Points of separation

The three gathered in the doorway and gazed at the room beyond.  There were stairs leading up against the far wall, the top of which was closed off by a wooden trap-door.  Around the edge of the room was a walkway with a low, barely knee-height bannister on the outside which led round both ways to the stairs and under them.  Beyond the bannister the floor of the room vanished, just a black pit.  Burning just above the black pit, slightly off-centre, was a annulus of blue fire.  Between its outer and inner circles it was divided into nine sections, and inside each section was a symbol that also burned with blue fire.  The air inside the room was cold, and they could see their breath clouding in front of them.

"Well druid, what is this?"  Lianna's voice was impatient and demanding.

"A summoning ring, I should think.  This isn't how druids do things, this is magery.  Do guard towers have mages as a rule?"

Lianna shot him a look with narrowed eyes that suggested she thought he was trying to make fun of her.  Mirko held her gaze, the intensity of it unnerving him, but he was determined not to show her that she made him afraid now.

"Typically no," she said at last.  "City guard-houses might have a mage on the staff, they have more crimes to deal with.  A forensic mage can tidy away cases that would otherwise take days or months to sort out.  A guard-house here, on the edge of nowhere -- there'd be no call for one.  And you can't trust mages anyway, they've always got their own agenda."

Mirko nodded.  "Then I'd say that the mage who did this came after your guards.  And if there was a mage here, that would explain why there's something trapped in the tower."

"Hah!  You can't trust a mage, for all we know they trapped one of the guards in the tower."

Mirko opened his mouth, thinking to explain that the mind he'd sensed was in no way human, but Venne's elbow, seemingly accidentally, caught him in the ribs making him gasp his breath out instead.

"Is it safe, Mirko?"  Venne looked up at him, and then at Lianna.

"Don't step into the summoning ring, don't even touch it.  Otherwise, yes, these rooms have to be safe in case things go wrong."

"Where does the pit go?  We never saw any missing ceilings on the way up?"

"Maybe we missed a room?" Venne shrugged.

"No, the pit is..." Mirko paused, wondering how to explain that the pit would be as thin as the edge of a knife here in the tower, but extended as far as necessary into another space altogether.  Nothing he could think of to say would be reassuring.  "It's magic," he said at last.

Lianna nodded, a thin smile on her lips.  "Good enough for me.  We check the stairs out and then we get out of here.  This room is unhealthy."


Venne led the way along the walkway, sure-footed and lithe.  Mirko noticed that there seemed to be a little spring in his step as though he were always ready to leap out of the way.  Mirko came second, a little slower, keeping his staff between himself and the bannister, acutely aware that it was the right height to trip him up.  Lianna came last, walking quietly and confidently, scanning the room for threats.

The trap-door was unlocked but heavy, and Venne laboured to push it up and open.  Lianna ran up the stairs as soon as he had, leaping off the top step with a ferocious shout and swinging her sword around her in huge arcs.  Only when she was sure that she was alone on the roof did she stop and beckon the others from the stairs.

The roof was flat with huge grooves sliced into the stone across it.  All the grooves went roughly from east to west, though they all deviated slightly.  The crenellations had bolts and metal plates attached to them, and one surviving telescope, rusted and fragile still pointed out towards the forest.

"What happened up here?" Mirko bent down and rubbed the grooves with his hand.  They were deep enough to swallow his finger up to the first joint.

"Your guess is as good as mine, druid.  Looks like it happened a lot, whatever it was."

Venne crouched by the telescope and peered through it.

"Whoever used those telescopes wasn't human!" said Mirko suddenly.  "They're set at completely the wrong height."

"That's not very reassuring," said Lianna.

"Then you're going to hate this," said Venne, his eye glued to the telescope.  "It looks like we're going to have visitors."

The End

38 comments about this story Feed