There sits the town of Winchester Gap.
Rotted to the core, like a bad piece of fruit. Nothing left there but hollowness and emptiness; and death.
At the center of town is the circular town common. Sitting on the north end of the common is the gazebo, where a different band played every Sunday for the hustling and bustling town; at one time.
Now it's deserted. Dirty, desolate, plagued and long past forgotten.
This is the story of how it came to be that way.
We have to go way back to get to the very beginning; back to when it all started.
Way back in the year 1685, Winchester Gap was just beginning to settle into the town it would one day become. One of the very first buildings in town was the original church. It once stood pretty close to where the gazebo sits now.
It was a beautiful sanctuary for the townsfolk, every inch of its walls solid rock, that they were extremely proud of; almost boastful.
The church was successful for many years, as was the accompanying town. Eventually housing every known business one could think of, all seeming to radiate out from this one building. The original church of Winchester Gap.
It was ran for many years by the same caretaker until, one day, he mysteriously vanished never to be seen again.
The caretaker's name was Jonathan Halberstrom.
He seemed to be a good fellow. Always helping out his fellow man, whenever he possibly could.
Then one day things changed. Jonathan had started noticing something different; something happening in the west.
It was brought to his attention that an evil being had entered this land; of unknown origin. He felt its presence growing ever stronger with every passing day.
He had the notion that he somehow had to help out, being the nice guy that he was.
Jonathon saddled up one day and sent off in search of whatever he could find to help aide him in his quest of delivering his land from some unknown, impending evil.
As he approached, traveling further and further west, he noticed a foul happening seeming to radiate out of Eagle Rock Mountain; particularly out of the cave that made up the Eagle's eye of the great mountain.
Large wafts of green smoke percolated outwards in great plumes from the cave, spreading over land and air, leaving everything in a greenish haze.
He also could hear chanting coming from the eye, none of the words could he make out.
Jonathan Halberstrom was never seen alive, ever again.
The search was put out, checking every nook and cranny of the town before spreading out past the town limits. Radiating out in a circular pattern. But not reaching far, once the townsfolk started to notice what was going on in the eye of Eagle Rock, they quickly turned and fled; beating cheeks all the way back to Winchester Gap.
Not a one even gave it a second glance.
Eventually Jonathan's son, Michael, was forced into taking over for his father. Carrying on with the Halberstrom name, certainly not last in the long line of the church caretakers sharing the name.
Michael was much more lackadaisical. Therefore, things went on in that way - in his way - for many more years. Until the day he finally died, passing the caretaker reins unto his son; Luke.
The day that Luke took over was the day things started to really change; the day that things all went down. The beginning of the end.
Faust (pronounced Foust) - the Great Burgundy Wizard - moved into this land some time ago. He immediately found refuge in the eye of Eagle Rock; it beckoned to him. It now felt like his home.
Right at the mouth of his cave, he kept his cauldron - using its magical fumes to induce his spells - secretly, over the entire unknowing valley. Every last one of the inhabitants in his invisible grasp, whether able to tell it or not.
Inside the cave, nearest the entrance - except for the roiling pot of enchantment - grasping a great root jutting up from the rock wall and floor was his pet and friend, Aethereal. The great golden falcon perched upon the root, breathing in the smoke and fumes - relishing them - his unblinking watchful eyes always peering forward; outwards over the great valley.
Sitting, either waiting for orders from the great and powerful wizard or, hoping his next meal right around the corner. Usually by way of whatever extra spell ingredients the wizard had laying around at the time.
Keeping Aethereal savagely hungry most of the time.
The wizard now turns to look at him, leaving the spellbook he was studying for a moment, and tosses the upper half of a bullfrog in the direction of the giant bird of prey. Where it was quickly and accurately snatched from the air, gobbling it down in a few quick gulps.
Aethereal then turned his gaze to the wizard, taking him all in, awaiting his orders.
The tall, skinny Faust dressed in a burgundy robe; covering him from head to toe. His long, black hair and ample beard hiding most of his face; except for his evil red eyes, that seemed to almost glow. There is no hiding them.
Years went by in that way.
The wizard secretly wafting his evil smoke, casting his evil spells, and culminating his evil plans.
None of the townsfolk expected any foul play, just went about their business and lived their lives.
However, they were all affected; and slowly becoming infected.
The putrid green vapors, completely undetectable by the time that it descended slowly upon the small town. It seemed almost inevitable that the wizard's plans would fully succeed.
This very day, Faust needed something for his most recent spell. He needed the blood of a holy man.
He also needed Aethereal to help complete this task.
He flipped the tail of a giant salamander in the bird's direction, giving it orders to bring back what the wizard needed. As he wished.
Instantly the bird swooped into action, soaring out the cave like a rocket. In this retrospect, Aethereal was very special and unique. When flying full-speed the great falcon needn't ever flap its wings. He just bullets through the air, wings half-cocked like a fighter jet. At this point his feathers begin to grow and emit golden flames, leaving a brilliant trail of amber light and smoke behind him every where he travelled at that speed.
Also unique from other Falconiformes in that most raptors see like none other during the day, but poorly at night. Hence the sayings: Eagle eyes -or- eyes like a hawk. But Aethereal could see as well at night as any other time.
At night, if the great bird didn't happen to be sleeping - like usually - Aethereal's eyes would glow; blazing, brilliantly bright, cobalt blue. So on the rare occasions that he was flying full speed at night, anyone who happened to look in the sky as he blazed by would be left with a beautifully contained firework show; lasering through the air.
This was one of those special occasions.
Luke Halberstrom just leaves the church of Winchester Gap, swabbing the tears from his eyes with his final goodbyes and farewells, being the last person to leave his father's wake.
Michael Halberstrom had lived a fairly full and happy life dying a night ago in his sleep, suffering from a broken heart. His wife, and Luke's mother, having died the year before from eating some bad medicine. Leaving Luke all alone to fend for himself.
This night walking home he saw something off in the distance; a bright flash in the night sky.
Its golden aura blazing through the cloudless star-filled night. Its trail of amber with blue tendrils lighting up the sky.
Luke stopped cold in his tracks, freezing like a statue, his jaw resting on his chest. Eventually he raised his arm and pointed at the flying torch, following it through the sky with his finger. Then he started screaming.
At that moment, he was still following with his finger, the night flare plummeted towards the earth; crashing through the roof of the church.
It seemed to take half the roof with it, collapsing it in on itself. Slowly around the new - unwanted - skylight, the edges sputtered crackling sparks just beginning to smolder; then eventually rising to flames.
Suddenly Luke watched helplessly and silently as a great golden bird rised back out of the ashes, raising up out of the hole, grasping his dead father in its clutches. And began flapping off slowly into the distance, eventually vanishing from sight, without a trace. No beautiful fiery trail in its wake; just the church in the center of Winchester Gap being left to, slowly, burn to the ground. The next day, reduced to nothing more than rubble; a charred pile of lumber and smoldering rocks.
Luke stared in disbelief, watching it burn.
Wondering what has happened, on his very first day that he took over the church caretaker job for his father.
He sat and watched the blazing inferno grow, in total shock, unknowing what else to do.
When he finally came out of it, he swore vengence on the beast that was responsible for these sins.
Aethereal returned home towing the dead priest, flapping its great wings. Dropping Michael's body at the entrance to the cave before returning to his perch.
Faust tossed him another small snack, hardly even a drop in the bucket for what the bird needed to obtain a full gullet. Then went to inspect the body.
Seeming pleased enough, Michael's (the last retired priest and caretaker) blood was still fresh enough; but just barely.
Faust shooting a carefully wondering eye towards Aethereal just before being drawn out of the cave; concentrating on Winchester Gap. For a great commotion was beginning to rise out of the smoke and ashes. Warning horns and worbles blared through the night, slowly, reaching up to the cave; and eventually Faust's ears.
He also saw small flecks of light appearing here and there; the lights of torches. The townsfolk were uprising. Soon they would be on his doorstep with pitch forks. Faust wasn't happy and was not going to let that happen. He easily handled Jonathon Halberstrom, the lone priest that came knocking years ago, scooping him up quickly and surprisingly. He was dead before he knew what happened. But a whole village uprising, that may just cause problems for Faust.
He whistled loudly, then climbed aboard the great winged-beast.
Faust flew down the mountain - riding Aethereal - his black hair streaming behind him as his great crimson eyes and Aethereal's cobalt blue ones, blazed through the night.
As they approached Winchester Gap, Faust furious by the defiance, he began pointing at buildings. Every time he did a ray of light was sent from his fingertip towards the structure, exploding them into flames.
Soon half the town was ablaze.
The heat growing intense all around, the light from the housefires engulfing the night in smoke and embers. Flames burning deeply all around.
Then suddenly with a thwack, he found himself flailing; falling to earth.
Aethereal - mortally wounded - flopped about on the ground for a minute; before soaring into the sky, with a screech, in a ball of flames. Flying back to Eagle Rock, with the wooden spear harpooned into his side; now burning.
He just fumbled into the cave, stumbling up onto his perch, where he sat bewildered; dying shortly after.
At least no longer having to starve was some relief to him. Some nights near the mountain, you can still almost hear that one last final scream; ringing through the hills.
Luke watched as this happened in front of his eyes - watching intently - after the arrow-headed caber that he fired catapolted through the air, nailing his target.
He saw the beast flinch, stunned, then dropping to the ground; with the wizard falling after. The bird floundered for a couple seconds before returning to flight, blazing an immense trail of light through the pitch black smoke-filled sky.
Screeching the entire way.
When the wizard crashed to the ground, though, something unworldly began to transpire. Faust lay on the ground bleeding and broken, mumbling things that Luke could not make out.
As he slowly began to advance - beginning to approach the dark, dying wizard - the ground opened up before him.
Swallowing the wizard deep into the earth, just before sealing up the hole where Faust had crashed and then entered.
Luke couldn't believe it. There wasn't a trace of the wizard left anywhere. It's almost as if he never existed.
Then Luke Halberstrom took a look around. Taking it all in, he watched - in horror - as the entire town slowly burned to rubble all around him; in every direction. Unable to escape the hellish scene.
He couldn't do anything, think of anything else, so he just sat there shaking his head.
Then he began laughing uncontrollably, like a madman.
Faust lays on the cracked up earth after seemingly falling to his death.
Unbelieving that it happened at all, still in shock, he began to conjure up his final spell.
Speaking to his dark lord best he could, it mostly coming out as mumbles; but perfectly inside his own head.
He begged him - please - to not let him go out like this. Having so many more plans that he wished to carry out.
His master, hearing Faust's biddings and pleadings, opened up the doors to limbo. Swallowing him up, deep down into the earth. Where the pain slowly starts to fade from him, also rendering him almost unable to move. He sits dormant for centuries, neither living or dead; just existing.
But also changing; changing into something no longer human. Morphing into something with an immense, unstoppable hunger. Changing into the greatest beast ever imagined. A beast that feeds only on human flesh and who's thirst is only quenched by humanoid plasma. A beast with two mouths, one at either end. The secondary one may just be the soul of his friend Aethereal; embodied eternally, internally.
Now Faust can only wait; frozen in time.
Waiting only for North Halberstrom to begin his job caretaking.
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