With careful use of Dragon Face’s rope and Corax’s claws, the PIlgrims all managed to make it down to the balcony with lady Ira. Everyone sat down and breathed slowly for a minute until their adrenaline rushes subsided.
Then everyone surrounded Vincol and hog-tied him with the rope.
“Hey!” Vincol cursed, struggling against his bindings. “What gives?“
“You caused this, Swayer.” Lady Ira said, eyes narrowed. “Your shoddy folk magic cast your village into the skies and nearly killed us!”
“It wasn’t me!” Vincol protested, eyes wide. “I swear, I didn’t do this!”
“I know, boy,” Uuco drawled, sitting on the edge of the balcony’s wall. “You told me so. Over and over.” He reached behind his head and started tying his wispy hair into a knot. “You weren’t very convincing!”
“But I really didn’t do anything!” Vincol insisted, sitting up. “Well,” he admitted, “I might have knocked us off the cliff, but that was just an Earth-cracking tablet I’d scribed! I couldn’t have levitated the town! I literally couldn’t have!”
Corax bared his jagged teeth and hissed. “If you’re lying, Chieftain, the Gods will have to come out of hiding to save you…”
Vincol swallowed nervously. “Look,” he stammered. “I’m just a minor town chieftain that dabbles in Swaying.” He wiggled the fingers bound by rope to his hips. “Look at me: you really think I could buy enough mana to lift an whole town?” He asked. “Really?”
Everyone pondered Vincol’s words for a time.
“Do you have any more of those Earth-cracking tablets?” Ira asked.
“No, no, no!” VIncol said hastily. “Yes,” he admitted. “There’s two more in my pocket.” He grunted and strained against his rope bindings. “I can’t exactly access them because…well, you know.”
“Indeed,” Lady Ira agreed. She turned to face the other pilgrims and spoke in a royal tone. “The Lady Ira believes that the only way back up is through this once buried city.” She glanced up at the brick walls, window slits and murals that lined the floating cliff they’d fallen past. “If we have to, we’ll use Vincol’s spell tablets to dig our way back to Crimson Girth’s surface.”
V’vendy frowned. “Um…” she said, drawing her cloak close around her. “I don’t mean to scare anyone…but what if Vinyl’s magic breaks the town in half?”
“What if this chunk of land stops flying through the air and falls?” Ira replied, resting a hand on her harp case. “Until we learn what caused Crimson Girth to take to the sky, anything we do could have dire consequences.” She sighed. “But the Lady Ira’s sure of one thing: we must get moving if we’re to solve anything!”
“Then let us move!!” Dragon Face declared, brushing his dragon mask’s snout clean of dirt. “Lead us, V’vendy Falcon-eyed, and together we shall firmly grapple the mystery of this place!”
Brandishing a lit torch, V’vendy led her comrades into the depths of the abandoned city beneath the flying town of Crimson Girth. They wandered up narrow. square flights of stairs and passed by empty rooms with nothing but oily stains. Here and there, strange panels of metal reflected pale beams of light from the outside into the city, shining on familiar murals made of crystal chips, depicting magnificent Gryphons with spread wings
“Gryphon murals in that cavern with the Underworld King…” Vincol muttered, as they entered a square room with four doorways and a statue of aspear-wielding warrior in the corner. “…and now here? What do they mean?”
Vincol nudged Dragon Face, who currently had him slung over his shoulder like a sack of grain. “Could you set me down?” He asked, wiggling against his bonds. “I want to look at the murals more closely!”
It was then that Uuco tripped over two eviscerated bodies. “Aiiie!” He shrieked, leaping back and conjuring a dozen twirlin gold lights around his fingertips. “Hidden Gods strike me down, why does this keep happening?”
Ira covered her mouth with her hand. “They’re freshly dead,” she noted, marking how the spilled blood still glistened in both the light of fire and conjured light.
V’vendy crouched, holding her torch over the body’s exposed ribs and leg bones. “These aren’t wounds made by humans or teeth,” she said softly. “Their flesh has been scooped away…really, they remind me of carrion picked clean by the beaks of vultures!”
“Their eyes are missing,” Dragon Face noted sagely, setting Vincol down by one of the corner statues, then bending down to turn one of the corpse’s heads face up. “Judging by the stab marks around the sockets, something plucked their eyes out after multiple tries, then ate the rest of them!”
Everyone stared at Dragon Face. Dragon Face stared back at them, then shrugged. “I am a wrestler,” He pointed out. “I’ve seen many a gouged eye in my day.”
“So to sum up,” Corax said aloud, drawing his sickle sword, “there’s a large eyeball eating monster with a beak somewhere in this complex.” He sniffed at the air. “And they smell like vomit. What a wonderful day this is turning out to be…”
V’vendy pressed her torch to the floor and snuffed it out. “Let’s move quietly,” she whispered. “If we’re stealthy, she should be able to avoid them.” She walked north through a darkened doorway.
She backed out of the doorway, drawing an arrow from her quiver. “Stealth has failed!” She shouted, loosing an arrow into the darkness. “Stealth has failed!”
A large, thin-necked bird pranced into the room, head bobbing up and down madly as it crushed V’vendy’s arrow between its hook-like beak. The beastly bird had three alarming features: a curved pair of dewclaws like those of Corax, black, raven-like feathers, and a face stained with dried blood.
It also had a thick ridge of bone running across its face where its eyes should have been. This brought the sum of its alarming features to four.
“Kree!” The killer bird cawed.
“At arms!” Lady Ira called, drawing her Harp from its case: the instrument had been restrung with interwoven thread and gutstrings dyed blue.
Corax hissed and drew his sickle-sword back to slash. V’vendy nocked another arrow. Uuco spat into his hands and rubbed them together, and Dragon-Face crouched in a bow-legged stance, spreading his arms wide..
“Someone cut me free!” Vincol shouted, wiggling against the base of the warrior statues as he tried to work himself free of his bonds. “I’m not gonna be bird food! I can’t be bird food! It’s against my religion! I worship a Hidden God that commands me not to let my eyeballs get eaten!”
Two more terrible birds emerged from the doorways to the east and west, squawking rhythmically, then uncannily homing in on the Pilgrims with long strides, despite their lack of sight.
“Hshhhh!” Corax hissed, swinging at the nearest predator bird with his blade. “Everyone to the corner!” He called out. “Before they surround us!”
Uuco fled towards one of the gaunt spearman statues in the corner, then turned around, fell to one knee, and did a combat roll. As he came to his feet, he thrust his cupped hands towards one of the large birds. Fire kindled between his palms. “I’m gonna bake all your feathers off!” Uuco shouted. “Ambush Fire!”
A lance of flame leapt from his hands…and flew high, scorching a part of the ceiling black.
“Stopping rolling before attacking, Uuco!” Dragon Face shouted, dodging a terrible bird’s slashing talon, then reaching out to seize the creature’s thin neck. The bird turned his head and nipped at the wrestler’s fingers. “You have no acrobatics training: the rolls are making you miss–Ow!” Dragon Face yanked his hand back, sucking at a cut on his thumb.
“Don’t tell me what to do, whippersnapper!” Uuco cursed, gathering more lightning. “I’m won’t stop rolling until I make it work!”
V’vendy fired another arrow. One of the predator birds snapped its head up and caught the projectile between its beak. “What kind of daring devils are these birds?” V’vendy cried.
Ira cursed under her breath, white-knuckled fingers clenching her Harp’s case as the giant birds backed the party father into the corner with the statue. The groteque butcher birds beat their vestigal wings in anticipation of a feast, beaks clicking madly for the eyeballs they lacked.
“Of course!” Ira exclaimed, throwing her cloak over her shoulder and raising her Harp. “Pilgrims!” She shouted, setting her fingers to her instrument’s blue strings. “Cover your ears!”