The Prophesy Tower. Chapter 66. Write a Novel Challenge.
Editor’s note: this Chapter has scenes that some readers, and particularly but not exclusively younger readers, may find upsetting and/or disturbing. We recommend parents and readers exercise caution.
Neina knew Queen Orla’s power but she also knew Isla’s potential.
They both had the capability of being powerful, of being great.
Neina understood, however, that Queen Orla held the baton; it was she alone who had the power to remove what was left of everything that matters. Everything that really matters.
She didn’t have a choice. Neina made a grab for the blueprints and, caught by surprise, Isla lost her grip on the bundle of papers that now fell into play. Neina watched, preparing for the chaos of them falling everywhere. She waited, for the split second it takes to draw a breath, for them to fall to the ground and the battle to capture them begin. But they didn’t explode into muddle. They didn’t fall to the ground. They just fell. And kept falling. Falling towards white. Towards nothing.
Looking up, Neina saw splotches of white paint coalescing with the muted colours of life, each mixing together to blend the very borders of reality and insanity. She watch on entranced as the world seemed to turn in itself leaving only nothing and Janus. He stood in the corner, with his argyle scarf billowing in the non-existing wind that surrounded him.
“You know better than that.” Janus’s voice seemed to be echoing, but against nothing.
“No Janus. I knew better to save what I have left.”
Neina furrowed her eyebrows and scrunched her face. She knew that her anger, and the danger around her, meant she had little time for long explanations. This was a time to be succinct, even at the risk of oversimplification. This nightmare was nowhere near explicable anyway, however many words she used – the inherent limitations of language and reason collapsed all meaning when presented with the impossible reality of what was now facing her.
“By this point, I’d have assumed that you would’ve known which universe – or multiverse in fact – that we live in. Even Orla explained that to you, to the best of her understanding. To be fair, she wasn’t always as, shall we say, gifted in the way of explaining things as some of us are. Orla derives her powers from somewhere, and something, that does not exist in this world at all.”
“You are wrong Janus. I am gifted. I have the gift of seeing the death of everyone I love, or at this point, loved.”
“No, Neina. Everyone possesses that ability. No, you have the ability to go from loved to love, and much more.”
“I don’t have time for riddles. I’m done with riddles. I want to go back to the way it was. Back to normal.”
“But this isn’t a riddle. This is a fact of life. Everything lives at a certain time and place. But not everything lives at the same time and place. You have a myriad of futures, that all are the future, but are different from each other. They all exist together. Just separated.”
“What does that even mean? And either way, what does that have to do with me? I’m not trying to create a new theory for what is happening to me.”
“Explain to me how you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is only sometimes ever seen. Explain to me how you died with Charlotte, but are breathing right in front of me. Explain to me how Isla and Charlotte maintained a constant connection with the Queen, but stayed right in front of you. All of these are because you three possess the ability to move through time. To…”
“Like how you betrayed and then helped me.”
“I didn’t betray you. A part of my larger collective did. I’m a God Neina; I don’t li…”
“And so what is the point of this? I don’t see why this necessitated you possibly killing everyone I know. And love.”
“Firstly, time is paused. You get some benefits when being a God. And secondly, because I cannot let you fail. You, Isla and Charlotte are the only mortals who possess the ability to transport between the different futures without leeching off someone else. Orla is doing everything in her power to absorb the power of the three of you with her own. She will absorb your lives in her own. Once this happens, there will be no going back. You will none of you even exist. But now, you are in a position of higher power than Orla. You must protect yourselves from this path.”
“But Ryder, Frankie, Char…”
“I can’t guarantee their safety if you give the papers to Isla but what I can say is that it will all be over if you give the papers to Orla. Orla won’t pity you. Won’t give you immunity. She is, in the terms of your world, a businesswoman: she cares only about what she has lost and what she can gain. Her Prophesy Towers, for there are actually many in your world, were created to give her the power to move through time without relying on the power of Isla’s mother. With your powers absorbed into her she will no longer need the Towers.”
“Make sure you keep the plans with Isla.”
And with that Janus was gone.
Her surroundings once more regained their intensity, as if punching through the white into Neina’s eyes – and there, on the ground next to Isla’s feet, she saw the plans neatly stacked as if deliberately placed to present her with the choice she now knew she must make.
She made it.
Neina scooped them up, grabbed Isla’s hand and entered the Mors world. Her journeys were usually painful, but this one wasn’t. They had come back to the cottage, but Charlotte, Frankie and Ryder were nowhere to be found. Neina couldn’t worry about them now. She had to worry about Isla. And now, with the greatest urgency, Isla’s mother.
“What happened to your mother?” Neina questioned, carefully placing her designs on the table that laid slightly off centre in the cottage’s drawing-room,. She found herself diverting her eyes away from Isla so that, however Isla responded, she would not betray her pain, anger, fear, regret, sorrow, confusion – or whatever else might be thrown up by her answers.
“Neina. What are you talking about? My mother? Well, she is dead. Let’s leave it at that. We need to destroy these designs somehow and the ones in the…”
“How did she die?” Neina knew she was approaching territory that Isla would never allow her to go past. “You killed mine. How’d yours die?”
“I’m not an eye for an eye person. I’m more like both eyes and then slicing your throat person. So shut up.” Isla reached across Neina to grab the papers, but Neina instinctively shielded them from Isla. This only infuriated Isla more. “OK. Fine. If you want to play it like this. The Queen killed her. Why’d you need to know?”
Neina knew that what she was about to say, if not expressed very carefully, would result in Isla resenting her for the rest of her life. The cruellest thing a human being can do is to offer the thing most valued by another to them – and then crush it. “She’s alive Isla. Orla is draining your mother of her power and using it to transport across worlds and times.”
“Don’t lie to me Neina. Don’t. She is dead. DEAD. Whatever paranoid delusions you have about my….my… mother is simply ….. out of bounds. So wrong Neina. It’s evil. She is dead Neina. Just… Just help me burn these papers and keep these stories to yourself. Don’t try and coerce me into doing anything by lies and …”
“She’s alive Isla. I would never lie to you – and never about something like this. You know that. You must know that …”
Neina walked away from the table, taking the papers with her. She knew that she needed a way to reach Isla. So much rested on it. Perhaps everything. She perched herself as she remembered Isla’s mother had done on the stairs that led down onto the grass. She remembered the way that Isla’s Mother had carried herself. There was a heroism about her. A force of ….goodness.
But as he remembered she felt alarmed. Around her the silence was deafening. It was too peaceful. Too silent.
Isla couldn’t believe the lengths Neina was going to, And for what? To prove that she was loyal? Revenge? Yes, she had killed Neina’s mother and ruined her life. But Isla had now found redemption. She had changed sides. She had forgiven herself. She could not reverse time and put her wrong right. For Neina to claim her Mother was alive was unforgivably evil and cruel.
But her heart ached at the thought that her Mother could still be alive. Ultimately, it to be human to grab hold of even the slightest hope. We can fight it, but hope has the power to start and end wars. It has the power to see men and women give up everything, even their lives, for a higher purpose. It is the most dangerous thing. And the most beautiful.
So Isla relinquished her anger. She let go of her cynicism. She allowed herself to do what she promised she wouldn’t. She allowed hope to seep into her worn and closed off adult mind and, as it did so, all the forgotten possibilities of youth cascaded through her like the Spring buds of cherry trees bursting into flower. Where the years had built walls, hope undid them, brick by brick. Her Mother. Alive. Could it really be true?
Approaching Neina, Isla noticed the intensity of Mors beauty: she never had a chance to ever take it in. I’m an assassin, not a painter. She sat next to Neina.
“Orla killed my mother. If you are right, IF…. she must have pretended to have killed my mother. I remember that day so clearly. I had come home from school. They’d just allowed girls to go to secondary school, but I was still such a child. I went into my bedroom and I saw my mother’s body. I didn’t understand death at all. I just kept calling her name. Mama. Mama. I thought she would wake up. I thought she would burst into life and smother me with kisses. But, she didn’t. My mother didn’t move. She never moved again. She was …. dead.”
Isla looked stoically at Neina as if none of this bothered her. But it did. God! It really did. It meant everything. And the pain of its memory seared through her like a butcher’s knife drawing first, and endless, blood.
“I remember as I approached her, Queen Orla entered my room. She was dazzling and so …. elegant. She told me we had to leave. “Just for a little while” Orla said. And then Orla took my hand and slightly squeezed it as if she was bracing for something and then…. we were somewhere else. We were in the Mors World. But it was not a little while. It was a lie. I never went back. I never saw Mama again.”
And with that Isla broke. Completely. And her sobs of anguish broke the stillness around them with the violent cacophony of irreparable pain.
“Isla, I’m so sorry. But I genuinely think … she is alive.”
“There is only one place she could be. The dungeons. Orla would keep her there. There is only one entrance but Orla gave me permission to go wherever I needed to. Finding her in that place may be difficult.”
“But Isla … you know the way?”
“Yes Neina.” And Isla realised that she inexplicably did.
They reached the entrance to the castle, after hours of evading the scouting dragons.
As they approached the entrance to the Dungeons, Isla remembered the pain she had inflicted within the dungeons. She had been here before. And she had carried out the most terrible things at Orla’s behest. Torturers weren’t supposed to feel remorse. But she did. She also remembered how to open the large doors before them. Grabbing her knife, Isla slit her hand and pressed the blood that now flowed from her wound against the lock. As she did, and the doors opened, fear blotted out the pain of the gash. She remembered the screams of those who had, before her, fallen foul of Queen Orla’s cruelty and intolerance for mutiny. Queen Orla tortured those who crossed her. Gleefully. And the memory of that, and the screams of her victims, made Isla wretch. But she also now knew that this was not a time for emotion. They would not survive this place if she did.
Neina whipped her head around from inspecting the place. “Where should we go?”
“To the depths.”
Isla knew what was to come. She now remembered. Everything. She had been here. She remembered the desperate screams of all those she had tortured. She remembered their gaunt, starving, near skinless limbs poking through the spaces of the bars, blood pooling at the door of their cells. And the smells of rotting flesh. She always hated it. But she had done unspeakable things.
As they entered the antechamber it was eerily quiet. Silent. Empty. The carcasses of rats lay dead everywhere. She remembered how they had once feasted on the the rotten flesh of the dead.
Before them was a small, intricately carved door. The iron hinges had corroded badly since she had last seen them. But it looked strong. She rememberd that this was an enchanted, not a normal, door. They couldn’t simply break through this.
Isla peered down and the polished gold of the handle sparkled as it always had. It was out of place and iridescent, near blinding in its intensity.
Isla pulled down on it.
As she did so she remembered Orla’s repetition of words as she had entered this place so long ago. “Time and space are on a continuum. Give both. Time and space are on a continuum. Give both.” It was as if Orla had meant her, someday, to remember them. It was if she had known that, one day, this moment would come.
Time and Space. What time and space? What did she mean? When Orla became queen in front of the millions dead? When Isla had officially killed her first dissident in Nairobi? WHAT TIME! WHAT SPACE!
And then Isla knew the answers. The time and space that mattered the most. Isla knew what she needed to say. She had one chance. And she remembered, exactly, how the words needed to be said.
“Flat Number 28 on Audley Street, London, England. 31st January 1853.”
And as she said them, Isla remembered. This time, this place, was the time when Orla had triumphed over Isla.
The door opened and, together, Isla and Neina walked through it. It was a portal. Just like that in the Prophesy Towers.
Isla recognised the woman on the floor. Her face was the same. It was white, like a cartoon depiction of being shocked. Strapped to her mouth was something reminiscent of an oxygen mask but made of gold. Its colour reflected on the face it masked. Isla wanted to end this. She had to. She needed to know. To be certain …. She moved forward, putting one foot on the white marble floors.
And then she knew too that there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t save her. The woman before her felt pain but was not alive. Mama was gone. This was just a vessel, a battery, through which Orla garnered her power.
“Kill her. Neina. Kill her.” Isla sobbed. She knew the truth. She cried now. Now was the time when her tears could fall.
Her Mother must die, so that the world could live.
Neina looked at Isla in horror.
“Kill her, Isla screamed. You must.”
And then Isla collapsed in the knowledge that her whole life had been driven by the death of her Mother. She knew, in a split second of acuity, that every action, every unforgivable cruelty she had inflicted, had been a response to being robbed of what mattered most.
And now she knew too, just as she found it had all been an elaborate lie and that her Mother lived, that she must now lose the thing again she had loved the most.
Nothing is fair in love or war. Isla remembered Orla’s words. They burned as she stretched out her hands to Neina, a play of light revealing the silver flash of the blade.
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The Prophesy Tower – A Novel.
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