Previous: Chapter 19
Chapter 20 (A haunting monster)
Ekanli’s voice died, but the sickness in her belly didn’t, and she puked into the gore covered room.
Everything smelled like the mountain river before the Regime’s companies had to stop dumping metal shavings from the stop floors into it. That, mixed with the lemon-sour gunk clinging to her mouth, gave the small entry room an expansive feel. The cramped walls with one door to the right and the stairwell to the left seemed to quiver as her voice echoed back into the room.
Then something howled.
Ekanli’s breath caught, and she stumbled to the side, bracing on the doorframe that led into the kitchen behind her.
The howl came again, clearly from the room to the right.
“No, no, no,” Ekanli said to herself before bolting into the stairwell. “Igu! Modaj! We have to—”
A bald woman with the metallic tattoos of a Regime Hunter stepped in front of Ekanli. The woman’s clothes were singed, and several burn marks decorated her exposed skin. She gritted her teeth and pulled out a pair of daggers, lunging at Ekanli with the speed of a wind wielder.
Ekanli pressed her back against the wall then danced around the woman into the open room by the stairwell. “Stop.”
“You!” The woman righted her footwork and lashed out with a tendril of wind as she moved forward, but her hands shook, and the tendril shot low, knocking Ekanli from her feet instead.
The wind adjusted and wrapped around Ekanli’s leg, digging into her flesh, and she let out a hoarse scream.
“I don’t know what did,” the woman’s voice cracked, and her lips quivered, “but I’m going to put an end to it now.”
“I didn’t do anything.” Ekanli pushed herself backwards with her hands. “But this tower is—”
A malformed shadow appeared out of the stairwell behind the woman, its form roiling forward.
Ekanli’s eyes bulged, and she pointed behind the woman. “Monster!” Ekanli scrambled to her feet despite the tendril still ripping away at her leg and took a step.
“You think I’d just let you go?” the woman asked. “I—” She screamed, and hot blood splattered across Ekanli’s back.
Heat filled the room, and sweat beaded Ekanli’s forehead as a howling gale rose up behind her. The floor shook, and the wind around her leg vanished while she hobbled out of the room. She moved from room to room, trying to find the stairwell down in this maze of a tower. Left, right, right, left.
Ekanli had turned around so many times and moved through so many rooms everything started looking the same. She crossed through a room she had been in before and took a right.
The stairwell down waited for her across the room.
She started forward, heart pounding in her ears.
A blood-curdling roar reverberated through the walls all around her. It came from the room she had just come from. From the stairwell. From the room to the left. It sounded so close.
Tearing the tendons in her leg as she took the stairs down two at a time, Ekanli gritted her teeth and ignored the pain. She made her way towards the exit.
In the room by the gaping front door, in a pool of blood and scorched clothing, Igu lay behind Modaj, both of them flat on their backs staring at the ceiling.
“Get up; get up; get up!” Ekanli put her weight on her good leg and leaned over to shake Modaj first then Igu.
Igu stirred, blinking up at Ekanli. “Terrible. Monster.”
“I know.” Ekanli pointed at Modaj. “Help me get him to a horse.”
Igu stumbled to her feet and helped Ekanli hoist Modaj, doing most of the work with her gift of fire. They started out the door, and Igu glanced down. “You’re hurt?”
“Better than dead.” Ekanli gestured at the group of horses. “Can you lead a horse while you ride?”
Igu nodded. “Probably.”
Together, once again with Igu doing most of the work, they flopped Modaj over the saddle of one of the Regime Hunters’ horses then climbed into their own saddles and rode out of the tower then towards the city, not bothering to look back.
Next: Chapter 21