Book 1 – Chapter 1
1F – Headon’s Floor
Two pairs of running footsteps echoed their way down the pitch-black cave.
The voice called out again. It was male; a young boy’s plea. The clear, innocent voice rang hollow and deep. “Rachel! Stop!”
The echoes grew stronger, and the jagged walls of the cave seemed to magnify the despair in the boy’s voice as he called out yet again, his voice cracking, “Please, stop!”
The footsteps drew closer, faster now, as if whoever the boy was chasing had decided to make one last spurt of effort.
Within the dark cave, two figures slowly loomed into view. One boy, and one girl. The girl was ahead. The boy was a few healthy steps behind her.
They were both running.
The girl was blonde, her hair tied back into a ponytail (although it had fallen loose, slightly). She was wearing a drab, brown skirt, a frayed ribbon tied into a bow around the waist.
She was barefoot.
A few seconds later, the boy emerged chasing after her, a desperate glint in his large, brown eyes.
He had jet-black hair down to his shoulders. He wore a red vest, black breeches, and a brown cardigan. They were a bit too large for him and the cardigan billowed as he continued to follow the girl’s footsteps. He, too, was barefoot.
This running chase continued for a few more seconds, both of them running through the winding passages of the dark cave, which seemed to go on forever, its walls extending infinitely towards both ends.
Suddenly, they both emerged into a large, cavernous chamber. The rocky partitions on either side seemed to disappear at right angles, and the burst of cool air signaled that the space between them had gotten significantly bigger.
The girl was slowing down now, gasping and panting. Seeing her distress, the boy put on an extra spurt of speed.
His fingers snatched at the girl’s lace ribbon, once, twice, before finally catching on. He let out a triumphant grunt. “Rachel! Stop!” He yelled for the final time, as both of them came crashing down onto the granite ground.
The girl spoke for the first time. Her voice sounded pure; clear as the singing of a songbird. She also sounded desperate, but in a different way. Mixed with annoyance, perhaps.
“No, Night!” She yelled, from her spot on the ground. “You can’t come with me, how many times did I – ”
The boy – whose name appeared to be Night – started crying. The hollow ringing vibrated off the cold stone walls. The girl’s voice immediately became softer.
“Night, I told you. I told you loads of times, that I’d have to go away, that you can’t come with me…” Her eyes hardened again, and she hesitated for the slightest fraction of a second before continuing. “I have to climb the Tower.”
The boy named Night shook his head violently; indeed, his whole body was trembling. “I don’t – ” he grit his teeth. “I don’t – I don’t get it! I don’t understand – why!”
The girl – Rachel – sighed and closed her eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you, Night? Once I can climb the Tower – once I’ve reached the top – ”
Night had begun crying, his breaths coming in sobbing, bated gasps. Rachel ignored him. ” – I can do whatever I want to. Things you can’t even imagine.” She sat up, excited. “Listen. Listen.”
The boy stopped crying, although his eyes were still puffy and red.
“Can’t you just see it?” Rachel smiled, her eyes traveling upwards, into the pitch-black cave above. “Light. Reaching out in all directions, as far as the eye can see. And green – plants, Night. Real, living plants, that you can feel.”
Night breathed more slowly.
Rachel went on, unperturbed. “And when the moon falls – the stars, – they come out of the sky, and there’s literally millions of them, dotted across the blue sky like sequins on silk. And they glimmer – like your eyes. Except a thousand times brighter.”
Her eyes, which had softened, seemed to return to reality. “That’s why I want to climb the Tower. I’m sick and tired of living in darkness.”
Silence reigned for a few seconds. Both of their breathing had returned to normal.
“…take me with you.”
“I can’t.” Her previous songbird-like voice had faded, replaced by a slightly pleading, nearly desperate, nasality. “I have to go by myself. I have to.”
Night seemed to be just ready to cry again when the ground began to shudder, the smallest pebbles already starting to lurch over the minuscule cracks that had formed in the dirt.
Rachel smiled faintly. “It’s happening,” she whispered. A tinge of excitement crept into her voice.
Night’s eyes widened in fear. His voice, conversely, reeked of the greatest despair.
“Take me with you, Rachel, please, I can’t live without you – ”
He grabbed her by the shoulders as the cave began to shake violently. Behind Rachel – on the ground – through one of the largest cracks, a pure, blinding yellow light began to seep into the cavern. Night became temporarily mute as the yellow light grew around them, extending its smoky tendrils around Rachel as if it was enveloping her inside.
Through his clouding vision – whether through tears, or the increasingly obscuring light that fell like a veil between himself and Rachel – Night reached out a hand, grasping away at nothing.
Her voice now seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. The faintest shadow remained where Rachel had existed, just a second before.
“Sorry, Night,” the cavern echoed. “I need to go. Try to forget me, okay?”
Night fell back on his hands, staring up at the cave ceiling, wildly looking around for any trace of the light, so he could follow it, find Rachel –
” – so that I can be reborn again.” Rachel’s voice faded away.
Night was left alone.
A deathly silence permeated the cold walls, the walls which he knew, now, he would find to be his permanent grave. With Rachel, it was a home, perhaps not the most welcoming one, but a home … without her, now, it was nothing but a vessel for his body, a lifeless shell of what he formerly used to be.
Everything he knew, everything he learned, had come from Rachel.
And now, she was gone, in a whiff of smoke.
A sudden noise startled him from his depressing reverie. He looked around; a solitary tinge of golden light had remained. He watched, first in mild excitement then in panic, as the sliver of yellow grew and began to claw its way around his body.
The golden light swirled around him, enveloping everything he could see, everything he could feel. He wasn’t sure what was there, and what wasn’t, anymore – all he knew was that he felt like he was being sucked into a hole that was much too small for his body. He thought vaguely that his eyeballs would pop out any second now.
Then everything went black.
Once he was certain he would not die, he felt safe enough to open his eyes.
The first thing that came into view was the floor. It wasn’t like the rough caves he had been inside before, lived his whole life in; it was smooth, with an ornate decorative inlay.
Night studied it for a few seconds. The pattern was striking; it seemed to be three stylized eyes, arranged inside a pyramid. It repeated over and over again, as far as he could see.
His eyes slowly traveled across the lightening darkness. The bronzed walls, without a single crack or smudge, were chiseled with fantastical murals. Night examined one of them more carefully; a huge creature with glistening teeth was posing menacingly. It seemed to be on the verge of coming to life and jumping out of the wall itself.
Night slowly directed his gave upwards, and his breath was taken away for a second time in as many minutes.
The ceiling above – if there was even a ceiling – seemed infinite. The brown, smooth walls tapered away into what seemed to be an everlasting darkness, a void. A faint purple light shined at the far end of the abyss.
Night squinted, trying to see more; but the more he tried, the fainter the light became. He turned his attention elsewhere.
The room itself was slightly smaller than the infinite void; he estimated that it would take about 100 steps to walk the diameter. However, the most interesting part about the room he was in – notwithstanding the floor patterns, or the infinite roof, or the purple light – was the cage.
The cage, as much as Night could figure out, dominated one side of the square room, opening up the entire wall to the panoramic blue gleam that emanated from within the steel-tressed boundary.
As he squinted his eyes, he realized that the cage was actually a whole new room, located next to the room he was currently trapped – or placed – in. Separating the two rooms was an archway of massive size, its keystone so far up high that the curve of the arch was barely visible.The two rooms were blocked by an intricately-designed steel mesh.
Night walked closer. The difference in the light was striking; where he was, it was black, with small dots of purple – floating downwards, he assumed, from the source at the top – swirling around him, thousands in number, but illuminating nothing. On the other side of the barrier, however, was iridescent blue light, pale as Night had ever seen, that seemed to penetrate every crevice and nook.
It, however, stopped abruptly at the steel boundary, and didn’t penetrate one inch further. This seemingly illogical separation of light piqued his curiosity like nothing else in the room.
He reached out a trembling hand to touch it –
“Please don’t touch the cage.”
Night stumbled backwards, his breath taken away. Before he fell, though, he felt himself stopped by a soft, somewhat squishy wall that had definitely not been there before.
Regaining his balance, Night rubbed his head and spun around, breath quickening. Standing in front of him was the strangest creature he had ever seen in his life.
At first glance, the thing standing before him resembled a rabbit – an outlandish large one, slightly taller than Night himself, but a rabbit nonetheless.
On a closer inspection, that’s where the similarities stopped. The creature’s skin was a pale, nearly transparent white, with the two long, pointy ears creased back from its jaw. Its mouth traveled across the entire oval-shaped face, as if it had on a permanent smile.
It had no eyes.
Also, Night was certain that he – it – hadn’t been there five minutes ago, not when he had opened his eyes, not when he had swept his eyes across the room.
In its right hand, the creature held a giant two-sided pole taller than itself, ivory white in color, each end cupping itself around a shimmering blue ball – the same shade as the cage now behind him. Something swirled inside; it looked like it was full of liquid. A blue frock hung loosely from the creature’s shoulders.
It cocked its head. Night could hear him breathing slowly, through his…mouth? He wasn’t quite sure.
The thing started walking forward, towards him. Night took a step back; he was afraid. Very much so.
However, if Night had been a little more acquainted with the Tower, he would’ve known that he needn’t have feared the creature at all.
Because the creature’s name was Headon, and he was the Guardian of the Lowest Floor of the Tower, in charge of selecting those worthy enough to climb its perilous steps.
Headon assessed the boy. Different.
Night held his breath as the creature inched closer. It cocked its head – or what seemed to be its head – and knocked the white staff he was holding against the grates of the cage. The vibrations echoed around the chamber.
“Do you know what this is?” The creature now asked him.
Still not a little paralyzed, Night could only shake his head. Its voice sounded like it was speaking through a glass cylinder; every one of its deep intonations and vowels penetrated cleanly into his ears.
The creature sighed. “I supposed I should’ve known,” he said, then stood up a bit straighter. “My name is Headon. I am the Guardian of the First, and Lowest, Floor.”
Night blinked. “Head – ?”
Headon nodded. “And for the first time in a while, I suspect things are about to get interesting indeed.”
“What – I don’t understand.”
Headon smiled thinly. “You are one of the few to have entered the Tower by opening the door itself.”
Night gaped. He had not understood a single word of what the creature – Headon – had just told him. The Tower? Was he inside the Tower?
If he was inside the Tower, then maybe –
Night’s breath caught in his throat and his heart jumped a few meters. “I’m – I’m looking for a girl! Someone who passed by here!” he yelled at Headon. Perhaps he would have an inkling of where Rachel had vanished. “Please! Anything you know – !”
Headon considered the outburst for a few, indeterminately long seconds. “I’m not sure if I can answer that.” He smiled, the oblong mouth stretching to either end of his pointy ears. His teeth glinted.
Night gasped. “You’ve seen her!”
Headon appeared to smile. Or, at least, the lines of his mouth creased upward slightly. “Perhaps,” he answered.
“Where … where did she go? I must find her.” Night asked, desperately. However, in the back of his mind, he knew Headon would answer –
“I don’t know.”
Night’s heart sank.
“But – there is one thing I can tell you for certain.”
A surge of hope flooded into Night’s abdomen.
Headon raised the staff above his head, pointing into the darkness above. “Everything you seek – fame, riches, revenge, or your sweet girl – can be found above you.”
The blue material inside the orbs at the end of Headon’s staff glittered, as if it was straining against its holds. “The most wondrous and fascinating things in the Universe…all prepared at the top of the Tower.”
Night looked up. His eyes strained against the piercing darkness. “But…there’s nothing.”
He heard the creature named Headon scoff. “I meant climb the Tower, young one. Whatever it is you want, you can find it at the top. ” he lowered his staff and sank it into the ground. “Do you want to find your girl?”
Night nodded without hesitation. Rachel. He would do anything to get her back.
“Then…do you wish to climb?”
This time, he hesitated. The corners of Headon’s mouth glinted. “Hmm…it’s a shame, isn’t it. A young girl, alone in this wretched place…wandering…”
” – I’ll climb.”
The corners of Headon’s mouth glinted again. “What is your name, boy?”
“I was named – named after the day of my birth,” Night said. “The Twenty-Fifth Night.”
“The Twenty-Fifth Night,” Headon repeated. “What an unusual name.”
Night wasn’t listening; he was looking for the stairs. Headon noticed his preoccupation, and chuckled.
“You’re not going to find any stairs here, Night,” he said.
Night turned around. “But then, how – ”
Headon smiled, and this time, he really did smile, revealing a full row of razor-sharp incisors. The hair on the back of Night’s neck stood up on end as the smile slowly disappeared.
“For every floor you ascend, you will have to take a test.” Headon now said. “This is the first one.”
He knocked the foot of his staff three times on the stone tiles below. The reverberating hum echoed through through the walls.
Headon seemed to only be partially listening, one of his ears cocked towards the side. “Oh, yes. For every floor, if you want to move upwards. That is the way of the Tower. Plenty of people seek the greatness that awaits them at the top of the Tower, so they enter and claw their way up. Some succeed…most do not.”
Night was about to ask something else about Rachel, and if she had taken the tests too, when a low growl suddenly emanated from the blue cage that had been temporarily pushed out of his mind.
Headon twirled his staff. “Yes…here he comes. This is your first test, Night.”
At first, Night couldn’t see anything.
Then, off in the distance – through the blue mist – he could sense a vague shape approaching. A very, extremely large vague shape.
As the seconds passed by, the shape grew larger and more distinct, and Night could begin to make out some features of it: a split tail, arching its way closer, a wide mouth filled with thousands of serrated spikes, a dorsal fin on its back, two wide flippers pushing the blue mist away…
He was looking at a fish. Its body was navy blue, with red fins and a white streak dividing the body lengthwise.
The fish opened its jaws wide. Night had barely registered the fearful teeth when it let out a loud, wailing cry that shook the walls, small pebbles dropping and rolling on the ground under his feet.
A chill rode down his spine. Standing above him, Headon smirked slightly.
“This is a Spirit-fish. Or one of its species, at any rate,” he explained.
“Spirit?” Night questioned, his nerve having calmed down a little.
Headon simply nodded. “The Spirit is the blue haze you see in front of you.” He made a sweeping gesture with his staff. “It flows throughout the Tower, encompasses it from top to bottom, one end to another. Creatures take their power from it – even you and me, to a certain degree – and it makes life possible inside the Tower.”
Night kept silent; the prospect of fighting a huge, fishy creature that swam inside an ill-defined blue haze did not appeal to him in the slightest.
But then, he looked up and saw the abyss once more, and was reminded of Rachel.
He curled his hands up into fists, a shimmering glint in his eye. “So – I have to fight – it?” he said, before realizing something. “But…I don’t have a weapon.”
Headon sighed. “You may only take this test with the objects you are carrying with you. But don’t worry – the objective isn’t to kill the Spirit-fish.”
Night blinked. “Then – what is it?”
Headon mutely pointed with his staff into the center of the cage. Night squinted, and this time, he could see something that – once again – definitely had not been there before.
A black, round ball, suspended in midair, about half the height of Night, from what he could tell from such a distance.
“This test is called ‘ball’.” Headon said. “It’s simple: you run up to the ball and pierce it.”
“All I have to do is put a hole in that ball?” Night asked.
Headon nodded affirmatively. “That’s correct. However you decide to do it, that’s up to your best judgment.” He was silent for a moment, then added, “The ball does not take much pressure to break. But the Spirit-fish…under normal conditions, it is quite tame. But it hasn’t been fed for a while, and I suspect it is about to lay eggs, which makes it…quite protective.”
Night remained silent, although his fists were still clenched.
“You are free to give up and return to your home at any time. Although, if you do, you will never be allowed to enter the Tower again.”
Home. The word echoed inside Night’s brain. What home did he have to return to? Home, to Night, was wherever Rachel was. She had taught him everything, told him everything, described him everything.
Without Rachel, there was no home.
And if Headon was right, Rachel was now somewhere above him, in this mysterious place called the Tower.
His decision was made, his breath quickened, his heart thumped against his chest.
Headon bared his teeth as Night ran past him, into the shimmering blue abyss.
Welcome to the Tower, little one.