The Sleepers of the Marsh
Part Six – The Sleepers
The interior of the tower was one large room room at ground level. Waters covered the floor, lapping up against the walls and the large, central pillar. A set of stairs wound up around the pillar, headed to floors above. The tattered rags of old tapestries clung to the walls, frayed to wisps, the colours in them long since faded away. If there had been anything else in the chamber, it had long since gone, rotten away by the waters.
Peregrine sloshed through the waters to the stairwell. She took a cautious look up it, sword at the ready. With no danger immediately apparent, she began to climb the stairs, up out of the water, with Blade close behind.
The stairs wound up ever upwards but, curiously, they discovered no exists off from it, no doors leading into other floors. Only once they reached what they believed to be the top did they discover another exit, one that disappeared through the roof above them.
Peregrine poked her head up through, into a chamber where light came in through windows; sunlight. The top of the tower poked up above the mists that hugged the ground. After the time they had spent in the murky gloom, it came as a welcome sight.
The room itself was not empty and Peregrine’s sword came up as she emerged into it. She held it out before her as she slowly turned about, her amber eyes alert from trouble. Set up around the room was a ring of thrones made of black stone, of the kind that had built the tower. Upon each of the thrones sat a figures, the people being short and of a like appearance and colouration to Ket and his family. All similarities ended there though, for these people were richly dressed, and their faces keen and sharp.
They numbered around two score in total, made up in equal numbers of men and women. The men wore long robes of woven linen that had been dyed in bright colours, while their long hair and beards were braided. Each had laid across their laps a dagger made of polished bronze, richly decorated on the hilts with gold and semi-precious stones. The women wore long skirts of more muted colours than those the men wore, though the shawls around their shoulders were the just as bright. Their hair had been piled up high on their heads, secured their by nets of silver thread and with hairpins of bronze set with lapis-lazuli.
Not a moment of reaction came from them at the appearance of interlopers into their domain. They made no moves but instead continued to stare ahead with blank, unblinking expressions.
Peregrine completed a full circuit of the room before her sword lowered a fraction, still as wary as any wild animal despite the apparent safety. “They appear not to be alive,” she stated.
Blade walked over to one of the figures, a man with a short beard. Removing his glove, he touched his hand to the man’s neck. He stood there for a moment before he removed his hand. “There is no beat of the heart,” he announced, pulling his glove back on. For a moment his normal somnolent features were subsumed beneath a wakeful curiosity. “No warmth to the flesh either. Fascinating.”
“Possibly, but if they are then they are remarkably well preserved. There is not a trace of decay to them, nor their possessions. It would be interesting to discover how they achieved that.”
Peregrine left the bodies alone, instead heading for one of the windows set into the wall, one that looked out over the misty marshes below. The mists rose almost to the windows itself, shrouding the lands around in all directions, a sea of gently shifting grey and white. Off in one direction though, she spotted a patch of the mists that were retreating, being pushed back as if by an invisible wave, revealing the lands that it had hidden.
From behind her came a coughing sigh, one that echoed through the room. She span about to see one of the seated figures move, a woman of taller stature than most. She turned her head to look at them.
“Shadows come,” the woman intoned, her voice distant and without emotion. “Shadows and fire. Strangers, heed our plea. You must face this darkness, face it and defeat it before all that this place is is lost. Protect those that came after us. Protect the dreams of those who sleep. We will aid you as we can but the burden of the strong arm we can not provide. In that service we beseech your help.”
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