Previous: Chapter 18
Chapter 19 (Haunted)
Ekanli stretched out by the fire, leaning a bit on her side after riding so hard for a week. The city of Feerstor was visible in the distance, but with how dark it was and how hard they’d been riding, none of the group seemed able to ride even five more feet. Plus, the horses were tired, and the city gates appeared to be locked from this distance. Though, there was a large, haunted-looking white tower about half way to the city, a remnant from the time of war.
With the rolling hills all around, the woods behind them seemed like a dark shadow on the land.
Igu sat on the other side of the fire and wrung her hands, muttering something about Tima. Beside her, Modaj thumbed through a book, squinting as if that would make the firelight brighter. Weron rewrapped some bandages around Orshis’s middle over by the horses then put feeding bags over their mouths to quiet them.
The muggy air made each breath feel like drinking a glass of water, and the three moons which were out tonight—the blood moon, the infection moon and the virus moon—and cast their red, yellow and green lights across the land, making it easy enough to see.
Weron strode over to the fire and placed some skewered meat over the open flames. “Once this is done, we have to put this fire out.”
“Why?” Ekanli put a hand on her hip as she turned her head to stare at him, her other hand holding her up in the lounging position. She stretched but held her indignant posture, as much as one could while lying down at least. “Didn’t you say we lost those Regime Hunters chasing after us?”
Igu perked up, looking between Ekanli and Weron. Modaj buried himself deeper into his book.
Slowly, Weron shook his head. “The explosion allowed us to escape, and the traps slowed them, but there is no way they would give up that easily.”
“Says you.” Ekanli scoffed then laid herself out flat. She closed her eyes. “We’re so close to the city; there’s no reason to bear it tonight.”
“You don’t get to make that decision.”
“And who does? You?” Ekanli scoffed.
“What about Tima?” Igu asked, speaking loud enough for others to hear for the first time since the explosion that engulfed Ayuhod. Her voice was hoarse and heavy bags decorated her eyes like black purses. “When can we go after him?”
“That’s impossible,” Weron said in a solemn voice. He bit into his lower lip. “We just have to hope he makes it to—”
A branch snapped in the woods behind them, and their horses began whinnying despite the feedbags.
Weron held a hand out to the fire and snuffed it out with his power. “Quiet.”
Wind roiled just outside the tree line and whipped through the air above their camp. A bolt of lightning streaked down and blasted the fire pit, charring their food and sending a spray of dirt into the air. The blinding light and explosive sound stunned everyone in the circle; though, Modaj with his eyes squinted as they were, recovered first.
“Get ahold of yourselves,” Orshis said from beside the horses. Unable to heal herself and without a real healer despite Ekanli’s attempts, Orshis moved like a spiderchicken without wings and only one good leg. “We have to go! Now!”
Weron patted at his ears while Modaj tucked his book into the pocket of his robe. He, unlike Weron, seemed completely unaffected.
Ekanli shook her head as Orshis led a pair of horses over towards them. Modaj helped Ekanli and Igu onto the same horse then got onto the second horse, whispering something to Orshis.
Twelve Regime Hunters burst from the woods.
Orshis spanked the horse Ekanli and Igu were own, sending it into a gallop towards the creepy white tower in the distance. It looked more unused than Old Betty’s Beauty Salon.
Modaj pointed forward, away from the wave of elements sweeping over their former camp—away from where Orshis and Weron still were. “We,” Modaj said, voice high-pitched, “have to get to the tower no matter what.”
“What good will it do us?” Ekanli asked as she crafted a barrier of wind around them. Despite using this before, it felt thinner than before, proven so when bolts of fire and stone crashed into the barrier, nearly shattering it.
Igu went back to muttering under her breath for a few heartbeats then quieted.
The beating of hooves on hard-packed dirt came from behind. Orshis and Weron were holding their own, but the Regime Hunters, like the smell of ozone that had erased all other smells, were getting away from them. Of the twelve, two were down and four were engaged with Weron and Orshis. Four were riding hard to catch up, and the last two were headed off to the sides as if to cut off any escape.
Ekanli swallowed. “I don’t think we can hold the tower doors, if they even work in that old thing.”
“But we delay them.” Modaj crafted shields of stone to cover their backs just before Ekanli’s barrier shattered. But like hers, it was thin.
Also like before, Igu snarled and started muttering under her breath. It was something about Tima and not being able to live without him. But this time, she just complained over and over again.
The riders closed in and hurled elemental bolts, blasting Modaj’s shields into dust. Ten feet away and closing.
The tower was still a good twenty feet away.
Igu gritted her teeth and held a hand above her head, gathering a ball of fire that could have shaded them from the moons’ light.
Each of the Regime Hunters’ horses whinnied as they pulled on their reins and scattered.
Igu flung her hand towards them, but the blast of fire shrank upon leaving its perch above her, and the Regime Hunters easily avoided the stream of fire. She began muttering again.
They passed through the outer gates around the tower, which were broken pieces of scrap metal. A creepy howl rang through the air. Modaj leaped off his horse and placed both hands on the ground. Jaw set, he closed his eyes, and the ground began to tremble.
Ekanli climbed down then glanced between the closed doors of the tower and Modaj. “Hurry up.”
“I’m trying.” His voice was strained. “Get Igu inside, and hide.”
Igu,, still on the horse, shook her head. A convulsion rippled through her as Modaj’s wall came up to block the entryway, the shaking ground knocking Ekanli from her feet.
Ekanli scrambled to her feet and pulled Igu from the saddle then hurried to the door, towing her along.
The ground trembled again, and Modaj growled.
Ekanli pushed on the door, but it didn’t budge. “We have a problem!”
“You think?” Modaj said.
“I mean the door is locked!”
“What?” He glanced over his shoulder at her, cracks forming in his crafted wall.
Ekanli sent blades of wind into the lock, but nothing happened. Like most things of war before the Regime took power, this door was power-forged.
Igu pried her wrist free. “We have to hurry. Find a way to escape and find Tima.”
“Tima’s the least of our problems right now.” Ekanli took a deep breath then ingested her link, the glow of her eyes intensifying and bathing the door in yellow light. “Step back.”
Igu did so.
With everything she had, Ekanli blasted the door with a rush of wind. The gale howled, and the door groaned. Her knees grew weak as her stomach grumbled, but she only pushed harder, ripping the door from its hinges. The light in her eyes died.
Igu nodded the sprinted inside, disappearing into the flickering lights mounted on the walls inside the tower.
“Wait!” Ekanli glanced back at Modaj. “The door is open, but Igu ran off.”
Modaj stood and stumbled over to her. After taking one step inside, the created wall exploded in a spray of stone. “Move.”
The two of them slammed the doors behind them and bound the doors together with a slate of granite wrapped in wind before working their way in through the maze of rooms, each connected to others by a series of doors as if the idea of hallways was foreign to the original architects. The place smelled of mold and cobwebs, and the walls of every room were a dusty, gray-green to match.
A low hum came from the ceiling.
Ekanli swallowed then forced herself to grin. “You here that?”
Modaj shook his head.
Boom! The explosion came from behind.
“Up the stairs.” Modaj pointed to the incredibly dark room in the distance.
Ringing footsteps came from behind.
Ekanli only hesitated for a moment then ran into the stairwell, Modaj on her heels. Despite the untold number of floors this tower had, this particular stairwell only went up one flight. Room after room, she ran, saying Igu’s name after each door smacked shut behind her.
The last room, covered in red, led to another stairwell. The temperature dropped with each step closer to the stairwell, and silence turned each breath into a scream. No footsteps followed.
Ekanli spun on her heels, chest heaving.
Modaj was nowhere to be seen.
The eerie hum started up again, and the hairs on the back of Ekanli’s arms stood on end.
She stifled a scream by covering mouth.
“Did you hear that?” an unfamiliar, gruff voice asked from one room over.
“Don’t let your guard down,” another said.
Ekanli eased into the stairwell on her tiptoes and made her way to the third floor. Without access to her powers and no weapons, she’d be hard-pressed to defend herself, but with the speed of wind, she could get the jump on them, so she made her way a few rooms away from the stairwell into what looked like a dining hall.
Like the rest of this tower save for the crimson room, this place smelled like old people with the moldy-colored walls to match. Rows and rows of tables filled the expansive room with a kitchen in the back and a few toppled tables by the door.
“Perfect,” she whispered to herself as she made her way over to one of the turned over tables.
“This way, right?” the gruff voice asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure—”
A gurgling screech cut off whatever the second Regime Hunter was going to say.
Rather than crouching in her position, ready to attack, Ekanli huddled, arms wrapped around her knees, her entire body trembling.
Long moments passed and there were no sounds.
Ekanli took a deep breath and stood. There was no reason to be frightened since it didn’t sound like the Regime Hunters had caught either of her friends.
No hum. No voices. Just a cold silence.
Knees shaking, Ekanli tiptoed to the door into the other room and peeked through it.
The once gray-green room was now crimson with gore and blood creeping down the wall, A pair of heads rested in the center of the room, one with a beard and one with a pig nose. If they were whole, at least. The heads had been split in two and put with the opposite half of the other, creating a pair of odd creatures.
Next: Chapter 20