Tal and Crow stood on the narrow
walkway, high up on the outside of the Castle. Adras flew above
Tal, and above him loomed the huge Red Tower. Beams of light in
all shades of red sprang from its many windows and openings, weaving
a complex pattern in the sky. Behind it were the other six Towers,
all of them taller, each also casting light out into the darkness.
Below them, other lights twinkled in the main bulk of the Castle.
But even all these lights could not compete with the essential darkness
of the world beyond. The veil lay heavy on the world, and the light
of the Seven Towers and the Castle spread only a little way.
"I didn't think it would be so cold," Crow whispered as he looked
out on the darkness. "Or so..."
His voice trailed off. Then, with an obvious effort, he tore his
gaze away and looked up at the Red Tower they were about to climb.
As Tal had found before, there were many spikes, gargoyles, and
strange ornaments that could be used as hand and footholds. Even
so, it was not an easy climb, and would be impossible if they were
not protected from the cold.
Tal concentrated on his Sunstone, and soon warmth was flowing
from it, along his arm and then all over him.
"You have a Sunstone," Tal said guardedly. He still wasn't sure
about the wisdom of the Underfolk having a Sunstone. "Do you know
how to warm yourself with it?"
"I know more than that," replied Crow. He took out his knife and
flicked open the thin cover on the pommel, to reveal the Sunstone
there. He concentrated on it for a moment, and Tal saw it flash
"Ah," said Crow. "That’s better. Do you want to go first
or shall I?"
"You go first," Tal said warily. "It will take us a few hours
to reach the veil. Watch out for the windows. Some are open and
there may be Spiritshadows there."
Tal was very much aware of the danger. He could remember his first
climb too well, and his brother, Gref, being taken through just
such a window.
That climb seemed very long ago, but it was only a matter of six
weeks or so. His entire life had changed that day, and not positively.
Hopefully this climb would mark a change for the better.
At least this time he had a Sunstone, Tal thought. He looked at
Adras, hovering above him. And a Spiritshadow of his own.
Once again, he was reminded of his first climb. There was a chance
the Spiritshadow that had thrown him off would still be there, though
if he was lucky it would be guarding its master’s body while
he or she was in Aenir.
The Keeper, it had called itself.
Crow started to climb, easily pulling himself up onto the first
gargoyle’s broad back. Tal let him get a bit ahead, as he
thought about the Keeper. Maybe it was a free shadow. . . .
"Are you coming?" asked Crow. He was already a good twenty stretches
"Yes!" Tal called out. He started to climb, then stopped and spoke
quietly to Adras.
"Adras. Keep a lookout, and make sure you catch me if I slip."
"Sure," Adras replied. "What about thingummy? Do I catch him,
"Yes," he said finally. "But make sure I'm safe first."
The climb went faster than the first time Tal tried it. Crow was
quick, and Tal himself felt stronger and more confident. It only
took them an hour to reach the veil.
Tal had been ready to call out to Crow to stop, to prevent the
older boy climbing up into the thick layer of ultimate darkness.
But Crow had stopped of his own accord. He was crouched on a gargoyle’s
head, slowly raising his hand, watching it disappear into the veil.
With his arm apparently ending in a stump, he tried to play light
on the veil from his Sunstone, but the light simply stopped when
it hit the dark barrier.
"It feels weird," said Crow. He was unable to suppress a shudder
as he withdrew his hand. "What’s up above?"
"Sunlight," said Tal. "There may be a Spiritshadow. A big one.
It calls itself the Keeper."
"It spoke to you?" asked Crow. "Isn't that unusual?"
"Yes," replied Tal. He didn't mention he suspected the Keeper
was a free Spiritshadow.
"So how do we get through the veil? Is there some secret. . .
some Chosen secret to it?"
He couldn't quite keep the sneer out of his voice when he said
"Not as far as I know," Tal replied. "Just go quickly. I'll go
first if you like."
"Good idea," replied Crow. "You can deal with this Keeper, too.
I don't mind watching."
"With your help, I hope," Tal said quickly. "We're in this together."
He was still never quite sure exactly what Crow meant. Was he
"Adras, you'd better stay close to me, Tal ordered, as he edged
closer to the veil. "Grab hold of my sash and hang on. You'll probably.
. . not like the inside of the veil."
"Why?" asked Adras. He drifted closer and hooked two puffy fingers
through Tal’s blue sash.
"It’s made of absolute darkness," said Tal. "So dark you
feel like you will never see the light again."
Adras was silent. Tal could feel him struggling with the concept
of absolute darkness. Clearly it was beyond his imagination.
"Wait a minute or two, and then come after me," Tal told Crow.
"Climb through as quickly as you can. It probably helps to take
a very deep breath before you start."
"Why?" Crow asked.
"I couldn't breathe last time," Tal explained. "I'm not sure you
can breathe inside the veil."
"Crow raised an eyebrow, as if he didn't quite believe Tal. But
he didn't speak.
Tal reached up into the veil, watching his hands vanish. For a
second he had the sensation that they had truly disappeared. He
flexed his fingers in response, and felt something he could grab
"Hang on!" he said. Then he took a deep breath and pulled himself
Into the veil. Into the darkness.