Episode 9 - The Sleeper Awake

Page 7

Jarrock dragged Eddie and Tim up a series of stone staircases like two bags of cotton. Eddie attempted several times to regain his footing, but Jarrock yanked him back into a drag. The high priest gripped him with the strength of mechanical claws.

"This is the night," Jarrock muttered under his breath. "A great convergence. The pieces... all the pieces in place now. The sacrifice. The sacrifice. I have the right sacrifice. I have the words. I have the sacrifice. The lady of chaos, the sacrifice, the usurper. It's all here."

He dragged them up a stairway leading to the top of the prison's outer wall. Once there, he shook Timmy, who wailed in alarm. "You think I didn't recognize you? You think I don't know who you are? You can't hide from me. And I have you. Ha! I have you."

From the outer wall, a stone walkway suspended on arched supports led across to a stone tower. The way was narrow, and as Jarrock dragged Eddie and Timmy, Eddie hung suspended over the side. The night had swallowed up the ground beneath him in blackness.

At the far end of the walkway were two granite doors to the tower. As he approached, the doors opened, unbidden. The interior was black, but Jarrock didn't hesitate. He climbed invisible stairs, higher and higher into his tower. The granite doors closed behind him, locking them into the blackness.

"This is the night of fire..." Jarrock muttered. "Fire. I'll set the sky on fire. I'll swallow the heavens. I'll swallow up God himself."

Eddie tried punching at Jarrock, aiming for his crotch. As the priest jostled him around, Eddie's fists found legs that felt like granite slabs. The high priest didn't notice.

At the top was a broad platform under the stars and moon. A pale pink glow touched everything from the celestial billboard, urging all who gazed up to drink Sky Cola.

Jarrock dropped Eddie and Timmy on the stone floor and laughed. "At last. All the pieces are in place."

"What are you going to do?" Eddie asked, lying exhausted before him.

"First, I recite the words of a spell that I alone have learned from careful study of the dream network. They are the words foretold that will bring the world transformation. I know every word, memorized with phonetic precision."

He crossed the platform to a stone lever rising from the floor. "Once that is done, I will drop all the prisoners into a river of fire. From here, I can draw in their spark as the fire consumes them. The power of more than a hundred souls, all drawn into me. And then, you will walk off of this tower, into the void, the final sacrifice. And then, I WILL STEAL THE THRONE OF GOD!" He cried out these last words, his hands raised to the sky.

Eddie pushed himself up. Jarrock thrust out a warding hand to stop him. Eddie felt nothing.

"Ah, I forgot. That doesn't work on you." Jarrock stepped forward and kicked Eddie across the face. Eddie fell back.

"Now, don't interrupt. The spell is not long."

"Why did you bring Timmy up here?" Eddie asked.

"He will witness."

"Why?"

"Because I've seen his face in the dreams. He is part of the spell as well."

* * *

Ruby raced up the stairway after Skylar. Bryce followed a pace behind her. The stairs shook as Cornelius stomped up behind. "We'd go faster if I carried you," he complained.

On the landing above them an Ord priest stepped out, his palm aimed down at Ruby and the others. Bryce moved faster. He aimed his hand upward past Ruby, and a pale violet bolt shot out of his hand. It caught the priest in the face, and he fell backwards.

"Holy shit," Bryce cried. "It worked."

Ruby reached the landing and followed Skylar around to the next landing. Without warning, a huge hand closed around her waist. Bryce let out a shout of alarm. Skylar spun back to investigate.

Cornelius held Bryce in one hand, Ruby in the other. "Quit squirming, I can run faster than you. Lead on, fairy."

Skylar looked at Ruby.

"Fine," Ruby said.

Skylar continued, the giant racing after her. They moved at twice the speed they had before, the stairway shaking as the troll stomped up them. They emerged from the prison, then headed to a stairway leading up the outer wall. In three lunging steps they were at the top. Skylar urged them on towards the walkway and the tower. The troll set Bryce and Ruby down. "We'll go one at a time here."

Ruby didn't hesitate. She raced across the walkway and stopped at the granite doors. "Skylar, how do I open these?"

The fixie flew up and down the sides. She zipped into a high window and emerged a moment later. She shook her head.

"Out of the way, lass," Cornelius ordered. He pushed past her and slammed his fist in the granite. The doors shook, but they didn't budge.

He pounded again and again. A bolt of green light came from behind them, hitting the tower wall. Ruby spun around. Two Ord priests stood on the opposite side of the walkway, their hands raised. Bryce raised his own hand and shot a violet bolt. The light went wide. A battle of light beams began. After a few seconds, Bryce hit one of the Ord, but the other Ord hit Bryce in the leg. Bryce went down hard on the walkway, nearly rolling over the edge. Ruby rushed forward and caught him.

"My leg is numb," he complained.

The Ord priest raised his hand, taking his time to aim. Then he stiffened. He cried out "Haaagh," and toppled over the prison wall, an arrow protruding from his back. Down the wall, a soldier with a crossbow nodded once at Ruby and raced away.

Cornelius continued to pound at the door. His lack of progress only spurned him to try harder. His rage was terrifying, his fists like piledrivers.

Above, Ruby heard a low, clear voice, crying out in the night. It was Jarrock. Ruby couldn't make out the exact words, but it sounded like he spoke English.

"We're out of time," Ruby said. "Skylar, is there any way up there?"

Skylar darted around the tower. She returned and shook her head.

"Got to get up there," Ruby muttered. The old woman had said something about a lever. The lever must be at the top of the tower, a lever to dump everyone in the prison into a fiery death."

"Out of time. Out of time." She couldn't think. She had to stop whatever was going on.

Then an idea struck her—possibly a very bad idea.

"Uh, mister troll?"

"His name is Cornelius," Bryce said.

"Cornelius. CORNELIUS!"

The troll spun around, his face bright with livid rage, his eyes boring into Ruby.

"I need you to do something for me," Ruby said.

The troll waited, his lungs heaving like giant bellows.

"I need you to throw me up to the top of this tower."

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page published 8/19/2017