The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 15
The first thing I became aware of was the ache in my neck. The second was that my wrists were very heavy.
I frowned, but kept my eyes closed as I let my mind catch up with me. Lotan in the Garden and then everything going black. Around me, I could hear gears turning and the steady tick-tick-tick of a giant clock counting down.
It hit me like a charging centaur. I knew where I was. I was in the absolute last place in the world that I wanted to be.
I was in the Clock Tower.
Letting out a small breath, I steeled my mind and opened my eyes. I nearly screeched when I did.
Lotan was sitting not a foot from me, elbows on his knees and hands clasped to support his chin. He was watching me. He was watching me sleep!
I bit my tongue and drew blood, but managed to swallow most of my voice. All that escaped was a surprised little yip. The madman smiled pleasantly at me.
“Oh good,” he said, sounding very pleased. “You’re awake. I’m so glad.”
He reached out and began stroking my hair. I tensed and tired to move away, but his gentle hand turned into a fist, yanking me back by my hair. I winced and swallowed hard, not moving again.
“Now, now, my sweet. None of that,” he said, voice still pleasant, but gently reprimanding. “Do tell me, did I hurt you at all, bringing you here? I certainly hope not.”
“You hurt me just now!” I spat.
“Ah, but that’s different, my dear,” he replied easily, lifting a finger to make a point. “That was deserved, though I do wish you hadn’t made me do it at all. But now you’ll know for the future and it won’t happen again. Correct?”
His gaze went from pleasant to dangerous and I swallowed hard, nodding slowly. The danger in his eyes disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
“Good girl. I knew you were a smart one if Fenor was going for someone so young.”
He chuckled and I focused on keeping my breathing steady as I pushed down the retort and the tears. It clearly wouldn’t do to make this madman angry.
Abruptly, he jumped up and grinned down at me like a kid with a mischievous secret.
“Now, you stay put. I’ve got work to do.”
Then he laughed.
“Not that you could really go anywhere.”
With a pat on my head, he twirled away, whistling happily. I glanced down and found why my wrists were so heavy. I was chained in the center of the Tower. No wonder he wasn’t worried I’d go anywhere.
Now that Lotan was distracted, I had a chance to look around. We were in the top of the tower. Above and below me, gears were turning, ticking out the seconds and counting down the hours. Each clock face was made of thick, frosted glass and I could see the hands on the outsides, showing the opposite of what the real time was. There were platforms in front of each clock face. If I looked closely I could see platforms above and below, tucked between all the gears as well.
I was chained to one of the central platforms, which were the only ones that had any sort of railing. Slowly, I sat up and leaned against the cold metal rails, looking to where Lotan was headed.
The Guardian’s confident steps quickly took him to the platform to my left. He touched the frosted glass, as though checking for something, and then sighed. I concentrated and closed my eyes until I could see the Seals. They were still pulsing black, unchanged from when we had seen them this morning.
Lotan spun back on his heel with a regretful sigh.
“Ah! If only Fenor would have been willing to help me! This would be so much easier and he wouldn’t have had to die!”
The madman shrugged and strolled back to me, jumping from platform to platform with ease. I fought the urge to shrink away from him as he squatted beside me again.
“As it is, I’ll have to make due,” he concluded, reaching out and beginning to play with one of my curls.
I fought back a shudder at his touch, making myself focus. I had to find out what he was doing.
“How do you know he wouldn’t have helped you? You didn’t even give him a chance,” I said quietly.
The Shape Shifter dropped my curl abruptly, looking at me without expression for a moment. That face was probably the scariest one yet. At least the others had told what he was thinking, even if it did change every other moment. This one gave nothing away. Then I realized my mistake. Was he realizing that I had seen him kill Fenor?
“I did give him a chance,” Lotan spoke finally, voice as unreadable as his face. “I told him the two of us could change the world. He told me I was crazy. I knew after that he wouldn’t help me.”
“Help you with what?” I dared to ask.
Suddenly, the madman threw his head back and laughed heartily. Then he reached forward, grabbed my face, and kissed my forehead before releasing me and spinning away abruptly.
“What, you ask?”
He laughed again and threw his arms wide.
“I’m going to change the world!”
“The world?” I repeated, dumbly.
He looked back at me with a wink.
“Well, the worlds I should say.”
Then his insanity clicked into place and I had to force myself not to show it. The worlds. The blackened Seals. Wishing my Master was here. Killing him. Lotan was going to undo the Seals, which would send the magical world and the human world crashing back together. Life was we knew it would cease to exist. How many would die in the initial shock wave? How many would die from the wars that were sure to quickly ensue?
Surely he was no expert on Seals. How long had it taken him to get this far? How much longer did we have? Was it too late to stop it? Did he know I knew a bit about Seals? No, I didn’t think he did. He didn’t even realize my Master’s apprentice had been female. He surely didn’t suspect that I knew anything. Why was I here then? Just to satisfy that petty little game in his head?
My questions chocked me and after staring at him for a long moment, eyes wide in the shock at the realization of what he was doing, I managed to give voice to one.
He tilted his head as he looked at me.
“Why?” he repeated before a grin split his face. “Why do you think, little one?”
I shook my head.
“I don’t know.”
“Hmm,” he muttered to himself as he squatted in front of me once more. “It’s easy, really. I’m just going to fix the mistake the original Guardians made. It’s my duty, as an inheritor of their legacy and power to make sure that their name stands the test of time. Those sad, soft-hearted fools made the biggest mistake they possibly could have and there’s none but fools who have come after them. Excluding myself, of course.”
He gave me a wink.
“And since none of the others are willing to bother fixing such a grave mistake and chose instead to uphold such pitiful ideals as what they think the original Guardians left us with, it falls solely to me to fix it.”
“What mistake?” I whispered, dreading the answer.
“Why, they let the humans live, of course.”
I swallowed hard at the satisfied smile on his face.
“Those foolish five never should have let them live. They do nothing but destroy and hurt and pollute. They’re still doing it to their world. They’ve learned nothing. They need one final lesson since they seem intent on never changing.”
“So you’re going to kill them all?” I asked finally, voice so quiet it was almost lost amid the turning of the gears.
He beamed down at me.
“You’ve go it.”
Then he was up again, hopping over to the platform in front of the clock face to my left. He touched it again and sighed. Taking a deep breath, I found my courage to ask,
“Is there something wrong with your plan?”
Lotan looked over at me, a bit sadly.
“Ah, no not truly. It would simply have been so much easier if Fenor could have helped me. I am no master of Seals, you see.”
“What about his apprentice?”
The Guardian grinned suddenly.
“Yes! Why in Phyre didn’t I think of that? I wonder where that apprentice of his has gotten to now? Hmm. I suppose I shall have to go find him now.”
Jumping over to me, Lotan scooped me up into a huge hug, planted a kiss on my cheek, and deposited me back on the platform before bounding off to my right.
“Stay put, my sweet! I shall be back soon!”
He opened a door in the clock face that was practically invisible and, standing out on the edge, his whole body shimmered and twisted and became smaller until there was a raven perched there instead. With a caw-caw, the bird took off and I was alone.
I let loose the shudders of revulsion and wiped my cheek on my robe fiercely. Now that Lotan was gone, what was I going to do? What was I going to do?
My breathing became faster and I hugged my knees to my chest, trying desperately not to loose what little self control I still had. Slowly, I rocked back and forth, attempting to make myself thing. Think! What could I do now?
Closing my eyes, I reached out for her, and felt her reappear. Opening my eyes, I saw her floating there in front of me. I was so happy to see anyone other than the madman that I would have hugged her if I could have.
“Itzel! I’m so glad to see you!”
She seemed to be smiling at me, amused.
“Indeed. You look like you’re in a bit of a pickle.”
“Lotan caught me. He’s insane.”
Then an idea struck me.
“Itzel! Can you fly out and find the other Guardians? Tell them I’m here and what’s going on?”
She hesitated and then sighed.
“No, I can’t.”
I frowned in confusion.
She rolled her eyes at me.
“Because of the contract we made. As your companion spirit, I cannot leave your side.”
“So how far away can you go?” I asked, my plan dashed.
“Hm. Well, about this far.”
She floated about ten feet away from me and then stopped, as though she had hit a barrier. I sighed.
“Oh dear. I didn’t realize that.”
Itzel floated back toward me and seemed to be shrugging.
“Nothing to be done about it though, I’m afraid. I’m sorry. I assumed you knew.”
“Why would I?” I shot back. “I told you I’d never done that before!”
The Aether spirit sighed.
“Oh yes. You did say that, didn’t you?”
We sat in silence for a long moment. Finally, Itzel seemed to have an idea.
“How far away are the Guardians? Do you know where they are exactly?”
“I don’t know exactly where they are, no, and I don’t know how far away they are.”
“Because I can spirit things short distances, but if you don’t know where they are, then it’s kind of pointless.”
Silence fell over us again.
“Where did he go?” asked Itzel, referring to Lotan.
“He doesn’t know I’m the new Guardian of the House. He thinks my Master’s apprentice was a male so he’s gone to look for him to see if the apprentice can help him unravel the Seals.”
I set my elbows on my knees and propped my head up on my hands. Something cold touched my cheek and I pulled my hand away to look at it. There was a brass ring on my thumb. I blinked at it for a moment before it dawned on me.
Aaron! I could call Aaron.
Not that I particularly wanted to call a MAGI, but there seemed no other way to contact anyone and no one else to call. I bit my lip, remembering what my Master had said about the MAGI and NORTH.
With one last glance around the clock tower, I looked back to the ring and twisted it three times around my finger as I had been instructed to. It glowed faintly, pulsing three times, and then went back to being a brass ring.
“I suppose we’ll see if he comes,” I said quietly to myself, sitting back against the railing once more and making myself as comfortable as possible.
There was no way of knowing how long my wait would be as I listened to the maddening tick, tick, tick, tick...