Camon and Jorn climbed down the stairs as they spiraled around the spire, this time going down with more ease than going up. Even so, they did not hurry because of the sheer drop to their right with no handrail and slick surfaces under their feet. Camon stopped to take one more look over the plain of clouds before they descended back into the clouds that shrouded the city below. After the view, Camon continued down, and the blue sky and sun disappeared and were replaced by the grim grayness of the cloud cover. They got to the terraces and then climbed down to the last one. They looked over the edge at the beast they had slain in their way up. It was just as they had left it under the rocks from their avalanche. They then walked back towards the stairs that led down into the city.
“How long do you suppose we have to wait before we see any elves?” Jorn asked.
“I wouldn’t know. I’d give it a few days. Either they patrol this area, and they will see the beacon lit, or they somehow get notified. My guess is that whoever comes will land on that portico we came upon. I’m betting that was designed for that purpose.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Jorn agreed. “But they could also land upon the terraces too since that’s where the birds were raised.”
“That’s a possibility too. Neither is visible though in this cloud cover. I was hoping that it would blow off by now, but it’s hanging on.”
“We can at least explorer what’s in the city while we’re waiting,” Jorn suggested.
“And perhaps find a place to camp too if we’re going to be here a while.”
Camon drew his sword and led them down into the city and they began to inspect the buildings, which for the most part were completely empty, devoid of any furnishing or evidence that they had ever been occupied. They did find one building that had a wooden table and chairs in it and another with some long-forgotten wine bottles, but nothing else of note came about as they searched the city.”
“No more of those undead things,” Jorn said.
“I am surprised that one was akin to a snake. I would have expected something more birdlike up here.”
“I guess the old snake got lost or dropped here.”
“Yes, and reconstituted as that beast we saw this morning.”
“That wood furniture looked out of place here too,” Jorn commented.
“I thought so too. It was pretty crude,” Camon said. “And to haul wood all the way up here to make furniture seems like a lot of work. Whoever brought it here must have been intending to live up here. But I don’t see how. There’s no source of food, and it would seem. How would elves have survived up here?”
“Elves are creatures of magic, much like undead or demons. They require very little in the way of food or drink. They probably foraged in the forests below and brought it up here. And I’m willing to bet the Nesharim are the same.”
“Creatures of magic that don’t eat?”
“Yes, something like that. But the furniture is odd indeed. I suppose one could hunt this high up, but the game would be sparse. I don’t even think goats will come up this high unless a predator is pursuing them.”
“I say we use it regardless,” Jorn said.
“Fair enough. The wine too?”
“If it’s still good. Somebody went through all the trouble to bring it up here. The cool climate and the sealed bottles certainly give it some preservation.”
They fetched the wine and went back to the building with the table and chairs in it. They unloaded their gear in the building and Jorn uncorked one bottle and sniffed the wine, then tasted it, “Sweet wine. It tastes almost like new wine.” He then took a swig and passed the bottle to Camon who sniffed and drank. They drank the entire bottle and the air no longer felt as cold. They stopped after the first bottle and went back out to the city and walked back to the portico. They were able to see through the clouds now to the blue sky above. As the clouds burned off the wind also picked up slightly and they could now feel the chill of the wind, but the wine helped numb them to its effects.
The two men went back to the building with the furniture and cleaned the place up some and then went about waiting, passing time by chatting, napping, or even devising games with whatever they could find laying around. Finally, after a meal from their provisions and another bottle of wine, they went to sleep in the shelter.
The next morning, they awoke early with the sun peeking in from the east. The skies were clear, and the air was much colder than it had been the day before. They had their travel cloaks pulled tightly about them as they ventured out. Camon looked up and could still see the orb at the top of the pillar burning brightly as ever even in the daylight and the pillar under it was still pulsing.
Around midday, while they were relaxing back in the building, they heard something outside, and Camon grabbed his cloak and sword and quickly put both on and rushed out. Jorn followed shortly. They heard the noise again. It sounded like a raven, but amplified to a blast like a trumpet. Camon ran to the portico and Jorn followed and went out to the middle of the portico to get a clear view of the sky.
They then saw the source of the sound. Up near the spire, they saw a colossal black bird that was circling about the spire screaming. The bird circled a few more times about the spire then spotted Camon and Jorn on the portico. The bird then swooped away from the spire and took a long, gliding circle out over the plain to the west and then came back towards the city. They could see a rider on its back that looked like he was crouched on a saddle leaning forward over the bird’s neck dressed in all black. The bird then flared its wings and came straight for the portico. Camon and Jorn backed away as the bird brought its legs out from behind itself to underneath. It flapped several times creating a gale that blew back Camon’s and Jorn’s cloak and hair, then it touched down at the middle of the portico and tucked its wings and cocked back with its tail to the ground. Standing, the bird was at least fifteen feet tall. Camon guessed its wingspan was over double that. Its sleek, black body was covered in glossy feathers that were as black as its beak and eyes. The only part of the bird that was not black were its legs, which were only slightly lighter at charcoal gray.
The rider slid off the back of the bird down over its wings. He then rubbed it once his feet hit the portico. The rider was covered head to toe in a black garb. He was short, not quite five feet tall and lean. Camon would have mistaken him for a child if he did not know better. The rider removed goggles of obsidian glass that covered his eyes to reveal two narrow, ice-blue eyes under swept-back eyebrows gazing at them. Then the rider removed a mask over that covered his mouth and nose, then pulled back a cowl that covered his head, neck and ears. The rider’s skin was pale blue, and his hair was as white as the clouds they had seen with long pointed ears that flanked his face. He then placed the goggles and mask next to the bird, gave the bird a pat, and walked towards Camon and Jorn.
The rider stopped a few feet short of Camon and Jorn and stared at the two men for several seconds and said something. Camon responded in a language that Jorn did not understand, and the two conversed briefly, before the rider switch to something Jorn could understand.
“You speak the mother tongue well, Camon, sir,” the Rider said. “And you, what is your name?”
“I’m Jorn,” Jorn answered.
“I am Tachol of the Rakahim, and my mount is Ahavah. Your people call us the Sky Elves.”
“Tachol, I’m pleased to meet you,” Jorn said.
“You are the first to light the Migdalor in ages. We had thought that humanity had forgotten about it.”
“For the most part, they have. Our priests read about it in the annals of history, but only a few regard it as something of fact rather than another story.”
“Are you priests?” Tachol asked.
“He is,” Jorn said. “Well, sort of.”
Tachol examined Camon carefully looking intently at his sword at his side and studying his face and gestures.
“You are one of the Kadoshkayim, are you not? You wear the token of the office, one of the blades forged by my ancestors.”
“Yes, I am.”
“It was rumored your kind still existed even though the Church had made you outlaws.”
“I like to keep it that way,” Camon said. “There’s enough doubt to dissuade most people from caring enough to do anything about it. Only when the Inquisitors have reason enough to believe that they can get one of us do they try.”
“Fair enough. What brings you here to this place? Why have you summoned the Rakahim here?”
“We have need of your knowledge. We discovered a plot that is attempting to bring destruction to the realms of men, and we have reason to believe that it involves some faction of rogue elves.”
“How did you discover this?” Tachol asked.
“It wasn’t easy, but it started by slaying a demon and seeking out who was behind the demon and why they sent it.” Camon then went onto explain the paths of discovery that led them to the conclusion that it was elven magic at play. “And on one of the mages that we encountered, we found this.” Camon reached in a satchel at his side and removed one of the belts from the mages inlaid with stones. He handed it to Tachol. Tachol examined the belt for some time studying each stone, the leather, the buckle, its back and front, and then trying it on himself.
“This belt is not elven in origin” Tachol said as he handed it back to Camon.
“Then what is it?” Camon said.
The elf frowned, “Well, it’s not purely elven in origin. It is from a group, and really a race called the Shikutzim, the Abominable Ones. They call themselves the Aforim, the Gray Elves.”
“Gray Elves? I’ve never heard of them before.” Camon said
“It is not something you would hear about from an elven historian lecturing humans on the affairs of elves or read about in one of the histories in your libraries. It is one of those things that the elves wish they could forget.”
“Why is that?”
“The Gray Elves are a half breed, the results of a failed experiment from the Govahim, the High Elves, One of their factions wanted to create a race of elves with the Gift of Men: an elf with the freedom to choose right or wrong. The theory was that if they could cross elven essence with orc essence in an elven chrysalis, then the resulting mix with have both the essence to do right and wrong like men. The result however was not that at all, rather a race that was bound not to any creed, not opposed or bound to the Leahir, the Light.”
Jorn shugged, “Why didn’t they just destroy them then?”
“Because they were living, sentient beings. To take a life in that manner would be opposed to the Light. So they let them live as they saw fit. They never multiplied in great numbers, though.”
“We have reason to believe that they took our friend, Achara,” Camon said. “She is likely being held captive by the Gray Elves somewhere. Do you know where we could find them?”
Tachol wringed his hands, “The Shikutzim vanished from elven lands eons ago. We have not been able to find them, but we really have not bothered looking much either. The Rakahim did attempt once to search far and wide for them, but they were never found. Many of the Elves consider them extinct, but it would appear that they are not if what you are saying is true.”
“Can’t you scry for them?” Jorn asked.
“It’s not that simple,” Tachol said. “We did help the humans build the scrying machines that you have, but there are parameters needed to make them work, such as something with a strong affinity for the person. Elves share essence. We are much more alike than different, so finding any one individual is nearly impossible.”
“We discovered that when we went looking for the users of the belts at one of the towers even though the mages were human.”
“What about Achara though? Could you find her?” Jorn asked. “She’s a human, not an elf. We tried, but we got nothing from the tower.”
“Then she’s likely dead, beyond the range of what the machine could find, or the dark elves have found a way to hide themselves.”
“They want her alive,” Camon insisted. His lips tightened, “They have gone through great painstaking efforts to see to it that she stays alive.”
“Do you know why?”
“I have no idea,” Camon said. “But it can’t be good. They tried multiple times to kill me, even going as far as to imbue Jorn with some sort of magic that is triggered when I use my magic on him. Something possesses him and forces him to do things against his will.”
“Fascinating,” Tachol said.
“Is there anything that can be done to remove that?” Jorn asked.
“I don’t know,” Tachol said. “That would require a deeper study of what they did to you. If we can study it, then in time you may be able to control whatever it is that is within you. But back to your friend. If she’s alive, then either the elves figured out a way to hide her or she is beyond the reach of your towers.”
“But how could she have gotten beyond our reach so quickly. We literally searched for her the day after she was abducted.”
“On the wings of flight one can cover great distances in short times. Otherwise, I think it is safe to assume that the Shikutzim found a way to hide her.”
“Shades,” Camon cursed.
“They may be able to hide her from the machines, but they cannot hide her from another.”
Camon relaxed, “What do you mean?”
“Seers have a way of communicating with one another across great distances. If she can contact someone like you, Camon, then it would be possible for her to reveal herself.”
“Achara is talented, but she’s still learning,” Camon said. “But would it be possible to find her if another seer could reach her?”
“You mean, as in another seer contacts Achara?”
“Yes, exactly that,” Camon said.
“I don’t see any reason why not,” Tachol said. “But how do you intend to do that? You’re not a seer.”
“Can you do it as an elf?”
“I can, but that would go against our decree to not intervene in the affairs of men.”
“Whatever is going on here is not strictly about the affairs of men. It involves elves as well. The Gray Elves are not our making,” Camon said.
“You make a good point there, but even so the Rakahim are more isolated than our woodland and highborn kin.”
“But that’s not what I asked,” Camon said.
Tachol’s face twitched, “I don’t follow.”
“I asked if you could,” Camon said pointing at the elf. “You, Tachol of the Rakahim, can you help us.”
“I don’t see how,” he said.
“I know someone who has a connection with Achara. She could help us find her.”
“You want me to help you find your seer friend with the help of another seer friend of yours?”
“Yes – that’s what I’m asking you to do.”
Tachol looked at the ground shuffling his feet for a moment. “There’s nothing that says that we cannot help as individuals. I’ve never been asked that before. And this affair is not a human affair. If what you are saying is true, and I believe it is, then it would be the right thing to do. So, I am bound to say, yes, I can help you. But where is your seer friend?”
“In Neuasut, where I slew the first demon. Do you know it?”
“Yes, but how do we get there?”
“Can you take us there?” Jorn asked.
“Ahavah is strong, but she cannot carry three, especially an elf and two humans. She could only carry me and one other.”
“The Paladin will go then. I can stay here,” Jorn said. “I have enough in my pack for a few days and there’s enough wine down there for longer.”
“You Kadoshkayim,” Tachol said, “Have you ever flown before.”
“Not intentionally, but yes.”
“What do you mean?”
“I rode on the back of an amphiptere once. It managed to pick me up and I refused to let go…”
“An amphiptere? Well! I think that you will find the Nasherim to be rather tame compared to that.” Tachol gestured to Camon, “Come! Let us set our destination to Neuasut on the wings of Ahavah.”