Chapter 7: Journey to the White Tower
For the first time, Annabelle stepped into a new world that wasn’t a dark and gloomy place that drained away all feeling or an eerie cave deep underground. Instead she was met with a dense forest of green and red leaves with trunks of golden red bark. There were muted sounds of some creature in the distance, but she couldn’t guess what.
The Door behind her shut closed with a deafening boom. It was made of the same stone and etched with strange letters that she could not read.
She winced a little as a warm light hit her eyes, which she covered with a raised hand. She squinted through the glare, trying to get a better look at her surroundings.
“Annie, we have to hurry,” said Charlie, limping on her bandaged leg.
Realizing how she was standing there gaping, Annabelle quickly followed after the others. “Sorry!”
Annabelle had a thought that made her a little sad. She had no idea what the worlds she had stepped into were named or if they even had names. Her father said it was never too late to start a good habit, and so she asked, “What is this place called?”
Charlie turned to look at her. “Seppo! He knows these parts best. Do you know what this place is called?”
Seppo had already relieved Percy of carrying Cid. He struggled to get him into a good position on his shoulders and only grunted, “Sirmal forest.”
Annabelle blinked. She hadn’t expected an answer from Seppo, who had barely spoken to her at all.
It became very clear that Annabelle was no woodsman. She found that if she wasn’t careful, she could get a face full of branches or trip over the thick coiling roots. Yet Seppo and Percy set a pace that quickly left her breathless. She looked at Charlie, who despite her wounded leg, seemed to be able to keep up.
Annabelle began to lag behind the others by a good distance. Seppo would turn his head to keep track of those behind him and stand there waiting for Annabelle to reach them, at which point, he would promptly hike further ahead.
Charlie and Percy kept up a low chatter of idle talk which Annabelle could only hear when she managed to catch up now and again.
“Do you think Cid will be okay?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s always been a strong one though.”
“Yeah.” Charlie fell silent when she saw Annabelle approach, though she was quick to offer a smile. “Doing alright, Annie?”
Annabelle took deep breaths, each one like the last before plunging deep into a pool. Still, she nodded her agreement, though she didn’t say anything for fear of wasting her breath.
“Just a little bit longer, and we’ll stop for the night,” said Charlie. Percy had already gone ahead to match Seppo. “I’ll keep you company until then.”
Annabelle gave Charlie what she thought was a smile but could have been a ghoulish grin for all she knew. She didn’t know how else to express her gratitude. She only knew that with every breath she took, she felt her face and lips become sort of stretched and pinched.
She had never before been on such a long journey. Her father had liked to take walks in the garden, but even he had given up trying to convince Annabelle to leave the refuge of the library for the outdoors. Every part of her ached with a low persistent throbbing. Even now, she could feel her hands shaking from the day’s exertions.
“Isn’t there a way for you to use magic to make hiking easier,” Annabelle finally said with great effort.
Charlie laughed. “Only with exercise and a good diet. I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that.”
“Then, how does it work?” she asked, her curiosity stronger than her exhaustion.
“All things in good time,” said Charlie with a smile. “First, let’s get to the White Tower.”
When they finally stopped for the night, Annabelle groaned as she sat down gingerly on the ground, her cheeks puffing for breath.
Still, she tried to keep her own discomfort to herself, because she felt she saw the others were rather annoyed with her slow pace, Seppo and Percy in particular. She supposed she couldn’t blame them either, given that they shared between them the difficult task of carrying Cid.
Charlie, Seppo, and Percy went about setting camp in a quiet, methodical way. Annabelle wondered how long they had been traveling to become so efficient. Each person knew their tasks, one to arrange the shelter, one to gather kindling and set the fire, and the other to begin preparing the night’s meal.
This last task fell to Percy, which Charlie had much to say about.
“If Cid were well, then we could taste his cooking,” she said in a wistful tone. “Oh Annabelle, Cid could make even this stale bread sing. Percy on the other hand…”
“You complain a lot, when your cooking is worse than mine,” muttered Percy as he poured water from a pouch into a battered looking pot. Seppo handed him some herbs and other things that he had gathered. Seppo quickly lit a small fire with a bit of flint and his knife.
Charlie shrugged, giving an impish smile. “I’m not the one cooking tonight. When it’s my turn, I’m sure you’ll be belly-aching all about it.”
“In more ways than one,” Percy said with a smirk.
Annabelle had been so hungry that even the stale bread and the stew Percy had cooked seemed wonderful. Though she wasn’t a very fast eater, she ate the meal quickly and felt sad that the last of the bread was gone from her plate.
Annabelle’s brow furrowed in confusion, as a thought occurred to her. “How come you don’t conjure the fire, like you did before?”
All three of them looked up at her, and she wondered if she had said something wrong.
“It’s like this,” Charlie began slowly. “The Wizard says you must use your gifts only in great need or not at all. But you practice your skills everyday, so you don’t forget. Understand?”
Annabelle shook her head. “No, not really. Aren’t they the same thing?”
Charlie blew out a gust of air. She looked at the others. “Care to help me explain?”
Percy gave a low chuckle. “Why, when you are doing so well?”
Charlie gave Percy an ugly look before turning back to Annabelle. “I can conjure fire, it’s true. But this is a fire from a different world, a fire that is alive and with a mind of its own. It’s a tool that I can only control with the greater part of my wits and nerve. But it’s still a part of me, like my breath, or my being. It is my impossibility.”
“What’s that? What’s an impossibility?” To Annabelle, it sounded like something made up.
“Just a word she made up,” said Percy in a mocking tone. “Here we’re far afield from the Wizard’s teachings and deep into Charlie’s own theories.”
“What! It’s a good word,” said Charlie indignantly. “I think it’s very descriptive.”
“But what is an impossibility?”
Charlie leaned forward across the flickering flames. “You know how there are different worlds, yes? Countless numbers of them! Well, sometimes these worlds are connected to each other in certain ways.”
“Like the Doors?” said Annabelle.
Charlie shook her head. “No, not like the Doors. Those’re more like paths to get you where you’re going. But in these special places, the laws of one world can leak through to the other. Which can be quite strange if you can’t walk on walls in one world, but in another one you can.”
Annabelle thought about what that might mean, this connection that Charlie was talking about.
“Most of the time,” Charlie continued, “this kind of connection takes place at a specific place. But very rarely, it can be found inside a person. That’s why I can conjure fire so easily. I’m connected in my very soul to a world of ever consuming flame. It is my impossibility.”
Annabelle felt her arms turn to gooseflesh as she remembered what the man in the dapper coat had said: There is inside you a gift that I wish to nurture. A rare and special gift! Something that makes you wholly unique in all the many countless worlds!
This was why he’d taken Annabelle and her sister, what Charlie was talking about now was the entire point of it all.
“Annabelle? Are you okay?” Percy waved a hand in front of her face. “You’ve gone pale.”
Without thinking, Annabelle shook her head. “I think.. I don’t know what to think. I think that’s why my sister and I were taken. He said something about this.”
The others gave Annabelle their full attention, and even Seppo seemed to be watching. But no one was saying anything, which put her on edge.
“Well, it wasn’t clear if it was because of me or my sister,” said Annabelle. “But he said that one of us had a gift that he wanted. But do you know who he is? He mentioned that he served ‘a greater power’, and you all keep mentioning an Enemy, so I was wondering whether they were related or not.”
She was rambling, she knew it, but the silence was getting too long, and she couldn’t handle the three of them looking at her with that mixture of pity and sadness.
“We know he serves the Enemy,” said Charlie. “Beyond that, we don’t know much.”
“Enough to find his stronghold,” said Percy, “and take back our friend. And do a little damage along the way.”
“But do you think this impossibility is why he wanted me or my sister?” But Annabelle already knew the answer. The man had said it himself after all, hadn’t he?
“Yes,” said Seppo quietly. “Because we are the same. It is why the Enemy’s servant took Cid.”