Phoenix made an unhappy noise and tried to make himself small, while Glory continued to stare up at the thing that crouched almost upside down, its bat wings partially extended like some oily caricature of a faceless griffin. It seemed more curious than hostile, cocking its head to the side like a bird of prey, its black talons keeping it in place on the rock despite the wind that tugged on its wings. Long black “horns” of the same material as the rest of its body extended from its head, curving outwards before curling inward to wicked points. Wherever the creature focus its attention, it seemed to direct the horns. Glory could not dismiss the impression that the horns were sensory organs like the antennae of some gigantic moth. She waited for them to move or quiver, but they stayed stationary as horns should.
It inched along the pillar panther-like in its grace, defying gravity but pausing whenever a particularly strong wind gust threatened to pull it away. Its brethren continued to swoop overhead, allowing their larger cousin to investigate. The gaunt seemed more cautious than hostile. It was halfway down the large spire, and Glory stood; there was really nothing else to do unless they wanted to take their chances making a run for it. The creature paused in its descent. It could definitely see her somehow.
She decided if it was going to attack, it would have done so already. “We’d like to go inside, if we may?” She pointed at the open portal to the castle. Phoenix gaped up at her as if she was mad.
The thing lifted its head to follow her finger. After a moment it continued moving, this time with a bit more speed. When it was within arms reach, it stopped again and regarded her with its eyeless face as if waiting. Up close, she could see that its head was not completely devoid of features, but these were barely impressions, as if its creator had only crafted it halfway before abandoning his or her work. It had no eye sockets, but there were two ever so slightly planed spots below its horns where eyes could have been placed. Between them was the barest suggestion of the bridge of a nose, though it never manifested. There was no sign of a mouth, but it had a sharp, pointed chin that stretched around in an almost human jaw line. Beyond the horn-like appendages, it had no real features on its head, not even ears or ear holes.
It reached out slowly, and Glory stood her ground. She hesitated only a few seconds before holding her own hand out. Glory pulled her hand back as she noticed that the cuts and scrapes on her hands had all but healed. Glancing from her hand to Phoenix, he had the good grace to look away. As soon as it was feasible, they were going to have a long talk.
The creature waited for her to touch it, betraying only the tiniest quiver when she did so. Its sharp-fingered hand, devoid any human characteristics beyond five digits, was surprisingly warm and not at all slick despite its oily appearance. Light from the twinkling stars glittered over its reflective surface, but it was not slimy or tarry. It was soft and warm like an old tire swing, but supple despite how thin and fleshless it looked. It allowed her to inspected its hand, but grabbed her wrist with a suddenness that made her gasp just as Phoenix let out his own startled squawk. She was lifted almost effortlessly into the air as the thing let the wind fill its wings and carry them high into the sky. Phoenix had already been carried aloft by another nightgaunt that had snuck up from the other side of the rocks.
Glory shivered as the winds rendered what little of her that was still warm instantly numb. Perhaps the thing thought she was trying to get free. It wrapped its knobby tail around her, wriggling as if to tickle her. Her situation was so ludicrous, the laughter came easily. Somehow the wind didn’t feel quite as cutting, but laughter was the best medicine, or so they said. The nightgaunt swooped into gale force wind that was sharp as knives, but its movements were effortless and almost unnecessary as they were sucked towards the castle’s open gate.
They flew swiftly through an immense courtyard, past ebon pillars that glittered with frost or diamonds at their base and through an arched portal into an even deeper expanse. It was cold enough that Glory could have believed that they were flying through the voids of space. In the darkness, she could not see which way they were being carried, but she was sure it was upwards. It was a long time before any light registered on her straining eyes.
The nightgaunts flew lower and lower over a gray, featureless floor that spread out in all directions. It came up faster than she would have expected, considering how devoid of light and solidity their journey had been so far. Without warning, the creature withdrew its tail from around her waist, and Glory fell the last foot or so to the floor. She tried to hit the ground running, but she was moving too fast to get her footing. Her momentum pulled her off her feet, and she rolled like a log, tucking her arms in to avoid breaking them. Phoenix dropped like a stone and skidded across the floor after her, colliding with her and knocking the wind out of her just as she came to a stop.
Groaning, they both struggled to regain their senses. Phoenix was up first. He kept turning and looking about, but there was little to see. The floor did not glow, but the only light in the room seemed to extend from it a few feet before it was swallowed by the darkness that obscured the ceiling and walls, if there was any. The nightgaunts were gone before she even thought to look for them. For all she knew though, the creatures were hovering somewhere out of sight.
Glory dragged herself to her feet, glaring at Phoenix’s back. The least he could have done was help her up, though maybe she was just being touchy after all she had done for him. She couldn’t blame him for being nervous. Their new surroundings did not inspire her with confidence.
to Book 6, part2, page 24