The Lofty Citadel
The heat of the Nusallean air still stifled Dathen, even though the sun had set for six turns of the glass. He peered skyward, marveling at how the stars shone in perfect clarity, but then they always had done on summer evenings. Some twinkled through the wispy clouds, which slowly drifted aside like a veil. As they moved, they revealed the full moon. He looked around himself at the hills and surrounding bush, all bathed in grey light.
A breeze rippled his clothing, doing nothing to cool him. It was a warm draft; causing beads of perspiration to rivulet down his chest, soaking into his tunic, but the summer heat did have its advantages. He had never been this far from his cliff-top home before. The hot air gusted upward from the ground; lifting him whenever he hovered over any undulation. It seemed that if he adhered to the hills, there would be sufficient updrafts for him to reach his goal. His harness rattled, while his “air sail,” glided ever northward.
He should have been exhilarated; no man had ever tamed the skies before. Dathen sucked in a deep breath. The goal of finding Nilapa far outstripped any elation he would have felt for being the first man to fly.
His eyes furrowed at his destination, a broad but lofty column of rock rose among others. As he angled closer, he saw yellow lights, some he was certain were windows, while others were naked flames. Walls began to emerge as silhouettes, crested by irregularly angled roofs; all were signs that he had found the fortress he sought. He fumed inwardly at the fortress. It was a haven for the bandits that had abducted the woman he loved.
Movement caught his eye at the edge of the column. He angled higher for the clouds, then gently soared above the edge of the bluff. Two donkeys were shackled to a capstan wheel turning it in their monotonous, circular trek.
The wheel creaked, as a sturdy rope tightened. His eyes fell to the lower side of the rock face to see several men standing inside a wooden cage.
He kicked up, suddenly angling the pointed nose of his air sail for the donkeys. His hands tightened on the triggers of the tubes mounted on the harness. A hiss ensued as he stared grimly, circling the beasts, waiting for the sleeping darts to take effect.
They faltered, legs buckled, then they collapsed, ceasing on any further progress.
He glanced downward, relieved that the cage supporting the men was suspended, far from the ground.
He angled sharply, veering down for the unlit gardens to the side of the keep, then suddenly pulled up, allowing him to alight softly on the lawn. Dathen crouched in the shadow of the wall, still in his harness, listening. No voices were raised in alarm.
Good he thought, climbing out of the harness; now to find Nilapa…
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