The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 17
“Come, my friends! Come!” Lotan called down through the tower.
Forget it. I had to let them know, even if I got myself in trouble. Nevermind what might happen. The other Guardians had to be warned.
I opened my mouth to call out and warn them, but the Guardian turned suddenly with a face like steel and snapped his fingers at me. The words caught in my throat and I began chocking.
I gasped for breath, looking up at the madman who was watching me. My hand reached for my throat, my mind unconsciously trying to rip away whatever was blocking my air.
“Be calm, my sweet,” said Lotan gently. “Just think about breathing.”
As soon as I began concentrating on just being able to breath, the chocking sensation went away. I looked up at Lotan and thought about speaking, but then I was chocking again. I closed my eyes, putting my hands to my throat again, and banished all thoughts of speech.
When I opened my eyes again, the madman was squatting in front of me, a pleasant but warning expression on his face.
“Now, now, my pretty. Don’t be trying to speak. We can’t have you yelling and giving everything away, now can we?”
He reached out, a happy smile on his face, and played with one of my curls. I concentrated on not talking as I suppressed a shudder. His smile widened a bit as he stood up and turned away, moving to the far side of the platform. With a wink at me, as though we were sharing a joke, he disappeared down the ladder to greet the other Guardians.
Now what could I do?
I moved carefully and peeked down into the tower to see if I could see anything. I couldn’t, with all the gears in the way, but I could hear better.
“Dos!” Lotan called. “Don’t just stand there. Do something useful. Get our guests something yummy to eat. Off you go now!”
“We didn’t come to have a meal,” I heard Grundur growl.
“Oh dear! Then what in the worlds did you come for?” asked the madman, voice sweet and innocent.
“We came to bring you to justice for the murder Guardian Fenor!” snapped Razana.
“Murder?” asked Lotan slowly. “Oh yes. I’m afraid I did do that, didn’t I? Ah, well, it was unavoidable, really.”
“What was unavoidable?” asked Quir suspiciously.
“His death, of course,” replied the madman offhandedly. “He was in the way.”
“In the way of what?” demanded Razana.
“Why, my plans. What else, Razana dear? It’s much the same with all of you, if you try and stop me, of course. I can’t be having any interference at this point. Not when I’m almost done. Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat? Dos can make you anything you like.”
“No, Lotan,” growled Grundur. “We don’t want anything to eat.”
I heard the madman sigh.
“Oh dear. I suppose that means you’ve come to stop me, then?”
“Ah. Well that is too bad.”
I had to think of something! They had to know how much danger they were really in. It wasn’t just Lotan. He had an army. How could I tell them when I couldn’t talk? I pulled back from the edge to think, but did it too quickly and rattled the chains.
“What was that?” I heard Grundur demand.
“What was what?” asked Lotan sweetly.
Then the thought struck me like a lightning bolt. No, I couldn’t speak, but I could still make noise!
I began pounding on the platform and rattling the chains as much as I could. It made quite a racket.
“That!” growled Grundur over the noise. “You can’t tell me you don’t hear that!”
“Ah, one of those gears has slipped again,” I heard Lotan’s offhanded reply. “Dos! Get up there and fix it. Make sure it won’t be making any more racket.”
No! I wanted to scream but held back the urge so I wouldn’t start chocking. They couldn’t believe that! I turned and began banging the chains against the railing, making an even bigger disturbance.
“That doesn’t sound good,” came Quir’s suspicious voice.
Yes! Yes, Quir! Question it! Come up and see! You’re all in more danger than you realize!
“Dos!” snapped Lotan, now sounding annoyed.
I supposed the Selkie had been hesitating.
“Yes, Master,” he said meekly.
I began banging and pounding frantically with all my might. A few moments later, I felt Dos on the ladder and I banged so hard that my hands and wrists were hurting. The next second, the Selkie was on the platform. In two long, smooth strides, he was squatting in front of me. He grabbed my wrists and I fought his hold, still making as much noise as I could by pounding my feet on the platform and jangling the chains.
Dos scowled at me and, in one swift movement, he had pushed me down, sat on top of me, pinned my wrists, and wrapped his legs around mine so I practically couldn’t move. I scowled darkly up at the apprentice as I continued to struggle, though now I made much less noise than before.
The Selkie leaned down and put his lips to my ear. His whisper was low and strained.
“Please. Please stop. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you keep making noise he’ll make me.”
I knew who he meant. Lotan. The madman would force this poor creature, who by his Selkie nature was a gentle being, to hurt another. I couldn’t hurt Dos like that. He was as much a prisoner as I was.
Sighing inwardly, I stilled and Dos pulled back. I swallowed hard, meeting the Selkie’s tortured gaze. I felt my brief spurt of determination and defiance slip away from me under that look. My face fell and I looked away, closing my eyes.
Silently, Dos released me and stood.
“Master, I’ve fixed the loose gear,” called Dos.
“Good, good,” I heard Lotan’s voice reach us. “Finish breakfast then.”
I could feel the Selkie’s gaze one me again, but I didn’t open my eyes. I felt him moving down the ladder and opened my eyes again to stare at the gears in front of me.
My fingernails bit into my palms as my hands balled into fists. If I made noise to try and warn the other Guardians again and get their attention, Lotan would either freeze me or force poor Dos to do something to keep me quiet. I was no use to them dead or unconscious, but I was no use to them now either!
Tears of frustration began blurring my vision as I listened to Lotan talking to the other Guardians again. I heard the madman laugh lightly.
“No, no. It was nothing! Now, how about breakfast?”
“Lotan!” snapped Razana. “We aren’t here for pleasantries and breakfast. We’re here to bring you to justice!”
“Justice?” repeated Lotan innocently. “I suppose that will leave no time for breakfast at all, will it? Such a pity too. This would have been so much easier on all of you if you had simply had the courtesy for a piece of toast or a muffin.”
“What are you babbling about?” growled Grundur.
“Well,” continued Lotan easily, as though talking about nothing more important than the weather. “I was simply going to poison the rest of you, but since you refuse to eat anything, I suppose it will have to be done the hard way. I am sorry. You can’t say I didn’t try.”
“You were going to poison us?” Quir said, voice going high with anger.
“Indeed,” replied the madman matter-of-factly. “I’ve nothing to be brought to justice over. I’m simply doing what the rest of you are too afraid to do.”
“What are you babbling about?” demanded Grundur.
Were they all really that dense or just that secure in their belief that they were more powerful than Lotan? I closed my eyes, frustration growing. Stop him now you fools! Quit talking and stop him!
Lotan laughed loudly, sounding unhinged.
“Ah, our fearless leader,” he drawled, sarcasm dripping from each word. “You never would or could lead such a battle! Such an army as the one required! But I! I shall! And since you are going to be like Fenor and get in my way, I’m going to have to remove you three. Permanently.”
“What army are you going to lead?” I heard Quir ask.
I kept myself from groaning, not wanting to start chocking again. Come on! What more do you need? He’s clearly out to kill you all! Do you truly believe you’re all so powerful? Their positions must have gone to their heads.
The madman laughed again, sounding even crazier.
“Ah, my little friend,” chuckled Lotan.
Just then, I heard a horn echoing in the distance. It was like no horn I had ever heard. It was high and mean and sent a cold shiver down my spine. It only took me a moment to realize what it was.
“Ah! There they are now,” said Lotan in satisfaction. “What army, you ask?”
I heard a door open below.
“The one coming over the horizon there.”
I heard Razana gasp.
“Now,” the madman continued. “It’s time I dealt with you three.”
I sat up suddenly. Oh no.
“Deal with us?” repeated Grundur, disbelief clear in his tone.
“Hm. Indeed,” replied Lotan.
Suddenly, the madman’s words became a predatory hiss and Quir shouted in alarm. There was another hiss and the thud of a body hitting a wall.
I tried to call, forgetting for a moment that I couldn’t, and began chocking as the sounds of fighting grew louder. As I recovered, the platform shook with the force of a spell gone awry. I grabbed the railing to keep myself from flying off and peered over the edge.
Focusing so that I could see the magic, I blinked in shock and immediately lost my focus with my first glance. There was magic all through the tower now, swirling angrily and bouncing off walls and gears. I focused a second time and looked up. With a gasp, I lost it again as I saw the Seals.
The clock faces were completely black, swirling and spinning like they were demon possessed. The Seals were going absolutely haywire and I could feel the tension in them nearing the breaking point. Even without focusing, I could feel it, now that I had seen it for a second.
I had no idea how much longer the Seals would hold, but it wouldn’t be long now before they broke. This was bad. The force of a Seal that large and powerful breaking would probably kill us all. At the very least, the ones on the clock faces would cause a huge amount of damage. I didn’t want to think about the destruction the top most Seal would cause once it broke. It was sure to be felt in both worlds.
We were in an abandoned city in this world, but what was on the other side of this Seal in the human world? If the House opened into the heart of a populated city, then the Tower certainly could as well.
This had to be stopped before time ran out and the Seals broke.
Once more, as the sounds of fighting continued to escalate, I focused and this time I held it. I followed the lines of errant magic and lost sight of them as they disappeared between gears.
Just then, I saw Razana swinging up between the gears. I swallowed a scream to keep from chocking on it as a snake slithered up after her. But it wasn’t just any snake. It was a huge, scaly, bronze and gold beast, bigger around than I was. Not only that, but I knew who it was. Lotan was a snake. Lotan was a giant snake!
Razana landed on the platform where I was chained as the snake continued upward. The Battle Gnome glanced up at me and then did a double take.
“Girl?” she said, clearly surprised that I was there.
So they hadn’t missed me. The thought stung, but I didn’t have time to feel it overly much as it was quickly pushed aside by what I saw when I glanced up. My eyes went wide as I saw the snake Lotan hanging from the gears above us, rearing back to strike at the Eastern Guardian.
She frowned and followed my alarmed gaze just in time to dodge out of the way as the snake struck. Lotan did a quick turn and got between the Gnome’s feet, tripping her.
Razana went down hard, wincing as she hit the wood, and Lotan was on her the next second, wrapping his coils around her legs. The Guardian struggled, trying to get one of her swords free, but she wasn’t fast enough and Lotan quickly had her arms tangled as well.
The Gnome flipped over, managing to get one of her arms free. Lotan shimmered, shifting quickly to become a small giant, even bigger than Aaron.
The platform groaned under the weight change and I bit my lip, praying it wouldn’t break.
Lotan flipped, now having the advantage over Razana again, and the two went tumbling over the side. There was a crash below as they landed on another platform and I looked over the side just in time to see them fall out of sight.
I had heard Grundur chanting and, focusing quickly, I saw the magic of the spell shoot toward the ceiling, clearly missing it’s target. A roar echoed through the tower. I wasn’t sure if it was from the giant or if Lotan had changed again.
Then, for no reason to be fathomed, I suddenly had my Master’s voice echoing in my mind.
“I shall not speak, your fate is sealed
But to the one who follows I yield
A single phrase as fate demands
Look to the hands”
‘The hands.’ I glanced down. My hands? No, what was holding my hands! The chains! Could I undo them?
Closing my eyes, I repeated the chant in my mind, getting a solid grip on my focus before I looked at the chains. At first I thought they were just ordinary metal, but upon closer inspection I saw that each link was infused with a spell. Such subtle, small magic was the work of a Master.
For a moment, my heart quailed at the thought of trying to undo the work of a Master. How could I possibly? How could I match such power?
Mentally, I shook myself and sat up a bit straighter. No. I wouldn’t think like that. I was a Master in my own right, whether or not I had been acknowledged yet. It didn’t even matter if I hadn’t discovered such power as that yet. I had to try. The other Guardians might not be able to beat Lotan, but we couldn’t let him win without a fight.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, tuning out the sounds of fighting below me. Then I looked at the chains once more, choosing a link I hoped would be weaker, perhaps, and began testing the magics woven into it.
The process was a slow one and neither simple nor easy. It required juggling multiple strands of magic and holding them back as I undid them, found out by trial and error. The first couple times I lost my grip on the strands, they snapped back into place, giving my mind a painful and unpleasant jolt, and forcing me to start over.
By the fourth attempt, I was getting the hang of it. I forced myself to take it slow because, tempting as it was to rush through the last couple strands, I knew it would be a big mistake. Not only would it force me to start over a fifth time, but the backlash from that many strands of magic was sure to give me a massive headache, at the very least.
Finally, the magic was severed and the link snapped. I jumped a bit, not expecting it, and then mentally sighed. Well, that was one down. Only three more to go.
The sounds of fighting echoed through the tower and I saw a burning Phoenix Lotan shoot up past me, make an arch over the platform, and then dive back down.
Focusing again, I found the second link a bit easier to undo. The third and fourth were the same, but by that time the sounds of fighting had died down. As the last chain came apart, I sat very still and listened. One last spell shot up past me, gone awry. I heard a body hit something solid with a finality that scared me. Then silence.
I swallowed hard and a moment later heard the triumphant screech of an eagle echo through the tower. My heart fell and a lead weight sprang into my stomach.
As the eagle’s cry died away, I heard the sound of flapping wings coming closer. I grabbed up the chains to make it look like I was still a prisoner and held my breath.
A larger-than-life eagle Lotan circled the platform once, dropped a body on it, and then he dove back down. I realized the small, still form was Quir.
I bit back a cry to keep from chocking and instead bit my fist. The eagle came a second time with Grundur’s body and a third with Razana’s.
I swallowed hard and looked away. Closing my eyes I could still see their bodies in my mind’s eye. It took every bit of strength I had to keep from crying.
Lotan made one final swooping circle and victory screech before he landed among them, swiftly changing back into himself. He was grinning from ear to ear like a school boy on his birthday.
“That was fun!” he crowed, laughing a bit as he strode towards me.
I shook with suppressed terror and anger and grief. Lotan squatted in front of me, heedless of the bodies, and began playing with one of my curls again as a smile played on his face.
“Very fun, indeed, my sweet.”
He gently snapped his fingers and I knew I could speak again.
“Fun?” I repeated in a chocked voice, fighting back tears.
His smile widened.
“Oh, yes! Exhilarating! I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. No one ever challenges me. I could have finished them off quite quickly, but I really did want to have a fun romp first. After all, they’re about the only creatures in the worlds that could hope to challenge me.”
The madman winked.
“Have to take my chances when I get them, you know?”
Lotan chuckled as he stood, now looking up at the Seals.
“Ah, now we come to it!” he shouted grandly and happily, throwing his arms up toward the clock faces. “Come! Let us merge the worlds!”
Then, the first Seal broke.
A/N: Dun dun dun! and Chapter 17 finally done! 18 coming soon! :)