Quest 41: Water World
The Largest Body of water Tamar knew of back in the Veil had been the Oxblood Lake.
He had read in a book somewhere that it approached half a mile in diameter, with bridges and walkways that had long since rotted and rusted away collapsing into it’s depths. It froze in the winter, and steamed in the summer. You wouldn’t want to swim in it. The only fish that lived there were sickly tasting and poisonous and things were...thrown in there, everything from flotsam to the stuff people didn’t need once they were finished at the abattoirs. Apart from the lake there were only thin rivers and rain.
So needless to say, learning to swim had never been a top priority for Tamar growing up. So he was now feeling [i[slightly[/i] worried as he stared out across the expanse of water before them, deep and blue-black below, and fading to grey as you approached the horizon.
This body of water was significantly
larger than Oxblood Lake.
‘Well,’ he said uncomfortably, walking as close as he dared to the edge of the circular platform upon which they had just materialised. (which was not actually all that close at all) A platform which could not have been larger than ten metres in diameter. He turned back to look at his travelling companion, who frankly seemed just as bemused as Tamar was. ‘This is... interesting.’
For a moment, Darren had lost himself in the giant blue extending in front of them. ”This brings backs memories.”
he thought, approaching the edge of the tiny platform they were standing on. Lowering his body nearly to the floor, he extended a hand to the water, as if he didn’t believe that it was actually water. He tried to reach the liquid flowing around the platform, but it was useless. The gap between his hand and the water below was still considerable, and, while he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t imagining things, the idea of falling down into the ocean didn’t strike him as something he would want to do.
In his mind, an image of a floating creaking ship sailing across a sea began to appear. He didn’t want to remember that at all, but the images that ran through his mind as if he was standing on that ship all over again, as vivid as they had been before. He could hear the sound of blades and metal hitting against each other as the moon rose up through the sky… the deep silence afterward… him taking the book
and jumping into the water without looking back…
Darren shook away the thought from his head. If he was to find a way through this “floor”, he couldn’t spent it all the time thinking about the past… even if the situations behind both of the events started to look eerily similar. “Hey…” he finally said, taking a step back from the edge of the platform. “...what should we do?” he asked to his companion.
Tamar blinked. He had never met the man before volunteering for the Sixth Floor expedition, but so far as he knew, Darren was a member of Severed Claw. That name didn’t conjure to mind images of seafarers. “I... have no idea. Why is there so much water? How can there possibly be so much in one place?”
“Beats me” Darren answered, looking back to the center of the platform. “I don’t think we can’t go back to the City Guard like this… Besides, isn’t it strange that there’s nothing but water here?” he asked as he eyed their surroundings. Nothing seemed to be alive out here.
Tamar shook his head. No, going back was definitely not an option.. He had known of course that oceans existed. They were in books, and in paintings. But to actually see this
much water in one place, an endless depth stretching out into the horizon... He shuddered. “Strange
is the word. What would we tell them? ‘Sorry but somebody sank the sixth floor’? There has to have been something here.”
He edged closer to the edge of the platform, not daring to go further than a couple of metres. This was... not helpful. So far as they could tell, there was nothing but the Platform upon which they stood, and the podium that had transported them here. No earth, no buildings, not enough room to build anything substantial. It was impossible to tell exactly what was supporting the platform they stood on, with the water several metres below and all around them. But surely there must have been something here once?
It was Darren (who clearly wasn’t experiencing the same level of gut wrenching nerves at the sight of so much water) who noticed the other podium i the ocean, not that far away from this one. However, it seemed like it had begun sinking as time passed, as its peak was barely above water. He wondered... could there be other platforms they could use under
the ocean? Surely the floor had to hide away some secret, otherwise, the previous explorers of the castle wouldn’t have made it past the sixth floor. ”But why an
ocean of all things?”[/iDarren wondered as he walked closer to the edge. “Hey, Tamar, can you see that?” he said, pointing to the northeast. “Do you think we can make it over there?”
Tamar turned, and now that he was looking he could see it too. Maybe it had been on the same level as their podium once, but time, or nature, had lowered it into the sea. Nonetheless it was still there: a stone pedestal, like a tombstone, sticking out of the ocean.. You could just about make out words carved into it, or at least the shape of them.
...Unfortunately, there was still an awful lot of water all around it. This was a problem. “Uh... I guess. You could at least... what does it say?”
“What does it… say?” Darren wondered aloud. [i]”Does it say anything at all?”
he thought, as he looked once again towards the platform in the distance, squinting at it. There did
seem to be some words on it. However, he couldn’t make any of them out from this distance. ”They’ve probably eroded by now, too”
he thought, sitting down on the edge of the platform. Even though it was probably not as tall as it was wide, being on the edge of it looking down gave him a rush of vertigo. Darren gulped. “You… can’t get over there, can you?” he questioned, slightly amused. Although to be honest, Darren couldn’t blame him for his anxiety. He was pretty frightened of the water himself. But he couldn’t let Tamar know that, could he? ”Of course I can’t.”
the voice in his head spoke.
Tamar shuffled. “...I’m not really... I mean, I never learned to swim. Nobody told me there would be water involved here, I mean, this is
a flying castle.” Okay he was officially screwed. Unless Darren could find a way to sort this problem out on his own... Calm down, Tamar, this isn’t helping Zi.
Then he blinked in realisation. “Wait, you’re not going down are you? We don’t know what’s in there!”
“Well, one of us got to do it right?” Darren replied, a bit upset. He sighed in resignation.
Tamar shuffled. “Yeah, I’m still not sure it’s a good idea.”
Darren took a deep breath. Bad idea or no, they needed to get to the next floor sooner or later. ”...And with things as they are, I doubt we can wait…”
He thought as he threw himself forward into the water below.
Darren closed his eyes just before he hit the water, as he had did a couple years before. Oh, how fate liked to repeat itself. He swam as best as he could back to the surface of the water, and slowly began moving towards the sunk platform in the distance. It didn’t took him as long as he had expected, reaching a hand to the border of the sunk platform and pulling himself up to it. The water didn’t cover the platform yet, but he was sure that, given enough time, it would be completely covered by it. “Ok, do you want to know what it says?” he shouted back to the other platform.
Tamar didn't answer for a moment. He was still sort of gawking at the fact that Darren really had just thrown himself off a platform and into the water and had not died in the process. Shouldn’t he have just sunk? Wasn’t he wearing armour, that should’ve been heavy, right? And why hadn’t something huge and with too many teeth come up from underneath to swallow him whole? “Uh... sure? Try not to sink, though!” ”I’ll take that as a yes…”
Darren thought to himself. Just as he had thought, the writing on the stone had begun eroding, but he could still make out the words, carved deep into the stone pedestal. He began reading them, making sure to go out every once in a while to breathe. The process was slow, but he kept at it, even if the feeling that something bad was about to happen wouldn’t leave. He had to yell in order for Tamar to hear the words, and he thought that ruined the dramatics just a bit.
Tamar took this in, frowning a he watched Darren pull himself out of the water and onto the tombstone platform. ”Beneath our feet... but... that’s the fifth floor, not the next one...” how could the way up be down?”
“Hey, Tamar!” Darren shouted to the boy. “How deep do you think this ocean is?” he asked, not realizing how stupid that question was after he had already said it.
Tamar scratched his head. “I don’t know, I guess it depends on the ocean.” He paused, daring to sit down near the edge of the platform as he thought,. “I read a book once!” he called. “It said you stacked thirty churches on top of each other you still wouldn’t be able to see sunlight through the water from the topmost spire, but that was a fairy-tale... this can’t be THAT deep, right? We’re in a castle! ...I mean fair enough, it’s a magic
castle, but still logic has to apply somewhere!”
Darren thought about the words on the platform again, but couldn’t think of anything concrete. “Well, unless you want to check the previous floor for an answer I think there’s not much we can do!” he shouted back, still stumped at the riddle. ”From the ocean we came… to the ocean we return.”
He repeated the words over and over in his mind but couldn’t find an answer. He looked around, but there was nothing aside from the ocean water, waiting endlessly. It was that a thought struck him. ”This platform must’ve sunk downwards. years ago.. so, why is the podium still above the water?”
“...Darren?” Tamar called, sounding somewhat anxious. Darren didn’t answer. He had no answer to give, not yet. Instead, he threw himself into the water again, ignoring the screaming urge to get out of the water as soon as possible. ”There should be something around here… there has to be!”
he thought as he went deeper, opening his eyes as much as he could, trying to find a clue they hadn’t seen before. He swam back to podium, going around it. It was then that he found what he was looking for. On one of the walls, there seemed to be a piece of stone that was slightly detached from the wall. He went near it, feeling his breath starting to run out, he needed air fast. He tried moving, but it wouldn’t budge. ”Damn it!”
he thought, desperation starting to sink in. He crashed his body against the wall, once… twice… and once more. It was then that the detached stone gave in, leading into a passage into the podium. Darren quickly entered it, and swam upwards to what appeared to be the surface.
Darren wasn’t entirely certain what he had expected to find on the sixth floor, but this? Yeah, this wasn’t on his increasingly ridiculous list of possibilities.
The room was well lit. That was the first surprise. There were no torches on the walls, and lt light seemed to shimmer through large glassy-gold stones set into the walls at regular intervals. They seemed a little like those experimental gas lamps he had seen at work in certain bigger port towns, except... more sophisticated. As if they’d been built by someone who long ago perfected the technology of endless light. He stepped forwards into the room, oddly conscious of dripping on the flagstone floor. could just about make out the reflection of the water beyond shining through the gold light, casting eerie silhouettes around the room.
In a strange way he was reminded of a Blacksmith’s forge: the room he stood in was circular, and lined with complicated machinery: giant cogs of stone, iron chain, all working together in some kind of complex machination. But everything was still. Whatever the purpose of these machines was, they had lain dormant for a long time. The centre of the room had a painted floor: all ancient carvings and seemingly ritualistic pictograms, telling some story in a language Darren couldn’t hope to understand.
“...Okay,” Darren said slowly. He had expected his voice to echo in the silence of such a large, empty room, but perhaps his words were being cushioned by the water all around outside these walls.
The height of technology lay dormant in this room, he realised. The height of technology, in a floor that was entirely flooded. But if these constructions existed then surely Level Six of the castle must have had dry land, once... Maybe that was the challenge the text had spoken off. Maybe that’s what it meant by ‘beneath your feet the way upward turns’...
Darren stepped slowly around the edges of the room, running his hand over cogs and machinery until he found a series of stones set into the wall at the back of the room, which seemed different to the others. They seemed to move under his touch. Some of them sank inwards, the ethereal golden light glowing beneath them as he made contact with them, and Darren resisted the urge to jump away in alarm as he felt the room around him begin to shudder.
Darren had been underwater for approximately two minutes before Tamar started panicking.
Later on, he’d argue that it hadn’t been panic so much as concern, but pretty much everyone who knew him would have known better than to believe this. How long could any one person hold their breath? Could you hold it for longer if you could
swim than if you couldn’t? And he had just dove straight down there
like some kind of madman, without so much as a word! What did he think he was a frog, or something? Tamar supposed that he shouldn’t be expecting common sense from a member of the Severed Claw but really? Couldn’t Darren have given him some warning before [diving to his doom
“Uh... Darren?” he called tentatively after two minutes rolled on into three. “Are you down there? You alright?” Tamar leaned close to the edge of the podium. Trembling, trying not to imagine the water in his lungs and cursing himself for being ridiculous. he had fought mages with ten times his power. He had defeated Asha, for goodness sakes, why was he afraid of a little-
The ground trembled
In fact, no, trembled
was the wrong choice of word. This wasn’t just a tremble, this was a full on earthquake
. What was more, it seemed to be making up for how little earth there was to actually quake with sheer force. The ground lurched beneath him, waves slapped violently against the pedestal as the formerly calm ocean was suddenly beset by swirling eddies and currents and the sound of machinery hummed in Tamar’s teeth... wait, machinery? But where? How?
He didn’t have time to wonder what in the name of the Saints was happening before he stumbled and fell off the platform, right into the swirling currents below.
Inside the room, the cogs began moving again, setting up a chain reaction over the other, unmoving ones he had passed a while ago. The whirr and creaking of old machinery being turned on began to resound over the entire room, though he was sure that if this was a normal room the loud sound would drive him insane. ”I guess I’ll be thankful for this ocean this time
The room shook violently, throwing Darren off his feet, almost hitting his head against the rotating cogs of the wall. Finding it difficult to stand up again, Darren crawled across the room, back to the place where had entered. The platform keep shaking, and the water rose and went back again, soaking the floor. He jumped into the water without looking back, swimming downwards again, desperate to escape the inner part of the podium and find himself back out in the open. ”Who hides a machine like this underwater anyway? Whoever build this thing was probably a bit off of his head”
Darren thought as he kept swimming, annoyed at the sudden turn of events. Then again, with a castle floating in the sky, how could it be anything else than this?
He struggled to pass through the passage he had made a while ago, the rocking of the podium not making the task any easier. For a moment, he wondered if something was happening outside ”You don’t start an earthquake on a whole floor and expect things to be the same”
Just as he began swimming upwards again towards the surface of the once calm ocean, he saw a familiar silhouette falling down to the water. ”Oh for goodness…”
he thought as he accelerated his pace towards the surface, grabbing Tamar just as he began to sink into the water. “You should be more careful…” he mentioned, slightly annoyed as both of them made it to the surface, Darren pulling Tamar towards the tombstone like platform where they had found the riddle a while ago. After struggling a bit, he managed to get Tamar on the platform, and he too, climbed it and allowed himself to catch his breath. Tamar looked not altogether unlike a gaping fish, and it would have been funny if the event hadn’t been so briefly terrifying.
“The... floor... shook,” Tamar coughed violently, managing to look indignant in spite of his obvious terror. He eyed the water as if it were a wild dog about to try and bite him which, in a metaphorical sort of way, it was. “I never expected the floor to shake!”
“Yeah, sorry about that…” Darren said, not realizing the changes in his surroundings. “You ok?”
“Once I get the... water out of my lungs,” Tamar gagged. “Sure... t-thanks... r-remind me not to volunteer for Floor Exploration missions i-in the future. What happened down there? What is this?”
“Well…” Darren started saying, trying to find the best words to explain what he had seen inside the podium. “There was a room inside the podium. It was filled with these old looking cogs. But they were not moving at all. I guess I sort of… activated some of them at the back of the room? And then the whole floor trembled, right?” he said, a bit surprised about recent events.
“M-more like ‘tried to throw me off on purpose’, but yeah,” Tamar shivered. The water wasn’t exactly warm. He checked quickly that Echo hadn’t been lost, breathing out in relief when he felt the familiar hilt of the sword in his belt. Salt water couldn’t be doing him any favours. “You’re probably meant to... activate this whole thing from somewhere around... this tombstone, or something,” Tamar breathed out between coughs, patting the stone where Darren had read the cryptic message. “There’ll be some kind of button, or pressure pad to activate the other platforms... Except it sank. So you had to activate it from the inside instead. L-look...” he turned as best while still clinging to Darren’s arm for dear life.
First of all, a series of stone steps had risen from the water around the original podium, providing a spiral staircase reaching back up to the podium and the exit which would take them back to floor five. And that wasn’t all. When Tamar turned to look in the other direction, several other platforms had been propelled out of the water, too. The most impressive of which was a stone tower, no less than twenty feet in height. It looked like the lighthouses you saw in picture books, except there was no obvious light at the top of it, only... some kind of stone construct... like the metal framework at the top of a Mage’s stave, designed to hold some kind of channelling stone.
Then there were the other stones: a series of stone platforms, reaching further out to sea and ending with... Something. It was a little far away or Tamar to make out. He didn’t even want to try and comprehend exactly how this whole mechanical system worked.
There was also no way structures like that should be able to float. Tamar risked sticking his face into the water and peering out through salt stung eyes... of course, Darren immediately tried to drag him out, probably thinking he was nuts, but Tamar was there long enough to make out the shapes beneath the water: large structures of insane proportions. Mechanics on a huge scale...
Yes... the platforms here were all connected to some kind of machinery deep within the platform they had arrived on. Tamar pulled his head back, sucking in a breath, his heart thudding violently against his ribcage.
“Hey, hey, I just pulled you out, don’t go sticking your head back down there!” Darren snapped, sounding understandably exasperated. “Come on, back to the doorway we need to regroup here,” he added, and moved as if he were going to take them back to the newly formed spiral staircase that would take them back to the podium, but Tamar tugged his arm and pointed at the newly emerged tower.
“N-no, not the podium... head for the new one, Darren. The one with the... thing on top. Then the stones beyond it, they’re forming a pathway.”
“Okay…” Darren replied weakly, perhaps believing that this was enough adventuring for a day. “Hold on, I’ll take you there I guess.” he said, just before he jumped back into the water again, which had become calm again. “Your turn!” he shouted to Tamar, who reluctantly threw himself into the water. Once again, Darren grabbed him and kept him afloat and began heading towards the largest platform of them all.”What more could happen, anyway?
” he thought, as he dragged Tamar across the ocean, feeling the distance at least ten times larger than if he had swam all the way there on his own. He could notice Tamar was still shaking, perhaps because of the coldness of the water, or maybe because he was still terrified of it. Maybe both, but he tried not to think about it much. After all, he probably was even more scared than he was. So he kept swimming towards the large tower in the distance.
As they came closer to the tower, they could make out images carved onto the wet stone walls. Most of them depicted a crudely drawn beast, surrounded by tall pillars and buildings, while a few others depicted the tower towards which they were heading. There was a fairly obvious theme in them. One of them even depicted both the beast and the tower. Except that there were... lines drawn diagonally from the top, as if to represent rays of light, reflected through a magnifying glass. But reflected through what?
There was nothing at the top of the tower to reflect anything through. And yet that’s just what this picture showed: light, shining from the tower, and the beast lying beneath it, its many eyes closed.
Somehow, all these images made Darren uneasy. “We’re almost there” he said to Tamar, as he began dragging them both faster. ”If that thing is around here… then all that shaking probably woke it up…
” he thought, just a few meters away from the stone structure. He went around it, trying to find a way to climb up to it.
“I guess this will do…” he whispered, as they floated on the water before the tower’s edge. There were obvious handhold, designed to help people climb upwards. “You go first.”
Tamar nodded shakily, although Darren probably couldn’t see the gesture given how they were being battered by light waves. Darren helped push Tamar up onto the stone tower before dragging himself up after him. It took Tamar several moments to catch his breath and crush down the shivering terror of actually being the water. He envied Darren his nerve. But once he had regained his composure, Tamar realised that the smooth stony walls of the tower were not, in fact, smooth at all
“Yeah, I already saw them when we were swimming. What do you think those are all about?”
“Messages, maybe? Hints from whoever left this place?” Tamar murmured. He ran his hand across them feeling that this at least, was something he understood. Words. Pictures. Curved lines to represent the sea, with creatures painted on top. The kind of pictures Tamar only ever saw in the strangest of books. He thought of telling Eliziya about them later on: many legged creatures, like insects that swam in the sea, giant beasts that swam like fish and looked like lizards, and the most prevalent image, the one repeated over and over...
“Look here,” Tamar tapped the stone floor under their feet. It showed yet another image of the creature Darren had just seen on the previous tower. The carved image was everywhere. “See that? Do you know what that is?”
“No… I don’t think I have seen something like that… before.” Darren answered, glaring at the image, not realizing he was now frowning. There was something about that image that made him really uneasy, but then again, what did not make him uneasy anyway. He shrugged, trying to distract himself from the carved stone in front of him. “I haven’t really dealt with many monsters, but…” he started as he moved around the platform, “...it would be better if we didn’t find out about it, huh?” he ended, his voice lowering with each spoken word, until it was barely a whisper
Tamar didn’t answer, although he was clearly thinking something along the same lines.
“Do you think there’s something around here that will take us to the next floor?” he asked, as he looked around, finding even more platforms around them, some of them making a pathway to another, faraway structure.
“I... don’t know. Maybe it’s like a puzzle?” Tamar suggested. He absently drew the sword from his belt and flicked his wrist, drawing on a spark of flame and sending it down the blade. he held Echo out towards Darren absently. Okay, so there probably wasn’t much sense drying off when they were probably just going to end up in the water again anyway, and in the back of his mind he could feel a twinge of what Asha would have thought of this. ”Wasting power on the unimportant things, Tamar. There is no wisdom in that.”
But what the heck, it was cold
out here in the middle of an open ocean. Although they were probably both deluding themselves if they wanted to pretend that cold was the only reason for their trembling.
Darren jumped back slightly at his partner’s burning sword. “Hey… how do you even do that?” he wondered aloud. It was then that it hit him: Tamar was a mage. ”Of course, what’s with me and mages anyway?”
. Even though he felt like asking more questions about it, the nagging feeling that they should hurry up, was still there, trying to pull him into despair. “I… I’ll go explore or something.” he said, hiding away the nervousness that ate at him.
To the right of the place there were standing, a pathway descended onto another set of platforms, on each of them, an image of the beast they had seen on the other walls and stones was carved, each of them bigger and more detailed than the last one. ”Run,”
his mind told him, but there was nowhere to run, he would need to push forward if he were to get out of this floor.
So they pushed forwards. Jumping from one step to the next, each one taking them further away from the tower, and the podium, and the exit back to safety,
He reached the final platform, his heart thumping on his chest. There was a small stone structure in the middle of it, as if it were a shrine of sorts. Thin pillars encased a stone block in the middle of the shrine and from it, a protruding cog was found. Darren stepped into the shrine, not realizing what he was about to do. Carelessly resting his hand over the cog, it effortlessly sunk into the stone block in the center of the block, making the platforms shake once again as the cog began to spin into place...
If they had thought the rumbling rattle of the machinery underwater had been violent, then it was barely a whisper on a breezeless day compared to what came next.
It began with a rattle at the back of their throats, easily mistaken as chattering teeth until they realised the shaking they felt was nothing to do with their own fear. The stone platform on which they stood rocked furiously, as the water metres away from them began to hiss and bubble, waves lashing out in the opposite direction to the wind. As if the castle were turning inwards on itself, with a ferocious, violent screeching like a thousand forges, weighed down with melting metal. The light from Echo spat and burned out,
“W-what-“ Tamar started, but then the creature shriek. The sound was high pitched and deep all at once, painful to hear, and while Tamar had no clue whatsoever what could be causing it (asides from something extremely big), Darren clearly had more of an idea as his eyes had gone wide.
“Like... whales...” Darren gasped painfully, and Tamar opened his mouth to ask if this was really what whales sounded like, but the words never formed. The ground threw
them upwards and it took all the two of them had to stay on the stone platform, which seemed to have come unanchored, drifting like an impossible raft in a suddenly furious ocean.
And then the creature rose, tendrils rising with it, like the arms of a thousand giant squids, the creatures Tamar had seen in books but had never truly believed could exist until right now. Each arm was the width of a tree, and slammed into the ocean with a thunderous clap.
At first Tamar thought it was an island. As utterly preposterous as such an idea sounded, what else could it possibly have been? An island, rising out of the surf, easily the size of half the town, too big to comprehend. Except that wasn’t stone or gravel he saw rising from the water: it was skin. Thick, leathery hide, rivers of water rushing from gaping crevasses across the surface.
Then eyes the colour of blood opened in a ridge along the creature’s side. Sliding wide like the ugly, lazy gaze of a snake... if a snake had over a dozen eyes. No. This wasn’t an island at all. This was more than anything they had ever expected.”Well, damn”
Darren thought as he darted outside of the shrine, not a moment later after the beast appeared over the sea. Running across the pathway he had walked on just a few moments before, he shouted to Tamar: “Get out of there, hurry!”.
The beast slammed its tendrils over the platforms Darren was crossing, making him stumble onto the cold stone floor. He heard a splash behind him, but didn’t bother to turn back in order to figure out the path way was sinking into the water, broken to pieces by the beast’s strength. He jumped to his feet again, before he too, fell into the water. His hand made his way to the hilt of one of his knives instinctively, but he stopped himself before he threw it towards the beast. After all, a mere knife would be like a bee’s sting to it. No, there should be another way to stop it. ”But what?”
Darren kept running back to the main platform in the tower.
“An… Any i… ideas?” Darren asked, his voice finally stuttering.
“A-are you kidding? This is a Kraken! Neither of us can handle this, we have to get out!” Tamar yelled, even though both of them knew for a fact that this could not be an option. That if they stopped here, their journey through the castle would end right here and now.
Of course, at this particular moment in time, it seemed quite likely to end in blood and drowning anyway. Tamar gazed down into the endless black depths, and a sudden, even more horrifying thought struck him. “I... I think that this is only a PART of it!”
“This is only a part of it, Darren! Think icebergs!” Tamar yelled, and his mind quivered in terror at the thought of this monster being even more massive than it already appeared, reaching down, countless fathoms into the waves. How many more eyes did it have?
“Duck!” Darren ordered quickly to Tamar, snapping him away from his thoughts just in time to evade another one of the Kraken’s tendrils.Not that this benefitted them any in the long run, seeing a s they were both now cornered at the base of the stone tower... it was a wonder the beast hadn’t smashed the standing tower to pieces already.
Darren got onto his feet again, finding it harder to move with each second. ”What should I do?”
the voice in his mind spoke, as he stared at the countless eyes glaring back at them both. He had to think of something, and fast. Otherwise… No, he would rather not think about that. He looked around in search of another pathway… perhaps if he distracted the beast, Tamar could think of something. But all the pathways around them seemed to descend towards the ocean, closer to the beast. Darren grit his teeth to stop himself from shaking.
Tamar shuddered at the sight of the water rising up all around them. He looked upwards, at the peak of the tower, Only now, probably in a fit of desperation, did he realise that the carving were indeed much deeper than they needed to be to survive the violent weathering of the ocean winds. Were they...
Handholds. Definitely handholds. It was a mad, desperate thought akin to trying to outrun a nightmare, but it seemed the only option they had. He reached out to Darren, but the boy was already too far away to reach so he resorted to yelling. “Darren! Up! Can we get up there?!”
“We don’t have any other option, do we?” Darren yelled back, just as another one of the beast’s arms passed by him. Nearly losing his balance, he dodged by jumping backwards, his cloak lifting up, momentarily blocking his vision. ”Not now…”
he thought as he fought against the piece of cloth, just in time to parry an attack that threatened to throw him over the edge of the platform. The Kraken focused his sight on him, and, for a scarce moment, Darren could feel a weak dazzling light above his forehead. “Hey…!” he shouted, as he ducked again “Tamar! Can you see that thing at the top of this thing’s head?”
Somehow Tamar managed to look in the direction Darren pointed without being thrown to his doom: Darren was right. Above the Kraken’s many blood-red eyes there was something he could only describe as a horn... Except it didn’t look like a horn at all. It was a burning yellow stone. It stuck out of a pedestal, more like stone than bone. Tamar didn’t have time to ponder what it could be before the creature screamed again, and the force of the noise sent shockwaves careening across the water. He was thrown on his side directly in front of one of the carved images he had seen earlier:
He stared at the carving of the monster, and the tower. He remembered the words they had read carved into the tombstone, and in Tamar’s brain something clicked.”Find the tower of the sun... well that’s not difficult. It’s right here.”
He looked around for Darren, who, in a vague display of courage, was clearly trying to fight off one of the massive tentacles. “Up!” he yelled again. “Come on, hurry, we need to get up there!”
Hearing Tamar’s words to move to another place, Darren didn’t hesitate. He started climbing the tower, grabbing tightly the carved images on the wall, making sure he wouldn’t fall. A few meters ahead of him, Tamar climbed too, avoiding and fighting back the creature’s tentacles as best as he could. He, too, tried his best; but his half-done sword fighting training left much to be desired. ”Should have waited a bit more,”
he thought to himself, nearly falling down from the wall when a tendril crashed just above his head.
Pulling himself up to the top of the tower, Darren looked over the space around them. The beast was still nearby, as imposing as it had been a few moments ago, and a strange artifact on the centre of the platform didn’t left much space for manoeuvring. “Ok, now what?” he asked as he readied himself for another of the Kraken’s attacks.
Tamar honestly wished he had an answer to that question. All that they seemed to have accomplished from this was gaining themselves a few more minutes of life and a strong bout of vertigo. They couldn’t go down, because the waters would swallow them up and drown them.
“Um... good question.”
“D-do you have a answer?”
“Working on it!” They couldn’t stay here, because any second now, the Kraken would stop wondering what the heck they were doing and start trying to knock them off. THis was huge. Too huge for them to handle. Heck, the entire City Guard probably couldn’t have coped with this. Tamar looked around frantically for some kind of solution. There [must
have been a reason the carvings told them to come up here...
He didn’t see the solution until he looked down.
There was a stone at the base of the podium on which they now sat: a carved spiral of symbols. A stone, Tamar realised, which was the same dull colour as the outcrop atop the Kraken’s enormous body. When Tamar reached out a hand to touch the stone it hummed under his fingers, the same way Echo did. The sword seemed to flicker in its sheath, as if he were trying to send Tamar a message he should’ve already worked out for himself.
So... The tower wasn’t just some kind of observation stand. It was a Channeller. Like the things Eliziya had shown him once in her books: an amplifier of magical energy, designed to draw magical power to it, and focus it into a concentrated burst.
...And everything magical needed a power source. So this must have been designed to work with a tool. A Mage’s staff, maybe, or a dreamcatcher, or...
...Or a sword.
Tamar felt suddenly sick. Well, sicker than he was already
feeling, what with the waves tossing them around and the monster threatening to crush them to a pulp. Wasthat
how this insane contraption worked? By drawing magic straight from its user’s body? Was that the only way to stop this thing?
“Uh... Darren?” he said, possibly too quietly to be heard over the sound of the waves. The creature seemed to have backed off slightly, as if preparing itself for another onslaught. “I... think
I just figured out how this is supposed to work and you’re not going to like it!”
“You… did?” Darren muttered, trying to catch his breath. His body felt heavy, but he knew that if he stopped, he would be gulped down in an instant. The monster in front of him screeched again, making him cover his ear to block out its irritating sound. All the while, the light from the monsters head kept blinding him at the worst moments, going off as the monster retreated and turning itself on at its next attack, as if it had a rhythm of its own.”Haven’t I seen that somewhere before?”
he thought as one of the tentacle hit him straight on, sending him flying back near the edge of the platform. He felt dizzy as he tried to stand up once again. The light went off and on again… just like the lamp like stones he had found in the room inside the first podium. ”Are those… related in any way?”
“Hey…” he tried speaking as loud as he could, but he wasn’t sure if the words that came out of his mouth were barely stronger than a whisper, “...that plan of yours…” He supported himself with the edge of his sword. They had to do something, otherwise there wouldn’t be any more new floors, or adventures… or… anything, not that he cared that much for the adventures. ”Dammit, I don’t want to do this!”
the voice inside his head screamed at the same time its brain told his legs to begin moving forward, rushing towards the edge of the platform.
“...It better d...damn work!” he shouted as he took his last step on stable ground and propulsed himself towards the beast in front of him, sword in hand. Somehow, the beast’s arms didn’t hit him as he flew towards it, sticking his sword inside one of its eyes.
To say tamar was stunned by this action was the understatement of the year. Sure, people in picture books leapt onto the back of raging beasts all the time but people in those books were a) the size of Hector and b) completely fictional. Darren was quite clearly neither of those. His heart skipped a beat at the obvious terror in the boy’s face just before he leapt towards the creature, and Tamar snatched Echo from his belt, the blade already burning.
“H-how the hell is this level six
technology? What if they didn’t have
a mage?!” Tamar rasped in disbelief, clinging to the shaking podium, as it was tossed about by kraken induced waves.
Still if it was magic the tower wanted, magic it would get. Tamar had that much, at least.
Without having the slightest idea whether this would work, Tamar lifted Echo high above his head, and brought him straight down, striking the stone right at the base of the tower. The blade sank into the stone as if it were liquid, and held fast like a magnet, as if it had been designed for that very purpose. Tamar felt the fire explode all around him.
It wasn’t enough. He knew it wasn’t enough. The artefact was crying out for more magic than he had ever possessed, but Tamar had no more to give it. He only had what little magic he had, and...
...And what magic Asha had given him. The same magic that was killing Eliziya and yet hadn’t so much as twinged
in him, that had settled as if it belonged there, and perhaps it had. Perhaps Asha had known that all along. But there would be no saving Eliziya if he died now; no helping Darren either, and Tamar focussed on that, not so much calling on the power inside of him as dragging it kicking and screaming to the surface, whether it wanted to be cast or not. The magic he never asked for but that she had seen fit to give him whether he asked for it or not. The magic he had fought to the death inside his own whacked out hallucination. How much could he possibly take?
Looked like it was time to find out.
The tower seemed to shudder, but not because of the Kraken’s assault. The fire burst from Echoes blade, buried deep in the stone, bouncing frantically back and forth between the stone outcropping, building i strength. Tamar saw the beam begin: a burning amplified ray of heat, hurtling towards the Kraken, Darren’s silhouette still leaping blindly forward at the edge of Tamar’s vision. The world went white.
The Kraken rocked wildly as the flaming beam struck it. Darren held onto it, by mere luck, stabbing the beast’s flesh with a pair of knives in order to climb it. The sword he had gotten a long time ago from the City Guard was left stuck on the beast’s eye, partly because Darren didn’t want to risk falling down by recovering it, and partly because he feared the beast would try even harder to throw him off if he did.
Still, he kept climbing steadily, moving one arm after the other. Somehow, the magic blast that also threatened to burn him alive was keeping the Kraken from using its tendrils to throw him away. Deep down, he was glad of that, because he wasn’t completely sure how he managed to stay conscious after that jump.”Just… just a little… more”
He was nearly there, he could feel the strong heat from the magic starting to burn him, but he also knew it was their only shot at defeating the thing. He could see the beast’s “horn” now, and he no longer needed the knives to not fall down. The beast still swayed strongly, but it was no longer enough to make him lose his balance.
Moving up towards what he thought was the beast’s weak point he held a knife in front of him before striking. The light had begun blinking at a faster pace. It’s golden-like light was even more blinding from near than it had been while he was on top of the tower.
He took a step forward, covering his eyes from the light with his free arm. ”Now!”
he thought as he stabbed the beast’s horn-like appendage, its shining light intensifying just as he did so. The beast shook violently, but it didn’t seem to be dying. The heat from the magic blast was decreasing. ”Dammit!
Darren stuck one knife after another on it, hoping it would stop.
The beast screamed one last time, throwing Darren to the side as he did so.
Darren hit the creature’s back with enough force to drive the air straight from his lungs, his head pounding in time with his heartbeat and he may have blacked out for a couple of seconds. When he was aware again, the world seemed to shriek violently one last time... then the sounds began to die away.
It took a few moments of gasping and desperately trying to slow his heartbeat to a regular pace before Darren realised something else was happening. That the leathery skin beneath him was slowly... changing. He could hear a sound like stone crumbling; as if he were standing beneath the edge of a fragile cliff. But the noise came from beneath and around him, not above. One hand touched the creatures back, and Darren quickly became aware that it no longer felt like flesh. There were shudders of magic still crackling across the surface of the beast’s steadily petrifying body. It’s deep, red eyes were crystallizing, moisture drying up until they were nothing more than smooth, grey rubies in a dry skull.
Darren stood up, and the ground beneath him was suddenly solid and firm, not at all like the twitching, horrible mass of muscles and flesh it had been before.
It looked, Darren realised, almost exactly like a stony island, in the middle of the ocean. As the creature died, it’s body seemed to rise, and the crystallisation process continued. The ocean splashed and settled into eddies and currents around the newly formed stone crags. Darren even thought he saw a heavy, green moss
sprouting across the creatures back. Or perhaps that was just freshly exposed lichen darkening in the sunlight. It was hard to tell.
It felt like forever before the process completed, but eventually there was no more sound except for the wind and the ocean lapping against the newly formed stone walls of the Kraken’s body. Except it wasn’t a Kraken anymore. Perhaps it never had been. It was just some test, designed by the castle. A test they had presumably passed.
When Darren eased himself upwards, bracing himself in case of broken bones, he saw that the stone horn he had struck before was no longer glowing. It looked like some kind of strange,ritualistic totem. As if it, and the island it stood upon had always been there and had not, in fact, been a giant, murderous leviathan less than two minutes earlier.
“Raise the land,” Darren whispered, shakily. And suddenly, the words on the tombstone (which was now buried beneath several thousand tonnes of ocean leviathan) made a, little bit more sense. “This
is the land.”
...Not a great deal
more sense, mind you, but a little.
“I think... I’m gonna be sick…” Darren spoke, but the sound didn’t even reach his ears. Perhaps it had been just another one of his thoughts. He looked around himself, walked around trying to get a feel on the new “land”. He stepped over the solid rock beneath his feet, purposely stomping on it. Far in the distance, he saw his sword, still stuck on what had been the Kraken. ”Well… I guess I’m not getting that back.”
he thought, returning to the place he had woken up a bit ago. He headed to the tower where Tamar had fired of the magic blast. Somehow, after all the shaking, he was surprised it was still on foot.
He climbed, wearily, up to the top, reviving memories of moments ago. He trembled a bit, but kept climbing. Breathing heavily once he reached the top, he walked up to the artifact from where the beam had been fired. Darren frowned.
“Hey… hey, wake up.” his words were weak, he struggled to even stay awake. He shook the boy once, trying to make him come to his senses.Ow.
As waking thoughts went, this one was growing worryingly familiar.
There were shapes, then there were figures, then sky, and then the shadow of someone crouched besides him. Tamar could still feel the path all that power had taken, right from his head and head down through the veins of his right hand, and into Echo. More magic than, honestly, he had ever thought he had in him. [i[Because it [/i]was more than you have in you
the small part of Tamar’s brain which didn’t feel like mush said. ‘The tower... a magnifier... it built up...’
Whatever had happened, the aftermath hurt
“D’ren?” Tamar said, although the voice came out a lot quieter than he intended it and he had to cough and try again. “Darren, y’okay?”
He reached out to pat Darren’s shoulder maybe, make sure he was alright. But pain lanced down his arm, from his palm, which felt worryingly like it was burned, and his bones felt like they were made of lead.
“I’m okay.” he answered plainly. “Can you walk?”“No,”
Was Tamar’s first thought, but he didn’t say so aloud. He felt drained. As if all the energy he had had been sucked out of him. He supposed he couldn’t exactly complain though, not after Darren had just...
Tamar blinked in sudden remembrance. “Did... you just jump on that thing’s face... or was I hallucinating?”
Darren remained silent for a second before answering. “Let’s… just get out of here.” he said, trying to get Tamar to stand up. “How are we even going to get down, anyway?”