Yesterday, we celebrated the release of Blake Charlton’s Spellbound by releasing Chapter Three. Today, we’re back with Chapter Four!
With Deirdre in her arms, Francesca charged up the eastern stairs. Her ability to speak had returned, but orange spots still swam in her blurry vision.
As she climbed another flight of steps, Francesca allowed herself to feel burning fear and confusion. Then she forced herself to relax. It was time to fall back on the oldest of physicians’ tricks: when inner composure was unattainable, its semblance must be worn like an actor’s costume and cosmetics.
“You know, my lady,” Francesca said as coolly as she could between breaths, “you might have found a way to improve medical training by making me run you up to the roof.”
Deirdre frowned. “How’s that?”
“When most clerics blunder, all they have to do is attend a funeral.”
Deirdre grunted. “But if we made physicians carry their mistakes up six flights?”
“We’d enter a golden age of near immortality. Only the very skinny would be allowed to die.”
The avatar sniffed with amusement. “Magistra, are you implying I’m fat?”
“A tiny little thing like you? Never. I could fit two of you in my belt purse.” Francesca repositioned her grip around the other woman as she turned up another flight.
“So now you are implying I’m short?”
“No, my lady, I wouldn’t dare offend an avatar.”
“Magistra, you’re an overly bold woman who’s mocking a superior to make light of a grave situation. If we weren’t fleeing a fate worse than death, I might become very fond of you.”
“I might become very fond of you too, my lady, especially if you weren’t so short and fat.”
Deirdre laughed. “I almost feel bad for dragging you into this mess.”
“And what mess would that be, exactly?”
Before Deirdre could answer, the stairwell began to reverberate with wailing; then came the distant sound of someone running up stairs. Deirdre’s expression hardened. “Hear those footsteps? That’s one of the beast’s devotees. If he catches up to us, you’ll have to kill him.”
“Kill? I can’t; I am a cleric.”
“You’ll have to kill him before he kills us,” Deirdre hissed. “Or at least stun him. In fact, start writing a stunning spell now.”
Francesca’s affected composure began to crack. She tried to pump her legs faster while composing a netlike stunning spell in her arms.
Deirdre became quiet as the pursuer’s footsteps grew louder. Francesca reminded herself that she’d trained most of her life to write spells in life-or-death situations… the problem was, this time the life or death in question wasn’t her patient’s; it was her own.
“I finished the stunning spell,” Francesca said as they topped the next flight.
Deirdre nodded. “Hopefully we can outrun him. But keep it ready.”
Francesca’s thighs ached. “Why are we headed to the roof?” she asked. “I don’t know the hierophantic language. I can’t use the kites.”
“The beast chasing us, he came here faster than I thought possible. I’ve placed agents on the street, but now they’ll be aphasic or made into his devotees. Until I know the beast’s true name, I dare not chance an encounter with him. And we can’t let the demon know I took that anklet off of you. So it’s on to my contingency plan: find the new air warden. I know he’s aloft now. From what I’ve learned, he’s our only chance.”
Francesca charged up the last few steps and burst into daylight.
A break in the rainy-season clouds revealed the wide, brilliantly blue Spirish sky. A gust of frigid wind nearly snatched the red cleric’s stole from her shoulders.
The infirmary’s roof was built of tawny sandstone. It supported five twenty-foot-tall minarets. More impressively, up from the chamber at each minaret’s crown arched thick chains that climbed nearly two hundred feet before ending in the massive lofting kites.
Deirdre pointed at the centermost minaret. “The warden’s kite will be closest to that one.”
Francesca set off. “The orange flashes are gone from my vision now.”
Deirdre nodded. “We’re farther from the other slave. The closer he comes, the worse your aphasia and vision will become.”
“Lovely,” Francesca grumbled while ducking into the minaret’s base. She discovered a hollow space with a metal ladder.
“Put me down,” Deirdre ordered. “I’m feeling stronger.”
The avatar teetered on her feet, but once she reached the ladder, she easily climbed onto its thick rungs.
“What is this other demonic slave who is chasing us?” Francesca asked as she grabbed the ladder.
“I can’t entirely tell you,” Deirdre replied as she continued to climb. “It’s impossible to think about what he truly is unless you have a special spell cast around your mind.”
“You’re talking about quaternary cognition, about thinking through a magical text?”
“I believe so. There are stories about the other slave. The city people call him the Savanna Walker.”
Francesca thought she misheard. “What?”
“The Savanna Walker—you know, the creature that drives men mad in the Deep Savanna.”
“But that’s an old wives’ tale!”
“Oh, dear,” she said with obvious enjoyment, “it seems old wives know something our learned cleric doesn’t.”
Francesca muttered, “Then you should’ve gone to an old wife with your bloody cursed lungs and bloody monster chasing—” She stopped as the rung in her hand vibrated.
Deirdre swore and began climbing faster. “The Walker’s closing in.”
Francesca focused on putting one hand above the other and keeping her boots from slipping.
They reached an octagonal room at the minaret’s crown. Eight broad windows opened onto upsloping ramps that blocked everything but the sky. Folded lofting kites sat before all but two windows. From both empty spaces, thick chains rose into the sky. The place echoed with the clicking and chirping of iron chain links.
Deirdre hurried to one of the bundled kites while Francesca panted. Suddenly a man’s wailing voice sounded from farther down the minaret. Deirdre turned around. “It’s the beast’s devotee.”
Francesca peered down the shaft and saw a dark figure climbing the ladder. He let out a ragged scream and started climbing faster. Something was in his hand. A knife?
“Get back,” Deirdre ordered. “As soon as his head appears, hit it with your stunning spell.”
Francesca stepped away from the shaft. Her heart racing, she examined the golden sentences in her forearm and then looked up. Deirdre had found a length of iron chain and had assumed a fighting stance.
The man’s screams intensified. Deirdre spoke loudly, evenly. “The Savanna Walker creates his devotees by spellbinding and destroying much of their minds. The poor soul in the shaft is already as good as dead. Once the Savanna Walker finishes an attack, he does something to his devotees, swallows them into his body or devours them or—”
Just then the man emerged from the minaret’s shaft. He was in his thirties, skinny, wearing a ragged longvest. He was holding some kind of crude club. With a shriek, the man climbed into the room and lunged at Deirdre. She danced back, avoiding his club, and then brought her chain around. It struck his face and he stumbled backward.
With a cry, Francesca cast her stunning spell. The net of golden sentences wrapped around the attacker’s head. Instantly he collapsed.
Light-headed, Francesca sat heavily on the stone floor.
Deirdre laughed in triumph. “Francesca, come here. We have to use one of these kites to get out…” Her voice died as she looked at the stunned man. “No, wait. I have an idea.” She nodded. “It’s perfect. We might still fool the demon. The Walker has consumed other artifacts in the past. Francesca, do you have that anklet—the one I took off of you?”
“Yes,” Francesca said firmly, even though she felt tremulous. “It’s in my belt purse.” Her hands were shaking.
“Quickly, come here. We need to put that anklet into this poor bastard.”
“…d-don’t understand,” Francesca stammered as she got to her feet.
“The Walker has been known to steal and consume powerful objects; we’ll use that to weaken him. Come here. The anklet needs to be in this man’s body. It can’t be around his ankle or in his hands or clothes. It needs to be inside of him so the Savanna Walker won’t notice until it’s too late. Can you cut him open? Put the chain in his stomach and then sew him up?”
Francesca now had the anklet in her hand. She shook her head. “It’d be simpler to textually pass it down his throat into his stomach.”
“Do it,” Deirdre said. “Quickly.”
Francesca wrote several silvery paragraphs in her biceps and then connected them into a long, thin, flexible tube of prose. Then she wrote a paragraph at its tip to hold the anklet.
“Roll the patient onto his side,” Francesca ordered. “Pull his head back and his jaw down.” Deirdre obeyed.
Francesca knelt beside the stunned man. Now in the safety of practiced actions, she was focused and calm. With a few deft motions, she inserted the spell into the man’s mouth and down his throat. By inspecting his neck from different angles, she could see her prose shine through his skin and ensure it didn’t enter his trachea and so his lungs. Expertly, she manipulated the spell through his esophagus, so that it snaked left and curled around inside his stomach. With a tight smile, she edited a sentence at the base of the spell; at the tip, a paragraph deconstructed and released the anklet into the stomach.
“It’s done,” she said and removed the spell from the poor man’s mouth. She checked to make sure he was still breathing and his pulse was strong. No sign of coughing or vomiting. “It went perfectly.”
A distant voice began to wail, and the calm Francesca had cultivated in action began to dissolve. A spray of orange dots spread across her vision. She had to sit down.
“Excellent,” Deirdre said and went back to one of the bundled kites. “Now we just need to get out of here.”
Francesca tried to focus on the other woman.
“Are you all right?” Deirdre asked without looking up.
“Oh, I’m cheery as the kitten who ate the cream,” Francesca said as casually as she could, “but my eyes won’t… won’t…” She couldn’t think of the word that started with f and meant “concentrate” or “direct” or “converge.”
Deirdre swore and grabbed Francesca’s hand and made her walk across the room. “Stay calm. You’re aphasic. The Walker is closer. Here, we need to get this harness on you.” She draped something around Francesca’s shoulders and waist. Francesca couldn’t see well enough to tell what it was, but it smelled of leather.
The floor shook again, and then the room filled with nonsensical shouting. Another voice was echoing up the minaret.
Francesca tried again to look at Deirdre, but the woman appeared little more than a dark blur. The orange flashes were getting worse. “What do you know about the magic of lofting kites? The kites change shape, yes? They take whatever shape is needed to fly?” Deirdre asked while seeming to strap into a harness of her own.
Francesca shook her head. “I just know there’s a… a… sail or chute written with hiero… hierophantic language, which can move air. A chute covered with wind spells… called a jumpchute. It blows out air and pulls the—” She screamed.
Something was bubbling up out of the minaret’s shaft. When she tried to look at it . . . she couldn’t. It was as if she went blind as she looked at the tendrils of twisting nothingness. She stumbled backward.
Deirdre’s hands gripped her shoulders. “Francesca! You need to stop screaming.”
The tendrils of nothing swirled around their legs. “Blindness! In the air… blind air,” Francesca stammered while she struggled to get free, but Deirdre’s arms felt as strong as iron.
“Only an illusion!” the other woman said. “It’s your reaction to the beast’s proximity. He’s spellbound the part of your mind that sees.”
The vapor swirled up to cover their heads. The world melted into blindness.
“I think I found a jumpchute,” Deirdre said over the wailing. “Could this be it?”
Something rough and round pushed into Francesca’s hands. “It’s cloth. Hierophants store… their language… only on cloth.”
“How do I cast the spell?”
Francesca shook her head. “Need a hierophant… to move sentences within cloth… and cast the spell in—”
Without warning, the wailing woman’s voice echoed loudly around Francesca.
“Damn!” Deirdre swore. “Wait.” Boot heels clicked on stone. Something was being dragged. Then came a clanging. It was loud at first but then quieted. The wailing stopped. A muffled bang. Then a stranger cacophony: two voices yelling.
Deirdre’s hands returned to Francesca’s shoulders. “I think I woke him up from your stunning spell.”
“Woke… who up?”
“The man we put the anklet into. I dropped him on the devotees climbing up. He didn’t fall straight down, more tumbled. It knocked them down to the bottom of the minarets, maybe broke a few bones, but they won’t stop until they’re dead or we are.” She paused. “Listen.”
The wailing was growing louder.
“So what do we do?” Francesca blurted.
“Escape with the kite. There’s a cloth ribbon around the jumpchute. It has the wind marshal’s emblem on it. What happens if I tear it?”
“Don’t you bloody dare!” she cried. “Tearing a magical manu… manu… page sets its sentences free. You don’t know—”
“But it might activate the jumpchute?”
Panicked and blind, Francesca reached out and tried to grab the other woman to punctuate her next point. “It might blow both of us into—”
Three more echoing voices joined the other.
“We don’t have time!” Deirdre shouted. “There are too many of them down there.”
“Damn it, even if there’s a whole bloody legion down there, you’d be mad to—” Francesca started to yell.
But then she heard the loud whisper of tearing cloth.