The Shadow

          Nestled deep in the mountains, sitting between death and inhospitality, was the Dawn Tower. It stood at twenty-eight feet, yet seemed a speck among the vastness of the snowy wastes. While the exterior seemed dull — mere stone brick adorned with a thick layer of frost — the interior was especially enchanting; however, not quite in the way many might think it would be. Carved into the Dawn Tower's inner walls were ancient runes intended to nullify any arcane energy that came into contact with the structure. What had once been an illustrious escape for an elder king, had been reduced to a prison for the magically inclined. The tower had only two floors: the entrance room and the jail at the top of the circular stairs. Besides a cottage at its side which hosted a small garrison, there was nothing else of import in the surrounding mountains. The prison was so difficult to reach and impossible to attack that there had never been an incident in its entire history. Until now.


          The entrance to the tower swung open, striking the guard inside with a gust of frigid air; not even the raging fire at his side could warm him now. He looked up at the figure in front of him; a patrolman's uniform peeked out from the darkness. The patrolman closed the door behind him and trudged forward, leaving a trail of blood and snow in his wake. 

           Before the guard had a moment to react, the patrolman collapsed near the fire and began clutching his stomach.

           "What is it, Geoffrey? Where are the others?" the guard interrogated.

           "Dead," Geoffrey spat. "all of them dead, and I'm about to join them."

           The guard looked more intently and realized the dark had not stained Geoffrey's uniform; instead, he had been slashed across the torso, his innards threatening to escape.

           "Who did this?" the guard asked.

           "Not who...we found carcasses... across the mountain, eviscerated. We feared the worst, and found it— an Elder Griffin soars above these clouds. It will kill you all…" Geoffrey trailed off.

           A screech rang out, cracking the air around them. An instant passed, and the tower buckled beneath an immense weight.

           The guard turned back only to see Geoffrey had already passed on. 

           "Damn it, Geoffrey," he cursed. "You brought it here."


           The guard ran up the stairs and burst into the jail only to be met with confused and frightened expressions.

           "Captain!" the guard yelled. "There's a griffin outside, hoping to make us its next meal!"

           The Captain, an older man, knew terror once more as it filled his heart. He removed his fur cap and scratched the gray mess hidden below it.

           "We are not equipped to kill a griffin, Eren," he finally replied.

           "What if we get all quiet so it'll lose interest?" another guard volunteered.

           The Captain turned but was interrupted by an attack against the tower.

           "These old stones won't hold against it, Captain," Eren commented. "Perhaps… perhaps it's time we abandon the Tower."

           The Captain glared at Eren but knew their options were limited. He looked around and saw panic eat away at their resolve.

           Before the Captain could speak, a voice rang out behind him.

           "Free me," it whispered. "free me, and I'll protect you, as well as allow a safe return to Azra."

           The Captain turned to face the voice that had spoken out. Shackled to the wall opposite them, draped in tattered brown cloth, was a Shadow. It wore a black mask around its head, leaving only slits for it to eat and see.

           "Never," the Captain declared. "I'd rather die than betray my king."

           The Dawn Tower shook beneath the creature's might, and it appeared the Captain might be granted his wish. A tear began to form as the wall crumbled, and the protections against the Shadow began to fail.

           "Go! Warn Lacerne!" the Captain ordered as the runelight faded.

           Eren and the rest of the guards fled the room as the Captain grappled with his sheath, struggling to pull his sword. He turned to the Shadow as darkness gathered around it.

           Like lightning breaking across the earth, its shackles fell away, and the Shadow stood free. The Captain lunged forward but was stopped by the black flames that sprouted around him.

           "This was a monument to my weakness, but now… it becomes a shrine to my fury," the Shadow growled, bombarding the room with his anger.

           The Dawn Tower groaned, attacked from within and without until it collapsed and spilled across the snowy hills.

The Captain was pinned beneath rubble and left helpless. He watched as the griffin zipped around the air. It had already made short work of most of the fleeing soldiers but now turned its attention to the Shadow— marking it for death.

           "Thank you, Sweet Monster," the Shadow began. "for freeing me, as well as your giving me your strength."

           Closing in on its prey, the griffin jumped forward, but, with a mere touch, the Shadow sapped its strength. The creature crumbled, its once golden feathers turning gray and sloughing off, leaving an exposed and defeated skeleton.

           Pleased, the Shadow marched forward, leaving the remains of his prison, and his warden, behind.

           "Lu-Lucan…" the Captain whispered, as he left the mortal realm.

(Excerpt from Prince of Azra)

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