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Last Flight of the Admiral Stalkforth 10

The autolutes began to play. Their notes rippled through the viscous floral air and soon became an indiscernible warbling drone. The canopy began to shake as if a strong wind was pushing on it and there were several sharp cracks above. Shards of wood rained down, followed immediately by the shadowy forms of six Lantern Hawks. The creatures clove the stagnant air and glided about the village with wings outspread and locked in place. One by one, they swung towards the suspended Lampflower and fell into a circular pattern around it. They slowed and began to beat their wings in time to the autolute’s languid melody.

In the Lampflower’s glow, Grefa got his first good look at the mythical birds. Their bodies were more befitting of an animal built for the sea: wreathed in hard contoured muscles and covered entirely in bristling red fur. Their heads were almost human-like, but for long, slender beaks that gleamed in the orange light. In the center of their faces was a single eye; a flat disk, glassy and unmoving like a lens. Long, reedy legs ended in three scythe-like talons, and both these and their wings cut a jagged relief against the hazy night. He watched their slow, methodical circuit, and marveled at how precisely they followed the rhythm.

The Lantern Hawk that first had fallen into orbit around the flower broke from its comrades and landed on an outstretched petal. It hopped forward and dipped its long beak into the flower’s glowing center. Its head bobbed up and down, drinking from the well of light. When it finally withdrew its proboscis and looked up, its single eye glowed with the same fierce red of the sun.

The Eye of the Giant, Grefa realized suddenly.

A chant of voices began on the opposite side of the gathering. The song swelled and filled the whole of the village, and the very air shook with harmony.

'The frames of time were chasms wide and pale,
When the world was new.
A flutter of wings was soundless, dim and frail,
On the rim of night.'

The Lantern Hawk alighted from the flower and beat its broad wings sluggishly, as if drunk with light. It floated in place for a moment and then climbed through the air toward the hole in the canopy. A moment later it was gone, vanished into the hidden sky-world. Quickly, another took its place and drank from the glowing flower. The chant rose in volume, and more autolute notes found their way into the convolution of harmony.

'An eye of precious red will thaw and open,
On the blighted seas.
From Hearth or Giant to fly and seal the cracks,
Midst the mingling prows.'

The chorus held the last beat for an age, and slowly carried it upwards in pitch until it nearly pierced the register of human ears. The countless notes plucked from the autolutes fused together into a single distended pulse, interlocking seamlessly. Not a single voice or instrument could be distinguished from one another. And then the final Lantern Hawk beat its wings and ascended from the village into the sky.