I woke the next morning earlier than the sun to a loud screeching sound outside. I jumped up from where I slept in the dirt and looked around. The others were rousing as well. Tigala was the last to sit up. She laid there with a scowl on her face for a moment prior to doing so.
"What's that?" said Lolan.
I shook off the sleepiness from the surprisingly good sleep I had gotten in that dirt-filled corner and walked outside. The screeches continued and I looked in the direction of the tall pillar-like mountains in the distance. Near the top of one, two large creatures, like giant bats, screeched at each other. And by large, I mean they were easily the size of a wagon.
The two flapped their wings in an attempt to pull away from the other, but they refused to let go of something held between their two sets of feet. It was too far off to see what it was they were fighting over—a mountain goat maybe.
Zef joined me outside, watching the ariel brawl from a distance. "Ah, see! They were just wyverns after all," he said. "That's nothing to worry about."
"Wyverns?" I said. "That's what those are?"
"Yes," said Zef. "They're not something you want to mess with, but they don't breathe fire or anything. They're just supposed to have a paralyzing stinger on the tip of their tails."
"That sounds pretty terrifying," said Lolan.
"Are we going to take one down?" said Tigala. "I wouldn't mind learning that form."
"I don't think we want to pick a fight with one of those just to get you a new trick," I said. "Besides, wouldn't that take you a long time to transform into something that big."
She nodded, "Yeah, it would. But it's always good to have some bigger forms in case I need to go toe to toe with someone like Torm."
"I say we stay out of it unless necessary," said Zef. "It is quite a relief that they just saw wyverns though. If dragons were real, heh. Well, they'd be pretty devistat—"
There was a thunderous roar that shook the ground. I head loud wing beats even from the distance. The two wyverns fighting over their kill dropped the animal and both fled in separate directions. Then, out from behind the largest pillar-like mountain came a massive reptilian creature. Each wing beat looked like it was defying gravity with the size of the creature. The giant lizard, at least three times the size of the wyverns reached out its neck and snatched one of the wyverns from the air. It bit down, and there was an audible crunch as the wyvern went limp. Then, still floating in the air on wings like boat sails, it flicked the limp wyvern into the air above its head, shot out a torrent of flame, and then opened its mouth to let the cooked meal fall inside. The massive flying reptile then lifted itself up to settle back down atop the largest mountain.
I stood in silence for a moment with no words to say.
"What the heck was that?" asked Lolan with wide eyes.
"A dragon," said Zef slowly.
"They were right," I said. "And the storm mages... they thought they could tame something like that?"
"It sounded like they almost had, by what Geralt said," Zef added.
"I thought those things weren't real," said Tigala.
"They're not," said Zef. "At least they shouldn't be. They've always been thought to be myths, legends that you tell your children to explain the good and evil in the world. Sure, those stories exist among each race, but still. No one has ever seen a dragon. They're supposed to be made up."
"Well," I said. "I guess I can ride one after all."
"You can't ride that thing," said Lolan. He had a look of panic on his face. "Did you see how big that thing was? It could swallow you whole!"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm kidding. It was just a thought I had when Marv was talking about them. I'm terrified too, ...but we should go up there."
"Why? That thing will eat us if the Wyverns don't get us first," said Lolan.
"The storm mages want a dragon," I said. "If they still want it, that's where we'll find them."
Lolan looked like he was going to say something, but then stopped after hearing my argument. "How do we even get up there," he said.
"Let's get closer and find out," said Zef. "At the very least, we can go to the base of the column and look for any signs of the storm mages."
"I can get up there no problem," said Tigala. "I can bring a rope if anyone has some and lower it down from landings."
"I have a rope," said Zef. "It's invisible though, so that might be kind of strange."
I shrugged, "We'll figure it out."
We journeyed to the edge of the city where the tall tower-like mountains stretched far above the tree line. Most of the structures were so thin that they looked like a strong breeze might cause them to crack and break apart. Nonetheless, the smallest of them was about the thickness of a small house. The largest ones were like whole islands in the sky. On top of them were trees and other vegetation. It was like something far beneath the ground had punched them from the earth.
We reached the largest one where we knew the dragon had settled and looked up. It was tall. So tall that I felt like I couldn't even raise my head high enough to look at it. The face of the cliff was jagged. There were hundreds of landings and rock that had broken off in giant steps. Wyverns circled overhead. They flew from cliff to cliff, landing on top of some of the larger ones.
"Well, it looks climbable," I said. "What do you think?" I looked at the rest of the group. Lolan looked scared. I wasn't sure if it was from the thought of running into that dragon, getting spotted by the Wyverns, or running into the storm mages. Zef just stared up in wonder and Tigala... where was she?
I looked around and then heard the wing beats. Scared that the dragon was up again, I looked skyward. I only found a large owl with a wingspan wider than I was tall.
"Give me the rope," it said with a strange coo in its voice. I spotted some missing feathers from one wing, and the scar on her face.
The Tigala-owl swooped down as Zef held up a hand with nothing in it. The owl grabbed the invisible rope with meaty talons and flew to a nearby landing on the cliff. It morphed back into Tigala, and then said, "Come on. Up here."
"I guess we're doing this then, huh?" said Lolan. He gulped.
"We need to find those storm mages. This might be our only chance," I said. "It doesn't look that bad anyway. Zef can cover us with illusions while we climb, and Tigala can keep lowering down the rope. We'll be fine."
"Okay," said Lolan, but he looked anything but fine.
"You're okay with this?" I asked looking at Zef.
"Yeah," he said. "We need to figure out what is going on with this island. I think finding those storm mages might help. They always seem to know more about what's going on than we do."
"Okay, then let's go," I said. "Everybody stay close. We don't want this to go poorly."
I climbed up first. Lolan insisted even though he was more scared than me. Maybe that's why he had me go first. He had to psyche himself up. Whatever the reason, I made it to the cliff without much trouble and helped Tigala hold the rope. She had wrapped it around a rock that stuck up to take some of the pressure off, but still, she welcomed the help.
Zef came next. He was light and surprisingly quick for his old frail bones. He pulled himself onto the platform and said, "Whew. Not so bad." Then he too joined us in holding the rope as we all looked down at Lolan.
"Come on Lolan," I yelled down. "It's an easy climb, and the longer you wait, the more likely we miss our chance at finding those guys."
He was swinging his arms back and forth, taking deep breaths, and exhaling. "Yeah, I know. I'm just..."
"Grab the rope already," said Tigala.
"I'm afraid of heights," he said. Geez. Today must be his worst nightmare—heights, nemeses, and dragons!
Nonetheless, he grabbed the rope and began climbing. It also didn't help that his bow was about as tall as him and sticking straight out from either side of him. He had to be even more cautious with each movement to ensure he didn't snap the string, dump his arrows all over the ground, or hit himself with the hilt of the sword at his waist. It was strange to think that he was the closest thing to a standard warrior in our group.
He climbed with sweaty hands and managed to pull himself onto the platform while we all stood. It was only about the height of an average-sized tree from the ground, but still, when he reached it, he stayed sitting on the ground and leaned up against the rock face furthest from the drop.
"Onto the next," said Tigala. She leaned forward and turned into a bird once again. She grabbed the invisible rope in her talons and flew up to another cliff about the same distance as our current one was from the ground. She turned back into herself and then motioned for us to start our climb.
Zef went first this time while I tried to convince Lolan that I should go last. "You go next. If you drop something, or if you slip, at least I can catch you. Then you don't have to be as afraid," I said.
"That's why I was letting you go first," he said.
"I know, but I'm a little more used to this stuff," I said. "I had to do a lot of climbing back in Brighton. Granted, I was climbing up buildings, and even the biggest ones weren't as high as the next landing, but still. You're the one who's afraid of heights. Let us help."
Lolan gulped and then nodded. He began climbing the rope and I stood under him in case anything happened. Honestly, if he fell on me, he would probably hurt me pretty badly, but it was the only thing I could do to help him feel a little more comfortable.
He made it to the next cliff without any issue again. Then I started climbing. This cliff was easier than the last. The way the stone had broken away from the cliff face made it so there were tiny footholds all over the place. I climbed quickly and reached the group.
When I did, I looked up. The cliff seemed to extend endlessly, jutting out above the forest below. "Well, only 20 more times and we should be there," I said trying to be optimistic.
"That's terrifying," said Lolan, huddled against the cliff wall.
Then we heard a screech nearby. Before Tigala took off to the next landing area, we ducked down and watched as three wyverns flew past us. Their formation shifted seamlessly as they flew as if flying itself were a game between them. We all stood completely still as the wyverns flew past, hoping they wouldn't see us.
They were interesting creatures with scaled hides and a bulbous growth at the end of their tails that came to a sharp point. When their reddish-brown skin disappeared around the corner of the mountain, Tigala turned bird and flew to the next landing.
We did that over and over again. It was slow-moving, but eventually, Lolan had learned not to look down and it even looked like he was getting the hang of it. He was still slower than the rest of us, but he was faster than when we started at least. It was tiring, and the heat of the day was starting to kick in and beat down on us, but we'd probably be at the top in another hour at this rate.
We stopped on a cliff for a water break, about halfway. I looked over the edge, and even though I wasn't afraid of heights, in particular, I got that sense of vertigo, just looking at the drop. Falling would definitely be deadly unless Zef had an invisible giant pillow for us to land on. It didn't seem likely, but then again, it was Zef.
As I was thinking, I noticed the wind start to pick up around us. It was nice to feel the breeze with how hot the climbing had made us. It was like a second wind in a more literal sense. But the wind didn't stop picking up. It continued to grow stronger and the trees below us began to whip around. Clouds of dust were thrown around and small rocks collided with my skin. We had to cover our eyes.
Then I saw it. In an attempt to find the source of the sudden wind storm, I found a concentration of the wind and circling leaves around a figure. He was small at first but quickly getting closer. I noticed the yellow of his robes even from far away. They flapped around him as a torrent of wind in a localized tornado pushed him upward, through the air. He flew up the cliffside, right past us. Then, he landed at the top of the mountain.
The winds died down as quickly as they came, and just like that, we sat in the silence again.
"That was him," said Lolan. "Did you see him?"
"Yeah," I said. "I guess we better hurry."
"No," said Lolan. His eyes were wide with panic. "That was him! The one who took my brother."