The wind whipped through Valice’s hair, whistling exotic melodies that only she could hear. These songs brought her information, things that were sometimes beyond her own understanding. Like right now.
This whole thing is insane.
There they were, on the backs of flying chocobos, chasing after some strange flying machine that led the way to a huge floating tower in the sky. How something that large and unusual went unnoticed she couldn’t say. It seemed to form its own cloud coverage with a twisting of elemental energies. Or so the winds told her.
What power could keep something this big afloat? I don’t know of any air magic that’s this potent.
Strange magic or not, Rubin was driven to track the unknown mage down. Whether it was greed or a matter of hurt pride, he refused to give up the chase. Even if that meant flying after the machine and infiltrating the tower in the sky.
Nothing but danger ahead, the wind told her.
I know. I know.
But they were in too deep.
Such had been the case since the day that she and Tane had fallen in with Rubin. The two of them had been on their own – just brother and sister – until that first hired heist. That led to another. Then another. Until they started travelling with the mage, committing acts that made it harder and harder to turn the clock back.
Lately, Rubin began acting more and more strange, and Valice began silently regretting their choice to ever have crossed paths with him. The pay had looked good at the time. But staying alive to use the money they earned was even better.
“Wow, look at the size of this place,” Tane noted with his usual astuteness. No one ever accused the warrior of having more than half a brain, but he was her brother, and Valice loved him dearly. “The tower sure looked a lot smaller when we were down there.”
“Of course it did,” Rubin muttered in a voice that only the wind caught. He didn’t even try to hide his disdain. “Idiot.”
Valice scowled deeply.
All the better reason to finish this last run, and then part ways.
No amount of money was worth hearing someone berate her brother.
“Rubin, is this a good idea?” she finally voiced, head craning back as the Tower grew larger and closer.
“Look at this place,” he didn’t even glance back to address her. “Can you imagine what we’re going to find inside?”
“A lot of trouble?”
“Think of the riches,” he tried to coax her, sensing her hesitation.
I’m thinking more of my own skin.
Tane interrupted them pointing towards an outside platform near a pillar of the tower, “I see that white-haired mage. He knows we followed.”
Rubin squinted, “Does he have any troops with him? Backup?”
“Not that I see.”
“He’s got at least one other person with him,” Valice said, repeating what the wind brought her. “They could have others hiding.”
Rubin was quiet for a moment, but every wing-beat brought them closer to the platform.
“What’s your plan?” she prompted.
“We should take them. It’s possible they haven’t alerted anyone yet,” the mage finally answered.
I doubt we’d be that lucky.
“There’s only two of them,” he added. “And we know what to expect from the white-hair. This time, his funny games won’t work on us.”
That seemed enough to convince Tane. The warrior gathered up his ax, and spurred his chocobo towards the platform before Valice could protest. “Alright! Let’s go!”
In a movement more lithe than one expected from a man his size, Tane swung his mount with a tilt and dropped down on the tower. His boots made a strange, hollow clang as they met with whatever metal formed the dais.
Valice dropped down next to her brother, readying her scepter. She fought back the feeling of anxious dread that whipped around her. The winds were warning.
“Who left a couple of runts on guard duty?” Tane commented as he sized up the two who stood watching their approach.
Neither of them moved, though they were both armed. The white-haired man now carried a staff adorned with two oddly-shaped spikes on either end. The other man was unlike any Valice had ever seen. At first, she wondered if he was a dark elf, due to his grey-ish skintone. But the dark hair, striped with one lock of blazing white, and the alien eyes spoke otherwise.
Despite his shorter stature, everything about this man was terrifying, and she didn’t know why.
This didn’t seem to register on Tane. He simply readied his weapon for battle.
“Runts?” the white-haired man echoed the warrior’s observation. For some reason, he glanced over at his frightening companion. “Oh boy… you just dug your own grave with that.”
The darker man stood posed, no expression on his face, one hand gripping a wicked scythed weapon that was taller than him. How he could even lift such a thing, much less use it in battle was beyond her.
He spoke in a language that she didn’t understand. The white-haired man apparently did, because he nodded and responded in the same language. There was a hint of electric energy building up around the dark scythe.
“Get him, Tane!” Rubin urged, not unlike an owner might command a dog.
Before Valice could feel too insulted by this, Tane leapt forward, axe lifted high above his head. With frightening speed and silence, the dark warrior launched to meet him, the huge scythe crackling with dangerous magics. Then, just at the crest of his attack, he vanished.
Tane’s face turned bewildered. But he didn’t have time to question.
The dark warrior was suddenly behind him, a shimmering of blue magic pulsing as he reappeared. He snarled something in that unknown language before bearing down on his opponent.
A gasp ripped from Valice’s mouth as she watched the huge black scythe slash Tane across the back. Blood flew everywhere, splattering across the metal platform and staining it red.
She heard herself yelling his name. She felt the wind gather between her hands. She had every intention on striking down the one who hurt her brother.
But then, the voice of the white-haired mage was all she could hear. The otherworldly language commanded, getting into her thoughts, stopping her actions. A sharp pain ripped through her mind, causing the winds to disperse. The only thing she could do was slam both palms over her ears, as if that could stop the weight of the power that invaded her head.
Rubin’s face had fallen pale as he watched from a distance, orange eyes wide in shock. It was the expression of one who saw his own doom looming before him.
“Help…” Valice croaked. She no longer had control of her body. She could only crumple to her knees as the grip on her mind grew, blotting out everything else in the world. “R..Rubin… help me!”
The mage recoiled, visibly frightened. He only hesitated one moment, staring at the slumped form of Tane, who labored to fight in a spreading pool of his own blood, and the fear-wracked face of the girl. Then he started to run.
“RUBIN!” Valice screamed at him.
He didn’t stop. He didn’t even turn around.
Somewhere in the twisting powers that held her mind, she could feel a ripple of disgust at Rubin’s actions. It came from the thoughts of the white-haired man.
-So, he’d just desert them.-
Valice felt the magics release her, but she was too tired to do anything but watch. To her surprise, the white-haired mage let her go, and now turned his ire on Rubin.
“Coward!” he commanded. A single word, with so much power.
The violet light spread from the white-haired man’s fingers, lashing around Rubin’s body in a mental snare. The other mage was then lifted off his feet, struggling aimlessly, caught in the web of a much stronger magic than he could fight.
“Augh! No! Let me go–” The plead ended in a choke as the violet tendrils wrapped around Rubin’s throat.
Valice weakly stared up, feeling the heat of almost-tears in her eyes. She watched in panic as her companion flailed about, nothing more than a rag-doll in the grip of this unknown, terrifying power. Even though Rubin tried to abandoned them, watching him writhe knowing there was nothing she could do to stop it was horrific.
Finally, the white-haired man judged that the mage had enough. To her surprise, he withdrew the violet tendrils, dropping Rubin roughly next to her. He was shaken, a little dazed, but still alive.
Tane, however, was in much worse shape. The dark warrior was relentless, lashing at the larger man with a punch that sent the merc spinning to the floor. This time, Tane did not get up.
“Call me short, will you,” the dark warrior spat with a self-satisfied smirk.
Valice found the strength to crawl to her brother, surprised that no one attempted to stop her. Maybe they knew how thoroughly their opponents were defeated. Looking over the wounds inflicted on Tane’s face, it was all she could do not to cry out in dismay.
What kind of demon-people are they? The power that they have…
She felt a shadow loom over her, and shuddered as she saw the dark warrior advancing. The way he gripped his weapon, he looked ready to come for another round.
“TsuMe, wait.” The white-haired mage caught the warrior’s shoulder. “You said we’d capture them. Alive.”
The dark warrior frowned with discontent, but stopped. He grumbled, “You’re always too soft. It’s going to get you in trouble one day.”
“Maybe so,” the other replied. “But that’s not today.”
Valice’s hands shook, smoothing the blood-soaked hair out of her brother’s eyes. She was no white mage, but she knew Tane needed medical help badly.
What are they going to do with us?
As if in response to her thought, the one called TsuMe threw a command over his shoulder. “Guard! Gather these knaves up.”
A larger armored centaur trotted out from a previously undisclosed spot. He was heavily armed and looked very battle-ready.
This caused her to shudder again.
They had guards and backup right here. They didn’t even need them…
“Bind them and toss them to the Dank,” the dark warrior instructed.
“Yes sir,” the centaur responded promptly.
“And try to see that they get there with all their limbs intact,” he said the guard, as if there was some previous situation that required a reminder.
“As you wish, sir.”
“Alert,” the white-haired man instructed a strange mechanical device. “Follow with surveillance.”
Valice felt the world she knew buckling inward. Her fingers were sticky with her brother’s thick blood. The only thing she could think of was saving him. But not a word dared cross her lips.
“I wouldn’t suggest trying to run away in this tower,” TsuMe advised, his dark eyes falling on her with grim pleasure. “It could prove fatal.”
She could only respond with a frightened stare. Then, the centaur’s large fist closed around her upper arm in a strong grip. Valice was powerless to do anything but be ushered into the Tower.