Book 1 – Chapter 3
1F – Headon’s Floor
In the crushing darkness…
She was my friend.
In the impenetrable night…
She was my star.
She taught me to speak
and to listen
and to hear.
She taught me
about the world
She taught me how to live.
Although I’ve never seen the sky
And was born in darkness
When she appeared in my life
I knew this is what it must look like.
It was beautiful.
She was beautiful.
Although death hadn’t been a huge topic of discussion between Night and Rachel in their cave, it now filled every spectrum of his mind.
Coming face-to-face with a monstrous, hungry flying fish would do that to a person, Night mused, as he tightened his grip on the Black March – Lady Yuri’s gift to him. A gift with a condition: that he return it, safe and sound, when this was all over.
If he died at the hands of that… monster, Night wouldn’t only fail himself. He would fail Yuri. Worst of all, he would fail Rachel.
There were worse things than death.
The blue-tinged scales bristled mere steps away. He was close now, and a sudden thought – a crazy, suicidal thought – wormed its way into Night’s brain. Like all of his thoughts in the past few seconds, it had the shadow of death; but this one was different.
This one was a plan. And as the Spirit-fish bore down upon its prey, Night steeled himself for what would come next.
From far away, Yuri and Evan watched as the irregular continued his path, the Black March held high, its needlepoint finish catching the rays of the shimmering blue haze of the Spirit.
They had been silent ever since Yuri had handed over her Black March; her sword; her most important possession; and to a certain degree, her life.
Evan still thought the whole thing was a horrible idea.
Next to him, Yuri bit her lips, arms crossed.
Evan broke the silence. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
“I’m worried,” Yuri said, truthfully. “I gave him the Black March for nothing,” she sighed. “He’s not going to stand a chance against that thing. Even with the sword. It’s impossible.”
“Hmm,” Evan pursed his lips. In truth, it wasn’t impossible – few things were. There was one way to slip past the Spirit-fish; he had encountered a similar test when he was climbing the Tower, eons ago.
There was no use running; the blue, hazy Spirit in which the fish made its home gave it unusual speed. There was no use trying to stab it; its scales were nigh impenetrable. There was no use trying to calm it down; it was hungry, and it was a predator. And a predator must hunt its prey.
The most important thing was that, to the Spirit-fish, people like Night weren’t the enemy; they were merely food, a bite-sized snack. It would swallow him without a second thought. And he could use that to his advantage.
But he couldn’t tell that to Night, even if he had cared to. He was a Guide with a capital G, and a Guide could only reveal the path to those who can follow it. That was the way of the Guide. That was his duty.
The best choice of action for the boy, as it stood now, was for him to put up a valiant effort against the Spirit-fish, realize his weakness, and be rescued by Lady Yuri or Headon at the last minute. Because the boy had spunk, he’d give him that, but he was certainly not capable of the sheer amounts of courage, the nerves of steel, the ability to throw down his life for a minuscule chance of survival that was necessary to execute the –
Yuri’s frantic tug at his arm broke him out of his spell.
“He’s not running! Why is he not running??“
Evan’s eyes widened as he followed Yuri’s gaze. The boy was just… standing there. Not even moving. Just standing still, like he was frozen in place.
Seeing easy prey, the Spirit-fish continued its line of attack. It opened its jaws wide, anticipating meat. Its cavernous mouth was filled with rows and rows of dripping, serrated teeth.
With a single, fell swoop, Night disappeared into the maw of the beast. The jaws closed with a smash, sending reverberations into the spirit-laden air around it.
Beside Evan, Yuri spluttered. “That’s – that’s it??” she yelled, unbuttoning her coat and throwing it aside. “I’ve got to get him out of there, Evan – “
“Wait!” Evan yelled, grabbing her wrist and holding her back. “You can’t!”
Yuri’s eyes burned red. “Don’t damn well tell me what to do, Evan Edlock! I am a Lady of the House of Zahard, and I – “
“No, that’s not – !” Evan didn’t let go, despite her murderous gaze (this wasn’t a mere expression; Yuri’s gaze, when sufficiently angry, was enough to level a building).
“This is…” he swallowed. “This is the way.”
“What are you talking about??”
Evan pointed. “Look!”
Yuri turned around, and her jaw dropped. Nothing surprised her much anymore, as she was perhaps one of a handful of people who had explored the Tower to the extent that she had, but what unfolded in front of her eyes was more than even she could fathom.
The tip of the Black March protruded from the bottom of the monster’s jaw. It had run clean through its mouth; a slow steady stream of blood began trickling down to the ground.
The Spirit-Fish swayed for a few seconds, let loose a bleating cry, then fell with a crash onto the ground. Its jaws opened wide, and inside was Night, breathing hard and covered in slime, but alive. He tugged the Black March free.
Yuri gaped. “What… how?”
Evan’s mouth was closed, but that didn’t lessen his surprise – or his grudging respect. He crossed his arms and started at the boy, who was struggling to free himself from the pool of saliva that now spread across the stone floor.
“That’s… that’s impossible,” Yuri muttered. “Impossible.”
Suddenly dizzy, she sat cross-legged on the ground. “Impressive,” she said, looking up at Evan. “Still think this was a bad idea?”
Evan ignored her. “Test’s not over yet,” he said tersely.
Night ignored the murky, dripping saliva coating his body as he struggled to get on his feet and tried not to retch as the Spirit-Fish’s mouth hung open mere inches away, exuding one of the foulest scents he had ever smelled. He put all of that behind for now, and began running.
He could see the Ball just ahead of him. It was so close – just a few more seconds would put him on top of it. Behind him, the Spirit-fish thrashed and fell still, the ground shuddering under its weight. It wasn’t dead; even Night knew that much. But it would give him enough time.
The black sphere loomed closer, a shimmering haze surrounding it; he was finally within striking distance. Without hesitation, Night plunged the Black March into the pitch-black darkness of the Ball.
Nothing happened. He tried tugging at the sword; it refused to budge. Night didn’t know what to do; a thin stream of sweat ran down his brow and his heartbeat quickened. Was he supposed to turn it a certain way? Say something? An incantation, maybe?
No matter what he tried, the sword wouldn’t come free, and the Ball still remained. Night was at a dead-end.
An angry Yuri was a sight to behold. Evan had seen it several times before, but it was always an impressive demonstration of the amount of sheer power that her petite frame concealed.
Now, as she marched on Headon with the ground cracking under her feet and a dark shadow emanating from her eyes, Evan appreciated the fact that this time, at least, it wasn’t aimed at him.
“Headon,” Yuri growled, “What did you do?”
Standing inches away from each other, Yuri’s decidedly taller stance caused Headon to lean back slightly, but he didn’t budge from his position.
“I’m not sure,” Headon replied, twirling his staff. He smiled his ghastly smile, showing off his pointed teeth that stretched all the way across his oblong, eyeless face. “What do you suppose could have happened?”
For a split second, Yuri seemed to be on the verge of knocking Headon’s staff out of his hand, but her relatively cooler side prevailed. “The sword didn’t even make a dent!” she hollered. “And now it won’t come out! The Black March is stuck – stuck, Headon! Don’t pretend you’re not behind this – you did something to that ball, didn’t you!?”
If Headon was supposed to be intimidated by Yuri’s gesturing, Evan thought, it wasn’t working too well; in fact, his smile seemed to grow even wider, if that was possible.
“It must be a really strong ball,” said the Guardian of the Lowest Floor slowly, his omnipresent smile fading.
Behind them, in the depths of the blue mist, the Spirit-fish twitched back to life.