E. Paige Burks
The constant plop of water into a pool had been the only sound in centuries. The grating of a door was a welcome surprise, rousing me from a self-induced slumber. Light fell across the cobblestone floor as the door gave, two shadows forming in the dim light.
“Is this the right place?” A man’s voice filled the cavern, echoing across the cobblestones and the walls. He lifted a hand to wave in front of his place. “It reeks.”
“Silence, boy,” the second commanded. “I warned you of coming to this place.”
The first sighed in irritation as he followed the second across the floor. The ceiling arched high above them into a dome, making their hushed voices echo around the room.
“Yeah, Jay, I know,” the first said. “You said the damn statues would be listening.”
I felt it then, an involuntary shift of muscle, a rumble from deep in my chest filling the room. The very walls of the cavern vibrated with the sound, sending a skitter of rocks down to the cobblestone floor. My mind was shifting from the thick darkness of sleep, filled with their words. Did they know me?
“Ben!” Jay snarled, wheeling on his partner. “We’re here for the gems, so keep your mouth shut.”
Jay was an old man as he stepped closer to the dais where I was frozen. His gray eyes shifted over the make-shift altar, seeking out his treasure. I cared not for his reason of coming. The altar was a farce, designed to lure men such as these. The true prize was the sunlight beaming through the door.
I felt the rumble well inside me again as the young one, Ben, stepped closer to me. He glanced around nervously as the walls began to shake and echo, but then he turned his eyes back to me. I struggled against the frozen feeling in my limbs, wishing to break free of this tomb.
“Eh, look at this, Jay,” Ben said, stepping up cobbled steps to be on eye-level with me. “This is that symbol that Eyran carries.”
Jay shook his head, a frown set into his face. He pulled a tool from his pocket, fighting to dislodge the gems from the altar. “Shut up, Ben,” he snapped. “Let’s get these and get out. This shit gives me the willies.”
Ben frowned, but leapt down from the steps.
Eyran. The name rang like bells in my ears. I fought again to free myself, feeling the rock that encased me shift. Neither of the thieves seemed to notice as my shell began to give way. Cool air began to rush in, filling my lungs, invigorating me. That was all I needed, the scent of the sunlight beyond the door fueling the wild desire to break free. I flexed my iron wings, feeling the rock shatter away as I launched myself from the dais and toward the cobblestone.
The men yelled behind me as I flapped, sending a gust around what used to be a temple. My mind was focused on the sunlight in front of me, and it filled my senses as I crashed heavily through the door. I slammed into the ground, looking up.
The temple had once been surrounded by a mighty stone palace. Now, though, I could see it was tall ruins. It rose up above me, the morning sky peeping down through cracks in the ceiling. The stone looked brittle and weather-worn. As I rose from where I was kneeling, I could hear the men behind me crying for help. When I’d crashed through the door, the temple had begun to crumble, blocking their exit.
Slowly, I turned toward the rubble. I shrugged my shoulders as the wings folded along my back, stepping forward to heave a large rock away. I narrowed my eyes as I saw a face appear.
“Please!” Jay begged. “Don’t leave us here!” His gray eyes were panicked. “Please, I’ll put the gems back!”
I leaned forward, placing a hand on the stone. “I care not for those gems,” I said. My voice sounded strange to my ears. I hadn’t spoken in thousands of years. “Tell me where Eyran is.”
The old man gasped in fright. “What do you want with him?” he asked, fear in his voice.
I laughed, feeling my tongue drift across fangs. “He and I have a score to settle.”
“We’ll take you to him!” Ben suddenly appeared, his green eyes frightened as well. “We know where you can find him.”
I titled my head, considering his offer. I supposed there was nothing to lose. I straightened, reaching for the boulders that were blocking the entrance. It took little effort to remove them and free the two men. Once they were safely in the light, the young one fell to his knees, gasping for a breath.
“Thank you,” he gasped, groveling before me.
I scowled at him, feeling the sharp teeth digging into my lip. “Do not kneel before me,” I said sharply. “I am no god.”
Ben rose slowly, his eyes full of fear still. “What are you?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“One of the Sacred Order,” I said shortly. “Neither man nor beast.” I nodded my chin. “Now take me to Eyran.”
The two men turned, motioning that I should follow them across the hall of the once-great palace. There were stairs that led to the temple, and they were crumbling, white-washed stone. They were smooth in places where the rain had graced them. The men’s footsteps were heavy as they climbed down, sounding like clod-hopping mules. It was mildly irritating, but no matter as I followed them. I watched as they clambered down to the cobbled palace floor, scurrying quickly toward the exit.
As soon as my foot struck the surface of the smooth stones, however, a jolt shot through me. Fizzing magic burned my veins, and I gritted my teeth. All around us stone warriors began to form, causing the men to freeze in their tracks. I paid them no mind as the first warrior moved toward me rapidly, swinging a massive spear.
With ease, I swung my hands, feeling the hilt of silver blades form against my skin. I sliced easily through the stone man, watching him crumble to the ground. Several more followed in his stead, each one easier than the last to destroy as my body remembered the feel of weapons and the dance of blades. Their singing was a music that filled my ears as they cut down enemies, leaving a pile of rubble on the floor of the palace. As the last one fell into dust, the burning in my veins ceased.
It didn’t help to ease the scowl from my face.
“What the fuck were those?” Ben demanded as I sheathed my weapons.
“A precaution,” I said shortly. “I was never intended to leave this place.”
We soon crossed the threshold of the palace. I raised a hand to shield my eyes, blinking against the bright light of the sun. I hadn’t seen it in millennia, and it scorched my eyes. Surprise flooded me as I beheld the world as it was now.
Beyond the desert that kept my tomb hidden, an oasis sprouted. It was vast, melting from spiraling trees into objects that reached for the heavens. They glinted powerfully in the sun, like the finest cast steel. I was momentarily paralyzed as I took in the wild uncertainty of this new world.
“This way,” the old man called, breaking me from my reverie.
I blinked, seeing him and his companion climbing into a metal beast. “What is this sorcery?” I demanded as I walked toward it.
“It’s a van,” Ben said. His eyes shifted over me uncertainly. “Eyran is in the city.”
I narrowed my gaze at him. There was no way I would climb knowingly into another prison such as this. “Where in the city?” I demanded.
He pointed toward the oasis. “At the Spyre.”
I turned my head, focusing my gaze across the landscape. Even from here, a tall monolith jutted into the sky, taller than the rest. Across the top, the word Spyre was scrawled. Without another word, I leapt into the sky, unfolding my massive wings. They cut through the air with ease, propelling me ever closer to my target. There was nowhere for him to hide from me now.