The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 16
So I waited.
I waited through the afternoon but he didn’t come. I waited as the sky beyond the frosted glass painted the world in beautiful shades of red and pink and purple and blue, but he didn’t come. I waited as the colors bounced across the clock’s gears and hands, coloring the whole place in shades of the sun, but he didn’t come. I waited as the world descended into the blue-black of night and the magic lights slowly came to life to light the inside of the tower, but still he didn’t come.
My muscles grew stiff from sitting and my back ached from leaning against the railing. With a sigh, I turned to the silent Aether spirit.
“Perhaps you should go invisible again. I wouldn’t want Lotan to see you.”
She bobbed a bit, as though nodding.
“As my Mistress wishes.”
Then she spun once and was gone again. I was truly alone now.
Pulling my legs to my chest, I wrapped my arms around them and rested my chin on my knees. My thoughts began to wander.
Why would Aaron have given me a summoning ring if he didn’t plan on coming? It couldn’t possibly be out of range. It was magic for Phyre’s sake!
And what about the other Guardians? Had they even realized I was gone? Did they care? Would they come here? Or had they caught Lotan while he was out?
And what was Lotan planning on doing with me? Why take me? Or had he even thought that far? Was I not even an afterthought for him?
I felt utterly unwanted and abandoned. And why should I be wanted? I was a mutt, a half-breed, who wasn’t even half trained to take over for my Master. What use was I to the other Guardians? Why would a MAGI care what became of an apprentice Guardian when the rivalry between the two groups was so apparent? Even Itzel was only here because she wanted something from me. What if I couldn’t give it to her?
I hid my face, wishing myself away, but just then I heard movement lower in the tower. I looked up. Yes, there it was again!
Moving carefully so I wouldn’t rattle the chains, I peeked between the rails and looked down into the darkness of gears and metal. The lights throughout the tower only reached so far and the center of the tower was still dark.
At first I saw nothing. Then I caught a glimpse of light shining between the gears as someone moved with it. It disappeared for a moment and then reappeared further up.
Whoever had the light was coming toward me. I pulled back from the edge and wrapped my arms around my legs as I listened.
Was it Aaron? Had he snuck in and now was searching for me, afraid to call out lest he alert my captor? Or one of the Guardians perhaps? Had one of them finally realized I was gone, found out what had happened, and come to save me?
I felt the weight of a body as the creature began climbing the rope ladder that connected the platforms and levels of the tower. Unconsciously I held my breath, not knowing what to expect.
The being was only on the ladder for a moment and then swung easily up onto the platform. I blinked, taking him in. Well, it wasn’t anyone I had been expecting, that was for sure.
The male stood several inches taller than me and had naturally tan skin. His black hair was wild and wavy, but gave him a dashing look. Slanted, deep brown eyes looked down at me. They were intense and determined, yet mournful. They held my gaze for a long moment. He wore a blue cotton shirt under a leather vest with boots and trousers. There was a quiver of arrows on his back and a belt of throwing stars across his chest.
“Who are you?” I asked quietly.
A sad smile flitted across his face.
“They call me Dos. I am Guardian Lotan’s second apprentice.”
My mouth formed a small ‘oh’ as it dawned on me. My Master had told me Lotan had two apprentices and I hadn’t seen either one yet. I had completely forgotten about them. So the question was, friend or foe?
He watched me for a moment before slowly moving forward. He squatted in front of me, gaze locked on mine. I was surprised to realize that he smelled like the ocean. Why in Phyre would that be, when we were in this deserted, landlocked city?
“Why does he have you here?” Dos asked, voice low.
“Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid.”
“Hm,” was the apprentice’s only reply.
“What are you?” I had to ask, puzzling.
That sad smile appeared again for a moment.
“A Selkie?” I guessed.
Surprise crossed his features before he nodded slowly.
“Yes. I’m surprised you guessed it. It’s usually our women who are trapped in this predicament.”
Selkies were seal people. They lived in the sea in their seal forms and when they came to land occasionally they would shed that form like a garment and take on a human form. All Selkies were attractive and sometimes someone, to trap them and keep the Selkie with them, would steal that skin and hide it. A Selkie could not return to the ocean without it, though they longed for their home every day. That would explain the mournful look in his eyes.
“So I guess you’re as much a prisoner as I am.”
Dos nodded sadly.
“Indeed. Master Lotan has my skin and so I’ve been trapped here nearly seven years now.”
“Do you agree with what he’s doing?” I asked hesitantly.
It wasn’t likely that Dos would agree with Lotan’s crazy plan, but assumptions like that could cost me greatly if I was wrong.
Dos shook his head vehemently, sitting back on his heels.
“No. I think he’s insane, but there’s nothing I can do. I am not powerful enough to defeat him and if I tried anything, he would destroy my skin and I would be trapped on land forever.”
The words seemed to send a knife into his heart with a twist. He blinked a bit, keeping tears back, as he ground his teeth a bit.
I bit my lip, watching the agony in his face. For years he’d been forced to do a madman’s bidding against his will and probably his conscience, and now he sat here absolutely helpless as that same madman planned to tear apart the worlds.
Without thinking, I reached forward and placed my hand over his fist where it rested on his knee. He looked back up at me, startled for a moment, and I began to pull away, but Dos opened his hand and caught mine before I could. He held it gently so I could still pull away if I really wanted to, but I didn’t.
I gave his hand a squeeze and met his gaze with a sad smile of his own. He sighed and returned the gesture, his smile just a little less sad.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked, voice still low.
I gave him a rueful smile.
“You could undo these chains and make Dwarves sprout wings,” I replied easily.
Dos blinked at me for a moment before he burst out laughing. He had to sit down as he continued to laugh, unable to keep his balance squatting. I grinned, glad to have banished the sorrow in him for a moment, however temporary.
It took him a few moments to get himself under control again as he wiped tears from his eyes. Finally, he looked up at me and I saw that some of the sorrow seemed to have been lifted off his shoulders.
“Thank you,” he said softly.
“Making me laugh. I don’t think I’ve laughed once since I came here.”
My eyes widened. Not laughed once in seven years? Thinking about it, it made sense, especially if the other apprentice was anything like Lotan.
“Anytime,” I said finally, voice quiet, still shocked at the thought.
Suddenly the smile dropped like a rock from Dos’s face and he looked toward the door in the clock face.
“He’s coming,” he whispered.
The Selkie looked back at me, face suddenly serious and intense again.
“Don’t say anything about me. We haven’t met, understand?”
I swallowed hard and nodded shakily.
Swiftly, the Selkie jumped up and was gone down the ladder before I could even say goodbye.
The door in the clock face blew open with the force of an angry wind behind it, banging so loudly and dangerously that I thought for a moment that it might shatter. The raven Lotan flew in, cawing in irritation. Magic slammed the door closed with another dangerous amount of force.
Of course the madman wouldn’t have found Fenor’s apprentice because the apprentice wasn’t male and Lotan already had her right here. Clearly he wasn’t in a good mood now.
The raven circled my platform twice, changed to an eagle to let loose for several minutes of angry shrieking which I had to cover my ears for, and then landed abruptly in front of me. Lotan’s body shimmered, shifted, and grew until he was his normal self a moment later. I swallowed hard as his angry gaze was leveled on me.
“Gone!” he yelled, throwing his arms up and beginning to pace. “The filthy coward’s gone and disappeared! No creature with so little courage should have been Fenor’s apprentice!”
Suddenly, he looked back at me, scowling in irritation.
“I’ll horsewhip him myself if he shows his face!”
My stomach growled suddenly, interrupting Lotan and I realized I hadn’t actually eaten all day. The Guardian paused at the sound, blinking at me. I swallowed, but before I could think of anything to say, Lotan waved his hand and muttered something under his breath. A plate of steaming steak and potatoes appeared in front of me, making me jump just a bit in surprise. I stared at it for a moment, blinking, as the madman began ranting again.
I didn’t bother really listening as I tentatively reached for the plate. A knife and fork had come with the plate and, with a second encouraging growl from my stomach, I tucked in. So what if it was poisoned? That seemed very unlikely anyway. And if it was, it was a delicious way to go.
So focused on eating was I that Lotan’s rant rolled right over me until I caught a new topic surfacing.
“What was that?” I asked, hastily swallowing the food in my mouth.
The shape shifter paused mid-sentence to look over at me.
“What did you just say?” I elaborated.
“About the army?”
So I hadn’t misheard him.
“Yeah, what was that you were saying about them?”
He waved a hand dismissively.
“Oh, they’ll be here in the morning. I wanted them here today, but those buffoons gave some sort of sorry excuse about having to pack and move such a large company isn’t easy and takes time. Psh! Pathetic.”
“What kind of army?” I asked, food forgotten.
Lotan had an army? Nothing good could possibly come from that. And where had he gotten them? And when? I bit back the questions that threatened to begin rolling out in waves and held my tongue. This was not my Master. This was a madman and I didn’t want to give myself away or make him suspicious.
“Oh the usual. Orcs and Goblins and the like,” he replied lightly.
He looked at me with questions in his eyes and a sudden cautiousness in his stance. I took that as my cue to stop asking things and went back to eating as ravenously as I could fake. It wasn’t easy. My stomach was suddenly doing nervous flips and I was feeling nauseous.
The madman had an army of Orcs and Goblins? How big? Clearly a large number, if it was taking them a while to assemble and get moving. But how well trained were they? Where had they come from? How had Lotan gotten them together without the other Guardians noticing anything? How soon tomorrow would they be here?
I forced myself to swallow another large bit of potato, the Guardian’s gaze still boring into me. What was he thinking? Did he suspect something? He couldn’t be thinking that I was Fenor’s apprentice, but perhaps he was wondering if I was trying to get information out of him for someone? Like Aaron or the other Guardians? Then was he thinking that I had some way of contacting them?
Chewing a piece of steak, I looked up at him, as though noticing his stare for the first time. I swallowed the bite, blinking.
Suddenly he knelt down in front of me, his face no more than a few inches away. He stared for a long moment, holding my gaze.
“What is it?” I asked, trying to break the hold of his gaze by ducking my head.
He caught my chin and made me look back at him. I gripped the plate in my hands, trying desperately not to let my shaking become obvious.
“What are you?” he asked finally, voice barely above a whisper. “What is it about you that draws me in? Why do I feel this need to be near you?”
I pulled back, not liking where this conversation was going in the least, and he let his hand drop, but never stopped holding me with his eyes.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I muttered, staring fixedly at the plate.
“You are no full elf, that much I know,” he murmured, as though I hadn’t spoken at all. “So what else are you, my sweet?”
I had to suppress a shudder at the way he seemed to be caressing the endearment with his voice. This was not good. This was not good at all. My mind frantically searched for some way to distract him.
“I’m half Nixie,” I said, unable to come up with anything else.
Mentally, I kicked myself. Stupid. Was there nothing else to say?
“I’m really very tired. May I sleep?”
Really? Really?! If I could have banged my head against something, I would have. The madman is getting too close for comfort and I suggest going to bed? Oh yeah, great idea. Because clearly that won’t give him any ideas.
Gently, Lotan brushed a hand through my curls and then looked back into my eyes.
“Yes, you should sleep, my dear,” he said, voice still quiet and far too intimate for my liking. “Tomorrow will be a big day and is sure to start early. Sleep now.”
He pulled back and went to the far side of the platform, which was only about four feet away, and leaned against the railing, still watching me. It took all my strength to pretend he wasn’t still there as I lay down, facing away from the creature.
Thus began the longest night of my life. It far surpassed the time I had been forced, on Taliya’s whim, to polish all her shoes until the wee hours of the morning. It was leaps and bounds worse than the time, again on Taliya’s whim, that I had been left in the dungeon overnight. It was even longer than the nights I’d spent, wide awake and worrying for Sefron just after he had been sent to the border.
For several hours, the Guardian simply stood there and watched me as I pretended to sleep. I was wide awake and getting more terrified by the minute. What was he doing? What was going through his head? This was bad, bad, bad.
The hours slowly ticked by, counted by the clock we were in the middle of, and I began to see how living inside a clock could drive someone mad quite easily. My nerves frayed a little bit more with each tick-tock-tick-tock and my jaw began hurting from clenching it so hard.
I felt paralyzed where I lay. Knowing he was watching me froze my muscles in place. It was even hard to breath after a while.
All he did was watch me. He stood in the same place for a long time, barely even moving, staring at my back. I thought after a few hours he would go lay down somewhere else or at least lay down here and go to sleep. He didn’t. He was there all night, watching. Didn’t he ever sleep?
Finally, blessedly, I saw the first hint at the sky beginning to lighten. My mind was so desperate for something else to focus on that I began playing a game with myself by betting on which colors I’d see first.
I won the first bet with blue but lost the second when pink showed up before orange.
Then, to my horror, I heard someone calling up to the tower in a bellowing voice.
“LOTAN! LOTAN COME DOWN!”
No. No, no, no. I knew that voice. It took me a moment, but I knew that voice. It was Grundur. The other Guardians had finally come.
They were going to die.
I sat up and turned to look at Lotan, who was standing erect now, staring beyond the frosted glass. Then a pleasant smile flitted across his face and he sauntered toward the small door in the clock face. He opened it and leaned out dangerously far.
“My friends!” he called down, still smiling. “Why don’t you come up instead?”
I wanted to call out to them. I wanted to tell them to get away. I wanted them to know I was here. I just wanted to do something, but horror at what was sure to happen strangled any words that tried to reach my tongue. They were too far away to hear me anyway.
One of the others replied. It might have been Razana, but I couldn’t make out any of the words.
“Why, use the stairs, of course!” called the madman, grinning. “Come! Come! You know I love guests! And all three of you at once! I must wonder just why I’m suddenly so privileged to have you all.”
With that, he pulled himself back inside, bringing the door with him. He swung jauntily over to the platform where I sat, grinning from ear to ear.
“My, my! What an honor! We’re to have three Guardians for breakfast, my sweet.”
He winked, as though sharing a joke with me. Then he flashed me a suddenly dangerous smile and I could have sworn that his teeth had become pointed and sharp. My heart jumped in my chest, fear coursing through my veins full force, but a moment later, the smile became smaller and placid.
Three Guardians for breakfast?
I tried desperately not to let my breathing speed up and willed my heart to stop racing. I had to get a hold of myself. I was a Guardian too, even if Lotan didn’t know and the others hadn’t officially recognized me. I had to think. I couldn’t let them die at the hands of one of our own.
But what could I do?
A/N: Oh my gracious. This chapter took a lot longer than I expected it to. But it's done now! And the next one will be coming soon. :)