0039 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 4

Bull materialised. All told, it was a painless but disorientating process.

“–not public property, see. Not the city’s business. I’m not supposed to be in here, by rights.” Bull caught the end of Officer Billhook’s sentence.

Hope was giving a show of listening intently, making sure that he knew just how seriously she was taking his concerns. This kind of thing came naturally to her. She had a pretty face – and a prettier smile, on the rare occasions when she showed it – but her manner lent itself to neutral expressions. Conveniently, this absolved her of the responsibility to fake ones such as “surprise” or “interest.”

“Of course.” She was looking him in the eye. “But we have to find out how to get you back down, first.”

“You could always jump.” Bull observed, thumbing toward the nearest window. “Can’t be more than eight or nine feet.”

Hope shot him a look. It didn’t do to antagonise constables, even ineffectual and good-natured ones.

To both their surprise, Officer Billhook appeared to take the suggestion seriously. He pressed his nose to the nearest of the small, ornate windows, peering down at the street through the mesh of stained glass. “It’s not far,” he remarked. “But I don’t think these open.”

“There was a magic book that got us up here,” said Bull. “Maybe there’s one that opens windows.”

Hope had only been examining the nearby bookshelf for ten seconds at most, but she had already hit on the solution.

“Found it.” She announced.

Bull and Officer Billhook gathered round to find, predictably, a book entitled “A Reader Who Teleports Down One Floor, Leaving His Book Behind.

“Oh.” Bull remarked. “Probably should have expected that, really.”

With a smile, a wave, and a handful of pleasantries, Officer Billhook departed through the usual method of discorporation. At Hope’s suggestion, he had promised to cordon off the broken door and disperse the crowd outside. Doubtless he would employ the familiar constabulary lie, “Nothing to see here,” in the process.

“Just a thought.” Bull scratched his stubbled chin. “These magic books can’t be too literal.”

“What do you mean?” Hope asked.

“Well, both the up one and the down one referred to the reader as ‘him,’ but they still worked on you.”

She thought about this for a moment. It was actually quite an astute point. She was tempted to shrug it off entirely, but if this was J’kab the Great’s tower, then any little hint into the workings of Sermomancy may prove important.

The legend of J’kab the Great was famous all across Agartha – not just the city, but the wider land that shared its name. A powerful magician of old, J’kab had journeyed all across the world, writing enchanted books that not only gave him the power to shape the world with his speech, but also shaped events within it – past, present and future – simply through the process of his writing.

J’kab, according to legend, built a great tower on the shore of the bay that had, eventually, become Agartha. Despite his reclusive nature, his many followers had settled directly next to him. This ramshackle settlement had, over the course of more than three thousand years, become a great metropolis, but J’kab’s desire for solitude caused him to leave long before it became the wondrous city of spires now known all across the continent.

J’Kab had been the first and greatest of the Sermomancers. Agartha had spawned several who followed in his footsteps, but none had matched his understanding of the craft. The art was all but dead now, with no living practitioners, and the handful of surviving books were either secreted away in vaults or – in a few rare instances – vital components of Agarthan infrastructure.

“It makes sense if this is his tower.” Bull commented. “Bloke was a hermit, right? And the sort of man you don’t want to piss off? It explains why none of the walkways around this place connect with it.”

Realisation flashed in Hope’s eyes. This certainly seemed logical.

“We have to proceed with caution.” She told him. “J’kab was very clever. This whole place is probably full of traps.”

For the first time since arriving on the second floor, Bull actually took a moment to behold his surroundings. His wary eye roved over the bare stone walls, the thin, worn rugs, the illegible, faded tapestries. Unlike the floor below, designed (or at least repurposed) as a guardroom, this one didn’t even have anywhere to sit.

It did, however, have some stairs.

“Do we just… go up?” He asked. “Is it that simple?”

Hope edged toward the stairway, squinting in the twilight. There were candles in the sconces on this floor, but nobody had bothered to light them. Reaching into one of her numerous pockets, she produced a match, lit one of the candles, and with a tug, pulled it free from its holder. Shining the light before her, she carefully investigated each stone, each crack, around the entrance to the staircase.

Bull watched silently, letting her work.

Before long, he started to fidget with impatience.

“Will this take long, sis?” He asked.

“Yes.” She answered simply. She didn’t bother to correct him on their relation when nobody was around to hear.

More time passed. She was up to the fourth stair now. It was part of a spiral staircase that curled off upwards, out of sight. Who knew how many more stairs there were to go?

“For crying out loud!” Bull exclaimed.

“Do you want to walk into a trap?” She asked.

“YES!” He cried. “It’d be a damn sight more interesting than this!”

Bull gently pushed his partner out of the way, squeezing past her and taking the stairs two at a time.

“Really. Don’t.”

“I’ll be fine!” He roared, his voice fading. “This tower has maybe a hundred floors? We don’t have all night, you know!”

Hope bit her lip in anticipation.

A whole seven seconds passed before she heard the twang, and the cry of pain.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: