Part Nine: Tower Of Storm
TOWER OF STORM
There was snow on the ground, and the air stung like tiny needles of ice. They were closer to the tower. They would be there by nightfall, Telcrow had calculated. The howling grew louder, and more frequent. Occasionally, they would spot a shadow prowling between the trees, a flicker of movement that vanished as soon as seen. Telcrow let Harresta hold his hand.
Berthond was growing more and more worried. He really didn’t want any more people to die. He had been so certain that he would be the one to get the Lestines and save Belecostar, in a flawless victory. He had pictured himself and his three companions being praised and celebrated. Now, he could see the horror and suffering of an impossible quest. He realized he might be the only one to make it out alive. He realized that maybe even he wouldn’t survive. After all, it was a quest no-one had ever managed before. Why would he be the one to win? What made him so special? Had he been lying to himself the entire time? He knew he wouldn’t make it. That it had all been in vain. They were all going to di –
WHUMP. Selebriar hit him hard on the back of the head, and he wondered if he had started to say some of those things out loud.
Suddenly, Harresta gave a cry. Behind them, on the path, a wolf stood snarling. Its coat of black fur was slick and wet, with a pale blue tint to the ends of the hairs. Its muscles could be seen rippling beneath the skin, bunching as it crouched down. Its eyes were a solid white; its teeth were pale and sharp, like tiny ivory tusks. The saliva dripping from its iron jaws was a ghastly blue, like it had just eaten a bucket of paint.
‘Hey, guys’, whispered Telcrow, ‘you know what happens when three kids go up against a giant ice wolf?’ ‘What?’ whispered Berthond. Telcrow grinned horribly. ‘There are fewer kids.’
‘RUN!’ yelled Berthond. The four heroes dashed in the direction of the tower. Berthond might have heard someone yell: ‘You idiot humans, you can’t outrun wolves, you’ll be killed…Oh, the things I do for you people…’ He might have heard the twang of a bowstring and the yelp of a wolf. But he was too busy running for his life to hear anything much.
As they were running toward the tower, Harresta cried out again. ‘They’re running beside us too! We’re surrounded!’ On all sides except towards the tower, thought Berthond. It’s as though they’re herding us… But they had no choice but to run towards the tower, so they did.
Telcrow got there first and thrust the doors open. He waited until the other three were through, then slammed them shut and leaned on them. ‘Now what?’ He panted. Berthond looked around. The tower was narrow, with a spiral staircase winding upwards along the wall like a lighthouse. ‘We climb the stairs’, he said. ‘Nowhere else to go’.
They had just reached the top of the tower when they heard the beasts break through the door. The four of them burst through a trap door out onto the roof of the tower. It was a wide, round open space, with low crenellations all around the edges. In the center, on a shoulder-high claw-shaped stand, was a crystal orb. While Selebriar bolted the trap door shut, Berthond leapt forward and snatched the Lestine off the pedestal. There was a blue spark in the center, and the sphere filled with a silver-blue mist, spikes like icicles shooting out from the heart and vanishing. The yapping and snarling coming from below drew closer. His mind raced. How would they escape? It was too far to jump!
Telcrow swallowed hard. ‘Um…Guys? I…You know how I’m really good at pyrokinetics?’ he glanced around nervously. ‘I know a spell that could blow up all these wolves. A magic bomb, basically.’ Harresta stared at him. ‘Then why don’t you use it?’ she screamed hysterically. Telcrow shut his eyes. ‘I said it’s a bomb. If I use it here, I kill us all. If I go through that trap door and use it when the wolves come charging up, only one person dies. Me’. Berthond marched over to Telcrow and clapped his hands on his shoulders. ‘No way. I am not having anyone else get killed.’ Telcrow brushed off his companion’s hands. ‘We thought one person would die here today. I think this is it.’
Berthond backed away, slowly, his eyes wide. ‘And…You’re not scared?’ Telcrow shook his head. ‘I am. I am so very, very afraid. But there’s nothing else we can do. There are at least thirty of them down there. I know you’re skilled warriors, but you can’t fight off all that.’
Selebriar walked up to him and took his hand. He said a few words in the Elvish language, then Telcrow went over to the trap door and slid back the bolts. He looked up. ‘Goodbye, my friends’, he said, and jumped down. Selebriar hurriedly shut the door behind him. ‘Now what?’ asked Berthond. ‘Now we wait’, said Selebriar simply.
They were the worst thirty seconds of Berthond’s life. They seemed to last for hours. Harresta was crying quietly. Berthond could feel the tears streaming down his own face. Selebriar had his back turned, and was looking out into the distance. Berthond knew he wasn’t crying, but that he was filled with the same guilty sadness that they were all feeling.
After thirty seconds, the trap door burst off its hinges. Red-and-blue smoke filled the air above it, and something purple shot out of the hole and slammed against the crenellations opposite, along with a few wolves. The three others scrambled to their feet and raced towards the spot where Telcrow lay.
Berthond and Selebriar knelt beside him on his right, Harresta on his left. Telcrow opened his eyes, and smiled ironically. ‘How are you still alive?’ gabbled Berthond. Telcrow coughed up a bit of blood. ‘I was in the eye of the storm. I won’t get my life force sucked out instantly. I’ll still die, though.’ He laughed weakly. ‘At least I’ve got the time for a proper goodbye.’ He gripped Selebriar’s sleeve. ‘Sing. Sing for me, Darkleaf. Sing me to sleep.’
There was a long pause. Then, Selebriar closed his eyes, and began to sing. It was a powerful, sorrowful tune. Berthond realized that he could understand the lyrics.
The bitter sting of cold and death
The wind may blow its icy breath
The clouds grow dark, the night sky fall
Yet in the midst, the brave stand tall
You fear not pain, you fear not doom
Nor lonely dark, nor poison gloom
To give your life, ‘tis yours to give
To die and win, not lose and live
And night will pass, and sun will rise
And leaf and branch shall touch the skies
And wind shall carry down your name
And legend shall be yours to claim
Your tale is one none may forget
A bright sun that shall never set
The wind shall carry near and far
The name Telcrow, Telcrow Despar.
And Telcrow closed his eyes, never to open them again.