The wind carried clouds of sand and dust wailing terribly, striking a human figure attired in a black cape. His face was covered with a hood, but it didn't protect him from sands coming to his mouth, eyes and ears. The man was travelling alone through the deserted narrow passageways. Bare, red-brown rocks, between which a strong gale raged, protruded all around him. That place was called the Valley of Dead. Even monsters didn't come there, as well as people or other intelligent beings from those lands. Vultures were sitting on rocks burnt by the Sun, they were waiting for the mysterious wanderer to lose all strength and become their food.
When the man entered a vast plateau, wind stood still. The man could take his hood off and remove his black coat. He had black hair and dark eyes. He was dressed in a leather armour, and had a sword decorated with a green jewel hanging from the belt. He wiped the remains of dust from the face and looked ahead. An uncanny view stretched in front of him. Impressive rocks were behind his back, and there was great plateau ending with a precipice in front of him. There was a huge, monumental building standing in a near distance beneath the sky and the hot Sun shining mercilessly. It was a pitch-black tower hovering above the plain. It seemed to reach clouds. It probably filled with fear everyone who was walking in its viccinity. This building was old, so old that everyone recognised it as a natural element of the landscape, the same as rocks surrounding it. The wanderer closed his eyes, the black of the Tower as well as its ornaments had a depressing effect on him. Alron, it was his name, arrived here of his own free will. Blood-curdling rumours were heard all over the state in which he was a resident and a knight. People were saying that an old, disgusting woman living in the Tower had hunted young people at nights, kidnapped them to feed on their energy. Indeed, more and more mysterious disappearing of travellers happened recently. The council of elders decided to send a group of Knights and Mages to the tower. Alron was supposed to be its protector. However the patrol unit, which he was supposed to look after, had vanished without a trace on the desert during the sandstorm. The man blamed himself for it, he thought that he had let young men, only teenage boys, die. Therefore he didn't come back to the city. He came back the surroundings of the Tower in order to wash dishonour and sense of guilt from himself.
He went cautiously along a narrow path, the only way leading to the Tower among plateau isolating it from the rest of the precipice. Next, he proceeded along a winding path between rocks and came opposite the main gate. He squinted his eyes. Large gate stood open asking him to come in. He was sure that the Witch knew about his arrival and expected him.
"I went so far..." He thought.
He crossed doorsteps of the building. After a few minutes of the walk in unlit corridor he reached a big hall. He looked around, feeling the old age of the place in his whole body. Images portraying some prince were hung on walls. Carpets, candlesticks and sculptures looked as if they were made yesterday.
"Magic works here, without a doubt."
Alron's eyessight moved to stairs leading to the top floors.
"There were probably chambers of the master. The witch must be hiding exactly there... I will try to settle it quickly... I will finally be able to rest and free myself of the sense of guilt."
He meant a fast death from hands of the witch, with a sword in the hand as a warrior. When he went upstairs, his eyes widened from an amazement. Impulsively, he assumed fighting position. Skeleton stood in front of him, watching him through empty eye sockets. Alron intended to smash it with one slash of the sword, but a passivity of the living dead stopped him. The skeleton showed him gate to stairs leading even higher, creaking unpleasantly. The man went there without a hesitation. He knew that his life could end in a few minutes. He was supposed to join the ones who he had promised to protect, and they were supposed to judge him for his act. He didn't have a chance in a clash with the Witch. He climbed the winding stairs made of scented wood up to the very top of the tower. The smell which was present there was strange, almost narcotic. Alron felt weakened, but strangely calmed. He appeared on the last floor. There was a window on the ceiling, but it was completely borded-up in such a way that it didn't actually let in the light. The windows on walls drawn were tightly covered with purple curtains. The whole of the room was bathed in a very unpleasant darkness. A sculpture of a young girl focussed the attention of the man.
"Beautiful." He thought. Two candlesticks stabnding between the decorated door caught fire at that very moment. Alron ran in its direction with the sword taken out. Flames of candles waved in a rush of air generated by his coat. The view which greeted him in the next room deprived him of a breath. There were a big, wooden desk, two chairs standing by him, and beautiful, young girl sitting on one of them. She was dressed in a black, long dress. She had long, dark, almost purple hair and sad, brown eyes of the person tired of life. When the knight turned up at her room she smiled slightly, then she got up, asking him to go up closer with a gesture of her hand.
"Put the sword back. No harm will meet you in my thresholds, stranger."
She closed her eyes and continued:
"A guest is a rare occurrence here. Nobody appeared in my house from a time immemorial."
The woman looked at Alron with a big, beautiful eyes. The man didn't put the sword back, but he could not resist the impression that the eyes of the witch were sincere.
"My name is Arianna. I was the wife of the master of this land at one time, but it was so long ago, that nobody besides me and these walls remember it." The girl got up, embraced column supporting the ceiling. The flame of the candle lighted her face.
"Let me look at you, stranger. So much years passed since I've seen somebody else than my own reflection in a mirror."
Alron didn't feel want to play with this woman. He came up to her.
"I was sent here by the council of elders of the city located nearby your tower. You are guilty of kidnapping the people from the city, your magic tantalizes wanderers and brings death to them. What's more..." He hesitated.
"You killed my companions."
Arianna didn't say a word. She looked at the portrait of her and some man hanging in a darkness.
"I don't expect you to believe me, but I don't have anything to do with disappearing of people. I cannot even leave these walls, because I could cease to exist."
She became very sad. Alron could see how lonely and tired she really was.
"I am not interested in the world outside. I don't belong to it anymore, I will never do." The warrior put the weapon back. He sat down in the place which the girl showed him.
"Please stranger. Let me to talk with you for a moment. I want to feel like a human being at least for a moment. You can give me so little, can you?"
Alron looked at her affirmatively.
"I was the wife of prince Kantoul ruling these lands at one time. He chose me out of many. I was then young, happy and full of the life. Then, there were neither you, nor your state, nor even this Tower. My husband loved me very much and I loved him. However he didn't have a pure heart, he joined up with the wizard practising the black magic. He was blind, he couldn't see that the one exploited him, because he gave him the power, military power which no power in this world could match with. He ordered to build this Tower for him."
Alron listened. Glitter of the flame danced on his face. The candle slowly melted.
"His love for me was as as great as his worship for the wizard and the deepening madness. One day, during my 27 birthday party, he said he had had the greatest gift for me. He said that thanks to him we would be together for centuries. Thanks to the help of the mage Roul, he gave me the immortality. Staying in the Tower was the only condition, because the magic giving me eternally young body worked only in it. At the beginning I liked it. I was happy having prospect of the eternal youth and happiness at the side of the husband. I became more and more and more beautiful."
Arianna lowered the head. She didn't want to talk.
"Unfortunately, nothing can last forever."
"Roul and my husband turned against each other. The war seized our state, the war in which magic so powerful was used, that it entirely destroyed our land leaving it in such a state as you know it, stranger. I lived in the Tower looking at everything around, gradually plunging into suffering, sadness and despair. My husband lost his life in this war, similarly as my family and many friends. Our country ceased to exist. Roul disappeared from the Tower a few years later and any track of him was gone. Words can't describe my despair then. I saw as everything I loved disappeared, died before my very eyes but I stayed the same as years ago. I could not even age. All my friends, acquaintances who were spared by the war settled in the Tower and kept me company. However they were only mortal people, so I watched them growing old, becaming ill and dying. I remained beautiful and young. I could not look at my face. I covered all mirrors, windows also, to plunge this place into a total darkness. I felt better this way. I preferred to see nothing. Centuries passed, my heart died with the last living person of these walls. In the past, I felt terrible loneliness, emptiness, but today I feel nothing. At one time I poured the ocean of tears out, today my eyes are as dry as the desert around my house. I became as dead as these walls.
"I'm too old to consider myself to be a human."
She went up closer to Alron.
"Thank you. Thanks to you my heart warmed up at least a bit."
The knight was moved by the story of the woman. He didn't know how he would behave being in her place.
"If you are suffering so much, why won't you simply leave this tower? Then everything would end."
The woman turned her head away.
"You see, I am having a long life, and I am not able even to think about ending it. I hate my state, but I don't have a bit of a courage to finish it. I feel the nothingness in myself but I am not able to leave this place and really turn into a dust."
Alron was really shaked with the meeting. He has never met such an unhappy person before.
"Eternal happiness... so it is how it looks." He thought.
He got up from a chair in order to leave this place as soon as possible. He could no longer bear the atmosphere prevailing there.
"Wait." Arianna said.
"Stay with me. Because of you I felt that there still was a little humanity in me. Please. I will not stand the more solitude after you walk away."
"I am sorry, I cannot help you. I cannot afford such a sacrifice." Alron got up and left the chamber covering his face with the hood.
"I still have a task to do." He thought.
"Find the reason of people's disappearing."
He went along winding, narcotically smelling stairs. He thought what price this woman had paid for the love a beloved man gave her. Arianna came up to a crystal ball.
"I won't let you walk away. I won't be alone. Never again."
She moved her hand above the ball, and her eyes lighted. Alron stood up, clutched his head. After a moment, he dropped his hands. He started going in the direction of the darker part of the corridor. The lighting falling through the barred window lighted his face up for a moment. His eyes became pale, expressing nothing. Arianna looked at the ball in which the small light flashed. A smile appeared on her face.
"Now I will be able to talk to you, stranger, in all centuries I am sentenced to live." She stroked a crystal ball.
Tears started to flow from empty Alron's eyes.
The tower stood amongst red rocks at the foot of the ravine and the wind wailed around it singing a song about the sad history of its only resident.
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