The Tower 9
I opened my mouth to respond, but another noise from the end of the hall stopped me. Antheus held his finger up to his lips and stealthily got to his feet. I lay back down on the floor and closed my eyes. I thought about everything that had happened since I arrived in Anderosea and everything that Antheus had told me so far, but the two stories didn’t connect.
Some parts seemed to match up, but what had happened between the times that he had left Perdeen and now to make the land devoid of people and sound. Even the trees and bushes were silent and they felt like stone. Something was missing and I wanted to know what.
He called those monsters his brothers, but were they really? And what was the significance of the nighttime hours? Where was Antheus between the times that I had met him in the tower and tonight when he finally appeared to tell his story? I was no closer to finding these answers than before.
Cautiously I opened my eyes to try and gauge the time. From the dim light in the hall I knew that morning was approaching. I wondered if Antheus would stick around for the day or if I would be left to myself again to wander the halls searching for answers. I breathed a discontented sigh and then froze.
Maybe it was a noise or even just a harsh guttural breath, but instantly I knew someone or something was standing behind me on the steps. I closed my eyes tightly and waited. The seconds ticked by and I didn’t dare breathe. At first I thought it might be Tuug or the other brother, but there was something different, more malevolent.
I silently let the air out of my lungs and replaced it simulating sleep the best I could, but I was certain it knew I was awake. Then I realized it was standing next to me in the hall. I didn’t even dare glance through my lashes, but curiosity was burning in my mind. I parted my eyes just enough to see through my lashes and my gaze was met with a pair of small leathery feet with horns on the heels and what looked like scales on the top.
Mehean, was my first thought, but then I wasn’t sure. I could sense the burning hatred in this thing, but I wasn’t sure it was aimed completely at me. The strangest thing I felt was an overwhelming feeling of fear and anguish. I didn’t move, but suddenly found the ugliest face staring into mine and before I could react I realized there was a pair of piercing blue eyes staring into mine.
Involuntarily I opened my eyes and sat up looking at the creature with surprise. “Sareanne?” I whispered.
The creature stared at me longingly and I knew I was right. She reached out ever so carefully toward the protective circle and as her hand passed through I could hear the sound of burning and the gasp of pain from a guttural throat.
I cringed back as the stubby, scaly hand reached toward me, but as it passed the invisible barrier it became as human a hand as mine. We both looked surprised as as we stared at the white skin and fine boned fingers for several minutes, then a noise brought Sareanne’s head up with a snap. She glanced down the hall and then silently moved down the stairs.
I lay back down quickly, closed my eyes, and tried to maintain even control of my thoughts. I focused on the questions I’d had earlier and the story Antheus had shared. I wondered if he could read my thoughts all the time or just when I was near. I was frightened and now I didn’t know who I could trust.
“Are you all right?” Antheus asked coming to where I lay.
“Yes,” I said huskily, not trusting my voice completely.
“It’s almost sunrise. As soon as the sun comes up you’ll be safe.”
“Safe from what?” I questioned, my temper getting the best of me.
“From my father,” Antheus replied surprised.
“What is he going to do to me? I’ve never seen him. He is just this scary character you have told me about.” I was really worked up and angry now and nothing was going to derail my questioning. I wanted answers. “What is really going on here, Antheus?”
He looked at me, his eyes narrowing slightly, and then he sighed in frustration. “I can’t tell you.”
“Why not? This isn’t some fairytale enchantment, or is it?”
I doubted the words as soon as they left my mouth. Hadn’t Sareanne’s hand changed from the ugly, scaly thing to a normal hand when it crossed the protective border? I looked into Antheus’ face and I could see the struggle there. He wanted to answer my questions, but something held him back.
I wondered if I should just keep my mouth shut about Sareanne or if I should say something to him about the whole experience. My mind still didn’t completely trust him and there was this nagging feeling that he wasn’t there to necessarily help me right now.
“Are you going to leave me alone today?” I asked with a grumbling sigh.
He glanced down the hall at the ever brightening light from the windows. “I have to go, but I will be back shortly.”
He got up to leave and I held back a retort. More than anything I wanted to speak with Sareanne. I watched Antheus move down the long hall. As he disappeared from view I noticed the circle of rocks around me shimmer and then settle into the fine sand I had discovered each morning. That was my cue to get up.
I glanced back to where Antheus had gone and then down the stairs and decided it was time to get some answers. Since Antheus couldn’t share I would go in search of Sareanne. I ran down to the next level and looked around for some sign of her passing, but nothing gave it away. Was she only able to come out at night?
I was thoroughly frustrated now. This whole experience had tainted my idea of magical lands and fantastical adventures. I was tired and grumpy. My stomach growled in agreement and with a discontented sigh I made my way toward the back corner and up the winding stairs to the room I had discovered the first night.
I walked the long halls determined to find something. Finally I ended up in a familiar looking corner and I ascended the stairs. When I reached the top I wasn’t where I thought I would be. The room that housed the stairway had only the two hallways to my right and left. Behind me was a tiny little cubby room with a tall, narrow window.
Moving over to the window, I stared out at the silent landscape. The waves sparkled in the early morning sunshine as they crashed on the empty shore, their movement a symbol of the emptiness of time in this place. With a sigh I moved away from the window choosing the hallway on the right.
This one was completely unfamiliar and there were no paintings to tell a story. In fact the hall was devoid of any decoration which seemed to go against the whole grain of the fantastic castle. My shoes made muted slapping sounds against the bare stone floor. Even the windows seemed to let in less light.
I had only taken ten steps down when I noticed a door on my left. My curiosity got the best of me and I stepped toward the door. I immediately felt the same sickening sensation that I had experienced on the stairs the evening before. Determined I grasped the handle and twisted shoving the door open with all of my strength, fighting the nausea that came with my actions.
As soon as the door opened the sensation of illness left me. I peered inside the room nervous at what I would see. The room was as bare as the hallway save a wooden couch and chair in one corner. The windows were barred and everything had the distinct impression of a prison.
The thought entered my head that if I entered the room I might be shut in forever. I stepped back, slightly afraid, but something out the window caught my eye. I moved slowly looking back over my shoulder at the door ensuring it was still open. When I reached the window and looked out a tiny gasp escaped my lips.
The view out this window was very different from what I had seen during my entire experience. Smoke drifted across the opening from somewhere to my right. The ground below instead of devoid of movement was teaming with life, but not the kind of life I expected.
Below, in the now visible city and grounds I could see hooded figures moving in the ever constant dance of the village market. I was surprised at the sudden appearance of people in this silent place. I turned away from the village to glance around the room, but it remained the same as before. My gaze returned to the scene below and I watched for several minutes.
I never saw any faces and no one ever looked up. It seemed very suspicious to me and after a while I left the room. I was anxious to talk with someone, but I also wondered if what I had seen was even real.
I moved further down the hall and noticed another door on my left. The same sensation affected me, but I ignored it completely and opened the door. The room was much the same as the first and I went immediately to the window and viewed the same movement below.
This went on for three or four rooms. Across from two of these doors were barred windows looking into the center courtyard of the castle. The pretty gardens and grapevines were being carefully tended by hooded gardeners and landscapers. I wanted to shout to get their attention, but I could never open the windows to make the attempt.
When I reached the end of the hall I stepped onto the soft carpet of the round stair rooms. I made my way to the one window and looked out expecting to see what I had viewed before, but again my eyes met with the silent stillness and emptiness. There was no longer a village, but only untouched dirt and grass.
The whole experience was maddening and the questions that filled my mind frustrated me further. There was no staircase going up at this corner, but I was determined to find my room so I continued along the next hall. This one was not as barren as the one before. There were still no carpets, but ahead I could see a large silver guilt mirror on the wall flanked by two straight-backed, wooden chairs.
I reached the mirror and examined my reflection half expecting something to have changed. Instead I was greeted by my normal brown eyes and slightly disheveled brown hair. I looked tired and the slight downturn of my mouth gave away the annoyance I felt.
I looked at the remainder of the reflection in the mirror and noticed a hall behind me. I glanced around and saw only a bare wall. I looked back in the mirror and the hall was there once again. What else could happen in this bizarre place? I reached out my hand to touch the glass, but it kept going encountering not glass, but air.
I eyed my reflection carefully figuring I had nothing to lose at this point, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and stepped through the glass.