In the Shadow of Kings

The City of Secrets - The Tower of the Voice

Aryenne al

When I woke up from the horrible nightmares, everything in the armoury was calm. The silence was deafening. I looked around and saw my companions wakening one after another. Sargon made a gasping sound and clutched his right hand. It looked as if it had been burned. Had he been out of the armoury while I was asleep? When I asked him, he simply shook his head and turned away, whispering something about having a bad dream. Xeeliah also looked hurt. But all others were fine. Suddenly I felt something deep inside. It was an urge to avenge something, to correct it. I had not noticed this feeling before the nightmares begun, but I tried to shake it off me and think of something else, for example food.

Corrin started preparing a meal, this restless night had taken a lot of energy and I could feel my stomach hurt with hunger. When Corrin finally presented the pieces of dry bread and some pieces of drooping vegetables, it was one of the best tasting meals I have had on this journey. Grax apparently did not share my opinion. He spat out the piece of bread he was chewing on and threw it all back on Corrin. “What have you done with the food!” he growled. “This tastes like eating a cadaver. You didn’t think we would notice if you put in some of your disgusting raw meat, huh? But I did! I will not eat dead humans!” Corrin looked shocked and swore that he hadn’t done anything to the food. Xeeliah eventually managed to calm Grax down.

During our meal we spoke a little about what we had learnt the last few days and Sarghon and Grax skimmed through the books and letters we had found in the library of the Hand. The Eyes and the Hand were killed, but by whom? The Hand talked about betraying the Queen of Secrets, she wanted more freedom for the city and to be queen herself. But then she would not kill all the citizens, would she? Was the Eye also a part of this plot against the Queen? Who killed them? The Eye was killed by a blow to the head with something blunt and heavy and the Hand was killed by magic and her tower blown to pieces. Was there a connection? Who is the Mind of Yaramuke? I have never heard of a city having one of these. It was her defender we met in the black fog in the armoury. Is it she who controls the Spear? Did she kill the Eye and the Hand?

The letters in the library had been well hidden, and Grax soon found out why. He read pieces from a few of them and we learnt that the Hand had ordered the murder of the Eye, by an assassin’s blade, and of the Voice, by poisonous spiders (apparently imported by the Voice herself). The Queen herself wasn’t considered important or dangerous enough to kill. One paper also said something about the spears betraying the betrayers, and them being the puppets of the real master of Yaramuke. It was the spears that attacked the tower. The Hand must have been keeping notes even during the siege. But however much they scoured around in the papers, there was no mention of the Mind…

When the reading was done I let Grax examine the stone heart again. He had been doing this a couple of times since we entered Yaramuke and he said that he could feel it waiting for something, listening… I think he made this up just to keep us alert and on the edge when walking around in this dead city. But what if he was right? If the heart was a part of the Queen of Secrets, there might be something triggering it here in her city.

Grax gave the heart back and said he wanted to go back to the library in the Hand’s tower to look for the key to the coordinates we found in documents both here and in the Tower of the Eye. To be able to help him search, I asked him what he thought this “key” would look like. I had never seen a key that unlocks symbols in a book. He answered that it was probably a picture with a lot of lines and squares on it. That sounded strange, so I pretended to look for it, but I mostly hanged around examining the fancy instruments in the tower.

Corrin was looking for traps, as usual, but this time he found something else. From a hidden compartment behind the bedroll he dragged out a very shiny metal sword. It had symbols and runes around the hilt, but Corrin had only eyes for his own reflection in the blade. Finally he had to hand it over to Legion. It was too heavy for Corrin to handle. Sarghon tried to make out the meaning of the symbols, but the only thing he could read was “Loyalty until death”. There were stands for other weapons in the room, but all are empty. The sword was very well hidden. Did even the Hand know about it?

Grax found a map in one of the piles of paper covering the floor. It showed the castle, but had no lines or squares on it. Anyway, we decided we should be going to the Tower of the Voice to check if anything had happened there. According to the map, the Tower was in the eastern parts of the castle, close to the balcony where we met the first zombies. We decided to try the door we had seen in the yard, the one opened by the swarm, and they probably hadn’t locked it behind them.

We were walking through the streets, talking about the crodlus we left at the city gates and how many food rations they might have left. If they stuck to the plan we had and didn’t eat everything the first day, they should be ok for another two or three nights. Suddenly Corrin stopped. We had come to a crossing and some way up the other street was a bunch of zombies. They seemed like they were eating something… or someone. How could they have come by fresh meat here? Was it the Hag that had been torn into pieces? We quickly decided we wanted a closer look. I tried to distract them with Claw. When I summoned him, I had a weird feeling. He didn’t respond as quickly as he usually does, but he managed to take one of the zombies down. A dozen other zombies gathered around him, and I tried to unsummon him, but the same strange sensation remained. One of the zombies reached him and he was hit badly, and disappeared. The majority of the zombies didn’t react to the ghostly lion appearing in their midst, and continued their feast.

Corrin was convinced by Grax to let him teleport Corrin up on the roof above the zombies. He must have been very curious to let the lizard use his dark spells on him. He looked down on them for a while and then threw a stone further up the alley to distract them from us when we quickly crossed the street. When I was on my way past there, one of the zombies turned its head in my direction. I could feel its stare. Before I had time to react, Claw was there, throwing himself between me and the zombie. I could feel the rotten flesh of the zombie hand when it touched my arm, its nails scratched me, but Claw finished it off by aiming his teeth to its neck. I ran…

When we reached the castle, Corrin told us, while setting up a simple trap at the door, what he had seen. First, it had been hard to get a good look on whatever the zombies were tearing and biting at, but then he had seen a reflection cast by a piece of armour. It was marked with the Urikan lion. What had he done in the city? He must have been part of an Urikan force stationed outside Urik, or how else had he managed to get out alive? Had the force got into Yaramuke before us and closed the gates? Or had they come there after us? Where were the rest of the soldiers, or did he got here alone? Even more questions without an answer!

We followed Grax and his map into the castle, looking for the right tower. It seemed like the whole castle was built with different towers, but after a few wrong turns and a couple of zombie encounters, we found the right one. When we made our way up the stairs, we didn’t see any traces of zombies, or anything at all, really. The rooms were completely empty, stripped of any furniture and other things that may have been there before. At one point we saw a spike trap that had been set off. In the area around it there were several dark patches, probably blood stains. In a small soldiers room we saw the sign of the Bow, so it seemed like the Voice was protected by his soldiers. They didn’t make a good job in protecting the tower from thieves though… The room was as empty as all the others we had seen so far.

Halfway up to the second floor, there were two additional traps that Corrin made us aware of. Those weren’t activated, though. Hadn’t the intruders got this far, or did they recognise the traps from their first experience? We would soon get the answer to that question…

Some way up the stairs, we saw the rails and walls covered with something white. When we got closer, we could clearly see that it was spider webs. I guess the plan the Hand had made had worked out. The corridor was completely covered with the webs when we made it to a cloth-covered screen that blocked the doorway of one room. When peeking in through a crack at the side, we could make out a dimly lit room with a large hole in the floor. To the right was a room that looked like private quarters, to the left we saw a library or working room. Corrin got a torch from Grax and moved the screen to enter the room slowly. Grax followed, while we stayed at the door. The hole in the floor reached all the way down to the next level, and it was filled with broken furniture, cloth, bones, skulls mixed with more spider webs, and here and there were some pieces that looked suspiciously like half-digested zombie parts.

They moved into the private quarters and found a really fancy bed. It had a mattress and everything! When looking closer there was someone lying in the bed. Corrin got closer and could make out the body of a young girl. She wore no jewellery, no bracelet or golden amulet. She was not the Voice, but must have been a servant girl or something. How did she end up in that bed?

Suddenly we heard something moving up the stairs behind us. It sounded fast. Corrin started moving towards the door and in that exact moment Grax gave a startled cry. When I looked back at him, I had no difficulties figuring out why; there was a giant spider dangling from the ceiling right before his nose…

Grax recovered quickly, and with the strange attack he has used a few times before, he sent the giant spider away in a puff of smoke. We saw swarms of smaller spiders crawling around in the corners of the room, and behind us, in the stairs, the sound of many feet on the floor, (or maybe on the walls), got closer. We started the slaughter and did not stop until the tomb spider from the stairs was chased out from a window, the swarms were scattered and killed and the blade spider was severed into pieces and thrown down into the pit in the middle of the room. There spiders must have evolved during many decades, from the poisonous ones that killed the Voice…

With all the spiders gone, we searched the Voice’s quarters. Everything seemed to have been dragged down into the hole in the middle of the room by the spiders, everything except the bed with the dead girl, which had been used as a dining table. Then someone spotted something shiny down in the pit. It is a long way down, and we could really have used that rope we left at the city gate… Corrin and Legion, who were the most athletic ones, or maybe more drawn to shiny things than us, got down into the pit and found their way through the mess of broken furniture and pointy weapons. There were small spiders crawling around everywhere, feeding on half-eaten bodies.

Corrin reached the medallion first, but when he picked it up, it did not show the mouth of the Voice, but a golden star. Then, he saw something human-sized moving under a piece of the floor that fell down during our fight with the big spiders. It was a zombie; lower parts of the body rotten, broken bones and blackened flesh. She moved her unseeing eyes towards Corrin and Legion, spiders crawling out of her mouth when she tried to speak: “You will perish in here as I perished; Betrayed and alone. This is only fitting, the betrayer was betrayed. Everything is too late now…” Legion tried to ask her who betrayed her, but she took no notice of him. That was when Corrin and Legion decided they had to bring her to us. Corrin took up his knife and Legion held her head steady. When she opened her mouth to start a new sentence: “My Queen…”, Corrin slit her throat, and she fell silent. After searching her body and finding the medallion of the Voice, they brought the head up to the room where we were waiting. They proudly presented us with the head, explaining that we would only need her mouth,since that is the talking part of the body.

Fury and extreme frustration shot out of Sarghon’s eyes when he snatched the head from Legion, and showed the two idiots away. He desperately tried to summon the spirit of the Voice to be able to question her, but the head kept its silence. Meanwhile, Grax had searched the library, only to find it empty and all books shredded, their pages spread in the pit. He sent Corrin and Legion down again to get some of them, but with very clear orders not to destroy them or take anything else. The pages were filled with comments and stories from the Voice’s travels around Athas. Grax also seemed a little obsessed with figuring out what had been standing in the middle of the room before the spiders destroyed the floor.

Suddenly, we all heard a voice in our heads. A female voice said one word, once: “Coooome”. Everything was calm and quiet outside. We left the tower of the Voice and moved towards the throne room, where everything looked exactly as when we left last time. Then, everything got dark and the large doors opened from outside. We saw the old Hag standing in the doorway, and she looked directly at us. “Come! Follow me, quickly!”, she said. “She wants us to come, the clever one, Betrayal! She wants her servants to come! Death!”.

We quickly followed her. Grax tried to get some information about the Secret Library from her by asking where he should put the new books. The answer gave no clues: “I have tried to find it for hundreds of years. If you know anything about it, you tell me.” We got out in the courtyard, where a thick mist hangs all the way down to the ground. We stopped, and the mist swirled around from our movement. For a moment it got thinner to my left and what was revealed almost made me gasp. We were surrounded by ghosts! And not the harmless ones walking around, repeating the same sentence over and over. I recognized these; we had met them before, inside the throne room. The spirits of the advisors had risen once again!

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Aryenne

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