Carter gasped, feeling the final wave of lactic pain strike his nerves in a whip crack of acidic temper Lightning flashed, haloing the surrounding mountains in venomous night light. Before him, straining up crooked exaltation, the tower climbed.
A soft pressure nudged at his leg. Carter stopped, leaning his weight upon the jagged stone to his side. For an instant a shadow stood at his shoulder, a ghost of an impression against the palm of his hand. The lightning flash stole the impression from his sleepless mind and the tower was all he stared upon.
“Alone” he croaked, his breath coming out in aching puffs of heater silver air. “But still here. Ass end and all, but still here.”
They had all left him, all of them. Milly, Jed, even Tai had given up. They had packed up and turned around, not listening to him as he grew more and more furious with their lack of resolve. After Mike had grown sick they had refused to go further, taking even the dog with them.
“Shows them” he croaked, his throat ragged from the cold “shows them all. Told you all it was here, ass end and all” he gasped in adulation, a smile creeping across his features “and I found it.”
Carter hissed in a few deep breaths, feeling the growing drowsiness of high altitude. He kept his head fixed forwards, eyes locked upon the rearing stalagmite rearing far into the distance. Lightning forked behind it, savage in its pale luminescence. Carter felt his eyes sting but could not move his vision.
“I must see '' he hiss-croaked, stumbling down the Lee of the hill he had stopped upon. His eyes remained saucer wide, boring into the leering pinnacle. He swayed drunkenly as he went forwards, one hand holding the tattered battered fold of his rain coat to his body. Here the thick bend of crooked trees thinned, climbing into the thick stone which twisted, spiralling into the twisting climb of the tower proper. Small lights clustered around the towers base, meagre lights squatting and flashing as fires winked into small life.
Carter gasped, struggling to drag air into shivering lungs. The tower leered above the smaller dwellings, a hawk above its meagre clutch. Lightning forked once more behind the man made pinnacle, flooding the ancient worm masonry with unnatural colours. Carter stared as he walked, his mind stumbling to process anything else but the leering structure before him.
Something bright moved at the edge of vision. Carter staggered, his head twisting fast to spot the bright motion. The ground beneath him suddenly gave way, causing him to stumble, trip. He fell in heap gasping and staggering, his blurred swallowing all but the tower in a riotous fog.
Something shuffled loudly, releasing a hail of wet dirt. Carter gasped, feeling the burn of overtaxed lungs. The edges of his foggy vision grew darker, the world growing shades heavier on his shoulders.
Carter gasped. Harsh rock lay beneath him in a vast slab, lying unfeeling underneath as the pain of their impact spread across his body. The seeker hissed a strained breath. Rain water drooled from the pale slit of his lips as he looked up, blearily at the leering tower over its ant-like children.
The wanderer blinked. Something resolved above his head, slowly, gathering clarity as he blinked. A figure leered above him, all definition stolen by the rain storm. Carter struggled, tried to clear his eyes, seeing nothing of the figure beyond the heavy fall of an all body rain mac. He tried to open his mouth, to gasp and beg the the figure -the stranger- for help, for solace from the rain.
“T...the tower” Carter heard his voice croak savagely. He tried to rise, to regain his feet. Sodden limbs failed to rise, lost in a cold trembling upon the rock flat.
The figure stood. Simply stood. Behind it Carter saw the jagged man made pinnacle rise, towering above them both, more real and solid than anything, more so than the figure before him.
“Please” Carter gasped, and this time he recognised his words “please, help me. Help me. I’ve come so far. I-I can’t go back. Not anymore I can’t.”
The figure above him tilted its hooded head, releasing a minor stream of water from a fold above it’s head. Lightning flashed, lighting the stream till it glowed for a fevered instant in the storm light. Carter shivered, tried to move away. His limbs remained heavy, locked as if hypnotised.
The rain-wracked figure squatted, slow, moving with a tectonic slowness. It leered down at him, a hunched mirage half lost in the falling rain. The writer looked up at the shape up still unable to make out any detail. Any time he began to discern a feature, a single mote of character from the silent figure his eye invariably shifted, dragged from within, staring beyond the things shoulder with harsh intent. Rain streamed freely into his eyes now, spreading the savage cold ache as his eyes refused to blink it away.
You are the man they call Carter? The figure seemed to speak. The writer shivered, struggling to place the sound, struggling to decide if the figure had spoken at all.
“Y-yes” he stammered “I am-I am Carter Wallace. Wi…” his voice broke off into a shuddering stutter. “Will you - will you help me?”
The figure seemed to watch him, still as it squatted above the splayed man. Carter felt his teeth grind, his eyes ache. Why couldn't he blink? Why couldn't he move?
Yes, the figure pronounced in its voice which was not a voice, yes I will help you Carter. But first, what are you willing to give for such help?
The writer spluttered. His eyes had grown into seeing orbs of pain now, unable to tear from the leering edifice of the tower. The rain-socked figure leered beside him, infinitely closer than the tower itself, yet feeling so much father from him.
“Wh-what do you mean?”
The figure bobbed its head to the side as if studying him. Carter thought he should feel observed, feel watched or studied or something. Instead he felt cold, the pooling water at his feet gathering around the leaden cold weight of his limbs.
The tower calls only to those who will listen. It calls only to those who can hear what it has to say. But Carter, it exacts a toll. It demands a price. Can you face what it demands?
“Yes. Yes!” Carter croaked, pain lancing through his throat. The thought, just the thought of it, of being in that tower, of hearing all he would ever need to hear, to learn all he would ever need to know. “I must go. I must see inside. Gha!-I can't stand to be outside of it any longer!”
Carter strained, trying to force his frozen limbs to life. His teeth ground till his jaw screamed in agony. His eyes streamed, adding to the thundering deluge around him. His eyes never left the tower, never left the leering man made facade. He strained for what felt like a maddened eternity, pain blossoming with each staccato strike of the rain.
“The tower. Yes-yes. The tower. I must go. I must be within must be hearing must be learning, must be knowing all that can and will be held within.”
Carter felt his vision lose all its focus, lost in the constant blur of the mountaintop rainfall. His muscles roared in pain, screamed thrashed spasmed beneath the sodden folds of his croak. He shivered, stumbled, fell and-
His hand caught something hard. Carter steadied himself, feeling the cold cut stone pillar. He eyed it in the sudden silence, feeling the soft plush of the stone, the genius carve of the hexagonal shape. His eyes bulged at the sight, his face creasing wide.
Carter, came the voice that was not a voice.
Carter turned, his eyes meeting the indistinct shape of the figure from the rain. He blinked, the sight of the half shape in the rain mac no longer hurting his eyes. The figure seemed to hover beside an old black door, the mottled stone frame seeming to crook and bend in a leering fascinating manner. Carter stepped forwards, his eyes wide.
“Th-the door” he stammered, his hands rising to his face. “T-the door into...into the tower?”
The indistinct figure did not respond. It raised one sleeved arm, the proffering a bundle which Carter struggled to make out. The shape glided forwards with immeasurable slowness, the slow flash of lightning behind it haloing the silent fall of rain.
You will need this within Carter.
The seeker reached out, grasping the odd bundle. The material felt odd, coarse in a way his fingers struggled to place. The writer turned the bundle around in his hands, allowing the unfamiliar weave to open itself.
The seeker smiled and nodded. He unclasped his sodden rain croak, tossing it aside into the silent downpour. It’s replacement fitted to his form, gliding across his sodden body and wrapping around his legs in a coarse embrace.
You may enter the tower now Carter.
The seeker shuddered, blinked. He looked around as if he had suddenly misplaced something. All around him lay clustered stone shelters, the cobbled paths strewn with bundled coats and jackets of a dozen different hues. Indistinct figures hovered between the domed stone shelters, empty hoods turned up as if studying the figure beside the door.
Carter, the hazy outline beside the door said-thought. Carter, the tower awaits.
The thing beside the door shuddered for an instant as if throwing off an unwelcome sensation. It twisted, turned, motioning towards the door as the silent downpour thundered around it. The door hovered open, shudder-grinding on ancient hinges. Lightning flashed in slow procession, illuminating the motion of the two figures in the rain as they entered the leering crook backed tower.