumbled. It soared into the sky, wings flapping. Shouts were heard from civilians; the music from the concert hall abruptly stopped as they saw it too. Together, he and the colossal monstrous Scorchio flew off into the night, the creature shrieking with glee.
He had done it. He had freed the legend.
An agonizing cough broke the nighttime silence. It persisted, worsening with every second. The weak Gelert sat up slowly, bringing a red paw to her mouth to stifle it. Her eyes, tired and crinkly, winced at each new attack. Soon, the cough subsided, leaving behind only a severe wheeze. The old woman sat still for a few moments, trying to restore calm in her anxious heart.
“That was a bad one.”
The woman looked towards the source of the voice, from the cot set up on the other side of the room. “Yes. Thankfully I got it under control.”
The Pteri sat up as well. “They’re getting worse, aren’t they? Lasting longer.”
“They’re not that bad,” she replied, punctuating the statement with a few gruff coughs.
The Pteri rolled his eyes in the blackness. “Don’t give me that. I’ve been here with you for over three months. I know it’s getting worse.”
The old woman reached for the lamp on her nightstand, and flipped it on with a grimace. “Be that as it may, I am not there yet. I have a little more fire left inside, trust me.”
He flinched slightly. “Don’t talk to me about fire, please.”
“We have discussed this, Luminaris. I have resigned myself to the fact. There is nothing more you can do.”
He sat up. His wings, the colors of the sunset, shimmered slightly in the faint light. “I can’t just sit by and watch you die, Anna. Not when I have this... gift. It could help you.”
“You can’t help me anymore, at least not in that way. I have lived a long, long life. I am ready.”
Tears were at his eyes. He swept them away with a feather, staring long and hard at his old friend.
“If I can’t help you by finding a way to share my gift, what use am I to you?” he asked. A mixture of hurt and frustration coursed through his mind.
“You can help me. Make my time left as comfortable as possible. That’s all I ask of you, Luminaris.”
Between the flaps of the Scorchio, a sharp sob pierced the darkness. Luminaris, latched onto the Scorchio’s back, let the tears flow freely now. The pent up grief he had suppressed for the long months spent at Anna’s side now emerged, with more scalding guilt than ever before. He had agreed to step back, to sit by and watch her pass, rather than actively search for a way to help her live. He was the reason she had died.
Luminaris had known Anna for her entire life, and now she was gone. The last living relative of his line. He was alone now. There was no one left to watch as they grew up and set off into the world. No one left to care for.
He wouldn’t let it happen again; he couldn’t bear to watch it any longer. After her death, he knew one thing and one thing only.
He had to stop death.
To be continued...