Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Five: Arise

Arabella’s sixty-three years of life had taught her that good times passed in a heartbeat, and bad times lasted an eon. The opposite was true, however, when one was progressing towards something bad - and so her two-week trip across the war-torn lands of the Imperium, towards the summon of her masters, seemed to take almost no time at all. This proved all the more remarkable since she appeared to have been silently stripped of all responsibilities along the way.

The same was true of General Landry. His troops no longer listened to anything he had to say, no matter how much he screamed. He and Arabella eventually gave up on attempting to order the white-eyes soldiers about, and simply played board games in Arabella’s coach. By the time they arrived, he had won forty-five games of Chess to Arabella’s thirty-seven.

“You know,” Arabella commented during one of the later games, a particularly gruelling session that took two hours to finish, “there aren’t many board game creators anymore. I haven’t played anything new in years.”

“Chess is the epitome of strategic gaming anyway,” Landry replied, refusing to take his eyes off of his rook. “Why would you want anything else?”

“Variety,” Arabella murmured. She stared absently out of the coach, watching three soldiers on horseback as they padded slowly across the thawing terrain.

“Try the Indy Plains, if they ever get sorted,” Landry growled. He moved his rook across the board. “Maybe some idiot out there has concocted a heap of bullshit rules you can call a game. ’til then, I’m fine with Chess. Check.”

They spoke seldom about their summons to the northwest of the Imperium. There was, after all, little to say - and the masters had proven their ability to listen in on any conversation they damn well pleased. Arabella supposed she would learn what was waiting for them once they got where they were going.

When the coach finally stopped, and Arabella extracted herself from her uncomfortable cot, she realized that she hadn’t looked out her window for almost ten hours. She’d fallen asleep reading. That, it seemed, was more than enough time to miss one of the largest structures ever built by a living creature - assuming such a feat of architecture could be accomplished by mortal hands.

“Sweet gods,” Arabella breathed, stepping out of her coach and craning her neck skywards. “That’s… it’s almost pearlescent…”

“And translucent,” Landry whispered beside her. He’d been sleeping in Arabella’s coach. “I… I think I can see a cloud through it…”

“We’re finished, aren’t we?” Arabella said, extending a hand. She was dimly aware of soldiers approaching from behind.

“If ever there was a view of the afterlife, my dear, I’d say this’s it,” Landry grunted. He took her hand and squeezed gently.

The tower jutted out of the ground with the fluid rigidity of a whip, both fantastically solid and infinitely pliable. Though deeply rooted into the landscape by a ring of enormous, ivory claws, the tower also seemed to sway, its hundreds of circular balconies never quite in joint with one another as they climbed steadily into the heavens. It reminded Arabella of the great Stalk of Rodentia, only this tower was very much not a natural formation -

- nor, indeed, did it end abruptly inside a bank of cumulus nimbus. The tower instead appeared to have crashed through the sky itself, rending the blue and opening a vast, dark hole. Faint twinkles of starlight peeked through the hole, though Arabella knew, even felt, that she was not looking at the night sky. Only beyond the hole did the tower appear to terminate, though its apex was a light so bright as to outshine the sun.

Welcome, the tower said into Arabella’s mind, its voice so familiar as to be indistinguishable from that of her masters. This is where the war will end. You will protect the tower with the forces we provide, until such a time that I am prepared to bring the enemy to their knees. You may do whatsoever you wish, so long as you keep the enemy away from the tower. All forces will be put under your personal authority. Do you understand our command, General Landry?

“Yes,” Landry whispered, his usual bravado sapped by the terrifying beauty of the tower. “I… I get it.”

And you, the tower said, turning its attention to Arabella, will conduct a ceremony that is long overdue. In one week’s time, in full view of the enemy army, you will oversee the execution of two traitors to the balance of this world.

Arabella swallowed, her tongue thick and dry - and it only got worse as the tower changed before her eyes, the base of the great monument shifting and sculpting itself into a pair of haggard, shining faces. One was a rat; the other, a platypus.

Do you understand my command, Arabella the Councillor?

Arabella thought of her grandsons. Their shining, innocent faces weren’t quite enough to dispel the horrible image of the tower, which seemed to dominate her every thought, no matter how viciously she tried to push it away. 

“Yes,” Arabella whispered, only dimly noting the tower’s constant shifting of pronouns. “I understand.”

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