Chapter 29: Pigeons
Crossing the threshold, Kwado braced for anything, but nothing could prepare him for what he saw next. He had expected a tight corridor, most likely with a spiraling staircase climbing its edge.However, what he found was…well, not that.
The circular room was gargantuan, wide enough to fit seven of the stone towers as it appeared from the glade. At the center, partially blocking the view of a wide set of stairs beyond, stood a grand tree covered with copper leaves. Kwado marveled at the mystical tree, which appeared both stately and majestic, as if it were the master of this domain. Rays of sunlight from above lit its boughs, and it was surrounded by a low stone circle on the floor, which was covered in spongy green moss.
The door closed behind him and he started, turning to find the seams disappearing as it fell back in place. Above it was another stone rose, identical to the one outside. His eye wandered around the perimeter of the wide lobby, finding a handful of other stone sigils set at roughly equal intervals. There was a harp, a shield, a mermaid, and so on.
Are they all doors? If so, where did they lead? He felt certain the answer to that was far from simple.
Just as surprising as the size of the tower entrance was the amount of sunlight that filled the place. The walls climbed high, and at first it felt like the room had no ceiling when he looked straight up, forced to shield his eyes from the light. Between his fingers, he could just make out the outline of a natural skylight streaming in through a criss-crossed framework of wooden beams. As he stared into the light, a white nightingale flitted down from the aerie and landed on the tree, turning its head and chirping at him.
“Good afternoon, Lady Bird,” Kwado said, tipping an imaginary hat.
The nightingale sang melodiously and flew back up toward the sky as Kwado walked around the tree, past a pair of statues—one crow and one frog—to the stone staircase. He climbed it easily, wondering what kind of magic it took to create such a place.
On the landing at the top of the stairs, he found a wooden door and his heart sank. He studied it for a moment. There were no hinges or doorknob that he could see.
Could it…? He pressed the palm of his hand against it. The wood was warm to the touch and smooth as glass. With the slightest pressure, it swung silently inward. A long unlit corridor lay beyond it lined with doors on either side.
Kwado walked carefully down the hallway, eyeing each closed door he passed. He could smell burning wood coming from the end of the hall, no doubt a fireplace. About halfway down the corridor, he seized up when the door to his immediate right suddenly creaked open. He glanced at it fearfully, but it was already closed again.
Kwado frowned and looked up, and he was suddenly overcome with a dizzying sensation. The hallway was all wrong. Somehow he was back at the beginning, facing the open door to the stairwell.
“What the—?” he gasped, turning around in disbelief. He rubbed his eyes as if they were playing tricks on him. Sure enough, the way he had come seemed for all intents and purposes to be the way he thought he was heading. But if I came that way, then how did I end up back where I began? I never turned around…did I? The harder he thought about it, the more confusing it became. The only rational explanation he could grasp was that he was over-exhausted from sleep deprivation.
Kwado decided to focus on a small table at the far end of the hallway, where it split off in opposite directions. He started walking, determined not to take his eyes off that table. The smell of firewood hit him again, stinging his nose with a smoky hickory aroma. He had a sudden vision of the long winters back in Westfall, sitting around the fireplace with his parents drinking mulled cider. Before he even realized his distraction, the door on his right opened with a creak. He caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of his eye, but it was too late.
The world felt as if it sucked in deeply and spit him back out, so that he moved without moving. Once again he found himself at the beginning of the hall, staring down the stone stairwell.
“Damn it all,” he muttered to himself as he turned back around. This time he knew he was not crazy or sleep deprived. The hallway switched positions on me. But how? The most obvious answer was that he was in a wizard’s tower.
“Magic,” he mouthed. It had to be. How else could such a thing be done? But why doesn’t my phalatite stop this spell? he wondered, fingering the crystal inside his pocket.
He was beginning to feel out of his depth. Did he really think he could just stroll in here unannounced and have free reign to go wherever he pleased? That gave him an idea.
Kwado held up the apprentice’s amulet and whispered the incantation from the glade. “Fal’ot Borish Cumkauit.”
He thought he heard the distinct sound of a lock being drawn somewhere in the tower. Smiling triumphantly, he strode down the hallway with his head held high and eyes fixed on the small end table. This time, when the creaking door opened on his right, he swore and slapped his palms onto the wall to keep from being moved. Before he could blink, he was facing the stairwell again.
Kwado’s face felt hot. He wanted to curse, to holler and hoot, to smash the walls apart. At this rate the apprentice was going to wake up and call out for his master, or Ragga was going to return with Gam and his pack long before he could speak with the wizard. And he was going to be stuck right here when it happened, trapped like a fool in a turning hallway that never moved.
Okay, so the amulet didn’t work and my phalatite does not negate the spell, he thought, forcing the tension out of his jaw. He had to calm down and think straight. So think of a better solution. First, analyze the problem.
Wizard’s houses suck. No! That’s not the problem and this is no time to be silly. Right then…I’m walking straight for the end table at the end of the hall when that door opens, and then I’m walking back toward the entrance.
He could try to figure out a way to seal the door shut. If he did that, then whatever magic was at play here might not be able to make him walk back the way he came.
Kwado’s eyes lit up. Wait a minute, he thought, turning so that he was facing the stairwell, with his back to the far end of the hall. If walking forward turns me around to face the entrance, then what if I just walk backward?
Certain he was either a fool or a genius, Kwado immediately walked backward down the corridor, careful not to trip over his own large troll feet. As he neared the door halfway down the hall, he tensed up but kept moving. He winced when the door opened and closed again, but then almost cried out in joy to see he was suddenly facing the opposite end of the hallway, staring down at the small end table directly in front of him. It had worked!
The hallway split off in opposite directions here, but flickering light from underneath a door down the right hallway drew him like a moth to the flame. The smell of burning firewood grew stronger the closer he came, propelling him eagerly toward it. Like the door at the top of the stairs, this one had no handle or hinges and swung easily inward with the slightest pressure.
One look inside, and he felt like his stomach had suddenly found its way into his throat. The long room was nearly identical to the one from his dream the previous night, including the large fireplace at the end. Matching sets of bookshelves stood on either side of it with a tall orange armchair in front of the fire. The back of the chair faced Kwado, but he could see the unmistakable silhouette of a pointy hat over the top of it.
He stalked across the carpet, uncertain how to announce his presence. As he crept closer, he could see a pair of wiggling feet resting on the ottoman, a big toe poking through the hole of the sock on the right foot. He froze in place when their owner spoke.
“About time, Alto,” the wizard said. A bony old hand reached over the side of the armchair, motioning for him to hurry. “Come now, throw a few more logs on the fire, won’t you?”
Kwado suddenly felt very much like an intruder, but he mustered his courage and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mr. Wizard, sir,” he said. “But I’m not Alto, who I assume is your apprentice that I encountered outside.”
“Oh?” the voice said, curious as a cardinal. “And where is Alto at the moment?”
Kwado shook his head. “I kinda tied him to the well, sir.”
The door closed behind him and Kwado spun to find a tall gaunt man with a long stringy grey beard glaring ominously at him. His pointy gray hat drooped to one side. The wizard had the flat of his hand on the closed door and drummed his fingers over the wood.
“You have exactly five seconds to tell me who you are, why you tied up my apprentice, and just how in Pog’s teeth you got inside my tower.”