The young man opened his eyes. He took a deep breath of dry, desert air and dug his toes into the sand. The warm river lapped at his feet, snuffing out the last of the electric sparks. The man turned his face up toward the tiny pin pricks of light twinkling through the dust of a massive, spiraling galaxy. A comet cut a bright white trail across the sky. The sweet scent of jasmine drifted down from the gardens and into the basin where the man stood. He turned his steely eyes toward the pyramid in the distance.
It was wondrous, he thought, tracing the outlines of the figs and palms climbing the steep garden tiers. But it wasn’t his best work.
The man walked up the bank and into a powerful current of energy. Before him stood the tower. Its base was as big as a dozen garden pyramids. Soaring stone columns rose hundreds of feet into the air, supporting colossal arches that told the story of each great civilization within the king’s vast empire. Perched atop every arch was a grand palace, which housed visitors to the Great City of Wonders. Prince or shepherd—it didn’t matter. So long as the heart was filled with peace, all were welcome.
The young man’s throat tightened as he remembered his king and the terrible price he had paid for his kindness. His eyes followed the spiraling stone staircases climbing the walls of the tower—higher, and higher, and higher—until they disappeared into the sky. He remembered the first stone block that had come crashing down from the clouds, tumbling down the staircase and smashing through the roof of the royal palace. More had followed. There was screaming. The little princess was crying.
“Take her!” the king had commanded, shoving the girl into his arms. “Run, my boy! RUN!”
The young man did as he was told. Wreckage rained from the sky. He and the little princess had escaped. But his king—his king—
The man closed his eyes and twisted his pain into rage. A flock of birds dropped from the sky to the desert sands. He let out a ragged breath and opened his eyes.
The tower was still there. The king would be studying the stars from his observatory in the sky. His eyes dropped to the royal palace. Torchlight spilled from the little princess’ chamber. She would be up reading into the late hours of the night.
The young man swallowed hard and released his anger. A hot blast of wind swept across the sands. He was home, in the only time that had ever mattered, and he had cracked the cipher.
Now all he needed was the boy.
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.
Photo Credit: Zahlamaer