The Tower: Chapter Six - The Chamber
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A few feet further on Veredan reaches a rectangle of stone that serves as a landing, unadorned save for a recently-dropped shortsword. Beyond that is a closed door, the height of almost two men, a full arm's span in width and which looks to be made of ebony. Its carvings are identical to the design on the golden amulets although on closer inspection a pair of inhuman eyes can be glimpsed buried amongst the mass of tentacles tha adorn the door.
They seem to reflect the light with a green lambence.
The stairs continue upward to what was once a further floor above, but the outer wall and the roof have broken away leaving the sky visible. Some dirt and debris from the world outside litters the floor, but most has fallen down the stairs.
"Th..th..the door...it's warm..........I mean the..the..the handle. It's warm." Lina shudders and takes a deep breath. "Warm and, well, warm and wriggly. Like the face!" She cannot be coaxed further towards the door than to retrieve her sword, shielded by at least two of the warriors.
Sarracenius gingerly approaches the door, his hand on the amulet in his belt. Sittius draws his weapons and mumbles a prayer to his goddess: "Ishnigarrab, see me through this and I will sire a hundred sons in your name." Almost at the sound of his words, the door swings silently inwards, untouched by Sarrencius. The darkness in the room beyond is pitch black.
Sittius is momentarily stunned into silence, his breath hissing shallowly in his chest. He quickly bows his head and whispers, "Thank you, Earth-Mother," before crouching down to relight his candle. He crosses to the now open doorway. As he passes Lina, he winks at her and chuckles, "Mayhap tonight you and I could talk about helping me fulfill my oath. Now, let's have a look at what the goddess has revealed to me."
As he passes through the doorway the green eyes seems to flash brighter for an instant. Sittius cries out in alarm, and raises his arms as if to fend off an attacker. The air feels charged and greasy... but then the moment passes. Sittius leans against the doorway for support, shaken but seemingly unharmed. A rumble of thunder overhead dies away into the distance.
Sittius swallows back his apprehension and, keeping his eyes fixed on the area ahead, mutters, "Careful on that first step, Aquilonian. It is... strange... "
The floor is cracked in several places. One of the cracks starts in the centre of the five-sided shape and extends across the crimson boundaries of the star in a direction that points towards the throne.
"Maybe we should not all enter at once," Sittius cautions, eyeing the cracks with suspicion. To Sarracenius he adds, "Stay close to the wall when you come in, Aquilonian. I know not how much weight the centre of the room will support and I have not endured your company all this time to die from a fall."
Sarracenius dries his sweating palms as he moves carefully along the wall, following Sittius into the chamber. "Examine the body," he urges. "Does it wear one of these damned amulets?"
Gingerly Sarrencius tests the floor and then relaxes a little as it seems to bear his weight away from the wall without any difficulty.
"What caused these cracks?" he muses aloud. "Age would crack the walls, not the floor, would it not?"
Lina watches Sittius and Sarracenius as they enter the room. Anxious to be away from that strange door she follows, keeping to the edges of the room, scanning the furniture, walls and the cracked floor as she tiptoes silently around.
Sarrencius stops short, and then passes his hand across his eyes, shaking his head to clear his vision. "For an instant I saw women, and power, and wealth..." He looks around him. "It's lying to us, lad! No woman wants a man like that, there's not that wealth in all of Aquilonia! What did you see?"
"I saw a pillar of darkness that stared at me hatefully with two glowing eyes like those we saw guarding the door to this place," Sittius says.
Without warning Anteus utters a strangled cry, and then slumps to the floor with a clatter as his crossbow drops from nerveless fingers. He lies just inside the doorway to the chamber, face down and deathly still.
Sittius looks back at Anteus. "What has happened?" he hisses to those still gathered at the door, loath to retreat once again across the perhaps unsteady floor. He peers again into the unwelcoming gloom of the chamber, his eyes drawn to the cobweb enshrouded figure on the throne. Swallowing thickly, he forces his eyes away and turns back toward the doorway and the fallen Corinthian. "Tamas? Lord Veredan? What has happened to Anteus?" he asks again and tightens his grip on the shortsword in his left hand.
"He seemed to be stricken just as he crossed the threshold of the door," says Veredan, towering above the Corinthian's fallen form. "But by what I cannot say."
He reaches down and shakes Anteus gently by the shoulder. The Corinthian stirs a little and groans. His eyes flicker open. Satisfied, Veredan looks up, his gaze piercing the gloom. "The light plays tricks on us all," he murmurs. "These are not tapestries. The walls of the room are carved in some fashion... See you, Sittius, is that not a candelabrum toppled over behind the throne? Can you set it aright and see if it may not perhaps be lit? I would examine the walls more closely..."
His voice trails away and he looks back over his shoulder towards the door. The air of the chamber is stirred by a gentle afternoon sea-breeze - for the first time, perhaps, in centuries. Borne on that breeze is a distant sound - the faint but clearly audible throbbing of jungle drums.
"This place will be the death of us yet," Sittius grumbles.
Then, dividing his attention between the skeletal figure on the throne and the candelabrum behind it, Sittius goes to see if he can shed more light on things, trying to ignore the sinister implications of the drums.
The candles hiss and sputter with age, but at last they catch and burn, casting an eerie glow around the chamber that demonstrates the truth of Veredan's earlier words. No tapestries cover the walls, but rather the meticulous work of an army of stonemasons, a carefully sculptured mural, coloured with pigments that notwithstanding their age have retained their striking hues, and crafted with consummate skill.
So lifelike is the panoramic view of the frieze that you might almost be gazing from the top of the tower - to your right, an ocean and setting sun, to your left impenetrable jungle thickened by the shadows of evening, and in its midst... a city of ancient, cyclopean stone carved in bas relief, partly shrouded in mist and straddling an expanse of still, dark water - a gigantic pyramid towers over a central platform reached by myriad twisting causeways and soaring flights of steps.
The pale light from the candelabrum washes over the shrouded figure on the throne, and flares red, green and gold from the dusty jewels on its fingers. To its left, a writing table of some sort, parchments, leather-bound books, the tools of a scribe. To its right, a curious silver bowl, perhaps three hands' breadth in diameter and a few inches deep, mounted at knee height on an intricately worked silver tripod.
There are other candelabra scattered across the floor of the chamber, and several large ironbound chests dotted around the room. Anteus coughs and sits upright, pale of face but apparently none the worse for wear. Dazedly, he rubs his forehead, struggling to recall how he came to be lying prone.
The breeze has dropped now, and the sound of drums has faded with it. The air in the chamber is hot and still.
Sittius takes a candle and lights the other candelabra from it, carefully avoiding the cracked section of floor. His eyes dart around at all of the newly-revealed treasures and he grins.
"Riches abound, my friends!" he chuckles. "It looks as though the former owner of this tower had wealth aplenty! He has rings of emerald and ruby. Why that silver bowl alone would keep me for a good long while in a style to which I have not yet become accustomed!"
"Touch nothing, fools!" snaps Veredan. "This is a workshop, not a treasure-house." He rubs his chin thoughtfully, staring hard at the silver bowl. "Aye, and maybe it holds the knowledge I have journeyed so far to find." He blinks, and looks about him with a new resolve. "I need the small chest that I brought with me from the ship. Jubal has it. One of you fetch it for me. And one of you climb to the top of the stairs. Find out who is beating those drums." He waves his hirelings away with one hand and then crosses the floor towards the writing table by the throne. "And bring one of those candles over here someone, so I can examine these manuscripts."
Lina has been standing as if dazed, eyes fixed on a portion of the crafted walls. Veredan's snapped orders appear to wake her from her dream and she turns, bright blue eyes flashing as she walks to the door, a smile on her lips once more.
"I shall be delighted to taste fresh air again, I shall climb to the top of the tower and look out across the jungle."
Before much can be said to her, the young Brythunian darts through the door and up the stairs.