Part Twenty: The Tower of Sorcery
Carrie awoke with a start, jumping to her feet, her bo gripped in both hands. Her eyes darted about, ready for something, anything to attack. Nothing came, and so she concluded that Actrise was no longer here. What puzzled her was why she would render her unconcious, and just leave.
Shivering slightly, Carrie drew her robes closer around her. A layer of snow had nested on her back, and in her hair. The wind caressed her face, sending an odd shiver through her. She was cold, but it wasn't quite a physical cold. More of a loneliness......
She relaxed the death grip she had on the bo. The breeze felt good on her face, the snowflakes brushing past her skin..... It all had a familiar feel to it.
Too familiar, in fact.
She trudged on, trying not to recall any of the memories of snow from the past. She needed to stay focused on her goal, the top of the Tower. There she would find Actrise......
And make her pay.......
The ice, she was soon to realize, wasn't very slippery. It was like cold stone, leading her to think that they were, in fact, jewels......
But when she touched it, it still felt cold as ice, and it still melted slightly. However, once it did, it quickly repaired itself.
Deciding not to bother with questions she had no way of answering, Carrie merely continued with her journey. Chanaur would have loved to see this place......
Carrie smiled inwardly. If luck existed, they would see each other at the top of these towers, that is, if they came out at the same place.......
Carrie sighed, and decided to force his memory from her mind, just for the moment. She needed to concentrate right now, and he was far too much of a distraction in this tower, where timing was apparently critical.
She followed the trail of ice, (or whatever it was) for a long time, the snow still falling. The windless snowfall did bring memories back. Memories of her parents, of when she was young...... Playing in the snow late at night with Imbrium and Kyphron.......
But then Kyphron was gone......
Frowning, Carrie again banished the memories from her mind. Once she was out of danger, she could wrap the memories around her, a warm blanket to combat the cold of the world. But then, if she could be with Chanaur, she'd have all the protection she needed. And once the count was gone, things would return to the way they were.....
....More or less.
Sighing, she continued to walk in the softly drifting snow, finding the path, for the first part, easy. She did encounter a monster much like the bloodborn creature from the Castle Center, but this one was made of water. It would melt into the icy floor, and move in for an attack. Once it came above the surface, it would turn into ice itself, and attack her bodily, or spit poison.
Destroying the iceborn quite easily, she followed the river of ice to the end, where she soon found a large piece of ice, which resembled a flat-topped diamond. It hovered in the darkness, shining blue in the darkness. At first she wondered if it was substantial, but then decided that there was no other way to the top......
She leapt out, grabbing onto the edge of the crystal, and pulling herself up. At the top, she looked up, and what she saw amazed her.
Spiraling up and up, were several more of these ice jewels. It seemed to go on forever, up into the darkness that was all around in this tower. There was something of substance in the tower; a pair of pillars. One's top was a little ways above her, the other's top was unable to be seen.
Looking up into the seemingly infinite space of this tower, she realized how this void could be considered a metaphor to life and existance. The on-going blackness wasn't as far as it seemed, as life is far shorter than one percieves it. The river of ice at the beginning represented the time from birth to early childhood, where dangers were minimal. The islands of ice represented how afterwards the strife would become almost too much to bear, but relief was in sight.......
Looking up to the top, Carrie observed that there was another river of ice. The end of the Tower.....
......wich represented the long, agonizing exit of this world, into the realm of death......
She looked to the pillars, the embodiment of strength and support. Amidst the void, they were a comforting presence. Somewhat like parents. Or lovers......
Again, her mind turned to Chanaur. The thought of his soothing smile warmed her face. The thought of his caring eyes warmed her heart. The thought of his strong arms warmed her body......
The wish of his love warmed her soul......
The cold no longer bit at her face. She felt wonderful, as if Chanaur were there, holding her hand, guiding her....
Carrie sighed, and smiled. She hoped that Chanaur would be at the top of this tower, just like she hoped that he would be there with her, when she died......
Carrie continued to climb the ice jewels. One step after another, she was nearing Chanaur.......
Raziel leapt from the bed, releasing Ada's hand to grasp the boys shoulders. He shook him a little, until his eyes opened. Ada tilted his head to give him some water. Earnest sputtered, and then he spoke.
"Creatures advancing..... About a dozen of them..... Unlike anything I've seen....." His eyes widened as if the memory of them awed him. "Some were eight feet high, others fourteen, others somewhere between. All of them looked like something one would see in the nightmares of a madman......"
"Where are they now?" Raziel asked carefully.
"About two hundred yards from the town. Just out of arrow fire." The boy looked up at him. "Sir, we have to prepare for their attack. This certainly doesn't look good....."
Raziel released the child, where he passed out again. Raziel thought for a moment. Eight years ago, he had seen a number of monsters in the Tower of Science. All of them had been in an embryonic state, and all had been abominable. Even then they had exhibited the characteristics to the effect of what Earnest had said. Experiments, no doubt.
"Show me them." Raziel said clearly, after rousing him again. "We need to prepare for the attack, and the first way to do so is to see them for myself."
Earnest got to his feet. "Wouldn't you like a weapon?"
Raziel flexed his hand into a fist, feeling the magic of the Man-Beast inside him. He wouldn't need a weapon. He would defend his home, and die in the process, if fortune smiled.
Taking this as a no, Earnest led him to the outskirts, where the town shared a border with the dread forest.
There Raziel saw the shadows of the abominations. He noticed then that Earnest had not exagerated. Most of them were truly beyond description in the darkness. Others however were pretty easily seen.
One had the bottom half of a minotaur, the top of a tiger. Backward curved horns sprouted from the head, and blade-like horns stuck out of the back of it's elbows. It had a pair of small, batlike wings coming out of the back of it's striped body. This was the creature known as a Pazzuzu.
Another was mostly humanoid, with an overly muscular, blue body. It towered over most the other shadows, and Raziel almost dubbed it an ordinary ogre. However, after a closer look, he noticed that one fiery eye stared from the forhead. It was a Cyclops, made in the image of the once mighty Titan.
The others were nothing more than monsters that had been crossbred from different other monsters. Other than those, he had once before seen all these monsters. As such, they weren't terribly unique.....
....But then why would the Count have wasted eight years to make these creatures? Surely he had given them some other abilities, or something.....
Whatever the reason, they were soon to find out.
Ada's hand was on his shoulder. "What do we do, Raziel?"
He turned to her, trying his best not to show how worried he was. "We wait for their attack." He then turned to the large regimine of archers lining the rooftops.
"We face a number of monsters that have been the objects of expiriments. We know not what the expiriments were, but we do know that they have been altered. Once they are within range, I will give the order to fire. Aim for the eyes. Otherwise, your arrows will have about as much effect on them as a bee's sting."
Everyone called out there affirmation, and watched the forest.
Ada moved before him. She put a hand on his chest. "What will you do when the archers are out of arrows?"
Raziel smiled. "If I have to, I'll fight the blinded beasts myself."
Earnest stepped forward. He placed his fist over his heart. "You have my blade, sir."
"And mine." The woman known as Odila stepped forward as well. "If I'm going to die, I'll die in battle, not cowering in a corner.
A number of the archers raised their other weopons; axes, halberds, swords, and maces. It seemed that they did have an army.
"And you have my magic, what's left of it." Ada whispered.
"Prepare for battle." Raziel shouted over the tumult, the magic morphing his body. "If we die, we die with honor!"
The Archers atop the rooftops drew their bowstrings, awaiting the order to fire. The small army of a dozen abominations was coming out of the forest at a speed unnatural to their size, uprooting trees as they came.
Carrie fell onto the ice jewel, evading the beam of energy just in time to save her right arm. The crystal turned red beneath her, not from blood, but of the magic. It was about to dissapear right from under her, as the ice formation that was shooting the beams of light shone menacingly.
Quickly getting to her feet, she leapt just as her feet lost the ground beneath them. The beam of light shot clean through her left arm, and she brought her axe down with her right. The crystal formation shattered, and she lay on the platform, panting.
Her arms pained her, and the left one was falling numb. But that didn't matter. She still had some restoratives, and just a few feet from where she lay was the second river of ice. She had made it through the tower.
Carrie turned over and laid on her back, staring into the blackness above her. She wettened her lips with the water from the Fountain of Life, and her arms were restored. After a short rest, she would get back up, and resume her trek. She was nearing Chanaur. She could feel him.....
She sighed, her breath returning. Soon now, she could see him again. Soon, she could tell him the truth. Luckily, he would be in the very next section of the Castle......
"I probably shouldn't be getting my hopes too high, but....." Carrie stood, and turned toward the dark corridor at the end of the ice river. Her step steady, encouraged, she moved into the shadows.
As suddenly as the world was plunged into blackness, just as abrubtly it was thrust into light. A heavy door shut with a loud bang just behind her, and the world fell silent.
Now she was in a red-carpetted corridor. The walls were made of small arched windows, though the view was of a stone wall. In these niches, there were new candles burning in their holders. Moreover, the hallway seemed to absorb all noise, for, just as before the Tower of Science, the racket of her heartbeat pervaded over all other sounds.
Her footsteps muffled by the plush carpet, she walked around the turn in the corridor.
No sooner had she turned the corner than she entered a new room. The room was full of clocks of all types, and full of the sound of dissonant ticking. All of them were set, almost to the second, to a little past midnight.
"Why would anyone need so many clocks?" Carrie spoke aloud, to hear something, anything, aside from the incessent noise of the clocks. "But then, this room could just be a way to attack someone's psyche....."
Feeling she had to get out of this room, lest she go insane, she searched for a way out. Soon she found one; a large doorway that had at one point been sealed by a portculis. Inside, she saw Reinhardt, sleeping peacefully.
But Chanaur was nowhere to be seen. He was still on his way.
Carrie felt a strange sensation. It was like a cold finger tracing up her spine, and into her brain. Her mind somewhat clouded, she allowed herself to be guided to a small red elevator. Soon she stood atop a stone tower. The cold wind brought her mind back to allertness.
The cold blade of ice seized her further attention when it stabbed into her left shoulder. She felt the blue icicle erupt from the back of her scapula. Her back arched, and she fell to her knees, a scream tearing from her throat.
Chanaur jolted awake.
The tears had dried on his face. The blood had dried on his lips. His wounds were gone.
But he had felt something. A slight twinge of pain in the vicinity of his left shoulder. He hadn't injured his shoulder, so that could only mean one thing....
Somewhere, Carrie was reaching out to him, and she was in need.....
Rising to his feet, Chanaur hurried onward.
Carrie ripped the spear of ice from her shoulder, and cast it aside. It shattered against the parapet, and she turned angrily to Actrise. "Of all the dirty, sneaky, underhanded, cowardly ways to open a battle, that has to be one of the worst." She cradled her shoulder, feeling her warm blood spill over her hand.
Actrise stepped forward, that smug smile still on her face. "Ah, now your starting to sound like your lover, Chanaur." She sneered. "Don't worry, young Fernandez. There doesn't have to be a battle here."
"Not the way I see it." Carrie growled, her eyes blazing. "The way I see it, we have much to discuss, and to settle between ouselves."
"Right you are. I take it you have considered your answer?"
Carrie fell silent, unsure what she was referring to. But then she remembered. She opened her mouth to state her refusal, but Actrise raised her staff, and Carrie again saw the life-like flicker in that sapphire.....
"It's quite simple. You can either join us, or die. It's a simple matter." Actrise gestured widely over the parapet. "Sacrifice the lives of fifty children, and your second life begins. Hell, I slew my own child to obtain this prize of eternal life!"
As if prompted by her words, a bolt of lightning flashed past the tower. It had come so close that the air sizzled with electricity.
"A true mother would never take her own childs life. Never for her own gain. My mother gave her life for mine. She truly loved me....." Carrie took a deep breath, and her hand tightened on her torn shoulder. "Your child recieved no love from her mother..... That's....." Carrie stared up at Actrise, a mixture of hatred and sadness in her eyes. "....That's pathetic....."
Actrise only laughed. "Oh dear, you make me so sad..... Staring at me the way my daughter did......" Her lip curled in disgust. "How pitiful!" Carrie took the last swallow of healing water, knowing that the battle was about to begin. "I love no one in this world other than myself! I will cut out your heart as a gift to my lord!!"
Her staff glowed, and Carrie was almost impaled upon a stalagmite of ice that erupted from just beneath her. Just when it stopped forming, it shattered. Needles stabbed into Carries flesh, and melted.
Carrie took advantage of the storm, and called down a lightning bolt. It struck Actrise squarely in the chest, and she reeled backwards. Another one hit her in the shoulder, making her perform a half spin before coming back around and shooting another giant icicle at her, headed for her heart.
Carrie raised her hand, palm outward, as if to catch the projectile. A jet of fire incinerated the false ice, and Actrise was soon being consumed by the flames. She hit the ground, moaning words in the archaic tounge, and the flames died. She got back to her feet, and raised the Crescent Staff again.
A fortress of ice stalagmites erupted around her, serving as a shield. However, it couldn't protect her from the bolts of electricity Carrie was preparing to call down upon her.
From her staff, a number of small ice crystals floated down onto the stone floor. Where they struck, more pikes of ice came from the ground.
Last to come from the staff, was a beam of light.
Carrie's eyes widened as she realized the ploy. She nimbly dodged in all directions, trying to avoid the ray as it reflected off of each of the ice formations. Each one shattered as the beam struck, and shrapnel was even harder to avoid then the beam.
Carrie remained standing, her body almost without a scratch. She called down the storms wrath to deal another blow to the witch. It was time for her to die.....
A small whirlwind of ice needles spun around Carrie, closing her in. Before she could create a shield, the tiny blades came into her, each one making a long, clean incision before melting, and leaving a cold, lifeless feeling where they struck.
Carrie fell to the ground, and lay there, her back turned, breathing heavily. Actrise came forward, laughing. "You honestly thought you could beat me, child?" Her laugh rose to a haunting crescendo. "Such a pity. Now your darling Chanaur will never know the truth. Goodbye, Fernandez. I rest assured that the bloodline dies with you." Actrise raised her hand, fire in her eyes.
Carrie spun around, the dragon axe humming through the air. Actrise fell to the ground, never to rise again, cut cleanly in half at the waist.
The staff fell a small distance from Carrie, who was now kneeling, her breathing erradic. "It.... It cannot be.... I've been defeated by a child....." Actrise's body crystalized, and then shattered. She was gone.
Carrie fell forward. She had never before felt so tired.....
The life like stirrings inside the sapphire atop the staff became more pronounced. The jewel cracked, and then opened. Like a newborn from the egg, Imbrium Fernandez's spirit stepped before Carrie.
"Thank you, Carrie." Imbrium's words were light, airy. She kneeled down beside her. "You've freed me. I knew that you would kill Actrise....."
"Mother....." Carrie's eyes filled with tear, tears wrought of agony and joy. "Mother, I'm..... dying...."
Imbriums spectral hand touched Carrie's face. "Chanaur is on his way. He'll be here shortly." Her touch was warm sunshine; she seemed to be made of energy.... "Now, you must free your father, as well as me. I add my power to yours....."
The feeling of warm sunshine spread through Carrie's entire body, stopping the freezing effect of Actrise's magic. Her hair billowed around her, turning white as snow.....
The ice out of her veins, the cuts and gashes on her body began to bleed. What little conciousness she had left seeped out through her blood.
Carrie's hand closed around the staff, and then all fell to darkness.
End part twenty.