This tower had fallen long ago.
Rubble littered the misty, forested land of the former battleground; not a soul in sight, living or dead. Perhaps great and terrible things had once happened here, but there was no evidence anymore. Just half a tower and a pile of stones amidst the trees.
I jogged quickly, ducking through the ruins with a practiced air. The remains of the old army lookout post had practically been my home the past few days. Best place to hide out when things got a little dangerous.
I strode into the clearing that had once been the center of the tower. A short quarter-ring stone wall edged the expanse. Walking to a pile of stones and logs designed to camouflage the tent, I stopped. Something wasn’t right at all.
Carefully, I kept walking as if nothing was wrong. I’d trained myself to follow my instincts, and to trust the feeling that you were being watched. This was when I needed those skills the most.
Crouching down below the wall level, I moved towards the tent as if entering. If I stayed inside then whoever was observing would no doubt approach. So instead, I crawled back around the wall, and cautiously peered over.
Yes, there it was. A grey form plodded through the mist of the darkening evening.
There was nothing to do. I ran.
A shout rang from behind, then a gunshot. A tree shattered. No time to think. No time to stop. Go. Run.
The war had ended long ago, but I was still fighting, and now someone had tracked me out here, of all places. How…?
I kept running through the trees. I knew where I was going, but only vaguely. But that didn’t matter now.
The trees all blurred together and eventually it was all the same color, the grey of the mist and the sunless twilight, the bark of the trees, running on, running. I had been trained for this. I couldn’t hear the man behind me over the sound of my breath and my footsteps, but the feeling of eyes on the back of my head remained, so I ran on.
Eventually I saw it. A stone. Profile hugging the ground, between the trees. Run. I was back at the ruins of the tower. Here’s where I could gather my supplies and take him. Faster now, ducking through, between, around, the blind grey stones not sparing me a glance nor I them as I sped by.
And there I was. I could barely see the wall and the ruins in the darkness that had overtaken the grey dusk, but they were there. I ran to where the tent would be.
Nothing. What? Nothing there.
I ran to the wall where I had buried a few emergency supplies. The wall? Where? There was no wall.
I heard a crashing behind me. The man who had chased me stomped into the clearing. And I remembered then the story of the two towers that had fallen to the enemy all those years ago.
So. This was the end of the war.
The tower was always viewed as the greatest of tests. Many had entered, hoping to return a hero. They never saw the light of day again. Many said that after one reaches the very top, they would be granted a vast amount of treasure. Others claimed there was a beautiful maiden that beasts had imprisoned, jealous of her beauty. None had ever reached the top and lived. That was the story, and this the beginning.
It all seemed so ordinary; that was what threw me off. Regular sized doors, a few make-shift tables and some crates to be used as chairs lined the first room. I had been expecting something a little more, well, grand. My friend, an archer, raised his bow.
“Stay alert.” He ordered fiercely. “We can’t afford to drop our guards.”
“Come on, surely you don’t believe this is the right place?” I had been doubtful since I first laid eyes on the structure. There only looked to be around ten stories, clearly not enough to be considered legendary.
“It is. I’m sure of it.”
“When you said we were going on an adventure, I had something more exciting in mind. Well, I guess that’s what I get for being so gullible.” I picked my nails casually on the tip of my sword. I was sure this would be boring.
The archer moved slowly toward a stairwell on the eastern side, checking ahead to see if we had company. We did not.
“Let’s move.” He began to climb to the next level.
“Yes, let’s…” I rolled my eyes in disgust.
The next level remained empty as did the one after that and the one after that. Everything looked brown and caked in dust; not to mention calling the rooms furnished would be exaggerating. No loot, no damsels, no threats; just a leisurely stroll through an abandoned graveyard that was once a building.
Eventually we made it to the very top. The view was nothing special, and the roof was barren.
“Satisfied? You dragged me all of this way for nothing.” I hawked some spit off the side, counting the seconds it took until I heard the splat.
“On the contrary,” my friend chuckled, “We’re here. The real test starts now.”
I looked up and gawked. We had indeed found what we were searching for.
By Nick Silverpen:
Appreciation- Theme "Tower"
The Matoran hiked up the path, hopeful eyes toward the peak beyond the trees. Her breaths were easy, even as the slope grew steep and the air thinned. She didn’t need much to breathe, she realized a long time age. Most of what was in the air down below was simply filler, a mixture of gases that people had become accustomed to. Breathing calmly, she strode forward, a smile on her mask as she winded her way through the trees.
She did not think as she walked. It had brought her too much stress, down on the ground, and even that truly wasn’t thinking-brushing through the pages at work, skimming and rewriting; all that so-called “analysis” was doing nothing to help her mind. So as she walked, she kept her surface thoughts at a minimum. The solidarity was too perfect to interrupt up here, noise being meant for the place she had come from. This climb was to get away from it all- to think and worry on the trail was to plague the mountain, to main the wholesome and healthy forest itself. She kept the thoughts of society at bay, the only sound being the rhythmic crunch of gravel under her boot.
The summit was a clearing, a long stretch of soling, where the only thing higher was the pines. The Matoran placed herself on a rock that overlooked the scene, the mountain towering above the valley she had started. The pines here strained toward the sky, their tips paintbrushes that each hoped to dip into the perfect blue paint above to daub on the scene below. A stream wound down the mountain, through the ravine and back to town almost a day’s hike away. She smiled as she could not see even a glimpse of town below, only a blanket of treetops; The needed her for work, but she didn’t need them, at least for the moment- there was enough food in her pack for when she was hungry, much later. For now she would be free of all that, plenary by herself.
She had first come up here in search for treasure, when she was younger. The treasure map still sat at the bottom of her pack, a momento to an old friend, the person she had beenl what she hadn’t realized was that it was the view that was the treasure. Laying on her side, she appreciated the view before her. One would’ve thought that she was sleeping, but if they could see into her mind, they would’ve known this was the place she was dreaming of.