Beneath the Sky (short story)

TOWER

Turnkey #4

Gil opened her eyes. She was standing at the edge of the tower’s upper parapet, looking out across the churning, broiling sea of ink-black waves. Dark storm clouds were gathering overhead, stretching to the edge of the horizon and blotting out the sky.

“How did I get here?” She muttered.

The last thing that she remembered was pressing her ear to the keyhole of one of the subterranean cells. One moment the smell of damp, human refuse and cold iron had been in her nostrils, the next she was breathing in fresh salt air.

Gil could feel chills tickling their way up her spine and down her arms, having nothing to do with the cold, blustering wind which whipped across the prison’s roof. She was confused, feeling lost and somehow separated from her own mind.

There was a hole in her memory. Its shape was still discernible, in that she knew it was something of the utmost importance that she had forgotten. Gil screwed her eyes tight and focused her mind on trying to haul the thought back from the shadowy recesses of her memory.

“Are you well, Mistress Gil?”

It was the voice of one of the other wardens. Gil turned and saw the square shoulders and broad belly of Mag. His expansive, firm gut tumbled out over the top of a thick leather belt, his steel-capped boots and heavy gloves stained by many years of hard use.

“I’m alright, Mag. Just keep to yourself.”

The portly warden gave Gil a curious look between a pair of narrowed eyelids but said no more. He walked away with the long brass keys jangling on his belt. The sound brought a sudden wave of panic washing over her.

“Where are my keys?” Gil thought.

Her hands shot to her waist and sweat began beading on her brow as they failed to find the precious keys. At length, she discovered them hanging by a thin leather strap at the back of her belt. Relief hit her with such force that she almost lost her footing and toppled from the top of the high tower.

Gil looked at the long brass stems and sharp teeth. Her heart froze. There was one key too many. It hung there, at the end of the leather thong, black sides smooth as polished marble and teeth as sharp as razors.

It was a key she had heard of. Everyone knew its name. But it was one she had no business holding. The Key to Hell, opener of forbidden doors.

 

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Find the first short story in this fantasy series here.

For the next installment in this series, click here.

A Locked Room (short story)

Locked door

 

Turnkey #3

Each individual hair on the back of Gil’s neck was standing on end. Goosebumps ran up her arms and back, as though her skin had been pricked by a thousand tiny needles. The cacophony of screaming, hysterical laughter and eerie singing around her was too much for her tortured mind to bear.

But just as she was preparing to turn and run back up towards the daylight, Gil caught sight of the door. Its surface gleamed like a plate of silver in the dark stone wall. Touching it warily with one finger, she discovered that the door was smooth and cold.

It had been fashioned from thick iron with minute care so that there was not the smallest of cracks between the door and the wall. In its center was a large, elaborately crafted lock. A small keyhole presented the only opening in the entrance to the cell.

Gil took the brass key out of her pocket and slipped it into the hole. It stuck halfway in and could not be pushed further. This was not the right key. But the grating sound had drawn the attention of the cell’s occupant. A faint trickle of air whispered through the keyhole, brushing against Gil’s trembling hand.

“Is somebody out there?” A voice asked.

“I’m here.” Gil replied.

She realized at once how foolish this response was. Luckily, her heart was still lodged in her throat and the only sound she made was a hoarse croak. Another breath slithered out past her shaking fingers.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Gil.”

“Were you chasing me, Gil?”

“I think I was. How did you get out of your cell? How did you get back in?”

“That’s a silly question isn’t it, Gil? I have the key, of course.”

These words sent a spasm of fear arcing up Gil’s spine. She was deep underground in the dungeons of the Tower, an island fortress holding the most vile and murderous creatures. Worse still, only the most powerful and wicked were kept away from the sunlight.

But that was not what made Gil’s blood turn to ice. This door was solid iron, built to withstand the burning force of dark magic which would tear a wooden door to splinters. Whoever or whatever was locked away behind it was capable of crushing men like flies, and they had the key to their own cell. Gil was standing a mere few feet away from certain death and there was nothing to shield her from it.

But the sound of the voice on the other side of the door was like warm honey. It comforted and reassured her that she had nothing to fear. Gil leaned closer and pressed her ear against the keyhole.

 

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Click here for the next installment.

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Dark Depths (short story)

Dungeon

 

Turnkey #2

Gil was chasing a shadow in a place where everything was darkness and fleeting shades of grey and black. Her heart was pounding and beads of sweat stood on her brow. But whether this was from fear or excitement, she was not certain.

A head of bright hair shone ahead like a beacon in the black dungeon, and then it was gone again around a sharp corner.

There were voices all around her. They cried out from behind thick iron and oak doors, some sounding pained, others angry and yet more screaming incoherently at nothing.

As the insistent, maddening wall of noise rose around her, Gil heard a faint sound trilling behind it. The voice was soft and melodious; it seemed to be singing. Nothing could have seemed more alien in that dismal subterranean dungeon than a song.

Click here for the previous short story in this series.

Here for the next installment.

Or here for something a bit different.

Beneath the Tower (short story)

Turnkey #1

Gil grasped the key tight between her cold fingers. It was solid brass, rusted around the edges and with sharp teeth. The key opened a door to somewhere deep underneath the tower, a place where men should not go.

She was not meant to be holding it. One of the other turnkeys had left it on the mess table and Gil had not been able to resist. The thirst to know what was behind the door had been too overpowering. It had gnawed at her until, without even knowing she was doing it, Gil’s hand had snatched up the key.

Now she stood in front of the thick oak planks which separated the ground level of the tower from whatever lay beneath. With her other hand, she stroked the door. It almost felt warm to the touch, and the sensation drew her closer towards it.

Gil slid the heavy key into the lock and twisted.

There was no click, no movement and no wave of warm air. The key was stuck. Gil tried to twist it first one way and then the other. Finally, she tried to yank it out of the lock in frustration.

A snapping sound came from inside the locking mechanism. Through the cracks around the door came a short, sharp blast of cold air. It smelt of damp, darkness and decay. Gil pulled the door open and stepped down into the opening.

“Is anyone down here?”

There was no reply, but through a veil of darkness she saw a shock of light hair flash past the bottom of the steep, narrow stairway. Gil walked down towards it and was enveloped in a thick mantle of blackness which drowned out the light of the living.

 

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