Synkroniciti presents the second Chapter of Beloved’s Journey, a serial novel. To read chapter one, please click here.
Chapter 2, Sable and Veracity
Staring up at the impossible, or, at the very least, improbable, structure, he lays his hand against the smooth obsidian wall and laughs. It isn’t a jolly laugh or a clever one. It doesn’t want to be a laugh at all. It is a scratching that begins in his chest and forces its way up his throat, burning with disappointment and frustration.
The tall, ebony skinned woman to his left narrows her brown eyes and sniffs the air, disturbed by some vaguely distasteful odor. Her brows and cheekbones are highlighted by a pattern of pale blue dots that accentuate the fine bone structure of her face. The dots on her forehead knit together as she casts a concerned glance at her companion.
“She’ll come back out of there sooner or later.”
“No,” he whispers. “She could come out anywhere… or nowhere. She could be lying in her own blood.”
The dark woman turns and cuffs him neatly across the mouth. She smiles, much too broadly, her long white teeth gleaming. “We have a need; she will come.”
He licks a thread of blood from his lip. “If you persist in beating me I’m at a complete loss as to how we convince her that we mean her no harm.”
“Speak for yourself,” she growls. “I’ll make my own decisions.”
Waking up next to a dead body is quite a shock. The guard is lying on the floor like a discarded jacket, his open eyes gazing blankly into mine, his mouth twisted into a smile that would be comical in any other circumstance. It takes me a few seconds to remember what has happened, and the memory gives no comfort. It is as cold as the black floor beneath me, as cold as a grave.
Indecision paralyzes my mind, and, in response, my body begins to shake, gently at first, and then fiercely. The tower hangs around me, waiting oppressively for my next move, bathed in a bone-chilling silence that listens greedily, hungry for any sound. I fill the void with my weeping, gradually making the floor between me and the corpse slick with tears. I cannot decide if I cry more for the nameless stranger or for myself.
Sitting up, I turn away from the dead man and find the striped shoes sitting neatly side by side, staring at me, eyeless. It seems everything here pursues me.
Impulse strikes and I put the shoes on, first the left, then the right. My feet snuggle into them as if meeting old friends. They are exactly my size. In fact, they seem molded to me. The stripes oscillate and purr soothingly. It suddenly seems imperative that I get myself out of here.
The moisture on the floor has coalesced into puddles. The dead man floats past me and I realize that some of those puddles have formed a small pond or stream. I break into a run in the direction of the door marked with the cerulean dot, but it isn’t there. I circle the floor three times, but there is no door, no hallway, and no exit. The water is halfway up to my knees.
Beneath the water a curious light is pulsing, blue then green, blue then green. I stare down in fascination at the shoes, which are repelling the water that surrounds them. A grin steals across my face at the mystery that will greet anyone who finds me here, a drowned body with dry feet. Panic sets in as the water reaches my waist. It doesn’t matter if I understand what has happened or not. I can’t shut it off.
At that moment I strike my head against something and my ears ring like temple bells. A ladder hangs suspended above me. As the water caresses my chin I pull myself onto it. The water clings to me, unwilling to part with its victim, but I force myself up rung by rung until I am standing on the ladder. Looking down I am stunned to see myself reflected in a deep well. My amazement turns to horror as I realize the water is still climbing up to meet me.
At the top of the ladder is a spiral staircase that climbs the inside wall of the tower. The water below me roars as it gathers itself for the kill. The stairway ends abruptly and I ready myself for death. I’ve been wishing for a way out for a long time.
Painted on the wall before me is a large cerulean eye. I reach out to touch it.
He was sleeping a deep sleep haunted by dark thoughts when he felt a sharp sensation in his ribs. Cautiously opening one eye he sees his companion, the dots on her face revealing an expression of impatience and purpose. He is glad that he painted them. The woman is inscrutable. As he peers at her she kicks him again.
“Hold off! I’m going to be bruised.”
Narrowing her eyes, she hisses at him, “We’re ALL bruised here.” She jerks her head sharply. “The girl is out of the tower.”
Leaping up, he uses every ounce of restraint to stifle a curse. How could he have been asleep at the moment she had emerged? If he lost her, he would lose them as well, all of them. To his relief, a small figure lies in fetal position on the other bank of the river. Had there been a river before? There was also daylight; he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen daylight.
The figure moves, rolling gently from side to side. The tall woman grabs his arm and drags him into the river. He begins to protest, but the thought of sinking in that cold water petrifies him. Despite his dislike for her and his great discomfort at the nearness of her body, he trusts her. He knows the greatness of her need.
I am awake again, this time with a splitting headache. I will have to move slowly unless I want to become violently ill. Water runs over the rocks beside me. I am lying on a mossy river bank with sunlight above me and no tower. The air smells like iron. Or blood. Has someone brought me here, or has the tower moved?
Raised voices draw my attention to the far bank. Two people seem locked together, either in combat or in an uneasy embrace.
“I don’t bloody swim. You can’t just pull me in here!”
“Can’t or won’t? She’s going to leave us behind and we’ve come too far for that.”
“It’s… so… cold.”
“Hold on to me and I will swim for both of us.”
Her face is set in a resigned, yet intense, expression intensified by a matrix of light blue dots painted across her face. After a couple of strokes the woman, strikingly tall with a complexion of ebony, puts her feet down onto the riverbed and walks across, dragging the waterlogged man behind her. His eyes are glazed with horror and his mouth fidgets soundlessly, although this stream seems scarcely worth that much concern. His limbs flail about helplessly. I stifle a laugh and unsuccessfully attempt to wipe the smirk from my face as I sit up, quickly remembering my sore head. There is something vaguely familiar about these characters. Perhaps that is just a permanent feature of this place.
“Hello there. I see you,” I call out tentatively as they set foot on my side of the river. The man smiles encouragingly.
“Hallooo! Are you quite alright there?” he yells back in a pleasant baritone with a high class English accent. “We’ve been worried about you, we have.”
Smiling back, I take a step in his direction. There is a sharp crack as I am struck across the back of the head. Hardly the best medicine for a headache, I think as I fall onto the soft moss.
“What in bloody blazes did you do that for?” he squawks. “Stupid beast!”
“We need to make sure she doesn’t run.” Dropping a dark colored stone she had picked up on the riverbank, my attacker pulls a roll of twine from an animal skin bag on her back and binds my hands and feet, glancing with interest at my shimmering shoes. “Besides, she was laughing at you. Of course, I would have laughed at you too. A grown man scared of a tiny stream.” Her lips purse in a wry smile, then the dots on her face dance with laughter.
“Does it occur to you that she’s already wounded? You may have bloody well killed her!”
“I’ve already told you, everyone here is wounded.”
She hadn’t knocked me out completely. I have no doubt she knows that and has chosen to go “easy” on me. I resolve not to fight unless I know what I am fighting for and who my adversaries are.
“I’m not dead. Are you guys planning on killing me any time soon?”
Both of them turn to me. He says, without hesitation, “No. Most certainly not.” She assumes a sullen expression, pursing her lips as the dots grow together on her brows, and remains stubbornly silent. That silence speaks volumes. I have the impression it is far more trustworthy than his glib and easy response.
He holds out his hand, withdrawing it awkwardly at the sight of my bound wrists. I struggle briefly, but the twine proves itself deceptively strong and bites sharply into my flesh. “I’m Veracity,” he says, looking pointedly at his companion.
She returns his stare with an expression of deep animosity, then looks directly into my eyes. “Sable,” she says flatly.
“Beloved,” they say together.