The Tower's Order

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Panic descends upon Hugh. His only option is to escape; there's nowhere to hide. The silver stairwell of the tower is his only route to salvation.

Submitted: February 28, 2013

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Submitted: February 28, 2013

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He ran.
The staircase spinned beneath his feet with silver steps. Hugh could hear them coming. Shouting. Roaring. He reached for his sword, but the handle proved elusive; it was there, in his site, but his arms were nervous with fright. His hand instead slipped to to the railing.
"Die," he heard.
An arrow flew through a slit in the wall to ricochet against the central pillar and fall upon his shoulder. A thick rope was attached to its nock. His flesh crawled, and he winced violently almost to cause a loss of footing. His short sword's scabbard flicked against the central pillar, unnerving him further. He scrambled back, his heels stumbling and slipping before realizing he had to head downward, and fast. And so he now leapt two steps at a time, twisting through the spiralling stairwell of the tower.
He heard them again; his ears throbbed with instructions he'd no intent of following. "Die," they said, "die, die, die."
A warm light from a slit in the wall swept up from his feet. When it reached his collarbone it ended, for the window became blocked. And in that moment a beard as orange as flame was all he glimpsed, a stench of human excrement and rotting teeth was the all-consuming stench, and the order to stop existing from the middle of the coarse wires was the only sound.
Hugh gasped and swallowed a shriek, pinching his eyes shut as he groped through the next dozen or so steps. Turning the endless corner dizzied him - even with his eyelids clamped together - and so for a second time he almost fell; for in addition to being sickened by the constant spinning of his descent, the banister ended. His heart bulged then thumped in his chest, and he reached for the central pillar. His hands were slick with sweat, and his only footing was found through fingernails scraping the coarse wall. A stabbing pain - to his horror two of his fingernails were gone. He shook his head in disbelief and continued, sucking at their wet black red heads. But the steps jolted through his body, and his jaw clattered, biting into the already naked flesh. He screamed. With a trembling hand he nursed them; he would not need it for the handrail.
Noise echoed from behind him, reverberating and bouncing from stone to stone and ear to ear. "Die." He did not stop moving, though it did occur to him that the sound of his pursuers seemed oddly distant. As a result he slowed his pace.
He was sighing, almost relieved; he felt he was finally out of their sight and smell, and that perhaps he was drawing closer to the bottom.
But a lust for knowledge conquered him: he looked back, half expecting there to be someone standing behind him or at the very least shadowed against the round tower wall - but there wasn't. He stopped, nullifying as best he could any noise he might have been making. For a short period his erratic breathing was the only thing he could hear. But at the height of near silence there bounded distant cries, and shortly following that the flop of a not so distant footstep. With despair he descended once more. And he noticed for the first time how different the tower had become: the silver staircase and white central pillar were now grey and growing darker; blazing torches that were once so frequent and fierce had become scarce with flames like small worms; the ceiling of traversed steps was sinking; and the air was thin and rotten and thinning further still. Regardless he was more eager to escape than ever; he cut to the far inside with a palm outstretched to the outer wall, and raced onward, dropping three steps at a time.
And the presence of his pursuers all but began to fade again. They were never gone, not truly; Hugh was not so foolish enough to believe it; foreign it seemed now, as though it were all a dream, but he knew he could still hear their coarse breathing, their commands, the thundering of their feet, the iron of their swords. To his annoyance their smell lingered like a warm corpse: there was a slight cloying of body odor to his leathers, and an orange beard rustled from the back of his mind repeatedly, swaying, thrusting and pouring phantom toxins from its foaming mouth.
He'd not want to stop again, but the tower dictaed that he slow his pace; the ceiling had drooped to an extent where standing upright was no longer viable. "Die," he heard, a whisper from a distance. He looked to his feet, desperate; the steps were now shallow enough to run, but the walls had become too round to permit anything faster than a slouched trot.
His bladder emptied, but he could not feel it. His senses were dimming, he realized, but of course hecould not feel that either: the clogged air sank and muffled all sound (the whisper of his trickling urination barely reached his ears); and the tower's transformation into a dark tunnel had cloaked the edges of the steps, making them impossible to discern. A pair of fingers with pink heads snaked up at him from the blinding gloom. The pain had slowly ebbed, and now that the steps were not so jarring he put his fingers to his mouth. Sucking on them brought to him a strange sense of excitement.
There were no more torches. The tower's bowels instead were adorned with the faintest grey cracks, near invisible against the winding corridor. Hugh could scarcely see further than five feet without having to squint until his eyes felt as though they were bleeding. He looked down and closed them while his shivering hand reached for his discoloured pommel. He caressed the cold metal through his thinning skin and played with the notion of unsheathing it. Fingers eventually closed around the handle, but nothing came of it.
He glared into his destiny. It was only a little further, he thought.
It had grown very dark. The steps were gone; a tilted floor rife with damp and decay succeeded it, and he was now having to crawl on hand and knee. He gritted his teeth, clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, desperate to escape his escape, but the view was much the same. His senses were dulled to a point where he could no longer smell, see, or hear. His arms felt light and lifeless. His abdomen felt hollow. His joints creaked and groaned, but they made no sound; the only noise emitted from the back of his mind, and it was a soft whisper saying this: "die, die."
He stopped. It's only a little further; the next corner is the final corner; what is there to lose? he thought.
At that thought his elbow grazed something in the tunnel. He picked it up. A skull. It was smaller than his own, grey, and round with large black holes staring aimlessly from its eye sockets and nasal passage. He poked at it, and its lower jaw fell to the floor and crumbled. It emitted no sound.

He leant against the central pillar and cried, covering his brimming eyes and his giggling nose. His determination to continue his descent was broken beyond repair.
He looked down the dark, endless stairwell for what he knew would be a final time. He was afraid of his pursuers, but nothing scared him half so much as the eternal abyss that writhed at the bottom of the tower. He then looked up the stairs, and to his glee it was different somehow - brighter perhaps.

He began his ascent with his mind fixated upon the outside world. Nature was what he missed most - the birds, the trees, the skies. An overwhelming desire to see these things again gave him a sense of unflinching purpose.
The steep steps returned faster than he expected. Light fell back into his mind slowly as though through a sieve. The walls of the tower recited the sound of the soft scraping and shuffling of his feet. He raised his posture as the ceiling took flight. He felt alive again. Strength returned to his body. The torches once more burned brightly. The railing reappeared and squeeked within his grip. And very slowly the world came back to him. He passed a slit; the beard blocking it was gone. And from the window golden rays fell upon him, but for only a heartbeat; he wouldn't let himself stay in the tower a second longer than was needed. He promised himself he'd drown in sunlight when he reached the surface.
The eternal black tower changed to grey, to silver, and then it was over. Ahead of him was a wooden door. It was open, only just, and from behind it a soft breeze swam through his ears, hair and scalp. He stretched his back and trudged onward. Nothing could stop him. The steps were hard as diamond beneath him. His eyes blinked from the light. He attempted a fist when he draped the door to one side.
The first arrow hit him in his stomach, a second punctured his thigh. He stumbled back, crying for help. A bowman barring his clenched teeth sent a third to plunge into his stomach for a second time before sprinting away, leaving Hugh to stagger blindly atop his tower.
His feet slipped forward and his back slammed into the hard wall of the top floor. "Help me?" he cried. His plea went unanswered. With tears simmering behind his eyelids he looked down at his leaking flesh to find a river crawling over it. The tower was calling him. He tried looking at the staircase, and could not see far beyond the first corner. But what was visible was black. Black and empty. For a moment something stirred, moved - mutilated and grotesque it was, but it disappeared before he could examine it further.
Two fingers found their way into his sobbing mouth.
With the last of his strength he drew his sword. It sounded terrible - like rust and nails scraping. The blade was dull, broken and blunt.

He looked through the opened doorway and at the sun. He looked at the shimmering grass. The bald and snow-capped mountains. The oceans beyond. The sord of mallards glittering green and gold below the horizon. And the clouds above. He smiled.


© Copyright 2020 Geoff T Metcalfe . All rights reserved.

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