We followed the knights along the narrow trail winding through the red and yellow wood. Although they were clad from head to toe in heavy copper plate armor, they moved almost silently, and with unspeakable grace. Their silence instilled in me a quiet that went only as deep as my voice. Inside, I asked millions of questions back to back, as though Aiver or Octavian might hear my thoughts and answer.
Gradually, as the forest began to thin, I saw a needle of red jutting into the mercury-colored sky. In only moments, the needle became a thin rod, and, as we finally drew close enough, a tower. It had no windows, and was the color of fresh blood. As we left the wood, an unkindness of ravens spilled from the tower’s top, spreading across the sky like a malignant black cloud before they dispersed altogether.
The knights did not slow, and as we came to a gate wrought of the same glowing copper as their armor, it swung open. Then we were in the courtyard.
Everything was yellow and red, and the ground was carpeted with the leaves from now stark and grasping trees. As we continued, gates continued to open before the knights, and slamming shut alarmingly as soon as Aiver, Octavian and myself had crossed their thresholds. Still, no one spoke. The silence was palpable, hanging over us like a shroud. When we finally reached a portico lined by huge translucent ruby pillars, the knight guarding the tower’s entrance spoke, and it startled me.
“Lady Bloodrose is awaiting you in the Rookery,” said the knight. Whether our escorts had heard this or not, they did not slow their pace, leading we three into the tower.
The Rookery turned out to the space at the top of the tower where I had seen the exodus of ravens. That translated to hundreds of stairs, possibly thousands, that we slogged up behind the copper knights. I climbed until I felt like I would die, and kept climbing until finally we moved off the long and winding staircase and into a wide foyer. The ceiling culminated in a dome that cast jagged patches of colored light across the black and white checkered floor. The biggest door I had ever seen stood slightly ajar, revealing a slit of cold shadow beyond. The knights moved toward it, and just like the gates outside, it swung open to reveal a room made darker by dust. In the center sat a red and gold throne of some sort, upon which sat a woman.
She was pretty enough, with round, rosy cheeks and softly curling brown hair. She sat in the throne with rehearsed ease. She was dressed from head to toe in a flowing gown of russet colored velvet, stretched taut over her visibly pregnant belly. Her long red fingernails tapped on the arm of her throne as we came in.