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The Tower 8
Pins and needles trekked across my skin as Antheus spoke. I didn’t know what to think about any of this and yet his story had me gripped in fear and anticipation. I opened my mouth to ask what the story was when a sound at the end of the hall brought all conversation to a screeching halt. My head snapped up and I peered down the dark hallway.
“What was that?” I whispered.
“Shh,” Antheus ordered. He got to his feet quickly and took three steps into the deepening darkness.
I hadn’t realized how late it was, but I could tell that the sun had set probably over an hour ago. Instinctively I lay down on the floor and close my eyes. Not a second later I hear the shuffling walk of the monsters accompanied by Antheus’ measured footsteps. I froze in place.
“Vesh do’ng, Brugher?” the monster spoke.
“Do’ng gerld ve evchded,” Antheus replied. “Proglfe thernin vesh do’ng, Tuug.”
“Ferdad yig Tuug breld vesh do’ng,” the monster insisted.
“Proglfe thernin vesh do’ng, Tuug, de abigea,” Antheus said.
He gestured toward me and I held my breath as the monster lumbered toward me. I was forced to glance through my lashes and what I could see of the monster told me it wasn’t very bright. It tentatively reached out toward me and as soon as it encountered the invisible barrier it cried out in pain and jumped back.
“Hei brishen, Tuug,” Antheus said matter-of-factly.
The monster whimpered and lumbered back down the hall into the darkness. Antheus followed for about ten steps and then returned to my side. I waited until I could no longer hear the monster before I spoke.
“What was that thing?” I asked nervously.
“That was Tuug, my brother.”
“Why can’t he touch me?”
“The protective circle. Anything unwelcome that tries to cross it gets shocked or burned,” Antheus replied.
“How do you do it?”
“It is a charm my mother taught me. You take a stone and replicate it in a circle with the spoken charm and it creates a protective barrier. It is easier in the forest because the flowers grow more naturally, when I am inside I have to use stones and they are a little harder to replicate.”
He looked at me, measuring my reaction to Tuug and I tried to carefully conceal my terror at the appearance of the monster. I returned his gaze and then asked the question I had been longing to hear an answer to for the past four days.
“Antheus, why am I here?”
I watched as his face went from measured calculation to painful unease. I wondered if this was some sort of enchantment that wouldn’t allow the cursed party to speak the cause of their misery. Or maybe he was only sane enough during certain times and I had to break the chains. I began reviewing the fairy tale curses and enchantments in my mind and I had finally decided on C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair theory when a smile broke out across his face.
“What?” I asked annoyed. I had put forth a serious question and I expected a serious answer.
He shook his head. “None of those theories are correct.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fairy tales you just reviewed don’t even come close.”
“You know what I’m thinking?” I gasped.
He nodded. “Most of the time. Your face is very transparent, but sometimes your thoughts scream out to me.”
“Can all of your people read minds?” I was wary now. My thoughts were my own and I didn’t like someone picking them out of my brain whenever they wanted to.
“As far as I know I’m the only one.”
I sighed and then returned to the matter at hand. “So why am I here? If it’s not to break some fantastic curse then why?”
“I need your help.” He thought for a moment as if trying to decide what to say next. “In a way you will be breaking a curse, but not in the sense of what you were thinking. Do you remember the book I had you bring to me that first day, the one in my tower?”
“Did you see anything on the pages before you left?”
“No, they were blank,” I replied confused. “Why?”
“That book contains all of the charms and spells and magic that my mother ever knew. To understand I suppose I should finish my tale.”
“So Sareanne returned to Perdeen with a tale that brought fear to the people of the city. Her act of calling upon the gods of the earth to save her soldiers did indeed save the people, but it also separated her and Mehean from everyone else. At first she thought they had ended up on the wrong side of the chasm, but the sounds of the monsters seemed so far away.
“The mist that rose from her newly created chasm obscured the far side where she thought her soldiers to be. She didn’t dare go exploring for fear a monster would catch her, so finally at nightfall Mehean climbed up into a tree and pulled her up. They hoped the coming of a new day would give clarity to their situation.
“That night they listened to the far off howls of the monsters as they repeatedly threw themselves over the edge into the chasm, but none approached their tree. When morning came the mist remained, but it stayed in the chasm. Mehean convinced Sareanne to leave the tree and explore hoping to find a way back to the soldiers.
“Mehean was an expert at tracking his path through the forest and as they walked he realized they were traveling in somewhat of a circle. It took them almost a whole day to follow the edge of the chasm and they realized they were stuck on an island of sorts in the middle of the great chasm.
“In all that day they never encountered one monster and Mehean truly believed they were safe. Their next task was to find a way to cross the chasm to safety and return to Perdeen unfortunately they weren’t sure which side was safe. The mist obscured the far sides all the way around their island.
“Sareanne despaired that they would never succeed and be forced to remain on the island until they died. Mehean immediately set out to build a shelter and find food. Mehean kept watch that night and Sareanne slept fitfully. In the middle of the night she heard noises outside the shelter. It was like the monsters had found a way to reach the island.
“Sareanne was paralyzed with fear and she was certain Mehean would be dead in the morning, but come sunrise he was outside the shelter as if nothing had happened. Encircling the tent was a fine line of sand. She asked Mehean what it was and he described how the tiny flowers had grown around the shelter and the chant she had murmured in her sleep.
“She couldn’t remember any of it, but she was grateful it was there. Mehean looked weary and she asked about the sounds she had heard. Mehean didn’t know what she had heard for he had been undisturbed during the night. She told him to rest while she searched for food.
“Each day and night went the same and Mehean appeared exhausted each day. Sareanne worried, but didn’t know what to do. Finally Mehean suggested they build a more permanent shelter since there was no possible way they could cross the chasm without help.”
“What about the bridge?” I asked surprised.
“The bridge didn’t exist back then.”
“Who built the bridge?”
Antheus blushed ever so slightly. “I did. It took many years.” His eyes glazed a bit and I could see the memories washing over his face.
“It is a beautiful bridge. I have never seen the like in architecture or construction,” I complimented.
“Thank you,” he replied humbly.
“So how long did it take Mehean and Sareanne to build the tower?” I asked.
“They didn’t build the whole tower, just the main floor and that took them just over a year and a half. Mehean had been raised in the northern part of Anderosea and he had learned many skills that helped them complete the tower. Together they scoured the island for rocks and even began digging later on in the eastern edge.
“During that time they grew close and when the tower was completed they performed the marriage ritual. It was right around the two year mark when Sareanne began to notice some marked differences in Mehean’s behavior and even his looks. He wasn’t quite as tall as she from the beginning, but he had shrunk several inches. His eyes had sunken ever so slowly and he acted tired all the time, but the biggest difference was his nightly behavior.
“When they first married he had stayed with her in the tower during the night, but as time progressed he began staying up later and later until he almost never slept with her. On the second anniversary of the battle that formed the island she begged him to come to bed with her. That night she discovered something that made her blood run cold.
“His attentions were almost ferocious and when he had fallen off to sleep she lay restlessly next to him. It was then that she noticed a mark on his back, a long, jagged scar that ran across his body from his ribs to his hip. It was at least two years old, but the texture of the scar is what frightened her. It had the same scaly look as the skin of the monsters.”
I stared at Antheus in confusion and then realization dawned. “Mehean had been infected by the monsters, but how?”
“I don’t really know, but I think some of the monster’s claws were poisoned. Not in the way that would kill someone, but infect them and spread throughout their body until they were overcome.”
“So he was slowly turning into a monster?”
“What did Sareanne do?”
“Well when she realized what the scar was she wanted to run away, but she knew she had nowhere to go and the only thing she could do was protect herself. Everything made perfect sense now, the noises she had heard the alterations in Mehean’s appearance and behavior. He was turning into a monster and she could do nothing about it.”
“Did she say anything to Mehean?”
“She planned to, but the next morning he was very upset at the bruises he had given her in the night and he shied away from her for the next three days. It was that point that she thought he might suspect what had happened. She didn’t want to cause him pain by broaching the sensitive subject so she let it go.
“A few weeks later she realized she was with child. At that point she began searching the rocks near the edge of the eastern part of the island for some way to cross the chasm. Escape had never really been a path for them because it seemed so impossible, but now she knew she would never be able to live on the island with a child and its monster father.
“She was wracked with alternating fear and horror for what grew inside her body. When she started to show Mehean realized what had happened and he left for a week. She thought he had thrown himself into the chasm and was preparing to search for him when he returned. That evening they talked.
“Mehean described what had happened just before Sareanne had cracked the earth. A monster had reached out to grab her and he had stepped between them. He had felt the scorching pain as the monster’s claw raked down his back. He fully expected death when he realized the monster was gone and he was alone with Sareanne.
“He had carefully tended the injury, but knew almost immediately that it was different from anything else he had ever dealt with. No amount of potions and poultices, charms or enchantments would affect the cut. The first night when he sat outside the shelter he could feel the venom working inside his body and he fought the overpowering sensation to kill her. At his weakest moment was when the flowers had grown. He reached out his hand and met with the invisible barrier that burned his skin.”
“How did she know what to say to form the protection?” I interrupted.
“She didn’t know. She had murmured it in her sleep, like she mentally knew when her danger was the greatest so she took steps to protect herself.” Antheus shook his head. “She was more powerful than anyone understood, even herself.”
“Why did Mehean marry Sareanne if he knew what had happened to him?” I asked suddenly angry with this man who had endangered Sareanne so deeply.
“The venom seemed to be moving so slowly and he thought he could control the impulses that came. They were always the worst at night and he found he could avoid being with her by sending her to bed and staying outside the tower. The times that were the hardest he always found the circle of flowers surrounding the tower,” Antheus explained.
“It just seems so selfish to me,” I chided.
“In a way it was selfish. Mehean had fallen in love with Sareanne the moment he met her. Her bravery in leading those men to battle solidified his feelings for her. They spent two years with only each other for company and his emotions were entwined so deeply with hers that it would not be proper to remain together unwed.
“He felt if he married her he could protect her all the more, but that night that she begged him to stay with her his resolve crashed and he gave in. When he realized what he had done he almost threw himself into the chasm, but his loyalty to her and now their unborn child was too strong and he vowed to protect them both.”
“What about the child?” I asked totally engrossed in the story.
Antheus smiled and I realized he was the child. I blushed thinking about what an idiot I was but he shook his head.
“Sareanne and Mehean didn’t know what to do about me. Mehean wanted to destroy the unborn baby certain it would be a monster, but Sareanne wasn’t so sure. They finally agreed to let the pregnancy proceed as normal. If the baby came out as a monster Mehean would destroy it immediately.”
“You seem pretty normal to me,” I said with a smile, “except for being freakishly tall.”
“So what happened?”
“Well Mehean’s nightly behavior worsened as the months wore on. Sareanne struggled with what was happening to her husband, but she was unable to give him up. What she didn’t know was what Mehean had been doing at night when he was away from the tower.”
“What?” I whispered.
“When Sareanne gave birth to a healthy baby boy Mehean let her rest for a week and then he took her to the eastern edge of the island. Over the months and years he had been cutting away the rock creating a stairway in the side of the island. He explained to Sareanne that he had built a way to return her to the Perdeen side of the chasm.
“At first she couldn’t believe it and she joyfully embraced him. He stiffened at her touch and she cringed. He told her it was a way for her to escape. He could not follow her and he didn’t know how much longer he could control the monster inside him. He wanted her to take their baby and leave the island. Once they were safe he would destroy the path so he would never be able to follow.
“After much arguing she tearfully agreed to do as he suggested. She prepared a pack with supplies and water for us and then she bound me to her chest and began down the treacherous staircase.”
“How do you know all of this?” I interrupted suddenly.
Antheus looked up at me and I could see the pain in his blue eyes. “My mother told before she died.
“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled.
“It is something I have come to grips with long ago.”
“Why have you never left this place?” I asked. “It is clearly an unhappy place for you and I would do anything to avoid those monsters.”
“I keep hoping I can find a way to save them,” he said despairingly.
“Save them from what? They are what they are,” I replied hotly. I could feel my temper raising in annoyance at his dogged loyalty to the monsters that destroyed his people.
“I don’t see it that way,” he replied curtly.
I shook my head angrily, but then I stopped. Until I had all of the facts I couldn’t judge his actions.
“What happened?” I asked more gently.
“Sareanne made her way down the cliff on the narrow cut steps. The mist around her made it impossible to tell where she was and how far down she had come. She traveled this way for several hours before she sensed a change.
“The mist had obscured the terrain above and below her, but it didn’t completely remove the light. Mehean had given her a lantern and told her to keep going even after dark. She had to leave the island and be far away before the monster could take over him again.
“Now, she had gone far enough down that the light that filtered from above was too dim to see by. She lit the lantern and gasped as the mist parted around her leaving the air clear. She continued for another hour until she came to a bridge of sorts. It was a large log that had been flattened on top and a thin railing nailed to one side.
“She tested the bridge and it appeared to hold her weight so she continued across. It was about a hundred feet wide and she reached the other side. With her lantern she could see a similar staircase leading up the other side of the cliff.”
“Did Mehean carve both staircases?”
“My mother assumed so, but I am not so sure,” Antheus replied. “They were on that island for three years, but most of the first two they spent building the tower. I just don’t see how he could have carved both staircases by himself unless he had some sort of help.”
He paused for a moment as if remembering or thinking of some unnoticed detail then continued on.
“Sareanne climbed the stairs methodically and though she went up the light continued to dim until it disappeared completely. She knew it was night and her danger had increased. She hoped and prayed that she was on the right side of the chasm and that Mehean could control the monster inside himself so that he wouldn’t follow her.
“It was close to dawn the next morning when she reached the top. She looked across the chasm, but could see nothing through the mist. With a sigh and a pain in her heart she turned her feet toward Perdeen. It didn’t take long before she located familiar landmarks and relief flooded her body. She was exhausted, but determined to keep going. When she finally did stop she didn’t even have the strength to build a shelter. The only thing she had the strength to do was murmur the few words of protection that Mehean had heard that first night.
“When she woke the next morning we were surrounded by a circle of sand and she knew that the protection had worked. She thanked the gods and continued on. It took her six days to reach Perdeen. She was exhausted and heart worn, but her tale had to be told.”
“What did your grandfather do?”
“He took her in with open arms. She had acted nobly and he was proud.”
“How did the people react?” Surely not everyone was thrilled to know that her offspring might be half monster.
He smiled sardonically and I remembered that he could read my thoughts. I blushed.
“Not everyone was thrilled to hear the story and know of my parentage, but most of the people were willing to do what Rutheus said. It wasn’t long after she returned though that other stories similar to Sareanne’s began to emerge. Though not nearly to the degree that Mehean had experienced some of the men who had been cut or scratched by the monsters had had a similar change come over them.
“Most of the people thought it was madness from the horror of the attack, but now they understood what was happening.”
“What did they do?” I asked almost unwilling to know the answer.
Antheus sighed. “The worst cases they either burned or cast into the sea with an iron chained around their necks.”
“That’s horrible,” I exclaimed.
Antheus nodded. “It was a very dark time for Perdeen. Those men were nowhere near the change that had occurred in Mehean. What the people did was wrong and Sareanne put a stop to it as quickly as she could. She set about working with the healers in the city and using her knowledge of the protective charm she tried to counteract the effects of the venom.”
“Was she successful?”
“Yes. The milder cases were almost completely cured, but they found if they stopped taking the medicine that their symptoms returned. The one thing that made everything worse though was the grapes.”
“The grapes? Why?”
“Everything in our society was built around the vineyards and any product that comes from the grapes. Anderosean wines, grapes, raisins and juices were the best in all of Gemal. Now there was a connection between our national product and the monsters that were plaguing our way of life.”
“What would happen?”
“If anyone who was infected ate even one grape or drank even a drop of juice or wine their symptoms would magnify tenfold. Even the perfume affected them. After a while several of the families left Perdeen. It was too difficult for them to deal with the consequences.
“Sareanne taught them how to concoct the medicine and sent them on their way with several months’ supply.”
“How did the grapes affect you?”
“They didn’t appear to have any effect on me. My mother tested me very carefully and there was no reaction, but she didn’t want to take any chances so she refused to take me to the vineyards,” Antheus said sadly.
“But she loved the vineyards. She spent her whole life there,” I exclaimed.
“The situation affected her deeply and my grandparents watched her fall into a sad depression of spirits, but there was something more eating at her.”
“Mehean,” I whispered. I knew exactly how I would feel about the man I loved. “If she could heal the others she could heal him.”
Antheus nodded. “I was just over a year old when she disappeared. She left me in the care of my grandparents and took a three month’s supply of the medicine. Everyone knew where she had gone and no one moved to follow her.”
He stood suddenly and I could see the anger in his eyes. This man had been abandoned by his mother, shunned by his people and cared for by his grandparents who still grieved for their lost children. He was alone in a grand city full of people. He turned to me and our eyes locked. His eyes burned with the truth that I alone understood.
“What happened to Perdeen, to all of the people here, to your grandparents?” I asked trying to understand. “They were protected from the monsters by the chasm and those affected by the grapes were gone.”
“Five years after my mother disappeared my grandmother left Perdeen and sailed to one of the distant kingdoms where her oldest daughter lived. She couldn’t deal with the sadness anymore. My grandfather had stopped working in the vineyards and grape production had reduced by half. When I was twelve he set fire to the vineyards in Perdeen. I watched them burn from the window in my room having never set foot in them all my life being told I would turn into a monster if I did.”
“That’s cruel. They didn’t know that,” I replied angrily.
“But they didn’t dare take the chance. I was the spawn of a monster in their eyes. I could see it in the eyes of everyone who lived in the city. The outlying villages weren’t quite so bad, but I didn’t feel welcome anywhere. I spent my days in the castle library studying architecture. On my fifteenth birthday I packed up and left Perdeen determined to find my mother.”